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2007 Ridge Ponzo Vineyard Zinfandel

Date: Fri, Sep 10, 2010 Wine Tasting

Ridge Vineyards produces a lot of different zinfandel blends. We have tasted a lot of different ones over the years, and liked many of them, but this is one that we had never tried. Unfortunately, like a lot of other Ridge wines, this one is more of the fruit forward style of zinfandel as opposed to the big, spicy ones that we prefer.

The blend is 95% zinfandel and 5% petite sirah and the grapes are sourced from the Russian River Valley. With 12 months of aging in American oak barrels, it comes in at a very respectable 15.5% AbV.

As I noted before this is a very fruit forward style, with cherry and blackberry fruits predominant. There was a nice undercurrent of black licorice spice but it was not as pronounced as we would have preferred. For the AbV level this actually drank like a much lighter style of wine; it did not have the "hotness" that a lot of heavy alcohol wines can have.

Overall I thought it was a very well made wine, with a lot going on and really showing what this style of zinfandel can be like. If we cared for the fruity style this would be one that we would drink on a regular basis. It was also a relative bargin at $20 compared to some of the other Ridge blends out there.


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2008 14 Hands "Hot to Trot" Red Blend

Date: Fri, Sep 10, 2010 Wine Tasting

A little bit ago, Allison was shopping for some wines as I was out of town on business. This is one that was recommended over at Norman's by the manager. Apparently they had tasted it at their weekly tasting and it proved to very popular.

The 14 Hands website does not even mention this one, and the label has no blending information but I would suspect that there is a good bit of merlot in this one as it is very fruit forward.

While the wine overall is well made, the fruit forwardness of it went against our palates. A lot of raspberry and red cherry really stood out. There was some moderate tannin along the edge of tongue but not enough to really speak of. There also was just a hint of a spice mingling with the fruit, but again it was hard to discern.

If you want a very fruit forward wine, this could be a great choice for you. At $10 it could be just the bargin that you are looking for!


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2006 La Spinetta Il Nero Di Casanova Sangiovese

Date: Fri, Sep 10, 2010 Wine Tasting

We are big fans of La Spinetta wines and were really excited to find this one for $18.99. I liked it quite a bit but Allison was not quite as wild about it, although I think that would be true of most sangiovese.

This was a big wine from start to finish. It opened up with dry, dusty black fruit on the nose with hints of saddle leather. The palate was a bit on the earthy side, with black cherry fruit predominant throughout. There were quite a bit of tannins in this, and they were somewhat on the gritty side which would be about the only negative I had with this one. Not unpleasantly gritty but unexpected.

The finish was moderate, with just a hint of burnt toast on the edges.

In my initial tasting notes I noted that this was not going to be a favorite, but this was made right after opening the bottle. After about 30 minutes or so it had really opened up and turned into a very pleasant wine. So, if you open something up and do not like it at first I would recommend giving it a bit of time to open up... you might be surprised that a lot of wines will improve somewhat with some aeration.


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1998 Comte Audoin de Dampierre "Family Reserve" Brut Grand Cru

Date: Fri, Sep 10, 2010 Wine Tasting

We last had this one back towards the end of 2008 (reviewed here) and liked it quite a bit back then.

I have to say that we were less than impressed with how this one is holding up, and are actually relieved that this was the last bottle of this that we had in the cellar.

The color was somewhat darker, as to be expected with an aged champagne, with notes of brownish-orange along the edge. The effervescence was still fairly pronounced, with crisp and tight bubbles throughout the bottlw.

On the nose we detected notes of wet stone, almond and herb. The palate was a bit on the yeasty side and showed hints of orange peel with a moderate finish. Again, the finish was a bit on the abrupt side and left a bit of an aftertaste.

Overall, we did not think that this was a terrible wine but it definitely was nowhere near what we had experienced with it in the past. This would appear to be one of those that is not going to age well, even for a vintage champagne. If you happen to be sitting on any, I would recommend popping the cork sooner rather than later.


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Cantina Toscana - Sarasota, FL

Date: Mon, Sep 6, 2010 Wine Tasting

It has been a little while since our last post. Unfortunately, for the immediate future it will likely continue to be this way. However, we do have several reviews that will be posted in the next day or so, so be sure and check back.

