Talk Nerdy To Me

Posted on by Chip McLaughlin in Theme Wines | Leave a comment
Substance wines

Wines of Substance

Being a founding member of a Seattle based wine group titled “Cork Dorks,” it should come as no surprise that I have fallen in love with a brand that talks nerdy to me.

Wines of Substance is a Washington winery stationed in the south sector of Walla Walla.  With branding based off of the periodic table and packaging that is geek sheik, this is surely a brand that all nerds, geeks and dweebs can get behind.

Beyond the alluring packaging and savvy branding concept, Substance makes some killer juice with a not-so-wallet-killing pricing structure, (whites range between $15 and $18 while reds range between $18 and $20).  With a dozen varietals to chose from, it would be easy for any wine lover to find something that they would surely enjoy.

Today’s pick is a two-for-one.  With the beginning of autumn, I would like to have one last hurrah for a summer favorite of mine: Sauvignon Blanc.  The Substance Sauvignon Blanc, (Sb) from years’ past have always been something that I have enjoyed, but I can honestly say that I was blown away with the 2010.  In the past, the Sb was very New Zealand-esque, but with the 2010, the crew from Substance clearly ripped a page from the book of Sancerre.  I love Sancerre style Sauvignon Blanc, so one can only imagine the excitement that came over me when I found something similar from my home state.  With stunning aromas of lemon zest, lemon grass and fresh cut grass, I couldn’t believe that this wasn’t Sancerre.  The flavors on the palate surely don’t disappoint either; fresh citrus, stone fruit, screaming acid and stoney minerality, the Substance Sb is definitely one of my favorite white wines from 2010.

Now, onto part two of our double feature.

Realizing that all good things must come to an end, I am embracing the autumn season with arms wide open.  When I think of early autumn wines, I think of red wines with great acidity that aren’t too heavy or over extracted.  Substance Counoise (Co), enter stage left.  I will admit that I love obscurity in most aspects of my life, and the same definitely stands true with wine.  Counoise is a grape that many may not be familiar with, so let’s have a quick little history lesson, (there may or may not be test at the end of this post, so be sure to pay close attention).

Counoise is a dark skinned grape grown primarily in the Rhône Valley region of France.  Although it is primarily used in blending to add notes of pepper and to bolster acidity, it can definitely make for a fun wine by itself.

The 2009 Co is a great example of what Counoise can do on its own.  Being harvested from the Forgotten Hills Vineyard within the Walla Walla AVA, one familiar with the site can expect some serious terroir funk.  Aromatically, this wine is expressive, inviting and bright.  Right away, you will smell bing cherry, peppercorn and wet cobblestone.  On the palate, the Co dances around beautifully with great acidity and flavors of cherry cola, iodine and white pepper.  This wine is definitely going to be different from much that you have had in the past, but it is well worth the exploration.

Fear not, there is no test.  However, I employ all of you to head to your nearest wine shop and ask about Wines of Substance.

Live long and prosper!

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.

kenwood-sb

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.

The Weekly (almost) Wine Tasting @ Literati

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Jess' Wine Tasting Notes | Comments Off on The Weekly (almost) Wine Tasting @ Literati

Gordon and I live near each other, and there's a cafe at the intersection of the busy streets where he goes home in one direction and I go home in the other. And they have lovely food and a nice wine list at very reasonable prices. So, guess where we have our semi-weekly meetings? It's called Literati2 (a spin-off of the very successful Literati Cafe next door).

Literat2's history is lackluster. When they first opened a few years ago the food tasted like the cafe food next door but at 3 times the price. This is a restaurant with very bad parking, so they need to be providing great food and great value if they want to sustain themselves. I think they figured this out about a year ago and did a huge remodel and reworked their entire menu, too. The only thing they seem to have forgotten is to promote this massive transition in the neighborhood (where people can walk to the restaurant and skip the parking hassle) since we all thought it was that stuffy old over-priced joint it used to be. At any rate, the food is yummy and VERY reasonably priced… as are the wines! They pick great wines for the list (which they offer by the glass and carafe) and it gets refreshed every so often.

