Comparative Wine Tasting: Value Sauvignon Blanc

31 05 2008

Lately some friends have requested wine reviews of white wines. Although I do drink far more red wine, I like quite a few whites as well. One of my favorite varietals is Sauvignon Blanc. I also want to make an effort to review some “value,” otherwise known as cheap or affordable, wines for people (like myself) who want to save a buck or two.

The result: my first ever comparative tasting.

The Turning Leaf was only $8.99, a fine bargain here in Pennsylvania. At first sip, I thought this was going to be my preferred wine of the two. It was extremely lemony and citrus-flavored, with a very high acid and strong mouth-feel. At only $9.99 the Lake Sonoma Wine was very light and delicate and felt like an innocent bystander to the turning leaf juice. The Lake Sonoma wine had more of a light yuzu and lemon-grass citrus effect, with a little bit of grassiness. The Turning Leaf was more of a heavy-handed funky, grassy wine that really exploded in your mouth. As I continued tasting between the wines and trying them with food, I found that the Lake Sonoma was far better at going along with foods and complementing them, whereas the Turning Leaf was so overpowering that it basically left my palate overwhelmed and made it hard to detect the flavors of the food. Nor did the Turning Leaf really add anything to the party when consumed with food. It clearly stands as more of a single note Sauvignon Blanc, maybe most enjoyed by the red wine drinker looking for a summertime white to quaff. The Lake Sonoma Winery Sauv. Blanc is more of a party pleaser, appealing to a wider palate range and more versatile with a variety of foods.

So, overall for me, the Lake Sonoma Wine wins the day, providing more options and thus more bang for the buck. The Turning Leaf wine is good for drinkers looking for a specific type of high-acid, aggressive mouth-feel wine.

Additionally, the site for lakesonomawinery provides far more information about the wine at hand, which can be really appealing to wine geeks everywhere. Information about the appellation, acid levels, and case production tells you volumes more than the Turning Leaf site, which is comprised mostly of buzzwords and marketing jargon. Very little information about the wine is available other than the fact that the grapes are sourced from all over California.

In the overall scheme of things, I wouldn’t give a terribly strong recommendation to either wine. Neither of them really left any great impression, but the next time you are looking for some inexpensive wine for a summer party, or to go with some seafood anytime, the Lake Sonoma winery Sauvignon Blanc might be worth considering.


Review: Washington D.C. Public Transportation

31 05 2008

I spent the week in Washington D.C. and felt compelled to write about their public transportation system. On the weekend, I stayed in Reston, VA with a friend, and we took the Metro into the city every day/night. I had pre-purchased a SmartCard online before I went and it cost $5 for the card. I got it in the mail in 2 business days. Once I got to Union Station, I was able to put a pre-set amount of money on it using cash, debit, or credit. So easy. At each station, the turnstiles have a scanner for your card so it automatically deducts the cost of the trip when you exit the station. If you get to your station and you don’t have enough money left on your card, there are machines that let you add money so you can exit.

The Metro is clean, efficient, safe. It’s very extensive and well marked from the street. The cost is low–within the city, a one-way ride usually doesn’t cost more than $2. From the suburbs, a ride costs around $3.

The buses are also wonderful and easy to use. The “loop” buses that run through the city only cost $1 per ride, and you can use your Smart Card for those as well. Those buses will take you virtually anywhere you need to go around the city.

I never got lost, never felt unsafe, and was always helped by very friendly staff. Take that, SEPTA!
Of course, the metro and buses do stop running at a certain time of night, and at that point you are stuck with taxis that don’t use meters (until June 1) and charge you $10 for a 4-block ride.

Dingle Peninsula: Moran’s Bus Tour

21 05 2008

Being without a car on my solo trip to Ireland forced me to take a lot of day tours run by professional companies. This route of travel is a good option for tourists who are either tired of driving themselves around or too afraid to navigate the winding coastal roads on the Dingle Peninsula.

Moran’s Slea Head Bus Tour (E-mail: Tel: 066-915 11 55 or 915 11 29.–there’s no website!) was scheduled to leave Dingle by the Visitor’s Center at 2:00. By 1:30, people were milling around the pier asking each other if they were in the right place. Most of the time, in Ireland, no one ever knows if they are in the “right place” to wait for organized tours, but no one ever seems to worry about it too much. Sure enough, eventually a man noticed all of the confused looking tourists and directed us to his van.

