Malbec Might Be Better Than Men

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

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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.

A Really Rough Guide To Budget Bordeaux

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes, Great Wines Under $20, How to Buy Wine at Good Prices | 2 Comments

wine tastingSeveral weeks ago, I had the exquisite pleasure of attending the 2007 Union des Grand Cru des Bordeaux tasting in Los Angeles. For those who don’t speak French, “Union des Grand Cru des Bordeaux” translates, roughly, as “The Incredibly Fancy Wines From the French Region of Bordeaux. You Can’t Afford Them. Don’t Even Bother.” Look it up.

There were over one hundred wineries pouring at the event. Representatives stood behind low tables covered in white tablecloths, ice buckets, bottles and business cards. In the center of one portion of the cavernous conference room were lovely banquets of fresh fruit, colorful cheeses and a variety of crackers to absorb a bit of the booze. Separate tables supported shiny silver spittoons. Guests in subdued attire slowly wandered from table to table, shmoozing, sipping, smiling, spitting.

The room was divided according to the regions of Bordeaux:

Graves (Pessac-Leognan, Sauternes and Barsac); Medoc (Saint Emilion, Pomerol, Listrac-Medoc, Moulis-en-Medoc,

Bordeaux AOC

Bordeaux AOC

Margaux, Saint-Julien, Pauillac, Saint-Estephe). For the purposes of this piece, I will not go into the history and importance of Bordeaux, because I cannot do the proper justice which many an expert has already done on the region, and I could not begin to match the authority of these historians.

I’ll simply provide some broad stokes.

Red Bordeaux (called Claret, in the UK), is the most widely produced wine type in this region (outnumbering white wine by about 10 to 1), and is generally made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. To round out the “Fab Five” of Bordeaux, Petit Verdot and Malbec are also permitted, although these are blended in less

frequently. While Carmenere is also authorized, this varietal is now difficult – if not impossible – to find in the area, since replanting never quite took hold after the Phylloxera epidemic of 1867.

As a very broad generalization, Cabernet Sauvignon (Bordeaux’s second-most planted grape variety) dominates the blend in red wines produced in the Médoc and the rest of the left bank of the Gironde estuary. Typical top-quality Chateaux blends are 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc and 15% Merlot. This is typically referred to as the “Bordeaux Blend.” Merlot (Bordeaux’s most-planted grape variety) and to a lesser extent Cabernet Franc (third most planted variety) tend to predominate in Saint Emilion, Pomerol and the other right bank appellations. These Right Bank blends from top-quality Chateaux are typically 70% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc & 15% Cabernet Sauvignon (Oz Clarke Encyclopedia of Grapes p. 129 Harcourt Books 2001 ISBN 0151007144)

Second in production is white Bordeaux, which is grown only in Graves and is mostly (exclusively, in the case of the sweet Sauternes), made from Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes, with neither varietal making up more than ninety percent of the blend. Typical blends are usually 80% Sémillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc. Muscadelle is sometimes included, as well, to round out the flavor of the wine, although rarely – if ever – playing a predominant role. On occasion, one can find small amounts of Colombard and Ugni Blanc mixed in, as well.

For me, the greatest thing about the Union des Grand Cru des Bordeaux tasting was the discovery of amazing Bordeaux whites – specifically from the Pessac-Leognan region. Each region in Bordeaux has its own terrior and as a result, the flavor profile of each wine differs noticeably from one parish to another. While I found most of the Bordeaux Blanc to be pretty special, it was the Pessac-Leognan whites that really took my breath away: Pure peachy-grapefruit refreshment. Silky smooth. Perfectly balanced (I mean perfectly). I cannot overstate how enamored I am of these velvety wines.

But while far, far below the sky-high prices of their darker brethren, bottles of white Bordeaux do not come cheap. What’s a value-minded vino-holic to do?

Luckily, there are several options:

  1. Don’t buy Grand Cru: Right after the Bordeaux tasting, I dove into research and trips to local wine shops, trying to recreate the magic of what I had sampled in that large conference room – minus the hefty price tag.
    Chateau Loudenne Blanc

