Monday, December 27, 2010

Seghesio Zinfandel Sonoma County Old Vine, 2001

We enjoyed Christmas day at home, just the two of us. For dinner we had a herb-crusted rack of lamb, creamy cheese polenta and oven roasted brussel sprouts. We pulled two special wines from the cellar… wow… they were worth the wait, we had the Seghesio Zinfandel Sonoma County Old Vine, 2001 and the Columbia Crest Reserve Syrah, 2001. It was a merry Christmas! Both wines were delicious and great with our holiday meal, however, the Seghesio Old Vine Zin was a knockout. The Seghesio family planted their first Zinfandel vineyard in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley back in 1895. Since then, four generations of the Seghesio family have tended over 400 acres of vineyards in Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys. Today winemaker Ted Seghesio produces exceptional Zinfandel and other Italian varietals in their Healdsburg winery in the heart of Sonoma’s wine country. This wine was selected for the Wine Spectator “Top 100” list in 2003. The color is a deep ruby, nearly opaque, with a crimson rim. The nose has an alluring bouquet packed with blackberry, cherry, minerals, truffles, dried herbs and toasty oak. This is a full-bodied wine with gobs of spicy black fruits flavors firmed by solid tannins and lifted by gentle minerality. Toasty vanilla, exotic spices and hints of cocoa contribute to a very long finish. This Seghesio Zinfandel is an incredibly delicious, full-bodied wine with gorgeous clarity, great complexity and definition. This is one of the best wines we have enjoyed this year!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Domaine les Serres du Colombier, Crozes-Hermitage, 2007

This red wine from Antoine Ogier comes from the Crozes-Hermitage appellation in the northern Rhone valley. This is 100% Syrah made in a modern style with abundant fresh fruit and some “earthy” flavors that says "Côtes du Rhône". The color is a deep ruby with a scarlet rim. There is a lovely bouquet of ripe red berries, cassis and toasted marshmallow. It delivers a broad mouthful of fresh fruit with dark cherry, red raspberry and kumquat. This is a zesty wine with supple tannins, nice minerality and black pepper essence that balances the fruit driven style. It has plenty of complexity and structure, and is also very versatile with food.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Leone d’ Oro Sangiovese, 2009

This is a wine made in the Marche region of Italy by the boutique winery Domodimonti. The winery's objective is to produce wines as naturally as possible with the least amount of additives. Their natural approach to the cultivation and conservation of vines typically exceeds the rules and regulations of organic farming. They focus on specific aspects of sustainable farming including water conservation, soil improvement, erosion control and the latest in integrated pest management techniques. Their minimalist approach can best be described as follows: Grapes are hand-picked, sustainably grown using organic matter, low-yielding vineyards, no added sugar, no acid adjustments and minimal sulfites added. The Leone d’ Oro Sangiovese has a ruby color with purple hues. There is an enticing nose of ripe red berries, strawberries, cloves, violets and wet rocks. This is a light to medium bodied wine with delicate tannins and crisp acidity. There are flavors of fresh strawberry, plum, cranberry, pencil lead and baking spice. This wine is fleshy, youthful and fruit-forward and will pair well with any tomato based pasta or a nice pepperoni pizza. This wine is available from Wines from Italy for about $12. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Lamb Shank Cassoulet and Red Chard

Cassoulet is a is a rich, slow-cooked bean stew or casserole, originating in the south of France, containing meat (typically pork, sausage, duck or goose and sometimes lamb). If you like lamb, cook this dish. This is a relatively easy, slow-cook dish that is great for a cold winter day. The red chard is easily cooked in the final 10 minutes before serving. This dish is a lamb-lovers dream!

Lamb Shank Cassoulet
1 lb. Dried Navy Beans (Great Northern)
2 sprigs (6 inch) of Fresh Rosemary
Water to cover (about 6-8 cups)
4 Lamb Shanks
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
4 Clove Garlic, chopped
6 medium Carrots, peeled and large pieces
4 medium Parsnips, peeled and large pieces
2 medium Onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
½ Teaspoon Dried Thyme
½ Teaspoon Dried Mustard
½ Teaspoon Dried Tarragon
½ Teaspoon Celery Seed
½ Teaspoon Black Pepper
1-2 Teaspoon Salt to taste

Red Chard
1 Bunch Red Chard, coarsely chopped
1 Clove Garlic chopped
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Salt to taste

Place the dried Navy Beans and Rosemary in a large Dutch-oven or Cassoulet pot. Cover with water and allow to soak overnight. The next day, bring the pot to boil and cook the beans and rosemary, on low heat, for 30 minutes. Remove the rosemary stem and transfer the beans and cooking liquid to a large bowl. Rinse and dry the Dutch-oven and return it to the stove top. Sprinkle the lamb shanks with salt and pepper and brown on all sides (in the 3 tablespoons of olive oil) in the Dutch-oven, over medium high heat. Add the carrots, parsnips, garlic and onion to the pot along with all of the herbs, black pepper and some salt. Reduce heat to medium and cook an additional 10 minutes, occasionally stirring. Add the beans and cooking liquid to the pot, stir. The liquid should almost cover the lamb shanks, if not add another cup or two of water. Place the Dutch-oven in a 325 degree oven, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Reduce the oven to 275 degrees, cover the Dutch-oven, and cook an additional 3 to 4 hours (add salt if needed). In a separate pan, prepare Red Chard by sautéing in olive oil with garlic and salt for about 6-8 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of water, cover and remove from heat; wait 5 minutes. Serve as you wish, enjoy!

