Frassina Rosso 2012

Sign, signs, everywhere are signs ….  You know that song by the Canadian group, Five Man Electrical Band?

Well … although I purchased this wine because it was identified as 100% Sangiovese by the store, I found that it is actually a Tuscan blend.  Guess I should have done the same quick mobile internet check that I did when I bought the Ruffino Aziano.  And, indeed, a quick online look tells us that this Rosso is made from 35% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Syrah, and 10% Ancellotta.  But the sign said it was just Sangiovese!  D’oh!

Winemaker:  Frassina
Wine: Rosso
Vintage: 2012
Varietal:  Red Blend
Appellation:  Toscana, Italy IGT
Price: $21.99 at The Grateful Red

Notes:  The color of this Tuscan red was a deep ruby.  On the nose I found pepper and spice, tangy berries and musty sod.  The body was medium and acidity was high.  Alcohol came in at 14%, and tannins were medium with an aggressive attack.  On the tongue I got flavors of cherry, tea leaf, oak/wood, and lots of pepper.

Hugl Grüner Veltliner 2013

Although labeled as Hugl Weine, it seems clear that this wine comes from the Weingut Hugl-Wimmer.  According to importer Kysela Pere et Fils, Ltd., the vintner is “a young family-run winery located in the north-east of Austria, in Ketzelsdorf-Poysdorf.  The owners Sylvia and Martin Hugl aim to produce fruity, full-bodied wines that are typical of the region and the soils.  They make use of the experience of their parents and combine it with their know-how and modern techniques to create high-quality wines.” And it appears that Weingut Hugl-Wimmer is not just another “family-owned” operation.  On their own website, the Hugls state quite clearly that their parents and siblings also join in the work as needed.  So it really is family-run.

Vineyard:  Hugl Weine
Varietal:  Grüner Veltliner
Vintage:  2013
Appellation:  Niederösterreich, Austria
Price:  $10.59 for 1 Liter at Whole Foods

Notes:  The color of this Austrian white was a pale golden hue.  The bouquet held scents of peach and nectarine.  The body was light and acidity was fine.  Alcohol was at 13.5%.  On the palate I found peach, some citrus, notes of almond, grass, and just a touch of honey.  It was a pleasant, refreshing glass of wine.  I think it would make a nice accompaniment to a light white fish.

Trader Joe’s Reserve Syrah 2012

OK.  I know Paso Robles is well known for it’s Zinfandel wines.  They even have an annual Zinfandel festival.  I am also aware that wineries in the area have been successfully making blends and varietal wines using grapes that are typically associated with the Rhône region of France.  Not so long ago I had a pretty decent TJ Mourvèdre from Paso Robles.  Well, Syrah being the main red produced in the Northern Rhône, I really thought I ought to give this wine a try.

Winemaker: Trader Joe’s
Wine: Trader Joe’s Reserve Syrah, Lot #100
Vintage: 2012
Appellation: Paso Robles, California
Price: $9.99 at Trader Joe’s

Notes:  The Trader Joe’s Reserve Syrah was a deep, dark red color.  On the nose I detected pepper, spice, blackberry and hints of leather and pine.  Acidity was good.  It was a medium-bodied selection with a silky feel to it while tannins were on the upper end of medium.  As far as flavors went, I tasted a lot of seedy/brambly woodiness, leather, some spice, an underlying foundation of dark fruits (blackberry and black currant), and a bitter note on the finish.  I have to say that I liked this one.  I really did enjoy that silky mouth feel, and it was a challenging flavor profile in a good way.  Oh, and it was only ten bucks.

