Saturday, April 30, 2005

Villabella Bardolino Superiore DOCG 2001

VillabellaI was starving this evening and it seemed like a pizza would really fit the bill. Tuscany Market up here in the NW Austin hinterlands makes some good pizzas and will open a bottle of whatever you buy in their wine cellar for no additional fee. Add in their nice patio and the awesome weather this afternoon and what more could we ask for? Some wine, of course.

We chose an Italian red wine to go along with a traditional Margarita pizza and a 4 cheese pizza.

VillabellaThis dry ruby red wine comes from the Bardolino area near Verona in northern Italy (highlighted to the left) and is a blend of Corvina (65%), Rondinella (15%), Cabernet (10%), and Merlot (10%). Aged for a year in oak barrels (Superiore).

Lots of black cherry fruit and toasty oak aromas and taste. Tannins are soft though a hint of peppery spiciness to save it from being otherwise forgettable.

It was a pleasant and enjoyable wine paired up with the pizza. Before the pizza arrived though, it wasn’t doing much for me. For the price, would have been nice to have a bit more complexity to it.

About $16.
Good. Pleasant enough, but I’ll try something else with my next pizza.

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Friday, April 29, 2005

Saint Clair Marlborough 2004 Sauvignon Blanc

St ClairHoly smokes, it was hot today. It’s just too early for this 90 degree reminder that summer is just about upon us here. Time to reach for something cool and crisp.

With two other New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc postings in the last month (Kim Crawford and Highfield Estate) it should be readily apparent that I like the refreshing taste of these wines.

The Saint Clair is pretty true to the form. It grabbed me immediately with some tart citrus flavors of lemon/lime and finished up with just a bit of green pepper.

If pressed to compare this with the other two I’ve mentioned above, I liked them all, but this one just seemed to be a bit more citrusy tart than the others.

This wine is in Saint Clair’s “Premium” range of wines. It sits squarely between two other product lines, the “Reserve” range and the “Vicar’s Choice” range. Each range has a Sauvignon Blanc in them. I have seen neither of these other two locally but will keep an eye peeled for one of them to compare.

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About $12 to $14 if memory serves.
 Crisp and refreshing. Very good.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Orogeny 2002 Pinot Noir, My Daily Dose of Resveratrol

FourplayI was waiting in the repair shop yesterday for my car – one of my least favorite things to do – and the limited selection of reading material led me to leaf through a copy of Men’s Health magazine. In it was a very brief but interesting article that highlighted which wines contain the most resveratrol – the compound in red wines believed to be responsible for the health benefits in wine like helping to reduce cholesterol. The answer: Pinot Noir.

So now we have yet another reason to like Pinot Noir – it’s just plain good for you! The article I’ve linked to above says that Pinot Noir has as much as 40 times as much resveratrol as grapes such as merlot and cabernet sauvignon. It doesn’t appear that anyone really knows how much of the stuff is the right amount to make you any healthier but it seemed like a good enough reason to me to pop open some Pinot Noir last evening. Among the ones I had available was one I had tasted at Tuscany Market several weeks ago: the Orogeny Vineyards 2002 Sonoma County Green Valley Pinot Noir.

It’s a blend from four vineyards in the Green Valley, a subappelation of the Russian River Valley. Apparently the coldest part of the Russian River Valley. This is a velvety smooth fruity wine with layered tastes of berries and cherries, and a hint of oak and spice. Very nice lingering finish.

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About $25.
One of my favorites in recent memory. I’ll look for this one again and again.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Random Notes

I was just reviewing some of my (growing) list of news feeds today and ran across a couple of interesting but generally unrelated items. At least one of them had something to do with the general thrust of this blog, so read on.

The first was this thing called the Wine Boot Camp. It actually seems like a pretty cool idea. The web site claims it's "the ultimate fantasy experience for wine lovers. Wine novices and experts experience firsthand the joys and frustrations of winemaking." Looks like it's a day's worth of educational activities related to wine making for $395. I'd be really curious to hear from anyone that's done this and found it to be worth the price of admission. If done well, it might be pretty fun. So, is this the equivalent of sports fantasy camps for the wine lover? I wonder. Many years ago I recall driving by the actual home where the movie Field of Dreams was filmed. The baseball field was still there and there was a baseball fantasy camp going on there at the time. Sox uniforms and the whole thing. The has-been athletes on the field looked to be having quite a bit of fun.

Completely unrelated to wine and perhaps more specifically related to blogging, was the article I ran across that mentioned a site that can inspect your web site and give an assessment of its readability. It uses some algorithms (which it describes) to determine the readability. When I fed in this blog (in its present state prior to this post) I got, for example, a 'Gunning Fog Index' of 7.69. For some perspective, they say that Reader's Digest has a typical Fog Index score of 8, and that most popular novels are in the 8-10 range. So I guess my postings should be fairly easy to comprehend. They're usually fairly short and to the point, so that would seem to ring true to me. I ran a few other blogs through it too (which shall remain nameless) and a few scored a little higher on that same scale. Perhaps I should be stepping it up in terms of complexity of what I write. Anyway, give it a try.

Would a Little Sicilian Fourplay Interest You?

FourplayWith a name like Fourplay, a review of this wine could easily degenerate into way too many double entendres. But despite that, I’ll try not to be too brief or uninventive. (See what I mean?)

I ran across this interestingly named Sicilian wine the other day and in an echo of the WBW #8 from a couple weeks ago, I thought I’d give it a try. I’m a sucker for a catchy label anyway, so that alone would have suggested I give it a try.

