Belated Music Monday: An Oddly Delicate Cabernet Sauvignon

Every Monday, I’m bringing you what I sipped on over the weekend as well as what I listened to to enhance the experience.

The Music

Happiness by the Kilowatt by City and Colour. It’s good music, period, and arguably better than when Alexisonfire plays it as a full band. City and Colour is a side project for Dallas Green, guitarist and vocalist for Alexisonfire, but he really shines when you put a piano in front of him and strip away the hardcore trappings.

The name of the band, City and Colour, is just a sly way of describing Dallas Green’s name, and this cracks me up immensely.

2009 Gouguenheim Valle Escondido Cabernet Sauvignon

As for the wine, I popped the cork on an Argentinean Cabernet Sauvignon. Specifically, I opened the 2009 Gouguenheim Valle Escondido Cabernet Sauvignon from one of the high-altitude vineyards in the Mendoza region. All grapes are grown at least 1000 m.a.s.l.(meters above sea level), on flat, indistinguishable plateaus, offering a different sort of terroir from the rolling hills of France and Italy. The differences include an increase in both temperature swings (higher highs and lower lows) and direct UV ray contact, the effects of which are chronicled well here at Wine Anorak.

‘This is very important since this is an indicator of quality in relation to concentration. But most important is the type of tannins that we find in these grape skins, fewer monomeric tannins and proportionally higher concentration of polymeric tannins. This means that in our high altitude Malbecs we have high concentration and structure, with an incredible amount of total tannins but yet very soft and round wines. This is what makes Malbecs from high altitude vineyards so unique.’

This difference in tannins is one that I noticed in the Cabernet Sauvignon, as you’ll see below. I found it oddly appropriate: what’s better to pair with a toned-down, nuanced hardcore rocker than a softer Cabernet Sauvignon?

Onto the wine!

The wine has a bright garnet color with a deep black cherry hue at the center. It has a pure translucency and a full texture.

The nose consists primarily of red fruits with a light oak scent. Raspberry, cherry, cinnamon, and vanilla combine for a simple, appealing, dessert-like scent, like a baking pie. There is a very cool alcohol scent, noticeable but not detrimental to the nose.

The wine, however, does not live up to expectations of a big Cabernet. The wine offers a good balance, no alcohol heat, no bitter or sour taint from acidity. While the attack promises a full, chewy tannic experience, the tannins abruptly fade before they can fully develop in the mouth. The result is a soft, briefly intense mouthfeel. Flavors of red fruit and oak are pleasant but not full, with just a hint of spice, something slightly jarring like cumin, a touch of tobacco, and a medium finish of raspberry mocha.

The wine wasn’t quite up to the task of taking on a fully-seasoned steak, but a lighter beef dish would certainly suffice. Try something not too spicy. It also seems like it would be a fantastic pairing with a chocolate mousse.

It’s not a phenomenal wine, but it’s a value at $10. With its (comparatively) light body, simple, delicious flavors, and decent balance, it’ll please a crowd without breaking the bank. Make no mistake: this wine is ready to drink now and will not last more than a couple years on the shelf. If you need a wine right now, it’s a good option.  6/10

Wine: Valle Escondido Cabernet Sauvignon

Producer: Gouguenheim Winery

Region: Mendoza, Argentina

Varieties: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon

Alcohol: 13.5%

Price: $10 for 750ml

Beer Brewing, as Told by Mad Rocket Scientists

Back after a holiday hiatus, the blog is ready to jump right back into the wide world of alcohol, and what better way to do it than profiling a local brewery?

from right: Full Steam Founder Sean Lilly Wilson and Brewer "32" Chris Davis

Still very much a local brewing company, Full Steam offers their wares mostly within 50 miles of their Durham brewery. Their reputation is that of the mad scientists of the brewing world, experimenting with local ingredients to craft unique beers that take on the personality of the South. From their website:

Our mission is to craft a distinctly Southern beer style using local farmed goods, heirloom grains, and Southern botanicals. Like what, you wonder? We’re making beer with sweet potatoes, corn grits, summer basil, and malted barley house-smoked over hickory. Other successful “plow to pint” experiments to-date include beer brewed with scuppernong grapes, persimmon, paw paw, rhubarb and more.

