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

Where Did All the Posts Go?

If you look at the post below, the date says “September 23, 2009”. Of course, that isn’t the last time I posted an article.

Unfortunately, this site was hacked about two weeks ago, and as a result, a big chunk of the database was wiped out — which included about 40 or so posts from the past 9 months. (No, I didn’t have a backup … shame on me.)

While in the middle of cleaning things up, you may notice that I took the opportunity to update the site — hope you like the new look.

More tasting notes and other wine information are coming soon. Thanks for your patience.

Chardonnay Review: Mondavi Solaire

Robert Mondavi Solaire Chardonnay 2007 · Santa Lucia Highlands

solaire_chardonnay.jpgIn the past, when I was geekier, more condescending, and had free access to world-class (read: expensive) wines, I stayed away from the “mass produced” brands. But lately I have become more humble and open to wines from any and every producer. And there’s something to be said for a wine that provides consistency year in and year out.

So with my newly opened mind I uncorked this Chardonnay from Robert Mondavi. Called “Solaire”, it retails for between $12-15 and has a cousin named Cabernet Sauvignon using the same moniker. The Chardonnay delivers good bang for the buck and is easily found at wine shops across the United States.

Tasting Notes: Robert Mondavi Chardonnay “Solaire” 2007

Rich nose of ripe and overripe white fruit — pear, apple, peach, banana, along with honeysuckle and vanilla. In the mouth it has a weighty, slightly oily mouthfeel and a creamy texture that carries ripe pear and candied peach fruit flavors. Also some oaky vanilla and honey. Acidity is low to medium, so with the abundance of ripe fruit this wine has a slightly fat character to it. OK on its own, better with food. Match it with rich and buttery fish and chicken dishes, such as shrimp scampi, lobster, chicken francaise.

a-8 t-7 b-7 fc-7 v-8 ~ 87 Points

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Visit the official website for Robert Mondavi Solaire wines

Pinot Noir Review: Lechthaler

Lechthaler Pinot Nero 2006

Lechthaler Pinot Nero Noir red wine from Trentino ItalyNo, that’s not a mistake — Pinot Noir and Pinot Nero are the same thing, except that in Italy they like to use words with vowels at the end. I like it too, it makes language more colorful and melodic.

Similarly, I like this Pinot Noir … er, Nero … which hails from the Trentino region of Italy. Trentino is the northernmost part of Italy, and is the country’s most mountainous region. As a result Trentino tends to be one of the cooler climates — therefore, ideal for even ripening for the Pinot Grigio grape, as well as Pinot Bianco (aka Pinot Blanc) and Pinot Noir. Two other varietals ideal for the region, but not well-known outside of it, are Marzemino and Teroldego — but we’ll cover them on another day.

Today, we taste the Pinot Noir, from Lechthaler. The grapes for this wine were grown at an altitude of 750 feet, in mineral-rich soil that is typical for Trentino. That said, we should expect some of that mineral character to find its way into the flavor of the wine — and it does. Additionally, it is fermented in stainless steel but stored in small barrels for twelve months, so there could be some vanilla flavor present. I didn’t get any of that, but you might. Following are my full notes.

Tasting Notes: Lechthaler Pinot Nero

Sweet, floral aroma, filled with ripe strawberry, red raspberry, violets. Easy drinking, with flavors of strawberry, raspberry, pomegranate, and sweet and sour red cerry. Tannins are mild, acidity is mild to medium. Finish is pleasant, tasting of black cherry and dry cranberries. This is a fun, easy drinking wine that is closer to Beaujolais Cru than a French red Burgundy. It’s enjoyable by itself, also good with lean dishes. I enjoyed it with Trader Joe’s chicken marsala, it should also match well with roasted turkey, roast chicken, meaty fish, and vegetarian dishes.

a-8 t-8 b-8 fc-7 v-7 ~ 88 Points

Importer: Vias

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Cabernet Review: Kaiken

Kaiken Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

kaiken_cab.jpgKaiken is a somewhat unknown wine brand from Argentina, which is a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a good thing, because it hasn’t yet been discovered and “taken off” in popularity, so the prices are still affordable (around ten bucks or less). It’s a bad thing, because 1) it can be hard to find on retailer’s shelves; and 2) since people don’t see it at their retailer, restaurants are able to mark it up ridiculously. For example, I paid $9.99 for this bottle at my local wine shop, after tasting it at $11 per glass at a local restaurant. Hey, I’m all for restaurants marking up wine to make money — they do have to store it, provide glassware, educate their staff, and make a profit. But there’s a point where markup can become obnoxious.

