A Petite Red via the Waldorf Astoria on Xmas Eve

I had the joy of spending Xmas Eve with my extended family this year.  Our hosts went all out making everyone feel right at home.  Brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts, friends, etc. gathered to chew the fat, graze the good food and holiday treats, trim the tree, and have an all-around great time.  And, of course, there was wine for those of us who choose to imbibe.

One of our hosts, Mary Ann, had taken a trip to NYC earlier in the year.  While there, she dined at the Bull & Bear Prime Steakhouse in the Waldorf Astoria hotel where – besides having a wonderful steak dinner – she was introduced to Parducci Winery via their 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon.  In her own words, it was “flavorful with a pleasantly big mouthfeel and restrained tannins.”  She enjoyed it with her meal so much that she was inspired to find it when she got home and share the experience with her holiday guests.

But fate intervened.  It was difficult for her to find any of the Parducci wines at her local wine merchants.  When she did find them, it was not their Cabernet Sauvignon but rather their Petite Sirah that was available.  Petite Sirah, as you may know, is a French grape (also known as Durif) that is a cross between Syrah and Peloursin grapes.  At any rate, although we weren’t able to revisit her NYC steakhouse experience, we did get the chance to share a brand new wine experience together.

Winemaker: Parducci
Wine: Small Lot Blend Petite Sirah
Varietal: Petite Sirah
Vintage:  2010
Appellation: Mendocino County, California
Price: $9.99 at Total Wine

Notes:  This was a pretty wine in the glass.  It was very dark – almost opaque – purple with a beautiful rich ruby around the edges.  It had a big bouquet.  I detected exuberant blackberry and pepper, hints of spearmint, and a plentiful earthiness I think of as barnyard.  I’m sure there’s a more elegant term, but hopefully you get the idea.  It was medium-bodied and silky with good acidity and medium tannins.  Alcohol was at 14%.  Flavors for me were a core of red licorice and cherry with occasional notes of strawberry.  It was quite peppery, too, with hints of dried green herbs.  It had a nice firm tannic bite without being overbearing.  On the finish I caught notes of moss and quinine.

When I got home, I also found it difficult to find Parducci wines at my area stores until I stopped at a Total Wine in a nearby town.  They didn’t have that Cabernet Sauvignon, but I’m glad they did have the Petite Sirah.

Turning Water Pitcher Into Wine Carafe

Not exactly a holiday miracle, I know.  In fact, it was a clear case of unpreparedness on my part.  Luckily, folks I hang with are more interested in function than form.  Or perhaps it would be more precise to say they care more about enjoying themselves than making a fuss over the details.  In this case, it was the lack of a wine carafe or wine decanter sufficient to the task.

You see, I had brought along a 1-liter bottle of vino for Xmas dinner that needed to be decanted before drinking.  Without bothering to ask, I made the assumption that our hosts would have one handy.  They had several, of course, but they were of the half-bottle size.  Knowing full well that this wine needed a good hour to breathe before consumption, I should have brought mine.   Luckily, there was a lovely crystal water pitcher that was just the right size to allow this enjoyable blend of 90% Bonarda and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon to get some air.

Oenophilogical_InnovacionBonardaCabernet2013By the way, I’m calling this wine a blend because the Zuccardi folks have made it very clear on the front of the label that this wine isn’t 100% Bonarda.  I don’t know the ins and outs of the Argentinian regulations regarding blends and single varietals, but I know this would be labeled simply as a Bonarda if it were coming from California.  Another vintner that practices sustainable farming, this Innovación from the Santa Julia Winery is also vegan friendly.

Winemaker:  Innovación by Familia Zuccardi
Wine:  Bonarda-Cabernet
Varietal:  Red Blend
Vintage:  2013
Appellation:  Mendoza, Argentina
Price:  $9.99 (1 liter) at Whole Foods

Notes:  The color of this Argentinian blend was deep purple.  In the bouquet I detected scents of oak, menthol, berries, and dusty topsoil.  I thought the acidity in this wine was fairly high (racy, I believe some call it).  Alcohol was at 13%.  Weight on the tongue was medium, but just.  Tannins were present and accounted for – medium, I’d say.  When first opened and poured (without oxidation), flavors I tasted were primarily salty black olives, black plum, tea leaf, tobacco, and a bit of menthol. It was really quite heavy on the salt and black olives.  With that hour to breathe, the wine settled nicely.  The olive and salinity flavors receded in favor of the plum while it also added some cherry and spice notes.  It was a nice addition to our feast – fine both to sip while finishing dinner prep and with our chicken piccata.

