Chateau St. Jean Pinot Noir 2012

In my last post, I mentioned that I’d flipped a coin to determine which of two wines to drink with my Thanksgiving dinner.  Well, if the toss had come up tails instead of heads, this California Pinot Noir would have been the winner.

Vineyard: Chateau St. Jean
Wine:  Pinot Noir
Vintage:  2012
Appellation:  California
Price: $15.99

Notes:  The color of this CSJ was a pretty ruby.  On the nose I caught whiffs of strawberry and pepper.  It was light-bodied with good acidity and light tannins.  Alcohol was at 13.8%.  On the palate I tasted strawberry, some spice, oak, chlorophyll, a smokey note and a hint of mushroom.  It was a great one for the turkey leftovers and enjoyable to sip on it’s own.  Yes, you could say I liked it.  I was able to find it on sale for $9.99, and I think that’s a definite value buy.

A Little Winery Down B’ham Way

That’s B’ham as in Birmingham, Alabama.  Not what you were expecting?  Me neither!

On a road trip awhile back I had the time for a quick stop at the Vizzini Farms Winery in Calera, AL just south of Birmingham.  It’s conveniently close to I-65 – just around the bend.

First, let me say that the staff are very friendly and helpful.  In addition, the winery building has a relaxed coziness to it.  Like many wineries these days, they have a little in-house bistro with indoor and outdoor seating.  Seems like it must be pretty popular, because there were several occupied tables when I arrived in the mid-afternoon on a Monday.  Since I was on a schedule, I didn’t have the time to linger and try their dishes.  But I was able to belly up over at the wine bar where I tasted a few of their products.  They make a full line of wines there but grow only their Muscadine grapes on site.

For the quick tasting I tried their Pinot Grigio, Viognier, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir and Great White (Muscadine).  It was an interesting group of selections.  I didn’t take detailed notes.  I was on a road trip, after all.  Still, I did get definite impressions of several.  For instance, I was fascinated by the intense viscosity and smokiness present in their Muscadine selection.  The label indicates it’s made from Scuppernong grapes.  In addition, I thought the Pinot Grigio and Viognier were very much in keeping with what I understand to be typical varietal characteristics.  I was personally a little disappointed in the Pinot Noir.  It wasn’t terrible, but it struck me as a bit weak and lacking in character.  As for the Sangiovese, I bought a bottle so that I could ponder it at my leisure.  They were willing to waive the $6 tasting fee if I bought something.  So, of course, I did!  I’ll be posting my tasting notes on that bottle soon.

Overall, it was a nice visit.  I do wish I’d had more time to relax and enjoy their hospitality.  Maybe next time I’m that far south I can drop in again.  On the other hand, there are a number of other wineries on the Alabama Wine Trail.

Rex-Goliath Pinot Noir

I have to admit that the first time I saw a Rex-Goliath wine, I was curious about the reason for naming a wine label after a big rooster.  After reading at the winery’s website that HRM Rex-Goliath was billed as the “World’s Largest Rooster” in a Texas circus at the turn of the 20th century, I was confused.  Texas?  A giant chicken?  Circus?  What do they have to do with a winery in California?

But their website goes on to say, “Our wines are a tribute to Rex’s larger-than-life personality, with bold, fruit-forward flavors that are sure to please. In essence, Rex is all about letting BOLD fruit flavors express themselves in an easy-to-drink, worry-free fashion. Bold Wines. Fun Times.”  Oh …  I suppose I see now.

Winemaker:  Rex-Goliath
Varietal:  Pinot Noir
Vintage:  NV
Appellation:  America
Price:  $5.49 at Trader Joe’s

Notes:  The color of this non-vintage Pinot Noir was a medium garnet.  On the nose I caught whiffs of oak, earth, red plum, and pepper.  It was medium-bodied with bright but not racy acidity and medium tannins.  The tannins were pretty aggressive in attack and long in duration, but they did settle some with time to breathe.  Alcohol was at 12.5%.  Flavors I tasted were cola, sweet plum, lots of pepper and oak, and a green herbal note on the finish.  This was an unusually feisty selection for a Pinot Noir and a surprisingly interesting bottle of wine for the price.  Yes, I would call this a good value.

The Four Graces Pinot Noir 2011

Work receptions and dinners are often disappointing when it comes to the wines being served.  Know what I mean?  I suppose it’s understandable.  Everyone has a budget, and businesses have to concern themselves with the bottom line.  No surprise, then, that at a recent business function I was offered a glass of red wine (Merlot) from a winery that was clearly a “house wine” for the hotel we were in.  The Chardonnay and Rosé they were serving were from the same vintner.  To be honest, the Merlot was OK but not at all remarkable.  Finishing our dinner, the group at my table lingered to chat.  Having not really been bowled over by the Merlot, I pondered whether to bother with a second glass.  But as the conversation continued in lively fashion, I decided I would go ahead with another glass to keep up with my colleagues.  lol  When I went back to the bar, they didn’t have a bottle of the Merlot available without going to the stock room (which they were willing to do, but wasn’t worth the effort in my opinion).  So I asked what else they had on hand that was open.  I was rewarded with a different experience altogether.  More serendipity, I suppose.

