Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

As the inevitable march of time proceeds along a path that might be undefinable, humans choose to mark this any number of ways. We need events, dates and celebrations because they help us grasp moments, helps us feel as if we have stopped time's march. Our creations, which have no impact upon time itself, allow our minds to believe we're in control, even if only for a brief instance.

So 2011 will be here, for me it'll arrive in about 14 hours and my mind will recognize the pseudo-significance of a place on a calendar where one number becomes another.



In the past week I saw many bloggers write about their top wines of 2010, top posts, top stories, etc. Other bloggers chose to write resolutions, basically a statement of intent that until executed, remains something intangible. Each of those themes has merit and, when properly done, can be insightful and entertaining for the reader.

I want to make a list of resolutions, wine-related of course. Unfortunately any list I made would be incredibly long, boring, and be basically the same as any other wine blogger's list. So here's a concise breakdown of what I intend to do in 2011:

1. Educate myself on wine from places like New York, South Africa, Canada, Greece, Austria and other lesser known wine regions.

2. Read more books, especially educational tomes from Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson. See how that dovetails into #1? I'm already going off on a tangent!

3. Get that "how important is this?" WSET certification going. I want a cool little image to put on this blog.

4. Write more (interesting) blog entries. Why is this so far down the list, you might ask? Simply because I love WINE before I love wine blogging and I like to think I have my priorities in order.

5. Educate myself on the wine culture here in San Diego and the County. I think there is the beginnings of something and would like to learn more about what's going on.

6. Write more about food. I like the food blogs I write, they're a good outlet for the frustrations I feel in the kitchen, mainly due to lack of knowledge and lack of skill. Only way to get around that is to cook more, and document it.

I think that's enough, and my coffee cup is empty so I should wrap this up. Some of the things not present on my list are: wine country travel, wine career, beer blogging, and cooking classes. They're things I want to do but in the interests of a short list, I had to end at six statements of intent.

Please have a safe and happy New Year's Eve, and a prosperous, fun and wine-filled 2011. To most of you, I hope we meet sometime in 2011 and to those whom I have already met, I look forward to seeing you again.

Cheers!

Beau Carufel

Monday, December 27, 2010

Another Cooking Blog! Sans Smoke and Fire even!

Here we go again. That's what went through my head when, after a lot of urging from my friends, I decided to document another culinary (mis)adventure. I love cooking and creating food but I have no formal training, so with that serving as a disclaimer, we can proceed.

I suppose I should begin with the wine, a bottle of 2007 Parducci Cabernet Sauvignon that I had written about the night before. The wine tasted and smelled a bit tired on this night, but it was still completely fine for cooking. I firmly believe in cooking with good quality wines, the kind you'd drink. I feel if you cook with cheap crap like Charles Shaw, you're doing yourself and the food a disservice. That's my rant for tonight.

Inspiration tonight comes from a good friend of mine and I thank her for that. If I'd burned the kitchen down, I'd have blamed her though!

The ingredients here are pretty self-explanatory, I was going for a flavor profile of herbs, tomato with a spicy finish.
That large steel can in the picture above held some diced tomatoes and those were first into the pot. Obviously a pretty straightforward base for a pasta sauce. I like to get all the ingredients simmering together for as long as possible so I added a tiny bit of chili flakes and cayenne pepper, crushed garlic, the wine, salt, and fresh ground pepper.

If you look closely at these two pictures,
you can see something rising from the pot. I assure you, gentle reader, it's merely steam and not the beginnings of a Stage IV Kitchen Apocalypse. Capturing the rising steam (which happened to smell delicious) was not without it's own bit of peril though. Steam, as it turns out, is hot.

Also I will take a moment to remind you all that knives are sharp and should be handled with care. Getting cut with one does hurt but can leave a neat scar.
Sharp-eyed readers might wonder what the hell "Peri-Peri Peppadrops" are. My first experience was seeing them on the shelf at Trader Joe's. Since I'm a sucker for spicy foods, a jar soon found it's way into my fridge. From the front of the jar: "Pickled Piquante Peppers"and "Not too sweet and not too spicy". Good summation, there's a nice balance of heat and flavor here, perfect for adding another dimension to food. Texturally these are very soft and if you use them, be aware that it's somewhat difficult to get the skins to brown evenly, or it was for me. Perhaps that's just my lack of skill.

Since I'm not cooking in the kitchens of the French Laundry, dicing food doesn't need to be a precise exercise, the stuff just needs to be cut up into small bits.
In the picture to the right, you can see I've added in my diced sun-dried tomatoes and the Peri Peri Peppadrops. "Where is that steam?" you may ask, at this point I had turned the burner down a bit so that I would have more time to prepare the other parts of the meal. I know there are those who enjoy cooking at a fast pace, I don't enjoy being rushed in the kitchen though. Part of my philosophy on cooking at home is that when you make a dish, you should tweak it constantly, attempting to better some element here or there.

I've learned much by my (often disastrous) "experiments" with flavorings and the slow pace at which I cook lends itself to a trial and error methodology.

To the left you can see the sauce after two hours of simmering merrily away. Can sauce simmer merrily? Yes, or else I wouldn't have said it. About 20 minutes after the previous ingredients were added, I browned and seasoned some ground beef then added it to pot. Beef has wonderful flavor to begin with, but if you allow the meat some time to soak in the sauce and take on those flavors, the result is wonderful. I partially browned the beef then let it finish cooking in the sauce pot. At no point was I worried about raw beef, since the sauce itself was so hot and the stove was on low.
Ground turkey, venison, pork, and chicken are also choices. Continuing a theme, this is what I had on hand so it went into the pot. 

I chose penne because I had the pasta sitting in my cupboard and had not used it in a while. I wish I had a better explanation but there you have it. A guerrilla-cook can often just go with what he (or she) has on hand.
Next time, I will use spaghetti or linguine, or just go with something I've never used before. Penne for me always seems to take longer to cook than the aforementioned shapes, so it was a simple matter to cook this batch part of the way then transfer it into the pot to absorb and finish cooking within the sauce. Did I mention that in my last cooking blog? I think so, since I recall someone telling me of the technique earlier this year.

To the right is the outcome of all the words above. I'm not very good at using Parmesan cheese out of a tube, and since I lacked a chunk of cheese to shave over the pasta, it's all I had to go with. The results are right there for you to see. Way too much cheese, I even attempted to pick some off but that didn't work. Still, the sauce was tasty and the pasta did as I asked, absorbing a lot of flavors while it finished cooking in the sauce pot.

You can choose to add some more salt and pepper, maybe some more chili flakes if you desire. I never have used a lot of salt in my cooking but that's merely personal preference. I seek balance and based on the ingredients in this dish, more than just a touch of salt could have overwhelmed what I was seeking.

Home cooked, full of flavors, a bit of spice and very filling. That's how I'd describe this meal in a tweet or in a one-sentence blurb.

Another culinary adventure, keeping with the theme of pasta and red sauces. Yes, I can and do cook other things quite often, it's just that I rarely have my camera in the kitchen. Some of my San Diego Wine Mafia friends have suggested I buy a Flip video camera and record my cooking (and wine tasting) then post those videos. Maybe 2011 will see that happen.

Do I remember the wine I had with this meal? Nope. I know I had some wine and I think it may have in fact been the Parducci Cabernet Sauvignon, but somehow I doubt that. Too bad, because as I type this I can think of a couple of wines that would pair well. Obviously, something from Tuscany but beyond that, a Chateauneuf du Pape would also be fun to. From Austria, a St. Laurent also would have been a neat wine to try. Next time I'll do a better job of documenting the wine and food interaction. Thank you for reading and commenting!

