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The Future Looks Rosé

Date: Mon, Oct 3, 2011 Wine Tasting

Now that we're into autumn, you may think the future looks decidedly less Rosé.

Those of us who drink Rosé wines--those pale to dark pink bottles of wine made from everything from Cabernet Sauvignon to Zinfandel--tend to think of them as summery offerings, suitable for picnics and barbeques but not for serious food.

Actually, Rosé wines are versatile and food friendly. They pair with almost everything. Served with a bit of a chill, they offer refreshment when your table contains spicy dishes. And they are usually very affordable.

Here are two of my favorite Rosés, which I tasted over the summer and early fall and which I have no problem recommending to those of you who are ready to take out your stew pot and turn on your oven. And both of them are dry wines--which means that they will pair with almost everything.

2010 San Giovanni Garda Classico Il Chiaretto ($15.00, domaineLA; available in market for $13-$15) This delicious Rosé is made from an Italian blend of Barbera, Groppello, Marzemino, and Sangiovese. You will smell the strawberries, and the aromas carry over into the flavors. There is a pleasant stony edge to the strawberry tones, and a lovely, savory note in the aftertaste. Well-balanced, medium-bodied, and excellent QPR. We had it with a Jamie Oliver dish of grilled tuna with oregano and lemon, grilled zucchini, and some garlicky cannellini beans, and the wine had the right amount of fruit, acidity, and minerality to pair with the dish. It would also be great with creamy pasta dishes, sausage, or roast pork. Note: It comes in a cute, chubby bottle but it does contain the full 750ml that you're used to.

2010 Château d'Esclans Côtes de Provence Whispering Angel ($20.99 from my local independent grocery store; available in market for $13-$27)
This wine is very, very pale pink in color--think ballet-tights pink. The aromas are even drier than those of the Il Chiaretto, with under-ripe strawberries, chalk, and melon rising up from the glass. The flavors echo the aromas, but the chalk becomes more intense. Very dry, very savory, and very good QPR (though if you can get it for under $15, you will find it's excellent QPR) This wine is made mainly from Grenache, with some Rolle, Cinsault, and Syrah blended in to it. A nice pairing for shrimp or other shellfish, salmon, tuna, or roast chicken.

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Advanced Topics in White Wine

Date: Thu, Sep 29, 2011 Wine Tasting

It's that time of year. If you have kids they're back in school with their pencils sharpened and their notebooks already full of doodles. You might be feeling a bit nostalgic about your own schooldays-gone-by, when you were taking courses and learning new subjects.

The best thing about loving wine (ok, one of the best things...) is that there is always more to learn. This fall, why not try some interesting whites that are beyond your normal Chardonnay-Sauvignon Blanc-Riesling comfort zone? You just may find a new favorite.

2009 M. Chapoutier Côtes du Rhône Blanc Belleruche (suggested retail $12.99; available in market for $8-$15) Red wine fans may be familiar with the rich, affordable red blends from the Southern Rhône, but have you ever tasted their whites? This blend contains Grenache Blanc, Clairette and Bourboulenc. It is more "old world" in style, with a fresh, neutral taste dominated by mineral and lemon peel notes. It tastes robust, and stands up well to richer fish (tuna, halibut), vegetable dishes, and chicken pot pie. If you like Sauvignon Blanc, I think you'll enjoy this wine. Very good QPR.

2010 Viña Robles White4 (suggested retail $16; available in market for $13-$16) ) This white blend is from Paso Robles, and gets its name from the four white grape varieties that go into every bottle: Viognier, Verdelho, Sauvignon Blanc, and Vermentino. This year's bottling is a very good QPR, versatile white wine with honeysuckle and citrus aromas and flavors. If you like dry Rieslings but are looking for a wine with more body, give this a try.

2010 Freie Weingärtner Wachau / Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Terrassen (suggested retail $15; available in market for $11-$17) The grapes are grown in Austria's Wachau region, and the wine that results is crisp with pear, stony mineral, and citrus elements. The wine tastes full and delicious, while retaining its bright and lively profile. Excellent QPR. I love Gruner Veltliner with fish, roasted chicken, anything made with lentils, and even Indian food.

