Monday, September 28, 2009

too young for wine?

I'm working on an article for* about being a young wine drinker and I was wondering if anybody on here has ever had a negative experience buying wine, drinking wine or visiting a tasting room based on their age. I want to know what you feel it's like as a young wine consumer. Do you ever feel looked down upon because you're young? Spare no details!

* please note that by contributing to this discussion you are granting permission for your quotes and basic identity (i.e. your username) to be used for this article.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

let go of the sulfites ... and everything else

Yeah, so there's no way I'm showing you my face today. I'm stuck at home with a twisted ankle from slipping and falling on my butt yesterday at work. So instead I'm lying on the couch with my mismatched socks playing Batman: Arkham Asylum. And, of course, tasting wine.
Today I'm trying the next stage in organic winemaking: sulfite-free wines. Well, more specifically, no sulfites added wines. It's near impossible to guarantee that there are no sulfites whatsoever nowadays. These wines have been produced without adding any sulfites to the mix, which makes them USDA-certified organic wine. The only problem with sulfite-free wines is that you cannot age them, since sulfites are one of the primary assistants in making sure a wine ages without going sour.
Well, too late. This wine is abysmal.

I'm trying the 2008 Well Red Organic Wine from, well, California ($5.99, Trader Joe's). Or at least the organic parts of California, anyway, since all the grapes are required to be 100% Certified Organically Grown. The nose on the wine is pleasant enough, a little chalky but with a nice fruit and jam bouquet. But the taste. Oh God, the taste. It's sour and undeveloped, almost tastes like cough syrup.
All I took was a small sample and I've tasted enough. Do not buy this wine.
I don't recommend giving up on sulfite-free wines entirely, especially if you believe you have an allergy to them. I've heard that Frey Vineyards in Mendocino makes acceptable no sulfites added wines, but I haven't seen them in stores. You can go to if you'd like more information on them.
Well, I'm going to make sure to open up a nice, quality red tonight for dinner with Julien. But first, a nice appetizer of chips and salsa. I have to get the taste of that wine out of my mouth. Sheesh.

Friday, September 18, 2009

charmingly organic(ally grown)

I recently checked out a blog entry by Lindsey of Flickers of Memories, which described in detail a problem I've heard many people talk about before - not being able to drink wine.
More specifically, people who get headaches or nauseous from drinking wine, which makes it very difficult  for anyone to enjoy the experience at all. I've heard every explanation in the book: allergic to wine, just doesn't agree with me, etc.
In truth, a lot of the time it can be boiled down to one of three things: pesticides, histamines or sulfites. It's pretty difficult to be allergic to wine, but it sure as heck is possible to be allergic to any of the mentioned ingredients, which are quite common in everyday wines.
So I decided to write a series of articles over the next week talking about the different types of wine that are best suited for individuals who may have never had a chance to really enjoy wine.

The first wine: organic

Let me start by saying that most wines are not organic (after all, sulfites are not an organic matter), they are organically grown. Meaning that the grapes used to create the wines were made without any pesticides or herbicides in the production. There are several natural alternatives that can be used instead, such as releasing ladybugs, dry farming, keeping owls and many others that can help to create a natural ecosystem in one's vineyard.
That also doesn't guarantee that the wine is vegan. As you may not know, wines are allowed to use certain amounts of egg whites or gelatin in the wines in order to create a proper consistency.
One organic and vegan vineyard that I know very well, since I've worked there for a year and a half, is Heller Estate Organic Vineyards in Carmel Valley. The winemaker, Rich Tanguay, is vegan, so he treats all his wines in a way that he would want them to taste.
A lot of their wines are on the more expensive side ($25 for 2007 Chardonnay, $40 for 2004 Estate Cabernet, $100 for their 2003 Meritage Celebration), but are a great option if you're vegan or have a problem drinking normal wines. A lot of people I've talked to said that they can only drink organic because they get headaches from drinking wines whose grapes have been treated with pesticides.

