Michele Chiarlo Barbera d’Asti 2007 Le Orme

12 12 2009

Michele Chiarlo Barbera d’Asti 2007 Le Orme

Retail: $11.99

Grape: native to Piedmont

This was disappointing.  Matt shuddered at his first taste.

I tasted some grape juice (although Matt thinks I’m crazy because he associates grape juice with sweetness, which this wine did not have).

We both detected bitter black cherry and a burnt hot quality that was not pleasant.  It was sharp on the nose with hints of tar, wood, earth, and rusticity.

After sitting down with some Italian sausage and beans, Matt decided that it needed food to be palatable. I found it surprisingly easy to drink despite its bitterness–probably because I prefer bitter tastes over any other.


Vino Volo: in the airport!

24 11 2009

Matt and I usually get to the airport with tons of time to spare, so on Friday, before we boarded our plane to Pittsburgh, we stopped at Vino Volo for a quick drink and bite to eat. This wine bar chain currently has locations in about 10 airports in the U.S. and it’s a welcome change to the overwhelming fast food options you usually get.

Impressive, albeit small, wine list with some fun flight options. (Heh, get it?)

These are cute and come with each glass.  Not your basic, run-of-the-mill wine guide with standard terms, but still user-friendly.

Matt’s artisan cured meats (small size for $8) were yummy but really just made him more hungry for a real dinner.

My brie & prosciutto sandwich (small size for $6) was surprisingly tasty. The brie was slightly melted and warm and the fig spread was ooey and gooey (in a good way).

It’s nice to have Vino Volo in the Philly airport, because when we were early in Pittsburgh coming home, we sat in a Friday’s. Not as nice.

Mother’s Milk

30 07 2009

So much for not marketing.

I was really hopeful that this wine would be an exception to my general rule about Australian wines (I have had some decent ones). Somebody out there thought that his wine was great and I picked it up in the PLCB for about $16 (not so bad). I hadn’t had a decent Syrah in a while, and thought it might be fun for Erin and I to share something nice.


Unfortunately, this wine turned out to be a fairly typical marketing nightmare. Comic book label, catchy-name (hey, who doesn’t want to drink “Mother’s Milk”?) The wine turned out to be super-alcoholic, though. Not a lot of fruit quality, plenty of tar and heavier flavors, lots of rich spice (particularly clove), and hefty wood, but the main thing going here is that it smells mostly of alcohol. Yeah, OK, so they estimate an ABV of 14.5 % but still, I love Pax wines, which regularly creep up to 15% or more, but they manage to make something that smells like wine not ethanol. I should add that with a little time (and air) the wine mellowed out. So, long story short, it’s not all bad. When Erin first opened the bottle, she thought it was cooked (overexposed to heat, ruining the wine) and in a sense, it is. The grapes were more likely than not very over-ripe at harvest, and once you have too-developed flavors in the grapes, it’s hard to go back. I wish people would focus on making wine, not ridiculous stories.


One potential saving grace is that it is screw-cap, so if you want a catchy-looking wine with a cool label and a great tag, go for Mother’s Milk, if you want something that tastes like wine and that you can actually inhale the aromas without choking, then you may want to skip this wine, or give it an hour in an open bottle or maybe even decant it (if you’re into that sort of thing) and it should be decent.


2008 Seyval Blanc (Hunt Country, Finger Lakes, NY)

22 07 2009

On a recent trip to the Finger Lakes, I stopped at Hunt Country winery to escape the rain. Hunt Country is usually a pleasant enough winery to visit, but recently their wines have been a bit too sweet for my palate–I don’t think it’s a major change in their production, just a change in my taste buds.

The 2008 Seyval Blanc stood out when I tasted it as a more refined wine that my very picky husband might like, and it was on sale for $8.99 on site.  Score.

Seyval Blanc is a French hybrid grape known for its resistance to the cold, which explains why it grows well in the Finger Lakes region.  It is often compared to white Burgundies and is a fair alternative to some Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blanc varietals.

This particular Seyval Blanc has a lot of white Burgundy (typically Chardonnay) characteristics, such as the tropical fruit nose and flavors like pineapple and honeysuckle with some grapefruit and vanilla thrown in.  It does lack minerality and there is no stoniness or edge to this wine, which most white Burgundies would have.

The wine has a moderate acidity and you can tell that it’s been held in the barrel for a while due to the oakiness in scent and flavor.  And just FYI, most French white Burgundies start at $20-$25 a bottle and can cost as high as $300.



Top Rosés: Francis Ford Coppola Sofia

20 07 2008

The Rosé party is long over, but I am finally posting the last few wines from that event. I thought the top wines from our tasting deserved a little more attention than the others, so I will post each one separately.

