Monday, December 31, 2007

Two Hands Gnarly Dudes

Barossa Valley

I received another cherished glass hand-blown in Romania - thank you Mom for yet another pair to add to the collection.

It is alas, New Year’s Eve. I’ve never been a big New Year’s partier. I prefer to stay off the roads and just be at home, light a fire, play the last of my favorite Christmas Carols, bake some more Christmas cookies and pies, and reflect on my Christmas Tree. And this year, I’m actually finally doing my Christmas cards (on New Year’s Eve). I do also enjoy making a special dinner and partaking in more expensive wine. Tonight we are having a spoon roast (beef is something we RARELY indulge in) and twice baked potatoes, shrimp and Brie. We will be drinking more of the Chateau Saint-Jean Red Rhone The Bro brought last week with our beef as he highly recommends it be paired with beef and pepper. But, for our before dinner wine, we are tasting Two Hands Gnarly Dudes.

A few days ago I went out to get some Kahlua for a couple of trifles I was making. We have plenty of wine at home and I knew I had no need to purchase anything further for the upcoming holiday. However, a new Barossa arrival caught my eye. It was Two Hands Gnarly Dudes and I had to try it.

It is excellent. The Guy and I had it first alone. Then I made some Baked Brie and I warned The Guy when he couldn’t wait to eat it, that it would ruin the wine (Brie is very hard to pair with wine). It actually did not ruin the wine. It did change the flavor slightly, but not in a bad way. The wine tasted more “cherrylike” and less earthy following the Brie. Still very good.

Ironically, I traded trifle and pies (at least I think I did - I have yet to know if they were all even received in good order - they were very fresh when I made them so it would be a damn shame if they were allowed to sit for any lengthy period of time) for wine again this holiday and the wine I received was two bottles of Two Hands - one is Lily’s Garden and the other is Bella’s Garden. Both are Shiraz, but Lily’s is a McLaren Vale which is another favorite Shiraz region for me. As the aforementioned two are much more pricey than Gnarly Dudes, I am very curious to give them a try. I will wait. Maybe one will be tomorrow’s before-dinner tasting.

Gnarly Dudes is an inviting deep purple hue. For me it had a wonderful scent of cherries, and a powerful earth-packed punch of alcohol. The flavor was absolutely bursting with fruit, earth and heat (not too sweet, not too dry – perfect balance). The Guy was very excited to know, upon initial blind tasting, that he was drinking a Shiraz. He guessed it and he was pretty happy about it. But, as he said, “this is in a league above our normal Shiraz range”. I, on the other hand, recognized the Barossa Valley. He can identify it’s a Shiraz, and I know I’m tasting a Shiraz from the Barossa.

I’ve got no original thoughts to post lately – actually too many are flooding me right now, which makes it virtually impossible for me to pin any down. So, as I have always been a huge Dan Fogelberg fan, and he died just before Christmas – losing a battle with Prostate Cancer, I quote my favorite verses from Same Old Lang Syne and toast his music:

We drank a toast to innocence
We drank a toast to now
And tried to reach beyond the emptiness
But neither one knew how.

We drank a toast to innocence
We drank a toast to time
Reliving in our eloquence
Another ‘Auld Lang Syne’...

Just for a moment I was back at school
And felt that old familiar pain
And as I turned to make my way back home
The snow turned into rain --
Dan Fogelberg

9.0 out of 10
15.1% alc. by vol.
$27 / 750 ml bottle

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Altos de Luzon


Another gem brought by The Bro this Christmas. A dark plum in color, Altos de Luzon is a smooth, full bodied, well balanced blend of 50% Monastrell, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25% Tempranillo. An ever so slightly bitter blackberry flavor with granite earthiness, this wine lost the slight bitterness and became more smoky with air. I liked it much more the second night than the first (though it was very good the first night as well - it was just better after it had been opened).

Wine Enthusiast gave this a 91 rating; Robert Parker gave it a 90 rating.

From one of my favorite singer-songwriters, one of my favorite songs - because my diamonds are on the inside:

A candle throws its light into the darkness
In a nasty world so shines a good deed
Make sure the fortune that you seek
Is the fortune that you need
Tell me why the first to ask
Is the last to give every time
What you say and do not mean
Follows you close behind
She had diamonds on the inside . . .

