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?

The Best Boxed Wine You’ll Ever Buy (No, Seriously!)

The Back Story:

The first time I’d ever heard of Yellow + Blue Wines was at an organic wine tasting at Weaver Street Market in Hillsborough. I usually taste the wines first, then ask about the ones that intrigue me rather than learning about the wines’ varietals, regions, producers, etc. first. I like to think that somehow makes me impartial. Of course, not having encyclopedic knowledge of wine varietals and regions also makes me impartial through ignorance, but I digress. In this case, I was intrigued before I even put the plastic sipper full of wine to my lips because the stalwart bartender was pouring this wine from a carton.

yellow and blue torrontes carton

Yellow and Blue Torrontes Carton (from http://www.thedailygreen.com)

For all the talk about organic this and green that, most (I would estimate 98% of) wineries still ship their wine in bulky, heavy, decidedly non-environmentally-friendly glass bottles. Not only does creating these bottles use many more resources than necessary, but the added weight increases the fuel consumption required to ship the wine. Those extra few pounds per case add up on a cross-country or cross-ocean excursion for a container full of inefficient bottles. Some wineries are experimenting with lighter, thinner-walled glass, which is a fantastic and applaudable step in the right direction, but most wineries are too rooted in tradition to consider alternative packaging.

Come to think of it, all those boxed-wine companies might be on to something… hmm…

Regardless, the philosophy at Yellow + Blue is based entirely on good will. They truly respect the earth and, recognizing that embracing new, greener technology is actually cost-effective, are passing the benefits on to their consumers. Each carton of wine holds one full liter, one-third more than the standard wine bottle, and they still charge a very reasonable price for their wines ($12.99 for all the varietals at Weaver Street). They currently offer four wines: two from Argentina and one each from Chile and Spain. They keep the grapes for each varietal from a single vineyard, preserving the integrity of the wine while sampling as much of the world as possible. Their only allegiance is to the consumer and the environment.

I’m getting sidetracked again… back to the wine.

The Yellow + Blue Torrontes comes from the Cafayate valley in the Salta province of northern Argentina. The high elevation (around 5,500 feet) leads to a lack of humidity and precipitation and extreme day-to-night temperature swings, two oddly desirable climate traits that prevent mold or other parasites and preserve acidity. All this means adhering to organic practices is remarkably simple, resulting in one of the purest wines available on the market.

yellow and blue torrontes glass and carton

Yellow and Blue Torrontes in a glass (from http://www.astorwines.com)

The Results:

The appearance of the wine suggested a good wine character: the wine had a deep yellow hue, with a slight green tint, and the swirl suggested a very pleasant, creamy texture.

The nose of the wine was immediately floral, though not overwhelming, with a pleasant, not-too-heavy rose scent. Green apple also presented itself along with a honeyed bouquet that lended the wine a much sweeter nose than the taste would warrant.

The mouthfeel of the wine was magnificent, with a good, thick texture and a tart bite. The two words that best describe it are smooth and pleasant.

The flavor of the wine was rather dry, crisp and very suggestive of apple. Despite the dominance of this flavor, the taste was surprisingly complex: a hint of citrus, sort of a hybrid of lemon and lime, came forward, and there was a fantastic mineral finish, combining with the long apple and citrus to leave a few seconds of very sweet tonic water on the palate. As the wine warmed in my glass, it began to release a fantastic floral taste, coming forward even over the apple. This was a very multi-faceted wine. At 13%, the wine suggested not a single hint of alcohol flavor, even when it warmed.

I paired the Torrontes with creole flounder stuffed with crab, shrimp, and peppers, and the combination was immaculate. Even with the wine fully chilled right out of the bottle — er — carton, the fish brought out the floral characteristics and pushed the apple back to the finish, and the dryness and texture countered and cooled the spicyness perfectly. I was thoroughly impressed with the synergy.

An interesting note, as I sampled the wine, All in the Family came on TV. An apparently sweet-smelling wine disguising an aggressive and complex flavor was an interesting counter to Archie Bunker, an aggressive and complex character who hides his sweet side. At least, I thought so anyway.

