Another two-fer

Vinum Cellars Chenin Vio '08 (left)
Country: USA
Region: California
Thoughts: Since I was buying for my wife, this seemed like a good option: right price point, recommended by Whole Foods (a Top 10 selection) and a blend of two of my wife's favorite varietals. A well-designed label helped too, since it wasn't kitschy like some of the others I've fallen for. What struck me about this was how, despite the preponderance of chenin in the blend, both grapes really seemed to come through. The nose was floral, almost approaching a pinot grigio. On the tongue, the taste seemed to go from dry initially to a middle sweetness to a dryer finish. That certainly scores high on the adventure scale, but I couldn't get over the fact that the taste seemed a little one-dimensional for my tastes. For all of its shape-shifting, there wasn't a whole lot else I could pick out. Still, a very serviceable drink.
Do-over? I'd have no problem with that
Ingredients: 80 percent chenin blanc, 20 percent viognier
Final Grade: B+

Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon '07 (right)
Country: USA
Region: California
Thoughts: Silly me, looking for another good-valued cab again. The price was decent enough, and their sauv had been decent enough. Plus they're big into organic farming, and I can't think of a good reason not to support that. At first glance, however, I was a little concerned with the vintage being so recent. So I don't know if the vintage had anything to do with it, but I didn't find it to be a rather unimpressive match with the porterhouse I had that night. The nose grabbed you with a powerful, slightly minty aroma. The taste was just about what you'd expect from a cab. But it failed to wow me; there wasn't anything terribly distinctive I can report back about the wine, other than being precisely what you'd expect. It was drinkable and I had no problem going back for a second glass, but it felt like there should've been more there than what was there.
Do-over? In a pinch, yes
Final Grade: C+


No Time Tempranillo '07

Country: Spain
Thoughts: I was leery of the bottle from the get-go; the whole thing looks a little too polished for me (right down to the digit-style font in "No Time"). Polish often equals marketing, but the desire to try a new varietal outweighed my hesitations. And an interesting drink it was; it seemed to be a white trapped in a red body. The fruitiness was quite apparent from the start, yet it retained a mellow sort of character. It wasn't like some of the lusher pinot grigios, where the fruit flavor beats you about the head. Instead, it was more restrained, like you'd find in many other whites. It went down well and was a pleasure to drink, ending with a dry, silvery-sort of finish that I seem to get from most reds. While I can't say it was a stunner and a do-over at any price, it was a surprising delight. And that's really all we're looking for, no?
Do-over? It's one of the Whole Foods good value series, so yes (if it's still on sale)
Final Grade: B

Casa Silva Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon '06

Country: Chile
Thoughts: And so begins a new milestone for the blog, when reds have come of age - for me at least - to get their own grades and categories. In the past, they've gotten neither. But starting here, we'll venture to give them the respect (or ridicule) they deserve. We stumbled upon this cab while preparing for our friend's birthday party on Monday night. While at Total Wine, I joked to my wife that I was perusing the cab aisle for a good value. But this was as close as we could get: a bottle under $20 that was rated 90ish by an outfit I'd never heard of. But seeing as we were pressed for time, that was good enough. My great failing in this whole experiment was to take notes, however, thinking I'd remember enough about it. And since alcohol and functioning brain cells tend not to go together, I'm left here typing words pretty much out of my ass. Suffice it to say, I don't remember thinking this wine was either spectacular or sorry, but seemed to be in line with the few cabs I've had. Nevertheless, and despite my promises earlier, I must give this an incomplete. How can you judge what you can't remember?
Do-over? Well, at this point, yeah.
Final Grade: INC


An answer

I hope you were all able to read the second comment on yesterday's post. I want to offer my sincere thanks to Mr. Matthews for stopping by and sharing his opinion. You are always welcome here, sir.

Looking back, I believe my rhetoric was a little sharper than it needed to be. And for that, I apologize.

I agree with Mr. Matthews that Wine Spectator is an ally. We all share the same passion.

But I think Wine Spectator comes up woefully short when it comes to people new to wine. Even before I started learning about wine, I knew what Wine Spectator was and I knew it was the authority in the industry. With such brand recognition, Wine Spectator seems to be in the perfect position to offer advice to those of us feeling our way through the vineyard.

