February 10, 2010

Wine of the day: Scharffenberger Brut NV bubbly


    The wine: Nonvintage Scharffenberger Brut sparkling wine, Anderson Valley, Calif.

    It's full-bodied, made with two-thirds pinot noir grapes and one-third chardonnay.

    It has a yeasty aroma and flavors of mangos and peaches.

    It's nice for sipping all by itself.

    But you know its perfect use: With a bucket of KFC fried chicken. Its crisp acids and active bubbles will scrub that fat off your tongue and leave you ready for the next bite.

    It's $20.

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February 08, 2010

Wine of the day: Carmel Road Pinot Noir


    A good pinot noir for $17 is nice to find. Here's one.

    It's the 2007 Carmel Road Pinot Noir, Monterey, California. It's rich, with violet aromas and blackberry and cinnamon flavors.

    Try it with grilled salmon. Or salmon sauteed in butter, maple syrup and soy sauce.


Posted by Fred Tasker at 05:45 PM
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February 05, 2010

Bubbly is super for Super Bowl


    Last minute tip for Super Bowl sipping!


    Cava, the Spanish name for sparkling wine, is the perfect sip for football parties. It's versatile and pleasurable. And cheap.


    The one shown here, Cordon Negro by Freixenet, is about $10 in your local supermarket. It has big, soft bubbles and green apple flavors. It goes well with seafood, tacos, chips & dips -- its scrubbing bubbles even match well with fried chicken.  And you'll find several more brands on the shelves.


    Cava also makes a nice sparkling wine punch. Just add a can of frozen concentrate from your favorite fruit, a bottle of soda and a bunch of ice.


    And give three cheers to the Who Dat? Nation.    

Posted by Fred Tasker at 01:41 PM
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February 04, 2010

Muscular wines for Super Bowl fans


   Try serving wine at a tailgate party or while watching the big game on your 42-inch flat-screen and your average football fan friend is likely to call you an effete snob. And then go back to guzzling wan, tasteless light beer.
   How to get around this? Serve manly, muscular wines.
   If you're a Saints fan, you might be cooking spicy Cajun barbecue shrimp
laced with garlic and cayenne.
   As for Colts fans, I Googled “Indiana'' and “tailgate food'' and came up with “Wazzu Indiana Tailgate Chili'' with habanero and jalapeno chiles, cayenne, black pepper and Tabasco sauce. Whoo!

   Here are half a dozen wines that can stand up to a 400-pound lineman:

ø‚2007 Mettler Fam
ily Vineyards îEpicen
ter' Lodi Old-Vine Zin
fandel: A perfect match
for spicy food, this is huge,
with 15.6 percent alcohol.
It's big and warm and rich,
with black raspberry and
spicy black pepper flavors
and big but ripe tannins.
$25. (Highly recom
   ø‚2007 Fess Parker
White Riesling, Santa
Barbara County: A muscu
lar white wine? Well, it's
not really so muscular. But
it has a hint of sweetness,
which is a wonderful thing
with spicy food. It has fla
vors of golden apples and
nuts, with good crisp
acids. If you roast a pig at
your tailgate party, this is
your quaff. And, yes, the
winery is owned by the
actor who used to portray
Davy Crockett. Probably
goes with b'ar meat. $12.
(Highly recommended.)
   ø‚2007 Albarino
Brandal by Adegas D'Al
tamira, Rias Baixas, Spain:
Yes, another white wine.
The Galicians of north
west Spain drink this with
octopus, so it'll certainly
handle your grilled
shrimp. It's crisp, has
intense grapefruit flavors
and a slightly bitter
almond finish. $15. (Highly
   ø‚2006 San Leonino
Chianti Classico, DOCG:
The Italians drink this
with those three-pound
Tuscan steaks they lace
with rosemary and grill to
perfection. It's full-bodied,
with powerful black
cherry flavors and muscu
lar tannins. $20. (Recom
   ø‚2005 Mazzocco
Petite Sirah, Aguilera, Dry
Creek Valley: Petit sirahs
are famous for their mus
cle. If you bagged a wild
boar or even just a deer for
your tailgate party, this is
your wine. It tastes like
black cherries and licorice,
with powerful acids and
tannins. $35. (Recom
   ø‚2007 Kendall-
Jackson Syrah, Calif.:
Syrahs are a little like zin
fandels … big, rich and
almost sweet, great with
spicy food. This one has
black plum and cinnamon
flavors and big but ripe
tannins. $14. (Recom