The name is derived from the four native grapes of Sicily that are blended to make the wine. There’s 25% Frappato Nero, 25% Nerello Cappuccio, 25% Nerello Mascalese and 25% Nero D’Avola. The wine is a collaboration between the Tuscan Dievole and Saro Di Pietro of Sicily. Personally, these are not grapes that conjure up any memories for me, so I enjoyed giving this a try.

The flashy web site (click the image above) suggests they’re putting a lot of money into marketing this wine. Warning, it’s a Flash web site. High bandwidth for not much content in this case.

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About $12.
Some black cherries and a hint of old cigar box. Soft tannins. Though wish it would have lingered a little longer on the finish. Good with a pizza. With its name, surely a nice icebreaker at the right party or with that special friend.

Monday, April 25, 2005

A Little Angel - Sharpe Hill Ballet of Angels (nv)

Ballet of AngelsSomewhere along the way, I ran into this little angel last year and thought it tasted great. When it comes to light, crisp white wines I, like a lot of other folks I imagine, don’t naturally think of Connecticut. But that’s where this wine hails from: the Sharpe Hill Vineyard.

Their web site claims this little cherub is “the best selling wine made in New England”. It also says it’s “derived from a unique and secret blend of grapes”. Hmmm. Neither of those tell me a whole lot so as far as I know, they could truck in the juice for this wine from California. The taste for me was a combination of tart green apples and citrus. Nicely fruity and not too sweet.

If this LA tasting event is to be believed, the grapes in this wine are Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc & Vignoles. Sharpe Hill’s web site indicates they have 25 acres of Chardonnay, Melon de Bourgogne and Vignoles. To be fair though, I should also point out that this wine is designated as "American White Wine", so I shouldn't really expect it to be just from Connecticut. Regardless, I enjoyed it a lot.

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About $12.
A great apertif. I enjoyed this enough I’d go back for another one.

A Tale of Two Tastings

I had occasion to have two different tasting experiences this weekend that I thought I would share. They were within a couple blocks from one another but a significant distance in terms of the experience. I was downtown and intended to head over to the new Whole Foods for a few things. The new store at their corporate headquarters is out of this world. A mecca for food lovers. It’s the pinnacle of grocery stores – with price tags to match, of course, but it really is awesome. Anyway, it’s a couple blocks to walk from the new Whole Foods down to the Austin Wine Merchant. They do Saturday afternoon tastings and it was a nice day for a walk anyway. They were tasting the following French wines from MANCIAT-PONCET.

2003 Mâcon-Charnay Les Chênes $13.75
2003 Mâcon-Charnay Vieilles Vignes $16.25
2002 Saint-Véran Vieilles Vignes $17.50
2002 Pouilly-Fuissé Les Crays Vieilles Vignes $24.99

All of these are Chardonnays from the Mâconnais, and I’ll save saying more about these wines and which one I walked out with for a future posting. But for now, let me get more to the point of just highlighting the difference between the tasting at Whole Foods and the tasting at the Austin Wine Merchant. You can be the judge of which one you’d rather go to.

First of all, the Wine Merchant had nice glassware that was of an appropriate size such that it gave you an opportunity to swirl & sniff. Then they also had a wine encyclopedia out on the table turned to the page for the Mâconnais region. I’m a map guy and I always like to know where in the world the wine comes from. I also like the fact that they thought I might actually be interested in that and that they didn’t assume that I would already know. Finally, the person doing the tasting had some knowledge of the wines and could give you their take on them and point things out on the map.

Whole Foods up the street didn’t have quite as much attention to detail. There were 3 Australian wines, only one of which I tasted. (The $6.99 Shiraz.) There was nothing like a map and the wine was poured into a tiny little plastic cup – about half the size of a bathroom Dixie cup. Ok, so no big deal, it was a $6 wine anyway. But I think you understand where I’m coming from. One of these was a much more enjoyable experience that resulted in a sale.

I have nothing against Whole Foods. In fact, they have a great selection of wines there and the guys behind the unbelievable cheese counter were extremely helpful. It just seems that in what is otherwise an awe-inspiring display of gastronomy that they’d do a better job of it in the wine department.

There is the matter of scale involved too, I suppose. The Wine Merchant had maybe 3 or 4 other people in the store at the same time as me. Whole Foods probably had at least 100 times that in the store. Despite the fact it’s out of the way, I’ll likely make another Saturday excursion to the Austin Wine Merchant though.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

I'm Metablogging Today

Metablogging is blogging about blogging. Generally I don’t find the idea of writing about blogging particularly interesting – at least not in the abstract, and at this point in blogging’s evolution. And yet, a couple things lead me to do just that in the context of this blog today. First, I’ve been doing this for about a month now and second, the new Business Week (May 2, 2005) magazine arrived in the mail today.

The cover of this week’s Business Week screams in huge font: “Blogs will change your business”. The online edition of the article appears to be complete and free, so check it out. It’s an interesting read. A few highlights below:

“… you cannot afford to close your eyes to them [blogs], because they're simply the most explosive outbreak in the information world since the Internet itself. And they're going to shake up just about every business -- including yours.”

Steve Rubel, a New York PR strategist and blogger is also quoted in the article as saying:

“The first job … is to monitor the blogs to see what people are saying about your company. … Next step: Damage-control strategies. How to respond when blogs attack. He says companies have to learn to track what blogs are talking about, pinpoint influential bloggers, and figure out how to buttonhole them, privately and publicly.”

