Sunday, June 29, 2008

Tasting Notes: Aussie Wines, JavaMonkey Thursday Wine Series, 6/29/08

Pre-tasting notes: I would like to remind everyone of the fund raiser for the JavaMonkey Barista who was in a scooter accident earlier this month. It's this coming Thursday, July 3, and there will be $3 beer, $5 wine, and a silent auction with donations from several Decatur businesses and local artists. So come on out! It's something to do on a non-wine tasting Thursday, and you get to drink for a good cause!

Would someone comment and please let me know if JavaMonkey is supposed to be one word or two? Jess confused me with her announcement. It seems like an adjective/noun combo, which would require a space, but it's hard to tell when dealing with caffeinated primates, who may designate themselves so quickly that a space isn't necessary.

Obviously I didn't let this confusion stop me on Thursday night. We get Hubby's ratings as well as mine on this tasting (his are the smileys).

Thorn Clarke Brut Sparkling Wine NV, Barossa: 40% Chardonnay and 60% Pinot Noir, this wine is a pretty peach color and even has a fruity nose. It's nicely balanced, and as the Brut designation indicates, is neither too sweet nor too dry.
Rating: Very Good / :)

Heartland "Stickleback" White 2006, South: In case you're wondering, this is a Stickleback. The blend is 50% Chardonnay, 30% Verdelho, and 20% Semillon. A lovely citrus and vanilla nose ends up being a tease because the middle is so smooth as to be wimpy, although it has a nice finish.
Rating: Good / :|

Woop Woop Chardonnay 2007, Southeast: I should probably not make notes like "partial MF" on a wine with a name like Woop Woop (the MF stands for malolactic fermentation - get your minds out of the gutter!). It has a lovely citrus nose, and the partial MF does give it a bit of creaminess. It finishes floral and vanilla on the back of the palate.
Rating: Good / :|

Heartland "Stickleback" Red 2005, South: The fishies make red wine, too! It's 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Shiraz, and 10% Grenache. It smells like a Cab with black cherry and plum accents, is oaky and leathery, but then finishes with currant and chocolate. Hubby described it as "chewy." I found that it smoothed out as it opened.
Rating: Very Good / :(

Slipstream Grenache-Shiraz 2006, McLaren Vale: As the name says, it's a blend of 75% Shiraz and 25% Grenache. The nose is of spicy berries, and I found the wine itself to be nicely balanced between fruit and acidity. It has a chocolate creme brulee finish.
Rating: Excellent / :D

Thorn Clarke Terra Barossa Shiraz 2006, Barossa: This one comes out of the bottle an inky dark magenta. It has a spicy nose, balanced acidity, and dark fruit.
Rating: Very Good / :)

One of the reasons I love these tastings is because we get to hang with interesting people. The quote of the night:

"One of my favorite toys as a kid was a slide rule." - Ed(itor) Geeks unite!

Finally, I would like to commend JavaMonkey barista Daphne for doing such a good job filling in for Jess, who was out of town. Great job, Daphne!

Oenophile at Large: Restaurant Reviews

It's been a crazy busy week for the Oenophile and Hubby.

I had one of those marketing lecture thingies that happens every so often in my "other life" (see: job I get paid for) on Wednesday evening. This particular adventure took me to Nan Fine Thai Dining at the corner of Spring and 17th in downtown Atlanta. I had been looking forward to it because everyone I mentioned it to responded with something like, "Oh! That's supposed to be the best Thai food in Atlanta!" I'm still trying to decide if it lives up to the hype, and it's probably not fair of me to say one way or the other since I didn't have access to the whole menu. I was able to sample the Chicken Satay, Fried Shrimp, and Vegetarian Spring Roll appetizers, all of which were very good. The Fried Shrimp were essentially tempura battered on sticks, and it was funny watching people try to eat them without using their fingers (they usually gave up). The spring rolls seemed more like the egg rolls you'd get in a Chinese restaurant with the thick skins rather than the crispy layered spring roll skin I'd expected. All appetizers were served with good sauces. I chose the Thai Salad for my first course. It was served with peanut dressing and egg and had some sort of crispy element to it, tofu, I think. I liked it. My main course was the Pha Sham Rod, or "fried snapper filet with three-flavored chili sauce." Like the shrimp, the snapper was fried in a tempura style, but thankfully not on a stick. It came with fried okra and some other sort of starchy vegetable. The sauce was spicy, but not overly so. I eschewed the green tea ice cream for the blueberry pie and homemade ice cream in my fridge.

Score card:
Atmosphere: The main dining room is light and airy, almost temple-like. The side room where we were got the afternoon sun and tended to be stuffy, especially with the door shut.
Food: Very Good
Wine list: Good, from what I could see (again, had limited options)
Wait staff: Good, at least the two we had for our group
Desserts: Hard to say. I saw a good-looking chocolate thing come out of the kitchen as we waited outside the room for the talk to start, but alas, I didn't get to try it
Vegetarian friendly? Not really, at least not from the online menu
Kid friendly? No
Would I go back? Yes

Thursday night was a wine tasting (notes in another entry), and Hubby and I were running late because the meeting I had after work that "would only be 10 minutes, we promise!" lasted 40. We decided to try Saba, an Emory restaurant that just opened another location on the square in Decatur. I had the Wild Mushroom Ravioli, which was served with tomato sauce, feta, and fresh herb vinaigrette, and Hubby had the Four Cheese Ravioli with kalamata olives, tomato sauce, and pureed herbs. We both started out with a mixed green salad with herb vinaigrette. Both meals were big enough for two, so we have lunch for one day this week. We both were impressed with the food and with the fellow diners, many of whom were under eight and well-behaved. Well-behaved children in a Decatur restaurant? Isn't that one of the signs of the Apocalypse?

