Suburban Wino 2: The Wordpress Experiment

Great Innovations in Culinary Technology

June 3, 2011
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The cast iron skillet is a miracle.
Wanna disagree? I’ll bludgeon you with my cast iron skillet.
Nah, I wouldn’t do that, but I’d force you to cook you steak on a grill. Listen, I like the ol’ hibachi as much as the next overhyped Food Network star, but when it’s 96 degrees outside, this guy’s gonna sweat his arse off in style: in front of the range (sweat courtesy of a bad diet and lack of exercise, not heat).
Plus, when’s the last time you got a silly grill to do this?:
That’s the evidence of a Maillard reaction, holmes, and the crispity brown crust means flavor country.
Throw in a fine red wine, like this 2007 Swanson Oakville Merlot [disclosure: sample fairy left this for me], and things get really saucy. Many Merlots are known to be very soft and plush and fruity. The higher-quality juice often comes with a little more tannic grip (and that can be a good thing with steak), so it fits the bill like something that would fit perfectly on the bill (sorry, metaphorical acumen is pretty disastrous right now).
Eureka! A meal fit for an awfully lazy post.
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Vintage 2007

April 1, 2011
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On this date, four years ago, I did something big; something of significance. No, I didn’t get butt-cheek implants, giving my derrière a more supple fullness that could make a pair of Wal-Mart slacks look like they were purchased from Target.

Unfortunately, this date has nothing to do with me starting to take Rogaine. That ship has sailed. And now, well, let’s just say I’m saving a fortune on barber shop expenses.

Even this blog- on March 31, 2007- was nearly two years prior to its genesis. Some say the internet was better back then.

What did happen? Well, I married this young lady:

The wedding- a raucous affair, complete with a grab bag of hijinks, tomfoolery, brouhaha, and no shortage of monkeyshines- preceded a somewhat unpleasant cross-country flight, but an exceedingly incredible vacation… perhaps the tipping point for me.

We went to Napa Valley for our honeymoon. Before this trip, I’d drank plenty of wine. I knew it was something that should be consumed with food. Obviously, there existed a flame of interest in my spirit; otherwise, we would’ve been sitting on a beach somewhere, turning pink while downing umbrella drinks.

But wine country- the natural beauty and the endless vines- it sparked something: an “itch”, so often described by those who visit. And of course, there was the product itself. Never had I realized that wines could be so good. I’d been missing out, and akin to the vows taken just a couple days earlier, a new chapter in my life had begun.

The wine had become my muse. But a secondary one, as not even the finest glass of juice could come close to the tireless support, encouragement, and inspiration my wife has provided. Writing a wine blog- relentlessly, whether folks read or not- requires a certain strength from the other half. There are the late nights writing. The occasional “over tasting”, resulting in both laziness and snoring. Not to mention the expense. This is, more than anything else, a labor of love.

So I raise a glass of 2007 Duckhorn Merlot to my lovely Heather. This bottle not only bears the vintage of our union, but its producer was also the first place we visited in Napa. So similar to what rests in my glass, the past four years have been unique, complex, occasionally sour, even more rarely bitter, yet- far more often- totally satisfying, and utterly intoxicating. Whether I’m talking glasses of wine or years of marriage, here’s to four more…

Okay, that “here’s to four more” was a joke. I thought this one was getting a little mushy.

Cheers, babe!


Oh, the Places You’ll Go

July 1, 2010
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I’m wondering if the use of a Dr. Seuss reference as a post title for summarizing several days of very adult consumption is sacrilege of sorts. Perhaps, but I took 10 minutes drawing that crappy cigar and glass of wine with my mouse, so we’re gonna go with it.

The past week, I’ve poked around some of the most fascinating, if not still somewhat unknown, wine regions in North America. A pilgrimage was made from Atlanta, through Denver, into Portland, southwest to the Willamette Valley, north towards the Yakima Valley, through Prosser, east over to Walla Walla, then west to the most remote corner of the lower 48- Seattle- to sit on a tarmac for two hours, pores exuding perhaps pure wine at that point. Into Atlanta, straight to work, dreaming of my next trip west.