Ben Harper, "Diamonds on the Inside"

8.25 out of 10 (The Guy says he'd give it a whopping 9.0)
14.5% alc. by vol.
$15 / 750 ml bottle

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Holy Trinity

This wine plus the following two wines reviewed, and all the other wines brought to us by The Bro to enjoy this Christmas, were all rated 90 or above by Wine Spectator.

37% Grenache, 36% Shiraz, 27% Mourvedre

Would love to drink again (and I will because I have another bottle!)

Please Note: I drank this wine with NO FOOD. It had also been several hours since eating. I'd had water and tea, but no food since lunch. I had another glass the following night right after dinner and its flavor was drowned out. I had it again the next night without food and loved it again. Interestingly enough, it is a recommended wine to have with a Moroccan Chicken recipe I have. I am going to try to make that in the near future and open a bottle to pair with the meal. I am interested to see what that does to the flavor of the wine (the chicken has plain yogurt and mint in it).

I like everything about this wine - the name, the design, the color, the smell, and the taste. Awesome. A beautiful dark, yet subdued purple color, the bouquet was sort of an herbed red meat with a hint of black cherry. The taste was an earthy thyme meets steak and Kalamata olives. The lasting finish wrapped up all scents and flavors nicely. As The Bro said "The taste hints that it's about to burst into this big sweet fruit bomb, but then it just subsides." But not without alot of other flavor - it stays more herb-like than sweet, but sort of teases you that it's about to explode in sweetness. The finish is packed with olive and earth.

Christmas night The Guy lined up (5) samples of wine for the Bro and I to taste but placed (6) bottles of wine in front of us for us to guess what was what. Only The Guy knew what was what. We had Fieldstone Reserve Red Table Wine, Belle Glos Pinot Noir, Cloudline Pinot Noir, Kendall Jackson Cabernet, The Holy Trinity and Turning Leaf Merlot. I did well but probably for all the wrong reasons. I got them all right except for the (2) Pinot Noirs which I had backwards. The Turning Leaf bottle was thrown in there to confuse us but was never poured. The first wine I tasted was the Fieldstone (I will be reviewing this wine in a few days) and it tasted weak so I knew it wasn't one of the big power horses. Not only that, but the color is a very light red and that's what I first noticed compared to all the others. I knew it by its color immediately. The Belle Glos I confused with the Cloudline which intrigued me because I really liked both of these wines but I thought I could pull out the Belle easily and that it was vastly different from the Cloudline but it wasn't (though the Belle is $45 and the Cloudline is $17!!!). The KJ I also picked out right away for the wrong reason - it was cold and it had been brought in earlier in the day as a gift for us from a very cold car which it had been in for quite some time. So I immediately tasted the coldness and knew. It was hard to concentrate on any flavor as a result. But The Holy Trinity made me smile the minute I tasted it!! I knew exactly which one it was. It's that unique.

The Burge Family writes the following on the back of the label:

The doctrine of "The Holy Trinity", being the union or coming together as 'one', symbolises the Burge family's migration to the Barossa Valley in the 1850's. The People (the Burge family), the Faith (The Holy Trinity Church, Lyndoch) and the Land (the vines), coming together as 'one', have created a tradition of winemaking in our family for over a century.

I took a picture of this bottle in front of a picture handed down to me from my grandmother who told me it is (a very old) photo of the dirt road that led to one of my ancestor's houses in Australia. They left Scotland with the intent of coming to the United States but settled first in Australia for awhile.

9.5 out of 10
$27.99 / 750 bottle
13.9% alc. by vol.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Arboleda Carmenere and Chateau Saint-Jean Red Rhone

Thank you Pasa Robles for your comments on "The Ball Buster". Your description of your experience sounded much more enjoyable than my own.

A few points up front:

1. The Bro made a great statement last night. He said he's been disappointed with wines because he gets "so in love" with finding new ones that he tends to forget what got him interested in the pursuit of the vine in the first place. This statement came in light of he and I enjoying pairing different foods with the Rhone wine last night.

2. In light of Christmas being in the next couple of days, I have put up a new "Holiday Poll" on what wine readers of this blog might be partaking in (provided you're having ham). I know many people have Roast Beef or Turkey. Ham is a tough one to pair with wine. Like the turkey, Pinot Noir is the favorite of many a wine shop owner as a pairing for ham. I will be drinking Pinot Noir because The Bro purchased a couple of special ones which I will review in a few days.

