2010 Best Wine Bloggers #wbc10

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Tales From WBC (Wine Blogger Conference) | Leave a comment


Okay folks, GrapeSmart wasn’t a finalist but we respect and adore our fellow wine bloggers… Congratulations to every finalist, and especially the winners!

Wine Blog Awards Categories & Winners:

Wine Blogger Conference 2010 – Day 1

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

The GrapeSmart gals took off for Washington yesterday morning at the uncivilized hour of 7am, but we landed in Seattle with a whole day to get ourselves out to Yakima Valley. We grabbed our rental car and headed for, duh, Pike Place Market, because, well, we’re foodies and it’s a must-go!


After an early lunch at a tiny little chowder place in Post Alley with amazing smoky chowders and super fresh fish we found ourselves a wine & coffee bar called Local Flavor to settle in with. A couple of glasses of Washington wines from Portteus (which we didn’t love) and our first coffee of the day made everything start humming. Then we spent some time wandering through the market–it was freaking food heaven and a festival for all of our senses–before jumping into our car for the spectacular journey across Washington state in anticipation of a somewhat spontaneous “tour” with our twitterpal @wino4ever (Scott Abernethy).

Scott generously introduced us to the who’s who of the Red Mountain AVA at an Industry Night event at Picazo 7Seventeen (a great Spanish restaurant in Prosser by Chef Frank Magana). Scott brought us two wines from a winery called Cooper which isn’t even open yet! The first was a and the second was the 2009 Cooper Pinot Gris.

  • 2007 Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
    My experience with the wine: Top notes of Vanilla or Chocolate and a touch of red or black berry in the background; Bouquet was less aromatic when it was first opened, and I think I detected leather but it may have just been terroir; Initially it struck me as a French-style Cab (less fruit, more finesse) but as it opened up the finish developed and I began to detect cherries & chocolate.
    Takeaway: This was a nice quality wine and I enjoyed it.
  • 2009 Cooper Pinot Gris
    My experience with the wine: Honeysuckle and anise on the nose paired with I think was some kind of tropical fruit; in the mouth this wine was balanced and bright, with flavors of citrus (later I determined this to be grapefruit), green apple, and a hint of mint at the back of the mouth.
    Takeaway: Yum! At $20 suggested release price this is a GREAT white wine. Very food friendly but tame enough to drink alone. Best when it’s cooler which is great for summer afternoons!

As the evening wore on, the other guests lubed up and loosened up. Scott started introducing us around and in particular introduced us to Robert O. Smasne of the ROS Wine Company. Possibly the hardest-working guy in the wine business, Robert has his hands in 24 wineries! He has several labels of his own, owns a crushpad and other facilities for helping smaller winemakers get the product out, AND he consults with MANY local wineries on their winemaking. When someone is this popular you’ve got to figure they’re good… and from what I can tell this quiet and sensible man makes sophisticated wines that rival the best anywhere in the world.

  • Smasne Cellars Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon from Snipes Mountain (a brand new Washington AVA)
    My experience with the wine: Carries characteristics of old vine Zinfandel (the only old vine wine I can compare it to based on my own tasting experiences). Tasted to me like a nicely-made red blend.
    Takeaway: I’d serve this to anyone who came to my home and I’d bring it along to a nice restaurant for dinner out
  • Smasne Cellars shiner
    My experience with the wine: Surreal. One of the finest wines I’ve ever tasted. I didn’t even balk at the $115 release price and I’ve never purchased a bottle that expensive. A blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Petite Verdot, 8% Malbec and 8% Carmenere. The nose was vanilla and blueberry with no hint of alcohol. In the mouth was “excellent” “fantastic” blueberry “mmmmm.” This is Robert’s first reserve wine in what he’ll call his Signature Series. It’s already sold out on futures so unfortunately you can’t get any… but you should definitely check out some of his other labels: Farm Boy wine (value-priced) and AlmaTerra, a “project” where Robert is experimenting with Syrah’s from 8 different vineyards to get deeper insight into how terroir affects his wines.

