Category Archives: Wine

NOTE: Find more wine reviews under the “wine tasting” category.

Caveats to my winery/wine reviews

I generally prefer bold flavored wines and lots of oak. I like my white wines on the sweet side, I usually prefer oakey Chardonnays, and my red wines heavy. I used to be almost totally into Cabernet Sauvignons, but in recent years I’ve started to prefer Zinfandels. I like Merlots and Malbecs, but I usually find them too mellow for my taste buds. I’m usually not a fan of Pinot Noirs, and I used to really dislike Syrahs, but they’ve been growing on me lately. Finally, I don’t like fortified wines.

I usually cannot identify specific flavors in wine. A wine may taste flowery or fruity to me, but don’t ask me which flower or which fruit it is. Mostly I concentrate on the things that scream to me: how balanced the wine seems, how full, how alcoholic/tannic/acidic, basically, how much I enjoy drinking it :-)

Cupcake Vineyards Chardonnay – 2007

cupcakechard.jpgSomeone must have brought this wine to my wine-and-cheese birthday party a few months back, because I don’t remember buying it. I did put it in the fridge, however, and it came out this weekend when I threw a very small BBQ. I’m glad it did, because it’s a very good wine and one that I’d definitely want to have again.
This Chardonnay comes from the Central Coast and does not fulfill the stereotype of California Chardonnays as being very heavy and oaky. It’s crisp, with a nice balance of sweet to tart, and bare hints of fruit and butter. It’s easy to drink, but complex and layered enough to stand up to food. I had it with a marinated tri-tip and it went quite well with it. The leftovers kept well in the refrigerator for a few days.
In all, a very good wine, specially for its $12 retail price. The only problem is that I don’t know where to buy it.

Condesa de Sarabella 2007 garnacha

Condesa de Sarabella garnacha is a perfectly fine table, every day wine. It’s crisp, but still medium-to-full bodied, light tannins and no oakiness, or smoke or earthiness or anything really to distract you. There is no unnecessary sharpness or acidity (or even bitterness) either, sometimes found in wines at this price range. It basically tastes like everyday wine – something that you won’t be ashamed to serve your guests for a regular meal (let’s have something nicer for a more special one), but that at $5 doesn’t break our recession-era budgets.
I bought it at Trader Joe’s, of course, and I may pick up a couple of other bottles just to have around. It also seems like a good wine to open when you are making a dish that requires just one cup of wine, and you want to drink the rest of the bottle (personally I cook with 2-bucks-chuck, but I don’t drink it if I don’t have to – this is significantly better than chuck).

Wine tasting in the East Bay

Believe it or not there are over a dozen wineries in the East Bay (see East Bay Vintners). Five of them even have tasting rooms in our backyard. I’ve been wanting to visit them for quite a while, but I don’t like the idea of going wine tasting with the kids on tow, so I had to wait until the kids were visiting the grandparents. Fortunately this was the case yesterday, so with not very much driving (by Mike, of course) I got to experience what the East Bay has to say about wine.

Our first stop was Rosemblum Cellars in Alameda. This is a HUGE winery, they produce 64 different wines and half-a-million cases a year. It’s pretty surprising, then, that I don’t recall ever having Rosemblum wine. It’s not that surprising that I won’t in the future either. I wasn’t impressed by the four complimentary wines that we were offered. I felt they all had very light-bodies (I like heavy wines myself), and very subdued flavors.

The 2007 Cote du Bone Blanc ($14), a white wine made out of several different grapes, had almost no flavor. There was somewhat of a fruity finish and some acidity, but little else. The 2006 Paso Robles Zinfandel ($18 – they have 26 different zinfs), had a heavier body (though still light) and some hints of oak. For that reason I liked it and so did Mike – but I doubt the wine is flavorful enough to stand up to food. The 2006 Rhodes Vineyard Grenache was grossly overpriced at $25. It had little flavor, with a slight tannin finish. Finally, the 2006 Maggie’s Reserve Zinfandel ($45) also had a very light body and some hints of tannins. Mike liked it for some reason, I thought it was a waste of grapes.