By and large, wine newbies aren't their audience, of course. But I feel they are missing a considerable segment of the wine-drinking population. I think Wine Spectator can bridge the gap between newbies and experienced wine drinkers.

The one thing I always wished I had was a beginner's guide to wine drinking. Take, for instance, 10 of the most well-known varietals out there: chardonnay, pinot grigio, riesling, sauvignon blanc, viognier, cab, merlot, zin, pinot noir, syrah. Give me a brief description of the grape and its history.

Now, using the vast repository of knowledge that Wine Spectator has, give me three wines in a range of prices that best exemplify those varietals. Give me one under $20, one under $60 and one over $60. If possible, use ones that are likely to be found in major wine stores.

Then, tell me exactly what I should be noticing, from nose to palate to finish. Like that the defining characteristic of sauv is its grassiness in the nose. Find easy-to-understand terms and give me a sense of how that can change from location to location.

A thorough, knowledgeable guide would be a boon to newbies, like myself, everywhere. Think of it like the old GM ladder (if you can forgive their current financial mess): you started off young with a Chevy, moved to Buick when you were older and then, perhaps, a Cadillac.

By providing that steppingstone, I think Wine Spectator can only build its brand awareness. When newbies feel comfortable enough to step up to the regular magazine, you'll be there for them.

Currently, Wine Spectator does not do this. And that remains my greatest frustration with their products.

Gatao Vinho Verde

Country: Portugal
Thoughts: So there's a cat on the label - hard to see because of the unavoidable glare - which is why Grace the cat also appears. Plus "el gato" is Spanish for cat, so I'm guessing the Portuguese add an "a" in there for some reason. This wine had a similar problem as the white below: poor labeling which left me unsure what I was drinking. Perhaps it was because it came right after trying the rather dry V-Solo, but the sweetness in the Gatao hit me like a roundhouse. "Jarring" may be about the right word for it; it seemed to fall just shy of riesling. The nose offered no clue either, as it was quiet. And the finish was, well, unusual. After each sip - and I mean every one - it burned going down the hatch. Again, that could be some sort of reaction with what I ate or drank prior to that, but it was not a fun experience. If my wife likes it, perhaps it's worth getting again and retrying. Maybe my impressions would change... maybe not.
Do-over? Not unless a fire extinguisher is handy
Final Grade: D+

A two-fer

V-Solo Verdejo (left)
Country: Spain
Thoughts: I've been blessed by getting good wine after good wine at Whole Foods, and at great prices too. Perhaps it caught up with me here. I was under the impression that this was some kind of secretive blend; there was no indication anywhere just what kind of wine this was. By the nose and taste alone, a good chunk - if not all - seemed to be sauvignon blanc. The telltale grassiness was more than a little evident; and if someone like me can pick it out, then anyone can. But it lacked a certain crispness, and the finish was rather predictable. An average wine with so little available information? I'll look elsewhere in the bargain aisle, thanks.
Do-over? Not for me
Final Grade: C-

Legado Malbec (right)
Country: Argentina
Thoughts: I think I've gotten enough reds under my belt to be able to assign a letter grade. So this is our virgin entry: I know that Argentinian malbecs are a popular choice for consumers at the moment, and I've been lucky to have one that I would gladly drink again. This one, however, didn't measure up quite so well. It's been several days since I tried it, so the details have become a little foggy. But I just remember thinking that I wish this wine would jump up and grab me and give me a reason to get into it, but it never did. That previous malbec had a good mouthfeel and an inviting bouquet. This had neither, at least not to the level of the previous wine. Sorry I can't be more specific with it other than to say I've had better and fully intend to have better in the near future.
Do-over? Not of this label, no
Final Grade: C

Thanks to Dave McIntyre's always-interesting Washington Post column, we've learned that verdejo is its own varietal. This particular grape "celebrates the commoner," he writes, though I fear this example is nearer to flipping the bird.


Where have I been? And why am I back?

Some of you know me. Those that do realize the tumultuous few months it's been, particularly as it pertains to the old professional life.

I didn't intend to stop writing about wine; it just happened. Then again, how many events happen to us that really were expected?

