Everyone Deserves a Second Chance

The Back Story:

You might remember my post last week, “The Occasional Risk of Buying Local” (or if you don’t, you can find it here), where I brought down some pretty heavy criticism on a Rosé from Grove Winery, a local vineyard. I received by far my highest visitor count on this post, owing to a vigorous discussion of it both online and off, and I also prompted a response from the winemaker himself, Max Lloyd.

Since I basically purchased this wine blind, I wasn’t clear on the specifics behind it. Max explained the history of the wine and offered to ship me a bottle of one of the winery’s specialties, a 2007 Sangiovese, to “cleanse my palate,” as he put it. Rather than shipping one bottle, he sent me two, that and a 2007 Cabernet Franc, giving me a better chance to explore the wines that Grove is better known for. Since it it would be entirely unfair of me to write off a winery after one bad wine, I welcomed the opportunity to give them a fair shake. I popped the cork on the Cabernet Franc, and here’s how it went.

The Results:

The appearance of the wine was a very deep garnet with a pure red translucency when it was held to the light. The swirl suggested a good texture and a rather high viscosity.

The nose of the wine was very fruity, primarily raspberry, a little black pepper, with a slightly spicy aroma and an herbal undertone.

The mouth feel of the wine was velvety, though the initial texture was a little weak. After it hit the tongue, it coated the mouth very nicely.

The flavor of the wine matched the nose pretty well. There was an immediate and dominant raspberry, sweeter than I expected, though the alcohol came forward a little more than I would have liked. The mid-palate had an earthy undertone, maybe a bit too bitter and medicinal, with mocha and red pepper. The finish was a strong, rich cherry. It had a rather high acidity, but the wine is pretty well balanced. The flavor declined slightly after a couple of days, but it’s still entirely enjoyable after 48 hours without any preservative measures.

For the Casual Drinker:

This is a fairly easy-drinking wine. The fruitiness is certainly at the forefront here, which always sits well with the casual palate. There might be something a little bitter that doesn’t quite fit with the taste, but as long as it doesn’t surprise you, you might find it enjoyable. The acidity is also quite high, so it’s a heartburn risk if you’re not ready for it. It didn’t need decanting, and passing it through an aerator barely affected the flavor at all. This wine is ready to go. Paired pretty well with a chocolate brownie, just by the way.

The Conclusion:

While I wouldn’t call this my favorite wine, it’s certainly a good example of the potential that North Carolina wine has. I feel like this wine would have benefited from a little aging to soften the bitterness and acidity, and I’m tempted to sit on my Sangiovese for a year or so and see how kind time is to it. Depends on if I can taste it relatively soon, I guess. Regardless, the wine was leaps and bounds better than the Rosé, and if Grove’s output is more similar to their Cab Franc, I would gladly recommend them to visiting winos. At $15, it’s a relatively inexpensive way to taste the upper echelon of NC wine. 6/10

Setting the Bar High for (Bargain) Italian Rosé

2008 Vecchia Torre Leverano Rosato

The Back Story:

This is a sort of part two to my review yesterday, in which I extolled the absolute averageness of the Vecchia Torre Leverano Bianco blend. I finished that off with a teaser by stating that I had subsequently purchased several bottles of their Rosé after first trying it. From here on out, I shall attempt to explain why.

The 2008 Vecchia Torre Leverano Rosato, like its lighter brother, is a blend of two grapes from the Leverano region of Italy. Negroamaro comprises 80% of the wine while Malvasia Nera shores up the other 20%. While the Bianco was priced at 9 bucks, this guy had a nice big orange sale sticker on it that dropped the price to about $6. Very cool.

A side story: The day that I had bought more of this wine, I also went to an Italian wine tasting at Weaver Street Market. I tried another Italian Rosé there, and I mentioned to the guy that I had just dropped less than 40 bucks and gotten six bottles of a really easy-drinking Italian. When I told him it was Vecchia Torre, he absolutely lit up. Turns out he worked for the American distributor for Vecchia Torre, and that wine was one of his favorites. Affirmation is a beautiful thing.