Vineyard: The Four Graces
Varietal: Pinot Noir
Vintage: 2011
Appellation: Willamette Valley, Oregon
Price: $24.99

Notes:  The color of this Oregonian was a pretty cranberry red.  On the nose I smelled redolent dusty earth and red berries.  Acidity was quite bright and the body was very light.  [I almost feel like I should write a poem the way things are starting to rhyme!]  Back to the wine ….  It had moderate tannins, and alcohol was at 13.8%.  Flavors that I managed to catch were a gentle ripe strawberry underlying pepper and oak with a zing of quinine on the finish.  This Pinot Noir had a controlled, refined style to it.  I enjoyed it as I was enjoying the company of my colleagues – all of us in a downright great mood.  So the night ended on a very good note.  Now that’s nice!

Since I didn’t buy this at the store, I did a little research online.  I found the prices varied, but $24.99 repeated a few times and was listed as what I would pay at the Total Wine in my area.

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.

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

This Thanksgiving: Some Things Old and Some Things New

This Thanksgiving was a quiet one for me.  I stayed home and co-produced a meal.  I’m not much of a cook.  I prefer to ask what’s for dinner and then go find the right wine for the job.  But this year I got to experiment.

First, we decided to buck the turkey trend and go with pork as a main dish.  That was because I suggested a quasi-southern theme for this Thanksgiving.  As I’ve mentioned before, my parents were both from Tennessee.  I know what it means to have a southern Thanksgiving.

Since it was a co-production, there were some negotiations that had to be completed before we came up with a menu for the day.  We decided on a bone-in pork loin, dressing (not cornbread – a concession on my part, lol), cranberry sauce, fried okra, mustard greens, mixed green salad, and a multigrain loaf of bread on the side.  I agreed/negotiated to prepare the okra, greens and cranberry sauce as well as select the wine.

I had never made fried okra or mustard greens before.  I have loved both dishes since I was knee high to a grasshopper, but I’d never tried making them myself.  Therefore, I hit the internet and looked up some recipes.  I am not a cook, but I can follow recipes – usually.  You shouldn’t be surprised that I found my fried okra recipe at Southern Living magazine.  In addition, I added a sweet chile sauce which was part of one of the okra recipes in Food & Wine for okra dipping.  For the mustard greens I tried an approach available from a site called Simply Recipes.  Cranberry sauce I have made before.  Still, I followed a cranberry sauce recipe that I have used successfully in the past from a web site called while adding orange zest and spices to give it some personal flair.  And, as promised, I chose a wine for the dinner.  I went with a Pinot Noir because I have found PNs to be very good at Thanksgiving in the past.  In addition, I’ve enjoyed them with pork chops and pork roasts on prior occasions.  But, in the spirit of exploration, I chose to try a Pinot that I’ve never had before.  What a risk taker I can be!  Ha!!

I won’t comment on the dishes I didn’t prepare because that wouldn’t be fair.  I will say the dinner was a rousing success.  The cranberry sauce was – once again – very nice.  It’s the perfect dish for me to prepare – really, really, really simple and straightforward.  I always worry about whether it will thicken.  This time I made it the night before, and it thickened nicely in the refrigerator overnight.  The mustard greens were pretty good, too.  The fried okra (the dish that actually inspired this Thanksgiving menu) was also darned tasty although a little clumpy due to my lack of a slotted spoon.  Having the right tools for the job is important.  The dipping sauce for the okra was fine if maybe a bit sweet for my taste buds.  And, finally, the wine …

Vineyard: Bubo
Varietal: Pinot Noir
Vintage: 2011
Appellation: California
Price: $9.99 at Whole Foods

Notes:  The bouquet on this budget Pinot Noir was quite fragrant and on the pour wafted to the nose redolent with strawberry and a light earthiness.  Color in the glass was a pretty ruby red.  The body of this Bubo selection was light, acidity was very nice, and the tannins gave a light bite on the finish.  Alcohol was at 13.5%.  The flavors I found in this pretty California glass of wine centered around a core of strawberry – young strawberry.  In addition there were notes of earth and strawberry leaf with some pepper on the quick finish.  I found it a fun glass of wine – somewhat tart but not at all bitter.  I think this could be a pleasant inexpensive glass of vino to just sip before dinner over light hors d’oeuvres.  It also complemented the pork we had quite well. It wasn’t as good, however, when mixing with the sweet and savory glaze (apple cider, brown mustard, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, etc.) covering the pork.  But you live and learn, and half the fun is in the exploration of things previously unknown.