Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Elderton Friends, Shiraz ’08 $18

Barossa Valley, Australia

Taking a trip to the wine & liquor mega store becomes overwhelming for many of us given the amount of choices on the shelves.  I usually go in with a pre-determined list of what I want however this time; I was just browsing…for about an hour or so.  Yeah, I know you think I’m crazy but without striking up conversations with the people working there, I would have never found this amazing Shiraz!

First of all, I know there are less expensive Shiraz bottles out there and they’re very good.  For whatever reason, I put my trust in the sales person on this one and it’s higher price point.  Actually it’s an amazing deal once you try it!  The aromas of ripe plums, leather and a distinct pepper spice lead you to believe it could follow like any other Shiraz.  Once the flavors of cocoa, blueberry and a warm vanilla hit you, it’s definitely not your average Shiraz!  Overall the wine is medium bodied with a finish highlighting hints of fruit and silky smooth tannins.

The vintage was aged in American oak barrels for 11 months.  It never felt over oaky but the subtle hint was well received.  This is an unbelievable Shiraz and I’ll be back to buy more for holding on to.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Angeline Merlot ’07 ($13) & Angeline Pinot Noir ’08 ($12)

Sonoma, CA

It’s not often I buy 2 different varietals from the same winery in one shopping trip.  In this case I had tried the Chardonnay from Angeline and was pleased, so my thought was, if even one of these new wines (Merlot or Pinot Noir) was good, I’d be happy.  Well, I was fooled they both were great.

The Merlot started with aromas of cedar and black pepper.  It might have had a bit of an alcohol scent but that definitely wasn’t in the tasting.  Rich in blackberries and plum on the first tastes had this feeling like a well-balanced Merlot.  Not too fruity with mild tannins and subtle oak on the finish made for a great wine at $13.

The Pinot Noir absolutely blew me away for a $12 wine.  It must have been the reason the guy before me was loading his cart up with it.  I guess that’ll be me next time…  Strawberries, a hint of must and subtle spice stood out on the aromas.  The tasting followed with bright berries and a velvety, smooth finish.  The fruit on this wine is so nice!  Very well balanced with a nice, easy drinking feel on the palette.

Angeline has 3 thumbs up for me now with their Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir.  They must be doing something right.  I look forward to hearing from any of you trying these wines in the future.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Kim Crawford, Pinot Noir '08 - $18

Marlborough, New Zealand

I’ve always liked the Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay so I decided to try the Pinot Noir.  It was a moderately priced bottle and given the great results for the other varietals, I didn’t think I could go wrong.  I was right!

With pleasant aromas blending black pepper, dark cherries and hints of oak I couldn’t wait to try this.  The flavors were full of ripe dark cherries with subtle black pepper, as found in the aromas.  Bringing together bright fruit flavors along with the oak and smooth tannins helped make for a nice finish.  This definitely has a gentle mouth feel making the wine very drinkable with most any type of foods.  It seems to be a very versatile, food friendly wine.  Grilled beef, chicken, pork, seafood or even a pasta dish with a light red sauce could go great with this wine. 

This is one of my new favorites!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Willamette Wine Tasting

A few weeks ago I had a wonderful experience while visiting wineries in Oregon’s Willamette valley and while they were all good, the folks at Anne Amie provided a unique and special experience for me. I joined Thomas Houseman, Winemaker along with Andy Gribskov and Tammie Crawford both assistant winemakers in a tasting for some of their upcoming releases.  Not knowing what to expect, I sat down to 7 glasses of an unlabeled white wine.  Prior to tasting, I was told these were a fortified wine which was to be the next release, the 2009 Amie, which is a Late Harvest Muller-Thurgau wine.  Also know as “Stickes”, this would be classified as a dessert wine.  The Muller-Thurgau varietal is used in some of the other wines made by Anne Amie and could be described as similar to Sauvignon Blanc without the grapefruit flavors.

The tasting wasn’t meant to be challenging. Thomas asked me to indicate which were my favorite 2 glasses out of the 7 and then 2 favorites from the next 6 glasses.  In short, each of the samples held a slightly different percentage of alcohol produced from fortifying the wine with Brandy, thus giving each of the samplings a slightly different taste.  The goal was to sample 13 glasses in total, narrow the picks down to 4, which will be tasted later for the final decision.  I was happy to know that of my picks, I had 3 of the 4 as my favs.