I thought that we would start with an Italian restaurant we tried last night. Cantina Toscana is in the Copper Creek shopping center which is technically part of Bradenton, but sits right next to Lakewood Ranch and is just minutes from Sarasota. In any event, it is really easy to find, being right off of I-75.

We had some gift certificates through restaurant.com and this was one of the choices. The menu online looked very promising, and we were quite excited to be trying a new place right near the house.

The decor is not at all Italian but rather a more modern, open floor plan with lots of light from the wall of windows across the front of the restaurant. Light wood furniture heightens the clean look. But we did not come for the decor...

The food menu is several pages, and had a lot of choices spanning meat, seafood and pasta along with typical appetizers and salads. Unfortunately this does not carry over to the drink menu. The wine list was very light overall, and decidedly so on Italian wines in general. By the glass there was only one Italian white (a Pinot Grigio) and two Italian reds (a Montipulciano and a Chianti). The prices were not terrible but certainly on the higher end of moderate. We stuck with water.

Fresh bread was served with a spicy tomato topped with parmesan cheese. The bread was actually burnt on the crust and extremely tough. We managed to find a couple of middle pieces that were edible, but this did not set the stage well for us.

The appetizer we choose was fried calamari with homemade tomato sauce. The calamari was served over a bed of mixed lettuces and a half of a lemon. The calamari itself was delightful; lightly breaded and cooked just enough to be tender. Unfortunately the tomato sauce was just that. We did wind up asking if we could have some of the remolaude sauce served with the crab cake appetizer, and while it was better it still did not have a lot of spice to it.

Allison went with the special of the evening which was a salmon piccata with pasta. It looked very tasty on the dish, but the salmon really had no flavor as most of the piccata sauce was on the plate and the fish was overcooked. She did really like the fresh pasta though.

I went with a shrimp risotto with tomato sauce. The risotto itself was cooked just about perfectly. I would have never thought to include tomato sauce in my risotto, and honestly I cannot say that I particularly cared for it either. The flavor of the tomato was absolutely overpowering to anything else. I was also very surprised to see that the shrimp used were salad shrimp. What was more surprising is that I think I got about as many shrimp as I would have with regular sized shrimp, which is to say only 4 or 5.

The wait service was alright in the beginning, but as the meal went on we saw less and less of them. Unfortunately, because we were using a restaurant.com coupon we got hit with the automatic 18% gratuity which was certainly more than we would have left otherwise.

Overall I think that we were much less than impressed. Yes, parts of the meal we enjoyed but overall neither of us really cared for it in the end. I suspect that we will not be back.


Cantina Toscana on Urbanspoon

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2006 Luigi Righetti Capitel de' Roari Amarone

Date: Mon, Aug 23, 2010 Wine Tasting

Speaking of Italians, I also picked up a bottle of this Amarone a few weeks ago. Allison is not as into these as I am, but I have to tell you that this one absolutely rocked. And it was a steal at $24.99.

Okay, this is not going to compare to some of the top end producers like Allegrini, Tommasi, etc. but for the price point this is quite a bargin and certainly ready to drink even though I think it has some aging potential.

The nose was laced with black fruit with hints of raisin and chocolate. On the palate, this was pretty full bodied but not very tannic at all. The raisin really opened up with just a little bit of aeration and remained constant from the first sip to the last drop. Lots of black fruit with a bit of earthiness and a touch of licorice rounded this out. The finish was moderately long with just a bit of acidity.

You could go a lot of different directions if you wanted to pair this up with some food... obviously, any rich sauced Italian dish would work well as would gamey meats. It has enough body that you could enjoy it with a mild cigar if you were so inclined, or do as we did and just enjoy it by itself.


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2003 Castellani Fattoria di Travalda

Date: Mon, Aug 23, 2010 Wine Tasting

There just are not that many Italian wines to be found in the Sarasota area... okay, perhaps we are spoiled to the great selection at The Vintage Wine Shoppe in Birmingham (and folks who are as passionate about them as we are). Whenever I spy something that looks promising, especially from a region we like and at a good price point, I am apt to pick it up and give it a try. This was one of those bottles.

Unfortunately things did not work out for us on this one. At first it seemed pretty promising, with a big nose of cedar and hints of raisin. The palate had a lot of chocolate notes with a fat body that could best be described as "sloshy"... the wine seemed to fill the mouth but never really developed into anything that could be described as pleasing. There was no tannin to give this any structure and the finish was a bit short and abrupt.

We paid $21 for it here. Alas, we did not get our monies worth out of this one.


