Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wine and Wheels! (or, keeping your tasting calendar full with Vine-y goodness…)

For the third consecutive year, Jeni Henz of the Madisonville Education and Assistance Center has asked me to emcee MEAC’s Spring fundraising event. “Wine and Wheels” is Friday, April 8th from 7-10 pm at Volvo of Cincinnati on Plainville Road. From the MEAC events page (where you can order yourself a ticket):

Support MEAC by attending the Wine and Wheels blind wine tasting. A tasting will be led by Mike Rosenberg, Sommelier for the Common Man and author of “The Naked Vine,” and will be followed by a blind wine tasting contest where the teams who brought the top two wines will win a prize. In addition to the wine, enjoy light hors d’oeuvres from local restaurants.

Registration: $15 per person + bring two bottles of ABC (Anything but California) wine – your choice – for each group of one to three guests.

Guests will vote on their favorite wines and the winners will win prizes!

Aside from the philanthropic nature of the event, there’s PLENTY of wine, a silent auction, and (at least in years past) a good deal of levity. Last year, I did my tasting spiel from the cockpit of a jet. Who knows where I’ll end up this year. So, come on out, test your palate, and say hello!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Naked Vine in Anderson Township

Looking for something to do this Friday evening? I’m going to be running a little comparison tasting of various Pinot Gris/Grigios and Grenaches at Water Tower Fine Wines from 5:30-8:30. There’s a $15 charge for 6 wines, plus a premium pour available.

If you’ve not been to Water Tower yet, it’s run by longtime friends of the Vine David and Jan Lazarus (who celebrate their 15th anniversary on Friday!). It’s located at 6136 Campus Lane in Mt. Washington – straight across from, you guessed it, the Mt. Washington water tower. They’ve got one of the best collections of sparkling wines in the city.

There’ll be good wine and a nice spread of finger food to go alongside my random blatherings, so come on out!


Wine & Dinner of the Month Club -- March

Fresh off our trip to Thailand in February, I was having a hankering for meat on a stick, so some skewered chicken and some kind of stir fry seemed to fit the bill. As an added bonus, I whipped up a quick peach crisp for dessert. All the recipes for this month came from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook Third Edition (© 2010 by The Editors at America’s Test Kitchen).


Adler Fels 2008 Russian River Valley Gewurztraminer


Chicken Sate with Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce

Stir-Fried Curried Tofu with Coconut Sauce

Peach Crisp with Whipped Cream Topping

I started out making the chicken marinade and the peanut dipping sauce. These can be made ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator, but I had plenty of time to make them on the day of the dinner. It’s really just a matter of mixing ingredients, but make sure you store the chicken and marinade separately until you are ready to make the meal. After prepping for the sate, I made the peach crisp and put that in the oven. While the crisp was baking I prepped the ingredients for the stir-fry and then skewered the chicken and placed them on a broiling rack.

Once the crisp came out of the oven, I finished my prep on the stir fry and then popped the chicken under the broiler. There isn’t a set time for cooking the chicken, as you just want to make sure that you cook it all the way through. The recipe said four minutes for each side, but a couple of mine were a little thick so it was actually more like six minutes for each side. They came out plenty juicy and tasty and the peanut sauce was a delicious complement, though not as spicy as I had anticipated.


The stir fry was quick to prepare once I had all the ingredients ready, so I didn’t start cooking it until after we had the appetizer. I will admit to one peeve I have about cookbooks and their prep time estimates: cookbooks generally don’t take into consideration all the prep work when coming up with the time estimates. For example, the stir fry recipe called for snow peas, with strings removed, but you have to remove the strings first, which isn’t taken into account in estimating the prep time. So keep that in mind when trying to time the meal.

The stir fry was tasty with a good sauce that did not overwhelm the vegetables. This was mostly a vegetable stir fry, but I think it also would have been good over rice, particularly with the sauce soaking into the rice.


After dinner I whipped up some whipped cream, which we had on top of the peach crisp. The peaches were lovingly peeled, sliced and frozen from last summer’s peach crop from McGlasson Farms.


As for the wine, it was wonderful, with some nice citrus and melon notes and maybe a hint of baby’s breath in the nose. There was a little sweetness to it, but not much and it went very well with both the chicken sate and the stir fry. We tried it with the peach crisp, but both Christine and I thought it didn’t have enough sweetness to pair well. We tried a Riesling that we had open in the refrigerator and that seemed like a better match.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

On Twitter Tastings, Multitasking, and Bordeaux

As a teenager, I was the Space-Age Whiz Kid. No video game could stand in my way. Me against the machine. Sparks flew from my fingers. Always played it clean. We’re talking the good old school stuff – Pac-Man, Defender, Donkey Kong, Star Castle, Gorf, et-fricking-wonderful-cetera. Vintage Tempest machines still tremble at the sound of my initials.