We also got a taste of Chateau St. Michelle Malbec shiner from Wahluke slope that was lovely and an introduction to a winemaker not yet in business. The line of wines is going to be a favorite among women who have loved labels like Bitch… except it’s better than Bitch! Be on the lookout for Dumb Blonde wines being released in September! Oh yes, and we met Gary Hogue, co-founder of Hogue Cellars, too :)

Last but not least, Chef Magana is private labeling some wines from Alexandria Nicole for his restaurant. You can only get them if you go to his restaurant in Prosser, but they’re worth mentioning here because they were enjoyable and we want to thank him for his hospitality! When it comes to house wines, there’s nothing better than a chef who consults with top notch winemakers to get the right flavor profiles for his food…

  • Vino Rojo is a blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 6% Malbec, and 3% Petite Verdot. It’s sourced from Horseheaven Hills and goes brilliantly with the Spanish food being served at Picazo 7Seventeen. The nose was peppery & spicy followed by a fruity punch-in-the-mouth with a relaxed Bordeaux-style finish.
  • Vino Blanco is a blend of 65% Roussane, 24% Marsanne, and 11% Viognier. I LOVE Rhone wines and especially Roussane/Marsanne. I’m not a huge fan of Viognier though and I would have liked to see a little less of it in this wine. Knowing that my palate is a little tweaked compared to what’s popular among white-wine drinkers, I think this wine is for meals calling for a bright and sophisticated white.

Over dinner Scott gave us the rundown on the top local vineyards to be seeking out and some wineries we can’t wait to try! Here are the ones we’re keeping a lookout for:

  • Barnard Griffin Winery (high quality, value priced wines)
  • Kiona Winery (high quality, value priced wines)
  • Alexandria Nicole Winery
  • Maison Bleue Winery (Rhone)
  • Skylite Cellars
  • Phinny Hill Vineyards
  • Ciel du Cheval Vineyard
  • Klipson Vineyard
  • Champoux Vineyard
  • Boushey Vineyards
  • Sagemore Vineyard
  • Taptiel Vineyard
  • Seven Hills Vineyard
  • Pepper Bridge Vineyard

Today we’re off for a tour of Yakima Valley where we’ll continue to be wined, dined, and happy!

P.S. Here’s the view from our hotel room… the majestic Columbia River! (Not the Yakima River as I mistakenly exclaimed earlier before I had my coffee)


Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wine Tasting Notes | Leave a comment

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wine Tasting Notes | Leave a comment

Romancing Rioja

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | 5 Comments
Bienvenidos a La Rioja

Bienvenidos a La Rioja

Rioja. Even the name sounds infused with notes of passion and the warmth of exotic, Spanish summer nights.

Named after the Autonomous Community of La Rioja, the area is a Denominación de Origen Calificada (D.O.C. qualified designation of origin), and records indicate that grapes have been grown in this region since the 9th Century. The red-soiled area is divided into three separate sections, (Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja), each producing different styles of wine, based on the location where the grapes are grown (Alta – highest altitude; Alavesa – similar in climate to Alta but lacking the better soil conditions of the more elevated area; and Baja – a Mediterranean climate producing wine with lower acidity and up to 18% alcohol (this region tends to produce a high number of blending wines)). The majority of juice produced from the region is red (Tinto), with the remaining 15% consisting of white (Blanco) and rosé (Rosado).

According to Wikipedia:

Among the Tintos, the best-known and most widely-used variety is Tempranillo. Other grapes used include Garnacha Tinta, Graciano and Mazuelo. A typical blend will consist of approximately 60% Tempranillo and up to 20% Garnacha, with much smaller proportions of Mazuelo and Graciano. Each grape adds a unique component to the wine with Tempranillo contributing the main flavors and aging potential to the wine; Garnacha adding body and alcohol; Mazuelo adding seasoning flavors and Graciano adding additional aromas.

Among the region’s white wines, the most prominent varietal is Viura (also known as Macabeo), and contains blends of a little Malvasía and a little Garnacha Blanca. Rosado from Rioja is traditionally made from Garnacha grapes.