However, since I've worked there and have tried every single wine they have (including some of the 2008 futures), I decided to review someone else's wine. This time, I went south of the border and tried the 2008 Santa Julia Organica Cabernet Sauvignon from Mendoza, Argentina ($7.99, Cost Plus). This wine was made with organically grown grapes, and you can instantly notice a difference. The taste is smooth, yet has a raw texture that's unique to the organic varietal.
The color is very light for a Cabernet (thought not surprising, considering it's so young), a soft burgundy with a salmon pink halo. The nose is full and sharp with notes of bright red cherry, black currant and a hint of pine needle.
The taste, oh man, it's hard to believe this is a Cabernet. It's incredibly light and smooth on the beginning, with flavors of black currant, red cherry, chocolate and raspberry ... but it finishes with a kick, a lingering flavor of salt and spice. I enjoyed it with a kalamata olive and feta cheese pizza, which actually didn't taste that bad - although, to be honest, the kalamata olives kind of killed the sweetness of the wine for a little while.
I really enjoyed this wine. It isn't one to hold on to, it's obviously meant to be drunk right away, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend anyone doing so. It's also a great way to impress your friends with all your new knowledge on organically grown wines!
Next I'll be taking the next step down the road to organic enlightenment - sulfite-free wine. Ooh ... should be interesting.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

that old black magic

It seems that in our society we're always celebrating our holidays way too early. Christmas in October, Back To School in June, Valentine's Day before New Year's. Well, right now it's Halloween, and even the wine industry is getting in on the action.
Last week I stopped by Cost Plus to pick up a couple everyday bottles for my tiny little wine collection - I like to try new things that won't break my bank and Cost Plus is the perfect venue for that. Right in the front of the store was a big display showing the latest in .... Halloween wines?

That's right, Halloween is no longer just about candy corn and costumes ... it can also be about wine pairing, with that special magical (or zombie!) touch. Now, most of these I wouldn't touch with a 6-inch cork screw. Any wine that states its region as California, like the Trick and Treat ones up front (see above), are pretty much a guaranteed Russian Roulette of drinking - those grapes could come from anywhere, gosh darn it!
Well, one bottle I couldn't resist was the little black cat. Specifically, the 2007 Zeller Schwarze Katz (translates to Zeller Black Cat), a German Riesling from Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, a famous wine region with "roots" dating back to Roman expansion of the European continent. I know it's taboo (pun intended) to purchase a bottle mainly for its packaging ... but when you find a bottle in the shape of an adorable black cat that could serve as a perfect vase for that stray daisy you find on the side of the road, you can't say no, right? Especially when that wine is $8.99.

(let's have a look at that bottle again, so cute!)

Not to mention the fact that I've traditionally had good luck with German Rieslings ... light and sweet whites generally respond well to the cooler climates that Germany has to offer.
Well, the wine was surprisingly pleasant, for the relatively short amount of time that I was able to drink it without turning into Shirley Temple. The color's an incredibly light yellow, almost like an evening sunbeam shining through glass, with tiny bubbles popping up periodically. The nose has a pleasing combination of sweetness and acidity, a slight lemongrass crispness overshadowed by the overwhelming scent of sweet white peach.
The white peach continues into the flavor of the wine, which is very, very sweet ... almost like a dessert wine. It also has notes of well-ripened green apple, with a little spritz on the tongue. It's pretty easy to drink by itself in small doses, but honestly, after awhile it becomes a little too much of the same sticky-sweet thing and I couldn't drink it anymore. It's not a wine meant to be by itself, unless you're the type of drinker who can't stand anything that's not sweet or blush.
As far as a food pairing, I didn't create one this evening (too late to cook!), but I could easily imagine this with some spicy Indian or Thai cuisine, preferably with a bit of nice red curry and bay leaves. It would also work well in a cheese fondue, which I plan on writing an article on in the next week or two ... so be on the lookout for that!
I would definitely recommend this wine for a novice who's trying to get into wine for the first time - it clocks in at 9.5% alcohol and it's perfectly sweet enough for people who may not like the red wines so much.
And now I have a perfect little bottle of a naughty black cat to keep around the house. Delightful!

feeling fabulous (where's the wine?)

Today, I'm feeling very fabuloso. I found out yesterday that I've lost at least 5lbs, and my body's looking more and more in shape everyday. I'm really glad I joined the Dance Repertory class - it's high-impact aerobics, but serves more of a purpose than just doing it every week. I get to dance in the final performance at the end of the semester, with my new and improving physique!
I think I'm gonna open up a bottle and celebrate tonight after school. Now, what to drink? Because this empty glass thing is looking mighty depressing .... I guess we'll just have to wait and see :).

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

j'ai soif

Last night, to celebrating my best being in town from FL (and her new baby!) we went out to a wine and tapas restaurant in Santa Cruz called Soif. It's all organic, right down to every taste of wine. We enjoyed some fantastic (and one okay) wines, including a Chardonnay from Chablis, France which has a soft mineral taste with hints of light citrus ... a great Old World Chardonnay. There was also an Austrian Red Blend that tasted remarkably of black pepper with a fatty yet smooth texture and a Tempranillo/Granciano from Rioja that tasted WAY too much of black liquorice. Wasn't able to finish off that one. 
I also had a Sparkling Pinot Noir to cap off the night - that was delicious and completely enjoyable. I definitely recommend trying sparkling blush wines if you want to try something unique. 