Ultimately, this seems to me to be the main reason for why Business Week would bother to consider saying something about blogs. We need to start figuring out how to “buttonhole” people who aren’t saying what we want about a company’s products. It’s one thing for a customer to send a company a letter about the deficiencies of its product, it’s something entirely different when the whole world can find those opinions in an instant via a google search.

If it hasn’t happened already, my guess is that at some point soon this will affect someone doing a wine blog. Let’s be honest, not every wine is a winner. And people’s tastes are amazingly different. There’s bound to be someone trashing what someone else thinks is great stuff. The wine business will have to deal with this blogging phenomenon. I think this will be most interesting to watch. And since my postings occasionally identify something I’ve “dumped”, I wonder whether people like Steve Rubel or one of his clients will come a’knocking one day to “buttonhole” my opinion?

Meanwhile, as I mentioned, I’ve been doing this about a month now and yet even that small amount of time has given me a chance to make a few observations…

  1. I started this blog mostly on a whim one day because I had more time on my hands than I typically do. I’ve been reading blogs for many years (started way, way back with CamWorld and but I had no idea there were so many other people doing wine or wine & food blogs. The number of them and the quality of their content has been both surprising and refreshing, not to mention interesting reading.
  2. This takes quite a bit of time. Shouldn’t be surprising, but I didn’t realize I would end up spending as much time doing this as I have. What the hell was I doing before with the time I’m now spending doing this? I read a little less of other unrelated things online and I just watch less TV now.
  3. Writing regular blog posts makes you think about things in a more disciplined way. I enjoy about the same amount and types of wine as I always have, but now I write things down more often and think about them after the fact in a way that only makes the appreciation of them that much better.
  4. Other than some good wine blogs, the state of the wine business online seems pretty dismal by comparison to other businesses. Where is the Amazon of wine? In fact, more interesting as far as I’m concerned, where is the Dell of wine (i.e. the direct sales model)? And where is the google for wine? (Sorry, doesn’t quite meet the bar as far as I’m concerned.)

Anyway, despite the time it’s taken, I find it motivating to do this and I’m having fun doing it too so I hope to keep it up for awhile. And as they say here in Texas, “thanks for coming and y’all come back”.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Friday Night Fights, "Castle Rock" by a Nose

Yes sports fans, time again for another recap of the Friday Night Fights at Grape Vine Market. This week it was again Napa Cabernet Sauvignon under (or around) $20. I think they have at least one more 1st round maybe two of similar Napa Cabs before they start to match up the winners from earlier weeks. This week there were 3 wines tasted and once again the winner, for me, was really a close call. Yet, with the price differential, one is a much better value in my opinion. The 3 wines, in blind tasting order, were:

A. Castle Rock 2003 Napa County Cabernet Sauvignon $10.99
B. Edgewood Estate 1998 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon $16.79
C. William Hill 2001 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon $19.49

Unfortunately, none of these wines really knocked my socks off. A was fruity, light and very drinkable but I didn’t think it had much structure to it. B was more interesting but just a little too funky for me. It had a very earthy aroma and was a good example of what I sometimes read described as “forest floor”. It was definitely somewhere deep in the woods. C had a bit more heft to it and I really enjoyed it. And yet, I think the tasting order might have ruined it for me. I was getting no nose off the William Hill Cab. I think the earthy Edgewood Estate might have influenced my tasting of C. So, it was a toss up between A and C for me. In the end I went with A, the Castle Rock, for no other other reason than I simply enjoyed it more than the other two. In the back of my mind though I figured the winner of the night would very likely be C.

Predictably perhaps, when the votes tallied so far were revealed, it was neck and neck between A and C. I think B had garnered one vote and that was from an employee of Grapevine. (Sympathy vote perhaps?) I was there fairly early so I’m not sure which ultimately won the night. Hopefully I’ll find out in a subsequent week. So far, I predict nothing from the last two weeks is likely to beat the Big Ass Cab from my initial ‘Fights’ posting. Time will tell. Tune in for future postings.

Personally I hope C, the William Hill, lives on to another week so I can compare it in a different context.

About $11
hmm, let’s see. I did like this wine, but then I didn’t walk out of the store with one either, did I? Thus no picture in this posting. I’m likely to try this one again in the right circumstance, especially given it’s price. But Castle Rock also lists three other Cabs in the same price range – from Sonoma, from Columbia Valley and from Alexander Valley. They also list one from Napa “Valley” as opposed to Napa “County” but the link on their web site is broken for that one so perhaps they no longer offer it. I’m actually more likely to move on to try one of those other wines from Castle Rock and so I give this one a one-glass rating.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

From Woodbridge to Leonardo Family Vineyards 2002 Cabernet Syrah - Lodi

Leonardo Family VineyardMy last wine posting was for the 2001 Select Vineyard Series Woodbridge Cabernet from Lodi. I think I left off on an “uninspiring” note. Today’s selection comes from the same area – yes Lodi again – but quite a distance away in terms of the size of the business behind the wine. In 2003, a bit of googling reveals that Woodbridge shipped 1.9 million cases. Not all of that was the Select Vineyard Series, of course, but let’s just say they’re a big outfit. Leonardo Family Vineyards, on the other hand, is a pretty small outfit and I like juxtaposing one against the other, particularly when the Leonardo Cab Syrah is already sitting there on the rack and begging to be opened. For this particular wine, there were 800 cases produced.

