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2007 Casa Perini Marselan

Date: Mon, Feb 8, 2010 Wine Tasting



Some time back we were invited to an open house for one of the local banks. They were trying to get Allison's business as she was looking at purchasing her dental practice. We of course signed up for the drawing of a gift basket, never expecting to win but lo and behold we did. The basket contained 2 bottles of wine -- this one and a sparkling wine.

We have been very hesitant to open either of these, thinking that they were going to be sweet (based on what was being served at the open house). Finally a couple of days ago we broke down and popped the cork on this one... and we were very pleasantly surprised!

I had never heard of Marselan, but a quick Google reveals that it is originally a French grape that is a hybrid of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache that was first introduced in 1961. According to the Wikipedia entry for it, it typically produces medium styled wines but there is very little else about it.

We found it to be on the heavier side of medium bodied but it definitely was not as big as I would have suspected based on the pedigree. Lots of fruit on the nose and early palate but balanced with some cassis, notes of leather and a touch of oak on the finish. It was a decent bottle of wine, but not one that I think we would drink on a regular basis.

Probably would have been better with some food to go along with it -- maybe a slow cooked roast or perhaps grilled chicken.

Cheers!

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2007 Casa Perini Marselan

Date: Mon, Feb 8, 2010 Wine Tasting



Some time back we were invited to an open house for one of the local banks. They were trying to get Allison's business as she was looking at purchasing her dental practice. We of course signed up for the drawing of a gift basket, never expecting to win but lo and behold we did. The basket contained 2 bottles of wine -- this one and a sparkling wine.

We have been very hesitant to open either of these, thinking that they were going to be sweet (based on what was being served at the open house). Finally a couple of days ago we broke down and popped the cork on this one... and we were very pleasantly surprised!

I had never heard of Marselan, but a quick Google reveals that it is originally a French grape that is a hybrid of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache that was first introduced in 1961. According to the Wikipedia entry for it, it typically produces medium styled wines but there is very little else about it.

We found it to be on the heavier side of medium bodied but it definitely was not as big as I would have suspected based on the pedigree. Lots of fruit on the nose and early palate but balanced with some cassis, notes of leather and a touch of oak on the finish. It was a decent bottle of wine, but not one that I think we would drink on a regular basis.

Probably would have been better with some food to go along with it -- maybe a slow cooked roast or perhaps grilled chicken.

Cheers!


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2007 Pascal Jolivet Sancerre

Date: Mon, Feb 8, 2010 Wine Tasting


Sancerre is the region in the Loire Valley that is know for its crisp white wines made from Sauvignon Blanc. Unlike a New Zealand sauvignon blanc, Sancerre is generally a more chalky, minerally style of wine that shows more of the white flower notes and much less of the citrus fruit.

Pascal Jolivet covers roughly 50 acres with vineyards near the villages of Bue, Verdigny and Ste. Gemme. The grapes are grown in soils that are about 50% limestone, 30% chalky clay and 20% flint and the philosophy at the Domaine is to let the grapes speak for themselves without a lot of manipulation by the winemaking team.

This 2007 was definitely a home run. The wine was acidic but not zesty. The nose and palate definitely hit you with the flinty, mineral quality and the palate showed lots of white flower, a good dose of green herbs and just a touch of citrus on the finish.

Delicious by itself, I would also love to pair this up with some simple boiled seafood or perhaps some ceviche.

Cheers!

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2004 Trinchero Family Merlot

Date: Mon, Feb 8, 2010 Wine Tasting



If you ever saw the movie Sideways, you will remember that one of the main characters (Miles) had an absolute adversion to all things merlot. To a large part I tend to relate to this, albeit for different reasons. I just generally do not care for the typical bright, fruit forwardness of the grape particularly domestic ones.

So why is it that not too long ago when picking up some wines I decided to go out on a limb and pick up a bottle of this 2004 Trinchero Family? Could it have been the clearance price of $6.97 (at Norman's Liquors in Bradenton)? Most likely that was the main reason. It could also be that I find we are drinking a lot of the same stuff and want to break that cycle.

