Halloween Morbid Mulled Wine…Muahahaha!!!

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | Comments Off on Halloween Morbid Mulled Wine…Muahahaha!!!

eyeball stew (2)

Looking for something fun to make (or mull) for Halloween? Here's a recipe for the kid in us, and one for the kids near us, too! Creepy, easy and delicious, the great thing about these recipes is that if you're making the wine, it's easy to make the apple eyes at the same time – the most labor-intensive part is peeling and scooping the apples.


3 medium-large, sweet apples (such as Red Delicious)

One bottle of red wine (I recommend 2006 Trinchero Main Street Cabernet Sauvignon or Guenoc Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 but any fruity red will do)

1/2 cup brandy

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

Juice from half an orange

Zest from half an orange

Zest from half a lemon

1 tsp pumpkin pie spice

1 – 2 cinnamon sticks

3 whole cloves

Peel apples and use a melon baller to scoop out round-ish balls. Then use the tip of an old-fashioned potato peeler to carve a small divet out of each apple ball. Set aside. The apples will turn slightly brown as they oxidize, which won't be a problem because they're going into the mulled wine.

Pour the liquid ingredients and sugar into a large pot or a slow cooker and add the orange and lemon zest, the pumpkin pie spice and the cinnamon sticks (to taste). As these warm, insert one whole clove into individual apple balls (be sure to remove the cloves from the apples before serving – the cloves should not be eaten). Add the rest of the “apple eyes” to the pot.

Gently heat the ingredients over a low flame (do not boil), for 25-30 minutes or until hot. Stir occasionally to ensure that the sugar has completely dissolved and that the apples are coated in the wine mixture. As they cook, the apples will become darker and the divet will become particularly noticeable and eerily similar to an iris. When the wine begins steaming, serve and enjoy!

DSCF1029 (2)


1 medium-large apple, peeled (sweet or tart, depending on personal taste)

1 small box of raisins

1/4 C. brown sugar, packed

Grated zest from half a lemon (add juice to taste)

1 tsp pumpkin pie spice

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1 Tbsp butter

3 Tbsp water

Red food coloring or red sanding sugar, as desired

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Scoop the apples, as directed above. To divet the apples for this recipe, insert the tip of the peeler about half-way through the apple ball. Remove the peeler and flip over, inserting into the apple again – above the first puncture – to form a small oval hole. After removing the divet, press a raisin into the apple, to look like an iris.

Place apples in a small baking dish and sprinkle with the brown sugar, lemon zest and pie spice. Dust with cinnamon. Break butter into small pieces and dot over the apples. Any remaining butter can go into the baking dish. Add water.

Cover tightly with a lid or aluminum foil and bake for 15-20 minutes. Uncover and baste with the syrup at the bottom of the pan. Bake for approximately 5-10 minutes more, or until apples are brown but not mushy.

Add a drop of food coloring or a light dusting of the sanding sugar to give the brown syrup a slightly red tint. The syrup will be very viscous, so you don't need much color to get a really creepy effect. Serve the apples alone or with vanilla ice cream.


Have a safe, delicious and devilishly decadent holiday!

An Oak Barrel-less Barrel of Fun

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | 2 Comments

wine-birthdayMy friend Anna just celebrated her [mumble mumble mumble] birthday. To honor her extra special day, I brought over three bottles of unoaked Chardonnay for celebration sampling.

As you may (or may not) remember from my last post about unwooded wines, there is a relatively new movement to age Chardonnay in steel. This trend is being seen mostly in New World wines (such as those from California and New Zealand), where the Chardonnay grapes produce a delicious wine without oak barrels and malo-lactic acid fermentation. This is in contrast to the Old World wines (like those from Burgundy), where the slightly less robust fruit needs some extra help to tone down unpalatable acidity.

After researching my article, I settled upon three wines to try: 2007 Toad Hollow Francine's Selection Unoaked Chardonnay (Mendocino, California), 2007 Morgan Metallico Un-oaked Chardonnay (from Monterey, California) and 2008 Kim Crawford Unoaked Chardonnay (from New Zealand, and one of the first mass-market unwooded Chardonnay producers). The Toad Hollow had received rave reviews in its price range on a number of wine sites. The Morgan was a recommendation from my favorite wine shop (The Wine House).

kim crawford unoaked chardonnay

We started with Kim Crawford, since this was one of the first, most popular of the original unwooded Chardonnay producers. On the nose, this gleaming buttery yellow wine was bright with grapefruit and lemon. It had a full mouth feel, with hints of grapefruit, lemon and lees on the tongue. It was slightly more acidic than I prefer. Other party guests described it as “silvery” and “flat.”

toad hollow francine's selection unoaked chardonnay

Next I poured the the Toad Hollow. It had a lovely pale yellow color, with a nose of melon and an alcohol kick from several inches away. It was strongly grapefruit on the tongue – with a similar citrus-type acid, as well. I found it strong, a little sweet, with a short finish but full mouth feel. Other party guests described it as “bitter”, “metallic”, “very empty” and “watered down.”