2009 Leo Steen Chenin Blanc Saini Farms (purchased in my local grocery store for $19.99; available in market for around $17) Made from grapes grown in Sonoma County's Dry Creek Valley, this lovely Chenin Blanc is a lovely, dry example. There are apple and honeycomb aromas and flavors, which bring back the tastes of summer. If you like the apple notes in Chardonnay, but are not always fond of the oak that many winemakers use, try this wine and you won't be disappointed. And if you're looking for wines to set aside for Thanksgiving, this would be a great choice. Excellent QPR.

Full Disclosure: With the exception of the Chenin Blanc, I received samples of these wines for possible review.

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Autumn's Transitional Red

Date: Mon, Sep 26, 2011 Wine Tasting

The temperature is up.
The temperature is down.
You want to use your grill once last time before you put it away.
You want to break out your crock pot.

If this sounds like you, then you need to have some Malbec on hand. Many people associate Malbecs with summer barbeques, but this versatile red is just as good with soups or stews as it is with grilled chicken or steak. In other words, it's the perfect transitional red!

A few reminders about Malbec: though today the grape is most associated with Argentina , it was once quite popular in Bordeaux and produces wines that remind me of French Cabernets and Merlots. Expect a rich, full-bodied wine that can hold center stage. And keep in mind that while some Malbecs can be big, fun fruit-bombs, others are far more restrained and can exhibit mineral and herbal characteristics.

Here are three Argentinian Malbecs I'm recommending this autumn:

2010 Colores Del Sol Malbec (suggested retail $12; available in market for $6-$12) This excellent QPR option has lovely, lush blackberry and boysenberry aromas. That fruity aroma profile is found in the flavors, as well, and there are additional notes of leather and spice which linger on after the fruit flavors fade. This Malbec will go well with grilled sausages, meats, chilis, and stews.

2008 Gauchezco Malbec (suggested retail $14.99; available in market for $8-$11) A more restrained example, with typical varietal characteristics, this wine has earthier, raisin, and black cherry aromas and flavors. With air there was a nice spicebox quality to the aftertaste, as well as some tobacco notes. Very good QPR at around $15, if you can find it for around $10 I think it would be excellent QPR for those looking for a more traditional taste.

2009 Argento Malbec Reserva (suggested retail $16; available in market for $14-$16). Don't be worried if the plum aromas are faint when you first open this wine. They develop nicely with some exposure to the air, as do the plum, blackberry, and tobacco leaf flavors. The tannins are drying, and will probably soften a bit with storage time. Also traditional in style, this would be particularly good with grilled or braised meat. Very good QPR.

Full Disclosure: I received samples of these wines for possible review.

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To Reserve or Not to Reserve? And What's the Difference Anyway?

Date: Thu, Sep 22, 2011 Wine Tasting

In your wanderings down supermarket aisles and through wine stores, you may have come across wines labeled "Reserve" or bearing the name of a vineyard and wondered what the designations were all about. What does it mean to be a "reserve" wine? A vineyard wine? And what difference--if any--does it make to the taste? Or the price tag?

If you are confused about what "Reserve" means there is a good reason for it: there is no standard or regulated use of the term. In its purest sense, it was once used by winemakers to specially mark wines they felt were superior. Today, it can be used to indicate the wines have been reserved in the winery for an extra year or two, that they received special oak treatment, that the grapes used in the wine were from a select portion of those harvested, or some combination. It can also be used purely as a marketing term, because who wouldn't want a special wine?

Wines with vineyard designations are regulated, however, and if you see the name of a vineyard on a bottle it means that 95% of the grapes used in the wine must come from that vineyard. Vineyards vary tremendously in terms of soil, climate, and exposure and all of these variables can alter the taste of your wine. Sometimes, a winemaker feels that the grapes grown in a particular patch exhibit special characteristics, and they decide to keep that fruit separate to accentuate the unique qualities of the grapes.

Recently I had a chance to taste three wines made from the same maker, from the same grape, and all from grapes grown in the same county (although different parts of that county). One was the standard bottling, one was a vineyard designate, and one was a reserve bottling. All three were excellent--but had distinctively different taste. Here's my take on them.

