Côte-Rôtie: How to find love on Valentines Day (2000 E. Guigal Chateau d’Ampuis)

Transitions have a way of focusing the attention on what’s important. Three weeks ago I gave notice at the University, and once again, will leave my home state of Minnesota for a job out East.  My thoughtful coworkers gave me a gift certificate to one of my favorite vineyards, Surdyks, and because I thought it was a milestone, I wanted to buy a memorable wine (Note: singular, not plural.  Sometimes, you just gotta).

The wine was a 2000 E. Guigal Chateau d’Ampuis Côte-Rôtie (cote ro TEE for those, like me, who don’t pronounce French).  I’ve had one or two other Côte-Rôties in my day (and I was going for a third, but the Bacchus Wine Cellar in Georgetown apparently didn’t want to help this chick in yoga gear on a Friday night get one off of the shelf–they were too busy helping the women in heels with the done-up faces pick out $12.99 Pinot Grigios, but I digress.)  Before that long aside, I was going to say that my experience has been limited with this wine due to lack of knowledge and price point.  Today, however, I was going to jump in and get my feet wet, albeit in the shallow end of the pool.

One more aside: the wine is some of the most prized Syrah’s in the wine world.  Translated into “roasted slope” the region is one of very steep, south facing slopes with an ideal exposure to sun. DSC_0513

Back to the wine.  I decanted to the wine to bring some air into this, 13% abv and some 15 years worth of, bottled wine.  A few swirls and air sucking sips later, I was in deep like of this wine and the region.  Deep notes of dark cherry and blackberry fruit, the sweetness took a back seat to more savory and smoky notes of bacon and hickory wood lightly peppered with faint licorice and punctuated with wisps of vanilla.  The tannins were a great support in the third row of this wine, as well; tt wasn’t overpowering but was significantly better with the smoked porked served with dinner. It was a heavyweight fighter masquerading as a gentleman in an elegant tux.

The wine was listed at $170, but I snagged for $111.  The brilliance seemed to have been slightly muted, but it was only just on this side of a gentle downward trend. Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls strikes a note for comparison: “There is nothing else than now. There is neither yesterday, certainly, nor is there any tomorrow.”   Sometimes you just need a quiet day, light snow and relaxing night sheltered from the winter cold and be around family and friends to find love and live life–a day on the calendar does not love make (said as this was drunk on Valentine’s Day).

The same with wine: find what you like and celebrate it, even apart fro4of5m the celebrity status of certain wines, vineyards and years.  Thanks, dear friends, for the push and gift that enabled this great memory.



Another Santa Barbara wine find: Foggy Veil 2012, Syrah/Grenache blend

Yesterday, I wrote about one of my favorite Santa Barbara wines, Tercero Wines, and today after rummaging the shelves at Trader Joe’s, I’m beginning to think the Santa Barbara wine country can do no wrong.

During my own time in Santa Barbara during the Wine Bloggers 2014 Conference, I found truth in claims made of the area by the Santa Barbara Vintners: “The unique, transverse nature of the valleys of Santa Barbara Wine Country provides a patchwork quilt of microclimates and terrains, resulting in one of the most diverse grapegrowing regions in the country.” After tasting the Pinot Noir, Shiraz/Syrah, Chardonnay and other wines of the area, I found that these microclimates and terrains helped shape soft, subtle, layered and tasty wines of one of my new favorite wine region in the U.S.DSC_0511

Because of my trip there last year, I put my faith in a wine found on the top shelf of Trader Joes–the Foggy Veil, 2012 Santa Barbara blend of 75% Syrah/25% Grenache. (The $13.99 price point made it easy to try it out, too).  The low price point, even when compared to Rhone blends from France, would normally make me shy away from an unknown wine.  But I thought the “fog” in the title, which I fondly remember seeing during my early morning runs at the bloggers’ conference, really would make this a drinkable find.  I was right.

The wine was full of dark cherry flavors and spicy oak reminiscent of cedar-lined dresser drawers that have been aired by time and memory. Underscoring these great flavors were slight notes of green herbs.  Even with a 14.2% alcohol content which I thought was going to dominate the taste, the tannins and alcohol were mellow and balanced, making for a smooth-drinking red wine you could drink any night on its own, or like we did, with a juicy steak and butter-laced mushrooms. Try it, drink it, enjoy it.







Miró: A Petite Syrah work a “look”

My parents are 7X years old (ages have been changed to protect the innocent), and while my father of the German farmer background will drink almost anything I pour into his glass, it takes something pretty special for my Italian mother to raise her eyebrows, purse her lips into thought and approval, and ask, “What is this?” as she goes for another sip.

An appropriately named wine, “Miro” for “look,” I think it might be shorthand for “Miro uno vez mas” for a zealous, “look again!” Or from a painting of Joan Miró–surrealistically portraying fruit in wine forDSC_0013m.