The Results:

The appearance of the wine was a very rich, dark pink, approaching a healthy red color. There was a distinct peach tint to the wine, nothing that actively discolored it, but it was noticeable in the light. The swirl suggested a medium viscosity and a fairly solid texture.

The nose of the wine was probably the low point, which is like being the worst linebacker at USC (not so bad, is basically the point I’m meandering around). It was pungent but non-descript, slightly acrid, with notes of coffee, vanilla, plum, and lemon zest. Based on the nose alone, I would expect a simple, earthy, and watery wine.

The mouth feel of the wine was very smooth, not too syrupy given the viscosity, with a crisp bite. I wouldn’t quite say velvety, but it did coat the tongue very nicely.

The flavor of the wine was, to say the least, astonishingly good. It was surprisingly sweet with a refreshing tartness. The immediate flavors were overwhelmingly fruit-forward, consisting of a not-quite-ripe strawberry and some faint citrus like a grapefruit or a tart orange. While the mid-palate was relatively lacking, the finish was clean with a fantastic sour raspberry. As it warmed, it developed a second front flavor of raspberry, and the citrus flavors became even more prominent. What was remarkable was how forward and clear the flavors were. I tasted a bite of unripe strawberry and it was almost identical to the initial flavor.

I paired the wine with shrimp cocktail and garlic-baked naan drizzled with garlic- and black-pepper-infused olive oil. The sweetness of the wine matched the richness of the naan perfectly, and the fruit flavors countered the pungent garlic very well. The shrimp, however, didn’t fare as well, weakening the flavors and lending the wine a too-sour flavor even without any condiments.

For the Casual Drinker:

I heartily endorse this wine to any new or casual drinkers. It’s clean, crisp, fruity, just an all-around fantastic wine. There’s complexity here, to be sure, but even the simplest flavors are well worth the price of admission. It seems like it would pair well with many carb-heavy meals (pastas, breads, rice, etc) that don’t involve red meat or tomato-based sauces or soups. I would say that this wine is ideal for sipping outside on a warm summer afternoon. It’s that refreshing.

The Conclusion:

Hell, what else can I say? I went back and bought six bottles of this guy literally days after I tried it. I would easily pay twice what I paid for this wine. The fact that it was discounted makes the wine even sweeter. 8/10  at the price I got it for, but 7/10 if you’re shelling out more than $10 for it. I’ve seen it priced up to $15 online. That’s a little much, I’d say.

Getting a Taste of Italy, Bargain-Style

The Back Story:

I set out a couple weeks ago with a mission in mind: to taste a new grape and spend as little as possible doing it. My destination, then, was A Southern Season, a gargantuan gourmet shop that has everything from a cheese bar to a Belgian beer section. They’ve also got a decent-sized wine section with particular emphasis on European wines.

After several minutes of wandering back and forth in the French section, enjoying the fact that I have experienced enough in French wine that I now can actually recognize wine labels from different vintners, growing regions, etc., I moved into the Italian section, renewing my focus on finding a new varietal under $10. Unfortunately, I left the store without fulfilling my quest. Not because they didn’t have one, no, but because I got distracted by a sale sticker. The sticker happened to be attached to a 2007 Vecchia Torre Leverano Bianco. The Bianco is a blend, 80% Malvasia Bianca and 20% Chardonnay. That’s basically all I knew going in, but to me, the mystery is part of what makes tasting a wine so exciting.

The Results:

The appearance of the wine was pretty average. The viscosity was fairly high, with a bright yellow color, slightly green, and the swirl suggested a good texture.

The nose of the wine was particularly fruity, exotic, primarily ripe tropical fruits. There was something off, though, giving a tinge of what smelled like vinyl. It wasn’t altogether unpleasant, but it didn’t quite jibe.

The mouth feel of the wine was good but nothing special. It was a little syrupy, but it balanced nicely with a high acidity.