Nevertheless, I was nudged to peck the keyboard again by my brother-in-law and by a more unseemly force. During a recent vacation, I passed the idle time by reading A Very Good Year by Mike Weiss, which traces a vintage of Ferrari-Carano's Fume Blanc from vine to table.

While I won't give away the conclusion, it again reinforced something that had been nagging at me for some time: Wine Spectator is full of shit.

Read their wine reviews. How does anyone make sense of that silliness? What relevance is there for us who are not sommeliers, who merely desire for a worthwhile drink from time to time? Where is the thought that maybe, just maybe, you can pay less than $20 for a damn good bottle of wine?

Yes, they do their top values list or what have you. But it's such a small selection of what they review, and they're reviewing to a different standard.

I do agree that varietal characteristics should be of some importance. If you buy a sauv, there should be some sort of representation of that grape in the bottle. I readily admit that I fall short in these areas, particularly as it relates to the less-popular whites and most reds.

But the most important question is never answered: Is it a good drink? Is it worth buying again?

My answers are subjective, just as Spectator's numbers are. But I like to think I'm representative of some segment of the population that thinks, you know what? I don't much care about fig and honeysuckle and whatever inane terms they use to describe a wine. I just want something enjoyable. (Plus I don't ask for a fee for the privilege of reading what I think.)

Wine doesn't have to be as hard as certain places make it. You either like it or you don't, and we're not going to agree on every grade or every synopsis.

So here's the difference: I don't portray myself as an authority. I'm one man with an idea of what he likes and what he doesn't. I try to give as full a picture of the wine as I can in terms that anyone can understand. But it's just one person's opinion.

You could get into the conflict-of-interest argument, as the book does. I buy my own wine. No one is clamoring for me to sample their product. Frankly, I hope it never gets to that point; I'm sick of most sports enough as it is. I'd hate to tire of wine too.

I think my problem with WS is more of a conflict of perception. Let me make this clear: They are wine experts. They know of what they speak.

But their magazine and the way it carries itself is very off-putting. It glorifies the Grand Crus and French first-growths that most of us will never have the means to get our hands on, whether monetarily or simply as a matter of availability. In every edition I've bought, I see long articles about charity events or wine auctions that, again, are beyond the reach of most of us.

It sells an image, a lifestyle that mirrors that of the products it reviews: Wine is luxurious, for people in the know, for the affluent, a way to distinguish one's self from the riffraff of Bud Light drinkers.

It is my firm belief that wine need not be that way.

And that's why I'm here. Wine can be discussed in layman's terms; it is not the province of the rich or knowledgeable. Wine can be good even if it doesn't adhere to strict interpretations. Wine can be a good way to blow off some steam.

I'm confident Wine Spectator does not subscribe to this line of thinking. Which explains why I will not be subscribing to them.

I'll be back tomorrow to detail some of my offseason exploits and write about a few wines I've had recently.

Thanks for sticking with me.


Seacliff Sauvignon Blanc '06

Country: USA
Region: California
Thoughts: I was listening to the 3 Wine Guys' podcast a week or so ago when one of them said something that struck me. When they started that little adventure, he said, they were picking out wines that appealed to them. But over the course of time, as they became more knowledgeable, having varietally correct wines became just as important. So this Seacliff, purchased during the binge at World Market some time ago, came off as just another wine. Yes, it wasn't bad and yes, I'd consider doing it over again. But there wasn't one characteristic of sauv that I was able to pick out. The nose was kind of fresh, but not in the way I'd come to expect with a sauv. The taste was dry with big hints of orange, but nothing in the way of what I'd come to expect from a sauv. So I suppose I'm at a crossroads. Do I want to keep tasting wines as I have been? Or is it time to incorporate whether a wine held true to its characteristic? Maybe it's just time to give weight to both. I mean, I probably wouldn't have guessed this was a sauv; I might have said a shitty pinot. But in the end, the wine has to be good and those standards over in the right-hand column still apply. I still want to be wowed, but I guess now I want a greater context, too.
Do-over? Perhaps
Final Grade: C+