In fact, these folks don’t really have a winery you can visit. Instead, they’re do their tastings at the Vino Piazza. That translates to ‘the wine plaza’ in Italian and it’s a little place with about a dozen wineries clustered in a type of mall out in the middle of nowhere near Lockeford California.

I’m not going to suggest that because they’re smaller they’re any better. But in this particular instance, I think I enjoyed this wine a bit more. This wine is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Syrah. I again paired this up with some grilled steak (ribeye). There’s some nice fruity raspberry and spice and a decent amount of mouth feel to this wine. It complemented and was not overwhelmed by the food.

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About $12.
 better than I expected. If I could find another bottle locally, It’s a good bet I’d snag it.

Two Tasting Events

Worth a quick note, here are a couple of opportunities to do some wine tasting here in the Austin area in the next couple days:
  • Central market on north Lamar is doing wine & cheese tastings M-F, 4-7pm. No other details I noticed, like what wine or what cheese.
  • More interesting, perhaps, is the Austin Wine Merchant down on 6th will be tasting the Mâconnais wines of MANCIAT-PONCET from 12-3pm this Saturday.

Wine Lists & The Austin Chronicle Restaurant Poll

If you live in or at least frequently visit Austin restaurants, go vote at the annual Chronicle restaurant poll. It's about to end this coming weekend (25th). I left plenty of the entry fields blank. I just don't know where to find the best Dim Sum or Taqueria, for example. But I did fill in the field for "Best Wine List". Though, that's kind of a tough one. How about if I just say "Favorite" rather than "Best".

For favorite, the nod would probably have to go to Castle Hill. It may not be the largest list, but I like their general philosophy to "offer the best wine available and the best values of the various regions and varietals at affordable prices". You can always find something nice to compliment your meal and it typically doesn't set you back an arm and a leg. I don't recall the fee, but I know you can also bring a bottle of your own along if you're so inclined.

A close 2nd favorite would be Mirabelle. And I say 2nd only because I'm biased by the fact that I think I like going to Castle Hill slightly more than Mirabelle. Though both have very good food. Both of these restaurant's web pages claim the same wine buyer, Michael Vilim. In fact, the same exact sentences appear on both their web sites. It should be no surprise there's some similar lineage between these two places. Mirabelle claims to have won the Chronicle's wine list poll for 4 years in a row so I'll be curious to see if they hang on for a 5th.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

New Gizmo On This Page

I added a new link to in the righthand sidebar. It's behind the wine colored "wine blog" icon. By all means, if you wanna steal the image, feel free. If you do though, it might be nice to use it to link to Jarrett's web page.

Blogger Issues

Update: I cleared my cache and the problem vanished. Maybe it's time to make the move to MovableType.

Not sure if anyone else viewing this page is seeing this, but every time I attempt to view I'm redirected to my Blogger "dashboard". This is truly bizarre behavior. Only in Firefox. Apologies for anyone attempting to use Firefox to view this page.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Fall of the House of Mondavi, & 2001 Woodbridge Red Dirt Ridge Cab

WoodbridgeOriginally, I started reading the April Business 2.0 magazine for the article on the open web services APIs of eBay, Amazon, Google and Yahoo. Yeah, I know, thrilling. But a few pages back in the same issue was this really interesting article($) on Robert Mondavi, his family, and the significant but now dwindling influence he’s had on the wine industry since the 40’s.

Business 2.0 requires you be a paid subscriber to read their stuff, so let me just summarize [very] briefly by saying that Robert Mondavi split from his brother at Krug in ‘65, turned his Napa wines into a worldwide success, broadened to mass appeal with Woodbridge, ultimately took his business public more out of necessity than anything else and then got bought out by Constellation Brands last year – leaving the Mondavi’s no longer in control of what they had built. Regardless of the relationship to wine, it’s an interesting read regarding losing control of one’s business.

Meanwhile, I had a Woodbridge wine on the rack and figured what better opportunity to open it. The “Select Vineyard Series” is the next tier up for the Woodbridge label. For these wines, their web site says:

“We've discovered which vineyards produce the finest grapes in the Lodi region for our Select Vineyard Series wines. …”

In this case, the Cabernet comes from the Red Dirt Ridge vineyard in the Lodi appellation. I’d originally selected it due to the Lodi designation and out of curiosity for wines that come from that region. There’s really nothing to dislike about this wine, but there simply wasn’t that much too it. The berry aromas are nice on the nose, but the mouth feel has very little structure and there’s virtually no finish – especially with food.

I paired this up with a basic meal of grilled steak (fillet) and potatoes. As far as I’m concerned, the wine was completely lost when paired up with food. Though, it’s actually pretty good just on its own after the fact or with a little chocolate.

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About $10.
 good on its own. Blackberry, black cherry, hints of oak. Nothing offensive, but not likely to inspire you.

Edmeades 2003 Mendocino County Zinfandel

Edmeades ZinfandelLet me say right off that I liked this wine, a lot. Last week I happened by this article by Lain Bradford in an online edition of a South Carolina newspaper, and it was a very positive review of this California wine. So surprise, surprise, when I actually happened to see one sitting there on the shelf at Grape Vine late last week. Actually, there were only two left and I took one of them. I should have taken both. Now I’ve got to go back!

