Non-California

Review: 2010 Terrenal Cabernet Sauvignon; Kosher Wine

My dad is what I like to call a cafeteria Jew. He picks and chooses what he wants to follow. Same goes for how kosher he is. He’ll eat lobster, but when it comes to wine, he’ll only buy kosher wine.

Celebrating Hanukah at my parent’s house, he brought out his favorite Kosher wine: Terrenal’s Cabernet Sauvignon.

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It’s a simple, dry Cabernet Sauvignon. I tasted a bitter grapefruit flavor, but I was the only one. Other guests described it as a tart berry. Not overly special, but great quality for the price. It’s not bad for $3.99 at Trader Joe’s! Speaking of under $5 wines, it beats the Green Fin.

So what makes a wine kosher?

According to Wine Spectator:

Kosher wine is made just like other table wine, with an extra set of rules to make it consistent with Jewish dietary law. In order for a wine to be deemed kosher (Yiddish for “proper” or “fit”), it must be made under the supervision of a rabbi. The wine must contain only kosher ingredients (including yeast and fining agents), and it must be processed using equipment rabbinically certified to make kosher wines. No preservatives or artificial colors may be added. The wine can only be handled — from the vine to the wineglass — by Sabbath-observant Jews, unless the wine is mevushal.

Mevushal wines, unlike ordinary kosher wines, can be handled and served by non-Jews. To be considered mevushal, a wine must be heated to 185 degrees F.

Nuts and Bolts

  • Winery: Terrenal
  • Type: Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Origin: Yecla, Spain
  • Vintage: 2010
  • Price: $3.99
  • Alcohol content: 13.5%
  • When to drink: When you’re off to a Passover Seder, be thoughtful and bring along this Kosher for Passover wine.

What’s the most expensive wine?

I was thinking the other day about how much would be too much to pay for a bottle of wine.

Then I saw that 12 bottles of Romanee-Conti sold for $474,000–or $39,500 each– over the weekend. That was the most any case of wine has sold for at a Christie’s auction, according to Bloomberg.

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The case of 35-year-old Burgundy wine out-sold the last record-breaker: a $345,000 bid for a case of wine, at the Hong Kong auction.

The Burgundy is from the same winery that was in the spotlight in October after news broke of an international counterfeiting ring selling fake versions of the French wines.

Image:decanter.com

Image: decanter.com

I can’t imagine bidding as much on a case of wine as the Chinese buyer at the auction–which I’m not surprised about given the location as well as China’s increasing thirst for fancy wine. China buys 6% of the world’s Burgundy, an increase from 1% in 2007, according to Quartz.com. I think the most I’ve ever spent for a bottle of wine was $40, and that was at a restaurant, splitting the bottle between four diners.

Obviously, I’m no high-roller, but even if I was, would I spend nearly a half a million dollars on a case of wine, even if that wine was from one of the top wineries in the world, made in 1978 and tasted so good it “should be censored?”

According to Sotheby’s Worldwide Head of Wine, the wine is “wild,” “incredible” and is reminiscent of a “glorious raw black truffles bouquet.”

Still, I don’t think I could ever spend that much money on wine, but that choice has more to do with my values, than my love for wine.

I believe you can be a wine lover, even a wine expert, without dropping a boatload of cash at an international auction.

What’s the maximum you’d spend on wine? How much is too much?

Wine bar review: Mignon in downtown Los Angeles

At the edge of downtown Los Angeles, in that nebulous part of 6th Street that borders Skid Row, is the cutest wine bar I ever did see. I’m serious.

Not only is Mignon adorable with a very Parisian vibe, think dark wood, dim lighting, mismatched glasses and minimal seating, it has quite the wine list. There were representatives from Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Spain, and of course, France.

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The menu, printed on lined white school paper, changes often, but when I went last week it included:

  • Torley, Gala, a Hungarian sparkling wine
  • Cascina Val del Prete, Luet, Roero Arneis, an Italian white
  • Val de Mer, Chablis, a French white
  • Cornellison, “Contadino 9,” a Sicilian red wine

And many more.

