Some wines are so full of flavors and nuance, I almost feel like I can’t do them justice with a description. In fact, I probably can’t. Still, I do my best and enjoy trying. Other wines are so amazingly straightforward, it takes only a word or two to express the essence of their character. That isn’t a judgement, by the way. Sometimes the right wine for a particular occasion is the kind that makes a singular impact.
Winemaker: Santa Rita
Wine: 120 Sauvignon Blanc
Varietal: Sauvignon Blanc
Appellation: Valle Central DO, Chile
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.
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.
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.
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!
Although you can’t tell it from my posts on this blog, I’ve been drinking mostly reds for weeks now. Perhaps it would help if I were better about getting my posts up in a timely manner. Then you might know I’ve been enjoying reds of late. And that is one of my New Year’s resolutions – to be more diligent about posting my wine experiences here. Not doing too well so far, but there is time (and room) for improvement. Ha!
Anyway, I was in the store the other day browsing and found myself drawn to the white wine shelves. I even commented to the staff that I seemed to have a hankering for a white wine despite the chilly weather and piles of snow hanging around. Having given voice to my thoughts, I decided to take action.
Varietal: Sauvignion Blanc
Appellation: Curicó Valley, Chile
Price: $9.99 at Whole Foods
Notes: This Chilean Sauvignon Blanc was light-bodied and a light yellow in the glass. On the nose I found plenty of citrus and a touch of pear. Flavors basically mirrored the bouquet with the addition of warm spice notes. Acidity was fairly bright, and alcohol was at 13%. Quite pleasant overall.
Was in a New Zealand state of mind recently when I ran across this selection at a local store. You see, I write some songs from time to time. Nothing you’ll hear on the top 40 stations any time soon. I call them my little ditties. LOL Even so, I have recorded some of them.
Last month I was doing a yearly overview of published playlists and found that one of my songs had been getting spins fairly frequently on a radio station in New Zealand all year (2015). Surprised and elated, that put me in the mood to celebrate. So what better way than with a nice Kiwi wine!
Winemaker: Clifford Bay
Varietal: Sauvignon Blanc
Appellation: Marlborough, New Zealand
Notes: Another pungent New Zealand SB, the Clifford Bay smelled pretty much like a big glass of ripe pink grapefruit juice. Pale yellow in color with a distinct greenish tinge, it was light-bodied with brisk acidity. Alcohol was at 13%. What did it taste like? To me it tasted like the bouquet suggested it would. Is this a Sauvignon Blanc to serve with Sunday brunch? Perhaps so! Or lounging somewhere under a hot tropical sun? If you find yourself in that situation … Yes! I found it a straight-forward and enjoyably refreshing glass of wine.
As you know, I’m always on the lookout for a good value in wine. A few weeks ago I was at my local Giant grocery store and spotted a fellow at a table giving out tastes of wine. When I strode over to see what was up, I found he had several selections from The Monterey Vineyards by Chalone Vineyards at a special super-low, closeout price. I tried them and decided I liked the Chardonnay best.
Interestingly enough, the name “Monterey” struck a chord with me. I don’t have any history or personal connection with Monterey, California or Monterrey, Mexico. However … my grandmother grew up in Monterey, Tennessee – what she called Monkeytown. Believe me, that nickname was by no means meant in disrespect. It was a term of endearment she and her siblings used in referring to their childhood home. Some remained in Monterey their entire lives. My grandmother, however, was swept off her feet and away by a handsome young mailman.
Whether it was the great price (got it for $7.99) or some sentimental impulse, I bought and enjoyed a bottle of their Chardonnay.
Winemaker: The Monterey Vineyards
Appellation: Monterey County, CA
Notes: This Monterey white was pretty pale yellow in color. On the nose I got a tart lemon-lime scent. It was medium-bodied with high acidity. Alcohol was at 13%. It had plenty of flavor – abundant citrus, toasty oak, butterscotch notes, and green herbs. It had a nice long finish, too. Pretty darned good in my book. Will look for it again.
This Soave is made from 100% Garganega grapes. The varietal produces a light white wine. According to Jancis Robinson it is a “Veneto vine capable of making fine, lemon and almond-scented wines, notably but not exclusively from low-yielding vines in Soave, also Gambellara, Bianco di Custoza etc.” It is also called Grecanico in Sicily where it is late-ripening and can result in a tangy vino.
Winemaker: La Cappuccina
Appellation: Soave DOC, Italy
Price: $9.99 at Whole Foods
Notes: This light-bodied Italian white was very pale yellow with an abundant bouquet of citrus and spice. I thought acidity quite vibrant, and alcohol was off-dry a 12%. Flavors I tasted were a bracing citrus with honey and grass. It was a refreshing glass of wine. I enjoyed it and can certainly see this with hearty seafood dishes or perhaps contrapuntal to a rich cheese.