Altos de Luzón, 2003

Bodegas Luzon produces wines from the Jumilla Denomination of Origin (DO) of Spain. This Altos de Luzón is a blend of Monastrell (Mourvèdre), Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo. This wine made the Wine Spectator top 100 list in 2005 and was scored 93 points. We opened this wine to enjoy with a Lamb Shank Cassoulet. As Seattle sinks deeper and deeper into the grayness of winter, I cook more and more slow-cooked stews. This wine has been in our cellar for the past 5 years. The color is a deep, dark purple red. The nose shows notes of mineral and blackberry and aromas of kirsch liqueur with spicy overtones. This is a full bodied wine with lively raspberry, black cherry, current, black grape, blueberry, bacon, earth and spicy vanilla. This powerful wine has layer upon layer of ripe fruit and is gently tannic and chewy with a long, long finish. This wine is drinking well now but could continue to be cellared for another 2-5 years. This wine is outstanding, I wish we had more!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Pascual Toso Malbec, 2009

Last week we enjoyed a bottle of the 2008 Pascual Toso Malbec with our Thanksgiving dinner. This week we decided to open a bottle of the 2009 vintage to compare it to the previous vintage and enjoy with some casual mid-week meals. This current vintage was similar to the 2008, but perhaps a little more straight forward and vibrant. The color is a deep ruby and the nose projects blackberry, plum and a hint of coffee. This is a medium bodied wine, quite youthful, with flavors of dark berries, plum, cocoa and leather. There are smooth tannins and ample acidity that contribute to a well balanced wine that will pair well with any meal or a nutty cheese. The Pascual Toso Malbec over delivers at the $10 price point.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pascual Toso Malbec, 2008

Established in 1890, Pascual Toso is one of the oldest wineries in Argentina. We first tried a bottle of the 2006 vintage and found it to be a stand-out value for a quality “new meets old-world” Malbec. There is much written about what are the best wines to enjoy with the traditional Thanksgiving Turkey dinner. How about an earthy Pinot Noir, a jammy Zinfandel or perhaps a crisp Sauvignon Blanc? Well, this year we decided to open this 2008 Malbec that we had cellared for the past year. In the glass this wine is a dark ruby color and show pretty aromas of black cherry, licorice, leather and violets. This is a medium bodied wine with rich flavors of plum, cassis, coffee and cedar. There are well integrated silky tannins and ample acidity that makes this wine smooth and food friendly. So this straight forward, delicious Malbec was a nice addition to our Thanksgiving dinner… maybe Merlot next year, who knows!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Belezos Rioja Crianza, 2006

This red wine from Bodegas Zugober is made from 95% Tempranillo blended with 5% Mazuelo & Graciano. Bodegas Zugober in Lapuebla de Labarca, was founded in 1987 by the enologists Eduardo Gomez and Isabel Bernardo. This Crianza is made from vines that are more than 15 years old, fermented in stainless steel tanks, stored for 14 months in American oak barrels then bottled for 6 months prior to release. The color is a dark ruby red. This wine is very aromatic with lovely aromas of black cherry, plum, baking spice, minerals, violets and toasty oak. The is a medium bodied wine that is quite elegant and smooth with rich flavors of dark berries, cherry, chocolate and vanilla crème. There is nice acidity and well integrated smooth tannins that contribute to a long, expressive finish. I wish we had a few more bottles of this delicious, mid-priced Rioja. We purchased this Belezos Rioja Crianza at Seattle Wine Company for about $14.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Waterbrook Mélange Noir, 2008

Waterbrook Winery, in the heart of Walla Walla, Washington has been producing quality wines for over 25 years. Founded in 1984, they were the fourth established winery in Walla Walla. Today, Waterbrook is owned by Precept Brands and the Waterbrook brand has a reputation for delivering excellent value wines from numerous vineyards throughout the Columbia and Walla Walla valleys. The 2008 Mélange Noir is a delicious red blend that highlights the quality fruit from Washington State. The Mélange is a blend of 33% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Syrah, 11% Malbec, 7% Sangiovese and 2% each: Tempranillo, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Grenache and Zinfandel and Pinot Noir (wow…talk about blends). In the glass it shows a dark purple/garnet color and is nearly opaque. The nose is packed with black fruit, fresh cherry, baking spice and cedar. This is a medium bodied wine with a fruit-driven style showing juicy plum, raspberry, cassis, black cherry, roasted herbs and lemon zest. There is gentle acidity and smooth tannins that contribute to this wine’s pure and elegant nature. This is not a big or overly complex wine, but it is soft, succulent and totally delicious. The Waterbrook Mélange Noir, 2008 can be found in the Seattle area for about $13.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Charamba Douro, 2007

Quinta da Aveleda has been making wines in Portugal for over 130 years. During the 1990s, Aveleda started a relationship with the famous oenologist, from Bordeaux, Professor Denis Dubourdieu to help produce high quality wines that would appeal to the world market. Charamba is made from the typical grape varieties used to produce Port wine: Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional. This Portugese blend from the Douro Valley DOC has a dark garnet color with a fragrant nose of crushed raspberry, flint and green grape. This is a medium bodied wine, quite fruit-forward, with ripe berry, cherry pie, lemon zest, black pepper and slight vanilla oak. There are gentle tannins that balance the zesty fruit in this flavorful everyday wine. Charamba can be found throughout the Seattle area (and in some Trader Joe’s) for about $9 and is worth giving a try.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Damilano Barolo, 2001

Barolo wines are made from 100% Nebbiolo and carry a reputation of being some of the best wines in the world. Damilano makes Barolos with single vineyard designations from their prestigious estate vineyards in Liste and Cannubi, but they also buy grapes from other areas of Barolo to make this non-designated Barolo. This Damilano Barolo made the Wine Spectator “Top 100” list, back in 2005 and was recognized as a great value from Barolo coming in at about $33. Tonight we decided to open a bottle of this Barolo that has been resting in our wine cellar for the past 5 years. The wine has a dark ruby color with a purple rim. On the nose is pleasant aromas of blackberries, cherries, mushrooms and some cellar floor. This is a full bodied wine with flavors of black plum, black raspberry, cranberry, cola, tobacco, tea and red cherry. There are abundant velvety tannins that are will integrated with the vibrant fruit and earthy flavors. This wine is drinking well now, but should continue to evolve for the next 5 to 10 years. We enjoyed this excellent Barolo with an outstanding dinner at Cantinetta in Bellevue. This wine paired well with some Ricotta Gnocchi with Braised Lamb and the Wild Boar Ossobuco...Yum!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