To be a “wine enthusiast” and say you’ve been to Napa Valley is akin to a “movie enthusiast” claiming he liked The Godfather. Yet, as my vine-centric adventures amass, I feel very privileged to have visited regions that not only are as impressive, but are perhaps unknown to the general public as wine Meccas.

Willamette Valley:

As you can see to the right, this area is known for its rain…

The Willamette (rhymes with “dammit”) Valley’s north end lies just west of Portland, and it runs down from the Columbia River to just south of of Eugene, OR. Framed on the west and the east by the Coastal Range and the Cascades, respectively, this area is known for cool, rainy winters and warm, dry summers (though the region rarely sees temperatures above 90˚, relatively cool by grape-growing standards). For this reason, the area is known for Pinot Noir, a cluster notorious for difficult growing. It’s sort of like the Lindsey Lohan of grapes: don’t supply it with constant attention and monitoring, and you’ve got a hot mess on your hands. Fortunately, the relatively mild and consistent temperatures of the Valley (particularly the Yamhill-Carlton AVA in the north end) acts as a controlled, low-dose narcotic to Pinot’s Lohan, thus keeping the grapes happy and thriving, resulting in some of the finest examples of Pinot Noir wine in the world.

Yakima Valley:

Head up north from Portland, then east over the Cascades, and you see the real effects of a “rain barrier”. With Mount Rainier forming the highest point at over 14,000 feet, most moisture that tries to get past the mountains is forced so high into the air, it freezes and precipitates out of the atmosphere atop the mountains. What’s left to the east is a virtual desert, as the Yakima Valley receives about 6-9″ rain a YEAR, compared to Seattle’s 37″. Fortunately, dry and hot can be a pretty damn good thing for growing grapes, among other things. Cherries, hops, apples, peaches, etc., etc., etc. all thrive in the Yakima Valley. As for wine grapes, I saw Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec…well, there’s not much I didn’t see. Most of the wines tasted of the heat (though the typical climate is more temperate, allowing cool-natured grapes like Riesling to flourish here as well), with high alcohol, lots of tannin, and big fruit flavors. From my limited experience, I consider Yakima the South Australia of U.S. viticulture, sans marsupials, crocodile boots, and a low-tannin approach famous in quaffin’ Aussie wines.

Walla Walla Valley:

Another valley carved out by the massive, prehistoric Missoula flood, W-squared lies southeast of the Yakima Valley, and the AVA actually crosses into Oregon, which has always made for an awkward situation for WW’s allegiance when the WNBA’s Seattle Storm and now-defunct Portland Fire used to lock horns. Oh, Portland Fire…we hardly knew ye.

Anyway, upon hearing that Walla Walla had both a proud winemaking tradition AND a large state pen, I stocked up on canned fruit cocktail, oranges, ketchup, loaves of bread, and Zip-Loc bags, eager to learn the secrets and subtleties of expressing the Walla Walla terroir in a fine Pruno. Instead, I found much of the same as in Yakima: a focus on reds, especially Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, many of which were blended in what some call the “Aussie Meritage”, or a “CSM”. Also found a good bit of Grenache and Mourvèdre, but mostly for the sake of blending with the Syrah to create Rhône-style blends. Also big in fruit, extraction, and alcohol, I did find the Walla Walla reds I tried to be a bit more restrained than the tooth-stainers from Yakima.

So, that’s where I’ve been. I think many knew what Willamette has been bringing to the table, but Washington isn’t on the rise for nothing. I’ll delve into some of my favorite wines- and favorite people- down the road a bit. For now, find a bottle, crack it open, and pour a little out for the Portland Fire…and Dr. Seuss.


Napa Eve

December 28, 2009
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“Atlanta – 91 miles”

Anniston, AL – We were hurtling down I-20 in my brother-in-law’s 4-wheel-drive sleigh, returning from a Christmas Eve visit to relatives in Birmingham. Had a wonderful time with the wife’s family…copious amounts of ham, quality time with my adorable- if not overly vivacious- niece, and a showering of gifts, including a sleek Vinturi instant aerator (more experimenting with that later).
But my gears had already switched from laser-focus on ham and family (let’s call it “hamily” for short) to the neighbors’ annual Christmas Eve party. I could already taste the reserve wines we always bust open to celebrate the season. Anniston, Alabama might has well have been China. Was the first cork being popped? What was I missing? Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego? (the last question had little to do with the moment described, but I’m still unclear about it.)