On top of the extensive list, they have a lovely happy hour: $5 glasses of wine and $5 small plates from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 6 p.m. to midnight on Sunday. The bar is open 6 p.m. to midnight seven days a week. Usually, glasses of wine are about $8, and bottles mostly range from $32 to $62.

At a recent happy hour, I had a 2010 Cascina Val del Prete, an Italian wine made from Arneis grapes. The white wine was creamy, sweet, and left pear lingering on the tongue. In Piedmont, where the grape is grown, Arneis in the regional dialect, means “little rascal,” because it’s difficult to grow.

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I switched over to the red side and tried the Domaine de Cuoron Marselan. They swapped that wine in after running out of a Slovenian number: Zajc Cvicek Dolenjska. I really wanted to try that mouthful, but the dip in supply turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

The Marselan, a French red grape and a cross-blend between Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon was a pleasure to drink. The chewy, toasty, leathery wine emits blackberry and cherry aromas. If we didn’t have to leave for the night, I would have ordered another glass! Luckily for me, a bottle’s just $13, according to wine-searcher.com

Mignon is at 128 E. 6th St. For more information, call 213-489-0131.

Thanksgiving Wine

When Wine Library, a discount wine retailer, asked its followers on Twitter which wines they were picking up for Thanksgiving, it got me thinking: which wines should I pick up for Thanksgiving?

One follower said she was eyeing a 2012 Pascal Pibaleau Rouge L’heritage D’aziaum. When I read that I had to shake my head and refocus my eyes a bit because of the long string of words, so I’ll be patient as you re-read it.

And, we’re back.

So what’s the deal with the Pascal Pibaleau Rouge L’heritage D’aziaum? It’s a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Gamay. Sounds yummy.

According to Wine Library, it is:

“With lots of bright red fruit, hints of earthiness, and a nice amount of acidity, the Pibaleau L’Heritage D’Aziaum is a versatile food wine, that will pair with chicken, pork, vegetable, and fish dishes.”

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Malbec, in general, can draw in pepper, licorice, coffee and black fruit flavors, while Cabernet France, can exude plum, blackberry or vegetable-like aromas, depending on ripeness.

At $16.98, it’s a stretch, but not a budget-buster.

Another tweep said she was grabbing Brunello di Montalcino. That wine is made from Sangiovese grapes that are grown in Montalcino, a hilltop town in Italy.  According to wine-searcher.com, the $19 wine is “known for its brilliant garnet hue and its bouquet of berries with underlying vanilla and spice. A hint of earthiness brings balance to the finest examples.”

With these suggestions in mind, I’m still thinking about going another direction: Beaujolais. Beaujolais wines can be easy-drinking, fruity and graciously play a supporting role without stealing the spotlight from the star of Thanksgiving: the turkey.

I’d recommend Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Villages. It’s a good value (last time I bought it, it was $10, but wine-searcher has it ranging from $10-$14). It’s light, fruity (think raspberry and plum) and I think it’ll please guests varying tastes.

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Here are some more Thanksgiving wine suggestions from the all-knowing internet:

What are your Thanksgiving wine suggestions?

Review: 2012 Herdade de Gambia White Wine Blend

I’m telling you, I’m on a Portugal kick.

But this white wine blend from Herdade de Gambia was even better than the cryptically-labeled red blend I talked about a few days ago. Cloudy yellow, this wine smells like peach and oranges (yum!) and it has a smooth, drinkable je ne sais quoi quality about it. It’s bright, dry, a bit bubbly (maybe from the muscatel) and refreshing. It doesn’t have an overwhelming alcoholic taste like another white I’ve blogged about before. And most importantly, it makes you yell “Yippee!” when you drink it, well at least inside your head if you’re easily embarrassed.

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It’s from Peninsula de Setabul, which is known for producing sweet Muscat grapes with candied orange flavors. The wine, a blend of Moscato Graudo and Fernao Pires grapes, reminds me of a smooth Argentine Torrontes. Torrontes is a white wine grape that has aromatic flavors and a crisp burst of acidity.

According to the bottle, Herdade de Gambia is in the heart of a river estuary that hosts migrating birds. Perhaps that’s why there’s a pink flamingo on the label!

