Category Archives: Port

Wine: For value for your money, anything but French

In a tasting of five under $20 bottles this week, I concluded that I should stay away from cheaper French wines. Granted, only two out of the five bottles were French, and statistically speaking, that’s not a decent enough sample size to work with. Still, wine tasting is first and foremost a sensory experience and is not, and should not be, math, and why insist on the French route when there’s a whole other world of cheap but delicious wines to taste?

I should note too though, Sihao’s distinction that one cannot objectively judge French wines for their value; he is partial to French, and more broadly speaking, old world wines, for the more subtle and elegant taste. Nonetheless, since my limited pocketbook has the final say most of the time anyway, I will keep my money away from the cheaper French wines.

Tasting notes:
We washed down a sushi dinner on Tuesday with a bottle of Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2006from New Zealand and a bottle of Domaine des Aubuisieres Vouvray Cuvée de Silex 2006, a Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley in France. The SB was like I remembered it, light, lively, and fruity, and curiously I picked up some tomato garlic puree notes (think pizza) as well. In contrast, the vouvray was a little hard to swallow at first: it had the faint scent of cat pee that we would have thought to find in the NZ wine, and the body tasted like a boorish thick-set sort of fellow (kind of odd description I know, but that’s what comes to mind) with a somewhat harsh and bitter finish. None of the spritzy citrus-y aromas found in the SB, but lots of melon and minerally flavors. After sitting in the glass for a while, the Vouvray did mellow out somewhat, much to our relief.


For dessert, I broke out the half bottle of Cabernet Franc Port 2004 from Tabor Hill Winery, Michigan that I had been saving. Pauline had given me a bottle of it a while ago, when she had visited Singapore, Michigan on a weekend road trip. I’d shared that bottle with her, and marveled at how delicious it was. Last year, when I had visited Tabor Hill with some of the DGS folks on our Memorial Day road trip, I’d tried to buy another bottle, only to be informed that it was sold out. Happily, Pauline had bought more than one bottle on her road trip, and just before she left for the west coast last summer, she gave me another bottle. This we had on Tuesday, paired against a double chocolate gelato. Aged in French and American oak, it had aromas of plum with a touch of spice, maybe some sort of herbs. Sensuous and silky, it just slid down my throat and I lamented the fact that I had to restrain from refilling my glass since I still had to drive home. Oddly, the port recalled a description by the San Francisco Chronicle used to describe baritone Dimitriv Hvorostovsky’s voice: “…a gorgeously dark, burnished tone and a voice that moves freely and without strain through a broad range, [the result of which was exquisite].”


For dinner on Thursday, four of us ventured to a Columbian restaurant, and brought along with us two bottles of wine, a Ravenswood Zinfandel and a Bourgogne Appellation Bourgogne Controlee, Red Burgundy wine, from Domaine Digioia-Royer. The Zin, when we first opened, had the characteristic fruity notes of Californian wines and the slightest edge of a metallic finish in the body that I associate with zinfandels. I didn’t quite like the finish at first; it seemed a little hollow to me. But as it opened up through the dinner, it softened and became a lot fuller, and rounder, and was simply quite delicious and rich with our hearty dinners of skirt steak and pork rib tips. In marked contrast, the burgundy was a disappointment, especially all the more so since it came on the heels of the dozens of attractively priced wines that have blown my socks away in the recent weeks. The wine was weak and watery, and did not have any sort of distinctive nose. Not a wine to share in company, and not even a wine that I could enjoy on my own.

Wine Pairings from a Novice

I hosted October’s Dead Grapes Society Meeting and decided to concentrate on pairings. It was definitely a challenge deciding what recipes would bring out the flavors of each type of wine not to mention could be prepared in a reasonable time frame. So I decided to go with a wide variety of flavors to try and cover all our bases.


Here is our menu with pictures, recipes, and tasting notes to follow


Blue Cheese
Port Salut
Brie (Double Cream)
Polder Blanc Goat Gouda
Raspberry Jam to complement


Polenta Fritters seasoned with red pepper flakes, oregano, and parmesan
Mini Beef Wellingtons
Bacon Wrapped Dates with Parmesan Cheese
Chicken Kebabs with Red Peppers, Onions, Crimini Mushrooms, and Bacon Wrapped Prunes




Dark Lindt Thins 85% Cocoa
Bittersweet with Nouguat 72% Cocoa
Milka Milk Chocolate 50% Cocoa
Milka White Chocolate 0% Cocoa


Fruit and Nuts
Fresh Fruit- Pears, Bananas, Honey Crisp Apples, Cantalope, Strawberries
Dried Fruit- Dates, Prunes, Apricots, Cranberries
Honey Roasted Almonds

Cream puffs with Bittersweet Chocolate Whisky and Cherry Liquor Sauce and Homemade Caramel Sauce


I gathered most of these off the net with some minor adjustments.