2009 Rodney Strong Chardonnay Sonoma County (suggested retail $13.50; available in the market for $8-$15). A clean and crisp Chardonnay, with apple and lemon aromas and flavors accented by richer pineapple and creamy vanilla notes. A portion of the juice was fermented in barrels, the rest in a tank, which helps to explain both the vanilla notes (the oak) and the crispness (from the stainless steel tanks). Flavorful, well-balanced and food friendly. Very good QPR.

2009 Rodney Strong Chardonnay Chalk Hill (suggested retail ; available in the market for $13-$21) This wine was made from grapes grown in an estate vineyard in the Russian River Valley. A distinctive, classy Chardonnay with apple and toasted oak aromas followed by apple flavors. Layers of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg make the wine spicy, but the apple flavors remain strong and keep the wine fresh as do the underlying mineral notes. The aftertaste is nicely spicy, too, in part from the time the juice spent in both new and seasoned French oak barrels. Very good QPR.

2008 Rodney Strong Chardonnay Reserve Russian River Valley (suggested retail $35; available in the market for $24-$35). This wine was one year older than the others I tasted (even though it is a recent release) and tasted and smelled far richer with its apple and toasted coconut aromas. Full, creamy baked apple and sour cream flavors were followed up with a rich, spicy aftertaste. The Rodney Strong website explains that the wine was made in their "small lot winemaking facility," and that the juice was fermented in French oak barrels. Though this wine cost significantly more, it was an excellent value of the rich, oaky style of California Chardonnay. Very good QPR.

When faced with a decision of whether to choose a standard, vineyard designate, or reserve bottling, remember this: it's all about the taste and what you find affordable. In this case, the higher priced wines were richer-tasting, in large part because of their contact time with expensive oak barrels. However, sometimes what you want is a crisp Chardonnay. In that case, you'd be far happier with the Sonoma County bottling! As for me, my palate was most pleased with the Chalk Hill example.

As for food pairings, any of these wines would provide you with a pleasant Chardonnay to pair with your late summer/early fall dinners of grilled or roasted chicken, butternut squash ravioli, or grilled halibut.

Full Disclosure: I received samples of these wines for possible review.

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Love Fish? Try Falanghina

Date: Fri, Jun 3, 2011 Wine Tasting

I don't know why, but recently my largely-chicken diet has turned in the direction of fish. This means my white wine preferences are shifting subtly, too. It's harder and harder for me to find a Chardonnay that doesn't overwhelm fish's delicate flavors. Sauvignon Blancs can be too assertive. Riesling doesn't work for my tastebuds for some reason, unless the fish preparation is quite spicy or I'm having shrimp.

So I kept searching for whites that would pair well with my fish tacos, linguine alle vongole, grilled tuna, halibut, scallops, and shrimp. And I found Falanghina. This wonderful grape is native to the southern Italian region of Campania, and is especially well-known in the vineyards around Naples on the Amalfi Coast.

The wine that knocked my socks off and won a permanent spot on my table is the 2009 VIVI Falanghina Campania IGT. And the suggested retail price? $9.99 (available in the market for $8-$13). You will find that the wine smells fresh and floral, like sitting in a garden by the seaside on a summer's day. As you swirl it in your glass, you may notice some citrus notes, too. Flavors of lemon and honeycomb round out the wine. And while there is plenty of zip and acidity in the juicy aftertaste, it will not overwhelm the delicacy of the seafood or fish you might be serving. Excellent QPR.

Full Disclosure: I received a sample of this wine for possible review.

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Fire Up the Grills--and Buy Cabernet Sauvignon

Date: Mon, Apr 18, 2011 Wine Tasting

It was 90 degrees in Los Angeles. I know it's snowing in Buffalo, but here it is spring (or maybe even summer). So last night I fired up the grill for the first time, marinaded a skirt steak, threw some sweet potatoes in the oven (note to self: roasting potatoes in oven for an hour heats up the house), and tossed some cherry tomatoes with mozzarella, fresh basil, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Then I hit the Cabernets.

I love grilled steak with Cabernet Sauvignon, and I have three recommendations for you: one under $10, one under $15, and the other just a hair over $20. Even if you are experiencing snow, these wines would also be good with stews, braised short ribs, or a pot of chili.

