Sunday, February 27, 2011

Juan Gil Jumilla Red Wine, Vintage 2008

Another selection made by my wino boyfriend, this is one of his favorites (and now one of mine). It's made from the monastrell grape (also known as Mourvedre) in Jumilla and Miguel Gil, the winemaker, is pretty much the expert on both the grape and the region. 

Verdict: This is a nice, inexpensive red that's very interesting and different. The first thing I noticed on this was the alcohol - you can smell it, taste it, and it's definitely on the high side (this wine has legs!). Also on the nose are a lot of the black fruits (currants, blackberries, or even black raspberries) as well as some vegetal notes and definitely a chocolate and coffee smell. On that palate, I got a lot of spice and smoke (most of which I can attribute to the French Oak barrels in which it was aged), and smooth, integrated tannins with a long, almost maple-y finish. To me, this wine was like a comfortable leather armchair, and I can just imagine sinking back into it while smoking a Cuban cigar...but I digress.

Pairing: This is a hearty wine, best paired with meats (although now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure we ate chicken! Still, I would recommend this with a steak or even better: a pulled pork barbecue sandwich. I know I always pair Zins with barbecue, but this would be another one that would be awesome with some Sweet Baby Rays!

Wine: Juan Gil Jumilla Red Wine, Vintage 2008
Price: ? Most websites offer between $7-10
Purchased: Gift

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Maxwell Creek Sauvignon Blanc, Vintage 2009

This wine is a fun one! I haven't done a whole lot of Sauvignon Blancs before because... well, because I thought I didn't like them! I didn't buy this wine, and from everything I've read, there is not a lot on where this "Maxwell Creek" vineyard is... but a little birdie told me that it's a relabeled 90pt bottle from the Rutherford Area of Napa Valley that normally sells for $30 a bottle.

Verdict: The nose on this wine was heavenly - heavy on the grapefruit (as I've found a lot of Sauvignon Blancs to be these days, but with pepper and a high floral note of honeysuckle or another white blossom, it smells too sweet NOT to eat! The nose really delivered on the palate, proving this wine to be a very fruity, dry and minerally SUMMER wine! Additionally, there was a vegetal note on the palate that I didn't get on the nose reminiscent of some grassy or peppery earth flavors. 

Pairing: While pairing is always the ideal, this is a nice sipper - no food necessary! We drank it with pesto-and-Parmesan crusted chicken over angel hair pasta, but it would also go nicely with pork or fish. A crisp, clean and integrated yet slightly complex, bottle, I recommend you go get it (if you can find it)!

Wine: Maxwell Creek Sauvignon Blanc, Vintage 2009
Price: ? Most websites offer between $7-15
Purchased: Gift

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Four Vines "Old Vine Cuvée" Zinfandel, Vintage 2008

One of my many wine source purchases, I drank this bottle as my last beverage after a rowdy night, so I am not confident that my tasting notes are as "elite" as I'd like them to be. For you, my few but fabulous readers, I did a bit of research on it, so this review a little bit more of an "interpretation".

Verdict: This wine is a MAJOR mouthful. Not my favorite Zinfandel, but still an interesting try because of the reputation of the winemaker (read more here). As far as I've been told, there's quite a difference between the vintages, so I'm just going off of the 2008 I tried... I'm not sure if I could recommend the others based on this, unless they were a lot more integrated (or didn't have the spicy oak that hits you over the head like a, well, oak tree). As for the tasting, the nose on this (as far as I can recall) was plummy and ripe - almost raisin or prune-like. It was medium-to-full bodied (I always hesitate to categorize wines one way or another because it really just depends on your own personal judgment), and it was VERY fruity (jammy, plummy, and a hint of anise or licorice on the back palate). While others argue that the tannins were smooth and integrated, I maintain that the tannins were a bit sharp and on the in-yo-face side.

Pairing: As I've said before, you need a big food for a Zin (barbecue being my personal favorite pairing), because it's such a "fruit bomb" as my wonderful boyfriend calls it. If you had this Zin with chicken, forget about tasting the chicken... or anything else, for that matter. It's a challenge, but fruity wines like this one CAN be a great addition to a fun meal ... just don't drink it at the end of a rowdy night (or drop your blackberry into it... a story for another time, perhaps).