    Chateau Loudenne Blanc

    What I eventually found was a 2006 Chateau Loudenne. While not from one of the premier Chateaux, this wine is so incredibly delicious that the sommelier at a recent celebratory dinner stopped to comment on our choice to bring it to the restaurant. He did this several times. And then helped himself to a small pour. With a nose of sweet almonds and a soft, velvety mouthfeel rich with grapefruit and lanolin, who needs to spend Grand Cru prices to experience a similar level of deliciousness? Especially when this beautiful bottle cost me only $20. Maybe $21. Let me say that one more time: Even the sommelier at a restaurant with 2 Michelin Stars stopped to praise this “value” wine. It really was remarkable, especially when you consider that bottles from up the road in this region run $80+. I can’t recommend the Chateau Loudenne more highly, but there are plenty of incredible Bordeaux wines out there that are selling for a comparative song, simply because they lack that coveted First, Second or Third Growth status. But if “Cru” matters to you, remember that there is a significant price difference between First and Second Growth (Premiers or 1er and Seconds or Deuxiemes Cru Classe), Second and Third Growth (Troisiemes), Third and Fourth Growth (Quatriemes), and Fourth and Fifth Growth (Cinquiemes). The cost plummets even more precipitously when you go from Fifth Growth down to Cru Bourgeois – which is the class from which the Loudenne comes – although the Cru Bourgeois designation was officially done away with in 2007. Any value vinophile worth his or her salt should simply find the wines classified Cru Bourgeois before ’07 and hunt these bad boys down*. You know you’ll be getting an absolutely incredible value for the money. But one shouldn’t place too much emphasis on growth classification; just because a wine is Second, Third, Fourth, Bourgeois, etc., does not mean it’s far inferior to Premier – especially as the quality of some of the First and Second Growths waxes and wanes over the years.

  2. Don’t buy chateau-bottled Bordeaux: While there is very concentrated hoopla over several important Chateaux in the region, wine making in Bordeaux is not confined merely to grand properties where they grow and ferment their own. Like almost everywhere else in the world, Bordeaux also produces wines blended from several different properties – sometimes even the fancy ones – although you’d be hard-pressed to find this information on the label. This practice is actually borne of the age-old négociant (“merchant”) system – identical to the system that produces Cameron Hughes and Layer Cake Wines in the US. Winemakers source what they feel is some of the best fruit in the area and mix it to create their own special blend.
  3. Don’t buy “Bordeaux”: Instead, opt for the lesser-known appellations in the region, which are producing solid stuff at a fraction of what the classic parishes pull in. Look for appellations like Premières Côtes de Blaye, Premières Côtes de Bordeaux, Côtes de Francs, Côtes de Castillon, Cadillac, Côtes de Bourg, Fronsac and Montagne-St-Emilion. These are some of the “new” appellations, but they are all within the Bordeaux AOC. For potentially even bigger bargains, look for “Bordeaux blends” in regions entirely outside of Bordeaux – Like Loire, for example. Wines produced in other AOCs will not taste the same as the identical blend from Bordeaux, but there will be a similar and recognizable flavor profile you might really enjoy.
  4. Meet Meritage: The blends that produce Meritage are the classic Bordeaux mixtures, in varying proportions – made in America.
    meritage_assoc

    The Meritage Association

From the website:

Meritage wines are provocative red or white wines crafted solely from specific “noble” Bordeaux grape varieties and are considered to be the very best wines of the vintage.

Meritage, pronounced like heritage, first appeared in the late 1980s after a group of American vintners joined forces to create a name for New World wines blended in the tradition of Bordeaux. The word was selected from more than 6,000 entries in an international contest. Meritage combines “merit,” reflecting the quality of the grapes, with “heritage,” which recognizes the centuries-old tradition of blending, long considered to be the highest form of the winemaker’s art.

While many bottles may contain the Bordeaux blend, only those that belong to the Meritage Alliance can use the name on the label. The Good: It’s generally really good wine at non-Bordeaux prices (although this doesn’t mean they’re necessarily value priced). The Bad: It isn’t true Bordeaux.

One final note: Good wine – whether it’s from Bordeaux or anywhere else in the world – is the wine that tastes good to you. I’ve spoken to several industry veterans who have had the good fortune of experiencing several of the most renowned and celebrated wines on the planet. In each case, these experts remembered some of the wines as being perfect and lovely and delicious and incredible…and some of them tasting like…well…crap. Undrinkable. They poured their – otherwise perfect – glasses down the sink. I spoke to one man who said he went to a special winery dinner where, unbeknown to the head sommelier, they switched the bottle of the 3- or 4-figure wine of the evening with a bottle of Charles Shaw. The sommelier’s reaction was tepid: He thought it was a pretty decent bottle of Two-Buck Chuck and that the “exceptional” wine was quite a disappointment.

My point is this: Bordeaux is known for producing some truly special wines – for people who like to drink Bordeaux. There are no points given for paying top dollar for something you don’t want to drink. A region or a designation only makes the wine better in the way that a designer label improves a pair of jeans: Perhaps it’s an indication of quality or a certain cut or style, but there are a lot of other factors that determine the right fit.

