Tree Decoration – Adding the Baubles

I mentioned in my last post, we’ve taken a stepped approach to our tree decoration this year.  Not because that’s what we wanted, but because our schedules were so crazy this year we weren’t able to do otherwise.

The first two steps were 1) buying and setting the tree in it’s stand (centering, leveling, etc.); 2) applying strands of lights and the tree topper.  Having managed to put the lights on successfully (in our opinion, anyway), the third step was the placement of the individual decorations a few days later.

Here, my sweetie and I have a very different view of what success looks like.  I have a tendency to favor a purposeful placement of baubles closer to the trunk or “inside” as well as near the end of branches.  This, of course, comes to me from my parents’ training and perhaps suits my temperament as well.  My honey, on the other hand, favors the organic approach with placement of decorations in a more random, serendipitous way.  You might call that a “natural” look.  I suppose our viewpoints on tree decoration prove that we do, in fact, complement each other.  I believe that’s true!  Thus, (complementary or not) it is absolutely necessary that we both have a nice large block of time available together for the task.  That normally means our tree gets decorated on a weekend.

To accompany stage three of our tree decorating, we chose to pop the cork on a California Meritage.

Oenophilogical_RoustaboutMeritage2016Winemaker: Roustabout
Wine: Meritage
Varietal: Red Blend
Vintage: 2016
Appellation: Paso Robles, CA
Price: $7.99 at Trader Joe’s

Notes: This Meritage consisted of 66% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Malbec.  It’s color was a pretty, deep red.  It’s nose contained dark berry scents, pine and a touch of earth.  Medium-bodied with good acidity, the Roustabout had 13.9% alcohol.  Flavors included a core of plum with tea leaf, spices, and woody tannins.  I thought it was pleasant and would be a good pairing with a beef dish.  At this price, that could be anything from a burger to Beef Stroganoff.


Tree with Lights no Baubles


Roustabout Meritage 2013

Here is another of those red wines I had recently.  It was an interesting blend – a Meritage – using grape varieties common in red blends from the Bordeaux region in France.  In fact, Meritage is a name invented by American wine growers as a way of recognizing their efforts to make New World wines in the Bordeaux tradition.  According to, “A Red Meritage is a blend of two or more of the red “noble” Bordeaux varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot and the rarer St. Macaire, Gros Verdot and Carmenère.  If the blend includes any other grape variety, it is, by definition, not a Meritage.”  This particular selection was made from 49% Merlot, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Malbec, 4% Petit Verdot, and 3% Cabernet Franc.

Winemaker: Roustabout
Wine: Meritage
Varietal: Red Blend
Vintage: 2013
Appellation: Paso Robles, California
Price: $7.99 at Trader Joe’s

Notes:  The color of this Roustabout was a very dark red with a nose of dusty berries and turpentine.  Acidity was quite bright, tannins were moderate, and alcohol was at 13.8%.  Flavors were dark but not heavy – dark berries, cedar, pepper, a touch of sweet cola and a rubber not near the finish.  I liked it, especially given the price.  Good for sipping or serving with a casual meat dish.  I’ll definitely be headed back to the store for more.  In fact, I’m in search of a wine to serve for a family style birthday celebration at a BYOB Italian restaurant.  It’s a candidate for sure.

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.

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. 

Like The Corners Of My Mind …

Memories, that is.  Yeah, I’m referencing the theme song from an old Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford movie (1973).  Why?  First, it won the Oscar for best song.  Second, it’s apropos because …

J. Lohr Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon holds a special place along my journey in wine.  See, I remember several years ago — no, not 1973 — when my wine mentors were telling me about red wines that had flavors of cocoa and chocolate in them.  As a neophyte at the time, I didn’t really believe them.  I mean, I listened, nodded, and made appropriately excited and amazed rejoinders to keep them sharing their knowledge with me.  But deep in my heart of hearts, I just didn’t buy it – not completely. After all, I hadn’t as yet tasted a wine that had such a non-grapey flavor.  Until, that is, I popped the cork on a bottle of a J. Lohr Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon.  I don’t remember the exact vintage.  I want to say it was 1992 which, as folks know, was a pretty good year for California Cabs.  I can’t be absolutely certain because I wasn’t recording tasting notes, so it’s all just misty water-colored memories.

Anyway, I do remember the experience.  I took my first sip and let it run the palate.  “Wait,” I thought, “What was that?”  I took another sip.  Holy cow!  It was there!  It wasn’t a heavy-handed one-note thing, but there was a definite chocolatey flavor.  Those tall tales of wines from my friends’ pasts – they were true!  It was a moment that made me realize I needed to be just a bit more open-minded about the kinds of flavors vintners could coax out of grapes.

They say you can never go back, and in many ways that’s true.  Certainly, I don’t expect every vintage of a wine to taste exactly like the previous.  Part of what I enjoy about exploring wines is that changes in the weather or changes in the wine-making process can produce noticeable and notable differences in the final result.  Thus, not expecting to repeat my previous experience, I recently popped the cork on another bottle of J. Lohr’s Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles to see what was in store this time around.