Ultimately, our vision is to craft a year-round, sustainable, scalable, and distinctly Southern beer brewed 100% with local ingredients. That’s the quest. We’re a long ways from realizing this vision, but we hope you enjoy the adventure as much as we expect to.

I’d like to do a more in-depth profile of the brewery at a future point in time. For now, I want to share my first experience with this brewery, their Rocket Science IPA. Part of their Worker’s Compensation line meant for, in their words, “conversation, not introspection,” the IPA offers an easily enjoyable IPA experience for a variety of taste buds, not just the trained palate.

I picked up a half-gallon growler of their IPA for $10 at Weaver Street Market, our local organic co-op and the go-to market for local and organic craft beers. I wanted a beer to go with watching my Hokies play football, but we didn’t get to this one before the game was over.

That’s probably a good thing, as the bad loss would have diminished my enjoyment. Now that I’ve gotten to give it a try with a level head, I can safely say I’ll be purchasing many more of their beers in the near future.

Full Steam Rocket Science IPA

The beer has a fairly complex appearance, a base of light brown with golden-orange at the edge and a deep red hue in the middle of the glass. It forms a good, thick, long-lasting head that treats the aromas right without being something you have to chew through.

The nose consists of the usual IPA aromas: floral, orange, and light blueberry, all bolstered by a strong smoky, woody scent.

The beer is delightfully full-bodied, with a hefty, active mouthfeel. It has a fairly aggressive carbonation, but nothing too rough.

A bit of a departure from the standard IPA, the attack is smoky and woody with a generous flavor of minerals, overwhelming the bitterness of the hops from the outset. Once the smokiness fades away, the bitterness takes center stage with a brisk, tart orange flavor. There is a slight metallic tinge on the finish, which otherwise tastes of lavender and orange peel.

This is a great beer to pair with a heftier meal. I’d certainly put it up against red meat or a medium level of spice in wings, ribs, or barbecue. It’s not as intense as some IPAs, so keep the spicy to a reasonable level. It’s definitely built to tackle the best your tailgate has to offer. 7/10

Beer: Rocket Science IPA

Producer: Fullsteam Brewery

Region: North Carolina, USA

Hops: Centennial, Amarillo

Alcohol: 6.5%

Price: $8.99 for a half-gallon growler

Full Steam can be found on Twitter at @fullsteam, and you can learn more about the brewery and their events or contact them at their website.

A Fruit Wine You Can Proudly Serve Your In-Laws

Twin Pomegranates Sparkling WineAt the office, we are nothing if not dedicated cooks. Holiday celebrations are an excuse for everyone to demonstrate their flair for kitchen artistry while getting the opportunity to nosh on a multitude of culinary delights. For our Thanksgiving feast, while most of us brought potluck dishes, I provided a few bottles of pomegranate wine as a “liquid cranberry sauce.” At least, that’s how I deemed it. It was more an excuse to serve alcohol in lieu of cooking.

The wines were part of a sample pack sent to me by Twin Pomegranates, a Pomegranate winemaker based in Madera, California. They provided me with a flat pomegranate wine, a sparkling pomegranate wine, and a pomegranate-Chardonnay blend, all grown and produced in California. For the feast, I opted for the sparkling and flat pomegranate wines, saving the blend for another occasion. The goal here was to see how these wines would fare as a holiday wine pairing, an unconventional addition to Christmas or New Years. Something a bit fruitier just strikes me as being festive.

The Wines

Twin Pomegranate Sparkling Wine PourBoth wines had a similar color: a dark brick-red and orange blend, turning a deep golden orange at the edge. Their translucency, like the last pomegranate wine I reviewed, is impeccable. The color, while unusual for a grape wine, is indicative of purity in a non-vinifera wine. Ever seen fresh juice pressed from a strawberry? It will have the exact same earthy gradient of color as the wines to the right.

