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Tax Season (or “Wine For Muppets”)

Vinted on April 13, 2009 under wine review

I am a muppet.

I don’t mean that I’m a small, furry puppet that entertains millions of kids and adults – though it can certainly be argued that small, furry and puppet are all apt descriptors for me (on occasion).

What I mean is, I’ve acted like a total idiot.

My friends in the U.K. use the saying (“I’m a muppet!”) when they completely screw something up.  I suppose it makes sense… as in, “damn, I screwed that up so badly, I acted like a plush toy without a functioning brain,” etc.

So when it comes to my taxes, I’m definitely a muppet. Because I have, by my standards, a huge federal return coming back to me.  And that is definitely not what I want.

Why?  Because that means I gave a nice, hefty, interest-free loan to Uncle Sam.  That’s money I could have been using to buy wines, and instead it went to interesting pursuits that have primarily delayed our progress towards a more just and tolerant society – pursuits like blowing up Iraqi civilians or debating whether or not gay marriage will unravel the moral fabric of our culture.

C’est la vie, I suppose.

The reason I bring up taxes is that the nice folks over at Icon Estates Wines, who represent about a gazillion wine brands, have sent me samples under the theme of Top Wines For Tax Times.  These are witty “pairings” such as -

You’re getting a big refund! Congratulations, you’ve hit the sweet spot!  Celebrate with a delicious Jackson0Triggs Proprietor’s Reserve Icewine…”

Not a bid idea, except that we’ve already established that getting a big refund means you’ve acted like a muppet and therefore probably is not something for which you should be congratulated.

This would not stop me however, from lining up a few samples to at least celebrate the fact that our 2008 taxes are at least completed for filing.  So I picked the “Your brain is in a knot” wine (Estancia’s Monterey Riesling), which is at least partially true but not necessarily related to the processing of my taxes, followed by the “It took you forever but you wouldn’t give up” wine – not true for me, since I pay someone else to work on my taxes – and finally the Jackson-Triggs Icewine (made from Vidal), which of course is related to the refund, without the “congratulations you’re a muppet!” part.

Ok, just to recap, we started with Sesame Street, moved on to taxes, and now we’re sampling wine from three different wineries.  Now that we’re all caught up…

Wine #1 – Despite the fact that the Estanica Riesling is from a cooler area (Monterey) in CA terms, it’s still a relatively warm climate in Riesling terms and it shows on this wine, which is heavy on the apple and pears, and a little lower on the acidity and floral component.  Still, it would kick ass paired with shrimp.

Wine #2 – The 2005 Paso Creek Cabernet Sauvignon (Paso Robles) was a tad disappointing for me – nice alcohol level, but very heavy on the cherry fruit, almost cloying, without any of the extra pizzazz of secondary aromas that I like to finish off my Cabs.

Wine #3 – The clear winner of the night for me (and all of our dinner party, actually).  The Jackson-Triggs Vidal Proprietor’s Reserve Icewine (Niagara) is a great buy, with a ton of melon sorbet on the nose, and sweet lemon-lime with plenty of acidity on the palate.

I attribute the Jackson-Triggs being my favorite to the fact that Canadian icewine stomps all kinds of major ass.  In my experience, a wine drinker’s first encounter with Icewine roughly follows the trajectory graphed below. (click for larger version):

Whether or not you are a fan of sweet wine is irrelevant to Icewine’s awesomeness.  Icewine kicks so much ass, it may just be the Chuck Norris of wine (I bowed my head as I typed Chuck Norris’ name, by the way).  No offense is meant above to Heidi Klum, of course… it’s just a vehicle for the purpose of emphasis… but since I mentioned her, I should at least include a picture to help reinforce the awesomeness of Icewine, should I not?

Of course I should:

Cheers!

(images: sesamestreet.com, jacksotriggswinery.com, 1winedude, makemeheal .com)

Old World Italian Wine Booty… in a Northern CA Dress (Rosa D’Oro)

Vinted on April 8, 2009 under California wine, Italian Wine, wine review

When you write about wine, it’s easy to start becoming a little… jaded isn’t the right word… actually, yeah, jaded is the right word but it’s soooo overused… how about effete?… okay,  a bit effete regarding wines that are typical of their varietal character and place of origin.  When they’re really, really good, you don’t tire of them – at least, I don’t – but when wines are pretty good it’s easy for your tasting eye (I hope I’m the first and last person to ever use that image…) to start to wander, like a bored husband starting to check out the college cheerleaders at an NCAA tournament game.

Boring.  That’s the word.

Truth be told (though it’s not like I lie to you on a regular basis), the “regular” stuff can get a little boring sometimes.