Beau Carufel

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays





As Christmas is upon is, I want to thank you all for taking the time to read my blog over this past year. I appreciate the comments, questions and all your feedback. Thank you for the encouraging words, suggestions, tips, hints, and tricks that help me become a better writer. Your wine recommendations, information, and insights have helped keep wine exciting and new to me, have tested my palate and evolved my outlook on this amazing drink.

Here's to a 2011 full of wonderful wine, friendship and a lot of fun on this blog. Cheers!


Beau Carufel

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Back to Navarra!

This week I finally had the chance to try the last of the three wines from Navarra that I was sent to sample. The wine in question is a 2008 Piedemonte (more on that later) Tempranillo-Garnacha.

When I first opened the box that these samples came in, I saw Piedemonte and thought "Umm why was I sent a Nebbiolo?", before my higher brain functions reasserted themselves. After doing more reading (and thinking), I realized this was in fact from Navarra and perhaps through some twist of fate just happened to have a name that's very close to my favorite wine producing region of Italy.

I've reviewed two wines from Navarra in previous blogs, here and here. Both were good, one was very good. I had high hopes for the Piedemonte as well, especially since I usually enjoy Tempranillo-based blends. The 2008 Piedemonte is a blend of 50% Tempranillo and 50% Garnacha. After spending some time in oak barrels, this wine spent a few more months in bottle before being released upon the world.

Right away I liked the color, like garnet with an orangish hue, tres cool! There's a definite transition in the color density as you move outwards within the glass. Something I've often noticed in blends versus single varietal wines.

I enjoyed the nose though it seemed a bit muted. There were some ripe berries and earth, with oak making an appearance. Maybe a hint of graphite too, right at the end. Certainly intriguing but did anything captivate me? Yes and no, the oak and berry scents were to be expected, considering the two varietals in this wine. The flash of graphite, though fleeting, was fascinating to me and certainly added a dimension I hadn't expected.

After spending an hour sans cork (or is it corque?!) I took a few sips to get some impressions before I paired the Piedemonte with some pork tamales. At first, the fruit seemed to race out ahead of the other flavors, but with some time in the glass, things settled down and each flavor seemed to find it's place. Ripe red cherries, hints of spices and a woody flavor were framed by smooth tannins. I enjoyed the concentration of flavors, and was pleased to find the pencil lead flavors on the finish, just as I had when smelling the wine.

Where does that leave me then? I was torn, the Piedemonte wasn't bad wine by any means but it didn't "wow" me either. Sure, I found some interesting elements that caused me to stop and think. But did the wine as a whole have that certain sense of finesse, elegance, place or some other quality that would make it very good to exceptional? Tonight, the Piedemonte was a good wine, well deserving a B- and a BUY recommendation. While it won't blow you away, it's fundamentally a wine with enough fine points to separate it from the pack.

This wine was a sample for review purposes

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut Cava, Wonderful and Inexpensive!

 (img from http://www.blogyourwine.com)


Cava. Spanish sparkling wine made in the traditional method. Elaborating further, the "traditional method" means that the secondary fermentation (where the bubbles come from) takes place in the bottle. Said bottle is then aged, Spanish rules for Cava requiring a minimum of nine months. There is no "Cava" in Spain, the word means "cave" and refers to the caves which were (and still are) used to age Spanish wine, both sparkling and still.

Right now the demand for Cava is soaring, mainly because it delivers good quality at a great price. This compares to Champagne which often delivers good quality at a high to "OH MY GOD" price. The Cava I was sampled on has a new label, one that states this Cava is in no way related to the Cristal Champagne made by Louis Roederer. I can see how people would get confused, because the bottles look so similar and the difference in price is only $10 for the Jaume Serra and $250 for the Cristal. Still, the legal eagles at Roederer didn't want their brand's image sullied by a high-quality-just-not-expensive sparkling wine so they sued. And won, as it were.

The Cristalino Cava from Jaume Serra comes from fruit sourced via contracted local growers and the estate's own vineyards. Jaume Serra's roots go back to the 17th century, so they've been making wine for a long, long time. Within the Penedes region, the grapes Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo are used for Cava wine production. Penedes is in Catalonia, the region of Spain just south of Barcelona, the city which held those lovely Olympics back in the Summer of '92. Forget that I was nine years old, wasn't the original Dream Team cool?!

Have I held your attention until now? Hopefully the answer is yes, because now we get to talk about how the Cava tasted!

I chilled the Jaume Serra Cristalino in an ice bucket for about 30 minutes prior to opening, not because it helps me taste better but because I prefer my sparkling wines to be cold. In the glass, a pale golden color with medium bubbles, clear and looking delicious.

Clean citrus on the nose, like a faint whiff of lemon cream tarte and a bouquet of flowers. I admit that for a lot of us, smelling a sparkling wine and getting more than two or three main flavors is tough. Or it is just tough for me to do and I'm trying to feel less inadequate as a blogger. Take your pick! Back on topic, I liked the nose, a lot. There was no complex orange peel mixed with bread dough and hints of star anise there, just a lovely floral note and the citrus, for me lemon tarte.

I sipped a few times before jotting down my impressions, that often happens with sparkling wines because I like to let the effect of the bubbles dissipate a bit. This wine was creamy and rich across the front palate with a very nice finish, it is just dry enough to leave you wanting more but at the same that ripe, rich sensation gives the Cava some depth and complexity. Good interplay between the acidity and body, which I'd characterize as a yeasty note. That's a good thing by the way, something I really enjoy in sparkling wines.

So my conclusion was the Jaume Serra Cristalino is an accessible, very tasty Cava. I gave it a B+, strong BUY recommendation. For under $10, you can't get much better and I look forward to tasting more sparkling wines in 2011. I recommend this as a good accompaniment to those massive plates of holiday hors d'oeurves that are a common sight at holiday parties. If you're sipping this without the party, try pairing it with potato chips (I kid you not!) or..get ready for it..fish tacos! Seriously, I got a couple of fish tacos from the place up the street from me and it was wonderful! Just don't put spicy salsa on the tacos, try the green salsa.

This wine was received as a sample for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Wine Bloggers Survey, Check it Out

I received an email last week from some Canadian Professors who are conducting a survey about wine blogs and blog readers. They're from Carlton University and asked me to both take the survey and share it with my readers. I estimate it will take about five to seven minutes of your time and you could win a $500 prize.

If you have a few minutes of time and would like to help, please go to http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/SZ76K86 and take the survey. Since wine blogging is such a new phenomenon, helping with this sort of research is very important to me. To follow along with the results and if you have any questions, go to http://wineblogresearch.blogspot.com.



Thank you guys and gals, I appreciate it!

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What is a Spicy Gruner Veltliner? 2008 Graf Hardegg vom Schloss!


A few weeks ago I was talking with a friend of mine who happens to be a Gruner Veltiner fan, and that's putting it lightly. She's in the wine industry and has sent me some samples before, notably the Grooner and Zvy-gelt wines I reviewed. Our conversation revolved around the subject of a "spicy" Gruner and what that would be like. She, having tasted much more Austrian wine than I probably ever will, was very enthusiastic about Gruner Veltliner produced in this style. Right before Thanksgiving, a sample found it's way (via FedEx) to my wine fridge and a few week later, I was impatient enough to open this Graf Hardegg 2008 vom Schloss over a meal of spicy orange chicken and rice.

First, a bit of background by way of my impersonation of a wine PR person: "This 100% Gruner Veltliner was hand harvested in the fall of 2008, then spent 25 days fermenting in 75% stainless steel and 25% new oak barrels. After bottling in April 2009, the vom Schloss spent some time settling in the bottle before it was unleashed on the Gruner-loving world"

That's all in good fun of course, but now you do have some (relevant?) information about what I tasted. Remember that this is an example of a "spicy" Gruner, as per my Austrian-wine-loving-also-in-the-industry-friend. If you're still reading this blog, the good stuff starts right now.