La Rioja

La Rioja

Rioja wines are divided into four classifications: The most basic is simply called Rioja. This wine is the region’s “entry-level” classification, can be fermented from any of the area’s allowed varietals, and has spent under a year aged in oak barrels. The next level is called Crianza. Crianza has been aged for a minimum of two years – one of those years must be in oak. After that is the Reserva classification, given to wines aged in oak for at least one year, with three years or more total aging. The fourth and most esteemed level of Rioja classification is called Gran Reserva¸ which describes a wine that has been aged in oak for two or more years and in bottle for three or more. Despite the minimum aging requirements, however, some of the more celebrated Rioja wineries to hold onto their wines for 10, 15, 20 or so years, until they are determined to be at their peak drinkability, and not released before that time. Due to this “library-style” release – plus varietals used, etc. – it is not uncommon to see many Rioja wines priced similarly to the best French Bordeaux bottles. But this is not to say there aren’t excellent deals to be found from the D.O.C.

Ironically, one of the value wineries I discovered was the same one that Jess wrote about at the very start of this blog. Viña Santurnia produces their wines en la propiedad – on the property – in the Alta district of Rioja. All of their wines are priced very well, and for comparison I decided to try three from their production: 2006 Crianza ($10.99 retail), 2004 Reserva ($14.99 retail) and 2001 Gran Reserva ($26.99).

Tres vinos de Rioja

Tres vinos de Rioja

What works about this project is that I’m tasting three levels of a producer’s wine, reporting back on what I liked and why. The intention is to illustrate what happens at each of the price points. What does not work about this project is that the winemaker uses different blends for each classification, and the three wines I tasted all came from different vintages.

The 2006 Crianza, aged for 12 months in American oak barrels, is made from 100% Tempranillo grapes. When I smelled it in the glass, my immediate impression was “pepper, with notes of litter box.” There was some fruit hiding in there somewhere, but – true to the Old World style – this wine was pure Barnyard Spice. Perhaps surprisingly, that’s considered a good thing when you’re talking about traditional Rioja. There was great balance to this spicy/peppery/dusty/earthy wine. Although it is made in the classic style, I found it to taste a little more like modern, New World wines than I expected; this is not a judgment, just an observation. For $11, I was pleased as can be.

The 2004 Reserva is crafted from a blend of Tempranillo, Mazuelo and Graciano and was American oak-aged 24 months before being bottled in September 2007. At $15, this was actually my least favorite of the three. Totally cherry-vanilla, it was jammier and more wood-sweet (likely due to more time in oak) than the Crianza. The balance was lovely and managed to align acid, tannin and fruit, but seemed overwhelmingly “New Worldy,” before disappearing with a short, dry, peppery finish. I was hoping for a little more depth and complexity for my $4 extra. I voted this wine “most likely to go bad before I get back to drinking it.”

2001 Vina Santurnia Gran Reserva

2001 Vina Santurnia Gran Reserva

The 2001 Gran Reserva was an entirely different wine altogether. Cherries, asparagus and white pepper on the nose. Much more reserved on the palate than the other two – the entire experience was of a more sophisticated, more mature, more complex wine. Smooth, a little spicy, with flavors that unfolded gently in a controlled, delicate expression. The Gran Reserva is a blend of 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano. The percentage of Graciano – in addition, of course, to being an older vintage – might be one of the contributing factors in the wine’s higher sticker price. Graciano is a harder grape to grow, and produces the lowest yields of any of the other Rioja varietals. Whatever the reason, the Gran Reserva was in a class all its own. It also recently scored 90 points from Wine Spectator.

Everything about wine is a personal decision, from the flavors one prefers to the price they’re willing to spend. This blog is only a catalog of what Jess and I have tried, usually with a focus on bang for the buck. I really enjoyed the Viña Santurnia Crianza, I also really enjoyed the Gran Reserva. In the spirit of sultry, Spanish adventures, go with your own wine passion on this one. When one follows their heart, they are certain to drink more deeply from what life has to offer. And whatever it is that you choose, salud!