Anyway, on to the review:

Tasting Notes: Kaiken Cabernet Sauvignon

Rich nose of ripe black berry fruit, spice, touch of earth, leather, and something slightly meaty, animal / barnyard — which, to me, is appealing. Very smooth, almost creamy texture in the mouth, with plenty of ripe berry fruits: blackberry, plum, black cherry, blueberry, boysenberry. Hints of spicy vanilla, earth, sweet tobacco, chocolate licorice. Acidity is mild to medium, tannins are medium. This has a bit of rustic character in the nose, but is obviously new world on the palate — wide open, fruit forward, and inching toward jammy. Tasty on its own, better with simple red meat dishes — meatloaf, burgers, swedish meatballs, skirt steak.

a-8 t-8 b-8 fc-7 v-10 ~ 91 Points

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By the way, Kaiken also makes a great Malbec.

Kosher Wines for Passover (Red and White)

Kosher wines don’t have to taste “funny” any more. Recent developments in kosher winemaking has resulted in high quality, great-tasting wines fit for any occasion.

This year, Passover begins at sunset on April 8th, and will continue through Wednesday, April 15th. If you observe Passover and aim to keep kosher during this Jewish holiday, here are two excellent wines — one white, one red — that are both kosher and appropriate for typical Passover feasts.

Tasting Notes: Yarden Chardonnay 2006

Yarden Chardonnay kosher white wine Wide open, expressive nose of bright ripe pear, peach, honeysuckle, banana, vanilla. In the mouth it is velvety smooth, with almost sweet ripe pear, candied peach, vanilla, honey. Acidity is mild. Alcohol is surprisingly low considering the high level of ripe fruit. Finishes with spicy peach, vanilla, and a touch of zesty lime. This is enjoyable on its own, also good with leaner foods such as simply prepared roast chicken. Will be nice with spicy and sweet Chinese dishes (General Tsao, sweet and sour shrimp, sesame chicken), BBQ ribs. As far as the Passover table goes, this will be a nice match for a mildly sweet noodle kugel.

a-8 t-8 b-7 fc-7 v-7 ~ 87 Points

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Tasting Notes: Golan Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Golan Heights Cabernet Sauvignon kosher red wineOpen aroma of ripe plum, red raspberry, jam, chocolate. Jammy, juicy ripe flavors of sweet raspberry, blueberry, pomegranate. Tannins are mild, acidity is mild to medium. Texture is smooth. Finish is pleasant, full of raspberries and pomegranate, with a slight edge of tart acidity. Enjoyable alone, it will match well with lean meats such as roast chicken and fish but also has just enough structure to stand up to simply prepared beef — such as beef brisket. Will also be nice with turkey meatloaf, Chinese rib tips or beef with spicy and/or sweet sauce.

a-7 t-8 b-8 fc-8 v-7 ~ 88 Points

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Chardonnay Review: Macari Reserve

Macari Chardonnay Reserve 2007 ♦ North Fork, Long Island, NY, USA

macari_chardonnay.jpgWhen it comes to wines from the United States, North Fork, Long Island, New York, is not exactly mentioned in the same breath as, say, Napa Valley, but nonetheless this small region does produce drinkable and enjoyable wines. Its Northeast geography lends itself to less consistent and predictable summers, with a climate and soil type that is not necessarily ideal for “traditional” grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Merlot. Very generally speaking, Long Island summers are better suited for varietals such as Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Cabernet Franc, which tend to flourish in cooler climes.

However, that doesn’t mean that more popular varietal wines can’t be made on the East Coast — there are a few top-notch wineries that are able to bottle wines that you might guess came from the “left” Coast. One such wine that might fool you is Macari Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve, a rich and luscious example that benefits from a full year in French Oak barrels — just like they do it in Napa.

Tasting Notes – Macari Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve 2007

Bright, fragrant nose of tropical fruits, sweet peach, overripe pear, pineapple, banana, along with a bit of vanilla and butterscotch. In the mouth it has a sweet fruit flavor, showing ripe pear and some other white fruits. A distinct candied peach flavor arrives in the finish. Acidity is low. Texture is smooth, almost oily. Enjoyable on its own, can work with some low-fat foods.

a-8 t-8 b-7 fc-7 v-7 ~ 87 Points

Macari Vineyards

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Red Wine Review: Penfolds Shiraz-Cab

Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz-Cabernet 2007

Every once in a while I get in the mood for a big, jammy, New World style red wine — something bursting with sweet red and black berry fruits — but at the same time, something that I don’t have to think much about. In other words, a bottle that I can pick up for around ten bucks or less and not feel guilty about drinking with a hamburger or cheap cut of steak.