Wine: Four Vines "Old Vine Cuvée" Zinfandel, Vintage 2008
Price: $10
Purchased: The Wine Source (see previous post extolling their amazingness....)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

SPLURGE: Graham's 20 Year Tawny Port

As many of you know, I missed the last lecture in my WSET series, and it just happened to be the most important for the test - sparkling wines and Ports/Sherrys/Liquors. Consequently, I had never tried a Port except in Port wine sauce, and had no concept of what they were supposed to taste like (other than what the book said). Although I promised to review the shiiiite Port I bought last week (it was a Ruby, and it was nasty - even Jon, who will drink many things that I wouldn't even sniff, agreed it was foul), I decided to review the *good* bottle instead (even though it's not a *cheap* purchase). A good substitute, however, is the Taylor Fladgate 10 Year Tawny, which runs for around $15-20 and has a lot of similar qualities as this Graham's 20.

Verdict: This bottle, purchased by Clare's darling father after reading about it in the paper, is a nice intermediate-to-advanced Port. The flavor is actually surprisingly syrupy (so much so, that I had to smell it multiple times to be sure that I got the caramel and chocolate notes beyond what my brain associated with Maple Syrup!). The mouthfeel was very smooth and the flavors very integrated, despite the fortification making this 20% alcohol by volume - there's still heat and spice from the alcohol, though, so don't let me fool you.

If I'm being 100% honest, I didn't really like this Port, but that may be because Port just isn't my thing. Sweet wines, I've found, and fortified wines, are almost like an acquired taste - something you perhaps train yourself to enjoy on those nice winter nights sitting by the fire and enjoying good company.

Pairing: As for pairing, I'd definitely pair this with a a fruity dessert to bring out the red fruits that I know are hiding behind that caramel. Perhaps a tart or a parfait would be the right kind of light-but-rich dessert, bold enough not to be masked by the Port but integrated enough to blend well with the flavors. I'd also like to make a glaze for a pie or a cobbler from this Port, because I'm betting it lends itself well to a caramel reduction!

Wine: Graham's 20 Year Tawny Port
Price: Between $50-80, depending on where it's purchased
Purchased: Gift

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Beware: Major Wine Source purchases were made... lots of bottles to follow!

I'm house-sitting this week and have a VERY large space to myself, so... who wants to come get drunk with me? As a very thoughtful birthday gift, my dear friends gave me a gift certificate to my favorite Baltimore wine store, The Wine Source. This place is a) huge b) has knowledgeable staff and c) has a great selection - plus, it's in Hampden, across the street from my very first apartment, which makes it sentimental and awesome.

I bought NINE bottles of wine - all under $12.00 - and all a variety of recommendations from the store employees. They have signs on recommended bottles that read "No Brainer" and have a brain with a slash through it - which makes it really easy to select the featured wines (and it's cute and silly and makes me laugh).

The shopping part was a blast, so I'm betting the drinking part will be even more entertaining - stay tuned!

Santa Rita 120 Carménère, Vintage 2008

This bottle was recommended by my dear friends as a good less-than-$8-bottle, but what makes it even better is that it is a Carménère. Carménère grapes, which originated in the Médoc region of Bordeaux in France, are almost extinct in Europe, initially a victim of the Phylloxera plague in 1867. Later, when Bordeaux vineyards attempted replanting the vines, they proved to be extremely susceptible to the coulure, which prevented the vines from flowering. Some time in the 19th century, Carménère vines were imported to Chile from Bordeaux and the vines have been thriving there ever since. I recommend reading about the history of this grape if you like viticulture, because it's extremely interesting to learn how climate, soil, weather patterns, insect life and other extraneous factors can affect how varieties evolve and survive. Now pretty much "the grape" of Central Valley, Chile, Carménère continues to thrive and Chilean wines are getting more recognition every year.

Verdict: This wine is a medium-bodied red that has almost a chewy quality to it. It's typically jammy with vegetal notes of bell pepper and dried herbs. The nose on it isn't exceptionally fragrant, but the palate lingers and the finish has a spicy licorice and chocolate undertone that is reminiscent of a great anise chocolate bar I had recently. I enjoyed this wine, but it is extremely tannic (they aren't very integrated, so the wine is almost soupy in mouthfeel), so if your head is susceptable to tannins like mine is, don't drink the whole bottle by yourself!

Pairing: Traditional pairings of Carménère wines include lamb and beef (and not-so-traditional, but likely delicious is Shepherd's Pie!). Not exactly being "traditional" folks, my friends and I enjoyed this wine with Clare's homemade sirnica and krompiruša, two varieties of Bosnian "pita". While the wine had a bit too much flavor to balance with the light, flaky dough and the creamy farmer's cheese in the sirnica, the spice vegetal notes seemed to go better with the sauteed potatoes in the krompiruša. This wine is a bit too hearty for vegetarian cuisine, but it's still an enjoyable bottle - especially for the price!