After being removed from my 54 degree (but of course!) wine fridge and being poured into a glass (did you think I'd use a straw?) I was about to see what the fuss is about. That fuss turned out to be pretty damn legitimate, at least in this blogger's opinion.

If Chanel produced a perfume with peach notes and floral aromas, subtle oak and a bit of a wet-stone smell, that's what the 2008 Graf Hardegg vom Schloss would smell like. What a nose! Absolutely beautiful, the aromas caught my attention right away. I hit on the white peach and wet-stone immediately, because those two scents don't necessarily go together. In this case though, there was no clash or discord, just harmony.

As I sipped the wine, that spicy sensation was present, I liken it to a burst of fresh green jalapeno pepper, and lime juice. The acidity was tempered by the added fleshy mid-palate that oak barrels can introduce, a very, very nice touch. The vom Schloss coats your palate while at the same time teasing the edges of your tongue with fresh peach, minerals and bright citrus. Clean, compact, and effortless finish, I was left waiting for the next sip.

Impressive wine, considering the SRP of $20, just another example of why Austrian wines deliver a quality to price ratio that is among the best out there. I was able to find the 2008 Graf Hardegg vom Schloss for as low as $12 on the internet, do your research! One of the rare times I've awarded and A- to a wine and a STRONG BUY recommendation. Do yourself a favor and pick up a bottle or two, even in the winter weather a lot of you are experiencing, this is a delicious sipper to keep around the house.

As for the pairing, a success. The citrus elements of the chicken played off against the spice and white peach flavors in the wine, while the mid palate body of the gruner helped restrain some of the spicy flavors in the dish. Unfortunately I was out of wine by the time dessert came around, because I really wanted to taste it with the mango mochi I had. Next time!

This wine was a sample sent for review purposes.


Beau Carufel

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Winner From Navarra: 2006 Bodegas Ochoa Tempranillo


We go back to Spain tonight, back to Navarra. I opened this 2006 Tinto (Tempranillo) after receiving it about three weeks ago. As I wrote about previously, Navarra has some seriously ancient wine making traditions and is now making a concerted effort to get back into the consumer consciousness as a wine region. As a fan of Spanish wines in general, I was happy to get some samples and see how Navarra compares to more well known regions like Rioja or Priorat.

Bodegas Ochoa Tempranillo Crianza is 100% Tempranillo from a single vineyard, called "El Bosque". Alcohol by volume is a modest 13.5%. Under Spanish labeling laws, Crianza means that the wine (red in this case) must age for at least two years with a minimum of six months in oak barrels. Historically, the Spaniards have use the ageing time to classify wines rather than other methods like the Cru system in France. Of the three major categories, Crianza is the lowest level. That isn't to say it's an indicative of a cheap or sub-par wine though. As it happens, Ochoa aged their Tempranillo for a year in oak and two years in the bottle before releasing it.






One hour went by, agonizingly slowly, after I opened Ochoa. Very nice purple color in the glass, not quite opaque. If red wine has a generic color, I strongly suspect this would be it.

Aromas of cherry pie, dried herbs and leather came to the party tonight. Alcoholic heat tickled my nostrils (I hate that word!) but only just so. This wine needed more than an hour to open up, which I found oddly pleasing. Wine like that always carries itself more elegantly and often tastes more structurally sound, it has gravitas even.

Dried cherries, tannin, and a touch of oak all rounded out by a streak of classic Old World minerality. The '06 Ochoa is very well put together wine and now, four years after it was made, is perhaps drinking at it's peak. Admittedly I'm biased towards Old World wines, just ask my wine-geek friends. Still, for someone who is more familiar with New World wine, the Ochoa Tempranillo is very accessible and a good way to get acquainted with wine from Navarra.

For a wine geek like me, it's hard not to be impressed by the structure and balance considering the Suggested Retail Price is $14.50. Easy B for me and a BUY recommendation, it isn't often we get to find such an affordable Tempranillo with some bottle age on it. Try pairing this wine with some Iberico cheese shaved over an omelet that you've put some fresh tomatoes, jalapenos and mushrooms into.

This wine was a sample for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Do You Have a Pinot Moment?



Do you drink Pinot Noir? Was there a singular moment where you experienced a kind of Pinot Noir epiphany?

There wasn't that moment for me, not for Pinot Noir at least. For Cabernet Sauvignon, yes. For Zinfandel, definitely. Even for white varietals like Viognier and Chardonnay, there were moments where the heavens opened up and angels blew their trumpets. In those moments, my humble wine drinking soul was exposed to something special and I knew it.

No, for me, Pinot Noir has been more a gradual seduction, about learning as much about the grape as about my own palate. I know, for example, that the first Pinot Noir I tasted was from California. For the novice Pinot drinker, a California example is a great introduction. At the time, I was heavily into Merlot and Zinfandel so when that first sip of Pinot hit me, I marveled at it's subtlety and that bright, lively streak of acid. Still, such wine was often too light, without flavor and the intensity I enjoyed. Saying that now causes me to shake my head in amused amazement. Oh what little I knew!

Nowadays, I know for a fact that Burgundy makes the best Pinot Noir on the planet. I mean, that's conventional wisdom right? Please note I'm being just a touch sarcastic. Getting to know Burgundies took my wine geekdom to new heights where it shows no signs of slowing down.

The more Pinot I was exposed to, the more I began to love it's finicky nature. A wine that can go from  tasting like fresh baked strawberry cream tarte to a mix of forest floor and crushed black cherries fascinates me. I feel that Pinot Noir is a great grape with which to express terroir, it's very nature begs to be undiluted, cries out against bastardizing the wine with Syrah or Petite Sirah.

Yet even when mixed with those varietals, Pinot Noir remains seductive, tantalizing. The fact that we wine geeks argue for an against blending other grapes with Pinot speaks volumes to it's effect on our collective palates.



My journey isn't some cinq a sept dalliance, I ucontinue to explore Pinot with an open mind and palate. For example, a trip to Oregon earlier this year exposed me to a new (to my palate) class of Pinot Noir that carried powerful notes with such grace and composure that I was often left a bit speechless. Another example is tasting through a very interesting lineup with my San Diego Wine Mafia friends, the debate over style, region, even label design were enthusiastic and passionate.

Yet I can't drink Pinot every day, I cannot feel it's touch too often or some of the magic is lost for those special times when only Pinot Noir will do. Maybe if I was rich and had a cellar stocked with the best France, Oregon, and California had to offer, but that remains merely a dream. When I do open the subject of tonight's discourse, I feel seduced all over again and I feel like no matter what, I'll only get a taste of what Pinot can be. Never will the grape give up all her secrets.


In the end, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

P.S. I Love You, Especially if you're a 2007 Parducci!

P.S. stands for Petite Sirah, the red-headed stepchild of California red varietals. I happen to be a big fan of Petite Sirah, for me the grape can combine the structure of a great Cabernet with the intense fruit of a delicious Zinfandel. Some wineries in this state blend Petite Sirah with Cab or Zin while others like Parducci and Stag's Leap produce single varietal bottlings. I was sent the 2007 Parducci Petite Sirah to sample, along with their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon which I reviewed here. If you're interested in learning more about Petite Sirah, click here to visit the P.S. I love you advocacy group.


I wanted to open this bottle tonight and had to plan a meal around it, but I took some time to taste and think about the Parducci before I began to cook. Right away I love the color, like purple velvet drapes pouring into my glass. There was a weighty feeling, the wine seemed to command my attention and let me know in no uncertain terms that it had some presence in my glass.