The taste of the wine mimicked the nose, offering mostly tropical fruits. First, mango and apricot flavors co-mingled with a pretty decent tartness, slightly dry. There was an odd flavor that I couldn’t peg at first, and I finally settled on green beans. A little out of left field, but whatever. The short finish was a dry, overly ripe banana. Overall, it was standard fare for a white and rather simple.

For the Casual Drinker:

This would be a fantastic wine for a dinner party or any other group of varied tastes and interests. It’s a fairly neutral wine, not too sweet or dry, not too exotic, with a very agreeable flavor and texture. The simplicity makes it suitable for many palates, and it would pair with a variety of lighter foods as long as the flavors weren’t too overpowering. It’s also affordable, which is always good.

The Conclusion:

Though there’s nothing really to knock about this wine, it’s also fairly forgettable. Simple flavor, short finish, about what you’d expect for 9 bucks. You won’t regret buying this wine, but you might not go back for a second bottle. 5/10

I also picked up the Vecchia Torre Leverano Rosato. How good was that one? Stay tuned… but I will say that, coincidentally or not, I’ve bought 7 bottles of it in the past 2 weeks.

Your Irreverent Weekend Reader: Feb 20-21

The weekend reader wraps up the week’s best blog posts and news stories and suggests relevant articles and stories for coming events.

The Oatmeal – This week’s reader isn’t quite as irreverent as last week’s. We’re going to be touching on a couple serious notes. Don’t worry, though, the Oatmeal is here to temper the gravity with a comic titled “20 Things Worth Knowing About Beer.”
http://theoatmeal.com/comics/beer

Suburban Wino – This post really got me thinking about wine pairings. We all know the classic pairings with steak, pasta, seafood, etc… but what about Super Bowl fare? Joe takes the opportunity of an enormous spread of “man food” to wax analytical about the science of pairing wine with everything from clams to chicken wings. He also plays a little didgeridoo.
http://www.suburbanwino.com/2010/02/aussie-rules-football.html

The New York Times – In case you haven’t heard, E & J Gallo was recently victim to a massive case of wine fraud. Their suppliers were passing off cheaper varietals as Pinot Noir, and those responsible have officially been found guilty. You can read all about the case developments in their article with the dazzling headline “Fraud in Wine Sent to U.S. from France.”
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/19/business/global/19wine.html

DrinkNectar- One of the issues that strikes a nerve with me is the horrid treatment wine gets at restaurants. Ridiculous prices, poor selection, awful presentation… it’s an industry-wide problem. Josh over at DrinkNectar wrote an incredible piece on basically every gripe there is to have with these issues, and the conversation in the comments has brought in a wide variety of perspectives, even from restaurant owners.
http://drinknectar.com/2010/02/18/wine-ripped-off-and-ticked-off/

The New York Times – I hate to reference them twice in one post, but they knocked this out of the park. There’s been some focus on the detrimental effects of climate change on winemaking, and indeed they even touch on this in this article, but there are areas that would benefit from a little global warming. If current climate models are accurate, we could be seeing an influx of fine English wine in the future.

http://www.nytimes.com/cwire/2010/02/18/18climatewire-climate-change-seen-bringing-bonanza-for-engl-6578.html

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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Beer is Hopping on the Organic Bandwagon

As much as I hate to admit it, wine is not the only passion in my life. I know, I know, boo, hiss, all that. Please stop firing Champagne corks at me. Today I’m changing my moniker from Wine(Explorer) to Beer(Explorer)… but I’m not changing my logo. Forget that. That thing is set in stone.

The Back Story:

Our beer sampling today is from Peak Organic, a brewing company in the alcohol mecca known as Portland, Maine. Seeing as how I’m a fiend for IPAs (I’ve probably single-handedly paid an executive bonus or two at Dogfish Head), I decided to give theirs a try.

