Thursday, September 11, 2014

Winey Tasting Notes: It's North Carolina Wine Month

Why am I telling you about wine from North Carolina? I mean, I could talk about wine from anywhere in the world, right? Well, I have good reason for my interest in this lovely southern state. You see, three weeks ago, my Winey nest emptied out as the Winey Daughter headed south to start college. Yup, you guessed it. Her school of choice is in North Carolina. So now I have a vested interest (not to mention a sizeable financial deposit) there. For the record, she chose an amazing school (Elon University – Go Phoenix!) that has everything she wanted. But I truly believe that the fact that North Carolina is below the Mason-Dixon line and thus somewhat immune to the brutal
Elon University campus
The new home of the Winey Daughter.
Photo by Winey Mom, who, for the record
was NOT crying when it was taken.
Ohio winters like the one we just survived was also a factor in her decision. She outright rejected the idea of even applying to The Winey Hubby’s and my alma mater because it is in – brrrrrr – Chicago. We are coping.

And thus we come to wine, because the state of North Carolina has over 100 vineyards and wineries.  Yup, that many. The vineyards plant many of the well known varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot), but they also plant a muscadine grape called Scuppernong. This is important because Scuppernong was the very first grape grown here in the US and is the official fruit of North Carolina. 1 You gotta love a state who has a wine grape as its official fruit, don’t you? And according to said state, September is North Carolina Wine Month. How timely!

So in honor of the Winey Daughter’s new adventure, I went in search of some North Carolina wine before we left to drive home. Unfortunately, it was Sunday and you can’t buy wine until noon in North Carolina on Sunday. By noon, we were in Virginia. Luckily, you can find North Carolina wines all over, so I went shopping when we got back home. And since I thought the word Scuppernong was so fun to pronounce, I went looking for that. The one I chose comes from Duplin Winery (NV, 12%, North Carolina). Duplin is the largest and oldest winery in the state, and is also the world's largest producer of Muscadine wine.

This is such a fragrant wine! Like breathing pure apple blossoms. The first taste when you sip it is white grapes and honey and some sweet apple. There is something like a line of minerality running through the wine, which ends in a bit of green apple. This is a sweet wine, but it doesn’t feel overly thick and syrupy, like some sweet wines do.  This is a good thing, as far as I’m concerned.

Duplin suggests that you serve this wine very cold, but with all of its apple and honey flavors going on, I’m going to go out on a grapevine here (instead of a limb, this is wine blog after all) and suggest that this would be a great wine to warm up and use in mulled wine, too.  

Drink this wine if you like sweet wine, because this is a truly sweet, fruity wine. It’s widely available at grocery and wine stores for about $9 a bottle. Chill it for now, warm it for later and enjoy!


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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Winey Tasting Notes: The Naughty Wine Name Series: Ménage à Trois Midnight

Bottle of Menage A Trois Midnight red blendI will admit to enjoying my wine with a side of giggles. Any wine that can make me smile after I read the label is very likely to end up in my cart, especially if it's a little bit naughty in nature. I always smile when I spy a wine by Menage a Trois, mostly because I remember my shock at first seeing the label (see The Naughty Wine Name Series: Ménage à Trois Red Blend) and then realizing that the menage referred to the three wines used, not some, uh, well, other menage.  I also like to see the look on people's faces when I tell them how much I love Ménage à Trois. (!) Their red blend is one of my all time favorites.

Now the Ménage à Trois label has introduced a limited release red blend called Midnight (2012, 13.5%, CA). They're calling it the dark side of Ménage à Trois. Technically, it's actually a Ménage à Quatre, since there are four wines used to make it (Merlot, Petite Sirah, Petite Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon).  But Ménage à Quatre really doesn't exactly have the same ring to it as Ménage à Trois does, so I will not quibble with them on this fact.

What I will do is tell you right now to go out and buy this wine. Once again, a red blend has made it into my "dangerously good" category. And by dangerously good, I mean that you just can't resist it. One glass is not enough.