After talking about an hour to do laundry, assemble dinner's ingredients, email, and tweet, I was ready to taste the Petite Sirah. Juicy blueberries, cocoa powder, violets and earth all played with my olfactory sense. Nothing was too intense, but each note lingered long enough to make itself known. I sensed that if I was more knowledgeable, I'd have allowed even more time to open, Parducci's Petite Sirah could even use a decant!

That first taste reminded me why I love Petite Sirah, power and finesse. Graceful even, because none of the tobacco, cedar or berry notes weighed down my palate. They didn't stay too long, exiting after what felt like the right amount of time. Quantifying the "right" amount of time isn't something I can do, rather it's a sensation I get after having tasted a lot of wine over the years. My friends, the tannins, built the wine, keeping it in shape so to speak. The finish was clean and simple, which worked perfectly.

Some of the nitty-gritty details about this tasty wine include the fact that it spent 22 months in oak with 40% of that being in neutral American oak barrels and 60% in redwood tanks. Parducci bottled this Petite Sirah a little over a year ago. At 13.5% alcohol by volume, my loyal readers will note that this pleases me to no end.

At the suggested retail price of $10.99, Parducci nailed the QPR. A quick internet search found some merchants selling the Petite Sirah for as low as $7.99. That's a roundhouse kick to the QPR, sending it into rarefied air and making the B rating and strong BUY recommendation that much easier to bestow. Go buy this wine.


Food Time:

Tonight's pairing was steak sandwiches and let me tell you, by some miracle I didn't screw up dinner and the pairing worked perfectly. Quick and dirty recipe: in a cast iron pan on medium heat, add a tablespoon of olive oil and the following: diced sun dried tomatoes, diced bell peppers and diced onions. Add salt and pepper as well as a pinch of cayenne pepper and cook for about eight minutes or until the pepper skins are browned. remove to a bowl.

Next, slice steak into thin slices, pour two tablespoons of soy sauce and a teaspoon of barbecue sauce over the steak, then about a half teaspoon of crushed garlic and some salt and pepper. Stir all of this together then throw it into the cast iron pan. Watch out because it'll cook quickly.

When the meat is browned, throw it into the bowl with the veggies and cover all of that back up. Preheat your oven to 400F and get those dinner rolls out, the long torpedo shaped ones. Slice them open and stuff in the mix of meat and veggies, then stuff some shredded cheese in there too, I used smoked jalapeno jack.

Wrap the sandwich in aluminum foil and cook it for ten minutes. By this time you will be starving so have some more wine. After the cheese has begun to melt, partially unwrap the sandwich so the open face is exposed to the air and put it in for another five or six minutes, to gently toast some of the bread.

Remove from the oven and drizzle a little more barbecue sauce on the sandwich. then cut in half and eat. Enjoy the way the tannins from the wine and the protein from the meat complement each other and how the ripe fruit of the Petite Sirah plays well with the richness of the seasoned steak.

Enjoy.

This wine was sent as a media sample for review purposes.


Beau Carufel

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cleavage Creek Merlot Shiraz Blend

  I've written about Cleavage Creek before, about their mission and accomplishments in the fight against breast cancer. Previously, I reviewed their Chardonnay and a red blend , their "Secret Red". This bottle, the 2007 Tracy Hills Merlot Shiraz, unfortunately got lost in the shuffle of wine in and out of my samples stockpile.

About four weeks ago though, I found it and was excited to taste a blend like this. Merlot is much maligned unfortunately, and Syrah/Shiraz appears to be trending downwards in the market. Truly unfortunate because California can and does produce some real gems from both of those varietals. Cleavage Creek created this blend of 67% Syrah and 33% Merlot.



Great purple color in the glass, nice depth in the middle. It's light purple around the edges, gaining color towards the center. Fairly straightforward for this kind of red blend.

Big ripe fruit rushes up at me as I take a whiff. Aromas of blackberry jam and spices, the barest hints of herbs dance around the edges of that concentrated fruit. Straightforward, nothing crazy or too esoteric. I noticed an effect; the Syrah and Merlot were jockeying for position instead of complementing each other.

On the palate, I get a bit of heat and more of those ripe fruit notes. There's also something going on with a baking spice and cedar. Silky tannins mix with some baking chocolate, it all feels too fleeting though. I got a sense that this wine struggled with it's identity, the Syrah clashed with the Merlot, leaving me wishing for a more harmonious integration of flavors.

Out of the three wines Cleavage Creek sent me, this was the one that disappointed me, I suggest that perhaps the blend needs tweaking, maybe adding in another varietal like Petite Verdot would give some structure and ease some of the clashing flavors I struggled with. Alternately, perhaps this is a wine that simple needs a few more years to come together. At this time though, I give it a C+. I love what Budge Brown is doing at Cleavage Creek and have high hopes for their wines. They even opened a brand new tasting room in Napa Valley recently, you should go visit them if you get the chance.


This wine was a sample from the winery for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cupcake Chardonnay - Hedonists Rejoice!


What do you think of when you imagine a cupcake? Something sweet, rich, creamy? Maybe a bit of sprinkles on top, adding a textural dimension or additional flavor to the overall taste? I bet the association is a positive one, because it's hard not to like cupcakes. I'm rambling on because I figure this is about as close to a perfect marriage of label name and wine style as we're likely to see.

Cupcake Vineyards makes a bunch of wine. By "a bunch", I mean 14 different wines are listed for sale on their website. I was sent two to review, a Sauvignon Blanc and this Chardonnay (100,000 cases produced). Hopefully they send me some reds to review soon.

The 2009 Cupcake Vineyards Central Coast Chardonnay is textbook California. From it's pale-straw color in the glass to the buttery, apple and pear scented notes wafting out of the glass, this is the juice that put California Chardonnay on the map. While there has been the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) movement over the past five or six years, sales of this style continue to grow.

I freely admit to disliking overly oaky, buttered up Chardonnays, regardless of where they're from. I can see people rolling their eyes at this, because that's a trendy thing to say right now. Still, I'm sticking to my guns because I feel that those Chardonnays are not indicitative of terroir.

Back to the Cupcake, which embraces the traditional California style to the hilt. Rich and creamy as it washes across your palate. Given it's $14 SRP, I couldn't help but be impressed by the quality of the fruit used. I loved the pineapple and passion fruit dance as the wine finished, a good foil to the ripe buttery wallop of cream that smacks you in the face on your first sip. Still, if you don't like buttery chardonnay, this probably won't be for you. Loads of butter cream intertwined with oak all the way through, no way around that.

I like the quality, the fruit is well sourced and the winemaker knew what he was doing. I'll reiterate, this is textbook California Chardonnay that delivers above it's price point. A quick google search brought up prices from $7-$14, quite the range. Wine Spectator loved the 2009 Cupcake, giving it an 88 points. Me? Not quite that exuberant, but I'm no Jim Laube. I give this a B-, or 83 points for those more accustomed to numerical values. Above average quality, well made wine but for me at least, too much butter and oak. More information on the 2009 Cupcake Chardonnay is available here.

This wine was a sample for review purposes

Beau Carufel

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Parducci's 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon


Parducci is well known as both a pioneer and a leader among organic and sustainably farmed wines. They've led the way in becoming carbon neutral and have introduced numerous green methods into the winery setting. In short, an impressive commitment to sustainable agriculture. As admirable as that is though, the fundamental question I hear is this: is organic/sustainably farmed/biodynamic wine better than wine made by more traditional (sic) methods? I don't have an answer to that, ask me again after I've tasted and compared more wines. Just give me a few more years of tasting first!