I paired this wine with some take-out baby back ribs from my favorite local BBQ joint, Rudy’s. Mmm, some tasty ribs. But let me give you a tip: don’t bother with Rudy’s spicy BBQ sauce – or any spicy sauce for that matter. Yes, normally, I like it too. But I don’t believe the spiciness of Rudy’s sauce pairs all that well with the higher alcohol content (15%) of this wine. The result was a mouthful of fire. I guess if you like that sort of thing, then by all means, but I think if you take the ribs and wine as is, the combination is fantastic.

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$17.49 at Grape Vine (on sale), but shown as $16 on the Edmeades web site.
very good. Black cherries and toasted oak. Wonderful lingering finish. I’ll have seconds please, maybe thirds.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Goldwater - $20 wines going for $10,000

GoldwaterWhat are you willing to pay for a bottle of wine?

I ran across this article today about the Goldwater winery in New Zealand. Judged “one of the best” according to the London International Wine & Spirit Fair. Ok, that’s cool, but what really caught my eye in the article was someone here in the state of Texas reportedly paid $10,000 for one of their wines – the 2003 New Dog Sauvignon Blanc.

Wow! That’s a lot of simoleons for a bottle of NZ Sauvignon Blanc. Maybe this is some really exotic wine?? Actually, it was just an exotic bottle – one of apparently only two 6 litre bottles. And as the article goes on to explain, the big price tag was really all about the charity event where the bottle was sold. And yet, despite that, the auction event and it’s big price tag has apparently caused sales of this wine to “go through the roof”. It’s truly amazing how well the “If it’s expensive, it must be good” mentality works.

Curious, I pulled up some of my pictures from my trip to NZ earlier this year. Sure enough, the Goldwater I visited is the same Goldwater on Waiheke Island they’re talking about in the article. I’d even taken a picture of the menu at the tasting room. (Above, click it to see larger version in context.) Sure enough, the price tag for this year’s New Dog Sauvignon Blanc is only about $20 (The $28 on the menu is New Zealand dollars.) Of course, that was before this auction event. I wonder what that menu lists it for today?

“Goldwater” is an ironic name for this winery. Don’t you think? I tasted this wine. It’s good. Surely no better than the Kim Crawford I posted about earlier though. I hope no one pays any more than $20 for this.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Free Online Wine Course

The Culinary Institute of America offers a free online wine course. Haven’t gone through it, but it looks interesting enough to check it out. Can’t beat the price. The intro says:

“…a virtual journey through three of the world’s top grape varieties. You’ll learn about where they grow, how they’re made into wine, how the wines they’re made into taste, what foods they work with best, and why they’re hot in the marketplace. We’ll suggest a few simple but great tastings you can do at home, and share some delicious wine-matched recipes from our CIA chefs.”

Spicewood Vineyards - Wine & Wildflower Trail

Spicewood VineyardI found some time yesterday to take a short swing out into the hill country west of Austin. It’s the first of two “Wine & Wildflower Trail” weekends. I always like going out to Spicewood Vineyards anyway just for the scenery and this was as good an excuse as any. It’s a fairly short drive west of Austin, but a world away from the otherwise frantic pace in Austin.

Thankfully, they have some signs posted, or you’d surely think you were going the wrong way – and I’ve been there before. You have to cross four cattle guards to get back to the vineyards and wine tasting room. (Picture above. Click for larger.) Ignore the cow pies on the road, it’s just part of the scenery. Once you’re back there though, it’s really a peaceful place. The covered deck makes an ideal place for a picnic too, so bring food. They don’t really advertise it, but they do let you buy a glass of wine to enjoy on the deck. If you click for the larger version of the picture, you’ll see one of the two Jack Russell Terriers begging for food on the deck. His name is “Cab” (short for Caballero, not Cabernet).

My choice of their wines with lunch was the 2001 Estrella Blanca. It’s a blend of 51% Semillon, 26% Sauvignon Blanc, 17% Chardonnay and 6% Muscat. Light fruit and oak tastes with hints of citrus, pear and pineapple. Very good. I much preferred it to either their Chardonnay or 2004 Sauv Blanc.

More on Spicewood in a future post…


Saturday, April 16, 2005

Friday Night Fights, "Leaping Lizard Cabernet" Inches Ahead

Leaping LizardThis week’s Friday Night Fights, the Friday evening blind tasting at Grape Vine Market in Austin, was again Napa Cabernet Sauvignon under (or around) $20. Last week there were four wines tasted and Big Ass Cab was clearly leading the charge. This week, there were only two wines tasted, with neither leading the charge all that much:

A. Leaping Lizard 2002 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon $11.99
B. Freestone 2001 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon $20.49

I’m pleased when the wine I like is significantly less expensive than the other wine it’s compared to. Though I don’t think either of this week’s wines will fair that well in match-ups in the coming weeks – regardless of which ultimately took the night. Neither one was a standout. After selecting A, I got to see the names of the wines and other taster’s picks so far. A was ahead by only 4 votes. Generally it was pretty evenly split by the folks that had been tasting up to that point and in fact 3 people had essentially abstained because they didn’t like either one of them.

Personally, I thought the Leaping Lizard was much more fun. It didn’t have that much depth or complexity to it but it was a pleasing inky red color with blackberry fruitiness, decent balance & medium finish. The Freestone was more astringent and when I took that first whiff it immediately gave off what I can only describe as a metalic scent. Given that nearly half the other tasters chose this as the winner though, I wonder whether I just happened to get a some from a bad bottle. Given my clearly different opinion of the wines though, it’s another reminder that there are huge disparities in people’s tastes, and another reason why I like these blind tastings that Grape Vine has been doing.