Under $10: 2009 Big House Wine Company The Usual Suspect Cabernet Sauvignon (suggested retail $9.99; available for $6-$10). Not the most complex Cabernet, perhaps, but a solid example of the grape with characteristic plum and currant aromas. The palate was dominated with plum notes and accented by a bitter taste reminiscent of coffee grounds. The aftertaste was nicely bitter, too, which kept this fruit-forward wine from becoming too jammy. A touch of Grenache is blended into the Cabernet. Good QPR.

Under $15: 2009 Robert Oatley Cabernet Sauvignon James Oatley TIC TOK (suggested retail $14; available for $12-$16) This is another fruit-forward Cabernet, with currant and blackberry aromas and flowers. A spicy aftertaste is accompanied by nice tannins that have just enough grip. Very good QPR.

Just Over $20: 2008 Viña Robles Cabernet Sauvignon Huerhuero Vineyard (suggested retail $22; this new release currently available at the vineyard; previous releases available elsewhere for $15-$25) This was a wonderful wine, and tasted like something considerably more expensive than the sticker price. Aromas and flavors of currant, pencil lead, and eucalyptus made for an elegant and complex wine. With air, the currant notes turn plummy. The aftertaste is smooth, with spicy, well-integrated tannins. This is a lot of wine for $22, and excellent QPR.

Full Disclosure: I received samples of these wines for possible review.

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A Candidate for Your House White: d'Arenberg's The Stump Jump

Date: Mon, Apr 11, 2011 Wine Tasting

Last week I was extolling the virtues of red blends. After I wrote the post, I realized that though there were many red blends in my cellar, there weren't many white blends. I'm not sure why that's the case, because what goes for reds is true of whites as well: the blending can make the wine especially food friendly and versatile. And, just as with red blends, there is often a very attractive price tag on a white blend.

So I looked in the closet to see if I had any white blends and discovered a bottle of the 2009 d'Arenberg The Stump Jump (suggested retail $10; available for $9-$13) This is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Marsanne, and Riesling. As with most good blends, you can identify the individual components in the finished product. In this case, the Sauvignon Blanc is evident in the aroma which is very grassy, and that grassiness is accompanied by touches of honey from the Marsanne. The flavors have notes of pear, grapefruit pith, and a bit of litchi--so there's more Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling influence there. The mouthfeel is heavier than some whites, thanks largely to the Marsanne. The aftertaste reminded me of a dry Riesling, with its acidity and apple notes. I would have liked the wine to be a bit more fruit-forward--which is not something I say often. Even so, this wine is a good candidate for a house white because of its versatility and very good QPR. I looked over my notes from previous vintages, too, and this wine has consistently been good all the way back to 2004, which is another reason to try a bottle if you see one in the store, irrespective of its vintage.

Proof of the wine's versatility can be had by pairing it with something like this Soba Noodle Salad with Salmon and Asparagus from Bon Appetit magazine. With the rich salmon and avocado, the grassy asparagus, and the ginger-soy dressing, it's a bit of a challenge--but this wine handled it beautifully. The Sauvignon Blanc worked well with the asparagus, the Riesling with the Asian flavors, and the Marsanne stood up to the buckwheat and salmon.

Full Disclosure: I received a sample of this wine for review.

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A Red for All Seasons

Date: Mon, Apr 4, 2011 Wine Tasting

Last week I was extolling the virtues of spring. Now it's grey and drizzly again. In some places, it's still snowing. With the variable weather, it's hard to know which way is up. Do you dust off the grill and barbecue chicken? Or do you make a pot of stew? And what do you drink in the wine department, given it can be 86 degrees one day and 59 degrees the next?

Regular readers know that I love red blends because they're food friendly. This time of year, though, I am especially fond of them because their versatility means that they are as welcome next to grilled chicken as they are soup. So when the weather gets this way I make a bit pot of chili, pick out a red blend, and no matter whether if feels like June or January I'm ready to go.

A red blend I enjoyed recently with a pot of beef and black bean chili was the 2006 Tamarack Cellars Firehouse Red from Washington state's Columbia Valley. ($19.69 in my local independent grocery store; this vintage available for $20-$25, but more recent vintages can be had for $14-$22) Composed from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Merlot, the result is a juicy, fruit-forward wine with good structure. I've had my bottle for several years, and it's drinking just great now. I detected aromas of blueberry, cinnamon, and baking chocolate, all of which are echoed in the palate. The wine retains a fresh, lively taste through the mouth-watering aftertaste, with some additional herbal and spice notes. What I enjoyed most was the play between the varieties: the Cabernet Sauvignon lending its weight and acidity, the Syrah providing those soft berry flavors and spice, the Cabernet Franc lifting the blend with some acidity and herbs, and the Merlot making it approachable and inviting. Very good QPR.

