Archive | August, 2012

The bad wine day.

21 Aug

It happens. Sometimes you get a wine you really don’t like.

My wine-loving neighbor shared one with me last night- she ordered a bottle that had good reviews, was priced highly for a supermarket wine- and she got this instead: Shinn Estate Vineyards Chardonnay 2011, from the North Fork of Long Island. She smiled and poured me a glass as my family and I recounted our week, and she watched my face as I tasted the Shinn Chardonnay. It had a mildly fruity nose with some herbs, but no flowers. Likewise, I tasted no sweet fruit on the palate but it had the acidity of citrus without the fruit. I also noted it had the bitterness of a buttery chardonnay without the lush, rich back palate. This confused me completely, and didn’t seem to mesh with what was typed on the bottle: “exotic fruit and gentle mouthwatering acidity”, with “silky texture” and “polished finish”. I drank several sips, and swallowed, then tried it again after a few minutes and spat, dumping the contents in my flower pot. No wine is for everyone, but I wouldn’t serve this wine to anyone I liked at all.

I’m hoping that this was a rare bottle that was accidentally subjected to heat and subsequently lost its character- at $20/bottle, wine should not have these massive flaws- but to be honest, I don’t think I’d be willing to taste this wine again if I had to pay for it.

Better luck next time. While it maybe painful to review a bad wine, I think it’s important to always be honest no matter what, and share that with you ,the reader, good or bad. So I hope this was a rare bad bottle, but either way I doubt I’ll be buying more to find out. What my neighbor found out (with friends who agreed before I tasted it) and I confirmed after an unknown, uninformed taste test, is that this is not a good bottle/vintage, and I don’t recommend that you pay to try or taste it. Better luck next time!

If you’re interested in the Shinn Estate Vineyards, you can check out their website here.

à votre santé!


Conundrum White Blend 2010

16 Aug

Conundrum White 2010

This is a ‘proprietary’ white blend from Rutherford, California’s winemaker Jon Bolta. 


The color is pale yellow. As a blend, I expected it to have some depth but the nose is not only complex but slightly confusing: chamomile, honeysuckle, citrus, and hints of ginger and jasmine pour forth from this delicious-smelling mixture. The palate matches the name perfectly. The first sip provides a touch of sweetness with some acid bite, a little rich, savory buttery quality which finishes with a touch of sweet bitterness. I had to stop and begin my tasting again to pick out a few elements from the palate: pear, apple, grapefruit, lemon peel, honeysuckle, fresh cut hay. I sensed little minerality, -not because it’s not there-, but because the floral and tropical flavors masked more subtle elements in the mix.

My fourth reaction to this wine after grasping the forward elements, was that this wine IS a blend of delicious grapes: I suspected they are semillion, chardonnay, pinot grigio, and sauvignon blanc- to me, it tasted like a Semil-Charda-Grigio-Sauv. I only came to this conclusion based on the experience of the mouthfeel, with these notes:  “sweet, acid, a tiny sour, a little bitter aftertaste, yet there is a sense of some new oak, some buttery fullness that is offset by the crisp acidity. Hmmm. This is like a painting that needs to be seen again, taken in again by multiple viewings”.

Going over my tasting notes, I recall that the first time I tasted this wine a few months back for some reason it identified as part of the Caymus family of wines.  I did a little research, and it IS part of that group of wines (Wagner), and while Conundrum has traditionally kept the grape blend a secret, they now post it on their website. What I thought was pinot grigio is actually viognier and muscat. From their website (linked below) I quote: “five white grape varietals- Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Canelli, Viognier and Semillon- sourced from Napa, Monterey, Santa Barbara and Tulare counties”

Wow. This is an unusual and impressive white. I think Jon Bolta and Jason Moore of Modus Wines would have an amazing conversation over their favorite blending techniques and approach.

Something I noted as we enjoyed this wine with baked tilapia: I felt the bitter aftertaste was more prevalent as the temperature increased, so I’d serve this wine very cold and I returned the bottle to the freezer between serving half-glasses. I did enjoy Conundrum a great deal, and feel the blend is one that would appeal to a wide variety of both people and pairings, so it might be a perfect wine for Thanksgiving, or a great choice for a restaurant meal when you need a white to pair with several different main courses. 