Miró’s 2012 Petite Syrah from Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County is a work of art, if you like that sort of thing. The fruit forward, jammy plum wine has depths of oak, vanilla and embodies warmth. The medium tannin wine is beautifully balanced, with luscious richness and a medium-long finish—its richness dances as if Venetian glass were being blown into existence in the glass.

Purchased at Cork Dork in South Minneapolis for something in the low $30s (it was their remaining stock) I highly recommend this bottle, and would need a serious alarm clock to help wake me. Luckily, I shared this bottle with my parents at the lake, and ended the bottle on a tranquil note.


Spandex Surprise: Finding Exceptional Champagne (and wines) by bike

In a few reviews out there on Claude Alexander wines (Fredericksburg, Texas), one of the first things you’ll read about it is the enticing sign posted in front of a trailer (not even a double wide), “Our tasting room may suck, but our wines don’t.”  I had to go in, if nothing else but to mock the audacity of bold Texans.


The sign didn’t lie.  Owner (from Montreal, not Hill Country, Tx) Claude poured the entire line up of wines himself, humoring my cycling entourage as we tasted French varietals in the shade. After a week of turbulent weather, bold bbq, and sharing the good ol’ Hotel 6 with three other people, the delicacy of a wide spectrum of delicate and complex wines was a treat.

Seamus Heaney wrote “The fact of the matter is that the most unexpected and miraculous thing in my life was the arrival in it of poetry itself.” I would slightly slow Heaney’s assertion and say the arrival of the unexpected is sometimes poetry itself. In life, in wine and in friends.  This wine was one of those times; as are dear friends.

One such friend–a co-worker in MN–was about to jet off to another life, and I brought the Alexander Valley Extra Brut Grand Cru Champagne by Robert Moncuit to a private dinner.


Delicate, complex and balanced, as is my friend, the wine paired well with a mix of gratitude, sadness, celebration and crisp Minnesota night.  The wine was dry, light fruit flavors of pear and green apple, but has the signature taste of lees–which translates to brioche in the most delicious ways.

You’re right, this wine is not from Texas (conjuring some Lyle Lovett), but it is from the Champagne region in France, having undergone a second fermentation in the bottle, and so it can sport the label of “Champagne”–(trust me, I asked a few times).


I would give up a morning workout for this wine–and another night with now relocated friends.  If you have the ability, try out this wine; order it (it’s a great deal in the $50s) from Claude Alexander wines, but better yet–roll up on a bike and try out the entire line of wines from the unassuming wine tasting room.


South, South, South of the Border-Lapostolle’s Cuveé Alexandre & Piattelli’s Malbec Premium Reserve

Thou art not conquer’d; beauty’s ensign yet/Is crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks.“-Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet.

When I think of capturing the significance of life in color, I think of Shakespeare and the color red. Here, Romeo sees Juliet and is captivated that in her death, life is still ever present through the notes of crimson accentuating her face and her beauty (note: she is not really dead here, but very much alive. It’s call irony, but I digress).

A great South American red wine (can) also exhibit the beauty of the deepness of life and the terroir from which its been born. I’ve heard that I would love all South American wines, but think the value of the wine has often overshadowed the quality.  Until I tried these two.

The Wines: Cuveé Alexandre’s 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon (Chile) and Piattelli’s Malbec Reserve 2011 (Argentina).

Cuveé Alexandre’s 2011 Cabernet SauvDSC_0024ignon is a deep red wine with legs that could be a Rockette.  This Cab Sauv is a blend dominated by Cab Sauv (88%)  but includes Cabernet Franc (7%) and Syrah (5%), giving it a more body, rich structure and potential to age for quite a few years.

Showing up on a Friday night at my parents means one thing: steak.  This wine marries with grilled meats beautifully.  On the nose and the palatte, it is red fruit (cherries, baked plum) forward, and is supported by coffee, tobacco, and oak notes that make for wine heaven. Even my mother, who sips conservatively and politely to support my wine “experiments” asked for another glass.  If I didn’t love my parents, I would have finished the bottle myself.

I found this wine at Haskell’s Maple Grove location, and retails for around $25.00.  Buy any you find on sale!

Piattelli’s –highly scored by Robert Parker–Malbec Premium Reserve was the underdog of my purchases, and I thought simply, “There’s no way I get 2-for-2 South American wines right.” I was wrong.


This wine was exquisite.  Bold and bursting at first sip with refined violet flavors, there was a shocking silky finishing, lingering in the mouth as if I passed crushed velvet over my tongue. Hints of chocolate, oak and tones of leather, the fruit of blackberries combined for an experience I want to experience again and again. The finish was long and elegant, and the tannins far more refined than I expected (Again, my mother went for glass #2!)

According to their website, the grapes for this wine were “handpicked and manually sorted” and aged in second-use French and American oak barrels.  This wine is the embodiment of love in the hands of the winemaker, and drank to me like a wine of $50.00–not the $15.99 I purchased this for at Surdyk’s in Minneapolis.