And if you're looking for some chili recipes, here are a few of my favorites to try:

Fine Cooking's Beef and Black Bean Chili with Chipotle and Avocado

Rachael Ray's Fiery Chicken Chili (warning: makes enough for medium-sized army)

Tyler Florence's Outrageous Texas Chili

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Spring/Sprung: Three White Wines Perfect for the Season

Date: Thu, Mar 31, 2011 Wine Tasting

Sorry about the long silence, folks, but I've been--er--busy. And I managed to catch the mother of all winter colds, which lasted three weeks and pretty much made tasting anything (wine included) an impossibility.

Now that I'm sprung from booktours and the 'flu, I'm back home, and having a glass of wine with dinner again, so I've got some tasting notes for you. The first are all about spring. It's definitely in the air here in Los Angeles and if you haven't caught a whiff of it yet, you soon will. Here are some lively white wines to celebrate the freshness of the air and the first flowers:

2009 Graves Monkey Wrench ($17.99, domaineLA; available for $17-$23) This wine is blended from one of my favorite white grapes--Grenache Blanc--and Viognier. The result is a fresh, zesty, and well-balanced with lime and mango aromas and flavors. These fruity notes are kept in check with strong minerality and tangy acidity. You will enjoy this with grilled fish, a chicken salad, or Asian food. Excellent QPR. (NB: label if from 2006--I drank the 2009)

2010 Chasing Venus Sauvignon Blanc (suggested retail $16; available for $10-$23) In the "even zestier" department, this New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc will appeal to the most die-hard lovers of the fresh wines from the Marlborough region. Abundant gooseberry, lime, and lemongrass aromas and flavors will make it ideal with Thai food, the fresh vegetables of the season (I imagine it would be wonderful with an herb risotto, for example), or citrus-roasted chicken. Very good QPR.

2009 Franciscan Chardonnay (suggested retail $18; available for $12-$22) Finally, if you like a slightly richer wine but are ready to swap your buttery wintery Chardonnays for one that has a bit more zip, try this excellent QPR bottling from Napa. It's one of the best domestic Chardonnays I've had in some time, and is memorable for its liveliness, its excellent balance, and the zesty citrus and apple flavor profile. Elegant and food-friendly, have this one with your richer dishes like a scalloped potato and fennel gratin, your favorite chicken dish, or some grilled chicken-apple sausages and a tossed salad.

Full Disclosure: I received samples of the Chasing Venus and Franciscan wines for review. I purchased the Graves bottling myself.

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The Virtues of Simple Perfection: Cep Sauvignon Blanc

Date: Mon, Feb 28, 2011 Wine Tasting

Simplicity is underrated. Perfection is overrated. But what do you do when you find a wine that is quite simply perfect? Well, you enjoy it first. Then, if you're me, you write about it here and hope that you can still get your hands on some later.

Some readers will find it surprising that the wine that I'm touting is a Sauvignon Blanc. One person I know recently described Sauvignon Blanc as "boring," and while I couldn't disagree more I think I understand why some she might feel this way. There are a lot of generically "citrusy" Sauvignon Blancs out there that, though refreshing, aren't necessarily going to make you run out and buy more. I think this Sauvignon Blanc is different, though. And even though you might pay a smidge over $20 as I did, I think you will still consider it excellent QPR.

The 2009 Cep Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Hopkins Ranch ($20.99 in my local independent grocery store; available in the market for $15-$20) is a wonderful example of Sauvignon Blanc. Instead of a generically "citrusy" mouthful, I detected pure notes of Meyer Lemon in the aromas and flavors. There was a clean note of mint, as well, and some stoniness that added depth and breadth to the wine. It was almost piercing in its intensity, but never overwhelming or assertive, with lots of focus to the flavors and a long, juicy aftertaste. Think of pairing this wine with Asian food that uses citrus elements like orange peel or lemon, a roast chicken, an early spring salad topped with rounds of goat cheese, or seafood.

