Thursday, August 27, 2009

2006 Red Truck Merlot, California Central Coast

Terry post:

The Merlot grape was overdone in the 1990s and its popularity resulted in a lot of vintners hurrying sub-par product out the door in a rush to make a buck on a hot varietal. The result of that haste has been a Merlot back-lash where individuals who tried the wine and were dissatisfied with a lousy product have not yet come back.

There has recently been, thankfully, a new intense focus on the variety and resurgence in the qualities which made Merlot popular in the first place: Complexity, approachability, food-friendliness and price. In terms of classical music: Merlot is the easily approachable Beethoven while Cabernet Sauvignon is the more challenging Brahms.

We never carried Red Truck in the restaurant because it is widely distributed and its low price point firmly established. This brand was featured at my local wine shop (and gas station) alongside of the Red Bicyclette brand wines and I gave each a try last summer. Both were good. Red Truck was better.

My impressions: Medium-to-dark ruby in color. Über complexity bundled into a very reasonably priced wine. There is a lot going on in this wine and it is all good. Very full mouth-feel with smoky, juicy grapes, cherries, and pepper with a long, lingering finish. Firmly tannic.

Would pair very well with wild game, or beef, or most any other red meat. It would excel should the entrée feature a hearty mushroom, cream or butter based sauce. Very approachable. It is a wine engineered for food and whose finest characteristics shine as a continuo against which the richness of the meal is played.

I paid $9.99 for my bottle of the 2006 Red Truck Merlot and note that the 2007 vintage is selling for $10.99 at the same store. I have not yet tried the 2007 vintage but will do so in the coming weeks and will let you know how it turns out.

~ Terry

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

2007 Wine Cube Cabernet Sauvignon / Shiraz, California.

Terry post:

UPDATED: Included at the bottom of the blog.

I was on my way home from the big-box retailer Target with 1.5 liters of 2007 Wine Cube Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz tucked away in the trunk of my Camry when my brother sent me an email asking where I was getting all of my time to crank out my wine postings. He implied that I wasn’t giving my new employer its full due. Well, the answer is that I am fortified with cheap (errrr) inexpensive wine and that will keep you going. That and frozen pizza by any rate.

Wine Cube is a Target-brand boxed-wine and, based on the semi-hip looking in-store marketing, is aimed squarely at the under 30 crowd. When I lived in San Diego in the early 1980’s, I drank more than my share of Franzia boxed wines and didn’t think much about it at the time. The wine was very reasonably priced and tasted good to me.

My impressions: Medium ruby in color. Gobs of fresh fruit with bright cherries on the nose and a slightly herbal character at the short, thin finish. There is a lot of fruit in this wine, but it does not linger in the mouth. Virtually tannin free. After a couple of glasses and consulting my tasting book I was reminded of a better Australian blend I’d sampled last year and enjoyed greatly (and recommend highly)– Moloto “Jester”.

It would complement the traditional simple red accompaniments such as hamburgers, ribs, grilled beefsteak or pasta with red sauce. I paired it with a Tombstone “Original” Pizza (pepperoni and sausage) and enjoyed each completely and thoroughly.

At $11.89 for a 1.5 liter box it is the equivalent of a $6.00 750 mL bottle of wine. It is a simple wine, but it is a decent simple wine and at its price it is a good value.

August 28th Update: It has been a couple week since I first opened the box and have intentionally not finished it - choosing instead to let it sit and see how well it holds up. My experience is that most bottled wines have a shelf-life, once opened, of only a couple of days.

How would the boxed wine hold up? Well, the answer is: quite good.

Should you choose to dissect the box (as I did) you'd see that the product is contained in an airtight, bladder-like sac which did a fine job of keeping out oxygen and hence preclude the oxidation of the wine. I did not detect the flatness nor sourness as I have come to expect from corked bottles forgotten on the countertop.

All-in-all one more reason to embrace good cheap wine sold in boxes.

~ Terry

Monday, August 17, 2009

Ego at Work!

