2010 The Dreaming Tree Chardonnay: Crisp, light and flavorful

jan. 25, 2012: sauteed chicken seasoned with a rub in canola oil demands a light white wine. and schnucks on north green river happened to have just the type of white wine i was looking for. as basic a food combination as that sounds, this chardonnay from the central coast of california, believe it or not, has a rock and roll connection. dave matthews of the dave matthews band created this wine with noted winemaker steve reeder, and this 2010 vintage turned out well, i think. i was worried that dave's efforts to create a wine would turn out overly buttery. but the opposite, if anything, happened: this was a chardonnay thick with passion fruit and tropical flavors ... light, and very pleasant, by my count. greg, though, thought it was a bit sour, and that it was young, without being overly flavorful. true, i bought this wine because of its association with dave matthews; but i'd buy it again, no questions asked, even if i didn't know dave had anything to do with it. 13.5 percent alcohol. less than $20.

Wine column no. 24: The Rhone Rangers

Don't be fooled by the stuffed shirts and haughty smiles, because the wine world is actually a pretty wild place.
Oh sure, you've got your Rothschilds, those Old World traditionalists who often command instant respect at black-tie, seven-course-meal affairs.
But there are cowboys, too, like Cameron Hughes. It's because of his entrepreneurial spirit that he's able to round up the best of wine that doesn't sell and rebrand it in the form of lots that are both inexpensive and mysteriously delicious.
And then there are the Rhone Rangers, a title that is undeniably American.You Lone Ranger fans will likely see the connection between this non-profit group's efforts to expand the public's appreciation for French Rhone varietal wine grapes grown in America and these winemakers' desire to blaze their own trail.
Formed in the mid-1980s, according to Karen MacNeil's The Wine Bible, these maverick winemakers decided to plant new Rhone varieties (like Viognier, a white wine grape) and to coax to life forgotten California plantings of other Rhone varieties (like Mourvedre and Syrah, both of which are red wine grapes.)
Syrah is the 800-pound gorilla of Rhone grapes, according to the Rhone Rangers. Described as an easy wine to work with in the vineyard and in the winery, it tends to remain healthy, is resistant to mildew and rot, ripens early and is flexible enough to be made in various styles.
Rhone Ranger member Cline Cellars makes a very affordable Syrah for under $10 that we bought at Schnucks. We had a 2007 from Sonoma County, California, that was light, slightly rough and easy to drink.
We paired it with boneless pork chops seasoned with garlic salt and lemon pepper, which we wouldn't say was its best pairing. The nose reminded us of cherries and plums. 13.5 percent alcohol. 
As for Mourvedre, this high alcohol, deeply colored, very dense red wine ages well, according to Fodor's California Wine Country, written by John Doerper. It was moderately popular in California under its Spanish name, mataro, before it began to be made in the Rhone style. Cline Cellars makes a version from Contra Costa County in California that is earthy, red berry-ish, slightly sweet and smooth. We had the 2009, which you may not be able to find around here these days, but we're sure Schnucks at least carries some more recent vintages of this varietal. True to its type, the 2009 that we got from Schnucks was a high-octane 15 percent alcohol and, at around $10, was very inexpensive.
Meanwhile, the Rhone Rangers are a somewhat unofficial group. If you're drinking a Rhone Ranger wine from California, Idaho, Washington State, Michigan, Oregon or Virginia (the states that have wineries belonging to the Rhone Ranger group), you won't find that title listed on the bottle. Instead, "this designation reflects an understanding within the organization," the website at www.rhonerangers.org says.
To qualify as a Rhone Ranger, the wine must contain at least 75 percent of the 22 Rhone Ranger grape varieties as approved in the Cotes-du-Rhone in France. And since winery membership dues are $750 per year, not all wineries that are producing Rhone-style wines may belong to the Rhone Rangers organization.
So we wanted to include one particular Viognier made by a non-Rhone Ranger we had recently that was very tasty.
First, what exactly is Viognier? Temperamental, for one thing, and relatively rare, for another. In fact, this French grape varietal almost went the way of the Dodo bird due to bugs, war, economic crises and growing industrialization. By the 1950s and 1960s, the number of acres devoted to Viognier vines in France had so drastically declined that the varietal was near extinction there. But the chances of the grape's survival in Condrieu,
the well-known appellation in France, improved by the 1980s, when abandoned hillsides were replanted with vines and low walls were rebuilt. Still, Viognier is a difficult wine to grow and is naturally low in acidity, MacNeil said. This means it takes a gifted winemaker to coax it to life, and Bonterra Vineyards has done just that with its
2007 vintage.
This Mendocino, Californian, is a smooth, silky, citrus-filled and worthwhile example of the Viognier varietal. We had it with grilled chicken breasts that I marinated in a poultry rub with canola oil for about two hours. We chilled it to about 54 degrees using a nifty wine chiller Greg's parents got us for Christmas and watched as this Viognier evolved as the temperatures rose. Citrus flavors later turned to inklings of lemon and butter as it warmed up in the glass. This is a wine that we think does best in that 55-degree temperature realm, and it would probably also go well with lobster just because of its texture. This wine made with organically grown grapes contained 13.9 percent alcohol. $20 range at Winetree.