What I do know is that the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon is good wine for the money. This was a press sample, but I couldn't find the 2007 on the Parducci website, just the 2006. Not that it's a big deal but I don't know if this was a pre-release or just a website error.

Pouring into the glass with a beautiful garnet color that gets deeper towards the center, the 2007 is 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, 3% Syrah, 3% Malbec and 1% Viognier. Nice aromas of earth, cured meats, smoke and a hint of spice. I feel this is more terroir oriented than the Cabernet I'm used to, which often times focuses on ripe fruit. Mendocino County, with it's cooler climate, usually doesn't reach the ripeness levels of some place like Napa or Sonoma and the resulting wines can express that.

After sitting open for an hour, I took a few sips and jotted my impressions down: "earthy, sticky tannins, a bit rustic, where's the fruit?". Another sip brought: "more of that forest floor/wood note, but almost like a forest fire, very interesting!"

I couldn't find a lot of fruit, mainly a faint black cherry note that was interwoven with a savory, almost soy/teriyaki flavor.

Note: I tasted this wine the next day and found all elements diminished, the forest fire note was more pronounced and the wine simply wasn't as good as the day before. The final rating does not reflect that second day's taste though.

Parducci made a solid Cabernet Sauvignon that showcases some things you won't normally find in an example from California. For a suggested retail price of $10.99, the wine delivers a good experience, if somewhat unremarkable. Above average wine, but just barely so. The fact that it's atypical of a lot of Cabernet puts it at a B- (83 points). Pairing is a bit tricky but the tried and true combo of red meat and Cabernet Sauvignon would be your best bet.


This wine was received as a press sample with the intent to review


Beau Carufel

Friday, November 26, 2010

Bodega de Sarria Senorio de Sarria Vinedo no. 5...A Rosé By Any Other Name.

I'll give you a moment to try to pronounce the long yet somehow romantic sounding name of this Rosé.



Good attempt, I fared much worse. Navarra, in Spain, has been growing grapes for over two thousand years by some estimates. The Romans started many bodegas in the region, tucked up against the Pyrenees mountain range. Research has determined that Navarra was one of the first areas to grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay. Often overshadowed by the likes of Rioja, Priorat and even Jumilla, of late there has been a concerted push to get wines from Navarra into this country and onto the tables of wine lovers.

Up until the early 1980's, Navarra produced a lot of Rosé, and to this day it still accounts for a good percentage of the wine exported. However, over the past 30 years, the region has seen an evolution away from bulk wines, towards higher quality reds and whites. That isn't to say that rosé wines are disappearing, which is a good thing!

I love rosé, a lot. Especially during the summer, when you don't want a white wine for whatever reason, a glass of rosé can hit the spot like no other wine can. The acidity combined with the depth of flavor that red grapes have wins me over time and time again. Some of my favorite Rosé wines are from Bandol and lately California has gotten into the act, making some dry yet textured  and complex examples.

Therefore, with a certain element of excitement, I opened up the 2009 Bodega de Sarria to taste. Granted, an ambient temperature of 63 degrees usually calls for something more stout, I was happy to taste this rosé and see how it compared to my favorites.

Darker than I'm used to, inching close to a pale Pinot Noir. That is explained by the fact that this it's 100% old vine Grenache. Still, the color isn't a turn-off, just an interesting element to consider. Ripe berries on the nose, evocative of summer strawberries freshly picked. Less of that delicate, haunting perfume note that always draws me into a good rosé.

On the palate, the summer strawberries came out, bringing ripe fruit and acidity. Hints of raspberry, bits and pieces of something vaguely metallic and that's it. Bodega de Sarria's wine finished quickly, almost vanishing entirely after a few seconds. There wasn't much in the way of other flavors for me, none of that classic Provençal elegance or the lively, carefree attitude of a California Rosé.

Then again there was nothing wrong with the wine at all, it just didn't grab me and beg to be sipped again and again. I felt no gentle kiss upon my soul, a sensation experienced when you drink a great wine you love, one that perhaps even seduces you. Was I expecting too much? Perhaps it's unwise to romanticize a $15 rosé, I accept that. What then, was this wine missing? In a word, personality.Technically correct, well packaged rosé that lacks personality. C+ from me, I wish the price point were closer to $9. For more information on the wines of Navarra, Spain, please visit http://www.winesofnavarra.com/.


This wine was received as a sample for review purposes.


Beau Carufel

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

2007 Donna Laura Bramosia Chianti Classico


Thank God that Chianti no longer conjures up visions of straw-wrapped bottles and cheap Italian food. The region has undergone something of a renaissance over the past 15 years or so. I predict that within a few years, wines from the Chianti DOCG will become even more popular, especially amongst wine hipsters. All it takes is one or two clever advertising and marketing campaigns! All cynicism aside, it's great to see such an historic wine region gaining in popularity. Click here for a good explanation of Chianti and it's sub-regions.

I was sent this bottle of 2007 Donna Laura Bramosia as a sample, from http://www.winechateau.com. I browsed their site for a few minutes and urge you to do so as well, there are some excellent deals if you take the time to look around.

Now, the wine! Great red brick color in the glass, I could see right through it. Definitely a welcome change from some of the darker reds I've been tasting lately. The Bramosia's nose was overflowing with earth, herbs and cocoa powder. A twinge of green, vegetal character showed up briefly, so did ripe but sour cherries. I think the term "rustic" is an apt descriptor, and I like what's going on so far.

After an hour of open time, I thought the flavors were very nicely integrated. Those sour cherries came out in force, great acidity, dusty earth and some soft, round tannins. Donna Laura's wine finished with a spicy taper, most agreeable. I think this is a superb wine to pair with pizza (as I dial up Leucadia Pizza for delivery) but also with most any hearty Italian fare. I'd be interested to pair some other dishes with this too, perhaps even something like cedar-plank salmon.

I haven't reviewed many Italian wines of late, hopefully that's going to change though. The 2007 Donna Laura Bramosia was wonderfully balanced and is a reminder that the Italians have been making wine for a long time and are very good at it. I found this Chianti Classico online for about $15, winechateau.com had it for $13.97, discounted from $29.99. At about $14, it's a great deal and one I'd be more than happy to purchase. Solid B and a BUY recommendation. You can buy this wine directly from WineChateau.com by clicking here. That link takes you directly to their site where you can even get free shipping!

This wine was received as a sample from http://www.winechateau.com for review purposes.


Beau Carufel

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Beaujolais Day! 2010!

Happy Beaujolais Day!  


The third Thursday of each November has become known as "Beaujolais Day", a day when wine lovers of the world celebrate with a glass (or bottle) of Beaujolais Nouveau.

What then, is Beaujolais Nouveau and why should we join together to celebrate it? Two questions that many people unfamiliar with this celebratory day will ask. I suspect most of the general public is aware of Beaujolais Nouveau day as I am aware of the proper way to perform open-heart surgery. You/They/Them might see the flashy PR materials and press articles then dismiss them as something wine geeks do to pass the time. But wait, there's more!


A bit of history and world geography then. Beaujolais is a region within an appellation within a country. France would be the country, Burgundy would be the appellation. Within that is the Beaujolais region/sub-appellation, and here we can find some truly amazing wines. We also find Beaujolais Nouveau, which is the first wine released from each year's vintage. Originally the Nouveau was cheap, quaffable juice that was hauled down from Burgundy to Lyon as something to drink dock-side or at home as a way to commemorate another year's harvest.

Often it fermented the entire length of the journey and was consumed as a "young" wine. These days, by law, the only grape that can be used is Gamay Noir, and a fermentation technique called Carbonic Maceration must be employed. That means very little, if any pressing of the grapes, rather, carbon dioxide is pumped into sealed vessels to begin fermentation within the grape itself. This results in lower tannins and alcohol along with a youthful, it not well suited for aging, style of wine.

