Villa Alena Moscato d’Asti 2012

I hate it when life gets in the way of blogging!  Every once in a while that happens to me.  But I’m happy to say that it hasn’t stopped me from drinking some wine and taking notes.  Those who drop in often know I’ve been working my way through some cheap Moscato’s, and here is another.  This is from the very famous Asti region in Italy.

Winemaker:  Villa Alena
Wine:  Moscato d’Asti
Varietal:  Moscato
Vintage:  2012
Appellation:  Asti, Italy DOCG
Price:  $7.99 at Trader Joe’s

Notes:  Color on this one was a very pale yellow.  The bouquet was extremely faint with an almost dusty quality.  It was light-bodied and very effervescent.  I mean it was bubbly and frothy on the opening and stayed lively throughout.  Flavors were fairly simple – honey and sweet apricot with some peach notes, too.  Acidity was fine and alcohol was at 5.5%.  Yes, another very sweet dessert wine, to be sure.  As bubbly as it is, you could use this for a fun, casual summer birthday toast instead of the expected Champagne.  And it’s easy on the budget.

From A Dry Creek To Somewhere Over The Sea

Is it possible to sail a dry creek and end up somewhere over (beyond) the sea?  Yes, indeed!  The first and most important thing you have to do, of course, is find the right place to begin – the right dry creek.

That would be Dry Creek Vineyard where the flagship (their wording, not mine) white wine is a Fumé Blanc.  Gracing the label of that refreshing wine is a beautiful picture of a sailboat.  Why is there a beautiful picture of a sailboat on that bottle of wine?  Well, first it’s important to note that Dry Creek isn’t dry – not really.  It’s an active stream in California that runs through the counties of Mendocino and Sonoma – stopping off at Lake Sonoma – and then continuing on it’s way past Dry Creek Vineyard to the Russian River.

You should also know that the folks from Dry Creek Vineyard are sailing enthusiasts.  In fact, Dry Creek Vineyard is the official sponsor of several major sailing regattas around the U.S.  Because of their passion for sailing, they have been putting sailboats on their wine labels since 1984 which has earned them the moniker “the wine for sailors.”  They see similarities and a kind of symbiosis in a love for both good winemaking and sailing.  Here’s how they put it.

Winemaking and sailing actually have a lot in common.  Like winemaking, sailing is fun, adventuresome and romantic.  Like sailing, the art of winemaking demands the skill, discipline and determination of a group of people committed to the same goal.  Sailing and winemaking are a study in choreography and teamwork – each person contributing something essential to the ultimate success or failure of the team.

Now, I had read about the Dry Creek “wine for sailors” and decided I wanted to try one.  I have to admit that I’m not a sailor.  The only sailing I’ve done was in a Sun Fish on a lake at a camp I went to for two summers when I was a boy.  And yet I find many images of sailing to be beautifully majestic and calming while at the same time redolent of excitement, exploration, and exploits.  I have two prints of paintings by Winslow Homer that have hung alternately in my offices and my home over the years that have brought me much joy.  So I wanted to sample one of those wines.

The Dry Creek wines aren’t sold at all the stores in my area.  Very few, as it turns out.  So I had to undertake a little adventure of my own in searching for this selection.  To my surprise, I found the last store I visited (Calvert Woodley) in the throes of a major sale on white wines.  They advertise these things, of course, but I just can’t keep up the way I’d like to.  Anyway, it must have been the winds of fate that blew me into the store at that very moment.  You see, they only had one bottle of the Dry Creek Vineyard 2011 Fumé Blanc left in stock when I arrived.  And I got it!  It had to be kismet.

Having secured my treasure, I took it home with me to be opened and enjoyed as a reward for my dogged determination.  Here is what I recorded in my “ship’s log” about the wine.

Winemaker:  Dry Creek Vineyard
11bVarietal:  Sauvignon Blanc
Wine:  Fumé Blanc
Vintage:  2011
Appellation:  Sonoma County. CA
Price:  $12.99

Notes:  This Dry Creek signature white is light yellow with a green tinge.  On the nose I found a peach-o-rama.  Seriously, there was copious peach scent in the bouquet.  It was appropriately light on the tongue with very bright acidity.  On the palate I found white peach, lime, and honey with pear and floral notes.  The finish had a grassy bracing zing.  It was a dry white, and the label confirmed that with an alcohol content of 13.5%.  I thought it was very enjoyable.  I could absolutely imagine pairing this Fumé Blanc with a nice grilled fish or shrimp dish.

