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Next Episode of "What She's Drinking"

I realized I haven't posted in ages about what I've been sipping on. The last several months, it's felt a bit like a marathon - not of exorbitant consumption, per se, but of keeping up with the many new vintages hitting shelves this summer. Yes, my colleague and I (largely) enjoy  our "Homework", which consists of bring home new finds or new vintages of old favorites to 'check in' on a particular wine and perhaps most important, have it in the comfort of our own homes, with friends/family (or sometimes solo)  and 9 out of 10 times, with food. Sure, you can taste 60+ wines per week, but there's something to be said for getting a little bit of a reality check, or perspective on what the average wine consumer experiences. Where to begin? Naturally we'll start with rose, since that's what I'm most inclined to take home right at the moment. I don't know what it is, but as soon as it gets warm all I want is a good rose. And now it is H-O-T.

As you may recall from my late Spring post, fresh out of the gates, things were looking a bit unsettled in rose land; wines had not yet come into their own.

But now they are singING!

I'm still a huge fan of Chateau Larroque, the Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend I last wrote about. Contending alongside it for my everyday rose-sipping affections is... Le Fraghe "Rodon" Bardolino Chiaretto rose. Now here's something equally unique (perhaps why there are so many apparent 'names' on the bottle). Bardolino by definition connotes a light styled Italian red, one you might chill. Ok, it's hot outside. Tell me more! The grapes in this lively rose (not that you can tell from the label, ironically) are Rondinella and Corvina - two of the flagship varietals that make up the bold Veneto wine Valpolicella. The grapes see about 6 hours on the skin, giving it a dark rose/light light red wine color. The finished wine actually matures on the lees in stainless steel tanks. This process give it a richer texture but also a zesty punch. I love it for it's uber-dry, quenching qualities - and the fact that there is a surprising, but welcome bit of spice on the finish! I think it is that little extra kick that sets it apart from other roses (particularly the kind I typically gravitate towards, those from Provence).

It's definitely been a fun summer so far! If you want to spend a few extra bones and can get your hands on any, keep an eye out for another vierdo rose - one from County Line in Anderson Valley. This bold wine is a 100% Pinot Noir offering.

What are you drinking at the moment?



Rose season is upon us!

We've had uncharacteristically balmy and warm temps in Boston this week, and with May just around the corner, it's not quite premature to talk about rose wines. Or is it? You know from previous posts of mine on the topic that rose is that special pink wine that is irrefutably dry. It is also something that is released early each Spring in order to be served fresh off the presses, if you will, and keep us refreshed during the warm months of the year. There is great anticipation each year when 'rose season' will begin, a sort of unofficial statement of warmer days to come.

For better or worse - not enough data points are in yet to be sure - the last few years we've noticed a trend whereby producers, importers and wholesalers seem to be in ka-hoots (sp?) to get the first jump on rose season. Last year's (2009) roses from France (Provence being the most famous production area) offered a crisp punch, a happy marriage of minerality and ample fruit, which seemed in never-ending supply. We were grateful. Just the way we like it!

This year's batch, the 2010's, seem a bit lackluster as yet. They aren't bad wines by any stretch of the imagination. But coming on the heels of such a lovely 2009 vintage, it's hard to get as excited at the moment. We can't help wonder if our experience thus far with Provencial rose (the main disappointment) is that the wines are being released TOO early. It's possible the wines just need to settle in, get acclimated and integrated, to really deliver. But we won't know just yet.

In the meantime, if  like me you are happy for the warmer days and want to scratch the rose itch, I recommend giving Provence a little time and trying other areas. Right now I'm digging a terrific rose from Bordeaux (you almost never see rose coming from this appellation) that is a blend of two 'bigger' grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot; it is from Chateau Larroque. Next up is a new arrival VERY few were lucky to get their hands on this year. It is a rose of Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley's Anne Amie made in the saignee method and aged ever so briefly in wood, which gives it a richer mouthfeel. Massachusetts was the only state outside of Oregon to get an ever-so-small allocation of 15 cases. Grab a couple of bottles now to get you over the Provencial hump!

Are you ready for rose season? Found any new favorites?



