01 December, 2008

2004 Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards Durif

Q: What's "Durif?"
A: Actually, it's Who's Durif?

Q: OK, so who's Durif?
A: And it's Petit Sirah.

Q: Wait, I thought you said it was Durif.
A: I said he's Durif and it's Petit Sirah and also Durif. Correct on both, well, all 3!


Well, you aren't the only one. Interestingly enough, we've got a common unknown (isn't that an oxymoron?) fact in play here. Ok, here goes:

Dr. Francois Durif was a French botonist who unknowingly, in the late 1800s, germinated the Peloursin flower with Syrah pollen in the hunt for a grape resistant to powdery mildew. Now doesn't THAT sound delicious with a delicious pork chop?

Well, assuming you're still with me, and I hope you are, the result of this effort was the newly created "Durif" grape, named by him (humility is awesome!) in 1880. Then, 4 years later, it was introduced to California and was commonly called Petit Sirah as the size of the fruit was smaller than the familiar Syrah grape, which they thought the Durif grape to be.

So, while you can start looking at the Wiki on all of this, I'll just talk a bit about this very nice bottle, the '04 Santa Cruz Mountain McDowell Valley Vineyard Durif. The grapes are from 60+ year old vines in Southern Mendocino County and the deep hue of this wine linked with the richness of big berries in the nose are the first things to confirm that fact.

A glass of this Durif is not something to be taken lightly. Paired with a generous family-style Italian dinner, it provides an excellent base with sufficient tannin and acid to balance with rich fennel sausage, red sauce and pasta. It's very clean mouthfeel is unique for a wine of this richness.

I'd jump at trying to find a nice bottle of Durif, or Petit Sirah, or whatever they're calling it in your town these days.

2004 Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards Durif
Mendocino McDowell Valley Vineyard
Retail: $19
Grade: B+

28 October, 2008

2006 UNTI Petit Frere

I took this up to Lee and Nancy's for the 2009 rendition of "Pumpkin Festival.... North." On deck for dinner were simple thin pies (think Roman style) from Mezza Luna in town.

This nice, dry Grenache, Mouvedre & Syrah blend, while called "little brother", really just isn't. It's a nicely bodied Rhone blend with enough blackberry fruit up front to balance the Rhone sensibility on the back and providing a pleasant balance for everyday southern European inspired cuisine.

Mick Unti is doing a great job of very reasonable, drinkable and well-paired juice for food.

2006 Unti Sonoma County Petit Frere
Retail: ~$20
Grade: B

01 October, 2008

2006 Summers Napa Valley Estate Charbono

..she said..."Rambo, what means "Charbono?"

He said "huhhhh?" in his most Scooby-Doo like inflection.

Now, although Bill got all in my face and called me full of $h*t and a wine snob at the Rains' luau and it was all the zen master I could muster to not break his finger as it dented my chest, I really don't think I am, especially since I'd never heard of Charbono. Accordingly, in my geekdom, I did some research before I tackled this and stumbled across some really interesting info.

While there's too much to post here, I do recommend taking a look into several of the links in this search as it's kinda fascinating.

So, here's the reader's digest version....

* Only 80 acres grown in the USA. 100% in California.
* Imported by Italian immigrants in the 1800s
* Is a Piedmontese varietal - possibly related to Charbonneau (fr.)
* Is the 2nd most popular varietal grown in Argentina

Ok..Cool. Now what? Well, try some.

I know. Too far out of the box, too difficult to find, blah-blah-blah-blah.

No? Good...actually, Great!

So this Charbono has wonderful mouthfeel that's extremely soft and delicate, but with significant bright fruit, mainly dark berries, but not a Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot type of berry. When I say significant, I mean subtle. Huh?

How can that be? Yeah, I know, but I don't know any other way to describe it.

I had this with a hearty fall soup, but it would also play well with most meats (non-beef), fowl (particularly Duck or Ostrich), and several other fall-style vegetable dishes.

2006 Summers Napa Valley Estate Charbono
Retail: $23
Grade: B+

24 September, 2008

2006 Seghesio Sonoma Coast Arneis

Arneis. Yes, Arneis. I know what you're thinkin'..."WTF is Arneis?" Well, it's a white Italian, specifically, Piedmontese, varietal that's more challenging to grow than Pinot Noir.

Again, I know what you're thinkin' "WTF could be more difficult to grow than Pinot?"