This tasting was clearly not as inspiring as I had hoped it would be…

However, the Morgan changed everything. With its lovely yellow color in the glass; a nose of sweet fruits and honey and a smooth, creamy mouth feel – packed with apricots and grapefruit – this was the winner by a landslide. All the guests topped off their glasses with the Morgan, mumbling about how yummy it is. Unlike the other two we tried, this one had almost no bite; it was just pure, fruity deliciousness. This also proved that an unwooded Chard can be excellent.

From the Morgan website:

The Vineyards

The 2007 Metallico is composed primarily of fruit from the Arroyo Seco appellation, and also includes fruit from the winery's Double L Vineyard, and its neighbor, the Lucia Highlands Vineyard, in the Sanmorgan_metallicota Lucia Highlands. The backbone of the wine is the Chardonnay Musque clone, chosen for its aromatic complexity and clear expression of Chardonnay fruit.

The Vintage
Although 2007 saw the typically cool, windy growing period of the Santa Lucia Highlands, this vintage retains a more intense flavor due to unusually high stress on the vines from a dry winter preceding a cold, wet spring.

Vinification & Aging
Metallico is cold-tank fermented to retain the essential bright fruit that cool climate Chardonnay offers. Whole cluster pressing produces a clean, high-quality must.  The wine does not go through malo-lactic fermentation, so it retains all of its natural crispness.

Aromas & Flavors
Pale yellow in the glass, the wine showcases aromas of apple, nectarine, ripe pear, & honeydew melon on the nose. The aromas resound on the palate, and the wine is soft and round with a crispness that keeps the finish fresh and inviting for matching seafood and other light fare.

It was a great night for wine – and for birthdays. Many happy returns, Anna!


How Much Wood Would A Good Wine Want?

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | 1 Comment

steel-barrelsFast on the heels of Jessyca's wedding wine recommendation request from Twitter, in this episode – dear readers – I thought I would take you on a journey to the land of Unoaked Chardonnay. Grab a glass, kick back and enjoy the ride!

My education on unoaked Chard started when Jess and I went to SummerTASTE at the Grove a few weeks ago. This LearnAboutWine event was co-sponsored by The Whisper Restaurant and Lounge, and focused – specifically – on unoaked wines. Naturally, most of the wines offered were white and fruity. I have to admit that a lot of them were also not my preference.

Then I wandered over to the Sweeney Canyon tasting table.

I was first poured a taste of 2008 Sweeney Canyon Chardonnay in order to contrast against future pours. This wine was presented only for sweeney-canyon-chardonnay1contrast, and it was made clear that what I was drinking was not even available for purchase. Good thing! As the pourer promised, this wine was undrinkable: sour and harsh and unpalatable. The 2007 was worlds better. It was smoother and sweeter, with a fuller and richer – although oily – mouthfeel. The 2001 was, in my opinion, the best of the bunch. The 2000 I was poured last just did not match up with the quality of the 2001.

But here is what really got me: None of the Chardonnay at this table had ever touched wood. Nor had it undergone malolactic fermentation (MLF).

What I didn't realize at the time is that this method of producing Chardonnay has been around for awhile, although most people are still familiar with the big, lush and buttery Chardonnays that are aged in oak barrels.

Let's look at why this is:

Some of the world's most renowned Chardonnay-based table wines come from the Burgundy region in France. Burgundy whites have a reputation for being complex and delicious…and aged in oak barrels, using malolactic fermentation. But Burgundy is Old World, with a cooler climate which makes it more difficult to bring the fruit to full ripening. These cool-weather grapes don't see a lot of sun and are low in sugar and high in acid. French oak helps to round out the wine, making it more complex and balanced. The addition of  lactic acid bacteria (usually Oenococcus oeni or various species of Lactobacillus and Pediococcus) de-acidifies the wine, creating a much smoother, richer and buttery mouthfeel. Considering the amount of acid the grapes produce, malolactic conversion is almost a necessity in order to produce a palatable wine.

As more and more Americans developed a vigor for vino in the 1980s and early 1990s, they became enamored with the woody vanilla flavors of oaked whites – like those from Burgundy. To meet demand, New World producers began to age their Chardonnay in oak – typically American oak – which by nature tends to impart a stronger woodiness than the tight-grained French barrels. Considering New World Chardonnay grapes are already ripe and lush and packed with sugar (but little acid), the result of barrel-aging is a big wine which tends to overpower the taste of the fruit. The low acid levels leaves very little for the MLF to work with, and thins the structure of the wine. In the end, American-oaked New World Chardonnay is unlike Chardonnay from Bordeaux.

nooakbarrelBy the mid-1990s, people had begun to develop a new appreciation for less bulky whites, preferring instead crisp, fruit-forward wines like Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. This led to an ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) backlash, and new buzzwords like steel tanked, un-oaked, unwooded and acero (Spanish for “steel”).

New Zealand, like many of the New World wine regions, produces large amounts of Chardonnay grapes, and they were the first region to embrace production of un-oaked Chard on a grand-scale. The trend took off, and here we are – more than a decade later – and the movement is growing more and more popular.

