Sunday, March 27, 2011

Metapost: Attention Ladies of Decatur (Georgia)!

This coming Friday is April 1, so you know what that means! Well, besides wanting to smack your husband and/or children for that rubber snake in the sink. It's our Ladies of Decatur Happy Hour!

I didn't get many suggestions this month, so I decided to bring it back to The Marlay House. I hope to see y'all there this coming Friday at 5:30-6ish.

Please @ me on Twitter or leave a comment so I know you're coming! No rubber snakes, I promise!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Tasting Notes and Winery Reviews: Brandywine Valley, PA, Day Two

Day Two:

Breakfast at the Kennett Square B&B on Sunday morning: French toast and turkey sausage. If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I've recently rediscovered a love of French toast, so it's our usual Sunday breakfast. It was nice to have someone else make it for me and clean up afterward, and I enjoyed her take on it.

We started the day not with wine, but with flowers. We hadn't originally planned to visit Longwood Gardens, but the B&B innkeeper Ms. Gilja Kusano was insistent that we go. They should seriously give her a kickback on her guests' admission. No, she didn't check up on us as far as I know, but she's also the kind of lady you don't say no to, and she made it sound like we shouldn't miss it.

Thankfully we'd both taken our allergy medicine that morning. The main attraction at Longwood Gardens was the Orchid Extravaganza in the Conservatory, which seriously took us an hour and a half to go through. Yes, it's well worth the $16 admission. See my writing blog for more thoughts on the gardens.

Then it was back to wine tasting!

Our first stop was Twin Brook Winery, which is in a lovely wooden farmhouse. We were able to pick out eight wines from their list of fourteen to taste. We love Cabernet Franc and found their 2008 to be very good with bright red fruit, some tannin, and enough acidity to make sure you know it's a Cab Franc but not overpowering We got to barrel taste the 2010 Cab Franc, and it's going to be worth a trip back. We enjoyed talking to winemaker Tim Jobe, who's from Mississippi, and it was nice to hear a Southern accent after two days of Yankee.

On our way to lunch, we encountered a traffic hazard we'd never seen before: an Amish horse and buggy. No, he wasn't aggressive.

We had lunch at Rocco & Anna's Ristorante in Parkesburg, where the "small" calzones are bigger than the plates. We put the alcohol-soaking properties of dough and cheese to good use at Black Walnut Winery, where they "crush innocent grapes to make wine."

At Black Walnut, we got to try the whole list as well as the barrels. We particularly liked the 2007 Blanc Franc, a wine that's somewhere between white and rosé that has soft fruit but isn't too dry or sweet. Other highlights that we liked but didn't purchase were the 2006 Black Tie Optional, which would be a great barbecue wine, and 2006 Chambourcin, which is earthy but has a nice, tart finish.

We once again went off-trail to finish our tastings at Stargazers Vineyard, which is remarkable for its sustainable practices including use of solar energy (for the buildings, not just for the grapes). We particularly liked the unoaked 2008 Solar Celebration Chardonnay, which has a leading edge of vanilla over nice citrus. They have a Gruner Veltliner, which had the GruVe floral nose, but more tartness. The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve (90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc) had deep, rich blackberry and currant fruit with nice body. We bought bottles of the Solar Celebration and Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.

We were amused by what they used for their doorbell and impressed by their sloping vineyards, which were still pretty in spite of the vines still being asleep for the winter (note the lavender garden at the bottom right):

I have to say that, in spite of the rumored aggressiveness and attitude, everyone was friendly, and they usually got even friendlier when they found out we're from Georgia. No, I didn't play the wine blogger card at most of them. Black Walnut and Stargazer win for most welcoming and congenial. To be fair, it was also Sunday, and they weren't nearly as slammed as the places had been on Saturday. Even so, both days were some of the most relaxed wine tasting Hubby and I had ever done, and we look forward to returning to the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail to see how the 2010's turned out.

Final Bottle Count:

Reds: 4
Whites: 4
Rosé: 2

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tasting Notes and Winery Reviews: Brandywine Valley, PA, Day One

Hubby and I have a mission to taste wine in each state that grows its own grapes and makes it. The original goal was to taste wine in each state that makes it, but some luster is lost when the juice is California or Niagara. Not that a talented winemaker can't put his own stamp on something, but where the grapes are grown matters.

While in Pennsylvania visiting Babysis, we took the opportunity to check out the wine scene. We lucked into the "Barrels on the Brandywine" (BoB) passport, which was $30 to visit most of the wineries in the Brandywine Valley area. It essentially covered tasting fees, but hey, we got glasses! Oh, and most of the wineries on the list were also doing barrel tastings of the 2010 vintages, so we got a peek of what's to come (hint: 2010 was a good year for Pennsylvania grapes).

