Saturday, February 23, 2008

Tasting Notes: Syrah vs. Petite Sirah

I apologize to those who have obsessively been clicking "refresh" since Thursday evening in anticipation of my review.

Before I talk about the wines themselves, it's important to operationalize our terms, which is a fancy way of saying, let's figure out what these things really are.

Syrah: aka Shiraz, a red grape grown in France's Rhone region since Roman times and that made its way to Australia in the 1830's, where it was found that when you have kangaroos hopping through your vineyards, good things happen

Petite Syrah: possibly related to Syrah, or maybe another name for a grape called Durif; a slightly smaller grape,

Petite Sirah: some sources say this is a pure varietal and another name for Petite Syrah, others that it's a name for a collection of grapes that grow well with each other and are bottled together under one name

So now that that's all as clear as an unfiltered red, on to the tasting! This one was billed as "Syrah vs. Petite Sirah," so being the geek that I am, I kept score. I enlisted the help of Hubby and tried to recruit my friend The Editor, but poor Ed had a cold and felt that his nose and palate were compromised. As always, others' experiences likely varied from mine.

Points were awarded based on nose and taste and were on a scale of 0 (blech!) to 10 (ooooh!). I was keeping score for color, too, but they were all pretty, and although color enhances the wine experience, it's not really something that most people would buy for. I also paid attention to when teeth turned purple, which finally happened after #5.

Syrahs (numbers indicate tasting position):

1. Abundance Syrah, '05, Lodi, California:
This one looked like a Pinot Noir with a slight orange hint to its reddish-purple. It was a really strong start to the tasting and might have scored higher if it hadn't been first.
Nose: 8, fruity as one would expect from a Lodi wine
Taste: 9, fruity, but not too heavy, and with a smooth, clean finish
Total: 17

2. Castle Rock Sonoma County Syrah, '05, Sonoma, California:
Nose: 3, kind of rough
Taste: 5, would have probably gone better with food, would drink if someone poured it for me
Total: 8

5. C.G. di Arie Syrah, '05, Amador County, California:
Nose: 9, inky black fruit
Taste: 4, very tannic and acidic, would have also gone better with food beyond tasting munchies
Total: 13

Varietal Total Syrah: 38

Petite Sirahs:

3. Castle Rock Russian River Valley Petite Sirah, 2005, Russian River Valley, California:
This one admitted to being a blend of 97% Petite Sirah and 3% Barbera, aged 12 months in French Oak.
Nose: 7, a slight hint of caramel
Taste: 7, tannins and fruit with an acidic finish
Total: 14

4. C.G. di Arie Syrah, '05, Amador County, California:
This one poured an inky dark purple, like liquid grape jam.
Nose: 9, all fruity, grape jam theme continues
Taste: 8, smooth and fruity, could masquerade as a light (not white) Zin
Total: 17

6. William Knuttel Petite Syrah, 2002, Dry Creek Valley, California:
I didn't write any comments for this one, just scores. It must've been pretty good, scoring strong in both categories.
Nose: 7
Taste: 7
Total: 14

"Varietal" total: 45

So it appears that the Petite Sirah won. My favorites tied with 17 points apiece, the 2005 Abundance Syrah from Lodi, and the 2004 C.G. di Arie Petite Sirah, also a Lodi. This observation drove me to my wine database, which, admittedly, has not been updated in a year, to see if the Lodi grapes have always scored strong with me. Of the 5 listed in there, 4 were Zins, and 3 had numerical scores, which means I really liked them. We'd tasted the 2004 Castle Rock Petite Sirah at a "Big Ass Reds" tasting and decided it wanted food, specifically steak, but was "better as it goes." We also tried the 2000 Abundance Syrah, which "wants food," so apparently that one is better in the 2005 vintage.

Hmmm, I should really update that database.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Randomness: Wine-colored glasses

I had a few moments to relax when I got home from work today, so I picked up the paper and went immediately to the Living Section to catch up on the hijinks of Garfield, Cathy, and the like (I get my news from NPR). The Jumble, which is a word puzzle that's solved by unscrambling an entire group of letters into a word, happens to be on the same page as the comics, and I like to see how quickly I can solve them in my head. The third Jumble word was:


Of course, being an oenophile, I saw:


Unfortunately, the right answer was actually BECALM, which I've never actually heard used.

This gave me a few moments' pause. Am I really so wine-obsessed that I'm seeing it everywhere? Do I need to check myself into rehab? I came to the conclusion that no, there's nothing wrong with me, I just see things according to my context, or my filter as psychologist Rick Blue, Ph.D., would say. The cognitive psychologist types probably have a nice, long fancy word for it.