Big, rich, oaky Chardonnays are unlikely to disappear. But for those who are looking for the crisp acidity and liveliness of the Chardonnay grape – front and center – unwooded Chardonnay is the way to go.

And stay tuned! Next up – Arianna reviews three different unoaked Chardonnays: 2008 Kim Crawford Unoaked Chardonnay (from New Zealand, and one of the first mass-market unwooded Chardonnay producers), 2007 Toad Hollow Francine's Selection Unoaked Chardonnay (Mendocino, California), and a 2007 Morgan Metallico Unoaked Chardonnay (from Monterey, California). Yum!

Food and Wine is Love

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | 4 Comments

Braised scallops with wild mushroom tapenade

Braised scallops with wild mushroom tapenade

Orris (2006 Sawtelle Boulevard) is one of my new favorite LA restaurants. They serve Franco-Japanese fusion small plates (everything subject to market availability), and I haven't yet had a bad dish.

From their website:

Orris is the root of the iris plant, which in ancient times, when mixed with cinnamon and other spices, was believed to be a love potion. Consider Orris Restaurant to embrace the concept of sharing plates with the ones you love; food and wine is love.

I have to agree: Food and wine is love. Especially wine like the 2005 Field Stone Cabernet Sauvignon we ordered with dinner.

This blog is unabashedly pro Alexander Valley Cabernet, so it probably won't come as a surprise that this is yet another entry singing its praises. But, truly, this was one of the most delicious wines I've tried.

Producer notes:


Here is a blend of mature fruit from all five of our distinctive estate Cabernet clones. The result is, in short, terrific. In character this ’05 release is a truly complex, expressive, Alexander Valley Cabernet which opens up with seductive, spicy, varietal aromas. Its equally expressive mouth-filling flavors of Bing cherries, plums, and crushed blackberries are bountiful and ripe, with characteristics typical of Field Stone’s definitive 'Alex

ander Valley Style': rich, fruit forward, with attractive notes of oak vanillin that never dominate. 2,000 cases produced.

After taking a few minutes to allow the wine to breathe, I “woke it up” by swirling it in the glass. It was a beautiful deep red-purple in color, with a nose of cherry and plum.

For dinner we started with Orris' seared ahi sashimi with sweet onion soy. Beautiful, sparkling and vibrant flavors. So fresh. Our next course was braised duck breast with yuzu chili paste. Having been here before, I knew that my four-year-old loves this dish, so he actually got his very own – and ate it with chopsticks! After that we shared beets with Basque sheep milk cheese and balsamic sauce (the kid practically finished this one on his own, too. I really have to stop feeding him good food). Then we had Orris' amazing squash blossoms with shrimp, then a shrimp mousse ravioli that caused all the adults to reach for any available substance to sop up the unbelievable shiitake mushroom sauce (filled with seductively rich sherry and earthy mushroom flavors). And, finally, the grown-ups shared the spectacular foie gras and Japanese eggplant with sweet soy. It was almost like a dreamy meat-flavored whipped cream! Light and savory and amazingly smooth.

And with every dish, the Field Stone was a perfect pairing. Even with the sashimi, which might be a little surprising.

Perhaps the wine blended so well because most of the sauces contained a subtle sweetness, between the sweet soy, the balsamic and the shiitake. On the tongue, the Field Stone Cabernet was bursting with blackberries and just the tiniest hint of spice – so it would seem the flavors of the meal and the wine would naturally pair perfectly. And they did.


For a tiny izaka-ya (Japanese pub) style restaurant, I was very impressed with the wine list (if you want to BYOB, there is an $18 corkage fee). I was impressed with everything, actually. If you're in the LA-area, go. And enjoy.

The Pros & Cons of Buying Wine at Cost Plus World Market

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wines from the Grocery Store | 5 Comments

[Editor's note: This post has been updated… at the end of the post]

Many moons ago, in a land far far away (90-ish miles south) I used to only buy wine at Cost Plus World Market. In those days the prices seemed good and you could sum up my wine knowledge/experience with a phrases like these, “1994 Chardonnay is good” and ” I think I like Pinot Grigio.” I was more of a tequila girl in those days and I really went to Cost Plus for those heavenly Belgian Chocolates (note: only heavenly if you like hazelnut and chocolates with creamy centers) and to buy a papasan chair.

Over the years, we've wandered in to the one near us a few times. We've discovered it's a great place to purchase lightweight Christmas gifts that travel cross-continent in our luggage very well. We've also discovered that they have great prices on Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label around the holidays. I'm not sure why, but I added myself to their email list and over the last several months the company has been significantly gearing up the importance of wine in their stores and improving their online presence.

At first the wines scared me. I hadn't heard of 95% of them, the prices were either ordinary or the wines were so cheap I didn't trust them, and the mediocre ratings didn't increase my likelihood of purchasing. But lately… the only thing stopping me from making a CPWM run is the 20-something bottles of wine I already have in the house.

Regardless, here are the pros and cons I've been weighing on the decision to go try wines from Cost Plus World Market.