A wide range of people takes these organized tours and can be separated into two major groups. Group #1: the backpackers who can’t afford a car and are smart enough not to bike along the winding, traffic-ridden, narrow roads that go up through hills and along the cliffs. Group #2: tourists over sixty-five who never step off of the bus.

The tour guide, who doubled as the driver, pointed out the sights and told unique anecdotes. Despite the dangerous landscape (at some points I looked out the window and couldn’t even see the road we were on—only the cliffs) it was the most beautiful I had ever seen. On one side of the road were endless fields of sheep and stone walls that rose up way above us. There were also sheep on the cliff side that, according to our driver, had a short set and a longer set of legs so they could stand easily on the uneven ground. “But the trouble is,” he said, “Sometimes they get confused as to which way to stand and they fall off the cliffs.” (Cue laughter from the old people and groans from the backpackers.)

We stopped a few times, only because my fellow back-seat companions and I would beg the driver to let us off to experience the surroundings in the fresh air. “Sir, could you please stop the bus so we can take pictures and actually feel like we are a part of this awesome landscape?” Well, that’s not exactly what we yelled, but you get the point. He always good-naturedly stopped and the same few of us would get off, probably for longer than the driver or the members of Group #2 would have liked.

Far and Away and Ryan’s Daughter were filmed on the Dingle Peninsula and our trivia-filled driver identified all of the places where the scenes were filmed. Also on the tour were beehive huts, tiny little stone houses shaped like beehives, which ancient people used to live in and still remained. Another ancient ruin was Dunbeg Fort built on the edge of the cliffs, and slowly falling apart and into the water down to the rocks below.

We drove past the town of Ventry and around Slea Head towards Dunquin where you can catch the ferry out to the Great Blasket Island. Our last stop of significance was Gallarus Oratory—touristy but that meant there were restrooms and coffee (and Magnum ice cream bars). To use the restroom I had to pay the one punt entrance fee to the Oratory but I didn’t even feel like walking up to see it up close—I was becoming a pro at distance viewing. We went back to Dingle via the only straight road on the peninsula, because, according to the bus driver, “there are no pubs on it.” (More laughter and groans–get it?)

Review: Badia Di Morrona

13 05 2008

Badia di Morrona Vign Aalta 2000

wineBadia di Morrona is a winery with a very interesting history, originally constructed some time in the 11th century as a monastery, until seized by a bishop as a summer residence. Eventually the property was sold by the government for use as a private residence, and has since become an excellent winery and agriturismo in the heart of the colline pisane, between Florence and Pisa. There are two items of note with regards to the winery itself. First, it is an agriturismo, which means that it is both a functioning farm and a sort of bed and breakfast for people to stay in, so you can enjoy your vacation staying at one of the local wineries – an experience I look forward to myself someday.

The second item of interest is that a whole new facility has been built for the actual winery, based on the use of gravity to replace pumps. The crusher/de-stemmer for processing grapes is on the roof of the winery and grapes are loaded into the machine and then emptied into holes in the roof that are set directly over the fermentation vats. The vats, in turn, are set over the ageing and barrel room, which is located in the basement. This way each step of the process is considerably simplified by the use of gravity.

But enough about the winery and on to the juice itself. It may be a moot point to review this wine, since it seems that there is currently no one importing it at the moment. Apparently it’s fairly hard to find, but I just happened to nab a bottle from the PLCB here in Pennsylvania, so here it goes:

This wine is very dark in appearance but time has softened the edge quite a bit. The rim of the liquid has softer garnet hues and is far less opaque in appearance. The nose is very complex – a little herbaceous quality mixes with some undertones of dark chocolate and tart cherry or blackberry. The fruit qualities came through strongly on the palate, primarily the tart cherry. There is a considerable amount of heat and a firm sense of acidity.