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Eduardo's Cantina - Lakewood Ranch, FL

Date: Mon, Aug 23, 2010 Wine Tasting

Good Mexican has arrived on Main Street in Lakewood Ranch! Allison has been very excited to finally be able to get some pretty good Mexican food and the fact that it is very close to both home and office only increases her pleasure. We have dined there a couple of times as well as gotten take out for lunch several times and without fail the food has been very good.

The menu is not huge, unlike a lot of other mexican restaurants. It seems that they are sticking with a more limited menu but doing those items very well.

For starters the chips and salsa is a very good choice, with rich, spicy, freshly made salsa and thin, light and not greasy chips in a plentiful basket. One of the better dishes on the menu is the Shrimp Avocado Salad which is served with an avocado dressing. They also regularly have some very good specials, like the other day when they were offering 2 shrimp tacos with beans and rice for $7.99. Tough to beat that.

The restaurant is located where Astoriaused to be, and is owned by the same folks that own Ed's Tavern which is right down the street.

If you are in the mood for Mexican, you need to give this a try.


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EVOO Bistro - Naples, FL

Date: Wed, Aug 11, 2010 Wine Tasting

Sorry that it has been such a long time since we have posted anything. Things have been crazy for both of us and there just has not been a lot of time to devote to the blog. We promise to try and get back into some regular postings, but it may be a whole before we can get more than one or two in per week. Just bear with us :-)

So, this past weekend we had occasion to drive down to Naples, FL for a conference that Allison was attending. We decided to grab a bite to eat before checking into the hotel when we arrived and OpenTable pointed us to EVOO Bistro.

Now, if you are not very familiar with Naples it basically shuts down in the summer because all the snowbirds return to the northern homes. Okay, it is better now than when I lived there in the late 80's, but you could certainly tell that businesses were looking for ways to get customers in the doors... such as summer menu pricing at EVOO. The current summer offering is 2 entrees and a bottle of house wine for $35. You can also pick any wine on the wine list for half-price if you prefer. Not a bad deal at all.

So we started out, as usual, with some fried calamari which was absolutely delightful. Not very heavily breaded at all, perfectly tender and served with a mild remolaude sauce, fresh lemon and capers.

The menu is not extensive, but the choices all looked great. In the end we both settled on the salmon, cooked medium and served with bacon mashed potatoes and wilted spinach. The fish was just right, although a very small portion relative to the sides. The potatoes were interesting, with crumbled bacon stirred in. The spinach was nicely wilted without being completely crunchless. Even though I would have preferred more fish, this dish was very filling.

We elected to go with the house wine, a 2009 Coastal Vines Cabernet Sauvignon. Yes, the vintage was 2009! Let's just say that we got our monies worth. It was not bad, but there was nothing in the glass except for grape juice for all intents and purposes. We knew that the house wine was not going to be great but it certainly could have been better.

Service was somewhat lacking. This was a Thursday evening about 8 PM. Yes, there were a good number of tables being utilized but the place was not packed by any stretch. Personally I think that there just were not enough servers for the number of tables in use. We easily waited 10 minutes on a couple of occasions for our waitress to come by, and even though our water glasses were mostly empty the entire time we had to repeatedly ask for refills.

The other interesting item of note was the fact that one of the chefs, whom I believe might have been the executive chef, had his family there eating. He spent more than a fair amount of time sitting and talking to them (which of course there is nothing wrong with at all) yet I only saw him speak to one other customer, and that appeared to be a regular as all of the other staff also spoke with him. Not the best way to earn repeat business in my humble view.

Bottom line is that the food was quite tasty and represented a great bargin with the summer pricing. The regular menu pricing appeared to be in line with a mid-level restaurant. The wine list was fairly thin, and somewhat over priced, but offered an appealing range of wines from around the world. Had the service been better we probably would have dined here again while we were in Naples.


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1989 Krug Brut Champagne

Date: Sun, Jul 18, 2010 Wine Tasting

Back in October of last year we drank a bottle of 1989 Krug but for some reason I had it my mind that it was the 1990 bottle. I recalled that we were not particularly impressed with it back then and were looking forward to comparing a different vintage to it. Imagine my surprise when I went back to that review and discovered it was also a 1989!

We opened a bottle of 1989 with some friends last weekend, and after that tasting and re-reading the original review I can only conclude that the bottle we had last year was in fact flawed.