Arneis. Translates to "Little Rascal." One more time, I know what you're thinkin" " WTF...isn't that a TV show from the 30's?". Well, yes, but that's a whole different thing.

THIS Arneis is a really great find in our challenge. It's very Italian in style. Not as restrained as a white Cote d'Or, and not nearly laid back as Bordeaux's Sauv Blanc or Semillon, this Sonoma Coast grown wine is far more exciting, challenging, fiery and fun than its frog cousins. It appeals to your visual senses with a deep straw hue and to your nasal senses with it's stealthy anise aroma, taunting you to just taste a bit.

OK. So I did. ....and now I'm hooked!

Friends came over for dinner on Sunday and we had this with our melon and jamon salad. It proved to be a great complement, providing further sweetness to play off the saltiness of the lovely Spanish cure as well as bright citrus notes and a very subtle anise tone to sharpen the effect of the sweet Galia melon.

....So before Summer turned to Spring, I turned to Arneis for one last summer fling. We'll have to do this again...and soon.

Retail: $18
Grade: B+

05 August, 2008

2007 Abacela Garnacha Rosado

From Abacela in southern Oregon, this bright rose is an nice example of the recent, well deserved popularity being attached to wines of Southern Oregon. Garnacha is one of my favorite varietals, and by doing a rose with it, winemaker Andrew Wenzl takes the bold to the beautiful.

The grapes are estate-grown on south-facing slopes in the Umpqua Valley, were pressed with limited time on the skins and fermented and aged in stainless.

Raspberry, roses and strawberries are all present in the nose. With a very bright acidity on the front end and pomegrates & candied cherries filling the mouth, it finishes very dry and mineraly.

2007 Abacela Garnacha Rosado - Estate
Retail: ~$15
Grade: B

29 July, 2008

2006 La Bastide Saint Dominique Cotes-du-Rhone

OK, OK...stop gettin' your knickers in a twist. I finally had a decent red to review, so here you go. Pulled this little bottle out last night for something to pair with boneless pork ribs on the grill. They'd been in a salt brine with herbs de provence and a bit of pimenton for a day and I thought the Cotes du Rhone would make a super pairing. Bra-Vo!

I found this wine at the local wine shop in HMB and have had it aside for a few months, waiting for the typical summer HMB (that's THICK FOG for you non-NorCal folks) weather to arrive...well, it finally has and last night was a perfect time for a sultry glass.

It's mostly Grenache with 5% each of Syrah, Mouvedre & Cinsault and took some time to open up; about 15 mins did the trick. I was patient and was successful at taking something that was tightly tannin-ed up, to a nice relaxed, drinkable glass, or two....or the whole damn bottle.

If you enjoy a deep inky-hued Cotes Du Rhone with a decent base structure, moderate tannin with a raisined nose and notes of blackberries and currants, then this is your ticket!

Retail: ~$17
Grade: B

10 July, 2008

2006 A to Z Pinot Blanc - Oregon

Ok, so don't get on me 'cause I'm doin' another white review. It's been hot here...STUPID hot. Of course, for me stupid hot = anything north of 85 degrees, but anyways, it's still hot and I just can't think of anything better than Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc these days.

Get over it, will ya?

So, for those of you who DON'T know, Tina and I are going to Stockholm for vacation this summer. Luckily, I reconnected with a great friend from Stockholm recently and last night, we had dinner with Henrik and Ylva @ Pizza Antica in Mill Valley. They're in the middle of a 3 week journey driving from Chicago to Seattle, via the Dakotas, Wyo, all the other stuff in the middle, Yosemite, and SFO.

We ended up with a couple of great appetizers including house made mozzarella and antipasti and the A to Z Pinot Blanc did a great job of keeping up with the varying notes and textures.

The winemaker notes mention:

" ...walks a taut line between the Old World mineral driven aromatics (talc, wet stones, chalk) and New World fruit (melons, nectarines, tangerine, and white grapes overlaid with honey, lime blossoms, and hazelnuts)." and "The wine's richness and weight is held in place and balanced by crisp ripe acidity that gives focus and integrity"

I have to disagree with the first and agree with the second. Don't get me wrong, I liked this wine, but the fruit forward sweet nose and tongue drive it over any mineral aromatics that might be involved in the party. To the second point, it IS quite rich and the crisp acidity provides a platform for the weight of the richness.

