Pour it on me!

Chronicling my transition from wine novice to oenophile (sort of).

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Review: 2011 Baileyana Pinot Noir

A friend of mine hosted a fancy fundraising event with wine and naturally, since she’s a good friend, she gave me a whole case of the leftovers, which included Baileyana’s “Firepeak” Pinot Noir. Free wine, and lots of it can’t be beat! She gave another friend a case, too and I wasn’t surprised to see it out on the refreshment table at a pumpkin carving party I went to this week.

Despite having several glasses of the easy-to-drink red, I still managed to carve a pretty good pumpkin. It’s a Cockateil! Alright, alright, it was supposed to be a cat, but I mistakenly cut off its tail. Luckily for me, I know how to problem solve. Sometimes it looks like a bunny, sometimes it looks like my bird, Pepe, but I’ve decided to just describe this jack-o-lantern a bird.

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The Baileyana tastes chocalatey and fruity and is easy to drink, but it’s not for me. I tend to like Pinot Noirs smoky and this, to me, didn’t have that essence. However, it was a crowd pleaser at the pumpkin party. Hey, everyone–and their tastebuds–are different.

Nuts and Bolts

  • Winery: Baileyana
  • Type: Pinot Noir
  • Origin: Edna Valley
  • Vintage: 2011
  • Price: I got it for free, but it seems to range from $17-$20
  • Alcohol content:13%
  • When to drink: While entertaining friends who come over early before going out to dinner.

 

 

Wine for cats!

A Japanese pet supply company has released wine for cats. Yes, you read that right.

The drink is a mix of Cabernet grapes, Vitamin C and catnip, which sounds similar to frat party jungle juice to me.

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Courtesy kotaku.com

It’s non-alcoholic and sells for $4. It’s called Nyan Nyan Nouveau, a play on the Japanese version of meow and the fancy English (with French roots) word for modern.

I think the whole idea of wine for cats is absurd. I can’t wait to hear what their sales are like. Any vets out there think this is a bad thing?

How do you know when it’s time to crush?

So I’ve seen grapes on the vine, I’ve seen the barrels in the cellar, I’ve seen the bottles on the rack, but there are still many parts of the winemaking process I haven’t seen, such as a winemaker testing the grapes to see if they’re ready.

Blogger Jameson Fink talked to Ross Andrew Mickel, winemaker at Ross Andrew Winery, to get the skinny on how one chooses when to pick grapes. Mickel told him that it’s about knowing the grapes, spending time with them, and tasting them. Mickel taste tests the grapes using a ziploc bag, scissors and a glass to extract juice, which he then smells and tastes. If it has a green banana smell, it’s a no-no.

“I definitely don’t want to make a wine that smells like a green banana skin,” Mickel told the blogger.

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Most winemakers tend to sample the grapes for several weeks before harvest time, which in California wine country usually runs from August to October. According to chanticleerwine.com, winemakers look out for soft berries, red fruit flavors (unripe grapes can taste like bell peppers) and brown seeds.

So how soon before I can get those grapes crushed, bottled and flowing into my glass? Whites tend to finish first and reds can take longer, sometimes more than a year, according to Food Republic, which recommends a Beaujolais Nouveau for the impatient drinkers. That wine is ready six to eight weeks after the harvest.

Top 5: Non-California, U.S. wine locales

I get a little California-centric when it comes to wines, mostly because they’re delicious and secondly because I live here. However, I’ve been learning a lot about other wine locales in the United States that are getting my continental travel bug rattled up.

Here’s my top 5 to-visit list for out-of-state wine regions:

1) Finger Lakes, NY

It’s Harvest season right now in the Finger Lakes, which is home to about 100 wineries, a third of the state of New York’s total. From all the Instagram photos and news stories I’ve seen about it, the Finger Lakes region seems pretty tantalizing, especially from a place that can put both Pinot Noir and Gewurtztraminer (I still can not pronounce the latter for the life of me) in my glass in one visit. And, I want to see those views in person and explore the many hiking trails. A camping trip with a few wineries squeezed in would be awesome if that’s a possibility.

2) Colorado’s Western slope

I’m torn because I want to visit the rockies during the winter to go skiing, but I also want to see the grapes on the western slope bask in the summer sun. Most of the vineyards here are family-owned, a big plus in my book if you plan to visit a site. Some also grow berries, which they let visitors pick!

3) Columbia Valley, Washington

Not only is this region home to Walla Walla–one of the most fun names for a city–but it also has roughly seven dozen wineries. That’s small compared to other regions and I hear you’ve got to plan in advance because often wineries are closed to the public without notice. On the other hand, that makes for a more intimate affair that often includes peeks behind the curtain when it comes to the winemaking process. I’ve seen Muscat, Cab Franc and other great grapes grow here.

4) Eugene, Oregon (more generally, Willamette Valley)

I’ve already been wine tasting in Eugene-twice, but I’d happily go a third time. The area is known for its pinots and I had the best Pinot Gris at Silvan Ridge Winery when I was there last. I have yet to hit up the big fish, King Estate, but Sweet Cheeks brings back fond memories of good food, good friends and good wine, and you can’t beat that!