3. This is a blog that I am acutely aware is supposed to be for those on a budget. I realize much of what I've reviewed recently has not been "cheap". But I have been blessed enough with friends and family who gift me with more expensive wines on occasion. Please don't let that turn you away. Just put the info under your hat for a rainy day when you may find yourself able to spend a bit more on a special occasion. Then, may you remember what was good.

4. Check out The Bro below partaking in the second bottle of the evening. He's making a very poignant point!

5. I like my Christmas music all month long with my dinner wine. I hate my traditional favorites (Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, Doris Day, Johnny Mathis, Bing Crosby, Glenn Miller, etc.) being replaced by the likes of Madonna, Whitney Houston, Run DMC, etc., etc., etc. I tend to stick to the originals and don't like anything new. But Harry Connick, Jr. has succeeded in moving me beyond and has given me a new favorite that feels like an oldie. See the end below.

Colchagua Valley, Chile

Will drink again - This is a deal for the price.

My brother has arrived for the Christmas Holiday and he has brought a case of wine. We first opened the Carmenere late afternoon and thoroughly enjoyed it on its own. It's bouquet was of smokey cherry. It was very fruit forward on initial taste and then it heated up a bit before leaving with a slightly creosote-like finish.

The Bro and I agreed that we notice an interesting creosote-light smoke finish on many of the Chilean wines we've had.

Very enjoyable and highly recommended for the price.

8.25 out of 10
$12.99 / 750 ml. bottle
14.5% alc. by vol.

Chateau Saint-Jean
85% grenache
15% Syrah

Will drink again.

Tis the season for nutcrackers and chocolate. This red wine
was very good on its own, with freshly cracked nuts, with hot pepper jelly, well aged Cheddar cheese, with our swiss chicken dinner, herb stuffing, and sweet potato, and absolutely awesome with a piece of Hershey's dark chocolate.

The bouquet was very earthy with a hint of berry. The flavor was more of a generic berry followed quickly by earthiness (which I like) and then (for me) sort of a disappointing watered down finish. I don't know why, but French wines just do that to me. They smell like they're going to be great, they can even start out great, but then they finish weak. HOWEVER, once we started experimenting with the chocolate, this wine was great for me. Both The Bro and I immediately tasted chocolate cherry in the wine when it followed the chocolate. I also tasted tobacco. The finish was there when it wasn't before. And it was definitely cherry versus any other berry. Very good and fun to experiment with.

8.5 out of 10
14.5% alc. by vol.
$32.29 / 750 ml bottle

My heart told me once before
To find my dream and search no more
And when my heart finds Christmas
I hope it finds you too

Harry Connick, Jr. (oh! be still my heart)
When My Heart Finds Christmas

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Layer Cake Shiraz

Layer Cake Shiraz
Barossa Valley
South Australia

I will drink this again.

Well, I'd been hearing about the "Layer Cake" since the summer and have been looking for it everywhere. Everyone always said the same thing "Oh, it's awesome. I have none here, but more on order." After a few months, I stopped looking for it, even forgot about it. Then, last week, I walked into a recent favorite place of mine after work and there it was! Right smack in front as I walked in the door. He's got three cases, "while supplies last." And he's about $5 cheaper per bottle than elsewhere.

So, after all the hype and looking forward to it, I was disappointed. It smelled great - very fruity, yet spicey. I couldn't wait to have a sip. It tasted of black cherry and black pepper, then alcohol, followed by a warm finish. But it wasn't as tasteworthy as I'd expected. I had it with no food accompaniment.

I saved the rest for a couple of days and I have to say it was better. Interestingly enough, it tasted like my grandmother's house. Not too likely that anyone else will share this experience. My paternal grandparents had the best holiday gatherings. There were usually friends as well as family invited and my grandmother made the best curry dip with vegetables. At six years old, I would inhale her curry dip slathered on fresh broccoli. In addition, my grandfather's, and my own, favorite cheese was Muenster. That on a stoned wheat cracker was fabulous. They had a dry sink located under a fantastic painting of a train winding down hills into a quaint village - the colors were mostly golden as I recall. Very warm and happy. I LOVED that painting. I would stare at it every time we were there. The painting felt like HOME to me. Anyway, my grandfather loved his fine Scotch and he would pour a rocks glass of it along with his appetizers. My first glass of Layer Cake tonight, without food, tasted like all of that together and it was heavenly.