Have fun, try a bunch of stuff, and buy what suits you. Maybe that’s Chateau Lafite-Rothchild, or maybe it’s something with a pretty label and a small price tag you buy from Trader Joe’s. In the end, you are your own expert, and only you can determine what you like to drink and how much you’re willing to pay for it.

* Crus Bourgeois Exceptionnels:

Exceptional AND value-priced, too

Exceptional AND value-priced, too

Château Chasse-Spleen (Moulis-en-Médoc, Moulis-en-Médoc)

Château Haut-Marbuzet (Saint-Estèphe, Saint-Estèphe)
Château Labegorce Zédé (Soussans, Margaux)
Château Ormes-de-Pez (Les) (Saint-Estèphe, Saint-Estèphe)
Château Pez (de) (Saint-Estèphe, Saint-Estèphe)
Château Phélan Ségur (Saint-Estèphe, Saint-Estèphe)
Château Potensac (Ordonnac, Médoc)
Château Poujeaux (Moulis-en-Médoc, Moulis-en-Médoc)
Château Siran (Labarde, Margaux)

La Finca Wines from Trader Joe’s

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wines from the Grocery Store | Leave a comment
La Finca wines from Trader Joe's

La Finca wines from Trader Joe\’s

With Two-Buck Chuck heralded as the “everyman’s” wine I have become more open to the idea of deeply-discounted wines. To me, Two-Buck Chuck has always been a nice $6 wine for $2. Since I don’t drink $6 wine unless there isn’t any beer available, Two-Buck Chuck is just something other people talk about, not something I experience myself anymore.

But a few months ago, Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer fearlessly arrived in my mailbox and found its way onto my coffee table. While perusing it, I noticed some new wine they were promoting that goes by the name of La Finca and comes from Argentina. They sell these wines for $3.99 and it caught my attention. The following questions ran through my head, in roughly this order:

  1. If it’s $3.99 could it be twice as good as Two-Buck Chuck?
  2. If it’s $3.99 could it be like a nice wine that’s normally $12?
  3. If it’s $3.99 could it be any good?

By the time I’d arrived at the third question I’d reached the point of mini-obsession and I just had to know what they’d be like. So I marched myself right over to TJ’s and picked up a bottle each of the La Finca 2009 Malbec, La Finca 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the La Finca 2009 Chardonnay.

I’ve drinking a lot of Malbec in the last six months as I’m going to write a post about Malbec one of these days. Anyway, the general conclusion I’m drawing about Argentinian Malbec involves the difference between “regular” Malbec and “reserve” Malbec and the old addage “You get what you pay for.” Looking for one more notch in my Malbec bedpost, I dove right in as soon as I got home. And I was pleasantly surprised!

I found the La Finca 2009 Malbec to be very drinkable, very characteristic of Malbec from this region, and of pretty solid structure for a very young wine. Here is a little recap from twitter after I tweeted my usual “mini-review.”

grapesmart: Drinking 2009 La Finca Malbec from Trader Joe’s for $3.99. Was very skeptical–Chocolate nose, slightly acidic, low alcohol… kinda nice.
7:10 PM Oct 19th from TweetDeck

happywineguy: @grapesmart so…is it a middle of the week wine or something good enough to pour for friends?
7:18 PM Oct 19th from TweetDeck in reply to grapesmart

grapesmart: @HappyWineGuy Depends on your friends. It’s acceptable for friends after the first bottle is gone. I have friends I could serve it to :)
7:26 PM Oct 19th from TweetDeck

grapesmart: @HappyWineGuy That is, if you’re not embarrassed to serve a 2009 IN 2009 😉
7:29 PM Oct 19th from TweetDeck

happywineguy: @grapesmart not at all. The Southern Hemisphere is a half year ahead of us on vintages. So a 2009 is not unacceptable. As a 2nd btl, ok.
7:32 PM Oct 19th from TweetDeck in reply to grapesmart

grapesmart: @HappyWineGuy Thanks for teaching me something new about vintages! I had never thought about Southern Hemisphere being 6-months ahead!
7:42 PM Oct 19th from TweetDeck

happywineguy: @grapesmart awww, that’s what I do. :-)
7:43 PM Oct 19th from TweetDeck in reply to grapesmart

Some time later I opened the La Finca 2009 Chardonnay. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from an Argentinian Chardonnay, or a $3.99 Chardonnay for that matter. I have to tell you, I was absolutely blown away by this wine. It is better than 95% of the Chardonnays I’ve ever had, including all the ones that are over $30. My biggest concern was that since it doesn’t taste like a typical Chardonnay—or even an unoaked Chardonnay where you’ll (hopefully) find more of the Chardonnay grape showing off instead of the oak—that I was mistaken about how good it was. So, I called up Arianna (whom you may remember from such posts as: “I Don’t Read Playboy for the Articles“, “Wine and… Food? Please! Pairings“, and “An Oak Barrel-less Barrel of Fun“), had her come over, and gave her a blind taste. I told her absolutely nothing about what she was drinking and handed her a glass of chilled white wine. I found her analysis to be extremely curious considering what I’d poured.