The last tasting we did was for the next release of their Rubies, which is a red blend of Cabernet, Syrah and Merlot, also fortified and a dessert wine as well.  With this tasting we had 6 glasses and I’m happy to share that 1 of my 2 favorites will be the new release.  It was unanimous for which sample we all liked.  For aromas, the Rubies samples I tried had hints of blackberries and cherries followed by little spice. It’s slightly sweet tasting with dark berry flavors as well.  As the tasting notes say from the 2008 release, this is a dangerously perfect match to chocolate.

I know it may sound weird to those of you who have done tastings before but to be invited to sample the future of a wine is a great honor and I owe Thomas and his entire staff a big thank you for including me. 

Don’t miss some of the other great wines I liked from Anne Amie such as:
’09 Muller-Thurgau (close to a Sav. Blanc w/out the grapefruit flavors)
’09 Pinot Gris (citrus w/ hint of spice)
’07 Willamette pinot Noir (hint of spice on the nose, very smooth tasting and 22% new oak).

Thursday, September 2, 2010

New Beverage Trends

Benchmark Hospitality Releases Beverage Trends

Benchmark Hospitality International released its Top Ten Beverage Trends for 2010. The beverage trends were released in response to requests following the distribution of the company’s popular annual dining trends.
“This is an exciting time for the beverage industry, with lots of positive changes occurring,” said Mary Watson-DeLauder, chief sommelier for Benchmark Hospitality International.  “Some of the changes are economically driven, some taste oriented and still others created out of necessity in response to changing palates and a new generation of consumers.”
The top ten trends are:
1.       Unoaked chardonnays are replacing the big oak wines of the past. Several wineries have backed off on oak completely to focus more attention on the fruit characteristics of the chardonnay grape.
2.       Sauvignon Blanc continues to gain popularity, with New Zealand leading the pack. California, Virginia, Chile and South Africa are producing great examples of this wine as well.
3.       More obscure grape varieties like Torrontes, Bonarda, Carmenere, Albarino and Chenin Blanc are being embraced today. These also tend to be less expensive alternatives.
4.       Champagne sales are down this year, but sales of sparkling wines are up. New and innovative cocktails and punches are making great use of these less expensive sparkling wines.
5.       Sangria is making a comeback – often mixing in less expensive wines currently on the market.
6.       Basic cocktails like martinis, mojitos, margaritas and sidecars are being revamped with fresh new ingredients such as herbs, spices, and unusual fruits and vegetables. House-made simple syrups are being infused with herbs and spices.
7.       Novelty is important. Bars are finding contemporary ways to serve traditional cocktails including, for example, wine popsicles.
8.       Beer dinners are growing in popularity, demonstrating the compatibility of beer with food. Beer is also working its way into cocktails, such as with beer margaritas.
9.       The slow food movement now includes enjoying locally produced beverages. All 50 states have at least one winery, and most produce herbs and spices for flavoring cocktails, vodkas and rums.
10.   The popularity of wine and wine-pairing classes is gaining for groups.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Penascal Estate, Tempranillo-Shiraz $6

Spain (Castilla y Leon)

I must apologize for not having postings over the past few weeks.  Life, work, travel and such has got in the way.  Non-the-less, I’m back!

It’s not often you think a six dollar bottle of wine is going to do anything for you but I’m never shy to give it try.  Worst case is I use it for a London broil marinated if I don’t like it.  Well this Tempranillo-Shiraz never made it to a marinated!  It was quite the surprise given its price point!

With aromas of cedar, leather and black pepper spice, I had an idea this wine wasn’t going to be boring.  Flavors of blackberry, plum and a hint of strawberries gave this a nice fruit forward taste.  On the finish I’d say it had medium tannins with a trace of black pepper.  The blend is 85% Tempranillo, 15% Shiraz.  It’s definitely an easy drinking wine to go with Italian or Spanish foods.  I found this wine at Sam’s club.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Forefathers Shiraz ’05 $16

McLaran Vale, South Australia

I hadn’t heard of this wine and as many of my purchases are based on trying something within a reasonable price point, for most average wine drinkers, this one fit the bill. There are so many Shiraz wines available these days from different countries and regions. Given this scenario, I’m not sure on my thoughts yet for this varietal’s differences coming from these various regions. Either way I like it as a stand alone wine or in a blend.