I'd definitely order this again with seafood that wasn't rich (ie: lobster in butter or anything with bernaise), or with spicy Asian such as Vietnamese or Thai.

Also, A to Z is big in the "20 Dollar Wine" game. That's they're mantra. Check them out!

Retail: ~$15
Grade: B

27 June, 2008

2007 Sineann Pinot Gris - Oregon

Since I saw that a friend is in Oregon this week, I thought we'd start with a recent find from the PNW.

I first ran into this nice Pinot Gris at my local wine shop, HMB Wine & Cheese at a "Look Ma, No Cork" themed tasting. No, not a screwtop or silly pseudo-cork, but a glass stopper known as a "vino-lok selection" tops this Alsace-style green bottle. Retailing at around $18, this is a fine value for an Oregon Pinot Gris.

Sourced from the Wy'east Vineyard in Hood River Valley, the fruit provides a structured, but not overloaded base for the clean high notes of green apple, citrus and pear to stand out. I'd hesitate to call this Peter Rosback produced wine understated, but it's certainly not the typical Oregon Pinot Gris we've been accustomed to in recent times. I'd argue it's more similar to a Southern Hemisphere Sauvignon Blanc with its solid base, but certainly brings the Pinot notes forward.

I enjoyed a bottle of this with a little linguini & prawns fra diavolo with an heirloom tomato & avocado salad. Its high notes were a great balance for both the creaminess of the avocado and the heat of the pasta dish.

Retail: $18
Grade: B+

24 June, 2008

..and On With The Show. Wine for the Rest of Us.

Before getting too into the wine discussion, I wanted to chat briefly about what I'm trying to do with the wine blog. I've found, thru several years of my interest in wine, that there's a gap, that is, a place that retailers, and many wineries, have neglected to address.

Sure, it's really easy to go to Bev-Mo or your local bottleshop/grocery store and pick up some mass produced, mediocre at-best wine. Also easy is to pop into your local wineshop and pick up a >$50 bottle of Cabernet or Pinot. It will be great and if your "Wine Monger" has done their job, then you'll have a great meal.

...but what about the rest of us? There seems to be an obvious hole there between mediocre at-best and a bottle of Grand Cru Burgundy, and that's what we'll try to share. REALLY good wine for a really reasonable price...around 20 Dollars

Remember, we're not talking cheap here, but if your budget is in the gap, then you're looking for wine for the rest of us.


23 June, 2008

So, Jase.... What are the Rules and Grades?

As we started down this path and thought about what we wanted to do, that is, what's the goal of the 20 Dollar Wine Blog, it became obvious that we wanted to do things differently.

It's not about the wine, or a review, or how many points, blah, blah, blah. Let's leave that to the wine geeks (not that there's anything wrong with them, of course), but for our purposes, it's about a find, a great experience and a reasonable price....all at the same time!

Rather than do a 85-95 point schedule (yes, no wines really get below 85 and not many above 95), we'll do things much more simply. It goes like this:

A+ Awesome! Outstanding! A great wine and a great value! The best for the money!
A Great. Something that's special and you should seek out! Great value, great wine!
A- Excellent. A fine wine that brings excellent taste, quality and value
B+ Very Good. Something to seek out and enjoy with a quality meal with friends.
B Good. A quality bottle with good value for an weeknight or quiet weekend meal.

The grade is a subjective assessment of the wine's overall value, that is, how tasty is it, how well does it "fit" the style it's purporting to be and how much does it cost. A great wine that's $15 will do better than a similar tasting wine retailing for $22. Oh, and a bit about that. While we do everything we can to limit our reviews to bottles that retail for about $20, we will of course, do some that are a bit less expensive (~$13) and some that are a bit more expensive (~$27) That's +/- $7 either way. Cool?

We'll do a weekly wine review/suggestion and will also disclose other we tasted but did not merit a review. They will not be graded if they don't merit a grade of "B" or higher, for whatever reason.

Rules - We don't take payola for reviews, but sometimes we do review wine that is given to us for the purpose of reviewing. Hey, remember, this blog is free. Don't like the rules, then send us some wine to review. Or not :-)

...and, if there's anything you'd like to ask us, like an opinion, tip, or something you'd like to share, please do comment. We'll review all comments!


Jase - The 20 Dollar Wine Guy