Amazing balance, citrusy, apricot. Bright & crisp, no alcohol taste like you get in cheaper wines. I’d guess this is a Roussane or other white Rhone and that it’s at least $20. It tastes a little bit older, like a 2007.

This kind of wine is the reason this blog exists. We try everything and point you to great values. This kind of value is rare. If you like white wine go stock up on this Chardonnay, you’ll be glad you did. And if you’re not, I’ll buy the rest of yours off ya.

The story of La Finca comes to La Fin on a sadder note though… Last night I finally cracked the La Finca 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon and I have to say… meh. Not only was there nothing extraordinary, there was nothing ordinary. Well maybe not nothing, because the underlying flavors were nice (cherry and blackberry I think), but I had to fight through minerality, alcohol taste, and that dreaded cheap-red-wine-toothiness to get to them and my taste buds were fatigued before I even finished the first swallow. I wonder if it sat in the bottle a while longer (maybe a year or two) if it would get better. I also wonder if it will be better tonight than it was last night (I’ll keep you posted if it is).

At any rate, the moral of the story is to drink lots of wine so you can figure out what you like and what you don’t like… and then buy lots of what you like when it goes on sale.

La Finca wines from Trader Joe\’sWith Two-Buck Chuck heralded as the “everyman’s” wine I have become more open to the idea of deeply-discounted wines. To me, Two-Buck Chuck has always been a nice $6 wine for $2. Since I don’t drink $6 wine unless there isn’t any beer available, Two-Buck Chuck is just something other people talk about, not something I experience myself anymore.
But a few months ago, Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer fearlessly arrived in my mailbox and found its way onto my coffee table. While perusing it, I noticed some new wine they were promoting that goes by the name of La Finca and comes from Argentina. They sell these wines for $3.99 and it caught my attention. The following questions ran through my head, in roughly this order:
If it’s $3.99 could it be twice as good as Two-Buck Chuck?
If it’s $3.99 could it be like a nice wine that’s normally $12?
If it’s $3.99 could it be any good?
By the time I’d arrived at the third question I’d reached the point of mini-obsession and I just had to know what they’d be like. So I marched myself right over to TJ’s and picked up a bottle each of the La Finca 2009 Malbec, La Finca 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the La Finca 2009 Chardonnay.
I’ve drinking a lot of Malbec in the last six months as I’m going to write a post about Malbec one of these days. Anyway, the general conclusion I’m drawing about Argentinian Malbec involves the difference between “regular” Malbec and “reserve” Malbec and the old addage “You get what you pay for.” Looking for one more notch in my Malbec bedpost, I dove right in as soon as I got home. And I was pleasantly surprised!
I found the La Finca 2009 Malbec to be very drinkable, very characteristic of Malbec from this region, and of pretty solid structure for a very young wine. Here is a little recap from twitter after I tweeted my usual “mini-review.”
grapesmart: Drinking 2009 La Finca Malbec from Trader Joe’s for $3.99. Was very skeptical–Chocolate nose, slightly acidic, low alcohol… kinda nice.
7:10 PM Oct 19th from TweetDeck
happywineguy: @grapesmart so…is it a middle of the week wine or something good enough to pour for friends?
7:18 PM Oct 19th from TweetDeck in reply to grapesmart
grapesmart: @HappyWineGuy Depends on your friends. It’s acceptable for friends after the first bottle is gone. I have friends I could serve it to :)
7:26 PM Oct 19th from TweetDeck
grapesmart: @HappyWineGuy That is, if you’re not embarrassed to serve a 2009 IN 2009 😉
7:29 PM Oct 19th from TweetDeck
happywineguy: @grapesmart not at all. The Southern Hemisphere is a half year ahead of us on vintages. So a 2009 is not unacceptable. As a 2nd btl, ok.
7:32 PM Oct 19th from TweetDeck in reply to grapesmart
grapesmart: @HappyWineGuy Thanks for teaching me something new about vintages! I had never thought about Southern Hemisphere being 6-months ahead!
7:42 PM Oct 19th from TweetDeck
happywineguy: @grapesmart awww, that’s what I do. :-)
7:43 PM Oct 19th from TweetDeck in reply to grapesmart
Some time later I opened the La Finca 2009 Chardonnay. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from an Argentinian Chardonnay, or a $3.99 Chardonnay for that matter. I have to tell you, I was absolutely blown away by this wine. It is better than 95% of the Chardonnays I’ve ever had, including all the ones that are over $30. My biggest concern was that since it doesn’t taste like a typical Chardonnay—or even an unoaked Chardonnay where you’ll (hopefully) find more of the Chardonnay grape showing off instead of the oak—that I was mistaken about how good it was. So, I called up Arianna (whom you may remember from such posts as: “I Don’t Read Playboy for the Articles”, “Wine and… Food? Please! Pairings”, and “An Oak Barrel-less Barrel of Fun”), had her come over, and gave her a blind taste. I told her absolutely nothing about what she was drinking and handed her a glass of chilled white wine. I found her analysis to be extremely curious considering what I’d poured.
Amazing balance, citrusy, apricot. Bright & crisp, no alcohol taste like you get in cheaper wines. I’d guess this is a Roussane or other white Rhone and that it’s at least $20. It tastes a little bit older, like a 2007.
This kind of wine is the reason this blog exists. We try everything and point you to great values. This kind of value is rare. If you like white wine go stock up on this Chardonnay, you’ll be glad you did. And if you’re not, I’ll buy the rest of yours off ya.
The story of La Finca comes to La Fin on a sadder note though… Last night I finally cracked the La Finca 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon and I have to say… meh. Not only was there nothing extraordinary, there was nothing ordinary. Well maybe not nothing, because the underlying flavors were nice (cherry and blackberry I think), but I had to fight through minerality, alcohol taste, and that dreaded cheap-red-wine-toothiness to get to them and my taste buds were fatigued before I even finished the first swallow. I wonder if it sat in the bottle a while longer (maybe a year or two) if it would get better. I also wonder if it will be better tonight than it was last night (I’ll keep you posted if it is).
At any rate, the moral of the story is to drink lots of wine so you can figure out what you like and what you don’t like… and then buy lots of what you like when it goes on sale.

