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Wine and Dine: Napa Cellars 2009 Zinfandel and Stacey Ribs

Napa Cellars Zinfandel 2009

Napa Cellars Zinfandel 2009

Cooler weather typically means people find themselves reaching for cozy food and wine pairings. While you may not live in a cool climate, you still may change your eating and drinking habits in fall and winter. One dish that really works in warm or cool climates is BBQ baby back ribs. They’re hearty and delicious, and can be made indoors or out. And, since Zinfandel works so nicely with barbeque, I’d recommend pairing BBQ ribs with Napa Cellars Zinfandel 2009.

Napa Cellars is part of the Trinchero Family Estates portfolio. They own or market a host of labels, from Sutter Home to Newman’s Own to Napa Cellars, and even Fre alcohol free wines. I received several samples from this past vintage release of Napa Cellars wines to review. Since I’ve already written about Napa Cellars Chardonnay when pairing with shrimp,, I thought I’d take this opportunity to focus on one of their reds.  Coming in at $22, this Napa Zinfandel has powerful, big fruit without being over the top jammy.

The Napa Cellars 2009 Zinfandel is 88% Zinfandel and 12% Petite Sirah, and is aged 14 months in French and American oak, 10% of which is new. The bouquet and palate are very similar, with chocolate and raspberries on the very inviting nose. The palate is fresh red berries surrounded by baking spices, cinnamon and a herbaceous note as well. The finish is very long, with a predominantly spice and pepper note. There’s a little cocoa that dances around that fruit and spice, adding a layer of complexity that was nice. Letting it breathe for 15 or 20 minutes did not tame this powerful wine, which was 14.7% ABV. However, it’s big without being jammy or hot, and that makes it worth trying.

Stacey Ribs on my Traeger Smoker

Stacey Ribs on my Traeger Smoker

Now, the ribs part requires a story. Our family loves to grill, smoke, and cook in general. I respect vegans and vegetarians, and apologize to my plant eating friends. This recipe is not going to please your palate.  However, PLEASE feel free to post your favorite vegan or vegetarian recipe below, and I’ll try it, pairing it with some delicious wines.

One thing that makes it to the table at almost every cookout is ribs. I have several recipes, from a 6 plus hour smoke, to a 1 hour grill, to baking them in the oven. All of them are tasty, but Stacey Ribs have all but cemented their place as our favorite. Stacey is Robin’s cousin, who is an amazing hunter. The man lives to hunt. And he’s apparently equally as good at cooking what he hunts. In eight years, Stacey has only been to two or three events at the same time as us, but this year at the lake house was the best. He rolled out his trailer barbeque and fired up the coals. He then cooked some of the best baby back ribs I had ever had, earning the name “Stacey Ribs”. The preparation was simple, and the results were divine.

Cousin Stacey Queing Ribs

Cousin Stacey Queing Ribs

While the coals were heating the BBQ pit up to 325 degrees, Stacey peeled off the silver membrane from the ribs, and seasoned both sides with Everglades All Purpose seasoning, salt, and pepper. He tossed the ribs onto the grates, indirect heat, and let them cook for an hour and a half, turning two or three times. Then, during the next 20 minutes he basted each side with some BBQ sauce, mentioned below. He pulled the ribs off the grill, let them sit for 5 or 10 minutes, then cut and served. They were tender, moist, and flavorful. The simple preparation was very exciting, and the sauce was some of the best I’d had in ages.

Smoked Ribs on my Traeger SmokerI did the exact same preparation with my Traeger grill, and it was incredible. The Trager holds the heat constant, and produced a nice smokey flavor. I used apple wood pellets, as I light a lighter, sweeter smoke. And while the seasoning and smoking are important, I think the finishing touch was the sauce that Stacey used. He picked it up at  gas station in Kenansville, FL. From what I gathered, the company was small and just sold locally to the gas station. Stacey picked up a bottle while driving by once, and swore by it. I looked the shop up online, ordered a few small bottles, and the rest is culinary history.

Jimmy Bear's BarBerQ Sauce

Jimmy Bear’s BarBerQ Sauce

The sauce is Jimmy Bear’s Original BarBerQ sauce. They sell it online, and accept paypal. I ordered two of the 16 oz bottles, and cooking two racks of ribs used about 1/3 of a bottle. I didn’t dissect the flavors, but it seems to be a mustard base with honey flavors. The spices are excellent, and it’s a great balance between savory and sweet that worked perfectly on the pork ribs. I think the sauce, the ribs, and wine all made a perfect pairing for a good time with wine.