BV Coastal Estates Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

According to their website Beaulieu Vineyard, founded in 1900, is “the longest continually operating winery in Napa Valley.”  Evidently, BV founders Georges and Fernande de Latour had a thriving cream of tartar business.  Of course, cream of tartar or potassium bitartrate is a natural byproduct of the winemaking process, crystallizing in the wine casks during fermentation.  It has many important uses – especially in cooking – including as a component of baking powder.  But the de Latours wanted to move up the process chain to making the wines out of which the potassium bitartrate precipitated.  And so they purchased a ranch in Rutherford, CA to begin their winery.  Not only a good vintner but also a wise businessman, Mr. de Latour forged a strong relationship with the Catholic church which kept him in business even during prohibition.  Now some 114 years after it’s beginning, BV continues to produce quality wines with a full complement of offerings – Cabs, Chardonnays, Merlots, Sauvignon Blancs, Port, Pinot Gris, Muscats, and a variety of blends.

Winemaker:  Beaulieu Vineyard
Wine:  Coastal Estates Cabernet Sauvignon
Varietal:  Cabernet Sauvignon
Vintage:  2012
Appellation:  California
Price:  $11.49

Notes:  This coastal Calilfornian was a deep, dark, velvety red in color.  It was medium-bodied with good acidity and fairly light tannins.  Alcohol was at 13.5%.  To me the flavors hewed toward the darker side.  I tasted a core of baked blackberries, some pepper, distinct notes of rubber, tea leaf, and a touch of oak.  I liked that it was a bit darker than many inexpensive Cabs.  I would personally have preferred a little more tannin, but I still think it might do very well with casual meat dishes.  In my opinion this is not one for cellaring, so drink up.

Crystal City, the Water Park & Wine Rangers

Wine in the Water Park is scheduled from 6-10 p.m. every Friday in September in Crystal City, Virginia.  Admission is free and there is live music to boot.

Free admission, live music and wines to sample?  This was an opportunity too good to pass up.  Hi-yo, Silver!  The Wine Rangers ride again.  And this past Friday night we did, but our steed was the Metro train because the Crystal City Water Park is only about 3 blocks from the subway stop.

I’m pleased to report that there were lots of wines to taste – red, white, dry, sweet.  Whatever your preference, you were likely to find something that would please.  The organizers also made sure that tasters had plenty of options from purchasing tickets for 1-oz. sips to full glasses of wine.  For instance, we started with six 1-oz. sips for $10.  That way you could do some sampling and then go back for more of your favorite.  Perhaps because the weather had cooled just a bit, we stuck mostly with the reds this past Friday.  Among those we tried were the Luz Garnacha, Angeline Pinot Noir, Mountain View Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Julia Malbec, and Guggenheim Merlot.  But we just barely scratched the surface as there were more reds as well as loads of whites and some beers available.

Turnout for the event was really good.  It helps that the Water Park is a pretty location with some cool fountains, and it’s easy to get to.  Folks really seemed to be having a great time.  The cover band that played was quite popular with the crowd and many people sat on benches and available patches of grass to listen and sip.  There was also an enthusiastic group that managed to find space for an impromptu dance floor.  Did I mention that people were having a good time?  In addition, many of those in attendance brought their canine friends along which was especially fun for the dog lovers among us.

Overall, we had an awesome time.  From a strictly wine exploration perspective, it would have been nice for them to provide lists of the wines they were serving for attendees to consult before getting in line.  Let’s face it, most of us can’t see through other people.  And then labels are also hard to read when the bottles are half submerged in ice.  From a practical perspective, there also weren’t any public restrooms on site.  Although the park is across the street from an entrance to the Crystal City Shops mall.  But that’s just nit picking because it was a very enjoyable event.

Wine in the Water Park will only be around for two more Fridays!  Better get on out there if you’re in the area and haven’t yet made it.


Ruffino Aziano Chianti Classico 2012

Not too long ago I took a little trip.  The travel itself was fascinating as I ended up on Amtrak for about 1,000 miles.  I hadn’t been on that lengthy a rail excursion before, so I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into – other than a new experience.  Well, it was definitely an experience!  Unlike many of my fellow passengers, I was somewhat unprepared for the trek.  For instance, my neighbor came with pillow and blanket in tow.  I thought that was a bit much until after a few hours I realized that the air conditioning was quite effective.  So effective that I started to shiver!  Luckily, I had packed a light jacket which – although not in hand – was in the suitcase on the rack just above my head.  OK!  Now I know to bring a blanket or have a sweatshirt readily available.  The fellow across the aisle from me boarded with two very large bottles of water.  Yes, that was something else I didn’t think about.  I had one small bottle.  Thankfully, they do sell water in the cafe car, so I didn’t get completely dehydrated.