I opened this without telling Allison what it was. It is amazing at how easy it is to convince yourself that you do not like something if you know before hand that it is a grape that you generally do not care for (hey, I include myself in this category!).

We were both wowed by this wine. First of all it is pretty full-bodied, but without the tannin that you find in cabernet based wines. It was full of dark cherry fruit, with some light hints of licorice and mulberry. The finish seemed to linger around the edges of the palate for what seemed like hours, giving subtle notes of chocolate.

I will definitely be looking to see if we can find some more of this next time I stop by.

Cheers!

By the way --- there is a bit of irony in the movie with Miles hating merlot... anybody know what it is?

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2010 Forks & Corks

Date: Sat, Feb 6, 2010 Wine Tasting


Last week was the 3rd annual Sarasota-Manatee Originals Forks & Corks wine festival. This event continues to get better each year. The event encompassed a good number of wine dinners held at member restaurants as well as including several wine seminars including a blending class lead by Anthony Bell of Bell Wine Cellars. On Sunday we were fortunate to once again attend the Grand Tastings which was once again held at the Ringling Museum. Initially the weather was supposed to be cooler and overcast, and while it started out as such in just short order the clouds parted giving way to sunshine and warmer temperatures, which made for a great afternoon of tasting good food and wine.

A large number of the member restaurants once again were on-hand and provided a wide range of delightful samples. We managed to taste at a good number of their tables. Without meaning to slight anyone, because everything I tasted was great, there were a couple of items that really stood out for me – the crab cakes from Siesta Key Oyster Bar, the lobster bisque from The Lobster Pot and Ceviche de la Casa from Ceviche (a wonderful cold ceviche of shrimp, scallops, squid and fish marinated in lime juice and tossed with tomatoes, scallions, peppers and cilantro).

The liquid side of the tasting included both beer and wine from around the globe. I would have loved to taste everything but there were simply too many choices, not enough time and a drive home to think about. As is my custom at these events, I tried to focus on a couple of things – wines from smaller producers and/or regions that I am less familiar with as well as wines that I have had in previous vintages but maybe have not tasted recently. While I try and focus on these, I also will find myself tasting other wines as well, particularly those that I know and love. I also try my best to sip and spit but as the crowd grows it can be difficult to get to the dump bucket (plus the fact that some of the wines I want to enjoy completely!). I also try and get the pourer to give me just “a splash” so that I am not tempted as much. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t.

Unfortunately, it was very difficult to juggle everything I had in my hands – tasting sheet, gift bag, wine glass, plate, pen, etc. – to get really good notes and it was also tough to stand there and try to jot a lot down as people want to get to the table and get their own taste, and unlike a lot of people (hint, hint!) I will generally try to move out of the way so that others can move up. (I’m off my soapbox now about that).

Here are some the highlights that I did manage to get some notes about:

· NV Star Tree Nouveau Blanc (South Africa, $9.95) – I do not remember the grape that she said was used to make this but it was very light and refreshing. Very similar to a Moscato d’Asti but without the effervescence.
· 2006 Baileyana Chardonnay (California, $23.95) – a very nice, balanced chardonnay.
· 2005 & 2006 Dunn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon (California, 2006 $107.95) – Wow! Big, full throttle cabernet that had solid, dark fruit and well integrated tannin structure. Both of these need some time to really come into their own, even though they are pretty fantastic now.
· 2005 Keenan Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve (California, $94.95) – I asked the owner, who was pouring, the difference between this and his regular cabernet that he was also pouring. His answer was the he puts the juice in a different bottle and charges double! Of course he was not being serious with this answer… the real answer is that it is very select grapes from limited parcels. Both showed very well, with dark fruit and balanced structure.
· 2006 St. Clement Oroppas (California, $41.95) – a blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot this was a very nice Bordeaux style blend with lots of cherry fruit, herbs and a hint of chocolate on the finish.
· 2008 The Four Graces Pinot Gris (Oregon, $13.95) – A refreshing white with floral notes and a flinty mineral finish.

