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

Red Bordeaux Wine Review: Chateau Lassegue

Chateau Lassegue 2005 | Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux, France

chateau-lassegue-st-emilionWow. That’s the initial impression on the nose, which is generous with aromas of numerous black fruits, spices, mineral, and earth tones. I could sit here and smell the wine all day, the fragrance is so lovely — and continuously evolving. Which takes me to a vital point: decant this wine, several times.

At minimum, I recommend “triple decanting,” which means, pour the wine out of the bottle and into a clean, dry, glass vessel — such as a decanter — then pour it into another vessel (or, back into the bottle, using a funnel), then pour it back into the decanter, then repeat the cycle one more time. This back-and-forth effort from one container to the other will aerate the wine, allowing the deep aromas and delicious goodness to begin to emerge.

I say “begin” because this wine is still quite young, despite being eight years “old.” There are many layers to this complex juice, and only a hint of them are showing themselves right now. Generally speaking, I like to drink high quality (read: expensive) wines when they’re younger than most serious enophiles and critics would recommend, but in this case, even I would stash this in a cool cellar for another four or five years — at minimum. I’m certain this wine will continue to develop and mature for 10-15 years at least before it starts a descent.

As with all wines I’ve tasted by winemaker Pierre Seillan, Chateau Lassegue is [Read more…]

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.”

Find this wine at a retailer near you using Wine-Searcher

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: 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.

Red Wine Review: Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2008 | Napa Valley, California, USA

On first whiff the nose expresses enticing black and red berry fruits — both fresh and mature, but then as it sits in the glass it’s chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate. In the mouth it is similarly dominated by a milk chocolate flavor mixed with blackberry and sweet black raspberry. It has a pleasant finish of more chocolate, vanilla, sweet red berry, black cherry, and boysenberry flavors that linger. There is ample, mouth-puckering acidity and mild tannins. Texture is smooth, with good weight, feeling almost syrupy.

I’m not sure what to make of this wine. It’s clearly complex with enough acidity to match with food, but when I drank it with a juicy ribeye, all I got from the wine was chocolate. Sometimes I like the taste of chocolate, but not when I’m eating steak, so perhaps it should be more of an after-dinner wine with a cheese plate. Though the acidity was ample, the tannins were surprisingly mild. Despite all the ripe fruit upfront, there was no heat on the finish, which was nice.

Also surprising was the sediment; generally I don’t expect that from a 4-year-old wine. Sediment doesn’t bother me and I don’t consider it a flaw, but I do find it curious.

My thought is this wine was going through a “dumb phase” when I poured it — a time in its evolution when it wasn’t integrated, and showing less than its full potential. I say this because there is clearly a ton of fruit, complexity, and attractive aromas and flavors, but for whatever reason it isn’t hitting on all cylinders. If you have a bottle of this vintage, keep it in the cellar for at least another 6 months to a year before giving it a try. How long can it age? Hard to say, as the acidity will hold it together, but the lack of tannin — which with acid is also a preservative — suggests that this isn’t a wine for decade-holding. On the other hand, maybe I don’t understand what this wine is — which is possible (probable?) as I consider myself a novice when it comes to California wine.

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Disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample

This wine was also reviewed by Drinkhacker, Bigger Than Your Head (2009 vintage), Pull that Cork, and The Wine Cask Blog, among others (if you’ve seen another review or written one yourself, let us know in the comments).

Red Wine Review: Murrieta’s Well The Spur

Murrieta’s Well The Spur 2009 | Livermore Valley, California, USA

A few months back, I reviewed the 2008 vintage of Murrieta’s Well The Spur. Now, the 2009.

The suggestion was to enjoy this wine with food from the grill. Unfortunately, I live in a place where grills are verboten — which kills me, because I love grilling — so I had to improvise.

Since I don’t have a grill, I instead turned the toaster oven on “broil” and popped in a sliced vidalia onion and small filet mignon. Those two items were joined by fresh kale sauteed with bacon and onions and a sweet potato. Guess what? The Spur was a wonderful match with everything. As you might expect, it was particularly tasty with the beef, as it unlocked delicious flavors of sweet red raspberry, some black fruits, licorice, and cocoa.