Saturday, September 12, 2009

the okay, the no way and so on

I've had a couple of bottles over the past few days but not enough time in the day to really write about them. Well, now I'm making time .... though I wish it were for better wines.
I'm going to be brief about the first one, because I would honestly rather forget it. It was a 2007 Undone Pinot Noir from Rheinhessen, Germany ($9, Cost Plus).  It stood out to me because, for one, it was a German Pinot. I haven't seen or heard of that before in my entire wine life ... I'm sure it's existed before, but it was news to me. The other thing that got my attention about this wine was the fact that it was unoaked, or "naked" as they called it. Not so common for a Pinot Noir nowadays.
Well, it sure was naked. It was also flavorless. It was a mild tasting and thin wine with slight flavors of cherry and other light berry fruits. I only enjoyed it for the sake of the label (see below) - other than that, it was easily forgettable.

The other wine I tasted was a 2006 Concannon Limited Release Petite Syrah from the CA Central Coast ($15, on sale for $6 at Safeway). Concannon claims to be the "world's first winery to bottle Petite Syrah," so I figured they probably had a reputation on the stuff.
The color's a dark purple with a lighter purple halo surrounding - a nice, rich color fitting for a nice, bold red. The nose has hints of dark cherry and raspberry with a nice note of red plum. The texture is slightly less rich than I would've thought for a Petite Syrah. It has strong flavors of red plum, pine and white chocolate with a spicy nutmeg finish. It's an easily enjoyable wine, but nothing extraordinary. For the price, it's a good find ... but I wouldn't recommend it for much beyond the value.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

totally righteous cabernet, dude

Damn young people drinking wine stereotypes. It is pretty funny, though. Where's Spuds McKenzy?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

it's time for some zinnin'

Last night I decided to spoil my boyfriend by making a delicious gnocchi dinner with asparagus and an heirloom tomato and blue cheese sauce. Since I like to think of myself as the adventurous type (not to mention the fact that I don't have many bottles at home right now, something I seek to remedy soon) I decided to pair it with a nice, spicy zinfandel ... to be exact, the 2006 Plungerhead Old Vine Zinfandel from the Sierra Foothills. It's normally about $15, but I got it on sale at Cost Plus for $8 ... not bad for a wine that won a Gold Medal and scored 98 Points at the 2009 California State Fair.

I decided to open it with my Soiree Instant Wine Decanter (see above), a $30 nifty little glass device that naturally aerates the wine just enough for it to be drinkable right away. It's perfect if you have a young wine that you want to enjoy immediately but are afraid it will taste too "wild" in the first hour. I have had a few instant wine decanters and this one, so far, is my favorite, because all it uses are little bumps in the glass bowl to naturally swirl (and therefore add oxygen into) the wine.
The color on this wine was a deep burgundy with a soft salmon pink halo. The nose had interesting connotations of black cherry and raspberry. The spice was especially interesting on the nose - I didn't get any pepper on it at all. Instead, I got notes of nutmeg and cinnamon.
The taste was rather sweet for a Zinfandel, with cherry, raspberry and chocolate. There was a noticeable change between the taste on the first day and the taste on the second day - first day it was incredibly sweet, but now (second day) it has a little more sweet spice to it. The spice, again, tastes remarkably of nutmeg - with a hint of salt and white pepper as well. There's the slightest hint of mint on the finish as well.
Overall, this was a very pleasant Zinfandel. Not the most traditional as far as spice and intensity, but its uniqueness makes it a nice wine to enjoy. It also tasted fantastic with the heirloom tomato and blue cheese sauce I made!

Friday, September 4, 2009

mimosa friday

I decided to surprise my boyfriend this morning by going out and getting some Sparkling Wine* to make mimosas with breakfast.

* note: it's only called Champagne when it's from Champagne, France - all other times it's called Sparkling Wine. one of those neat little facts. 

Needless to say, he was a very happy camper.

