Saucerful of Grapes

Posted in Uncategorized on August 30, 2010 by JB

Before I even get digging into this post, forgive me as I find myself writing a rare wine meets music edition and felt like I had to do it the only way I know how, which is pure geek-out.

I had read about this whole Wines That Rock thing, and had even put up a few links to it on Facebook.  Still I was surprised when I walked into my local wine shop a few weeks ago while on the run and saw the Dark Side of the Moon Cabernet displayed quite liberally.  To be clear, I wasn’t surprised that it was available, and definitely not surprised that it was right up in the front of the store as a “feature”, but I was surprised that it was in THIS wine store, and that I had only just recently started reading about it and peaking my own interest.

Not aware of Wines that Rock?  Check out my blog roll for a link.

Of course, my first instinct was to shrug it off as yet another label-driven brand that sells you on the marketing and the design and not the quality of the wine.  But then curiosity took over, and I shelled out my $15.

Besides, I owe it to YOU, my regular 5 readers, to taste and type!

I am not going to insult your intelligence by explaining how influential the namesake album was after its release in 1973, nor am I going to give you a background on Pink Floyd’s creation and history-changing creative asthetic of this masterpiece.  If you haven’t heard of this band & album, you have either been living in a closet, or have suffered brain damage.

What I will say is that considering my personal affinity for this record (yes, people do still use that term, even though I haven’t owned a turn table in 15 years), I was very reserved in trying this wine, expecting to only be disappointed.  It’s not like me to pre-judge a wine, as I’ve learned that the famous brands can be terrible, and the super market brands can be surprisingly good.  Doesn’t really matter if it’s red or white, it’s really any colour you like.  So long as you are willing to take a chance.  But of course in this case, the tasting of the actual wine was in a way eclipsed by the label and the instant recognition to that it was referring to.

OK OK OK, the wine…

Well, on the nose it really was like any other Northern Cali cabernet.  Dark fruits, a little oak, a little candy.  It wasn’t your $5 cab, but it definitely wasn’t a $100 Howell Mountain version either.  I gave it a little time in the glass and it opened up slightly, but that really only developed into more sweetness on the nose.  I’m not surprised that a wine like this doesn’t necessarily need a ton of time to breathe in order to speak to me.  But, I would recommend that you let it open up just a little.

On the palate it was definitely tasty.  That’s really the best way to describe it.  Blackberry, black cherry, chocolate and mocha.  So in a word: tasty.  It really wasn’t tasting like a cheap bin Cali cab, but of course it also wasn’t blowing me away.  But then again, this is not a wine that’s playing a game of us and them, and trying to put itself out of the mid-range and affordable wines.  That right now is the trick out there anyway.  Don’t be the cheapest, and don’t be the most expensive.

I am really glad that I tried this out and would say that it’s worth pulling out at a party, or as a good gift wine for a music lover.  It has enough quality grape  to not feel like it’s cheap, and the added cache of one of the truly iconic images of rock history.

Bottom line as always is to try as many wines as you can before you take that final step towards the great gig in the sky, and considering that this really feels like you’re drinking any decent $15-20 Cali cab, why not do it with a little more style and while listening to 43 minutes of musical genius at the same time.

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LA education

Posted in Uncategorized on August 19, 2010 by JB

While on a trip early this week to Los Angeles, I had the good fortune to stay with Paul Robb, composer/producer and now my business partner.

One of the night we were hanging out at the end of the day at his home, he brought out a bottle of Vermouth.  Which I found very strange to drink solo, but this particular TYPE of Vermouth.  In this case it’s a classic Italian version that is MEANT to be sipped, rather than used as a mixer, as is common.

I’m always up for trying something completely new, and in this case Paul was pretty excited to share this experience, so it was all the more interesting.  And it’s very hard for me to TRULY explain what this tasted like, but the best, gut reaction tasting notes I can say would be exactly what I said to Paul the moment after I had it.

It was like drinking a Port that had been dragged through a garden.  It had a BIG, viscous attack at the front.  Fruity and syrupy, a lot like a Port.  But then it changed to a VERY green, vegetal, spicy mid-palate and finish.  It wasn’t medicinal, but it was one step shy of that on the after-taste.

I’m not sure it’s something I would drink regularly, however I really enjoyed this experience as something I’d never done before, and like MOST wine-drinking, or to be honest, life experiences, it’s better when it’s shared with a friend and a great conversation over the subject matter.

Web wine moment

Posted in Uncategorized on August 9, 2010 by JB

Hi wine dudes and dudettes.

