American Triumph

American Triumph

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Bold Zin for less than $20

I love Zinfandel. When I lived in California my favorite local wines were almost always Zins, and, interestingly, the name "Zinfandel" is American in origin, dating from the 19th century. The grape strain is purportedly of Croatian origin, and closely akin, genetically speaking, to the Italian Primitivo, but California Zin is truly its own animal. 

Most CA Zinfandel's are high-alcohol, full-bodied wines with jammy fruit flavors of raspberry and cherry combining with peppery, spicy notes of cloves and cinnamon. 

Because black Zinfandel grapes are naturally very high in sugar, Zins are usually higher in alcohol content than other red wines, sometimes as high as 16-17% rather than the more typical 12-14%. So if you've decided to open, and finish, a bottle of Zinfandel, either on your own or with one other person to assist, be prepared to stay put or find yourself a designated driver.

In my search for a good, affordable bottle of Zin at my local wine shop, I stumbled upon a 2008 Pezzi King Dry Creek Zinfandel (purchased for $19; retails for $15-20 across the U.S.). 

This is a big, full-bodied wine, rich purple in color with raspberries and pepper on the nose. It has a high alcohol content of nearly 16%. In the mouth the wine tastes strongly of cherries, tobacco and cinnamon, with a slightly acidic aftertaste. It's balanced but not quite as jammy as I would prefer.

I really enjoyed it on its own but found that it did not pair well with pasta with marinara sauce; the acids in the wine became too prominent. Overall, this is a wine I would purchase again, particularly if I could find it for $15.

GAW Rating: 3/5 (a bold Zin for under $20) 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Wine Samples: Speed Dating for Winos

Tasting Room: Hidden Gems Sampler 
If you're anything like me, you enjoy tasting as many varietals and vintages as possible. Living near wine country, in CA, WA, OR or VA, for example, grants the average wine drinker excellent access to a wide variety of wines. 
Touring your local wine country and paying a $5 tasting fee here and there to check out a particular winery's portfolio of wines is the ideal way to "speed date" before buying a bottle and committing to a real date, as it were, or joining a wine club and settling down into the marriage. But what if you don't live anywhere near wine country? What if it's simply unrealistic for you to get in your car and drive to wineries to sample?

One solution is to find your nearest boutique wine shop, wine tasting room, or fancy-pants restaurant offering an impressive wine selection. Wine shops frequently hold tastings and wine tasting rooms often offer happy hour specials. Why not try out a flight of wines before buying a bottle? 

If you live in one of the following states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming and the District of Columbia, you could also try out Tasting Room.

Tasting Room bills itself as the place to "try wine before you buy"; customers can, for a price, taste every bottle of wine they sell. According to the Tasting Room website, "The days of buying a bottle of wine and hoping you like it are over. Our unique wine samplers let you taste premium wines before you invest in the full bottle. And at a fraction of the cost of a regular tasting room. Just pick the wine sampler you want to taste, choose your favorites, and buy full-size bottles of wines you love. No risk. Just reward."

Indeed, say the folks at Tasting Room, why bother with Napa or Sonoma, where you'll pay exorbitant prices for tastings, when you can just order a sampler online and taste in the privacy of your own home? "Instead of travelling to a Napa Valley tasting room and paying $20 to taste a flight of wines, we bring the California wine tasting experience to you. Plus, you can pick the wines you taste."
CA Wine Country: nothing beats the real thing.
I can definitely see the benefits of this business model. Let's say you live in TX and are interested in tasting several different CA wines. Traveling to CA is out of the question. You can order the "Hidden Gems Sampler" ($27.99), which includes six 50 ml. samples from CA wineries--a Pinot Noir from La Follette, a Sangiovese from Peterson, a Red Blend from Acorn, and Zinfandels from Carol Shelton, Storybook Mountain, and TrattoreIf you like anything you've tasted, you can order a bottle online or find it in your local wine shop. 

