A Hungarian Merlot

Balatonboglár, Hungary is a resort town located roughly 90 miles southwest of Budapest on Lake Balaton.  Wikipedia says it’s also called the “town of grapes and wine” because it is the center of the Balatonboglár wine region which is one of six sub-sectors of the Balaton wine region around Lake Balaton.  While the greater Balaton wine region is best known for it’s Riesling, it clearly produces other varietal wines such as this Merlot.

Oenophilogical_StDonatusEstate_MerlotWinemaker: St. Donatus Estate (by Garamvári Vineyard)
Varietal: Merlot
Vintage: NV
Appellation: Balatonboglár, Hungary
Price: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

Notes: The color of the St. Donatus Merlot was quite dark.  It was medium-bodied with good acidity and almost no tannins at all.  Alcohol was at 12%.  Flavors were simple – sweet plum with touches of spice.  This wine was quite pleasant and easy to sip.  I think it’s a prime candidate for mulled wine or sangria.

Trentatre Rosso

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am going to be taking it slow these days. In other words, I won’t be tasting as many wines as I might otherwise. Luckily, I do have some notes left from prior experiences, so I think I’ll go ahead and publish those now as well. While the particular vintage may no longer be available, the wine producers will surely have something on store shelves currently for our consumption.  Here is one of those notes.

Winemaker: Trentatre
Varietal: Rosso (Red Blend)
Appellation: Salento IGT, Italy
Price: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s

Notes: This lovely Italian reminded me of a Bordeaux. A blend of 33.3% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33.3% Merlot, and 33.4% Montepulciano, this wine had a distinct purplish hue in the glass with a very present bouquet of forest floor (sous bois). It was on the cusp of medium-bodied with good acidity and gentle tannins. Alcohol was at 14%. Flavors I detected included brambly blackberry, leather and tea leaf. I think I see another bottle of the Trentatre in my future.

320px-castromarina

Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find my photo of the bottle.  So instead the photo above is of a town (or more precisely a portion thereof) called Castro in the Apulia region – the area in southern Italy where this wine comes from.

Schloss Biebrich Sekt

oenophilogical_munichaugustinerkellerLast fall l had the chance to get a quick trip in to Germany and Switzerland.  It had to be quick due to necessary commitments, but it was a wonderful trip.

The first leg we spent in Munich.  We could have gone gallivanting about Germany because there is so much to see and do, but we decided to focus on beautiful München.  Why?  Well, in part because I had lived in Munich as a young man just out of college.  Thus, I wanted to take a good look around and see just how much had changed.  I also wanted to share some of the gems I’d discovered previously with my sweetie.

Staying in a hotel close to (but not right at) the Hauptbahnhof allowed us to utilize the outstanding public transportation system to go everywhere. oenophilogical_munich_nymphenburgerschloss Whether by subway, commuter rail, bus or streetcar, we were able to get to all our destinations.  Our hotel was also within easy striking distance of the Altstadt (old city) area that includes the famous Rathaus with it’s glockenspiel, Marienkirche and the many shops and restaurants lining the Fussgängerzone (pedestrian zone) that links Karlsplatz, Marienplatz and Odeonsplatz.  Yes, we heard and watched the glockenspiel.  We also packed in a visit to the Olympic Center, Olympic Tower and Olympic Village (and my old apartment which was within walking distance).  oenophilogical_munich_englishegarten2We saw the Nymphenburger Schloss with it’s fascinating history and beautiful gardens.  We pondered the amazing collection of art in the Alte Pinakothek museum, part of a group of museums where you could spend days – weeks, even – appreciating the art.  We took a stroll around the Englisher Garten and stopped for lunch at the Chinesischer Turm/Chinese Tower.  In fact, we had plenty of Bavarian food and beer, dropping in at the Augustiner Keller Beer Garden one evening and the Hofbräuhaus another.  And perhaps most enjoyably, we discovered a wonderful pub/restaurant a few blocks from our hotel in a quiet residential neighborhood that served, among other tasty things, Münchner Schnitzel.  This was my favorite dish when I lived in Munich!  I thought it had perhaps been the specialty of the local restaurant (no longer in existence) where I had first discovered it.  Imagine my elation to accidentally rediscover it and be able to share it as well.

With memories of our trip still dancing in my head, it was no surprise that I was drawn toward a German label when considering options for “bubbly” to help celebrate this past holiday season.

oenophilogical_schlossbiebrichsektWinemaker:  Schloss Biebrich
Varietal:  Sekt
Vintage:  NV
Appellation:  Germany
Price:  $5.49 at Trader Joe’s

Notes:  This effervescent wine was a “barely there” straw with a very apple-y nose which held some citrus notes.  It was light-bodied and had good acidity.  Alcohol was at 11%.  On the flavor side it held what the nose portended – sweet apple with a touch of citrus.  I know this is very inexpensive wine, but I was disappointed.  Don’t get me wrong: I will drink it again if someone hands me a glass.  On the other hand, I probably won’t be buying another bottle.