I know that I have linked up and mentioned one of my favorite little daily pleasures, which is to check out tilsoldout.com for the wine of the day.  I don’t often pull the trigger on the deals there, despite what GREAT deals they are, purely because getting excited and pulling that trigger on wine, no matter how good the deal, can drain your credit faster than owning a boat.

That being said, I DO occasionally splurge on something that seems like a superb buy.  I have been able to get a few of my very favorites (Orin Swift’s The Prisoner, Pine Ridge Cab) for 60% off.  But the other day I did something that I rarely do, and that was buy a 4 pack of a wine I’ve NEVER tried before.

Did the gamble pay off?  Read on reader.

I purchased a Shadowood Napa Valley reserve Cabernet 2007, x 4.  It ranked well online, and is one of the best vintage years for CA in the last 2 decades.  Not to mention that it’s a Napa Cab, for under $20 (I actually paid $17/bottle, with free shipping).  So eagerly I waited, and a week later it arrived.

Having now drank one full bottle of this, I find that I win this particular lottery.  It’s not that I found the GREAT WINE STEAL OF ALL TIME!!!!  But this is a very nice bottle.

On the nose it was pretty classic Napa cab of dark fruit, cocoa and a little bit of oak.  What really struck me after 24 hours of being open, was how much COFFEE was on the nose.  To me this smelled exactly like you held up a fresh baked blackberry pie and took a huge sniff of it, while standing directly next to the espresso machine at a really good coffee shop.

But the real money here is on the taste, and that comes with a warning.  You MUST be a new-world wine drinker to like this.  It’s a BIG mutha.  It was so sweet on my first sip that I was completely overwhelmed.  Thankfully, I served it with ribs, which was PERFECT considering the sweet, tangy sauce that it was going against.  But honestly it was very very ripe, very rich.  Had the kind of flavors that you thought perhaps it WAS barbecue in that wine glass.  Lots and lots of dark fruits, candies berries, chocolate.  It sounds like dessert in a glass, and in many ways it was.

I would think this would be an excellent wine to actually drink with dark chocolate.  But as I said, paired with BBQ was really quite tasty ,and I would think any fatty red meat would be an excellent accompaniment to this wine.

So the result is that for $17/bottle this is a great wine.  I’m excited to have it sit for a few and see how it changes, but the reality is that a wine like this is really NOT for sitting in a cellar.

This is a wine that tells me that before this summer if over, more ribs will be made at the Bradley house.

Shard Oh Nay!

Posted in Uncategorized on July 29, 2010 by JB

Hi wine nuts!

Let’s talk white wine, and let’s talk about what is generally considered THE white wine.

Chardonnay.

To go into its history and specifics here would take me hours, and put me into a carpal tunnel situation, so I’ll just put together some real basics for folks who know the name, know that it’s the most common white, know that it’s usually very simple and very buttery, and nothing else.

So let’s break it down, simple-like.  This is a grape that is grown all over the world, and at one point NOT that long ago, was the most popular varietal in the US.  From it’s more regal locations (Burgundy region of France) to it’s new and exciting adventures (Mendoza, Argentina) it can exhibit a wide range of flavors from apple, to butterscotch, to slate, to (and this is a shocker) grapes.

One of the big misconceptions, especially in the last 5 years, is that all Chardonnay from America is buttery and has that very creamy/toasty flavor (which is from the oak it’s aged in folks, in case you were wondering) and that all old-world versions (France, Italy) are heavy minerals and acidity.  More and more the new world winemakers are embracing the more classic style, and yet making it purely new world in flavor as well.  For example, the process of aging the wines in stainless steel rather than oak, which retains all of the fruitiness and freshness of the grape without adding all the toasted flavors.

I find that rarely in today’s market can you go WRONG with a chardonnay, if you like the general characteristics.  It will almost always be heavier on the palate then a sauvignon blanc or a pinot grigio.  But that being said, whether you pick up a $6 bottle or a $60 bottle there is a definite move to refine this grape and return it to a more regal status.

Like most things, there are cycles, and although the cycle of white wine ruling the consumer market is over, there is still a place out there for a good chardonnay.  Thankfully right now there are more quality versions than ever.

Bodega for your burger?

Posted in Uncategorized on July 27, 2010 by JB

What’s up wine minions.

I have been going on and on about summer wines, BBQ wines, burger wines, blah blah blah.  And I know that I’ve been preaching reds, and typically from California.  But let’s head south of the border.  No, seriously, WAY south.  To Argentina.