When I reached my destination, I thought I might continue to learn by finding Sangiovese varietal wines there which aren’t available in my local area.*  The wine store I chose to look in seemed large enough that they would have plenty of options.  But they didn’t have a single Sangiovese varietal on their shelves.  So I asked the staff if any of their Chiantis were 100% Sangiovese.  The reply was that all their Chiantis were.  OK now, I didn’t just fall of the turnip truck!  Not to be deterred, however, I stood there in the store with my little semi-smart phone in hand looking up info on each of their Chianti offerings.  Turns out this Ruffino Aziano was the only Chianti they had which was 100% Sangiovese.  At least they had one!

Winemaker:  Ruffino
Wine:  Aziano Chianti Classico
Varietal:  Sangiovese
Vintage:  2012
Appellation:  Chianti Classico DOCG, Italy
Price:  $16.99

Notes:  The color was dark ruby with a slightly orange tinge.  Reminded me of a blood orange.  The bouquet held tangy berries and scents of barnyard.  Body was light, and acidity was high.  Alcohol came in at 13%.  When I first opened the bottle, I was concerned there might have been some cork taint.  It was seriously not pleasant (to me).  Of course, we all know that oxidation can make a difference in our red wines.  Sure enough, after at least a good half hour the flavor profile moderated.  What I found then was a Sangiovese with considerably more structure than what I’d had before, showing medium-to-high tannins.  It also had underlying plum and cherry fruit flavors overlaid with lots of pepper, some oak, and quinine near the close.  Here is a Sangiovese to accompany your meat dishes, to be sure.  It was such an interesting departure from my previous Sangiovese tastings that I am looking forward to more of these experiments.

*  Folks who haven’t been reading my blog will wonder why I’d have that specific type of wine in mind.  The answer is that I’m trying to learn more about Sangiovese and the kind of wine it can become.  Approaching that endeavor with a quasi-scientific method, I want first to taste wines that are 100% Sangiovese.  Then I’ll move on to the blends.

Quail Oak Chardonnay (ca. 2014)

Should the United States have a wine classification system along the lines of what you find in other countries like France, Italy or Germany?  That is the question that came to mind as I drank this wine.

You see, this wine is very clearly aimed at the bottom of the market.  After all, it’s a non-vintage “American” wine – meaning they can source the grapes from anywhere within the 50 states (and maybe even anywhere from within North or South America as that would still be a truthful claim) and they can blend grape juices from more than one harvest year to get a potable product.  If this were sold in France, it’d be a Vin de Table which is their lowest rung of classification.  While that classification doesn’t necessarily mean a vintner will charge less per bottle than a competitor in the Vin de Pays class, it does serve as a quick indicator to the consumer that they shouldn’t be paying top dollar.

Although the regular retail price of this wine is by no means top dollar, it is considerably higher than the wines which are of the same ilk and against which this wine appears meant to compete.  For instance, the Charles Shaw wines can be had at the local Trader Joe’s for $3.29, and the Three Wishes line at Whole Foods is priced exactly the same.  Why, then, does the local Safeway put a regular price of $6.99 on this bottle?  Could it be to snag uneducated consumers unawares?  After all, I bought this on sale for $3.49.  So it looks to me like the store realizes that is about what this Chardonnay should be selling for – period.

Oenophilogical_QuailOakChardonnayWinemaker:  Quail Oak (by The Wine Group for Safeway)
Varietal:  Chardonnay
Vintage:  NV
Appellation:  America
Price:  $6.99 at Safeway

Notes:  This Safeway private label Chardonnay was a bright lemon yellow.  It’s body was on the lighter side of medium with good acidity while alcohol came in at 12.5%.  On the palate I found pear, grapefruit, grass, and a touch of honey.  At times during it’s trip across my tongue it was quite weak.  Overall, though, it was pretty much OK.