I have to thank The Winegetter for his challenge to write a post on – about, around, through, for, from – the theme “Somewhere Beyond The Sea.”  This post answers that call to the best of my ability.  I was very honored that he would invite me, among others, to share a guest spot on his blog this summer.  The whole series as well as many other great posts on wine can be found at his place – The Winegetter.

Finally, drinking my “wine for sailors” and looking at the sailboat depicted on it’s label brought me daydreams of distant beaches, warm breezes, and idyllic surroundings.  And it inspired me.  Perhaps because The Winegetter was, himself, inspired to the theme for this blog series by the well-known Frank Sinatra tune “Somewhere Beyond The Sea,” I was moved to write a song.  For better or worse.  Ha!  The goal of the song is to celebrate some of the thoughts and feelings that I associate with sailing, adventuring and the allure of the sea.  My tune is called “Somewhere Over The Sea.”  I’ve included a home-brewed demo of the song below.  I’m not expecting a Grammy nomination for this, but I do hope folks enjoy listening to it.  Especially those of you who are sailors!

Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

Sara Bee Moscato

Since I’m winding down my “tour” of cheap Moscatos available in my area, I had to include some offerings from Italy.  Although I have seen it asserted that the Moscato grape originated in Greece, the Italians have been cultivating and fermenting these grapes since as far back as the early 1300’s.  That’s a lot of time to practice the art of making wine from Moscato!

Winemaker:  Sara Bee by Santero F.lli & C. I.V.A.S.S. S.p.A.
Varietal:  Moscato
Vintage:  NV
Appellation:  Puglia, Italy IGT
Price:  $5.99 at Trader Joe’s

Notes:  In the glass, the color of this sweet white wine – says so on the label – is a vibrant yellow.  On first opening, there was quite a bit of effervescence.  It almost seemed like a sparkling wine right down to the satisfying (and unexpected) “pop” when the cork was removed.  But the effervescence quickly dissipated.  On the nose of this kosher Moscato I caught lots of floral scent and honey.   I suppose that might be why they call it Sara Bee and have a honeybee on the label!  It was medium-light in body, the acidity was bright, and the alcohol was at 5.5%.  Given the low alcohol content, I was concerned that this would be sickly sweet.   And it was quite sweet.  However, the higher acidity managed to help (but not completely) counterbalance the heavy sweetness.  On the palate, I tasted apple cider and peach.

Important:  I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

Harthill Farm Chardonnay NV

Yet another new winemaker [new to me] on the shelves of my local Whole Foods!  Sometimes it pays to get a birds-eye view.  In this case, I’m talking about going upstairs to the little café Whole Foods has on an upper level that overlooks the store.  I happened to run into a friend up there, and we chatted while standing against the railing.  As we caught up, I explained to him that my mission on this visit was to rummage through the wine selections because I’m a wine blogger now which he seemed to thing was, um … interesting.  lol   Anyway, during the chat, I glanced across the huge expanse of the store, and my eye caught sight of a display of wine bottles NOT located in the wine section but very near the dairy section instead.  (Don’t ask me why they were there!  I guess that’s where they had the space available.)  With a sign atop them that read $4.99, I couldn’t resist, could I?  By the way, based on the winery’s locales I’m thinking that this is another label from The Wine Group.  If anybody has the 411 on that, please leave a comment.