La Cattura, 2006

This red wine comes from Poggio al Casone, located in Tuscany, near the famous town of Pisa. This red wine is 90% Teroldego and 10% Syrah. The Teroldego grape is a lesser known Italian variety that is usually grown in northern Italy’s Trentino-Alto-Adige zone. Recent genetic testing has shown a close relationship between Teroldego and the Syrah grape. In the glass, this wine has a dark ruby color with a purple rim. This is a medium to full bodied wine with rich flavors of black plum, red raspberry, cola, black pepper and earth. There are abundant smooth tannins and crisp acidity that complete the package. There is no evidence of vanilla or oak. This is an interesting wine that is fruity and earthy with a bold profile, but still an excellent wine with food. We enjoyed this 2006 La Caturra with some Braised Pork Loin Back Ribs, Basil-Garlic Mashed Potatoes and some Parmesan Crusted Asparagus.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Paso A Paso, 2008

Bodegas Volver, under the direction of Spanish oenologist, Rafael Cañizares seeks to create "new world" wines with the maximum expression of the Tempranillo grape. This winery is located in La Mancha and the 40 year old vineyards are planted in harsh sandy soil with a river rock base. These grapes benefit from hot dry days and cool nights of central Spain. The Paso A Paso is 100% Tempranillo that is hand picked and slowly macerated and fermented, then aged for 6 months in French oak barrels. In the glass this wine has a dark black/purple color and is nearly opaque. There is an expressive bouquet of spicy cherry, pencil lead, wild blueberry, black raspberry and violets. This is a full bodied wine with chewy dark concentrated black fruit, sweet tobacco, deep minerality and considerable tannins. Firm, focused and fresh, there is impressive concentration and opulence with an oak and mineral accented finish. This is a exceptional value for big Tempranillo wine. The 2008 Paso A Paso can be found at Esquin Wines, in Seattle, for about $11. This wine will pair well with hearty stews, grilled meats and sharp cheeses.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Zenato Valpolicella Superiore, 2007

The Zenato winery has about 175 acres of vineyard located in Lugana, northwest of Verona, in the Veneto region of Northern Italy. For over 50 years, Zenato has been producing wines that showcase the lovely wines of the region. This pleasant Zalpolicella is made from 85% Corvina, 10% Rondinella, and 5% Sangiovese. This wine is produced in a traditional method by de-stemming and crushing, followed by 6-7 days maceration with the skins. The wine is kept in temperature controlled steel tanks for malolactic fermentation then matured in Slovenian oak barrels for 12 months prior to bottling. The color is a deep, dark red with a crimson hue. The nose offers fragrances red cherry, dried cranberries, sage, leather and some dusty earth. This is a medium bodied wine with flavors of chocolate covered cherries, red raspberry, toasted almonds, coco and violets and baking spice. There is a nice structure with a velvety texture from smooth tannins and a crisp edge from vibrant acidity. The finish is long and flavorful. This Zenato is ready to enjoy now, but can be cellared for a few years. Consider this wine with a Herb Crusted Pork Roast or an Autumn Mushroom Risotto. We purchased this Valpolicella fron Esquin Wines, in Seattle, for about $12.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Six Prong Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, 2007

This new release from Six Prong is a Cabernet Sauvignon blend from the Alder Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA of Washington’s Columbia Valley. The Alder Ridge Vineyard was first planted in 1996 and is now a site that produces excellent grapes for many excellent wines from that region. The list of wineries using these grapes include Columbia Winery, Betz Family, Hightower, Novelty Hill, Syncline, Matthews Cellars, Andrew Rich, Owen Roe, Maryhill, Chatter Creek, Ash Hollow, Forgeron Cellars, Long Shadows, Ste. Michelle, and Covey Run. This Six Prong Cabernet has a deep ruby/purple color that is nearly opaque. A heady bouquet evokes ripe blackberry, cassis, plum, chocolate and wet rocks. This is a full bodied wine that displays bold, intense flavors of spicy cherry, cassis, black raspberry, licorice and cedar. This wine is still quite young and burly. There are aggressive chewy tannins that seem to compete with the layer upon layer of ripe fruit. There is a decent level of acidity that is trying to get things to balance. This wine might be very rewarding if laid down in the cellar for 3-5 years. We purchased this bold Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon from Pete’s Wine Shop, in Bellevue, for about $14.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Paolo Manzone Fiorenza Barbera d'Alba, 2007

The Paolo Manzone winery is located in the Piedmont district of Northern Italy amongst the rolling hills between Alba and Dogliani. This small producer grows estate Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiola on south-facing slopes of clay and limestone. All their grapes are picked by hand and the wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks and refined in mature French oak barrels. The Fiorenza Barbera is 100% Barbera from 20-25 year old vines and is made in the typical style of the region. Barbera is known as the “King of Food Wines” due to its abundant acidity, medium body and smooth tannins. This is a medium bodied wine with a deep ruby color and pleasant aromas of cherry, blueberry, prune and cellar floor. Very flavorful in the mouth, the Fiorenza shows abundant red and black fruit with black cherry, red raspberry, cranberry and plum. There are additional flavors of tar, light oak and dried herbs framed by zesty acidity and smooth, subtle tannins. This wine will pair well with any hearty Italian dinner or some good sausage or sharp cheese. We purchased this excellent value Barbera d’Alba at Pete’s Wine Shop, in Bellevue, for about $10.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Palestra, 2008