Food and Wine in May 2010 097

One-Day Sales… Good Value or Good Hype?

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in How to Buy Wine at Good Prices | 1 Comment
Weighing out value from one-day sale sites

Weighing out value from one-day sale sites

It all started with Woot. They took this crazy idea that if a manufacturer or retailer wants to dump a load of merchandise, why not throw it in front of a mountain deal-hungry netizens and make that merchandise go away in less than a day? And it works! Woot is a successful business model with zillions of loyal fans (and even shoppers).

Then Woot said, hey wait a minute… what if we did Wine.Woot? Would wine shoppers snap up great wines at closeout prices, too? Well, of course they will! Because most wine is expensive.

It’s been said so many times before but “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Several other companies in the wine space have been eyeballing Wine.Woot’s success and thinking they want a piece of that action. They’ve launched these new sites in many forms, some just like Wine.Woot and others with their own spin. Either way, they’re playing the urgency card (making the deal time-limited) to get you emotionally ready to purchase.

We recently launched a new campaign called Hot Wine Deals (@HotWineDeals on twitter and we have a Facebook page, too). As part of this effort we’re combing through these one-day sales on a, yup, daily basis and uncovering some interesting information!

Here’s a rundown on who’s out there and who’s really offering deals:

  • Wine.Woot
    The pitch: “Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday wine.woot.com will uncork a sweet new wine deal.” And we’ll do it with style.
    The analysis: Sometimes these wines are hard to find online to compare for prices or even get a second-opinion about. And their deals are frequently for 3-packs. I don’t love buying 3 of something I’ve never had so I’m always hesitant to buy, but when it comes to reputation you can’t beat Wine.Woot.com. Follow our shopping advice below and you won’t go wrong.
  • WineAccess Special Deals
    The pitch: Our buying power lets us get unbelievable deals on fantastic quality wines and we incentivize you to buy by offering case-prices and other discounts.
    The analysis: WineAccess has two business models, one is selling high-quality wine and the other is referring shoppers to local and online wine stores. I’m almost always impressed with their selections and their pricing. It’s worth getting on their mailing list to keep in touch with their Deal of the Day promotions.
  • WineExpress (Wine Enthusiast) Hot Deal of the Day
    The pitch: For one day, a special wine has been selected for $0.99 per bottle shipping.
    The analysis: Sorry guys, most of the time these deals ain’t that hot. WineExpress’ regular prices are full retail (or more!) and their sale prices are stingy (from my extreme bargain-hunter point of view).
  • Wines Til Sold Out
    The pitch: Much like Wine.Woot, but without all the prose and better shipping deals. 30-70% off store and internet site prices and special Marathon days where they feature anywhere from 2-5 wines per hour from midnight to midnight.
    The analysis: They seem to be delivering on their promises and they have an excellent reputation among bargain hunters. The fine print says they have a parent company and that this is their closeout arm… I don’t like that the parent company isn’t disclosed so I searched the internet to see if I could find out: There’s some suspicion it might be WineBid.com or Roger Wilco Liquor Stores in New Jersey. Whoever they are, they’re worth keeping your eye on.
  • CellarThief
    The pitch: Great wine at killer prices, and we donate clean water with every purchase!
    The analysis: Sometimes the prices are great, sometimes they’re okay. I’m a fan of their Mystery-packs because it’s fun and the wines are all good quality wines. Plus, they have a great website that’s just fun to visit.
    Side note: I’m not sure how I feel about using charitable donations as a marketing tactic. Typically I’d rather buy my stuff at the best price and send a check to my favorite charities… if we over-ask people for money for charities, we’ll make the wells run dry.
  • Cinderella
    The pitch: WineLibrary’s answer to Wine.Woot with a twist (Wine Library is Gary Vaynerchuk’s baby).
    The analysis: Sales aren’t started or run with regularity, but they’re announced well in advance and there’s a huge one that launches on Friday June 18th. Gary’s got a reputation that is a mega-marketing machine on its own. We love that they show us their past deals and the past prices.
  • WiredforWine
    The pitch: One unbeatable deal each until it sells out! Free shipping offer and best price guarantee.
    The analysis: It wasn’t hard for me to find some inaccurate data on their site and a lower price, too, but when I emailed in and asked about the discrepancy, they checked it out and immediately updated their site to reflect the current data… and they still had a better deal. As Ferris Bueller is famous for saying, “Live moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Well, the web moves pretty fast, too, and that makes it hard for all of your claims to be accurate 100% of the time… it’s all about how you respond to them. Keep this site on your list because their free-shipping offers frequently put them among the best deals around.
  • Vinfolio Flash Sale
    The pitch: Specially negotiated pricing on highly-rated, top quality wines offered in limited quantity for a limited time.
    The analysis: Vinfolio is a consignment/auction site specializing in very fine wines. The kind of wines that the under $25 crowd won’t even consider. That said, if you’re in the market for something outstanding that might be hard to find, this is an excellent source. Their Flash Sales aren’t frequent and don’t occur with regularity so you’ll need to get on their email list for notifications.
  • Wine.com
    We hear they’re coming out with a competitive product in this space, too. It hasn’t launched yet so stay tuned for an update when they do.

