Monday, November 30, 2009

Falling Star Boxed Wines


Image from Stardusts and Sequins used under the Creative Commons license.
 
In our on-going quest to discover good wine in a box (see here, here and here), we were excited to hear about Falling Star boxed wines from Argentina. As we remember the press release, the producers claimed that Falling Star would rapidly become the biggest-selling wine in a box because the quality of the wine was so high.

In time samples came our way, and.... well, we can say that we finished the 2009 Cuyo Chardonnay ($20/3L). We found nothing remarkable about the wine, but it did not take up much space in the fridge, and it was often handy to have a drinkable white at the ready with no deliberation about what bottle to open, let alone chill. So high marks for convenience, at least.

We were disappointed by the 2008 Cuyo Malbec ($20/3L). Malbec is Argentina's signature grape, so we expected much more from this wine, and the box remains nearly untouched.

Our hopes remain for the 3L bag-in-box category. As soon as someone actually does package a high-quality wine this way, the market will be theirs. But so far the promises to do so have gone unfulfilled.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Rosa D'Oro Vineyards

Rosa D'Oro Vineyards specializes in Italian varieties in Lake County, California. Their unusual lineup of wines and their reasonable prices made us curious to try the wines. The winery was kind enough to send us some, and we were quite pleased.

A Lake County Vineyard in the Spring. Courtesy of an anonymous Wikipedia contributor who has donated the image to the public domain.
 
The Muscat Canelli (dry!), $16, is as dry as advertised. This is an unusual sort of wine to find from California. Most California Muscats that are not overtly styled as dessert wines are at least off-dry. That is a real shame as the grape can really shine when made into a dry wine. The aromatics entice--and lead the taster to expect a sweet, floral and fruity wine--and the dryness on the palate is a refreshing surprise. Our archetype for this style is Alsatian Muscats, which are usually made from a different though related grape, Muscat Ottonel. Mendocino County's Navarro Vineyards produces a dry Muscat that is a dead ringer for the Alsatian style.

The Rosa D'Oro dry Muscat is something else again. The aromatics are relatively tame for a Muscat, but the wine is explosively delicious on the palate, with an almost honey-like texture. We enjoyed this before, during and after a dinner of Ma Po Tofu, a spicy dish typically served with beer. The wine worked as aperitif, accompaniment and digestif, and maintained its delicious character throughout.

We also enjoyed the Rosa D'Oro Dolcetto, $18. This is another variety not widely grown in the US. This wine is a true Dolcetto but we found it more approachable than many Italian versions, which can be hard--overly tannic and acidic. But the wine was not overripe, which would make it too fat or soft. The tannins are just right, giving the wine a grippy mouthfeel, and are sufficient to see the wine through several years' aging. The wine tastes almost sweet at first, with notes of blueberry and blackberry, and the finish is quite pleasant.

We are eager to try the winery's other offerings, especially the Aglianico and the Refosco. These varieties are even less widely grown in the US than Dolcetto, and we look forward to seeing what Rosa D'Oro can do with them.

Lake County itself is something of an enigma viticulturally. These wines demonstrate its great potential, and we may just have to take an investigative field trip to learn more.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Man that Waters the Workers' Beer

Here's another song from Rise Up Singing that we thought you would enjoy. Sure, it's about beer, not wine, but if you replace "strychnine" with microoxygenation, or oak chips, or Mega Purple (all legal additives in winemaking), could the song be about cynically made, overly manipulated wines and their producers? Perhaps that's too much of a stretch. A better analogy may be the illegal and sometimes dangerous additions made to wines, such as diethylene glycol in some Austrian wines.

Many thanks to the Workers Music Association, UK, for permission to reprint these lyrics.

The Man That Waters the Workers' Beer
I'm the man, the very fat man who waters the workers' beer (2x)
And what do I care if it makes them ill,
or if it makes them terribly queer?
I've a car and a yacht and an aeroplane and I waters the workers' beer

Now when I makes the workers' beer I put in strych-i-nine
Some methylated spirits and a drop of paraffin
But since a brew so terribly strong
might make them terribly queer
I reaches my hand for the water tap and I waters the workers' beer...

Now a drop of beer is good for a man who's thirsty and tired and hot
And I sometimes has a drop for myself from a very special lot
But a fat and healthy working class is the thing that I most fear
So I reaches my hand for the water tap and I waters the ...

Now ladies fair beyond compare and be ye maid or wife
O sometimes lend a thought for one who leads a sorry life
The water rates are shockingly high and malt is shockingly dear
And there isn't the profit there used to be in wat'ring...

--Paddy Ryan
©Workers Music Assoc, UK

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Wyndham Estate Bin 555 Sparkling Shiraz

We have a great recommendation if you are looking for something different to bring out at Thanksgiving: sparkling Shiraz. Who doesn't like sparkling wine? But when it's red, not white or pink, it's a completely different experience.

