Category Archives: Chardonnay

Santa Barbara Wine Country

Here are the main highlights of my trip to Santa Barbara. We stayed at the Hadsten Inn and Spa. Location wise, Solvang is the best jumping off point to all the wineries. Food wise, definitely hit Brothers’ Restaurant at Mattei’s Inn and Los Olivos Grocery Store for some snacks to go with all that wine.

Gainey

One of many tasting rooms, this is definitely part of the hook and look of Gainey.  Romantic and intimate this place looks like the site for weddings and events. Along with that however goes mediocre wine that isn’t too memorable. Most of it is drinkable, but none worth the price point or the heavy luggage to buy back. I would say this would be a pass for my next trip. Sorry Sideways!

Beckmen Vineyards

One of my favorite wineries in this region by far, Beckmen puts thought and time into every bottle. It was very hard to choose, but we ended up with a case of the marsanne. My sister bought a case of one of the whites. The tasting room is a lackluster basic room with the usual  tshirts and trinkets. What it lacks in presentation, the wine more than makes up for in taste. I recently bought the Grenache which is more widely available to a party and it was deliciously jammy yet complex. I am a fan!

Blair Fox

This little gem is a part of the stretch of tasting rooms found in Los Olivos.  The main event is really the syrah from this little vineyard. It definitely leaves an impression and hits all the right notes. With the blessing of demi-god Robert Parker, their wines are becoming more and more widely available outside the local area. Complex with good spice and character, I would reach for their Syrah above all else.

Epiphany

I’ve had some pretty tasty wines from this particular winery while perusing various stores in Chicago and NYC. So when I had the opportunity to go to the tasting room, I jumped. Unfortunately, my expectations fell a little short. Maybe it was the fact that my expectations had been high, but the pours seemed uninteresting but drinkable.  All the glasses were consistently good, but not great and definitely not worth some of the price points.  I would say stick with the edited selection of your local wine store, there is a reason why certain bottles gain their popularity.

Cold Heaven

The wines from this relatively new winery are definitely a labor of love and it shows. Focusing mainly on viognier, Cold Heaven brings out the complexity and elegance this particular varietal deserves.  What struck me the most about these wines is their ability to develop over time and open up like a red.  Many viogniers and whites are ready for the drinking the minute the cork is popped, but with these you miss out on an astounding development of character. The sommelier was kind enough to show us the difference between a bottle opened from the day before and one opened a few minutes ago. Both were delightful, but the former had a mellower character and developed a whole new flavor profile.  I would buy a couple bottles from here just to open and see what happens over time. The Saints and Sinners was one of my favorites.

Taste of the Valleys

Located in the heart of Solvang, this little tasting room has a well edited list of the brightest and best of the local wineries. If you are afraid of missing that one great find this is the place to seek it out at the end or beginning of your trip.  If I had to do it all over again, I think I would have come here first instead of towards the end of the trip to get a sense of where I wanted to visit. The best part of this place is their offerings of Au Bon Climat, lovingly nicknamed ABC. ABC doesn’t have their own tasting room so this is the place to go to get some tastes in.

Au Bon Climat

Don’t let the guy in the mullet on the homepage fool you, Jim Clendenen definitely knows what he’s doing. ABC has some of the best Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays of this region.  Silky smooth with a leaning towards the Burgundian style of wine making, this winery plays to my heart strings, but not so much to my wallet. Like a true Burgundian the price point is a little steep for some of my favorites, however I suspect the cheaper bottles would age into beauties given a little time. Buy for now and drink for later.

St. Patty’s Day, the Wine Way

In a very miscalculated move, we didn’t buy tickets to the Metropolitan Opera’s live streaming of Britten’s Peter Grimes, mistakenly betting that the seats wouldn’t sell out. Who knew. So, after a hurried cab ride downtown later, I found myself forlornly standing outside the theatre, clutching my brown paper bag of toasted sandwiches I’d picked up for the 4 hour marathon.

Since we were downtown already anyway, we decided to go wine tasting. Just Grapes, right by my workplace, has free wine tasting from 1-4pm every Saturday, so we headed on there. In between sampling the 5 different tastings offered, we enjoyed a good chat with the store manager and the wine distributor. Ah, for a different career change. Anyway, here are my reviews of the wines:

2006 Riff, Pinot Grigio, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy $11
The store’s tasting notes: “The vineyard sources for most of this Pinot Grigio contain a substantial amount of dolomite limestone which has an obvious impact on the wine’s character and style. It is because of the contrinbution that these fossils (limestone) make to the wine’s character that they have been chosen to be incorporated into the label design as a reminder of its geological origin. Simple, with apple, lemon and light mineral character. Light body. Delicate finish. Drink now.” While I wasn’t too impressed with the body and finish (boring, with no obvious flavors or textures), I really liked its nose. I did get the scent of apple and some lemon, and could see it as a delightful cool drink on a sweltering summer day.

