Wine Reviews Tasting Notes and Education for the Non-Snob, by Vino Joe, a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW)

Red Wine Review: d’Art Zinfandel

d’Art Zinfandel 2010 | Lodi, California

d'art zinfandel red wine label from lodi californiaLodi, California (not to be confused with Lodi, New Jersey) is the place to grow Zinfandel. This particular example is evidence supporting that statement.

This zin offers big, juicy fruit on the nose and the palate. Nose is full of vanilla, butterscotch, cocoa, and red berry fruits. Palate is wide open, fruit forward with gobs of sweet raspberry, blueberry, and fruit compote, finishing with berry fruit and chocolate flavors. Acidity is mild, tannins are mild to medium. Alcohol is surprisingly low for a wine with so much fruit and concentration — there’s some heat, which is expected, but not so much that it takes away from the flavor.

This is a fine “cocktail wine” and a good match for foods that pack lots of flavor and intensity, such as the buffalo burger with which I ate it. Zinfandel is purely an American wine and burgers a purely American dish, so it’s nosurprise the two pair so well together. Drink this wine with burgers “with the works.”

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Disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample

This wine was also reviewed by Wine with Lisa, Ellen On Wine, Drink Hacker, and James the Wine Guy.

If you’ve seen other reviews, and/or have tasted this wine yourself, please let me know in the comments.

Red Wine Review: Koyle Royale Carmenere

Koyle Royale Carmenere 2009 | Colchagua, Chile

Looking at the name of this wine, for some reason I can’t get the image of a deck of cards out of my head.

This wine has a really smokey, green, and mineral nose with notes of cloves, tobacco, bell pepper, earth, and something stony/mineral that I can’t quite place — slate, if slate has a smell? Flint? Concrete? Can’t really put my finger on it, but it’s the smell of a freshly built stone cellar. In the mouth there is a rush of rich, luscious raspberry, blueberry, and boysenberry upfront, toning down in the midpalate before finishing with those same red- and blue-berry notes along with hints of clove and spice. Ample acidity and tannins, along with hot alcohol, all make an appearance simultaneously at the tail end of the finish. Enjoyable on its own, much better with food. I recommend it with a pot roast, stew, and gamey fowl such as turkey.

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Other wine blog reviews for Koyle Royale Carmenere can be found at The Reverse Wine Snob, Drinkhacker, Dallas Wine Chick, Chilean-Wine, The Good Wine Guru, and The Yum List.

Disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample

Red Wine Review: Grey Single Block Cabernet Sauvignon

Vina Ventisquero Grey Single Block Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 | Trinidad Vineyard | Maipo Valley, Chile

Vina Ventisquero Grey Block Cabernet Sauvignon wine bottle imageThis is a very pleasant, easy drinking wine, but I have to admit that at first it was a little disappointing. My problem is with expectations — for many wines, I have expectations. And for this wine, seeing Cabernet on the label, I expected firm tannins, bold acidity, good structure. In short, a big wine. I stacked up a lean filet mignon, broiled rare, to pair with it, and it fell on its face, turning into sweet grape jelly juice. However, once my expectations left, I tried it again the next evening. After 24 hours of breathing, and tasting it again without food, the wine showed much better. It has a spicy nose of vanilla, licorice / anise, cloves, wet earth, tobacco, bell pepper, black and red berry fruits — quite complex, and enjoyable to sniff. Similar flavors flood the palate, finishing with a good balance of tangy acidity and mild tannins. Refreshingly, there’s no heat at the end despite all the ripe fruit upfront. On its own, this is enjoyable and a wine I will drink again. However, to me, it’s not what I expect from Cabernet Sauvignon; I think it’s the tannins missing that make it incomplete for typical food matching. Don’t get me wrong — it will match with food, but go leaner than you would normally with a Cab. Instead of beef, go with barbecue chicken or roast turkey; I might even try this with a strongly flavored fish dish (crispy salmon? blackened catfish?).

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This wine was also reviewed by StonedWino (2008 vintage), Gabe’s View, Vine Geek, Dallas Wine Chick, and At First Glass.

Disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample

Red Wine Review: Thelema Merlot

Thelema Merlot 2007 | Stellenbosch, South Africa

Thelema Merlot - South African red wineSouth African wines have always had a special place in my heart, as they seem to me to be the forgotten stepchild in the family of fine wines of the world. Go into any wine shop — even a very good wine shop — and you will have a hard time locating the “South Africa” section; in many cases, it may not exist.

If you do find it, it will probably consist of one shelf at most. More likely, it will be a half-dozen bottles shoved to the very corner of a bottom shelf that also includes random labels from New Zealand and Australia. It’s a shame, really, because most of the wine coming from South Africa to the USA is very good, but it has no marketing behind it, and few people talking about it. But then, perhaps that’s your advantage; if more people were excited about South African wine, the prices would be much higher.

