Monday, September 15, 2008

Back In The Saddle......Time To Keep The Posts Coming

On the eve of the Winebow Fall Release tasting tomorrow, I am reflecting the wines I've enjoyed since the last post back in June.

This summer was more of a beer and vodka time for us, as we spent lots of time at the beach and not a lot of time in the bar tasting and trying new wines. We had a big basement project to complete (which included a wine cellar!) and we only recently started hitting the big reds again!

In the summer, Brother Glen hit up Napa/Sonoma as a friend celebrated his 40th in style. We helped with some recommendations and then he found some amazing new wineries and had the kinds of experiences that make the Napa/Sonoma area so magical. It's his story, so I'm not going to tell it, but he's welcome to be a guest poster to share his Napa tale!

So tomorrow I venture into NYC to try WAY too many wines that are distributed by Winebow, one of the elite distributors of wines from Italy and the US, as well as other regions of the world. There will be Malbecs, Reislings, Sancerres, Ripassos, Burgundies, GV's and so very many varieties of wines that are being released this Fall. I will bring back to you the BEST and WORST of the bunch, hopefully more better than bitter!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Two DOWN, Two UP!

A Review That's Not Much More Than A Mixed-Bag

So many of you have commented to me on my usual propensity to give favorable reviews to wines I have tasted and have asked how do I so often find GREAT wines when other people's experiences are a lot less positive. I can attribute it to three things:

1. Using the services of a professional - As I often comment, I frequent the Buy-Rite in Tinton Falls and have become a protege of Kevin Flanagan, resident wine expert at the store. He has turned me on to more wines that have been exemplary than most people taste in a lifetime. Using the skills of a professional can minimize your guesswork, simple as that.

2. Reading the trades: There are so many worthwhile blogs, ezines, periodicals and the like where the novice and expert alike can find tasting notes, scores or other information on wines of their preference that this too can minimize the guesswork, if you can find the wines you read about....

3. Taste the best reviewed of many different varietals to allow YOUR palate to become trained to tasting varietally-correct wines. This way, within the first tastes of a wine, you will know what to look for in a positive or negative way. For example: If you choose a Merlot to taste, and the wine brings heat to your palate and some astringency to the finish, you are tasting a higher alcohol content. This is not a normal experience in Merlot which tends to be more lush and full bodied without the zestiness of higher alcohol. You would notice this right away if you had experienced varietally-correct Merlot.

HOWEVER, sometimes the best information can't help you dislike a wine that seemed to have such promise or pedigree. You can't love every wine you taste, and not all wines will resonate with you as a goor or GREAT wine to drink. You can rely on all of the above-mentioned tools and still come up a LOSER, as I recently did. Below I list two wines that BADLY missed and two wines that ROCKED in recent tastings. Enjoy:

The Two Down.......

1. I purchased a bottle of 2005 Fabre Montmayou Gran Riserva Malbec ($19US)from Argentina, while waiting for my own bottles of Catena Alta Mendoza arrived from Buy-Rite. The wine has received pretty significant scores from the major review publications, and I had a Malbec jones..... BLECH....not good at all. It tasted like raisin juice that was soaked in ink. The wine had very little character or body. It was flat, uninteresting and even a bit chalky, which was not appealing at all. And this was a wine that won a best of Argentina Malbec award. Not good the next day either. I committed drain-ocide with the rest of this bottle.

2. 2006 Stickleback Red from Heartland produced in South Australia ($8) I was leaving the store at Buy-Rite last week and Kevin grabbed the bottle and said, "HERE: you gotta take this and try it. Eight bucks and it drinks like a $25 bottle. A great wine." Now as a QPR Big-Game hunter, I was intrigued....tell me about an $8 bottle that drinks at 3X's its price! I'm interested........until I tasted it. This was no $25 bottle of wine, friends. This was a hodgepodge of flavors, none especially great, and had a heat to it and a bitterness as well. It was very confusing to my palate. The blend is 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Shiraz and 27% Grenache. The wine received 90 pts. from Wine Advocate. Probably because it is a sweet, fruit bomb from Australia which generally gets those types of scores, but the wine lacked focus. It came at you hard on the nose with varied flavors and then just overwhelmed on the palate. I tried it again later that night (no change) and the next night, when it WAS a little better but still not something that impressed me. I would buy it and decant for several hours and try again because of that QPR factor, but I wouldn't give it more than a 87 and I would say it drank like a $15 bottle....which is still a pretty good QPR!


1. 2005 Ring Bolt Cabernet Sauvignon Margaret River Australia ($12) - This was a find of my brother Eric's. A friend of his is a manager of a Costco in NJ that sells wines. He recommended the Ring Bolt to Eric and Eric brought a bottle to the Super Bowl bash at my house. The wine was a BIG QPR winner, in that the wine tasted more like a $25+ wine than an $11 effort. The wine was balanced, full of fruit, but not over-extracted flavors. The wine held up well against some other big wines we had that night, including a $40+ Malbec! The wine is garnet colored with tobacco and earthy spices on the nose. The flavor was all fruit though, with black currants and red cherries. Its a really good wine for the price which is what we are all striving the way, Ring Bolt is not only available in Costco. You can purchase it at many local package stores.