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2005 Franz Karl Schmitt, “Niersteiner Hipping,” Riesling Spatlesse, Rheinhessin, Germany $22
The store’s tasting notes: “The estate was founded by Jost-Schmitt in 1546, and has been in family possession since those days. Riesling is cultivated in some of the prime vineyards in Nierstein, including the classic Hipping. The grandfather of the present owner, also named Franz-Karl Schmitt, was renowned for his striving to produce great wines. He was the first to produce Trockenbeerenhauslesse in the Rheinhessen around 1900!” It’s difficult right off the first sip to pronounce that you don’t like sweet wines (which can be really tiring on the palate after a couple glasses), so it was with my experience with this. I prefered the bouquet proffered by the Pinot Grigio, but the gentle sweetness of this riesline was hard to dislike. It wasn’t cloyingly sweet, but the taste lingered on in my mouth long seconds after the liquid had been tipped down my throat.

2006 Rex Hill, Chardonnay, Oregon $22
The store’s tastings notes: “A crisp, yet complex wine, the 2006 Rex Hill Chardonnay represents the sixth vintage of Oregon’s original ultra-premium unoaked Chardonnay. To highlight the wonderful fruit and underlying minerality in some of the Wilamette Valley’s best vineyard sites, we ferment in small stainless steel to retain the fruit’s bright transparency and then age the wines on the lees to achieve a creamy mouthfeel. Aromas of candied citrus, plums, green apple. Good richness on the attack, with broad palate-coating flavors that echo the nose. The brisk acidity adds structure and freshness, focusing the mineral notes, and lengthening flavors.” It was quite exciting to identify the candid citrus (sort of like those sugar covered jelly beans one finds during the Chinese New Year festivities) and the green apple in the nose, but I couldn’t taste the same flavors in the body. I actually found the body and finish to be quite boring, but not achingly so – within seconds, no trace of its ever being there was left. I’m still not sure whether I prefer the oaked, buttery types of Chardonnay… should do a tasting sometime to tease out my taste.

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2006 Paraiso, Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, Central Coast, California $24
The store’s tasting notes: “Paraiso’s flagship varietal. Wonderful Burgundian character: rich cherry and plum flavors with hints of spice, smoke, and toasty oak. All wrapped by structuring tannins and acidity. Amazingly food-versatile: salmon, roast chicken, beef tenderloin, you name it.” I profess to be quite partial to Pinot Noir, my interest in the grape stemming from a road trip Peirui and I made, oh, two years ago now (!!!). The nose exhibited the characteristics of the grape, but I was quite disappointed by the finish, which I found weak, almost watery. Chatting later with Janel from WineStyles, she confirmed my tasting notes, saying that the area saw too much rain in 2006. Ah.

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2005 Chateau Saint Andrew Corbin, Merlot blend, St. Emilion, Bordeaux, $23
The store’s tasting notes: “Garnet with a violet rim, spicy cedar, blueberries and tobacco on the nose. Medium weight with spicy cedar, blueberries and tobacco, great structure.” If I closed my eyes and sniffed really hard, I could just pick out the scent of tobacco and cedar, but my god, the blueberries! It just jumped right out at you, unmistakeable and completely in your face. I loved the nose. But alas, the body was almost unbearably tight, the tannins completely sucking out the moisture from my lips. I suspect though, that a few years in the cellar might do wonders for this wine.

It was still early when we were done, and the revellers were still crowding the hundreds of Irish bars in the city. So we made our way over to Randolph Wine Cellars right down the street, and engaged in an entertaining tasting with another distributor.

My notes:

2006 Licia Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain $14
Heh, this tasting was right down my alley, since we tasted both the Albarinos and plenty of Grenaches, both grapes of choice right now. I thoguht the Rias had a very light nose, such that I couldn’t quite place the smell. Or maybe sensory fatigue was setting in already. But even so, I could definitely place the lemony structure in the body and finish, almost akin to lemon juice with a kick. Would be a delicious combination with a lightly sauteed fish – mmm, need to do another canoeing trip down the Wisconsin River this spring…

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2004 Atrea “The Choir,” Mendocino County $20
It’s a rhone varietal blend, with parts of viognier and roussanne. This one had quite a pungent nose of wood and earth. The heavier body would make it an unsuitable pairing with fish, but the distributor suggested heavy aged cheeses.

