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Wine tasting notes from a week gone by...

Date: Wed, Jan 13, 2010 Wine Tasting

2005 Royal Tokaji Wine Co. Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos Red Label

This is my first experience with Royal Tokaji, although I've heard a lot about the producer over the years. This is all caramel apple rolled in nuts, with some pear, toffee and minerals. Not too sweet, which is very much to my liking (I'm not a big ruby port fan because it's generally too sweet for me, although I am a huge tawny port fan) and an incredible balance of flavors. Still finishing for me as I write this. I gotta be honest, this one knocked my socks off and I can feel it down to my toes...I do believe I've found my new dessert wine. My rating: 93

2007 Luna Vineyards Sangiovese
Cherry, plum, menthol and heat on the nose...big fruit and hot diluted finish on the palate...not my favorite of the Luna Vineyards wines. I've just recently tasted the Merlot and the Pinot Grigio from Luna and I much prefer the Merlot to this Sangiovese. My rating: 85

Ghostwriter777 (scroll down in the tasting notes) is definitely on to something here. There's a good wine in this bottle, but it takes a lot of effort right now. I decanted mine for 3 hours and it still wasn't quite there - a bit tight and a bit hot still. But, make no mistake, this is a good wine. I can already tell there's a lush silkiness to this wine that will only get better with time. Fruit is pretty sparse on the nose, but what fruit there is is black, with some leather, mocha and vegetable notes. In the mouth, blue/blackberry, blackcurrant, cigar tobacco and black licorice, with a very broad distribution. Very well balanced, long finish, this one should be even better if aged, but not past a few years - doesn't feel like it has legs to go much past 3 - 4 years. 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec from Champoux, Ciel du Cheval, Galitzine, Klipsun and Tapteil vineyards. My rating: 91

Black raspberry,plum, spice and smoke on the nose, with a big, plump and lush mouthfeel. Well balanced, good acidity and long, lingering finish. Delicious. This is a keeper and I'm glad I have 5 more bottles to hold on to. My rating: 92

2007 Mark Ryan Viognier (USA, Washington, Columbia Valley)
Easy drinker, good lemon and citrus, but with enough non-oakey richness to make it satisfying and mouth filling. Mid-$20's is a bit much for a viognier, but it's a good white and I'll probably buy some more to have on hand. My rating: 87

2007 Gorman Winery The Evil Twin (USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Red Mountain)
Very well balanced and big wine from Gorman. Blackberry, green garden and soy sauce on the nose (sounds odd, but it's a good nose), with ripe blackberry and cherry, pomegranate and spice. BIG wine, with lots of ripe, juicy fruit and a broad palate, with a strong, lingering finish. This is a good wine and a good representation of the fantasBtic wines coming from Chris Gorman right now. My rating: 92

All tasting notes first published on Cellar Tracker

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Twitter Taste Live - Ridge Vineyards

Date: Sat, Jan 9, 2010 Wine Tasting

For those of us fully entrenched in the online wine world, there are few better places to be or better things to do than partake in Twitter TasteLive. Billed as the "world's premiere wine tasting community," TasteLive hosts events on a regular basis in which bloggers like myself and others "get together" in the virtual world to share tasting notes and thoughts about the chosen wines for the night. Kind of like a big tasting of a winery's new wines, but with people spread out all over the world...literally...giving those of us partaking a way to get involved with our friends and peers and share what we think, while also giving the wineries an opportunity to share their wines, get exposure and interact with the online wine community.

Needless to say, for those who love wine and the social aspects of the online wine world, this is a no-brainer activity. It's not easy, I must admit - as I try to simultaneously pay attention to dozens of twitterers saying their peace, write this blog post and post my tasting notes on Cellar Tracker! (and my wife says I can't multi-task...) - but, the payoff is huge and, to be perfectly plain about it, just a lot of fun.

So, why keep all that fun to myself? I mean if you're not following along on TasteLive or on Twitter, then I might as well share my tasting notes with you. The format will be verbatim from my Tweets - I can only multi-task so much. (NOTE: these are only my tasting notes - if you want to see everyone's tasting notes from tonight's events, you can search on "ridgewines" or "ttl" on Twitter).

On to the wines...on tonight's TasteLive, four wines from Ridge Vineyards in Santa Cruz, California.