The nose on Midnight is full of ripe cherries and cocoa powder and dark red berries. You will taste cocoa, cherry and a bit of sweet blackberry. It finishes to smooth, faint oak tannins with a cherry bite to them. This wine is velvety and rich in your mouth and is amazingly layered with flavor. You get the fruit but not at the expense of the gorgeous oak and cocoa. Proof once again that Ménage à Trois is doing some wonderful things with red blends.

The taste will make you think of deep red velvet, cold nights with flickering candles and a roaring fire in the fireplace. However, I did just fine tasting this in August, so please don't think this is solely a winter sipper. I am a bit concerned about this whole limited release thing though. It sort of feels like the clock will strike midnight and poof!! all will be gone. Kind of like Cinderella and her shoe. But losing a bottle of such good wine is so much worse than losing a glass shoe on the steps. Unless of course, a handsome sommelier shows up at my door with said bottle. I digress here...

If you love your red wines balanced, silky and full of flavor you will want to try this. This is a go to wine for sipping alone or with beef or lamb. It is widely available and will cost $10-$12. I'd stock up on it now, when it's available. It would be a big hit at the holidays!


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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Winey Tasting Notes: A New Take On Port

The first few things that come to my Winey mind when I hear the word "port" (in the wine sense of the word, not the nautical sense) are: English manors, dark wood libraries and men in velvet coats sipping port. Unfortunately, these men are not the Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice type guys. (A MAJOR tragedy as far as I'm concerned.) They're a bit more portly - pun intended. And they have those really weird mustaches. And they are smoking cigars. So not Colin.

bottle of Otima 10 Year Tawny PortI have had Port wine in the past with no great reaction. I mean, it's okay if you're freezing cold and it's snowing outside and there is a blazing fire in the fireplace and you've already had dinner. But, like many other food and wine, Port is an acquired taste. A bit thick and sweet but also so very warming as it goes down.

Then along comes a Port wine that tries to redefine its taste. That is what the British company Warre's has done with its Otima 10 Year Tawny Port (bottled in 2013, 20%, Portugal). Warre's has made this Port a little lighter and not so in-your-face than regular Port wine in an effort to get rid of its stodgy reputation. (I love that word, stodgy, don't you?)

It just so happens that the Winey Son is a fan of Port wine, and it just so happened that he was recently home on leave before reporting to his first round of training after graduation from West Point. So when we found ourselves camped out in front of the TV for the 9 innings of a Cleveland Indians baseball game, we decided it was time to break out the Port.

Otima tells you that you can serve this chilled or at room temp. We tried chilled first.  The wine is a pretty amber color with a nose of dark toasted oak. It tastes of dark honey, oak and has some sweet orange overtones. It ends with a warmth in your throat and a yummy nutty flavor. The Winey Son liked it right away but it took me a little longer. That's because when the Port got to room temperature, we tried it again, and this time I liked it much better. The orange was more pronounced, and the oak was tempered to more of a lightly toasted wood. You can add a lemon or an orange slice to it, and I'd go with the orange slice. The citrus cuts through the typical Port thickness and is so good!!

This is a fun one to experiment with. Let's face it, most of us probably don't drink Port on a regular basis, so it's going to be something different right off the bat. The Otima website has an intriguing recipe for the Otima Perfect Serve, which involves fresh grapefruit and raspberries and sounds like a winner to me. Serve it with dessert. It would be amazing with berry pie.  Whatever you decide, it'll be a new take on an old sip!


I was given this wine for review purposes. The opinions, however, are all my own. 
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Friday, August 8, 2014

Winey Tasting Notes: The Wines of Cinque Terra, Italy

Oh to spend a day on the Italian Riviera, wandering through the streets of some of the most enchanting little towns you've ever seen, boating between the towns themselves, paddle boarding on the Mediterranean Sea. What could be better? Well, maybe if there was wine. And there was!!!