Kidding (ha! that pun really wasn't intended, I promise!) aside, this is definitely a place we'll keep in mind even when we're not running late.
Score card:
Atmosphere: Nice, reminded me a little of a coffee shop.
Food: Excellent
Wine list: I didn't try any, but although it's short, it goes beyond the Chianti one typically sees at a pasta place and actually has a Lodi zin on it
Wait staff: ?? It's a walk up, order your food at a counter, and wait for someone to bring it to you kind of place
Desserts: Unknown
Vegetarian friendly? Yep, lots of options
Kid friendly? Yes
Would I go back? Definitely!

Today we joined our VERY pregnant friends Logic Boy and Grammar Girl (their blog is here if anyone is interested) at the Peachtree Diner in Roswell for lunch. We're looking very forward for the kid to be born so that Grammar Girl can join us for wine again. This menu is incredibly varied, and they told us that they bring people there because there's something for everyone. The menu is spiral bound, and I've read novels that are shorter. You could see the variety in our meals. I got the Moussaka (yes, there's a whole Greek page), which was excellent. The Greek spices, tomato sauce, and Bechamel sauce were well-balanced, and it was served with a Greek salad that was a little heavy on the onion, but also very good. Grammar Girl got the Mediterranean Salad, which looked like fried onions and eggplant parmesan atop a salad. Hubby got the blackened Prime Rib grill, and Logic Boy got the open-faced roast beef sandwich. Everyone said their food was delicious. Logic Boy is a fellow chocoholic, so we took a field trip to the dessert case that looks like something out of a sugar addict's dream. I got a piece of the chocolate cream pie, which was a little heavy on cream and not so much on chocolate, and our fellow diners got the Caramel Cake, which has layers of chocolate mousse, vanilla mousse, two kinds of cake, and layers of caramel between all of it as well as a creamy light chocolate icing. I had a bite (for the blog, of course), and it was fantastic.

Score card:
Atmosphere: Busy, but the tables are set up so that you're not bothered by other diners or ambient noise
Food: Excellent
Wine list: Good, even if the whites are divided into "Chardonnay" and "Other Whites" The impressive thing is that everything is available by the glass.
Wait staff: Although the restaurant seemed short-staffed, everything was handled very efficiently, and we never felt neglected
Desserts: Wow
Vegetarian friendly? Fair with a few options
Kid friendly? Yes
Would I go back? Definitely!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Fund Raiser at Java Monkey, July 3

When you go to a place long enough, you get to know and care about the staff. We were saddened to hear that one of the Java Monkey baristas and her friend were in an accident a couple of weeks ago. She's alive, although injured and still in the hospital. I'm posting this announcement by Jess, Java Monkey's owner, in hopes that you wonderful oenophiles (and coffee lovers!) will come to the fund raiser to help this young lady and her friend with their expenses:

Help Amy and Leah!
Amy Sarrell, longtime JAVAMONKEY employee, and Leah Helfen were riding Leah's scooter when they were hit by an SUV on Jun 7th. At present, both of these wonderful ladies are still at Grady.

On July 3rd, JAVAMONKEY is holding a fund raising event to help cover Amy and Leah's medical and living expenses while they recover. Gently (formerly My Siamese Self), The Bangers, and It's Elephants will be playing, from 8pm-11pm. We will have $3.00 beers and $5.00 glasses of wine until they run out. Also there will be a silent auction with art donated by Pandra Williams, Bill Mayer, Laura Hull, and others, and goods, and gift certificates from JAVAMONKEY, Brickstore, Twain's, Mingei, Taste, Squash Blossom, Decatur School of Ballet, Little Shop of Stories, and more!

An Evening in Oakhurst

Yesterday evening, Hubby and I grabbed our friend the Crazy Scot and headed to Oakhurst for the James Dean reception at the Seen Gallery for the opening of his new show: "Think Responsibly, Drink Responsively: A Cat's Commentary on Wine Connoisseurship." They had wine tasting to go with the show, but since I had been tasting all afternoon, I stuck with one taste of the Three Girls Cabernet Sauvignon from Oak Ridge Winery in Lodi, California. Big and fruity and smooth, just as one would expect from a Lodi wine, although not jammy like a Zin.

The mixed media show focused on Pete the Cat is definitely worth seeing. James Dean was approachable and friendly, as were Amy and Bill, the owners of the Seen Gallery.

For dinner, we tried Mezcalito's Cantina. The tortilla chips are not great, being too thick and somewhat bland. I'd recommend skipping the cheese dip, which is almost too thick to be a dip, in favor of the guacamole, which was fresh and just chunky enough to be interesting. I had the two tacos meal, one chicken and one beef, and Hubby got the chicken special. The rule seemed to be that beef was spicy, chicken was not. We got a bottle of the Las Rocas Garnacha for with dinner, and it was good, as always, although not fruity enough to stand up to the spice in the beef.

We finished the evening at Palate, although we were all too full for dessert.

Tasting Notes: "The Noble Grape: Pinot Noir," Sherlocks, 6-21-08

I had the fun of pouring for the free Saturday wine tasting at Cooks and Sherlocks in Decatur yesterday. It was crazy busy from start to finish. I guess people like Pinots.