Pro: Unbelievable prices. I've used a couple of wines that they sell to make assessments about their general prices (specifically in search of the answer to “how good is the deal?”). The aforementioned Veuve at $34.99 a bottle (sale price any time of year, including the holidays) made me sit up and take notice. I've consistently seen that their prices are under $15 for just about everything. Also, they're constantly sending (seemingly) great deals that are even lower than their already-low prices.

Pro: The list of wines is starting to include wine regions I know and like: Today's email caught my attention with a Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero (see my post about the Vina Santurnia Tempranillo) for $6.99 a bottle (normally $9.99). $9.99 is a low price (though not bargain-basement) for a Tempranillo from this region in Spain. $6.99 is a steal and I really want to try it.

Pro: The list of wines is starting to include wines I know and like. After catching my attention in the email, I browsed the website for a bit and was surprised to find these wines which I know and like

Con: The website doesn't publish a LOT of their prices. This is a con for two reasons. It requires me to go to the store to check out their prices, which I'd prefer to do at my computer because I live in a congested area and I'm not a fan of traffic. It's also a con because it makes me think/know they're adjusting prices based on local markets. This drives me batty. Why should I have to pay  more than the wine lover in Encinitas just because I live in Los Angeles? How can I figure out which stores have the best prices? These shouldn't be questions I have to ask.

Con: They're still carrying some skeevy wine labels. There are a couple of classes of wine I'm wary of… Wines with great marketing approaches (“Wine that loves chicken” and “Promisquous” come to mind). In my experience to date, these wines are all ordinary. It's an attempt to sell a large volume of ordinary wine to unsuspecting consumers who might not know (or care) what good wine tastes like. Fine for them, not for me. The other group of wines are anything that's regularly priced under $8. Mostly this is because these wines are almost always produced by the Bronco Wine Company (the esteemed makers of Charles Shaw a.k.a. Two-buck Chuck).

Con (if you don't live in California or near an CPWM): Most of these deals are only available in California. It seems that they're only selling wines (or trying these deals) in some states. I live in California so I have fantastic access to wines and I wouldn't be surprised if the deals are extra special because it's California.

Bottom line: It's gotta be worth a visit if you live near a Cost Plus World Market and you like to find wine values by buying good wines at great prices.

Do you buy wine at Cost Plus World Market? Share your thoughts and leave a comment, please!


We stopped by World Market the next day (because my curiosity was insatiable) and picked up a six-pack (as I lovingly call them) to take for a test run. We had two shopping goals in mind here… The first was to see if World Market's prices are low and bring great value or just low because they've purchased cheap wine. We also decided to further explore Tempranillos from Spain as it's a region/varietal we've found some great values from in the past. We bought:

  1. Campo Viejo Riserva, $12.99 per bottle – Haven't tried it yet
  2. 2007 Vivir, Vivir Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero, $6.99 per bottle
    This PROBABLY belongs on the “do not drink these wines” list. I was able to finish the bottle despite its finishless grapiness. Definitely will not be purchasing again. Would rather spend a few more dollars and like what I'm drinking.
  3. Bodega Norton Malbec (x2), $7.99 per bottle
    This was a wine I had previously purchased at Costco more than once for $12-15ish per bottle. It's a nice quality Malbec. Not something that jumps out at me in the $12-15ish range, but definitely a good value at $7.99 per bottle.
  4. 2006 Etim Seleccion, $10.99 per bottle
    Robert Parker rated this wine 91. I thought it was okay and the price made it okayer. By now I've started to realize that not all Tempranillos from Ribera del Duero are good. This was an important realization because now I won't just buy blindly when I see one… I'll only do it for 2004 or 2005. Another lesson in why if you're going to use ratings to buy wine, be sure you agree with the ratings system at least some of the time. I personally prefer Wine Spectator's ratings and find them the most accurate for my palette.
  5. Cortijo III Tinto, $7.99 per bottle- Haven't tried it yet

Find a Wine Like Mine

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Cool Wine Sites | 1 Comment

Here’s an interesting exercise I was asked to do by one of our twitter followers (@LibArtsAndMinds): “@grapesmart Oh, do I need your help!Had Willow Heights Chard,’99 the other night. Divine doesn’t begin to describe.Can u think of 1 similar?”

Here’s my experience and thought process in trying to help her find another wine like the one she tried and loved.

My first thought was, “Wow, you had a Chardonnay from 1999? I wonder what that was like!” Next came, “How can I possibly answer this question? I’ve never had this wine.” Then the part of me that comes to life in the face of a good challenge lit up like a firecracker and I started searching.

The first order of business was to accurately identify the wine we’re trying to match. This was an easy, but curious challenge. With the information I had, the 99 seemed like a vintage, but I couldn’t find a Chardonnay from 1999 that also bore the name Willow Heights. I located a candidate called No.99 Wayne Gretzky Estates Chardonnay which CellarTracker thinks is somehow related to the Willow Heights Estate Winery.