Last summer we enjoyed a few bottles of the 2006 and the 2007 Palestra and found both quite delightful and very reasonably priced. Now we just enjoyed a bottle of the newly released 2008 vintage, and once again, we are impressed. The Encostas do Douro Palestra is a blend of Tinta Barroca, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz. All these grapes are indigenous to the Douro Region of Portugal. This wine has a dark ruby color and a rich nose of black cherry, plum, cocoa and black pepper. This is a fruit forward, medium bodied wine with flavors of dark berry, black cherry, cranberry, flint and lingering black pepper. This wine has a gentle and rich mouth feel from abundant, but well integrated tannins. The finish is soft and elegant with no harsh edges. This 2008 vintage of the Palestra reminds me of the 2007 vintage and is another example of a great table wine, from Portugal, that can be found in the Seattle area for about $10. We enjoyed this nice wine with some Grilled Chicken Sausage with Fontina Stuffed Hatch Chili Peppers. This wine is worth seeking out and is now available at Pete‘s wine Shop, in Bellevue..

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ruffino Modus, 2001

Tonight we enjoyed this “Super-Tuscan” with a fantastic Italian dinner. We have cellared this 2001 Modus for the past 5 years and time has added beautiful depth and complexity to this wine. This Ruffino Modus is a blend of 50% Sangiovese, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot. For over 130 years Ruffino has been one of the leading Chianti wineries. I have been a fan of the Modus wines since their 1999 vintage. This wine is deep ruby red, nearly opaque with garnet hues. The nose has aromas of black cherry, licorice, plum, chocolate, leather and baking spice. This is a full bodied wine with an impressive chewy texture that is robust, yet smooth. There is a solid core of juicy black fruit, stewed prunes and dark berry flavors complemented by cocoa, tobacco and some earth. There are good levels of mature tannins with rolling acidity that contribute to a long, satisfying finish. Presently, you can purchase the 2006 vintage for about $30 and it should have many of the same delicious characteristics of the 2001 . We purchased this wine at Pete’s Wine Shop, in Bellevue, for about $25.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Volver, 2007

The 2007 Volver is a single vineyard wine made from 100% Tempranillo from the La Mancha area of central Spain. The wine is aged for 14 months in new French oak. This is another wine imported by Jorge Ordonez and is a good example of the great quality wines that can be made from the Tempranillo grape. The wine has a deep purple color with a lovely nose of black cherry, raspberry, smoke and vanilla. On the palate it is a full-bodied wine with of ripe black plum, blackberry, cherry jam, ground coffee and a touch of oak. This wine is very “New-World” with a rich mouth-feel, bold fruit, abundant creamy tannins and a long, balanced finish. The 2007 Volver is delicious now, but should continue to develop with a few years in the cellar. We purchased the wine from Pete’s Wine Shop, in Bellevue, for about $15.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Cantinetta, Bellevue

  • rustico, elegante and delizioso: a great addition to downtown Bellevue

During the past decade there has been amazing growth in Bellevue with newly constructed high-rises, an ever increasing population and a slue of new restaurants. A welcomed trend is privately owned restaurants that offer a level of service, quality and atmosphere that is unmatched by the corporate “big-boys” like Maggiano's, P.F. Chang's and The Cheesecake Factory. The newly opened Bellevue Cantinetta is an off-shoot of the popular, quaint Seattle Cantinetta tucked away in a Wallingford neighborhood.
Located at street level on Old Main Street, Cantinetta is a small restaurant (by Bellevue standards) with a warm atmosphere of a Tuscan Trattoria. The dimly lit, high ceiling room has massive windows, Italian country chandeliers, re-claimed wood floors, warm brown tones and hefty rustic wood furniture. Dining options include small, medium and large rectangular tables, an outdoor sidewalk section and a curved rustic bar to enjoy a glass of wine or a complete meal.

The menu is small and precise showcasing fresh house-made pastas, Tuscan inspired antipasti and entrées created with local organic and seasonal ingredients. The young chef is the talented Tomer Shneor who is originally from Haifa, Israel and has spent time in some of New York’s finest restaurants. We had an opportunity to speak with Tomer as he walked us through the menu and highlighted the details of various preparations and the quality local ingredients. The chef is excited about sourcing fresh, local produce from the Bellevue Farmers Market.

The menu is organized in traditional Tuscan fashion with Antipasti, Contorni, Primi, Secondi and Dolci. Kate and I decided to order something from each section and share our picks. We brought a bottle of Giuseppe Campagnola Le Bine Valpolicella Classico Superiore, 2006 which we new would be a great compliment to our meal. We started with the antipasti of Heirloom Tomato, Burrata, mizuna. The presentation was simple and elegant with chunks of fresh orange and red tomato, a cut ball of creamy white Burrata cheese and a mound of well-dressed delicate greens. Our primo plati was fresh Tagliatelle with summer corn, house made pancetta and fresh Shitake. The perfectly cooked pasta was delicate and delicious and the sweet summer corn was deftly balanced by the smoky/salty pancetta and the earthy shitake mushrooms. Our secondi was fresh Halibut with caramelized Zucchini. The super-fresh Halibut was cooked very well with a crispy pan-seared crust and a moist flaky interior. The fish was plated over a puréed sweet yellow pepper sauce with caramelized yellow and green squash. For the contorni ( side dish) we ordered the Eggplant. The eggplant was fantastic and quite memorable with a preparation that includes marinating for at least 24 hours, then slow cooking with olive oil and tomato creating intensely flavorful morsels…yum. For dessert (dolci) we had the warm Chocolate Budino. This was a perfect dessert to savor as we finished off our lovely Valpolicella. The Budino (Italian for pudding) was rich, voluptuous, creamy chocolate heaven made with olive oil and perked up with a delightful sprinkling of sea salt. Kate told Chef Shneor that she would love to have the recipe!

