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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?

Pairing wine with Easter and Passover meals

wine to pair with easter or passover dinner

Happy Holiday

Easter and Passover are on their way, and that means family will be getting together to celebrate the holidays. Whether your family has a tried and true menu, or likes to change it up year after year, having the right wine on the table makes everything better. Recently, I brought four wines to the CBS12 WPEC station as recommendations for your holiday celebrations.

The segment starts with two kosher for Passover wines. There is not a tremendous difference between kosher wine and non kosher wine. In general, because kosher wine is used in the Sabbath blessing, as well as holidays, it can only be handled by Sabbath observant Jews. Additionally, no animal products can be used in the winemaking process, such as gelatin or egg whites to fine the wine (remove particulates). The difference in Kosher for Passover versus Kosher wine is that they make sure no grain yeasts are used, since during Passover Jews do not eat any grains (no bread, for example). That’s it, otherwise, it’s fermented grape juice, just like any other wine. I’ve discussed kosher Chardonnay previously, and compared to a non-kosher chardonnay.

Click above to watch Matthew Horbund talk Kosher for Passover and Easter wines on CBS12 WPEC

The first wine in the TV segment above was Hagafen 2008 Chardonnay from the Oak Knoll District of Napa, California. This wine retails for $20, and is a nice Napa Valley chardonnay at this price. Irit and Ernie Weir founded the winery in 1979 with their inaugural vintage in 1980. With a total production of only 8,000 cases annually, they produce small batches of various wines including merlot, cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, chardonnay, and riesling. Their wines are well made, and for this segment I tasted the merlot, cabernet and chardonnay. I selected the chardonnay as I thought it offered a nice rich and full mouth feel, having good pear fruit with the toasty spice from the oak aging. This wine sees malolactic fermentation, which gives it that rich mouth feel, often associated with a buttery quality, and a little oak which gives it the buttery taste, as well as a little spice. This wine will pair well with the appetizers, as well as any lighter fare served at the Seder such as chicken. For the record, the name is pronounced Ha-Ga-Fen, not Hag-a-fen as I said in the above TV spot. Clearly, my Hebrew needs as much work as my French and Italian. In the Hebrew prayer over grape juice or grape wine, the ending words “p’ri hagafen” translates to Fruit of the Vine.

Hagafen 2008 Chardonnay perfect for Passover Seder

Hagafen 2008 Chardonnay

For a red wine option, I selected the Baron Herzog 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Central Coast, California. The Herzog family has a long history of wine making, dating back to Philip Herzog making wine for the Austro-Hungary court more than 100 years ago. Emperor Franz Josef enjoyed the wines so much, he made Philip a Baron! During World War II, Philips grandson Eugene hid the family from the Nazis by moving them around the Slovenian countryside, and at the end of the war came out from a false wall in a friends shed to reclaim his family’s winery. Three years later they were driven from their home, and in 1948 arrived in New York. Eugene toiled in a small store front making kosher wine from Concord grapes, and instead of being paid for some of his work, was given shares in the company. All of the other owners eventually gave up their shares, and  in 1958 he became the sole shareholder. They renamed the company Royal Wines in deference to grandfather Philip, and turned the company into a success. They moved out to California, expanding in 1985, with a focus on making high end quality wine under two labels, Baron Herzog and Herzog Wine cellars.

baron herzog cabernet sauvignon for passover seder

Baron Herzog cabernet sauvignon

The Baron Herzog 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon is made mostly from grapes sourced from the Paso Robles wine region. It’s aged 18 months in stainless steel, which helps retain the fruit notes. The nose of the wine has bright raspberry and red fruits, which soften as it opens up. This is a very California wine, showing more fruit than earthy or leathery notes. While a tad dry and mild tannins, the round fresh fruit translates from the nose to the palate. It will pair nicely with your Passover Seder meal, whether that includes brisket, lamb shank, or some other roasted dish. For $13, it’s a nice California Cabernet, Kosher for Passover or not.

There were plenty of other Kosher for Passover wines I could have selected. I tasted the Ben Ami Chardonnay and Merlot, and while both were a bit on the lighter and easy drinking side, they’d make a fine showing at your Passover dinner. I also tried the Hagafen Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, which showed a bit more earthy and leather notes on the palate than the Baron Herzog. Any would make a fine showing at your meal. While selecting a Kosher for Passover wine requires a little work, visiting Total Wine will help make that work a bit easier. They’ve got a tremendous selection of Kosher wines, including other US made wines as well as Israel made wines. They’ve also plenty of wines to select for Easter. Selecting a wine for Easter isn’t as restrictive as Passover, so the field is wide open. For Easter, I selected two Argentinian wines for the TV segment, and think for the price, they offer great quality, though they aren’t Kosher for Passover.