Gaetano D'Aquino Pinot Grigio '06

Country: Italy
Thoughts: It's good to be back. A rough work schedule and bouts with the typical winter colds prevented us from digging into the wine bin over the past few weeks. We hope that can change now that we're mostly over the colds - we hope, anyway. You'll also notice that the pic is considerably different; this was a chance to me to show off the latest computer purchase, a copy of Photoshop Elements (bought for a completely different purpose than this). The shadow was created by me; and, admittedly, this was done pretty half-assed. There's a lot wrong with it aesthetically, or at least it seems so to me. But I'm not at work and I've got other things to do tonight. So you get what you get. Perhaps by now you've noticed I'm beating around the bush. Truth is, there's not much to report about this wine. There was nothing I could detect on the nose. And there seemed to be nothing to the taste. The only comparison I could make - and anyone who knows me knows that there is nothing more damning than this - was that it tasted like Coors Light. You know, the whole sex in a canoe thing. So I've tried to gussie this thing up a little by prattering on about nothing, which seems wholly apropos.
Do-over? Nope
Final Grade: D


Terra Barossa Eden Valley Pinot Grigio '07

Country: Australia
Thoughts: As D.C. gets pummeled with a snowstorm - five inches or better, supposedly - there was no better time to jump back in and get with the wine tastings. The poor fridge is bursting at the seams, for heaven's sake. While on a recent assignment, I happened to be in a town that had a nice little wine shop, or so I'd read. When I found some time to slip away, I did so. And this one caught my eye. I thought, hmmm, a pinot from Australia; you don't see many of those. (If I had any sort of memory, I might have recalled that, in fact, I had already done a pinot from Australia.) But I came at this one from a different angle: Could I taste the difference between this, the Aussie version, and the other pinots I've tried - which, with a handful of exceptions, came from the U.S. or Italy? Not only could I taste a difference, it almost seemed like this was a different grape altogether. The Lindemans largely held true to form; this did not. In many ways, from nose to tongue, it had more elements of a sauvignon blanc than a pinot. This was fruit backward, to twist a phrase, with hints of stoniness and earthiness coming here and there. It was restrained; the rush of flavor never really happened. Additionally, it didn't seem to have a lot of structure to it. The slight earthiness was there, and that was about it. Still, it didn't taste bad, and was considerably different than the other pinots I've had. An example of extreme terroir, perhaps?
Do-over? It would depend on my mood
Final Grade: C+


Velt.1 Grüner Veltliner '07

Country: Austria
Thoughts: Just prior to the Oregon trip, I came across multiple references to some wine called Gruner Veltliner (and I'm sorry I can't recreate the umlaut in the text here). I think I saw one in an article somewhere, another was a selection on a wine list that I didn't get to. The name kind of stuck in my head, and I meant to look for some in Oregon but didn't get the chance. Once we returned - I and my suitcase, my wife and her cold - I had to do a lot of dinner purchasing for the following week. One night, after a mix-up in communication, I was left waiting while our order was prepared; I took a walk two doors down to Whole Foods. After perusing the regular wine area, I went to a nearby row with all their specials. There, at last, was the wine I'd been reading so much about. Ever-helpful Wiki says that it's a grape that doesn't grow anywhere beyond Austria and the Czech Republic - not exactly Burgundy and Napa. And, in truth, the wine didn't disappoint; you know how I hate building up unfounded hype in my own head. But this wine seemed to have different characteristics of more well-known wines all rolled into one. It had a bit of chard taste to it and there was some definite sauv grassiness to it. The first whiff included a small hint of fruit but mostly there was a burnt smell to it; not in an obnoxious way, mind you, but enough that it had a distinct bouquet. On the tongue, that burnt quality morphed slightly; instead of burnt, it was a peculiar kind of dry. But the smell and taste were close enough (if, in fact, you can really establish those two as a pair) that they seemed to be relates. It almost seemed like I was tasting a little dirt - and I mean that in the most kind way possible. It was like sauv that way, only more intense; the earthiness of the sauv to the fifth degree. It was laid back otherwise, perhaps with a bit of fruitiness, again in a similar proportion as the nose was. The finish was long and strong, going from a brief dryness to a honey that held on. It was an interesting wine in that the best word I could find for it was savory, as in that there was little sweetness per se to be had. Like an anti-pinot grigio. Yet it was a very compelling wine and the radical departure from what I'm used to gives it a high score on the adventure scale. And it's a great value, too.
Do-over? I could definitely see that
Final Grade: B+