Regardless, both wineries are located in the Niagara-Escarpment appellation of Ontario, Canada… an area I’m personally quite familiar with! My husband hails from the area and we visit a couple of times a year. Haven’t actually made it out to Niagara yet, but I’ve sampled many Ontario wines and had the pleasure of buying wine at the LCBO.

Note: It’s pretty likely that @LibArtsAndMinds hails from Ontario and she has to buy her wine through the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario). They’re constantly changing their stock, subbing in some new wine for an older one, and they heavily prioritize Ontario wines. Odds are good a staff member at the LCBO headquarters could help her locate something similar. If she had it at a restaurant, it would be worth talking to the person who buys the wine for the restaurant and seeing what could be done. Lastly, contacting the winery directly to see if they have any more stashed away somewhere would be the easiest way to get more.

It turns out what she was really looking for is “Reserve 1999 Willow Heights Stefanik Vineyard” Chardonnay. As I alluded to earlier, searching for a 10-year old white wine is a bit of a challenge so the possibility of finding a hidden bottle of the exact wine is slim-to-none. My next choices would be two related groups of wines… 1) Other 1999 Chardonnays from the Niagara Escarpment 2) Newer Chardonnays from Willow Heights Stefanik Vineyard.

Here are some of those wines that I was able to locate online:

  1. LCBO: 2006 Willow Heights Chardonnay Reserve
  2. Catalpana (restaurant in Toront0) has several older Willow Heights Chardonnays on their wine list
  3. Winery to Home had some useful information (confirmed the winery is now owned by Wayne Gretzky)

There are a couple more ways to go in searching for a wine to recreate the experience, but it seems like they would be the least reliable and most tedious methods… 1) Trying to get my hands on the original tasting notes for this wine and then trying to find other Chardonnays (especially from the Niagara Escarpment) that have the same or very similar tasting notes. 2) Looking for other wines produced from the grapes at Stefanik Vineyard. Since Willow Heights is an Estate Winery, I’m not sure I’d have any luck finding other wines sourced from Stefanik Vineyard grapes.

At the end of the day, we’ve ALL had this experience… we fell in love with some obscure bottle of wine and we won’t be able to find another. Here are my platitudes to help you cope:

1) Enjoy every sip while you can
2) Remember and appreciate the once-in-a-lifetime experience
3) Keep drinking! More gems are waiting for you!

Delightful Summer Sangria

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | 1 Comment


Most people are familiar with the fruity red version of this tasty adult beverage. This recipe actually makes a light and refreshing white sangria.

I knew the basic components of this drink, but it took fiddling around in my test kitchen (and by “test kitchen” I mean the shoebox in my apartment where I reheat stuff), to get it just right. I also tried the recipe with two different wines (shush, Grandma – it's not because I'm a lush and will find any excuse to drink!), to get it just right.

I mixed the first version with a 2008 Chateau Ste Michelle Pinot Gris but this was too dry for my taste. But for those who really enjoy a tart, dry white, Pinot Gris might help balance out the sweetness of the other ingredients.


4 oz. 2007 Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc

1 Tbsp brandy

1 Tbsp Peach Schnapps

2 oz. white cranberry juice

Serve chilled, with raspberries, strawberries, peach slices and thinly sliced granny smith apple to garnish (optional)


4 oz. white cranberry juice

2 oz. sparkling water

Serve chilled, with raspberries, strawberries, peach slices and thinly sliced granny smith apple to garnish (optional)


Makes a tasty treat for tots!

An Introduction to LAW

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wine Tasting Trips | Comments Off on An Introduction to LAW
A lovely afternoon at Learn About Wine

A lovely afternoon at Learn About Wine

Over the weekend I had the great pleasure of attending a class at Learn About Wine, with Ian Blackburn.

Despite being on what was, no doubt, the very worst date in human history, I had an absolutely fantastic time. The class was called Palate Builder, and was a 2.0 level class. Although marketed as slightly above entry level, I think that almost anyone could gain a great deal from the workshop. Except my date. But I’m not sure that he was human

Allow me to rephrase: Although marketed as slightly above entry level, I think that almost anyone – unless a robot, alien, fungal life form or truly consummate jackass – could gain a great deal from the workshop.

We started with a flight of three whites and access to a kit called ” target=”_blank”>Le Nez

“>Le Nez Du Vin Master Kit

Le Nez Du Vin Master Kit

du Vin (“The Nose of Wine”). This Master-level 54-piece aroma kit is designed to help tasters tease out the individual scents that form the total bouquet of the wine in their hand. So, holding a glass of ” target=”_blank”>2006 Mastroberardino, Lacryma Christi, Del Vesuvio (Italy), I sniffed pure scents from tiny vials of lees, grapefruit, fig, Muscat and pear. Incredible. Having access to the pure scent made detecting the mingled ones so much easier.

My date complained that the only thing he could detect was that the air conditioning was too strong.

When we returned to our tables, those of us who were actual living, breathing people compared what we had just smelled and tasted to the other whites waiting for us at our seats. A 2006 Kenwood Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (Sonoma), and an absolutely delicious 2008 Buttonwood “Zingy” Sauvignon Blanc (Santa Ynez Valley). True to form, my favorite was the cheapest one – the “Zingy.” I found it citrus-y and (as the name implies) zingy and zippy and refreshing.