In addition to your favorite vegan or vegetarian recipes, what foods do you find yourself making and eating more of as summer ends? What’s on your table these days? I’d love to know, so comment below.

Sipping Stepping Stone Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Stepping Stone 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Wine

Stepping Stone 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Wine

When people talk about Napa Valley wines, especially Cabernet Sauvignon, they often talk about lofty prices of hard to get wines like Screaming Eagle and Scarecrow. And while there are definitely great wines at lower prices in Napa, California, like Hartwell which can come in around $80, that is still above some people’s wine budget. That’s when a wine like the Stepping Stone 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon fits perfectly in your glass. It’s a great expression of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, at a price that doesn’t make you feel like you just bought a whole vineyard.

Stepping Stone is the sister label to Cornerstone Cellars, a venture with managing partner Craig Camp and Drs. Michael Dragutsky and David Sloas who started the label in 1991. I had the chance to try the Cornerstone Cellars 2004 Howell Mountain Cab Sauv a year or so back. While I didn’t write up a review, I thought it was delicious, and I was quite sad I opened it when I did. I felt it could have aged for another 2-3 years, if not 10. So, when I was given a shot to try the 2008 Stepping Stone Cab Sauv, bottled in May 2010 after spending 18 months in 50% new French oak barrels and released 9 months after bottling in early 2011, I was quite excited. At just $35 a bottle, I believed we’d have a great Napa wine under $40 to talk about.

Get a Wine Decanter

Get a Wine Decanter

First, a word about decanting, or just aerating wine. Do it. Stop being so impatient. It’s not rocket science, and will improve the taste of just about any red, and even some white wines you’ll drink.  If you don’t have a formal decanter, which my God, if you’re a regular wine drinker, get one, then just pop the cork, and pour out a smidge of wine into a glass. That will allow air to get into the neck of the bottle and start oxidizing the wine. I won’t get into why decanting works, just know you should. Some wines need more air than others to “open up”, and that part sort of IS rocket science. Just know that 10-20 minutes sitting and breathing is almost always the right thing to do.

Tasting the Stepping Stone 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, the nose was a sweet cherry, with some notes of blueberry and brambles. Yes, I taste with my nose first. Some 80% of what things taste like are based on smell, so taking a nice sniff of the wine will start producing taste patterns. The palate was big fruit up front, dark cherry and blueberry, followed by a nice earthiness. I let this decant for about an hour after my initial taste. I noticed the mouthfeel was full but silky, round flavors of dark cherry, mocha and a beautiful herb and forest floor note. There were fine, well integrated tannin, and this wine was just a pleasure to sip. Even at 14.9% ABV, there was no heat on the finish, and it was a well made wine. At $35, I’d say it was worth every penny. Tim Lemke of Cheap Wine Ratings wrote up a number of the Stepping Stone wines, and agrees the Cabernet Sauvignon is a good wine.

Cabot Coop Private Stock Cheddar and wine

Cabot Coop Private Stock Cheddar and wine

Food pairings for this Cabernet Sauvignon would be the typical red meat such as steaks, as well as lamb or veal. We enjoyed it with some amazing Cabot Coop Cheddar cheese, and think it’s a perfect pairing. The two dance together in a delicious harmony. The Stepping Stones 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon is a great wine on it’s own however, and you can enjoy it just sipping on a glass with friends. I know I did.

 

Sipping Trattore Estate Wines 2010 Viognier

Trattore Estate Wines Viognier

Trattore Estate Wines Viognier

The Dry Creek Valley wine appellation of Sonoma Country offers a tremendous variety of wines. From Zinfandel to Pinot Blanc to Syrah, a wine lover can find a winery producing a delicious, affordable wine at every turn. When Trattore Estate Wines sent me a sample of two of their wines, and their olive oil, I was quite looking forward to sampling them both.

Trattore Estate Vineyards

Trattore Estate Vineyards

Trattore Estate Wines is located on a picturesque hilltop on the eastern side of Dry Creek Valley. They liken the growing region to that of the southern Rhone wine region of France, with steep rolling hills, cool ocean influence and warm summer days. Similar to Dry Creek Valley neighbors Montemaggiore and Quivira, Trattore is producing Rhone varieties, such as grenache, syrah, viognier, marsanne, mourvedre, roussanne, and petite sirah, as well as zinfandel. I was given the opportunity to sample Trattore’s  zinfandel and viognier, and was quite impressed with the viognier.

