Category Archives: Wine

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.

Jam Jar 2009 Sweet Shiraz

Trader Joe’s has done it again! This is an incredibly drinkable read with a sweetness that is very approachable. Though it does make you think it is a great affordable staple. At 9 smackers, its a crowd pleaser, great for bbqs and pork based foods.

Cost: $9

Sip: jammy, fruit, a little spice, straight forward, very sweet

Sniff: light notes of cherries, stone fruit

Eat: BBQ, chinese food, pork

Rating: Not Bad

The Dregs: Chicken, Potato, Leek Soup

Chicken, Potato, Leek Soup
1.5 lbs Leeks (diced tender greens only)
5 cups chicken stock
3 Medium Potatoes cubed
1 small onion diced
4 boneless chicken thighs
Handful of fresh tarragon coarsely chopped
1 cup of white wine (cheap TJ’s Honeymoon works great!!)
Olive oil
1/6 cup heavy cream
3 garlic cloves peeled

1. Heat pan on high with olive oil
2. Brown chicken thighs
3. Take out thighs and set aside
4. Place leeks, garlic, and onion in pan
5. Add potatoes once leeks wilted
6. Pour in white wine
7. Sauté for few minutes
8. Pour in chicken stock and simmer until potatoes tender and soft
9. Dice chicken and add
9. Add in tarragon and heavy cream
10. Serve with crust bread

Old Moon Zinfandel

At 5.99 a bottle from Trader Joe’s this bottle is a complete stand out. I always have some on hand. Plummy with a surprising depth in character and a slight coat to the tongue that hints of tannin makes this incredibly well balanced. I would say it holds up to bottles at much higher price points. I love drinking this alone or having it with pastas, pizza, bbq, anything a red can hold up to.

The Search for Zinfandel

Having grown used to the bountiful selection of Zinfandels in the US, Janice and I were disappointed to find the striking scarcity of Zinfandel here in Singapore. A search of SEVEN, and I repeat, SEVEN wine stores turned up just six bottles of Zin. Most of the stores had just one label in stock, while a couple had two, and on average, the bottles cost around $70. Not cheap. 😦

Perplexed at the paucity, I asked a sales clerk in one of the stores, who explained that Zinfandel hasn’t quite caught on with the local palate. To top it off, most stores stock very few labels from the US anyway, and the if they do, these are invariably the Cabernet Sauvignons. Which is a pity, because I’ve grown to become quite fond of Zinfandel over the years. When I started out drinking, I hated the metallic tinge that seemed to be associated with it, but then that was because I was mainly swilling down the likes of Yellow Tail, Beringer, and Sutter Homes. I think Mike first opened my eyes to good Zinfandel, when he brought a bottle of Burford and Brown Zinfandel 2003 to Wendy and my new year’s party three years ago (wow).

In the end, we did manage to scrounge up the number of bottles we needed, though we quite extended our budget in the process. Oh well. These wines better be exciting! We did include a bottle of Beringer White Zinfandel, which Janice thought might be fun to try, and hey, it was the cheapest bottle we got!

The wines:
1. Beringer White Zinfandel 2007
2. Collage (a Kendall-Jackson brand) Zinfandel-Shiraz 2004
3. Marr Old Vine Zinfandel Mendocino County 2005 (I’m keeping my fingers crossed on this one; it was one of the few old vines we could find. We found the other, a St. Francis Zin selling for $70 after a 30% discount, only after we’d already bought the Mendocino one)
4. Outpost Howell Mountain Zinfandel 2004 (I’ve read good things about Outpost, and Wine Spectator has pretty rave reviews of this wine, so I’m quite excited about this)
5. The Curse, Tscharke, Zinfandel, Barossa 2006 (Which seems to have garnered strong reviews from RP as well… neat)
6. Irvine Zinfandel, Barossa 2005

On the upside, I now know three more wine stores that I can hit up for future sprees. And despite my attempt to save, I walked away with three bottles for my personal stash: a Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau 2008, a Mollydooker Two Left Feet Shiraz Merlot 2006 (because I’ve read so much about their top wines, and had to try this that was on 15% discount), and a Simi Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2003.

BBC: Music ‘can enhance wine taste’

From the BBC:

Music ‘can enhance wine taste’
Playing a certain type of music can enhance the way wine tastes, research by psychologists suggests.