The bottle that we tasted last weekend was stunning. The nose was somewhat yeasty with overtones of white flowers. The palate gave a wonderful bouqet of peach and nectarine, with a touch of nuttiness in the background and quite a bit of carbonation that only began to fizzle out towards the very end of the bottle. The champagne had a good balance of acidity and a lasting finish.

Once again I am reminded that bottle variation is definitely something that can alter one's perception of a wine. Had we not opened this second bottle, I would have sworn that the 1989 Krug was not one that lived up to its name... fortuntately, I stand corrected.


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2009 Alberti 154 Torrontes

Date: Sun, Jul 18, 2010 Wine Tasting

Good Torrontes can be a wonderful white wine on a hot summer day. With notes of ripe green apples and a hint of spice underneath, they are extremely refreshing with a brightness that resembles sweetness but is still bone dry.

This was a very good example that we had a couple of weeks ago. A bit more on the medium bodied side than is typical, it still showed wonderfully with lush floral notes and the typical green apple very prevalent. There was a nice acidity on the finish that rounded this off nicely.

Looking at the back label and doing a bit of research, it appears that the grapes are grown in Argentina but the actual vintification and bottling is done in California. Interesting.

This one was $12 and certainly worth the price.


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2006 Badiola

Date: Sun, Jul 18, 2010 Wine Tasting

This is a blend of 70% Sangiovese and 30% Merlot. Overall it was a medium-bodied style of wine that offered some good flavor but was not particularly outstanding.

The nose was that of leather and smoke, with some black currant and cherry fruit. On the palate we noted some earthiness along with the black fruit and a bit of vegetal nuances on the finish, which was somewhat short.

While this wine was certainly not terrible, neither was it particularly memorable. We would drink it again given the opportunity but are not likely to seek it out on a regular basis.


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2006 Masi Campofiorin Ripasso

Date: Sun, Jul 18, 2010 Wine Tasting

So if you have read much of our little blog you probably recognize that Gary is a big fan of the Italian Valpolicello style of wine, particularly Amarone. Ripasso's are a good, less expensive alternative to Amarone in that they are made by pouring Valpolicello juice over the pressed grapes used to make Amarone.

We have never been huge fans of Masi, but this particular Ripasso has gotten some good reviews and so we decided to give it a try. As usual with these wines, Allison did not care for it as much as myself. However, we did both find it to be very satisfactory overall.

The nose showed some woodsy tones, along with splashes of green peppers and a hint of black licorice. On the palate the wine was very full-bodied (surprisingly so) with cocoa, black cherry, a slight touch of leather and some raisin on the finish. The tannins were a bit gritty throughout, which is probably the one thing that we both agreed was a negative. With everything this wine was offering up, it had a very short finish which we thought was a bit odd.

Overall, for $13.99, this is a very good wine. As we noted, the grittiness of the tannins was a bit of a downside, but I suspect if you paired this up with a hearty meat dish it would show better than drinking it solo like we did.


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1990 Moet Chandon Cuvee Dom Perignon

Date: Sun, Jul 18, 2010 Wine Tasting

If you recall 1990 was regarded as one of the classic vintages for Champagne and it seemed like just about every major house was releasing a vintage Champagne. And I would have to agree that it was a stellar vintage, and I wish that when these were widely available I had been more attuned to Champagnes and stocked up accordingly. By some happenstance I did manage to put away this Cuvee Dom Perignon which we opened the other weekend with some friends to celebrate his new job.

Dom Perignon of course is named after the Benedictine monk, who in popular myth "created" champagne. We'll not go into all of the particulars about this myth or the truth except to say that while Dom Perignon did in fact contribute to what we now know as champagne. You can read more about it over on Wikipedia.

Knowing that this champagne was 20 years old, we were somewhat afraid that it might have been past its peak but fortunately it turned out to be drinking well and probably would still be good for another 5-7 years.

The initial nose was fairly yeasty, with some white flower thrown in. The color was starting to turn towards the amber side but much less so that I would have expected. The palate continued with a good bit of yeast and flower but also showed some apple, a touch of honey and a slight spice on the finish. The flavor on this was remarkably complex through out. The carbonation was also still very pronounced, with fine bubbles releasing in a continuous stream from the first glass until the last sip.

If you are fortunate enough to have some of this laid up, or have the opportunity to partake of it, we would highly recommend it.


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