2006 Kenwood Reserve Sauvignon Blanc – yum!

It is a little surprising that I preferred the youngest wine, as usually the younger the wine, the stronger the scent of alcohol. I tend to get pretty turned off by that, although I didn’t feel that the Buttonwood had an overpowering alcohol presence at all.

However, as I learned at the class, a strong smell of alcohol does not only come from the age of the wine. “New World” wines, such as US, Australian and South American varietals tend to be more alcoholic than “Old World” (European) wines, which grow in cooler climates and tend to be more acidic. For people who are beginning to feel their way through the wine world, this is a helpful bit of information: Once one begins to tease out their preferences, knowing certain details about geography can help make wine selection easier – and more interesting!

Our next flight was a selection of three Chardonnays: 2006 Badge, Rancho Santa Rosa (Santa Rita Hills); 2004 Domaine Emilian Gillet, Quintaine, Vire-Clesse (Burgundy) and 2007 Bighorn Cellars, “Camelback Vineyard,” (Carneros). I have to say that none of these really turned my crank. The Domaine Emilian Gillet and Bighorn Cellars were buttery and complex oak-y and ok. My favorite was the Bighorn Cellars; I had trouble drinking the Badge because it was just too tart.

Interestingly, it turns out that “Carneros” is basically another way to say “Napa.” Now you know…

It takes much longer to ferment Chardonnay than Sauvignon Blanc, so Sauvignon Blanc is often more cost-effective and allows wineries to turn a profit while aging their Chardonnay. Sauvignon Blanc never touches oak barrels, so it lacks that buttery, oak-y flavor common with Chardonnay. It tends to be crisper and lighter than Chardonnay.

My date said that the Chardonnays were better than the Sauvignon Blancs, but he couldn’t taste a difference between any of the three pours in front of him. Then he began talking about how his father and grandfather bottle wine in Seattle. The women across the table from us smiled and nodded. Sometimes it’s possible to actually read someone’s mind. I think that happened here, but I can’t reprint what one woman was thinking, on account of this being a family wine blog.

Our next flight was called “Crazy Reds” and consisted of a Zinfandel, a

Lake Sonoma Winery Dry Creek Zinfandel

Lake Sonoma Winery Dry Creek Zinfandel

Shiraz and an Italian red – Rosso di Montepulciano. While normally Zinfandel is one of my favorites, in this flight I actually preferred the Shiraz, a 2004 Emu Wine Company from Frankland River, Australia. All three of these were complex and earthy, but the Zinfandel – from Lake Sonoma Winery, Dry Creek Valley (2005), was a little spicier than I prefer. The website describes it this way:

“A solid structured wine, with firm tannins and integrated oak nuances. This Zinfandel is balanced with forward fruit flavors of blackberry and plum, and accompanied by a hint of black pepper spice.”

The Italian – a 2007 Avignonesi – was good too, although a little thin. It had a lovely finish, and would make a nice table wine. Especially at the $15 price point.

I was particularly excited about the next flight – a taste of three different Pinot Noirs. Along with Zin, Pinot is a particular favorite, and one of these Pinots happened to be from Cakebread Cellars, a winery I have heard a great deal about, but have never had the opportunity to try. The one in this tasting – a 2005 Pinot – was actually a little too oak-y for me. I expected it to be fruitier, since Cakebread is located in Carneros/Napa and wines from this region tend to be jammy and rich with ripe fruit. I just, personally didn’t feel that this one was.

The other Pinots in the flight were a 2006 Domaine Henri Delagrange, Volnay, Vielles Vinges (Burgundy), which I thought was pure fruity deliciousness; and a 2006 Margerum Wine Company from Santa Barbara County. That was quite nice, as well. I wish I had better descriptions of these wines, especially because – respectively – they cost approximately $50, $40 and $30 per bottle – obviously good stuff – but by this point I was already pretty drunk. Although I can point out that, once again, I preferred the wines with the cheaper price tag.

…And speaking of my preference for cheap: At this point my date was bemoaning the fact that we were not at a Scotch tasting. Everyone was ignoring him.

Chateau Pipeau Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2006

Chateau Pipeau Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2006

The final flight was all Cabernet. There was a ” target=”_blank”>2003 Chateau Pipeau, Saint Emilion Grand Cru (Bordeaux), a 2006 Poveriano Cabernet Franc (Italy), and a ” target=”_blank”>2005 Viader, “Dare,” Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley).

As part of this class, we were asked to break into teams to attempt to match the wines in each glass with the name, age and region on a paper in front of us. Using what we had been taught about the nose, palette, acidity and alcohol content of wines across the world, we were instructed to dissect and discuss each taste in order to identify what we were drinking.