Winemaker:   Harthill Farm Vineyards
Varietal:  Chardonnay
Vintage:  NV
Appellation:  America
Price: $4.99 at Whole Foods

Notes:  In the glass, this Chardonnay was a vibrant yellow.  On the nose I caught whiffs of pear, oak and lemon.  The body was medium (for a white), acidity was good, and alcohol was at 12.5%.  Flavors for me were pear, lemon and oak with hints of pineapple.  On the finish there was a green herbal flavor – not quite grass, but along those lines.   On the finale with the herbal note, the citrus played on the palate and lingered quite a long time.  In addition, there was a chalkiness to this Harthill Farm white that, while initially adding interest, became a bit annoying by the last sip.  Overall, I’d say this is a fairly decent Chardonnay for the price.  I wouldn’t recommend this for just sipping due to the chalkiness, but I’m sure it would be fine with food.  With it’s light sweetness and citrus flavor component, I’m guessing it might be good with fish tacos.

Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

Riven Rock Moscato 2012

Riven Rock Vineyards is a winemaker I hadn’t heard of before seeing this selection on the shelves of my local Whole Foods.  Doing just a bit of looking around, I found that this label is produced by a company called ASV Wines.  ASV says they have several lines of “control brands” which includes the Riven Rock group as well as a private label program.  

Winemaker:  Riven Rock
Varietal:  Moscato
Vintage:  2012
Appellation:  California
Price:  $6.99 at Whole Foods

Notes:  The color of this California Moscato was pale yellow.  It’s bouquet brought very light scents of spiced peaches.  The body of this Riven Rock was medium-light.  It had a gentle viscosity and sufficient acidity (but a little on the low side for me).  Alcohol was at 11%.  Simply put, it tasted like spiced peaches in light syrup.  Or more correctly, it tasted like drinking the light syrup from a can of spiced peaches, albeit not quite as heavy and sweet as syrup from the canned peaches my father used to enjoy so much.  Funny, he wasn’t much of a drinker – maybe one or two glasses of something on a festive occasion per year.  But I have no doubt that this Moscato would have been right down his alley.  He also liked circus peanuts, if that tells you anything about his taste preferences.

Important:  I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

Lindeman’s Bin 85 2012

I’m taking a quick break from my Moscato experiments to drink some dryer offerings.  I think it was necessary.  Either that or my blood sugar was going to be off the chart.  I had the Jacob’s Creek PG not too long ago, so I thought I’d pull another ubiquitous Australian from the store shelves for comparison’s sake.

Winemaker: Lindeman’s
Wine:  Bin 85 Pinot Grigio
Varietal:  Pinot Grigio
Vintage: 2012
Appellation: South Eastern Australia
Price: $6.99

Notes:  The color of this inexpensive Pinot Grigio was a very pale yellow.  On the nose, I found extremely faint scents of citrus and pear.  The body on this little number was very light.  Alcohol was at 11.5%, and acidity was quite good.  On the tongue, I found a core of grapefruit flavor that stayed from start to finish.  In addition, there were pleasant notes of pear and grass as well as hints of herbs along the way.  Accompanying the grapefruit across the palate was an underlying minerality – a counterpoint to the citrus.  Not surprisingly, the finish held a zip of grapefruit zest.  All this sounds like a glass of fermented grapefruit juice, but don’t be fooled.  Like the wine itself, the flavors are fairly subtle.  Although slightly favoring acidity over light sweetness, I found the balance in the Bin 85 to be quite good.  I thought this was a nice, brisk, refreshing wine from the folks at Lindeman’s.

Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

La Caumette L’Authentique Red

I’m always curious about where the wines I drink come from.  I like to get as much information as I can to help me understand more about, among other things, the practical results of “terroir”.  When it comes to a table wine, though, there is often a lack of info about where the grapes were grown beyond a very general description.  So then I look at the winemaker and where they are located.

Carte du diocèse de Béziers

This inexpensive import is made by the company La Caumette SARL in Béziers, France.  Looking at it on a map, I see that it is just a few kilometers from the Meditarranean coast in the Languedoc region.  What does that tell me?  Well … I’m not sure that it tells me anything.  But as I look over the map of southern France, it does remind me of something.  Something I’d rather forget but somehow can’t seem to shake the memory of.

Give me a few moments of your time, and I’ll share with you a tale of trouble, calamity and woe.  A tale that is seared into my memory banks like burnt cheese on a frying pan.

photo by Sven Storbeck

When I was a young boy – 5 years old – my family was living in Europe.  While there, my father did his best to expose his American children to as much of the Continental culture as he could.  We managed to see quite a bit as we camped our way across western Europe.  Oh yes!  We had a VW camper, a pup tent, a camping stove, sleeping bags, etc.  Each trip was an adventure.