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2005 Moulin D’Issan, Bordeaux $16
A Bordeaux Superior wine, which doesn’t fall under the 5 growth system, this wine can be found in the Margaux region. Blend of 70% cabernet sauvignon and 30% merlot. Lots of bright fruit in the nose, with a little bit of oak. I thought it tasted a little green.

2005 Domaine du Grand Tinel Chateauneuf-du-pape $30
My favorite tasting of the day, very smooth and balanced, with a hint of orange peel and black plum in the nose and body. It’s a blend of grenache, syrah, and mourvédre.

2004 Domaine Raspail-ay Gigondas, Rhone $22
Eh, to be honest, I’ve forgotten the taste of this, and didn’t take down any notes since I was busy enjoying a long conversation with the distributor about how she fell into wines and the various wine trips she’s taken in France (damn the weak USD right now). I do vaguely remember thinking that it was quite delicious though…

My palate was a little tired by this point, but the green clad revelers were still out on the streets, so we decided to continue the celebrations in our own way by making our way over to WineStyles, where Denise and Janel gave us two tastings of “green wines,” wines made the organic and environmentally friendly way. Erm, I don’t have any notes of those tastings either… but I did leave WineStyles armed with a bottle of Australian Grenahce that Janel says would go great with lambshank or spicy fish. Mmm.

We made a pit stop at Binny’s next, but boo, they didn’t have any tastings available. Disappointed but not deterred, we pressed on next to Sam’s Wine. By that time, I think the tastings were already concluded, so instead I tasted some cheeses (and picked up a slab of pate), and a pizza beer (beer brewed with pizza ingredients such as tomato, mozarella etc. very authentic!). And I also got the bottle of El Tesoro (thank you Cristalle!). 🙂

And then, I was done. 🙂

Forget Wonka’s three course dinner gum

Standing in the dim but bustling tasting room of Inniskillin in Niagara wine country, I took a whiff of the 2004 Montague Estate Vineyard Chardonnay swirling in my glass and blurted out, “Chicken pot pie!” Given that I’d earlier exclaimed that another glass of wine reminded me of those steamed towels flight attendants hand out, my friends took my remarks in stride. But I was taken with the nose of the Chardonnay, and even while continuing to sip at the wine, I began to dream up food pairings for it.

I finally cracked open the bottle two days ago. After deliberating over making a chicken stew (too complicated), cream-based sausage and bacon rigatoni (too hearty), tuna/salmon steak, I went grocery shopping and came home with a hot package of cooked chicken and fish – ah, instant gratification. Eagerly, I lifted the glass to my nose and took a deep whiff.

Hmm. Nothing. None of that hearty chicken stew I’d been dreaming of. Maybe the wine was a little too cold (I’d taken it straight out from my white wine fridge)? I let it sit for a little before I lifted the glass to my nose again. This time around, I caught the unmistakable whiff of chrysanthemum. I took a sip, letting it roll around in my mouth. It was delicious – some hints of butter and cedar, but not nearly as overwhelming as those big Californian examples. This was more subtle, more structured. It had a long lingering finish with faint notes of apple. Who needs Willa Wonka’s magical chewing gum when you can just drink wine?

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A Glass of Wine a Day…

Yeah yeah, I know, there’s no concrete proof (yet) that a mere glass of wine – and a white one at that – is as healthful as a cupful of orange juice. But even if it doesn’t directly keep the doctor away, it can be healthy in other ways too, like helping one unwind at the end of a long day.

So it was with that thought in mind that I pulled the cork on a bottle of Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay 2005. Plus, I was bored and thirsty. A good choice too: I thoroughly enjoyed the initial creamy texture of buttery toast, both in the nose and the mouth feel. As the glass warmed on my table, the aromas softened, giving way to hints of pear and green apple. At around US$10 a bottle (depending where you look, I’ve seen prices range from $9 to $13), it’s a relatively inexpensive wine to relax to on a weekday night.

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Cheap Wine and Pasta: The Shrimp Extravaboganza

While shopping I found myself drooling over a pile of jumbo shrimp just waiting to be cooked and eaten. Peter and I bought 2 lbs of deveined ginormous tiger prawns at and grabbed a bottle of Bogle Chardonnay to match. With our trusty pasta maker we cranked ourselves up some succulent ribbons of fresh pasta to absorb the juice of the soon to be deliciously pink shrimp. We used the Chardonnay to make a rich garlic butter sauce that went perfect with the delicate flesh of the shrimp.