However, if it's within the realm of possibility to sample wines at an actual winery, I highly recommend taking that route as well. Most wineries, even those in Napa and Sonoma, do not charge $20 for tastings. (More like $5-10) And you're much more likely to find an expert on hand to discuss wines with you. Tasting wine alone, in private, doesn't sound nearly as fun or informative as getting out there and meeting people who know what they're talking about. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

An Everyday Rosé for a Modest Budget: Uvaggio's Rosato

This is the season for rosés, and I've taken it upon myself to sample several under $15 bucks. My goal is to find an everyday rosé blend, one that's easy to drink, fairly easy to find, and accompanied by a very attractive price tag. I want a rosé table wine that's perfect for a warm summer's evening by the pool, on the couch, or in a lounge chair outside. 

Today I'm pouring a nicely chilled 2009 Uvaggio Lodi Rosato, purchased for $11 at my local wine shop (retails for approx. $11-14). I'm pleased to report that this budget rosé, while lacking the wow factor, is balanced and refreshing. It's a zippy poolside choice for a summertime picnic with cold-cuts and salad, or a weekend BBQ, or a cool post-work drink.

Vintage: 2009
Wine Type: Ro
Varietal: Primitivo/Barbera
Appellation: California, Lodi
Alcohol %: 12.7%

A blend of 71% Primitivo and 29% Barbera grapes, the wine is a light pinkish color and gives off faint aromas of summer fruits, especially strawberries and cherries. My first thought was, "This rosé tastes like melted Sweettarts, the candy." 

It shows flavors of berry, watermelon, burnt orange, and rose petal, with rather low acidity. Light in the mouth, with a clean finish, the Rosato would go down well with relatively simple fare, like ham sandwiches; cheeseburgers and fries; a field greens salad with balsamic vinaigrette dressing; BBQ pork; fried chicken; and roasted seasonal veggies. 

We knocked back most of the bottle soon after opening, without food. 
Although this is far from the best rosé I've ever had, I will buy it again if it's hot and I'm thirsty and in the mood for a dry, everyday Rosé that's priced to sell.
GAW Rating: 3/5 (a good choice for summer-time sipping on a budget)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

3 Great Wines for Moms Who Like Whites

If your mom loves "white" wine (and most of the moms I know mean Chardonnay when they say this, although they all need to live a little), try one of these beauties:

1. St. Supéry 2009 Oak Free Chardonnay
Chardonnay is a wine many people associate with the rich, buttery flavor of oak barrels. But if your mom is in the mood for something a bit lighter and more fruit forward, tempt her taste buds with a St. Supéry Oak Free Chardonnay. This is a medium-bodied wine that even red wine drinkers usually appreciate upon first sip. It goes down smoothly, gives off fresh, clean aromas of green apple and minerals, and fills the mouth with tastes of mellon, apple, and pear. No oakiness to be found.
It's so good, I wish I had a bottle of my own right now. Retails for approx. $22-25.00. Fyi: The 2009 is quite nice but older/newer vintages are also excellent. 
GAW Rating: 4/5 (one of my favorites, esp for the price)

2. Viansa's 2007 Frescolina
Frescolina is not a wine most people have heard of, because it's usually only available directly through Viansa winery, but if you're looking to take mom on a relaxing mother's day picnic, this is the ideal wine to pack in the basket as a nice dessert surprise. Not only is the bottle itself lovely, the wine inside is rather good, with aromas of honeysuckle and mellon and a palate tasting of apricots, peaches, and flowers. My mom loves this stuff. Serve chilled, either on its own or with strawberries. This wine has proven fairly consistent across vintages, too. 
GAW Rating: 4/5 (this is quite a nice treat)

3. 2010 Hall Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
Hall makes fantastic wine. Much of their wine is on the pricey side but this bottle of Sauvignon Blanc is priced very well (approx. $22). If your mom likes fruity, zesty wine with hints of citrus, this should go down very well. The wine gives off strong fruit-forward aromas of grapefruit and passionfruit, with a palate dominated by notes of lime, guava, and honeysuckle, followed by a clean, minerally finish. A crisp, fresh choice, perfect on its own or with salad or fish.
GAW Rating: 4/5 (a great wine and a bargain for the price)

Happy Mother's day! For moms who like red wine, particularly Zins, and for buyers shopping at their local grocery store rather than online, I also highly recommend Cline's 2009 Ancient Vines Zinfandel.