Cinque Terre terraced hills
The terraced hills of Cinque Terre
main street, Manarola, Cinqe Terre, Italy
Main street, Manarola
The Winey Family visited Cinque Terra (five lands) after spending a few days in Florence. These tiny towns line the coast of the
Mediterranean Sea on the Italian Riviera. For the record, the towns are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. To preserve their beauty, Italy has made the area a  National Park and it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
gorgeous flowers, Monterosso, Cinque Terre, Italy
Are these gorgeous???
Monterosso beach, Cinque Terre, Italy
The beach in Monterosso

We visited on a cloudless, hot day - just the kind of weather you want as you hit the Riviera. We took a bus to the city of Spezia and then a train to the seaside town of Manarola. The first thing you notice in Cinque Terre is that the air has its own special scent: basil, thyme and sea air. As you travel to the area, you can see why. The towns are all built on the hills overlooking the sea and the hillsides themselves are terraced with grape vines, olive trees, herb gardens and flower beds. We took another train to Vernazza and then boarded a boat to Monterosso, the resort town of the Cinque Terre. By this time it was very hot and we were hungry, so we found an outdoor cafe with a gorgeous view of the beach and a big umbrella and settled in.

bottles of Cinque Terre wine
Our lunch table!
This was the perfect time to try out the wine of Cinque Terre. Basically, there are two kinds: Cinque Terre is typically a dry, crisp white and Sciacchetra is the very famous sweet wine from the region. Both wines are made from a combination of the Bosco, Albarola and Vermentino grapes. The Sciacchetra is made from grapes that have pretty much been left to become raisins, hence the high sugar content (think Ice Wine).

It was so hot that we went for the Cinque Terre, but got two small bottles, each from a different winery. (There was also some limoncello involved, because it's so darn good.)
Lunch was followed by a swim in the Mediterranean  and our first attempts at paddle boarding. Let me say that paddle boarding looks a lot easier than it is. Thankfully, the water was very warm (and very salty, which I discovered numerous times while squealing as I fell off the board).
Cinque Terre wine bottles
So of course I bought some of this wine home with us. I chose four bottles of Cinque Terre from different wineries.

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, Italy
The Winey Family in Riomaggiore
Each one was crisp and juicy and alive with tart and sour flavors. Cheo winery's (12.5%, 2013) had some white grapefruit taste to it with a bit of grass on the top of it all. Sassarini's (13%, 2013) was full of minerals and  dissolved in my mouth the same was a very dry sparkling wine does. Cantina Cinque Terre  (12.5%, 2013) had the same minerality as Sassarini, but with some lime and green pepper in it as well. The local co-op's had a hint of ginger to it. (If you need a comparison for Cinque Terre, think of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. )

This wine is the perfect summer sipper, which is how I will always remember Cinque Terre: pastel buildings climbing the hills, burning sand, bright sunshine, scents of herbs and sea water and flowers everywhere. Add to that the warm, salty water and the sound of waves crashing on the shore and you have a beautiful memory.

These aren't the easiest wines to find here in the US. You may be able to order the Cinque Terre on line, but the Sciacchetra is very elusive. So consider yourself forewarned: if you ever get to Cinque Terre, bring some bubble wrap and save some room in your suitcase. Or go for it and ship some home to yourself. (Pricey option, though!)


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Friday, August 1, 2014

Winey Tasting Notes: Pinot Grigio in Target

Hee hee hee. I'll bet you all took one look at that title and thought, "She went to Target while she was in Rome? Seriously?"

Winey Family in front of St. Peter's Basilica
The Winey Family at St. Peter's
Allow me to let you in on our little family joke. While we were in Rome this past month, we stayed at a great hotel (Aberdeen Hotel if you are making plans) near the train station. And on the street just behind us, every time we left our hotel and headed out for the day, we saw a sign that said "Target". Well, of course, we began calling it "tar-jay", as I pretty much always do back home. And every time we walked out of our hotel, we joked about going to Target. (A bi-weekly occurrence for me these days, as I get ready to send the Winey Daughter off to college.)

bottle of Livon Pinot GrigioOn day 4 of our wonderful vacation, we spent the entire, and I mean entire day in Vatican City. (And we still never saw it all.) The Vatican Museums, the Raphael rooms, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's, climbing to the Dome (narrowest staircase ever). At one point, I was fairly sure my feet had fallen off, since I couldn't feel them. I say fairly sure because I was too tired to expend the energy to bend my head and actually look down at them, but I'm sure they were gone. It was an awe-inspiring day and we gladly decided to take the subway back to the hotel (usually we walk as much as we can in cities because you see so much more when you are walking through the neighborhoods). As we crawled off the subway, happy, but hungry, we decided that it was the perfect night to check out Ristorante Target (which was its actual name, we discovered). To add to the fun, we found it listed in our Rick Steves' Italy guide, where he told us that it was highly recommended by all the hotels in that area. And it was right around the corner from our beds.