Wine: Santa Rita 120 Carménère, Vintage 2008
Price: $6-8 (depending on when you buy it and sales!)
Purchased: The Wine Source, Baltimore MD

Anne Amie Pinot Gris, Vintage 2009

This is a great bottle that was again recommended by Wishing Well Liquors in Easton (it's right next to my physical therapist, so I imagine I will go often since both of the recommendations have been outstanding). After I explained to him the premise of the blog and the "pretty label" phenomenon, he endeavored to find a bottle with a pretty label that was cheap and also a solid, flavorful, semi-complex wine - and succeeded.

Verdict: This wine is balanced and crisp (a great summer wine) and while the nose is super floral, the palate is heavily fruity with pear and stone fruit notes (stone fruits are fruits like peaches with a "stone" or "pit"). It is a very dry wine, with a fairly long finish (lots of minerals) and it's almost spicy with hints of black pepper, cinnamon and cardamom (which add to the complexity in a big way).

Pairing: A classic pairing for this wine would be mussels or chicken, but I enjoyed sipping this wine while eating a fettuccine alfredo I made. Honestly, I wish more places would allow you to BYOB, because this is a great bottle to take to dinner!

Wine: Anne Amie Pinot Gris, Vintage 2009
Cost: $12
Purchased: Wishing Well Liquors, Easton MD

**For more information on the vineyard, click here.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Maringer-Reif Piesporter Michelsberg Riesling, Vintage 2008

Initial Reaction: This was a really great Riesling! Recommended by Wishing Well Liquors in Easton (I'll give a shout out on facebook as well!), this was a fairly inexpensive bottle from a well-known vineyard that made for an outstanding birthday evening!

Verdict: Yum! I abused this wine in every sense of the word - I think I even drank it from a paper cup - but it still put on its best show for me. This nose on this wine is perfume-y, with green fruits and honeysuckle (I hit the nail on the head with this tasting, by the way, as everything I read is what I ... um... drunkenly scribbled ... in my notes!). The flavor was crisp (this is a great summer wine - very refreshing), with a lot of peach and a pleasant mineral taste that made it exceedingly easy to pretend I was lounging in the German countryside sipping a glass of this with my rich (and dashingly good looking, of course) husband ... instead of chugging it in my dear friend Ben's basement while playing drinking games and watching Piranha 3 on Bluray (incidentally, a gory-and-cheesy-yet-very-hilarious film). Funny enough, I know I'd be happier hanging out with my friends, drinking out of paper cups and eating "cheese food" -- and there's a lot of comfort in that.

Pairing: While I could expound upon classic pairings and talk on end about chicken and spicy food and the balance of the oak and the acidity, I think I'm just going to be honest here... I drank this entire bottle by myself, by itself. No food, no cheese (although I believe Jamie may have shared some of his cheese puffs with me), just an ENTIRE LITER (yes, this price was for a liter bottle - what a steal!) of this glorious citrus-y goodness. This wine truly is a great one to drink by itself. Best part? No hangover! It's a freaking birthday miracle!

Wine: Maringer-Reif Piesporter Michelsberg Riesling, Vintage 2008
Cost: $16 (for a liter!)
Purchased: Wishing Well Liquors, Easton MD 

Tofanelli Family Zinfandel, Vintage 2006

This is our only Zinfandel by the glass at work at the moment, and I freaking love it. While it's a *tiny* bit on the not-so-cheapy side at $26/bottle, it's very much worth the price!

Verdict: The first thing that hits me is black cherry and black raspberry scents (but cooked, more like a jam). There's also a good bit of astringency in the aroma, reminiscent of tea or cigars - which is then reflected very accurately on the palate. The flavor is immense, with hints of citrus fruits (maybe orange?) and some nutty flavors in the background. The tannins are oaky, but smooth and the balance of this complex wine is really nice, despite its acidic nature!

Pairing: This is a nice, full-bodied, BIG flavored red, so it would go best with a meal that has BIG flavor. My favorite "classic" pairing for a Zin is barbecue, (which reminds me that I haven't eaten yet today...), but anything from a burger to a steak would taste great alongside of this wine. Also, a lot of sites I've read pair this with a well-ripened hard cheese like French Cantal (or for those of us not educated in the cheese world, a nice Wisconsin sharp cheddar). Whatever you eat with it, make sure it's big on flavor, because this wine would overpower a wimpy chicken or fish dish!

Wine: Tofanelli Family Zinfandel, Vintage 2006
Cost: $26
Purchased: Wishing Well Liquors, Easton MD

Posting Bonanza!

So... I spent most of my birthday weekend eating, drinking and being merry (hence the blog silence), and now I have lots to share! Keep an eye out for a great Zinfandel, another (groan) great Riesling, an outstanding Willamette Valley Pinot Gris, a so-so Argentinian Malbec and a really terrifyingly bad Ruby Port!