Overall, Cantinetta is a great addition to the Bellevue dining scene. The restaurant is warm and inviting, the service is attentive and professional and the food is simple, elegant and delicious. We look forward to trying every item on the delightful, inspired menu. We will definitely return in the near future; this could be the start of a long and satisfying relationship. Cantinetta is located at 10038 Main Street in Bellevue, Washington.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Vini La Quercia Wines

Excellent Montepulciano d' Abruzzo Wines: DOC and DOCG

Earlier this month we purchased three different wines from Wines from Italy, a specialty importer of well crafted Italian wines. All of these wines are made by Vini La Quercia in Morro D'Oro, a small town located in the heart of the "Colline Teramane" in the province of Teramo, Abruzzo. "La Quercia"'s vineyards are located on sunny hills between the Adriatic Sea and the Gran Sasso mountain. Their location, land and elevation allows the optimal climate and conditions for ideal grapes cultivation that helps them create excellent wines with unique characteristics. La Quercia is a small estate winery that takes pride in producing great wines that are a good reflection of Abruzzo. Abruzzo is about two-thirds mountains and one-third hills. It is east of Rome from the center of the Italian Peninsula to the Adriatic coast. It has four provinces; Chieti, L'Aquilla, Pescara, and Teramo. The main grape varieties are the white Trebiano and the red Montepulciano. There is a town in Tuscany called Montepulciano that should not be confused with the grape variety. All three wines we tried were made from the Montepulciano grape and each represents a different style or “level” of wine.

The first wine is the Montepulciano d' Abruzzo, DOC, 2008. This wine is made without the use of oak barrels and is released and often enjoyed while young. This wine has a deep purple color and a pleasant nose of black fruit, wet rocks and spice. This is a medium bodied wine with rich dark berry flavors, crisp acidity of cooked cranberries and abundant gripping tannins that cloak the tongue. A good “food wine” that can pair well with a sharp cheese or a bowl of Pasta Arrabiata. Available for about $14.

The second wine (tier) is the Primamadre, Montepulciano d' Abruzzo, DOC, 2007. This wine is also 100% Montepulciano, aged in oak barrels for about 6 months. The Primamadre is a bigger wine then the first, with rich berry flavors accented by spicy oak, licorice, flint and black pepper. This is a medium bodied wine with a dark ruby/purple color, sweet tannins and ample acidity. The flavors are bold and concentrated elevating this wine above the everyday pizza wine. Available for about $16.

The third wine (upper echelon) is the Montepulciano D’Abruzzo Colline Teramane, Primamadre, DOCG, 2005. Though the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo variety of grapes is grown all over Abruzzo, it is in the hilly territory of Colline Teramane, in the province of Teramo, that it bears its best fruit. Thus, when the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo appellation DOCG was created in 2003, the sub-zone of Colline Teramane was designated for special wines that qualify for the DOCG status. This is a special wine that proves that big, bold, quality wines can be made from the Montepulciano grape in the Abruzzo region. This wine is aged for two to three years total in steel vats, oak barrels and the bottle, before release. This wine has a dark purple color with a ruby rim. Full bodied with impressive concentration; there are gobs of spicy black fruit, mineral accented dried strawberry and cherry and long chewy finish. With a nice mixture of quality fruit, smooth tannins, crisp acidity and toasty oak, this wine should cellar well for another 10 years. We enjoyed this wine with some delicious Sicilian-inspired food at La Medusa, in Seattle. This wine is available for about $22.

All three of these wines, from Vini La Quercia, are very enjoyable and great with hearty Italian fare. This winery is proving that like Tuscany and Piedmont, Abruzzo has some great red wines worth seeking out.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Montebuena Rioja, 2009

It strikes me funny that we are already drinking a Rioja from the 2009 vintage…. wow, these grapes were picked just 10 months ago! The 2009 Montebuena is 100% Tempranillo that sees no oak. In the glass it has a dark ruby/purple color and is nearly opaque. This young wine shows a appealing bouquet of blackberry, fig, leather and baking spice. On the palate it is packed with ripe blackberry, concord grape and black pepper. This is a medium bodied wine with a rich mouth-feel, good concentration, and a nice balance of spice, acidity and gentle tannins. This is the first wine we have tasted from the 2009 vintage in Rioja, and we are excited to enjoy more like this in the near future. We bought this lovely value wine from northern Spain at Pete's Wine Shop, in Bellevue, for about $13.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Hanna Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, 2001

Hanna Winery is located on a hilltop overlooking estate vineyards in the Alexander Valley near Healdsburg. Years ago, while traveling throughout the Sonoma and Napa wine districts, we stumbled across this winery for an early morning tasting spree. It was barely 11:00 am as we droving toward Calistoga. Their pretty Mediterranean styled building caught our eye and we decided we would take a look around and maybe taste one or two wines. Back in the car, an hour later and six tastes happier, we continued on our journey having discovered one of our favorite wineries in the Alexander Valley. Hanna makes a variety of wines both from the Alexander Valley and form the neighboring Russian River Valley. We are particular fans of their Cabernet Sauvignon and have purchased a few vintages to cellar and enjoy throughout the years. Last night we pulled this 2001 Cabernet from our cellar and brought it to the Purple Wine Bar and Café in Bellevue. It was a special night out as both my mother and brother are here for a visit. In the glass, this wine shows a deep, dark ruby/purple color and is nearly opaque. A heady bouquet evokes ripe red berries, plums and mocha. This is a full bodied wine with a mouth-feel that is smooth, seductive and almost viscous. On the palate, ripe black fruit, espresso, licorice, spice and mocha commingle to create a luscious and balanced wine. There are abundant smooth and well integrated tannins and the acidity level is relatively low. The finish is fat and creamy with a touch of spicy oak. This is a mature wine, but no way is it beyond it’s peek; cellar-aging has shown to be a beautiful thing. These Hanna wines are our “special occasion” wines that never fail to deliver.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Renegade Wine Co. Red Wine, Horse Heaven Hills, 2008