Villa Borghetti Grigio Luna 2013

While I seem to be sampling quite a few New Zealand whites this summer, I can’t forget offerings from the old world.  And when you’re talking old world light whites for a summer repast, Italian Pinot Grigio is a well-known and well-regarded option.

Winemaker:  Villa Borghetti
Wine: Grigio Luna Delle Venezie
Varietal:  Pinot Grigio
Vintage:  2013
Appellation:  Venezie IGT, Italy
Price: $5.99 at Trader Joe’s

Notes:  What would you expect from an inexpensive Italian Pinot Grigio?  How about this?

Color – pale straw.
Bouquet – gentle scents of citrus and lemongrass with flinty undertones.
Acidity – good.
Body – light.
Flavors – citrus, hints of caramel, and a chalky minerality throughout.

Seems like that might be about right.


Ali Sangiovese 2013

Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!  In my continued search for and experiments with Sangiovese varietal wines, I managed to run across this one very recently at my local Whole Foods.  What a fun little surprise.  I say it’s a surprise because not more than a month ago, this selection wasn’t on their shelves.  How very nice of them to aid me in my research!  lol  This Italian red was made by Donna Laura SRL and imported into the U.S. by Banville & Jones.  It is named in honor of Alicia, daughter of Lia Tolaini-Banville.

Winemaker: Donna Laura SRL
Wine: Ali Sangiovese Toscana
Vintage: 2013
Appellation: Toscana, Italy IGT
Price: $10.99 at Whole Foods

Notes:  The color of this Tuscan was a dark burgundy.  In the bouquet I caught whiffs of berries and damp forest floor.  It was light-bodied with high acidity and medium tannins.  Alcohol was at 12.5%.  I found this Ali pleasant enough in the flavor department albeit gentle on the palate.  I tasted cherry drops, black pepper, tea, and a sage-like herbal note.  I think it would most certainly make a decent accompaniment to a variety of pasta dishes or perhaps light meat dishes.

Pancake Cellars – Big Day White 2012

What an interesting name to choose – Pancake Cellars.  And that label!  The giant anthropomorphized flapjack* hearkens back to the over-the-top marketing of the 1950’s when icons like the Jolly Green Giant and Kool-Aid Pitcher Man (later to become Kool-Aid Man) roamed our billboards and TVs.  I appreciate very much that some winemakers – especially those who are working at less expensive price points – recognize many folks want to have fun and drink wine at the same time.  Let’s face it; anyone who is purchasing a white blend at this price is not expecting to have a religious experience when they sip it.  This is not the wine of formal dining rooms with crystal goblets, white table linens, and utensils laid out in a tightly-regimented pattern around dinner plates.  Thanks primarily to the humorous label, I was definitely of a mind to have a good time when I opened this bottle.

Winemaker:   Pancake Cellars
Wine: Big Day White
Varietal:  White Blend
Vintage:  2012
Appellation:  Paso Robles, CA
Price: $5.99 at Trader Joes

Notes:  According to the label this California white was made from 37% Chardonnay, 23% Sauvignon Blanc, 15% Vioigier, 15% Pinot Blanc, and 10% Muscat Canelli.  As I poured this inexpensive blend into my glass, it’s color was a pretty, light lemon.  On the nose I caught whiffs of peach, melon and citrus.  Acidity was good, pricking the tongue lightly to give it a sense of gentle effervescence.  It was light-bodied with a slightly viscous mouth feel, and alcohol was at 13.5%.  On the palate I tasted peach, melon, citrus, some honey, and a bitter note on the finish which was reminiscent of citrus zest.  Unfortunately, that final note lingered sufficiently that it began to overwhelm the rest of the flavors as I sipped.  So the overall experience became mostly bitter rather than balanced between the zip of the finish and the fruit at the fore.  If you are looking for an inexpensive white with a zing in it’s step, this could be your blend.

* Or is that a grape?  Considering the shape and coloring, it could be either.  Maybe that’s by design.