Another important clue at our disposal were the colors of each pour. The older a wine, the browner it becomes. White wines turn golden, red wines become a little more dingy. While it is easier to see the richness of whites, obviously reds are a little more difficult because of their characteristic deep red or purple. The best way, therefore, to look for that browning effect is to hold your glass against a white backdrop. Younger reds will appear red or purple all the way to the edges, but the periphery of an older red will look almost dirty brown against the white.

This trick came in handy by the end of the class, since everything I drank was magically delicious and I was no more able to differentiate the taste of stewed plums and cherries than I was able to sing opera. I was told that the Poveriano had hints of lead. Maybe. I overheard Ian Blackburn say something about Darth Vader in describing the beautiful darkness of the Viader “Dare.” I know that the Chateau Pipeau runs about $40 a bottle in stores.

I also know that this was one of my best wine experiences to date, and that when I return – which I will – I’m going to make sure my date isn’t a sour grape.

Lone Madrone Winery – Paso Robles Wine Tasting

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wine Tasting Trips | 3 Comments

Their name comes from a lone Madrone tree in a vineyard under which workers eat their lunches.

I consider living in California to be one of life's great pleasures (I know not everyone agrees) so I spend a great deal of time driving around and enjoying any parts I can get to whenever I can get to them. I was visiting my Dad near Monterey last week and planned to take Hwy 101 all the way back to LA… which means driving through Paso Robles!! I, being the lover of wine and California wine country that I am, just HAD to stop in for a tasting. Planning ahead, I asked my Twitter followers for a suggestion and the ever-so-helpful Twitterer for Alta Colina suggested I try Lone Madrone, quite close to Hwy 101 and therefore convenient for this tasting side-trip. It was a fabulous recommendation.

When I go out to a tasting room, I'm looking for the following things to make my experience even better than just the wine…

  1. Easy access to the tasting room from the parking area (it's often hot out there)
  2. Friendly and prompt greeting by the staff
  3. Nice decorations and/or stuff for sale (good to look at between tastes, especially if the room is crowded)
  4. A very long bar area for tastings (nothing worse than a cramped tasting)
  5. Knowledgable and still-friendly staff even after the tasting has begun (rarely is this criteria not met in the Paso area)
  7. More than 5 wines to taste. I don't like it when the tasting room experience is micro-managed. Wineries: I've come a great distance to sample your wares, please give me a large sampling so I can accurately judge whether or not I want to create a relationship with you  (as a consumer OR as a blogger).
  8. Quick checkout, whether I'm only paying for my tasting or I'm buying several bottles
  9. A nice outdoor area where I feel welcome to wander around and enjoy wine country while I sober up
Lone Madrone, Paso Robles, CA

Lone Madrone, Paso Robles, CA


The charm begins with a windmill

Lone Madrone delivered on all of these expectations! It's a charming winery run by a brother-sister team who are focused on sourcing grapes from earth-friendly growers. The winemaker:

“Neil Collins has been making the wines and tending to the vineyard operations for Tablas Creek Vineyards since 1998. The wines he produces for Tablas Creek are among the best Rhone varietals produced in California, and he brings this same passion and quest for excellence to his own Lone Madrone wines. Neil honed his craft in the cellars and vineyards of two prestigious California Central Coast operations, Wild Horse Winery and Adelaida Cellars, where he served as a winemaker for five years.”

The wines were consistently surprising (in a good way) and unique. It opened my taste buds to some varietals I'd never tried before, or had only had as part of a blend where the wines lost the character of the grapes that comprised them. The little birdie at Alta Colina told me they make some interesting red blends, and she was right!


A Wisteria Welcome


Beautiful adjacent hillside vineyard

Lone Madrone was offering a generous tasting list last Tuesday, so I spent plenty of time enjoying a great variety of wines. Here's what I tasted and what I thought (and bought).

2007 Lone Madrone La Mezcla, $25 per bottle

What they say: A Spanish influenced blend of Garnaca Blanca (Grenache Blanc) and Albarino, La Mezcla rings bright in the nose with aromas of pear, green apple, lime and straw with a hint of stone fruit. In the mouth, the blend tastes brilliantly balanced with crisp acidity and a rich mid-palate that finishes with a little Grenache Blanc tannin. Try it with oysters, clams, ceviche, or just by itself on a hot day! Grape source: Dawson Creek Vineyard, El Pomar, Templeton.

What Jess said: Clean, smooth mouthfeel with unique flavors from the different grapes. A little green fruit in the mid-palate, and a bit of applesauce. A lightly acidic finish (probably the aforementioned tannin). I found it to be a great alternative to Sauvignon Blanc which can get boring after a while. I bought a bottle of this and am looking forward to cracking it!


Inside the charming tasting room

2007 Lone Madrone Points West White, $32 per bottle

What they say: This golden hued wine shows a luscious bouquet of honeydew melon, sweet pear, anda  tinge of anise spice. Rich viscosity drives the palate which finishes long, and with a pleasant minerality. Try it with a variety of seafood, spicy cuisine, and even certain chocolates! This white Rhone blend features Roussane picked from three West-side Paso Robles vineyards.