Many wineries in Washington State have developed second and third labels that allows them to bring different wines to market that can widen their public appeal. Sometimes these wines are at a lower price point and sometimes they represent wines of a different style from their primary label. The Renegade Wine Co. is the second label from Sleight of Hand Cellars from Walla Walla, Washington. This Red Wine is made from grapes coming exclusively from the Horse Heaven Hill AVA and specifically from the Canoe Ridge Vineyard. This wine is a blend of 39% Cab, 39% Cab Franc, 13% Grenache, 9% Syrah. I really like this wine. The color is a dark red with a purple hue. There are lovely aromatics of raspberry, plum, violets and dried earth. This is a medium bodied wine with flavors of black and red fruits, licorice and sage. The finish is long and harmonious complete with dusty tannins and a nice minerality. The flavor profile is delicious and a welcomed change from your typical $10 Washington State blend. If you come across this great "value wine" from Horse Heavens Hills, snatch up a few bottles.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Acacia Pinot Noir, Carneros, 2006

Acacia vineyards are set just two miles from San Francisco's San Pablo Bay, in the heart of Napa Valley's Carneros wine region. This wine growing region enjoys the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean and summer fog, making it an ideal growing area for Pinot Noir grapes. This 2006 Carneros Pinot Noir has a translucent ruby color with a crimson rim. There is an expressive bouquet of red plum, raspberry, violets, leather, cinnamon and earth. This is a medium bodied wine with crisp red berry flavors blended with flavors of citrus rind, coffee and toasty oak. This wine shows nice acidity that is balanced by smooth tannins and earthy overtones that reveal a rustic, elegant profile. We don’t drink many Pinot Noirs, but truly enjoyed the nice effort by Acacia. Enjoy this wine with a nice salmon dinner. This wine retails for about $24.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Feudi di San Gregorio Rubrato, 2006

This red wine is from the Campania region of Southern Italy and is made from the Aglianico grape. Feudi di San Gregorio uses modern techniques to craft wines with distinctive characteristics of Campania; dark fruit, abundant tannins and crisp acidity. The 2006 Rubrato has a dark ruby red color and is nearly opaque. On the nose is aromas of fresh cherries, plums, violets and earth. This is a medium bodied wine loaded with flavors of black cherry, prune, cranberry, licorice, vanilla and cracked black pepper. There are moderate levels of grainy tannins and a crisp acidity that blend with some underlying minerality and essence of coffee. We enjoyed this lovely wine with a Grilled Flank Steak with Fresh Pesto and Balsamic Glazed Zucchini. This wine can be found in the Seattle area for about $15 and will pair well with a hearty grilled steak or a zesty Italian Pasta.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hogue Cellars Sangiovese, 2005 Zephyr Ridge Vineyard, Horse Heaven Hills

Hogue Cellars has been making a full range of Washington State wines for more than 25 years. This winery produces over 650,000 cases of wine per year with most of them being considered "value" wines, coming in below $16. Hogue makes a small quantity of wines that they call their “terroir” series, that are only available at the Prosser winery. This past weekend we had the privilege to taste this single vineyard Sangiovese from the Zephyr Ridge in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. We enjoyed it very much and bought a case to enjoy and give to some friends and family. The wine has a deep ruby color with nice clarity and shimmer. On the nose are notes of mineral and blackberry with slight spicy overtones. There are lively red and dark berry flavors on a medium bodied frame complimented baking spice, fig and cedar. There are smooth tannins and nice acidity that help create a balanced, mature wine. This wine is more “old world” than “new world” and shows that Sangiovese has a place in the Columbia Valley. This week we enjoyed this Sangiovese with pan seared King Salmon with fresh Green bean and Potato Pesto salad...yum!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Washington Wine Country Weekend

Red Mountain Vineyards

This past weekend we spent a few days in the Washington Wine Country. Over the past 20 years we have visited many wineries from Yakima to Walla Walla. This time we visited Hogue and Airfield Cellars in Prosser, Fidelitas and Col Solare on Red Mountain and Wilridge and Harlequin in Yakima. The highlight of the weekend was the visit to Col Solare. Col Solare is a collaboration between Washington’s Chateau Ste. Michelle and Italy’s famed winemaker, Marchese Antinori. Their wines are Cabernet Sauvignon based with smaller amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Syrah blended for depth and complexity. We did a vertical tasting of their 2004, 2005 and 2006 Red Wines. All of these wines were fantastic and worth the $80 price point if your budget allows the expenditure.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Poliziano Rosso di Montepulciano, 2007

Poliziano is a relatively new winery that was started in 1962 with 20 acres of vineyards in Montepulciano, Italy. Rosso di Montepulcianos are red wines that achieved the DOC classification back in 1989. These wines are usually produced by wineries that craft the more prestigious Vino Nobile di Montepulciano by simply downgrading grapes that are classified as Vino Nobile. However, Poliziano has selected a number of vineyards with particular characteristics in order to obtain a wine that is young, fruity and soft; a selection that allows them to classify their Rosso di Montepulciano as the “Second Wine” of the Poliziano. This Poliziano Rosso di Montepulciano has a deep ruby color that is slightly translucent. This wine is more old-world then new, with a nose of fresh cut strawberries, leather, hay and flint. This is a medium bodied wine with ripe red raspberry, strawberry, dried cranberry, tobacco, mushroom and earth. There are smooth tannins and balanced acidity and just a slight hint of cedar on the finish. Being quite delicious and easy drinking, we managed to finish the whole bottle with a casual dinner of grilled summer vegetables and some artisanal salumi. We purchased this Tuscan red wine from Pete’s Wine Shop, in Bellevue, for about $13.   