Let me say first that we had some great times on our treks.  On one of our trips through France I learned how to swim at the campground pool.  But that place was not on the southern coast.  Thinking back now, I can’t recall exactly where on the coast of France we pitched our tent.   Was it near Nice, Marseille, Montpellier, Narbonne?  I just can’t say.

photo by Lewis Clarke

What I can say is that once settled in at our campground, we decided to visit the local public beach.  My first surprise – the beach was pebbly not sandy.  Very big pebbles, too, for a little guy of five shod in flip flops.  Then there was the smell.  This beach had a very pungent odor – fish, seaweed, and something else.   So far, I wasn’t especially thrilled with this outing.  I hung with my family, of course.  It’s not like I could get anywhere by myself.  Five years old, didn’t know the area, didn’t know the language.

Eventually, nature called, and I had to make my way to the restroom.  The very old, very well-used, public restroom.  For some reason, I was wary going into this facility.  Once inside, though, I saw they had individual stalls.  I quickly disappeared into one and locked the door behind me.  When I turned around from locking the door, what I found took the breath out of me – literally.

I was facing a behemoth of a urinal.  Beginning at floor level, it was almost twice as tall and wider than me.  It was stained and cracked.  The large drain hole didn’t have any cover over it, and from it’s mouth escaped an odor that made my nose burn.  Given that I had business to take care of, I screwed up my courage and approached it’s gaping maw.  Everything proceeded handily until, preparing to leave, I had to shift my weight slightly.  Unfortunately, around the base of the porcelain monolith the uneven cement floor was slick.  One small shift, and my world was turned upside down.

photo by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen

In a split second, my left foot slid forward and into the jaws of this horrible beast.  It was inside the hole, not above it.  As soon as I realized my situation, I yanked my foot out of the blackness.  In so doing, however, my flip flop caught on the edge of the nasty mouth and was ripped from my foot.  My shoe fell forever into that horrid darkness.  Now in a hurry to retreat, I turned and unlatched the stall.  But it didn’t budge.  The latch remained perfectly in place to keep everyone else out … and me in.  I looked around for another way out.  Maybe I could crawl under the stall door?  No!  The door and walls went all the way to the ground.  I looked up, but at five I couldn’t have scaled a normal-sized stall.  And this stall was much taller than any I’d seen before.  So I tried the latch again.  And again.  Finally, having run out of options, I yelled.  A cry for help to any good Samaritan who might be passing by.

As luck would have it, my sister was just coming out of the women’s restroom.  She bolted to my parents and explained that I was trapped.  Trapped by a nefarious French commode.  And so my father came to assess the situation.  Ever the logician, he asked me to try the latch again.  Again?  All right!  One more time — to no avail.  And that was it!  I had put on a brave face walking across huge pebbles in nothing but flip flops.  I had faced the crusty, crumbling porcelain demon alone.  I had been attacked by the demon and lost a flip flop – almost lost a foot, in my mind.  I had tried to escape on my own.  Had tried the latch many, many times.  So rose in me the anger, the frustration, and the howl of a cornered animal.

In a matter of seconds I heard scrabbling and scraping and scratching.  Then I saw the stall walls shake ever so slightly.  I looked above me to see my father clambering over the very high walls of my prison.  Climbing down to join me in my dark cubicle.  Then he was pulling hard – very hard – and releasing the latch that had secured the stall door.  And I was free of that wretched adventure!

I have plenty of marvelous memories from France and our time in Europe.  But this day, this one day in the south of France.  This is still a day of trouble, calamity, and woe.  On my bucket list is another trip to France’s southern coast – Provence or perhaps Languedoc – to make a new memory and banish this 5-year-old’s day at the beach.  In the meantime, though, I think I’ll have another glass of wine.