I purchased at $16/bottle in a grocery store, and have seen it online from $12-22/bottle. The white lists at $22 on the Conundrum website. Over 90,000 cases of the 2010 were made, so you should have no problem finding this locally.

Conundrum’s website is linked here;

The Wagner website is linked here.

and a cool youtube video on Conundrum wine is here!

à votre santé!

Sterling Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

14 Aug

Sterling Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Cooking a roast for the family on vacation, I found this in a grocery store and thought I’d give it a try. In the past I have enjoyed SterlingCabernet by the glass at restaurants where it’s a common find at a reasonable price for a Napa cab.

The ‘09 was on par with my former experiences: a light purple color with ruby edging, nose of red plum, blackberry and cassis with toasted oak. On the palate very dark berry-forward lots of black cherry and ripe plum with the back palate experiencing black cassis, some earth and tar and much more American oak on the lengthy finish. Powerful acid and chewy tannins put this in the big & bold category. Not bad in the $20/bottle category, lists at $25/bottle on their website and seen online from $16-22.

Link to the Sterling website is here.

à votre santé!

Gabriel Meffre 2009 La Châsse du Pape Côtes-du-Rhône Reserve Rouge

13 Aug


I started drinking the Meffre Reserve red wine almost a decade ago when a local wine shop owner showed it to me. “This is one of the best buys I have and it’s delicious,” she said to me quietly, “you should really try it.” Her preference and shop stock was largely Italian wine, and to crack open a wooden case of Meffre Châsse Côtes du Rhône for me in the back of her small store demonstrated her passion for the brand. I bought the bottle, tasted it that evening, and went back for more later that week.


Since that time, I’ve watched and tasted as the winemaker has evolved in their approach to wine and marketing. Today in addition to the reserve, they offer other red blends listed as ‘tradition’ and ‘prestige’ which may be listed depending on the year as ‘winemaker’s selection’. Note the interchanging of synthetic corks and screwcaps in the modern bottling, as well as the custom-inscribed bottle. That’s all good for packaging, but how is the wine?


In common French style, this is a blend of four grapes:  grenache, syrah, cinsault and mourvèdre. That means to the casual drinker that the wine is a deep red with purple tinges in the glass. It has ripe red fruit and violet on the nose. The palate has red plum, raspberry, and black currants, licorice, with notes vanilla, pepper, limestone, clay, and a touch of oak with a tight finish. It’s fruit forward and spicy, “chewy” is a word often used for younger wines made for drinking now and not aging or cellaring as most Bordeaux wines would be.



This is a solid and flexible Rhône red that is decidedly Mediterranean in its style and flavors- with the spice of the syrah, it is ideally paired with grilled meats, strong cheeses or other powerful flavors that will complement those spices well, and has performed consistently well over the years as a solid, good daily vine du table that can be kept in your home and served for company at a fancy dinner party or served with burgers on the barbecue


The only thing I don’t like about this wine is the number of accent circonflexes (that’s the little roof accent above the a, o or u) you should type when reviewing it for your blog. Yes, I’m kidding…well, only a little. Purchased locally at $12/bottle, available online from $9-14/bottle.

If you are interested, you can see the entire line of the La Chasse brand of wines here.

and winemaker Gabriel Meffre’s site is linked  here.


à votre santé!


The Threat to Europe from Down Under

6 Aug

Kim Crawford 2010 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

360,000 cases made, originally released at $19/bottle.

I picked this up at one of my local stores after the owner said, “this is one of the best examples of why New Zealand’s wines are such a threat to Europe.” Now that I’ve tasted it, I couldn’t agree with him more.

The color is pale yellow with a tinge of green. The nose demonstrates citrus and herb. The palate is largely grapefruit with some honeydew melon, passionfruit, fresh cut grass, a tint of herb garden, and a final note of minerality. It’s crisp and tasty, very grapefruit forward. A nice summer wine to match salads, seafoods or by itself, it’s a pleasant wine that competes well with my beloved French whites, reminding me of Sancerre and delicious white burgundies.