2006 Big Fire Pinot Gris, Oregon: This was the afternoon's top seller. Even people (like Hubby) who turn their noses up at Pinot Grigios, the Italian name for this grape, liked it. A fruity nose gives way to a floral palate with apple and pear.
Rating: Very Good

2007 Castle Rock Pinot Noir, Monterey County: When I first tried this, the amount of spice reminded me of what I've always thought mulled wine would taste like. It's also all about some cherry.
Rating: Good

2006 Wine by Joe Pinot Noir, Oregon: Joe makes good wine. Blackberry nose and somewhat tannic for a Pinot Noir. Would be great with food. I liked it more after it had been open for a while.
Rating: Very Good

2006 Jovino Pinot Noir, Oregon: This is one of my favorites. It's made by the same winemaker as the previous selection and is so nicely balanced that a bottle had to come home with me.
Rating: Very Good

2005 Olivier Laflaive Bourgogne Rouge Cuvee Margot, France: A little drier than the previous wines and with a little bit of smoke.
Rating: Good to Very Good (after it opened)

2006 Barnett Vineyards Tina Maria Vineyard Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley: This was my favorite of the tasting, even before I saw the $45.99 price tag. Has cola and cinnamon notes, but also fruit and mineral. Several people noted that they'd put it up for a few years and let it mature. I doubt it would last that long at my house.
Rating: Very Good to Excellent

Bonus wine! The Pietra Santa rose is made from Sangiovese grapes and didn't really go with the rest of the tasting, but it's a great summer wine and was a nice finish to the flight. One of my complaints about roses is that they tend to try too hard not to be a sweet wine. This one is off-dry and fruity with a hint of mineral that keeps it from going overboard.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Brutal Blends: Java Monkey Thursday Wine Series 6/12/08

Last Thursday's wine tasting was a first: everyone I talked to who had been there woke up in some discomfort. Poor Hubby had a touch of a stomach virus, so I'm not sure if he was truly hung over or not, but he was hurting along with the rest of us. At least he got out of going to work. I would like to add that I didn't drink any more than I usually do, which is to say, not to excess. Others didn't, either, with the exception of a few whose names I shall not mention.

What were the brutal wines?

1. 2006 Gramona Gessami (Penedes, Spain): This blend of Muscat d'Alexandria, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscat Frontignan was an interesting blend, mildly sweet with an odd finish.
Rating: Good

2. 2007 Casamaro Blanco (Rueda, Spain): I don't know if it was the trauma the wine endured when Jess dropped the bottle, which miraculously didn't break, or the wine itself, but this was another strange wine. One taster said, "It does something weird to my tongue!" The floral, yeasty nose gave way to a chemical odor, and the palate followed suit. The blend was 90% Verdejo and 10% Viera.
Rating: No, thanks (I blame this one for everyone's difficulties the next day)

3. 2005 La Piece Sous le Bras (Languedoc-Roussillon, France): A nice blend of 90% Chardonnay, 5% Vioginer, and 5% Roussane, this wine was light and fruity with a bit of mineral to the finish.
Rating: Good

4. 2005 Rapitala Nuar (Sicily): 70% Nero d'Avola and 30% Pinot Noir, the nose had dark fruit and raisin, and it was fruity on the palate, but finished dry and slightly buttery.
Rating: Very Good

5. 2004 Costa del Sol (Napa Valley): How could a blend of sangiovese, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot not be good? This was Hubby's favorite of the night. It had an excellent nose and was well-balanced with fruit and acidity.
Rating: Excellent

6. 2006 Hahn Estates Meritage (Central Coast, CA): This wine "flummoxed" one of my drinking companions. It had a very nice nose, a little smoky, and a really good mix of dark fruit, jam, and a bit of earth. It was my favorite of the night, and it turned out to be a "kitchen sink" wine with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, our friend from Virginia Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec.
Rating: Excellent

No, I don't have a logical reason for blaming #2 for everyone's difficulties the next day other than its chemical characteristics. Again, this was an odd tasting. Perhaps there was some magical property to the combination of wines. I'm open to suggestions/discussion.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Guest Blog: South African wines at Java Monkey, 5/29/08

In case y'all were wondering what my husband does when I'm out of town, the answer is simple: he goes to wine tastings and is my guest blogger.

Oh, and about my Baltimore adventures: I'm over it and ready to go home.

Here's Hubby's take on the most recent Java Monkey tasting:

I really should have written this sooner. In fact, I had intended to take some time to write this while wandering through Virginia and Maryland (that’s “Merlin” if your local, hon’) to perform my duties as backup JavaMonkey wine reviewer. But I just couldn’t find the motivation on the road. Oh well, at least I’m in good company.

I digress.

South Africa was the theme of this tasting. I’m pretty much ignorant of anything interesting about South Africa. Growing up in Alabama, about the only thing I ever heard about it was its strict segregationist government and culture, and that it was generally not a good place to be. (In other words, just like Alabama. But the people sound way cooler saying things like “open up a can of whoopass.”)

Hmm… Let’s see what Wikipedia has to offer:

The Republic of South Africa (also known by other official names) is a country located at the southern tip of Africa.

Wow! Glad they cleared that up. Now on to the wines…

Fairvalley Sauvignon Blanc ‘07
Coastal Region, South Africa

Fairvalley is, for the most part, a commune set up by the employees of the Fairview Wine and Cheese Estate. The glossy marketing material on their website states that it “shows asparagus, garlic chive, and citrus notes, with a fresh, juicy finish.” I’ll buy the fresh juiciness, but only if it’s a fresh, juicy bale of hay. This stuff was grassy, man. Further swirling revealed notes of peanut shells (think Turner Field after game day). (Disclaimer: Everybody looked at me funny after the peanut shell comment.)

Rating: :-(

Vinum Africa Chenin Blanc ‘06
Stellenbosch, South Africa

My notes indicate that this wine is sustainable and hand-harvested, but there’s no word on whether the grapes are foot pressed. It was fairly unremarkable. On the front end, it was very acidic and alcoholic. The information I found online states that the winemaker’s philosophy is to get in the way as little as possible once he’s got good grapes. In that fashion, this wine got in the way as little as possible on the finish. It mellowed and mellowed and mellowed until there was simply nothing left. So my “fairly unremarkable” comment was probably not correct in retrospect. This is the first time I’ve ever had a wine – or any beverage, for that matter – go from Everclear to Pinot Grigio while traveling from the front of my mouth to the back.

