Great New Wines Under $15 or $20!

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in How to Buy Wine at Good Prices | 1 Comment

Hi there! Remember me? This summer was beyond the pale with too many balls in the air but I’m back! Since blogging had been set aside for a while, so had drinking all of the lovely wines I’d received over the last several months. I’ve been slowly working my way through the several cases of wine that had built up, with the help of my friends, and now I want to share with you what I’ve tasted and recommend (and what I don’t recommend). Enjoy!

Recommended Wines Under $15 – Courtesy of Gourmet Monthly Wine Clubs (Masters Series)

  • Stefano Massone Vigneto Masera Gavi 2008 – Italy – $10-12 per bottle (No longer available for reorder at Gourmet Monthly)
  • Guigal Côtes du Rhône Rouge 2006 – France – $8-11 per bottle (No longer available for reorder at Gourmet Monthly)
  • FAVORITE! Nine Vines South Australia Viognier 2008 – Australia – $11-12 per bottle (No longer available for reorder at Gourmet Monthly)

Recommended Wines Under $20 – Courtesy of Gold Medal Wine Club (Gold Series)

  • Three Saints Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 – Santa Ynez – (Release price: $23, Published price: $19, Member price: $17)
  • Adobe Road Winery Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 – (Release price: $45, Published price: $29, Member price: $20)
  • Adobe Road Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2007 – Already sold out at Gold Medal Wine Club (it was delicious), $15-20 per bottle

More Recommended Wines – Courtesy of Zagat Wine Club and Barclay’s Wine Experience

  • Le Petit Pauvre Chardonnay 2007 – Monterey County, California – $17 per bottle
  • Granite Ridge Chenin Blanc 2009 – Stellenbosch, South Africa – $12.95 per bottle
  • Ines de Monclus White 2009 – Andalusia, Spain – $12.95 per bottle

Some Not-So-Recommended Wines

  • Home Grown Farms Family Harvest Red 2008 (California)
  • Rosenthal The Malibu Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
  • Monasterio de Santa Cruz 2007 (Monastrell from Tarragona)
  • Chateau les Tuileries 2009 (Bordeaux)
  • Carolena Merlot 2007 (California)

In case you didn’t know, I also review wine clubs. We comb through retail wines to make wine club recommendations and soon we’ll have new ways for you to find the perfect wine club for you or as a gift!

Cheers!

My Introduction to the C. Donatiello Winery

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

c-donatiello-bottlesLast month I was kindly invited to a pre-release luncheon for C. Donatiello Winery at the lovely Chaya Brasserie in Beverly Hills. Rarely one to turn down free wine or free food, I gladly accepted the invitation and waited for the big day.

Since I'm hyper-punctual (thanks, Mom!) I was the first one of the guests to arrive and I had an opportunity to spend some time with proprietor Christopher Donatiello. One of the things I love about the wine business is the willingness of the owners and winemakers to talk about their wines and themselves (even before they're knocking 'em back). Like a piece of art whose meaning is deepened by the artist's story and message, the more you know about the people making the wine and where the wine comes from, the more you get from the experience of drinking it. Getting to know the story of the birth of the C. Donatiello Winery helped me experience the wines as if I secretly knew the wines' hopes and dreams, in addition to what they were in the glass that day.

The focus for this winery was to be on single-lot wines made in a traditional “hands-off” style. I can't always taste the way a wine is made, but I typically notice a “naked” wine where minimal winemaking has been applied and the fruit is allowed to speak for itself. I enjoyed this aspect of the C. Donatiello wines we tried.

Chris was also interested in making great Pinot Noir (who isn't?). He wanted his Pinot to express a lighter style, and be more elegant than much of the super-cherry fruit-forward Pinot Noir we get from California.

I happen to be a big fan of Russian River Valley wines and typically when I purchase them I do so as a treat because they tend toward the over $30 mark and there's too much good wine out there priced well below $30 to have the expensive stuff on a regular basis. If you're looking to buy any of these wines, here's a good place to start for C. Donatiello Winery, and here for Healdsburg Ranches.

The Chardonnays

The first wine poured for us was the 2007 Russian River Valley Chardonnay (release price $24 per bottle). I always feel bad for the first wine that gets poured because my palate and nose are hyper-sensitive to alcohol until I've had a few sips. I suppose that's why they started us with their “lesser” Chardonnay (not single-vineyard). This wine contains fruit sourced from two vineyards: Orsi Vineyard and Maddie's Vineyard. Maddie's estate-grown contribution made all the difference in this wine.