Here are some of our tips for shopping these deals:

  • Before you fork over your credit card, do a quick check of your own!
    Most of these sites’ best-price claims are based on 1-3 data sources which do not represent every deal on the web and may not be 100% accurate (because the data sources might not be 100% accurate). Here are three great sources for you to check out when seeing if that price is really a steal: Google Shopping, Wine-Searcher.com, and WineAccess.com. There are of course others, but unless you’re not satisfied if you’re not paying the lowest price to the penny, these will be more than sufficient to let you know if this is a great deal or not.
  • Don’t forget to check shipping costs!
    Some of the one-day sites offer free shipping on 2 or 4 bottles and sometimes the prices are shipping inclusive. This matters when comparing prices with other wine stores! We often find killer deals at little wine shops in NJ & NY except most of them don’t ship outside of their state. We suspect when the one-day sites quote prices, they’re looking at stores with broader shipping capabilities. You can often find a better deal if you look in your locale, so please do so! Wine-searcher.com and WineZap.com are great for this.
  • If your wine is being compared to others in the neighborhood, check out the prices on those wines, too.
    You might really get a deal on pedigreed grapes from a little-known or stressed winery. Places like WineAccess make killer deals on wine from these unfortunate wineries all the time.

I’m SO curious to know what you guys think…

  • Is this space too crowded?
  • Are there too many deal-of-a-lifetime purveyors in the wine biz?
  • What kind of consequences do these one-day sales have on wineries and regular retailers?

LA Wine Fest 2010

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wine Tasting Trips | 1 Comment
LA Wine Fest 2010

LA Wine Fest 2010


June 5 & 6; $65 day pass, $100 weekend. Tix @ http://www.lawinefest.com

Border Grill, Tasty Meat and The Sweets Truck among those providing meals on wheels at LA WineFest 2010

”Absinthe Appreciation” by Nolan Kadoche of ABYSS, Authentic Superior Absinthe; Tickets $50

Charity Poker Tournament with Lamborghini Travels will raise funds for Hollywood YMCA; buy-in is $250 and includes admission to LA WineFest LA WineFest general admisison tickets $65 (single one-day pass) or $100 (couples one-day or single weekend pass) at LAWineFest.com