Then along came Street Fighter, NBA Jam (the original boomshakalaka), Contra and others – where learning the game and good reflexes weren’t enough. A player had to learn cheat codes, combos to unlock special powers, and so on. The playing field was no longer level. Just being quick and crafty wasn’t enough I lost interest quickly. (This disinterest also roughly coincided with getting my driver’s license and discovering how utterly awesome girls were, but that’s another story…)

There’s a time I realize something may have passed me by.

Fast forward a couple of decades. Mike Wangbickler of Balzac Communications offered me the opportunity to participate in the “Twitter Taste Live” event to commemorate the launching of the new Planet Bordeaux website. Planet Bordeaux, as I wrote about last fall, is the attempt to demythologize the wines of the Bordeaux region, which are intimidating to everyday wine drinkers. Their labels are usually a salad of chateaux, communes, and the occasional picture of a castle or farmhouse.

The Planet Bordeaux website ( provides information about most non-classified growth Bordeaux producers who export to the U.S., information about the wines, and such. I was sent five red “Bordeaux Superieur” bottles to try, all of which retail in the U.S. in the $14-20 range:

  • Chateau La Gatte La Butte 2006
  • Chateau de Lugagnac 2008
  • Chateau de Terrefort-Quancard 2008
  • Chateau de Parenchere Cuvee Raphael 2007
  • Chateau Penin Tradition 2009

So, what’s a Twitter Tasting? Well, if you can imagine a bunch of wine geeks sitting in front of computers, tasting wine and sending out their thoughts in 140 character bursts, you’ve got yourself a pretty good idea. I’d done one other Twitter tasting before, but it was a fairly small affair. This was a much bigger deal, encompassing wine writers & bloggers from across the country along with the winemakers in Bordeaux (who must have been awfully sleepy – this started at 1am their time…)

Once “social media” made its way onto the Internets, I initially kept up pretty well. I had a MySpace page (maybe I still do…I haven’t looked at it in ages). I was a relatively early adopter on Facebook and was luckily able to avoid the allure of Farmville. Facebook largely replaced email for me for awhile. And, of course, there was my blog – which all of you obviously know about. But I didn’t get Twitter. Seriously – who’s going to put in the time and effort to catalog everything they’re seeing and doing…constantly? I have a Twitter feed (@thenakedvine, if you’re interested), but I don’t tweet often. I never got the urge to speak hashtag and I’ve never made anything a “trending topic.”

This apparently puts me in the distinct minority of the online wine writing community.

As the time of the tasting neared, the Sweet Partner in Crime opened the bottles and laid them out. I was looking forward to this. The sheer amount of information about Bordeaux and the ever-changing qualities of those wines confounded me. I was never able to get a basic flavor profile. I mean, I have a pretty good idea of what pinot noir from Burgundy tastes like compared to Oregon or Carneros, but Bordeaux was more challenging. Wines from a half mile apart taste radically different. The opportunity to do a side-by-side-by-side-by-side-by-side, I thought, would clear a lot of things up.

At the appointed hour, I logged into “Taste Live!” – the most popular hosting site for these events. I immediately felt like I’d stumbled into an old AOL chatroom. Comments were flying fast and furious from people snapping micro-reviews back and forth.

When I taste a wine for the column or just out and about, I like to be a little more methodical. I like to sit and contemplate for a bit if I’m really trying to get something from the wine. So, amidst the noise, I put forth what I thought was a pretty pithy comment…only to watch it quickly get shoved out of sight down the page.

I made a comment about one of the wines being overly smoky and was lambasted by a couple of people, one of which said I had a “n00b palate.” Comments like “You’re never a serious evaluator unless you spit” were common. Several of these folks clearly knew each other, so inside jokes flew like dandelion fluff (which was used by one person as a descriptor, along with “diced green pepper stems”). One person was likening wines to obscure songs. Perhaps a mid-level Bordeaux is just like Tool’s “Intension,” but I don’t get it. (What wine goes with “Friday,” since we’re on the subject?)

I was also trying to have a conversation with the SPinC, write down my thoughts on the wines, and watch a little March Madness at the same time. After a few minutes of this, I had a really hard time keeping up. I decided, eventually, just to do my best with occasional snippets from my tasting notes. Rapid-fire and swirling just don’t work as well for me. Even my ADHD has its limits, I discovered.