The fruity nose and juicy, almost jammy upfront flavors of this wine threw me off, because my initial impression was one of “typical sweet California blend.” However, that thought flew out the window quickly, as the midpalate and finish whacked me with ample acidity and firm tannins — so much so that this wine became difficult to enjoy on its own. For me, that’s a good thing, because in my mind, wine belongs on the table, to be drunk with food.

The PR kit suggested barbecue, and I agree. The screwcap closure certainly makes it especially BBQ / picnic friendly. Would I buy this and bring it to an outdoor dinner party / picnic / barbecue? Absolutely — and I’d expect it to be a crowd-pleaser.

Find this wine at a retailer near you using Wine-Searcher

Disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample

This wine was also reviewed by The Frugal Wine Snob, Drinkhacker, and Pull That Cork, among others (if you reviewed it, or see another review, let me know in the comments).

Graffigna Malbec 2010

Graffigna “Centenario” Malbec 2010 | San Juan, Argentina

Malbec has taken the USA by storm over the past few years; it’s becoming this generation’s Merlot. With so many examples in varying styles coming up from Argentina — and more recently, from other areas of the globe — it’s important to me, for selfish reasons, to keep track of the ones I enjoy.

Graffigna is a label I see frequently on restaurant lists, usually by-the-glass. Several times I passed on ordering it, simply because I couldn’t remember if it was a Malbec I liked, or not. Does that ever happen to you? This is pretty much the main reason I keep a blog of my tastings — because the older I get, the more my mind fails! Anyway, on to the tasting notes and review.

On the nose I get notes of black fruit, dark chocolate, some spice, minty eucalyptus, and hints of earth. In the mouth I get spice, spice, and more spice, with a quick hit of sweet blueberry, touch of tobacco, and black berry fruit. On its own, the palate bites a bit — there’s too much acidity and alcohol, especially when the wine is at room temperature (which is too warm for red wine, anyway). I chilled it down to a more reasonable temp (58 degrees) and the biting sensation went away; I recommend you chill down most red wines to between 55-60 degrees. Still, by itself it’s not a star — but it shows itself grandly with food. I successfully paired it with baby-back ribs from Houlihans (yes, I’m ashamed to admit it; but, Houlie’s is across the street from my abode, and there are few other reasonably priced take-out choices within walking distance). Though the ribs may have been a touch too sweet, Graffigna Malbec stood up well and did a yeoman’s job — mainly because of its rich, spicy flavor. Probably, a better match would have been a Zinfandel or one of those California “red blends” that are taking the US by storm lately (the residual sugar of blends would match well with the slightly sweet BBQ sauce). I firmly believe Graffigna Malbec is a solid burger wine, and will also pair well with other beef dishes (steaks, particularly flank, london broil, and skirt steaks), as well as roast lamb, blackened chicken, and rich cheeses.

Find this wine at a retailer near you using Wine-Searcher or Vinquire

Disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample

American Wines for July Fourth: Macari Merlot, Macari Rose

What’s an ideal wine for the Fourth of July? Depends on your perspective, but my suggestion is a wine that is a chillable, crowd-pleasing quaffer that pairs with picnic plates, barbecue, and finger foods. If it’s a red, make sure it’s light on the tannins. Whites — or better yet, rose wines — should have a soft mouthfeel, with enough acidity to stand up to outdoor party dishes but not so tart that they taste sour when drunk alone. Then there is the Independence Day theme: the wine doesn’t necessarily have to be from the USA, but it would be a nice touch. At the very least, it should embody the spirit of American independence — perhaps represent rebellion.

With those factors in mind, my specific suggestions come from Macari Vineyards in Long Island, New York. American, obviously, so check that off. Independent? Check — the winery and vineyards are owned and operated by the Macari family. Rebellious? Not necessarily, but certainly, the Macaris fit the mold of what we like to think of Americans: bold, brave, pioneering, responsible, and always striving to improve. Only an American would try to grow French grapes on a potato field in Long Island — and succeed. Oh, and by the way this was accomplished naturally and organically, without pesticides or chemicals, using biodynamic methods and sustainable farming techniques.