Meanwhile, I'm just going to stop worrying about it and look forward to tomorrow's wine tasting at Java Monkey, where I'll go have some YRHSA.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Famous Drunk Guys: Thomas Jefferson

With today being President's Day, I thought it would be fitting to honor one of the founding fathers of both the country and viticulture in America: Thomas Jefferson (1743-1846). Granted, the founding of the United States went a little better than the whole wine thing due to the sensitivity of the European grape vines (Vitis vinifera) he imported to native vine diseases, but we've got to give the guy credit for trying. Grapes are once again grown at Monticello, Jefferson's home, and the diseases that thwarted his original attempts are now controlled by modern pesticides and grafting and hybridization techniques.

So, let's all raise a glass to Mr. Jefferson for his role in bringing wine production to America!

What's in my glass tonight? I needed something good to get past the fact that lots of people were off from work today, but I wasn't. My husband and I picked up a bottle of the 2005 Las Rocas old vine Garnacha at the recommendation of a wine-loving colleague, who also didn't get the day off today, and it didn't disappoint. It's a very pretty wine for glass-raising, a dark purple-red, and is well-balanced with fruit and a little bit of acidity. It went very well with the pot roasted lamb shanks with cannellini beans from Food & Wine magazine.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Winin' and Lovin', or maybe just lovin' wine

Happy belated Valentine's Day! I hope it was happy and that you had some wonderful imbibing with your sweetie and/or your favorite vintage.

Just a couple of blog updates: My guest blogger for last weekend bailed, and the wine-mary polls are going to be open until I get enough votes to declare a winner for each party. Sorry for the dearth of updates this week. I had the flu, and then I had to make up all the work missed due to the flu.

I spent Valentine's evening at Java Monkey. Jess slaughtered some roses, put others in vases, and lit some extra candles, and she even put table cloths out! It was all tres elegant. The best part, as always, was that we got chocolate fondue to go with our wines. I could say that chocolate fondue is one of the most perfect foods because it allows for experimentation with regard to pairing different tastes, but I'll admit it, I like spearing stuff, covering it with chocolate, and eating with sharp, pointy objects. I was good and didn't stab any of my table mates because there was enough to go around. And I love chocolate. See? No stuffy, overly sophisticated foodie stuff here!

The wine list:

We got there really early (but were still beaten there by our favorite freelance editor -- we think he lives there), so we decided to start with a glass of the Codice Tempranilo. It's still a nice, big red, but smooth with a little bit of butter. It's one of those that's really nice for sipping on its own.

Now for the real wine list:

Gruet Rose, NV, New Mexico: One of my ambitions is to get to New Mexico and visit this winery because every sparkling wine we've had from it is fabulous. Rumor has it that we can get their still wines here in Atlanta, but we haven't found any yet. This wine is a lovely, romantic pink, fruity, and was a bit overwhelmed by the chocolate, but still fun.

Cooper Hill Pinot Noir '06, Willamette Valley, Oregon: This wine is biodynamic and organic, but the stars just weren't aligned right for it to pair with chocolate, which erased most of the flavor and resulted in a watery taste. Probably deserves to be tried on its own.

Edge Cabernet Sauvignon '05, Napa Valley, California: Was described as "stony" and had kind of an odd finish.

7 Deadly Zins '06, Lodi, California: This is one of our favorites. One of my other ambitions is to go to Lodi and spend a few days in Zinfandel heaven. With the chocolate, it had a bit of a smoky overtone, and I liked it much better after dessert was over.

Maramonte Syrage '05, California: A blend of 58% Syrah, 29% Petit Verdot, and 13% Petite Sirah, this one was big, fruity, and elegant.

Pineto Brachetto d'Acqui '06, Strevi, Italy: A sweet, sparkling dessert wine. Would be a good intermediate step for the Asti Spumante crowd to move them on to more sophisticated dessert wines. I really liked it.

As much as I enjoyed the chocolate fondue, my palate is typically killed by really sweet stuff, and I probably liked the last three wines because I tasted them after dessert was finished. The Pinot Noir and Cab probably deserve another taste on their own or with typical wine munchies.

Next week: more famous drunk guys and another wine tasting review from Java Monkey -- Syrah vs. Petite Sirah

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Primary Extended

Due to poor voter turnout (except for the awesome Dan) and the fact that I couldn't go stump for votes at the Java Monkey wine tasting last Thursday due to the flu, the grape primary has been extended for another week.

A guest blogger will review the wines from the JM tasting later this weekend.

Stay healthy!


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Has your Tuesday been super?

I had originally thought to do a "super-Tuscan Tuesday," but seeing as it's also Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras, our dinner plan is pancakes and other breakfast-ish foods with the beverage of choice being decaf Southern Pecan Creme coffee from O'Henry's in Birmingham. So, in honor of the presidential primaries, here is a ticket to vote on. Unlike the national primary, you can vote for one candidate in each party. Polls open tonight and close at midnight Friday so you can have plenty of time to drink, er, think about your choices.