The best part of the wine tasting had to be the Bordeaux section. There were several Chateaus present, each pouring a current (generally 2006) bottle as well as an older bottle (generally 2000) which gave tasters an opportunity to see how aging a wine can change it completely. Of course you tasted the younger wine first and then the older to get this perspective. Everybody that I talked to thought that this was a fantastic idea and absolutely loved it. I was not able to taste all of them but here are the ones that I managed to get to:

· Chateau Beychevelle (St. Julien) – 2007 and 2006 (although the wine list showed 2000, he said he did not bring any because that was for collecting)
· Chateau Camensac (Haut-Medoc) – 2006 ($32.95) and 2000 ($54.95) – both very, very good with dark fruit in a bit of a lighter style. The 2006 seemed at times to be a bit disjointed but probably will meld together nicely with a couple of more years on it. The 2000 was drinking very well.
· Chateau Ferriere (Margaux) – 2006 ($44.95) and 2000 ($76.98) – Margaux is my favorite Bordeaux region so I was really excited to taste these. At this point in the day my note taking was beginning to suffer but here is what I jotted down (and this is verbatim): 2000 “wow!”, 2006 “wow! Young but lots of potential”. I think that sums these up rather nicely.

Looking back through the tasting sheet I see that there were a lot of wines that I either missed getting some notes on as well as a good number that I just did not get to taste and wish that I had. What I did taste I generally liked although, as is to be expected, there were some that I just did not care for.

I am already looking forward to next year’s event.

Cheers!

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2004 Clarendon Hills "Brookman" Cabernet Sauvignon

Date: Sun, Jan 24, 2010 Wine Tasting




There is an abundance of cabernet sauvignon from Australia out in the marketplace today. Most of it is lower-priced and pretty indistinct from a lot of cabernet from elsewhere in the world. However, on occasion you may stumble across a higher-end Australian cabernet and realize how unique it can be.

So what is this unique profile that Australian cabernet sauvignon can have? Eucalyptus. It literally reeks of it, and it is quite tasty when well balanced. Now everyone probably is not a big fan of this, and to be honest I do not think that I would want it every single day. But on occasion, it can be really good.

I stumbled across a case of 2004 Clarendon Hills "Brookman" Cabernet Sauvignon the other day and quickly picked up a bottle. As noted above, not everybody is going to like this style and unfortunately for me Allison is one of those that doesn't. Alas! I will have to drink it by myself from now on... darn my luck!

When I first opened the bottle, I thought that a eucalyptus tree might have been in the bottle. It was really powerful on the nose, and honestly almost seemed to be too much. Fortunately, it was well balanced by lots of dark plum and currant. The finish lingered with notes of herb and a touch of vanilla. I thought it was very, very tasty! Very full-bodied, with only mild tannins, I think that this is probably drinking as well now as it ever will.

Cheers!

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Wine Blogger's Wednesday

Date: Wed, Jan 20, 2010 Wine Tasting

Once a month wine bloggers the world over come together on a particular Wednesday and blog about a common theme. This is the first time that I have taken part in this, but look forward to participating more in the future. You can read more about the history and idea behind this at my friend Michelle's blog My Wine Education.

The theme this month is "snow day". Fortunately for us, while it has been pretty cool down in south Florida we have not had any snow. However, I remember what it was like last winter when we were in Cincinnati. And whether there is snow on the ground or not, when it is cold my selection is one that we frequently turn to.

There are obviously a lot of really good wines, and even some non-wine spirits, that work really well on cold, snowy days to warm up the old tootsie's (and the rest of the body as well) but for some reason port has always seemed to hit just the right notes.

This month I'm going with one of our favorite fortified wines - Sandeman's Twenty Year Old Tawny Port.



Port is a fortified wine, meaning that spirits (brandy in this case) are added to wine which arrests the fermentation and gives it a richer, sweeter flavor profile while seriously boosting the alcohol content - usually between about 18 - 20% AbV. Port is also made in a variety of styles (10 in all) - from simple, everyday style to vintage port that literally needs decades to develop and will keep seemingly forever.