2. 2003 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Merlot ($44) - I received this as a gift from a friend for helping them out in a business venture. It was an unexpected treat, since I LOVE Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and I have a few special SLWC bottles in the basement waiting for a special occaision. We opened the SLWC last Sat. night and found it to be incredibly ready to drink, although most SLWC wines have legs enough to last ofor many years in the cellar. Stags' Leap's wines have a signature brambly character which is immediately recognizable in this elegant, rich wine. The wine features a bright, well-integrated acidity and a LONG full-bodied finish. Such a nice treat to receive a wine that had such a wonderfully enjoyable flavor.

Enjoy the wines you like, Try wines you have never had and SHARE your knowledge!


Oenophobia: The Wine Bar

Greetings Friends!

Its been awhile since I last posted, as most of my free time has been spent working on the business plan for Oenophobia: The Wine Bar and working on things like license acquisition and space location sighting. Its been a pretty busy month!

I want to give you all a "heads-up" to the progress of Oenophobia: The Wine Bar and tell you some non-proprietary information that will allow you to get excited about the Shore Area's most exciting new destination for diners and imbibers alike.

At this time, we have identified the Lower Cookman Ave. corridor in Asbury Park, NJ to be our location. In fact, we are deciding upon 5-6 different sites to locate the winebar in. We have been working hard on coming up with new and inventive ways to present wines to the market and provide the best options for our guests to taste different wines to help refine their palate. In addition, we are consulting with food industry people on the kitchen and menu offerings. Lots more to discuss about that......

So without giving away all of the details, I can tell you that Oenophobia: The Wine Bar is coming together nicely and hopefully we will have an anticipated opening to discuss within the next 3-6 months.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Lesser Known Red Wine - Malbec

Some of you may have read about the grape called Malbec. Few of you, however, have probably ever tasted these intensely-flavored grapes originally hailing from the Cahors region of France. At one time, Malbec was one of the predominant grapes in all of France, but since the early 1900's, the grape has fallen on hard times, mostly because of the fact that Malbec is common like saying "Kleenex" instead of tissue. Malbec, you see, has been called so many different names in France, that the grape hardly stands on its own for more than 50 years! The grapes have been grown in so many regions in France, that it has become the ultimate Supporting Cast member in blends of French wines. For example: Malbec is a part-time player in the Bordeaux blend called Claret, with Cabernet and/or Merlot taking center stage. It also plays a role in popular Loire Valley blends with Gamay & Cabernet Franc or Tannat grapes and in the US, it is a component in Meritage. So basically.....Malbec is your star blending grape in France and around the world. It takes a backseat to the big guys. But it hasn't always been that way. Throughout history, Malbec has been brought from France to all of the wine-growing regions around the world, from Portugal to Italy to Chile to Argentina to Australia and to the USA.
Malbec grows almost anywhere, but it is not an easy grape to grow to perfection. It has thin skins and large berries and needs lots of sunlight and is very, very frost-averse. The Malbec grapes grow in diverse terrain, therefore it is grown in many places around the world.

In recent years, Malbec has had a resurgence in Argentina, particularly in the Mendoza region. At one time, Malbec dominated the Argentinian wine market, but over 100,000 acres of vines were "pulled" in an attempt to create new growth of more "grapes of the moment" which was thought to help the wine market prevent a glut of indigenous vines. The vine pulls were government-sponsored programs which paid growers to remove Malbec and plant Cabernet or other grapes not grown there. You know how that turned out...... The Malbec that was retained, kept getting better and better and the other varietals have grown, but now Malbec is making a comeback! There are now over 25,000 acres of Malbec vines in Argentina, compared to 10,000 in the 1980's!

Allright, enough with the all want to know what it tastes like!!! Malbec on its own is a bolder wines, somewhere between Merlot and Cabernet in weight, with a dark inky color like an Aussie Shiraz. The flavor profile of Malbec shows ripe black fruit, plums and blackberries. It is also a wine with bright, tight tannins. The wine has a big mouthfeel and can hold its own vs. some of the other big guys in the bottles....Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and some Merlots.

A Malbec Recommendation:

Last weekend, I shared a fantastic bottle with my brother Glen. It was 2005 Catena Alta Mendoza Malbec. The wine was tight upon opening, but we decanted and were presented with a full bodied wine with shining tannins and lots of deep, dark fruit flavors. We also noticed some chocolate and burnt spice which really gave the wine an interesting flavor profile. This Catena Alta was a star, and in the world of low price winners from this region, the price seemed a bit excessive at $44. However, like most wines of this quality, the wine is head and shoulders better than the very good, better QPR wines from the region. Once in awhile you have Filet Mignon and once in awhile you get a massage or other spa treatments. And so once in awhile you should have the Catena Alta Mendoza and say you have had the Filet of Malbec!