Eventually, we got there, met with the expected level of revelry/joviality/hullabaloo/mirth: an already well-lubricated crowd, unusual treats (including big Bill Blank’s famous chopped liver paté and steamer clams– lovingly referred to as “piss clams”- to be shelled, dipped in broth to remove the sand, and sloshed in melted butter before devouring). Liar’s Dice games were heating up (which- for the record- we were playing long before A Really Goode Job). Dean Martin crooning over the speakers…oh, and the wine.
Seems like Napa Valley was the focus of the evening.

The first one opened, which I missed, was a 2004 Rubicon Estate Gustave Niebaum Captain’s Reserve Merlot, 2004. This is a wine from the Niebaum-Coppola (as in Francis Ford Coppola) family of wines…FFC has some ownership in Rubicon Estate, which is known for some pretty heady and expensive wines. However, not only could I not get a taste of it, but I couldn’t find any information, pricing, or anything about it online. I’m pretty sure it’s expensive, though. If you had some, tell me about it, you wine hogs.

The next bottle to go through the paces was a V. Sattui 2005 Morisoli Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. I know the ’04 got a score of 93 in Wine Spectator, so- despite my distaste for wine scoring- I hoped it’d give an indication that this was pretty good. Oh, and the $50+ price tag added pressure to the wine’s success.

Baby Steps – When the label of an American wine designates a vineyard (in this case, “Morisoli”), then 95% of the grapes used to make the wine have to come from that vineyard. When an AVA, or “American Viticultural Area” is listed on the label- in this case, Napa Valley- then 85% of the grapes have to come from vineyards within that AVA. When the varietal (Cabernet Sauvignon) is listed, 75% or more of the wine must be from that grape. Finally, when a year is listed (2005), 95% of the grapes have to come from that growing year. Confused? Wait until you start learning about French wine! Anyway, from the label, we can deduce that 95% of the grapes came from Morisoli Vineyard, within Napa Valley. Of those, at least 75% had to be Cabernet Sauvignon, and 95% had to be grown in 2005. However, I’m guessing 100% came from Morisoli in 2005.

Okay, now I have a headache. Anyway, this Cab from Morisoli demonstrated flavors typical to the “Rutherford Bench” area of Napa Valley: peppery, spicy, and herbaceous, but with complex dark fruit layers underneath. The wine was incredibly concentrated and extracted, which I’ve noticed is a pretty consistent theme with Sattui’s wines. The tannins were still pretty fierce, and I think it could have gone another few years in the bottle, maybe more. That being said, I think it was very good, but probably better with a big piece of lamb or beef than by itself.

By this time, the dice game was getting intense. We needed something a little less complex. We went for the Provenance Vineyards 2004 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon. Total fruit bomb, but with a nice balance of tannin, alcohol, and oak. Good wine, and probably worth the $40, but I have a hunch you could find something from Australia with a similar profile for ten bucks less. Regardless, I know Provenance has a very good pedigree for Merlot and Cab, and I think this strong effort was no exception. It was also interesting to compare a 2004 Cab and a 2005 Cab made with grapes from regions very close to each other. Was it vintage or winemaking defining such different styles? One of the many reasons why the grape on the label can sometimes say very little about the wine inside.
All in all, it was a perfect way to end the evening and put a bullet on the joyous occasion…
…yet, another notch in the (expanding) belt of excess. The January purge can’t come soon enough.
Okay. Yes it can.


Root-y, Root-y, Root-y!!!

December 5, 2009
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What a terrible title for the post. But I did find myself chanting it, and then my wife joined in, and then, before we even knew what was happening, Sean Astin showed up at our house in full, mid-to-late seventies football gear, and got a quarterback sack.