About $12
only a one-glass rating, and yet I’m very likely to buy another of these simply because I thought it was pretty good for the price. Definite party buy and I would certainly recommend trying this one.

And Now For Something Completely Different - Juniper Mountain Honey Wine from Redstone Meadery

Redstone was recently in Boulder Colorado. While there, she ran into an interesting little place producing some very cool honey wines – meade. The place was called the RedStone Meadery and she brought back one of their meades called “Honey Wine with Juniper Berries”. You might be hard pressed to find this unless you are in Boulder. But it can be ordered online. Although, from checking out the Colorado Wines site it appears there are a few other places there that are doing meades. In fact, there appear to be far more Colorado wineries in general than I would have imagined. Based on the “catch the buzz” marketing, I think Redstone would like us to think that a new appreciation for meade is sweeping the nation.

Served chilled, it’s not surprisingly a light honey colored wine. And it has a wonderful aroma of honey. It conjured up images of being in a big field of clover. Any hint of Juniper berries was very subtle. Great after dinner sipping. 

About $20, for a liter bottle
 very nice, honeysuckle and sweetness.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster Pinot Noir 2004

Willamette Valley VineyardsI have some very fond memories of traveling through the Willamette Valley in Oregon and taking in some of the wineries there. It’s been a number of years since I’ve been there, but I remember staying at a fantastic bed & breakfast called the Springbrook Hazelnut Farm. I wonder if it’s still as nice? The web site suggests it probably is. (And you’ve gotta love a place that’s claimed the “” domain name, don’t you?) It’s right next door to the Rex Hill winery, which I recall being a good visit. The room we had (the Carriage House) was essentially a furnished apartment with a kitchen. We made our own dinner of some local fare, including some veggies from the garden on the property. Breakfast was left in the ‘fridge and we prepared it the next morning. 

There was also a pool on the grounds. That was great, but you had to be ok with the idea that you might have a dog swimming with you. There were a couple really fun dogs that liked jumping in the pool. There was a huge expanse of yard as well and those dogs just loved chasing sticks back and forth on the lawn. What a great visit.

Anyway, since that trip, I continue to seek out Oregon Pinot Noirs. This one, Willamette Valley Vineyards 2004 “Whole Cluster” was one of only two from Oregon at the grocery the other day. There are places like Grape Vine Market in Austin that have a better selection from Oregon, but a little out of the way yesterday. This is a very, very light red wine and based on my experience with it, the tasting notes at the link above are pretty accurate. I’m not sure I’d say the mouth feel was all that “soft” and “round” though. If there’d been more to the finish, I’d probably give it a two-glass rating.

About $17, at HEB grocery in Austin
 good. Very fresh and light with cherry fruit aromas.

Wine & Wildflower Trail Weekends - Texas Wine Trail

Texas BluebonnetThis weekend and the next are being billed as the "Wine and Wildflowers Trail" weekends by Looks like some of the Texas wineries that will be participating will be having music and other events at their wineries as part of this.

Wine and driving don’t mix that well, but if you can bring yourself to get over the fact you’re paying more than $2 for every gallon you burn on the drive out there, the wild flowers are typically worth the drive. I may head out this weekend to take in a couple.

By the way, the picture to the right is of Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrush taken two weekends ago in Zilker Park in downtown Austin.

Oh, and one more update... there's a great post on Lenndevours called "Wine Trail Tasting Tips" that's a pretty good read.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Wine Blogging Wednesday

I think this Wine Blogging Wednesday is a great idea. The round-up of the one from yesterday is a good read. I hope to participate in the next one of these.

Do Wine Glasses Really Matter?

I ran across this “Wine Glass Demonstration and Wine Tasting led by Georg Riedel” event that’ll be held here in far NW Austin on Monday. It’s so close it would probably be kinda fun to go but I’m not quite sure I really wanna shell out $125 for it. On the plus side, you get 4 Riedel glasses to take home as part of the tasting. These are supposedly valued at $95 so the price of admission is somewhat understandable. There’s also some appeal in meeting Georg Riedel. I mean, they make some pretty cool glassware.

Though, do you really think that the glassware makes all that much difference? This old Slate article seems to suggest he found a difference. In fact in my own experience, on a visit to Sister Creek Vineyards here in the Texas Hill Country a few years ago, I was sold on the idea too and subsequently purchased some Riedel glassware. I don’t know if they still do it, but at Sister Creek they would let you taste their wines in two different sets of glassware – one being Riedel. There was a difference. Obviously they were trying to sell you some stemware at the same time as they sold you some wine, but there was a noticable difference.

I think to some degree though there’s got to be some junk science to this, right? I think there might be some power of suggestion that is involved. Though based on my own experience, I’d agree the shape of the glass does in fact make some difference. Riedel’s own web site has some interesting reading on the subject to suggest there is some science behind the ideas.

Ultimately, I think I’ll save my $125 and put it toward some wine to go in the glassware.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc 2004

Kim CrawfordIn March, I posted about the Highfield Estate Sauvignon Blanc and an article that appeared in the WSJ about New Zealand wines. That article also highlighted Kim Crawford 2004 Sauvignon Blanc as one of their favorites. I had one cooling and just had to pull it out this evening.