Thanks, Glen.

Cheers All!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Wine Tasting Notes - 12/21 to 1/6/08

Happy New Year to Everyone.....

I spent the holidays in St. Maarten with my family, celebrating X-Mas, Boxing Day and my birthday....all good reasons to have some fun and some wine, in my opinion!

In SXM, the drink of choice is beer...mostly Carib or Presidente beer. Since SXM is a Dutch and French island, the wine choices are mostly French or Aussie as their wine is easily imported cheaply into the islands. There are actually a couple of really good wine shops in SXM, two of which are located in the Marigot Marina area. Marigot is the French capitol of the island and is a major commercial center of this side of the island.

I am not a big lover of French wines, mostly for my skewed political opinions and not for flavor or likability. I have actually steered away from French wines, arguing that there are excellent wines from other places in the world that I don't need to try French wines. I have rationalized not drinking wines from France for so long, and now I was faced with a wine list at a French bistro in SXM with nothing BUT French wines! It was time to break convention and take down the prejudices and select a wine from France that would appeal to us at this dinner!

Even though I do not drink French wines, does not mean that I don't know anything about them. To the contrary, I have learned a lot about the wines of France by reading various wine magazines, industry publications, books and websites. Almost ALL wines from around the world have roots in France. Cabernet blends from Napa Valley can be traced to Bordeaux Chateaus in that region of the country. The same can be said for Cali Chardonnay and their older cousins in Burgundy. Some of the most popular wines like Pinot Noir or Merlot have family in France and are clones of vines grown in France and around the world.

I decided to try a St. Emillion which is a Merlot-based wine and selected a bottle of the 2001 Clos du Menuts Grand Cru, which was recommended as a good wine by the bartender. It was very, very good. In fact, I found the austerity of the wine to be more to my liking than some of the other Merlot that I count among my favorite Merlot wines, like: Tamarack, Stag's Leap Wine Co. and Macrostie. Upon returning to the States, I researched the wine to find that there is very little information about the wine. The wine was smooth, with plum and black fruit flavors. The wine had some muted oak flavor with leather on the finish. The nose was very subtle, not overwhelming, and the wine followed the aroma in its mild presence. I thoroughly enjoyed the wine and if not for the bloated price, I would have gone for another!

Back home, we had a few opportunities to drink some wines, but none as much fun as the night we celebrated my brother Eric's birthday by cracking open some great wines.

Dinner was planned at brother Glen's house with all of the family (less Mom, who just returned from SXM herself the night before!) in attendance. I brought two wines with me, the 1996 Clos du Bois Marlstone Vineyard I received for my birthday and the 2004 Jardin Cabernet which I tasted at an industry tasting last year and bought a case of to sit in the basement for some ageing.

Glen supplied some great wine which he had decanted earlier in the night, a 2006 Ken Wright Cellars Freedom Hill Pinot Noir, which we had all had before, but not this most-recent vintage. The Ken Wright was very closed down upon trying the wine. The point was driven home when I smelled the wine and then tasted it, commenting on how the wine's taste did not match well with its nose, which is a problem for me.... This wine developed during the night to display rich plum and spice notes, not usual Pinot Noir flavors, but really really nice to us all. The wine will be a stunner in about 5 years, and Glen promised to stash some away till then!

However, the special guest of the night was a bottle of 1999 Dominus wine which Eric had received as a holiday gift in a fruit basket. He said the wine was buried on the bottom of the basket and he realized it after emptying the fruit!

The 1999 Dominus Propeietary Red (a Bordeaux-style blend) wine lists at about $110 online and was Wine Spectators #11 wine of the year in 2002, the year it was released. He knew he had a winner and wanted to share it with us on his birthday.....what a guy! We cracked the Dominus and gave it a taste...the wine was HUGE, bringing black cherries, tobacco and some sweet spices, like cinnamon and cardamon, with lots of tannins and well-integrated alcohol. It was a really well-made version of New World Cabernet Sauvignon and what hit me the most was how tannic the wine still was 6 years after release. This wine could cellar for another 10 years and still be amazing. No wonder Wine Spectator gave it a 95 pt. rating! The wine was a winner for me, as it reminded me of some of the other hugely popular, expensive cult wines that I have tasted in various events. The Dominus left us all wanting more wine and we opened the Marlstone Vineyard at dinner.

