Friday, August 17, 2012

Summer Barbecue Wine Options

Summer is in full swing! It's time to barbecue as much as possible, to have your friends over at every opportunity, and to enjoy the sun whenever you can. To that end, I've lined up a slew of affordable reds and whites for you to pair with barbecued foods and backyard shindigs.

Keep in mind that these are all bigger, more full-bodied red wines Anytime you have big flavors from meat, you need to get big wines to stand up to what you're grilling. The addition of sauces, marinades, and rubs also adds intensity, further pushing palates away from pinot-land.

The white wines, on the other hand, are crisp, dry, and full of refreshing acidity. On a hot day the last thing most of us want is a big, heavy, oaky chardonnay weighing down our taste buds. To that end, I assembled a panel of well known producers' white wines to taste and talk about.

Here then are two lists, of whites and reds, for your consideration as you barbecue this summer:

2010 Parducci Small Lot Blend Sauvignon Blanc: Despite the $11 suggested retail price, this is single vineyard sauvignon blanc, from Hildreth Farm in Mendocino County. Crisp notes of green apple, grass, and zesty citrus mix with summer melon to create a balanced, food-friendly wine. Very drinkable and at a great price. Pair this with ceviche, fish tacos, chicken salad, or solo on a hot day.

2010 Parducci Small Lot Blend Pinot Gris: I think it's telling that I tasted this and thought it might be a steel-tank-fermented, un-wooded, cheap chardonnay. 6% Muscat Canelli was added to the gris, creating an intersting, barely-off-dry citrus and melon set of flavors. If sauvignon blanc or 100% pinot gris is too dry for your friends, I bet they'd love this. Very pretty aromatics, so don't over chill it. $11 srp.

2011 St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley: Loads of tropical fruit beats down a touch of green grass that dares show itself. I like that though. Crisp acidity frames the melange of passion fruit, kiwi, and lime flavors. There is a subtle but welcome minerality at play, enhancing the texture. Pair this gem with grilled-shrimp quesadillas and fresh guacamole. $15 srp.


2009 Parducci Small Lot Blend Merlot: The bouquet is all red cherry and licorice, with a bit of a medicinal quality. On the palate it's spicy, cherry, and vanilla oak. This brings the easy-drinking flavors you expect from an inexpensive merlot. Give this one to your "I don't like red wine" crowd. SRP: $11. 13.5% abv.

2010 Hey Mambo "Sultry Red" Red Wine: An explosion of red fruit; think cherries and raspberries mixed together. It's sweet and easy-drinking, with ample ripe fruit flavors and a tease of vanilla-oak lurking in the background. The finish is just dry enough to stand up to bigger foods. Another "I don't like red wine" crowd pleaser. SRP: $10. 13.5% abv.

2010 Graffigna Centenario Malbec Reserve: This bouquet is all dark aromas, think baking chocolate, spices, and leather. Some black cherry and blueberry peek out too. More full-bodied than the previous two wines, the Graffigna has ample tannin to stand up to steak. Flavors of black fruit, herb, and bittersweet chocolate create a nice texture on the palate. Worth opening a few hours before your party. SRP: $15. 14% abv.

2008 Ash Hollow Headless Red: This one is intriguing, it smells a little reductive but revels aromas of maple and bacon, black fruit, and wood. 58% merlot, 26% cabernet sauvignon, 13% syrah, 3% malbec. There maybe some volatile acidity here too, but it's not a big deal. More maple flavor comes through on the palate, along with spices and black cherry. This one is smooth and easy to sip, while retaining enough tannin and acid to stand firm against a steak or summer sausage. 30 months spent in oak. 14.1% abv.

2009 Parducci Small Lot Blend Cabernet Sauvignon: When I first opened this bottle, I was walloped over the head with a bag of oak. The wine has settled down a lot, with the oak partially retreating and letting some warm red fruits, earthy funk, and green herb come out. Firm tannin restrain that red fruit on the palate, creating a simple yet effectively structured wine to pair with steak or ribs. It's more complex than expected, especially at the $11 price point. 14.0% abv.

2011 Big House Red: The fact that this wine has over 15 different grape varieties should tell you something. My sample showed up in a 3L cask or bag-in-box, in an effort to prove that quality isn't lost. 3L is about four bottles, making this a $5.50 per-bottle red wine. The nose is an explosion of fruity aromas, think raspberry jam, strawberries, blackberries. It's no different on the palate, with jammy fruit leading the way, thankfully reined in by a bit of acidity. It'll go great during the summer when you're headed to a bbq party, and fits the very definition of "crowd pleaser". 13.0% abv.

2009 Ravenswood Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel: Joel Peterson consistently produces great wines at reasonable prices. This zinfandel, coming in around $15 a bottle, has all the hallmarks of old vines from warm climates. Aromas of wood smoke, tar, plum, and spices rush out of the glass. I like the complexity, especially at this price point. Lots of dark, intense red fruit to pair with ribs too, along with a wonderful peppery flavor that contrasts with some dark, dusty soil. A tight, clean package of deliciousness. 14.5% abv.