5) Loudoun County, Virginia

Loudoun County is mostly on the list because I know I’ll get there soon: I have several friends who live a hop, skip and a jump away and a free place to stay makes for a happy visit. Rolling hills, estates and horse-riding trails make up this region, which hosts several weekend wine festivals. And then there’s the pretty wineries: good looks and good grapes, I’m sold.

Plus, as Leanne Wiberg (aka @craterlady on Twitter) of Doukenie Winery informed me: Virginia wines are made from French hybrids, such as Traminette, Chambourcin and chardonel. So it seems there’s still French roots in Thomas Jefferson’s home state, how apt. Jefferson was once the American miniser to Versailles after all.

I had no idea there was a big wine scene in Virginia when I lived in D.C. If I had, I would have taken advantage of it!

Where else outside of California, in the United States, is a stand-up place to go wine tasting?

Review: Luisi Barbera d’Asti

Barbera’s not a wine grape you hear about everyday. In fact, before I drank the 2011 Luisi Barbera d’Asti, I had only had Barbera in blends before.

So what is Barbera all about?

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Barbera is one of the most popular grapes planted in Italy. You can also find it in Australia, thanks to UC Davis. It’s also grown in California.

Barbera wines run the gamut from fruity to medium-bodied to concentrated and intense. Often, they have a high acidity level.

When I drank the Luisi, it was ruby red and tanngyyy. After letting it sit in mouth for a bit, it felt like pop rocks. Who knew an Italian wine would bring me back to the schoolyard days?

There are two kinds of Barbera: Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d’Alba, which signify the region in Italy where the grapes come from. Asti is drier and Alba tends to be rainier and the climates impact the flavor of the wine. Luca Currado Vietti, owner of Vietti Winery, told Wine Spectator that Asti and Alba are like Napa and Sonoma, in the sense that they are two wonderful, neighboring wine regions. Some say d’Albas are fruitier and d’Asti’s are more intense, but I haven’t tried the former myself, so I can’t confirm.

I’ll add a Barbera d’Alba to my list of wines I have to try, but I won’t be getting a Vietti wine. They cost upwards of $80, which is way out of my budget, I mean out of this universe, out. If you have a suggestion for a Barbera d’Alba under $20–under $15, even better–let me know in the comments.

I wouldn’t recommend the Luisi Barbera d’Asti to everyone–especially not to those who prefer smooth wines that aren’t explosive on the taste buds.

However, if you like thick and bold, you’d probably enjoy this Barbera.

Nuts and Bolts

  • Winery: Luisi
  • Type: Barbera d’Asti
  • Origin: Italy
  • Vintage: 2011
  • Price: $16.95
  • Alcohol content:13%
  • When to drink: Bring this to dinner with the in-laws, not to your friend’s house party.

Review: Peachy Canyon Zinfandel

When Peachy Canyon Winery gave me a hat tip on Twitter for my handle, which is the same as my blog name,  I knew we’d get along. Then when they told me they they made luscious reds, I really knew we’d get along.

I picked up a bottle of their 2008 “Incredible Red” Zinfandel recently and it was the last in stock! It had a different label than the more recent vintages, so I assume the winery went through some sort of rebranding. Sometimes it pays off to pick one of the things that’s not like the others.

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I poured my boyfriend and I each a glass as we were cooking dinner last week. I almost always start sipping while stirring and chopping, well before dinner is actually served. A deep ruby, the wine envelops your tongue with its peppery, but fruity flavor. This is an easy drinking wine and great to have around for a mid-week sip.

It got along swimmingly with the chimichurri chicken and paprika brussel sprouts we had for dinner. According to foodandwinepairing.org, it’s not ideal to mix chicken with Zinfandel, but it tasted fine to me!

Sometimes I pay attention to food pairings, but usually by the rule of thumb: whites with fish, reds with meat. I usually drink what I want to drink and eat what I want to eat. If someone wants to make me a delicious six course meal paired with matching wines and blow me away with the pairings, maybe I’ll change my tune.

So who’s ready to cook me dinner?

Nuts and Bolts

  • Winery: Peachy Canyon
  • Type: “Incredible Red” Zinfandel
  • Origin: Paso Robles, Calif.
  • Vintage: 2008
  • Price: $13.99
  • Alcohol content: 13.9%
  • When to drink: Mid-week, relaxing on the couch with your iPad, Yo La Tengo playing on Pandora

 

Pinot Grigio vs. Pinot Gris

I had never heard of Pinot Gris until I visited this girl in Eugene:

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I’m on the left, Ann’s on the right.

That’s Ann on the right, a great friend and Eugene wine ambassador. You see, when Ann was living in Eugene both times I visited she showed me amazing wineries. I had no idea there were even wineries in Eugene!

I also didn’t know about Pinot Gris until my most recent trip. But one sip of a glass of Pinot Gris from Silvan Ridge, and I was hooked. In fact, Oregon’s known for Pinot Gris.

