The Columbia River takes it’s time getting from the source in the Canadian Rockies to where it empties into the Pacific ocean. During the last 309 miles or so of it’s over 1200 mile journey, it serves as the border between Washington and Oregon. Along the way, it has some of the most breathtaking scenery in the Northwest United States and serves a variety of ecosystems from alpine to wetlands – some perfect for growing grapes. In fact, the Columbia Gorge winegrowing region boasts over 30 wineries.
Winemaker: Columbia River Landing
Appellation: Columbia Valley, WA
Price: $4.99 at Trader Joe’s
Notes: This cheap Riesling from Trader Joe’s was a vivid yellow color. Light-bodied, it had decent acidity and 10.5% alcohol. Not surprisingly, it was sweet and presented mostly fruit flavors of peach and melon.
The other day I was at my local Safeway perusing the wine aisle. Dressed in hobo fashion – camo bdu pants, gray hoodie under an worn leather bomber jacket, stocking cap, old tennis shoes, two days worth of stubble – I expected to be left to my own devices while I checked for new selections, price drops, etc. Much to my surprise, I was almost immediately accosted by a very friendly young couple who wanted help choosing a wine to take to a party. Say what?! I was NOT the only person in the wine aisle.
They told me they were thinking red – maybe. The other people at the birthday party would be from Spain and Ecuador. What did I suggest? They wanted something that wasn’t embarrasingly cheap but not beyond a young couple’s budget. We started at Malbec, then moved to Merlot, even sparkling wine as I was trying to ascertain what kind of wine they might want to take as a host gift. The young lady saw the Cupcake Vineyards Prosecco label and got very excited, but decided they wanted red after all. So I suggested they run off with a bottle of the Red Velvet. I said I thought it would make a good party wine. I hope their friends liked it because the couple I was talking to don’t drink!
Winemaker: Cupcake Vineyards
Wine: Red Velvet
Varietal: Red Blend
Notes: And, indeed, I think this is a fine little party wine. It was a pretty red in the glass, and tannins were fairly light. On the palate I found lots of berry flavor at the fore with a lingering cherry accompanied by warm spice notes. Alcohol was at 13.5%. I didn’t get goosebumps while sipping it, but I can’t imagine anyone spitting it out, either. I do think my Safeway may be overcharging. Pretty sure this selection can be found elsewhere for $10 or less. Luckily, it was on sale when I recommended it to the nice couple.
What exactly IS a top hat? Where did top hats come from?
Well, as far as what it is … you can look at the art on the wine label to work that out. Where they come from – that’s an interesting question. Looks like they started out in the 1500’s in what is today the Netherlands. Those hats – predecessors to today’s top hat – are commonly known as sugar loaf hats and were worn by men and women. They also became part of the stereotypical dress of the Puritans who emigrated from England to America (many via Holland). It was in the late 1700’s that someone got the idea to cover them with silk. And so the version we see in the picture here came into being – and fashion. Primarily worn by men, the silk top hat was considered a statement of elegance in it’s heyday. No longer a part of everyday attire, the silk top hat still retains an upper class vibe. It has become associated with magic as well. Stage magicians commonly use them to pull rabbits, doves, flowers, etc. out of. Looks to me as though this Top Hat label might be suggesting a touch of viniferous magic.
Winemaker: Top Hat
Notes: This Top Hat was pale yellow in the glass. It had a pleasant bouquet with scents of golden apple and citrus accompanied by floral notes. It was light-bodied, and I thought acidity fairly high. Flavors were straightforward – toasty oak, citrus and wildflowers. I was surprised the apple in the nose wasn’t reflected on the palate, but that may well have been a function of the acidity. On the whole, I found it to be a pretty decent bottle of inexpensive Chardonnay.
Accustomed to seeing flashing red and white lights in, around, and coming out of our local fire station, last June I was treated to an entirely different kind of light show. I was walking by just before dusk and noticed that the front yard was covered with flashing yellow dots. Fireflies! It was an amazing sight. There must have been scores of them in a little, tiny yard. And even more in the field behind the fire station.