When those moods strike me, I usually go either for a Ravenswood red or an Aussie Shiraz. In this case, I went down under, to Penfolds, which offers a nice range of jammy reds that are easy to find anywhere and won’t hurt your wallet. For the ten-buck budget (give or take a ducat or two), I recommend their Rawson’s Retreat, Thomas Hyland and Koonunga Hill lines for their consistency from year to year. In other words, you don’t have to be a serious connoisseur or have a vintage rating chart in your wallet to wonder what the wine will taste like. And often, even a geek like me doesn’t have the patience to put a lot of thought (or money) into a wine purchase.

Tasting Notes: Penfolds Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon

Open nose of ripe black and red berry fruits, along with some tar and earth. Similar elements on the palate: black raspberry, black cassis, plum, black cherry, sweet tobacco. Good weight in the mouth. Smooth texture. Tannins are ripe and medium, but not overbearing. Acidity is at an appropriate level for food matching. This is OK alone, but better with food. Drink it with protein — a burger, cheap steak, or cheese.

a-8 t-8 b-7 fc-7 v-9 ~ 89 Points

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Jip Jip Rocks Shiraz

Jip Jip Rocks Shiraz wine bottleYowza. And I feel it’s OK to use “yowza” as a descriptor for a wine called “Jip Jip Rocks”.

When I spend 12-13 bucks for an Aussie Shiraz, I expect to get a fruit-forward, jammy, flabby, cocktail wine which may or may not have a quick finish. And that type of wine is not necessarily a bad thing – in fact, it’s a profile that I occasionally am in the mood for. So when I picked up this bottle for $12.99, I wasn’t expecting much other than a big glob of black berry fruit.

Suffice to say, I was pleasantly surprised.

This under-$15 surprised me because it is a beast. It’s huge – huge in nose, huge in flavor, huge in structure. I call it a beast because it is surprisingly big and has a distinct feral or animal character – something you generally don’t get with an inexpensive Shiraz. It reminds me more of a Rhone Syrah or a South African Pinotage, than a typical Australian Shiraz.

Tasting Notes: Jip Jip Rocks Shiraz

The nose exudes a complex aroma of ripe black fruits, tobacco, menthol, tar, earth, eucalyptus, and band-aid. In the mouth it is meaty – in weight, texture, and flavor. It has a smoked meat element, along with dried or cooked fruit (prune?), black cassis, tobacco leaf, and blackberry. Tannins are bold, acidity is medium. There is a bit of expected hotness in the tail end of the finish – but that’s what you get with a wine of this ripeness. Finishes bone dry with dried black fruit and spice flavors lingering. Tasty on its own if you like bold wines, better when matched with protein – burgers, cheese, roasted meats.

a-9 t-9 b-8 fc-7 v-8 ~ 91 Points

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More Wines for Thanksgiving

Last week you read about several wines that are ideal for the Thanksgiving feast. Today the last-minute shoppers have a few more to consider.

Dinari del Duca Grillo 2007

Buttery texture and flavor is the immediate characteristic hitting the palate, carrying delicious lemony citrus and pear flavor. A nice mineral component arrives somewhere in the middle and stays through the finish. Works with everything on the table.

Georges Duboeuf Pouilly Fuisse Domaine Beranger 2007

Clean, crisp, zesty. White fruits – citrus and pear. Good acidity. Does not overpower the food, but rather stays off to the side and accentuates flavors. A mild, warm, toasty vanilla spice flavor echoes in the finish. On its own this wine has a nice limey citrus and ripe pear flavor, with mild vanilla spice and honeyed flavors as well. A nice enough wine to drink alone, but with the medium-high acidity, it really comes into its own with food, especially with roast turkey and many of the other dishes on the Thanksgiving table. This is a quality Pouilly-Fuisse at a fair price.
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Bouchaine Pinot Noir 2006

Smells like Cherry Coke — lots of sweet black cherry, vanilla, and cola aromas. On the palate it tastes like a bite of black cherry mixed with black raspberry and small dose of vanilla spice. Tannins are mild, acidity is mild to medium, becoming more apparent in the finish. A good choice for roasted lean meats such as turkey, and it pairs just as nicely with mushroom dishes and chestnut gravy.
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Concilio Pinot Noir Riserva Trentino 2003

This wine has typical old-world Pinot Noir aromas of cherry, earth, leather, blackberry, and a slight hint of vanilla spice. In the mouth it has a glassy smooth texture and warm, round mouthfeel, with flavors of red raspberry, cherry, and a touches of sweet tobacco, spice, and mineral. Acidity is appropriately medium, tannins are mild to medium and firm. If this was tasted blind, I might have guessed it was a Premier Cru Burgundy. It is a fine complement to most Thanksgiving dishes.
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Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais – Nouveau and Cru

You can read all about Beaujolais Nouveau 2008 here. Please don’t consider other vintages of Beaujolais Nouveau for Thanksgiving, unless it is for salad dressing. A bottle of Nouveau at the Thanksgiving table is a festive, inexpensive addition, it is enjoyed by many neophytes, and it pairs well with just about everything — including the cranberry sauce.