In the 1970's, Georges DuBoeuf began to market the festive side of Beaujolais Nouveau, introducing it across Paris, then to the United States. The them this year is that of a circus, or cirque en Francais. Around the country, wine lovers are partying it up with many bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau (often provided for free). It's a relatively good marketing campaign, though research has shown consumption of Nouveau dropping for the past several years.

Where does this leave us then? I could make fun of Beaujolais Day, like many bloggers do. I could whine about it on Twitter or Facebook. What's the point though? I keep repeating my belief that wine brings people together and can be such a great way to connect or reconnect. To me, a day like today is wonderful because it enables us to get together and talk about something unique. How often do we drink Gamay? Probably more often than we get a chance to taste a wine made by Carbonic Maceration! This alone can stir up some fun conversation.

The wine itself is simplistic, young, racy, acidic and very rustic. In the samples I was sent, I detected notes of banana and bubblegum, hints of earth and kirsch, along with sour cherry. Pretty basic stuff but this isn't a wine to age. Remember, the whole point of Beaujolais Nouveau Day is to celebrate the first wine of the year's harvest. 2010 has potential to be a very good or perhaps even great year, Beaujolais Nouveau might help start that conversation along.

For more information, check out http://www.duboeufnouveau.com and @GeorgesDuBoeuf on Twitter.


These wines were received as press samples


Beau Carufel

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Who Makes Sangiovese in the Columbia Valley?! Cana's Feast!

What is Cana's Feast, you ask? A winery of course, one with a tasting room in the Willamette Valley, next to the Carlton Winemakers Studio. I say this because I literally spent five minute at Cana's Feast picking up this sample, then had to run back out to the van to continue the epic Willamette Century Club Extravaganza that I'd embarked upon earlier in the day.

Fast forward six weeks or so, when I (finally) decided to open this Sangiovese to see what it was all about. Most, in fact all the Sangiovese I'd previously tasted was from either Italy (duh) or California. Both regions can produce some wonderful wines, the Italians of course make Brunello di Montalcino, which may in fact be the greatest wine ever.

2007 Cana's Feast Sangiovese Grosso Columbia Valley


From the Ciel du Cheval vineyard in the Red Mountain AVA of Washington State, Cana's Feast winemaker Patrick Taylor created a well balanced Sangiovese that showcases a side of the varietal we rarely experience. Different, but in a good way, from Italian or California examples, I was pleased to taste something off the beaten track. There is so much good wine in the world, and there seems to be too little time to taste it all! 

The Sangiovese Grosso poured into my glass with a ruby hue and a center of red brick. Following my usual tasting process, I opened the wine an hour before tasting it and used my Wine Soiree to pour about 3 ounces into the tasting glass.

Ripe cherries, hints of smoke and earth, along with some toasty vanilla all rushed out at me. Compared to a Chianti, where I often taste the cherries but get sharper, more acidic notes, the Cana's Feast was veering in a different direction entirely.

What made this wine very, very good was it's mouthfeel. There was such great texture, I felt it washing across my tongue in wave after wave. Vibrant acidity introduced me to red cherries and hints of raspberry before giving way to some earthy, oaky flavors that added welcome complexity. Notes of herb and cedar seemed to weave in and out, almost between the other flavors. You get a sense this wine is expressing terroir the only way it can, by joyously shouting it at your palate!

The finish also got me excited, the way it tapered away without lingering for too long. Sometimes a wine's finish lasts so long that you're hesitant to take that next bite of food or that next sip. Not with the Cana's Feast Sangiovese, which finished quickly but elegantly.

Using Google, I found prices from $30 to $44 for the Sangiovese. The cheapest price seemed to be on the Cana's Feast website shopping cart, but that required some complex navigating for me at least. I give this wine a B+, it really impressed me and is a worthy addition to your cellar. A BUY recommendation and a suggestion of pairing it with something fun like grilled, marinated skirt steak or even some grilled portobello mushrooms.

You can follow Cana's Feast on twitter by clicking here. If you're up in Carlton, stop by and check out the winery, it's a Tuscan-inspired Villa where you can have lunch with dishes created to highlight the local produce and Cana's Feast wines. Next time I'm in Oregon, I'm going to stop in and get the full experience.

This wine was given to me as a press sample.

Beau Carufel

Friday, November 12, 2010

Making Sense of Turkey Day Wines






Gobble effin' Gobble.

Thanksgiving seems to put a normally sane, rational person into a state of mental (and often physical) paralysis. My belief is the logistics of this oh-so-American holiday have become overwhelming because as we're so wont to do in this society, Thanksgiving MUST be a GIANT CELEBRATION!!!!


I must respectfully call b.s. Perhaps not even respectfully so. Those of you who are reading this and are considered the "wine expert" or "wine guy/girl" in your circle of friends know all too well that around this time of year, the "what wine should I pair with Thanksgiving" question creeps back to life like a zombie in Shaun of the Dead.





Lots of experts and "experts" will tell you all sorts of cool wines to pair with your Thanksgiving meal. Wine Hipsters, those smug denizens of New York City wine bars, trade tastings, and San Francisco restaurants will suggest off-beat, funky wines that you have no chance in hell of ever finding. Stuff from some random obscure producer in the Loire Valley that makes 2 barrels of amazing wine, of which somehow seven 3-packs make it to the States.

Even better, you can listen to the cacophony of voices espousing the "Natural Wine" way of life. Who doesn't want an un-sulfured 2010 Viognier/Pinot Blanc/Marsanne blend that's just come 2200 miles across America's highways while still fermenting? Yummy! Who needs racking and barrel aging when you have potholes and brake-checks?



My point is this: on Thanksgiving, simplify the wines you choose! Let's face it, is there any one, singular flavor you'll be assaulting your palate with on the Big Day? I doubt it, and therefore trying to pair a wine with each dish or opening that crazy/unique/rare bottle will get tiresome and frustrating. My advice is to pick three wines, and get multiple bottles of each one.



Here's my short-list:

1. Sparkling wine: This could be some delicious grower Champagne or some German Sekt, or even a cheap Cava. Of course, I personally prefer the dry flavors of a Brut Champagne but if YOU like sweet, go with sweet. Bubbles are the key, they'll keep your palate fresh while the alcohol will help you and your guests chill out a bit. Keep multiple bottles of whatever you pick on hand and serve it when guests start arriving, a nice mellow tone to start the night will lower your stress levels.

2. White wine: I'll get flack for this, Wine Hipsters will roll their eyes and bloggers will castigate me via Twitter, but I suggest a Fume Blanc/Pouilly-Fume or Riesling. Keep the white wine simple, chilled and accessible to all your guests. For the vast majority of people, the stress of wondering whether your special bottle of Norwegian Roussanne/Gewurztraminer will work with potatoes au gratin just isn't worth it. With the Fume Blanc or Pouilly-Fume, that nice kick of acidity that's been softened by a bit of oak will work with a lot of the veggie dishes and can stand up to some of the creamier sides. An off-dry Riesling will add some fun with it's sweet but light blend of flavors. If you cook a turkey that has herbs added, the pairing will work with that too.