Monday, July 5, 2010

Fidelitas m100 Columbia Valley Red, 2006

The Fidelitas m100 is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Malbec named in the memory of winemaker Charlie Hoppes’ 100 year-old grandmother, who passed away back in 2005. Winemaker/Owner, Hoppes, has distinguished himself as a world-class winemaker after starting as an assistant winemaker at Chateau Ste. Michelle (where he worked with head Winemaker Mike Januik) and then becoming a head winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle and then Three Rivers Winery of Walla Walla. In 2000, Hoppes started his own label, Fidelitas. The Fidelitas product line includes Semillon, a Bordeaux white blend, Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc, along with vineyard designated blends and Cabernet Sauvignons. The winery is located on Red Mountain and they have a newly planted estate vineyard of three different clones of Cabernet Sauvignon. Up until now, their grapes have been sourced from the best vineyards in the Columbia, Yakima and Walla Walla Valleys. The m100 Red has a dark ruby red color with a purple hue. There is a complex bouquet of black cherries, cinnamon, crème de cassis and flint. This is a medium bodied wine that delivers a broad, chewy mouthful of ripe fruit with cherry and black currant framed by vanilla, baking spice, minerality and considerable smooth tannins. There is nice acidity that keeps things fresh and the finish is long and elegant. This Columbia Valley red blend over performs at the $16 price point.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Seghesio Old Vine Zinfandel, 2000

Zinfandel is a red grape variety that grows well in Sonoma County, California. Genetic tests have shown that Zinfandel is genetically equivalent to the Primotivo grape grown in southern Italy. Edoardo Seghesio planted his first Zinfandel vineyard in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley in 1895. Since then, four generations of the Seghesio family have tended over 400 acres of vineyards in Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys. Back in 2003, this Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel was selected for Wine Spectators “Top 100 List”. We purchase a few bottles then, and tonight we decide to open one that had been in our cellar for the past 7 years. We remember enjoying this wine back in 2003, and we were excited to see what developed with 7 years in the cellar. I was hoping this wine would be a good companion for the Friday night Steak Dinner I was preparing. The wine has a dark red color with good clarity and a crimson rim. The nose is fragrant and complex with raspberry, cherry liquor, wet rock, oak and cinnamon. There is a full-throttle multilayer palate with red raspberry, ripe cherry, fig jam, caramel, vanilla and baking spice. The mouth feel is rich and elegant with a medium bodied frame supported by gentle tannins, sweet fruit and a long sappy finish. The complexity of flavors are delicious and this Zinfandel proved worthy of cellar aging. We purchased this Seghesio Old Vine Zinfandel at Larry”s Market, in Bellevue, for about $20. We really enjoyed this wine with the lovely Hanger Steak, Balsamic Onions and Summer Vegetables.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bodegas Castano Solanera, 2005

This red wine is imported by Eric Solomon from the Yecla region of Southern Spain. The Castano Solanera is a blend of 65% Monastrell, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Garnacha Tintorera. The Monestrell grapes come from some of the oldest vines in the area. In the glass there is an opaque red/black color with aromas of ripe red cherry and blackberry with notes of mineral and smoke. This is a medium bodied wine with rich dark fruit flavors balanced with lychee, minerals and mocha. There are smooth tannins that mingle with some pleasant tartness that adds to the long, lingering finish. This is a delicious wine that will pair will with any summer Barbecue or a good Spanish cheese.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, 2007

This was the other “top-notch” wine we enjoyed, alongside the Corino Barolo, while dining at Café Juanita, last night. Leonetti Cellars wines have held almost cult status during the past 20 years since receiving top scores from Wine Spectator magazine between 1989 and 1992. Having set the bar high for Washington State premium red wines, Leonetti wines are the benchmark which others are measured. This Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon is made from 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 4% Carmenere and 3% Malbec. This wine has a opaque dark red color with purple hues. A heady bouquet evokes dark black cherry, cassis, coffee and sweet vanilla. On the palate, ripe black fruit, espresso, spice, fruitcake and mocha commingle to create a bold, luscious wine. This full bodied wine has powerful dark fruit flavors with firm, solid tannins. This wine offers terrific depth and a long polished finish with exotic spice and vanilla. This Cabernet will pair well with a grilled rib-eye steak or a roasted saddle of lamb.

Corino Barolo, Vigneto Rocche, 2000

Last night we met some good friends and had an outstanding dinner and fun time at Café Juanita in Kirkland, Washington. The highly acclaimed chef/owner, Holly Smith, has created a great restaurant that specializes in the food of Northern Italy while using fresh local ingredients whenever possible. To help celebrate 3 of our birthdays during the month of June, we brought along a bottle of the Corino Vigneto Rocche Barolo from the 2000 vintage. I had decanted this Barolo for 5 hours prior to our dinner. Our friends brought a bottle of Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, 2007. The Corino Barolo, Vigneto Rocche is a single vineyard Barolo that is produced in small quantities of less than 350 cases. This wine has a dark ruby color and an amber rim. A serious perfume of smoke, earth, lead pencil and leather accompany red raspberry and plum. In the mouth this full bodied wine offers deep mineral accented dried strawberry, floral and cherry flavors with abundant gripping tannins and crisp acidity. The mouth-feel is impressive showing a great punch of flavor and a long and elegant spice filled finish. Despite being made from grapes harvested back in 2000, this wine is still youthful and vibrant. We had cellared this Barolo since 2005 and last night was the big pay-off. A great wine from a small producer.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Villa Pozzi Nero d'Avola, 2008

Nero d’ Avola is the most important red grape from Sicily and has been grown their for centuries. In recent years, modern wine making techniques are used to create fruity, “easy-drinking” wines that are often compared to new world Shiraz. This Villa Pozzi Nero d’ Avola has a dark purple color with a violet rim. This is a medium bodied wine with flavors of blackberry liquor, plum, Bing cherry and subtle spice on the finish. This wine is very soft in the mouth with gentle tannins and acidity. This is a nice value wine that is not overly complex, but appealing. I recommend this wine to accompany any casual meal or a take-home pizza. We purchased this wine at Top Foods, in Bellevue, for about $8.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Bodegas Goulart Malbec Classico, 2009