Brad Post:

Every once in a while when the stars line up there is magic under the cork. A harmonious balance of sunshine, rainfall and the perfect little piece of earth and under the gentle guidance of a patient vintner may yield something amazing. Art and science. That’s what they say winemaking is all about and for the most part I agree, but I suggest we might add these terms: ego and competition.

Although I am reticent to admit it there is a bit of ego tied up in my wine and I must confess my competitive side too. Maybe that’s why winemakers send their wines off to distant locales, to be judged by the “experts”, in the hope of a little ego-boost.

Interestingly enough, I have experience on both sides of the tasting table, as a wine competition organizer and a wine judge. Our wine club (Eastern Iowa Wine Club) organizes a regional competition and this year more than 113 wines were judged by our table of experts. And they are really experts too! Two of our judges were professional winemakers and two others are experienced, wine critics. For the most part they are tough and fair – some are tougher than others. One judge, in particular, for whom I have the greatest respect, is most persnickety. Of course, when my wines are scored highly by him I am rewarded with an inflated sense of self, but then again, when he scores my wine low or indicates the presence of a fault; my emotional yo-yo is brought back to earth. Such is the life of wine competition.

Competition is not perfect. Judges are influenced by each other and there are varying levels of expertise and knowledge of winemaking practices giving one judge an advantage occasionally. But this is not always the case. Sometimes advanced knowledge of winemaking may lead to a faulty judgment. Case in point: Traminette is a hybrid grape, a cousin to Gewürztraminer, with a fragrant floral and spicy aroma. There is a fault in winemaking that occurs when Malolactic Bacteria act on Potassium Sorbate (yeast inhibitor) that results in a Geranium flower smell (not what you want in a wine). There is a floral quality, which is characteristic of the Traminette varietal, which is desirable and not indicative of a winemaking problem.

As I observe the wine judging and overhear the panel of experts discussing the Geranium fault in all the Traminette wines, I must push back the ego (yes, one of the Traminette were mine) and let them judge without interference. The ego is an interesting phenomenon. We love it when it boosts us but we’ll go to extraordinary lengths to protect our ego when threatened – even making excuses for our Traminette wine.

Is there a fault in my wine? I don’t want to think there is…but probably. If my ego allows, I think I will learn from this competition and take the judges criticism in the way they were intended – to help me become a better winemaker. Maybe next vintage I will find some magic under the cork!

Damn judges! Sorry, that was my ego! :)

Happy Tastings,

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

2007 Mirassou Pinot Grigio

Terry post:

Another in a series of good/great wines which can be found in restaurants for less than $30.

Okay. You may ask what is the difference between Pinot Grigio, and Pinot Gris? The answer is, “virtually nothing”. They are essentially the same grape but the names vary based upon where in the world you find yourself. In the U.S. the grape is called Pinot Grigio. I am not sure about which nation calls it which other than Italy where it is typically known as Pinot Gris.

Many Pinot Grigio’s have“issues” when served with food:
1) Lacking sufficient structure to stand up to foods. A typical situation is a wine which has a subtle floral or citrus nose and nothing else. This issue is common for many of the Italian Pinot Gris which I have tasted. Or,

2) Overwhelming floral nose and too much residual sweetness. Wines like this don’t complement the meal – they overwhelm the meal. This issue, in particular, is far too common with American Pinot Grigio.

They are generally fine summertime wines suitable for sipping poolside.

We carried the Mirassou brand on-and-off over the years I was Wine Director at Restaurant 213. We never committed deeply to the brand due to the inconsistency of their products: quite a few “hits” and a few too many “misses” to be perpetually listed. With this wine they hit a homerun and I recommend it without reservation.

My impressions: Multi-dimensional, food-friendly Pinot Grigio with the guts to be more than a summertime picnic wine. Very dry and hugely acidic (a good thing) for a Pinot Grigio while retaining the typical citrus and spice characteristics on the nose and finish. I would not avoid it poolside, but it is so superior to most of its type that it would be a shame not to take advantage of its food-friendly traits.

I paired a bottle with a Pork Calvados (pork filet medallions in a veal reduction) entrée and it held its own quite nicely – though I would not push it any further. I think it is perfectly suited to complement fish (grilled, fried or in a broth-based soup), fresh cheeses or fresh fruit.