Since we're meeting to talk about our wine blog, we incorporate a wine tasting into each meeting, and I've been remisce in uploading the results of the tastings… so here goes! (What's very interesting to me is how different my palate is from Gordon's. We always try the same wines and rarely have the same flavor profiles jump out at us.)

  1. 2007 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay
    Jess: Tingly, oaky on the nose. Very oaky in the mouth with a hint of fruit/citrus (specifically apple and grapefruit). This is a “safe wine” for me. I know I can order it, any vintage, and get a decent but oaky chardonnay.
    Gordon: Acidic nose. Dry start, sweet finish. Nice finish, long.
  2. 2006 Bex Riesling
    Jess: Light nose, appley and sweet but not too sweet. I would consider buying this, and I'm not a fan of sweet wines.
    Gordon: Tangy, honey, fruit on the nose. Viscous, sweet silky mouthfeel. Apricot. Gordon said he would buy this.
  3. 2006 Trefethen Chardonnay
    Jess: Woody and the smell of shrimp on the nose (I sometimes smell “ocean” in my wines). Balanced, fresh, medium-length finish.
    Gordon: Acidic, bright on the nose. Dry at first, has a sweet finish with licorice and lemon.
  4. 2007 Cakebread Cellars Sauvignon Blanc
    Jess: Green fruit on the nose and tangy grapefruit in the mouth. A mild Sauvignon Blanc which makes me like it more than an average Sauvignon Blanc.
    Gordon: Light nose. Lingering bitter and citrus finish.
  5. 2007 Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio
    Jess: I have a love-hate relationship with this wine. It was one of my favorites in my early wine-drinking days but seems to have gone downhill in quality/taste as its product volumes have risen. Good for their business in general, but not great for me. I ordered a glass for tasting anyway… Pineapple and apple on the nose. Light and bright taste, open at the front of the palate, sweet in the mid-palate, and a rounded but acidic finish (which is where my love affair ends).
    Gordon: I seem to have lost Gordon's notes from here out… hazard of drinking too much wine! Oh darn!
  6. D'Arenberg Grenache (a red!)
    Jess: Smells like a cabernet. Red fruit (is there such a thing?) and earthy. A little mushroomy at the back of the mouth and a bit gritty. I thought it was okay, but better with food.
  7. 2007 Brander Sauvignon Blanc
    Jess: I REALLY liked this wine. I'm going to hunt it down at the grocery store on my next wine-buying trip. Very bright, apple on the nose with a little bit of lemon. Smooth mouthfeel and I tasted watermelon in the well-balanced finish. There was a hint of zest or rind at the back of my mouth, but that went away when the Tiger Shrimp, Pesto, and Sun-dried tomato pizza arrived. And then I ordered a second glass!
  8. 2006 Bridlewood Viogner
    Jess: I'm a fan of Bridlewood wines, despite the fact that they're owned by Gallo. It's good wine at a good price. I've been drinking their Syrahs for a few years, I like their Syrah Port (which isn't truly a Port), and now, I like their Viognier. I smelled lavendar and oak on the nose. The wine was vanilla and spice with a touch of oak. It had a gentle love-bite and a smooth finish. Yum. I'll be looking for this at the grocery store, too.

I'll keep updating this post as time goes by. Maybe next time we'll get to some more reds!

Tales from the grocery store…

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wines from the Grocery Store | 1 Comment

This is a new feature I'm starting to show everyone how easy it is to buy great wine at fantastic prices. The only times I ever spend more than $20 on a bottle of wine are as follows:

  1. When I'm out wine tasting in wine country somewhere.
    I'm usually caught up in the moment (buzzed if it's the end of the day) and willing to pay full retail under these circumstances.
  2. When I'm buying someone a gift (I'll often spend $20-50 on a bottle for a friend)

Otherwise, there's no reason to spend more than $20 on a bottle of wine. Ever.