This was our first time tasting wine in the northeast. It has hazards that we hadn't encountered in any other part of the country:

Indeed, we saw several examples of the following highway exit maneuver, which Hubby dubbed the "Jersey Exit Strategy":

1. Slam on brakes in left lane approximately ten feet after the start of the exit demarcation.

2. Throw right blinker on and dash over to exit, regardless of who's coming up behind you or at what speed.

3. Curse out other drivers for honking at you and Department of Transportation for not putting the exit where you think it should be.

Okay, I made up number 3, but I imagine it's pretty accurate. Having seen this maneuver with somewhat less frequency in Atlanta, I feel that I have adequate confirmation that the second Yankee invasion has occurred, and they're driving around I-285.

Other challenges included Yankee cluelessness regarding sweet tea (hint: it is not the canned stuff that's premixed with lemon) and, back in Philadelphia, cab drivers who will try to kill you in their backseats and then curse you out in some foreign language when you pay with a credit card. Also, conversations in restaurants seem to occur in one of three volumes: loud, louder, and Jersey, which is really loud plus liberal sprinkling of F-bombs.

Back to the wine tastings… Lists of tasting notes get boring, so I'll hit the highlights at each winery.

Our first stop was Penns Woods Winery in Chadds Ford. Located in a lovely yellow farmhouse with green trim, it featured five wines for the BoB tour. It's here that we got our first taste of Pennsylvnia Pinot Grigio, which we found to be a strong wine across the area. Even Hubby, who tends to dislike PG, found several he liked. Their 2005 Pinot Grigio has lovely citrus notes with mineral/melon on the edges of the palate. No barrels here.

Chaddsford Winery had been recommended to us by a fellow wine blogger and a local, and they didn't disappoint. We particularly enjoyed the 2008 Naked (unoaked) Chardonnay with its lovely green apple nose and hint of smokiness. Our favorite was the 2007 Merlot, which is medium-bodied, smooth, and well-balanced with nice, dark fruit. We got two bottles in anticipation of needing a wine for a BYOB restaurant for dinner. They barrel tasted the 2010 Chardonnay and the 2010 Pinot Noir, which I didn't even know could be grown on the East Coast. It was a little rough, as expected, but it should be nice when finished. The Chardonnay should also be good.

Oh, and they use Hungarian oak:

Since we had an SUV, we went off-trail. Paying ten dollars for the "Signature Tasting" at VaLa Vineyards was worth it. Hubby commented that he's not sure whether winemaker Anthony Vieti is a genius or a mad scientist because the blends are complex and interesting in a good way. They pair each tasting with cheese, which makes for much foodie fun. Our favorite was the 2008 Silk, a dry rosato blend of "Barbera, Corvine, Carmine, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Nebbiolo, etc." They paired it with Shellbark Hollow goat cheese, a local cheese that has to be the best goat cheese I've ever tasted: fresh with just enough tanginess to identify it as goat cheese, but not at all funky. Oh, the wine was good, too. They bill it as "something for everyone" with enough crisp fruitiness for white lovers and mild tannin structure for those who prefer reds. We found it to be a nice rosé and smooth as the name implies.

The GPS brought us over the river and through the woods (literally) to Paradocx Vineyard, where they tried to be in denial of the cold by handing out plastic leis and having a cookout. I give them points for effort but detract them for not having printed tasting notes. Our favorite was the Yield, a blend of Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay. Light-bodied, it has nice fruit through the middle and a lingering apricot-honeysuckle finish. We got a bottle of it, and it was opened on our first night back home.

Our last intentional stop for the day was Kreutz Creek Vineyards. We didn't find the wines there to be to our tastes, as they tended to be very tart and acidic. They should take note from VaLa and pair with food.

It was getting to be evening, and the event technically ended around 5:00, so we headed to Kennett Square and checked into the Kennett House Bed and Breakfast. We wandered through town to see where we might like to go for dinner and stumbled upon the Flickerwood Wine Cellars tasting room. The winery is actually in northwest Pennsylvania, so we were excited for the opportunity to taste some PN wine from a different area. We liked the whites better than the reds and ended up with a bottle of their Pinot Grigio, which was more like a dry Riesling with its floral and stone fruit characteristics.