Maybe with food. But probably not.

Rating: :-|

Slowine Rose ‘07
Overburg, South Africa

Every wine tasting provides me with new insights and tips on life. It was while sampling this rose that one of our companions taught me all about vacationing with Germans, why it was a bad idea, and how to cope should you ever find yourself on a vacation with a German. Kid of like vacationing with Yankees only you gain back the letter R and lose the letter W. Seriously, information like this should be written down with the words “DON’T PANIC” printed on the front cover.

I also made some notes about having a lustful look at a beautiful, seductive glass of Campos Reales Tempranillo that was being ordered by another patron at this time. Sadly, I cannot say more about that because it inspires feelings of inferiority about how I can’t say “Tempranillo” like a true Latino. (Maybe I can find a psychologist to help me with that and my road issues.)

Oh yeah, this is about the rose, right? Being a Southern Gentleman (stop laughing) allows me to say things like, “Momma always told me that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” When words like “cough medicine” and “Strawberry Alka-Seltzer” appear in ones tasting notes, there’s not much nice to say.

Wait, I did write down one nice thing. It didn’t taste like Robitussin.

Rating: :-(

Fairvalley Cabernet Sauvignon ‘05
Coastal Region, South Africa

FINALLY! This one was nice, although very soft and smooth for a Cab. I wouldn’t have been able to peg the grape at a blind tasting.

Rating: :-)

TMV Viktoria ‘04
Western Cape, South Africa

This one gets the award for best marketing description. Quoth their website, “This sexy, feminine Syrah based blend is all about freshness, spice and attraction. The appearance is youthful ruby red with a seductive nose.”

Wow! Careful with this one, boys! Somebody might be watching.

The 2004 TMV is a blend of 82% Syrah, 11% Cinsault, and 7% Cabernet Sauvignon. On my first sip, I got a ton of eucalyptus on the finish of what was an otherwise smooth wine. There was just a little bit of toast in there, too, but it didn’t get in the way. Thankfully, the eucalyptus wore off as the wine opened. By the end, I was a fan. Hopefully it won’t lead to a divorce.

Rating: :-) after it opened

Kumkani Pinotage ‘04
Stellenbosch, South Africa

Cultural lesson: Kumkani is derived from the Xhosa word for regal or king. The Xhosa people are about 18% of the population of the country, and their population includes Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.

Hey, no South African tasting is complete without a Pinotage, right? According to the winemaker’s website, these grapes are grown on the edge of False Bay, home of the world’s largest concentration of Great White Sharks. Thankfully, this wine didn’t have the bite of a shark. It was very smooth, and a good ending to a wine tasting that had gotten off to a rough start.

Rating: :-)

Mercifully, my tenure as guest blogger has come to an end. If you’d like to bribe my wife so that she doesn’t go on another trip and leave me to write one of these, feel free.

Join us next time for “Blends,” or “What I Did with All My Leftover Grapes.”

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Travelin' Oenophile: Bailtimore isn't so bad after all

I was going to stop my blogging in Baltimore due to the thought that I wouldn't have anything to blog about, but it turns out I do. The city actually has some pretty darn good restaurants. We discovered the first one yesterday after having been to the observation of the World Trade Center, which is the tallest five-sided building in the world. After that, we sought lunch in Little Italy. Any city with a Little Italy is okay in my book. I think we need to start one in Atlanta.

We entered Germano's Trattoria a little after one and found it mostly empty. We didn't care. It was cool, quiet, and had a good wine list. We felt we had reached a decision point: go back out in the 95+ degree weather and walk around like idiot tourists, or have a nice, long lunch with a cool bottle of wine. Yeah, that was a no-brainer. We ordered a bottle of 2006 Rocca della Marie Orvieto Classico (DOC). It had a little pineapple on the nose, then was fruity with a clean, mineral finish. I got a little cream on the end as well, although Hubby didn't. We started with house salads, and then I got the appetizer special, spinach-stuffed ravioli, for lunch, and Hubby had the meatball sandwich. The food was excellent, and the atmosphere would definitely fit the bill for "romantic."

We went to the Baltimore Aquarium yesterday afternoon, and it's definitely worth seeing. I love aquariums anyway, and this one has exhibits that put you literally in the middle of the portrayed habitats. It also has a great stingray tank as well as an excellent shark tank, which is my criteria for what makes a good aquarium.

For dinner, we decided to head to where the locals eat crabs, which I hear is a Maryland delicacy. Hubby found L.P. Steamers on the internet, so that's where we headed. It was a bit far to walk, so we took a cab. This place is as casual as they come. There's a large sheet of brown paper on the table, and the wait staff just slides the steamed crabs on to it. We got a pitcher of Sam Adams, a pitcher of water, an order of onion rings, and a dozen steamed crabs. It was a Saturday, so it was a bit busy, and there was a raucous group in the back, but we didn't mind the wait since it allowed us to observe other patrons eating the critters. I was raised using crackers to get at shell meat, but in Baltimore, they use mallets. I'll admit to some vaguely cathartic experiences.

This morning, we got up early and went to Mass at the Basilica of the Assumption. No, I'm not going to critique the Communion wine. I just wanted to mention that it's an incredibly beautiful church with a good choir.