3. Red wine: I can sense the sharpening of attack-talons now, the jeers are going to rain down..Or worse, this entry will get relegated to the "that guy's full of shit" blog heap. Pinot Noir or Zinfandel. Either of these will work beautifully provided they're well chosen. Since the average Thanksgiving guest cannot taste the difference between a $740 Grand Cru Burgundy and a $90 Willamette Valley Pinot, why even worry? Grab two or three bottles of something that costs about $40 a bottle and you'll be getting some delicious juice. For Zinfandel, try to avoid a jammy fruit-bomb from Paso Robles, instead check out some stuff from Mendocino or Sonoma Counties. $30-40 gets you a slam dunk Zin that stands up to the turkey, stuffing and sweet potatoes yet doesn't leave you feeling like you just inhaled mixed-berry jam from Smuckers.

The Thanksgiving that most of us...no the vast majority of us will celebrate will have a mix of wine fans and those who drink it because there's alcohol in it and everyone else is doing it. We who love to explore wine need to realize this and accept it. There are 364 other days in the year to explore new and interesting wines, so calm down with the Thanksgiving madness, take a deep breath, and just enjoy the way wine brings people together.


No turkeys or zombies were harmed in the making of this blog.

Beau Carufel

Thursday, November 11, 2010

One Year Later...

Almost exactly one year ago, I started this blog with a brief introductory post. I explained who I was and what I intended to do with my slice of the internet. One year, 70 blog entries later, and I'm still finding my voice. Apparently that can take a long time, according to some writers I've spoken to.

I've averaged a bit over one blog entry per week, which when compared to people like 1WineDude or Steve Heimoff, is basically nothing. More than once over the past year I've vowed to post more and in some instances I've been successful, doing two or three blogs in a week. Once again, I'm making that effort because as Josh Wade at DrinkNectar said in his anniversary post, creating a lot of (quality) content is a huge traffic driver.

Is this now the time to reflect on what I've experienced since November 2009? Bear with me for a few paragraphs, this is perhaps as much for my sake as anyone's. I will start with the 2010 Wine Bloggers Conference, what an amazing time. I think 2011 will be just as wonderful if not more so. My fellow bloggers don't need a recap of that, they already know how inspiring the event was. For me it was a shove towards better writing (and content), better marketing of my blog nad messasge, and a way to make some great new friends.

Oh and I got to drink some epic wines as well, I probably should mention that. As a result, I got my name on a barrel of 2010 Syrah from Skylite Cellars. Now that is truly cool!

I was also excited to start getting wine samples, after all who doesn't love getting free wine? Being able to write about what I was tasting, getting feedback and creating dialogue continue to remind me of how much fun blogging can be. On a slightly more serious tone, multiple times I saw the importance of full disclosure by those of us who blog. Ethically we must hold ourselves to the highest standards, period.

Blogs, be they wine or other subjects, are not static creations. They evolve over time and are a good indicator of the effort put in by the author or authors. If I had to grade my own blog, I'd give it a C+ because I've been wildly inconsistent but feel that I have a fundamentally good "voice" to add to the chatter. Clearly there's work to be done, improvements to be made, and better content to be had.

I'd like to recap a bit more though, because 2010 has been a truly remarkable year for me. With the formation of the San Diego Wine Mafia, I found a group of wine-o's/bloggers I could taste with. San Diego has a wine community, but it seems very tough to break into it if you're not in the business.

Being able to find a group of fellow wine geeks has made me a better writer and taster, no doubt about it.


Our little group has already inspired people to start their own Wine Mafias, as well as gained each of us citizen-bloggers a bit more publicity. Wineries, to their credit, are gradually starting to realize that for the small cost of shipping some samples to a group of enthusiastic, well lubricated bloggers, they'll gain a good amount of publicity.

More than that though, I've become friends with my group. They're all wonderful people who are passionate about a wide range of things. Our love of wine and our desire to share that singular passion unites us, further proving that wine is in fact a way to unite people across age, gender, culture and anything else.

This year I've also made some great trips up to Walla Walla, Napa, Sonoma, and the Willamette Valley. I've toured some of America's premiere growing regions, tasted some stunning wines and made some amazing friends. Once again I marvel at wine, how it unites us and enables us to share something, to find a connection and grab onto it.

The next year of my blog will hopefully find me visiting the Finger Lakes in New York, Virginia, and back to my usual spots. Granted, I'm not rich so that may be tough to accomplish in one year, but I'm optimistic. Chile, Argentina and South Africa all beckon, as does Europe and Australia/New Zealand. One day I'll visit them all, tasting my way through the wines of the world.

Finally, I'll state that I want to do more posts that explore my love of craft beer, spirits, and cigars. While they will never take away from my passion for wine, I feel each of these subjects are fascinating in their own right and would love to share them with you. If you stick with me through this next year, I suspect you'll be happy you did. Next November, another anniversary post will reflect back on whether I accomplished any of those goals I set out to and then explore what's next for me.

Beau Carufel

Friday, November 5, 2010

Live Tasting With Paul Dolan Wines, Biodynamic in the House!

Last Wednesday I took part in a live tasting with Paul Dolan of Paul Dolan Vineyards, my first semi-formal exposure to biodynamic wines. Paul Dolan Vineyards and Parducci Wine Cellars fall under the umbrella of the Mendocino Wine Company. Set up in 2004, the company has focused on organic and biodynamic farming and winemaking.


I was sent some samples of the Paul Dolan wines in cute little 50ml bottles, from a company called TastingRoom. The premise is that a full bottle is dispensed into the smaller bottles, in a controlled environment, to ensure there's no spoilage or taste changes. One of the benefits I can see is that for the cost of shipping (by weight) one or two 750ml bottles, you can send out more samples of more wine, allowing a more comprehensive tasting of a winery or winemaker's work.


The downside is that for me and others (yes you, @1WineDude), 50ml just isn't enough to properly taste a wine. Call us lushes or drunks but I and other wine bloggers like taking a large sip, swirling it around, spitting, then taking another one to confirm our impressions. Still, the concept rocks, I'm excited to sample more wines using this method.



Thanks to the awesomeness of the interwebs, anyone who signed up was able to see and interact with Mr. Dolan via Ustream, a site that allows users to interact with live video feeds while simultaneously porting their comments their Twitter or Facebook accounts.

Check out his Biodynamic 'stache! Pretty rockin', I must admit. Mr. Dolan exuded a calm, passionate confidence about his beliefs. Biodynamics is controversial and at least within the wine blogging community, is part of a contentious debate.

Personally, Biodynmaics speaks to the side of me that wants all things to live in harmony, a utopian vision of the earth as one giant, interconnected organism. On the other hand, the analytical side (the side that got me a Finance degree) wants some serious scientific study of the the claims made by Biodynamicists.
(img courtesy Joe Roberts @ http://www.1winedude.com)


So with that aside, the wines, all made with organically grown grapes save for the last one, are as follows:

2008 Mendocino County Sauvignon Blanc: I enjoyed the bright, citrus notes and accessibility of this wine. Wonderful on a hot summer day because of the great acidity but also felt a touch un-integrated, like some flavors were fighting to the surface. A good effort though and hits the price point nicely. B-. $18 SRP

2008 Mendocino County Chardonnay: You know me and most California Chardonnays. Generally they do not like my palate and vice versa. This one was well structured with some great acidity woven throughout the flavors of passion fruit and green apple. Still buttery and with hints of oak for those of you who dig that style. Nice balance, very well put together. I really enjoyed this wine, it's a QPR winner. B+. $18 SRP

2007 Mendocino County Pinot Noir: Hooray for Pinot! I think Paul Dolan did a good job crafting a more traditionally oriented Pinot with lots of sour cherry, spice and using oak as a supporting flavor. Hints of smoke and tobacco on the finish left me a bit curious though, not what I expected. B. SRP $30

2007 Zinfandel Mendocino County: My favorite wine of the night and one of the better Zinfandels I've had this year. I was absolutely impressed with the tannins and acidity that integrated so well with the dark berries and bakers chocolate. What an effort! I'm gonna buy some of this stuff and taste my friends on it, I bet they won't even know it's Zin! It also managed to kick the QPR in it's ass. A-, Strong BUY. $25 SRP.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County: Not bad..But just didn't quite grab my palate the way I'd hoped. I think though that with some time in bottle, this wine would be delicious. Good tannins, under-developed fruit, some smoke flavors but really interesting fresh-cut oak too. I did like the sense of place, the expression of terroir here, this ain't no Napa Cab, that's for sure. Dare to be different!  B-. $24 SRP.