I’m pretty sure I shed a tear. Listen, guys are allowed to cry at sports accomplishments in the face of overwhelming odds. I’ll probably lose my man-card for disclosing this.
Anyway, if Rudy had listened a little more carefully, he’d heard that I was singing the praises of root vegetables.
It all started a couple weeks ago while I was attending Primal. After downing bacon, lamb liver, smoked fatback, and bull testicles, I had the crazy urge to eat some vegetables. I found someone serving pan roasted rutabagas and other assorted tubers. They were delicious and satisfying and…
…yes. Bull testicles. Proof here.
So, with cold weather infiltrating the Deep South- bringing with it a need for hearty fare- I grabbed a rutabaga, a sweet potato, and a fistful of assorted fingerlings (of all different colors, shapes, and sizes; indeed, a very ethnically-diverse fistful of taters). I dissected everything into about 3/4″ cubes (almost including a finger or two…them rutabagas is wily!) and threw them in a mixing bowl. Also added an onion I quartered. Then, despite wanting to use more fresh stuff, I went with what I had on-hand…threw a tablespoon of garlic powder in the bowl, a tablespoon of ground sage, a tablespoon of smoked paprika, some dried oregano, maybe a teaspoon of celery salt, then added sea salt, fresh cracked pepper, and olive oil to coat. Tossed it around in the bowl like a madman drunk on adrenaline, threw it all on a pan, into a 350 degree oven for about an hour, and voila!
No crazy garnish or plating flourish, but c’mon…do you really plate anything all fancy-like when you’re just eating at home? This is what the kids call “keepin’ it real,” I’m told. Yep, plastic fork too. Don’t worry, hippies. I’ll reuse it.
Anyway, the dish was texturally great: potatoes soft with a bit of bite, rutabaga with a bit more tooth too it, and the sweet potatoes were almost creamy, yet all had crunchy edges and lots of tasty caramelized bits (or maybe they were Maillard-y bits…help me out, food scientists). Once again, totally satisfying. Sometimes (and I can’t believe I’m saying this), you just don’t miss the meat.

To wash it down, I cracked a 2006 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Merlot. From the kingpin of Napa, I would expect one of Napa’s greatest grapes to do its best in this situation. With big dark fruits, warm spice, and a good backbone of tannin, it displayed the lushness that is California (especially Napa) Merlot. Granted, I would probably decant it for a couple hours before consuming next time. Regardless, the fruit in the wine worked well with the rustic heartiness of the root veggies. “Rustic heartiness”??! I’ve been reading too many food magazines.
Perhaps the best part about the wine, however, was the label. Mondavi’s higher-end bottlings feature incredibly thick paper on the labels. While I’m not one to buy a bottle based on the label, a nice fluffy one comes in handy when you take down the whole bottle, and then the whole bottle takes you down. Ah, the ironing is delicious.


Perfect Strangers

November 30, 2009
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Disclaimer: the wine I’m writing about in this post was given to me as a sample from the very smart and handsome folks at Two Friends Imports.


Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the Dynamic Duo. They’re the Gruesome Twosome. They go together like peanut butter and jelly, meat and potatoes, catfishing and MGD, pulled pork and coleslaw, cocaine and Lindsay Lohan, football and chicken wings, and/or Ponch and Jon. Yeah, you know: your favorite CHiPs, keeping the highways safe, the streets clean, and the ladies frisky. And they do it in perfect harmony with one another…Erik Estrada’s powerful and undeniable machismo paired with Larry Wilcox’ smooth-as-Parkay, California-surfer cool. Power and Smoothness. Sounds like Cab and Merlot to me.


Okay, this is gonna get weird, so bear with me. Let’s say you take Ponch and Jon and combine them into one entity. Cab and Merlot so often work together in the wine world, so it’s not too much of a stretch. Now let’s draw a very odd metaphor, calling this single entity “Larry Appleton” (aka Mark Linn-Baker’s character on Perfect Strangers). Sure, Larry was neurotic and not quite the milk-drinking stallion you’d expect from a Ponch/Jon love child, but the metaphor has to work. Why? Because you then take this Cab/Merlot/Larry Appleton creation, and throw a proverbial Balki Bartokomous into the mix: Vranec. Awkward on the surface (and difficult to pronounce), this pairing, in the end, is really a case of “perfect strangers” (see, it all came together neatly…sort of).
Such is the 2006 Bovin Alexandar. A proprietary (basically, meaning I don’t know the percentages) blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Vranec from the Tikves wine region of Macedonia. Thanks to the generosity of Two Friends Imports, I’ve been able to post about Macedonian wines a couple times: here talking about Cab and Chardonnay, and here talking about a varietal Vranec bottling (and Ravishing Rick Rude). Overall (especially for the price points), I’ve been pretty impressed at all the Bovin offerings, and I’d not hesitate to purchase them for serving to friends or giving as gifts. That’s an honest opinion, not a sell out. I’d hope my integrity’s worth more than a $13 bottle of wine (okay, barely).