IPA, in case you’re not a craft beer kind of person, means India Pale Ale. Despite its name, it’s darker than the more wide-spread macro beers (Budweiser, Heineken, Corona, etc), usually some shade of amber, though deeper hues of red or brown are often present. The “pale”  originated from the pale malts used to brew this style of beer back in the 17th century, and the “India” is an homage to the East India Company who first spread it throughout the world. The brewing process usually gives it a more bitter and hoppy taste and a higher-than-average alcohol content. The most expensive and high-quality IPAs approach or even exceed 10% alcohol, making them an incredibly rich experience that also packs a punch.

Peak Organic’s IPA is brewed in a similar tradition, except they don’t use any traditional hops. Instead, they use a combination of Simcoe, Amarillo, and Nugget hops, all of which are specialties used to impart certain flavors to certain beers. Simcoe is a fantastic bittering hop that is often used in IPAs. Amarillo is a very aromatic and flavorful hop with fairly high acidity; use of this newer variety results in robust citrus and floral notes. Nugget hops is a hybridized variety that’s typically used in American lagers. Its flavors tend to be more herbal or spicy, and it also has a high acidity.**

**I didn’t know a lot of this hop knowledge, by the way. I definitely have to credit Brew Dudes for researching the hop varieties. There’s a wealth of beer knowledge over there that I will happily explore outside of this blog post.

As you may have gathered from the company name, Peak Organic specializes in organic beers. I’m just going to let them tell the story:

With roots in home brewing back in the 90s, brewer Jon Cadoux set about combining his love for beer with an ethic for sustainability. Whenever possible, he would go out and find ingredients from local organic farmers for his homebrews.  It was a defining day when Jon discovered that you don’t need to sacrifice flavor for sustainability, but that better ingredients actually made the beer more delicious.

Well done, Jon. Well done.

The Results:

The appearance of the beer was a deep gold with a healthy reddish-brown tint, a little paler than I prefer for an IPA, but that’s mostly because I like my beers dark. For an IPA, it’s at a very good level. It formed a thick, enduring head that lasted for several minutes, becoming denser rather than dissipating as it shrank. That is phenomenal head retention, helping to keep the aromas and flavors in the beer better than most.

The nose of the beer was very appealing. It had a strong bouquet of orange zest, fairly sweet, and an herbal undertone that suggests a crisp but not overpowering bitterness.

The mouth feel of the beer would best be described as luxurious. It was very smooth but tangy, with a nice bite that I could feel in my jaw.

The flavor of the beer was extraordinarily complex. It began with a burst of sweet citrus, both lime and grapefruit, more sour than the orange nose suggested. There was definitely a floral taste, though nothing in particular I could nail down. The flavor suggested to me the overall smell of a budding garden, a combination of similar, jostling scents that result in a recognizable but hard to pin down aroma. After the initial flavors faded, the bitterness came forward, accompanied by a vanilla mocha taste, much softer and tamer than the stark coffee flavors of darker ales. The beer had an incredibly long finish that to me tasted of autumn leaves.

For the Casual Drinker:

This beer is much more complex than the widespread lagers and pilsners of the world. Most people find IPAs off-putting if they’ve never had a darker beer. It’s not as light as American macrobrews, and it’s simultaneously more sour, bitter, and sweet, but it’s not as medicinal or spicy as European-style ales. As long as you’re expecting the bitterness and the change of flavor that occurs after the initial sip, you might find this an interesting beer, especially paired with a spicy or otherwise aggressively flavorful meal.

The Conclusion:

This is the first organic beer I believe I’ve ever had, and I’m very glad I decided on it. I think I’ll have to agree with Jon (the founder, in case you skipped the back story): natural ingredients lead to better brews. At $8.99 for a six-pack, it’s a fantastic craft beer for a very reasonable price. 8/10.

You can learn more about Peak Brewing Company and their other beers at their website, www.peakbrewing.com or on Twitter at @PeakBrewing.

This post written entirely to Bright Eyes. What, like you never experienced teenage angst?

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