2009 Ravenswood Vintners Blend Petite Sirah: Imagine a bowl full of blueberries and blackberries sitting in a field of dark, earthy soil. Now imagine someone burning oak just a few hundred yards away. That's the nose of this petite sirah. It tastes spicy and rich, with lots of black fruit, dark chocolate, and firm tannin to restrain those two primary flavors. Practically begs for a thick steak, and is a really good deal at $7.99. 13.5% abv.

To test the wines out in more real-life conditions, I had them all open for a barbecue that several of our friends attended. Each wine was tasted along with the food, which included ribs and hot dogs, among other things. My personal favorites were the Ravenswood wines, and the Graffigna Malbec. The group did enjoy the Big House Red and Hey Mambo for what they were, big, fruity, easy-drinking reds.

Each of these wines is worth a pop 'n pour when you are grilling and want something to please a wide range of palates. Perhaps the best part is the pricing, all can be found for between $10 and $15, save for the Big House, but you get a lot of wine in that octagon!

These wines were media samples.

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Red Sancerre: Delightful Budget-Friendly Pinot Noir

Most of us know Sancerre to be perhaps the best region in the world to grow sauvignon blanc. With soil types ranging from white chalk to gravelly limestone, and vineyard elevations up to 1,300 feet, the grapes retain a great deal of acidity and mineral components. To balance that acid, the short, hot summer allows enough sugar formation to produce wines that also exhibit beautiful, perfumed aromas and flavors. Furthermore, the use of oak is very limited, and malolactic fermentation rarely is allowed to take place.

What you may not know is the region also producers pinot noir that consistently delivers outstanding quality for low prices. Though only about 20% of Sancerre's grape production is pinot noir, both the red and rose wines are well worth seeking out. While Sancerre lacks the cachet and indeed, the history of producing world class pinot noir that Burgundy has in spades, the region's wines are wonderfully accessible, often exhibiting aromas of rose petal, cherry, wild raspberry, and peppery spice.

A few days ago my friend Rory brought over a bottle of this wonderful Sancerre rouge to share. He works at The Friendly Vine, in Forest Grove and not coincidentally picked up this bottle while at work .At $21, the price point is very reasonable, especially considering the following facts; it's pinot noir, it's from France, and it's from a region currently in vogue.

2010 Les Hospices Sancerre Rouge:
We unscrewed the cap and poured some glasses. After the initial reductive funk blew off, the bouquet delighted us with zingy raspberry and pepper notes, hints of dusty gravel, and a subtle orange-peel aroma. A sip or two brought out bright red fruit mingling with herbs and forest floor/mushroom flavors. I enjoyed the mineral component on the palate because it helped create a wonderful textural sensation. The finish was brisk and racy, led by the acidity, and had a nice gentle tapering effect.

For $21, this is a cool climate, acid-loving, pinot fan's wine. I've only seen it at The Friendly Vine, so I'd recommend contacting them if you want a bottle or two. If you put it aside for a few years, I suspect the wine will get a bit better but it's not one designed for long term cellaring. As far as I can tell, it's a negotiant brand produced exclusively for Bronco Wine Company's Antares division. Yes, the same Bronco responsible for million of gallons of plonk. Just goes to show you!

Importer: Vinum Importing
Producer: Pierre Chainier for Bronco/Antares Wine Co.

Beau Carufel

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Wine Industry Technology Symposium Live Tasting With @WineTwits

During this year's Wine Industry Technology Symposium, a group of wine bloggers were sent four wines from California and invited to participate in a live, virtual wine tasting. Frequent readers (all four of you) might be familiar with this format, as I've posted recaps of these tastings fairly often over the past few years.

The way a "virtual tasting" works is by having bloggers around the country receive the same wines, then use Twitter and a specific hashtag to talk about each wine. Usually there's a moderator, in this case the fine folks behind the @WineTwits account and website. We talked (tweeted) about each wine over the course of about an hour, with the various participating wineries chiming in to answer questions and give data points.

I tend to enjoy some aspects of virtual tastings, especially when bloggers whose palates I trust are participating. We get to compare notes and really dive into what the wines are about. The other side of virtual tastings is that all too often we get bloggers who do nothing but tweet hyperbolic statements praising every wine. Not only do they look like idiots, it undermines our already-fragile credibility as a group.

Each wine selected has the benefit of being easy to find in grocery stores and BevMo-type outlets, being of high enough production to virtually guarantee nationwide distribution. The sole unfamiliar wine to me was the 2010 Garnet Vineyards Pinot Noir, the rest have all graced my wine glass at some point in the past few years.