My second glass was from a new bottle that I opened up for a couple of hours before drinking. I tasted more of an earthy and almost chocolate finish. Then I had it with dinner tonight - roasted pork loin with sweet onion, garlic and cumin, and roasted sweet potatoes. It was a great pairing. The flavors of both were accentuated by the other. I also later had a glass with a fresh, warm chocolate crackle cookie and it brought out the slightly chocolate flavor I'd tasted earlier in the wine.

I am waiting in a silent prayer
I am frightened by the load I bear
In a world as cold as stone
Must I walk this path alone
Be with me now
Be with me now

Breath of Heaven / Mary's Song
Amy Grant, Chris Eaton, Robert Marshal

8.0 out of 10
14.9% by vol.
$15.99 / 750 ml bottle

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Ball Buster

Barossa Valley

Will drink again.

Well, I brought this wine home tonight for The Guy partially as a joke because he's always accusing me of "busting his balls". The vineyard owner writes on the back that he wanted to name this wine "Michelle's Block" after his wife but decided against it. When I was in the store I thought to myself that The Guy would probably find it apropos for it to be named after me.

Well, irony of ironies, I "busted" on The Guy that our Christmas tree (that he did go and get over the weekend) was still on our back porch, and I wanted it inside by now. When it became evident that he wasn't going to bring it in for me tonight, I went out and took matters into my own hands and started sawing off the bottom branches in preparation. He came out to take over, frustrated that I couldn't wait, and started sawing away, right over his thumb and part way through his pointer finger. Nothing a trip to the ER and several stiches couldn't fix. He's fine, but feeling a bit of pain now. I feel bad. I do. Actually.

The scent of this deep purple hued wine was meaty and alcohol for me.The flavor was very fruity and peppery, followed by a high alcohol taste and then blackberry Schnapps-like flavor. I liked it in spite of the high alcohol effect.

"There's a happy feeling nothing in the world can buy,
When they pass around the chocolate and the pumpkin pie
It'll nearly be like a picture print by Currier and Ives
These wonderful things are the things we remember all through our lives"

Leroy Anderson, 1946, Sleigh Ride
(Actually written during a heat wave in August 1946)

SIDE NOTE: The picture at our house last night was looking less like a Currier and Ives print and more like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

8.0 out of 10
$15.99 / 750 ml bottle
15.5% alc. by vol.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Klinker Brick

Old Vine Zinfandel

Will buy again.


Thank you for your Dead Arm comments Paso Robles. I love to hear others' takes on wines I've tried. As I had the Dead Arm without food, I especially enjoyed learning what you served it with.

Before I review, check out this very cool wine glass to be used when one glass of wine just isn't enough:

I bought Klinker Brick to have at Thanksgiving before Uncle Bob's Turley for those who wanted red. I had (2) bottles left over and opened one as I never did have it on Thanksgiving. One was very good so The Guy opened the second.

A dark red velvet-like color, this full bodied wine was medium dry with a fairly long, slightly, slightly bitter but enjoyable finish. It's scent was “berry” soaked in oak. The taste was very berry up front followed by slight oak and then warmth going down, followed by a very slight vanilla-ness and allover nice balance.

cable knit sweater
extended then enveloping
a welcome safe haven
troubles fade, no need for coping
life becomes new
as time is transended
but for a few

8.25 out of 10
Alc. 15.5% by vol
$16.99 / 750 ml bottle

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Dead Arm (It needs no other introduction)

McLaren Vale

Would most definitely drink again (on someone else’s tab).

The Gal: I traded Thanksgiving pies for this wine - normally we would not spend the amount this cost on a bottle of wine. My brother recommended The Dead Arm to me last spring and I “fell in love” with the whole “dead arm” story: Dead Arm is a vine disease caused by the fungus Eutypa lata. One half of the vine's arm becomes dead wood. But the grapes on the other side are used to make this wine. As my brother told me, the diseased area actually forces all of the flavor to the other side that remains healthy – the side used to make the wine.

So, I kept it in the back of my mind and would look for it wherever I found myself wine shopping. I found it recently and it was $60. I couldn’t buy it, I just couldn’t bring myself to spend that much for a bottle of wine I hadn’t had before. A short time later, a friend of mine was complaining that he couldn’t find any “new” good wines to taste.
Nothing was grabbing him. I told him about The Dead Arm that my brother had told me about. He ended up buying it and he agreed to give me a bottle if I made a couple of pies in exchange. It was a deal.