2007 Ridge Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains
  • Nice nose on the chardonnay - lemon, starfruit, just a little pineapple and some good grass and minerals
  • Pretty rich and robust nose, actually, more than I see on most Chardonnay
  • Wow - that first sip threw me off. Given the nose, I expected something a little oakier and much more creamy. Very nice surprise.
  • Lemon, green fruit, minerals & grass on the Chard mouth. Long, lingering finish, altho a bit hot as the wine warmed up
  • [100% Chardonnay]
2007 Ridge Carignane Buchignani Ranch
  • Something very interesting on the nose of the Carignane - mincemeat? french onion soup? Anybody else picking up on the complexities?
  • Carignane has a very nice blueberry upfront and then a good balance of dark fruits and acidity - would be a nice pairing wine
  • Carignane really has some nice acidity on it
  • [100% hillside grown old vine Carignane]
2006 Ridge Zinfandel Caboose Nervo Vineyard
  • [in response to @enobytes] Completely agree - the color on the Caboose is very dark
  • Nose on the Caboose is ripe, plummy, jammy, sweet, like a train ran over a box of ripe fruit & splattered it all over the station walls
  • Caboose was extremely tight for me when I first opened it, but has opened up considerably - let this one sit a while before drinking
  • [96% Zinfandel, 4% Petite Sirah]
2007 Ridge Lytton Springs
  • The 2007 Lytton Springs is what I'm talking about - have always loved this wine from
  • Lytton Springs aroma - cherry, chocolate, sweet pipe tobacco and wet, sappy tree bark - I love the nose on this wine
  • Lytton Springs - immediate balance on the palate, not overripe, good acid, strong tannins, finishing all the way through
  • I want to pair the LS with a juicy, blue cheese bacon burger - preferably from red mill in Seattle - or Girl & the Fig burger in Sonoma
  • The LS gets better with every sip - such good balance and the finish is looooong
  • [71% Zinfandel, 22% Petite Sirah, 7% Carignane]
NOTE: The Ridge wines were sent to me as a free sample from Ridge Vineyard for this Twitter Tastelive event

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Chronicle Wines

Date: Mon, Jan 4, 2010 Wine Tasting

It seems like it's been a while since I sat down to a tasting of wines I knew absolutely nothing about. No history. No word of mouth. No tasting notes on Cellar Tracker. No Twitter comments. Not even a mention from the too many wine shop proprietors on my wine shop route (not as consistent as, say, a USPS mail route, but at times could be mistaken for one).

So it is with Chronicle wines, a small lot artisan producer of Pinot Noir and Zinfandel from Sonoma and Mendocino. Two Pinot Noirs and two Zinfandels, produced by two accomplished winemakers in Ted Lemon (long Burgundy background at Domaine Dujac and Domaine Guy Roulot in Meursault, to name a few) and Dan Cederquist (who spent 10 years at DeLoach specializing in Old Vine Zinfandel), this was looking to be an interesting tasting.

And, indeed it was, particularly with the Zinfandels. Looking back, somewhere along the line, I started to lose touch with most Zinfandels, partly because I came across too many over-ripe, seriously jammy takes on the varietal and partly because I got distracted with so many other great wines in this world. But, the Chronicle Zinfandels are unique in comparison to the Zinfandels I'm used to - they're lighter, more acidic, not as jammy on the palate. Almost felt more like an Italian wine, like a Nebbiolo, than a Zin, with light color and heavy tannins. Very interesting and unexpected.

So, on to the tasting notes:

2006 Chronicle Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
Very light aroma, some floral notes, dark ripe cherry and a touch of watermelon and menthol. Opens up considerably in the mouth. Big front-end, attacking the front palate with blackberry, cherry, spice, earth and pith. Loses some of it's punch mid-palate, but then returns for a long finish, albeit a hot one. Overall, this is a soft, lightweight Pinot, without much acid and not too aggressive. My rating: 87

What Chronicle has to say: The Sonoma Coast shows spice, floral and sandalwood notes, with pronounced alpine strawberry and Bing cherry. The attack is sweet, with plenty of structure and well-integrated tannins. The wine is fresh with moderate weight. A soft, velvety mid-palate gradually gives way to a long and lively finish.

2006 Chronicle Pinot Noir Cerise Vineyard
Bigger nose than the 2006 Chronicle Sonoma Coast, but not by much. Light fruit on the aroma, with floral notes, cherry and milk chocolate. A nice ride through the palate, hitting warmly up front and then growing into a spicy, peppery, earthy finish. Good acidity on this one. Not a fruity Pinot Noir, so if that's your taste, probably not the one for you. My rating: 88

What Chronicle has to say: The Cerise Vineyard shows intriguing herbal and brushy aromas with brambly blackberry and raspberry patch. The woodsy notes frame a dense and chewy, altogether serious mid-palate. This wine has good lift, structure, and concentration with a strong backbone and dense tannins that will reward patience and cellaring.

2006 Chronicle Zinfandel Bacigalupi Vineyard
Very interesting nose on this one - black licorice and chocolate covered strawberries in a Christmas tree lot. It's remarkably light for a Zinfandel, both in color and mouth feel, making it unlike any other Zinfandel I've tried before. It almost drinks more like Nebbiolo than a Zinfandel, which might explain the different elements - could be that the fruit wasn't able to stand up to the oak elements. A bit of a pithy, dry finish, so if that's not your gig, this isn't for you. But, overall, I quite enjoyed this wine. If you're a Zin fanatic, I don't think this is the Zin you would pick to get your fix. On the other hand, this is a very interesting take on Zin and puts a different spin on the varietal. My rating: 89 (caveat: not for everyone's palate)

What Chronicle has to say: The Bacigalupi Vineyard is a deep and vibrant crimson, with enticing aromas of cranberry, boysenberry and spice. The wine is medium bodied, with bold flavors of black cherry and brambly blackberry with well-integrated spice and vanilla tines from the oak. This is classic old vine Zinfandel.