It's actually quite easy and here's my recipe:

  1. Find a store near you with great prices (there must be one) and visit it often (I like Safeway stores, best prices around, plus you get a 10% discount if you buy any six bottles)
  2. Find a store near you that gets special deals (they buy large quantities of small-production wines) and get on their mailing list (I like the Wine House, best prices at a wine-specific store on this side of town)
  3. Only buy on sale! (This is my all-time money-saving tip for everything… it stretches your dollars by however much you've saved)

My latest trip was especially triumphant… here's the tally:

  1. 2008 Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc (made from Organic grapes)
    Regular price: $14.99, Sale price: $11.90, Six-pack price: $10.71
  2. 2006 Sanford Chardonnay (Flower label)
    Regular price: $21.99, Sale price: $15.39, Six-pack price: $13.85
  3. 2006 Steelhead Sauvignon Blanc
    Regular price: $18.99, Sale price: $9.98, Six-pack price: $8.98
  4. Promisquous Red
    Regular price: $16.99, Sale price: $9.98, Six-pack price: $8.98
    So-so. For $9 it's okay.
  5. 2006 Coppola Malbec
    Regular price: $18.49, Sale price: $13.98, Six-pack price: $12.58
  6. 2005 Keltie Brook Merlot
    Regular price: $18.99, Sale price: $6.99, Six-pack price: $6.29

Grand total Regular price: $110.44
Grand total Sale price: $68.22
Price I paid: $61.39 (plus tax)

TOTAL SAVINGS: $49.05 (44%)
Price per Bottle: $10.23

Caveats: I've not had most of these, so I can't yet vouch for their quality… I know the Sanford Chardonnay is good.  I don't normally drink Merlot but that was too good a price to pass up just to see if it's any good.

UPDATE

The 2008 Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc was great. It was light, not too acidic, and (as is my usual test for success) makes me want

to drink/buy more of it. The Promisquous Red and the 2005 Keltie Brook Merlot were undrinkable. The Coppola Malbec was  much like the other Coppola wines (Director's Cut excluded from this description)… decent but nothing to write home about for a fair price. The Steelhead went down smoothly, very fruity and tart, though not overly tart. I'd say the Steelhead is a classic-style reasonably well-balanced Sauvignon Blanc. It's regular price feels steep, but the sale price was a “steel.” The Sanford Chardonnay was good as usual… That's my go-to white wine.

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.

Growing tired of a great wine club

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wine Club Reviews | Comments Off on Growing tired of a great wine club

For about a year now, I've been a happy member of Fiddlehead Winery's Frequent Fiddle wine club. I joined the club after visiting 20 or so wineries and tasting rooms in the Santa Ynez Valley area… a favorite spot of mine.

After a full day of tasting at some great wineries, and some not-so-great wineries, we landed in the wine-ghetto of Lompoc, CA to find out if Fiddlehead was as good as its reputation. It was. And having tasted a lot of wine in the area, this was the first winery that had a wine club I wanted to join (and my husband Mitch agreed!).

Truth be told, I'm still a happy member, except that when my newest shipment arrived, it was no longer an exciting adventure. I'd already tried (and drank three bottles each of) both the Goosebury (Goosie) Sauvignon Blanc from Santa Rita Hills and the Oldsville Reserve Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley (pronounced Will-amm-it, dammit). I like both of these wines very much, and feel they're a good value, but there are hundreds (maybe thousands?) of wineries in California alone and I have more wine adventures to partake of!

So now I'm going to figure out which wine club to join next, and if you'll let me, I'll take you along on the adventure. Hopefully you'll be inspired to find the perfect wine club (and wines) for yourself!

If you want to try Fiddlehead, you can find places to buy it online.