BevMo! Mega Tasting Notes!

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Jess' Wine Tasting Notes | 4 Comments
The GrapeSmart gals and their pimp-for-the-day, Wilfred Wong

The GrapeSmart gals and their pimp-for-the-day, Wilfred Wong

BevMo!, a beverage superstore local to California and Arizona, recently opened its 100th store, and Jess, Mitch and I trekked all the way to Rolling Hills Estates to help them celebrate (see Bordeaux Wines That Won’t Break The Bank). The expansive wine, beer and spirits “mega-tasting” was probably an incentive…

Armed with vinoculture literature and a solid breakfast, we descended on the event – determined to taste as much as possible before passing out. Or until they closed up shop at 5pm. So we started at the most likely place: The ticket booth.

Our $15 tax-deductible entrance fee went straight to Boys and Girls Clubs of the South Bay, and gave us 10 tasting tickets. Jess and I looked at our notes, looked at each other and promptly decided to buy 10 more tickets to split between us. We were handed a reusable 6-bottle wine carrier, a commemorative BevMo! glass and a shiny new wine key, then headed into the fray.

Before I talk about our tastings, I thought I’d share some important bits of info we quickly learned about these types of events:

1) Don’t buy extra tickets in advance. At this tasting there were several wineries at each tasting station but only one ticket was requested per table. So one ticket could buy as many as 10 tastings, depending on who was crowding into the area. And by the time the place was packed, tables weren’t even taking tickets anymore. Go back and buy extras as needed, but don’t stock up in the beginning.

2) Wear a hat.

3) Come sober.

(The last one is probably a given, but I thought I’d throw it out there, just in case)

And now that that’s out of the way, here is a list of our favorite pours and the ones we would’ve preferred to pass up:

FAVORITES:

Silver is golden

Silver is golden

Mer Soleil Silver Chardonnay 2007: This unwooded Chardonnay is made from grapes grown in the Santa Lucia Highlands of Monterey County and is aged in concrete tanks (which are made in Burgundy). It contains no malolactic fermentation and never touches oak. A beautiful light straw color in the glass, it has a lovely nose of grass, stone fruit (peaches, apples), and bright flavors of pineapple and citrus. It comes with a screw top!

Altocedro Reserva Malbec 2007: Rated as #47 of the “Top 100 Wines” in Wine Spectator, this Argentinian delight is a rich, dark purple in the glass, with a nose of grapes (!), oak, cherry and earthiness. On the palate it’s big and lush and oaky, with flavors of bright, dark fruit. This was definitely one of the stand-outs of the day. I should note, however, that it was only the Reserva that blew us away. The Ano Cero and Desnudos Malbecs didn’t do much to impress.