So, by the end of day one, the bottle tally was:

Merlot: 2
Pinot Grigio: 2
Rosé Blend: 1
White Blend: 1
Chardonnay: 1

Yes, two Pinot Grigios and a Rosé. This is almost unheard of for Hubby. By the end of the day, I was wondering whether the second day would live up to the first. Tune in Sunday to find out!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Tasting Notes: Dr. Goldilocks and the Six Tempranillos

Once upon a time, there was a stressed-out allied health professional with curly hair the color of old pennies, but shiny. We'll skip the debate as to whether it's blond or red, and we'll completely ignore the gray that's popping in – they're just really light blond, darnit! She had a long four-day week with lots of patients, emails from a marketing minion who wants everything NOW, and a very patient adminion who wouldn't let Dr. Goldilocks put off important tasks for too long. Oh, and contract work that makes for a nice change of pace, but which needed to be done before she left the next day to see Dr.-in-training Goldilocks 2.0 (aka Babysis) in Philadelphia.

So yes, she was stressed out, and when she finally left the office at 8:30, she was tired, hungry, and ready to have some wine. She wandered through the food aroma gauntlet of downtown Decatur (of which Atlanta is a suburb in case you're reading this, and you're Carl), but having given up red meat for Lent, Ted's wasn't an option, Ruby Tuesday was too chain restaurant, and Leon's was just too crowded. It was too early for the Decatur Diner, so she ended up at JavaMonkey, where she knew her friends would be gathered for the biweekly wine tasting, in this case Tempranillo.

Tempranillo, if you're wondering, is a Spanish varietal red, and the only people who can say the name right are from places like Peru. Seriously, it sounds like they're making love to it in their mouth. It's swoon-worthy. You may know it better as the primary grape in Rioja, which goes with fun words like Crianza.

For the sake of narrative, I'm going to mix up the tasting order. Just bear (no pun intended) with me.

Dr. Goldilocks tried the 2008 Protocolo Tempranillo (Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, Spain). Aged in American oak, she proclaimed, "This wine is too thin!" Indeed, it didn't have much to it outside the cedar-y finish.

Then she tried the 2009 Vega Sindoa Tempranillo (Navarra, Spain). This one she deemed as, "too earthy, and it's doing strange fruity things on the roof of my mouth!"

The 2008 Emilo Moro Finca Resalso (Ribera del Duero, Spain) had interesting caramel-cedar notes, and had a caramel/chocolate finish. "It's good, but still not what I'm looking for."

Enter the 2006 Raimat Viña 43 Tempranillo, which spends 18 months in Virginia oak. Because there's nothing like knowing *exactly* where your wood comes from. It has to be good if the founding fathers got drunk on it, right? This one was all cherry smoothness. "That's more like it!"

The 2006 Sierra Cantabria Crianza from Rioja, Spain (told you!) had a nice raspberry-cherry nose that Hubby said had a whiff of sunscreen. It went very well with the Bello Prosciutto sandwich. "This one's very good."

Finally the 2007 Venta Mazzaron Tempranillo (Tierra del Vino de Zamora, Spain) had a little hickory smoke to it, but was well-balanced with yummy fruit. It also has an interesting history in that it's mostly from un-grafted, pre-phylloxera vines.

"Ah," said Dr. Goldilocks, "this one is just right!"

Look for blog and Twitter updates this weekend from Pennsylvania wine country!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tasting Notes: Charity Case Wine

As you know Hubby and I like to drink for a good cause. Okay, we like to drink period, but when we can do so for a good cause, even better.

We recently had the opportunity to try the current offerings of Charity Case Wine (their image, cropped, above). Founded in 2008 after a rainy season caused a surplus of juice from the grapes, it's made from a variety of grapes across Napa Valley. All the juice, labor, and shipping are done by volunteers, which leaves the proceeds to go to a variety of Napa family- and child-focused charities.

There are currently two types of wine available, a Rosé and Sauvignon Blanc. We took the opportunity afforded by the warmer weather to try both.

The 2008 Rosé has a lovely color and plum-cherry nose. It's on the dry side and tart with berry flavors, mild tannins, and a fruity finish. We originally paired it with a spicy honey chicken thigh recipe from Cooking Light, but the chicken killed the wine. A much better pairing was a Chicago-style pizza with roast tomatoes, coppa, and basil. I liked it with food and on its own. Hubby, who is very picky about rosé, didn't find it to his taste.
Rating: Good

The 2009 Sauvignon Blanc surprised us at first with its smoky vanilla nose, and Hubby asked, "Are you sure this isn't a Chardonnay?" Obviously we hadn't looked at the tasting notes, which indicated that it had been aged in new French oak, first. The vanilla continued on the palate with pineapple/melon as the predominant flavor with others around the edges.

We didn't have this one with food. Its perfect pairing was a warm spring afternoon on the back patio, which is how I like to drink oaked whites.
Rating: Good to Very Good

The bottom line is that these are both good spring wines and worth a taste now that it's warming up. At $11.99 a bottle, they're a great value. Now if only their retailer would ship to Georgia…

Disclaimer: These bottles were sent to us free for review purposes. This did not influence our review.