Posted by Fred Tasker at 05:59 PM
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January 28, 2010

Cool-weather chardonnays are a hit


     My, how we love chardonnay. It made up 26 percent of all the wine we drank in 2007, far ahead of cabernet sauvignon at 15 percent. It's the equivalent of bellying up to the bar and asking for a glass of chardonnay more than 3 billion times.
     In part it's because chardonnay can be anything we want. Grow it in cool weather, ferment it in stainless steel tanks and it's crisp, with intense fruit flavors.
     Grow it in warmer climes, make it in oak barrels and it takes on flavors of toast, butter, pineapple jam, even caramel.
Gone is the 1990s practice of giving chardonnay too much oak barrel aging, turning out wines that smelled like a sawmill. Winemakers have gone subtle with the oak these days and in some cases, as with Round Hill, done without it altogether.
     Today, California growers like to plant chardonnay in the state's cooler areas, often getting all of their grapes from a single vineyard to make wines with singular flavors.
     Patz & Hall gets the grapes for its Dutton Ranch chardonnay from one in vineyard Sonoma's cool Russian River Valley. So does Hayman Hill, for its reserve chardonnay. Pine Ridge winery gets chardonnay from Napa Valley's cool Carneros region, which gets morning fog from nearby San Pablo Bay.
    Imported chardonnays follow similar trends. New Zealand's Craggy Range gets grapes from that country's cool Hawke's Bay region. Its single vineyard Gimblett Gravels Vineyard chardonnay is from Hawke's Bay.
 Overall, it's better chardonnay than we were drinking 10 years ago.

   ø‚2007 Oakville
Ranch Chardonnay,
Napa Valley: aromas and
flavors of mangoes and
apricots, hint of minerals,
big and rich; $40.
  ø‚2008 Round Hill
Oak Free Chardonnay,
Calif.: aromas and flavors of green pears,
nicely crisp, intense fruit; $12.
   ø‚2007 Craggy
Range Les Beaux Calloux Chardonnay,
Gimblett Gravels Vineyard,
Hawke's Bay, New Zealand: aromas
of vanilla and toast, flavors of orange
and apricots, very rich; $50.

   ø‚2007 Pine Ridge Dijon Clones
Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa
Valley: aromas and flavors
of ripe peaches; crisp and
lively; $25.
   ø‚2007 Hayman Hill
Reserve Chardonnay,
Russian River Valley: ripe
peach and mango aromas
and flavors, hint of minerals; $15.
   ø‚2007 Patz & Hall
Dutton Ranch Chardonnay, Russian River
Valley, Sonoma: aromas of
peaches, flavors of ripe
golden delicious apples,
hint of minerality; $39.
   ø‚2008 Craggy Range Kidnappers
Vineyard' Chardonnay, Hawkes Bay,
New Zealand: minerally, steely and
lean, with intense lemon-
lime flavors; $20.
   ø‚2007 William Hill
Chardonnay, Napa Valley: floral
aroma,  golden apple flavors,
crisp; $22.
   ø‚2007 Toasted
Head Chardonnay, California:
ripe pear and apple
aromas and flavors, very
rich; $12.
   ø‚2008 Blackstone
Chardonnay, Monterey
County: aromas and flavors of
mangoes, peaches;
soft and sweet; $8.
   ø‚2008 St. Supery
Oak Free Chardonnay,
Napa: green apple aromas
and flavors; light and
crisp; $20.
   ø‚2007 Benziger
Family Winery Chardonnay,
Carneros: floral
aromas, ripe apricot flavors,
rich and dry; $18.
   ø‚2007 St. Francis
Chardonnay, Sonoma
County: ripe lemon-lime
aromas and flavors; crisp
and dry; $15.