We carried this wine at $27 per bottle (restaurant price) making it a very good value. It is widely distributed with over 50,000 cases produced so you should not have any problem finding it at your local wine shop or grocery store.

~ Terry

Monday, August 10, 2009

NV Cristalino Brut Sparkling Wine

Terry post:

This is another in a series of posts regarding good or great wines to be found in restaurants for $30 or less.

One of the problems with Champagne and Sparkling Wines is that people don’t drink enough of them to be comfortable and tend to buy the label or the reputation. Be not afraid. Embrace the bubbles!

We carried this sparkler on our wine list since 2005 and it has continued to be a reliable, consistent friend year-in and year-out at a very reasonable price point.

My impressions: Full mouth-feel with abundant citrus aromas and a touch of yeast. Long clean finish with vibrant bubbles.

We sold this wine at $8 per glass or $28 per bottle (restaurant price) and think you can easily find this at your local grocery store for between $8 -$10 per bottle. It is a fabulous value and has been consistently our best selling (by volume) sparkling wine.

My personal preference is to pair a Champagne or sparkling wine with virtually ANYTHING. It may be a personal bias, but I have yet to find any dish which isn’t improved by a glass of Champagne/sparkling wine.

Sir Winston Churchill was famous for the copious amounts of Champagne (the real French stuff) he consumed with oysters. That should be reason enough for you to try it sometime, as well.

~ Terry

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

2007 Provenance Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley California

Terry post:

This is another in a series of posts regarding good or great wines to be found in restaurants for $30 or less.

From time-to-time we'd find a really good wine at a really good price and we'd feature it on the wine list. We'd highlight the name in bold print and list it as
a, "Restaurant 213 BEST VALUE Selection". Now, our intention was to highlight those wines which were good, good with food, and a good (or great) value

Funny thing about customers: sometimes they don't pay any attention to what you tell them.

In previous postings I have highlighted the fact that virtually every restaurant's wine list contains a few clunkers. It isn't intentional. It just happens. Perhaps that was the issue when we highlighted this wine - that our customers thought we were trying to pull a fast-one on them by discounting a clunker. That certainly wasn't our intention. It was a great wine. In fact, sauvignon blanc's generally do quite well but this one didn't sell well as long as we featured it as a "Best Value". Curious. Once we took it off that feature, its sales picked up.

My impressions: Fragrant pear, lemons and wet stone notes. Very acidic. Medium bodied with the pears and herbs at the finish. We sold it for $27 per bottle (restaurant price, should be lower at the wine shop) and it was, in my opinion, a great value. There were over 12,000 cases of this wine producted, so it should not be too difficult to find.

As is typical with sauvignon blancs, this one is wonderful with most any white meat (fish, chicken, pork) but it would not stand up well to red meats. While very acidic for a sauvignon blanc, I still would not pair this with any dish whose base featured butter or cream.

My personal favorite pairing of this wine is with oysters broiled, Rockefeller or raw on the half shell.

~ Terry

Sunday, August 2, 2009

2004 Trevor Jones' "Boots" South Australia White Wine

Terry post:

This is another in a series of posts regarding good or great wines to be found in restaurants for $30 or less.

Maybe I am just a teensy bit of a wine snob though I try very hard not to be so. The "issue" that I sometimes have are with individuals who'll spoil a perfectly fine meal by pairing their meal with a wine that just doesn't fit.

Let me give you an example: Because our customers demanded it, we carried a number of off-dry white wines. Some might call them "Jacuzzi Wines" the sort of easy quaffing wine that is great when accompanied by your significant other in a hot tub or a remote mountain spring. You get the idea. As I have said before, if you like it - it is a good wine.

But, just because you like it does not mean that it is a great wine with food.

Case in point: Trevor Jones' Boots White Wine is a classic "Jacuzzi Wine" combining Riesling and Muscat.

My impressions: Highly aromatic with huge flowers on the nose. Refreshing. Pale-straw in color. Low acidity, long legs, medium finish.

At $28 per bottle it is a good, though not great, value. But who am I to challenge our customers? This was one of our best selling whites.

~ Terry