di Lenardo Pinot Grigio '07

Country: Italy
Thoughts: Like the last batch of posts, this one comes a few days late as well. These wines were all sampled in Oregon; I've gone over some of the reasons we didn't get to them earlier. This time, there's less of an excuse other than sheer tiredness; that's a long time in the plane from Portland to Phoenix and back to D.C. But now that we're back to a normal schedule, I anticipate more timely updates going forward. So di Lenardo... I gotta be honest, I tried this but I really didn't want to. I don't know if I'm bored with pinots or what; maybe I'm just cranky. Or maybe it's because it's been coming up on two months since I had a good one. Or maybe I just know what to expect... hell, I don't know. But this one did little to reverse the trend, though I freely admit it may have been partly my fault. This one came across as less fruity than I would have expected; it almost seemed dry. I should note I tried this at a family lunch and, having not had caffeine, I guzzled some Coke before the wine arrived. I thought I had adequately cleansed the palate, but that may not have been the case. Suffice it to say this wine didn't excite me either, but I'm willing to withhold judgment until I get a more reliable sampling. If I can find it on the east coast, great; if not, it may have to wait until summer when we return to Oregon.
Do-over? TBD
Final Grade: Incomplete

Chateau Haut Rian '07

Country: France
Thoughts: I'd had great success in the one wine I tried whose name sounded pretty close to a much more famous brand. I thought this one might wind up in the same classification; Haut Rian does sound a lot like Haut Brion, no? Instead, I think I just got a poor knockoff. OK, maybe that's a bit harsh, as this wine was eminently drinkable; but it wasn't the smashing success like the Haut-Belian was. This Bordeaux had elements of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc; the nose was lemony - now that is a new one for me - and slightly grassy as we might expect with a sauv. The taste was what one would expect from chard with another light dose of grassiness as well as some lemon. I didn't record any kind of finish in my notes, so I'll take it was unremarkable and add that as another strike. (I just must be in a foul mood.) So that's it in a nutshell: Drinkable? Yes. Exciteable? No.
Do-over? Meh
Final Grade: B-

Hedges Red Mountain '04

Country: USA
Region: Washington
Thoughts: I've always had pretty good luck with white blends - hell, even the one red blend I tried - I'm willing to give most of them a go. I wasn't quite sure what to expect with this, since I have little experience with cab and none with merlot (though that has since changed). Thankfully, I was delighted. The nose was fresh and inviting, the taste sturdy yet smooth. My perennial fear with reds is that I'll have to force down a few swallows of overly tannic wine, like I'm drinking cold liquid metal. That wasn't the case here; the tannins made themselves known, certainly, but they weren't overbearing. The finish was surprisingly crisp and light, something I'd expect from a white. It was a solid, solid drink and definitely a do-over - if I rated that sort of thing with reds. But I don't. At least not until I know what the hell I'm talking about.
Ingredients: 62 percent merlot, 33 percent cabernet sauvignon, 3 percent cabernet franc, 2 percent petit verdot
Do-over? N/A
Final Grade: N/A


Barnard & Griffin Fume Blanc '06

Country: USA
Region: Washington
Thoughts: I've had good experiences in the past with fume blanc; unfortunately, this wasn't one of them. The wine itself was fine; I have no qualms with it by itself. But my issue was that it is what it is, and it scored exceptionally low on the adventure scale. The nose hinted of the dryness; there was almost a sheen to it, if that's possible to deduce from merely smelling the thing. The taste was solid too, but very one-dimensional. The dryness wasn't as severe as the nose would have indicated. And to top it off, there was no finish to speak of. That may have been my biggest bone of contention. I mean, when you try a wine, there should be a payoff; the nose should get a workout, the mind should get a workout - from detecting all the flavors that dance around the tongue - and the pleasure center in the brain should get a workout too, from the finish and taking in the body of work. This, though a perfectly acceptable wine on most fronts, failed in most of those endeavors. Hence the low grade.
Do-over? Doubtful
Final Grade: C+