A Simple Aroma and Tasting Crib Sheet

Do you or your non-savvy wine friends need a little assistance when attempting to describe wine during tastings or everyday life? Trying to think of a fun and cheap (i.e. FREE) gift to give Mom this weekend before pouring her out a glass of chilled Rose at brunch? Is a wine aroma wheel too damn annoying for your mom or anyone else you know to bother with?

Very pretty, but also irritating at times. Maybe it's just me?

Vinography, one of my favorite wines sites, has developed an aroma card that makes wine sampling easy peesy. Instead of those round and confusing aroma and flavor guide wheels, which I find incredibly irritating, frankly, and difficult to read while drinking anyway, Vinography developed a straightforward aroma card.

You don't have to spin the wheel around in circles looking for the right flavor and squinting while tasting wine; rather, you can just pull up the Vinography Aroma Card pdf and print the cheat sheet; fold it into a little card and insert in your wallet or purse or fannypack or whatever; pop the crib sheet out when needed; and glance down the list until your brain stumbles on the correct descriptor. Simple. Easy and fun. I love little "find the right word" games.


*Trying to think of a fairly cheap but good CA wine to buy tonight? Check out three earlier tasting posts on 2009 Cline Ancient Vines Zin; 2007 Kenwood Cab; and 2008 Au Bon Climat Pinot Gris blend.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Wine Wednesday: 2008 Au Bon Climat Pinot Gris/Pinot Blanc

Typically, I like my uppers in the AM (esp. strong, rich coffee with a shot of milk) and my downers in the PM (esp. wine). During the week I tend not to imbibe until late afternoon (post-3pm) at the earliest, unless I'm out and about wine tasting. As a writer/educator, I really need my brain cells working overtime during the daytime hours.

However, today I decided to indulge over lunch while eating a crisp endive salad with apples and walnuts, and a blue cheese dressing.  I opted for a dry white wine combining the fruit-forward notes of a Pinot Blanc and the light, floral qualities of a Pinot Gris: 2008 Au Bon Climat Pinot Gris/Pinot Blanc (Retails for approx. $16.99; I purchased my bottle at a local wine shop).

Vintage: 2008
Wine Type: White
Varietal: Pinot Blanc/Pinot Grigio
Appellation: California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara
Alcohol %: 13%

The wine is a light, clear straw color in the glass and opens with a nice whiff of fresh green apples, lemon, lavender, and minerals. Once in the mouth, it tastes strongly of crisp apples and grapefruit, with lighter notes of pear, mellon, and ginger and a zingy acidity. Finishes crisp and smooth and pairs extraordinarily well with salad. Fish would be a great accompaniment as well. (Yes, my lunch rocked!)

This is a well-priced white wine that combines the best of several worlds: slightly sweet/tart fruitiness, floral notes, and pop-in-your-mouth acids. I plan to buy another bottle asap since most of the older vintages have all sold out. Check out Au Bon Climat's other wines.

GAW rating: 4 (great taste, great value)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Cellaring: Should You Buy a Wine Fridge?

For casual wine drinkers, buying a wine fridge to "cellar" your wine may seem like overkill. Why should anyone with a small or non-existent wine collection need an entirely different receptacle in which to store it?

Can't regular wine drinkers just keep their selection in a simple, cheap wooden wine wrack? Why waste the money, or the space, on a wine fridge?

If you live in a cool or temperate climate, or have a temperature-regulated basement in your house, I'm inclined to agree with these statements. However, many people live in warm, humid climates or in climates with extreme winter and summer temperatures.

If you live in Texas or Arizona, for example, and would like to start a wine collection, or cellar individual bottles for a year or more, you may want to consider purchasing a refrigerated storage unit. To age wine properly, maintaining the correct temperature is critical. You need to be consistent.