For those of you who may not have made mimosas at home before, here are a couple things that'll help you out. The first thing are the ingredients: sparkling wine and orange juice. That's it! Now, don't get fooled by the "experimenters" that insist you throw in this or that (my worst memory ... Bacardi 151 ... gross). All you need are the classics in order to get a good mimosa going.
If possible, I definitely recommend fresh squeezed orange juice - you can definitely notice a difference. It's pretty easy and affordable to find a juicer nowadays. You can find an electric one for $40 or a manual for $20 (I personally use electric because it's so much quicker).
If fresh squeezed isn't an option for you, make sure to use juice that's not from concentrate, i.e. Florida Natural Orange Juice or Odwalla. Anything else is going to taste sub-par and ruin the quality of the Sparkling Wine (and why not spend the extra 1-2 bucks to make a mimosa that's really superb?).
As far as sparkling goes, you can't go wrong with Champagne. But, any good bottle of Champagne should most likely be saved, unless you have five bottles of it and have no idea what to do with it (in that case, mail one to me!). But if you're not Money McMoneybags and can't afford mountains of Champagne bottles for your castle, there are a couple great and affordable Sparkling Wines to choose from. My favorite varietal is Blanc de Blanc, because it's light enough to complement the orange juice without overpowering it.

My catch of the day is the Piper Sonoma Select Cuvee Blanc de Blanc from Sonoma County. It's normally $20, but I got it on sale at Safeway for $12.99. It's a Methode Champenoise, which means it's relatively prepared in the style of traditional Champagne (a lot of the time that indicates that it's been prepared as a non-vintage, meaning its grapes weren't harvested in the same year, which works fine for a Sparkling but isn't really trustworthy for many other varietals). By itself it has a nice tart acidity with flavors of lemon citrus, mint and herb - with the orange juice, it's a fabulous light and tasty mimosa that's easy to enjoy by itself.
I included a picture of an orange to reiterate the whole "fresh squeezed" notion, just in case you missed it  ;).
If for some reason you can't stand Blanc de Blanc, another great and affordable Sparkling I like to use is the Freixenet Brut ($10). It's a little heavier than the Blanc de Blanc, but it also makes for an enjoyable mimosa ... especially if you're wanting to enjoy one with a heavy breakfast like French Toast or eggs and potatoes (two of my favorite things). You can also make a unique mimosa out of a Sparkling Rose (gives it a little extra kick and sweetens it up a bit). An enjoyable Sparkling Rose to use is the 2005 Heller Estate Organic Vineyards Sparkling Merlot ($16).
Well, here's to Happy Fridays and a Bon Weekend! Slainte.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

red hair and red wine

Don't you just love/hate when you know the answer to something (like on Jeopardy or during a verbal quiz) but for some reason you don't spout it out?
Christopher, a sommelier at Cantinella Luca's in Carmel CA (and my boyfriend's dad) brought over a couple of wines for us to enjoy with the lunch we had prepared for them (sauteed potatoes and veggies, followed by an heirloom caprese salad ... delish). He decided to give both of us a taste test on the red wine that he brought with him, to help us with our palates. 
Here's a better picture of the bottle itself:
Put your pencils down. It's time to begin.  
This was a medium-bodied red, its silky-smooth body accompanied by a deep burgundy red color with a fuschia halo. The bouquet had subtle oak with a touch of vanilla and LOTS of deep red cherry. The first note I got upon tasting this wine was a sour red cherry, but it quickly smoothed out into heavy notes of ripe plum, blackberry and vanilla.
Overall, a fabulous and smooth tasting wine that is easily drinkable. 
Julien guessed a Pinot Noir, to which he got a resounding NO. I was thinking it was a Merlot in my mind, but I was almost sure I was wrong so I didn't say anything.
Well, I was right. 
To be exact, it's the 2004 Kermesse, created by Elena Walch in Tramin, Italy. It's primarily a Merlot blended with touches of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Syrah and Lagrein. I couldn't even find a price tag on it, so it's probably not available in this half of the world. That's too bad, because I definitely recommend it to anyone who's been turned off by Merlot in the past (I'm looking at you, 'Sideways'), because it's a completely different experience than a New World Merlot. Much smoother and more emphasis on soft berry fruits, which I adore.
Damn. I knew I should've said something. Well, that's what I get for keeping my mouth shut.

the first sip

I've noticed a lot of wine blogs out there in the general universe. They're all fantastic, but geared mostly solely toward the judging and appraisal of wine. Sounds a little stiff. I mean, where's the joy in that? Wine isn't just about sipping, slurping and giving a grade, it's about having a good (no, make that great) time and enjoying the wine with yourself and others.
So I've made this blog to give myself an opportunity to write about wine in a different way: in a fun, casual yet honest and informative way. I hope all of you enjoy it.
Isn't it time we made wine fun again?