The nose is not the best quality of these wines. Both have a slightly sour, lightly pungent pomegranate scent, not exactly off-putting but not as enticing as they could be either. It smells a bit dusty, dry, but the fruit scent you get is pure pomegranate. No alcohol heat, no imbalance is detectable in the nose.

The flavor of both wines is startlingly dry and crisp. With only 3% residual sugar, they offer a delightfully active texture, nothing too flabby or cloying. The alcohol (13.3% in the sparkling, 13.4% in the flat) provides an intense backbone  without adding even a hint of alcohol flavor. The flavor begins a little bit seedy, owing to the intense acidity and lack of sugar. Once the initial shock to the palate wears off, the flavor fades into a very cool, very pure pomegranate flavor that rides out a decent finish. The sparkling wine adds an extra powdery, bacterial dimension to the flavor, a complexity standard with sparkling wines.

As for pairing, this wine paired with a variety of dishes, with two caveats. Don’t pair it with very salty dishes, as the flavor gets overwhelmed and the alcohol becomes the primary flavor. Also, because of its lack of sugar and its delicate flavor, it handles spice very poorly. It’ll do quite nicely for your Christmas dinner, at least unless you plan on having a rib-eye. Turkey and chicken are immaculate pairings with this wine; ham handles the wine pretty well, but it’s better to go with a sweeter cure than a saltier one. Beef and pork will chainsaw right through this wine, so avoid pairing with those.

Both wines are prime examples of fruit wine. The sparkling was preferred over the flat wine, if only because of the added complexity that bubbly provides. The flat wine continued to drink well over the next 2 days, losing very little in the way of flavor even 48 hours later. The sparkling wine, properly stoppered, is good for about 24 hours. After that, it starts to lose its vibrancy.

So, for the record, both the sparkling and the flat wines are around $10, making them delightful bargains at their price point. 6/10 for the flat, 7/10 for the sparkling. Drink and be merry.

note: these wines were samples provided by the maker with the intent to review

Music Monday: Inappropriate for a Football Tailgate

Every Monday, I’m bringing you what I sipped on over the weekend as well as what I listened to to enhance the experience.

The Music

While this album is not one that will make you run through a brick wall, it’s still recently become part of my pre-game football ritual. Perhaps because it hearkens back to my first years in college, when I really became a college football fan, maybe because deep down I’m just a huge softy, whatever the reason, The Anniversary’s “All Things Ordinary” is a great example of the gentler music I listened to when I wanted to “rock out.”

The Wine

This weekend was much more an exercise in quantity, not quality, as we had a nice gathering of friends for the Virginia Tech football game. Thus, the goal here was to furnish enough for a group of widely varying tastes with as little expense as possible.

The solution? Trader Joe’s, obviously.

While the beer-friendly crowd sipped on New Belgium’s 2° Below (and… sigh… Bud Select), a fantastic and affordable winter ale from Colorado, those who had wine on the brain opted for a Rosé. Trader Joe’s has a fair selection of Rosés, mostly in their $4 to $6 value price range, and we opted for the 2008 La Ferme Julien Rosé for $5.

La Ferme Julien bottleAccording to Wine Harlots, La Ferme Julien is “the Trader Joe’s private label of the La Vieille Ferme that gets passing marks in the major wine publications.” That’s a good sign, especially considering some of Trader Joe’s bargain wines can be traced back to faceless, mass-produced California schlock vineyards.

So what of the wine? It had a very pure light red color, with a medium viscosity. The aroma was almost candy-like in nature, with sweet citrus, strawberries, and cherries. The flavor, though very dry, tasted a bit canned, stale, citrus-forward, just a touch of yogurt and lemon, and a strawberry candy finish. The acidity might be a touch high, lending it a tangy, thin texture, but other than that it had a decent balance. It drank well over the following day, maybe tasting a bit more stale, but still holding its flavor fairly well. I wouldn’t give it more than 24 hours, though.