Which is why I like to try new things when I get the chance, so I did not turn down Rosa D’Oro when they offered me samples of some of their current releases – they’re a family-run outfit in Lake County, CA, that specialize in making wine from Old World Italian varieties.  Now that’s different – and probably not boring, I thought, despite the fact that most CA-transplanted Italian varietal wines I’ve had have more-or-less sucked.  They might not turn out to be good, but the experience wouldn’t be boring!

Not that I don’t encourage the spirit of experimentation beyond the norm – I do – but some of those broken eggs in the omelet-making process are kind of rotten.

What was even more intriguing to me than their list of offerings (Refosco?  really?!??) was their clear intent on engaging the “new media” of wine – reaching out to wine bloggers, advertising in new trend-busting publications like Mutineer, attending new media-themed events like Wine 2.0, and authoring their own (very well-written) blog.

So, I worked my way through a sampling of Rosa D’Oro Refosco, Sangiovese, and Muscat Canelli – varieties more closely affiliated with Italy than Northern Cali.

And they’re among the best attempts at adapting Old World Italian wine to CA climate that I’ve ever tasted.

The `07 Muscat Canelli was a surprise, starting with dry green grape but taking on more intense citrus aromas a it warmed in the glass; on the palate, it’s bracingly acidic and immediately made me want to summon up a salad with oranges and lump crab.

The reds were just as pleasantly surprising as the Muscat.  The Refosco was the more interesting of the two, with a complex nose that covered the gamut from florals to red fruit and even leather.  The palate was less complicated but still interesting and very tannic (you’ll want some meat handy for this one).  The `07 Sangiovese was eerily close to feeling like it had come from a Chiant satellite region; it lacked the dried orange peel character of the most kickin’ Chiantis, but it certainly had enough red fruit character, tannin, and acidic structure to suggest it would evolve well for another 2-3 years in the bottle.

The really adventurous among you might want to try lining up some Rosa D’Oro selections in a comparison tasting with their Northern and Central Italian counterparts, but I’ve got diapers to change so I don’t have the time to run that conceit through to its logically conclusion (and I’ve tasted enough wines from CA and Italy to tell you that I think I can predict the outcome).

For now, I’ll settle for he knowledge that the concept of “CalItalia” wine is far from a lost cause.

Cheers!

(images: nscpcdn.com), rosadorowines.com)

Feets Don’t Fail Me Now (A Look at Barefoot Bubbly)

Vinted on February 23, 2009 under wine review

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Attention wine elitists: Not everything has to be serious.

This includes wine.

Yes, it does.  No, really, it does.

You see, it’s a bit like the movie Snakes on a Plane.  With a title like that, you know exactly what you’re in for.  Snakes.  On a plane.  Eating people.  Good guys will beat the snakes, bad guys will get a nasty dose of their own medicine, and Samuel L. Jackson will be a total badass (and will deliver memorable, profanity-laden pithy dialog).  Have fun, and leave your brain at the door for an hour and a half.

200px-soap_poster

Some wines are the same way, minus the profanity (and the poisonous, people-eating  snakes).

With some wines, you should be able to take a break from thinking too hard, and just sit back, kick your shoes off, and enjoy them.  Not talk about them, taste them, or examine them.  Just drink them.

Barefoot Bubbly is one of those wines.

Founded by CA winemaker Davis Bynum in the `60s as a small-production adjunct to his pricier wines, then revived in the `80s by Michael Houlihan and partner Bonnie Harvey, Barefoot Wines is now a Gallo property since 2005, with annual production of something like a gazillion cases.

Barefoot is a big, big producer.  So it may strike you as a bit strange that they would reach out to bloggers to get thoughts on their new on-line presence.  But that’s exactly what they’ve done.

Barefoot reached out to me to get my thoughts on a new website – Barefoot Republic – that includes a brand blog and elements of social networking (videos, profiles, reviews, etc.).  They also sent me a few samples of Barefoot wine, one of which I’ll be waxing Dude-like on in a few moments.

woodstockfilmfestivalcom-barefootwinesIt’s both interesting and frightening that a brand as big as Barefoot is (albeit a bit later than many smaller wineries) including bloggers and social networking in their game plan.  Interesting in that they’re arguably big enough to not have to care (yet) about the influence of bloggers; frightening in that Barefoot’s entry into this space probably is death knell of social netorking platforms giving smaller wine brands an edge on-line.  The fact that the effectiveness of brand recommendations (for wine or anything else) is moving from away from one-way advertising to social-netwoking is a topic for another post (or, in fact, several).  The site is beautifully done, by the way (if a bit slow in terms of responsiveness).