I want to buy this wine again, but I snagged it when I visited a friend in Berkeley and I’m having trouble finding it near me on wine-searcher.com. Suggestions? I’d rather not pay to have it shipped, but I would if I got desperate. It’s that good.

Nuts and Bolts

  • Winery: Herdade de Gambia
  • Type: White Blend (Moscato Graudo and Fernao Pires grapes)
  • Origin: Peninsula de Setabul, Portugal
  • Vintage: 2012
  • Price: $11
  • Alcohol content: 13%
  • When to drink: If you’re down-trodden after a tough day at the office, don’t go to a bar and wallow in your sorrows. Go home and drink a glass of this white wine blend and say “Yippee!” The aroma and drinkability will cheer you up, stat. 

Wine 101: Spit!

When I asked Jonathon Alsop, founder of Boston Wine School, what’s the first thing you teach new students, I was surprised by his response.

The first lesson in Wine 101 is how to spit, he said.

How to spit!?

Not what kind of grape makes what color wine or why some wines taste like tropical fruit and other wines are smoky. Nope.

That's Jonathon Alsop grinning because he's got wine in his grasp. (Courtesy: Boston Wine School)

That’s Jonathon Alsop grinning because he’s got wine in his grasp. (Courtesy: Boston Wine School)

I asked him to explain more, and this is what he said: Spit happens.

His reasoning: when you’re drinking wine at dinner, you swallow it, but when you’re learning to taste wine you don’t.

“Spitting out the wine you just tasted is the first step in getting ready to taste another wine.  Swallowing the wine you just tasted is the first step in getting hammered,” said Alsop, author of The Wine Lover’s Devotional: 365 Days of Knowledge, Advice & Lore for the Ardent Aficionado.

Jonathon Alsop operates the Boston Wine School, but also frequently writes about wine. (Courtesy: Boston Wine School)

Jonathon Alsop operates the Boston Wine School, but also frequently writes about wine. (Courtesy: Boston Wine School)

I’ve been wine-tasting many times and I don’t think I ever spit out my wine. I’ve definitely dumped a glass and grabbed a handful of oyster crackers to scrub away a bad taste, but spitting in front of someone who just poured me a glass, I couldn’t imagine myself doing that. But maybe I should start.

“If you went to a wine festival and just drank wine, you’d probably taste a couple of different wines at first, but eventually, as you grew immobile, you’d only be drinking wines you could stagger to,” Alsop said. “By having good spit discipline, you can keep your wits about you and taste 100 wines, and even remember a lot of them.”

At the Boston Wine School, they take alliteration seriously. Here are his seven steps for tasting wine:  See. Sniff. Swirl. Smell. Sip. Swish. Spit.

Alsop said he teaches in a “100% snob-free zone” where any level of wino can learn.

If you were going to take a Wine 101 class, what would you want to learn? If you had to teach a Wine 101 class, what would be the first thing you taught? I’m really curious. Tell me in the comments!

Review: Casa Agricola HMR Varal Tinto

Portugal is known for port, duh, but it’s also got blended table wines going on.

I picked up a delicious red blend from Vintage Berkeley when I was visiting a friend. It’s from Casa Agricola, a winery in Alentejano, which is in the southeast area of Portugal. This wine tasted like plums, strawberry and cinnamon and had a soft feel in your mouth. It’s a gulpable blend, that’s for sure.

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According to the guys at Vintage Berkeley, it’s reminiscent of a “Dry Creek Zin without the gobs overly-jammy fruit.” It’s fruity, but not mouth-puckery, sticky, jammy.

Nuts and Bolts

  • Winery: Casa Agricola HMR
  • Type: Red Blend (Aragonez, Trincadeira, Alfrocheiro–try to say that three times fast)
  • Origin: Alentejano, Portugal
  • Vintage: 2011
  • Price: $11.75
  • Alcohol content: 14%
  • When to drink: Give this as a gift when you go celebrate a friend’s housewarming party. Make sure you’re close by when it gets uncorked and poured, because it will go fast at a soiree.

 

 

Doukenie Winery: Wine Science!

Beer, beer, beer. The social life of a geologist is filled with it. It’s glugged after a day studying rocks, after seminars and there was even a beer made specifically for a geological conference.