Mini Beef Wellingtons
1 Steak cut into rough 3/4 inch cubes
Chilled Refridgerator Crescent Dough (makes four per crescent, wraps 48 cubes per tube)
Boursin Cheese

1. Quarter a piece of crescent dough
2. Place a 1/4 teaspoon dollop of boursin cheese in center
3. Place a cube of steak into the center a wrap dough around it, try to fuse all the seams
4. Bake at 400 degrees until golden brown
Can be made ahead and frozen, bake straight from the freezer, no need to thaw.

Bacon Wrapped Dates
Seeded Dried Dates
Parmesan (not grated)
Bacon Strips

1. Cut parmesian into match stick pieces
2. Place cheese into date
3. Wrap with bacon (1/3 of a strip will do it)
4. Secure with toothpick and bake at 400 degrees, turn after 10 minutes, bake until bacon is browned

Chicken Skewers
Red Peppers
Chicken thighs cubed
White Onions
Italian Seasoning
Bamboo Skewers

1. Chop onions, red peppers, chicken and mushrooms into bite size pieces
2. Wrap prunes with bacon (1/3 strip)
3. Skewer each alternating
4. Dust with italian seasoning
5. Place on baking tray
6. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, until bacon is browned and chicken well done


Chateau de Beauregard-Ducourt 2005 (80% Merlot/ 20% Cab)-$13– beef wellington, bacon dates, dark and bittersweet chocolate, port salut, brie, chocolate covered fruit
Despite being decanted for 1+ hour, the majority of us felt that this was a harsh minerally bordeaux that definitely needed food to take away from its chalky finish. It was noted that it brought out the meatiness of the beef wellington and paired particularly well with the bacon dates. The tannins in this pour definitely calls for a rich dish to cut through.

Domaine des Chazelles Vire-Clesse 2005 White Burgundy-$17– chicken, polenta, goat cheese, port salut, brie,
This was one of the favorites of the night. It had a savoriness to it that was described as cheesy and rich flavor. The polenta and goat cheese went particularly well with it as well as the chicken kabobs. Mellow and deep, this white burgundy paired easily with a wide variety of foods.

Domaine des Gatilles Chiroubles Cru du Beaujolais 2004-$13– bacon dates, strawberries, raspberries, port salut, brie, dark, bittersweet chocolate
This wine paired beautifully with strawberries and on the savory end the beef wellingtons. It was very fruity and light, a very drinkable wine although not very distinctive.

Les Tours d’ Amelie Viognier 2005-$12– chicken, polenta, bittersweet, milk chocolate, blue cheese, goat cheese, dried apricots, dates
Crisp and tart, this viognier went well with fruit, particularly cantalope, pears, and dried apricots. The blue cheese and chicken went well with it too. Most felt that it was high in acidity and was complex. More on the mineral side of the spectrum and less floral, this pour showed good depth of flavor. On the nose it was surprisingly savory reminiscent of aged cheese, but on tasting had the characteristic crispness of viognier. This was definitely another favorite of the night.

d’Arenberg Vintage Fortified Shiraz Port 2002-$30– milk chocolate, caramel, white chocolate, fruit, brie, cream puffs, almonds, dried fruit, chocolate covered fruit
Although described as being part of the tawny spectrum of ports by the wine sellars, we felt that this definitely hovered towards the ruby style of ports. There wasn’t the sense of caramel or raisin notes that you would find in tawnies. However, the more caramel toasted nature came out with honey roasted almonds, and it paired wonderfully with chocolate. Notes of chocolate were found by most everyone in our group. Things to avoid were lighter sweet fruits like strawberries that brought out the berry quality of this port and made it border on cough syrup.

