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.

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Practice makes perfect: Tercero-The Outlier, 2013 Gewürztraminer, Santa Barbara

On a Saturday morning during the 2013 Wine Blogger’s Conference in Santa Barbara, California, I vowed to go light on the next round of tastings.  I had had a lot of wine to taste (by normal tasting standards, it was only 11:30 am) and I wanted to enjoy lunch and have some easy-going conversations with people I had been ignoring due to the focus on wine.   Then I happened upon a Tercero wine table, and I was smitten.

Crisp, refreshing and what I think are a new twist on old takes (Syrahs, Roses, White Grenaches, oh my!) I couldn’t get these wines out of my head several months later before I joined the Tercero Wine Club.

My memory served meDSC_0501 well, especially with regard to The Outlier 2013 Gewurztraminer. I hadn’t kept this wine in a refrigerator, but it is Minnesota, so it was opened and served slightly chilled.

The body and taste is voluptuous but restrained, as if viewing a curvy woman in a tightly woven bodice; revealing and refrained and showing a few mysteries one drink at a time.

A just-opened bottle, the wine offers aromas of stone fruit–some would say peach or more like lychee to me, as if some herbaceous hints lay beneath the surface.  With another turn of the glass and served with panko-and-parmesan breaded walleye, this wine’s lemon and green grape notes and medium plus acid complemented dinner in a beautifully balanced way.   The taste lingered, but not the tartness that usually turns me off of cheaper whites.

At $25 a bottle, I would stock up on a few bottles of this wine that goes just as well with winter fare as it will summer delights.  If Malcolm Gladwell is correct, and outliers are defined by 10,000 or so hours of practice, I have to believe a lot of practice went into making this wine a perfect dining (and drinking) companion.

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Tough as…wine? Weingut Hexamer Sauvignon Blanc, 2009er

Some days are red wine tough–what is needed is the wine with legs, guts, strength, but purity of thought and purpose that can punctuate the close of day like a final sigh that matches pace with a lingering sunset, on that has been stalling until you finally have the chance to look outside. It was waiting for you.  But before you had the sunset, you had the kind of day where chaos ran the show, the bad guy wins, and you get a parking ticket on the remaining three minutes of regulated parking.

I find that wine helps in these situations.

Substitute “you” for “me” and that was my first-world-problems sort of day, but I still needed just one drink. Economically, however, it didn’t make sense to open a red, though, since my current stock seemed to run oDSC_0009n the higher end. I reached for the one remaining white in my fridge.

The wine: Weingut Hexamer Sauvignon Blanc, 2009er, Trocken,  Nahe.  When I purchased this $13 bottle from Surdyks in North Minneapolis, I thought the label was wrong–I’ve never heard of Sauvignon Blanc from Germany. Riesling, yes. This? No. I was really glad I picked it up and opened it on this day.

This wine was sturdy and delicate in balance and body.  It didn’t have the clasic grassy or grapefruit flavors of other traditional Sauvignon Blancs, but I felt that the austere Pinot Grigio might be its distant cousin.  Credit goes to the steep and carefully cultivated Nahe region. Notes of citrus, stone fruit and rich minerality, the wine had a mellow but solid finish and medium acid. Taking away some of the high pitch notes that other Sauvignon Blanc’s exhibit when too much of the world has been added to the palette, this wine paired nicely with my stress level, post kettlebell workout and steak (yes, a white with steak!)

I got the workout in, but definitely would buy more of this wine to forge sunset salutations at the end of the day.

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Fishing for Riesling: Smith-Madrone 2008

Strangely I find that I love fishing.

A born-again city girl (I grew up on a cattle farm), it took me 10 years to go up to my parents’ lake cabin in the Lake of the Woods (since the drive is one that measures between 9 and 10 hours), and anytime I came back from DC, all I wanted to do was to relax away from the noise, traffic and ladder climbers.

Having gone up twice in one summer, I recognize I was missing out. Serene, beautiful and pristine, it’s exactly where one should go to escape. And with any good escape, one should bring wine. In the past I brought wine in case it had to substitute for the lack of fish; here, one brings wine to accentuate the beauty, enjoy silence around conversation and punctuate the fish. (Catching fish is always a given here).DSC_0078

Smith Madrone Riesling, Napa Valley 2008 (12.5%) was the wine for freshly caught, paprika-seasoned walleye, broccoli and kale salad.