Leanne Wiberg, a geologist and @craterlady on Twitter, was long swirling in this beer vortex until about 10 years ago when some geologists began sipping wine.

“I’m sure this is partly because of the relative worldwide upturn in wine drinking across the board,” Leanne said in a Q&A with wineforthewin.com. “But still, geologists are uniquely qualified to ponder and enjoy speculating about how any particular wine reflects the characteristics of the vineyard, which is planted in soil derived from the rocks below the vines.”

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Leanne enjoying a glass of wine. (Courtesy: Leanne Wiberg)

While geologists “can channel rocks through wine,” not so with beer, which has ingredients–hops, water, etc– that are not location specific, she said.

So when Leanne was working as a naturalist in Loudoun County, Va. she met a winemaker who asked her to apply her geological skills at a local winery on the weekends.

Now Leanne hosts tours highlighting the nexus between science and winemaking at Doukenie Winery in Purcellville, Va. and she took some time after attending the Virginia Wine Summit to share with me why winemakers are nerds, the origins of Rkatsitelli grapes and wine tour patrons’ fascination with maps.

Leanne with some of her many maps (Courtesy: Leanne Wiberg)

Leanne with some of her many maps (Courtesy: Leanne Wiberg)

WFTW: How can one apply science to winemaking?

LEANNE: Winemakers are the classiest nerds and geeks you’ll ever meet. Technology and science is intrinsic to all vinification and vineyard management. Initially a site for any vineyard has to be selected. Considerations must be made: macro climate, elevation, topography, slope, solar aspect, and rock and soil types (geology) and former land use. Then the specific grape varietals have to be selected for the vineyard, based on these site selected. After that, the game plans about how to best care for the specific grapes in the vineyard and about when to harvest them must be done – all with the same mindful assessments that any successful farmer makes (yes farmers are scientists).

The process of winemaking itself involves countless subjective judgements and objective measurements, all leading to irreversible decisions about how to proceed with fermentations and subsequent treatments (natural or commercial yeast, American or French Oak, malo-lactic conversion or not, addition of powdered tannins or not).

As well, the process of bottling in itself is a technical minefield (bag-in-a-box systems or conventional bottles, natural or synthetic corks).

The tools used by a viniculturist (winemaker) and viticulturist (grape grower) are the same as those used by a farmer, chemist, chef, microbiologist, plant geneticist, geologist, and geographer.

WFTW: What do people on your tours at Doukenie Winery find the most surprising?

LEANNE: The tours don’t just discuss wines made at the winery. Rather, they present an overview of the entire Virginia wine industry, based on my eight years experience in it.

In a very general sense, they are surprised to discover that Virginia wines overall taste as good as they do. As well, considering wines made at the winery where I work, many tour takers comment that varieties they generally avoided can taste more appealing when they are made using the traditional techniques used by winemakers from Burgundy (Doukenie’s winemaker trained in winemaking schools in Beaune and Macon in Burgundy, France). This winemaking style is not common in Virginia. Only one other winery in the state employs a winemaker trained in Burgundy – King Family Vineyards.

Second, they are impressed by how non-traditional some of the wines are. Stereotypes based on wines originating in Europe and California are broken regularly in Loudoun County, especially. Unconventional blends appear because Virginia, as a nascent winemaking site, has not become entrenched in any particular style. For example, Tarara’s 2010 Honah Lee wine blends viognier, petit manseng, and rousanne – all grapes that might be new to Virginia wine. As well, they are surprised to learn that French-American hybrid wine grapes are on the radar of more and more local drinkers. Purposeful genetic crosses have been undertaken by breeders to produce wine grapes with increased disease resistance and climate suitability. For example, Desert Rose Winery is growing grapes called Crimson Cabernet. These grapes are a genetic cross between Norton (a grape hybrid itself growing well in the USA) with Cabernet Sauvignon (originally a European grape). Other hybrids include traminette, vidal blanc, chambourcin, and chardonel.

Leanne showing off some grapes. (Courtesy: Leanne Wiberg)

Leanne showing off some grapes. (Courtesy: Leanne Wiberg)

Because it is my “new” favorite white wine grape, my tour takers learn about Rkatsiteli – a grape originally from Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Soviet Georgia which is making a fine showing in a small niche market locally….