With aromas of dark berries, plum and black pepper, this resembled a true Shiraz. On the first taste, a tart fruit sensation touched the outside edges of my tongue. Plum and vanilla followed although drying out quickly. On the finish, a spicy pepper and silky feel with mild oak rounded flavors out.

This wine definitely smoothed out and opened up its flavors after 30 minutes in the glass and resembled a wine at twice the cost. It’s wine maker is Nick Goldschmidt who was involved in a wine called Fidelity which was a blend I posted here last year.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Wine Quest

I wanted to take a moment and share with you a event being held for a wonderful cause which I'll be attending. The Wine Quest Annual Wine Tasting & Auction, June 11-13 in Orlando, FL. I hope to have many new wines to share with all of you from this event which is dedicated to helping about 1,000 people per day in our community. Quest helps people with disabilities achieve their dreams of going to school, having a job, living on their own, and experiencing summer camps.

This is a fantastic way to both help the community and taste some great food and wine. If you're local to the area or in town then, don't miss this!

Organization site -

Quest is a United Way agency and CARF-accredited service provider.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Brancaia “TRE” 2005 $26

Tuscany, Italy

I generally don’t rush out to purchase wines listed as “tops” in any category, unless there appears to be something noteworthy and moderately priced. In this case it was the #10 wine in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list and being priced below $30, it was worthy of a trip to hunt down locally in one my wine stores.

This is a nice blend of Sangiovese (80%), Merlot (10%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (10%). With the majority being Sangiovese, you’d think this would resemble strong characteristics of a Chianti. And not that I don’t love my Chianti, but don’t be fooled. The Merlot & Cab. balance out the general sweetness of the Sangiovese and make this much less of a “fruity” arrangement than a typical Chianti. The boldness of the Cab is my guess on balancing the other two varietals.

Aromas of cherries, black currants and a hint of dust (probably from the oak aging) setup for wonderful medium body flavors. Plums and blackberries along with a mild vanilla essence balanced the fruit in this wine well. Mild tannins with a slightly dry finish leave you wanting more. It’s dark purple color, pleasing bouquet and balanced flavors make this a winner! The 2007 is out now and I’m off to find it.

Wine Maker Note:

TRE stands for the three grape varieties Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and for our three Tuscan estates – the basis for this wine. This elegant and well structured wine ages in oak casks, is easily accessible and matches every cuisine.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Villa Mt. Eden, Cabernet Sauvignon ’05 $15

Napa Valley, CA

I bought this wine completely on the experience I had with the Villa Mt. Eden, ’05 Zinfandel (see March 2009). After trying the Zin and going back to buy up as much as I could afford, I felt not trying their Cab might leave me missing out. I recommend everyone try out something new from time to time and use whatever knowledge base you want including your own tasting experience with other varietals, from the same winery.

So my Zin experience was great and I must say this Cab didn’t disappoint me. It started out with aromas of black pepper and ripe dark fruits such as plum and blackberry…kind of giving off a bold characteristic. Upon the first tastes dark cherries and an earthy, mineral sensation came on. So I decided to decant it for 20-30 minutes and WOW what a difference. Tasting it now took on a whole new group of flavors. Fruit forward with dark currants and a subtle hint of cocoa. The mineral characteristics softened leaving a nice, medium oak nuance. I’d give this wine a medium body rating and possibly light for a Cab. The blend is 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec and 2% Merlot. It definitely was easy drinking and went great accompanying a new Guy Fieri recipe of braised beef short ribs with a chipotle & dark cherry reduction.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Little Vineyards, Syrah-Zinfandel '07 ($25)

Sonoma, CA

This winery has proven to be one of my all time favorites! They just don’t fail at putting out some fantastic wines. Since my visit a little over a year ago, I’ve had a wonderful, full bodied, Cabernet Sauvignon, an incredible Zinfandel and now a blend of Syrah & Zinfandel. I’m not sure if it’s in the soil, the vines or just the passion from the team of great people at Little Vineyards.