Pepperwood Grove Cabernet Sauvignon

Another of the Sebastiani wineries, Pepperwood Grove not only uses a label with varying shades of green waves but is also busily working at finding ways to match the color on their label with their business practices.  As part of their sustainability program, for instance, they have been getting into the boxed wine category (Big Green Box and Little Green Box).  Their box packaging uses materials that are 100% recyclable and paper that is sourced from sustainable forests.  Like me, though, you can still get your Pepperwood Grove in a bottle where for additional sustainability they stop their wines with the re-usable ZORK® STL bottle closure.

That’s all well and good.  I’m glad winemakers are concerned about sustainability and taking steps to employ sustainable practices in the various facets of their business.  But all of that isn’t going to sell me on the wine if it isn’t worth drinking.  I’m happy to say that I think this budget Cab was worth popping the zork on.

Winemaker: Pepperwood Grove
Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon
Vintage:  NV
Appellation: California
Price: $6.99  at Whole Foods

Notes:  In the glass this inexpensive Cabernet was a dark reddish purple – just barely translucent.  On the nose I found musty earth, dark berries, and pepper.  The body was fairly light and smooth.  It had gentle but definite tannins and good acidity.  Alcohol was at 13%.  On the palate I encountered flavors of currant, earth, cherry, oak, pepper, and a minty note.  I thought it was pleasant for a non-vintage Cab in this price range.  I imagine this Pepperwood Grove would probably be pretty good with Mexican fare or a burger.

Tuella Douro Vinho Tinto 2011

This intriguing red blend from Portugal is made with Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca and Tinto Cão grapes.  Touriga Franca (or Touriga Francesa) is one of the major grape varieties used to produce port wine.  Touriga Franca is lighter and more perfumed than Touriga Nacional, adding finesse to the Port.  I’m assuming that’s why it’s used here as well.  Tinta Barroca is a Portuguese red wine grape that is grown primarily in the Douro region with some plantings in South Africa where the only single varietal Tinta Barroca wines are produced.  Wine-searcher.com tells us when used for single varietal wines, the result is “… intense, super-ripe, and high-alcohol.”  In Portugal, it is also a common blending grape in Port wine.  Finally, Tinta Cão is a wine grape variety that has been grown primarily in the Douro region since the sixteenth century and is yet another of the 50 approved grape varietals used in the production of Port.  According to winegeeks.com, “When grown at higher elevations Tinta Cão can have an intensely floral and spicy aroma with hints of black cherries and Christmas spices ….”

For my own experimentation’s sake, I am going to have to look for the single varietal wines from Touriga Franca and Tinta Barroca.  Seems Tinto Cão is perhaps only used in blended reds.   That may be due in part to it’s typically low crop yields.  If you have a favorite Touriga Franca or Tinta Barroca you’d recommend, please drop me a note.  For now, I will have to content myself with experiencing these three varietals together.

Winemaker:  Tuella by Symington Family Estates
Wine:  Douro Vinho Tinto
Varietal:  Red Blend
Vintage:  2011
Appellation:  Douro, Portugal DOC
Price:  $6.99 at Trader Joe’s

Notes:  When I poured this Vinho Tinto into my glass, I got a beaker full of inky purple.  The bouquet brought me blackberry, spices, earth, and wood fragrances.  The body of this red table wine was light.  I would peg it’s acidity at medium and the tannins at the upper end of medium.  Alcohol was at 13.5%.  On the palate I tasted leather, blackberry, plum, and oak with notes of coffee grounds and pepper.  The solid tannins brought a bite of menthol, and it finished off with a repeat of stewed plums and spice.  Overall a pretty decent wine experience pulled from the budget selections – especially if you want your red wine to bite back a tad.  It had a rustic feel to it, which seems appropriate for a table wine.  This is not one to accompany your filet mignon, but it’ll be fine with casual meat dishes or perhaps some hearty cozinha país (country cuisine).  Wait, did I say that right?  Well, you know what I mean – homestyle cooking not fancy fare.

