“Taken”: an island drinking wine experience

Islands in northern Minnesota are great places to visit and are a complicated way to get to a simple life.

When stopping in Roseau, MN, I thought, “Why not” when looking at the most expensive wine in the liquor store.  At $38 a bottle, I knew the Trefethen and Phelps’s names would lend a certain something to this remote location and liquor store selection.  I expected something interesting to the wine, and a 90 pts rating by The Wine Enthusiast meant maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.

The setting. Of course, Lake of the Woods is a wide open, magnificent place for its vastness and ruggedness.  On the colder and windy days, it calls for a big, robust red to match the temperament of the North.



The Wine. Taken is a collaboration between two great names in wine.  I won’t bury the lede–sadly, I was underwhelmed upon opening.

With 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot from 2013, it is a big wine.  And it is young.  It’s like putting Paul Bunyon on a small puppy instead of Babe the Blue Ox.  I decanted the wine in the style that is reminiscent of “old school” (as pictured with the canning jar), but the green pepper and strong  but austere blackberry fruit stripped the wine of any elegant nuances for me that make this style so fun to drink.  It was fine for the food-it holds up to steak; however, it is not a sipper or even a relaxing wine.

I know this opinion is not going to be popular–it was like bringing an ax to a birthday cake lighting–but I, for one, wish I had taken a different wine off the shelf.  Leave it there–at least for a few years still.



What I won’t be drinking again-Syrah & Riesling non-picks

I like wine, and a lot of my posts are positively slanted toward my reviews. However, there comes a time when I drink something–often that has had a rave review–that I tend not to like.   This is one of those times.  And rather than label this as a “What not to drink” post, I admit, it might just be me.

On the heels of drinking a very good Côte-Rôtie, I opened a Zaca Mesa 2008 Syrah from Santa Ynez Valley (14.5%).  I also recently described my love of the Santa Barbara region, and so I thought, this might be a no brainer pick.  It wasn’t.

The $21.99 wine drank like a cherry cough syrup that had been soaking in fake oak.  The pepper–doused with a heavy hand–finished each drink.  Had I been hunting with the flu (eating beef jerky and downing it with said cough syrup) this would have been the same experience as drinking the wine.

The other dislike of the day, and I admit it pains me more than the Syrah, is the 2010 Brooks’ Riesling from Willamette Valley ($17.99). This is the wine that brought me into to the store to buy Brooks wine in the first place, and while I loved, loved, loved the elegant Pinot Noir sampled a few days ago, this one just didn’t do it for me.  At 11.5% abv, I was looking for a dry, refined Riesling in a style I love of its German counterparts.  But the highly acidic (which is good) prevalently sweet green apple taste of a Jolly Rancher candy bite (which is not good in my opinion–but don’t get me wrong; it is a dry wine), make me rethink Riesling from places other than Germany and Austria (I do have an upstate New York Riesling on my shelf that I’m keeping my eye on, however, so stay tuned).

Try if you like, but on my shelf these wines nevermore will go.

(But please take the poll below to help me give these wines a second chance).

1 out of 5



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.







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!)



My story of Burgandy: Savigny-Les-Beaune

Like every person, every wine has a story.  Some are great epics, others merely small vignettes, or even, dare I say, a blog, a mention, or a passing thought.   What is inherent at the heart of any good tale is the character of our hero and the reason for his/her/its existence.

These days I find myself more and more intrigued by the story told by a Pinot Noir, and as of late and more specifically, by a Burgandy.   Like an episode of “The Game of Thrones,” there is a turbulent story of power and intrigue behind the French region and the history of its wine.   What remains after years of seclusion and then slicing and dicing of vineyards, the exiling of other grapes by fierce rulers, and disease and blight is a wine that is nuanced, perhaps a bit temperamental, and one that exhibits a story many will pay big money for if told correctly.

In the Oxford Companion to Wine, Janis Robinson writes, “If Cabernet produces wines that appeal to the head, Pinot’s charms are decidedly more sensual and transparent.”

Enter, the winephoto-100 of the day: Bourchard Pere & Fils’ 2010 Premier Cru Savigny-Les-Beaune from Les Lavieres. That’s a mouthful even I don’t understand on the surface. (It being French and all).

Below the surface and the cork is also a wine of mystery, but one quick to unfold and very expressive.  At first pass (it was a long day—I skipped the nose and went for the throat), the wine exhibited notes of baked tart cherry (almost with a currant flavor behind it), oak and spice.  Diving in a little deeper and letting it open up, I also found flavors of raspberry, leather (a light leather coat that has seen some air, versus a heavy sofa kept inside), white pepper, and savory notes of smoked meat.  It had a beautiful, complex flavor, bright fruity notes, medium acid and a long, lovely finish.

This wine was, as Robinson points to, very sensual. To me, it would be a crushed red-velvet dress or smoking jacket one finds in a thrift store—a treasure that is comforting, extravagant but a bit dusty at the same time. You buy it because there will be a night perfect for it’s subtle drama.

I was sold. I bought a bottle.   And I probably will buy more, even if it’s to drink alone during a cold, stormy Minnesota winter’s night.  At $49.99 it is not a cheap wine to drink on a daily basis, but it will be a night worthy of whatever story you choose to tell, be it sonnet, saga or a little salacious narrative.  Sante!


The Pope is always in style: Chateau Cabrieres, Chateauneuf du Pape 2010

While anything surrounding the Church and the Pope can always be considered controversial, I have found that the wine from the Rhone Valley in France, particularly the Chateauneuf du Pape, often finds common ground in those who love wine. And even with those who don’t know they love it.  (I also really enjoy a Cote du Rhone wine, but that is for another post).

“The Pope’s New Castle” wine was named for Pope Clement V, former Archbishop of Bordeaux who relocated the papacy to the cit of Avignon in 1308, and his successor John XXII, who later erected said castle in this region of France where both these religious leaders found God-like qualities in the local wines. (Okay, I’ve taken a writer’s license to embellish here a bit. But not much–the wine IS good). Chateauneuf’s can be a blend of 13 different Rhone varieties, but they are comprised primarily of Grenache, Syrah and include Cinsault and Mourvedre among others.

Just like all popes are not created equal in the eyes of the masses, neither are all Chaeauneuf du Papes, but the one in question for today, Chateau Cabrieres 2010 could make a choir of angels sing its praise.  And of course, I’m angelic, if nothing else.

The wine: photo-99In a word-divine. The wine is a great balance of fruit and complexity with notes of deep cherry and rasberries, softened by flavors of vanilla and deepened by soft, spicy notes of white pepper.  The wine is both elegant and rich at the same time with a nice, long finish, and it is very drinkable on its own or with rich foods, such as turkey, roasted vegetables, and stuffing. (What? I was eating light for the Holidays).

If you’ve ever entered a large cathedral, it can be daunting to take in all the pomp, circumstance, and pagentry of the Catholic tradition–drinking a glass of this is like finding a seat in a small, aloof alcove underneath a stained glass window where the light shines down directly in front of you. It is quiet here, but charged with a serene energy. This wine feels like this for me.

I was eager to try this one out, but in hindsight after the second glass, believed this wine would have been even better by opening the bottle sooner and letting it “breathe” or by decanting it.  A 2010 wine, this is still a young wine with a good amount of tannin in it, so you can drink it now or save it a bit to enjoy in a year or two.  Be good and give as a gift, or selfish and enjoy the whole bottle yourself.  Definitely a wine for the time and ages. And angels.4of5