If Nouveau is a little too low-brow for you, then you should consider a “real” Beaujolais — in other words, a Cru Beaujolais. Most decent wine shops will have at least a few on their shelf, from well-known producers such as Duboeuf and Jadot.

“Cru Beaujolais” are wines made from Gamay grapes grown in the ten best areas of the Beaujolais region. You will see one of these names on the label: Brouilly, Chenas, Chiroubles, Cote de Brouilly, Fleurie, Julienas, Morgon, Moulin-a-Vent, Regnie, Saint-Amour. These names represent those smaller microregions inside Beaujolais, and represent the best the region has to offer. Some people prefer one Cru over another, but generally speaking, Beaujolais from any of those areas will go very well with just about every dish that can be placed on a Thanksgiving table. They all have cherry and red berry aromas and flavors, good acidity levels, soft to medium tannins, and are extremely food-friendly. Best of all, most cost in the $15 – $30 range, which to me is reasonable for a holiday celebration.

Three I tasted this past week with my “faux Thanksgiving” and can recommend are:

Georges Duboeuf Julienas “Chateau des Capitans” 2007

Georges Duboeuf Fleurie “Domaines des Quatre Vents” 2007

Georges Duboeuf Brouilly “Flower Label” 2007

Yes, I tasted a lot of Duboeuf, mainly because that’s the brand I find at the shops in my area, and also the brand that you’re most likely to see in your town. Don’t limit yourself to Duboeuf, however, as there are several other Beaujolais producers worth trying. Bottom line is, if you see “Beaujolais” on a wine label, there’s a pretty good chance it’s going to work well with the Thanksgiving feast. Other “reliables” for Thanksgiving matching include Pinot Gris (particularly from Alsace or Oregon), Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel.

Happy Thanksgiving !

Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau 2008

Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau 2008 wine bottleBeaujolais Nouveau est Arrive!

For those who don’t speak French, what that means is the first wine of the 2008 vintage — made from grapes picked only weeks ago — has been bottled and is available for sale right now.

Many snobs scoff at Nouveau, belittling its existence and poo-pooing it as “simple plonk”. I’m not going to try to change the minds of such cement-heads, but rather explain the purpose of Nouveau to those who have open minds.

First, before you taste a Nouveau it is important to have ZERO expectations. To meet its peak quality, wine — any wine — must spend some time aging, be it on its skins and lees, and/or in a barrel or other container. But with Beaujolais Nouveau, the goal is not to bottle a perfect wine. Rather, its purpose is to give a “sneak peek” as to the quality of the year’s vintage. A second focus is to celebrate the fruits of the most recent harvest through the holiday season.

So, bottom line is this: Beaujolais Nouveau will most likely not knock your socks off. This is not a wine to contemplate by the fire, nor to match with filet mignon. At the same time, it’s not a wine to put in the most proper crystal glassware (though you can if you want), and not one to worry much about. Pour it over ice in a styrofoam cup and drink it with hot dogs — it’s totally OK. On the contrary, it is a wine to have fun with, to enjoy with friends during cocktail hour or with a holiday dinner. Turns out, Beaujolais Nouveau is an ideal partner with just about everything on the Thanksgiving table.

Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau 2008 Tasting Notes

The nose is a little more mature and deep than I expected — more like a Beaujolais Villages than a Nouveau. Let’s not get crazy, as it doesn’t smell like a 8-year-old wine — but then, it doesn’t exactly smell like an 8-week-old wine, either. What I get is fresh red cherries, sweet strawberry and red raspberry, and a mild touch of overripe banana. On the palate it has a glassy smooth texture, with bright cherry and strawberry flavors finishing quickly into a mouthful of dry, tart cranberries. Tannins are nonexistent, acidity is firm. If you are going to be a discerning, condescending geek, don’t bother with it. However, if you are seriously interested in the Beaujolais region, this Nouveau suggests that 2008 will be a wonderfully ripe and delicious vintage. If you fall into neither of those categories, pick up this wine, pour it over ice, and enjoy it with simple apps, a cheap “wine soaked” cheese wheel, or, ideally, for the Thanksgiving table. There’s no wine that goes as well with both pigs in blankets and the cranberry sauce (and everything in between).

a-6 t-6 b-7 fc-8 v-8 ~ 85 Points


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