When the weather gets over 80 degrees like it has today I love to pull out a cool, crisp Sauvignon Blanc like this one. It really hits the spot. In fact, today’s weather really couldn’t get any better. 84 degrees and 15% humidity. Wow, I hope you got outside! Thankfully I was able to get out today. It’s one of those days you put the top down and drive home the long way. These are the kind of days that convertibles and Sauvignon Blanc were made for.

By the way, I promise to stop writing about how nice the weather is here right now. I really do. But despite the fact that it snowed a foot in Denver this past weekend and was frosty in Glen Ellen this morning, I know you’ll soon be enjoying the same. Get outside and have some of this when you do.

About $16, at HEB grocery in Austin
crisp and citrusy. Nice aroma and taste of grapefruit and lemons. Nicely balanced and not overwhelmingly tart or herbaceous. I’m definitely going back for more of this.

Wine Ratings, again

Since I'd recently posted about my rather simple approach to rating wines, an article in today's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review caught my eye. It's a pretty good read and I like what this guy Dave DeSimone has to say. I'll have to look back in their archives and see what else he's written.

Meanwhile, given the gist of his article, I'm wondering just how many that chance by this blog have actually had the pleasure of a "100". I suspect it would be slim and none. But, you never know. Maybe it's more than I'd imagine. Feel free to post a comment.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Perhaps a use for those corks

Oddly enough, I saw several people collecting corks at the recent wine & food festival. I kinda wondered what they were going to do with them? Anyway, over at apartment therapy, there’s at least one interesting idea for making use of them.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Texas Food and Wine Festival 2005

Big Ass CabSpring in central Texas is really a wonderful time. Some nice sunny weather, comfortable temps, flowers, everything’s green… For that matter, I suppose most places are pretty wonderful in spring. What better time though to get out to the parks in downtown Austin and celebrate some wine and food.

I liked the old location of the Wine & Food Fest out at the Salt Lick. It’s just a nice spot by a beautiful creek. But it got really crowded. In fact, I quit going to this a few years ago largely because of that. Now at Auditorium Shores in downtown Austin, there’s quite a bit of room to spread out.

Release The Hounds!
Judging by the way people were clamoring for food and wine you’d think that the folks attending hadn’t eaten in days. What a bunch of jackals. Let’s just say that most of these folks were clearly getting their three square meals a day. Overall though, I’d have to say that people were pretty friendly and courteous, but at times the crowd inside the tent was a little overwhelming.

To Drink or Spit?
I tasted as lot of wines over the weekend. The only way to remain upright was to spit what I was tasting, of course. But, generally, there were more people drinking than tasting. But then, I guess it all depends on what you’re interested in doing over the weekend. Most of the folks were just in a partying mood and there was plenty there to loosen things up. In fact the program at the gate mentioned 72 wineries.

Beef, Beef and more Beef
This is Texas – gotta have some beef. The Texas Beef Council had a nice group of “chuckwagon” booths set up. There were short ribs, sausages, sirloin and more stuff on or in a tortilla than I probably should have been eating. But it was some good stuff. Lines were long on Saturday, but Sunday was easy going.  

The Wines
With this being a Texas wine and food festival, you’d expect some Texas wines. And of course, there were plenty available. I sampled a bunch of them, but by no means all of them. The larger contingency of wines, though, were from California. Probably no surprise. When you look at my list below, I’m sure you’ll recognize a lot of familiar names.

Favorite Red
Tied. I loved the 2001 Treana. A mouthful of fruity goodness. And I also really liked the C.G. Di Arie Southern Exposure Zinfandel. A bit smoother and more balanced than others I tasted.

Favorite White
The Bonterra 2003 Chardonnay. Lightly fruity and nice mouth feel to it. The oak doesn’t hit you over the head. At a likely price of $13 this is a pretty good value in my opinion. Give me two!

My List of Tastings
Here’s the list of wines I tasted. Now, I’m going to caveat this list first by saying that it was a bit of a zoo in there and occasionally I may have missed a vintage or other relevant piece of information. Sorry. It is what it is. Unlike my other blog postings, the ratings are truly a first impression in the context of lots of other wines on the same day. The list is ordered first by rating and then alphabetical. Regarding prices, your mileage may vary. I took most from various web sites after the fact. Texas wines are clearly identified.

