“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.

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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.

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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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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

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.

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No Leap of Faith Needed Here: Stag’s Leap Napa Valley

It is not unusual to see minus (insert number) temps in Minnesota during Christmas week. This is one of those weeks.

photo-97Nothing pairs better with snow, Christmas trees and steak dinners like a big, bold Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. (Wine is the new black–in this case, black wearable sleeping bag to warm the insides).  This week the wine was: Stag’s Leap Napa Valley 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Stag’s Leap is one of my favorites–maybe because the first time I had it (Artemis) I was on a beautiful veranda eating a great steak dinner with my friend Melissa as we prepared ourselves for a duathlon in the beautiful backyard of Ashburn, NC.  The sun was setting, we had the glow of tanned fitness on our faces, and the air was silent.  Sometimes, wine is the punctuation that helps us remember those important, quiet times.  In this case, Stag’s Leap is a comma, a breath and pause when you want it to go on.

This wine, Stag’s Leap Napa Valley, is another marker in a line of great wines.  Notes of blackberry, baked black cherry with a drizzle of chocolate on top, slight pepper and smokey hints, it is a big wine that likes to be paired with food.  (I loved looking at the leg’s on the glass, thinking this one could debut at Radio City). With 13.9% alcohol and a 2010 vintage, there was also a slight bit of herbaceous undertones–it is a younger wine that might need some air before serving, or perhaps a decanter,  as it tipped toward tannin and alcohol right out of the bottle. (My guess is that I would have loved, loved, loved this if consumed on night #2 as it started to open up with time and a bit of warmth.) That said, it was great when it started to open up-and showed a window on it’s potential.  It’s a drink now, or even perhaps, wait a bit wine.

If you ever see a bottle on sale, as I did with this one (retail $49.99, sale at $35), grab one–just to try your own take at creating a new memory.

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Blanket in a bottle: Laetitia Estate Pinot Noir

This summer I was driving from San Diego to Las Vegas, when after a two week stint in the capital of US wines I realized: I hadn’t gone to a single vineyard.

The realization hit me in San Lois Obispo County–it was hot and it was a desert.  I thought, as I frantically looked up vineyard names I didn’t recognize, it might be okay this time to ‘not seize the day’ and pass on something you might not want to discover.  The heat was cloying, and a coke sounded better in the arid air.

Fast forward to this week when the first snow in Minnesota hit, and a white blanket–and darkness from daylight savings time–dampened our spirits.  In a word, this week was hard, and as I headed home to unwrap even more boxes from my endless move, I thought: I need wine.

The wine: Laetitia Estate Pinot Noir, Arroyo Grande Valley 2011 sung to me on the shelf of Whole Foods, North Loop, MSP.  Simple packaging, a sales price and a description that said, “Coastal Terrace 3 miles from the Pacific Ocean” I started to rethink my image of “dry and brown” from this summer’s jaunt.  That close to a coastal region, the cooling effects of the Pacific would have a cooling and softening effect.  It did.

The wine photo-95couldn’t have been better for what I wanted: a sigh of relief in a bottle–that was on sale for $15.99 (Kinda like Calgon, take me away, circa 1982 prices for wine).  The taste sung of deep red cherries, clove, light oak singed with smoke,  slight pepper, and herbaceous, earthy undertones.  It entices as you lift it up to your mouth to taste–great, leaning smells of fruit and libraries.

This was beautifully balanced, fruity, complex, delicate–and a blanket all in one.  You know the day–every pore is screaming, “stop–I can’t take another moment of being wrung out.”  This blanket is a nice blend of cashmere–it wafts softly around the stress, versus a Richard Simmons “let’s get moving!!” Cabernet Sauvignon from Cali.

This wine is worth it. Buy it for a friend, your next party, or a viewing of desert pictures online–it will be a good friend for the night, and after the day I’ve had, I might very well skip the workout in the morning. Ole, dude.

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