Unfortunately, the camera on my phone was not capable of capturing the full effect. I took copious amounts of pictures, many of which have no sign of firefly showmanship at all. I just couldn’t get them to synchronize. The photo below has the most firefly flashes I was able to catch at one time – 6. Ha! Even so, those little fireflies created a definite excitement not only for me but for all the passersby that evening (especially the young kids). I wasn’t the only one who stopped to enjoy the show.
Perhaps it’s that sense of wonderment and excitement that the artwork on the Firefly Ridge label seeks to tap into. It’s a great label. Certainly a lot more romantic and idealized than fireflies against smudged concrete block and drain spouts!
Winemaker: Firefly Ridge
Appellation: Central Coast, California
Notes: Dark red in color, this California Merlot had a subtle bouquet of berries and cola. A medium-bodied wine, acidity seemed fine and tannins were light. On the other hand, I felt this was (for lack of a better term) clunky on the palate. I thought the flavors of berries, pepper, rubber and oak were just not well integrated. All the better then, that I was able to grab this on discount at $5.99.
Last post from those birthday celebrations a few weeks back. As you may recall, we managed to pull off a second “surprise” party for the old geezer (just kidding). Besides Thai Food – Pad Thai, Seafood Fried Rice, Vegetable Spring Rolls and Steamed Dumplings – we also had a marvelous chocolate cake. Unfortunately, I’m not authorized to post pictures of the cake here because the decorations included the celebrant’s name and age. That information is evidently not for general public consumption. Luckily, the cake was available for consumption at the party, and it was tasty. This Zinfandel is what I chose to sip with it.
Wine: Vintner’s Blend, Old Vine Zinfandel
Notes: This Ravenswood was dark red with a piquant nose of turpentine, meat and berries. It was medium-bodied and had a very nice, smooth affect on the tongue. Acidity was good, tannins were medium, and alcohol was at 13.5%. Flavors I detected were blueberry, cherry, plenty of pepper, along with smoke and ash notes. I liked this Zin. It was fine with the cake but even better on it’s own.
Sometimes I just can’t pass up a sale. This already cheap bottle of red was on sale not too long ago for a bargain basement price. I hadn’t tried the Rex-Goliath Shiraz in about 5 years, so I thought I’d give it a go.
Notes: This dark, opaque purplish wine had an interesting if fairly gentle bouquet including what seemed like butterscotch, minerals, dark fruit and wood. Acidity was pretty high and alcohol was 13.5%. Weight on the tongue was on the light side of medium. I found flavors of plum, pepper, oak, a hint of raisin and a lingering dark currant on the finish. It was a little bitter for me, so I didn’t think it a very good wine for sipping on it’s own.
A few posts ago I mentioned a birthday party I’d been a part of. No, it wasn’t my birthday but that of a family member. The party at the Italian restaurant was basically a sibling celebration with their spouses and children. However, the festivities weren’t over after the cannoli and tiramisu. No, indeed!
See, this was one of those BIG birthdays. A milestone, if you will. So I helped put together a surprise party for friends and extended family the very next night. I don’t think I have ever worked so hard at keeping something a secret (and certain that I had failed miserably). We ordered a cake from a bakery and Thai food from a local eatery for this party. Then everyone gathered at a friend’s house while I had the task of wrangling the guest of honor. You know, making sure they got there and at the right time. Man, was I sweating it!
Seems we did OK. If nothing else, the honoree feigned surprise well. To go with the cake and Thai we served a few wines along with the requisite seltzer, soda and lemonade. I thought this Simi Chardonnay was pretty good with the seafood rice dish and the vegetable spring rolls. Given that the cake was chocolate, I switched for dessert.