The Ticket

White Party:

Riesling: Ms. Riesling is running on a platform of balance and sweetness. She believes that cooler heads should prevail during spicy hot debates and has refused to be drawn in by the taunts of her competitors. She looks to her German roots for inspiration when demanded to conform to expectations, and many are surprised by her dry wit.
Political leanings: Waaaay left: believes in sweetness for all

Sauvignon Blanc: A traditionalist, at least as far as the White Party goes, Mr. Blanc hopes to unite the country around a common table, preferably one with seafood. Very friendly to the farmers and citrus-fruit growers, he holds an open mind about immigration, “otherwise, how else would all those lovely melons get picked?” Occasionally his steely gaze catches off guard those who have come to expect him to be soft when faced with the tough issues.
Political leanings: just left of center

Viognier: After many years of blending in with the rest of her party, Ms. Viognier hopes to stand out and to draw on commonalities of experience to draw the warring factions of the country together. She gets along with just about everyone, and rumors have flown about her relationship with Mr. Syrah. Could this union lead to the first cross-party bid for vice president? Only time will tell.
Political leanings: very moderate

Withdrawn Pinot Gris: Although coming out strong at the beginning of the race, failure to maintain momentum and inability to answer accusations of wishy-washiness have caused Mr. Gris to “transition out” of the race. We wish him and his family the best.

Red Party:

Cabernet Sauvignon: Mr. Sauvignon is running on the platform of “say what you mean, mean what you say.” He vehemently denies allegations of racketeering in cahoots with the Sangiovese brothers, Chianti and Brunello, saying that it’s all mud-slinging and slander by his competitors, especially Ms. Noir. He has been known to take contributions from the farming industry, particularly the cattle farmers.
Political leanings: Moderate right: hopes for consistent liquor laws throughout the country so people can buy wine on Sunday if they get inspired to grill out after church

Pinot Noir: Ms. Noir gets along with just about everyone (except for Mr. Sauvignon, of course). Takes pride in being the “go-to” gal when others are faced with indecision. Keeps a level head on her shoulders at all time but delights in surprising those who consider her to be dry and boring. Appeals to all ages and classes.
Political leanings: Just right of center: hopes that independent voters and vegetarians will give her a try

Syrah: Mr. Syrah has mellowed out considerably in the past few years, although he stands firm on his Red Party principles. He speaks with directness, but likes to close the deal with surprising smoothness that belies his sometimes rough approach. He has been linked with Ms. Viognier and says that their friendship brings out the best in him, although he denies any romantic involvement. Can be territorial and is rumored to hate kangaroos.
Political leanings: Far right: wants to “kick those terrorist you-know-whats in the stem!”

Zinfandel: The showiest candidate by far, this smooth operator comes from an old political vine. Although he hasn’t been too forthcoming about his position on the major issues, he’s made it clear that he plans to open up trade and gets along well with the rich and powerful.
Political leanings: Unsure, but considered to be the most likely to have an affair with a grape-tern in the Oval Barrel

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Tasting Notes: Super Something

First, allow me to say: well, damn, I was really hoping New England would do it.

Okay, now that I've gotten that out of my system...

Hubby and I poured for the Sherlock's wine tasting yesterday, which was titled, "Superbowl Showdown." I'll be honest, I drank beer this evening to go with my burger and fries. Admittedly, they were a bit fancier than what you'd typically find in a bar, and all homemade. We had Emeril's Baby Bam burgers and Belgian fries, and a wine could have gone with it, probably the Stump Jump, which is a nice blend and very food-friendly.

The fun part about pouring for wine tastings is being reminded how peoples' palates are so different. That's probably a good thing since there's a lot of wine out there. However, there were a couple of self-identified tasting "pro's" whose judgment I had to question. These were the ones who started off with the dessert wine and went backwards, usually complaining that they didn't like anything else. Well, duh! Just as an example, the last non-dessert wine was the 2005 Bodegas Sierra Cantabria Tinto, a Rioja. When tasted in order, it had a little smoke, but an interesting overtone of toffee/caramel. When tasted after the dessert wine, it was all smoke, or "bacon," as one of the backwards tasters put it (yes, I tried this after tasting everything in the "right" order).

So, without further ado, here's the rundown of the wines, which supposedly go with Superbowl party fare:

1. 2005 Tasca D'Almerita "Regaleali" (Italy): Very nice, crisp, and fruity. Reminded hubby of a Sauv Blanc. Would have gone well with shellfish. Who has shellfish at their Superbowl party? If you know, I'd like to be invited.

2. 2006 Mallee Sands Chardonnay (South Australia): No oak! Yay! Very drinkable and surprisingly fruity. This would be a good one to pull out for your friends (like me) who don't like the big, Oaky, California-style Chards.