C.G. Di Arie Southern Exposure Zinfandel 2002One of my wine fest favorites! Nicely balanced. 100+ yr old vines. About $30.
Treana Red, a blend, new 2001 releaseOne of my wine fest favorites! A price increase this year puts it in the $40+ range this year.
Alexander Valley Vineyards Cyrus 2000I really enjoyed this one. Wish it wasn't about $60.
Alexander Valley Vineyards Merlot 2002 Web page doesn't say, but I think this, like the Cab, is around $20.
Archery Summit Oregon Pinot Noir 2002 "Premiere Cuvee"$37
Becker Claret 2003 About $17.
Bonterra Chard 2003 The Bonterra wines are organic. The '03 is not on their web site, but the '01 goes for $13.
Bonterra Syrah 2003  The '03 is not on their web site, but the '01 goes for $24.
Calera Pinot Noir Jensen Vineyard 2001 Very enjoyable. $50.
C.G. Di Arie Shennandoah Zinfandel 2002Their Southern Exposure Zin outshines this one, but still, this one's quite nice. About $25.
Clos Du Bois Reserve Cab 2001About $22
Driftwood Muscat Cannelli A hint of grapefruit in the nose. Once again, either there was no vintage on the label, or I missed. The winery shipped it's first commercial bottle in 2003, so chances are this was only recently released.
Drylands Sauv Blanc 2004Very nice. Fresh, citrusy, hit of green peppers in the nose. Very typical NZ style. About $12.
Fess Parker Syrah “Santa Barbara County" 2001$20
*Geyser Peak Alexander Valley Cab 2002*Unfortunately, I did not catch whether this was from the Reserve or Block collection. So, I'll have to discount this rating. Their web site doesn't show a 2002 release yet in either case.
Franciscan Oakville Merlot 2002$22
Huntington Napa County Sauv Blanc 2002About $15
Jordan Cab Sonoma 2001Nice new leather scent on the nose. About $35.
Lindemans Reserve South Australia CabUnfortunately, the tasting notes card I picked up next to the wine did not include a vintage. Red label. Under $20 though.
Llano Estacado Riesling Either I missed it or no vintage on the label. Didn't find it on their web site either.
Messina Hof Merlot 2002 Doh! I did not write down whether this was "Barrel Reserve" or "Private Reserve". Though from memory I think it was the "Barrel Reserve", in which case it's about $13. (Private Reserve is about $25.)
Mettler Cab 2001 $22
Niebaum Coppola Diamond Shiraz 2003Nice & Spicy. About $16.
Pine Ridge Rutherford Cabernet 2001$39
Pine Ridge Stags Leap Cabernet 2000I liked this one a bit better than the Pine Ridge Rutherford. reports it in the $50 range.
Seghesio "Home Ranch" Zin 2003$32
Seghesio Barbera 2003$25
Siduri Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir 2003$35 Nice bit of spice on the finish.
Swanson Oakville Merlot 2001$32
Treana Westside Red, 2002 Very enjoyable as well. Not shown on their web site. Rep mentioned it was new. If memory serves, around $20.
Trinchero Merlot 2002About $12
Trinitas Cellars Old Vine Cuvee 2003About $18
Trinitas Cellars Old Vine Mataro 2003About $25
Trinitas Cellars Old Vine Petite Sirah 2003About $22
Alexander Valley Vineyards Cab 2002About $20.
Becker Chard 2004 About $15.
Bell Mountain Chard 2002
Calera Pinot Noir Central Coast 2001 Good, but no comparison to the one from the Jensen vineyard. $20.
Caprock White 2002
Cypress Merlot 2003About $10.
Cypress Shiraz 2003About $10.
Cypress Cab 2003About $10.
Erath Pinot Noir 2003$15. Light and thin. Good, but just a bit of an unpleasant taste on the finish.
Fall Creek Chenin Blanc 2004
Flat Creek Estate Primrosé 2004 Sweet and fruity.
Flat Creek Estate Primrossetti Seco 2004 Nice for quaffing on a warm day. The drier of the two rosés from Flat Creek.
Folie à Deux Menage à Trois 2003, a red blend$12. Struct me as a great picnic or pizza red
Hahn Pinot Noir 2003$18
Hess Select Chard 2003$10
Hess Select Syrah 2001Less than $15. Hints of blueberries.
Huntington Russian River Valley Chard 2001About $15
Iron Horse Pinot Noir 2001 
Iron Horse Cab 2002Tannic. I don't see this release on their web site. (?)
Jessie's Grove Earth, Zin & Fire Zinfandel 2003I liked it, but very tannic. About $15.
McPherson Viognier 2004
Messina Hof Port 2001 Unfortunately, upon review of their web site I see they have several ports and from my notes it's not clear which I tasted. Oops.
Messina Hof Pinot Grigio 2004
Niebaum Coppola Diamond Pinot Noir 2003Nice nose. About $17.
Novy Napa Valley Syrah$23 A handout at the table identified it as a "92" from Wine Spectator.
Penfolds BIN 128 Coonawarra ShirazThe tasting card I picked up turned out to be for multiple vintages. Sorry I can't be more specific. About $25.
Rancho Zabaco Zinfandel Dry Creek SonomaVery enjoyable. Sorry, didn't snag the vintage. My experience has been this is always pretty reliable. Less than $20.
Ravenswood Icon Syrah 2002Around $20. I toyed with giving this one a 2-glass rating.
Raymond Reserve Merlot Napa 2001About $20.
Sanford Chard 2002 
Sanford Pinot Noir 2001 
Sanford MoschofieroSweet and refreshing.
Seghesio Sangiovese 2003$24
Siduri Shaw Mountain Pinot Noir 2001$42
Sterling Sauv Blanc Napa 2003About $10.
Tintara McClaren Vale Cab 2002Big and fruity. Lots of tannins. About $22.
Tormaresca Negroamaro-Cabernet 2001Marketed as Parker giving it an 86. Personally I found it good but forgettable.
Truchard Zinfandel 2001$25
Wolf Blass 2002 Yellow Label CabAbout $10.
Zaca Mesa Estate Bottled Syrah, Santa Ynez Valley$19.50
Bell Mountain Riesling 2003Sweet, but otherwise flat. An odd kind of chalky mineral taste.
De Loach Pinot Noir 2002The taste just seemed really off to me. I dumped it. There were so many other wines tried on the same day that I'm willing to give it another try.
Montecillo Rioja White 2003A Spanish wine that tasted almost medicinal to me.
Peregrine Chard 2003 Didn't really taste much like a Chardonnay. No fruit, no oak, no nothing.
Spicewood Vineyards Chard 2000 Generally, I enjoy things from Spicewood, esp their Sauv Blanc. I found this one to be unpleasant though.

about | ratings images courtey of Jason Lewis