Summer highlights: under $9 (rose) wine

It seems like summertime is also a time when you're more likely to escape to the beach, or go camping. Or maybe you have the great opportunity to be the 'destination location' of your friends. Either way, it seems like your more likely to be going through a few bottles on a given night, rather than just the one - or more likely to be drinking more in general, night after night on your vacation, for example. So having a few delicious but affordable wines in your repertoire is kind of a necessity. Note: Cheap wine does not necessarily mean BAD wine. On the contrary, savvy wine shop's have a collection of wines they work even harder to find in the affordable price range. Because they won't compromise quality for price.

This summer there were two wines, roses no less, that came with me on vacation pretty regularly. Both were late-comers to Ball Square Fine Wine's rose collection. The first of the two, Les Trois Chenes, is a project of Chateau Moutete and is a crazy blend of Cinsault, Ugni blanc, Syrah, Merlot, Mourvèdre and even Rolle, for good measure. The result? A wine with surprising levity, authenticity (great minerality) and under-handed (in a good way) fruit. Possibly a perfect example of Provincial rose. For $8.99 especially, this was a no-brainer.

The second of the two is a curious wine from the Vinho Verde region of Portugal. No joke. And no surprise, it has a little bit of spritz. A regular cork screw will do it. But those little bubbles go a long way to delight your taste buds on a hot day. (I mean, come on, why else do people put tonic water or club soda in their cocktails? Subtle bubbles rock.) This wine, Adegas de Moncao Murhalas rose, is made from Porguese varietals Alvarelhao, Pedral, and Vinhao, the last of which is a fleshy red grape. Almost sweet red berries and watermelon flavors are lifted by brisk acidity and that little bit of spritz I keep going on about. It's fruit-forward sweetness made it great with spicy foods, too - or as desert itself after a big meal.

Suffice to say: happiness! I'm drinking them still while supplies last.

Which under $9 bottles captured your enthusiasm last summer?



January's Wicked Wines!

January 2010 Wicked WinesAnd.... we're back! What better way to come back from the holidays than to find out this month's Wicked Wine picks? I figure it's worth celebrating the end of 2009 with some truly wonderful selections you can snuggle up to on the coldest nights of the winter. Pop on over to Wicked Local to see what I have up my sleeve!

Does your New Years resolution have anything to do with wine? If so, what have you decided to pursue in 2010?



December Wicked Wines will thrill you, guests, hosts

Dec.09.WickedWinesDecember is one of my favorite months for enjoying wine. Festivities abound and the cold and snow are still welcome friends. It’s also a time to wax nostalgic as we think about all that’s transpired over the last 12 months – and anticipate a new chapter soon to come. There are ample wines for gussying up and heading out the door in your “Sunday best” to enjoy the company of good friends and family. And there are wines for snuggling up by the fire because it’s just so tempting to stay in! Pop over to Wicked Local to learn more about the Wicked (good) Wines for you and yours to enjoy this December! What do you think? Did we hit the nail on the head this month?



June's Wicked (Good) Wines Uncorked!

June 09 Wicked Wines!I can hardly believe it is already June - 6 months of 2009 are behind us and only 6 more to go!  Time to officially get our beach chairs out of storage and fill up a second propane tank as "back up" for those terrific nights of grilling ahead. The only thing needed is a few good ideas for what to uncork this month... Head on over to Wicked Local today to get the skinny on four great wines you should give a (s)wirl. Some are a party all in themselves; others will help get it started (without breaking the bank).

What other wines have you tucked into this month? Any destined to become your official summer "house" wines?


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H1N1... Wines?

mexico (wine) fevahOk. Bad joke. (I can't take full credit as one of my best friends, fellow foodie and wine lover actually fed it to me.) What can I say? Sometimes a little levity is needed!And it was Cinco de Mayo yesterday.... Mexico is actually the oldest wine producing country in the New World. Who knew? (Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson, apparently. There are two full columns dedicated to Mexico in their most recent edition of the World Atlas of Wine.) I was intrigued - but not surprised - to learn the Spaniards got the ball rolling in the 1500s; but there was a significant interruption in 1699 when "the King of Spain banned new vineyards in Mexico, fearing competition to Spain's wine industry, thus halting the development of a wine culture in Mexico for three centuries." Egad! 3 C's? No wonder no one really knows about Mexican wine - and the country is better known for tequila and refreshing cerveza.

