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:


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.


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.



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?!”
“Is that a bad thing?”
“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!”

An Oak Barrel-less Barrel of Fun

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

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

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

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

kim crawford unoaked chardonnay

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

toad hollow francine's selection unoaked chardonnay

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

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

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

From the Morgan website:

The Vineyards

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

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

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

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

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


How Much Wood Would A Good Wine Want?

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

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

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

Then I wandered over to the Sweeney Canyon tasting table.

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

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

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

Let's look at why this is:

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

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

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

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

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

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