Rosenblum Rockpile Road Zinfandel 2006: This old clone Zinfandel is rich and robust and bursting with flavors of blackberry, black cherry, raspberry and vanilla. I’m already a big fan of Rosenblum’s more value-priced vinos, but this one really stands out and I think it’s worth the steeper price. Grown in Lake Sonoma in the upper Dry Creek Valley.

Trefethen Chardonnay 2006: Bright, light yellow in the glass, with aromas of pear, lemon and honeysuckle. Great balanced flavors of pear, lemon and vanilla. This is a nice, full, creamy white and has become one of our favorites in this price range.

Le yum!

Le yum!

Joseph Perrier Cuvee Josephine: Have you ever taken a sip of champagne that was so delicious it made you smile? The perfect amount of tiny bubbles tickling your tongue through the perfect balance of aroma and taste and mouth feel? Apple-y, citrus-y, peachy, vanilla and caramel deliciousness cascading over every tastebud and gracefully slipping down your throat? If you answered “no” to any of the above, than you need to find an occasion to try this remarkable champagne. Those French really know what they’re doing.

NOT-SO FAVORITES:

Roth Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2006: You know how we’ve said that Alexander Valley Cabernet is across-the-board delicious? Yeah…well…we can also admit when we’re wrong. This is a blend of 76% Cab Sav, 19% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc. The color is 100% gorgeous. The nose is scrumptious chocolate cherry. The flavor is…well…bland. Slightly tannic. Unimpressive. And at $30 – $40 a bottle, I need more for my money.

Lancaster Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2005: Hailing from Healdsburg, California, Lancaster is a family-owned winery and was at the same tasting table as Roth. In the glass, this wine is gorgeous and dark, with a nose of cherry and coffee. Smooth, rich mouthfeel. Coffee flavors. Very tannic. Fussy. However, in their defense, I learned in my research that Wine Enthusiast doesn’t feel this wine will reach its full potential until 10 years of bottle aging. Currently between $55 – $70 per bottle, that’s the chance you’d have to take.

Zinfandon't

Zinfandon't

Renwood Grandmere Zinfandel 2006: Boy, I really wanted to like this wine. The owner was at the tasting. He was incredibly enthusiastic. His winery is “Green Friendly,” which is a term he coined to describe the beautiful environmental protections he practices in his business. The grapes for this Zin are grown in the “oldest known Zinfandel vineyards in America.” Honest-to-blog, I really, really wanted to like this wine. But I didn’t. The color was super light. The scent and taste were very strawberry. It was incredibly tannic. It wasn’t very good. In fact, I couldn’t even drink it. Maybe that makes me a bad person. I’m sorry. I tried.

Parcel Thirty-One Zinfandel 2007: The Wine Whore has an interest in the topic of why some varietals don’t work for him, but he just keeps tasting them anyway because you never know when your palate will change or you’ll find one you DO like. There are three wine-growing areas that I feel this way about… Monterey, Lodi, and Mendocino County. And this Zinfandel, from Victory, was yet another example of how the wines from those areas don’t work for me. This was thin and light (Zinfandels should have body and finish!) with no appreciable flavor qualities beyond “red wine.” {Sad face goes here}

To wrap up… Wine Tasting Events are fun! Bring a friend and come prepared. And don’t forget to take notes or you’ll forget EVERYTHING. Oh, and don’t go shopping at a wine store while you’re drunk… the next day Jess looked in the wine box and the following conversation ensued:

Jess: “I bought those?!”
Mitch:
“Is that a bad thing?”
Jess:
“No, actually, those are wines I either like or have wanted to try.”
Mitch: “I guess it’s a good thing that even when you’re drunk you know what you like!”


2008 Zolo Malbec – Gaucho Select – Selected!

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Jess' Wine Tasting Notes | Comments Off on 2008 Zolo Malbec – Gaucho Select – Selected!

One of the funny things about Google is how it sends traffic around the web. In the last couple of weeks I suddenly received a lot of traffic for the keywords “zolo malbec” “zolo gaucho select” etc. Except I'd never heard of the wine, tried the wine, and certainly never written about the wine. Except, and you may have noticed, we include a feed from Wineass.com over there on the right side of this blog (we think their reviews are hilarious and helpful)… and THEY reviewed a Zolo wine (the Merlot). So, that at least explained why Google was sending people to this blog (a little) for that search term. It didn't really explain the explosion of traffic interested in those wines, though.