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January 20, 2010

Fair Trade wines hit the South Florida market


   Are you one of those people who recycles bottles, carries a canvas bag to the supermarket and drives a gas-sipping hybrid car? Then you're the perfect market for a new line of organic, fair trade wines just arriving in the United States.
   Pretty good wines, too, including a lively, fruity torrontes and a deeply aromatic malbec. In trying them, you can support a growing worldwide organization that's trying to help small producers get a fair shake.
   “They're catching on,'' says distributor Daniel Menendez of Biagio Cru and Estate Wines. “We put little signs on the shelves so people can read about what it does for workers, with a percentage of money going to schools and hospitals in Argentina.''
   In South Florida, the wines are available at Publix, Winn-Dixie and Milams supermarkets.
   Fair trade is a political and social movement with roots in 1960s Europe that aims to help small farmers compete in the world economy. Its members include producers of wine in Argentina, coffee in Mexico and Peru and bananas in Costa Rica. It organizes co-ops, seeks minimum prices and promotes fair labor conditions, direct contact with importers and ecologically sustainable production methods.
   In the U.S., fair trade products are certified by TransFair USA, a private organization that audits prices and practices. The approach has its critics. Some economists say fair trade pricing policies encourage small farmers to overproduce, creating a spiral of
flooded markets and falling prices.
   La Riojana Cooperativa, created in 2006, is an agricultural co-op in northern Argentina with 510 members, mostly small growers with fewer than 15 acres of vines. Its Ecologica line of organic wines donates a small percentage of its proceeds to a fund to build a
water system and high school for the village of Tilimuqui, Argentina.
   In its first U.S. releases, La Riojana is emphasizing the two grapes that are putting Argentina on the map: torrontes, a crisp white wine that may be related to gewurztraminer, and malbec, once a muscular grape added to French Bordeaux wines to give them backbone,
today grown softer and richer on the sunny slopes of the Andes.
   Oh, and they're bottled with screw caps, so you don't have to worry about wines spoiled by bad corks.

   ø‚2008 La Riojana îîSanta Florentina'' Malbec, Famatina Valley, Argentina: deep purple color, with ripe red plum aromas and flavors, ripe tannins; $9.

   ø‚2008 La Riojana îîSanta Florentina'' Torrontes, Famatina Valley, Argentina: intense lychee aromas, flavors of citrus and ripe peaches, crisp and lively: $9.
   ø‚2008 La Riojana “Ecologica'' Torrontes/Chardonnay, La Rioja, Argentina: pineapple and citrus aromas and flavors, rich and fruity; $15.
   ø‚2008 La Riojana “Ecologica'' Syrah/Malbec, La Rioja, Argentina: aromas and flavors of black plums and spice, ripe tannins; $15.


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January 18, 2010

Despite recession, optimists opening new wineries


     Can you believe that, even though wine sales are hurting, wineries are laying off workers, Winebusiness.com says hopeful investors opened 122 more wineries in the United States in 2009?

      As the cliché goes, it’s a triumph of hope over experience.

      It’s also surprising to see that California has fewer than half of the wineries in the U.S. Only 49 percent. There are 10 other states that have over 100 wineries each.

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January 14, 2010

Judging competition finds some tasty wines

     It's an abundance of riches: The annual San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition gives its 60 or so judges a chance to sample wines from all over the country, with 4,913 wine entries from 23 states. And it gives us a chance to tell our readers about some really nice wines.

     * Dry Sparkling Wine: Nonvintage J Vineyards Brut Rosé, Russian River Valley,
Calif.: active bubbles, red apple flavors; $35.
     * White Wine: 2008 Keuka Springs Vineyard Gewürztraminer, Finger Lakes, N.Y.; crisp, dry lychee flavors; $20.
     *  Pink Wine: 2008 Bray Vineyards Barbera Rosato, Shenandoah Valley, Calif.: intense, sweet-tart strawberry flavors; $17.
     * Red Wine: 2007 Graton Ridge Cellars Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Paul Family Vineyard, Calif.: intense black cherry aromas and flavors; $40.
     * Dessert Wine: 2008 Watermill Winery Late Harvest GewÉrztraminer, Walla Walla Valley, Washington; medium sweet, intense lychee aromas and flavors; $14.