interior shot of Ristorante Target in Rome, Italy
Ristorante Target - I loved the white
baby grand piano in the corner! Our table
is the one you see front right.
So, in we trooped. We usually ate outside in Italy, but that night, we needed a little air conditioning and quiet. After the heat and dust of the day, some Pinot Grigio sounded like heaven in a glass to me, so I chose Livon Pinot Grigio (2013, 12.5%, Italy).  The winery is located in the very northwest area of Italy, close to Austria and Slovenia and is called the Collio region. As white wines go, Italians love their Pinot Grigios and after sipping this one, I could see why. The wine itself was a very pretty golden straw color and had a faint nose of kiwi and minerals. It totally drew me in at first sniff!  The first taste was of minerals and then some fleeting flowers. It ended on a tart citrus flavor. Of course, I was taking notes as I sipped, and I now quote directly from said notes: "Wow! Loved this right away." And so did the Winey Son, who had to have some since I liked it so much.
They were good sports at the restaurant and gave us the (empty) bottle to take home (it was one of the smaller bottles...375 ml, so it was easy to slip inside a pair of socks for safe suitcase travel).

You should be able to find Livon out and about on your wine search. If you like a refreshing, tart but not lip puckering wine, you'll like this just fine. Pair it with chicken, seafood pasta or with a day of sightseeing in the world's smallest country, Vatican City.


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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Winey Tasting Notes: Spritzing Like They Do In Italy!

The Winey Mom sipping a Spritz in Rome
One of my Spritz breaks. I saw them served
mostly in this oversized red wine type glass.
Another post about sipping like an Italian, or as I call it, "What I Did On Vacation." This time, I'm going to tell you how to make a Spritz. If you want to sip like they do in Italy, you've got to know about this drink. I was alerted to its existence by a Winey Friend who was in Italy just before we were, so I was prepared to look for it. But as I soon found, you don't need to look far. It's on nearly every menu there, but in different areas of the menu. For instance, one restaurant could have it listed under the aperitif (before the meal) section. Another could have it listed under cocktails. And a few of them had it listed with the soft drinks. (Quick soft drink aside here: if you order coke, ask for "American champagne". It'll get a laugh out of your server and show them that yes, you know that you are American, that you have a sense of humor and that you still want it anyway. Personal experience here.)

Spritz originated in Venice, but you can find it anywhere you go in Italy. Don't confuse it with a wine spritzer, which is wine mixed with seltzer (and considered by some to be a waste of wine - why DILUTE it, for heaven's sake?). The Winey Son and I enjoyed many of them (ahem) on the very hot June and July days and nights we spent in Italy.

Italian menu listing for Spritz
 Spritz listing on a menu - grouped
this time with cocktails. 
bottle of Aperol
The Winey Mom's brand
new bottle of Aperol. 
The basic ingredients for a Spritz are Prosecco (Italian white sparkling wine), Aperol (an Italian aperitif, a liqueur with a bitter orange taste) and seltzer water. Whenever we had it, it was garnished with orange slices. Typically, you'd use a dry Prosecco, as opposed to the sweet variety (but it might be fun to experiment sometime!). There are other liqueurs you can use to make a Spritz (Campari, for one), but the ones we had were all made with the bright red Aperol. So as soon as we hit the USA, I headed out for a bottle of Aperol (don't buy it in Italy, it'll just make your suitcase heavier and it's easy to find here) and some Prosecco (whatever brand you like - but since I was mixing it to make a Spritz, I kept my price point to under $15, which is easy to do). I usually have some club soda hanging around, so I used that.