2008 Silverado Vineyards Miller Ranch Sauvignon Blanc: Grapefruity and crisp

jan. 1, 2012: this has to be the first pure sauvignon blanc i've had in six or so months. i got it for our new year's eve party but i ended up not having much of it at all. when i opened it that night, it wasn't chilled, and the grapefruit flavors weren't pronounced. it even had some peach overtones. but tonight, i chilled it, and the grapefruit is really overwhelming. i could see this going well with a salad with vinaigrette dressing and maybe some goat cheese, since the acidic dressing and flat texture of the cheese would probably neutralize the grapefruit flavor and crisp textures. greg didn't like this at all, by the way, and the grapefruit was the reigning reason. 13.7 percent alcohol. winetree. about $16.


Wine column no. 23: Our best local buys of 2011

As the bills slowly pile up from this past holiday season, there might be some of us who keep asking ourselves: Was it all worthwhile?
Of course, we're not talking about those special gifts you gave to loved ones or the dinners you worked extra hard to prepare for the people you care about.
We're talking about liking what you bought, meaning determining if you got a good value for your dollar. And in the wine world, where temperature, storage and more can either enhance or downgrade your experience, that's always a gamble.
So here are our choices for the best wine values, by price range, that we had in 2011.
$5-$9.99 category
Two 2008 vintages won out this year.
The first is a Spaniard named Don Ramon from the Campo de Borja denomination, a blend of 75 percent Garnacha and 25 percent Tempranillo. These two grapes are well known in Spain but not so much here in the United States. Garnacha (also known as Grenache in France and California) is a high-yielding variety whose full-bodied red wines are a useful component in blends, according to The New Frank Schoonmaker Encyclopedia of Wine. Tempranillo ripens earlier than most Spanish red grapes and is also considered one of the country's "noble" grape varieties. Don't worry, there's nothing hoity toity about that designation, as it simply means Tempranillo is widely planted and generally well liked. And we certainly enjoyed this blend, which was smooth, a bit black peppery and fun to drink. These grapes came from the foothills of the Iberian Mountain Range, in the northern part of the province of Zaragoza in Spain. We may never get there, so we're happy Winetree can bring it to us. 12.5 percent alcohol.
The other good value wine in this price range is the 2008 Patch Block Merlot. This is actually a French wine comprised of 100 percent Merlot grapes produced by Les Vins Georges Duboeuf, a company with vineyards in Burgandy and the South of France. The Patch Block title refers to a select patch of land within a vineyard called a "block." That's where the grapes exude distinct characteristics and quality resulting from exceptional soil conditions, according to a press release off the Reuters news wire. That's Georges Duboeuf's official story. But in our own experience, this soft red was fruity, smooth and definitely easy to drink -- and it's only $6.99. Winetree, again. 13 percent alcohol. Wine Spectator gave this a rating of 85 out of 100.
$10-$19.99 category
Throw some chicken breasts on the grill and get ready to smile, because the 2010 14 Hands Hot to Trot White Blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Viognier is definitely a good buy. This is a Washington State creation, with grapes sourced from vineyards like Horse Heaven Hills, Wahluke Slope, Columbia Valley and Yakima Valley. Greg and I both got light flavors of melon and pear, but they weren't heavy. This 13 percent alcohol bottle was crisp, with a minimal sweetness, and it was just over $10 at Winetree.