What Jess said: Very unique white wine. Seems like a full-bodied white, but with no oak or butter that I'm used to from Chardonnays. There's a lovely honey taste throughout… so unique and palate-pleasing. A little bit of apple in the finish for me.  If I weren't limiting my purchases for space reasons, I would have bought a couple bottles of this one. It would make a great alternative to Chardonnay.

2007 Lone Madrone Picpoul Blanc, $32 per bottle

What they say (in Haiku no less!): lemon drop, wet stone / sweet apple, a hint of pear / rich, viscous palate. Glenrose Vineyard Fruit.

What Jess said: Bright nose, like a mild Sauvignon Blanc. Dry mid-palate and long dry finish.

2003 Il Toyon Nebbiolo, $25 per bottle

What they say: The 2003 Nebbiolo might be just the perfect wine for your next Mediterranean meal! Its enticing nose of strawberry, ruby red grapefruit, cassis, and menthol is laced with hints of cranberry, white pepper and pomegranate. Firm tannins give this earthy wine authority on the palate, and at the table as well, next to a hearty lasagna or moussaka. Salute! Grapes sourced from a winery up on Peachy Canyon Rd.

What Jess said: I'm not a fan of Nebbiolo… so take my lack of descriptiveness as a reflection of not relating to the wine. Dry and earthy with a strong taste of cherry. A light-to-medium-bodied red.

2006 Lone Madrone Barfandel, $45 per bottle

What they say: Never mind the name, it's the nose you'll want to first contemplate; a dark, smoky briar-fruit haven for your olfactory! The vibrant aromas of blackberry and boysenbeery accompanied by a smidge of tar pave the road for the full-bodied palate of this Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Barbera blend. Edifying tannins complimented with ideal acidity delight the mouth and finish with a pleasant, almost nostalgic, vestige of oak.

What Jess said: Smell of soil or dirt and fruit on the nose. I tend to be sensitive to smells that remind me of soil and the ocean, especially in wines from the Paso Robles area. The wine was acidic on the mid-palate, tannic at the back of the mouth, and had a fairly short finish for a big red.

2004 Lone Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon, $42.50 per bottle

What they say: Big, rich, structured, this wine shows a dark ruby purple hue in the glass. Lots of black cherry, blackberry, and cassis with notes of tobacco and vanilla. This wine has a pleasant oak influence which blends beautifully with the massive dark fruit and leads to an everlasting finish. Fruit from Chelle Mountain Vineyard.

What Jess said: “Stings” my nose with dark fruit. It doesn't taste like a Cab to me (one of my favorite varietals), though it hints at it. What it DOES taste like to me is a wine that comes from the Paso Robles area (the terroir is distinctive). My other notes include cherry and dry. I like my Cabs with a little cherry in them and I definitely like them dry, but something here didn't work for me.

2006 Lone Madrone Baily Ranch Zinfandel, $40 per bottle

What they say: Gold Medal, 2009 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Vibrant red fruit thrice over, and with conviction! Candied red apple, ollalieberry and cherry aromas, with notes of pepper and nutmeg, lead to a full, juicy red fruit palate supported by youthful tannins. Days of flavor slowly fade to a receding tide of crushed red fruit specked with red apple peel and pomegranate. Produced with fruit from the beautiful, certified organic and dry-farmed vineyard of David Bailey.

What Jess said: WOW. That's what I said. The most beautiful color, an entertaining Syrah-like nose, and the Zinfandel was restrained (SO unusual for Paso Robles Zins) but present. A LOVELY wine that I willingly spent the $40 on. We're saving it to christen our next vacation!

Also check out the reviews for the winery on Yelp


Awesome rooster sculptures out front

French <em>Toast</em>

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | Comments Off on French <em>Toast</em>
Le Yum!

Le Yum!

I went to Wilshire Restaurant the other night, and was delighted to learn that they have recently added some new reds to their wine list. Some French reds, in fact. That, my friends, could only mean one thing:

Arianna vient de parler francais!


2005 Joseph Drouhin Cote De Beaune Villages

I began with a 2005 Joseph Drouhin Cote De Beaune Villages. It was highly recommended by the bartender, medium purple in color and showed a lot of promise. The nose was slightly alcoholic, but the flavor was actually very smooth. So smooth, it might actually be called…well…bland. For a $14 glass of wine, I really felt it was pretty watery with no finish at all. That’s not to say that it wasn’t drinkable. [As these things go] the more I drank, the more I enjoyed it. I was just hoping for something a little more robust.

I was much happier with my second glass, a 2007 Ogier Caves des Papes Cotes-du-Rhone Heritage. A beautiful deep, dark red, it was slightly tannic, but had a lovely medium finish. This wine was fruity and very, very drinkable. It was also $4 less per glass than the slightly underwhelming Cote de Beaune. C’est pareille!

Both of these wines are excellent for summer (presumably why they have just been added to Wilshire’s wine list). In fact, an online reviewer actually suggested that the Cotes-du-Rhone be slightly chilled upon serving. If one were searching for a light wine to enjoy in warm weather but wanted to avoid drinking white or rose, I would recommend one of these (particular emphasis on the Cotes-du-Rhone).