Lunch today was at Edo Sushi, which is part of the large Pratt Street Pavilion shopping complex on the Inner Harbor. We got a table by the window, so the view was good, but the air conditioning wasn't working so well in that part of the restaurant. My dining companion was disappointed that they didn't have a house salad with traditional ginger dressing, but other than that, the meal was very good. We split yellowtail tuna and salmon nigiri, soft-shell crab roll, and the "rock n' roll," which was eel, cucumber, and roe with avocado on top.

Then, finally, dinner tonight was at a place slightly north of the Inner Harbor in the Mount Vernon neighborhood called Neo Viccino, which is essentially casual Italian-American food. I had a house salad with balsamic vinaigrette and a small pizza with artichoke hearts, mushrooms, roasted red peppers, and red onions. The pizza was one of the best I've ever had with fresh, light dough. I also had a glass of Melini Chianti "Classico," which was a somewhat light Chianti that paired really well with the pizza. I also indulged in dessert, which was beignets with custard filling and hazelnut dipping sauce.

So, the bottom line on Baltimore: it's really hot, but the food is good.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Travelin' Oenophile: Maryland, Continued

I'm sitting in the hotel room waiting for the Belmont Stakes to start. All I can say is, wow, and I thought the Super Bowl had a lot of pre-show buildup! It's a lot of coverage for 5 minutes of actual sport. Seriously, the race will probably be over by the time I finish this entry.

The rolling countryside of Maryland is very pretty, and the wineries are definitely less pretentious than anywhere else we've tasted. We didn't see a single one with a big tasting room, and it really did feel like we were tasting wine in a barn in a few of them. One that definitely had a "roadside shack" feel was Loew. Unfortunately, the wines were so bad we didn't even take notes. Pass that one up, even if the tasting is free. Luckily the next winery was much better.

Elk Run is located just down the road from Loew, but the wines are miles away in quality. By this point, Hubby had given up on taking notes, so all you have is my ratings.

Gypsy Rose Pinot Noir 2007: Good

Pinot Noir 2006: Very Good

Syrah 2005: Not Bad

Cabernet Sauvignon 2005: Good

Malbec 2006: Very Good to Excellent

Other Info: $2/person to taste 5 wines, $5 if you wanted to keep the glass. We declined the glasses. Open til 9 on Fridays.
Bottom Line: We got the Malbec.

We finished at Frederick Cellars in cute downtown Frederick. They had a few good offerings, and finally a rose that Hubby liked.

Merlot 2005: Good

Heritage Red 2005 blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah: Very Good

Cabernet Sauvignon 2002: Bad - Dry erase marker nose, vinegary and sharp

City Lights Seyval/Vidal blend: Very Good (Hubby noted a resemblance to Pinot Gris)

Eye of the Oriole: Very Good light and sweet rose blend

Trail's End Riesling blend: Good

Other info: $5/person to taste 6 wines.
Bottom Line: We got the Eye of the Oriole. It will be a good back porch wine.

Okay, here's my advice: skip Maryland wines and stay in northern Virginia. That's what we'll be doing next time.

Last night, we ended up joining some friends at an interesting place called Power Plant Live, which is an interesting collection of bars and restaurants in a U-shape near the Inner Harbor in Baltimore. The food was average, but we did get to hear Sister Hazel play.

It was hot today, so the objective was to stay inside as much as possible. We started the day at the Baltimore Visitor Center, where we avoided yankees already cranky from the heat and humidity. Overheard, as one older gentleman looked at a restaurant sign, "They have Paella, Tapas, and Vino, whatevah that is." How could someone not know what vino is? Yeesh.

Actually, the Belmont is over, and I'm a little cranky because the hotel doesn't have a pool (the web site said it has two!), so we're going to the bar for fruity drinks. No, I don't think that karaoke will be forthcoming.

There will likely be one more blog entry tomorrow, then it's back to work for me. Yep, I'm here for a conference. Otherwise, I would never have come to Baltimore voluntarily.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Travelin' Oenophile: Thursday, Part II, Friday, Part I

Greetings once again from the hot and sticky mid-Atlantic states. We seem to be good at invoking heat waves when we travel. So much for my notion of a cool Atlantic breeze as I had on Jekyll Island. I've never heard the phrase "delightfully tepid" to describe a shower until just now when Hubby came out of the bathroom to stand in front of the air conditioning vent. At least he left me some hot water.

I left off yesterday's adventures after our third winery. In vino veritas, or, "in wine, there is truth," as the old saying goes, but I never found out whether that was the inspiration for the fourth winery's name. Veritas has an absolutely gorgeous tasting room with views over forest and field. It's a space that the American nobility we partially came to pay homage to would feel comfortable in. The wine wasn't bad, either.

Again, my ratings are first, then Hubby's (at least it's not checks and crooked checks -- who can figure that one out???). It's funny to both of us how we do and don't agree on some of them. Sometimes purchase negotiations resemble international peace negotiations.

2007 Sauvignon Blanc: Good / :)

2007 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve: Not Bad / :)

2007 Chardonnay: Very Good / :)

2007 Viognier: Bad to Not Bad / :|
Had a funky finish.

2006 Petit Manseng: Not Bad / :|

2005 Kenmar: Bad to Not Bad / :(
Odd nose to it, like Handy Wipes.

2005 Mousseux (sparkling blend of Chardonnay and Cab Franc): Very Good / :D
Seriously, this one has flavors of milk chocolate-covered cherries. Oh yeah, we got a bottle.

2007 Rose: good / :|

Red Star (Cabernet Franc & Chambourcin): Very Good / :(

2006 Cabernet Franc: Good / :)

2006 Claret (Cab Franc & Petit Verdot): Very Good / :| (Hubby deducted points for the nose)

2005 Merlot: Good / :)

2006 Vintner's Reserve (misc. blend of red grapes): Very Good / :)
I have to quote the tasting notes on this one: "Reserve VR for a sumptuous feast of red meats, particularly T-bones, Tenderloin, Moose and Elk..." Has anyone seen Moose or Elk at the Farmer's Market? It might be with the elusive kangaroo.