Now, as for the actual "recipe" for the drink. Let me put it this way, if you ask 20 different people how to make chili, you will get the same basic dish, made with varying amounts of spices, meats, beans and veggies. So it is with a Spritz. You have three ingredients and can mix them up in a ton of different ratios (but don't take my word for it, go ahead and google "Italian Spritz recipe" and see for yourself). One page will tell you to add all three in equal amounts (i.e.: one part Prosecco, one part Aperol, one part soda). The back of the Aperol bottle suggests 3:2:1. (I've also seen 2:1.5:1, but who has time for all that math?) I started out with 3:2:1, since it was the one I saw the most. If you are totally against a bitter taste, go less on the Aperol, but the bitter taste was really what gave the Spritz its zesty kick. You could also add some more orange slices, but I suggest saving them to the end of your drink and then eating them - yummy!!

What you will taste in a Spritz is a bubbly, sour fruit drink.  It is a very refreshing drink. (The smaller Prosecco bubbles meet with the big old club soda bubbles and really go to town!) It is very easy to drink, especially if you are thirsty, so consider yourself warned.

And now I have some Winey homework for you all: Make a Spritz. Tell me what kind of Prosecco you used, what ratio you decided on, and what you thought about it. We can compare notes and survive summer's hot weather all at the same time.

And in the meantime.... Cin cin (translation: cheers)!!!!

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Winey Tasting Notes: When In Rome....Drink Frascati

We did it! The Winey Family is just back from a long awaited trip to Italy, a country we have been saving and scheming to visit for about 2 years. To misquote Julius Caesar: "Venimus, vidimus, omens nos" (translation: We came, we saw, we did it all!) From the sightseeing to the eating  and shopping and of course, the wine, it was the trip of a lifetime. Over the next few posts, I'm going to tell you a little about the Italian wines I sipped, and I'm going to start out with a wine that will come up every time you hear the phrase "Italian wine": Frascati.

I cannot lay claim to knowing
families eating dinner in Rome
A splendida serata (wonderful evening) in Roma!
about Frascati before heading over to Italy and our first stop, Rome. It just so happened that in the way of all great minds, one of our best buddies from college (we are all proud Northwestern University alumni) was also visiting Italy with his family this summer, and we discovered that we'd have a night in the eternal city together. Plans were made to get together for dinner, and it was there that The Winey Friend and his wife told us they'd tried Frascati the night before and loved it.

I picked up some info on Frascati after our dinner from a cookbook I had bought in Rome*. It's a varietal from the Castelli Romani hill town of - what else - Frascati. It's one of the oldest Italian wines - Pope Paul the Third was a big fan, and he was Pope in the 1500's!! It is usually a drier wine (there is a sweet version, but it's rare) and is usually a sparkling wine.

wine cork from a bottle of Frascati Superiore
I didn't lug the bottle all over Italy,
but I did save the cork!
The Frascati we drank that night was Casale Marchese Frascati Superiore DOCG (2013, 13.5%, Italy).  It was the sparkling kind, and started out with a nose of fresh air. No flowers, no smoke, not anything but a whiff of fresh air. The tiny bubbles were very lively in the mouth and the flavors were layers of minerals, followed by faint lemon and a hint of flowers. It finished on a bit of sour citrus (Meyer lemons).  Our friend said it best when she remarked, "It's light but it's full of flavor." I think the bubbles had something to do with it. They just took all the minerality and citrus and exploded them in my mouth. It was wonderful paired with my white fish dinner, but would be terrific with shellfish, chicken, pizza, prosciutto or just about any food you can think of that you'd eat al fresco on a gorgeous June evening while you are in Rome.

Maybe you are thinking that my glowing review of this wine is a bit prejudiced by the fact that while sipping it, I laughed and reminisced and talked and ate and laughed some more. But given the fact that I'll soon be on a hunt to find some Frascati here in Ohio, I'd have to say that I liked the wine as much as I loved the evening we spent drinking it. Frascati is available lots of places but I will caution you to plan on drinking it soon after you buy it. As the Casale Marchese website says,"Frascati should always be consumed before the next harvest starts." In fact, it's on sale about a month after its first bottling. Good excuse to drink up promptly, isn't it?

Cin cin!

*The Flavours and Scents of Rome. 2013 ed. Rome: L'Ortensia Rossa SRL, 2010. Print.
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