2006 Chronicle Zinfandel Old Vines
Maraschino cherries, milk chocolate, licorice and pepper on the nose. Broad distribution in the mouth ending with a remarkably focused finish of dark berry fruit and pepper . This is the most multi-dimensional and complex of the four Chronicle wines and, even though it's an easy drinker, it does offer up some complexity that would incline me to go back for more. Again, as with all the Chronicle wines, a bit of a pithy, bitter finish but to my liking and not too overbearing. My favorite of the four Chronicle wines. My rating: 90

What Chronicle has to say: This wine is composed of grapes from all three of the old vine sites we sourced, located off Piner Road in the southern end of the Russian River appellation. During barrel aging, we had great fun working on the blend from these three sites. Each has its charms and brought something different to the assemblage. In our final blend Bacigalupi brings brambly blackberry flavors and mid palate richness, Gaddis brings backbone and structure, and Gambogi brings intriguing chocolate and claret-like aromatics and flavors.

What you should do: Mailing list only on these wines, so not readily available, but worth putting your name in for consideration if my tasting notes sound appealing. It feels to me like these wines could make an impact somewhere down the road and, at the very least, you may be able to get your hands on some unique, small lot wines that should age well.

NOTE: the Chronicle wines were sent to me as a sample

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Wine tasting notes from a week gone by...

Date: Sun, Jan 3, 2010 Wine Tasting

2006 Abeja Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley

This is way bigger than i thought it would be - reminded more of a California cab than a Washington cab. big fruit, big oak and a bit hot on the finish. decent fruit and a huge mouthful, but has a pithy, somewhat bitter finish. lush tannins and I'm going to try this again tomorrow night to see if it opens up any more. 2nd day follow-up: not much change. My rating: 88

2007 Cadence Cabernet Sauvignon Camerata Cara Mia Vineyard

My first experience with Cadence, but have been wanting to try their wines for a while. This one did not disappoint - a very well balanced Cab from WA, with notes of blackberry, blueberry, espresso and dark chocolate. A huge mouthful, including a lingering finish and enough acid to cut through some of the lush ripe fruit. Still feels young, even after having decanted it for three hours. The disappointing part of this wine is the price - at $55, this is too expensive. At $30, I probably would have given it a 90, but this wine is just too expensive in my opinion. My rating: 88

N.V. Bortolomiol Prosecco Valdobbiadene Brut

I'm a huge fan of Prosecco and this is one of the better ones I've tasted. Some good lemon citrus and pith and the nose with an added dryness and minerality that makes this an easy drinker and interesting at the same time. My rating: 88

2007 Schild Estate Shiraz Barossa Valley

Cherry chocolate tobacco rolls, with a hint of herb and sage on the finish. Big fruit on the palate with an even delivery throughout the palate. Really liked this one and I'm not typically a fan of Shiraz. #43 on Wine Spectator's 2009 Top 100. My rating: 89

2007 Santini Wines Trentatre Salento IGT

Blackberry and dark cherry (ripe), with oak, vanilla and powdered cocoa. This wine is a mouthful, with a broad distribution on the palate and a decent, but hot, finish. more acidity than would be expected in this blend, which helped cut through the lasagna we had with it. Overall, a very nice wine for $6. 33% Montepulciano, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, this one was an interesting combo of elements, One i haven't seen before, but I was longing for more of the Montepulciano to come through. My rating: 86

2006 Luna Vineyards Merlot

This is a cherry covered chocolate - big fruit, chocolate on the finish with a nice stretch of very mild leather and darker fruits, like blackberry. I haven't had a Merlot in a while, so it was nice to see dive into one again. Tight at first, hot on the finish, but after a 2nd glass, decanted for 15 minutes, it really opened up and became a more broad wine on the palate. Some nice acidity, which adds to the balance. Overall, very pleased with this wine. [note: this bottle was sent to me as a sample] My rating: 89

2007 Luna Vineyards Pinot Grigio

A nice citrusy, minerally, easy drinker. In fact, I was surprised by how much i did actually like it. I think I would like it even more on a hot summer day, out on the back deck. [note: provided to me as a free sample] My rating: 86

2006 Justin Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

Well, here's another case of not agreeing with wine spectator who gave this wine a 79. 79? Median of 88 from CellarTracker tasters, with only one coming in at 80 [from a user called duckyfufu], who sounds like he might have had a corked bottle. I liked this one, as did my wife and her mom and dad, who generally don't drink Cabernet Sauvignon. for me, cherries, dark chocolate, vanilla and anise seed. Surprisingly prominent acidity, that helps cut through the palate, with a very nice, long finish. Just a tad hot. This is a nice $20 Cabernet from Paso Robles, from a very trusted producer. My rating: 89

2007 Odfjell Carménère Armador

Been trying a lot of Carmeneres lately and this is the one I've been looking for. All the smokey, peppery characteristics of Carmenere, but also the most balanced and easy drinking of the dozen it so I've tried. blackberry, plum, tobacco, smoke, white pepper. Very nice acidity. If you haven't tried Carmenere, this is a great one to start with. My rating: 89 [sent to me as a sample from Wines of Chile]

All tasting notes first published on Cellar Tracker!