What they said:

Nose: Lemon curd and apricot, with a bit of clove and just a hint of wet wool. Don't be surprised if you also detect an ever so faint whiff of vanilla cookies.

Palate: Layers of spiced apple, honey, and nutmeg reveal seamlessly on a tight frame to give way to the long, luscious chamomile-tinged finish.

What Jess says:

After trying all of the wines, this was the one I came back to and wanted more of. I was particularly impressed with the balance of this Chardonnay, a feat indeed since so many Chardonnays lean oaky or buttery or alcoholic or fruity… this just expressed itself as fine fruit made in a fine style. I find the $24 release price to be a good value, especially if you can find it a retailer for less.

Side note: I smelled honey on the nose. I often can't tell the difference between honey and apricot on the nose (or on the palate) until it's pointed out. I was able to detect the spice (though it was super mild) and I detected “herbal” where they say the “chamomile” ought to be. But then again, my descriptions tend toward the general rather than the specific.

Next up was the 2007 Chardonnay, Orsi Vineyard (release price $30 per bottle). This single-vineyard wine, in my opinion, didn't enjoy the balance of the Russian River Valley Chardonnay. It was brighter and fruitier (popular characteristics in Chardonnay, just not my preference).

What they said:

Nose: Aromas of baking spices, pannetone and toasted pineapple, exquisitely accented by a faint hint of lemon.

Palate: Decadently lush with flavors of caramel candied apple, key lime, lemon, and grapefruit. A round, full mouth feel develops effortlessly into a medium to long finish.

What Jess says:

I have no idea what pannetone tastes/smells like. And toasted pineapple isn't exactly familiar to me either (though I smelled what I referred to as “tweaky pineapple.” But I sure did smell and taste that lemon! I found this wine to be enjoyable and unique, but since fruity isn't my favorite, I didn't find $30 to be an attractive price.

healdsburg-ranches

Later on, we tried some of the wines from different labels that are part of the Hambrecht Wine Group. A value highlight for me was the 2009 Healdsburg Ranches Russian River Valley Chardonnay (release price $14.99 per bottle).

What they said:

Nose: Stone fruit, honey dew melon, apricot, golden delicious apple

Palate: Apricot, toffee, nutmeg, white peach, nectarine

What Jess says:

This was a great Chardonnay in this price range. I would happily sip on this on warm summer days or nights, accompanied by some form of food since the acid tended to build up a little in my mouth as I drank it. I detected a brightness and some non-specific form of “fruit” on the nose. Well-balanced for a $15 Chardonnay (only a little acidic), I detected notes of apricot, citrus, pear, and little hint of malolactic fermentation that didn't annoy me as buttery (considering this wine's fermentation was 100% malolactic, that's saying something).

The Pinot Noirs

I'm not one who goes gaga over Pinot Noirs, but when I do, they tend to originate from the Russian River Valley (and sometimes elsewhere in Sonoma County). So please take all of the following comments with the perspective that I'm not really a Pinot Noir afficionado… I think it's because Pinot Noir is one of the most difficult wines to produce and so very few wineries have truly figured it out.

First up in the Pinot department was the 2007 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (release price $38 per bottle).

What they said:

Nose: A vibrant burst of Morello cherry, Santa Rosa plum, cranberry and muddle raspberries, braced by notes of grey pepper and mocha.

Palate: Luscious and fruity, with perfectly-balanced flavors of cherry, strawberry, and cola. The brightness of the fruit is elegantly framed by structured tannins.

What Jess says:

I found the nose to be bright, bold with cherry (though again, I don't know what a Morello cherry smells/tastes like) and a bit peppery. To me the palate was musty and structured up front but I found wateriness in the mid-palate right where the party is supposed to start. This Pinot had an earthy quality that really didn't resonate with me. Maybe it was my brussel sprouts that ruined it? (Though that Pasta Primavera dish they served was out of this world.)

Also served was the 2008 Pinot Noir, Floodgate Vineyard, Block 15 (release price $48 per bottle). When a label starts getting THAT specific I have an expectation that this wine is going to be very unique and special. I didn't have that experience. I have to wonder how much the record-breaking weather affected this particular vintage and would be interested to try a bottle from a year when the weather conditions were within normal range.

What they said:

Nose: The floral essence of rose petal meets the earthy aroma of forest floor, with jammy notes of cranberry and blackberry.

Palate: Opposite of showy, with reserved flavors of cherry and wet stone balanced subtly and beautifully by a tactile, full mouthfeel.