Due to the consistency and reasonable price I’ve found over several bottles, the wines of Crawford have been elevated in my opinion. With a large stable of grapes over many parcels in NZ, I’ve begun trusting the brand and stocking more of it with my regular purchases.

Details: While this was a good deal for $14 at my local provider, I’ve show it’s release price at $19, seen it listed at $15.99 locally, and online from $13-20. It’s worth noting that the top wine reviewers have consistently rated this wine from 88-92 points since its first major review in 2004. It might be worth noting it’s slightly higher in alcohol than I like for a summer white at 13.5% by volume.

The official Crawford website is linked here for your reference.

à votre santé!

Mer Soleil Silver Unoaked Chardonnay 2010

2 Aug

If you knew the winemaker is fifth generation winemaker from the Wagner family  you might try it. If you like wine from Santa Lucia Highlands of Monterey, CA, you might try it. If, like me, you’re a French wine snob and you see “Mer Soleil Unoaked” and you think, “Ocean Sun?”, ‘Ok that sounds good’- you might try it. That was my first reaction- the French name, and I inquired about the wine and was told it was from the Wagner family (of Caymus & Conundrum vineyards). I was sold.

The bottle arrived tableside, and I was intrigued. A short, squat, gray ceramic bottle? “Oh, it’s not gray,” I corrected myself- “it’s silver.”  I immediately thought of the concrete tanks used for modern winemaking. Why go to all this trouble with the bottle unless the wine is really great?

After a nice taste, I determined: the wine is pretty good! It’s a solid chardonnay:  pale straw color with a lemony nose, in the mouth it’s light, fruity, vibrant- free of the heaviness of oak and malolactic fermentation. Expect citrus, pineapple, some vegetation, young green apple and the minerality of clay and granite at the end. It tastes much like you might expect early morning Monterey sunshine to taste. A tight, crisp, acidic wine, it has a short finish and is perfect for seafood. I tried this with Florida Red Snapper and it was a good pairing choice; others drank it with cod and enjoyed it fully.

Mer Soleil Silver is a conversation piece on the bottle alone, then on the pedigree, as well as the terroir. Oh, and the wine is tasty, lush, and complex as it warms and opens to provide lots of discussion.  Direct from the manufacturer at $24/bottle, seen online as low as $17/bottle. With scores in the 88-92 range, Chardonnay lovers of all types should give this a try.

The Wagner website is here, 

a cool youtube video about the wine is here. 

à votre santé!

Prosecco? Please! Carpene Malvolti Cuvée Brut DOCG

2 Aug

Carpene Malvolti Cuvée Brut Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco

This is a dry sparkling wine, made using the Italian ‘Charmat method’ (if you’ve never heard of this and you’re interested, read about it here).

Almost clear in color with the slightest color of pale straw, the flavor is effervescent with a slight citrus nose, vanilla and touch of green apple on the tongue. This is a delightfully gentle palate cleanser that maintains its personality as the temperature warms slightly and is delicious from start to finish.


My stage manager buddy Lurie Pfeffer is a huge fan of prosecco and her interest made me reconsider this sparkling wine in general, to which I now must say- Champagne? I probably will not indulge when offered. But prosecco? I probably will! Many proseccos (but the Carpene Malvoti’s DOCG Cuvée Brut in particular) are still slightly acidic yet less dry and have a delicious, cleansing taste that make you want to keep sipping over and over, whereas a brut champagne needs something else to make it special- a cube of sugar, a tiny spoonful of caviar, strawberries and cream perhaps. Not so with Carpene Malvolti, it was amazing first on its own, then with a warm slice of buttered bread, even more as a foil to my appetizer of fish tacos. I’ll be keeping this prosecco up my sleeve for future use, and urge you to seek it out if you need a sparkling wine.

Purchased in a restaurant by the individual serving for $9, I have seen it online from $9/375ml half bottle, and $13-18/750ml bottle.


From their own website:

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