I’ve even spread the gospel of Pinot Gris to friend’s this summer during visits to the Hollywood Bowl. I could never bring enough bottles of the varietal. It went quick!

OK, technically the two are the same grape variety. Now here come the stereotypes about taste:

  • Pinot Grigio tends to be lighter-bodied; Pinot Gris more full-bodied
  • Pinot Grigio tends to be fruitier–think pear and melon; some Pinot Gris have a spice kick

Now, I remember the Pinot Gris I had at Silvan Ridge being pretty soft. It was fruity, but not too fruity, and just felt like silk on the tongue. Full disclosure: it’s not a full Pinot Gris. It was 3% Viognier (the ones I’ve had have always been sweet and flowery), but that’s so little, whose counting?

Give me a glass of Pinot Gris (leave the bottle) and a cheese plate, maybe Manchengo and goat cheese, and I’m a happy camper.

Review: Main & Geary Pinot Grigio

The first time I had Pinot Grigio I was way under the legal drinking age in the United States, but I wasn’t in the United States! I was in Florence, Italy during a summer abroad “studying” art history after my junior year in high school. It was the first summer that I wouldn’t be going to camp playing Color War and swinging on the ropes course. Instead, I was going somewhere fancy, sophisticated; it made all my friends jealous.

On one of the first nights there, a few of us from the trip decided to see if we could order alcohol. I honestly think none of us had before, but this one very artsy, very Karen O girl seemed to know what she was doing. She ordered a bottle of cheap Pinot Grigio.

We were a couple of 16-year-olds in Florence, ordering wine on our own! The city smelled old, not musty, but old like a favorite well-read book. I remember the Pinot Grigio being sweeeet and honestly not liking it very much. I didn’t pick up another glass of the stuff for years.

Over time, I had transformed into a smoky red wine fan through and through. I thought whites were all syrupy. I had a closed mind. I was outright wrong.

Main & Geary Pinot Grigio, while arguably not even close to the best Pinot Grigio, made me a fan of the varietal about a decade after that trip to Florence.

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I bought Main & Geary for the first time two years ago at a BevMo 5 cent wine sale (Yes, I sing the song: 5 cennnttt winnne sale). One, it was inexpensive: $12 for the first, 5 cents for the second. It’s become a favorite sipping wine, the kind you go to when you’re making lemon-butter shrimp stir-fry. It’s not complex or super special, but it’s crisp and refreshing and has a hint of melon. Like a good alfredo pasta or Martha’s Perfect Mac & Cheese are comfort food, I think of it as comfort wine.

There’s often a bottle chilling in my fridge and when I go to a 5 cent sale, it’s one of the first things in my cart.

Do you have a favorite Pinot Grigio? Tell me about it! Try Main & Geary and give me your review in the comments.

 Nuts and Bolts

  • Winery: Main & Geary
  • Type: Pinot Grigio
  • Origin: California (bottle’s not specific)
  • Vintage: 2012
  • Price: $12
  • Alcohol content: 13.9%
  • When to drink: On your porch, on a hot day while gossiping with a girlfriend

Price fake out

When people think wine is expensive, they think it tastes better, at least according to a 2008 scientific study.

The scientists gave 20 participants Cabernet Sauvignon and a non-wine liquid reminiscent of saliva (gross) to drink as they scanned their brains, focusing on pleasure centers. Wines were administered multiple times, both at their retail price and at a 900% markup or markdown. The participants drank what they thought were $5, $10, $35, $45 and $90 wines.

And guess what, the guinea pigs had a better time drinking the wine they thought was more expensive!

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From the study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of the United States of America:

Our results show that increasing the price of a wine increases subjective reports of flavor pleasantness as well as blood-oxygen-level-dependent activity in medial orbitofrontal cortex, an area that is widely thought to encode for experienced pleasantness during experiential tasks. 

Honestly, I wasn’t surprised by the findings. Louis Vuitton and other luxury brands have been marking up prices for years to exude, well, an essence of luxury.

Most of the time that I buy wine it’s under $15, sometimes I splurge for a $20 bottle. If I’m at a winery, it’s 99.9% of the time more than that, but I still buy there because many prices reflect the small batches or boutique wines. Buying bottles at a restaurant also tend to cost more (more on that in an upcoming blog post). However, I usually get a bottle while dining out when there’s several people at the table who will be splitting the check, making the bottle more economical than individual glasses of wine. If you can BYOW, like some restaurants in Los Angeles, you’re a winner in my book.

What’s your maximum price when it comes to buying a bottle of wine?

California losing ground

As more wineries have popped up in other states, California is no longer home to more than half the wineries in the nation. In 1993, the Golden State claimed 52% of the wineries in the United States. In 2012, it clocked in at about 43%. Here’s an infographic I made that visually shows the change between 2000 and 2012:

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Surprising, huh?

I’ve only been wine tasting in California, Oregon and abroad (Spain and Italy). I’ve been told I need to head to Finger Lakes, NY. Where else outside my home state makes for good wine tasting? Tell me in the comments.