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

Canadian White Wine: Inniskillin Pinot Grigio

20130825-135140.jpgSo, I’m finally getting around to posting wine reviews from my trip to the Okanagan Valley to participate in the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference.

This was my first taste of Canadian wine above the border, selected as a “surprise” by an enthusiastic and friendly sommelier at the White Spot Restaurant inside Kelowna airport. The lovely young lady asked if I wanted to see the wine list, or if she could surprise me; naturally, I opted for the surprise. She “guaranteed” that I’d enjoy the wine — and I did. It’s always great to find someone with a similar palate to guide you.

One caveat: it was served too cold — due to the white wines being stored in the refrigerator next to the beer. My personal somm explained, “most people who come in here want their white wine ice cold.” Yes, we have that problem in the USA as well. In any case, initially, the wine wasn’t impressive — not bad, just not impressive. But, my trusty infrared thermometer (yes, I’m a James Bond wannabe) registered 45 degrees Fahrenheit, so how could the wine possibly show any character? Once it warmed up to a more drinkable 52, then 55, the lovely mineral took over the aroma, which also boasted ripe pear and a hint of white peach. It had excellent acidity — again, only after warming up — and was nice enough drinking on its own, with a well-balanced finish of green apple. I would guess it would also go well with an array of foods. If you see it, give it a try.

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See more reviews for Inniskillin Pinot Grigio from Wines in Niagara, Tony Aspler, and John Schreiner on Wine.

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…]

White Wine Review: Luna Mater

Fontana Candida Frascati “Luna Mater” 2009 | Lazio, Italy

fontana-candida-luna-materThis is one of those wines for that rare person who enjoys drinking wine with food, and/or considers wine as food.

OK, I’m being a little facetious / condescending. The truth is, like most Italian wines, this is food — at least, as far as I’m concerned.

Don’t — under ANY circumstances — attempt to [Read more…]

White Wine Review for Thanksgiving: Macari Early Wine 2012 Chardonnay

Macari Vineyards Early Wine Chardonnay 2012 | North Fork, Long Island, NY, USA

Macari Vineyards Early Wine ChardonnayWho needs Beaujolais Nouveau when you can “get local” with a luscious white wine from Long Island?

The truth is, I enjoy the hoopla, celebration, and tradition around Beaujolais Nouveau. Not to mention, the grape-jelly-like wine pairs mighty well with nearly everything on the Thanksgiving table. Just make sure you drink it before Valentine’s Day, OK?

Now, what if you’re one of those people who is anti-French? Or a staunch locavore? Or what if you feel that the American tradition of Thanksgiving should be celebrated with an American wine? There’s more to America than Zinfandel, and though Chardonnay is technically a French varietal, Macari’s is 100% grown and bottled in ‘merica, the good ol’ U-S-of-A. Most importantly, Macari Early Wine Chardonnay is guaranteed to pair well with the traditional turkey as well as nearly every trimming on the table. And, if you’re one of those who does something other than turkey, this wine will also go very well with roast pork, spiral ham, duck, chicken, or game fowl.

The nose has an understated aroma of pear – like pear nectar that you might drink from a Goya bottle or can. In the mouth, though, it explodes with bright, juicy flavors that remind me of fruit salad: sweet pear, peach, pineapple, guava, green seedless grapes, and white cherry. It has mild acidity and a healthy dose of residual sugar that pushes all the fruit forward and makes for a delectable foil to hot and spicy foods; think sausage stuffing. It finishes with a pleasant, clean taste of pure fresh apple juice. This is a truly enjoyable, lovely wine that will be hugely popular with people who normally don’t drink wine. The snobs will eschew it for its r.s. level but watch them as they take surreptitious sips in between their condescending comments.

If you can get a bottle for Thanksgiving, by all means do so. And if you can’t get it in time for Thursday’s feast, pick it up anyway and enjoy it later with Chinese take-out, spicy Thai, Indian cuisine, buffalo wings, or on its own as an aperitif.

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

Alternatively, purchase it directly from the winery by visiting the Macari website

This wine was also reviewed by New York Cork Report and The V.I.P. Table.

Disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample

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.

Find Macari Sauvignon Blanc “Katherine’s Field” 2011 at a retailer near you using Wine-Searcher

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.