Yummy goodness

Yummy goodness

I did a little research and discovered the wines are included in BevMo!'s famous 5-cent wine sale! (For those of you who don't know about it, they take a large selection of their wines and put them on sale for Buy-one-get-one-for-a-nickel. I don't live near a BevMo! (in terms of time travelled to get to it) so I rarely go. But with all the interest in this wine, I figured I'd check it out.

Yesterday, around 2:30pm, Mitch and I wandered into the BevMo! in Valencia (we were up visiting friends near there), and picked up a couple bottles of the 2008 Zolo Gaucho Select Malbec, a couple bottles of Dry Creek Chardonnay (a long-time favorite of mine), and a couple bottles of Shiloh Road Shiraz. We headed over to our friends' house and promptly opened the Zolo Malbec with the caveat that it was an experiment…

WE ALL LOVED IT! What a wonderfully present surprise! It's young but it had a smooth mouthfeel, medium body, lovely plum and blueberry flavors, and a nice medium finish. It, to me, tastes like a Malbec, particularly a Malbec from the Mendoza region in Argentina (which is good, because that's where it's from).

We had a little time to kill between dinner and the fireworks so we ran back over to BevMo! and bought six more bottles… and the friends bought some, too.

Right now, you can get it at BevMo! for $15.99 for the first bottle and $0.05 for the second (around $8 a bottle) which makes it an unbelievably great wine for under $10.

When it's no longer on sale at BevMo! (or they run out), we recommend purchasing it from DrinkUpForLess.com ($13.99 for the 2007) or Wine.comWine.com (they carried older vintages so maybe they'll get it back in stock).

Update!

I was in a restaurant last night and I almost ordered a bottle of this wine for our table. Or to be more specific, not THIS wine, but one called Zolo Malbec (not the Gaucho Select). They were kind enough to bring me a taste before they cracked the bottle since the waitress could see I was concerned about it not being the Gaucho Select and sure enough, this Zolo Malbec was not as good as the Gaucho Select! It was grapey and overly cherry, not well-balanced like the Zolo Malbec Gauch Select. New lesson, read the labels carefully, sometimes there are multiple versions of a wine and not all of them are created equally!

The Costco Cabernet Saga Continues

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Jess' Wine Tasting Notes | 1 Comment
Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Label

Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Label

One of the best ways to get value in wine is to buy it on sale. Even more value happens when a big retailer buys so much of it they got it at a great price, which they pass onto you, and then they add coupons to it! For this reason, I pay special attention to Costco Wine Coupon Sale time… which, coincidentally happened last week.

This time, I restocked on the Bodega Norton Reserva Malbec, the Kirkland brand Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley, and the J Lohr Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon. I also tried an experiment from the sale wines because the price seemed right for experimenting… $10.49 with coupon. It was the Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

I ate it with a spaghetti & meat sauce recipe that I spent all day cooking (six hours, to be precise) figuring it would pair nicely with a hearty meaty dish. It left me flat. It wasn't bad, but it was tannic and very very dry… too dry… and I usually prefer very dry wines. Then again, so was the food. Well, not tannic, but dry. I'll blame the chef for that.

A visit to the Ancient Peaks tasting room

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wine Tasting Trips | Comments Off on A visit to the Ancient Peaks tasting room

On a recent trip to Paso Robles, and nearby Santa Margarita, Mitch and I stopped into the Ancient Peaks Winery tasting room.  The stop made our schedule because I've been curious about Zinfandel lately (I don't like most of what I've tried) but the Paso Robles area is known for their Zinfandel and Ancient Peaks is, too. I suppose the biggest disappointment of the visit was that the 2006 Zinfandel was sold-out. This is most likely because the annual Paso Robles Zinfandel Festival was the weekend before we arrived. Oh well, better luck next time.

ancient-peaks-winery-logo

The tasting fee was $5 which was a fair price for the amount of wine we tasted. No souvenir glasses here but that's okay because we're running out of room. We chose to do one of each of their available tastings, so that means one Estate Wines tasting and one Limited White Label Collection tasting. In a rather unusual turn of events, the more expensive the wine got the less we liked it. The Estate Wines seem fairly priced and would make nice table wines. The Limited White Label Collection left much to be desired considering the $35+ price-point. Here's what we tasted and what we thought about it:

2007 Ancient Peaks Sauvignon Blanc, $12 per bottle

ancient-peaks-2007-sb-smallWhat they say: Vivid aromas of pear, gooseberry, and lemon zest. The pear impression continues on the palate, accompanied by integrated flavors of melon, pineapple, and green apple. The texture is bright and fresh, finishing with a crisp acidity.