Turning Leaf Pinot Noir

With the turkey-in-the-oven season firmly upon us, I have been sipping a few Pinot Noirs.  I mean, I’m totally doing research toward finding the right wine for Xmas dinner.  It is completely out of a sense of duty to friends and family that I am tasting these wines.  Right?  Uh … right!  So, putting shoulder firmly to wheel, I opened a bottle of this Turning Leaf.

WInemaker: Turning Leaf
Varietal: Pinot Noir
Vintage: NV
Appellation: California
Price: $8.49

Notes:  The color of this one was a light purple in the glass.  It was light-to-medium in weight on the palate with somewhat low acidity and no tannins to speak of.  With alcohol at 13% it wasn’t a completely dry Pinot but definitely not sugary.  Flavors for me were sweet cherry and raspberry with dashes of pepper and just the slightest hint of earthiness.  There was absolutely nothing to hate here, but there was nothing to bring me back, either.  I mean, I think lower acidity can be nice in a Pinot Noir if it makes way for that silky, velvety mouthfeel some achieve.  I didn’t find that.  And with a lack of acidity and/or tannins, I’m not sure that this wine would pair extremely well with many foods.  Unless … unless maybe you were having bread or soup in advance of a meat entree (beef or game) for which you are saving a hearty, tasty red to knock everyone’s socks off.  Or, if you have other plans for dinner, it could serve as a simple, easy sipper while you wait for the turkey to finish roasting.  Anyway, I picked this one up on sale for $5.99.   At that price, although this won’t be my Xmas dinner companion, you might find it fits the bill for your celebrations.

Glühwein – German Mulled Wine

     Reblogged from vinoinlove:

Mulled Wine

Germany has a long tradition when it comes to Mulled Wine. The oldest documented Glühwein tankard dates back to 1420. It belonged Count John IV of Katzenelnbogen who is said to be the very first vintner to ever have planted the Riesling grape on a large scale. Glühwein is the traditional German Christmas drink. It’s not only sold on every Christmas-market but also cooked a home.


1) Traditional Glühwein

Traditional Glühwein is based on red wine. Usually a very young and fruity wine is used to produce Glühwein. The wine should not have more than 12% or 12.5% alcohol by volume. Citrus, cinnamon sticks, cloves and star aniseed are the most important spices for traditional German Glühwein. Depending on how strong you want your Glühwein you have to add Orange juice. If you want to try Glühwein at home then follow these simple instructions: Heat 0,75 liters of red wine and 0,25l of orange juice in a pot. But be careful – don’t let it boil! Cut 1/2 orange and 1 lemon into slices. Add them together with 3 cloves,  2 cinnamon sticks, and 2 star aniseed to the wine. Let everything cook for around 15 minutes but once again don’t let it boil. Use a colander to separate the Glühwein from the spices and serve it in tankards. Of course this is just one of many possible ways to prepare Glühwein and there is no right or wrong recipe. Just make sure that it tastes like Christmas!

2) White Glühwein


Now that winter is officially here and the holidays are squarely upon us, my mind tends to reminisce over holidays past.  One of my most vivid memories of the holiday season is a December spent in Munich.  It was almost magical walking through the Christkindlmarkt at night shopping for handmade tree ornaments with the smell of Glühwein and roasted chestnuts in the chilly air while snow blanketed the city and environs.  I’m slightly envious that vinoinlove lives in Munich, but I think that makes him a great source for a good Glühwein recipe.  So on some cold winter’s night in the coming months, you may want to try one of these to warm and cheer you.  He’s been thoughtful enough to include recipes for some additional German beverage specialties in addition to the mulled wines.  Oh!  And …


Night Harvest Sauvignon Blanc

First done possibly as early as the 1970’s in California, night harvesting grapes for winemaking is becoming the rule rather than the exception.  A practice that is more common with grapes for white wines, it is nonetheless also observed by some for red harvests as well.  According to a 2011 article in USA Today, two-thirds of grapes picked for winemaking in California are picked at night.  Since California has approximately 58% of the U.S. market (per the Wine Institute), my calculator tells me this means at least 40% of the wines being consumed in the U.S. are made from grapes harvested in the wee hours.  I say “at least” because this isn’t just a California phenomenon.  Night harvesting has gone global.  Why?  The Napa Valley Register tells us that “Vineyard managers say night harvests bring in grapes with better sugar levels, acid and ‘aromatics’ — the scents that linger after the grapes go into the bottle.”  And they bring in grapes at a more consistent temperature which gives the wineries more control over a key facet in the process.