White Wine Review: Estancia Sauvignon Blanc

Estancia Sauvignon Blanc Pinnacles Ranches | Monterey County, California

Sauvignon Blanc means different things to different people. For some, it means grassy, herbal aromas. For others, it means tropical fruit character. And, there are people expecting musky aromas and strong mineral notes (i.e., Pouilly-Fume and Sancerre). For me, it means all of those things, and then some — what I’m expecting is for the grape to reflect its origin in some way.

Estancia is one of my “safe” brands — meaning, it’s a widely available name that I trust to provide solid quality for value and at least a hint of “sense of place,” regardless of grape variety. Do I expect to have my socks knocked off? Not necessarily. Do I expect to get what I pay for, and maybe a little more? Yes. Did this wine meet that expectation? Yes.

Clean, bright nose emitting lemon and lime citrus fruit and a distinct green element that most people associate with gooseberries — a strong, unripe, sour fruit odor that is typical of the Sauvignon Blanc grape. Some describe the smell as “cat pee,” and since I have yet to see/smell a gooseberry, but have known many cats, well … you can guess which description relates to me. It’s something you either appreciate or don’t like at all. Me, I appreciate that smell.

In the mouth, Estancia Sauvignon Blanc is clean, fresh, and expressive, with ample acidity. Flavors are similar to the nose, but dominated by fresh lime upfront and finishing with lemon peel on the back end. It has a zingy character on its own, and is much more enjoyable with food. I enjoyed it with broiled flounder and scallops; it will be similarly well-matched with other white fish, sushi, mildly seasoned chicken and pork dishes, salads, and vegetarian cuisine.

I picked this up for under ten bucks and for me, that’s a good deal. A good food wine.

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

Wine Reviews: Big House Red and White

Big House White and Red WinesThese were sent to me as samples by a nice PR person, but it took me a long time to get around to tasting both of the “Big House” wines, mainly because I saw them as gimmicky and figured they weren’t terribly interesting.

As it turned out, both wines mildly surprised me — they are easygoing and simple but enjoyable and have enough structure to match with a variety of foods. That’s the nice thing about having no expectations — it’s hard to be disappointed.

The name “Big House” came about because the winery is located “an ankle iron’s toss” from the Soledad State Correctional Facility in Soledad, California (Monterey County). It was founded by Randall Grahm — better known as the founder/winemaker at Bonny Doon — and the brand’s focus is to appeal to the “non-snob” by making wine less complicated and more fun and easy to enjoy (hey, just like this website!). I have to admit the branding is clever and appealing, if a bit corny. But, I’m corny myself and therefore have an appreciation for their efforts.

Big House White is a fruity summer sipper with a faint hint of sweetness that makes a good foil for spicy hot foods. I paired it successfully with Indian cuisine as well as buffalo wings and BBQ ribs. It’s also thoroughly enjoyable on its own, with a good chill. For those who care, it’s made from a “kitchen sink” blend of 22.7% Malvasia Bianca, 15.9% Gruner Veltliner, 15.7% Sauvignon Blanc, 9.2% Gewürztraminer, 7.9% Riesling, 7.3% Chenin Blanc, 6.1% Muscat Canelli, 5.2% Viognier,4.5% Verdelho, 4.4% Albarino, and 1.1% Pinot Gris. If nothing else, all those grapes in there make for a good conversation starter.

Big House Red was similarly friendly with food, but completely dry. It has an attractive, expressive nose full of black cherries and a hint of earth. On the palate there are similar flavors — cherry, red and black berry fruit, mild earth, touch of tobacco. There is plenty of acidity and very mild tannins. It finishes somewhat quickly and with tart, sour cherry. Overall it kind of reminds me a Beaujolais Villages, and is similarly easy to pair with just about anything — particularly lean meats (chicken, turkey, pork), vegetarian dishes, and pasta with red sauce. And yes, this one is made with myriad grape varieties as well: 27% Petite Sirah, 14.5% Syrah, 8.6% Montepulciano, 8.2% Barbera, 6.4% Nero d’Avola, 6.1% Tempranillo, 3.3% Malbec, 2.4% Aglianico, 2.4% Souzao, 2.3% Charbono, 2.2% Petit Verdot, 2.1% Cabernet Franc, 2% Tannat, and 12.5% Other Esoteric Reds. I’d love to know what those “other esoteric reds” might be, and why they’re not listed. Ah-ha! Another conversation starter!

At under $10 for a 750ml bottle, these wines are a steal — but it isn’t the kind of theft that will get you sent to the “big house”. And both wines also come in snazzy, convenient, party-friendly bag-in-box packaging as well.