The 1996 Clos du Bois Marlstone Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon was a gift I received for my recent birthday. The wine is from the Alexander Valley in Sonoma, the site of some treasured wines in my drinking portfolio, like the Silver Oaks, the Mt. Veeders and the Estancia wines. This wine comes from a producer who is famous for delivering good wines in the $15-$22 price range, a great place for up-and-coming wine aficionados to taste varietally-correct, well-crafted wines without breaking the bank. If you have ever contacted me for recommendations, I consistently find this price range to be a source of really excellent wines. Clos du Bois' Marlstone Vineyard designate wine is an exception, because this is a single-vineyard, estate wine which comes from some of the best grapes in the Clos du Bois portfolio. The current release of Marlstone lists at $65, so I knew I was going to get a great wine to share with my family. The Marlstone was slightly off-color, not surpising for a wine that was made 10+ years ago. However, it was much lighter in color than the 1999 Dominus, so I was a little hesitant. The wine's nose was extremely pleasant, with floral notes and rich dark cherry and some leather. The wine was so full of fruit, but not the extracted fruit of the Dominus, the fruit was forward but not false or trying to impress. This wine has typical black cherry flavor, but also some cocoa and coffee flavors leading to a full mouthfeel and long silky finish. This wine was also much loved and set us up for the surprise taste of the night....the 2004 Jardin Cabernet.

The last wine we opened was the 2004 Jardin Cabernet, which was a cellar selection for me, as I have not had it since the tasting last year, and I know that the Wine Enthusiast, another wine rating service rated at a whopping 93 points! The Jardin Cabernet was produced by Gary and Kathy Jordan of Stellenbosch, South Africa. I have profiled them before so I won't get into details again. Upon opening the wine and decanting it, Glen was first to taste, without getting ANY background on the wine from me. He was quiet about his opinion, but I could tell he was interested in the wine by his expression. I sniffed......and said, "Vegetal!" On the nose of the wine, I got green pepper and asparagus! The nose also had secondary flavors of spice and cherry, not black cherries, but ripe red bing cherries. I hoped....and hoped that the flavor of the wine would match the nose, because this wine's nose was intriguing and different from the usual Cabernet Sauvignon that is produced here in the States. First taste did not disappoint...this wine was a killer! The vegetal taste was there, but it was complemented by coffee notes, bright cherry, and currant flavors. It was complex, with well-integrated tannins that made the wine POP with flavor. Here's the best part.......$16US at Gary Vaynerchuk's Wine Library.

Gary, I know you will read this, and I suggest you invite me to the laid-back Friday couch and let's do a tasting of this special wine! It's worth the risk of having me take over the Thunder Show...(

Happy Birthday, Bro....hope you had as much fun tasting and discussing the wines on your birthday as I did!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Italians & Wine......

When you close your eyes and someone whispers in your ear, "You enter an Italian bistro, with red and white checked tablecloths, the aromas of tomato-based sauces stewing from the kitchen...." your mind's eye surely will see bottles of red wine in wicker-basket wrappings sitting on each table. Those bottles are known as "fiascos" from the Italian fare fiasco, which means "to make a bottle."

The bottles are narrow-necked with a round bottom and always contain wine made with grapes grown in the Chianti region of Tuscany, Italy. The wine is made from Sangiovese grapes, sometimes with a small measure of white wine included with the red Sangiovese juice, to make an approachable wine that does not need ageing. Those fiascos also make great candle-holders or conversation pieces. Today, the best Chiantis do not come in a fiasco.....they come in traditional bottles made by some extremely accomplished producers. The most popular of the bunch is Ruffino, which makes 7 different wines from Chianti, including the Ducale Trilogy of wines that are very prolific and can be found in any local retail store. Ruffino's Ducale wines may be prolific, but they are not always the best value or best-tasting Chianti wines in the store. Here are a few recommended Chianti wines:

2003 Castello di Bossi - Chianti Classico DOCG -($17) made from 100% Sangiovese grapes, this is one of the best examples of a classic Chianti wine, with deep ruby color and a savory flavor on the finish that complements tomato-based sauces or pizza or foods with good acidity. The wine has some oak, combined with black cherry and bountiful fruit flavor and because it is young, the tannins are present and add to the wine's heft.

2003 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Reserva ($25) - 90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot/Syrah blend makes up this wine. The Volpaia wine is smoother with additional red fruit flavors thanks to the Merlot/Syrah in the final blend. This wine was juicy and ripe, full of cherry flavor and really well-structured. The wine received a 90pt score last year, and the extra time in the bottle helped to improve its flavor. A great wine!

One final recommendation is for a wine that has a special place in my heart, because it was named for a friend of ours, who's family is making some of the best wines in the Napa Valley. The wine is from Gargiulo Vineyards, on Oakville Cross Rd. in Napa, CA. The wine in question is called APRILE, and is named for April Gargiulo, the daughter of the vineyard owners. April is responsible for the marketing and distribution of the Gargiulo Vineyard wines. We visited with April in July and she is one of the nicest people in the industry. We drank her wines and loved the APRILE. Here's a review:

2oo4 Gargiulo Vineyards APRILE - ($28) - A 96% Sangiovese with 4% Cabernet Sauvignon wine sourced 100% from the Money Road Ranch vineyard owned and managed by the Gargiulo Family. The wine is classically Sangiovese, with lots of cherry flavors and some strawberry. The wine also has some spice flavors which add complexity without overwhelming the fruit. Deep flavor and dark colored wines combine with firm tannins. A great wine for everyday drinking and can also stand up to robust foods.