This stylish, well-made, and satisfying wine was brought to you by the same people who own and operate Peay Vineyards, and are winemakers renowned and respected for their ability to select great fruit and craft great wines from that fruit. Cep is their second label--which means that fruit that doesn't quite make the cut of their high-end wines is bottled under a different name--and was for a time a well-kept secret. Now the secret it out, and it gives more people a chance to taste their winemaking efforts. Cep also bottles a superb rosé and Pinot Noir, so keep your eyes out for these, too.

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Your House Red: Boxed and Ready to Go

Date: Mon, Feb 7, 2011 Wine Tasting

I'm the only wine drinker in my house. And there are times, like now, when things are so crazy that planning menus and opening bottles of wine that will in all likelihood go off before I can finish them up doesn't make sense. Enter the new generation of boxed wines.

I'm particularly partial to the Octavin, which has a fantastic spigot contraption that doesn't leak or drip. There are other options out there, too, and all of them keep air from getting to the wine thereby keeping the wine fresh-tasting for weeks, rather than days. The only downside of the Octavin is that with white wines they take up a certain amount of prime refrigerator real estate. With reds, you just set them in a cool place on the counter and enjoy a glass whenever the mood strikes.

Given the convenience of the packaging, I was particularly pleased to receive this sample of the NV Bodegas Osborne Seven because it is an ideal candidate for a house red--you know, the easy-drinking reds that go with practically everything and are great to have on hand. And the price is right, too: a 3.0 L size Octavin (equivalent to 4 bottles of wine) has a suggested retail of just $22. (available in the market for $16-$21)

The very good QPR NV Bodegas Osborne Seven is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Tempranillo, Grenache, and Graciano. With all those grapes in it, it's hard to pin a varietal character on the wine. Instead, this is a "red" wine--which is not a bad thing on a Tuesday night when you're making Mark Bittman's chicken with roasted potatoes and Romesco sauce. I could smell the Grenache in the floral and fruity aromas. The Syrah and Petit Verdot are evident in the flavors which span the plum and blackberry spectrum. There are some darker notes, too: dark chocolate and ground coffee.

This wine will go with pasta, soup, stew, pizza, burgers, steaks--you name it.

Full Disclosure: I received a sample of this wine for review.

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Not All Rhônes are Red

Date: Mon, Jan 24, 2011 Wine Tasting

I love red Rhône blends. They're zesty, spicy, and offer great value. Even wines from well-known appellations like Châteauneuf-du-Pape are relatively inexpensive when judged by the standards of Bordeaux and Burgundy.

Most wine drinkers are not as well-acquainted with the delicious white blends that are made with Rhône varietals such as Grenache Blanc, Viognier, and Marsanne. These whites are classy, elegant, and provide a welcome break from the Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc you might be drinking.

Rhône whites can be a bit pricey, in part because three quarters of the grapes grown in the region are red. But Rhône varietals are also grown in the US and in other parts of the world and can provide a good starting point if you want to learn more about these wines.

One great example of a Rhône white blend, for instance, is the 2008 Eberle Cotes-du-Robles Blanc from Paso Robles (suggested retail $24; available in the market for $20-$29). This delicious blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, and Viognier has aromas and flavors that are reminiscent of a summer day, with lots of pear, Golden Delicious apples, and even a touch of apricot. Rhône whites typically have herbal notes as well, and in this case I was reminded of the grassy and floral flavor profile of chamomile tea. Even though the price of the wine is slightly more than $20, it represents excellent QPR.

Like most wines made with Rhône grapes, the white blends are excellent food wines, too. I especially like Rhône white blends when I'm making a dish that uses lots of herbs and spices, where the aromatics in the wine enhance the food. We had this with amazing Salsa Verde Chicken with Herbed Cornmeal Dumplings from Pam Anderson's Perfect One-Dish Dinners. This is an easy-to-prepare yet impressively tasty dish that has tomatillo and herb salsa--not the easiest thing to pair with a wine. Yet it was delicious with the white blend from Eberle.

If you are interested in learning more about check out the resources on the Hospice du Rhône website. And enjoy your adventures into the world of white wine made with Rhône grapes.

Full Disclosure: I received a sample of this wine for review.