Garlic Shrimp with Pasta

Adapted from The New Best Recipe’s Shrimp Scampi

2 lb 18 ct Large Jumbo Shrimp, deveined and peeled (Bigger is better!)
Juice of 1 medium lemon
4 tablespoons of butter
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 cup white wine (Chardonnay/Viognier/Muscadet)
5 cloves of garlic, pressed or minced
Handful of chopped Italian parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In large pan heat olive oil on high heat. When oil is hot, add shrimp. Turn rapidly, cook until just opaque. The shrimp will curl up into lovely medallions. Take shrimp out quickly and place in bowl.

2. Add garlic and butter to oil. Place on medium-low heat

3. Add white wine, and simmer for 5 minutes.

4. Take pan off heat. Add shrimp and juices and parsley. Mix.

5. Pour the liquidy sauce and shrimp all over cooked pasta.

6. Serve with a chilled glass of the white wine

Pasta Dough-
Combine 3 eggs and 2 cups of flour….kneed until smooth….crank through a pasta maker.

Bogle Chardonnay 2006 (California)– $9 Damn Good 😉

The particular chardonnay is very light and fruity with a hint of butteriness and salt. There is only a mild hint of oak to it and a tangy finish. Needless to say with all the descriptions I just threw out, this is a nice complex white especially for the price. It would pair well with any seafood or chicken dish as well as a fruit and cheese course.

Sniff- grapefruit, oak

Sip- light, fruity, buttery, mild salt, tangy

Eat- seafood, chicken, fruit and cheese

Michigan Wineries

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This Memorial Day Weekend, I decided to take a trip to the nearby Michigan wineries – and then on to the not-so-nearby Canadian wineries…

Early Saturday morning, a group of eight of us from the Dead Grapes Society (DGS) made the 1.5 hour drive to St. Joseph, Michigan, where a whole belt of wineries is located. Our first stop was Tabor Hills, where we sampled over five glasses of wines each. Aza, with his sweet tooth, bypassed all the reds and dove straight into the demi-sweet wines and ice wines. He and Amelia quickly found that they didn’t like the vineyard’s rendition of Gerwerstraminer, which had spicy overtones. While he waxed lyrical over the $78 bottle of icewine that the manager Bob kindly let him try (it was noted down on the tasting sheet as “unavailable”), Amelia was taken with a bottle of semi-sweet Riesling Bob called the “romance wine” – evidently, everyone he’d recommended the wine to subsequently gotten married or engaged. I liked the ice wine tasting – in my notes, I’d written: “HONEY SUCKLE, HONEY, in the nose, body and finish. Beautiful.” I found the other whites – a couple of blends, the Riesling, and a Chardonnay pleasant-tasting but simple. They were all on the sweeter end of the scale, but then, the sweeter ones tend to sell better. I was disappointed with the reds that I tried – a Merlot, and a Cabernet Franc. Both wines were weak, watery, and flat in the finish.

Since it was noon (eastern time) at this point, we headed over to Tabor Hill’s restaurant for lunch. The restaurant is set on top of a hill and the tall elegant french windows offer a beautiful view of the green vines below. I could see why the vineyard is a favorite with the locals; it’s a relaxing and pleasant way to spend the weekend. I had grilled white fish washed down with a glass of Blanc de Blanc. The steady stream of bubbles from the light and semi-sweet sparkling wine nicely complemented the creamy fish. Quite a delicious combination actually.

Next, we drove around the corner to Round Barns, where we were treated to a long tasting list: 5 wine samples, 3 pis and/or brandy samples, a sampling of their famous grape vodka, four tastings from their still-in-barrel-wines-that-are-only-to-be-bottled-this-July, and two samplings of their own-brewed beer. Bruce was in high heavens over the grape vodka, so much so he was tempted to purchase a bottle ($39.95) right then and there, even though the manager told us that due to Michigan tax laws (a cool $20 per bottle), it was actually cheaper to buy it in Sam’s in Chicago. I had a glass of Cabernet that had a strong “steamed towel” nose – odd I know, but everyone else agreed with my declaration. Again, I wasn’t impressed by the red wine offerings – a Cabernet Sauvignon limited edition, a Merlot limited edition. Steve sampled a Pinot Noveau, which wasn’t actually on the list. That was a much livelier wine, bright and fruity, perfect for a light meat meal. The apricot brandy took me by surprise – its scent, and even mouthfeel reminded me of apricot-flavored hookah, and left a lingering spicy aftertaste. The cranberry pi was interesting – sort of a cross between a madeira (toasted nose) and a port, with a generous serving of cranberries. I enjoyed the yet-unbottled Pinot Noir that is still sitting in the barrel, served by the youthful-looking winemaker who began learning the art at the tender age of 6. The wine was still young, tasted a little rough on the edges and sourish, but evidently the vineyard thought it warranted the $36 price tag – $10 off if you pre-purchased it now, and then picked it up once it’s bottled in July. I think, my favorite Pinot Noirs still hail from Oregon, but Jonathan liked it enough to buy a bottle.