Many consider the wines of South Africa to be “New World,” but that’s kind of a misnomer, considering that vineyards and winemaking has existed there since the 1650s. The history is long and complicated, and we’ll discuss it further another day. To be unfairly brief, today’s South African wines are an intriguing mixture of both Old World and New World styles — a reflection of that history.

One example of those two worlds colliding — in a good way, is Thelema Merlot. Thelema is a winery situated in mountains of the same name, surrounded by towering oak trees, cackling peacocks, and lush vineyards resting between 370 to 640 meters (1200 – 2000 feet) above sea level. If you can ever visit, the view is breathtaking. In the meantime, you can experience the wine.

Tasting Notes: Thelema Merlot

Open, ripe, mature, almost jammy aromas of earth, black fruits, blue fruits, leather, tobacco. Also a hint of smokiness, almost like Liquid Smoke. I am loving this nose, which exhibits typical Merlot earthy and slightly bell-peppery character and is generously expressive. In the mouth it has juicy, jammy ripe black and red berry fruit flavors. Again, generous, and also complex. I keep wanting to say jam, because that’s what’s filling my mouth — what resembles a thick flavor of boysenberry and currant preserves. There is also some spice here, but it’s not overly oaky by any means. Finishes with puckering acidity and ripe, medium tannins. A bigger wine than I expected for its sub-$30 price tag. New World style.

The 2007 vintage is likely unavailable at this point, which does you no good unless you have a few bottles of this waiting in your cellar. If that’s the case, I suggest you uncork it and enjoy with a beef or lamb stew or a really robust burger — i.e., one made with a mix of short ribs and/or ribeye, which seems to be all the rage with gourmet burgers these days. With that hint of smoke, it would also go well with a smoked cheese and smoked meats.

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Disclosure: I received this wine as a gift from friends.

See Ken Hoggins’ review of this wine at Ken’s Wine Guide.

White Wine Review: Macari Sauvignon Blanc

Macari Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc “Katherine’s Field” 2011 | North Fork, Long Island, New York, USA

If you’ve been visiting WineWeekly for a while then you’ve seen several reviews of Macari wines from Long Island, NY. I’ve yet to be disappointed by a Macari bottle, and this is no exception.

Macari Sauvignon Blanc Katherine's Field wine labelNose is a bit unusual, as there is an element I can’t quite identify, except that it’s something I normally associate with well-made homemade wine. It’s kind of like overripe pear — though, not off-putting or anything, just not something I expect to smell in a Sauvignon Blanc. After sitting in the glass for a few minutes, a lovely pineapple scent dominates the aroma as that pear rounds out.

The taste is not like the nose, and there is plenty of Sauvignon character. However, those who usually don’t like Sauvignon Blancs that are too “grassy” or “vegetal” will be pleased to pass this over their palate — because it is more of a ripe, warm, and citrusy Sauvignon, without any of those green / “cat pee” characteristics. The texture is surprisingly smooth, with an almost creamy mouthfeel. Acidity is fairly mild for a Sauvignon, but there is enough to pair with mild fish and poultry dishes.

Depending on where you shop, you should be able to find this wine for somewhere around $19 – $25. You can also purchase it from the Macari Vineyards website.

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Disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample

You can read another review for this wine by Lenn Thompson at New York Cork Report, and reviews for the 2010 vintage of Macari Sauvignon Blanc “Katherine’s Field” at East Coast Wineries, The VIPTable, New York Cork Report, and A Wine Story.

Red Wine Review: Murrieta’s Well The Spur

Murrieta’s Well The Spur 2008 | Livermore Valley, California

Lately I’ve been spending too much time at my very awesome job, commuting, blogging elsewhere, giving baseball lessons, and doing other things in life that take me away from writing here. I took a look at my list of “drafts” and there are now two dozen waiting in the hopper — but, not all are necessarily “ready” by my standards, which is why they’re not yet published. However, I’m going to make an effort to get some of the reviews out — even without much editing — because if I wait any longer you won’t find some of these wines at your retail shop any longer.

So without further ado, herewith a review of Murietta’s Well The Spur, tasted far too long ago and likely tasting even better now.

A Bordeaux blend — 54% Cabernet Sauvignon 23% Petit Verdot 10% Petite Sirah 9% Cabernet Franc 4% Malbec — from California, but I wouldn’t confuse this with a true Bordeaux. The nose is expressive, dominated by chocolatey spice notes and black fruit — plum, cassis, blackberry. In the mouth you get some sweet oak spice upfront, with blackberry, cassis, black raspberry, and plum flavors following. Decent acidity and dry tannins appear in the finish, which also brings in dusted dark chocolate. For me, this was a hard one to match with food because of the sweet oak character, but it’s a nice “cocktail” wine to drink on its own. For me, it profiles similarly to a modern (i.e., American oak-aged) Rioja. At about $20-$25, this is a good deal.

Visit my friend Christopher Null’s site “DrinkHacker” to read a review of Murrieta’s Well The Spur 2009 vintage, which is more likely to be found at your local retailer.

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NOTE: I received this wine as a sample