2010 A to Z Pinot Gris: Better quite chilled

feb. 26, 2012: how could you go wrong with two lemon-pepper rotisserie chickens from schnucks? the answer is: it's not possible on oscar night. i wanted something easy so i could watch my beloved awards show, which is always a lot of fun (red carpet included). at first, i made the mistake of not properly chilling this 2010 a to z pinot gris from oregon. that made this 13 percent alcohol speciman taste strongly of lemons, and not in a good way, i thought, though greg didn't mind. nothing against those who love lemony pinot gris. but once i dunked this bottle in an ice bath for 10 minutes, it began the slow transformation into a more muddled -- and much more enjoyable -- confluence of pear and lemon flavors. it's interesting, i think, how lack of clarity can actually make a wine more tolerable, since in most cases, i'd say the opposite would be true -- or at least more honest. but this particular a to z does better when it's temperaturally controlled. schnucks.


Wine column no. 26: Betting interests

It makes sense, really. I mean, who among us hasn't opened a new bottle of wine they've never tried before, only to discover that it was a complete waste of time and money? Maybe it was too acidic. Maybe it didn't taste like anything at all. But in any case, you didn't like it, and now you can't get your money back.
Welcome to the world wide casino of wine roulette. You placed a bet, and you lost. Better luck next time.
But wait. Don't give up on wine, because there are bright lights out there. They may not be spouting sirens or tossing out coins, but there truly are jackpots. And we'll tell you a little secret: You don't
always have to bet the farm to find them.
Here's a little tip on gaming the system that worked to my benefit when Greg and I walked into a hotel bar in Lexington, Ky., last month. We'd recently arrived from Evansville after a four-hour drive, and it was
late. We wanted to relax, safely. So when the bar menu offered a very chilled glass of 2010 Brancott Estate Sauvignon blanc, it was an easy choice. Since this was a bar, the glass's $6 price tag was highly
inflated -- compared, at least, to the price of the entire bottle itself. (We later learned you can get this exact bottle at Varsity Liquors for $14.99.) But to me, and to anyone else whose main goal is to discover new, enjoyable wines, this by-the-glass method was a way to get the best of both worlds: The opportunity to spend a little money to try something new without losing more money on something that I might very well hate.
It was a good wager: I thought this New Zealand creation from the northeastern tip of the South Island in Marlborough was aromatic, with some grapefruit and passionfruit. And while the grapefruit became more pronounced as it warmed up in the glass, that didn't make it any less refreshing, I thought. Greg, meanwhile, couldn't stand this. But he's never been a fan of grapefruit to begin with, and he's obviously not the market Brancott is selling to. That's because grapefruit flavors and high acidity are what this version of Sauvignon blanc is known for -- at least according to the Brancott Estate website. Marlborough, the site said, is the sunniest part of New Zealand in most years. But its proximity to snow-capped mountain peaks and a relatively large land mass cause temperatures to drop at night.
"This high diurnal temperature variation locks in unusually high levels of acidity in some grape varieties, most notably Sauvignon blanc -- and without compromising flavor development, is a key
ingredient in the success of Marlborough wines," the website went on to say. So if young, grapefruity Sauvignon blanc is your thing, this 12.5 percent alcohol bottle may be for you. It certainly was for me.
The score? Me: 1. House: 0.
Here's another glass of wine I had at a bar. The 2010 Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling from the Columbia Valley of Washington state was very honeyish. Greg and I have had a good amount of German Rieslings lately, so I was unprepared for how little -- if any -- lemon or pineapple flavors were included in the glass. Described by the winery's website as its "every day Riesling," this 11 percent alcohol speciman would be a good pairing with chicken, mild cheeses, crab and fresh fruit, the winery advised. This wine whose grapes were grown in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains was sweet (or off-dry, a term some wine experts prefer). But it was also quite smooth and soothing,
and I'd get this again in a heartbeat. You can find this at Varsity Liquors, too, for $9.99.
Me: 2. House: 0.
And finally, here's a glass of Kloster Neuburg Gewurztraminer that I had at the Taj Mahal, an Indian restaurant off of Burkhardt Road. Nothing against my delicious butter chicken simmered in an onion and tomato cream sauce. But this wine was a better pairing with Greg's lamb rogan josh, which was cooked in yogurt, herbs and spices. I think it was the medium spicy heat of the rogan josh sauce that really got this Gewurztraminer to open up, since once it did, it seemed a bit sweeter and more crisp -- a cool, soothing foil to the heat of the dish.
From what we've been able to determine, this wine was produced on the German vineyards of Eberbach Abbey, a former Cistercian monastary located in the Rheingau Valley. Those vineyards were, at one time, the largest in medieval Europe. But now most of them are managed by Hessische Staatsweinguter GmbH Kloster Eberbach, which is described as a powerful player in wine production in Germany.
Meanwhile, not every wine is going to go perfectly with your dish, and next time, I'll be sure to ask for the waiter's recommendation. Still, the fact that I was able to have this wine at all -- it doesn't seem
to be sold at any of the local wine shops we visited recently -- was a safe bet for me. I got to try something new, and I was nowhere close to breaking the bank.
Final score? Me: 3. House: 0


2008 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Amitage Red Blend: Cinnamon and cloves

feb. 16, 2012: for roughly $12, i got flavors of cinnamon, clove and cedar topped by a smooth and light feel. this is a really good-value wine that greg enjoyed, too. greg had prepared lentil and chicken soup last night, and i had some of the leftovers tonight, to which i added fresh lemon juice, salt and cracked black pepper. this red blend was far from a contrast. i could see this columbia valley, washingtonian, being really flexible, matching steak, chicken or even pork, all with ease. it's got some tannins, so anything with some fat (steak) or juice (not over-cooked chicken or pork) would be a tasty pairing. 13.5 percent alcohol. winetree.