<b>Tabor Hill</b>

Lake Michigan Shore Barrel Select Chardonnay, $22.95
“Our 2003 vintage is one of our best efforts with this grape. Aged 18 months in French and American oak, this Chardonnay displays well-developed varietal character, great balance and a toasted, buttery finish.” –> It tasted very alcoholic; sour punch.

Lake Michigan Shore Dry Traminette, $13.95
“Made in a dry style, this wine is very much like a traditional Alsatian Gewurztraminer. It has a very fruity, complex bouquet and finishes slightly spicy. It will pair well with most foods.” –> I got a whiff of honeysuckle in the nose; body felt watery but also alcoholic.

Lake Michigan Shore Cabernet Franc 2004, $24.95
“The release of our 2004 vintage shows great varietal characteristics. this Cabernet has a luscious black cherry and berry nose with a soft pepper, chocolate and oak predominating the finish.” –> Smells: hay, farm, sweat; tuna mouthfeel, spicy; slightly bitter finish

Lake Michigan Share Merlot 2005, $31,95
“Our 2005 is one of the best in recent years. Deep color with a plum, dark chocolate and cherry nose. Big cherry, oak and tannin caress the palate with a smooth finish.”

Classic Demi-Sec, $9.45
“Our most consistent winner!!! Soft, slightly fruity and semi-dry… by far our most popular wine.”

Michigan Cherry, $10.45
“The closest thing to cherry pie in a bottle! Made from 100% Michigan Cherries, this wine is softly sweet with a spicy, yet tart finish.” –> Smells like a candy store; interesting nose, but REALLY not wine. Hooch??

Lake Michigan Shore Vidal Blanc Ice Wine 2005, $78
“Intense, vibrant fruit flavors and aromas, blanaced with fine acidity, caress the palate leaving a lasting smooth finish.” –> HONEY, consistently thick throughout the nose, body, finish.

Does cheap but good Chardonnay exist?

Buckley’s 2005 Chardonnay (Australia) $13 –Ghetto Hooch 😐

The one good thing about that Chardonnay I tried last night – I didn’t pay $13 for it. I’d bought it at the Tasting Room on a whim; it was stacked by the checkout counter, and marked down to $8. What the hell, I thought, might as well get a cheap bottle to try on those stay-in and eat nights. After all, I can’t really afford delicious bottles every other day, and that would defeat the whole purpose of my trying to save money by staying in and cooking. Plus, I was curious to see whether my disdain for cheap chardonnay was misplaced. Maybe my palate hasn’t really grown all that sensitive; maybe I’ve just become a lot pickier, and with no good reason.

But I couldn’t help but be suspicious of the bottle when I tried to open it. The darn cork (plastic) wouldn’t give, and I actually chipped the glass bottle in my frustrated attempts. The wine, when it was finally open, had a bland sort of sweet aroma – none too distinctive, nor frankly, inspiring. It’s like that girl, whom, if you saw on the street, you’d describe as pleasant. Not hot, sexy, but not butt-ugly either. Erm, is that a good enough sensory description for you? The taste itself was pretty disappointing; the first sip was like a sharp punch to the stomach, and then nothing. Oomph…ok, now what? The label on the bottle had advertised the wine as having flavors of “kiwi, melon, peach,” but I got none of those; just one big vague sour-ish flavor. It only has 13.0% alcohol, but frankly it felt a lot more with its high acidity. I’d like to taste test it again though, if only just to see how it matches up to Yellow Tail, my de facto base standard for wines

Sniff: Sharp and sour

Sip: Insipid sweet scent

Eat: I had it with chicken cacciatore, but that was quite a lousy pairing. The peppery chicken would have been better served with a Piedmontese red.