2006 Petit Verdot: Very Good to Excellent / :D
A dark, almost inky wine, this one was finally the big ass red we'd been looking for.

2005 Othello (port-style dessert red blended from Tannat, Touriga Nacional, and Petit Verdot): Very Good / :)

Other information: $5/tasting for either whites or reds, but they pour enough for two if you want to share, which is what we did. They waive the fee if you buy a bottle from the list. We got our fees waived with the Mousseux and Petit Verdot. Our only complaint was that it was fairly busy, and there was just one pourer.
Bottom line: Deserves its good reputation, but the tasting room needs more staff.

We also went to Cardinal Point and Afton Mountain. Neither had anything worth writing about, and we didn't bring home any of their wines.

We had dinner at a cute South American-themed restaurant Zocalo (not related to the recently deceased one in Atlanta). I started with the butternut squash soup and had the duck breast for dinner. I also had a glass of Malbec, but there's no way I can comment on it, as burned out as my palate was by then. Hubby had the caesar salad and pork tenderloin. We then went on to Enoteca for after-dinner wine and dessert. The flourless chocolate cake is fantastic.

"I was really hoping for a big finish to the day," Hubby sighed as we got in the car after Afton Mountain. We might not have finished the day with a bang, but we did finish the state with one. Tarara Winery , the northernmost winery in Virginia, was our favorite of the trip. We liked it so much we sent a case home to ourselves. We tasted the reserve list and were very impressed. We sat down with our lists and said, "we're in trouble." Finally, the full-bodied, fruity reds we had been seeking the whole time! Our favorite by far was the Merlot. Please email them and beg them to fill out the necessary paperwork to ship to Georgia once the state opens up on July 1 so we can join their wine club. We promise, we'll share!

So, here's the bottom line for Virginia: definitely plan on spending some time at the northernmost part of the state near Maryland. In general, skip the Cab Franc unless you like somewhat wimpy reds. True red lovers, go for the Petit Verdot. As for whites, they're hit or miss.

We drove on to Maryland after lunch at an average Asian buffet (it was late, we were hungry, it was there). We started at Sugarloaf Mountain, which has its tasting room in a tent until the real one is completed this summer. It definitely felt like tasting wine in the country, but it was nice in spite of the heat.

'05 Chardonnay: Very good / :)
Apple and citrus with a little roasted nut.

'06 Independence Rose (grapes from Southern Virginia???): Good / :)

'06 Circe (Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot): Good to Very Good / :|

'06 Cabernet Sauvignon: Good

'06 Comus (same blend as Circe, but more Merlot): Good

We came away with a bottle of the Chardonnay, which I liked because it was unoaked.

Other Information: Small tasting fee, no glasses included.
Bottom Line: Good practice for drinking on the back porch.

And that's it for me tonight. More Maryland wines tomorrow.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Travelin' Oenophile: Little did I know...

Check almost any book on writing, and the "little did I know technique" is considered to be a cheesy way of building suspense. I apologize for its use here, but give me a break, I've been to six wineries today, and I'm a bit tired and glad I can even type straight. So, here it is:

Little did I know that yesterday's blog ending would prove to be prophetic.

Prophetic? Oh, yes. You see, we ended up going west, but a little further than we intended. First, let me back up to last night.

We ate dinner at a cute little Italian bar and restaurant called Fellini's Number 9. The food was really good. We split an appetizer of the sauteed calamari, which is one of their signature dishes. It was sauteed with sun dried tomatoes, calamata olives, and grapes and served with a butter sauce that had balsamic vinegar in it. Then we had mixed green salads, and for our entrees, I had the spaghetti bolognese because they were out of clams for linguine with clams, and Hubby had the seafood lasagna. Dessert was cannolis and a cake with espresso caramel mousse and pound cake covered with chocolate ganache. We had a fabulous chianti, the 2006 Buondonno Chianti Classico.

That brings me to our adventures of today. We slept in, ate breakfast, and hit the road west-ward at about quarter to eleven. Our first stop was Oakencroft Winery, which is going to close at the end of the year due to its founder retiring. For the sake of sanity, I'll only give ratings and then comment on the notable wines:

2006 Chardonnay: Very Good

2006 Seyval Blanc: Very Good

2006 Viognier: Good

NV Countryside White (blend of Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Viognier): Very Good/Excellent

2006 Jefferson Claret (blend of Merlot, Chambourcin, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Sauvignon): Good

2006 Merlot: Very Good

NV Countryside Red (blend of Chambourcin, Cab Franc, Cab Sauvignon, Tannat, and Petit Verdot): We came home with a bottle of this excellent red. It has a grape nose, light fruit, and is good slightly chilled. Should be a great summer wine.

2006 Encore (Vidal & Traminette): Very Good/Excellent -- like apple pie in a bottle

2006 Estate Reserve Chambourcin: Good

2006 Cabernet Franc Reserve: Very Good

Other Info: Tasting fee was $3/person, glass is souvenir. Nice gift shop attached to winery. Beautiful property, worth a look before they close.
Bottom Line: Bummed they're closing

General Virginia wine tasting note: We tasted lots of Cabernet Francs and lots of Viogniers today. None of them were fabulous.

The next stop was White Hall Vineyards.

2006 Vin Gris: Not Bad

2005 Chardonnay Reserve: Good (even though it was oaked)

2006 Pinot Gris: Good (too light for Hubby)

2006 Gewurtztraminer: Not Bad

2006 Petit Manseng (semi-dry): Very Good

2005 Breakheart Red (Tannant, Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, and Malbec): Good

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon: Very Good to Excellent

2006 Touriga: Good

2006 Petit Verdot: One of these came home with us. A nice, fruity nose and long, buttery finish. Has 10% Cabernet to give it some character.