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Quick fire wine review - Odfjell and Townshend

Date: Tue, Dec 29, 2009 Wine Tasting

A few quick post-holiday wine reviews, one a Carménère from Chile, the other a Malbec from Washington state.

2007 Odfjell Carménère Armador
I've been tasting a lot of Carménère's lately, partly in thanks to Wines of Chile. I like the varietal, with its smokey and peppery notes, but I don't think it's for everyone. The Odfjell is the first one that I think is truly accessible to a large group of wine drinkers. Easily the most balanced and easy drinking of the dozen or so I've tried, this one is 100% Carménère, with blackberry, plum, tobacco, smoke and white pepper. Remarkably nice acidity, allowing the wine to slice directly through the palate, but balanced with a nice, long finish and a quick, broad mouth feel.

What you should do: BUY IT! This varietal is worth a try and, without a doubt, this is the one to experiment with.

My rating: 89

2007 Townshend Malbec
This wine was brought to my attention by my father-in-law. He is a Malbec loyalist and responsible for me exploring the Malbec varietal by introducing me to a great Terra Blanca Malbec a few years back. The Townshend is a nice fruit -forward Malbec, with dark cherry, fig and white pepper on the nose. Remarkably well balanced and full palate, especially for a wine this young. It's big and broad on the palate and then narrows into a lasting finish. All in all, this is a fantastic Malbec from Washington.

What you should do: Buy it, if you can find it. The winery does have plenty of the 2007 on hand, in the mid-$20's, so you can get it there, but I wasn't able to find it anywhere else. This may be a case wine for me - would love to have some bottles around the house.

My rating: 88

NOTE: The Odfjell was provided to me as a free sample.

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Book Review- New Classic Winemakers of California: Conversations with Steve Heimoff

Date: Mon, Dec 28, 2009 Wine Tasting

Been a while since I've done a book review, mostly because what I've been reading hasn't really captured my attention. But, about a month ago, I finished "New Classic Winemakers of California: Conversations with Steve Heimoff," a book that reignited my imagination about wine. A collection of who's who in today's wine world - Andy Beckstoffer, Heidi-Peterson Barrett, Merry Edwards and more - "Conversations" is literally that, oral histories that these accomplished and up and coming winemakers have with Steve Heimoff, the West Coast Editor of Wine Enthusiast magazine.

I read this book fast - it's easily digestible, fun to read and if you have an interest in wine and the thought process and philosophies of making wine, then this is the book for you. These are conversations that most of us aren't exposed to on a daily basis and they're very compelling.

In addition, it shows these accomplished winemakers as down-to-earth folks who have latched onto something they love and success followed. For most of them, this is not something that happened overnight, but, rather, over years and years of practice, success, failure and just plain old hard work. And, the plan wasn't to be well known winemakers (at least for most), but to just cultivate a passion that they couldn't ignore.

The best way to describe what I pulled from this book is through music. At the same time I was reading it, Pearl Jam (yes, I am an unabashed Pearl Jam loyalist) came out with their new album, Backspacer. If you buy the album on
iTunes, it comes with a 10-minute video of the band that opens with Eddie talking about the creative process and what a friend once told him: "Paint a hundred [paintings], see if you're good at it. After a hundred, maybe you'll know." And that is exactly what I captured out of this book and why it was so inspiring to me - if you have an interest, a passion and calling, keep at it, keep working and you will get to where you want to be, whether that be where you thought or somewhere else that turns out to be even more satisfying. It really is true and it was unexpected that I captured that feeling through a book about wine - I mean, let's be honest, most of them aren't all that inspirational.

What you should do: Buy it. Apologies that this review came out after Christmas, but buy it for yourself - it really is an interesting read. And, I guarantee you'll look at the wine in your glass in a different way.

My rating: 92

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My Top 10 wine list for 2009

Date: Tue, Dec 22, 2009 Wine Tasting

It's that time of year again when everybody and their uncle has a top 10 list - of the year, of the decade, whatever. So, it's going to be with great exhaustion that we all absorb these lists and try to decipher what makes sense for each of us. For me, that's part of why I put together a top wine list for my year - it really helps me remember what I've tasted, what I've liked the most and why. My list is made up of only wines that I've tasted and in that sense, it's not nearly as broad reaching as say a Wine Spectator or some other list that works from thousands of bottles every year. But, I try as much as I can to stay on top of trends, new wines and wines that are off the beaten track a bit, so hopefully it helps some of you along the way as well.