So… back to the wine…

I’d heard that Barefoot’s sparklers were a good buy, but I’d never had opportunity to try them before.  I popped open a sample of their Brut Cuvee Bubbly.  I didn’t have high hopes for this wine, since it’s labeled as “California Champagne” – a legal designation in the U.S., but arguably one that unfairly plays off the reputation – and far superior quality – of France’s birthplace of fine sparklers.

2009-02-22_173254Anyway, Barefoot’s Bubbly is made using the Charmat method, which is the same method of sparkling production used for Prosecco.  Like Prosecco, the Barefoot is a refreshing quaffer.  The first thing I thought about this wine was that I’ve had plenty of Prosecco that cost more that wasn’t a good as this sucker.

The Barefoot is not a complex wine - it has refreshing acidity, fresh apple aromas, and that’s about it.   But at under $10 a bottle. it doesn’t have to be.

With a name like Barefoot Bubbly, you should know what you’re in for.  Simple.  Tasty.  Ready to have fun for an hour and a half (or more).

No snakes, though.

Cheers!

(images: 1winedude.com, wikimedia.org, woodstockfilmfestival.com, barefootwine.com)

‘Burgh Wine, By Way of Napa (An Encounter with Matthiasson’s Current Releases)

Vinted on February 2, 2009 under wine review

Whew!

We are now officially in the morning after what might have been not only the most stunning, but also possibye the greatest late-game comeback win in Superbowl history, by none other than Dude’s favorite team in all of professional sports: the 6-time world champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

So naturally after such a dramatic and entertaining Superbowl XLIII, I wanted to showcase some wine from the ‘Burgh.

Ok, it’s not really from Pittsburgh. But it’s close enough for government work!

Matthiasson wines are not from the ‘Burgh (they are from Napa), but winemaker Steve Matthiasson’s wife Jill Klein is originally from Pittsburgh, and their wines are made using the same general temperament that has made the city of three rivers famous – grit, determination, care, and hard work.

Lots of care in the vineyard, lots of attention to detail on site selection, probably lots of dirty clothes and shoes harmed in the process of making these unfiltered beauties.

Anyway, somehow I think Jill got wind that I was a STEELERS fan, and sent me a few samples of Matthiasson’s current releases. I was pleasantly surprised by these wines (and duly impressed).

One whiff of Matthiasson’s wines and I could tell that they were probably crafted with extreme care. More on that in a second. First, I wanted to find out more about the Pittsburgh connection and how Matthiasson got started. So I asked Steve.

My wife is from the Burgh. I was born in Winnipeg, and my family moved to Tucson when I was 8,” Steve responded. “I went to UC Davis to study international ag development, and did an internship in Modesto studying ways to reduce pesticides in orchards. I interned with a consulting company, and ended up staying on with them after school (after changing departments to viticulture). 15 years after that internship I’m still consulting – it’s what I learned how to do – but it has evolved into a focus on high-end estate vineyards in Napa. The winemaking started as a way to stay sane, to be able to do my own thing, while spending the rest of my time on other people’s projects, and, though the day job still pays the bills, and I enjoy it, the wine has become the central focus.

I think that focus is paying off. Matthiasson is making some very aromatic and intensely concentrated wines.

Their `07 Napa Valley White made my palate do a double-take head-fake. It’s a blend of Sauvignon blanc, Ribolla gialla, and Semillon. Yes, Ribolla gialla (even though I’m a Wine Century Club member, I still needed to look that one up). It’s a funky wine, in that it’s tropical, racy, and spicy all at once – I told Steve that it reminded me of the interesting white blends that were coming out of Australia a few years back, before they started sending us in the States boatloads of their plonk. It’s a bit early to call for entrants onto my list of the year’s most interesting wines, but I’m reserving a place for this just in case.

Matthiasson’s `05 Napa Valley Red Hen Vineyard Merlot is also well worth a look. It’s a huge wine. It tasted “old” to me – not old as in musty, but old the way that Zinfandel tastes when made from old, old vines in CA: boozy and massively concentrated. Not sure how much time or decanting (or even if time or decanting) will tame the alcohol, but the wine offers plenty of interesting complexity with intense blueberry and dark cherry fruit, along with cocoa and tea leaf aromas.

It’s the kind of Merlot that would give people absolute fits in a blind tasting, because you could easily pass it off as a Cab or a Bordeaux style red blend.

Not that you’d do that to your friends, right?

Anyway, a word of caution: Matthiasson is making wine in very limited quantities, so you’ll need to go the mailing list route on these.

Cheers!
(images: 1winedude.com, post-gazette.com)

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