(May 17, 2010; LOS ANGELES, CA)—Absinthe, food trucks, Lamborghini’s and poker… while the 130+ wines at LA WineFest are sure to dominate, this year’s Fest includes a wide array of tantilizing offerings for the palate and preoccupation. New for LA WineFest 2010 are the following offerings and events: Tasty small plates prepared by LA’s buzz-worthy food trucks by Border Grill, Tasty Meat and The Sweets Truck, as well as local restaurants La Piazza, Tsunami Sushi, Must Bar, and Lola’s Restaurant. Plates start at just $2. Absinthe Education Class with Nolan Kadoche of ABYSS, Authentic Superior Absinthe. Sunday only, 1:00 -1:45 p.m.; $50 per person at LAWineFest.com. Charity Poker Tournament co-hosted by Lamborghini Travels. $250 buy-in includes general admission to LA WineFest; $100 re-buy. Play either Saturday or Sunday from 4:00 – 7:00 p.m.; two sets of prizes. First prize is a $4,000 Diamond Limited Edition Lamborghini Watch. Tickets at LAWineFest.com. Additional details for LA WineFest 2010 are as follows:

When: Saturday and Sunday, June 5th and 6th; 2:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. both days

Where: Raleigh Studios, 5300 Melrose Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90038

Tickets (Advance Purchase): $65 one-day pass (singles), $100 weekend pass (singles) or $100 one-day pass (couples); available at LAWineFest.com or local fine wine retailers. Tickets available at the door on the day of the event for $75 each.

Raffle: Wine, restaurant gift cards, luxury gift baskets, travel vouchers and other enticing items will be raffled off both Saturday and Sunday; minimum 10 raffle items each day. Raffle tickets are $5 each, available at the door.

Special Programs: Special classes on Absinthe appreciation, wine and cheese pairing, international wines, and bourbon, scotch and sake offered both days at 1:00 p.m. (prior to gates opening to the public); tickets available separately at LAWineFest.com or by calling (818) 429-6770.

Parking: Street parking (metered on Saturday) and paid parking available at Paramount Studios lots on Bronson and Van Ness. Metro accessible via Red Line; exit Vermont/Santa Monica and walk two blocks south, three blocks west. The Viceroy Hotel Group is serving as official hotel partner for LA WineFest 2010, with special rates available at Avalon Beverly Hills and Maison 140 for LA WineFest guests and vendors. For rates or reservations, please contact Rachel Madison Hill at (323) 445-0425.

Other LA WineFest sponsors include LA Weekly, CRN Digital Talk Radio, Vin Village and Patterson’s The Tasting Panel magazine.

About LA WineFest:
LA WineFest was founded in 2005 by renowned wine educator, columnist and Sommelier for the Escoffier Association of Southern California, Dr. Joel M. Fisher. LA WineFest is the largest wine tasting event in Los Angeles, with the dual mission of bringing wine education and enjoyment to Angelenos and supporting local charitable organizations. For further information, please visit LAWineFest.com or contact Director of Marketing, Michelle McCue at michelle@mccuecommunications.com or (213) 985-1011.
LA Wine Fest 2010

Hot Wine Deal! 2005 Opolo Fusion

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Hot Wine Deals | 1 Comment


We're all about value over here… sometimes that means buying cheap wine that will surprise you, sometimes that means buying mid-priced wine that tastes expensive, and sometimes (today will be one of those times) it means buying mid-priced, expensive-tasting wine so cheap you won't believe your eyes.

Have you met Opolo? I have! I've been to their winery and came home with a bottle of this stuff (among others). I liked Opolo so much I also went to a winemaker dinner here in town so I could have some more without the drive to Paso Robles!

Today, while scouring the web for great deals, I came across this one and said… BINGO! So if you like balanced, well-made California fruit-forward red wines you can have a bingo, too!

2005 Opolo Fusion (49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 49% Syrah, 2% Petite Verdot) from Paso Robles.
Release price: $37.50. Sale price: $21.99. There's a “member-only” price, too.

Trust me, if you're thinking about this wine, register for an account so you can see the low low price they're offering to their registered shoppers.



Hot Wine Deal! 2007 J Vineyards & Winery Chardonnay Russian River Valley

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Great Wines Under $20 | 1 Comment

My wine cellar is full and I'm currently on a wine-buying furlough or I'd snap up this deal myself! I'm a HUGE Russian River Valley fan, especially Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and J Vineyards is an excellent winery.