Sorry For The Long Delay......

Hey all! Sorry for the long delay since the last post. Many things happened that delayed the postings, but the majority of time was that I was away for the holidays in St. Martin/St. Maarten in the Caribbean. If you've never visited SXM (as it is affectionately known) you are missing a great experience! SXM is a country divided into two distinct regions, one side French and the other side Dutch. The way to tell the sides apart? The Dutch allow you to gamble, and the French don't. The French don't care what you wear on the beach (or don't wear, actually) and the Dutch DO! In either side, drinking is accepted and recommended and the island's motto is: NO WORRIES!

Now if that doesn't interest you......check your pulse and see a doctor, cause you need a break from all of the detritus of life.

The other reason I had a delay in posting is that I was asked by my friend, Rich Michelli, to be a guest writer on his Italia Living blog: to discuss wines that have an Italian connection, whether it be a wine produced by an Italian family, an Italian varietal grown in the US or just Italian wines. I did some research and was putting together some wines for the post, which is coming this week. Keep your eyes peeled.....

Finally, the last reason that I delayed was that I was trying to find a wine suggested by a reader to do a Reader Request tasting. I cannot find the wine he recommended AND he went back to the retailer and they also are sold out. I spent a few days before the holidays looking for this wine at several places, with no luck. If anyone can locate 2004 Stonestreet Cabernet Sauvignon in the Central NJ area, please get it and let me know. Post a tasting note at the bottom of this page, please!!!

I also want to thank my dear friend, DeeDee for a great afternoon at lunch before I left for vacation. We drank a really nice bottle of wine, shared some stories and caught up after a long time and it reminded me of why I think so highly of her.....she is one of the most genuine people I know and I've got to have something going for me for her to count me among her special friends. Thanks, Dee!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Mailers, Emails & Direct Marketing In The Wine Industry

So you walk into your local wine specialty store, liquor store or the depot of liquor that is attached to your local grocery store. You look around the aisles at the plethora of choices, some familiar but mostly foreign (literally, since many wines are produced overseas) and mostly unknown to you as a consumer.

Let's assume that you choose wisely (or is that blind luck that puts that good bottle in your hands) or take the advice of an employee of a store and wind up with a winner that you loved. Chances are, you will remember the name and begin to include that wine in the rotation of wines that you purchase when you go to the store looking to make wine purchases. If you are like over 90% of the wine-purchasing public, you will actually forget the name of the wine, or the vintage and wind up asking for another recommendation or trying to hit paydirt on a total stranger again. Just think about how poor the odds become after you actually picked a good bottle!!! You'd have better odds of safely walking through an open field with an umbrella in a lightning storm!

Before my recent trip to Napa, Ca, I would have never thought to look up the websites of the wines that I have drank and/or enjoyed. Even more unlikely would have been my desire to join an email list of a winery who makes wines that I like. For what purpose??? If I want the wine again, I'll just go back to the store and ask for it. However, you assume that the store will have the wine you like, OR that the winery distributes all of its menu of wines to your local store. In fact, most wineries have some wines that are only available at the tasting room or via its mailing list.

Yes, most if not all wineries maintain an email list of their customers. They use this list to communicate with you, their customers, about things such as new releases or re-releases of their Library Selections (which are older wines that had previously been released and are now available for sale). Some wineries offer recipes or food and wine pairing recommendations for their specific wines, so that you would know to have grilled sirloin with horseradish smashed potatoes with a mango/balsamic culee with their 2002 Mt. Veeder Estate-Grown Cabernet Sauvignon. (Please note: That was NOT a real should have had the Merlot!!!)

Returning to the topic, the wineries feel that having your information helps them to market directly to their audience, rather than to the wine-buying public as a whole. Email marketing also allows the winery to project sales success for their wines, because they take your email interest and turn it into a club membership or a direct sales vehicles. Although many people would not want to be obligated to purchase a wine selection of the winery's choice, in some cases, direct mail or club membership is the ONLY way to get a wine. For example: Kosta Brown winery does not distribute their wines to distributors or liquor stores. They will only sell to customers on their list. AND, just being on the list does not guarantee you any of their wine. You see, there is such demand for their wines, especially their higher-end Pinot Noirs, that they have a hierarchy of past customers who are entitled to buy all of their wines while lesser buyers or newbies have to hope for an allocation from their wish list. It's like trying to get on the waiting list for season tickets to the Green Bay Packers!!! Also, some smaller producers just don't want to go through the effort to get distributed out of their region and want to keep things simple. That's what Rocking Horse Winery did just this year. According to them, they wanted to ratchet production down and make less wine so that they can stop and smell the roses and enjoy some needed time with family. Now all of their wine is produced and sold in and around California. What a shame, because their 2003 Cabernet was killer and when trying to get some, I was told I had to come out to see them!!! Oh well, another trip wouldn't kill me. Thanks Jeff...I'll get out there to get the wine soon.