Educated Guess Cabernet Sauvignon '06

Country: USA
Region: Napa
Thoughts: As my father-in-law and I decided to give this one a whirl, I got a quick history lesson. Apparently it was cabs that put Napa on the map in the first place; so, really, how could I go wrong with such a wine? And, luckily, I didn't. The nose was big and loud, almost minty, but you could tell that it was a powerful deal from the start - though I think most cabs have that characteristic. I've had the occasional cab in the past and found that too much tannin was a turn-off for me; thankfully, this didn't have it. It tasted powerful but also restrained, and not overly aggressive. The acidity was high, but it faded to a nice, smooth finish. I don't know how much it costs for a bottle. But if it weren't terribly expensive, I could see myself growing to enjoy glass after glass of this wine.
Do-over? N/A
Final Grade: N/A

Andeluna Torrontes '07

Country: Argentina
Thoughts: Like the writeups below this, this review is also a day late. However, I have a much better excuse; the room where the computer is at my in-laws' house also now doubles as a nursery for my young nephew, Drake. See, Drake's been feeling under the weather lately; he's not been sleeping much and coughing a bit. So I've done my best to keep this room free and clear so he can get his necessary rest. At his mom's urging, I'm writing now with Drake in the room - and contentedly talking to himself - and she's certain he'll nod off soon. In the meantime, I'll ask him just how I should write this. Or maybe not, since he's just dozed off; I'm on my own. For this wine, in short, the promise that the nose held didn't match up with the taste. I went with the torrontes since I'd seen it pop up in several things I've read lately. The bouquet was very refreshing and very floral; I can honestly say it was among the best I've had. But on the tongue, it was dry and crisp with some lemon notes, but that seemed to be pretty much it. The finish was long and delightful too, but I just wish there was something more substantive in the middle. With a bit more adventure in the taste, I could easily see this being a Grade-A wine. But, be that as it may...
Do-over? Yeah, I could do it again
Final Grade: B+

BV Coastal Estates Chardonnay '07

Country: USA
Region: California
Thoughts: I owe an apology to you, all three of my readers. This wine was tried some time ago - on the night of the Super Bowl, actually - but in trying to get ready for our pending Oregon trip (where this is being written from), actually posting these reviews slipped through the cracks. I can only think of a handful of times when something like this has happened before, and certainly never to this extent. You'll have a better effort from me in the future, I promise. So this wine falls into the most tested class of our little experiment, California chardonnays. It just seems like they're so prevalent whenever I visit the wine store. But we press on... this one had a very light nose, but had interesting hints of vanilla, strange though that may be. Generally it was smoother than most and had a bit of butter - ugh - at the end, but it wasn't horribly overpowering. Despite all of that, it ranked among the better chards we've tried, particularly among those from the Golden State.
Do-over? I could go either way
Final Grade: B

Ruffino Orvieto Classico '07

Country: Italy
Thoughts: Digging into the archives, we had a great experience with an Orvieto Classico back when my in-laws came to visit us. Now, on the eve of going to visit them - and yes, this one is being posted way late too - we went for another one, and this one was a much different experience. The wine may have been too cold when we tried it; at any rate, the characteristics of the nose were quite difficult to discern. On the tongue, the wine was a one-trick pony; as wonderful as that trick was, it was hard to get over that it was the only thing it had going for it. The wine was unusual in that the honey notes were evident from start to finish; the intensity picked up on the finish. So while that made for a wonderful tasting wine, I was hoping for something beyond merely the honey. So, in this instance, I'll take the former version over the latter version.
Do-over? It was a good drink, but doubtful
Final Grade: B


Clear Bottle Bay Pinot Grigio '07

Country: USA
Region: California
Thoughts: I don't know what's going on, but we've had terrible luck with pinot grigios lately. Sure, when you buy for value you can't always expect a winner; still, even by chance, it seems we'd have come across a hidden gem by now. Alas, the streak continues. The Clear Bottle Bay - which really isn't a geographic location - was drinkable enough despite my reservations. First off, there was no nose to speak of. The wine was kept in the wine fridge and opened straight from there, so too cold a temperature shouldn't have been a concern. The wine itself was too mellow and it was well nigh impossible to pick out even one flavor. Sure, it was a pinot, but I'd love to tell you what characteristics came through. I can't. The finish, however was nice; a light honey came through. I think it was honey anyway, since I was expecting a lame finish and it caught me completely off guard. But it was a surprisingly good end to an otherwise undistinguised wine. Yet I cannot recommend a wine solely on how it finishes...
Do-over? Doubtful
Final Grade: C+