2006 Deep Red Mendocino County: The evening's most expensive wine, and also the only  Biodynamic wine of the evening. A blend of 57% Syrah, 31% Petite Sirah and 12% Grenache. Big, dark and brooding. I liked this one a lot actually, it had character and complexity which made me sit up and take notice. Perhaps my second favorite wine of the night. Lots of spicy blackberries and black cherries, earth, tobacco, tar all showed up to the party. I'm going to give this wine a BUY rating and a B++/A-. It's the good stuff, $42 SRP

Of the above wines, you should buy the Zinfandel and the Chardonnay, and splurge for a bottle of the Deep Red. I was impressed with the quality of the wines as much as I was impressed with Mr. Dolan's clear, honest speech. I'd love to meet the man and talk more about organic farming and biodynamic farming. While it may be controversial, there's no doubt that this way of farming and winemaking produces wines of at least equal quality to those using more conventional methods.


These wines were sent as samples for review purposes

Beau Carufel

Thursday, November 4, 2010

My Own Barrel of Wine! Well...Kind of..

I'm a big fan of Skylite Cellars, obviously. I first got to know about the winery at the 2010 Wine Bloggers Conference, where I met Cheryl as well as the winemaker Robert Smasne and assistant winemaker Greg. Their 2005 Syrah was spectacular and remains one of the best wines I've had this year.

So the other day, there I am doing important things on Twitter when I get a message from @SkyliteCellars that my name is on a barrel of wine. How cool is that?!



There you have it folks, proof that I have in fact hit the big time. That's a barrel of what is sure to be awesome vino with my name on it. My fellow San Diego Wine Mafioso Keith (@BrainWines) also got his name on a barrel, he was equally stoked and we look forward to tasting these wines in the next few years. I will ask what's in the barrel and update this post once I find out.

Beau Carufel

Great Odin's Ravenswood! Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel!

I tasted a wine recently, the 2007 Ravenswood Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel, which did a lot to remind me of why I have always loved good Zinfandel. More on that later though. For those of you who know me in real life and have tasted with me before, you know I have a bit of an Old World bias. Just ask Bill and Keith, aka Cuvee_Corner and BrainWines respectively. Then again their palates often match mine so I think we're all wine-geniuses. I dare you to disagree!

If you've only ever had the Ravenswood Vintner's Blend Zinfandel, I strongly urge you to buy other wines that Joel Peterson makes for Ravenswood. I can't force you, loyal readers, but trust me on this, Ravenswood makes some great wine. I hope you'll heed my words.



First, some background. In 2007, Ravenswood chose to produce the following blend: 76% Zinfandel, 8% Petite Sirah, 8% Carignane, 8% Mixed Blacks. This blend can and does vary from year to year. For 18 months the 2007 Old Vine Zin rested in French Oak barrels, of which 30% were new oak. Coming in at 14.5% abv, this is what I would describe as a "normal" alcohol level for a modern day Zinfandel.

Opened and left on the counter for about an hour, I practiced the art of clock-watching while waiting to taste the wine. Often I'll try to cook a meal, read, watch TV, aimlessly browse the internet or Tweet with my friends while I wait for a wine to open up, briefly glancing at the glass as if willing the oxidative effects to happen faster.


Enough about me though, let's explore the Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel. Right away I was struck by the low amount of fruit on the nose. Big spices, hints of earth, toasted oak and vanilla all dominated. Around the fringes of those scents were blackberries and plums dancing around, barely discernible at times. I loved the deep purple color in the glass and was impressed with it's depth.

Of late, I've grown tired of jammy, over-extracted Zinfandels. I prefer those with spices, tannins, acidity and finally, dark fruit notes. In an upcoming blog I'll go over some wines from Paul Dolan that I tasted recently, with his Zinfandel being a highlight for me. I loved the grippy tannins and acidity that the Ravenswood had, it set the stage for the ripe berries and spices that carried through to the finish. Although I did expect more fruit, I was pleased that it wasn't a fruit bomb.

I really liked the 2007 Ravenswood Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel, the flavor profile was unexpected but pleasing. If I had a few more bottles, I'd age them for a few years to see what developed. Ideally, some of the acidity would back off, the tannins would soften and the fruit would remain at it's current level of intensity. We're talking some delicious juice if all of those elements came into play!

For anywhere between $10-$15, you get a wonderful bottle of wine and a great example of what Zinfandel can be in California.I give this a B rating (86 points) and a BUY recommendation. Pair it with something big, hearty, beefy even! I want to have a bowl of beef chili and a bottle of this Zin one night. Preferably when it's not 88 degrees outside like it is right now.

This wine was provided as a sample for review by myself.


Beau Carufel

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Cupcake Sauvignon Blanc..I'm impressed!

I recently received some samples of Cupcake Vineyards wines. You've probably seen Cupcake if you shop for wine online or at some brick and mortar stores. My first exposure to Cupcake was perhaps a year or so ago when I had a glass of their Red Velvet, a blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. I recall the wine being good especially since I was having it with random hors d'oeurves at a party. Later that night I cracked a bottle of Brunello, which obviously dominates my wine-memory of the evening.

Anyways, the first of the two Cupcake wines I tasted was the Sauvignon Blanc. All the grapes come from Marlborough in New Zealand. The winemaker, Adam Richardson, used stainless steel tanks versus oak barrels to ferment the wine in. After that, it underwent extended aging sur lie, meaning the wine was sitting in the lees, which are dead yeast cell and bits of grape skin and pulp. This can help tame the acidity and add a fleshy richness to the wine.



2010 is considered (by people in the know) to be a good year in New Zealand. Given that, it only stands to reason that Cupcake made a delicious Sauvignon Blanc. I chilled this for about 15 minutes just to allow for the somewhat warm day. Right away I smelled notes of lemon custard, lime-washed rocks, hints of perfume, passion fruit and that "traditional" New Zealand grassy note. The way each scent fit into the overall picture put a smile on my face

I'd describe this wine as a clean, dry white wine that's lighter in body with great citrus flavors. I tasted lemon peel, hints of pineapple and passion fruit, and right through the mid-palate, what felt like Bartlett pears! Almost reminiscent of some of my favorite whites of all time..Sancerre's! Unfortunately, the finish left me wanting more, it felt too abrupt and under-developed. Still, Cupcake's Sauvignon Blanc delivered some very nice quality at a supremely reasonable price.

You can expect to find Cupcake Sauvignon Blanc for anywhere between $7-13, it's SRP (Suggested Retail Price) is $14. I rate this wine a B, with a solid BUY recommendation. For those of you who salivate over numerical scores, I would rate this an 84/85 points. If you happen to see a bottle of the 2010 at your favorite local wine retailer, give it a shot! I think you'll be happy you did. I should add, and though I rarely say this kind of endorsement, I fully intend to buy another bottle to pair with some tilapia fish tacos I'm going to try making soon. The mango-chipotle salsa I'm going to attempt would pair brilliantly with Cupcake's S.B. There may or may not be a blog about that experiment, depending on a singular thing: whether or not I remember to take pictures!

Disclosure: This wine was sent to me as a sample for review.

Beau Carufel