Category Archives: Tasting Room

New Zealand – The Land of Diversity and Innovation

Kia Ora! (Maori greeting literally meaning “be well,” but more commonly used to mean “Hi”)

On a wine trip to New Zealand earlier this year, I fell in love. No, I didn’t meet Mr. Right, but I did fall for the wine region of my dreams! New Zealand is most famous in the US for Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, and while it fully deserves that fame, there’s so much more to love across both islands.

Continue reading New Zealand – The Land of Diversity and Innovation

Tasting Room: Wines that taste great from a plastic cup (or great summer wines!)

For this month’s Tasting Room, we’ve gone with the them of “Wines that Taste Good in a Plastic Cup.” Otherwise known as “Perfect Summer Wines.” But the plastic cup thing is more catchy. Why do we call it this? Well, it’s summer – we have BBQs and picnics with big groups of people; you sip wine in a backyard, at a beach or by a pool. Sometimes on a boat! And these types of gatherings happen without glassware, hence our plastic cup title.

Now, I love my wines in a nice, tulip-shaped glass, but when that is not possible, I do have a few requirements for a wine I’m going to throw in a plastic cup. The first three things I look for: big aromatics, juicy fruit and refreshing acidity. Remember, the reason wines are drunk from pretty tulip shaped glasses is because that shape concentrates the aromas to your nose. A plastic cup, without that shape, dissipates those aromas. But wines that are intense and aromatic can overcome this obstacle. And it’s probably dang hot outside so you need something juicy with nice, crisp acidity. The last requirement for my wine would be a reasonable price! No need to go deep into those pockets when your kid may come running by and spill it out of that cup anyway!

For whites, Torrontes and Sauvignon Blanc are great aromatic wines, perfect for warm weather and those plastic cups. A number of Pinot Gris/Grigios also come up in the aromatic list, as well as Italian and Spanish varieties.

One of our favorite white is the Crios de Susana Balbo Torrontes – this is a value bottle that is a great example of the grape. Torrontes is unique to Argentina. We love it because it has the aromatics of a grape like Viognier but the crisp acidity of Sauvignon Blanc. It gives you lots of stone fruits – peach, pear, even apple, with a perfumed floral backbone. It’s just pretty in the nose. Then on the palate, you get this zippy acidity that is so refreshing next to the fruity, floral flavors. A perfect combination.

And of course, Rose… you can’t think of summer without thinking of Rose! To be honest, there are not many Roses I don’t like. I do shy away from sweet rose for the most part, unless I have a super spicy dish with me, but  A current favorite is definitely the Mulderbosch from South Africa. It’s a bit different than many rose wines as it is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon – that’s a fuller bodied, thicker-skinned variety than many roses. But we love this part of it – it’s bold enough to match up to some spicy summer foods and yet crisp enough to get you through the heat! And… perfect in a plastic cup.

Finally, red wine lovers have an excellent line up for their glass – I mean, cup. From good California Zinfandel to juicy Cotes-du-Rhone to the wine we feature today – the Yalumba Organic Shiraz – reds have plenty to offer at a picnic or BBQ.

The Yalumba Organic Shiraz is a juicy and spicy wine, with lots of fruit and a great freshness to it to make it perfect for summer and your plastic cup. At a crazy good deal, it’s hard NOT to grab a few cases for summer.

If you’re like me, you may feel bad about the environmental impact of plastic, or you may just love stemware. If you don’t want to use real wine glasses but also don’t want plastic, invest in some stemless wine glasses. I love my Riedel O’s and we use those almost everywhere. If Riedel isn’t in the budget, there are now biodegradable cups being made out there, which should help you feel better about using disposables when your guest count is large.

Happy Summer sipping!
Gwendolyn & Michelle

Some Wine Notes from the Aspen Food & Wine Festival

The Aspen Food & Wine Festival takes place every year in June. It’s a weekend full of much wine and food (sometimes too much) with seminars by celebrity chefs and wine folks, grand tastings with wineries from around the world and all around imbibing by all. As one chef put it this year, this is the place where people use the term ‘altitude sickness’ instead of hangover. Luckily, after doing this a bit, I’ve learned that the key is pacing yourself. By doing this, I made it to the early seminars, enjoyed some morning runs and hit every grand tasting, where I discovered some cool producers and some even cooler packaging (which I’ll report to you in a future post).

Champagne – One of those early 10am seminars covered Prestige Champagne. Prestige Champagne is the top cuvee of a Champagne house – often the best of the best. As expected, my favorite was Krug. Always said that if Champagne houses were sorority houses, I’d pledge Krug. I was also very impressed with the 1996 Pommery Cuvee Louise. The 1996 vintage was one of the best of the decade and the wine is still extremely fresh and bright, indicating the potential to age further. But the wine that most impressed me came from producer Alfred Gratien. The NV Alfred Gratien Cuvee Paradis Rose Brut was delicious! This brut rose is aged in bottle six years before release and production is under 20,000 cases/year. The nose showed raspberries & strawberries and the palate was full of bright fruit and crisp acidity. Yet the wine is medium to full bodied. This is definitely a food Champagne – would be perfect with salmon, roast chicken, or, as the panel recommended, BBQ! This prestige Champagne retails for about $130, one of the lower prices of the tasting. Later that evening, we tasted the Alfred Gratien Brut Rose NV. This was a lovely wine as well – not as complex as the Cuvee Paradis, but another great food wine and summer sipper (but not out of a plastic cup).

Grand Tastings – Four Grand Tastings, each only an hour and 45 minutes long, hundreds of booths = too little time to do it all! But I was able to do enough to find a couple of gems.

Hall Winery – I’ve long been a fan of Kathryn Hall Cabernet Sauvignon. While so many Cali Cabs are charging upwards of $150 a bottle, the Kathryn Hall sits at $70. It’s a mix of sweet spice, black fruits and super smooth tannins. Very approachable now, this is a wine for those who like big, fruit-driven California Cabs. Plus, Kathryn Hall herself is gracious and lovely. The discovery wine at the table for me was the Hall 2005 Bergfeld Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Oh yeah, this was big & smooth. It looks like it’s only available at the winery right now (though I’m looking into that) and retails for $100. I’d still pick the Kathryn Hall Cab, though, as it’s got that great price tag and those sweet fruits & sweet spices – warms the soul…

Benziger – Yes, I’ve tasted Benziger before, and really enjoyed it. But I had not yet tasted the Signaterra brand… WOW. All these wines were really amazing. Benziger is 100% biodynamic, and while some practices may be slightly wacky, the wines are  pretty incredible. The Sauvignon Blanc from Russian River is probably my new favorite SB from California. It’s intense but elegant and so well balanced. The Pinot Noir is also delicious. But the Three Blocks, the Cabernet/Merlot blend, blew me away… This was fantastic. Big with great structure and layers of flavor. Complex. Love this line of wine. Stay tuned as these wines will be in stock shortly!

These are just some of my newer discoveries. A few consistent favorites:

Penley Estates – the Chertsey is a great Bordeaux blend, and the Hyland & Phoenix are excellent as usual – also great values!

Innocent Bystander – Great label, great wine, great value. Cool climate wines (from Yarra Valley) are some of my favorites.

d’Arenberg – I really do love just about every wine they make. Had a chance to taste the Dead Arm. Lives up to the standard – delicious.

Mulderbosch – Yes, love the Sauvignon Blanc, Rose &  the whole line up.

Rhone Valley Wines – the trade organization was pouring quite a few, including D’Aqueria Tavel, Guigal Condrieu and Perrin Vinsobres.

Look forward to hearing your favorites!