If you’re looking to please the pink-drinkers in the crowd without spending a lot, I’d say you’d do okay with this one. 5/10

Wine: La Ferme Julien Rosé

Vintage: 2008

Producer: La Vieille Ferme

Region: Cotes du Ventoux, Rhone, France

Varietals: Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah

Alcohol: 13%

Music Monday: Chardonnay and New Jersey Punk

Every Monday, I’m bringing you what I sipped on over the weekend as well as what I listened to to enhance the experience.

The Music

This weekend, I reconnected with my college days with the band Hidden in Plain View. Yes, I was one for the weepy pop-punk brand of emotional bloodletting, and in some cases, I still am. Not exactly a world-beater in talent or popularity, they’re still a lot of fun for singing along to at an unnecessarily high volume in the car, screechingly-nasal falsetto highly recommended.

I can only imagine how much fun it would be to be their drummer… nothing fancy in his work, nothing intricate, just a straight-up 4/4 hard rock with ample room for fills. He really does drive the band; as often as they cut to him on chorus transitions just in time for a drumstick flourish or crash cymbal roll, his energy necessarily has to be infectious.

The Wine

2008 Concannon Conservancy ChardonnayThe wine for the weekend was a stalwart classic, the California-style Chardonnay. From Concannon Winery’s Conservancy vineyards in the Livermore Valley, the 2008 Conservancy Chardonnay brings every classic characteristic of the California Chardonnay with an ecological benefit: the vineyards were planted to protect land from urban development, and the production of wine is just an added bonus.

The wine has all the traditional notes on its nose: palpable oak, a touch of toast, a hint of butter, a good dose of vanilla, and just a bit of apple and lemon untouched by oak. The flavors match, with just a hint of citrus and tropical fruits that manage to overcome a significant oaking in French and American oak barrels.

Though the wine underwent malolactic fermentation and oak aging, the mouthfeel is not as round as you would expect, as the acidity is a little off. The alcohol, however, provides ample structure at 13.5% without bringing the heat.

Overall, I’d say it’s a serviceable Chardonnay, subtle enough to avoid becoming one of the many over-oaked monstrosities that originate in California, and at $15, it’s not going to put a hurt on your wallet to give it a try. 5/10.

Breaking out the Big Guns for a Rich, Ripe Rioja

Last week’s wine tasting was a special treat, as Greg broke out one of the cellaring bottles we have in the office. A Rioja bottled around the time of Y2K made an appearance, the cork popping just at the peak of its aging. Because we tend to go for the drink-now wines available at local shops, this was a great way to end the week.

1999 Pujanza RiojaThe 1999 Bodegas Pujanza Rioja is a classic Tempranillo blend from the city of Laguardia, Rioja, in Spain. It sports a deep cherry color with significant tanning at the ages, indicative of its decade spent in the bottle. There is a considerable amount of sediment in the wine, clouding the wine from its initial pour. If we’d had the time, we would have decanted this bottle in a decanter that featured a punt or using a funnel with a filter; as it was, we had to wait for the sediment to settle in our glasses, which also gave us time to let the wine breathe.

The nose of the wine featured a very rich and advanced bouquet, with notes of stewed prunes and olives buoyed by a smokey and spicy aroma. The overall impression was of a baked, savory dish, something classic with Mediterranean flair. The flavors matched, with a subtle minerality holding firm behind the prunes until a medium woody finish. An herbal savoriness also makes an appearance, most strongly reminding me of fresh-cut basil. It was medium-bodied, subtly, silkily textured, with a beautiful balance that offered very fine, powdery tannins. This wine was just on the edge of tired, so I’m glad we opened it up when we did. It’s certainly not a cheap wine, selling for around $60 to $65, but as a harmonious and rich experience, it’ll be well worth it if you manage to find a bottle of this extremely rare treat.