It wasn't until the 18th Century that vines started to get a little local love. Grenache, Carignan and even Pedro Ximenez (used in the production of a yummy, rich Sherry) varietals landed on the scene. Somehow, someway, "they" also figured out that Baja, Mexico was quintessential vine country, er... wine country. Only 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean, Baja has a terrific climate and mineral-rich soil ideal for viticulture. Today innovation seems to be setting in - albeit slowly.

If you caught the recent "Diary of a Foodie" episode on PBS, a work of Gourmet magazine, none of this is news to you. Rather, Casa de Piedra Winery is synonymous with innovative, tasty Mexican vino.  Piedra plants a range of "uncommon" Mexican varietals and their philosophy is to keep yields small while employing a "simple technique". The episode reports they plant Grenache and Mission grapes for the reds, and Palomino for the whites. Further research on their website suggests their repertoire of varietals is much greater: Tempranillo, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel are additional red varietals planted; Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are some of the whites grown. That's certainly a diverse lot! I applaud their willingness to experiment.

Unfortunately I've never had the (dis?)pleasure of sipping on a Mexican wine offering. But by Robinson's account, while "Mexican tastes and drinking habits have long lagged behind the increasingly exciting achievements of Mexico's modern vineyards and wineries", they are worth checking out.

Are Mexican wines even available in your market? Have you had a chance to sample them?

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Wine musings for every palate

SidewaysAt last! It's Friday. After what feels like a longer week than usual (perhaps St. Patrick's Day had something to do with it?), this Friday it feels only natural to offer up a more random smattering of news headlines, wine musings and event updates than usual.  Much like wine can, I like to think I'm serving up a little something for everyone today. So here it is! Sting is making his own wine. Indeed. I've seen this bit of news posted by every possible media outlet. If the wine is as good as the coverage he's getting, we're in for a treat!

Merlot might be getting its second wind. I've been noticing the same thing myself, but this week Gaiter and Brecher conducted a hearty taste-off to see if the grape nearly sentenced to death by Miles is worthy of a reprieve. I was a little disappointed to see the duo reflect on mainstream offerings, but by the same token felt it was an interesting experiment - and certainly a testament to good Merlot being quite delicious. I for one prefer it 7 out of 10 times to Cabernet Sauvignon. Ask your local wine buyer what unique example they have on hand and give it a swirl!

If there is an opportunity to link wine with sports, you know I've scored court-side tickets, am sitting behind the dugout or rejoicing on the 50 yard line. Once again Grape Madness has developed a wine bracket in celebration of March Madness. Maybe you'll want to come up with your own version of this fun little game, but I can't resist passing it along. Thanks go out to Robert Dwyer for reminding me about this annual wine diversion.

Finally, for those of you around town looking for a fun night out in support of a great organization, WGBH is hosting a Wine Auction run by Skinner Auction House. The event will be a week from Saturday, on March 28th. Check it out!



Carmenere: something old, something new...

Terra Noble CarmenereThere's something great about finding something you thought had long been lost, or even just finding something you had long forgotten. The idea is the same. There is a magic to the rediscovery, almost heightening your original experience because of the novelty of the find. This happened to me a couple of years ago when my mom had us go through our respective "boxes" of childhood stuff to consolidate our treasures. I remember finding a terrific array of goodies from my first "club", where I was deemed Secretary. I was - and still am - completely humored by the fact that my newsletter writing style and go-get-'m/take-no-prisoners/ra-ra approach as an 8 year old lived on in my daily correspondence with colleagues in 2006. Funny stuff.