Aged tawny port is the 4th level of port, and generally denotes ten, twenty, thirty or forty years old. They are blends of several years' worth of port and are denoted by what a port of that age should taste like and not necessarily the actual ages of the ports in the blend. So a twenty year old Tawny should taste like a 20 year old port, even though the actual ages will vary.

The ports that go into aged tawny ports are of the highest quality and are generally ones used for vintage ports.

Because of extended barrel aging, tawny ports take on a nutty flavor that is pretty unique. While they are sweet, they tend to be well balanced and very easy to drink.

Sandeman is one of our favorite producers of aged tawny ports. These are very rich, with the nuttiness I mentioned above along with hints of oranges, honey and apricot. It is generally the color of medium brick red with a shift towards light brown along the edge of the glass. The sweetness is distinct, but not cloying at all, and reminds me of orange marmalade.

Because of the richness of tawny ports, this seems to sink into you with a rich warmth that I have not found in any other wine. Even served chilled, it quickly warms you from head to toe.

These generally run about $50 a bottle. Once opened, they will keep for a week or so in the refrigerator. Some people will keep them longer, but I think that they show best shortly after being opened and generally a bottle does not last even a week in our house. So, if you are need of a serious wine to warm you up on a cold, wintery snow day I would highly recommend checking out an aged tawny port.

Cheers!

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2005 Sbragia "Gino's Vineyard" Zinfandel

Date: Tue, Jan 19, 2010 Wine Tasting




This zinfandel from Sbragia Family Vineyards is amazing. Classic zinfandel in every sense and, while on the higher side of the price range, still pretty reasonable for the quality.

When we first opened the bottle and took a quick smell, we knew that this was going to be very good. The nose was rich with black cherry, raspberry and hints of earthiness. This carried over to the palate where it was balanced with solid peppercorn spice and notes of ginger. This was full-bodied all the way with a long finish that ended with touches of licorice.

We drink a lot of zinfandels, and tend towards the $10-15 range. While there are a lot of really good zinfandels out there in this price point, I personally believe that there is a distinct difference as you move up the price ladder. This was $24.99 and miles apart from what we have been drinking recently. Probably not an everyday wine for most of us (unfortunately!) but if you really want a special zinfandel then this would be an outstanding choice.

Cheers!

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Redux Kumo Japanese Steak House & Sushi Bar - Sarasota, FL

Date: Thu, Jan 14, 2010 Wine Tasting




Ok, so we had lunch a couple of weeks ago at the new Kumo Japanese Steak House & Sushi Bar here in Sarasota and found it delightful. Last night we needed a late dinner and so stopped in about 9:35 --- 25 minutes to closing!

To say we were even more impressed would be an understatement. Again, the food was exceptional and the sashimi exquisitely fresh. The portions continue to be on the largish side and the service top notch. The only complaint about the service is that our waiter may have been too attentive... there were a couple of times where I almost had to ask him for some privacy.

Allison was not in the mood for sashimi and went with a hibachi steak and shrimp plate. This was amazing: a lot of food that was perfectly cooked and very artfully arranged, unlike a lot of Japanese steakhouses that would just "slop" it onto a plate. There was even a decorative orchid bloom for garnish. The miso soup was very tasty but could have stood to have a bit more tofu included in it.

We are both very impressed with this restaurant, and hope that the continue to grow the business so that they are here for a very long time!

Cheers!

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2009 Clifford Bay Sauvignon Blanc

Date: Tue, Jan 12, 2010 Wine Tasting




Wow! That pretty much sums this one. This sauvignon blanc is the essence of the New Zealand style with tons of citrus - grapefruit and lemon notably - plus fresh cut grass, wet stone and a lengthy finish with notes of jasmine. The acidity was nicely balanced with the fruit.

The color on this was very pale, almost to the point of being clear. But don't let that fool you... there is a lot of stuff happening in there. Had we drank this blind, I would have guessed it to be one of the more expensive sauvignon blancs but this was only $8.99 a bottle! For that reason it moves to the everyday wine list.

Cheers!