Wineries traditionally aged their wines in large oak barrels in cool, underground lairs with concrete floors (think Batman's cave) before bottling. Once that precious liquid is in the bottle, the wine is usually good to go either straight away or, for the vast majority of wines, within a year or two. Most red wines are designed with aging potential; those with heavy tannins tend to mellow and improve with age.

So if you'd like to start a wine collection, or just need a place to store the bottles you plan to drink in the near future, a wine fridge may be a smart investment. Do keep in mind that not all wine fridges are created equal: some are designed for both white and red wines, with two different temperatures; others are better suited for one type of wine; still others are capable of holding a rather large collection.

When I first started drinking rarer and more expensive wines, I bought a wine fridge capable of holding 28 bottles. This seemed like the ideal storage capacity at the time. But within six months I realized that I would soon need more space, and that paying for a larger, dual-temp fridge would be well worth the investment. Vintage CellarsWine Cellar Innovations and Wine Enthusiast, among others, sell a number of great models, including one of the highest-end models: the Euro Cave Wine Cellar, pictured on the right. This bad boy holds 233 bottles of wine and costs a cool $2-3K, depending on the seller.

I also discovered, when my first, cheaper wine fridge pooped out on me sooner than it should have, that buying an extended warranty is a very smart move.

Top Red and White Varietals to Cellar
1. Cabernet Sauvignon
May be cellared from anywhere between 5-15 years depending on the quality of the wine. Cabs on the lower end of the scale, less than $15, are better to drink in the short term.

2. Merlot
May be cellared from anywhere between 3-10 years depending on the quality of the wine. Merlots on the lower end of the scale, less than $12, are accessible when purchased.

3. Pinot Noir
May be cellared from anywhere between 2-8 years depending on the quality of the wine. Pinots on the lower end of the scale, less than $15, are accessible when purchased or within the year.

4. Chardonnay
May be cellared from anywhere between 3-8 years depending on the quality of the wine and the fermentation process. Chardonnays that are golden and give off buttery notes have undergone malolactic fermentation and have a much shorter lifespan. Drink these fairly quickly. Chardonnays less than $12 generally do not benefit from cellaring.  

5. Chenin Blanc
May be cellared from anywhere between 2-5 years depending on the quality of the wine. More expensive varieties might age quite well over a short period of time, but Chenin Blanc in general is designed to be consumed right away. Drink up Chenin Blanc less than $12 immediately.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Monday Night Calls for a Light Cab

Today was another gloomy, rainy day in my neck of the woods. Earlier this morning, I thought about buying a sparkling wine as a nice mood lifter. However, once I realized that Mother's Day weekend was right around the corner, I decided to save the bubbly for a special occasion. (It's not like I'll have to wait that long, right?)

In the meantime, a nicely priced bottle of 2007 Kenwood Cabernet Sauvignon caught my eye. Normally available from anywhere between $17.99-$20.99 at my local grocery store, this particular bottle only set me back $13.99. I used to live near the Sonoma Valley and have visited Kenwood Vineyards multiple times for tastings. So, when purchasing this bottle, I knew what I was getting into. 

Kenwood makes a variety of quality wines; their diverse portfolio of wines ranges from the lower-end of-the-market products, like the wine I'm drinking tonight, to their higher-end Reserve, Artist Series, Jack London, and Vintage selections. Based on my experience in their tasting room, Kenwood's more expensive varieties are quite good; their reasonably priced, everyday wines are also worth a sip, however.

The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon has a light nose, with faint hints of berry and cassis. Swirling the wine really helps open up the bouquet, as does a quick pop in the fridge after corking, to lower the Cab to the optimum temp of 58-60 degrees and let it breathe. Once in the mouth, the wine is thin and lacks in spice or boldness; it tastes of strawberry and plum, with a slightly tart aftertaste. I drank mine with a slice of veggie pizza but it drinks well on its own, too.