Release price is $28.00/bottle! Get it for just $18.99/bottle or $15.99 per bottle if you buy 12 or more!

Tasting Notes from Wine Access:

“Pale green color. Bright aromas of apple and citrus, a touch of wood. Rich and firm on the palate, with a tight kernel of honeyed fruit, bracketed by brisk Russian River acidity. Excellent weight, and fine persistence, speaking of the vineyard pedigree and that great Indian summer hang time of 2007. Drink now for its refreshing vibrancy or age for up to 4 years.”

Check it out at WineAccess or read on…

Wine information from J Vineyards & Winery:

The vineyards
The grapes for this Chardonnay come from our estate vineyards in the Russian River Valley, as well as from select premium vineyard sites in the western region of the Russian River Valley.

Whole grape clusters were hand-harvested between 23 and 24 brix, and then pressed gently in our Coquard press to minimize the extraction of harsh components from the skins of the grapes; free-run and press fraction juices were fermented separately using a combination of indigenous and unique custom yeast strains from Burgundy. Long fermentations allowed the wine to develop slowly, maximizing its expression of terroir. Careful blending of more than 30 lots resulted in a beautiful expression of Chardonnay that is both powerful and refined and true to the Russian River Valley.

For this wine, the winery went to great lengths in finding unique French oak coopers selected from specific forests. The wine is 100% barrel-fermented and aged in 60-gallon Burgundian oak (40% new). A long, six-month malolactic fermentation was carried out resulting in automatic batonage, which produced exceptional sur lie character, as well as complex, layered aromas and flavors. A year of rest after bottling created a fully integrated and beautifully resolved wine that honors the traditions of Burgundy and is a true testament to the terroir of Russian River Valley.

Tasting Notes
The 2007 J Vineyards Chardonnay is a sublime combination of old world minimalist technique and new world fruit expression. The senses are aroused by scents of Meyer lemon, peach, vanilla, toasted almond and honey. The weighty, seamless palate has a creamy texture reminiscent of crème brûlée. A long luxurious finish exhibits hints of caramel, nutmeg and cinnamon.

Winemaker: George Bursick
Appellation: Russian River Valley
Harvest Date: September 4 – October 8, 2007
Wine Alcohol: 14.3% by volume
Wine Acid: 5.90 grams per liter
Wine pH: 3.55
Production: 5,700 cases
Bottling Date: August 2008
Release Date: September 2009

Malbec Might Be Better Than Men

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | 11 Comments


Remember those drunken high school Spring Breaks? You know, the kind with vast bodies of water, cruising some sort of strip, 12 kids packed into a quasi-clean motel room and rampant instances of unsafe behavior – both before and after the consumption of bathtub gin and fruity wine coolers? One thing I always link with those shame-filled memories are the ultra klassy t-shirts hanging in beach shop windows and draped across the torsos of swaying, boozy teenagers. Especially the ones displaying an artfully drawn mug of frosty ale, and 30 or so tasteful and respectful reasons why “Beer Is Better Than Women.”

I got nuthin

I got nuthin

I took this IROQ Z joyride down memory lane last night while working over some recent guy issues. I mean, if there exists such profound wisdom as “Beer has no mother and can be mature within a year” (#9),  “You can shoot a beer” (#15) and “A beer is always wet” (# 20) than surely women can find our own answer to those tacky t-shirts, and list plenty of reasons why [blank] is better than men, right?

While I mulled this over, I poured myself a glass of 2008 HJ Fabre Malbec. We’ll call it “research.”

I had opened this Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina the night before. Decked out with a really hot label, I looked the bottle up and down – and even turned it around to see if it was packing anything interesting on the backside. “Five generations of winemaking in Bordeaux and today in Argentina.” Worldly and experienced. Nice. The label claims that this wine “shows a remarkable balance between fine, elegant fruit and silky tannins.” Ooh, sophistication and a nice body. Things are getting interesting…Alcohol 14.5% by volume. Hello, Big Boy! Momma is gonna have a good time to-night! And then I read this:

“We recommend you decant an hour before serving to allow the wine’s full qualities to unfold.”