Ironstone Vineyards Obsession Symphony '07

Country: USA
Region: California
Thoughts: This was another of the pickups on sale at World Market. I can't say why, but I kept coming back to this wine; I wasn't sure if I should get it, but something compelled me to. Perhaps it was the chance to try a different grape. The Symphony - according to the label, confirmed by Wiki - is a hybrid of Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris. It was planted some 25 years ago and is usually used in blends. However, I must say this grape stands quite well on its own; I'd like to think it's intuition that kept me coming back to this wine, but I probably know better and should realize it was just dumb luck. The nose was delightful, very floral and fresh, and had a good bit of staying power. Too often, I realize I need to take full advantage of bouquets when I can; the smell fades quickly. This, to its credit, didn't. On the tongue it was slightly sweet - there was a trace of some flavors below the surface, but not enough to really quantify - and very smooth. It finished dry with a hint of grapiness, but not so much that it was a distraction. My wife, helpfully enough, described it as a combination of viognier, riesling and pinot grigio; if you like any of those, you'd be in for a real treat.
Do-over? Absolutely
Final Grade: A-

What could have been...

Sigh. I was all set to have a new wine to add the burgeoning collection of reds; I had heard so much about beaujolais noveau that I thought, at some point, I simply must give it a try.

Today was the day; or so I thought.

We picked up a bottle at Costco and were planning on trying it this evening. At least until I brought the groceries inside, and the bottle fell and split into a million pieces on the front porch.

It was on sale, so no big loss. I'll pick one up this week and I'll give it a try then.

I'm happier now, but man that pissed me off when it happened.


Balducci's Pinot Grigio '07

Country: Italy
Thoughts: Tonight was Below Average Italian Pinot Grigio Night at the Hustle house, apparently... It's made and bottled for Balducci's, the DC/New York deli chain. So it'd be wise not to expect Opus, you know? Still, I was hoping for something better. The nose here was quite dry, which made for an interesting opening salvo. But from there it went downhill, unfortunately; the taste was on the dry side, but it seemed very restrained to me. Perhaps that's good in some instances, but not this one; it just didn't feel like there was a whole lot there to work with. Topping it off, the finish was rough, with a burnt or charred taste to it. It mellowed after a few sips and took a few steps closer to passable, but the best wines shouldn't be like that. I want to fall in love from the first sip and find myself disappointed when the bottle's finished. Clearly, that wasn't the case here.
Do-over? Nope
Final Grade: C-

Pinot Evil Pinot Grigio

Country: Italy
Thoughts: Yes, I know, I fell for the catchy label again. But you have to admit, Pinot Evil (and the requisite drawing of the three monkeys) is pretty clever. Fortunately, my wife and I are happy to take one for the team; you may admire the label from afar, while not actually having to sample this beast. But really, it's my own fault; it was on sale at World Market for a really paltry sum. Furthermore, I failed to read the label to see 1) it was non-vintage and 2) it was marked "Indicazione geografica tipica," which isn't the most stringent of Italian labels. So there's no one to blame but me. The bouquet was quite undistinguished; it smelled like any other pinot I've ever had. The taste, however, was different; jarring, in fact. The taste was overly grapy, almost like I was having Saturday night communion (at least at the services where they serve a wine alternative). The finish was equally unattractive, turning into a tinny dryness before the sip had finally come to its end. Sigh. Maybe one of these days I'll learn...
Do-over? Slim and none, and Slim just left town
Final Grade: D+