Now, for those of you who DON’T know by now, South America has a thriving wine industry which has really come of age with a vengeance in the last 10 years.  Argentina and Chile being the predominant players in this movement, and reds leading the charge (although there are some excellent whites….we’ll do that in another post).

In particular I wanted to talk about one grape, malbec.

It’s an inky, dark hued grape that is known classically as one of the six reds allowed in red Bordeaux blends.  It’s a very fruity, dark, dense wine that does tend to blend well, but more and more with the onset of modern wine-growing methods and the Argentinian climate, it’s become a varietal that does very well on its own.

The Mendoza region is particularly known for this grape and it produces some very velvety, fruity, sometimes even elegant examples.  I often recommend this wine as a great substitute for cabernet with steak.  After all, the one thing that Argentina has been known for long before its wine is its beef.

One of my favorite and most consistent brands is Bodega Norton.  It’s very easy to find, and they have the basic and then the reserve.  I prefer the reserve and for only a few dollars more is well worth the price.  It’s a dark, fruity pleasure of a wine that absolutely KILLS with burgers.  If you hid the label and served this up people would probably be convinced you had brought out an expensive CA red blend.  It’s got the weight, the character and the flavors that you want in a bold red wine, but without the price tag of the CA version.

Other really great brands would be:

Famiglia Bianchi

Trapiche

Alamos

Gascon

Clos de la Siete

Maipe

Phantom!

Posted in Uncategorized on July 27, 2010 by JB

I recently picked up a bottle of Bogle’s Phantom.  It’s a proprietary red blend from CA that lives up to its name in many ways.

Bogle is a brand you see PLENTY of, as it’s one of the biggest producers of value reds, especially the merlot and cab sav.  I almost always find the merlot simple but enjoyable, and the cab can be drinkable depending on the vintage.

The Phantom blend itself is petite syrah, zinfandel and mourvedre.  The first two make up most of the blend and you are aware both of why they named the wine (although more about this shortly) and that it’s got all the characteristics you’d expect with those two varietals at the forefront.  It’s a BIG, viscous wine that shows huge blackberries, like a baked tart more than fresh.  I picked it out recently to have with a grilled chicken and blue cheese baked potato.  My reasoning was that blue and/or gorgonzola go very well with a dark, syrupy wine (often with a great Port) so this wine as a great match up.

As for the name, the Bogle name itself comes from a Welsh word meaning a spectre, or phantom.  This is really their flagship wine so it makes sense that they are referencing their own winery, as well as the dark character of the blend.

I think a lot of people will really enjoy this wine, and for less than $20 it’s hard to go wrong here.

The 3 R’s

Posted in Uncategorized on July 20, 2010 by JB

Hey wine kooks

Today’s subject has to do with a little mid-summer dreaming.  If you’re having a really solid BBQ, grilled burgers, or any other classic warm-weather meal, one amazing option would be a simple but fruity zinfandel.

And NO people, I don’t mean a “pink zinfandel”.  Let’s be serious here.

I’m talking about the dark red, fruity, luscious zinfandel that flourishes in California’s bright sun.

So what is the reference to the three R’s?  Well, if you’re looking for consistently good zins, there are three great brands that are easy to remember.

Rosenblum, Ravenswood, and Ridge.  The first two can be found very affordably, typically under $15.  From Rosenblum I tend to go for the easy to find and always excellent vintners cuvee, which can run as low as $8.  Ravenswood’s vintners blend is the same great value for $10 or less typically.

As for the third option, there’s a trio of amazing options.  They are named for the vineyards from which the grapes are harvested.  The least expensive is the Three Valleys blend.  I usually find it around $20, and like all three of the Ridge wines it’s actually a blend, with the primary grape being zinfandel.  It’s a very fresh, fruity, almost refreshing wine that is an excellent value, especially if you can find the 2007 vintage.

Next would be the Geyserville blend, which happens to be my favorite of the three.  I find that this version tends to have a lot more finesse and body to it.  There’s a certain earthy quality and darker fruit that really gives you the impression that you’re drinking a wine that’s twice the price.

Finally is the Lytton Springs blend, which is considered the most impressive of the three by many, and is the most costly by just a few dollars compared to the Geyserville blend.  It boasts a lot of the same red fruit and complexity of the other two, and just like the others gets a little spicy edge with the additional of just a little syrah into the mix.

So the net net is, you should try out some zin while you’re enjoying a little BBQ sauce goodness this summer, or just with a juicy burger from the Weber.  And to make life easier, remember the 3 R’s and you’ll feel like the wine expert you are becoming!