With scents of black pepper, ripe dark berries and a hint of oak, this was already proving to be a great wine from its aromas. The fruit forward tastes of dark cherries from the Zinfandel won’t leave you Zin drinkers disappointed and the medium spice from the Syrah balances the blend nicely. Tannins are mild with a smooth and easy drinking finish.

The blend is comprised of 69% Syrah and 31% Zinfandel. It’s not a large production wine with only 240 cases so if you’re interested, I believe it can only be purchased from the winery’s website.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Navarro Correas, Cabernet Sauvignon ’07 $10

Argentina, Mendoza

For an inexpensive bottle of Cab., I wasn’t let down. It started off with aromas of must and an earthy hint then followed by a toasted oak. A few subtle herbs and black olives on the nose brought out some interesting nuances as well.

I’d give this a medium body classification with flavors exuding chocolate, plums and ripe blackberries. With jammy fruit flavors and mild tannins, this was one of the easiest drinking Cabs I’ve had in a while yet not wimpy. It went awesome with a wood grille steak.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, Valeriano, 2005 $40

Sonoma, CA

Last year I wrote about a Sangiovese from Jacuzzi Vineyards, which was a wonderful winery recommendation to visit in Sonoma. The property was beautiful and felt as if it was something out of modern day Tuscany. After trying more recognizable varietals, our tasting person recommended I try the Valeriano. So for those of you who know me, I needed to ask, “…what is it.” Well, it’s a blend of 5 grape varietals: 41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 18% Cab. Franc, 9% Malbec and 1% Petit Verdot. Sounds like something I’d very much like…and it was! So fast-forward a year and I finally taste the bottle I bought.

The aromas were of dark stone fruit such as plums and cherries along with a hint of herbs and spicy black pepper to finish. The first flavors exuded currants and dark red cherries accented with black pepper found on the nose. On the mid-palate a tart sensation toward the outer edges of the tongue along with the jammy fruit flavors of the Merlot were predominant. The Cab Sav. came to the rescue to balance out the fruit and give this wine characteristics of a “Big Red.” Finally, on the finish hints of savory herbs and a slight dryness made me wanting more.

I would pair this wine with a hearty wood grilled steak, pork tenderloin or pasta with marinara. In regards to distribution of this wine, I can’t say its widely available, however I know you can order the latest vintage from their website.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Layer Cake, Primitivo 2007 $17

Puglia, Italy

I first tried this wine in a local Italian restaurant. I was so happy to see it was only double retail pricing vs. so many restaurants at 3 times retail. Therefore, I didn’t waste time to find the wine for my own home enjoyment. World Market had it for $16.99 on sale so I scooped up a few bottles.

Without going into too much detail, Primitivo is the same grape as Zinfandel. So if you like red Zinfandel wines, you’ll like this one. The aromas brought out ripe strawberries and plum with a hint of mocha and spice. With the taste, I found blackberries and plum along with mid palette flavors of dark chocolate. On the finish flavors of pepper, oak and a hint of minerals rounded out this medium body wine. As the wine remained in my glass throughout the tasting, it definitely tamed the tannins to open up and become a smooth drinking selection.

I’m a big fan of red Zins and this really was wonderful pick to write about. I know Layer Cake has a few other varietals however I haven’t had the pleasure to try them. If the others are anything like the Primitivo, then we shouldn’t be disappointed.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Excelsior, Shiraz 2006 $10

South Africa

This wine came to me as a sample after inquiring about a South African Chardonnay (Indaba). I had asked the importer what other South African wines were being brought to the US and they introduced me to Excelsior Shriaz. It may sound like an awkward way to get introduced to wines although I try to reach out to importers, wineries & distributors to tell me what’s new rather than only relying on the store shelf.

This Shriaz has a deep ruby red color with aromas of dark cherries, vanilla and a hint of black olives and pepper. The tastes began with full flavors of black currants followed by dark cocoa on the mid-palate. (I forget that explaining something like mid-palate could be helpful to here's a try) Simply think of the wine in your mouth and the tastes just after the first flavor sensation. That’s the mid-palate. You could also think of the “attack” as the first flavor, the “mid-palate” as the second and most compelling flavor(s) and finally the “finish” which is what’s left on your tongue after the wine leaves your mouth.