What I disliked the most, though, was the unbelievably hard sell the wine attendant gave us. They really want you to join their wine club (apparently wine clubs are the bread & butter of wineries), and as their wines are so widely available, the pitch is that you can go to the winery and have as many reserve tastings as you want (otherwise they are $8 for 5 wines). They also have special events for members only (as do most wineries). I guess if you liked their wines and had plenty of free time, that may make sense for you – but that’s definitely not our case. But they guy went on and on and on, on why we should join, even after we had firmly refused. It was pretty uncomfortable. Needless to say, we won’t be going back. For those who do, the winery offers different wines for tasting every week, other wines may be better.

Our second stop was Lost Canyon Winery in Oakland, which apparently has lost its tasting room. We did see a large door that suggested there was a tasting room in the building once upon a time, but no other indication of a winery in the premises. I’ll have to e-mail them and find out what the deal is.

Undeterred, we headed to our next stop, J.C. Cellars, which shares a tasting room with Dashe Cellars near Jack London Square in Oakland. The experience here was MUCH better. The wine attendants were very nice and pleasant, and there wasn’t any type of hard sell. These are also much smaller wineries, J.C. Cellars, for example, only produces 5500 cases annually. Both wineries have a $5 tasting fee – but we had gotten coupons for a free tasting at the Women of Taste fundraiser for Girls Inc.. Great way to save $20!

Our first tasting at Dashe was of the 2007 Dry Riesling from Mendocino county ($20). It’s an organic wine, very fruity and somewhat sweet. It’s very nice, good for sipping and would go well with my favorite salad. A little expensive for a white, though. We followed with a 2006 Florence Vineyard Zinfandel, from Dry Creek Valley ($32). It had a medium body, some oak and light acidity. For some reason, it reminded me of a Cab. I think it’d go well with pork or lamb – but again, I thought it was too expensive. At the same price point was the 2006 Todd Brother Ranch Zinfandel, from Alexander Valley. It tasted of darker fruit, it had more tannins and a medium body. It was a nice all around wine. I wasn’t too crazy about the 2006 Louvau Vineyard Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley ($32). It had a stronger start, a medium body and light tannins. Mike liked it, though. The 2004 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($38) is done in the Bordeaux style, with a little Merlot and Petit Bordeaux to compliment it. It had a medium to heavy body, with noticeable tannins and light fruit. There were some traces of oak in the finish. It’d go well with meat.

Finally, and after tasting at J.C. Cellars, we had the 2007 Late Harvest Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley ($24 for a 375 ml bottle). I really liked it, it was different from white dessert wines, almost with an essence of port to it (though clearly it’s not a fortified wine, which makes it more palatable for me). It was sweet, as you’d expect, but had levels of depth; it was very balanced. We tasted it with some dark chocolate, and it did compliment it very well. I would have bought a bottle if we ever actually drank the dessert wines we buy. Since we rarely entertain (or rather, have dinner parties) any more, we rarely have the occasion to drink them, we need to start doing it on our own.

The wines at J.C. Cellar are considerably cheaper than at Dashe – and I wasn’t cracy about many of them. I didn’t like the first one we tried, a 2006 Preston Vineyard Marsanne from Dry Creek Valley ($12). It was too light for my taste, with some hints of fruit and oak, but not enough. The 2007 Stagecoach Vineyard Rose from Napa Valley was only $7 but didn’t taste like a rose at all. There was no sweetness, it was too dry and had an earthy finish. Not my thing. I did like the 2004 Ventana Vineyard Syrah from Arroyo Seco ($30). I’m not a Syrah person, but this one had a nice body, notes of earth and chocolate and a nice finish. The 2005 Caldwell Vineyard Syrah from Napa Valley ($45) wasn’t that different form the previous wine. It also had hints of chocolate and tobacco, and it was easy to drink. I liked it. Our last red wine was the 2005 a la Cave Syrah ($40). It was drier and more tannic than the previous wines, and I also liked it.