Another way wineries get to you is the MAILER. The mailer is a postcard, or in the case of more high-end producers, a folio of wine tasting notes, viticultural reports, technical data and the like. Each mailer serves a sell you wines direct from winery to your home. Provided of course, that you live in a state that will allow direct shipping between a producing winery and your state. Here in NJ, we do not have reciprocal privileges with California Wine. The convoluted laws and rules that have been written to protect the rich and confuse the everyman, state that NJ and California don't mix like Gin and Tonic do. In fact, most Jersey residents use a NY address of a friend or relative to have wines shipped to them. I have to have wine shipped to my brother's shop and he brings them down once or twice a month.

The MAILER also keeps the winery in the forefront of your mind, because you are on the list as a lover or appreciator of their wine. They love to send you things because usually you are remember your last bottle of this great wine and think you should have more. The winery LOVES this type of repeat customer because all it costs to put the wine in their hand is a $0.41 stamp and a little postcard/mail piece. Don't get emotional about a wine. Each year, they will make more of the wine, and if it was a really good bottle, for sure it will cost you more down the road. But the MAILER can also be informative, like Jessup Cellars mailer which has info about what they are doing to improve the wine and the wine-tasting experience that they want to extend to their customers.

Either by retail, email or post-card manner, this producer of fine wines reaches out and helps you to improve your wine enjoyment. Its fun, its somewhat impersonal....until you have to whip out your credit card. The wineries can be extraordinarily friendly, and if you want to try wines which are not available to the average Joe, the mailing list offers you that chance.

Well the major downside is that not only does the winery have its "tasting room and club only wines" available to members, it also has its generally released inventory available online at a higher price (sometimes more than 25-35% more than at retail shops) and if you didn't know better you would overpay for your wines.

The other downside is that in addition to paying a higher price than retail, you also have to pay SHIPPING from out of state. That's not cheap when you are buying the club allocation of 2 bottles and paying $20 in shipping to get it.

My Suggestion: Try wines locally. There is so many different wines available that you can spend a whole year trying new things and learning the differences between wines, both domestic and imported. Save the shipping and over-charges and use that money to fund your trip to Wine Country. Once there, sample those hidden gems and buy what you can't buy back home.

Lastly, I want to wish each of my readers and friends a happy and healthy and safe holiday season. I hope you all get to take some time to enjoy the gifts of life and love that surround you each day.

I have a Reader Request tasting to post early next week and then its a week layoff before the next post. Thanks for your loyal support!!!

PS- If you like Italian Food, Italian Art, Italian Music, Italian People or if you are Italian....check out The blog is dedicated to the Italian Lifestyle in America and is well-writted by my friend, Richard Michelli. He also has a great website.... Enjoy!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Tasting, Tasting, Tasting, Tasting Notes........

This past Saturday, Wendy and I hosted our annual Holiday Party, which has morphed from a traditional family Chanukkah party into a Family, Friends & Neighbors Holiday Party. At our party, each child has gifts to open and I usually call all the kids into the room and play a quasi-Santa/Chanukkah Harry and call each kid up by name and hand them their gifts (wrapped of course) and once each kid has a gift to open.....mass chaos as 12-15 kids rip open wrapping paper and packaging to get to their gifts. We also do an Adult Gift Swap which is often entertaining and always controversial (this year, we had a penalty flag which was thrown when someone broke a rule.) During this part of the party, I am often referred to as Chanukkah Czar for my inflexible rules which are often neatly typed and are always read aloud before the exchange begins. Hopefully, everyone has a buzz going and the ribbing is good-natured and fun for all.
To get everyone buzzed, we have a full bar. However, most of my family and friends opt for the wines I have selected for the night. This night was no exception. This post to Oenophobia: A Fear Of Wine is dedicated to the tasting notes from each of the wines opened and drank. Feel free to peruse the list or click the links to the wineries websites. Remember, unless otherwise mentioned, all of these wines are available at Tinton Falls Buy-Rite on Asbury Ave. in the Tinton Falls Plaza. Please ask for Kevin or Sean Flanagan for help. You can even print out this posting and bring it with you. They can help with suggestions if something from this list is not available. FYI- in case you didn't know this (Mom) wine is ALWAYS less-expensive at your local shop than direct from the winery. When you factor in shipping, the cost is significantly less. However, many of a winery's reserve or single vineyard wines are NOT distributed and therefore you HAVE to buy them from the winery direct.

Here's The List........