What Jess says:

The nose was mellower than the previous Pinot Noir (that's a good thing for me… sometimes when a wine has a strong nose it, by contrast, falls apart on the palate). I definitely was aware of “forest floor.” The palate expressed deep layers of flavor, was very balanced, felt restrained, and was supported by light, supple tannins. This was a very well-made wine, but at $48 and with my preferences, I'd probably spend my money elsewhere (like a Suacci-Carciere Pinot Noir also from the Russian River Valley).

Side note: C. Donatiello Winery takes the time to point out that this Pinot Noir contains grapes from Dijon Clones 667 and 777. Until I started studying plants, this seemed like a rather pedantic thing to talk about (especially since the rest of the plant-growing community refers to “clones” as cultivars and varieties).  But since I study wine and plants with the same level of voracity, I thought I'd see who else is using these clones… if you like any of these wines, you might very well enjoy this Pinot Noir:

Clone: 667

  • Melville (not sure which vineyards have this clone)
  • Cambria Clone 667
  • Alma Rosa (La Encantada Vineyard)
  • Foley (Santa Rita Hills)
  • La Rochelle (Sleepy Hollow Vineyard)

Clone: 777

  • Melville (not sure which vineyards have this clone)
  • Aston Estate
  • Brewer-Clifton
  • Windsor Oaks Vineyards
  • Lafond Winery & Vineyards

One last Pinot Noir was served that day, the 2009 Healdsburg Ranches Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (release price $18.99 per bottle).

What they said:

Nose: Aromas of plum, cranberry, cherry, golden raspberry, and spices

Palate: Flavors of strawberry, bing cherry, spice, baked rhubarb

What Jess says:

Oy. I don't agree with those tasting notes. I tasted toasty chocolate, not a lot of cherry expected from a Pinot Noir at all, and a touch of spice. Slightly acidic. Good Pinot under $13 is the holy grail of the value wine drinker. Good Pinot under $25 per bottle is rare enough that one should be impressed by such a feat. For me, this one falls under the general description of “nice Pinot Noir under $25.” For the same price I'd take the Clos du Bois Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir over this one though.

They also poured for us two wines from the Bradford Mountain label. The 2006 Grist Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel and Syrah (release price $33 for each). I didn't find either of these wines to be exciting for their varietal, or for Dry Creek Valley. I'd skip 'em altogether if you find 'em at the store.

The Winery

Typically when I do an elaborate tasting review such as this one, it's because I've visited the winery on a tasting trip. That's not the case but there are few special things about this winery that makes me hope I get there before too long.

The Aroma / Sensory Garden

Sensory & Aroma Garden at C. Donatiello Winery

Sensory & Aroma Garden at C. Donatiello Winery

C. Donatiello Winery has on premises an elaborate aroma garden where each plant has been chosen to reflect the wines they're making. There is a 60-species rose garden, a perennial garden in the English style, and herbs are planted between the two. Sounds AWESOME.

New Wine & Cheese Pairing program launching June 5, 2010

We are introducing a new wine and cheese pairing program. Over the course of the remainder of the year, the winery will focus on three local Sonoma County creameries, pairing four select cheeses with a flight of four carefully selected single-vineyard estate Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.  Each cheese plate is adorned with locally produced accoutrements and fresh cuttings from the winery’s organic Aroma Garden to further enhance the tasting experience. Reservations are required, so please allow us 24-hour notice.

Food & Wine Classic in Aspen June 18-20, 2010

Food & Wine magazine’s signature event brings together the world’s foremost authorities on food and wine. Chris has the distinct honor of participating in a panel discussion this year.  Food & Wine Magazine’s Wine Editor Ray Isle has invited him to speak on “The Power of Points.”  He will also be in attendance with the Russian River Valley Winegrowers Association, so if you’re attending, be sure to stop by his booth in the tasting tent.

“Live from the Middle Reach” Summer Music Series, July 4 -October 3, 2010

The series will lead with the popular local Sonoma County group the Hellhounds, who have been a staple in kicking off the concert series on 4th of July weekend since its inception.  A total of 13 bands will be featured throughout the summer and early fall, including returning favorites and fresh new acts. The full list of music acts can be found on the Events page of their website.

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Wine 101: Back to Basics

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

wine 101Our goal, here at GrapeSmart, has always been to guide value-minded consumers through the somewhat treacherous labyrinth of cheap stuff to find the best wines out there under $25.

As a guide, I feel I’ve been a little remiss lately. Not that I don’t think it’s good to find value in the world’s most storied wine regions, but I think maybe some readers would benefit from going back to basics, the most basic basics, to make value Bordeaux – or any other wine, for that matter – maybe make a little more sense.