The most interesting item I found listed in the pro column for night harvests is energy savings.  I’ll have to admit, that claim gave me pause.  I mean, if you’re picking at night you have to manufacture your own light, right?  And that means you’re consuming energy – most often via diesel generators – to create your illumination.  Somehow that didn’t conjure up an image I’d classify as environmentally friendly.  Yet vintners say because the grapes have to be cooled to something in the region of 55 degrees Fahrenheit prior to crushing and because harvest days can be as warm as 80, 90 even 100 degrees, harvesting the grapes in the cool of the night and reducing the need for significant pre-crush cooling presents a very significant energy savings.  Well, all right!  I’ve been schooled.

SauvignonBlancHere’s what the R.H. Phillips folks had to say about their Night Harvest label on it’s reintroduction in 2006.  “Night Harvest by R.H. Phillips is made with 80 percent estate-grown grapes, blended with a small amount of coastal fruit to round out the flavors.”  They go on to say, “In keeping with the winery’s rich history, R.H. Phillips harvests all of its estate-grown fruit between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. Now more of an industry-wide practice in the wine business, R.H. Phillips first harvested under the stars in 1983, a practice pioneered by the founding family, the Giguieres.”

Winemaker:  Night Harvest by R.H. Phillips
Varietal:  Sauvignon Blanc
Vintage:  NV
Appellation:  California
Price:  $6.99 at Whole Foods

Notes:  Pale straw in the glass, this non-vintage Sauvignon Blanc was light-bodied with good acidity.  Alcohol was at 13.5%.  On the nose I caught whiffs of apple, pear and citrus.  On the tongue I found plentiful grapefruit flavor with apple, pear, and hints of spice.  It had a very slight creaminess to it as well.  On the finish there was a dose of grass which then lingered intertwined with echos of grapefruit.  Not half bad for an inexpensive white wine from the grocery store!

Smoking Loon Pinot Noir 2012

Some mysteries are important to unravel and solve.  Others, however, are perhaps better left to the mists of the unknown.  Take for instance the question, “What is a smoking loon?”  Seriously!  I know that a loon is a type of bird, but I don’t think they smoke – certainly not cigars as is suggested by the fun illustration on the winery’s colorful labels.  I have to admit that the name is catchy.  And, honestly, what I really want to know is what’s inside the bottle.  So, of course, I popped the cork on this Smoking Loon.

Winemaker: Smoking Loon
Varietal: Pinot Noir
Vintage: 2012
Appellation: California
Price: $11.99*

Notes:  I was surprised at how pungent the bouquet was on this Pinot Noir.  Although not hugely complex, it was vibrant with cedar and dark berry aromas.  Acidity was bright while tannins were on the moderate side but still players.  Alcohol was at 13.5% in this light-bodied selection, and there was a pleasant slightly plush feeling to this wine as it traversed the palate.  Flavors I found were a bit darker than many Pinot Noirs I’ve had, hewing to dark currant, cherry and oak with a medicinal/camphor zip when the tannins bit. I would think this Pinot Noir could pair well with a variety of dishes.  I appreciated this selection even more because I was able to grab it on sale for $6.99.

*  at Trader Joe’s for $7.99

25 Inexpensive Wines From Whole Foods

Every journey has it’s milestones, and marking the trail is an important part of any notable sojourn.  Whether or not this particular trip is notable can no doubt be debated.  Even so, a little under a year ago I began this blog.  Since then, I’ve managed to drink a few glasses of wine.  Along the way some 25 selections from the Whole Foods shelves – all very modestly priced to boot – have passed my way.  25 being an auspicious number – silver anniversary, for example – I’ve decided it’s time for a marker.

photo by jameson fink

Commemorating this occasion and serving as my own recap of this wine tasting “trip,” I’m going to identify my 5 favorites from among these Whole Food selections.  I won’t be giving them a numbered score or tell you whether it’s a buy/don’t buy.  We all have different palates; different likes and dislikes.  You decide if you want to give any of them a try or pass on the whole lot.  I’ll simply list my top 5 in order of personal preference, summarize my own tasting experience, and provide a link to my original post on each where you can find some additional info.  Remember, I’m a wine enthusiast.  My own tasting notes may or may not agree with yours and those of the bonafide experts.