The flavors of Smith Madrone Riesling included apple, stone fruit and melon. It was a dry, medium acid wine with a good amount of minerality that helped tame the could-be harsh smells and tastes of fish and vegetables. It was nice—like a nap on Sunday one takes inadvertently watching a round of golf on T.V., but it was short lived. I liked it, but could take a pass if a Riesling with a German background came along.DSC_0080

Purchased at Cork Dork for just under $20, I would say buy it if in doubt, but I’m not going to lose sleep over it, unless it’s a few minutes for a nap.3of5

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.

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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!)

 

 

Tiny Bubbles for Big People of the Midwest: Botter’s Prosecco

Some days call for a celebration, even in a stunted, inexpensive way.  August 30th of this year was one of them.

I had a bottle of Prosecco, given to me by a former colleague in DC.  It was the last day of my 10-year stint in DC, and he handed me a bottle of Botter Prosecco. Tim, a foodie and wine-lover’s advice to me was simple, “Don’t mix this with OJ.” So, a year later, this non-lover of sparkling opened the bottle (that to me, signaled endings–and beginnings) on a waning Summer day in Minnesota.  It fit.

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The Wine: Hailing from NE Italy and the Veneto region, Botter’s Prosecco was a nice, simple surprise. Made from what I understand is the grape behind Prosecco’s name, Glera, it is a neutral, medium plus acid, lightly-bubbled sparkling wine. Wine-makers use a technique that brings the wine through a second fermentation in a tank, a very different method than that which makes Champagne Champagne (among other reasons, of course!)

The fruit of green apple and honey is subtle.  The fun part of the bottle is that it is corked like a still-wine, each cork hand-wrapped by string, bringing to mind the sealed letters of historic European royalty. Retailing around $13 (listed at Total Wine should you be near one), there is nothing surprising about the wine.  It was a pleasant drink on the same occasion as it was given-the end of the summer, and the beginning of new adventures.   For the price and the enjoyment, I would definitely pick up a bottle if I were you and it was on the shelf in front of me. Salute!

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The Gold Standard-Meursault, Les Vireuils, 2004

Like a symphony orchestra that gave me the chills with notes of lingering melancholia; or a poem I strain my ears to hear so that I might remember the words as I do old friends; or a sunset I dared not blink through in case I missed the next hue that would top what came before,  this Meursault (White Burgandy, Chardonnay) rivaled all great moments that have caused me to painfully concentrate on its moments of joy.

I know–that’s a lot of expectation to bestow upon a wine, but like all great and welcome surprises, I wasn’t prepared to be enamored.

The setting: I could wane about a terrible trip I had had leading up to this wine, but I prefer to recall the spectacular August night of Minnesota, with a well-cooked filet mignon and quiet company, this wine was a great point of punctuation to what rivals perfection.

The wine:  Meursault, Les Vireuils, 2004-Nicolas Patel hails from Nuit-Sant-Georges, the northern part of the Cote d’Or (“slope of gold”) in France’s Burgandy region, and as I already set the expectation earlier in this post, it was the perfect wine for the perfect night.

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Served chilled, but not overly cold, the wine was full-bodied, rich in texture and taste.  The wine was at first subdued butter, but surrendered to mineral tones that lingered on the pallet, and marked a delicate balance with it’s citrus and almond notes that came through the medium plus acidity.  While I could have had the wine on it’s own, it held its own in body against filet mignon (cooked in butter) and its acid and fruit flavors played well off of the steamed and season cabbage, of all things!

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The wine was a suspended note of gold wrapping that made me want to linger in the moment longer that what was possible.  Yet, as Robert Frost wrote of gold, it is the hardest hue to hold and ultimately, cannot stay.  But, the good news is the wine is still on the shelf, and will hopefully bring future good memories to bear.

The good (or bad?) bottom line: You can find this in Minnesota.  I found mine at Haskell’s, Maple Grove (Retail: $30-50, depending on sale).

4of5