The nose on the Trattore Estate 2010 viognier is a delightful perfume of white flowers and orange blossoms. The palate is full bodied, almost a bit heavy on the mouth feel, and the nose translates to the palate. There are white flowers mixed with citrus and some stone fruit. The mouth feel is a bit oily, which has been described as a lanolin texture typical in viognier, but it’s quite pleasant. There is a lovely vein of spice that runs from the mid-palate through the finish, and goes on well after you’ve finished your sip.

The Trattore Estate 2010 Viognier is blend of 90% viognier, and 10% roussanne, and has an ABV of 15%. The grapes were whole cluster pressed, and barrel fermented in neutral oak barrels. That neutral oak fermentation and aging provides a softer, round mouthfeel, as opposed to stainless steel as an option for fermentation, which would make the wine a bit more lean, crisp and maintain acidity that can be softened by the oak.  It was then aged in 100% neutral oak barrels for 8 months, which further enhanced the mouthfeel and creamy notes.. There were only 127 cases of the viognier produced in 2010, and the retail price is $24.

As I mentioned in my introduction to viognier grapes and wine, you can pair this white wine with grilled or broiled fish, as well as salads. The winery recommends you serve with grilled fish such as halibut, cod, and sea bass. They also recommend summer salads tossed with heirloom tomatoes, goat cheese, crispy pancetta and dried cranberries drizzled with a hint of Dry Creek Olive Company Cara Cara Orange Olive Oil and a touch of sea salt.

Tim Bucher and his Trattore

Tim Bucher and his Trattore

Trattore Estate owner Tim Bucher got his start in farming at a very young age, where he developed his love for tractors, or trattore in Italian. His parents had a dairy farm in Healdsburg, CA, and was known to not only driving the tractors he loved, at age 8 he could be found under the hood, fixing them and figuring out what made them run. While Tim bought his first plot of land at 17 and grew grapes on it, his love of technology ushered him towards a career in engineering and technology.

Tim has been tied to some very successful technology companies, including early workstations at Sun Microsystems  (now part of Oracle) , 3DO gaming, NeXT Computer which was acquired by Apple, as well as helping launch WebTV which was acquired by Micrcosoft. As an entrepreneur, Tim tarted and took public several other successful companies that were later acquired by Microsoft, Apple and Dell, plus was founder and CEO of ZING systems, which developed software for handheld devices for companies like SiriusXM, Yahoo and SanDisk.

TIm and his family returned to Sonoma in 1999. He planted a total of forty acres of zinfandel, grenache, marsanne roussanne and viognier. When he discovered a grove of 150 year-old olive trees on the land, tim decided to start the Dry Creek Olive Compoany, and began producing olive oils from the estate orchards. The first Trattore Estate wines were released in 2008, and the Trattore Estate winery facility and tasting rooms are currently under construction.

Stepping Stones 2010 ROCKS! White Wine

Matthew Horbund Sips Stepping Stone 2010 ROCKS! White Wine

Matthew Horbund Sips Stepping Stone 2010 ROCKS! White Wine

A good white wine has it’s place in your glass, regardless of time of year. It may be fall, and temperatures are dropping, but we’re enjoying a nice white wine with dinner tonight. Living in Florida, we still eater lighter meals in autumn, and roasted chicken makes it’s way onto our plate at least once a week. I went to the cellar and looked for a white wine to serve, and a bottle of Stepping Stone 2010 ROCKS! white wine was my choice.

Stepping Stone is a second label from Cornerstone  Cellars, producers of some excellent Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ve received media samples of their wines previously, and this bottle was part of a tasting of various Stepping Stone wines, red, white and rose. An entry level wine, the Stepping Stone costs $15, and is available on their website. It’s a proprietary blend, but other bloggers disclosed it’s made of chardonnay and muscat. Definitely meant to be an easy back yard sipper, the wine has a pleasant bouquet and palate that makes it easy to drink alone, or pair with food.

Lighter in color than a typical California chardonnay, the Stepping Stone ROCKS! offers a bouquet of soft citrus and white flowers. It’s reminiscent of a sauvignon blanc and vigoner on the nose. The palate is light to medium bodied, very soft and gentle on the approach. The first sip gives way to a little spice, making me think of a gewurztraminer with nice soft floral notes and spice on the mid-palate and finish. I let the wine sit a little, to breathe as well as warm a tad. The flavors opened up a little, and soft lemon  became a little more prominent, and coupled with the white flowers, honey suckle and jasmine, coated the palate.

