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

White Wine Review: Uvaggio Vermentino

uvaggio-vermentinoWhen I received this wine as a sample, I pulled it out of the box, gave the label a quick glance, and thought, “oh, a Vermentino — I like Italian wines.” After chilling it down for about 20 minutes and pouring it into the glass, I took a sniff, and thought, “ah, that nice mineral and floral character I love from Vermentino.” Then I took a sip and thought, “whoa, there’s something different about this Vermentino. It’s a little richer, sweeter, fatter, and more creamy than I expect from the variety — it must be from an area in Italy further south than where the grape is usually found.” So then I took a more detailed perusal of the labels — front and back. And the light bulb went on.

“Ah, no wonder — it’s from [Read more…]

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.

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Disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample

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.

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Disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample

White Wine Review: Glenora Riesling

Glenora Riesling Finger Lakes, New York 2009

This bottle was given to me by my friend and colleague Phil Ward, who is on the Board of Directors of the International Riesling Foundation and frequently travels the country as a judge at wine competitions. Needless to say, I trust his palate, especially when it comes to Riesling. So when Phil handed me this bottle, I had to try it.

As it turned out, I [Read more…]

Red Wine Review: Septima Malbec

Septima Malbec 2007 · Uco Valley, Argentina

Septima Malbec from ArgentinaArgentine Malbec is one of those grapes that can produce extremely rich, dense, complex red wines, but can also be made into simple, fruity, easy quaffers — not unlike California Zinfandel.

This particular Malbec is on the soft side, and comes from the Uco Valley of Argentina. It runs about twelve bucks in most retail shops.

Tasting Notes: Septima Malbec 2007

Open nose of black plummy fruit, earth, herb, menthol, and something that reminds me of band-aids. In the mouth there is ample black fruit — plum, black raspberry, and blackberry. Texture is smooth. Tannins are soft but firm, if that makes any sense. Acidity is at a good level for food matching, but also on the soft side.

a-7 t-7 b-8 fc-7 v-7 ~ 86 Points

Bottom Line

This is an easy drinking Malbec with just enough structure to enjoy with a turkey burger or simple bistro fare.

Where To Buy It

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Learn more at the US importer’s website: Aveniu Brands

Best Wine Deals Under $15

Wow … a few of the under-$20 deals ran out quickly on No biggie … here are my choices for the best values available on the site for under fifteen bucks. Remember you must order TODAY to take advantage of the one-cent shippingdeal. Click on the wine name to order directly from

Jip Jip Rocks Shiraz 2007icon $14.79
I described the 2006 vintage of Jip Jip Rocks Shiraz as a “beast”, and expect a similarly full-flavored, bold structured, jammy bottle of juice in the 2007 edition.

Tiefenbrunner Pinot Bianco 2008icon $14.99 sale price
Tiefenbrunner doesn’t sound Italian, but it is. Pinot Bianco is Italy’s version of Pinot Blanc, and this is one of the leading producers of the grape from the Trentino – Alto Adige region. A fresh, floral, light, and elegant white with just enough acidity to match with a variety of dishes, it’s an easier drinking alternative to Pinot Grigio and an ideal wine for the Thanksgiving table.

Geyser Peak Cabernet Sauvignon 2005icon $13.99 sale price
Ho-hum, you may say … a mass-market brand, a boring California Cab. To me, though, Geyser Peak is among the best and highest quality of the volume producers, and in fact makes some outstanding, world-class wines in the upper price ranges. And though I tend to be an a constant hunt for hidden gems, there’s something to be said for a brand that can be found just about anywhere, consistently delivers solid wine, and offers good value for your money. Geyser Peak is one of those “count on it” labels, and their Cab is an approachable yet fulfilling wine that matches well with beef and cheese – based dishes. The $13.99 price tag is a good $5 – $7 below what you’d normally pay at any retailer.

Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc 2008icon $13.99 sale price
Like the aforementioned Cab, this is another “count on it” wine with a current sale price about $5 – $7 below what you’d normally pay. If you like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, particularly from Marlborough, then this will please your palate — it is a standard-bearer for the category. Fresh, clean, zesty, and full of ripe limey and tropical citrus flavors, this Sauv-Blanc is a tasty, creamy drinker on its own and really comes alive when matched with food. Try it with crabmeat and other shellfish, spicy dishes, poultry and pork.

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.

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

Buy Penfolds Shiraz-Cabernet direct from Wine.comicon

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Rocca delle Macie Morellino “Campomaccione”

Rocca delle Macie Morellino di Scansano “Campomaccione” 2005

Rocca delle Macie Morellino di Scansano wine bottleDo not be intimidated by the long, somewhat threatening words on the label of this wine. It’s nothing to be afraid of — in fact, it’s something with which you’re likely very familiar.

Morellino di Scansano seems difficult to pronounce on first glance. It’s not — it sounds the way it looks, just say it slowly the first few times (alone, in a dark room, of course). And remember Vino Joe’s general rule of thumb: any wine with five or more syllables HAS to be good (and this one has eight!).

Seriously now, a little background. Morellino is a grape grown in Scansano, which is a hilly village inside an area called Maremma, which is sits partly in the Italian region of Lazio, and partly in the southern part of Tuscany. Geography lesson complete, and we mentioned Tuscany, a place you may have heard of before.

It gets better. Morellino is what the people of Scansano call Sangiovese, which you may know is the main grape of Chianti wines. That said, if you enjoy Chianti, there is a good chance you will also like Morellino di Scansano.

Since it’s not a trendy wine (yet), it doesn’t make sense for an importer to bring in any old plonk from Scansano — so if you see a Morellino di Scansano on your wine shop’s shelf, chances are very good that it’s a quality bottle. This example is no exception. It comes from an estate called “Campomaccione”, and is made with 90% Morellino, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Merlot.

Tasting Notes: Rocca delle Macie Morellino di Scansano “Campomaccione”

Nose is open, rich with ripe black cherry, some stemmy vegetal or herbal aroma, earth, and a hint of vanilla spice. On the palate the texture is glassy smooth, carrying ample black cherry and red raspberry fruit. Tannins are mild but firm, acidity is medium. The wine finishes with good red fruit flavors mixed with earth and hints of bell pepper and spice. This is a wonderful alternative to Chianti – at about 14 bucks it’s as good or better than most Chianti at five dollars more. Don’t drink it alone – have it with pasta in marinara and meatballs, sausage and peppers, pecorino, grana padano, or anything else you’d normally eat with Chianti. At around twelve bucks, a great value.

a-7 t-7 b-8 fc-10 v-9 ~ 91 Points

Importer: Palm Bay Imports

Winery: Rocca delle Macie

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