The Heriot Watt University study found people rated the change in taste by up to 60% depending on the melody heard.

The researchers said cabernet sauvignon was most affected by “powerful and heavy” music, and chardonnay by “zingy and refreshing” sounds.

Professor Adrian North said the study could lead retailers to put music recommendations on their wine bottles.

The research involved 250 students at the university who were offered a free glass of wine in exchange for their views.

Brain theory
Four types of music were played – Carmina Burana by Orff (“powerful and heavy”), Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky (“subtle and refined”), Just Can’t Get Enough by Nouvelle Vague (“zingy and refreshing”) and Slow Breakdown by Michael Brook (“mellow and soft”)

The white wine was rated 40% more zingy and refreshing when that music was played, but only 26% more mellow and soft when music in that category was heard.

The red was altered 25% by mellow and fresh music, yet 60% by powerful and heavy music.

The results were put down to “cognitive priming theory”, where the music sets up the brain to respond to the wine in a certain way.

“Wine manufacturers could recommend that while drinking a certain wine, you should listen to a certain sort of music,” Prof North said.

The research was carried out for Chilean winemaker Aurelio Montes, who plays monastic chants to his maturing wines.

Mr Montes said: “It was therefore a natural extension to link with Heriot Watt and to scientifically determine the impact that music has on how wine tastes.”

Previously, Professor North conducted supermarket research which suggested people were five times more likely to buy French wine than German wine if accordion music was played in the background.

If an oompah band was played, the German product outsold the French by two to one.

Cabernet Sauvignon: All Along The Watchtower (Jimi Hendrix), Honky Tonk Woman (Rolling Stones), Live And Let Die (Paul McCartney and Wings), Won’t Get Fooled Again (The Who)

Chardonnay: Atomic (Blondie), Rock DJ (Robbie Williams), What’s Love Got To Do With It (Tina Turner), Spinning Around (Kylie Minogue)

Syrah: Nessun Dorma (Puccini), Orinoco Flow (Enya), Chariots Of Fire (Vangelis), Canon (Johann Pachelbel)

Merlot: Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay (Otis Redding), Easy (Lionel Ritchie), Over The Rainbow

Roman Style Wining and Dining in Chicago

There is nothing more awesome than a true Italian style dinner….multiple courses, good wine, and eating that spans several hours. It is pretty rare to find a restaurant that feeds you continuously for that long without requiring you to nibble and look ackwardly at your impatient waitress/waiter. But at Enoteca Roma the owners have created the ultimate Roman feast with 6 courses, serving more food that you can handle and the grand experience of eating what I like to call a “sprawling” European style dinner. All of it is for a swoon worthy $25. Count ’em…
Courses
1. Antipasta and Bruscetta
2. Appetizers- usually steamed mussells and stewed sausage
3. Salad
4. Polenta served hot on a cool slab of marble
5. Pasta
6. Pizza
(7. Dessert)

Dessert is a little extra, and we actually refused the pizza and went for the dessert instead. The various cheesecakes and gelato were a perfect way to end the meal. I greedily finished off the rest of the pana cotta that was silk smooth and topped with berries. It was nothing short of glorious. All of us couldn’t help but comment how great the meal was along the way. Each course was well made and definitely drool worthy. I am already plotting my next visit.

Wines
Bisson Prosecco IGT Valdobbabiene, Italy 2006- $13- Not bad- Damn Good

We started out with this bottle. It had a nice acidity and a good deal of carbonation that made it a good way to clean our palates and start the evening out right. With hints of citrus and pear and a light nose, I thought this was a pretty good prosecco.

Corregio Roero Nebbiolo Piemonte, Italy 2003-$18- Not Bad

This was a very fruit forward light bodied red. It had a little bit of an acidic, tanniny, dry finish but maintained its body. With the bitter savoriness of our arugula parmesan salad, it paired wonderfully showing a great complexity than at first taste. It also left a clean palate.

J Hofstatter Pinot Nero Valle D’Aosta, Italy 2005-$20- Damn Good

To me the best wine of the night, this bottle had a great fruity jammy nose with hints of cherry and a great taste to match. What made it interesting was its complex spicy finish. It went beautifully with our heavier more substantial pasta dishes. Less tannin than the previous wine, it had a medium body and was very drinkable.