Matthew Horbund Sips Stepping Stone ROCKS! with roast chicken

Matthew Horbund Sips Stepping Stone ROCKS! with roast chicken

Though the palate is very smooth, and the acidity is barely noticeable, the Stepping Stone ROCKS white wine worked wonderfully with dinner. The palate held strong, even with asparagus on the plate, and the citrus and floral flavors complimented the roast chicken and potato dinner very well. An affordable wine, good on it’s own or with food, definitely a wine to try.

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below, and share this article with your friend!

 

Weekend Wine Recommendation – Chilensis Pinot Noir

TGIF Weekend Wine Recommendation

TGIF Weekend Wine Recommendation

As the weekend rolls in, many of you are looking for a nice bottle of wine to unwind with. There are many options of course, and almost every one of them is a good one.  If you are looking for something new to try, and are a fan of red wine, then I have a great recommendation to kick off the weekend. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of wines from Chile. They offer great value, have a wide range of options from Sauvignon Blanc to Cabernet Sauvignon to Carmenere and Pinot Noir.  Yes, Chile, a very hot and dry place, is producing cool weather Pinot Noir now. And they’re doing it well in many cases.  I was able to taste four Pinot Noir wines from Chile recently, and enjoyed them all.  Today’s recommendation is not one of those four, but I think it’s a great wine, especially for the price.  For under $10, you can get a nice Pinot Noir to sip and savor as you put your feet up and relax this weekend.

Chilensis 2009 Reserva Pinot Noir

Chilensis 2009 Reserva Pinot Noir

The Chilensis 2009 Reserva Pinot Noir can be found in most wine stores and grocery stores. It comes in at $9.99 locally, and that puts it within almost everyone’s wine budget. It’s a medium bodied red wine, which makes it a perfect summer wine. The palate has red fruit, from strawberry to dark berries, with a little smoke and earth that Pinot Noir is known for. The Chilensis Pinot Noir will go perfectly with most any food you want to pair it with, whether that’s cedar plank salmon on the grill, burgers, dogs, or salads for summer. However, this wine has become a staple at our house, and we just love to sip on it slowly and enjoy.

If you try the Chilensis Reserva Pinot Noir, let me know your thoughts. Cheers to a great weekend!

In Harmony – Pasta and Harmony Cellars Zinfandel

Harmony Cellars 2008 Zinfandel

Harmony Cellars 2008 Zinfandel

Paso Robles has been getting a lot of attention for it’s wines of late. When Saxum won Wine Spectator 2010 Wine Of the Year, Rhone varietals such as marsasnne, roussane, and of course syrah from the Paso Robles area became highly sought after. During a recent press trip to Paso, I tasted many great Rhone varietal wines from Paso Robles wineries such as Tablas Creek and Denner. However, as Paso Robles is also well known for it’s zinfandel wines, I had to sip a few of them. I was fortunate to have a sample bottle sent home to review of one of those zinfandel wines from Harmony Cellars.

The View Outside of Harmony Cellars Tasting Room

The View Outside of Harmony Cellars Tasting Room

A small, family-owned winery, Harmony produces about 6,500 cases of various wines each year. Owners Chuck and Kim Mulligan founded the winery in 1989, and winemaker Chuck Mulligan still does most of the work himself. The winery sits on a plot of land that has been in Kim’s family for four generations, and Kim’s great grandfather, Giacomo Barloggio used to make homemade wine in his basement.

Though I don’t know for sure, I will assume based on his name that great-grandpa Giacomo Barloggio was Italian. Perhaps that’s why the Harmony Cellars 2008 Zinfandel is a perfect pasta wine. I’ve been making a simple bolognese sauce for the past six years, and always love pairing it with different red wines to see what works well. I’m positive that the Harmony Cellars Zinfandel is my favorite pairing so far. With a price of $19 for the wine, it makes an for inexpensive pasta meal for two.

Harmony - Pasta and Zinfandel

Harmony – Pasta and Zinfandel

On it’s own, the Harmony Cellars Zinfandel was big and jammy, with plenty of dark cherry, blackberry and a little chocolate note. There’s also a good bit of spice, black pepper and cinnamon on the palate. The wine paired perfectly with the pasta bolognese, enhancing the dark chocolate notes while maintaining a good balance of dark fruit and spice.

Pasta isn’t the only food this wine will pair well with. Zinfnadel works great with almost anything you’d cook on the grill. With Father’s Day coming up, Dad will love putting some burgers and dogs on the grill, and pairing them with a glass of Harmony Cellars Zinfandel. If BBQ ribs are your thing, then zinfandel is for you! I love the combination of a great zinfandel and BBQ ribs, and Dad will too!