2005 Cuvee des Champs (whoops, didn't get blend): Good

2006 Sugar Ridge White (Vidal Blanc & Riesling): Very Good

Other Info: Tasting is free.
Bottom Line: A very nice winery, definitely worth a look. Ask for the Petit Verdot, which is not on the tasting list.

We got directions to our next intended destination, King Family Vineyards.
This was where we got a little off the beaten path. The road signs and directions didn't exactly match, so we ended up on a gravel road that ran beside the area's reservoir. Finally, I was able to convince Hubby that it wasn't the right road, or maybe it was the fact that it got narrower and narrower, and so he did an eleven-point turn. I did get some pretty pictures of the river.

Doesn't sound very exciting? After three cups of coffee and two wine tastings, it definitely was. We found a bathroom and lunch at la Cocina del Sol, a cute little Southwestern/Latin American place in Crozet. It gave us just what we needed: food to soak up an afternoon of wine tasting. I had the chicken burrito, and Hubby had the chicken burger, which was cooked with a Southwestern twist.

We finally got back on the beaten path and followed the grape signs to King Family Vineyards, where polo is played on Sundays. The large fireplace, which thankfully was not going, dominates the tasting room and still makes it smell smoky. They do have some good wines. At this point, Hubby decided to take independent notes, so we have two ratings. I'll put mine first, his second.

2006 Viognier: Good / :)

2007 Roseland (Chardonnay/Viognier): Good / :)

2006 Chardonnay: Good / :)

2007 Crose: Rose blend of Merlot and Cab Franc. Good / :|

2006 Merlot: Very Good / :)

2006 Meritage (Merlot, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot): A little smoky/oaky on the nose, but really good fruit, and a clean, slightly acidic finish. Yep, one of these came home with us.

2006 Late Harvest Cabernet Franc: Good / :)

2006 'Loreley' Late Harvest Viognier: Very Good / :)

Other info: Tastings are $5/person, and you get to keep the glass. Picnic areas available as well as picnic supplies.
Bottom line: Very nice

Okay, it's time to get ready for dinner. Here's the tally thus far:

Bottles bought: 6
Glasses collected: 6

Later: The last three wineries on Thursday and Thursday's dinner destination, which is still a surprise, even to me.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Travelin' Oenophile: Wine tasting in Virginia, day 1

So, intrepid oenophiles, our adventures have brought us to the beautiful hill country near Charlottesville, Virginia. We started our adventures by touring Michie Tavern (pronounced "Mickey") because what better way to kick off a wine drinking trip than by touring a drinking establishment? It's no longer serving alcohol, unfortunately, but we did get a good idea of what went on there in the past. They even offer a "Southern-style buffet lunch," which we passed on due to the fact that it was 90 degrees and humid, and a heavy lunch plus wine tasting plus winding mountain roads could spell disaster for me or for the rental car (or both).

Lunch was sandwiches picked up at Brix Marketplace, a cute little gourmet sandwich shop near Monticello and right across the road from Jefferson Vineyards Winery. This fortuitous circumstance led us to take the sandwiches up to the shaded, breezy patio outside the Jefferson Winery tasting room and have a pre-tasting picnic. It ended up being the perfect intro to a delightful tasting. Here's what we had:

Pinot Gris, 2007: Those of you who know my husband know his opinion of anything made from pinot gris or pinot grigio with the exception of a few lucky wines from Oregon. This ended up being a pleasant surprise for him. It has a nice, fruity nose, is crisp and dry, and then has a nice, long finish.
Rating: Very good to excellent

Viognier, 2007: The nose is all peach and melon, the middle a little acidic.
Rating: Very good

Chardonnay, NV: Subtle oak, but not overpowering
Rating: Not bad (this is a compliment coming from me for an oaked chardonnay)

Chardonnay Reserve, 2007: Also subtle, not overpowering, mild fruit and butter
Rating: Good (a very high compliment)

Terre Rouge: This is a blend of chambourcin, cabernet franc, and then traces of pinot gris and vidal blanc. It's light and smooth with a very nice finish.
Rating: Very good to excellent

Merlot, 2006: We were warned that this is a young wine, and the warning was true. It was very tannic and acidic.
Rating: Not bad

Meritage, 2006: Blend of cabernet franc, merlot, petit verdot and cabernet sauvignon. I didn't write anything else about it because we got on a tangent about Malbec, and I got distracted.
Rating: Good

Petit Verdot, 2006: Smooth with dark fruit, mild tannins, and some smoke.
Rating: Good

Vin Blanc: This semi-dry blend of chardonnay, viognier, and vidal blanc is mild and sweet with flavors of tropical fruit.
Rating: Very good

Overall scorecard: A very good start to the tasting
Other info: Tasting fee $5/person, not applicable to purchases, but they do offer volume discounts on as few as three bottles. Oh, and you get to keep your glass.
Bottom line: we came away with two bottles of the Terre Rouge and one of the Pinot Gris.

Our next adventures of historical wine significance took us to Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson himself. I loved all of it, but Hubby tells me that I can't imitate him and have my own wing of the house. Seriously, I think that Jefferson and I would have gotten along because he loved to buy books, and he got a dumb waiter installed specifically for bringing bottles of wine up from the center. I'd do the same, except wine doesn't stick around long enough at our house to cellar it. The tour guide irked me at first, but then I got to like his narrative style, which combined a children's story time tone with gossip and mild lecturing.