   Here are some of my favorites among the gold medal winners:
     *  2008 Robert Hall Sauvignon Blanc, Paso Robles; intense feline aroma, French
Sancerre style; $14.
     * 2008 Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Valley, Calif.: intense lemon-lime aromas and flavors, crisp; $16.
     * 2008 Navarro Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Cuvée 128, Mendocino, Calif.: sweet, spicy grapefruit flavors; $18.
     * 2008 Hess Collection Winery Sauvignon Blanc, Allomi Vineyard, Napa Valley, Calif.: sweet cut-grass aromas, lemon flavors; $18.
     * 2008 Brassfield Estate Sauvignon Blanc, High Serenity Ranch, High Valley, Calif.: dry, tart-pineapple aromas and flavors; $16.

RHONE WINES (All prices)
     * 2007 Sarah's Vineyard Carignane, Santa Clara Valley, Calif.: black cherry and sweet chocolate flavors, very rich; $30.
     * 2008 Black Sheep Vintners Cinsault, California; sweet red plum flavors; $20.
     * 2007 Kenneth Volk Vineyards Mourvedre, Lime Kiln: intense black plum and bitter  chocolate flavors; $36.

PINOT NOIR ($20-$25)
     * 2008 Willowbrook Cellars Pinot Noir, Sonoma County, Calif.: black cherries and
sweet chocolate; $24.
     * 2008 Rodney Strong Vineyards Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Calif.: tart black
cherries and bitter chocolate; $20.
     * 2007 Carmel Road Winery Pinot Noir, Monterey County, Calif.: sweet black cherries and milk chocolate; $20.

CHARDONNAY  ($8-$10):
     * 2008 McManis Family Vineyard Chardonnay, River Junction, Calif.; tart lemon-lime aromas and flavors; $10.
     * 2008 Round Hill Chardonnay, California: intense tart pineapple aromas and flavors,
tart finish; $8.

MUSCATS (all prices):
     * 2008 Benessere Vineyards Muscat, Napa Valley, Calif.: pure
orange aromas and flavors, spritzy; $18.
     * 2008 Solis Winery Muscat Canelli, Santa Clara Valley, Calif.: intense tangerine aromas, lush, crisp and fruity, lightly sweet; $12.

     * 2007 Muscardini Cellars Syrah, Sonoma Valley, Calif.: black plum liqueur and mocha, light tannins; $38.
     * 2006 Miller Vineyards Syrah, Fair Play, Calif.: sweet red plums and mocha; $35.
     * 2005 Farella Park Vineyards Syrah, Napa Valley: intense, sweet black cherry and mocha flavors, ripe tannins; $30.


Posted by Fred Tasker at 04:49 PM
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September 17, 2009

Colorful winemaker from Down Under


    Chris Hancock has been watching you eat and says he has you figured out. When you're dining, you don't bother with the sniff-sip-and-slosh method of drinking wine, he says. You just drink it.
    “People take a bite of food, somebody pours them a glass of wine, they put it up to their mouth and drink it,'' says Hancock, executive director of Robert Oatley Vineyards in Australia. “It's that first impact that wins them over. If you get the texture right, you've got them.''
  By “texture,'' he means the way the wine feels in your mouth, its flavors, the way the tannin kicks in at the back of your palate, the way the flavors linger.
 “People taste the wine, not blueberries or something. They don't want a short hit that disappears.''
     Hancock admires what the French call the “artifice'' of making wine … not something artificial, but something added to the wine. A hint of oak-barrel aging, for example.
     “It's like using spices in cooking. If you can taste them, you've used too much.''
     Talking about wine this way, of course, is so abstruse it gets us wine fans labeled as snobs. Which is odd, because if we devoted equal time and admiration to discussing, say, Star Trek, we'd simply be called nerds.
     But when the affable, garrulous Hancock speaks this way, only passion comes across.
     Robert Oatley Vineyards is a 3-year-old venture put together by Oatley, a well-known Aussie yachting racer, and Hancock, his long-time wine-making colleague.
     They control 1,350 acres of vines spread over 3,000 miles of southern Australia. I tasted and wrote about some of these wines a year ago; now they have matured and opened up to riper flavors.
     Hancock's favorite Oatley wine is its cabernet sauvignon/merlot. It's a classic cab, he says, not the typical Australian effort.
     “Australian cabernets have an image of being cheap, fruit-bomb wines, syrupy, alcoholic Robert Parker wines, which are horrible.''
     This is a little jibe at wine author Parker, who tends to praise somewhat bombastic wines.
     For all his outspoken nature, Hancock lets you know he doesn't take himself too seriously.
     “I just like to rabbit on about wine,'' he says.