Winemaker:  J. Lohr
Wine: Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon
Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon
Vintage:  2011
Appellation: Paso Robles, California
Price: $19.98

Notes:  Color on pour was very purple; in the glass it was a deep red plum.  The bouquet was really very enjoyable with loads of barnyard (sous bois), tangy plum, earth and a touch of cedar.  Acidity was high and the body was on the lighter side of medium.  Alcohol was at 13.5%, and I’d say the tannins were in the medium range.  On the palate I tasted lots of plum, oak, black pepper, coffee grounds, a little tar and some green bell pepper.  It was pretty good.  As you may know, I focus on inexpensive wines on this blog with a splurge here and there.  This was a splurge but not a very big one since I snagged it on sale for $13.99.  I think this would be a nice compliment to just about any beef or game dish.  It isn’t so expensive that you shouldn’t serve it with a casual meal, but it could also do fine with a juicy steak.

Trader Joe’s Petit Reserve Mourvèdre 2011

I gotta say, I don’t think I’ve ever had a single varietal Mourvèdre before.  I’ve had it any number of times as part of a red blend, but I can’t recall having tasted it seul, as it were.  That’s French for “alone.”  Sorry, I was just feeling the French for a second there.  Perhaps the wine gave me some Frenchspiration.  Oh!  I apologize.  I seem to be in a goofy mood.  Regathering my wits now ….

I realize that this grape is used in single varietals by several U.S. producers, including Cline, Bonny Doon, Tablas Creek, etc.  So it’s not like it would have been impossible to find one.  Until now I just wasn’t Mourvèdred to.  [Ugh!  That was really bad.  LOL]  Anyway, the good news for me was that Paso Robles is pretty much the hot spot in the U.S. for the production of good Mourvèdre wines.  Evidently, the climate and the soil are as good as anywhere for this particular varietal.  Knowing that certainly got my hopes up as I popped the cork on this typically budget-friendly TJ offering!

Winemaker: Trader Joe’s (bottled by Central Coast Wine Warehouse)
Wine: Petit Reserve Mourvèdre Paso Robles
Varietal: Mourvèdre
Vintage: 2011
Appellation:  Paso Robles, CA
Price:  $7.99 at Trader Joe’s

Notes:  The wine was garnet-colored and had a big bouquet of barnyard (sous-bois?), plum, young blueberries and violets.  The body of this red from Paso Robles was quite light.  Acidity was nice and brisk, and the tannins were light on the palate.  I caught flavors of young blueberries (ripe but just, if you know what I mean), cherry, plenty of pepper and oak.  Alcohol was at 13%.  First, let me say that I really enjoyed the smell of this wine.  It was a pleasure to breathe in the fragrant earthy and fruity scents.  I won’t go so far as to say that I didn’t even need to drink it after having sniffed it’s heady aromas.  No, I definitely bought the bottle to be drunk.  So, as far as flavor was concerned, I would put this one solidly in the good category.  It wasn’t a revelation, but it was pretty darned enjoyable.

Estancia Zinfandel Paso Robles 2011

I have to say that I really enjoy a good Zinfandel.  At it’s best, the Zinfandel grape can be made into a nice, full-bodied red that retains plenty of fruit flavor while also presenting a fair amount of complexity on the palate.  Although this grape varietal didn’t make it to the U.S. until the 1800’s, it’s forebears were being cultivated and made into wine for centuries – in Italy (where the grape is known as Primitivo) and in Croatia (known there as Crljenak Kaštelanski and also Tribidrag as early as the 15th century).  Now, I didn’t know about the Croatia connection until I did a little research online.  You can read more on that at Wikipedia here and at FT Magazine in an article by Jancis Robinson here.  Whatever it’s origins, I’m just glad that it wasn’t completely abandoned, forgotten or wiped out along the way.  Like I said, I really enjoy a good Zin.

Oenophilogical_EstanciaZinfandelPR2011Winemaker:  Estancia
Wine: Zinfandel Paso Robles
Vintage: 2011
Varietal:  Zinfandel
Appellation:  Paso Robles, California
Price: $19.99

Notes: The color of this Paso Robles red was a deep garnet in my glass.  On the nose I caught scents of earth, moss, oak, tobacco leaf, and menthol with hints of dark fruit.  The body of this Californian was medium with medium+ tannins.  I thought acidity was fairly high, and alcohol was at 13.5%.  On first pour, the flavors I found were copious amounts of oak in addition to tobacco and cherry with a prune note on the finish which followed the characteristic dry tannic bite.  After it breathed a bit, the tannins settled a tad while still remaining satisfyingly present as the cherry broadened and came to the fore.  No, this wasn’t the most complex Zin out there- not even close.  It also wasn’t the most expensive.  Maybe I was just hankering after a dry red because so many of my recent experiences had been on the sweeter side.  Whatever the case, I found this to be one AOK Zinfandel.  Yup, I liked it.  A final note: I didn’t pay retail for this one.  I got this on sale for $9.99 which is below but closer to the $11-12 average price I saw listed online.