For the Casual Drinker:

If you’re looking for an easy-drinking wine, this is definitely it. It goes down smooth with a fairly tame acidity, meaning you’re not risking heartburn. Despite how it smells, it’s not going to be a sweet wine, so be prepared. Expect a drier, fruity wine, but not too fruity. I would call it crisp and refreshing. If you’re going to serve it with a meal, try it with lighter meals and avoid pairing it with red meats or tomato-based soups and pastas. The compact carton makes storage simple, and you’re getting one-third more than a normal bottle of wine that fits less overall space.

Even if you’re not into the complexities of wine-tasting, I still think you would enjoy this wine.

The Conclusion:

Considering everything I liked about this wine, the absolute lack of complaints I had about it, the environmentally-friendly nature, and the bang for your buck, I’m tempted to give this wine my highest rating so far, and I will. The 2008 Yellow + Blue Torrontes Cafayate gets a 9/10.

One last note, you can follow Yellow + Blue wines on Twitter @ybwines. He’s one of the growing number of winemakers who actively engage their followers, and he’s a very friendly guy besides. You can also learn more about their wines at www.ybwines.com.

This post was written entirely to Jakon Dylan’s Seeing Things album. Good, chill blog-writing music.

Louis Latour: The Lighter-Bodied Side of Burgundy

Louis Latour 2006 Pinot Noir
Louis Latour Pinot Noir Bottle

Louis Latour Pinot Noir (from http://www.bennettswine.co.uk)

Louis Latour is a family-run winery located in the Burgundy region of France. They’ve been in the business since the 17th Century, and though they have 125 acres of land, they themselves only grow two grape varieties: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The winery is noted for reaching outside Burgundy to many different regions and grapes, experimenting with varietals from Gamay to Viognier, depending on what other villages are producing at that time.

The first time I tasted this wine was a couple years ago at Boudreaux’s, a cajun restaurant in Blacksburg, VA.  We were in a group of 6, and the three of us most experienced in wine were selecting the bottles. I had selected a Cabernet Sauvignon for the first bottle, and the guy who had the second pick selected a Pinot Noir to follow a very, unexpectedly full-bodied wine. The Pinot Noir ended up being sandwiched between a Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon, which should have doomed it to obscurity on our palates and in our minds.

What surprised me about Louis Latour’s offering was that even after a wine as powerful as the Cab Sauv, the flavor managed to hold its own. The wine was fairly light-bodied, yet I could still detect a strong berry flavor, slightly tart, and smoky overtones. It was rather on the sweet side, too. The flavor wasn’t complex by any means; this is a robust, yet easy-drinking wine, and it serves its purpose well. The nose was a bit weak, though, slightly floral, offering mostly a bouquet of strawberry, blackberry, and possibly some other subdued red-fruit. The texture wasn’t anything all that spectacular, either. I wouldn’t call it flat by any means, but the acidity and tannins were not ideal. This is definitely a wine that would benefit from aging. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to sample an older vintage.

The wine also coincidentally arrived with our dessert, a milk-chocolate-based fudge lava & whipped cream cake, and the flavors matched pretty well. It would probably go better with a lighter chocolate dessert. As far as other food pairings, I’ve had luck with more flavorful or heavily spiced chicken dishes such as chicken marsala or rotisserie-style chickens, hens, whatever. Due to the crisp taste and lack of dryness, I might also pair it with seafood.

Any other drawbacks? Well, I’ve heard some say that the wine is a little too smoky for their taste, but I didn’t think so. It doesn’t keep well, so once you’ve opened it, you’ve only got about 24-48 hours before it’s rendered undrinkable. Unlike most reds, it doesn’t seem to get a whole lot of benefit from aeration.

I’ve also seen some people online complain about the price, being closer to 20 dollars than 10. Even now, in early 2010, I can find a bottle of the 2007 vintage at CostCo for just over 10 dollars. It’s probably not worth 20, but if you find it under 15, I recommend getting it.

I’m not as enamored with this wine as I was when I first had it, mostly because I’ve learned a lot more since then. It’s certainly no world-beater, but if you can find it on the cheaper side, and you know what to expect from a Pinot Noir, I’d recommend giving it a shot. 6/10

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