They are fascinated by the maps I use, which feature the geology, topography, and hydrology of the estate at Doukenie….

Tour info:

The tours include a vineyard circuit, a barrel room visit, and a guided “techno-tasting” involving six wines with an emphasis on interpreting how the vineyard setting and the specific winemaking practices influence the taste of each wine. It’s free for wine club members and $15 for non-members. Find out more at doukeniewinery.com.

And if you’re wondering, Leanne’s favorite wines, other than Rkatsiteli, are Doukenie’s Petit Verdot, Merlot and Alsatian-style Riesling.

Review: Arrogant Frog Syrah Rose

Twist off!

I am a cork lover through and through, but I’ve been seeing more screw caps as I browse wine store shelves and honestly, they have their benefits. Think of all those times you headed to a picnic with a beautiful bottle of wine only to get there and uh-oh, you forgot the cork screw! This has happened to me many times and I have tried to life hack, unsuccessfully…more on that in another post.

I was scavenging for a rose at BevMo the other day during their 5 cent wine sale. They don’t have a lot of Roses covered by the discount, but Arrogant Frog Syrah Rose fit the bill.

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I unscrewed the bright pink cap earlier this week and poured the translucent pink liquid into a glass. The bottle calls it “Lily Pad Pink”–how cute! I was busy shooting off emails and picking out new glasses as I sipped. The wine smelled like cherry blossoms and tasted like them too, at least what I think they’d taste like. Very flowery; the taste of candied fruit lingered on my tongue.

It reminded me of cherry blossom season in DC, my favorite time of year when I used to live in the capitol. Look how pretty the trees are! I have this first picture hanging in my living room.

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I tried the Syrah Rose again a couple of days later at dinner and it got tarter with time, but for me, that was a good thing.

It’s creator, Jean-Claude Mas, is known as the “humble winemaker” and he harvests grapes from the five main valleys in the South of France: Aude, Orb, Herault, Peyne and Uzes valleys. How fun are those names!

I’d buy this again for a picnic or as a gift to a floral wine lover, but I probably wouldn’t get it again to keep around the house.

Nuts and Bolts

courtesy of food.com

courtesy of food.com

Shop: Vintage Berkeley

While I didn’t have time to head to Sonoma this weekend while I was visiting a friend in Berkeley, I did stumble across a gem of a wine shop. After having lunch on Monday at Gregoire, a cute-as-a-button French takeout spot, I mean check out this quiche and blood orange French soda:

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my friend, a graduate student at UC Berkeley, had to head to class and I had an hour to kill. Lucky for me, there was a wine shop nearby that my friend recommended I check out.

From the outside, Vintage Berkeley doesn’t look like a wine shop. It doesn’t look like a store at all. It’s housed in a former water pumping station built in 1930. The station operated until the 1980s, but it sat vacant until nine years ago when Vintage Berkeley moved into the city landmark. 

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While the exterior remains the same, the owner made some tweaks to the interior and rather than pumping water, the site now pumps out wines from labels you’ve most likely have never heard of. And here comes the selling point: most of them are under $25.

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Vintage Berkeley throws the age-old point system out the window and instead offers descriptions of the wines written by staff. It reminded me of the staff picks at Skylight Books, my favorite book store in Los Angeles. When I told Ryan, who started working at the shop after being a frequent visitor at tastings during his time at Cal, that I’m on a kick to try wine types I’ve never had before, he pointed out wines from Slovenia, the Basque region of Spain, Corsica, and other exotic locales.

He sold me on the Slovenian number, a blend of dry muscat and riesling that came topped with a bottle cap. It’s a 2012 Crnko Jarenincan.

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I also picked up two others–a red and a white–from Portugal. The white is another dry muscat, 2012 Herdade de Gambia, and the red is a 2011 HMR Varal Tinto. All were $15 or less. As soon as I get my package in the mail and can uncork (uncap for the Slovenian wine) those suckers, you’ll be sure to see some reviews.

If you’re in the Berkeley area, check out their free tastings on the weekdays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

It’s very beautiful right now, as the fall leaves come in and crisp breezes bookend the days.

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