Without further adieu, here's the RJ's Wine Blog Top 10 for 2009.
  1. 2006 Cayuse Syrah Cailloux Vineyard Walla Walla Valley. The fruit on this wine is some of the most subtle I've ever tasted on a Washington Syrah. With 96% Syrah and 4% Viognier, there's definitely a nice fruit balance on the front end with blackberry, blueberry and raspberry, but when it hits the mid-palate, there is a truly unique minerality, leather and earthiness that takes over and subdues the fruit. Notwsqa a UFC-type submission, but more like a dinner with the Dalai Lama who convinces you that everything you ever thought about life was wrong...and it was all okay with you, even uplifting and motivating. Having enjoyed this wine with two good buddies who are true wine aficionados made it all that much better. My rating: 94
  2. 2005 Chateau Plince Pomerol. This really is a beautiful wine. Definite blackberry, licorice, tea and oak, with a little touch of earth and leather. It's a complex wine that's incredibly well balanced, with just the right acidity and tannins to make it feel vibrant and alive through the strong finish. Amazingly velvety and textured for a 2005 - particularly since it was just released in early March. No doubt this will get better with age, but certainly a great wine now - I can only imagine what it would taste like if decanted for an hour or so before drinking. My rating: 92+
  3. 2006 Sea Smoke Ten Pinot Noir. This is, hands down, the best Pinot Noir I have ever tasted. I first learned about Sea Smoke with the 2004 vintage and it continues to amaze me with this, my third vintage of Sea Smoke. This is not a faint, light Pinot - it's dense, rich and incredibly well balanced, with a complexity unrivaled in other Pinots (or, at least those I've tasted). Definitely one of those wines I'm sad to finish...my only consolation is the 4 other bottles in my cellar, but I think I'll wait a few years on those. My rating: 95
  4. 2008 Pepperwood Grove Pinot Noir, Valle Central. Part of the Whole Foods Holiday Wine Top ten list...This is a light, fruity, spicy Pinot Noir, with blackberry, cherry, spice and toasted vanilla notes. You won't find any stemmy qualities or rich complexities, but it is incredibly well balanced, with very little heat and a nice mid-range finish. It's definitely a wine that would work well in the early stages of Christmas dinner, just after a nice white and some cheeses. And, if you're thinking "how did a $6 wine make it to #4," I'll bet if you decant this bottle and just let people try it blind, you will find that they think it is a much more expensive bottle of Pinot Noir than it actually is. Tons of quality packed in this value wine. My rating: 89 / 90+ for a wine under $10.
  5. 2005 Long Shadows "Pedestal" Merlot Columbia Valley. I've been a big fan of the Long Shadows wines for some time now and this one lived up to the expectation. A recommendation from a good, very trusted wine friend, I was actually more entranced by this wine than I thought I would be. Huge nose, with dark cherries, plum and mocha, followed by some mellow Christmas spice notes (cinnamon, nutmeg, clove). Tannins are a little chalky still, but will mellow over time and I'm glad I have a few more in the cellar so I can taste it when it does. My rating: 92
  6. 2004 Fattoria Poggiopiano Rosso Di Sera Toscana. This was a beautiful Tuscan wine. Extremely well balanced, with dark berries, coffee and hint of maple syrup and rich spice, this is one of the best wines I tasted yet in Italy. If I let my wine sit for a few minutes, it became better balanced, gentler and more silky. Once I swirled it, it became hot, tannic and angry. This can happen with most wines, but the transformation was much more pronounced on this wine than I've seen in others. It's as if all the wine wanted to do was sit back and unfold, no pressure, no worries. The second I asked it to do something it didn't want to, it let me know and became a different and lesser wine. It really did feel pissed off when riled up. A true lesson in letting wine develop as it needs to, no matter what you think is right for it. My rating: 92
  7. 2008 Michel Schlumberger Pinot Blanc. It's clearly a French-style wine, not a sweet or oakey California white - one of the cleanest, most refreshing and simple white wines that has had the pleasure of meeting my palate...as the person pouring said "drinks like water, doesn't it?" That's partially true, but only in regards to the ease with which it goes down. But, there is some complexity here, as nuanced as it is. Good subtle fruit and touch of mineral and metal, almost a zinc-like quality, that does add some interesting qualities to the wine. My rating: 89
  8. 2007 Fontanafredda Barbera Piemonte Briccotondo. On the nose I got dirt and grass and plum and cherry and chocolate, all mixed up like a rich, aromatic stew. A good solid swirl and I also pick up some crushed black pepper and even just a hint of menthol. Great nose on this wine. It's big and intense and complex, which, for me, is exactly what I like - builds so much expectation for tasting the wine. As for taste, definitely on the earthy and not entirely old school, but on the older school side of red wine. Some good solid young fruit, nice acidity and strong tannins that are drinkable now, but should also be good with a few years of aging. On the palate - front, mid and back all powerful and lasting. Are you getting the point here? I love this wine. Hard to believe this is going for $11. My rating: 90
  9. 2007 D.R. Stephens Chardonnay. For some reason, I did not review this wine on my blog in 2009, but, regardless, I was truly impressed by how well made it is. I couldn't find my original tasting notes for this wine, so I've included notes from Wine Spectator: Rich and full-bodied, this is framed by smoky, toasty oak, but also offers a delicious core of pear- and nectarine-laced flavors that are pure and elegant. Although I don't remember the core elements of the wine from my tasting, I do remember being pleasantly surprised by how rich, complex and non-oakey this was for a CA Chardonnay - very distinct from most of the other Chardonnay's I've tasted from Califonia. My rating: 91
  10. Sancerre. This is an interesting entry for the list as I believe it's still a work in progress. I was first introduced to Sancerre this year and it absolutely captured my imagination. The Sancerre region in France is known for its whites, particularly those using the Sauvignon Blanc grape, and is unique in its landscape of chalky limestone and flint-filled hills. Most Sancerrre's are 100% Sauvignon Blanc, unblended and made without much, if any, oak. The reason I'm so intrigued by Sancerre is that I have liked every one I've tried and yet I am not a fan of most Sauvignon Blanc's. For me, Sauvignon Blanc is usually a little too thin and overoaked, particularly the California versions. But, the Sancerre brings something very different to the table. It feels more pure to me and doesn't try to hide the glory of the Sauvignon Blanc grape. My rating: varies by bottle
If you want to go back in time, you may want to check out my top ten wine list for 2008.

