I Vigneti di Albino Armani Pinot Grigio '07

Country: Italy
Thoughts: OK, I realize it's not Italian bread in the pic; I just needed some sort of prop and felt like it would be a good excuse to celebrate our friends across the pond. So cheerio to our friends in Europe, both in Italy (represented by the wine) and France (represented by the bread which, yes, I realize is made in America by an American company. Let's not squabble about details). The long name isn't the only unusual thing about this pinot grigio. It lacked the fruitiness that we've had so many other times; instead, honey was the calling card of this one. It came through prominently in the bouquet, taste and finish. It made for an interesting twist, certainly, and my wife immediately became a fan (she even suggested a grade for it, one that was above what I'll rate it as). I wasn't sold, though: For all it was - and it surely was a good-tasting wine that would be wonderful on a humid summer day - it lacked greatly in my all-important experience factor. To me, the taste was one-dimensional, a point on which my wife and I agreed to disagree. There seemed to be precious little depth it, like a wine that went meekly into the night without anyone ever realizing it was gone. It was good for what it was, but I can't say it's something I'd ever actively seek out.
Do-over? When my wife's buying, well, yes
Final Grade: B-

Herding Cats '07

Country: South Africa
Thoughts: Once again, I try to pick wines and not be influenced by the label. But my wife and I went shopping early Sunday morning, since one of us can't seem to sleep in any more because of the early waking hours these days. Anyway, my wife let me slip down the wine aisle - always a mistake - and I found rather slim pickings (it was a nice but very ordinary Safeway, after all). Still, this stood out; how could I not get it? We have enough trouble rounding up Hank for his twice-daily antibiotics (that's Grace in the photo, if you were wondering). If nothing else, the wine was apropos. That it happened to be an interesting blend made it a slam dunk. But the wine was mostly show, sadly. The nose was very dry and very nearly unappealing. The taste was likewise dry, a little chewy. Citrus undercurrents were noticeable, but they really didn't add much; instead, it was more the sourness that's common in all citrus fruits but without the sweetness that keeps us coming back to oranges and the like. The finish was non-existent. On the hole, it wasn't as bad as the nose implied it would be; but it certainly wasn't good enough to get again. At least Hank got his medicine eventually, so the night was hardly a total loss.
Ingredients: 80 percent chenin blanc, 20 percent chardonnay
Do-over? Just like herding cats, it was hard to corner a real strength to this wine. So, no.
Final Grade: C-


Kupelwieser Alto Adige Pinot Grigio

Country: Italy
Thoughts: Finally, a day of rest; Jim Zorn's a morning person and enjoys starting his practices at 8:30 a.m. I am not and I do not. But I have Thursday off, so I'll be able to sleep in - and what better way to celebrate than adding another wine to the list. (We're closing in on 100 already.) So on with it: I can't imagine I'm the only one who finds it odd that a wine from Italy is named Kupelwieser, a more German example than even my own last name - which is plenty German enough. The wine was just as odd, starting out with a nose dominated by smokiness. Not in an overpowering way, but it was clearly the dominant note. The taste was dry and mostly blah. On the first sip, I experienced something I thought I was done with - butteriness - on the finish. I shivered. Fortunately, it smoothed out and the butter finish disappeared after a few sips, but the experience, as a whole, was no better than when I started.
Do-over? Can't see it happening

Final Grade: C


Martin Ray Pinot Gris '06

Country: USA
Region: California (Mendocino County)
Thoughts: Why yes, it is that time again - football season. The truth is, we'd planned on having some wine, as we typically do on a Sunday evening. But simply making it through the first day of training camp was cause for celebration (in case you haven't seen the news, there's this, then this, and finally this). Thankfully, Martin Ray came through with a spectacular finish to the day. The nose was fruity, as we'd expect from a pinot grigio/pinot gris, but this seemed bolder and more alive for some reason. I can't much put a finger on it, but it seemed enticing, moreso than others I've had. (Again, maybe that was the craziness of the day.) The taste was smooth and subtle; subdued seems too strong a word since the elements were apparent, but there was a quietness to the taste. It all came alive on the finish, light at first and then - beyond even my own expectation - the full burst of flavors I'd expected earlier. I thought maybe it was a one-sip thing, but the same phenomenon happened time and again, even as my glass neared emptiness. It sounds stupid even as I write it, but that's the best way I can describe it. It's easily the best wine I've had in over a month; it falls just short of the excellent Stags Leap.
Do-over? Absolutely; a great value
Final Grade: A


Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc '06

Country: USA
Region: California
Thoughts: In what may be a Wine Trial first, today's wine was proud to announce its grapes hailed from two different areas. It's tough to tell on the pic, but the label rather boldly states, "52 percent Lake County, 48 percent Mendocino County." Sadly, I'm not as well versed on my central Cali terroir, particularly as it relates to sauvignon blanc. But I do know this was a pretty interesting version: In the past, we've gone over all of those standard sauvignon blanc aromas - earthy, cat piss, on down the line. This was fruitier, though it was easy to pick out elements of its heritage. Taste-wise, I wasn't sold on the first sip - or on many of the follow-ups, either. The taste had elements of lemon, smokiness and grassiness, all while being dry. It was kind of an unusual combination - at least as far as I could tell - and it didn't strike me as anything great at first. But the more I kept at it, the more enjoyable it became. My original notes indicate that, perhaps, I was hasty in assigning it a B-. With that wrong righted, the wine gets adjusted upward.
Do-over? So long as I'll be in it for the long haul, when the taste smooths out.
Final Grade: B


Cloudline Pinot Gris '05

Country: USA
Region: Oregon
Thoughts: During a stop-off at lunch on Tuesday, I had the chance to sample a new one at a nearby eatery (and thanks to the kind bartender who let me snap the pic). It had been entirely too long since I'd tried a wine from the fine state of Oregon; so when I saw a pinot gris on the list from there, I thought, what the hell. The nose was fruity, just what one would expect from a pinot gris/pinot grigio; nothing too unusual, though it was pretty mellow and inviting. It didn't prepare me for the first sip, when all I could do was think, 'whoa!' The flavors were loud and bold, coming through for someone with even a severe cold. Mellon, and especially cantaloupe, loudly announced its presence; even the dryness caught my attention. Yet it was all well-balanced and proportioned. Each of the flavors were kept in check by the others. The only criticism was a lack of a notable finish, which otherwise would've catapulted this one into the elite tier.
Do-over? WineSearcher.com says it doesn't come to D.C. retailers... balls! Otherwise, yes
Final Grade: A-


Now & Zen Wasabi White '06

Country: France
Thoughts: I've always had decent success with blended whites: of the 10 I've ever sampled for the purposes of this blog, only two came in lower than B- and half of the top four wines (A and A+) were blends. So the Wasabi White intrigued me, particularly since its primary ingredients are grapes that don't usually stand alone in a wine (unlike chardonnay or pinot grigio). So, with high hopes, I gave it a whirl. The nose was fruity and there seemed to be a hint of vanilla (my wife found lime, but it wasn't one I was able to pick out). The taste was mostly dry - puckeringly so on the first sip - and I caught some minerality as well. The finish was non-existent; I downed the first sip and waited for something to happen. Yet there were only crickets, and even I was stunned by the silence. What really doomed this wine for me was the fact that the more I drank it, the less I liked it. Except for the worst of wines, that was not something I'd ever experienced. The other aspect that troubled me was from the nose to the taste, I couldn't get past an undercurrent of soapiness, like part of a bar of Zest had been dropped in as a finishing agent. So it's with this lousy experience in mind that I can easily say I'll wash my hands of this wine.
Ingredients: 40 percent sylvaner, 30 percent pinot blanc, 15 percent riesling, 15 percent gewurztraminer
Do-over? A solid no
Final Grade: D

Kris Pinot Grigio '06

Country: Italy
Thoughts: For only the second time in the history of this blog, I was unable to secure a picture of the bottle. That's because this sample came off a wine list at Sweetwater Tavern, which happened to be the same place I proposed to my wife and where we found ourselves - along with my mom and dad - on Saturday night. Given the success of the only other time we've been in this situation, Kris seemed like it would be a winner; not so, unfortunately. The nose was very muted, making it impossible for me to pick out any distinguishing characteristics - hell, any characteristics at all, really - but the wine had been chilled considerably, likely contributing to the problem. I caught faint whiffs of some pinot grigio-ness, but it was really hard to tell anything. (Yes, normally my nose isn't great, but at least I can pick out something.) The taste was quite lively at first, almost to the point of being overbearing. The telltale fruitiness was apparent, though it was overshadowed by a dryness - though not a mouth-puckering variety, it was enough to drown out any other flavors the wine may have offered. The dry finish was much more welcome, though it served merely as a bright finish to an otherwise dull wine. In truth, it had barely any characteristics of a pinot grigio and fell well short of the PG experience that I've come to enjoy.
Do-over? Nope - better alternatives available
Final Grade: C-

-- EDITED to add a picture taken during a fortuitous trip to World Market.