2007 Dr. von Bassermann-Jordan Riesling Trocken: Smooth, dry, a bit tart

aug. 28, 2011: i opened this up for my parents. we wanted something light and not too sweet on a very sunny and humid sunday, and this met those requirements. both my parents really liked this, but i was expecting it to be somewhat sweet, so i was a bit disappointed. greg and i had had this riesling and vintage before, and it was sweeter then, so i think the fact that it's older now has made it a bit drier. 12 percent alcohol. winetree.


Wine column no. 15: Celebrating doves

They're called mourning doves, and we suppose there would be a bit of mourning — if you got some lead shot between your teeth. Otherwise, the start of the hunting season on Sept. 1 in Indiana brings the scent of baked doves wrapped in bacon sizzling in your oven, and then there's the aroma of shredded cheddar cheese, added at the last minute, just for good measure.

Some might say wine is the stuff of fancy restaurants. But in the Grabner household, where Greg's got mounds of camouflage pants and at least one shotgun, we're having wild game and wine — if we're lucky. And if our friend Aaron brings 15 doves here for the weekend, we're even luckier.

This isn't shooting for sport, since this is how we see it: If you're going to rouse yourself out of bed at 4:30 a.m. to hunt some tiny birds in the darkness of a soybean field, the least you can do is give the feathered beasts a worthwhile toast once they get to your plate. And thankfully, Varsity Liquors has just the bottle.

The 2005 Jean-Luc Colombo La Violette Syrah smells slightly of earth, but the texture is all smooth. Think inklings of black pepper, and maybe a bit of tobacco. But otherwise, this Frenchman from the vineyards of Pays d'Oc is subtle, meaning it gives the noble doves the spotlight they deserve. 13 percent alcohol. Wine Spectator gave this an 85 out of 100. About $16.

But if you're on the hunt for a wine that will burst with fruit, leave La Violette alone and aim for the 2007 Rosenblum Cellars Vintner's Cuvee Syrah at Winetree. This Californian oozes aromas of blackberries and raspberries, but it is smooth enough to remain worthwhile even after the fruits have jolted your sense of smell. We paired this Rosenblum with spicy herbed chicken and steamed broccoli, and it definitely held its own. About $11 and 14.8 percent alcohol. Wine Spectator gave this an 88 out of 100.

How can a French Syrah and a Californian Syrah be so wildly different? That's a question we're not sure we can answer. The book "California Wine Country," written by John Doerper, describes Syrah as a red-wine grape from the Rhone region of France that does best when grown in austere conditions. The reasons these same grapes translate to different flavors in the glass might have to do with the land the grapes are grown on, how much sun the grapes received and the way they were treated after harvest, among other factors. The Rosenblum is 14.8 percent alcohol and La Violette is 13 percent alcohol, which also may play a big part.

In Australia, the Syrah grape actually goes by another name: Shiraz. Think of this alias as an apt disguise for a wine that will knock you off your feet with flavor and intensity.

Most Australian Shiraz that we've experienced tend to be heavily weighted with alcohol — it's not unusual to find one in the 14 or 15 percent range. And one that we've had good experience with is the Dead Letter Office from Henry's Drive Vignerons. Most recently, we had the 2006 vintage, which we found at Varsity Liquors.

This blend of 67 percent McLaren Vale grapes and 33 percent Padthaway grapes was serious and heavy, and not that sweet. It's also pricier than other Shiraz/Syrah from elsewhere in the world, coming in at around $33. 15 percent alcohol. Wine Spectator gave this a 90 out of 100.


2009 Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages: Fruity, with body, but a bit acidic

we paired this with baked doves wrapped in bacon. the doves were very good, but this beaujolais-villages was a bit acidic. we decided to open this wine to pair it with the bacon since i thought that would be the overriding flavor. not sure it was the best pairing because of the wine's acidity. we got this frenchman as a christmas gift from greg's uncle shawn and his fiancee, trudy. 12.5 percent alcohol.

2007 Couly-Dutheil La Baronnie Madeleine Chinon: Earthy, tannic, straightforward

sept. 11, 2011: i baked some turbot flounder from fresh market that i covered with sprinkled lemon juice, salt, pepper, parsley, butter, olive oil and shallots. i baked it at 375 degrees for 30 minutes, and while i know i added a bit too much salt, i liked this. greg, though, realized that he's not a big fan of flounder; there's something about the texture that he doesn't like, so we won't be having flounder again anytime soon.

but paired with the fish was this 2007 couly-dutheil loire valley chinon from france, which was very basic and straightforward. think earth and tannins, with a freshness that can only mean summer. that's what cabernet franc means to us. this also seems like a more masculine summer wine, crisp and down-to-earth. 12.5 percent alcohol. binny's in chicago.

second night: and sediment! wow, was not expecting that. but before i got to the sediment, the flavor was the same even though we had corked the bottle after the first night. this wine was still earthy, mellow, straightforward. not bad at all.

2008 Terra Andina Merlot: Smooth, light, easy to drink

this winetree purchase is a good value for the money. it's got some red fruit flavors, but they're not overwhelming. it's smooth, gentle and unobtrusive in terms of texture. a good bet if you're looking for something to pair with lightly flavored poultry. for us, terra andina seems to be a reliable label. we've had the cabernet sauvignon and the carmenere. would definitely get this again if we're looking for a low-key table wine.13 percent alcohol. $9.59.