Next we went off the beaten path, then turned again to go off the off-beaten path to Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard. Our mantra: just follow the grape signs. The tasting room is situated in a nice older-looking house with an open floor plan. The problems were that it was rather warm, and someone in the back kept whistling along with the radio. Oh, and the wine flight is served in this little test-tube tray of six conical wine glasses. I wonder if that kept the wines from showing to their full potential because it was impossible to adequately swirl them, and Hubby had a hard time getting the nose off any of them. Here are our ratings:

Kluge Sparkling Blanc de Noir, 2004: Had a yeasty nose and definitely had the "mild nutty and toasty notes" and "citrus flavors" mentioned in the tasting notes. We both liked it and rated it as "very good," but not good enough to fork out the $44 they were asking for a bottle.

Albemarle Viognier, 2006: The nose is so vanilla and floral it reminded me of a scented candle. The flavor went from floral to tamarind ("mature exotic fruits" in the tasting notes) to a buttery finish.
Rating: Not bad

Albemarle Rose, 2006: Berries on the nose. Dry and mineral with light fruit.
Rating: Not bad

Albemarle Simply Red, 2004: This one was a rich red color and had a dark berry/cherry nose. It definitely had lots of tannins with slight berry. Too tannic for me.
Rating: Good

Kluge Estate New World Red, 2004: This one smelled really green on the nose. That carried over to the beginning of the taste, but it did resolve to some fruit on the middle and a decent finish.
Rating: Good

Cru Aperitif: Smells peachy and tastes like peach liquer. Would probably mix well in a fruity drink.
Rating: Good
Bottom line: We didn't like them enough to buy them for ourselves, but we would drink them if they were put in front of us.

We finished up the day at Ash Lawn-Highland, the home of President James Monroe. The tour guide wasn't as polished as the others we'd seen, but it was a good experience.

Now we're at the B&B in Charlottesville waiting out a thunderstorm and getting ready for dinner. I'll review our accommodations as well as our restaurant experience on a later date.

Tomorrow: Go west, young oenophiles! (but not too far)

Monday, June 2, 2008

Oenophile at Large: Jekyll Island

Greetings, fellow oenophiles!

Did you miss me?

I just returned from the GPA Annual Meeting on Jekyll Island, which for those who don't know, is one of the little islands off the southeastern coast of Georgia. It's a national park with limited development and some interesting historical stuff. Here, in no particular order, are my complaints:

1. The island's national park status means that the restaurants close between 8:30 and 9 on weekdays and a little later on weekends. No one at the hotel told us this until we were actively seeking food on Wednesday evening.

2. Island time: the service was consistently slow and inattentive everywhere.

3. Island timing: the kitchens may have been a bit faster than the service. Cold food was not uncommon.

4. Not a decent wine list to be found anywhere. I drank beer most of the weekend.

I would have posted as I went, but the only place at my hotel with internet of any type was the pool area, where there was WiFi. I did take my computer out there on Thursday evening after dinner, and, well, there may have been some fruity drinks and karaoke. After that, I decided that it would be safer to just leave my computer in the room.

Here is the quick and dirty tour of food on Jekyll:

Latitude 31 bills itself as the island's "premier dining experience." I went with some colleagues on Wednesday night, and we barely made the cutoff for being seated at 8:57 p.m. The food and service were slow, and my seafood crepes, which tasted pretty good, came out cold. I gave Latitude 31 a second chance on Friday evening, when a friend and I went for fried oysters (random craving, and no, I'm not pregnant). This time, we were told that the wait would be an hour, so we went next door to the Rah Bar (yes, that's the right spelling, no doubt due to the fact that much of the island's population seems to come from the Northeast), where we ordered crab legs and beers. One hour ended up being fifteen minutes, and then the oysters were fast and the crab legs were slow, and we ended up with everything at once. At least it was all hot and tasted good.

Blackbeard's Seafood Restaurant (no web site, but a pdf menu on This place is right on the ocean and has pretty views. The food was average, and my hush puppies were sadly lukewarm. I heard from others that they felt a little ill after eating there.

SeaJay's was actually pretty good. I ate there on Thursday evening and had the special: barbecue bacon wrapped scallops. They "proudly served Sutter Home" on the wine list. I had a Corona with lime. They have a nice balcony overlooking the marina, and Rocky the friendly raccoon will hang out and beg, although not annoyingly.

You'll have to check out the Jekyll Island homepage for Saydee's Restaurant and Martini Bar, but it's worth looking for. I was surprised because it looks like a typical hotel restaurant, but the food was the best I'd had all weekend. The two really good Cosmos didn't hurt, either. This was the consensus opinion of the group I was with, and many of them had gone to the "fancy" restaurant at the Jekyll Island Club the night before.

If you're feeling adventurous and want to cross back over the bridge to the mainland, I recommend the Georgia Pig. By Friday, I was sick of seafood and ready for some meat, so my new karaoke friend and I headed back toward I-95 on Hwy 17 and found the Georgia Pig, which is in a little log cabin shoved off the road just before you reach the interstate. I asked if that's where Brunswick Stew was invented, but the server passed up the chance to put a definitive claim on it. Even if it wasn't invented there, it was really good, as was the barbecue pork and banana pudding. The coleslaw was average. My friend and I got the banana pudding to go and brought it to the beach. Banana pudding with a view - what more could you want?

Overall, it was a good trip. I got a bunch of CEU's and beach time, so I really can't complain. The tour of Historic Jekyll was really good and worth doing if you have 90 minutes to spare and want to see the inside of a couple of the old houses as well as learn the history of the island.

Coming up: Hubby and I are going to Virginia Wine Country on the way to Baltimore for yet another conference. I'll try to post updates as I go. However, if the only internet access is at the bar by the pool, I'll just wait til I get home.