So let’s bring it all back to Square One:

1. Unless you’re drinking a “specialty” fruit wine, it’s just grapes in there. When people talk about tasting strawberries, blueberries, cat pee or saddle leather, none of those things are actually in the wine. The various scents/tastes come from the grapes, the place the grapes were grown/the way the grapes were grown (terroir) and the way the grapes were fermented. Some bouquet and taste elements such as wood, vanilla, coconut, etc come from the wooden barrels where some wines are aged. That’s basically it.

It’s the ju-ju of the wine making process that turns grapes on a vine into what winds up in the glass – in all its flavored glory. That alchemy of sunlight, water, grapes, growing conditions, craftsmanship and fermentation. It’s a natural wonder. And even though your wine might taste like grapefruit, there really isn’t any grapefruit in there – really.

2. Give it a swirl. No matter what you might be afraid of, it won’t make you French. What it will do is “wake up” the wine and allow the juice to release molecules to help you better smell and taste the wine, providing a more layered, richer overall experience. Go on – try it. If you feel self-conscious, we won’t watch.

3. Find some body to love. When we talk about “body,” we mean the structure of the wine and how it feels in your mouth. The combination of acid and sugar/alcohol. The tannins (that “puckery,” dry-mouth feeling you get with some red wines). The way it all comes together on your palate when you take a sip. Sometimes this is also referred to as the spine or the backbone but – like the aroma/bouquet/flavors I mentioned before – there are no actual bones in your juice. It’s just an expression.screw_wine

4. Enjoying a good screw [top] doesn’t make you cheap. There are a whole host of reasons why producers across the planet are choosing not to put a cork in it. It’s no longer just the bottom-dollar liquor store libations that are easy to open these days – even a couple of the nicer Napa Cabernets have screw tops now. I’ll let you in on a little secret: Some of the world’s finest Champagnes are fermented with the type of crown caps found on bottles of beer. Cork no longer equals class. So feel free to screw off with impunity.

5. When it comes to wine, location is everything. Except when it isn’t. Generally speaking, certain types of grapes have been grown in certain places [Europe] for a really, really, really long time. Sometimes these grapes are mixed (blended) with other grapes from the same vineyard or region, sometimes there is only a single type of grape (varietal) in the bottle, but – especially in places like France and Italy – the resulting wine is named for the place from which the wine comes. This is why you’re likely to run into a bunch of French Burgundy (and white French Burgundy, as well), but very few bottles labeled French Pinot Noir. In the Americas, Australia and other “New World” regions, wines tend to be labeled by what’s in the bottle. For example, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is wine that can come from anywhere in New Zealand, fermented from Sauvignon Blanc grapes.

spittoon6. Spitting or swallowing is a personal choice. Although it’s sort of strange to find so

much expectorating in an environment as typically rarefied as the wine world, there’s a very simple reason why people do it: To avoid getting drunk. If you choose to spit – baby, it’s all good. Or if you’d rather swallow, we won’t judge; just know that you won’t be able to taste for very long stretches – and you’ll probably want to make sure you have someone to drive you home.

Certainly I didn’t even scratch the surface of what there is to learn. And beware even the wine “expert” who claims to know it all. But everyone has to start somewhere, and these few intro bits should set you up to start you on your way – especially if you’d like to try attending a wine tasting.

Have a question? ASK! Always ask! Whether it’s at your local wine shop (Lord knows I’m forever bugging the guys near me), or by writing to Jess or me here at GrapeSmart. It’s easy to be intimidated, but – instead – just try to have fun. Salut!

Lone Madrone Winery – Paso Robles Wine Tasting

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wine Tasting Trips | 3 Comments
lone-madrone-logo

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

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

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

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

Lone Madrone, Paso Robles, CA

windmill-welcome

The charm begins with a windmill

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

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

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

wisteria-welcome-2

A Wisteria Welcome

vineyard

Beautiful adjacent hillside vineyard

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

2007 Lone Madrone La Mezcla, $25 per bottle

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

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

tasting-room

Inside the charming tasting room

2007 Lone Madrone Points West White, $32 per bottle

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

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

2007 Lone Madrone Picpoul Blanc, $32 per bottle

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

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

2003 Il Toyon Nebbiolo, $25 per bottle

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

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

2006 Lone Madrone Barfandel, $45 per bottle

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

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

2004 Lone Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon, $42.50 per bottle

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

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

2006 Lone Madrone Baily Ranch Zinfandel, $40 per bottle

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

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

Also check out the reviews for the winery on Yelp

roosters

Awesome rooster sculptures out front

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!

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.