2010 Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay Livermore Valley: The bouquet is full of lemon cream, tropical fruit, and popcorn butter aromas. To me it smells exactly like I'd expect a traditional California-style chardonnay to smell like. On the palate there's a nice bit of that tropical fruit, some more lemon notes, vanilla, and more of the buttery taste. The acidity is low, or at least, feels low due in part to the malolactic fermentation that this wine saw. Wente consistently makes drinkable wines, and if you're a fan of buttery California chardonnay, I think you'll really enjoy the Morning Fog bottling. 13.5% abv. $11 retail.

2011 Hahn Winery Nicky Hahn Pinot Noir California: Pours a beautifully vibrant ruby color in the glass, a testament to its youth. The nose is full of ripe, jammy cherry preserves, baking spice, some woodsy aromas, and a touch of earth. Cherry jam dominates the palate, providing a soft, rich mouthfeel. The baking spices come out to play a little bit on the finish, which in itself is nice if a bit short. 100% pinot noir, according to the data sheet I have. 14.5% abv. $14 retail.

2010 Garnet Vineyards Pinot Noir Carneros: Loads of raspberry and strawberry aromas followed by a bit of white pepper spices. I think there's a bit of funk here too, some nail-polish remover came out as the wine warmed up. I think this pinot is very varietally correct on the palate, with light red fruit, peppery spice, hints of earthy funk, and lots of acidity. The finish is medium length, tapering off nicely, however, the bottle was open about five hours before the finish got to be any reasonable length. It might need a bit of age or an hour in a decanter before it shows all its facets. 13.5% abv. $19 retail.

2008 Franciscan Magnificat Napa Valley: A blend of 69% cabernet sauvignon, 23% merlot, 6% petite verdot, and 2% malbec. This Meritage pours dark, almost opaque garnet. Pepper, wood smoke, cassis, and leather rush up out of the glass. There's a touch of alcoholic heat, nothing more. Lots of ripe black fruit mixed with oak form the primary flavors. Secondary flavors include smoked meat, cocoa dust, and dried spice leaves. A nice long finish shows earth and leather before disappearing in a burst of dried black cherry. This is a 2008, and it shows true to form as a very young wine. Lots of firm tannin that will soften and integrate with age. I tasted this again after six hour and it had mellowed out noticeably. 14.5% abv. $35 retail.

The wines we tasted were all interesting and well made. The Franciscan was very good, and the clear leader of the group. I re-tasted each wine about six hours after I opened them and save for the Meritage, they'd all begun to fall apart. Out of the latter three, the Wente chardonnay held together best, still retaining some acidity and complexity.

The WineTwits crew did a great job getting such a large group of bloggers together and keeping the discussion moving along, but weren't as active with the technical facts and winery-liaison work that I've seen from other virtual tasting hosts. Perhaps that will change in the future, should they do another tasting. Then again, it's not always necessary to constantly chime in if the discussion is flowing nicely.

You can find each winery on social media here:
@Wente and on Facebook at:
@HahnWines and on Facebook at:
@FranciscanWines and on Facebook at:
@GarnetVineyards and on Facebook at:

and @WineTwits

Thanks for inviting me!

These wines were media samples.

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

J. Brix Vin Gris and Grilled Shrimp, A Sensory Feast

I want to share a wonderful wine Becky and I had recently, and show some support for two of San Diego's best winemakers, Emily and Jody Towe of J. Brix Wines.

Sunday night, Becky grilled some shrimp, green peppers, and stuffed portobello. The fresh shrimp rested in a garlic-lime marinade for a few hours before meeting our grill. The portobellos were stuffed with cheese, spinach, and onion. Our green bell pepper was left by its lonesome self, but that is just fine.

Our wine was the 2011 J. Brix "Uncontainable" Vin Gris of Grenache, an unfined, unfiltered, non cold-stabilized, purpose-picked ode to the versatility of grenache. Emily told me that they chose to use "vin gris" instead of "rosé" because vin gris implies a purpose-made rosé wine, instead of one made by bleeding off red wine or blending red and white wine together. Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard produces some of California's best grenache, and you may recall seeing the name on Angela Osborne's stunning "A Tribute to Grace" grenache bottlings.

The vin gris had some facets of a red wine, with the interplay of tannin and acidity, creating a beautiful complex texture. It also had the lightness, that lifting, crisp mouthfeel of a great white wine. Flavors of orange peel, raspberry, green herb, and wet rocks played around on my palate, while the marinade used on the shrimp allowed the fruit flavors to emerge right in the middle of my tongue. All of this finished in a tart, lively finish that resulted in a near-constant grin on my face.

Becky knows that when I chatter incessantly about a wine, I truly love it. I fell in love with the J. Brix rosé vin gris, the marriage of complexity and charm. Blind, I could see people picking this as one of the great rosé wines of France.

Whether you call it a vin gris or rosé, the Uncontainable is a special wine. It begs to be shared with family and friends, to be explored, pondered, and above all, enjoyed. 

There are a few cases left but I recommend tweeting at Emily or Jody, or visiting the J. Brix website to make sure you don't miss out. They can be found on the J. Brix Facebook page as well, for more up to date information and sneak peeks on their future projects.

Beau Carufel