We had the opportunity to give two accessories a try this week: the Stiletto Cork Extractor and an in-bottle decanter. The Stiletto is a ridiculously heavy-duty opener requiring even less “elbow grease” than even the higher quality rabbits on the market. A customer of mine, when she called, told me how much she loved it, as her arthritis made it difficult to use traditional corkscrews and rabbits. The cylindrical style grips the bottle for you, and the intricate gear system helps take a lot of the effort out of the lever movement. We got a clean pull that was surprisingly both swift and gentle, with no crumbling or splitting on a 10 year old cork.

Oenophilia Stiletto Cork Extractor

The other accessory, the in-bottle decanter, is an awesome piece that’s as aesthetically pleasing as it is functional. The most well-known (and arguably most respected) model is the Soiree Decanter. Though the implementation is scary, turning the bottle completely upside down, it’s entirely worth it to get the cascading effect. The wine pours down the edges of the decanter, gently agitating and mixing with the air around it before it comes back together to pour neatly from the spout. It gets the job done, as bloggers will affirm.

In Bottle Decanter Model

Have you tried the Soiree or the Stiletto? What did you think? Are they worth a purchase, or are they more gimmicky replacements for traditional accessories?

Check Norcal Wingman, 1WineDude, and TypeAMom for the linked reviews and more!

The John Lennon Mini-Memorial Wine Tasting

John Lennon Memorial Wine Tasting

This week, we had two Reds from the Iberian peninsula; a varietal Garnacha from Spain and a red blend from Portugal. It really had no relation to our tasting theme, which was a celebration of John Lennon, who would have been 70 years old that day. It was more the idea to bring in wines a little bit different to honor one of the men responsible for much of today’s modern music. Whether intentionally or not, we succeeded, as these reds were just off-kilter enough to give everyone’s palate a nice little shock.

We toasted to his memory and his legacy while a Wings concert cover of While My Guitar Gently Weeps (yes, written by Harrison, we know, the mood was what’s important) crescendoed in the background.

Xiloca GarnachaThe fCabriz Colheita Seleccionadairst wine, 2008 Xiloca Garnacha by Vinae Mureri, was a deep, dark red wine that embodied all the characteristics of Ribera del Jiloca, the designation for Vino de la Terra from the Jiloca valley. Bold raspberry on the nose was tempered by a subtle earthiness and notes of tea and cinnamon.  The flavors were bright and pure, with an unexpected, but pleasant, mineral component on the attack. Raspberry was the primary flavor, though there were also earthy and woody qualities that gave way to a peppery finish. a The alcohol, at 14%, was subdued, and the tannins were supple. It paired phenomenally well with mild milano salami and parmesan cheese. For a sub $15 wine, this was a good one.

The second wine, 2008 Colheita Seleccionada by Quinta de Cabriz, hails from the Beiras in Portugal. It’s comprised of three grapes, Alfrocheiro, Tinta-Roriz (Tempranillo), and Touriga-Nacional. The latter two are well known in the world, though Tempranillo isn’t as common in Portugal as Touriga. Alfrocheiro, however, is an interesting and fairly obscure grape. It was even more obscure before the Phylloxera pest devastated European vines, and it was brought in to some vineyards replace more susceptible varieties*. The result is a red blend which combines three fairly subdued varieties into an understated wine.

The appearance is a deep red with a slight peach tint at the edge. The aroma is jammy and sweet, not cloying, but it is a little off, with an earthy, spicy kind of cherry aroma. The flavor is very smooth, with astringent tannins on the finish and a fairly bland black cherry flavor. It’s fruity and dirty at the same time, with a sweet/sour characteristic almost like a Sweetart. It’s definitely got too much sweetness for such a subtle structure, and the flavors are a bit overwhelmed by it. I would say it’s drinkable at under $10, but it’s definitely not a leading option if you’re trying to impress someone who understands red wines.

All in all, this tasting was not one of the best. Though the Garnacha was a pleasant sipper, the Colheita Seleccionada was an underwhelming and bland experience. I had higher hopes for trying a new grape, but at the very least, I can add it to the list for the The Wine Century Club, an in the end, isn’t that what really matters? (no, no it isn’t)

*from Oz Clarke and Margaret Rand’s Grapes & Wines p. 35

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