We finished our tasting here with a 2005 Late Harvest Viognier from Lodi ($24 for 375 ml bottle). I liked it a lot, it had the right amount of sweetness (which means it wasn’t sickly sweet), with hints of honey and peach nectar. Again, I’d buy it if we ever drank dessert wines.

And that was it. No pressure whatsoever to buy or join their wine club; nice, friendly attendants and a very nice tasting experience.

After these wineries, we made our way to Periscope Cellars, which now share a tasting room with Urbano Cellars in Emeryville. We started tasting at Urbano, a tiny winery that only produces 600 cases a year. Our first wine was the 2007 Vin Rose from Solano County ($14). The wine was pleasant, but it lacked the sweetness and fruitiness I was expecting on a rose. Both were more evident in the 2008 Nouveau, also from Solano County ($14). The wine had a medium body and I think it would stand up to meat. The 2006 Dry Creek Syrah ($19) was nicely balanced, had easy tannins and a medium-full body. I really liked it, specially for a Syrah. I also liked the 2006 Petit Verdot from Lodi ($16). It was well balanced, with hints of chocolate and just nice. But what I ended up buying was the 2005 Zinfandel from Solano County ($18). It had a very concentrated, caramel-like taste, but wasn’t particularly alcoholic. It was nicely balanced with a concentrated fruit finish. I’d pair it with meats or bbq (though really, I don’t tend to drink wine in the middle of the day, when we usually have BBQ).

I was read to stop drinking at this time, but I was convinced by the guy at Periscope to give them a try – still, I wonder to what degree I was competent to really evaluate their wines by then. That said, I liked their 2006 Sangiovese ($22). It was light, with a mineral start and well balanced. The 2006 Pinot Noir ($24), was heavier in that fortified wine way. Not my thing. The 2006 Deep 6 ($24), a blend of cab, syrah and many other grapes, had a medium to full body, was deep and caramelish. I liked it as well.

The guys serving at both counters were very nice and clearly passionate about what they do. There was no pressure at all about buying, and no mention of a wine club. Tasting at both places was free.

In all, we had a great day of wine tasting. The pours at all the wineries were very generous, much more that in particular wine regions, and the conversation easier. I’d definitely go again next year, to sample the new offerings in wine. I’d skip Rosenblum, however.

Red Diamond Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

I bought this wine at Trader Joe’s yesterday, I think for about $7, give or take a dollar. It was one of the wines being promoted. We had it last night with the Patagonian roasted lamb with apple-curry sauce, and it actually went pretty well. I found the Red Diamond to be all in all a pleasant wine, but a bit too acidic. It didn’t have the balance of an older or more expensive wine. But it was moderately fruity, with light tannins and perfectly OK to drink.
I probably wouldn’t buy it again, because it’s not special enough to merit a second try, but I won’t mind drinking the leftovers tonight 🙂

2004 Deloach Sonoma County Zinfandel

deloach.jpgThe second wine I served at our Xmas Eve dinner was a 2004 Deloach Sonoma County Forgotten Vines Zinfandel that I had bought at the winery years before. At $35 this is close to the most I’ve ever spent on a wine – so I had great expectations for it. I had, of course, liked it at the winery – but I’m not sure to what degree you can trust your taste buds when you go wine tasting.
I was concerned about this bottle as soon as I opened it. First, the cork broke a little bit when I tried to take it out with my rabbit corkscrew – I was successful with a regular corkscrew, however. I love the rabbit, but it does fail to work on many a cork.
Then the cork was half way wet (not just the bottom but the sides). That concerned me that the wine had gone bad, but it tasted fine. And it did. It was a good wine, dark, balanced, with stature. I tasted like an adult wine for adults, its dark fruit had settled in, there weren’t any shouting flavors; a fine wine. It just wasn’t an amazing wine. It wasn’t what I’d consider a $35 wine.
Now, that may be because I was unconsciously comparing it to the Hess wine I’d served with Hanukkah dinner – which was vastly superior (and twice as expensive), or because it had gone somehow bad – but it just didn’t allure me. Oh well.