What Jess said: Nice. Light on the nose. A hint of apple. Kinda zippy… nice. Actually, it was nice enough I bought two bottles of it because at $12 a pop, it's a very nice white to have kicking around the house for salad-night.

What Mitch said: Slightly bitter, not unpleasant, light, easy nose.

2006 Ancient Peaks Merlot, $16 per bottle

ancient-peaks-2006-merlot-sWhat they say: High-toned aromas of black cherry and blueberry with hints of cola. A smooth, silky texture brings flavors of black currant, blueberry, mocha, and vanilla cream. The finish is cool and velvety, with hints of blackberry and clove spice.

What Jess said: Buttery popcorn on the nose, buttery in the mouth. Cherry. Also nice. We tried it a second time and I found it less exciting the second time around.

What Mitch said: Tarry finish at the back of the mouth, but light. More sour than bright.

2006 Ancient Peaks Syrah, $16 per bottle

ancient-peaks-2006-syrah-smWhat they say: Warm plum and spice aromas with smoky-earthy nuances. The palate bursts forth with bright rounded flavors of black cherry, plum, cola, and mocha. The finish lingers with long fruit and supple tannins.

What Jess said: Bacon on the nose. Big up front with a diminishing finish. I'm not crazy about this wine, and I found it a little boring (and I generally like Syrah, especially from this region).

What Mitch said: Uvula firecracker. First it's smooth, then it burns and finishes flat.

2006 Ancient Peaks Cabernet Sauvignon, $16 per bottle

ancient-peaks-2006-cs-smallWhat they say: Intense aromas of black fruits and leathery spice. The palate is deep and juicy, unfolding with ripe flavors of plum, cassis, black cherry, and mocha. Supple tannins are interwoven into a long, chewy finish.

What Jess said: Not much on the nose, but gentle and pleasant in the mouth. I thought it might be a little chocolatey. It had a long but delicate finish. Definitely tasted the Central Coast terroir in this Cab. We tasted this one a second time too, and it was notably sweet the second go-around.

What Mitch said: Pungent nose, flavorific but not heavy.

I found this on Bizrate for $12.95 if you'd like to give it a try.

2006 Ancient Peaks Malbec, $35 per bottle

ancient-peaks-2006-malbec-sWhat they say: Aromas of raspberry plum, rhubarb, and forest floor. Deep jammy flavors of boysenberry and blackberry anticipate accents of cedar, tobacco, and Asian spice. Juicy tannins embrace a supple, smoky finish.

What Jess said: Gentle on the nose, longer finish than the others, easy on the tannins, nice but not awesome. Maybe at $20 a bottle I'd feel differently.

What Mitch said: Medicinal nose, bright, crisp flavor, smooth.

2006 Ancient Peaks Petit Verdot, $35 per bottle

ancient-peaks-2006-pv-smallWhat they say: The 2006 Petit Verdot offers warm black fruit aromas with accents of lavender and pencil shavings. The palate bursts with fresh flavors of wild cherry, black currant, cola, and coffee with hints of peppercorn. Firm tannins are balanced with bright acidity for a clean, focused finish.

What Jess said: It's kind of like sour cranberry juice. A little acidic to my nose, maybe it just needs to be aged?

What Mitch said: Burnt berry nose. Smoky flavor all around.

2006 Ancient Peaks Petite Sirah, $35 per bottle

ancient-peaks-2006-ps-smallWhat they say: The 2006 Petite Sirah is loaded with exotic aromas of blueberry, cigar box, anise, white pepper and pomgegranate. Luscious flavors of blackberry, black cherry, vanilla bean, and cinnamon spice unfold along a big, chewy texture. Dusty tannins add structure to a long, juicy finish.

What Jess said: Blueberry and sesame on the nose. Chalky and sweet in the mouth. Another wine showing the strong Central Coast terroir.

What Mitch said: Pedestrian nose, like a dry Vina Santurnia

2006 Ancient Peaks Oyster Ridge, $50 per bottle

ancient-peaks-2006-or-small What they say: The 2006 Oyster Ridge is an artful blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Zinfandel, and was crafted to exemplify our finest winemaking efforts. The bouquet brims with accents of black fruit, rose petal, toasty oak and graphite. A complex tapestry of flavors includes blueberry, blackberry, vanilla, mocha, and anise. Firm tannins and exquisite balance ensure that this wine will reward careful cellaring.

What Jess said: Smoky, like barbecue sauce. Smooth finish. We liked this one but without a cellar (or even proper wine refrigerator), we don't invest in wines this expensive. And we're not sure it was worth the $50 price tag.

What Mitch said: Mild nose, spicy finish. Hits at the back of mouth but is light on the tongue.