We have always been drawn to sparkling Shiraz wines, though in the past they have never quite met our expectations. However, the Wyndham Estate Bin 555 Sparkling Shiraz, $18, is a winner. The tricky part with bubbly red wine is balancing the tannins with the carbonation and the acid. The three together can be very hard on the palate because the carbonation enhances the astringency and bitterness of the wine phenolics. Other sparkling Shiraz we have tried have had an overly bitter finish. The Wyndham Estate, in contrast, is very nicely balanced, with typical Shiraz fruitiness and some orange rind flavors (but not too bitter). The bubbles themselves might be ever so slightly out of whack--the wine goes into the glass with froth more than effervescence, and the sparkle faded more quickly than we would have liked, but this is a minor complaint.

We enjoyed the wine with an Indian-inspired dinner of spicy chickpeas, sauteed broccoli, and coconut rice. The wine worked beautifully with this meal, which would have proved challenging to most wine pairings. This is a great wine for holiday gatherings, and its weight, balance, and flavors allow it to work as an aperitif, with hors d'ouevres, with a meal, or even with dessert.


Please note that we very happily received this wine as a sample.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bonny Doon 2008 Ca' del Solo Albariño

We'll get straight to the point--the 2008 Bonny Doon Ca' del Solo Albariño, $20, is a triumph. This is a dead ringer for a Spanish Albariño. We even find it more enjoyable than the Spanish Albariños you are most likely to encounter, such as Burgans. The delicacy of Bonny Doon's version is enhanced by the wine's low alcohol, for California--it weighs in at 12.8%.

For those unfamiliar with the variety, Albariño tastes something like a muted Riesling. The flavors are of stone fruit and a hint of citrus, but those flavors, and the wine's acidity, are less intense than is typical for Riesling. It hails from the northwestern part of the Iberian Peninsula, where it is a major grape in Galicia's Rias Baixas region, and, as Alvarinho, in Portugal, where it is a principal component of Vinhos Verdes.

We are delighted that the wine is so good. We have long been fans of Bonny Doon and its founder, Randall Grahm. His sense of humor and his eagerness to laugh at the overinflated egos of so many involved in wine have provided wonderful respite from an industry that often takes itself far too seriously. But we have not had much of their wine lately.

The Bonny Doon empire is under reconstruction at the moment. A few years back Grahm decided that the company had grown too large for him to pursue his vision. He sold off large chunks of it and is now focused on his goal of producing wines that truly express their origins. This Albariño is evidence that he is on the right track.

Bonny Doon sent us this wine along with Grahm's new book, Been Doon So Long, and a bottle of the 2005 Le Cigare Volant, Bonny Doon's flagship, Chateauneuf-du-Pape-inspired red wine. We will consume both in due time and report on our findings.
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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Grande Maison Monbazillac “Cuvée du Chateau”

Yum! But we do love sweet wines. This 2003 Grande Maison Monbazillac, "Cuvee du Chateau" was sent to us by the good folks at North Berkeley Wines. The Botrytis influence in the wine is deliciously prounounced, making the wine not merely sweet but compelling, capturing the imagination with aromas of candied fruits, honey, beeswax... well, it's delicious. It paired wonderfully with homemade ginger cookies.

The wine sells for $24/half-bottle. If that sounds steep bear in mind that a little of the wine goes far, and that the opened bottle will keep in the refrigerator for a week, easily.

There are many kinds of sweet wines and the basic differences lie in how the sugar is left behind. The Botrytis fungus infects grapes and dehydrates them, concentrating the sugars and acids. The fermentation stops long before all the sugar is converted to alcohol. But what makes Botrytis-influenced wines so special is the other flavors the fungus develops in the berries. Unlike simply sweet grape juice, a good wine affefcted by Botrytis is wonderfully complex.

We'll feature affordable examples of other styles of dessert wines in future posts. If you are curious to try a Botrytis wine, we recommend the Grande Maison Monbazillac.


A grape cluster partially infected by Botrytis. The "noble rot" looks horrible but can produce delicious flavors in the wine.

This image by Kassander der Minoer is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License. In short: you are free to share and make derivative works of the file under the conditions that you appropriately attribute it, and that you distribute it only under a license identical to this one. Official license.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Gallo Song

We found this in Rise Up Singing, edited by Peter Blood & Annie Patterson. Songwriter Peter Jones graciously allowed us to share the lyrics with you. You can hear the song performed here.

The Gallo Song

I was having dinner the other night
With the Bishop of Idaho
He served roast beef and mashed potatoes
And a bottle of Paisano

And I said Paisano* is a Gallo wine
You got to take that bottle back
And you cannot drink it until Gallo signs
You got to take that bottle back

I was walking thru this alley the other night
And these were the words I heard
“Give me all your money 'cause I got to go
Buy a bottle of Thunderbird”

I was at a concert the other night
When I felt the tap on my arm
I took the joint, but I refused
The bottle of Boone's Farm

I was lying in bed the other night
Talking with my friend named Jane
I brought out the baby oil
She brought out Andre Champagne

So when friends and family and relatives too
Take Gallo off the rack
Don't be afraid to step right up
And tell them to take it back

(last chorus) Just say “Didn't you see that's a Gallo wine?”