Find Big House White at a retailer near you using Wine-Searcher, Vinquire, or WineZap

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

If you want to learn more about Big House and some of their other wines, visit my good friend Charles Scicolone’s site to read about the Big House “warden” Georgette Dune. You can also visit the Big House website and/or follow the brand on Twitter @BigHouseWines

Valdivieso Wild Fermented Sauvignon Blanc

What makes a wine “wild fermented”? Without going into too much detail, it means the winemaker chose let the wine ferment of its own accord, catalyzed by yeasts existing on the grape skins and in the winery. For those who don’t know the intricacies of winemaking, most wines — generally speaking — are fermented after the winemaker introduces an externally obtained yeast to the grape juice. Does it make a significant difference, which way the wine ferments? The jury is out, but there are arguments for both sides. Further, there has been some interest recently in “wild fermented” wines, as they are seen by some to be produced more “purely” or “naturally”. Whatever. Personally, I don’t care, as long as the final product tastes great. Though, I do kind of like the sound of “wild fermented” — makes the wine seem more exciting, somehow.

Tasting Notes: Valdivieso Single Vineyard Wild Fermented Sauvignon Blanc 2009

The nose is bright and expressive, with perfumey floral notes mixing with pear, grapefruit, and a hint of something that can only be described as nail polish remover. That may sound bad but in fact it didn’t take anything away from the aroma — if anything, it added a bit of complexity.

In the mouth you get white citrus fruit with some mineral notes and ample, bright acidity. The finish is pleasant, offering mild fruit, more mineral, and chalky acid coating the inside of the cheeks. It is enjoyable on its own but also good with food. Try it with sushi, mildly seasoned white fish, pasta salads, raw vegetables, and simple cheeses. At $21.99, it’s kind of pricey for a Sauvignon Blanc but I would say the price is fairly commensurate with the quality — it is on par with an entry-level Sancerre or similarly priced Sauvignon from New Zealand.

Now, the caveat … I can’t say for sure if this wine is available. I received the bottle from Wines of Chile as part of a Sauvignon Blanc blogger tasting from a few months back. However I can’t find it listed on any of the big retail-finding directories, and there is no info at all about the wine, neither on the Valdivieso website in Chile (warning, it’s made in Flash, grrrrr….), nor from the US importer Laird and Company. So maybe it’s a brand-new product, or maybe it’s always been made but never before imported. Perhaps the blogger tasting was an opportunity to test-market the wine, who knows. In any case, if you do see it, and don’t mind paying over $20 for a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, it’s worth trying.

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

Wine Grape: Albarino

albarino_grapes.jpgIf you are living in a similar part of the world as me — where the summer weather has become hot and sticky — then you likely are reaching into the fridge for chilled white wines to cool you off.

No doubt Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc are standbys, but if you haven’t given Albariño a try, now’s the time to do it.

The Albariño (al – bah – REE – nyo) grape is grown mainly in the Spain and Portugal (though I understand Qupe and a few others are planting it in California as well), to make dry white wines. It is a thick-skinned grape with strong aromatics that may remind you of ripe peaches — to me the smell is kind of like Viognier. Unlike Viognier, however, the wine tends to be very high in acidity and lighter in flavor — it’s more like a sharp Pinot Grigio in that respect. That zesty acidity cuts through fatty foods, stands up to salad dressings, and can be refreshing on a hot summer day — it’s not as tart as you might expect, and has a nice buttery texture. Flavors you may recognize include apple, peach, and apricot, as well as a distinct mineral component.

Geeks will tell you that the very best Albariño comes from Rias Baixas (ree-ahs buy-shuss) area of Galicia, in Spain, and they may be right. Personally, I have enjoyed Burgans Albarino, which is a consistently good value. However, there are also fine examples from Portugal, where it is often labeled as “Alvarinho” (that’s how they spell it there). And, as mentioned earlier, California’s Qupe makes one (called “Verdad“) but they don’t make much of it and I’ve never had it — if you have, please post your notes in the comments.

Regardless of where the Albariño comes from, make sure you pick the youngest you can find (as of this writing, 2008 is the vintage you want), as it’s not meant for aging. Albariño tends to lose a lot of its fresh, attractive aromas and flavors as it ages. Expect to pay between $8 and $15, though the best bottles can run as high as $25.

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

Buy Mondavi Chardonnay Solaireicon directly from

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Visit the official website for Robert Mondavi Solaire wines