Vintage: 2007
Wine Type: Red Wine
Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon
Appellation: California
Alcohol %: 13.5.%

GAW rating: 2/5 (It's a decent everyday Cab when the price is right) 

5 Reasons No One Visits Wine Blogs

1. Who wants to look online?
When most people decide to buy a bottle of wine, they don't hit up google; they hit up their local vendor or a site like Wine Library. Regular wine drinkers don't have the time or inclination to do tons of research: they like to browse in person and pick out a bottle. Presto, wine's on the table and in a glass. Why spend time you don't have looking for opinions on the internet? This isn't a major purchase! (Most of my friends spend an average of $6-10 on a bottle of wine.)

2. The amount of info out there is bewildering. 
If you do hit up google for assistance, you'll find that there are wine blogs and wine libraries; wine-region promotional sites and links to wineries; wine magazines and random articles about wine drinking; wine advertisements and tourist destinations; and so on. Unless you know what you're looking for, you're likely to feel like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole.

3. Wine culture is off-putting.
Let's face it, most people prefer to drink wine and not talk about it too much. Talking ruins the wine and makes you feel foolish or silly or uninformed. I grew up in a household in which no one knew a thing about wine or even how to pronounce the names of various grapes: box and jug wine were frequently consumed at room temperature (avg. 70 degrees). No one started a conversation about wine or sought out reviews, they just drank, and offered, whatever was on hand.

4. Wine preferences are subjective. 
My go-to wine may be a bold, heavy Cab while someone else may prefer to imbibe a light and fruity rosé, or even a sickly-sweet $5 Riesling (I'm thinking of my mother-in-law right now). Why read the opinions of others, even if they are better informed, when it comes to wine?

5. Wine is usually an impulse buy.
There's a reason why the cheaper, mass-produced wines are often served at parties and family gatherings: they're available everywhere and the prices are low. In the midst of planning a menu and buying all of the ingredients needed for feeding a horde of people, or even just your own family, buying wine is not an experience most shoppers tend to 
savor. They want to be in and out. 

*So why bother reading this blog? After all, there are five very good reasons not to. The simple answer is this: reading about wine, even talking about wine, can be really fun. I promise. It may not be done in most American households, but I aim to get the conversation started. Why leave all the wine talk, particularly about locally produced wines, to the wine snobs? We're the ones doing most of the drinking. So what if you do like box wine or two-buck chuck or the cheapest bottle you can find? Talk about those preferences here! 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sipping Zinfandel on a Warm Spring Evening

It's a humid Sunday evening: May Day, to be precise. After a day of nothing in particular, other than daydreaming about good food and wine and watching the rain, now is the perfect time to relax, put my feet up, and sip a reasonably priced Zinfandel. 

Tonight I'm drinking a Cline 2009 Ancient Vines Zinfandel (regularly priced $18.99 at my local grocery store, bought on sale for $15.99). 

Vintage: 2009
Wine Type: Red Wine
Varietal: Zinfandel
Appellation: California
Alcohol %: 15.0%

This is a nice Zin for the money; a wine to savor with or without food on any old occasion. Some California Zins are incredibly sweet or tart berry-fruity reds, with characteristic aromas of strawberry, raspberry or cherry; others show strong hints of coffee, leather, chocolate, and/or vanilla; still others are on the zesty, spicy side, tasting of tannins. Zin grapes have been planted in nearly every wine region in California, with eight sites predominant, and Cline hails from the Lodi region. Cline is known for making great, affordable Zins.

Cline's 2009 Ancient Vines Zinfandel is a mild, full-flavored Zin, offering, for less than $20, tastes of strawberries, vanilla, and coffee, with a subtle chocolate aftertaste. It leaves an unexpected velvety smoothness on the tongue. Try taking a sip or two, as I did, and swirling it around in your mouth. Yum. No tartness or heavy tannins at all. In my experience, this is fairly unusual for a reasonably priced, fruit-driven Zin. 
Because my place is quite a bit hotter than a typical wine cellar at the moment, I popped my bottle in the fridge for 15 minutes before opening and pouring myself a glass. This is a wine to enjoy now or cellar for a year or two. 

GAW Rating: 3/5  (a good everyday Zin, well worth the $16-18 price tag)

You can purchase Cline wines pretty much everywhere, including higher-end grocery stores and boutique wine shops. You can also browse the wine collection on their website and order a bottle or two.