Don David Torrontes a great white wine for Easter

Don David Torrontes

With about 1,500 acres of vineyards  5,500 feet above sea level, the Michel Torino Estate is a key player in the Cafayate Valley of Argentina. The winery was founded in 1892 by brothers Salvador and David Michel, and they produce a wide variety of wines from a malbec rose to cabernet sauvignion to pinot noir and more. In the TV segment, select the Don David Torrontes Reserve 2009 as a great white wine for Easter, and for $16, it’s great any time. The nose of this wine is absolutely beautiful, with soft white flowers and a slight melon note.  The palate shows some citrus and melon, and is light and quite delicious. It will pair well with chicken, sea food and shellfish, and as I mention in the segment, Thai food.

Don David Malbec perfect for your easter meal

Don David Malbec

As a red wine for Easter, I believe the Don David Mabec Reseve 2008 will be a fantastic wine selection. Malbec is a versatile wine, and it pairs well with beef or lamb prepared almost any way, as well as ham, which covers most of the meats at traditional Easter meals. Without any decanting this wine has a palate of simple red fruit, with restrained earthy notes. As it opens, the palate is powerful fruit of red cherries and a little chocolate, and shows definitely a bit more new world with it’s round flavor profile. The more this wine opens, the more dark the fruit gets, and the more complexities come out. With a price of about $15, it’s not only worth making an appearance on your Easter table, it may be the best value wine you can get for the holiday!

Of course, everyone is looking for the best wine for Easter, and Passover, and I’ve given just a few selections here. I’ll come back in a few days to offer some more Easter wine pairings, but I’d love to hear what you plan on serving this holiday season. Easter or Passover, what’s in your glass?

A Look a Red Wine Blends from Chile

Tasting Wines of Chile

Tasting Wines of Chile

As a wine writer, it  is sometimes difficult to know exactly what your audience will want to read. Do they want to know about wines that are fruity,  jammy and just easy to drink? Do they want to know about complex wines that have multiple layers of flavors or perhaps need food to be enjoyed? One thing I know, almost everyone drinking wine is focused on its quality to price ratio or QPR. I recently participated in an event that allowed me to taste some wines from Chile, typically known for it’s QPR wines. These wines ranged from $15 to $50, which may push the envelope for QPR wines, but they definitely were worth trying.

In the fourth such event, the PR folks from Wines of Chile sent eight wines, this time blends of different red grapes, to sample and write about. Over 40 wine writers had the opportunity to join Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer as he moderated a video conference with the eight Chilean winemakers in  Santiago, Chile. We had an absolute blast not only talking, but also joking with the winemakers to learn about them and their masterfully made wines. We had a fun time sipping and tweeting, and now writing about wines I’m excited to share with you.

Valdivieso Eclat 2005

Valdivieso Eclat 2005

The first wine of the evening was the Valdivieso Vineyard 2005 Eclat, from the Maule Valley. A blend of 56% Carignan, 24% Mourvedre and 20% Syrah, this wine retails for about $27.  The winemaker, Brett Jackson, was one of the only non-Chilean wine makers at the video conference, as he hails from New Zealand. The wine’s bouquet was bursting with lush red berries, fresh, and was very inviting. The palate was full and silky, with more earthy and spicy notes than the nose eludes to. It was the lightest of the eight wines, though full bodied, and even though it was aged 12 months in French Oak Barrels, the oak flavors were well integrated in the wine. I loved that Carignan was the predominant grape in this blend, as it’s often a subordinate blending grape. Carignan lends this wine it’s deep ruby coloring, and is typically high in acidity, making it a great food wine. You can throw a steak at this wine, and enjoy, though the winemaker recommends soft meats such as lamb, turkey, fish, or lightly sauced pasta.

De Martino Las Cruces 2006

De Martino Las Cruces 2006

The next red blend wine comes from the De Martino winery, founded in 1934 in Isla de Maipo, Chile. The blend of 66% Malbec and 34% Carmenere comes from a single vineyard planted in 1957 in the Cachapoal valley. While Malbec is a grape most associated with Argentina, Chile’s neighbor on the other side of the mountains, I’ve seen some great offerings from Chile. Wine Maker Marcelo Retamal has been with De Martino since 1996, and is very focused on the Terrior, or the location to grow the right grapes. The wine’s nose has a fantastic mint component, while the palate was a silky smooth symphony of great, dark flavors, subtle fruit and sweet spices. No flavor competes with another, and they work beautifully together. I found this wine very easy to sip on, and it worked nicely with the steak I had that evening.  The winemaker suggests pairing this wine hearty dishes such as lamb or venison. The De Martino Single Vineyard Old Bush Vines “Las Cruces” 2006 retails for about $45, and while not an inexpensive wine, I thought it was a wine worth trying at the price.