2005 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($22) - From one of the best known wineries in the world, Robert Mondavi consistently produces high-quality varietally correct wines. Their 2005 Napa Valley Cab is no exception. A blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon (85%), with 5% each of Cab. Franc and Merlot and 2% each of Petit Verdot and Malbec and 1% Syrah this wine rocks! Mondavi produces high-rating single vineyard wines that often reach triple-digits in price and score in the mid 9o's consistently. The 2005 Napa Valley Cab is a little cousin to those wines and this wine is deep and dense and full of strong fruit extraction. The wine has oak and supple tannins and brings a bright vibrancy to the glass of wine. I loved this wine for its class and flavor. In this price range, it is the best wine I can recommend. I personally score the wine 91+ and have seen it getting amazing reviews. Buy a case because this wine will age to improve.
2005 Ferrari-Carano Cabernet Sauvignon - Sonoma - ($25) - Another really excellent example of the varietal of Cabernet Sauvignon, the FC Cabernet is really well-crafted and flavorful wine. The wine is a product of Sonoma County, where the warmer climates and low-lying morning fog shroud the grapes and vines allowing maximum concentration of the fruit. The wine is mountain-grown and full of complex flavors of black cherry, blackberries, toffee, caramel and dirt, yes, dirt. Its an amazing combination and at the price, a BIG QPR scorer. In future years, we're all going to remember the 2005 vintage of wines like these the way 1997 and 1982 are often remembered as perfect for the varietal of Cabernet. The FC cab is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cab. Franc and Petit Verdot. I give it a 90+ score, just below the Mondavi, almost its equal, but not as complex. Still a wine to ABSOLUTELY own. If you go out to eat at a decent restaurant, you will find this bottle of wine at a shocking $50+ on the wine list. I say shocking because this wine is in a category of wines that you MUST have at home in at least 3 bottle quantity to open when you have company or when you want a special accompaniment to dinner. At home, its a $22-$25 do the math.

2004 Rusden "Christine's Vineyard" Grenache - South Australia ($38) -The Rusden vineyard in Barrossa are among some of the best varietal-designated vineyards in the area. In 1979, Christine and Dennis Canute purchase 40 acres in which this Grenache is grown. This wine is deep red in color with a bright, red berry nose, with complicating notes of tobacco, anise and subtle mint. Sweet and luscious, the raspberry and wild strawberry flavors appear providing a silky texture to the wine. There's a boatload of sweet, almost jammy red berry fruit, as well as lingering notes of musky earth and mocha. More than simply a fruit bomb, and long on the aftertaste. This wine scored 92 pts. from Josh Reynolds of Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar in July 2006. This is a stunning example of how Grenache is supposed to be made, without the excessive heat and alcohol that occurs when chasing the elusive balance between the sweetness and the luxurious flavor of well-integrated alcohol content.

2003 Ken Wright Cellars Freedom Hill Pinot Noir - Oregon ($55) This wine, from one of the best producers of Pinot Noir that I have ever had the pleasure to taste, is big on flavor, mouthfeel and finish. The wine was recommended by Kevin Flanagan as a $22 bottle and was so highly recommended, it is selling for more than double that today at auction. The wine is sourced from the Freedom Hill Vineyard which is located in Dallas, Oregon from a Pommard grape clone, planted in 1980. This wine had an amazing 2003 vintage and 2006 has been projected as a comparable year to the 2003. The wine has a medium-deep ruby color; earthy, black fruits on nose; big full and toasty on palate with balance and black cherry flavors. This wine scored big with our guests, most likely because the wine's flavor profile is similar to some of the wines we had already opened which were Cabernets. I'm looking forward to trying the 2006 vintage of this great Pinot producer. FYI- Ken Wright's Pinots need cellar ageing before they are ready to drink. If you purchase any of the several Pinots he makes, go to their website at where they have a chart of when to drink each of their wines. COOL!!!

2005 Jardin Bradgate Syrah - Stellenbosch, South Africa ($10) At a recent industry tasting, Kevin and I stopped in at the South Africa table where we met Gary Jordan from Jordan Winery in Stellenbosch, SA. I previously wrote about Gary and his wines, but tonight, I opened a Bradgate Syrah of his. Gary's wines are marketed under the JARDIN label here in the US. The wine was subtle when appropriate and big in flavor and mouth-feel as expected....not a lot of heat or too much extracted fruit. A really nice wine with a light approach to Syrah but a long finish of rich flavor. However, this night, Bradgate did not appeal to many in the crowd. In fact, it was the only bottle that was opened that was NOT FINISHED. I asked around, and was told that it was not as full-flavored as some of the bigger Cabs that were opened. BUT, I also got RAVE reviews for the Ken Wright Cellars Pinot Noir. So my thought is that the Bradgate just didn't appeal to the crowd's palate, which is what wine tasting is ALL ABOUT! I personally still like the Bradgate Syrah when tasted alone, and I can see how the subtle tastes of this wine can get lost in the big, tannic, extracted-fruit of the Cabernets.