2010 Trapiche Malbec: Eh -- until paired with tomato chicken, and pork loin 2 days later

sept. 13, 2011: this mendoza, argentinian, is on sale at winetree this month for under $10. i'm not sure i'm a fan. it's not as rough as your other typical lower-priced malbec, it's got a lot of tannins and it tastes of minor, indistinguishable red fruits. but i think it's a little sour. maybe it's just an issue with bottle variation? also, after it's been open for about half an hour, it's got a better, more effusively fruity nose. but i'm still not excited about it. 13 percent alcohol.

alright, a correction already: paired with greg's chicken with homemade tomato sauce, this is much better. maybe it's the meal, which i added salt and pepper to. but this trapiche is much less of an obstacle when paired with that.

day three of having this open, and another correction: greg makes an awesome pork loin, and when it's seasoned with his brother chris' seasoning, it's even better. this malbec isn't as tannic when paired with this spicy rub, and it's fruitier. it's also not sour anymore. maybe that was just me having an off night. anyway, this is a good food wine.


2007 J. Moreau and Fils Vouvray: Light, somewhat sweet, apricot and peach flavors

aug. 27, 2011: we served this frenchman at a party and it seemed to be well-liked. it was a hot, sunny, humid day, and this is the type of wine that i think pairs very well with this weather if you're looking for a lighter, refreshing refreshing. it had inklings of apricot and peach flavors.12 percent alcohol. winetree.


Wine column no. 14: Explore the New World

Australia, Chile, New Zealand and France: If there were a battle between the four, traditionalists would likely say that France produces the best wine of all. But here's a secret: We're not traditionalists.

Oh, sure. There was a time when the Old World seemed fulfilling. When we could get them, we paired our white Burgundies with our white fish and our red Bordeaux with our beef, and that was enough. We were doing what we were supposed to do, and we agreed that we should like it.

But then we got a taste of an Australian Shiraz, and suddenly the Old World seemed very small. So armed with a few gangly sails, Greg and I struck out on our own, hitting the high seas of wine exploration until we reached solid ground.

And what do you know? The New World of wine has a lot to offer -- like New Zealand, which produces a grassy, refreshing Sauvignon blanc. Then there's Chile, which makes a supple, fruit-forward Carmenere. And finally, one of Australia's strengths, in our experience, seems to be Shiraz, which teems with blackberries.

Slowly, we learned that thinking outside the box was a blessing, even when faced with the dismissive glances of those who were still attached to the Old World. And this line of thinking meant we no longer had to accept what others told us we should like, or what we should think is good, either. As revolutionaries, we started to wonder, and then to ask outright: Just who are these experts, anyway? And what we found is that, whoever "they" think they are, the only one that really matters is the person drinking from the glass.

Now before the purists get all high and mighty and insist that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, France still makes the best wine of all, let's be clear: We're not discounting French wines. Yes, there are a lot of extraordinary French wines out there, but not all French wines are good just because they are French. That's not just the talk of budding wine aficionados; that's just plain old common sense.

And I'll let you in on another secret: My mother is French. She grew up in a tiny seaside town in Brittany, a province just to the west of Normandy, on the English Channel. How she and my father, a Chicagoan, came to live in Evansville is a story for another time. But what's important here is that even my mother has a soft spot for Californian reds. She'll tell you that they are usually more robust in flavor than your typical French reds and more willing to express their innate personalities. But that's just her opinion, after decades of trying both French and New World wines. What's yours?

We ask that question because we think that's the most important one to ask. For example, we've got a good friend who typically prefers beer over wine. (OK, we actually have a lot of friends like that.) But the other night, we asked his opinion on a 2006 De Bortoli Vat 1 Petite Sirah we bought from Winetree for about $9.59. He thought this Australian was light, smooth, with a berry flavor, and he really liked it. Then we asked his opinion on a 2008 Apothic Red, which is a blend of Syrah, Zinfandel and Merlot grapes from California. Greg bought this at Schnucks for about $10. Our friend wasn't a big fan of the Apothic, saying the flavors were too strong, and it had a heavier body. So while there's lots more to learn about his individual tastes, right away we got a better initial sense of what he likes in reds: Lighter-bodied, smooth textures that aren't overwhelmingly flavorful. It was a good thing to learn, especially if we're going to be serving wine when he comes over.

So as we continue to explore the New World of wine, here are some other wines we've had that we thought were pretty enjoyable, especially for the price. We've also tried to break down our reasons for liking them when they were paired with food, so that we could better understand our own tastes. This is because being a revolutionary means you're constantly asking questions, and you're not happy with the status quo. That's us, definitely.

Here are our recommendations:

A lighter white wine that pairs well with all this heat, and maybe a salad with goat cheese, is the 2010 Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand. This 13 percent alcohol bottle is definitely grassy, and it has some grapefruit, so Greg avoided it. About $10. The reason I suggest that it be paired with goat cheese is the acidic texture of the wine will counterbalance the flat flavor and creamy textures of the cheese.

We also like to contrast fruity wines with spicy meats because, in our experience, the smooth textures of the wine tend to counteract the heat and the fat in the sausage. A good pairing with spicy bratwurst would be the 2008 Terra Andina Reserva Carmenere, which tastes of red fruit and is soft, smooth and creamy. This 14 percent alcohol bottle is from the Valle del Rapel in Chile. Winetree. $12.99

Another good spicy bratwurst pairing would be the 2006 St. Hallett Barossa Faith Shiraz, which is also fruity, creamy and smooth. And at 14.5 percent alcohol, this Australian is definitely power in a glass. Winetree. About $12-$15.