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Enjoying Wine: Lessons from France (Part 1)

Date: Mon, Sep 20, 2010 Wine Tasting

Recently, I spent some time in France. While I have been to the country before (once as a teenager, and again with a teenager in tow), this was the first time I really got to enjoy its wine culture.

And I loved it.

What follows are some observations of how drinking French wine in situ has changed my thinking.

The pleasures of a chilled Cabernet Franc... Our first lunch was at a lovely bistro in the 1st arrondissement, Restaurant Paul. (photo of the restaurant, above, from allaboutnice) We'd traveled for 20 hours, taken a brief nap, and then walked from the Marais down along the river to this wonderful restaurant. There, we had typical bistro fare (I had some wonderful lamb) and a bottle of 2007 Couly-Dutheil Chinon La Diligence from the Loire. (available in the US for around $21) It was served very will chilled--colder than most whites are served in France--with condensation beading up on the outside. Inside was a refreshing red with autumnal currant, leaf, and green pepper aromas and flavors. The entire experience was relaxing, unfussy, and unpretentious. Lesson learned: temperature matters--but you should experiment until you find what works for a particular wine, food, setting, and your own palate.

Excellent, affordable wine can be found on most wine lists... Many people imagine that purchasing wine at French restaurants will be a daunting business, and expensive, too. That's not what we discovered when we had dinner at Le Violon d'Ingres in the 7th arrondissement. Yes, there were white table cloths and attentive waitstaff. There was excellent food, like roasted pigeon and the most amazing egg dish I've ever tasted that involved a poached egg inside a crusted shell with truffles. There were treasures to be found on their wine list, too. A restaurant always endears themself to me when they are serving good Champagne by the glass--as in Taittinger Brut Prestige--which we had with our first courses. Then we moved on to the 2008 Domaine Chanzy Mercurey 1er Cru Les Carabys--which cost less than €40. This lovely, layered wine had fruity apple and lemon aromas and flavors laced with nutmeg and oak. It was both bright and rich, and paired with a variety of food. Lesson learned: just because you're in France doesn't mean you have to order the most expensive thing on the wine list in order to be happy. Try something that expands your wine knowledge rather than deflating your checking account.

Rosé, Rosé, Rosé... What's not to like about this? Everywhere you looked, someone was sipping rosé. We had a wonderful rosé recommended by the local wine shop, the 2009 Château Minuty Côtes de Provence Reserve. (available in the US for around $25) The blend includes Grenache, Tibouren (new to me!), Cinsault, and Syrah and is pale salmon in color. The wine was quite dry, with aromas and flavors of frais de bois, yet the overall impression was rich and full. We also sipped a 2009 Domaine de l'Olivette Bandol Rosé at lunch at Les Editeurs in the 6th arrondissement while we munched on salads and sandwiches This fresh, savory wine was also pale salmon in color with subdued strawberry fruit and a slightly saline note. Lesson learned: if the French are drinking this wine morning, noon, and night it can't be THAT unsophisticated. Get over any lingering rosé complex now, and stop apologizing to friends for serving it.

To be continued...

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Yes, I Bought It Because of the Name...

Date: Mon, Sep 13, 2010 Wine Tasting

There are many reasons to buy wine. You like the producer. You like the grape. You like the label. You like the designation--like the time last year I splurged wildly and bought a wine simply because it was the "Plague Doctor's Cuvee."

And yes, sometimes you buy it because of the name of the vineyard. Because with a name like "Jurassic Park" it has to be good, right?

Thankfully, the answer is yes.

I thoroughly enjoyed the 2008 Field Recordings Wine Chenin Blanc Jurassic Park Vineyard (domaineLA, $15; available elsewhere for the same price) This lovely, unfiltered Chenin Blanc was a touch cloudy in the glass. It had pronounced aromas and flavors of lemon curd, touched with mineral notes and a bit of freshly mown hay. The overall impression was a well-balanced mix of citrus, stone, and grass that was refreshing and impressive for the price. Excellent QPR.

(And the label isn't half bad, either...)

A wine with this much balance can handle almost any food. We are drowning in Thai basil at the moment, and so made some Thai-influenced grilled chicken breasts. The strong herbal flavors were a nice counterpoint to the lemony aspects of this wine, and picked up the grassy notes, too.

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