What's on your list this year?

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Whole Foods Wine Holiday Top Ten list - the wrap-up

Date: Mon, Dec 14, 2009 Wine Tasting

Here marks the end of the Whole Foods Top Ten Holiday Wines review. Hope you enjoyed the write-ups and had a chance to go out and try some of these for yourself. If you did, let me know - would love to hear what you think.

Below is the wrap-up of my results. At the end of the full tasting, I was more often in the "buy it" camp than not. All ten are in order of preference below, along with my "What you should do" notes for each:

2008 Pepperwood Grove Pinot Noir, Valle Central
Did I mention that you should buy this wine? Well, it's worth saying again. If you like Pinot Noir and good deals, this is the one for you. It's around $6 and an incredible Pinot Noir for that price - the QPR is off the charts on this one. My rating: 89 (I give it a 90 rating for wines under $10)

2008 Pisato Montepulciano
Buy it. Well worth having some around the house. After all, you know of any other sub $15 bottles of Organic Italian wine? Yes? Good, go buy this one. No? Well, good, go buy this one. My rating: 88

2008 Paso a Paso Tempranillo
Buy this wine. It's always nice to find a good Tempranillo and the quality of this wine, especially for the price, is high. My rating: 88

2008 Los Vascos Domaines Barons De Rothschild (Lafite) Special Selection Sauvignon Blanc
BUY IT! It's just a nice take on Sauvignon Blanc. Some good complexity, but an easy drinker at the same time. And, given that sweeter wines tend to find their way through the clutter more over the holidays, this was a nice surprise and a drier alternative. My rating: 88

2008 M. Chapoutier Belleruche Special Selection Cotes-Du-Rhone Blanc
Getting hard for the Whole Foods wines because I'm preparing to go next week and buy a bunch of these. This one's no exception. I would buy it. It's a good value, a nice wine, from a trusted producer who clearly cares about the world around them. If you had to pick up only one, I would probably err on the side of the Pepperwood Grove Pinot Noir, but if there are a couple you can afford, this is also a good one to have on hand. My rating: 87

2007 Helfrich Gewurztraminer
Buy this wine in time for Thanksgiving. It will be a great one to kick off your night, especially with some good, rich cheeses, as Whole Foods suggests. The sweetness of the wine should be offset by the robust cheeses. My rating: 87

2008 Santa Julia Bonarda & 2008 El Coto Special Cuvee Rioja
Buy the Santa Julia and try it out, but if you want to get a Tempranillo, I would go for the Paso a Paso - just more bang for the buck on that one. Santa Julia rating - 87; El Coto rating - 86

2008 Marques De Riscal Rueda Seleccion Especial
Buy it. I think this is a timely wine and one that you can have with Thanksgiving dinner. A relatively light and refreshing wine, it would be a nice complement to the Helfrich Riesling, which is sweeter, but definitely a nice wine to pair with pre-dinner cheeses. Plus, between the two wines, you'll impress your guests with your international wine savvy. My rating: 86

J. P. Chenet Blanc De Blancs Frut
First off, I wouldn't take my advice on sparkling wines. If you have a keen eye for them, definitely buy it and see what you think. All the Whole Foods holiday wines are affordable. It won't be what we crack open for a special occasion, as I've had many champagnes that are better and feel more festive, but it's good. My rating: 85

2006 Red Truck Zinfandel Mendocino County
Don't buy this one. As I said, the producer used to be higher on my list and I don't know if it's just the Zinfandel that's throwing me off, but not my favorite. Plenty of other good ones on the list (like the Pepperwood Grove Pinot Noir and the Paso a Paso Tempranillo) for you to choose from. My rating: 84