MonteVina Pinot Grigio '07

Country: USA
Region: California
Thoughts: Ah, yes, it's upkeep time at the ol' homestead. My wife concocted a plan for her four-day weekend (must be nice) to redo our mid-level bathroom. Wallpaper is out, forest green is in. (At least I think it was forest green.) My wife worked valiantly to get the wallpaper down, which came in sheets at first but later more resembled confetti. Still, kudos to her for her work over the past two days. (And yes, I was able to lend a hand in spots.) After she surrendered to the more difficult areas of the wallpaper, she made a Home Depot run to get a little scoring device and the chemical to remove the old stuff. She pit-stopped at the supermarket too, and randomly grabbed a new bottle. Hey, I was up for it. We got an unremarkable pinot in most areas, unusual in some. The citrus both on the nose and in the taste was abnormally heavy; it was not a detriment to the wine, mind you, but it did seem more pronounced than most. It carried all the way to the finish, which also included a late tinge of honey that hung on for quite a while. Still, it seemed rather one-dimensional, and there are a lot better options out there.
Do-over? Nah
Final Grade: C+


Big House White '06

Country: USA
Region: California
Thoughts: My wife raved over it, so you know it's got an automatic in. Unfortunately, I didn't get the same vibe. The nose was non-existent; I may have caught a whiff of something faint, but it wasn't enough to register. Given that it takes seven different grapes to make this blend, I found that kind of odd. On the tongue, it started sweet and finished dry; I tried to find some flavors to pick out, but there weren't any that were terribly perceptible. As a result, I found this one kind of bland and unexciting. My wife found it to be similar to a pinot, and I would tend to agree. But I also wonder: If you went to all this trouble to find a combination that would mimic a pinot, why not just use that grape instead?
Ingredients: Percentages weren't readily available, but the blend includes Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Malvasia Bianco, Orange Muscat, Muscat Canelli and Marsanne
Do-over? I'm certain I could find better
Final Grade: C

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River Crest Vintners Pinot Gris '07

Country: USA
Region: California
Thoughts: So this is the second that my wonderful brother- and sister-in-law sent as part of the ongoing Christmas gift. And again, the thanks flow from here to Idaho that you've added a bit to keep us going. This package arrived just this week; it went into the fridge yesterday and was ready for consumption this evening. (And, a small note on the pic: I know it's hard to see, but the pic was taken with my favorite coasters. All four have scenes I clipped from Golf Digest. So, with high temperatures scheduled for the low 20s later this week, I steel myself be chanting, over and over again, "Think spring. Think spring. Think golf." Rinse and repeat.) Anyway, the wine was a rather typical pinot grigio/pinot gris with a bit of a twist. The nose and initial taste were precisely what one would expect from such a grape: citrusy, fruity and all of that. The difference was that the taste, for me, inevitably started off sweet and finished dry. Like if I just gave it a few seconds on the tongue, it would turn dry; the finish started well before it went down the hatch though. Interesting. It gets a good grade because, well, I love PG.
Do-over? Why not?
Final Grade: B

Chateau Haut-Belian Entre-Deux-Mers '06

Country: France
Thoughts: My word, 11 days since I tried a wine? Sad but true. Instead, I was preoccupied with cleaning out the beer in the fridge and enjoying the two bottles of Gentleman Jack that I got for Christmas. Hey, I still like testing wine, but Gentleman Jack is a fine drink as well. But, Saturday night, after working a bit during the day and watching competitive and uncompetitive games later on, we dipped back into the wine fridge. We finished off the second bottle of Lion's Crest; a second shipment was already waiting for a home in the fridge. Since it wasn't at the optimum temperature, I pored through the selections and came up with this. I think my wife was right when she said I got this across the street at Whole Foods; I honestly can't remember. But I do think I picked it up because of the name. While not the same, it is reminiscent of the famous French winemaker, Chateau Haut-Brion. Having read The Wine Bible - and if you have any interest in this subject, you should be too - I remember Ms. MacNeil saying that many French vintners offer other, lesser products under different but similar names (lesser in relation to the vineyard's famous wines, which means they aren't as good as them but are still miles from sucking). So that's how this landed in our abode. The wine itself was excellent; my only major complaint was a smoky, harsh nose. But if you could get past that, you were rewarded with an excellent wine. Sweet and dry were well balanced, and a hint of citrus could be found as well. It was a superb sipping wine, a delightful drink one that you could easily pass the time with. In some respects, it was almost too mellow, so it was low on the adventure scale. But it seems downright wrong to penalize such a solid wine for such a superficial reason. So I'll let the letter grade speak for itself and recommend this as a super value.
Do-over? Unquestionably
Final Grade: A-