Peck_LaCaumetteLAuthentiqueNVWinemaker:  La Caumette
Wine: L’Authentique Red Table Wine
Varietal: Red Blend
Vintage: NV
Appellation:  France
Price:  $4.99 at Trader Joe’s

Notes:  The La Caumette red blend was dark purple in the glass.  The bouquet held scents of earth, dark berries and pepper.  It was a light-bodied selection with a slightly velvety feel in the mouth, mild tannins and good acidity.  Alcohol was 13%.  On the palate I found earth, dark cherry and blackberry, oak, a hint of licorice and bitter eucalyptus on the finish.  Really not a bad wine for the price.  It was light, yes.  It was definitely light.  But that might be just what you’re looking for.

This post is part of a monthly wine blog challenge.  Begun by wine blogger extraordinaire  the drunken cyclist, this month’s challenge has been issued by The Armchair Sommelier who won the transportation-themed challenge.  The theme for this month’s challenge?  Trouble.

Important:  I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

365 Paul Valmer Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Here is another of the Whole Foods private label selections.  Like the Paul Valmer Chardonnay, this wine is made in Spain by Felix Solis.

Winemaker:  Felix Solis for Whole Foods
Wine: 365 Paul Valmer Cabernet Sauvignon
Varietal:  Cabernet Sauvignon
Vintage:  2011
Appellation: Castilla, Spain
Price: $5.99 at Whole Foods

Notes:  This is not a Cabernet Sauvignon for Cab fans, but perhaps one for Pinot Noir lovers.  Seriously.  In the glass, the color was a deep, dark ruby.  On the nose I detected gentle scents of earth and berries.  In fact, the bouquet reminded me of a drink mix I had years ago when I was living in Germany.  The particular flavor (scent, actually) this brought to mind was called Forest Berry (Waldbeere).  But I digress.  The Paul Valmer Cab was light-bodied.  I’d even call it thin.  It had moderate tannins, decent acidity, and the alcohol was at 12.5%.  The flavors I found in this budget-friendly vino were a core of cherry and plum, some oak, a tiny bit of pepper, a touch of cranberry on the finish, and an herbal component I can best compare with Stevia – in part because of the light sweetness of the wine.  I didn’t dislike this 365 selection at all, but I prefer a Cabernet Sauvignon with more body and structure.  Personal preferences aside, I think you could certainly drink this with a turkey dish or a light pizza (like spinach and chicken or ham and banana peppers).

Important:  I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

Naked Grape Moscato (c. 2013)

Another inexpensive Moscato?  Well ,,, I did say that I’d be making my way through a few that are available in my local stores.  So I’m just keeping my promise.

Winemaker:  The Naked Grape
Varietal:  Moscato
Vintage:  NV
Appellation:  California
Price:  $6.99

Notes:  In the glass, this California Moscato was a pale, bubbly yellow.  On the nose I found sweet peach with floral notes.  On the tongue, this Naked Grape was light-bodied, lightly viscous, and lightly effervescent.  On the palate, I tasted nectarine, honey, notes of orange and green melon rind on the finish.  Acidity was all right, and the alcohol was pegged at 8.5% on the label.  On the whole, I thought it was fine.  However, I did wish it had something more in the flavor profile – maybe some touches of spice.  Even so, I’m sure plenty of folks are enjoying this Moscato – perhaps with their favorite light summer dessert (I’m imagining an orange bundt cake for some reason).

Important:  I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

Gallo Moscato Chile (c. 2013)

Evidently, the folks at Gallo are doing their part in providing plenty (and I do mean plenty) of options for Moscato lovers.  This Chilean import is part of their Gallo Family Vineyards line of wines.

Winemaker:  Gallo
Varietal:  Moscato
Wine:  Moscato Chile
Vintage:  NV
Appellation:  Chile
Price:  $5.99

Notes:  In the glass, this budget white was a light gold.  On the nose I found scents of peach and apple.  It was medium-to-light in body and with enough viscosity to begin edging toward a syrupy feel.  Flavors for me were ripe peach, apple and a touch of persimmon.  It’s a sweet wine, to be sure.  Alcohol is at 9%.   I think if the acidity had been a tad brighter in this Gallo offering, I would have enjoyed it more.  I’ve been tasting a number of Moscato’s lately.  This wasn’t a terrible glass of wine in my opinion, but it wasn’t my favorite.

Important:  I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.