2008 Sutter Home Muscat of Alexandria
If you like sweet Muscat, definitely try this. If your palate is more like mine and prefer dried wines, you may want to try the 2008 Ca' del Solo Muscat from Bonny Doon - it's a beautiful, well balanced, drier Muscat that kept me going back for more when I first tried it. If you like cheese, find a way to get ahold of some Mount Tam or Rogue blue - these will certainly not disappoint. My rating: 82

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Twitter wine folks to follow - part 3

Date: Sat, Dec 12, 2009 Wine Tasting

If you're like me, you probably spend too much time online and on Twitter. And, if you're interested in wine, you probably have a whole long list of folks you consistently pay attention to on Twitter. Sometimes, though, we can all use some help on finding the right people. This is my third installment of Twitter wine folks (you can get the other two here at Good wine people to follow on Twitter and Twitter wine folks to follow - part II). Always up for a good take on wine, here are some more people both interesting and interactive (let me know some of your favorites):



























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Whole Foods Wine Holiday Top Ten List - 2008 Santa Julia Bonarda & 2008 El Coto Special Cuvee Rioja

Date: Sat, Dec 12, 2009 Wine Tasting

Well, this is it, the end of the road for the Whole Foods Holiday Wine Top Ten List for 2009. Two more posts - this one and one coming soon that wraps it up just in time for the last holiday push.

I'll keep it short and sweet today, given that these are actually numbers 11 and 12 in the Top Ten...which is odd, but always the case with Whole Foods. I think they do it this way so that everyone can find at least ten in their local Whole Foods, but I've always been able to find all twelve, so not sure if that's the case or not.

The two wines for today are the
2008 Santa Julia Bonarda and the 2008 El Coto Special Cuvee Rioja. Both are close peers in my book, not the best on the list, but easy drinkers that are worth checking out. And, I'll only say this one more time - all the bottles on the list this year are under $15, so it's an easy list to experiment with.

2008 Santa Julia Bonarda

Not too aromatic at first, but with some air and rest, comes out with earth, leather, plum, dark cherry and tobacco. A little more tart and spicy in the mouth with blackcurrant and smoke. Nice firm tannins, a little hot, with a decent, but not lingering finish.

What Whole
Foods has to say: With energy conservation and recycling projects, this winery is dedicated to earth-friendly winemaking in Argentina. Juicy berries and underlying spiciness drive this lively wine, making it a savory match for tomato sauce in pizza and pasta. A few bites of Drunken Goat cheese make the wine jump.

My rating
: 87

2008 El Coto Special Cuvee Rioja

This one isn't a far cry from the Bonarda. More floral on the nose, with cherry, plum and some of the earth and leather, but a bit oakier in the mouth, with a touch of vanilla and spice. This one is a bit off balance to me, with not enough fruit to counteract the oak and almost tastes somewhat diluted. It's not bad, just a few key elements missing for me that throw it out of balance.

What Wholes Foods has to say about it: This toasty wine tastes modern, but its long finish comes from Spain's noble Tempranillo grapes. Hearty cherry-vanilla and plum notes make it perfect for roasted meats or try sharp El Trigal Manchego or Mahon cheese to give it the flavorful grip that Rioja's known for.
My rating: 86

What you should do: Buy the Santa Julia and try it out, but if you want to get a Tempranillo, I would go for the Paso a Paso - just more bang for the buck on that one.

NOTE: both of these wines were sent to me as samples.

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Twitter wine tasting notes

Date: Fri, Dec 11, 2009 Wine Tasting

For those of you who don't have access to, don't care about or don't even know what Twitter is, I've compiled my tasting notes from the last few weeks. Enjoy! Would love to hear if you have had any of these and, if so, what you think.
  • 2006 andrew will ciel du cheval vineyard red mountain - stunning...dark cherry, meaty, spicy, well balanced with a HUGE finish...
  • 2008 poet's leap riesling - a stunningly complex riesling, with just enough sweetness and a monstrous finish. best riesling I've had in '09.
  • '07 quivira wine creek ranch petite sirah - the color of squid ink, but from a squid that grew up in a barnyard. big, bold and chewy.
  • drinking '06 spring valley walla walla uriah-currant cigar goodness, w/ a dash of powdered cocoa. a bit tight, but still my wine of the week
  • charles smith's 2006 the honorable cabernet sauvignon. $15 & drinks like a big, fat $30 CA cab. definitely on my list to get more, but oakey
  • turns out the 2004 la loggia barolo from trader joe's is better on the 2nd night. very nice barolo for under $20, good qpr
  • picked up a 2004 la loggia barolo at trader joe's. barolo under $20? crazy. extremely tight, but will make a final judgement tomorrow night
  • had pride mountain vineyards 2006 cab franc last night at a holiday party - a rich, dark tobacco cannoli, dipped in dark chocolate...yum
  • 2002 chateau villhardy. tart cherry, chalky chocolate coffee. solid grand cru, but would like a little more finish http://yfrog.com/37424ij
  • 2008 layer cake malbec - dark berry fruit, pepper and spice...but like a great first date that's great because there won't be a second date
NOTE: the Layer Cake and Quivira were sent to me as free samples.