Macari Rose 2010 | North Fork, Long Island, New York, USA

Mostly Merlot with Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec blended in. The nose, to me, is expressing red wine, and similar to what I normally associate with Beaujolais — cherry, ripe overripe banana, hint of orange marmalade — but it also has some bright citrus. In the mouth the citrus fruit is most apparent; it’s a juicy, tasty flavor that resembles a mix of lemon, lime, blood orange, and a bit of ripe red cherry. Good chalky acidity holds the fruit together and makes it ideal for food matching. The finish has a nice mixture of red berry and citrus peel. I matched this perfectly with a curried chicken salad recipe found online, and it was also delicious on its own. I reckon it is equally good if paired with meaty fish, other chicken dishes, and pork, as well as just about anything coming off the grill. Hmm … the grill … it’s from New York, it’s friendly for food pairing, and guaranteed to be a crowd-pleaser … I’m gonna go on a limb and say this is PERFECT for a July 4th barbecue!

But what if you’re a “tough guy” who doesn’t want his friends seeing him drinking pink wine at the picnic? Luckily, Macari also makes a Merlot that you can bring to the party.

Macari Merlot Estate 2008 | North Fork, Long Island, New York, USA

Bright, ripe strawberry, raspberry, and cherry aromas jump out of the glass at first sniff, with some hints of earth and mineral. The palate is wide open and full of sweet strawberry and cherry upfront, followed by a dry cranberry and pleasantly sour black cherry flavor in the finish. Tannins are there but understated and mild; acidity is also fairly mild but enough for food matching. This reminds me more of Pinot Noir than Merlot, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, particularly if you don’t like the bell pepper aromas and flavors typical of Merlot (that element does not exist in this wine).

This is a 2008 vintage, and it may be peaking right now. It’s delicious on its own, but I found it more enjoyable with simply roasted turkey. Try it also with other poultry (grilled chicken drumsticks!) and full-flavored fish such as salmon. This wine is really well done and is a great ambassador to the red wines of Long Island.

Use Wine-Searcher to find Macari Rose and Macari Merlot at a retailer on your way to the barbecue.

You can also learn more about these wines and the winery by visiting the Macari Vineyards website.

Disclosure: I received these wines as press samples from the winery.

Red Blend Wine Review: Apothic Red

Apothic Red 2009 | California

Usually I drink wine with food. I almost always eat food with wine. Sometimes, though, I like to have a glass of wine with nuttin’. In those cases, the “cocktail wines” are an ideal choice. And on this particular night, I wanted a “cocktail red” — something to sip on its own, that wouldn’t be too tannic, but have some richness and flavor. Oak wouldn’t be a major issue, because generally speaking, oak tastes good when food is not present. So I opened up this bottle, which was sent to me by a very nice PR person.

Apothic Red is a blend of Syrah, Zinfandel, and Merlot. It helps to know that, but I really do believe I can taste all three varietals in the blend. The nose is a pleasant, inviting blend of vanilla, butterscotch, red berries, and black cherry — for me, the butterscotch is dominant in the aroma. Strange, I know — since when does a red wine smell like butterscotch? When it’s been whacked with American oak (barrel or chips? who knows? who cares?). In the mouth it has sweet flavors of ripe raspberry, chocolate, maraschino cherry, and boysenberry syrup (like what you get at IHOP). However, it finishes dry, with a balanced level of mild tannins and puckering acidity. It was exactly what I was seeking on this particular evening. I’m not sure I’d try to match it with food — I don’t know where I’d begin. Maybe General Tsao’s chicken or a similarly sweet dish from the Chinese take-out menu? It’s not sweet like a Yellow Tail or Hob Nob wine, but it’s not all that far from it, either — I would say it is a good stepping stone from critter reds to more “serious” ones, because it does finish relatively dry and it has nicely integrated tannins and acidity. Without question, a crowd pleaser — bring it to your next party where people will be drinking wine as though it were a cocktail.

Find Apothic Red at a retailer near you using Wine-Searcher, Vinquire, or WineZap

Disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample

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