Chateau Huradin Ceron Sauternes 1999-$20– white chocolate, blue cheese, cream puffs, almonds, dried fruit, caramel, pears
Golden yellow in the bottle, this Sauternes was rich and sweet, some felt however that it lacked much depth or flavor. Although for the price and for the concentrated sweetness, its not bad for a Sauternes. This particular year is supposedly one of the better ones for the vineyard in terms of forming the nobel rot. However, most of the group felt it fell flat on its own. However, it paired well with blue cheese, cream puffs, caramel, and fruit. The food brought out interesting notes of apricots and burnt sugar.

Hot port for a cold, rainy day

Getting to work this morning was miserable, not least because the treacherous downpour let up as soon as I stepped into the office. Fortunately, my useful little space heater warmed me – and dried my sodden open-toe shoes and pants – in no time.

Fortunately, there are cures for otherwise despondent and gloomy days. Think a glass of hot port with a twist of lemon, and a brand new book awaiting to be explored, or a group of close friends lounging in plush arm chairs in a dimly lit room. I’ve had glugg (hot spiced red wine) and warm mead before, but was introduced to hot port at the Duke of Perth one recent nippy fall night.

It was delicious, and I’m a convert, not least because of the generous pour. Now, I love port by itself, but I usually can’t drink more than a half glass at a time because at 20% alcohol, it’s too sweet for my palate.

75% port
25% boiling water
Twist of lemon
Nutmeg, sugar, and cinnamon to taste (my hot port didn’t come with the spices, but I think I’ll add these the next time I drink it)
Mix, and enjoy


South African Wines

South Africa Wine Regions

To be honest I know little about South African Wines and have not had the opportunity to partake in too many. What I do know is that they are relatively cheap and new to the business and art of wine making. Apparently lots of interesting flavors are coming from this area and their wines are slowly gaining popularity. So it was great to find that the tasting we went to this week featured this region. We tasted 6 wines from 4 different makers and got a brief introduction to Pinotage, a grape unique to South Africa. Here is a good article on South African Chenin Blanc from the NY times, WINES OF THE TIMES; South Africa’s Trove of an Elusive Grape

PS: We’ve actually held a South African tastings before – our second ever Dead Grapes Society meeting over a year ago now actually. I’ve included some information on that tasting my own journal over here, check it out: Wines of South Africa. 😉

Niel Joubert Chenin Blanc 2003 (Paarl Valley, South Africa) $8 – Not Bad 🙂

The cheapest wine in the lot, I was pretty happy to find that this stuff tastes pretty good. Described by the wine seller as a “Lincoln Park, patio sipping wine,” this chenin blanc is simply tasty, but not watery and insipid. I have a cold so not exactly sure what I was smelling, I think it was floral and fruity with hints of citrus. On tasting, it was sweet, refreshing, clean, and light. It’s not amazingly complex, but its definitely worth having on hand, making it a higher end “not bad.”

Sniff- floral, fruity

Sip- refreshing light, fruity, citrus, simple, sweet

Eat- seafood, fruit, grilled meat

I’d agree with the “Not bad” rating. It is a pleasant wine to drink on a breezy evening lounging on one’s deck. I’m looking forward to doing that already! Certainly very crisp and refreshing.

Niel Joubert Chardonnay 2005 (Paarl Valley, South Africa) $9– Not Bad 🙂

I am not sure if this Chardonnay answers the question of whether or not good cheap chardonnays exist. This to me was good but not great. Still it does have nice qualities that would match well with a meal, but definitely not what I would say worth drinking independently. On smelling there are hints of grapefruit and olives. At first taste there is definitely a nice oakiness as well as a cleansing tart acidic finish. I would definitely love to drink this with a seafood dish or something in a rich cream sauce. Like an extra on a movie set, this wine would not be the star of a meal, but would definitely enhance the experience.

Sniff- Olive and grapefruit

Sip- Oaky, tart, acidic, grapefruit, clean

Eat- Seafood, creamy rich dish

This Chardonnay was certainly a ton better than the one I had last week. I’d be keen to do a under $10 tastings of South African and Australian chardonnays, just to get a sense of the differences in style.

Remhoogte Aigle Noir 2003 (Stellenboch, South Africa) $13- Ghetto Hooch 😦

Honestly, I had a hard time finishing my 1/4 glass worth. Far too bold for my taste, the nose had an acetone, strong metallic quality and it had a taste to match. Spicy, acidic, and bitter all at once I felt my tastebuds burn and churn. This is a blend of the pinotage and several other grapes. There is definitely the metallic quality of the pinotage but somehow with the other flavors introduced by the other grapes, bitterness and spice, it does not seem to work. Like a bad American Idol contestant, it’s a garish mess.