Quality definitely conquered the affordable price tag for me in these wines, and felt like I had found the real deal, not the windmills of South American wine I previously chased. These wines are alive with fruit, love and elegance–if you get the chance, buy a bottle for those you love (and an extra one for you to hoard away for yourself!)



Lambrusco, the other white grape: Le Grotte’s Dell’Emilia Bianco

DSC_0010“I’ll try anything once”–and–“I rarely read the fine print” are phrases I have used many times to describe my adventurous self.  Right before I get myself into trouble due to the aforementioned attributes.This includes camping, when I should have been hoteling, on a 1000 mile bike ride (the ground is not anyone’s friend); saying yes to the job in Minnesota before the coldest winter ever (more than two months of sub-zero temps); and driving 18 hours to said job the night before I started it after competing in my last Ironman race (there is not enough coffee in the world).

This wine, again, is one of those times. Sadly,  I have tried–and liked–it before.

The wine: Le Grotte’s Dell’Emilia Bianco Lambrusco (Dolce, 8%) purchased at Trader Joe’s for $4.99.

I had thought this wine a steal last year in DC during the final heat wave I seemingly would ever experience.  In 2013, it was light, refreshing, bubbly.


In 2014, it was green-grapey alcoholic, fizzy.  (But the temps started out at 57 degrees this August morning, so there is a slight defense in it’s favor).

Truth be told, I have had worse wines in dive bars, at parties and in my own house.  After a few more sips,  it became palatable, in the way that I start to crave banana-flavored Laffy Taffy when the sugar sets in.  My guess is the recommended pairing should be a nice, hot still summer evening devoid of other wine in the house.

Alfred Lloyd Tennyson sums up my experience with this wine: “‘Tis better to have love and lost than to never have loved at all.”  Arrivederci, sweet Lambrusco.  Arrevederci.

Summer Solstice, Fishing, and Rieslings to celebrate!

“I go fishing not to find myself but to lose myself.” –Joseph Monniger

Day one on the water in Lake of the Woods, Minnesota (see location under “isolated”) and it’s easy to realize that it’s hard to be stressed out with a fishing pole in the hand, a beautiful lake before you, and some sun setting in the distance.  My first trip to my parents’ cabin in over a decade, I wondered, “What took me so long to return?”



Backing up one week, I discovered that of all the wines I buy, my mother has taken to Riesling the most. In preparation, I went to Surdyks in NE Minneapolis because I knew they would have an adequate selection.  And since she would likely be cooking up the spoils of our fishing, I wanted to appease the cook.

The wines:

Willi Schaefer, 2012 Graacher Domprobst Riesling, Kabinett, Mosel (8.0%) (Retail: On sale, $15.99).  A traditional-style Riesling, this wine was a great “opener” for the first night of fishing that marked the Summer Solstice.  (No fish yet, but cheese complimented this selection). Fruit forward of tropical fruit of perhaps light mango and peach meets yellow apple, and pear.  True to style, there is an elegance of minerality and high acidity that keeps this wine from being sweet at 8% alcohol.  As the sun lasted well past 10:00 pm, this wine, too, was bright, light and silky fun.


Theo Minges Weingut’s, 2007 Der Froschkonig Spatlese, Pfalz (12.5%) (Retail: $29.99).  Named after a German tale, “The Frog King” (Think girl kisses frog he becomes a prince.  But this is the German version, so girl throws frog against a wall, and they live happily ever after), this wine is a tale of its own! The winemaker left this wine untouched for 18 months after harvesting.  The DSC_0104result: A delightful, elegant and surprisingly impactful dry Riesling that tasted of still, vintage champagne.  While no yeast touched the process, this wine opened with zesty, fruity and flowery notes of golden apple, gooseberry, and white flowers and opened into notes of yeast and minerality.  Like a fairy tale, the high acid and long finish was like a finely filtered ray of sunlight that one could hold in the palm, and palette, to remember the day in one’s senses.  Highly recommend.


Weingut and Weinstube Kruger-Rumpf, 2007 Binger Schorlachberg Riesling Spatlese (8.5%) (Retail: $34.99).  Karen MacNeil writes in the Wine Bible that the essence of German Rieslings is the essence of “transparency”–that there is a nakedness and a preciseness to these wines that defines their elegance.  I couldn’t agree more.  On a day were our limit was caught (a fun and whopping 20 walleye!), this honey-straw colored wine had no pretense to hide–it was the pinnacle of my Riesling experiment.  Ripe yellow apple, grapes, pear, melon notes met the deeper characteristics of brioche and yeast, wet mineral notes below.  It was smooth and silky, as a grown-ups cottoncandy held in the mouth before dissolution.  I could drink this every day to remind myself what the good things in life are. It was stunning.

Rieslings, like my belief that a 10 hour trip up North could be fun, are the come-from-behind contenders.  But the good ones, and there are many, are easy to find if you push past the shelves in your store that simply scream, “I’m cheap! I’m sweet!” If in doubt, look for the eagle on the bottle with the cluster of grapes in the center: This is the logo of the Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates which is awarded to the top 200 producers.