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Whole Foods Wine Holiday Top Ten list - 2008 Los Vascos Domaines Barons De Rothschild (Lafite) Special Selection Sauvignon Blanc

Date: Thu, Dec 10, 2009 Wine Tasting

Again with the cheeses - I love this! Whole Foods is outdoing themselves with the cheese recommendations this year. And all really good selections. Here's what they suggest in the write-up for today's wine...

We snatched up every case of this bargain Chilean white, bottled by legendary Bordeaux winemakers. Boxwood and exotic fruit with minerality and lean elegance are hints of an extraordinary terroir in the foothills of the Andes. Sip with Oysters or a knob of Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog cheese to bring out its juiciness.

Personal letter to Doug Bell:

Dear Doug,

Please keep including the delicious and clearly hand-picked cheese recommendations. If this were a cheese blog, I would give you very high marks.

RJ's Wine Blog

That oughta do it...now off to write my letter to Santa.

Oh wait...there's a wine this week too, I almost forgot - the 2008 Los Vascos Domaines Barons De Rothschild (Lafite) Special Selection Sauvignon Blanc. One of my favorite whites on the Whole Foods Wine Holiday Top Ten List, it's a cool combination of elements. On the nose, star fruit, blood orange, apricot and minerals, particularly a zinc quality that gives it a nice edge. Minerals continue in the mouth, but the fruit switches to more lemon and grapefruit. Overall, a light and crisp Sauvignon Blanc, but
just creamy enough that I understand why it was included on a holiday wine list. This is a very nice white to have around in the afternoon as relatives are trickling in for the festivities, right before you switch over to a Pinot Noir.

What you should do: BUY IT! It's just a nice take on Sauvignon Blanc. Some good complexity, but an easy drinker at the same time. An
d, given that sweeter wines tend to find their way through the clutter more over the holidays, this was a nice surprise and a drier alternative.

My rating: 88

NOTE: this wine was sent to me as a free sample.

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Whole Foods Wine Holiday Top Ten list - 2008 Pisato Montepulciano

Date: Tue, Dec 8, 2009 Wine Tasting

Getting close to the end on the Whole Foods Holiday Wine Top Ten list this year - only a few more to go. Overall so far, there have been some good selections and some not so good selections, but it's always a pleasure seeing what Doug Bell and his team pull together for these lists. I love that Whole Foods does this twice a year, mostly because for the average wine consumers, it takes a lot of the guesswork out of what wines to buy. If you're like me, you could taste all the wines on the list and probably come up with a few you could live without and a few that you have to put on your own good wine list.

Thankfully, the 2008 Pisato Montepulciano falls in the latter camp. It's not the richest, most acidic, earth-bound Montepulciano I've ever tasted. Nor does it have the finish of some of my favorites (see La Braccesca 2004 Vino Noble di Montepulciano, the 2005 Masciarelli Estate Bottle Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, or the 2006 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano). But, this is a nice Italian wine. And, it's made with organically grown grapes, so I guess that's nice. Although, I'm not really sure what that means. If you ask some growers up in Napa, they fight every day to get the organic seal of approval, while others do everything they can to avoid the designation and instead focus on farming techniques that are truly sustainable. This post is not about that topic, as it could go on forever and rarely do you get the same opinion when you ask. For me, though, I just thought it was interesting because it's the first Montepulciano I've seen that has this designation (but then again, maybe I don't get out enough).

The 2008 Pisato Montepulciano has an interesting array of aromas and flavors - very dark cherry, earth, chocolate and wet dog on the nose, followed by a pomegranate, cranberry chocolate espresso (hold the whip cream) in the mouth. Not as acidic as I expected it to be, but it was well balanced for a wine at the sub $15 price point. The biggest bummer is that the finish dropped off a little too early for me, but up until that point, a very satisfying wine.

What Whole Foods has to say: For turkey and other rich poultry consider this affordable alternative to Chianti with soft tannins and hints of dried fruit. Bold ruby color and dry silky fresh tomato notes complement Italian food. Superbly creamy with Cabot Clothbound Cheddar aged at the Cellars of Jasper Hill or Parmigiano Reggiano Aged 24 months.

You know, it's always fun to go through these top ten lists and see what Whole Foods comes up with, but, I have to be honest, reading their descriptions makes me want to go on whatever cheese tours they go on. Incredible the cheese recommendations for these wines.

What you should do: Buy it. Well worth having some around the house. After all, you know of any other sub $15 bottles of Organic Italian wine? Yes? Good, go buy this one. No? Well, good, go buy this one.

My rating: 88

NOTE:  the Pisato wine was sent to me as a free sample.

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