For the wine’s finish, it was a clean balance of oak and pepper. Soft tannins and a very easy drinking red all wrapped up in an affordable price tag…could you ask for more? To help locate this wine in your area, you can try here:

Monday, January 25, 2010

Mark Davidson, Cabernet/Merlot (NV) $14

South Eastern Australia

I first had this wine in a favorite restaurant of mine with a pecan crusted, baked snapper. Probably one of the most flavorful fish entrees I’ve ever had. The wine was on their “by-the-bottle” specials that night so I decided to try it. As the story goes for most of us once we find something we like…”where can I buy this?” Its always a challenge especially for those great restaurant wines not found in stores. It took about 6 months once I stumbled on it and I didn’t hesitate to buy a few bottles.

The wine’s fragrance was full of dark, ripe berries followed by a sweetness found in grape jam. Along with this, a bouquet of fragrant herbs was prominent. On the first taste a mouthful of ripe black berries & currants led this medium bodied, wonderfully blended wine. Through the mid palette, I found cedar and tobacco flavors with soft tannins on the finish, which are probably from the Merlot. This is such a nice drinking wine with the boldness of a Cabernet and the subtlety of a Merlot. It almost reminds me of a full bodied red Zinfandel yet not so 'fruity'.

This wine doesn’t have a vintage date, which could mean there is some blending of varietals from a neighboring year. This doesn’t bother me as it used to especially if the wine has what I like and this one will not let you down.

Mark Davidson has been making fine wines from premium vineyards in Australia for 21 years. In 1985, along with investors, Mark bought Tamburlaine Winery and has been in charge of wine production and operations. Tamburlaine has a reputation for innovation along with a focus on producing high quality wines with cutting edge and environmentally sound production techniques.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mac Murray Ranch, Pinot Noir $17

Central Coast, CA

I admit, I bought this wine after reading a Wine Spectator issue recommending it as a moderately priced and very good Pinot Noir. I honestly don’t follow up on all the notes I take from reading wine related magazines but I’m glad I did on this on.

The aromas began with bright fruit, cherries and dried mushrooms followed by a hint of Fall-like wet leaves. Sounds like a lot going on here although it was a nice rounded and balanced sensation. It helped reinforce and remind me that the aromas (or “nose”) play such an affect on the tastes which follow. This is actually a proven fact in wine tasting so don’t be shy to sniff, sniff, sniff.

The tastes were a wonderful collection of ripe cherries with a mild spice. On the finish, vanilla and a hint of chocolate were present. Very nicely balanced wine that I would categorize as easy drinking yet sophisticated in flavor composition. I had it with salmon on cedar plank and the wine was an excellent complement. Even the warm chocolate chip cookies after dinner went great with the wine.

Recently I saw this wine on sale at World Market ($16). I guess I should continue to follow up on my wine magazine notes more often.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Frick Winery “CAFÉ” Merlot, 2003 $10

Sonoma, CA

Even if you blind tasted this wine, you’d probably never guess it was a Merlot. I guess that’s a pretty bold statement for those of you who are pros at determining the wine's varietals (grapes) from just a taste. Is it still lingering from the days of the movie “Sideways” that Merlot has a bad reputation? I would hope not however, who am I to control that except to say that this $10 bottle was absolutely a wonderful surprise. More Merlot for all!

With a dark, deep purple color, the aromas were full of licorice, smoke and dried dark berries. Subtle hints of cocoa and spice rounded out the nose and completely fooled me in believing this was a Merlot. I’m not an expert on determining a wine’s varietal from the smell but it’s safe to say I had not experienced these aromas in other Merlot wines.

The flavors were full of bright fruit; blueberries, blackberries and medium oak. Soft tannins and easy drinking left my pallet with a smooth, velvety finish.

I was told that the wine maker, Bill Frick had this in his oak barrels a little longer than normal, waiting to decide on what to do with the wine. In guessing, it must have been a choice between selling the wine, possibly for blending or bottling it. Good thing he chose to bottle it.

I’ve never had a Merlot like this and if its any sign of other wines Frick is making, I’ll be sure to search out others. I do know they take great care in their wine making from information posted on their website. Small batches and time tested techniques are their claim. You can visit them at

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