Sipping Chardonnay – Franciscan 2009

Franciscan Napa Chardonnay 2009

Franciscan Napa Chardonnay 2009

For over thirty years, the Franciscan Estate winery has been making small lots of wine and blending them together to bring to market what they believe is a fantastic wine. They offer multiple lines of wine, including the Signature Wines, as well as the Limited Selection Magnificat and Cuvee Sauvage lines. Their main line, Signature Wines, offers Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and the wine I’ll discuss now, the 2009 Franciscan Napa Valley Chardonnay.

I receive many press samples of Franciscan wines, and have thought they were all nice wines. This chardonnay is the first I’ve written about, because I feel for the price, it offers a solid wine. For $18, this offers a taste of a Napa chardonnay without paying exorbitant prices. This white wine needed to breathe, something I’m finding more and more whites can benefit from. As soon as it was uncorked, the bouquet was pears slathered in buttered popcorn, and the palate was light to medium, with a very round mouth feel. The acidity seemed a little off and the fruit seemed over ripe.  However, after about 15 minutes open in the glass, the wine was much different.

After breathing, the palate was much more round, a function of the malolactic fermentation as well as the 8 months sur lie in a mix of American and French Oak. Sur lie means the lees, or expired yeast left after fermentation, stays in the barrel with the wine, which gives it a rounder, softer mouth feel.  There were notes of pear, vanilla and buttered popcorn on the palate, and the acidity was much more subtle.

The Franciscan Napa Chardonnay is fermented in oak barrels, using wild yeast which results in lively, fruit and mineral flavors with some layers of complexity. When fermenting wine, some winemakers use specific yeasts to achieve specific notes. Using whatever yeasts are in the air and vineyard naturally is thought to allow nature to guide the wine’s outcome. If you are a fan of oaky, buttery chardonnays then for $18 this is one to try. However, if you prefer a crisp chardonnay, or one with more fruit, then you’d skip the Franciscan. While the pear and fruit notes are definitely present on the wine, I feel with even such a light oak aging of 8 months, the vanilla, butter, and oak takes center stage.  If you’re looking for a nice chardonnay food and wine pairing, this wine will pair nicely with a roast chicken and side dishes such as mashed potato or macaroni and cheese.

Sipping something Un4Seen

Un4Seen Red Blend

Un4Seen Red Blend

Sometimes the adage “You get what you pay for” doesn’t necessarily hold true. Sometimes, you get less, but every now and then, you get more. That was the case with a sample of Un4Seen Red Wine I received recently. And while I didn’t actually spend the $10, I’d do so in a second!

With it’s hokey little name and it’s cute little label, I really didn’t expect much from this wine. However, what was in the bottle really impressed me, especially since I hadn’t heard of the ‘new’ winery from Lodi, or the people making it. I did a little research, however, and found out who I think is behind the wine. The folks at Lange Twins winery. I mean, can it be a coincidence that the 2008 vintage was done by Chief Winemaker David Akiyoshi and the 2009 vintage by winemaker Karen Birmingham, both part of the Lange Twins Team? Anyway, I digress.

What strikes you first about the wine is the blend of grapes used to make it. Clearly listed in red on the label, Un4seen is a blend of Zinfandel, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot, not necessarily four grapes you’d expect to find in one bottle. The grapes all come from Lodi and Clarksburg, California. The 2009 vintage sees the four different grapes fermented separately, then blended to create the wine in the bottle. Each of the grapes can stand on it’s own, and what happened when they came together was interesting.

Right out of the bottle, with no air, there were restrained red cherries with some leather on the nose. The palate is a dark red fruit, cherries and maybe raspberries. There’s an earthy element and light leather as well, with a slight tart finish, but I enjoy it. The tannins are soft, and it’s an easy drinking wine with some decent complexity. However, after 30 or so minutes, and pairing with a perfectly grilled steak, this wine began to shine.

Suddenly, adding some beef to the equation allowed really nice fruit comes out of the glass. The notes from the wine vacillated back and forth, with a very fruit forward stance with a midpalate of black pepper. The Zinfandel definitely takes center state, with tremendous ripe, red berries. However, the mid palate and finish shows the malbec and merlot, with an earthy finish. From sip to sip, those flavors would show themselves, each battling for center stage, but in a fun, playful way.

For $10, I didn’t expect this wine to rock my socks off. However, it definitely brought some more to the table, or wine glass, than I expected. Worth the money, and then some. Throw a nice steak at it, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how good $10 can taste.

What is your favorite $10 and under wine?