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!