*Thunderbird etc.

© 1981 Steve & Peter Jones, used by permission. From "Steve and Peter Jones” (CloudsRec) and NSLT.

With the list of Gallo-owned wines here, how many more verses can you come up with?

The UFW's struggles with Gallo continue. Recently Gallo ousted the UFW from its Sonoma County operations, but the vote has just been overturned. Read more here. The article has a great list of related articles detailing recent UFW-related events.

Do you know any other good songs about Wines for the People?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Bargain hunting with the San Francisco Chronicle

The front page of Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle's Food & Wine section features an article by Jon Bonné on bargain wines.

Bonné taps BevMo's WiIlfred Wong, Julie Joy from Cost Plus World Market, and Daniel Kahn from San Francisco's Spencer & Daniel's wine shop to select 20 wines under $15 that represent outstanding bargains. In doing so, Bonné identifies three "rules" to help you in seeking out such deals.

Before we get into those rules, we must shout, Segura Viudas Brut Cava is $10 for a magnum, at Cost Plus! Or so we gather from the article. The Cost Plus website is vague on the subject, and indicates that prices vary by region. But this is a solid sparkling wine, and would be a great deal at $10 for 1.5 liters if indeed such is the deal.

Also on the list is the 2008 Larry Cherubino The Yard Whispering Hill Vineyard Mount Barker Riesling, at $6. This one is supposedly available at Spencer & Daniel's, for San Francisco readers, although we do not find it on their website. We feel it is worth a shot if you can find it there. The S&D website does feature an Australian Riesling from the Clare Valley for $5, The Rail Tail, but it is from the 2005 vintage and may be past its prime.

On to Bonné's rules:
1. The less obvious, the better the wines.
2. Instead of paying for a familiar name, pay for the region and the wine.
3. Find a winner and stick with it--at least for a month or so.

The point of rule no. 1 is that values are more likely to be found away from tried and true varieties--Cabernet and Chardonnay--and regions--Napa Valley, Bordeaux. Hunting off the beaten path has its rewards. All very true, although bargains can be found in every region and from every variety with a little guidance. Still, $10 spent on a Monastrell from Yecla will probably get you a better wine than $10 spent on a Bordeaux or a Napa Cabernet.

If you like Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, for example, rule no. 2 suggests you try another Pinot Grigio from the Alto Adige. You are sure to spend less, and the wine will likely be as good. Good advice as far as it goes.

Rule 3 has to do with the transient nature of bargains. If you find a bargain wine you like, buy up as much as you can before it's all gone.

These are fine suggestions and will help you in your hunt, but we stand by the advice we have doled out so often--cultivate a relationship with a wine retailer. When a retailer knows your tastes they will steer you towards wines you will enjoy at the price you want to spend. When the retailer scores bargains, they will let you know. You are sure to make discoveries as you would following rules 1 and 2, and have the opportunity to stock up as with rule 3, but with more hits and less misses.

We welcome your thoughts on the Chronicle article and the suggested wines.

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Moving on up--2005 La Vieille Cure, Bordeaux

We are enjoying this wine so much we have to tell you about it--a a red Bordeaux from Chateau La Vieille Cure, Fronsac. It is a 2005, which was called the vintage of the century until 2007 came along, and now 2009 may have supplanted 2007. Never fear! Plenty more vintages of the century are sure to come.

This wine justifies the hype over the 2005 vintage. It is deeply flavored and intense, with sufficient tannin to see it through many years' aging. We have a second bottle that we intend to set aside for five years or more.

We are happy to have picked it up for $20, and recommend it without reservation at that price. However, we may have been lucky to find such a deal. Wine-Searcher shows the Chateau's second label wine as widely available at $20, but this, the Grand Vin, starts at $30 and goes up from there.

Good luck in your search!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Campo Viejo Tempranillo

Spain is hot right now. It's wines are, anyway. Best known for Tempranillo-based wines from the Rioja region, and for Sherry, Spain produces wines throughout the country. Wines from Ribera del Duero, Penedes and Priorat have been critically acclaimed, with prices to match, but bargains abound in Jumilla, Navarra, Rias Baixas, Bierzo, and... even Rioja.

We recently enjoyed a 2006 Campo Viejo Crianza from the Rioja, which we received as an unsolicited sample. The wine was closed up at first. The Mollydooker shake helped with that, as did time. On the second day the wine was very expressive. This is a tasty and typical example of the Rioja style, and it is a great value at $10 suggeted retail. We recommend decanting the wine to let it reveal all it has to offer.

The wine was sent with suggested recipes, including pumpkin empanadas, caramelized figs with Mahon cheese, and a basil-beet spread. We'll happily pass these recipes along. The wine should work well with these as well as any fall-inspired cuisine.

Tempranillo Grapes on Foodista
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