20 October, 2010

Wine Word Wednesday: Willamette Valley

I hadn't realized how long it has been since I last posted. My apologies, it's been a busy month. Luckily, one of those things keeping me busy was a week long vacation to Oregon to visit wine country. 

Which brings me to today's word: Willamette Valley. This is the prime viticultural area of Oregon where Pinot Noir is king. Only about an hour south and west of Portland, the Willamette Valley is an up and coming wine region in the U.S. Geographically speaking, this region shares commonalities with France's famed Burgundy region, so much so that Joseph Drouhin, of the reputable Domaine Drouhin of Burgundy began to grow grapes and produce Pinot Noirs after having his famous Clos-de-Beze beaten by David Lett's 1975 Pinot Noir in a blind tasting.

The focus here is on boutique wineries and much less on developing mass produced brands. During my trip here, I focused on tasting wineries that I had never heard of and those that are typically not available at retail here in the Twin Cities. Over the next few days, I'll be sharing my journey with you along with some of the great wines I found. 


17 September, 2010

When you disagree with the critics.

I've been on the lookout for lower priced wines for everyday drinking. I found this bottle by reading the little cards at the wine shop; the reviews were in and many were raving about this wine. Plus, it was only $9.99 so I figured this was going to be the deal of the century.

Here's the description from both wine.com and Wine Advocate (Robert Parker):
winemaker's notes:

This is a blockbuster young red wine with explosive, luscious aromas. Vitiano Rosso is deep ruby-red in color, and offers a wide range of fruit and spice aromas, including black cherry jam, licorice, and tobacco leaf. This versatile wine pairs well with a wide array of food, including meat, pasta, and pizza. It is best enjoyed in its youth when its fresh fruit character is most evident. Vitiano Rosso is a perennial value.
critical acclaim:
"The 2008 Vitiano Rosso (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese) is a racy, sleek wine that impresses with its layers of perfumed red cherries and sweet toasted oak. The wine offers terrific clarity and precision in a slightly taut, focused style for this offering. A few months of bottle age seems prudent. According to proprietor Riccardo Cotarella, the bottle variation that occasionally shows up in Vitiano is most likely attributable to the different amounts of time the various lots spend in bottle prior to arriving on the market. Clearly lots that have more time in bottle have the potential to show greater harmony than lots that have less time in bottle. That said, slight bottle variation issues here are a minor quibble for a wine that delivers so much value. "
89 Points
The Wine Advocate

Sounds pretty great, right? That's what I thought, too. Unfortunately, I did not have the same experience. Blockbuster isn't a word I would have used. Yes, I tasted berries, but not at the level of jamminess. I expected something heavier and rounder and instead I found it to be a very light wine that reminded me of watermelon rind. Perhaps that's the same note that wine.com found when they say "tobacco leaf". When I see Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot on the label, I expect something with full body and ripe black fruit. Not watermelon rind. Perhaps the majority of the blend is Sangiovese. I will agree however, that this bottle delivers great value. At only  $9.99 it does make a great pizza wine. 

If anyone else finds this wine, give it a try and let me know what you think!


15 September, 2010

Wine Word Wednesday: Cuvee

The world of wine can be confusing and it doesn't help when one word has two meanings. Unfortunately, today's word is one of those. However, the good news is that when ever you see the word, you're usually in for something delicious. So fear not. 

Cuvee. Originally, the french term meant any vat or container wine. However, wine makers have used the term to mean blend. You'll often see it on red wines as the Vintner's Cuvee. 

When paired with the words Tete de, as in tete de cuvee,  it takes on an entirely different meaning. This is used when referring to a maker's top bottling. You'll often see this on bottle of Champagne or even the famous Bordeaux dessert wine, Sauternes. 

So there you have it. Once less thing to fear.


13 September, 2010

Just some good wine.

A few years ago, I started building my cellar. And by cellar, I mean a couple of racks I purchased from Cost Plus World Market and put in my basement. Nonetheless, I knew that if I bought good wine from good years and held on to it, I would be drinking some incredible wine in a few years. Well a those years have past and now some of that incredible wine is beginning to come into its own, ready for great drinking.  Lately, I've been able to open a few of these and enjoy them with friends. I'm going to start sharing them with you, too.

A little over a year ago, my husband, Mr. Craft Beer, suggested we fly to Portland, OR for the Oregon Brewers Fest. The OBF (as we refer to it) consists of four days and at least 80 different brewers sampling their best. And while I enjoy good beer, I love wine even more so I suggested that we combine that trip with a couple of days in Oregon wine country to sample my favorite wine, Oregon Pinot Noir. I'm not sure when I first had Oregon Pinot, but it was long before Pinot Noir garnered fame through Sideways. Stylistically, it's somewhere between the earthy Burgundies (all red French Burgundy is made from Pinot Noir) and the uber fruity Californians.