Since this is an older vintage, the wine was throwing a fair amount of sediment, so I would recommend decanting just to try and avoid getting too much of the bitterness in your glass. Despite having some bottle age, this wine still has some very strong tannins remaining. Most likely this can be attributed to the 100% Sangiovese varietal usage in this wine. Certainly very appealing it needs some serious food to go with it – probably some lamb or something gamey would be best. A delightful wine, its only detractor is the amount of heat felt for something with fairly light alcohol by volume.

Review: Ines Rosales Tortas

6 05 2008

We discovered these amazing sweet olive oil tortas at the Chestnut Hill Cheese Shop and we buy them whenever we have guests. A woman named Ines Rosales started to make these delicate wafer-thin flatbreads in 1910 and sold them in her native town of Seville, Spain. Today, the tortas are still hand made using this 100-year-old recipe and it certainly shows in the quality and uniqueness of the product. Each torta is individually wrapped in waxed paper and then sealed in plastic to lock in the freshness. Made with olive oil and a touch of anise, these sweet pastries go well with a variety of cheeses, or by themselves with a cup of coffee or glass of dry red wine. We recently served them with Bucheron goat cheese and olives. You can purchase Ines Rosales tortas all around the country, as well as other imported products, such as cheeses, dips, and biscuits, from the Massachusetts-based Mt. Vikos company. There are six tortas in a tray, and where we buy them they cost around $5.00.

Review: Metromint

4 05 2008

The weather is getting warmer, you’re getting thirstier, you want to get healthy and fit into your summer clothes. All of these things are true, right? Here’s my recommendation: drink Metromint water. This is the best invention ever (I should have submitted a patent request years ago when I started chilling my hot peppermint tea!). We first discovered this calorie-free and delicious beverage on our honeymoon last year in California. My husband has found a few locations in the city that sell it, and he buys us some bottles whenever he can!

Join the fan club today, and try some. You’ll love it.

Our Metromint on ice.

Paradise Ridge Hoenselaars Zinfandel

1 05 2008

Early in 2008, my wife and I revisited one of our favorite places: Sonoma Valley. We were lucky enough to meet many winemakers, taste their wines, tour their cellars/wineries, and get a general overall sense of who they are. One of the more interesting stops was at Paradise Ridge. The family-run winery is small, and in a very unusual, slightly out-of-the-way location, but they are producing some quality wines, and they have an excellent atmosphere. We were there during barrel tasting weekend, giving us the opportunity to sample some of their futures in addition to their current releases.

One wine that we brought home with us was their 2005 Hoenselaars vineyard zinfandel. The wine undergoes a multi-day cold soak followed by open-top co-fermentation of a field-blend consisting of 8% petite sirah, 4% syrah, and the remainder zinfandel. Right away I noticed a few things about the wines here. They are very clean and straightforward. Also, all the wines are produced with co-fermented fruit, so the varietal lines are very successfully blurred. The color on this wine is quite nice, with a soft, velvety dark hue and a near purple gemstone rim, it has a deep rich color that is very pleasing. Despite a high alcohol content of 14.5% the wine was well balanced. In fact, it felt so clean as to be almost a little boring. The fruit came through as roasted or very ripe (but not spoiled) and the tannins were minimal. The wild-berry and jammy qualities on the front and mid-palates were nice, and the fairly lengthy tannic finish was enjoyable.

Paradise Ridge Winery

This might be a personal thing, but I feel that the co-fermentation process muddles a wine. It seems confused as to what exactly it might really be. I enjoyed this wine but it did not amaze or astound at any level. The petite sirah seems to provide most of the backbone with the zinfandel bringing in the fruit qualities of the wine, but overall the extremely clean style feels almost Lysol fresh – sort of overly washed and scrubbed of all its innate qualities. As a younger winery with new facilities, I don’t know if the native yeasts are just falling a little short or if the wine was so strongly fined, filtered, and otherwise tidied up that it really fell short on the soul aspect.

To sum up: zinfandel, petite sirah, and syrah; 14.5% ABV; co-fermented in open tanks. This is a very clean wine that needs to loosen up a little. It is soft roasted and highly ripened fruits like wild berries and dark cherries. A good, solid wine, not excellent, but certainly very good. From the winery, cost was US$32.

Outdoor art exhibit