2005 Caravan Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa ($35) I almost DON'T want to tell you about this wine, for fear that word will get out and it will become more expensive and harder to get. As it is now, I have to reserve a six-pack as soon as it is released because it sells out quickly and once its gotta wait till next year. Here's why it is so scarce: The wine is made from Cabernet Powerhouse, Darioush who makes one of the premiere Cabernets in the Napa Valley. The same fruit that goes into their Signature Cabernet goes into the Caravan, at a fraction of the price. The wine's profile is as good as its pedigree, with big ripe black fruits and currant on the front and mid palate and a long finish with tobacco, dirt and blackberries on the finish. The nose is ripe and filthy and the wine has NEVER disappointed. Now, $35 is NOT cheap for a bottle of wine. But I have had wines that are more than twice this price that would never hold water in a blind tasting. I love Caravan, and have made converts of many, many friends who have also enjoyed the nectar of Caravan....right Patty???? This is a 93 pt. wine, compared to 94 pts. for the Darioush Signature Cabernet.

2005 Peltier Station Petite Syrah ($17) This wine is produced in the Lodi appellation in California, near Elk Grove. This region benefits from a cooler climate, which allows the grapes to stay on the vine longer, allowing for better concentration of flavors, without the fear of over-exposure of the fruit. The only bottle I have had by this producer is the Petite Syrah, which was recently awarded "Best in Class" and "Best of Region" at the 2006 California State Fair. Their website has some particulars about this and their other offerings. check it out to read about their lineup. The wine we tasted has a LOT of fruit-forward flavors. The nose on the wine was not as forward as the flavor in the mouth. We got chocolate, plum and spice during tasting, with a healthy bit of oak and astringency. The tannins were not overly impressive in their integration to the flavor, but also not intolerable. With aging, this wine will probably taste even better than it did at our party. If we drink it again, and I'm sure we will, I'll decant for a few hours to get the flavor out. A good wine at a great price point.
At the end of the night, we bid adieu to our loved ones and discarded the bottles in the recycling bin and counted our blessings as another year begins for us and for the special people in our lives who are there in good times and bad. We look forward to continuing our trek in the world of wine, with you as our faithful co-pilots.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Last Night's Tasting - Southern Living Style.....

Last night, we held a tasting at a Southern Living Party in Oceanport, NJ. The tasting went very well, with a smallish, yet interested crowd. There were a few ladies who really seemed to catch on with the Tasting Theme, while others mostly ignored "The Wine Guy" as I was introduced!

Here was last night's LINEUP OF WINES:

2003 Three Trees Pinot Noir ($16US) - The first wine served was the 2005 Three Trees Pinot Noir, Victoria Australia. The "three trees" depicted on the label of the bottle are the Eucalyptus and Bunya Pine trees (indigenous to Australia) flanking the Oak tree which is the quintessential wine tree. The wine is an intriguing mix of subtle fruits and then strawberries with very little of typical pinot noir "terroir" on the nose. This wine was very nice; subtle with a nose of violets and spiderwebs. The taste was mild and enjoyable. A light drinking, enjoyable wine.

2005 El Toqui Chardonnay ($12US) - 2005 El Toqui Chardonnay Riserva, Chile ($12) The Casas del Toqui brand is from the Chacapoal Valley region of Chile, and is produced by the winemaker of Cru Bourgeois from Medoc along with local winemakers and extremely unique terroir at the foot of the Andes Mountains. The house also makes Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz/Syrah, Carmenere, Merlot, Semillion and some late harvest wines. The Chardonnay is aged in oak barrels and blend tropical fruits with very mild oak flavorings. Not too buttery; this is a more clear and refined version of the Chardonnay grape and has little acidity but not overwhelming fruit.

2004 Pitch Cabernet Washington State ($17US) - This is the prototypical QPR (Quality-Price-Ratio) wine! At a ridiculously low price for its quality, the wine's flavors and well-constructed profiles are more often associated with wines in the $35-$40 price range than the $17 range that you can buy the Pitch for. Pitch is also a great example that Cabernet Sauvignon can be produced in regions other than Napa and be among the better wines at a gathering. Smooth and vibrant, this wine extracts the finer elements of fruit and tannins and resonates on the palate. A great wine for its price+.

2003 Cheyanna Zinfandel Napa, Calif. ($16) - There is a distinctive taste of the Cheyanna Zinfandel that is unusual to Napa Zins. Perhaps the grapes, grown in the Chiles Valley, east of Napa along Catacula Lake are more exposed to more heat during the days and more cool air off the lake in the evenings. Whatever the reason, the fruit is bright...think strawberries with a bit of mild spice, but jammy enough to remind you that it’s Zinfandel that you’re drinking. Taste plums and slight white pepper on the finish. In this price range, this is another QPR winner!

As the party wore on, I was approached and asked if I did in-home private tastings. OF COURSE was the answer, and I have 3 parties coming in the near future, including one that is a surprise X-mas gift to a spouse. Lucky guy.......

If you are interested in in-home tastings or would like to give a gift of a tasting to a friend, loved one or someone who is celebrating a milestone, email me at or call at (732)-804-3690. This is an affordable and really fun way to spend an evening with wine lovers of all categories, from novice to connoisseur.