I decided to try it when my brother was home for Thanksgiving. I sat in my great, great grandmother’s cherry Shaker rocker by our first fire of the season at around 11:30 p.m. and savored The Dead Arm. It was very, very good – excellent. It’s dark inky color was followed in scent by a slight earthy smokiness (or maybe light creosote). It’s taste was black cherry and "hotness", then my favorite, “minerality”, settled in and was followed by a long slightly smokey finish.I loved this wine. It was very reminiscent of two of my previous favorites: Yangarra Vineyard Shiraz and “Bogle’s” Phantom. That said, those (2) favorite wines were about a third of the price. So, I must conclude that, for the price, The Dead Arm was a bit much, at least for our budget. I truly believe that Phantom and Yangarra, at approximately $20-something, are better buys. But, if money is no object to you, I do recommend the taste of The Dead Arm. I had it without any food pairing.

If you don’t make a move without Robert Parker’s permission, this wine received a “95” rating by him.

"Cold hearted orb that rules the night,
removes the colours from our sight,
red is gray and yellow white,
but we decide which is right and which is an illusion."
Justin Hayward and The Moody Blues

(My brother and I recited this in unison over Thanksgiving - this was from my all time favorite "album" "Days of Future Passed" by the "Moody Blues"and "The London Symphony Orchestra" - thank you to my parents for turning me on to really fine music at a young age )

9.0 out of 10
14.5% alc. by vol.
$55.99 - $68.99 / 750 ml. bottle

Monday, December 3, 2007

Callaway Viognier and Dutton Ranch Chardonnay

Viognier on left Chardonnay on right

Callaway Coastal Reserve

Won't buy again, will drink what I have and try to pair with other food.

Today was my birthday and I wanted to review my birthday wines even though I know I still have much Thanksgiving coverage and followup to do. In addition, my mom had dinner for me last night and I have two reds to review at a later date.

Today was depressing (my birthday always seems to get me down - another year older and not any farther ahead) and it was just a regular day filled with too much to do. But, I knew tonight after I put the kids to bed, I was going to have a late dinner of Butternut Squash Soup and Baked Brie En Croute with cranberries and almonds. I knew I was going to splurge on a white wine as a birthday gift to myself to accompany my little menu. I just couldn't decide what variety. So I bought two, splurging on one more than the other, and conducted a little taste test with "The Guy". I am reviewing both here beginning with the Viognier:

Disappointing. Very light scent of mustard and lighter color than I expected. It was a pale yellow rather than a nice golden. It was reminiscent of a generic Sauvignon Blanc. Not a lot of flavor. Not much of a finish. I tasted no apricot or peach like the label boasts. It was slightly citrusy with a slight mustard finish. End of story. Any flavor was completely lost with the brie. It retained it's flavor with the soup. I'm afraid it may be headache material. The Guy liked it better than the Chardonnay.

7.0 out of 10
14.5% alc. by vol.
$16.99 per 750 ml. bottle

Dutton Ranch, Russian River Valley
Fritz Winery

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME! Will happily drink again.

This was also a pale yellow, and it's scent was similar to the Viognier - light and mustardy with a little overcooked broccoli thrown in (I don't know what it is with me always finding broccoli in the wine), and slight stone. But the taste, oh the taste, taste, taste. It was divine. It's what I love in a Chardonnay. It was creamy vanilla, slight toasted oak and . . . my favorite . . . minerality in the finish, and stone. Very, very good. While it also could not stand up to the brie, it's flavor was accentuated following the Butternut Squash soup - nice pairing. (The cranberries in the brie were extremely tart and took over all other flavor on the palate.)

I have been reading a lot about Russian River Valley Chardonnays and was so glad to finally try one, and enjoy it as I did.

Side Note: "The Guy" insisted I have a sip of "Fonseca Bin No. 27" Port following a glass of my Chardonnay. He said the two go well together. He was right. Forget dinner. Pair your wine with Port.

8.25 out of 10
14.2% alc. by vol.
$22.99 / 750 ml. bottle

Another year older and I find myself even more unlike my original hero, Florence Nightingale, and all too much like Lemony Snicket. Here are my B'Day reflections:
Searching for Solace,
Within Humility.
Needing to begin again,
To recover Dignity.
Plagued by nightmares,
Willing they not become real.
Finding truth and love intangible,
Under the mask of Illusion.
Longing to finally Heal.