Estampa Gold Assemblage Carmenere 2008

Estampa Gold Assemblage Carmenere 2008

Our third red blend of the evening was the Estampa Gold Assemblage Carmenere 2008, from Colchagua Valley, Chile. A blend of 57% Carmenere, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc and 8% Petit Verdot, this dry red wine worked best with food. Winemaker Ricardo Baettig has been with Estampa since 2004, and his wines have earned quite a few awards. I noticed the nose, which was sweet red fruits reminding me of Hubba Bubba bubble gum with some woody brambles underneath, was nothing like the palate. The palate was very earthy, with tobacco and leather coming through. The wine was very typical Carmenere, which is a favorite varietal of mine, and was quite dry. The Estampa Gold Assemblage Carmenere retails for about $22.

Montes Liited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenere 2008

Montes Liited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenere 2008

While the Montes Limited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenere 2008 was the most inexpensive wine of the evening, it’s price was certainly not indicative of quality. Montes makes a number of different wines at different quality and price levels, and I’ve enjoyed many of them. Winemaker Aurelio Montes Del Campo joined the winery in 2007, and has a history of making premium wines in Chile. This 2008 Montes Limited Selection is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Camenere, and was aged in American oak for 6 months. The nose may be a bit awkward for some, and I can only describe it as a barnyard smell, but in a sexy way.  Think earthy, organic scents, almost primal in nature. Pair that with the palate of great earthiness, amazing spices, and subdued fruit, and you’ve got a very interesting wine at $15. One of the interesting notes of the tasting, Montes plays classical music in the barrel aging room 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and practices Feng Shui. Whatever they’re doing, I think it’s working!

I’ve got four more wines to discuss, but I’ll save them for tomorrows post.  I’m curious if you’ve had any of these Chilean wines before, and if so, your thoughts. If not these Chilean wines, how about sharing the last Chilean wine you had, even if it wasn’t a red blend! I’d LOVE to hear from you!

Introducing you to organic and biodynamic wines

I am not naive enough that you hadn’t been introduced to organic wines or biodynamic wines before we (digitally) met. I’d like to think that after watching my short segment from CBS Daybreak above, and reading the information here, you’ll go forward into the wine world a tad more enlightened about the methods the grapes are grown, and wines are made. Three minutes was hardly enough to scratch the surface of this topic, plus tell you about the three fantastic wines I brought on the show, so please read on.

I tend to shy away from marketing hype, and feel all too often people will toss words on labels to influence your buying habits. Make it “Eco Friendly” and suddenly you switch everything from vegetables to dish washing soap, regardless of it being a better product or not. I shied away from organic wines for that reasons, and one other; historically organic wines were lousy.  Whether it was just poor choices on my part, the lack of sulfites to qualify for the organic labeling, or my disposition to the hype, up until a few years ago, I wouldn’t consider recommending an organic wine.  Actually, I still rarely recommend organic wines, but rather recommend wines made from organically grown grapes.

For a wine to be labeled an “Organic Wine”, it must be made from grapes that are grown organically and have no added sulfites. The sulfites act as a preservative, prohibit fermentation in the bottle, and allow for production of consistent wines over time. The Organic Wine label doesn’t mean sulfite free, however.  In fact, all wines contain sulfites, and though most people tell me they have “Red Wine Headaches” from sulfites, white wine contains a slightly higher amount of sulfite than red. It’s a natural byproduct of the fermentation process, and can’t be eliminated (practically) from wine. Speaking of wine, lets cover those first, then the details on the growing practices.

Seresin Estate 2008 Sauvignon Blanc

Seresin Estate 2008 Sauvignon Blanc

In Marlborough, New Zealand there is a winery making wines via organic and biodynamic principles that rock. The Seresin Estate 2008 Sauvignon Blanc is sourced from their two certified organic vineyards, Home and Tatou, and is made from 95% Sauvignon Blanc and 5% Semillon. I positively disagree with the winemakers tasting notes, who says it displays grass on the nose with chalky mineral complexity. This wine is quite straightforward, taking a tangerine, and sprinkling it with lemon juice. It’s bright, flavorful, with a bursting bouquet to match the palate. I think of sunshine in a bottle, and promise you a bottle of this on your spring and summer table, with a few different types of goat cheese will have your guests thinking you’re a wine guru! The Seresin Estate 08 Sauvignon Blanc is about $21.

Montinore Estate 2008 Almost Dry Riesling

Montinore Estate 2008 Almost Dry Riesling

Globe trotting over to the US from New Zealand, we land in Oregon, where we are enjoying Montinore Estate 2008 Almost Dry Riesling. Labeled as grapes organically certified by Stellar Certification Services as well as Demeter Certified Biodynamic grapes, this bottle delivers a wide range of wine experiences. The nose has an incredible petrol scent, laced with sweet apricots. The palate is semi-sweet stone fruit, but crisp, not cloying. It has a medium mouth feel, and also sings when paired with goat cheese, but this wine can be paired with salads, seafood, or drank on it’s own quite nicely. This delicious white wine is available for under $15.