A Homespun Home-fun Xmas Eve

My sweetheart and I celebrated the holidays quietly at home this year.  Thus, we decided to make it a full-fledged staycation featuring plenty of food and time together.

oenophilogical_xmaseve16Our Xmas Eve celebration, then, began around noon with preparations for an early homestyle dinner – 5:00 ish.   Our kitchen is very small: we are not. Since we were sharing the responsibility for dishes, we had to work out a kitchen schedule.  What a fun challenge for us and a test of our collaborative skills.  I’m happy to say we passed the test!

The dinner was a simple one consisting of crab cakes (from our local Whole Foods seafood section), pearl couscous with mixed bell peppers, and a cucumber/radish salad.  It doesn’t seem that difficult at first blush till you factor in the substitutions we had to make (because we really are follow-the-recipe cooks) plus our “make ahead” work on dishes for Xmas Day dinner.  After much excitement, we finally got the meal on the table around 6:00 … maybe 6:30.  I confess the delay was mostly my fault.  With our meal we enjoyed a bottle of Vermentino from Trader Joe’s under the VINTJS  label.

After dinner, we finished watching the first season of “The Crown.”  This TV show is one of the best historical dramas I’ve ever seen.  If you like the genre, you should see it.  Sumptuous cinematography and solid performances across the board.

Then we put together a little snack tray of cheese, crackers, prosciutto, and nuts.  After all, we’d worked hard on the couch helping get Queen Elizabeth through the trials and tribulations of her early reign.  Next we turned out all the lights except the tree and sang our favorite Xmas carols.  And that was that!  Time to hit the hay and rest up for our Xmas Day festivities.

oenophilogical_vintjsvermintino2015Winemaker:  VINTJS
Varietal:  Vermentino
Vintage:  2015
Appellation:  Lodi, California
Price:  $7.99 at Trader Joe’s

Notes:  For me, this light white had a strong, zingy bouquet of citrus, peach and spice.  On the tongue I tasted orange, grass, and citrus zest.  It had a surprisingly long and pleasant finish as the orange lingered on the palate.  I liked this VINTJS Vermentino.  I was a little surprised that the piquancy of the bouquet didn’t translate fully to the tongue, but perhaps that’s just part of it’s character.

 

Alexander & Fitch Merlot 2013

Here’s an interesting fact: according to Wikipedia -and who doesn’t rely on Wikipedia these days – Merlot is the third most-grown grape varietal globally.  Take that! Miles Raymond (from the movie Sideways).

Winemaker:  Alexander & Fitch
Varietal:  Merlot
Vintage:  2013
Appellation:  Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, CA
Price:  $6.99 at Trader Joe’s

Notes:  Dark burgundy in the glass, this A&F Merlot exhibited earth, moss and berries in the bouquet.  Medium-bodied and with good acidity, it has what I would call “medium-ish” tannins.  Flavors I detected included earth, vanilla, balsamic vinegar (without the vinegar), cherries, and bitters.  Another solid performer from the inexpensive selections at Trader Joe’s.

Trader Joe’s Grower’s Reserve Merlot 2014

I picked this Merlot up on a very recent visit to my neighborhood Trader Joe’s.  Sometimes …

Other times “whatcha see” is an illusion, and what lies in store can be either a horrible shock or a pleasant surprise.  Personally, I like pleasant surprises, and this wine turned out to be one of those.

Winemaker:  Trader Joe’s
Wine:  Grower’s Reserve Merlot
Varietal:  Merlot
Vintage:  2014
Appellation:  California
Price:  $4.99 at Trader Joe’s

Notes:  A medium-bodied red with good acidity and medium-plus tannins, this inexpensive Merlot had a definite purplish hue which brought to mind big, juicy, ripe plums.  My eyes, however, deceived me.  What I found in the bouquet was a mix of cedar, earth and barnyard with sweet floral notes.  On the tongue it had an almost chalky texture with cola, blackberry, and tea leaf along with some sweet cherry that blossomed after oxidation.  Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a sweet wine: alcohol is at 13.2%.  Anyway, I liked it.  It’s cheap, and it’s competent – even interesting – as inexpensive wines go.  House red for me?  It’s a possibility.

Benefactor Cellars Chardonnay

It’s never too early to begin planning ahead for the fall holiday season.  I know some of you have already begun to think about holiday presents!  But before we get to the big November and December holidays, there is one we mustn’t forget – Halloween.