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2006 St. Francis Winery "Red"

Date: Thu, Jan 7, 2010 Wine Tasting




We have been drinking a lot of the 2005 St. Francis Winery "Red" for a while now and enjoying it a lot. Last night we happened to pick up a couple of bottles of the 2006 vintage and while we enjoyed it a lot, it was not quite as good as the 2005 was.

The 2006 is a blend of 48% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Syrah, 3% Zinfandel and 6% mixed black grapes (Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Alicante and Malbec). Interestingly enough, I would have expected to like the 2006 much better based on the blend.

Surprisingly, the fruit was much more pronounced in the 2006 vintage. A lot of red cherry but also currant, plum and notes of black licorice. Not a fruit bomb, but just more pronounced fruit than we were expecting. The spice was much more subdued and the overall weight seemed lighter. Going back to the blend, I was definitely surprised at these differences.

Cheers!

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2009 Wrap-up and a peek to 2010 for Obrientastings

Date: Sat, Jan 2, 2010 Wine Tasting

Allison and I had a wonderful 2009 and are excited about the opportunities that look to present themselves in 2010. We would like to thank our readers for their continued support... while this started out as a simple way for us to keep up with what we had been tasting, it has grown into much more than that thanks to you.

We had the opportunity to taste some great wines this past year, and a few that were not so great. We also had the opportunity to try a lot of new restaurants as a result of relocating to Florida and we have definitely found some favorites here.

In 2009 there were 177 posts to the blog. It is hard to find 10 that stand out but I managed to pick the ones that really stood out for me. These are in no particular order:

* 2005 Chateau Ste. Michelle Orphelin - this is a great blend that we have drank a lot of since discovering it this year. One of the most frequently searched wines on the blog.

* 2004 Campo Viejo Rioja Reserva - we had forgotten how much we like Rioja when it is made well, and this one was not only well made but very reasonably priced. We liked the Gran Reserva almost as much.

* 2007 Joel Gott "815" Cabernet Sauvignon - buying this for $10 a bottle certainly did not hurt, but it is a very darn good cabernet in any event and we have drank a good bit of this as well.

* 2005 Sbragia Andolsen Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon - if we win the lottery, this will likely become our house red wine. It is a fantastic bottle of wine.

* 2007 Pio Cesare Cortese di Gavi - we drank a lot more white wines this past year and this was one that reminded us of how much we love the Gavi wines from Italy.

* 2008 Ruffino Orvieto Classico - another white from Italy that we have drank a lot of this past year.

* 2006 Bramblewood Zinfandel - a fantastic zinfandel from ABC Fine Wine & Spirits here in Florida. One of the most frequent keyword searches on the blog as well.

* 2005 Stags Leap Napa Valley Merlot - we do not drink lots of merlot, but this is one that we certainly will return to.

* Astoria Fine Russian and American Cuisine Restaurant - we had no idea that we would like Russian food as much as we do, but this is a great restaurant.

* Wine Dinner at the Tuscany in Freedom Village - we had a delightful dinner with our friends from Taste Dining & Travel Magazine here.

Looking forward to 2010, there are a couple of things that I am really excited about

* Currently working on a complete redesign of the blog layout to make it more unique and user friendly. I had hoped to roll it out by now, but other things have kept me from focusing on it. I expect to get it down in the first quarter of 2010.

* As a result of some exposure in the blogsphere, I am working on several ventures that hopefully will launch shortly including an opportunity I have been given to teach some wine classes and become more involved with the local wine scene.

* Also as a result of our exposure, I have been given the opportunity to visit Chateau Montelena in late January and taste the 2007 Estate Zinfandel and the 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon before they are released in March. I am currently working on figuring out the logistics of making this happen.

Thanks again to all of our loyal readers and we hope to welcome a lot of new ones in the new year.

Cheers,
Gary & Allison

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New Year's Eve dinner at Hillview Grill - Sarasota, FL

Date: Fri, Jan 1, 2010 Wine Tasting



My mother-in-law and sister-in-law came down to take Allison to the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day since they are all big Auburn fans. We knew that we wanted to go downtown for new years but could not decide on where to eat. We finally choose Hillview Grill. We had been previously, and enjoyed it a lot.