This is certainly where our tastes differ. I’d actually rate it a “Not bad”. Granted, it is not an easy wine to sip, but I really liked the minerally, earthy feel of it (~30% pinot noir). It was a little too tannic though, but nothing some decanting can’t help. I liked the fact that even though it had only 3% of Pinotage, you could still taste a tinge of metal in it. A pretty serious, complex wine. I somehow think it could pair well with some braised duck. Mmm.

Withington Merlot 2003 (Paarl, South Africa) $19- Not Bad 🙂

For the price, I might go with something else, but it’s a pretty nice glass I must say. The nose was pleasant, rich, and buttery. The taste had nice tannins, and a very smokey, nutty quality. It reminded me of sweet pipe smoke and buttery leather chairs. The finish was nice and dry, leaving your mouth ready to receive any succulent food pairing. I definitely would love to open this puppy up with a thick steak and maybe slide into that buttery leather chair while I am at it. 😉 It’s a sophisticated glass, but does not have the complexity you would hope for in a bottle for 20 smackaroos.

Sniff- rich butter

Sip- smokey, nutty, tannins

Eat- red meats- steak, lamb chops

This Merlot was pretty pleasant to drink, but I don’t have my notes and I’ve already forgotten how it tasted… so I guess it’s not all that memorable. For $19, it’s pretty steep – I’d sooner spend that money on the Port, erm, which is precisely what I did. 😉

Niel Jourber Pinotage 2003 (Paarl, South Africa) $11- Not Bad 🙂

Oh Pinotage….how stinky yet tasty you are. The smell wafting from the glass cut right through my cold and reminded me a little of gasoline and rubber, pungent with each whiff. On tasting you get this surprising spiciness with a great acidity and bitterness. The flavor of Pinotage is described classically as a rusty nail, and after experiencing it for myself I have to agree. It’s a great complex wine with a lot of guts and glory. Gladiatorial in nature (is that a word? according to spell check it is 😉 ), this wine is rough and bold with a metallic brashness too it. I think it would go great with red meat because it just screams blood. I would definitely bring it to a bbq or a meat eaters convention. No cowboy would be ashamed to drink this glass with his prime rib…well except that he’d have to pronounce the word Pinotage like a Frenchman…he he 😉

Sniff- gasoline, rubber

Sip- metallic, sharp, acidic, bitter, spicy

Eat- Red meats, BBQ….MEEAAAT!

I’d go as far as to rate this a “Not bad – damn good”. It was thoroughly enjoyable, with a nose so distinct, I’m confident that I can sniff it out blind. I’m not sure I agree with the bloody allusions, but it certainly has some kind of raw, elemental nature to it. Some scent of freshly stripped wood? It’s pretty light though, very quaffable. I’d want to try it with sushi actually. Heh.

Allersverloren Vintage Port 2002 (Swartland, South Africa) $19- Damn Good-Orgasmic 😮

Ok, this is semi-orgasmic largely because 1. its a great port and 2. its simply awesome for the price. I nearly squealed with glee when I realized how cheap it was. A tawny port can really burn a hole in you wallet, but this one has a lot to offer with relatively little monies. More importantly, the beauty of ports is that if you keep it in a cool, dark place you can hold on to it for years and slowly sip you way through the bottle. On first whiff I got hints of raisin, dark chocolate, and coffee, the first sip followed suit. There was a lot of complex rich dessert flavors that bring to mind decadent dark chocolate cakes and wine soaked plums. It tastes like a cross between a ruby port (bold rich fruity sweetness with less caramel and nuttiness) and a tawny (raisin, caramel, nutty, and coffee). The hybrid car of ports, its economic, fun to drink, and pretty damn good.

Sniff- raisin, coffee, dark chocolate

Sip- nutty, toffee, caramel, raisin, coffee, dark chocolate

Eat- dark chocolate, rich dessert, creme brulee

Yes, this was good. I’m a Port lover, and this one has got to be one of my favorites. I loved how it isn’t as sweet as most other Ports, though it’s definitely thick enough. Flavors of dark chocolate, raisins, and burnt caramel. It’ll be absolutely delightful with a molten lava cake.