     ø 2008 Robert Oatley Rose of Sangiovese, Mudgee, New South Wales:  pretty, rose-copper color, tart strawberry and raspberry flavors, creamy, very dry: $18.
     ø 2007 Robert Oatley Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, New South Wales: intense, classical cassis aroma, black raspberry flavors, firm tannin, bright fruit and acid, lively; $20.

     ø 2008 Robert Oatley Pinot Grigio, South Australia: crisp, saliva-inducing acids, green pear flavors, crisp, bright; $18.
     ø 2008 Robert Oatley Sauvignon Blanc, Western Australia: sprightly and rich, with white grapefruit flavors; $18.
      ø 2007 Robert Oatley Chardonnay, Mudgee, New South Wales: intense, ripe pineapple aromas, mineral and vanilla flavors, smooth, sweet-tart and spicy; $18.
     ø 2007 Robert Oatley Shiraz, Mudgee, New South Wales: mint and black cherries, intense aroma, chalky dry, with a hint of tart tannin on the finish; $20.


Posted by Fred Tasker at 11:02 AM
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August 06, 2009

Unexpected pleasures in wine

  Here are some wines you don't see every day. But they can be delightful, so I want to tell you about them. These aren't supermarket wines, for the most part. You'll have to visit your local wine shop -- which is a nice idea anyway on a hot and steamy Saturday in the doggiest days of summer.


   I've been a wine judge a time or two at the Indiana State Fair, where they make you pay your dues by judging a couple of flights of amateur wines made in kitchens and garages before you get to the good stuff.

   Petit sirah can be a hard, rough-tannin, high-acid wine if made improperly, and some of those amateur ones felt as if they were going to take the enamel off my teeth. Professional California winemakers, on the other hand, have learned the technique to it, turn ing out smooth, intense, opulent, liqueur-like wines that are wonderful with big beef, wild game, hard cheeses or even dark chocolate.

   • 2006 Concannon Vineyard Petite Sirah, Central Coast: hint of oak in the aroma; flavors of blackberries and cinnamon; very smooth and full-bodied; $15. (highly

   • 2006 Captain Joe's Petite Sirah by Concannon, Livermore Valley: black cherries
and bittersweet chocolate; rich, concentrated and smooth; $30. (Recommended.)

   • 2007 Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection Petite Sirah, California aromas and flavors of black raspberries and vanilla; powerful and smooth; $20. (Recommended.)


   "Summation'' is the apt name Kendall Jackson gave to its multi-grape white blend. It appears to be the summation of every white grape they ever grew from every California wine region from which theyever got grapes.

   Summation is 31 percent sauvignon blanc, 18 percent chardonnay, 13 percent semillon, 11 percent viognier, 9 percent pinot blanc, 8 percent roussanne, 4 percent marsanne, 3 percent grenache blanc, 1 percent gewürztraminer and 1 percent chenin blanc. It comes from eight California wine regions, from Mendocino to Santa Barbara.

   • 2008 Summation Vintner's Reserve, California: a dry wine with a tiny hint of sweetness; aromas and flavors of grapefruit, peaches and golden apples; $17. (Recommended.)


   This exotic wine from the northern reaches of Hungary is aged in caves dug in the 1300s for protection from invading Turks. It was the wine of emperors, turned medio-
cre after World War II by decades of overproduction under Soviet domination, then brought back brilliantly by outside investors and experts after the fall of communism. It's a sweet dessert wine for fruit tarts and such. And, because of its concentrated, glycerine- filled mouth feel, it's also the counterintuitive but perfect match for foie gras.

   • 2005 Royal Tokaji Red Label, 5 Puttonyos, Hungary: thick and rich, with intense flavors of honey, orange peel cinnamon; crisp with balancing acid; very sweet; $41 per two-thirds (500 milliliter) bottle. (Highly recommended.)


Posted by Fred Tasker at 11:37 AM
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