One of the wines that I brought home from that trip was the 2006 Adelsheim Elizabeth's Reserve.  Adelsheim makes great Pinot Noir at all its price levels. Elizabeth's Reserve is made using the best barrels from the best lots. It's a beautiful wine with aromas of raspberry, black cherry and roses. In the mouth that fruit is just as lovely with the addition of a little tea and cola. The tannins were so soft; it made an excellent companion to our pork dinner. It was even just as great the next day when I shared the remainder of the bottle with some guests who were equally impressed by the wine. 

If you're able to find Elizabeth's Reserve, I encourage you to pick some up. It's usually around $40 retail, but I'm sure you'll find it on sale if you play your cards right. You won't regret it!


09 September, 2010

Wine Word Wednesday: Crianza.

Spanish Wine is often over looked, but truth be told, Spain offers some great values on both reds and whites. Sometimes it's hard to navigate a region you're not familiar with, but hopefully learning this word will make it a little easier.

One of the Spanish practices is to age the wine before it's released for sale. The benefit to this is that the wine is ready for drinking when it hits the shelf.  No aeration needed. No wondering if you're going to have tannins that are as soft as 60 grit sand paper.  And to help us all out, the Spaniards have created a labeling system to help us understand the age of the wine in the bottle. This is where the word Crianza comes in.

Crianza helps us understand how long the wine has been aged. It's used in a few ways on the label and when you understand this, you'll understand what's in the bottle. So here goes. . .

Sin Crianza or Vino Joven: Sin Crianza literally means "without aging". Vino Joven literally means "young wine". These are wines that are not matured in oak or other wood barrels and are designed for early consumption.

Crianza means aged and when you see this on a label you know that the wine has been matured at the winery for at least 2 years and at least 1 year in oak barrels.

Reservas are produced in good years, matured in the winery for at least 3 years and at least 1 year in oak.

Gran Reservas are only made from the finest fruit and only in the finest years. These are matured at the winery for 5 years and must be matured on oak for at least 2 years.

So there you have it. These labels are most likely seen on red wines from Spain (I don't think I've ever seen a white wine labeled this way as whites are most likely to be consumed right away).

Check out the Spanish aisle and look for these labels. There are great wines and values to be had here!


23 August, 2010

Good wine under $15.00

We're back in Spain today with another very crisp white that's perfect for a hot summer might. It's made from the Verdejo grape from the Rueda region. Like Sauvignon Blanc it provides bright citrus notes and a great deal of zippy acid. In fact it is often blended with Sauvignon Blanc.

Here are the wine maker's notes: Bright, lifted nose that could very easily be mistaken kiwi, gooseberry, grapefruit zest, "mineral". But this is riper, deeper. Ditto in the mouth. Great depth of fruit and opposing mineral cut. Another wine with a sugar/acid cage match.

We opened this bottle on a warm mid-week evening to have with grilled chicken. It was a little light for the chicken, but great with the grilled vegetables. Not bad for $10.99 from Costco.


19 August, 2010

Wine Word Wednesday: Sur Lie

Champagne Mercier Visitor Centre Epernay

First my apologies for being late in posting this week. We've had some issues with our internet and haven't had consistent access. Special thanks to Starbucks for providing free WIFI. Hopefully, this won't last much longer.

Now on to our word of the week. If you ever read a tasting note or the back of a Champagne or Sparkling Wine and seen descriptors of yeasty, biscuity or toasty, this is because the wine has been aged sur lie.

To understand sur lie, you need to understand how Sparkling Wines are made. First, the grapes must be turned into wine through a traditional fermentation process. In order to turn these wines into sparklers, the wine maker adds a bit of solution of wine, sugar and yeast (called liqueur di tirage) to the still wine which is then sealed in either a bottle or a tank. At this time a second fermentation takes place and the resulting CO2 is trapped. After all the sugar has been fermented, the yeast cells die and sink to the bottom of the bottle/tank. Here the'll sit for months or years (depending on the wine maker) and add flavors to the now sparkling wine. This act of aging on the dead yeast cells is referred to as sur lie.

And while we're on the subject of sparkling wines, don't wait for special occasions to open these. They are delicious and refreshing and should be considered whenever you want to open a bottle of wine. They are among the most food friendly of wines. In fact, it's my favorite wine to drink with Thanksgiving dinner and I often start with a glass before any dinner I eat out. So start today, open a bottle to "celebrate" the fact that you learned what sur lie means.