2005 Treana white wine

treanna.jpgFor Xmas Eve dinner I served a couple of wines. We started with a wine wine, a 2005 Treana Central Coast, Mer Soleil Vineyard wine composed of 50% Marsanne and 50% Viognier. It’s yet another wine I won at a raffle/auction (yes, I participate in a fair number of those things). The wine retails at about $27 dollars – which means it was a wash with what I spent on tickets, but it was a good cause 🙂 .
The wine was actually very good, and it got accolades at my Xmas Eve dinner. I thought it was pretty sweet, almost competing with a dessert wine. It was pretty fruity, and very nicely balanced. It also managed to keep its flavor through the different courses I served with it (bread & olive oil/salad with balsamic vinaigrette/butternut squash soup/crostinis with mushrooms & artichoke dip). In all, if you like sweetish wines, this is definitely one you should consider.

1999 Hess Collection Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

I have seldom liked a wine more than the 1999 Hess Collection Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. I served it last night with Hannukah dinner (though as a second wine, after people had finished eating dinner) to great acclaim. The wine was wonderfully balanced, with a rich flavor. There were hints of black berries and just the right amount of oak (I’m big on oaky wines, which this one was not, but I did appreciate what a measured amount of it could add to a wine). It had medium tannins – even though it’s an 8 year old wine, they weren’t close to overwhelming it. I served the wine a little bit chilled (just because it’s winter, and the temperature of my house is not that warm), and I think it was perfect.
I won the wine at a political fundraiser raffle (I can’t believe someone actually donated it!), but I think it’s well worth the $65 price it supposedly has. I’m really glad that I was able to share it with friends.

Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Zinfandel 2006

coppolazin.jpgI first discovered the Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Merlot at a dinner at Rick and Ann’s. I’m not a merlot person but I, as well as everyone else at the table, really liked it. Later, we enjoyed a bottle with Thanksgiving dinner to great accolades.
I wanted to try other wines from the collection and last night was the turn of the Zinfandel. I didn’t like the wine at all – I found it overly bitter. I’m not sure what else I can say about it, because the bitterness and dryness overwhelmed any other aspect of the wine. I’m not sure what my guests thought of it, because nobody said anything about it (everyone, however, praised the Hess Collection Reserve Cab, reviewed on my next post).
So thumbs down for the Coppola Zin.

Chalone Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006

chalone.jpgNeither Mike nor I have been drinking much wine lately, so it was very deliberately that I opened this bottle of pinot noir to accompany dinner last night. We have the wine, we should be drinking it.
I don’t know how I obtained this bottle in the first place, but I’m definitely glad I did. Drinking it by itself, before dinner, this pinot noir was close to a perfect sipping wine. It had the right proportion of fruitiness to oak, a medium body that did not leave you looking for more, and a smooth finish. It tasted very balanced, with a limited amount of acidity. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for other bottles. This may very well be the first wine I have from Monterey county – yet another area I had dismissed as marginal to the California wine world – but I’ll definitely try to visit the winery if I’m ever in the area.
All this said, the wine didn’t go well with dinner. I made Braised Lamb Shanks with Coriander, Fennel, and Star Anise, an unusual tasting dish with bold pepper & fennel flavors, and this wine lost its smoothness, edge and oakiness in the face of such spice. I’m also not sure it’d stand up to other strong flavors. I think it’d be great with a chicken stew, some milanesas or fetuccini alfredo.

2006 Pascual Toso Malbec

pascual.jpgI got this Argentine wine at Trader Joe’s a few weeks ago. Being Argentinian, I’m always in the look for promising & cheap wines from my country. This wine is one of those perfectly drinkable, not challenging and yet not empty wines that occupy the middle of the road of the wine world. It’s a perfectly fine dinner wine, but not one you’d sip for pleasure alone.
It has a medium body and very light tanins. Flavors of dark cherries and blackberries, a dry fruitiness. It has a smooth finish and very light pepper.