In the snout, I got some serious barnyard at first. Barnyard, aka “horse blanket”, aka “poop”, is not really a bad thing in wine. To me, it’s an expression of terroir, and it’s something that can be pretty common in “old world” (meaning “European”) wines. Shortly after, that barnyard blew off a bit and opened up very pleasant smells of blueberries (something I get from Merlot a lot), blackberries, cassis (basically, the smell of Cabernet Sauvignon), earth, charcoal, dark cocoa, and spice. I also got this really distinct smell of concord grapes, as if I was smelling a glass of Welch’s grape juice. Sure, it doesn’t sound very impressive to say a grape-based spirit smells like grapes, but I’m not a very impressive person. It was there, okay? Get off my back.
In the mouth, the wine was very dry, with restrained flavors of black fruits (blackberries, plums, etc.), with some pepper mixed in. It was pretty smooth, but structured with some tannins (courtesy of the Cab and Vranec, no doubt). It was actually pretty austere and reserved in the mouth, and a little hot (alcoholic) and bitter on the back end. Although I drank it alone (as in without food…okay, I was by myself too), the wine’s subtleties told me that it would be very good with a meal. Preferably a meal with meats. Tasty red meats. The kind your doctor tells you not to have all the time. He’s probably telling you not to have wine all the time, either, so binge all at once, then go eat a carrot or something.
So, once again, Bovin brings some nice value. For a bottle priced in the low-to-mid teens, you could blow the lid off of a California wine with a marketable name. If you’re into big, fruity wines (Red Zinfandel, Australian Shiraz, California Cabernet), the Alexandar will certainly be a change of pace. However, the more you get into wine, the more you may appreciate more elegance and terroir in your glass (especially if serving with food).
Distribution’s still pretty sparse for Macedonian wine, but if you’re in Atlanta, you can find Bovin Alexandar (and other wines) at The Mercantile, Cheers Beer & Wine, and Your Dekalb Farmers Market. You can also ask for it to be ordered at Whole Foods or Harry’s Farmers Markets.
If you’re well-heeled and get to eat out (I’m pretty much no-heeled at this point), ask for Bovin at Vinocity Wine Bar in Kirkwood or Parker’s on Ponce in Decatur- what I’m told is a very good and locally-owned steakhouse (I’d have more info if I’d been there…refer to “no-heeled” comment).
Bottom-line: if you get your hands on some of this wine, you may do the “Dance of Joy” (it’s a Balki thing). And I will toast you: Cheers, Sláinte, L’Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, Kampai, and Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Taking Flight at Montaluce (at last, Georgia Wines part 4 of 4)

September 20, 2009
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Dedication can be a tricky thing. Last thing I’ve wanted to do today is sit down and write a post. Football season can really wear one out, but a fan feels compelled to watch every minute of his favorite teams, even if the games run late into the night, sap all his emotional energy, and occupy his every waking minute from Saturday morning to Sunday evening. Call it, uh…dedication to the team. Unfortunately, the blog needs it’s attention too, so dedication need be mustered again (somewhere, an English teacher is cursing me for using the same word three times in a paragraph).