Odfjell - Orzada - Malbec

Odfjell - Orzada - Malbec

The last leg of our World Wine tasting takes us to Chile, which I’ve written about often. I firmly believe South America offers some fantastic values on great wines, and think Chile leads that charge. Dan Odfjell, a Norwegian shipping magnate, settled in Chile after falling in love with it, and began planning vineyards about 15 years ago. Odfjell makes a number of different lines on their 85 hectacres, and have vineyards in the Colchagua and Maipo Valley where their Carmenere comes from, as well as organically farmed vineyards in Cauquenes and Curico, where the Orzada Malbec comes from.

Malbec is typically an Argentine grape, but Odfjell does a great job with it. This wine has a bouquet of violets, and a palate of berries with the violets coming through as well. It’s a medium mouth feel and dry, while being delightful to just sip as the tannins aren’t too firm. Pair the Odfjell Orzada Malbec with some roasted or grilled meats, steaks or lamb chops for example, and it is fantastic. Definitely give this wine a good 30 minutes to decant and open up, or it’s a bit jammy on the palate and not it’s true potential. You can find the Odfjell Orzada Malbec for about $20.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, lets talk about the three types of “green” winemaking, sustainable, organic, and biodynamic.

Kris O’Connor, Executive Director of the Central Coast Vineyard Team pointed out that Sustainable farm practices “look at the whole farm – energy, water quality, habitat, water conservation, integrated pest management & people. Several of these issues aren’t necessarily specifically addressed in organic or biodynamic certification standards.” Some Central Coast Vineyard Team member vineyards are “Sustainability in Practice” certified, who’s wines I’ve enjoyed and written about such as Hahn Estates, Baileyana-Tangent, and Paraiso Vineyards.

Sustainable winemaking means that growers don’t use man-made chemicals to fertilize the vineyards to improve crop results. The growers will use natural fertilizers, composting and other cultivation methods to attract beneficial insects to the vines while feeding the plant. Additionally, sustainable farming practices will enrich the surrounding habitat, such as providing grazing areas for animals away from the vineyards so they don’t eat the crops, or restoring  nearby streams or rivers to enhance the entire local ecosystem. There are of course standards to be met, and upheld, to be certified sustainable by organizations such as SIP, much like in organic wine making.

Organic winemaking takes the basic premise of sustainable farming, and goes a step further. Organic vineyard management eliminates the use of not only chemical fertilizer, but any chemical pesticide, herbicide, or fungicide in the growing process. The vineyard will employ natural methods of controlling pests and vine threatening diseases, as well as promoting vine growth and health. However, just because the grapes are grown organically does not allow a wine to be labeled as organic. As I mentioned previously, the wine can have no added sulfites in addition to having organically farmed grapes to earn the “Organic Wine” label. Additionally, many wines will be produced organically, but not mention it on the label. Rather, they just let the quality of their wine speak for itself. There was an interesting piece on wines labeled as Organic, or Eco-Friendly, which sell for less.

Biodynamic winemaking takes sustainable, and organic farming to the next level. That next level does include a little bit of voodoo and witchcraft, with burying a cow horn full of cow manure on the Autumn equinox, and digging it up six months later on the Spring equinox to spread the contents in the vineyard. No, really. Biodynamic farming has it’s roots back in the lectures given by Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s. Quite a complex science and way of thinking, I can only summarize the biodynamic farming ideology by saying that it takes into account the spiritual forces of earth, animal, plants and brings them in line through a holistic, and natural approach to keeping them all healthy and in sync.

The crux of the methodology is the vineyard is a living system that is closed, and self-sustaining. It shares many of the attributes of organic farming; no pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, chemical fertilizers or other chemical preparations in the earth or vine.  Grapes are harvested by hand, and much if not all of the vineyard work is done manually without the use of powered machines. It then takes into account the rhythm of the universe, such as the use nine types of preparations to dynamize soil quality and stimulate plant life. The preparations are a mixture of extracts from minerals, plants, or animal manure. Furthermore, the farmers only sow and reap harvests according to principles they believe control the cosmos. For instance, wine is only racked under a new moon because sediment is at its most compact at this time. The tidal pull of a full moon causes it to puff up, insiders say. I could go on forever, talking about wines that are Demeter certified Biodynamic and what that means, but I think we’ve gotten the jist of it all.

What do you think about organic, biodynamic and sustainable wines? Do they impact your buying decisions? Now that you know about the differences, will it impact your buying decisions? Leave a comment below, I’ll be sure to reply, and possibly follow up via email! Cheers!