Kenwood Vineyards Sauvignong Blanc 2012
A balanced Sauvignong Blanc, I found flavors of lemon, peach and honey with hints of pear and kiwi, a light dusting of green bell pepper, and a nice zip of grass on the finish.

Cupcake Red Velvet
A dinner party fave, to me this enjoyable red blend was fruity with plenty of blackberry and plum along with purple clover, earth and hints of carob.

Tres Ojos Garnacha 2011
Dark raspberry, bread and spice flavors almost brought to mind a berry muffin, but at 14.5% alcohol it wasn’t sugary.  Additional notes I caught included pepper, a hint of licorice and eucalyptus as the moderate tannins kicked in on the finish.

Château Millegrand Minervois Rosé 2012
Peck_TresOjosGarnacha2011A light coral in color, this dry rosé was also light on the palate bringing me gentle flavors of tart cherry, a green herbaceousness, floral notes, some minerality, and a touch of quinine on the end.

365 Trackers Crossing Chardonnay 2012
This Chardonnay gave good oak in what I consider the epitome of the Australian style.  I tasted honey, pineapple, a touch of guava, light citrus notes, generous oak, some hints of spice, and a final bite of bitter melon.

It was very difficult narrowing it down to just five.  There are certainly other tasty wines among those I’ve sampled.  So for those of you who are Whole Food shoppers, the full list of the 20 additional wines I’ve sampled so far is below – in no particular order.  If I’ve missed your favorite(s), please drop me a note here.  I’m always grateful for recommendations!

  Piccolo Fiore Bianco di Sicilia 2011
  365 Paul Valmer Chardonnay 2011
  Three Wishes Merlot
  Don Simón Seleccion Rosé
  Lello Douro Vinho Tinto 2010
  Big House White 2011
  Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
  365 Paul Valmer Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
  Riven Rock Moscato 2012
  Harthill Farm Chardonnay
  365 DiFlora Moscato
  Three Wishes Chardonnay
  Bricco Dei Tati Barbera 2011
   Domaine Carpy Les Pins 2009
  Bubo Pinot Noir 2011
  Don Simón Seleccion Shiraz
  Cupcake Riesling 2011
  La Bastarda Bianco di Toscana 2012
   Tablao Red Wine Navarra 2012
  J.M. Fonseca Twin Vines Vinho Verde

One more quick caveat.  I didn’t drink these all in one day, one week, or even one month – it took me just under one year.  [Admittedly, I have also been drinking other wines. lol]  Retail being a dynamic industry in which stores regularly update and change their stock, some of these wines may no longer be available at your local Whole Foods.

Wherever your wine trail leads you … as always, here’s wishing you many happy wine adventures!

Citra Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2010

I recently posted a wine experience I had while on travel.  If you read that one, you’ll know that by some miracle there was a BevMo! on the same block as a Total Wine store near my hotel.  Seriously?  How lucky for folks who live in that neighborhood!  And how lucky for me to be there for a short while, too.  Of course I went to both stores.  Like there was ever any doubt.  Ha!  Anyway, this little Italian red was what I nabbed at the BevMo!

Winemaker:  Citra
Wine:  Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
Vintage : 2010
Appellation:  Abruzzo, Italy DOP
Price:  $7.99 at BevMo!

Notes:  This was only my second Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, so I was very gung-ho to give this Citra selection a try.  When I poured it, I found it to be a very deep, inky purple.  The scents that wafted up from the glass included earth, dark berries and oak.  It was on the cusp between light- and medium-bodied with light tannins and 13% alcohol.  The acidity was what I would describe as moderate.  Drinking this Abruzzo wine was quite interesting – which was a good thing in this case.  I found that the fruit flavors – blackberry and dark cherry – were in the back seat.  In my opinion, it was cola and oak flavors up front.  There were also notes of green leafy herbs.  On the finish, the tannins brought me a nifty zing of bitter quinine.  Another pretty good experience with this varietal!  Even though the tannins were fairly light, I still think I might pair this with a cut of beef – like maybe a flat iron steak.  Or I bet it would be good with a hearty chicken dish as well.