Furthermore, I feel compelled to write about the wines being produced on the Dahlonega Plateau. These guys put in a lot of hard work and- do I even need to say it?- into what they’re doing, especially at Montaluce. The folks there dropped everything to speak to some inquisitive boob from Woodstock, GA, so the least I can do is write about it. If you want to read my article about Montaluce, click here. For the purposes of this post, I’m sticking strictly to the wine:

2008 Risata: Three cheers for good winemaking. This Sangiovese-based effort was originally intended to be a red wine. When the grapes didn’t come in the way the winemaker wanted, he turned it into an intriguing Rosé. Nice move. I was met with a very pleasant nose of roses, orange peel, herbs, that Georgia “grassiness”, and rainbow sherbet. Yeah, the red, green, and orange stuff. It was dry and crisp in the mouth, with good acidity. A really nice wine.
2008 Chardonnay: A nice, buttery, earthy nose (maybe “grassy” again?) with some telltale Chardonnay aromas of green apple and citrus. In the mouth, there was once again good acidity (which you’d expect in a cool-climate, but not in the Deep South…nice). This wine also had a nice, long finish. It was not my favorite of the bunch, but that could be a personal problem. Why am I saddling you with my problems? You’ve got enough on your plate, and I respect that, valued reader.

2008 Viognier: A variety of grape that I’m seeing a ton of in Georgia, for which I am very happy (Viognier is SOOO good when done well). Montaluce’s- yet again- had a very interesting nose…extra virgin olive oil (or “EVOO” if you’re into terrible Rachael Ray references) was the first thing that jumped out at me. I also got apricots, peaches, and honey in my snout. Nice tangerine and spice in the mouth. Bought a bottle; what else can I say?
2008 Merlot: Another good nose. Herbs, green pepper, and berries dancing around in the glass. As I swished it around in my cheeks, this light-to-medium bodied red had a huge kick of strawberries, which never sucks. Really, what’s impressive about the Montaluce wines is the depth of flavor that I haven’t really seen in the other Georgia wines I’ve had. They’re more complex, and this Merlot is no exception.
2008 Cabernet Sauvignon: I think by this point, I was jaw-jacking with Rob Beecham, and I didn’t write down any notes. Nice one, Joe. Anyway, what I do remember is that it was pretty good: medium-bodied, good fruit, that signature Georgia “grassiness” (which may sound bad, but it’s not. It’s the “Georgia” in the wine). Sorry, Cab. I meant well, but failed to give you the respect you deserve.
So, there it is. This edition of my Georgia wine oddyssey is closed- for now. There’s a lot more going on up in the hills, so I’m sure I’ll be back…
…just like I’m sure I’ll be sitting on the couch again on a Sunday night, trying to avoid writing a post. But if they keep busting their butts to make the best wine possible, I’ll get off mine and write about it.
To dedication, even when it’s not the easy thing to do: Cheers, Sláinte, L’Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, and Kampai!


Found my notes…

February 24, 2009
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…and away we go. Sorry for the delay.

2006 Courtney Benham Sonoma/Mendocino County Pinot Noir

Aroma: Fruit. Cherries, Strawberries mostly

Taste: To me, California PN is often heavier than it’s European (or New Zealand) counterparts. Big fruit flavors, darker color, etc. This one, however, seemed lighter than most Cali Pinot. Unlike an old world Pinot Noir, the flavors were more fruity than earthy, but the body was lighter (to me, despite containing 14% Merlot), and there was a good bit of acidity to it. Heavier than Oregon’s finest, but lighter than California. I liked this wine and look forward to drinking it with a piece of freshly-caught salmon. Or canned salmon. The catfish ate all the fresh salmon in my neighborhood pond. Ooh…a pork chop would be good. Remember that guy who played for Mississippi St. whose name was “Pork Chop Womack“? I hope to someday name a child “Pork Chop”. That name commands respect.
2005 Screw Kappa Napa Merlot

Aroma: Off-putting at first, but after a few swirls, I got sniffs of berries, little bit of leather, and herbs, particularly oregano (or that could have been my friends out behind the shed).

Taste: Soft tannins, like many Cali Merlots, with flavors of ripe cherries, berries, and even some charcoal. I thought this was a perfectly serviceable Merlot. I was wary of the gimmicky name at first, but was not disappointed by the true wine beneath. Nothing special, but not a bad buy for $10-12. Also, don’t let the screw cap scare you off: this is becoming far more popular these days, as cork can allow air into the wine and oxidize/ruin it. Real cork is also subject to “cork taint”, which can ruin a wine as well. So don’t fear the screw cap…it never stopped you from drinking that 40 oz. of King Cobra, did it?