Wine column no. 25: Celebrating sustainability

Musicians probably get this. They hear the bass in something as basic as a heartbeat, the melody in something as natural as a gust of wind.
But we're not musicians. I'm a runner; Greg's a gamer. Rhythm isn't something we create. For us, it just comes, and wine helps.
Enter Dave Matthews and Steve Reeder, two men with disparate talents but the same vision: To create genuine, honest wines with a sustainable purpose.
"Making wine is like making music," the Dreaming Tree website says. "You get out what you put in."
And what we put in our glasses recently was the 2010 Dreaming Tree chardonnay from the central coast of California. Greg thought this bottle from Schnucks on North Green River Road was young. But I liked how it gave off flavors of passion fruit and other tropical fruits. What's more, it wasn't overwhelming, meaning: It didn't overtake our meal, which was chicken, by the way. For under $20, we got a crisp, light, 13.5 percent alcohol wine that did its best to be accessible. That, coincidentally, is another quality the Matthews-Reeder team is aiming for.
Matthews is a South-African born rock-and-roller who's best known as the front man for the Dave Matthews Band. Since they got their start in the early 1990s, DMB has produced seven studio albums and even more live albums. As for Reeder, those familiar with Simi Winery may know his work. He's been the vice-president of winemaking at Simi since August 2003, and two of his wines earned number one and number two spots, respectively, on Wine Spectator's Top 100 Wines of the Year lists in 1999 and 2002.
But success for these men hasn't impacted their ability to work together. And while the wine may speak for itself, what's particularly unique about the Matthews-Reeder team is that much of what it produces is environmentally sustainable.
Here are some examples. One, the winery uses clean-burning natural gas "to ensure blue skies over our grapevines." Two, labels are made with 100 percent recycled paper. Three, the bottles are a quarter-pound lighter than normal, which means it takes less fuel to get them to your table. And four, the corks are sustainably grown.
Meanwhile, the Dreaming Tree isn't the only winery out there that's doing its best to do the least harm to the environment. Ceago Vinegarden, owned by Jim Fetzer, the former president of Fetzer Vineyards, uses biodynamic farming techniques on its vineyards in Lake and Mendocino counties in California. This means it doesn't use pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or genetically modified organisms, according to Ceago's website.
What's more, Ceago integrates agricultural, biological and ecological scientific knowledge into crop rotation, compost production, and soil and animal practices.
"These practices go beyond organic standards to heal the earth for future generations, " the company's website says.
We've reviewed one of their wines before, the 2002 Merlot, which Greg and I both found to be exceptionally flavorful. That wine filled with inklings of cinnamon, clove and blackberry was at Varsity Liquors for about $21 and contained 14.5 percent alcohol.
But if you're not into a wine just because its winemakers are environmentally conscious, that's fine with us. We drive cars like most everyone else; we're far from experts in the ways of environmental sustainability.
That said, Dreaming Tree and Ceago stand out because they seem to do more than just pluck grapes from the vine. Instead, they're doing their best to give back. And in that way, they've developed a certain rhythm to that exchange that we hope only continues. Call it good stewardship; call it smart economics. But in the end, these companies are acknowledging that we're part of an even bigger whole.
"This is a treat," Matthews told Reeder on a video on the Dreaming Tree website. "I'm really excited about this, and thank you again for the partnership."
Thanks to their success, we all get to benefit, too.

2009 Shotfire Barossa Shiraz: Fruity, smooth, straightforward

jan. 19, 2012: call it a home run, a gift that really hit the spot, whatever. but this birthday present from greg's parents was really ideal with the chorizo and green pepper bratwurst we got from newburgh's rivertown butcher shop, which is really *the* place for homemade brats in this area. i thought this australian was smooth and creamy, with lots of red berry flavor. it had an intense feel, and the sweet flavors in the wine were an especially fantastic contrast with the chorizo's spicy heat. when i first tasted this, minus the brats (since they were still on the grill at that point) i thought it reminded me somewhat of a red zinfandel from california (if i may be permitted to make that general statement), but there wasn't enough pure blackberry flavor for me to leave it at that. this 2009 definitely had a concentrated flavor and texture. greg said it had a bit of tobacco nose, with undertones of black cherries. that said, it was smooth, sweet and straightforward. 14.9 percent alcohol. this was a gift, but greg's mom got it at big red liquors in bloomington.


2008 Chanson Pere et Fils Red Burgundy: Good body but not as flavorful as we'd like

we went to the tulip bistro and bar in lexington, ky. it's a french restaurant with a southern flair, and the chef suggested this pinot noir, which he said had enough body to match greg's lamb shank and my pork loins. the food was very tasty, and this was a wine with a good texture, but it really lacked flavor and was fairly bland, in fact. that said, it lacked the acidity of many pinot noir and so was easily drinkable (we're not big fans of acidic wines.) i'm not sure the wine was perfectly matched with either of our dishes. wouldn't get it again. 12.5 percent alcohol.