3. 2005 Renwood Viognier (Lodi, California): I had high expectations for this one because I'm a fan of the Renwood Old Vine Zin. It didn't disappoint. It had a bit of the viognier floral character, but tart enough that it wasn't like chewing on a bouquet. Would have paired it with a fancy cheese pizza, like a Gourmet White from the 'Shroom.

4. 2005 D'Arenberg The Stump Jump (South Australia): A really nice blend of Shiraz, Mourvedre, and Grenache that's found on a lot of wine lists around here. Very good, medium fruit, and food-friendly. Would probably have gone well with my burger.

5. Sacred Stone Master's Red Blend Old World Style Red Wine NV (California): No date or region given for this one, but I'm pretty sure it's American. A "Rhone-style blend" of Syrah, Carignan, Grenache, Sangiovese, and Zinfandel. Big Ass Reds fans, this one's for you! Just sip carefully -- it's got 14.8% alcohol. I like this one better every time I try it.

6. 2005 Bodegas Sierra Cantabria Tinto: Hooray for Tempranillo! This was the one that started off all smoke and acid when first opened, but then mellowed out to have an interesting toffee/caramel overtone and a smoother finish. It probably wouldn't be my first pick for a Rioja, but I'd drink it if it was poured for me. One pairing idea put forth for it was chili.

7. 2005 Jorge Ordonez & Co Moscatel, (Malaga, Spain): The dessert wine drinkers were all over this one, and with a price of about $22, it's a good bargain. Flowery and fruity and sweet. Sticks around a while. Celebrate with this one when your Superbowl party guests leave.

The next question is, which one(s) did we leave with? We got a bottle of the Tasca D'Almerita to go in/with a scallop soup we're doing for Ash Wednesday and a bottle of a Las Rocas Garnacha, which was a recommendation from one of my faithful readers. I'm not sure when we'll drink it, but probably soon because wines don't last long around here. Also, thanks to Dan (see his blog in my links) and his lovely wife for stopping by and letting us pour you some wine!

Coming soon: Tired of all the political stuff? How about something a little different? Tune in on Super Tuesday to vote for your favorite reds and whites as they struggle to choose candidates to represent them in the wine election in November to see which will reign supreme! Yes, the Rose's are, sadly, largely too disorganized to run for office and don't really fit in either party, anyway. Candidate profiles will be posted Tuesday, and the polls will close at midnight on Friday.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Restaurant Review: Palate

Last night, my husband and a couple of our friends braved the cold, wet weather to go to Palate, a wine and dessert bar in the Oakhurst area. Yes, it's a wine blogger reviewing Palate. I figured I would start easy.

We chose the "cheese plate" appetizer, which ended up being enough cheese, bread, olives, olive oil, and hummus for four to share comfortably. The hummus was very garlicky and a bit too strong for my taste, but good. The olive oil was very nicely herbed. The waiter brought out a small taste of the roasted garlic brie soup, which was good but not as creamy or flavorful as I had imagined it.

For dinner, I considered the prosciutto and pear panini, which I've had and enjoyed before, but I ended up with the macadamia-encrusted scallops, which are a special but which the chef is considering adding to the regular menu. They came with a choice of green vegetable and very garlicky mashed potatoes. After tasting the potatoes, I wondered if Emeril was hiding in the kitchen and throwing cloves of garlic into it when the chef's back was turned. The scallops were tender and sweet, if a little buttery. My husband had the meatloaf, which he said was very good, and I got to taste some of the special pasta, a three-cheese orecchiete (aka really fancy mac n' cheese, according to the waiter), which was brought to the table still bubbling from the oven and had a nice balance of cream and sharpness.

Of course, if you go to Palate, you have to have dessert. In addition to a nice selection from Southern Sweets, they have their own chocolate bread pudding and other temptations that they make in-house. I can't resist the chocolate raspberry mousse cake from SS. The bread pudding is also good, but not consistently chocolate throughout.

With the cold weather last night, the most popular wine choice was the Van Ruiten Old Vine Zinfandel, which was everything a Zin should be -- a big, red fruit bomb -- but also smooth. I had a good Oregon Pinot Gris with the scallops (I apologize -- I didn't write the name down, and it's not listed on the online menu; I think it was Big Fire), and it was very flavorful and fruity.

Now if only we could get either Java Monkey or Palate to move their every other Thursday wine tastings off by a week, we could alternate!

Score card:
Atmosphere: Very good
Food: Very good
Wine list: Short but excellent selections
Wait staff: Knowledgeable & with good recommendations for pairings
Desserts (yes, with me, this gets its own category): Excellent
Vegetarian friendly? Yes
Kid friendly? Probably, I've seen them in there, but c'mon, it's a wine bar! Wine is for grown-ups!
Would I go back? Absolutely!