2007 Cline “Ancient Vines” California Zinfandel

Funny thing. I didn’t take any notes on this wine, but I specifically recall it tasting different than the last time I had it. Why didn’t I take notes? Because my notes say “see previous notes,” referring to when we tasted this wine in a previous post (A Zinfandel Tasting).

But, I’m a dumbass. I recall this one tasting less chocolate and cherries, and more berries and pepper. I still liked it, but it was more, uh, “punchy”, I guess. Probably more acidic.

So, let this be a lesson: even self-proclaimed “wine enthusiasts,” who act like they know what they’re doing, are not immune to stupifying effects of boozin’.
2005 Dynamite Vineyards Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon
Aroma: Okay. I wrote “Barrel Room”. That’s a smell a lot of people may not know, unless you are a shameless winery tourist, a rat, or perhaps Sloth from The Goonies.

Anyway, “Barrel Room” is the smell of where the wine is aging in oak barrels. This tells me that this wine smelled like vanilla, oak, toast, and some classic Cab smells, like dark fruit, leather, and cocoa.

Taste: Blueberries, Vanilla, Black Cherry, Herbs. Despite the described aroma, the oak was not completely overpowering the fruit flavors. I thought it was pretty decent for a $17.99 bottle of Cali cab, until I saw it at another store for $9.97….friggin’ Fresh Market. Anyway, for $9.97, this is a good deal.

2005 Novelty Hill Columbia Valley Syrah

Okay. If you don’t know where the Columbia Valley is, it’s not in California. It actually runs from Washington down and runs along the Washington-Oregon border. So, this wine didn’t fit with the “rules”, but at this point, we didn’t care. Furthermore, we weren’t spitting throughout the night, so my notes REALLY suck here. I wrote, “classic syrah…can’t pick out the scent.” Wow. That’s knowledge. From my experience, I can gather that this was a powerful wine with peppery aromas and flavors, laced with dark fruit, mint, leather, tar, and some nice structured tannins. I wouldn’t think of Washington State as an adequate producer of a warmer-weather grape like Syrah, but it did seem similar to a more northern-Rhone wine, like Cote-Rotie. Not necessary a wine for the beginner, and a far cry from jammy Australian Shiraz, but worth a try if you’re looking to get into Syrah (which is a good idea, in my opinion).

California Love

February 19, 2009
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Got together at pal Lindsay’s place last Friday to taste some wines and tell some stories. The rules were simple: everyone bring 2 bottles of a particular varietal wine, all from California. The suspects were Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. Donned in my “Awesome Possum” t-shirt, the coup-de-gras of sommelier gear, I proceded to try to pontificate on the sanctity of the vine to a bunch of drunk college buddies. Sure enough, this was neither the time nor the place, so we just started popping corks and tucking in. I must say: I don’t consider myself a pretentious wine snob, but I sure look like a li’l stinker in this particular photo (right). Oh well. It reminds me of Mike Myers talking about Colonel Sanders in So I Married an Axe Murderer, with that “smug look on his face. Oh, you’re gonna buy my chicken…ooooohhh.” See the bottom of this post if you don’t know what I’m talking about.
So, with Kenny (pictured, left, to the right) half-in-the-bag, on the cusp of performing his famous Mick Jagger strut, we tucked into some very decent wines within the $12-15 range (though many were $17-20, and I bet those people couldn’t afford Taco Bell later that night. Suckers!). As in most tastings we started with the lightest body in Pinot Noir, then went to the Merlot, the Zinfandel, the Cab, and finished with the Syrah.
Behold the lineup, from left to right:
-2006 Courtney Benham Sonoma/Mendocino County Pinot Noir
-2005 Screw Kappa Napa Napa Valley Merlot
-2007 Cline “Ancient Vines” California Zinfandel
-2005 Dynamite Vineyards Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon
-2005 Novelty Hill Columbia Valley Syrah (not California, but more on that later)
-2007 Dacu Ribera Del Guadiana (Tempranillo)…not part of the tasting, but worth noting
With our motley crew of selections lined up, we set out to find the best. What wines took the cake? Well, that will have to wait for the next post, because I have to go to sleep and dream about not going to work tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy this previously-mentioned movie clip: