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Andrea's Restaurant - Sarasota, FL

Date: Sun, May 16, 2010 Wine Tasting

We recently learned about Andrea's Restaurant by reading an article in the latest edition of Edible Sarasota and it sounded like it would be right up our alley. We decided this past Friday to give it a try, and made our reservations accordingly. Let me say that you absolutely need reservations and you need to plan ahead to make them.

There are a couple of things that you need to know. First is that this is a small restaurant. There are only 10 tables. There is no bar. The staff is minimal -- this past Friday there were two waiters plus two busboys and Andrea, the chef/owner, working the front of the house. There is no hostess either; when you walk in the front door you are literally only a couple of feet away from two tables. But this is all okay; it gives the place a homey feeling to it.

The menu is short and changes frequently. I had looked over the menu online Friday morning but several of the items that I thought I might try were not on the menu Friday evening. We elected to go with the tasting menu, and were extremely pleased with the outcome.

Andrea's tagline is "The art of food and wine" and it fits perfectly. The food was absolutely amazing, and you can easily and quickly tell that there is a passion about it both in preparation and in presentation. Everything was absolutely fresh and of the highest quality.

As to the wine... well, do not go in expected to order by the glass. Yes, there are some limited choices here but frankly they were sub-par. Andrea has an extensive cellar, and a lot of mature wine in it, so the emphasis is on wines by the bottle. The wine list is heavy on Italian (yea!) but also carries a good mix of French, American and other new world selections. There is also a good mix of heavy hitter names (Ch. Margaux, Grange, etc.) as well as some eclectic wines as well. The only down side to the wine list? The prices are exorbitant. In purusing this list I noticed many bottles exceeding $300 with many over $500. There are some less expensive bottles on the list, but they are few and far between. The average price has to be over $100 a bottle. Yes, there are a lot of mature bottles listed (can you say 1952 Barolo?) but these prices are prohibative to many people. I would have liked to seen a broader mix of less expensive, younger wines.

So, what did we drink? Knowing that we were having the tasting menu and that we would only be having a single bottle of wine, we elected to go with a 2003 Grimaldi Barbera d'Alba Superiore. We expected that this would work with a range of dishes and it worked out perfectly. There was a lot of black fruit up front, mingled with a rustic earthiness and faint tannins on the finish. While it was drinking well, it easily could have aged another decade or so. Andrea himself brought the wine to the table, and laughingly told us that it was the last bottle! Glad we were only having one bottle then!


Speaking of Andrea, he spent most of the evening working the front of the house. Many of the dishes he would personally come and ask about how we would like prepared and then came back to see how we liked them. At times I think we got better service from Andrea than from our waiter.

I forgot to snap a picture of the tasting menu so some of my notes are from memory but I think that the overall summary is accurate.

The first course was a Vichyssoise with summer truffle. An interesting start, but not one that we particularly cared for. The truffles were plentiful but overpowering for us. One of the other tables, as they were leaving, stopped to ask us about it... apparently this is not often seen.


Next up with a beef carpaccio served with arugula and mozzarella. This was easily my favorite of the evening, and I would have made a meal on just this given a chance. The beef was exceptionally fresh and the arugula was a perfect counter point to it. There was a drizzle of aged Basalmic vinegar which worked perfectly as a dipping sauce.


Third was a puree of vegtable, topped with goat cheese. Heavy on tomato it was somewhat on the heavy side but very tasty.


The fish of the day was up next. Halibut served over fresh vegtables and topped with a caper-butter sauce. The fish was perfectly cooked, seared nicely on the outside but light and moist on the inside. The caper-butter sauce was rich and delicious. Honestly, I am not sure how someone could have eaten the whole portion of this dish; it was that filling with just the tasting portion! This was my second favorite dish of the evening.


The meat was two small lamb chops cooked medium and served over fingerling potatoes and au jus. While tasty, they came out a touch overcooked (probably should have gone medium rare) and while I know that lamb is fatty, these were almost too fatty.


Dessert was listed as chef's surprise and turned out to be a chocolate mousse served along side a lemon merugine. I think that this was meant to be a play on pie ala mode but it worked very well. The mousse was light yet very rich. The merugine was good but not great.


Overall, we liked Andrea's a lot. The food overall was fantastic and we liked that Andrea was out front talking to customers. Besides the wine pricing, and lack of by-the-glass options, the only other negative we found was the lack of attention. Yes, this was our first time here and there were obviously a lot of regulars but we felt somewhat ignored at times in the haste to spend time with said regulars. I had to twice ask our waiter to refill our water glasses. Not a huge deal, but it made an impression.

Overall, I have no real complaints (we found a great bottle of wine for a good price, sort of like a hidden gem!) and nothing but praise for the originality and quality of the food. Yes the service could have been better, but then again we have had worse and getting to spend some time with Andrea was a huge plus. We will be back I'm sure. If you are in the mood for really great Italian, make a reservation and give them a try.

Cheers!

Andrea's on Urbanspoon


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2005 Jim Berry "The Lodge Hill" Shiraz

Date: Tue, May 11, 2010 Wine Tasting



We did not know what to make of this one at first. It seemed a bit funky; not "bad" funky, but just different. In the end though, I think that we both found this to be a pretty darn good quaff.

The initial impression was blueberry, black cherry and peppercorn. On the palate this mingled with some cocoa, blackberry and light, but gritty, tannins on the front of the palate. As it opened up there were notes of some herb and a bit of smoky oak. The finish was moderately long.

I would put this one into a borderline "inky and brooding" shiraz -- while it was big and bold, it was not dominatingly so. While the fruit was a bit more pronounced that I would generally care for, the balance with the spice and earthy undertone was spot on.

The only downside to this is the price. At $17 it is a very reasonable shiraz, but there are a lot of good ones in the 10-12 range as well. And it does not have the distinctiveness of more expensive shiraz, which leaves it where? I would recommend it easily, but would also point out other options as well.

Cheers!


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2007 Freemark Abbey Viognier

Date: Tue, May 11, 2010 Wine Tasting



There are certain moments when it seems like everything is just right in the world. Such was the case when I tasted this viognier the other night.

This wine had a sensuousness that suggest that it was going to be fantastic, and it did not disappoint. First, the nose was opulent and full of wild jasmine, ripe pears and a touch of oak and vanilla. On the palate, the wine was rich and mouth-filling. Drinking this blind I am not sure that I would have ever picked viognier. The palate showed pear, some green apple, rich buttery-cream and understated white pepper just on the finish which lasted forever.

This is easily the best viognier that I have had in years, and perhaps ever. Yes, it was more expensive that most whites that we drink ($20) but in my opinion it was worth every penny. Of course, as is often the case with these things... I loved it a whole lot more than Allison did, although she did like it. It is certainly a heavier white wine than is typical for us, but once in a while you need to change things up.

Cheers!


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1996 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Rose Reserve Champagne

Date: Tue, May 4, 2010 Wine Tasting



In my experience with retail wine sales, people shopping for champagne would often look for Non-vintage Veuve Clicquot yellow label. We have never been big fans of the yellow label but when it comes to the vintage reserves, well... that is a different story altogether.

We were fortunate to be able to taste both the 1996 reserve and rose reserve at a tasting some number of years ago, and we bought several bottles of both. Remember that 1996 is a classic vintage for Champagne and that the top producers have the potential for long-term (20+ years) of cellaring. I would generally not age a rose for that long as they tend to be more 'delicate' but this one certainly has that potential. However, at 15 years old it is drinking remarkably well.

We opened this one up on a Thursday because... well, it was Thursday. Seriously, champagne is not just an occasion drink but a great everday wine as well. Indeed, because of the acidity and effervescense it pairs remarkably well with a wide range of food.

The color was a deep salmon with some faint copper tones around the edge. The aromas initally hinted at some earth and wild mushroom, giving way to bright fruit and floral overtones. The palate was full of strawberry, hints of apricot and sourdough bread. The yeastiness was still there but much more subtle than you might find in a younger champagne. It finished with a touch of caramel on the back. There is also still plenty of sparkle in this one.

These have been in our cellar since roughly late 2003. Back then we paid $65. Worth every penny.

Cheers!


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2008 Root:1 Cabernet Sauvignon

Date: Tue, May 4, 2010 Wine Tasting



I was surprised to see that we had never posted a review of this wine. Why? Because we have drank a good bit of the 2007 vintage and found it to be quite good for the money. Last night I picked up a bottle of the 2008 which is a different story...

Actually, the 2008 is still pretty good. Even though these wines are not meant for long term aging, I still believe that this one needs a bit of time. There are some rough tannins in here that need to mellow out.

This one is a medium bodied style, with fruit that is all black cherry, and finishing with hints of cocoa and smoke on the finish. As noted above, the tannins were somewhat rough on the back of the palate with a bit more acidity than expected.

Overall, this was a good bottle of wine at a very good price for Cabernet at $10.99. As I have said before, we generally do not care for Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon but this one in the past has been an exception. Time will tell if this vintage will fall into the same exception or whether it will just be another bland Cabernet for us.

Cheers!


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Chart House Restaurant - Scottsdale, AZ

Date: Tue, Apr 27, 2010 Wine Tasting


So my boss decided to take our group out to dinner last night... 15 of us! The restaurant selected was the Chart House which is a small chain of restaurants with locations from CA to FL - they happen to have a location in Longboat Key so when I get home we can try that one and compare.

The restaurant is located next to a resort and faces a nice lake with views of the mountains. We sat on the patio and enjoyed the views immensely.

For a party this size they recommended a selection of their appetizers which included raw oysters, fried asparagus, coconut shrimp, lobster spring rolls, seared ahi tuna and calamri. All of it was outstanding. The oysters were surprisingly good, but perhaps not as salty as I might normally care for. The asparagus was served with an interesting sauce and the coconut shrimp lightly breaded and perfectly cooked. The only thing I really did not care for, which was surprising, was the lobster spring roll. It seemed like there was way too much spring roll and no lobster.

The range of entree's ordered ranged from steak to all variety of seafood. I heard that the sea bass was delightful as were the scallops. I selected a spiced yellowfin tuna that was cajun spiced and grilled accompanied by ginger soy butter, wasabi cream and bok choy. The fish itself was outstanding but there was way too much sauce for my tastes. The bok choy was a touch undercooked, but still tasty. I would certainly order this again.

A couple of folks ordered some desserts, including key lime pie which was said to be very good. I had a whiskey sour after my meal and was very, very disappointed that it was from a mix. Yuck!

With a party this size, the service was about as good as could be expected. We often went without drinks as the waiter tried his best to keep up, but overall he did a very good job.

Check out their website, and if you are in one of the locations and looking for seafood consider giving them a try - I would be surprised if you did not enjoy it.

Cheers!

Chart House on Urbanspoon


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Roaring Fork - Scottsdale, AZ

Date: Tue, Apr 27, 2010 Wine Tasting


Well, I'm back in Scottsdale for a week plus and was looking for some places to eat. Upon my arrival last Thursday night, a couple of co-workers suggested that we meet up at The Roaring Fork restaurant, not too far from out hotel.

The restaurant is located in an office building complex, right off of the main drag (Scottsdale Road). Finding it was somewhat of a challenge but not overly so. They could definitely use better signage. I had madea reservation for 5 about 25 minutes (via OpenTable)before arrival, and when we did arrive at the appointed hour we were immediately seated. Excellent start!

The basic wine list was on the flaps of the menu, and there was a good selection both by the glass and bottle. The prices were reasonable, but leaned towards the higher end. I did not ask if there was a reserve list, but suspect that there probably was. I went with a Truchard Pinot Noir by the glass that was quite tasty with my meal. I did not note the vintage, but it was about $14 a glass.

We elected to share some appetizers and ordered one of their signature dishes - Green Chile Pork Stew as well as an interesting fried avocado with crab, spicy remolaude and chives. The stew was mixed with melted jack cheese and was eaten with a flour tortilla. Everybody at the table loved the stew (obviously I passed because of the cheese). The avocado was interesting; very tasty, but the fried part did not really add much in my mind. I would actually have preferred it unfried with the crab and sauce.

There was a range of dinner plates ordered including a cedar planked salmon, the mixed grill and I had the sugar cured duck breast. We also invested in a couple of sides including sauted spinach and onions, sauted asparagus and crushed yukon gold potatoes. Once again, everybody loved their meal. The duck was perfectly cooked medium-rare and included an onion jam (did not care too much for this), sour cherry mustard and cabbage. This worked very nicely with pinot - the earthiness of the wine matched perfectly.

The food was an absolute delight. Service was prompt and attentive. The ambience was good, with perhaps a touch too much emphasis on low key lighting - it was a tad dark at our table.

I would definitely recommend the Roaring Fork and would certainly return - oh wait, I already did! Yep, Sunday night found us there once again. I pretty much stuck to the same meal and was just as impressed. They have a couple of other locations - Austin and San Antonio, TX - and are part of a small restaurant chain - Eddie V's, which also includes Eddie V's and Wildfish.

The final thing that really sold me on the Roaring Fork was the fact that on Friday I got a call wanting to ensure that we had enjoyed our evening. Now, that is great customer service!

Cheers!

Roaring Fork on Urbanspoon


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2008 Sensi Montepulciano d'Abruzzo

Date: Mon, Apr 19, 2010 Wine Tasting



I was over at Fresh Market the other day to pickup some stuff for dinner when I was offered the opportunity to taste a couple of wines from Sensi including the Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.

As with many montepulciano's, this is a fairly light style with solid red fruit up front and a dry, dustiness on the back of the palate. There were subtle hints of soft tannins, and a pleasant lingering taste of vanilla and oak.

These wines are generally meant to be consumed within a couple of years of release and I think that this one is hitting its stride very well right now. Pair this one up with lighter meats like grilled chicken and you will have a surefire winner.

While I am not 100% on the exact price I paid, I do know that it was definitely less than $15 and I believe it was closer to $12 for the bottle.

Cheers!


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2009 San Telmo Torrontes

Date: Mon, Apr 19, 2010 Wine Tasting



Strike 2.

The other day we drank a bottle of the San Telmo Malbec and wrote how little we cared for it. So what was I thinking when I grabbed a bottle of this the other day? It had to be the $4.97 price. I mean, for that you almost can not go wrong.

Almost.

There was nothing redeeming about this one at all. The nose was chock full of overripe pear, while the palate was fleshy and filled with unripe green apple notes and hints of bubblegum fruitiness. The finish was edgy with an acidity that was fairly unpleasant.

Sometimes you get what you pay for; this was not one of those times. I could not in good faith recommend this wine to anyone.

Cheers!


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2009 The Infamous Goose Sauvignon Blanc

Date: Mon, Apr 19, 2010 Wine Tasting



This is a very drinkable, with characteristic citrus fruit (a bit heavy on the grapefruit notes) with fresh herb and grass with a finish of mineral and acidity. And it is $8.99 a bottle.

However, so are a lot of other New Zealand sauvignon blancs. There really is nothing to make this stand out from the crowd.

It really is good, it just is not memorable.

Cheers!


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Monthly Wine Tasting @ The Butcher's Block - Sarasota, FL

Date: Thu, Apr 15, 2010 Wine Tasting

This past Tuesday was the monthly tasting over at The Butcher's Block here in Sarasota. This is quickly becoming my favorite tasting in the area. The wines represent a broader range of price points, there is more focus on different wines and it is not nearly as crowded as other tastings.

So without further ado, here are the wines that were tasted. All of the tables had handouts this month, though only 2 of the 4 tables had notes about the wines. Where there were notes on the handouts, I have included those in blue text and my tasting notes are in red text.


Table #1


Rosenblum Cellars Vintner's Cuvee Chardonnay 2008 (California, $9.99) - "clean, pure fruit abounds... made in a non-oaked style... fresh apple, pear and stone fruit... gives way to smooth molasses and vanilla that soften the edges... length finish that sings with bright tangerine and green apple." This was a surprisingly nice chardonnay, with lots of fruit and no-oak. The finish to me was not lengthy at all.

Rosenblum Cellars Vintner's Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon 2007(California, $9.99) -"hits you with a double punch of dark fruit and heady tobacco... rich, deep flavors develop, layering black cherry, blackberry, vanilla and a hint of coriander." This was a nice, easy drinking cabernet with good fruit balanced by silky tannins on the finish.

Beaulieu Vineyard Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2003(California, $19.99(?)) -There were tasting notes included on the sheet, but it listed 2006 so I am not those including here; this is also why there is a question mark for the price. My notes indicated that this showed a lot of dark cherry fruit that was well balanced with notes of cocoa and firm tannins. This was still very youthful, and I suspect it has some life left to it... maybe 5-7 years.


Numanthia Termes(Spain, $28.99) -I did not note the vintage on this one. "ripe but fresh, with velvety texture and lively structure." This was definitely fruit forward, a bit on the jammy side. Some acidity on the finish but overwhelmed by the fruit.



Table #2
Southern Wine & Spirits
Note that there were no vintages on the tasting sheet, which I did not realize until writing this up, so there is no vintage information for this set of wines which makes the tasting notes somewhat useless but I'm presenting them anyway.

Pierre Sparr Pinot Blanc (Alsace, France, $13.99) - This had a nice acidity, with wet stone and mineral on the finish.

Terra d'Oro Pinot Grigio (Amador County, California, $12.99) - I found this one to be fairly unremarkable, with just mild fruit on the front palate. I have tasted this before, and did not think much of it then either although on this particular tasting I think it was probably too cold which would mask the profile.

Lazaret Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc (Rhone, France, $31.99) - This was rich, with tons of fresh jasmine and melon fruit surrounded by white pepper. I don't have much experience with white Chateauneuf du Pape's but if they are all like this that will have to be corrected!

B. R. Cohn "Silver Label" Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma, California, $18.99) - Medium bodied with black currant, black cherry, tobacco and hints of bell pepper. This is a ripe, ready to drink cabernet at a good price.

Terra d'Oro Zinfandel (Amador County, California, $19.99) - This was an interesting blend of 80% Zinfandel, 13% Petite Sirah and 7% Barbera that showed lots of spice with a lighter, fruit profile that typical for zinfandels probably due to the barbera. Medium-to-full bodied with a lingering finish this was quite tasty.


Table #3
Rob the Wine Guy

Chateau de Parenchere "Clariet" Bordeaux Rose 2008 (Bordeaux, France, $10.99) - "50% Merlot and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon... particularly aromatic and has a very deep red fruit color." I thought this one was medium bodied, with bright red fruit up front. There was a slight hint of tannin in the background along with some crisp acidity. Pretty tasty; would definitely be a nice summer wine.

Allan Scott Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (Marlborough, New Zealand, $10.99) - "invigorating aromatic mix of tropical passion fruit aromas... crisp and lively... fruit and pineapple underpinned with zesty citrus." I don't think I could say it any better. This is typical NZ sauvignon blanc and Allan Scott is always a good producer.

Mountain View Chardonnay 2008 (Monterey, California, $8.99) - "rich tropical fruit aromas and ripe varietal flavors are balanced by the crisp acidity." This was another chardonnay that I really enjoyed. Definitely crisp, with white flower notes intermingled with fresh melon flavors with a lingering finish.

Mountain View Pinot Noir 2008 (Carneros, California, $12.99) - "shows ripe berry fruit, bright cherry and plum flavors, with a hint of oak in the finish." This one was a bit underwhelming for me, with the fruit seeming to be masked beneath an earthiness that, while not completely unpleasant, was much too pronounced.

Martino Biscardo Valpolicella Ripasso 2007 (Veneto, Italy, $19.99) - "dark plum, black cherry, chocolate and earth-like characteristics." This was not a bad wine, but it did not convey what Ripasso can be. There was a distinct lack of the typical raisiny notes and it was lighter and more fruit forward than I would have liked to see personally.

Glen Eldon "Dry Bore" Shiraz 2004 (Barossa, Australia, $17.99) - "100% shiraz from 30-60 year old vines... full-bodied... loads of blackberry and cassis fruit with hints of pepper and chocolate... dense and chewy." While this was not an inky and brooding shiraz, it definitely was dense with good black fruit and a solid core of spice. My favorite wine of the evening.


Table #4
Transatlantic Fine Wines

Legado del Conde Albarino 2008 (Spain, $13.99) - Being disappointed with the 2007 vintage (review), I passed on this one. In all honesty, I thought that we had tasted this one much more recently and did not realize there was a vintage change.

Souverain Chardonnay 2008 (California, $12.99) - Unfortunately, another oaky chardonnay from California that did not show much in the way of fruit.

Belle Glos Meiomi Pinot Noir 2008 (Sonoma County, California, $22.99) - Lots of bright red fruit with an undercurrent of oak and earthiness. This was a good, but not great, pinot noir. It could get better with another year or two of age on it.

Tangley Oaks Merlot 2007 (Napa Valley, California, $12.99) - This was a medium bodied merlot with light fruit intermingled with edgy tannins. A bit on the oaky side, with a rough, unbalanced finish.

Terlato & Chapoutier Shiraz-Viognier 2007 (Australia, $14.99) - The was a very soft shiraz that did not show much spice until right on the finish. There was some red fruit and a hint of minerality to it. Not bad.

Layer Cake Malbec 2008 (Medonza, Argentina, $13.99) - I have enjoyed other wines from Layer Cake but had never had the malbec. It was not bad at all. A good bit of the rustic, earthy malbec style with black cherry fruit.


For $10 once a month, this is a great way to try some really good wines, taste some delightful hors d'oeuvres and meet some great folks. Hope to see you there next month.

Cheers!


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2009 San Telmo Malbec

Date: Tue, Apr 13, 2010 Wine Tasting



This has gotten some pretty good reviews out there on the internet. This is not going to be one of them. We were way underwhelmed by this one.

This wine was simply bland. There were some notes of raspberry, bell pepper and damp earth that all seemed to conflict with each other rather than meshing together. The nose initally was closed down, and even with 20 minutes of aeration only hinted at what was in the glass. It never really developed into anything that we thought was enjoyable, and in fact we poured about half the bottle down the drain.

Maybe this needs some time, but I did not see anything here that really leads me to believe that this is going to ever be a good malbec.

Cheers!


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2006 Ville Mt. Eden Grand Reserve Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard

Date: Tue, Apr 13, 2010 Wine Tasting



Uh, wow. That sums this one up about as well as anything else I can say. We picked a bottle of this up a week or so ago simply because we wanted a pinot noir and we did not feel like spending $20, $30 or more for a bottle. We expected a simple, easy to drink wine but instead found a monster lurking in the bottle.

This packs a punch. Solid black cherry fruit, with notes of licorice and a hint of spice. This was much more full-bodied than expected, with a long and lingering finish.

This was also very Burgundian in style, being somewhat dry and earthy on the finish. Had we drank this blind, I would never have guessed California pinot noir.

This was $13.99 and easily could have sold for double that. This is one that is getting the everyday wine label, and we will likely grab a case of it to have on hand.

Cheers!


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2007 Torre del Falasco Valpolicella Ripasso

Date: Tue, Apr 13, 2010 Wine Tasting



From what I could find on the internet, this appears to be a blend of just two of the traditional grapes in Valpolicella -- Corvina Veronese and Rondinella.

This one was lighter than expected, with more fruit up front that typical in a ripasso style. Initially there was black cherry with some notes of sage and leather. With this style of wine, I typically expect some earthiness and raisin notes and while they were present, they were much more subdued in this one. The finish was moderate, with gritty tannins.

This was a good ripasso at $15.99, but it did not typify the style the way that I expected. It could also stand a bit more time, at least a couple of years, before I think the tannins might settle down.

Cheers!


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