– Herve J Fabre

Wait. I’m ready to go but have to hang on for an hour before the wine’s magic is ready to start working?

Come again?

OK, fine. It’s no big deal. Maybe that’s what happens when you’re working with 100 year old vines. I can roll with it. I’ll be patient.

HJ Fabre Malbec - treats you right

HJ Fabre Malbec – treats you right

14 years after meeting my ex, I have to admit that I cannot begin to fathom how the modern dating world works. According to the bits and pieces I’ve picked up here and there from my friends, women are supposed to act interested – but not too interested. Always be busy. Dismissive. A little cold – but flirty! Be endlessly optimistic. Messages and phone calls should not be returned until sufficient time has passed that the guy becomes convinced that the girl is being flown on private jet to London by hotter paramour. It’s enough to drive a person to drink…

The Malbec, on the other hand, wouldn’t judge me for weakened resolve to interact. When I tried it – poured through an aerator – after 20 minutes, it was a luscious dark purple in the glass, with a rim of electric lavender. A nose of warm bread, blackberry and spice. My haste was chastened by a sharp, unbalanced experience. Strong tannin, but ultimately a long, forgiving finish. Exhibit A: Malbec isn’t going to freak out on me for not playing games.

When I was 21, life was a lot simpler. Things like “emotional availability” weren’t really issues – because at 21, no one was available. We were all selfish and stupid and unwilling to compromise. Imagine my surprise when – 14 years later – I find the dating scene to look exactly the same! I’ve grown up, but the world seems to be stuck where it was when last I was single. At least one half of it, anyway… Many people say that this is a particular problem with dating in El Lay: That the land obsessed with eternal youth does not make for mature adults. It’s all about “no strings,” “no drama,” “easy,” “casual,” “cool” – forgetting that there is actually something comforting about being able to put aside the false street facades to find authenticity and security with another person – even if that security equates to expecting someone to be there in the morning.

Peaceful, easy feelin'

Me and Malbec: Peaceful, easy feelin'

But my Malbec wasn’t going anywhere. In fact, as we sat together, it just got better and better. After 45 minutes, it presented rich anise flavors, more pronounced blackberry, and a soft, velvety mouthfeel. I never would’ve gotten something that good if I’d only given it a cursory taste and formed an immediate impression. I was rewarded for taking my time and waiting things out awhile. And I liked what I was drinking.

Don’t get me started on the levels of deception. This includes people who post 10+ year old photos on dating sites, creative descriptions for what others would call a “girlfriend”/”fiancee”/”spouse,” excuses for inappropriate behaviors not befitting their respective situations, and the immeasurable inaccuracies one makes up about themselves to work up the courage to get back into the dating pool or to talk to someone “out of their league.” The dating world is bubbling with so many lies that spending too much time here will leave an innocent with a hard, crunchy, burned crust. And that’s if they get out in time to keep their heart from getting blackened and overdone.

This is in direct contrast to that lovely HJ Fabre Malbec! It was upfront from the beginning – well, once I discovered the fine print about waiting an hour after opening to imbibe… It boasted of blackberry and anise – and then it sealed the deal. In fact, it actually over-delivered: I didn’t know what to expect  from a $16 bottle of wine, but this one wasn’t playing around! An hour after opening, this wine showed silky tannins, blackberry, spice, cocoa powder and anise on the palate and anise in the long, delicious finish.

I don’t have a bulleted, bawdy list of why this Malbec is better than a man. It certainly provided more honesty, more depth and – with 12 months of aging in French oak barrels – a longer commitment than many men I’ve encountered in a long time. I needed it when I was having a hard time, and it was there for me – in all its robust glory. Even with my frustration and anger and disheveled hair and makeup, my Malbec just let me be me. It made no demands. It was the perfect size, and seduced me with its promises of pleasure two nights in a row. It hinted at relaxation and sweet, sweet slumber. My Malbec offered kindness.

And then I drank it.