Carmenere is to 19th Century Bordeaux, France as my email writing style today is to 1987. Just imagine researchers' surprise and delight in the mid 1990s when the Carmenere grape was found alive and well in Chile - after it was long thought distinct due to the onset of phylloxera in Bordeaux. Difficult to replant and prone to disease because of the weather conditions in Bordeaux, Carmenere (one of the 6 original "noble" varieties of Bordeaux) was considered a lost cause and not replanted after the phylloxera epidemic. Somehow, someway, Carmenere grape plantings arrived in Chile - and the varietal thrived in its new dry, warm habitat. The 'funny' thing is this varietal was thought to be Merlot.... for quite a long time Chilean "Merlot" was distinct. Finally, in 1994, research was undertaken to sort things out - and Carmenere's true identity and history were revealed.

Today Carmenere is not just used as a blending grape, but known in its own right as one of Chile's best single varietal wines. Don't get me wrong, I've tasted a lot of bad Carmenere, with bitter, stemmy flavors and a distinct green bell pepper vegetal quality dominating. But when it's on, it's on. Good examples show tremendous depth for a "middle-weight", including red and dark fruits, a touch of earthiness, tobacco and leather, as well as a distinct smokey character or even a mocha/dark chocolate element. No kidding. All that in a bottle of wine!

Just this week I retasted the well-known 2007 Terra Noble Grand Reserva  Carmenere.  It's smokiness and darker tones (e.g. dried herbs, tobacco and leather) made me channel a great big stew of lamb, carrots and potatoes,  sitting in front of my (theoretical) fireplace. I realized somehow thus far I had neglected to share this something new/something old with my readers. Well, better late than never! This wine will certainly carry us through the inevitably blustery March right on into Spring, when our barbecues will be ripe for action thereafter.

But as I said, there's a lot of Carmenere on the market and it doesn't always delight. Chile is, after all, an up and coming area experiencing a few growing pains. And I think Carmenere may be more of an acquired taste than an automatic winner for most consumers. No surprise then, today's question is:

What's your experience with Carmenere?


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inspiration, hope, delight and a bottle (or two...) of wine

I was blessed with three things this Thanksgiving: inspiration, hope and pure delight. Since wine happened to be the catalyst for all three (and I feel like all we hear about is bad news these days), I can't help but pick up my blog after the holiday weekend and share some positive goodness. Inspiration. I've never had so much fun interacting with wine customers than last Wednesday night at the shop. People were looking for nice bottles of vino to accompany their meal, serve as delicious liquid 'balm' for potentially awkward family moments, or otherwise thank their host for their hospitality. People were simply in good spirits, looking forward to a few days off and satisfied bellies. Their bottle of vino was something they not only wanted to complete their meal, but to say something more, too.

Hope. People weren't panicking. Some were looking to spend less per bottle so they could buy more than one more easily, but I couldn't help but notice I was helping customers select more expensive bottles of wine for the occasion. (There is so much good juice at various price points I had anticipated helping folks find the perfect bottle anywhere from $10 to $100 - not more consistently in the $20-$35 range, which I did often.)

Delight. As I dressed my table, roasted my bird and prepared the delicious trimmings, it was lovely to open the bottles of wine I finally selected for the occasion (after much deliberation - after all, I am a Virgo with sometimes too much wine knowledge for my own good!). They were exactly what I hoped would delight my taste buds and guests.

Our pre-bird snacks were accompanied by an old favorite of mine (though the latest vintage which I had not yet enjoyed), the 2007 Guidobono Barbera d'Alba. I call it my fireplace wine; it is so approachable and versatile I can enjoy it with a variety of foods - or simply stick my feet up in front of the fire and sip. The 2007 is perhaps less complex in flavor than 2006, but it is no less satisfying. It was perfect for me to sip on as I put the final touches on the meal, enjoyed my guests and snacked.

Our main meal featured the 2006 Hillinger Small Hill Red, a truly fabulous, character-driven, soft and supple Pinot Noir/Merlot blend from Austria. In case I haven't mentioned this wine here before, I will say it now: to me this wine is like the big, holiday bonus you didn't know you were getting (it shows you the respect you deserve, but does so with unprecedented sophistication and grace). A lovely knock-out!

All of these things were enough to put me in the holiday spirit. This week I'll be getting out my decorations and thinking about wines to delight us all as Santa slides down the chimney in but 25 days time!

How was your Thanksgiving? What wine(s) did you select for the occasion?

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