As for our next pick, it's no secret that we like red Zinfandel. We think a good value wine is the 2006 Renwood Old Vine Zinfandel from Amador County, Calif., which adds more spice than sweetness to the realm of flavors in your glass. We had it with smoked pork ribs that were covered with carmelized barbecue sauce, and if that's not mouth-watering enough, then just try this Winetree bottle, which we
got for about $14. There seem to be numerous red Zinfandel out there that teem with blackberries. But this wine does you the favor of rexamining the varietal. 15 percent alcohol.
$20-$29.99 category
Here's another Renwood that was so quietly impressive that we hesitate to recommend it lest it disappear completely from the shelves. The 2004 Grandpere Zinfandel had a caramel and chocolate nose, and it went very well with grilled racks of lamb marinated in garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil and fresh thyme. Varsity Liquors had this high-octane speciman, which came in at 15.5 percent alcohol, for about $28. Wine Spectator gave this a rating of 82 out of 100.
And if you happen to be at Varsity Liquors getting a (hopefully not the last) bottle of the Grandpere, then also consider the 2002 Ceago Vinegarden Merlot. This aromatic wine comprised of 100 percent estate grown Camp Masut grapes from the headwaters west of the Russian River in Redwood Valley, Calif., gave me cinnamon and clove flavors as well as a touch of blackberry. Greg, meanwhile, was impressed by how subtle and gentle it was. The bottle we had contained quite a bit of sediment, so watch out for that last pour into your glass. This wine, incidentally, was grown with organic and biodynamic grapes, according to the label. It's easily a good value purchase at $21. 14.5 percent alcohol.


Loic et Noel Bulliat Beaujolais Nouveau: Smooth, berryish, not acidic

dec. 18, 2011: we had my parents over for dinner to celebrate an early christmas since they were going to be out of town on the holiday, and my dad brought over this 2011 loic and noel bulliat beaujolais nouveau that they had gotten in paris the third week of november, when the new beaujolais parties take place. this bottle was unusual first of all because it was in a clear bottle, further evidence that beaujolais nouveau is in fact something you want to drink soon after it's released. but we liked this gamay variety from the beaujolais district of france because it was very smooth, which is unlike a lot of beaujolais (many tend to be acidic, which is fine if you have an acidic dish to pair with it.) i'm not sure how much my parents paid for this, but we were happy to try it.

here's a link to the website (check out the cute dog loic and noel have as a mascot): http://domaine-bulliat.fr/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=12&Itemid=11

2006 Rosenblum Cellars Reserve Monte Rosso Sonoma Valley Zinfandel: Blackberry deliciousness!

dec. 29, 2011: we had given rob williamson, greg's cousin, this 2006 californian for christmas, and rob was nice enough to share it with us. greg prepared a fantastic venison roast that he had marinated in buttermilk for two days, and then he topped it with a black peppery blueberry gravy that was just as good. he also made some creamy mashed potatoes as well as some steamed carrots with dill on top.

we gave this to rob because he was instrumental in getting us into wine, and he was the one who first introduced us to rosenblum. i'm really glad rob liked this zinfandel, which he said had a blackberry nose. greg said the nose was sweet, with a berryish flavor, and that it was smooth. i thought it wafted blackberries and some menthol. it had a tannic finish. this is a serious, substantial and smooth wine. 14.8 percent alcohol.