This week is the Sofia Rosé from the Francis Ford Coppola winery. This is a really soft, delicate wine, with all the flavor characteristics claimed by the company website. Lots of rose petals and strawberries, cherries and raspberries. For me it was more raspberries and rose petals than anything else. This is something I find a little strange, because the wine is described as 100% Sonoma Coast pinot noir. The Sonoma Coast region is probably one of my favorite wine regions on Earth, and certainly in the U.S. The wines, and especially pinots from that region, have this incredible quality that I always find myself short of words trying to describe. They are also one of the first wines I could immediately identify on first sniff. This wine had none of those Sonoma Coast qualities.

Don’t get me wrong, it was excellent juice, and I’d be delighted to open another bottle sometime, but in terms of smelling or tasting like Sonoma Coast fruit, it fell flat. The other area where it came up a little short for me was acidity. A perfect rose should have an excellent balance of fruity and acidic qualities. This wine has the fruit down, and in spades, not overly fruity like juice, but certainly noticeable and contributing to the overall presence of the wine. For me it was just a little shy on the fruit end of things.

I probably would have been more glowing about this wine if I had not reviewed the technical notes on the Coppola website. Having seen where the pinot juice is supposed to be from I now feel like I’m being a little hard on it, but if you are going to claim a specific viticultural region, it should at least carry the primary qualities of that region.

All in all an excellent offering from California, and certainly a bottle I would not hesitate to enjoy again.

Rose Partay: Middle of the Pack

1 07 2008

Sorry it has taken me so long to get to part two of our rose review. The middle group was dominated by wines that had a great overall quality but didn’t quite amaze or overwhelm. Many of these wines are all really solid and very enjoyable.

#4: Red Bicyclette French Rose– This Gallo produced wine from France is made from grenache, syrah and cinsault grapes, the French trifecta of rose grapes. The grapes are sourced from various parts of the Languedoc region, the worlds largest grape producing area. Some people feel that the Languedoc produces really low-end grapes, but if you seek them out, there is some top-quality fruit to be had at bargain prices. I don’t quite think of this as top quality. However, it’s definitely solid juice, with a nice overall balance, a very fun and easy-going wine lacking a little on the acid side of the equation, but definitely with some enjoyable fruit.

#3: Marquis de la Tour sparkling Rose- This producer from the Loire valley in France started out as the Remy Pannier negociant in the 1800’s. As the link will inform you, this company has been held collectively by the vineyard and winery owners since 2002, which I think is pretty cool. As an additional plus, it’s a bubbly wine for under $10 that actually tastes pretty good. The grapes going into it are: Cabernet Franc, which is widely grown in the Loire region (famous as Chinon…but that’s another entry…), Grolleau, Syrah and Grenache. Altogether, this is another highly enjoyable wine for when you’re looking for something a step or two above that frightening bottle of Andre, but you’re not interested in paying $35 for a starter bottle of French champagne. Very Fun Bubbles.

#2: Vin Gris de Cigare– Mm-Hhmmm…so this wine comes from Bonny Doon Vineyards, just outside of San Francisco. The winery owner and wine-maker are known to be unusual even within the wine trade, which is truly saying something about them. Unorthodox to the maximum, the website features whimsical alien/spaceship designs–a major focus of their label design and packaging. Back to the wine though. Gris refers to grey, usually reserved for certain types of “black” grapes that end up producing white wines. Here, though, they use a considerable amount of Grenache Blanc to soften the other darker fruits that tincture the wine. It has great fruit flavors but not much complexity. Overall that’s the main thrust behind most of the wines in this category: great fruit, easy-going, but not much in the department of complexity. But hey, Rose is a fun, easy-going kind of wine meant to be flexible, tasty, and highly quaffable.

#1: Vanda Rose-This wine from Cherry Hill winery in Willamette Valley, Oregon is a pinot noir single varietal rose. This 2005 vintage bottling is still holding up quite well, and the fruit comes across very nicely. It was a favorite among our friends as the party. Very bright fruit, but because the wine has been in bottle for a while, the acidity and structure are somewhat minimal. Still an excellent wine that’s very enjoyable. This was also one of the higher priced bottles we had, with everything being between $9 and $18, this particular one came in at $15.

Overall, the wines in this middle group are all very enjoyable with solid fruit and good balance across the board. Some of them were pleasant surprises, like the Red Bicyclette and the Marquis de la Tour, but the Vin Gris and the Vanda were definitely good contenders for the top block. This time I promise to deliver the final selection of top rose from our little partay soon.

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.