Now, Halloween isn’t really a big foodie holiday – unless you consider candy to be a food group.  On second thought, maybe it IS a food group….  Setting that debate aside, Halloween is definitely a holiday for fun and frolick, parties, costumes and trick-or-treating.  If you’re planning a bash to celebrate All Hallows Eve, you may want to give this Australian Chardonnay consideration.  Although I personally lean toward more red wines in the autumn and winter, you will no doubt have guests who want a glass of white wine.  And this selection from Benefactor Cellars has the perfect label for celebrating Halloween.

Oenophilogical_BenefactorChardonnay2013Winemaker:  Benefactor Cellars
Varietal: Chardonnay
Vintage:  2013
Appellation:  South Eastern Australia
Price:  $4.99 at Trader Joe’s

Notes:  This Aussie Chardonnay was pale yellow in color with a perfumey bouquet.  At 13.2% alcohol, it had good acidity.  Surprisingly, the Benefactor Cellars was light-bodied in the continental style.  On the palate I found a fairly simple, straight-forward flavor profile consisting of citrus with toasty oak notes.  I’d say this is not a selection for the wine connoisseurs, but I think it could work for a casual celebration where the focus was on friends and costumes rather than on the food and drink.

White Hall Cabernet Franc 2014

I like a good Cabernet Franc.  So, when I see one on the shelves of my local store, I tend to gravitate toward it like a little rocket ship sucked in by Gorath.  Gorath, for those who haven’t been watching old science fiction movies, is a super dense “wandering” star featured in an eponymous 1960’s Japanese movie.  In addition to this wine being a varietal very frequently used in blending rather than a single star in the bottle, it was made by a vintner in Virginia.  OMG!  The gravitational pull just doubled.

Winemaker:  White Hall Vineyards
Varietal: Cabernet Franc
Vintage:  2014
Appellation:  Monticello, Virginia
Price:  $14.99 at Trader Joe’s

Notes:  This White Hall offering was a pretty ruby in color with scents of red berries, menthol and turpentine in the bouquet.  The body was light and acidity fairly high while tannins were medium.  Alcohol was at 13%.  I got quite a bit of pepper on the palate along with currant, pomegranate and turpentine.  In a perfect world, I would have enjoyed it all the more with less turpentine and more body.  Even so, it was certainly no plonk, especially if you like a racier style of red.

Unsung Hero Shiraz 2014

I noticed that the current Monthly Wine Writing Challenge has “travel” as it’s theme.  While this is not my entry into the fray on that account, I will say that the South African wine country is one of those bucket list places I would love to experience for myself.  Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity.  And, right now, it doesn’t seem to be in my near future.  So, I’ll just have to content myself with sampling the selections I can find in my area and imagine what it will be like some day when I get the chance to check that trip off my bucket list.  Sigh!

Winemaker:  Unsung Hero
Varietal:  Shiraz
Vintage:  2014
Appellation:  Western Cape, South Africa
Price:  $5.99 at Trader Joe’s

Notes:  Pretty as you please in the glass, the color reminded me of a velvet couch in an old Victorian house.  But it didn’t smell like an old Victorian house, instead the bouquet held scents of tangy berries, meat, and hints of mushroom.  It was light-bodied with bright acidity and moderate tannins.  Alcohol clocks in at 13.5%.  On the palate I found it to be rather zingy (if I may use that word) with dark berries, rubber, and cola coming to a close on a tart note.  You should let it breathe some as the flavors definitely open up after a bit.

Valréas Côtes du Rhone 2013

I seem to be in a bit of a French wine phase right now.  It isn’t by design, necessarily.  Perhaps it’s because I’m once again being required to utilize my rusty language skills at work.  Seems my bosses come to me when there are foreign languages to be dealt with – whether I actually studied the languages or not.  Ha!  Good thing there are plenty of helpful resources out there.

One online source I’ve been using quite a bit for pronunciation is Forvo.com.  It’s extremely helpful with common words and phrases in many different languages.  A word of caution, though.  The pronunciations on Forvo are put there by volunteers not professional linguists.  So, if you can, it’s great to check them against a reference source.  If there is more than one recording on the Forvo site for your word or phrase, don’t just stop at the first one.  Listen to them all.  You may very well find there are regional dialects represented among the pronunciations.  Also pay attention to where the “volunteer” is from.  If I want to pronounce an Irish word correctly, I’ll trust someone from Ireland over an American who has studied Gaelic.

Winemaker: Les Vignerons de L’Enclave (des Papes)
Wine: Valréas “Cuvée Prestige”
Varietal: Red Blend
Vintage: 2013
Appellation:  Côtes du Rhone Villages, France
Price:  $6.49 at Trader Joe’s

Notes:  This selection was made from 75% Grenache and 25% Syrah grapes and had a fun bouquet of tangy berries, musty earth and pepper.  It was dark ruby in the glass with bright acidity and medium tannins.  A light-bodied selection, I found flavors of red berries, tea, and ash with a brambly tannic bite on the end.  I thought it was a serviceable cheap red blend, but it won’t make my faves list.