Appellation: Sonoma County, CA
Price: $12.99 at Whole Foods
Notes: The Simi was a pretty, vibrant yellow. On the nose I smelled primarily pineapple. I thought acidity was good, and it was medium-bodied with 13.5% alcohol. This was a very flavorful wine. I found pineapple, vanilla, a touch of butter, some grass and chalk at the finish. It was definitely a good one for me. I’d happily drink it again and can imagine it would make a nice accompaniment to a range of fowl, fish and salad dishes.
Trolling the wine section at my local Trader Joe’s has become more challenging of late. You see, they have been getting such large crowds that the lines are two deep at the front of the store and then turn up the wine aisle. These lines often go all the way to the end of the wines and turn the corner! I have to admit, the TJ staff do an amazing job keeping the line moving. But … when I visit now during high traffic times, I can no longer linger among the wines pondering my choices. That would make me an impediment to checkout. Believe me, I am not going to get between those TJ shoppers and their checkout!
So when I see that crazy long line, I simply go to the end (somewhere in the back of the store) and pick up wines as I pass through the wine section. Oh! Did you catch that little pun I just made? Didn’t plan it, but there it is. And here is one of the selections I recently grabbed from my place in line.
Winemaker: The Pass
Varietal: Sauvignon Blanc
Appellation: Marlborough, New Zealand
Price: $8.99 at Trader Joes
Notes: This SB was extremely pale. It had a very “stinky” bouquet of ripe grapefruit. Acidity was effervescent and brisk. It was light-bodied, and alcohol was at 13%. Flavors I detected were grapefruit and oak. I thought it was quite enjoyable – nice and tangy. It left a pleasant fuzzy tongue feeling from the high acidity. No finesse to speak of, but fun to drink nonetheless.
As I’ve mentioned before, it was California Zinfandel that really got me started on wines and wine exploration. Thus, I have a soft spot in my heart for the varietal. Of course, not all Zins are created equal.
Winemaker: Trader Joe’s
Wine: T.J. Coastal Zinfandel
Appellation: Central Coast, CA
Price: $4.99 at Trader Joe’s
Notes: The color of this Zin from the Central Coast was a medium garnet with definite brownish tinges. On the nose I caught scents of berries, earth and pine resin. It was uncharacteristically (and for me unsatisfyingly) light-bodied with decent acidity. Alcohol was at 13.9%. On the palate, I tasted red fruit toward the front end followed by pepper and copious woodiness. The finish was mostly bitter but also held echoes of cherry drops. No doubt it would do fine with a plate of pasta or another casual meal. I personally prefer more body and structure in a Zin, but you can’t beat the price.
I try not to consult the winemaker’s or wineseller’s notes on a particular wine when I’m looking for a new wine experience. Yes, I know they can prove helpful in finding things we think we’ll like based on the flavors we prefer and the wine experiences we’ve enjoyed in the past. I definitely find them useful when searching for a wine to accompany a particular meal or for an occasion. And I can’t completely ignore them if – as in some retailers – descriptors are posted with every selection. But since I don’t want all my wines to taste the same, I don’t pay close attention to them when I’m browsing.
I also try not to read the back label before drinking a wine on the chance that it’ll contain tasting notes. I don’t want my own experience to be affected by the suggestions of certain flavors and aromas being present. I don’t think I’m all that easily beguiled, but I like the idea of starting with a blank slate when experiencing a wine for the first time. And my experience has proved that, although often similar to what I taste, I don’t always agree with winemaker notes. In some cases their notes and mine are quite different. This wine is a case in point. You can read the importer’s/winemaker’s description by clicking on the picture. My notes are below. Like night and day almost. If you have tried this selection, I’d be interested in hearing what you found.
Appellation: Colchagua Valley, Chile
Price: $14.99 at Whole Foods
Notes: This Chilean Chardonnay was pale yellow in the glass with a faint bouquet of lanolin, citrus and spice. Acidity seemed good, and alcohol was at 13.5%. Flavors I found consisted primarily of clementine and grass with fleeting whispers of spice. I found it to be a somewhat restrained selection. Not the average New World Chardonnay. I liked it!