We made reservations for 8:30 with no problems about a week ago. When we arrived about 20 minutes early, we were sat nearly immediately. When we called we were told that it would be a limited, but not prixe fix menu. The menu was huge! There were 6 (or maybe 8, can't remember for sure) appetizers plus a dozen or so entree selections. In addition, each entree came with a soup or salad and 2 sides! And the prices were really reasonable to boot.

We started with glasses of wine, rather than going with a bottle. Allison had the fume blanc (Ferrari-Carrano) and I had a glass of Omaka Springs Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. My sister-in-law picked a cabernet (Snap Dragon) and the mother-in-law initially went with a merlot (Santa Ema Reserve) but it was apparently a bottle that had been opened for a bit and so she switched to the Snap Dragon as well. The waitress was very prompt at switching and even commented that they did not want anybody to be unhappy with their wine, which I thought was a nice touch.

Seeing as how the entrees were going to have a good bit of food (more on that in a second) we decided that the 4 of us would simply split the fried green tomatoes. These were lightly breaded and fried, served with spicy remolaude sauce and crab meat. Unfortunately, there were only 3 tomatoes but we divided them up anyway and everybody was happy. These were very, very good. The only minor complaint was that they could have stood another minute or so of frying to really firm them up... they were just a touch on the soggy side.

We each went a different direction for our entree. I had bacon wrapped scallops, with grilled asparagus, sauteed spinach and lobster bisque. Allison choose a salmon piccata style with grilled asparagus, broccoli with hollandaise and lobster bisque. The mother-in-law and sister-in-law both had a wedge salad, and then went with a lobster and shrimp linguine and filet-mignon respectively.

Normally we a scallop entree I expect 2 or perhaps 3 scallops (when dealing with U-10 size). Nope, not this time. Count them all... there were 4 scallops plated up along with a generous portion of spinach and about half a dozen asparagus stalks. Wow! The scallops were perfectly cooked - seared nicely on the outside and still juicy on the inside. Both of the sides were also perfect.

Allison said her salmon was delightful. It looked like it might have been an entire salmon filet on her plate it was so large.

My mother-in-law's lobster/shrimp linguine looked like they accidently put two orders on one plate. Seriously. The plate was probably 8-9 inches square and it was completely full. There were 2 4-oz lobster tails plus a bunch of shrimp, vegetables and linguine. There is no way the any normal person could have eaten all of that food.

And the sister-in-laws steak was perfectly cooked, covered with mushrooms and accompanied by twice baked potatoes. The steak was probably 8 ounces, if not more.

We could not finish anywhere near all of the food that was brought out. It was amazing! And everything that I tried was perfectly cooked - nothing over or under done. We split the check, and Allison and I got out with all of our food and 4 glasses of wine for right at $100 before tip.

The service was very good, even considering it was new year's eve. Whenever we needed something, the waitress was there and the rest of the time was discreetly absent.

Hillview Grill is fast becoming our favorite restaurant in downtown Sarasota. If you have not been, you need to make it your new year's resolution to get down there sooner rather than later.

Cheers!



Hillview Grill on Urbanspoon

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2007 Atteca Grenache

Date: Tue, Dec 29, 2009 Wine Tasting


I was picking up some wines the other day at Norman's Liquors and spotted this one on the shelf. The guy that I was talking to about some other wines noticed that I had grabbed a bottle and told me that it was one of his favorites. It may be one of ours now as well.

The nose was slightly smoky, with some hints of mushroom and cedar. Not a lot of fruit showed on the nose, which for us is normally a good thing. The palate started with some dried plum and mocha, and as it opened up we found some spice and black cherry fruit. The finish was rather short, with silky tannins. Very full-bodied, but balanced.

The only possible downside is that, while there was some good spice on the mid to back palate, it was not quite as spicy as we might have liked.

This was $15.99 for the bottle, which I think is pretty reasonable for the quality.

Cheers!

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