There is a flood of Argentine Malbecs entering the US market and many of these are value wines that are gaining popularity with the general public. This past weekend I tasted 5 different Malbecs and the Bodegas Goulart was a stand-out for a wine under the $10 price point. This wine has a dark red color and an aromatic nose of fresh raspberry, cherry and violets. This is an easy drinking Malbec with a medium body, smooth texture and good structure. Fresh fruit flavors of red raspberry, blackberry and red current are lively and are complimented with floral notes and black pepper on the finish. The tannins are soft and smooth and there is nice acidity that keeps everything together. This wine would make a nice “house wine” to drink with any mid-week meal. This Bodegas Goulart Malbec Classico can be found at Pete’s Wine Shop, in Bellevue, for about $9.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Domenico Clerico Dolcetto Visadi, 2007

Domenico Clerico’s wine estate is situated in Monforte d’Alba, right in the heart of Barolo. Barolo is the “big-gun” wine of Piedmont and for Domenico Clerico, but the Nebbiolo grape is not the only player in the Barolo area. Throughout the region there are many vineyards growing Barbera and the lesser known Dolcetto ("little sweet one"). In the case of the 2007 Visadi Dolcetto, this wine is neither little or sweet. This wine has a deep ruby color with a purple hue. This is a modern style Dolcetto that show extreme concentration of flavor and a backbone of black fruit and bold tannins. This is a full bodied wine with flavors of black plum, cherry, licorice and molasses. These deep, dark flavors are enhanced with a background of herbs and smoke and gentle acidity that set the stage for the smooth, abundant tannins. This is the kind of Dolcetto that we really enjoy.... big, bold and delicious. We purchased this winner at Pete’s Wine Shop, in Bellevue, for about $18.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Frescobaldi Nipozzano Chianti Riserva, 2004

This Frescobaldi Chianti is made on the 11th century Castello di Nipozzano property located in the Chiant Rufina DOCG. This wine is made from 90% Sangiovese with small quantities of Malvasia, Colorino, Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon. We have been cellaring this wine since it was released in early 2007. Tonight we brought this bottle to the Purple Café, in Bellevue, and enjoyed it with a lovely cheese board and an order of Wild Mushroom Risotto. The wine exhibit’s a dark ruby color and has a beautiful nose of blackberries, cherries, wet earth, black pepper and cedar. This is a medium to full bodied wine that is rich and dense with flavors of blackberry, cassis, roasted espresso, cocoa powder, earth and black pepper. The dark berry flavors are balanced by firm acidity and fully integrated tannin giving a wine of extraordinary depth and length. This wine is really delicious and is aging very well. I am glad we still have a few more bottles in our cellar!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

FnB Restaurant

7133 E. Stetson Drive Scottsdale, Az 85251 (480) 425-9463

FnB… OmG. While down in Scottsdale this past weekend we finally found a good night to go check out this new restaurant near the SouthBridge Waterfront. This is a small restaurant with a warm inviting atmosphere and an open kitchen surrounded by a large wood rimmed counter for spectacular viewing of all the action. With textured white walls, crisp linens, dim lights and a “show-stopper” colorful mosaic floor, the space exudes a casual elegance. FnB (for “Food n Beverage”) is a co-venture between Chef Charleen Badman and Pavle and Emily Milic. Chef Badman has composed a seasonal menu of fresh ingredients, using organic and local, whenever possible. The front of the house is run by husband and wife Milic and they are extremely successful at providing great service and hospitality. With the exception of one sparkling wine from New Mexico, Pavle has crafted a wine menu of 100% Arizona State wines. We have tasted some excellent Arizona wines in the past and enjoy pairing local wines with local cuisine. The menu is small and precise with great choices for any food lover. Here is a listing of the wonderful food we shared:

  1. Fried Green Tomatoes with Green Goddess Dressing and Feta…. Great!
  2. Grilled Asparagus, Cauliflower Purée, and Crispy Beet Chips…. Great!
  3. Pan Roasted Jidori Chicken with Spaetzle and Beets…. Great! (we are still talking about it)
  4. Grilled Lamb Tenderloin, Snap Peas, Fingerling Potatoes, Olives and Mint…. Great!
  5. Warm Steamed Chocolate Cake, Rhubarb, Vanilla Ice Cream…. Great!

All of our food was expertly prepared with the finest ingredients and skillful hands. We loved our entire meals and are still talking about how delicious everything was.

We ordered two red wines from the small, hand picked wine list:

Arizona Stronghold Nachise Syrah Blend, 2008 This is a Rhone style blend of 52% Syrah, 27% Granache, 15% Petit Verdot and 6 % Mouvedre. This wine is very smooth, medium bodied with aromas of blackberry, earth and baking spice. Rich black fruit, cherry and cranberry flavors are enhanced by silky tannins, fresh herbs and black pepper on the finish. This wine paired well with both the Chicken and Lamb entrees.
Keeling-Schaefer Syrah, 2007 This is a big wine with a nose of blackberry jam and vanilla wafer. In the mouth there is ripe blackberry, blueberry, plum, cinnamon, vanilla and toasty oak. This Syrah is full bodied with gripping tannins, a touch of earth and a long, smooth finish. I did enjoy this wine, however I would love to try it again after a few years in the cellar. This wine will pair well with lamb, beef or a stinky cheese.

Our entire evening at FnB was exceptional. The service and food were flawless and the cozy dining room was both classy and relaxing. We truly enjoyed getting to meet Chef Badman and Host Emily Milic ( Pavle was off with visiting family). Next month we will return to FnB to celebrate some birthdays! (yeah)