That’s not to say that I didn’t pick up quite a bit. These wines were all distinctly different. The Chateau La Gatte was chalky and tart, almost like a Chianti. It was hugely acidic, full of mineral, and tasted of “dirt-covered cherries” (which is not a negative in this household.) The Chateau de Lugagnac had a bigger nose and a heavier fruit flavor. The finish on this wine was very smoky (see my reference above), which wiped out the fruit. The Chateau de Terrefort-Quancard was my favorite overall. It was very approachable, nicely balanced, and easy to drink. There was plenty of fruit, earth, and smoke, all wrapped together in a lighter package. The Chateau de Parenchere Cuvee Raphael was #2 on my rankings. Again, well-balanced but big flavors of coffee, earth, and blackberry. It was also as good with chocolate as any Bordeaux. The Chateau Penin was our least favorite. It was too much of everything – too much alcohol, too much tar and smoke flavor, and an herbal (green pepper stems!) flavor that I didn’t find pleasant. Given it was a 2009, revisiting this in a year might not be a bad idea.

All in all, what did I learn?

  1. Bordeaux is still confounding. If you’re going to experiment with Bordeaux, get to know the French wine expert at your wine store and ask a bunch of questions.
  2. People who can taste wine and tweet at the same time impress me.
  3. I officially now feel six seconds from “Get off my lawn!”
  4. Frustrating as it was, I’d probably try this again – although I’d probably cheat a bit and taste the wines ahead of time. Maybe that’s the cheat I need to keep up with the kids…

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Earthquake Relief Tasting -- UPDATE

K2 at DEP’s Fine Wine and Spirits has organized a Japanese beer & sake tasting this Friday, March 18th. DEP’s is donating a matching amount from their tasting fees to the Red Cross. I assume there will be additional donation opportunities, as well.

From K2 himself:

I am putting together a special, just announced sake and Japanese beer tasting Friday, March 18th from 4-8 pm at our Fort Thomas location.  We will be featuring beers from Sapporo and Orion, as well as 6 incredible craft sakes.  This tasting has been evolving over the course of the day so more info is to come.

The normal $2 tasting fee will be an automatic donation to the Red Cross Japanese Earthquake/Tsunami Relief fund.  We will also be accepting additional donations on their behalf (though we hope to have Red Cross representatives present for the tasting).

I’ll be there! Hope to see you there!

UPDATE from K2:

Our 6 sakes are: Ozeka Hana Akawa Sparkling Sake, Hakushika Fresh and Lite Nama Sake, Tozai Snow Maiden Nigoru, Tentaka Kuni "Hawk in the Heavens", Kikumasamune Taru Cedar Sake, and Kurokame Shochu.

Catering by Jeff Thomas, featuring Szechwan Julienne Veggie Wraps, Thai BBQ Chicken Satay, Teriyaki Flank Steak sliders and Tuna Tartare in Phyllo.

Matt is also working on Food demos from some of our vendors, and we have beers from Orion and Sapporo. $2 tasting fee will go to Red Cross + will take additional donations. It's coming together.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cincinnati International Wine Festival 2011

The Cincinnati International Wine Festival is a huge event here in Porkopolis. As their promos state, the festival “turns 21” this year. Most people end up at the zoolike atmosphere of the “grand tastings.”

I’ve mentioned that I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend the “trade tasting” last Friday afternoon – which is reserved for folks…well…in the trade: restaurateurs, wine store owners, and the occasional writer or media member. Each year, I’ve walked away with a different sense of the event.

The event is always much less crowded than the “grand tastings.” This is the opportunity for the various wineries and wine distributors to show their wares to the folks who hopefully would snap up their offerings over the long term. It’s an impressive site – there are several hundred wines available for sampling.

I went for the first time two years ago. I was all bouncy and full of enthusiasm. I felt like I did my best to get through the entire set of offerings. I didn’t make it, of course – my stamina and palate aren’t that powerful. Last year, I left the place feeling pretty pissed off. I thought (and rightly so, I think), that I was given pretty poor treatment by some of the exhibitors as soon as they realized that I wasn’t a buyer – and since my last name wasn’t “Parker,” my little corner of the Internet wouldn’t give them enough exposure to be worthwhile. So, I wallowed in righteous indignation.

This year, my approach was a little different. I didn’t feel the need to slam my way around, not wasting a second – and when a pourer got snooty, I just walked away. I figured that there was better wine to be had out there.

I also have been around this stuff enough to know that I don’t need to repeat too many wines. I’ve written up or tried so many of these wines that I don’t need to burn my palate on them in a speed-dating-type setting like this one. I tried to focus on finding new or interesting wines. And I did. In no particular order, here were some of my favorite finds:

Gruet Blanc de Blanc Sauvage ($10) – Gruet, produced in New Mexico, is one of my go-to sparkling wines. This year, they’re rolling out a new wine – the Sauvage. “Sauvage” is the term for a sparkling wine without “dosage” – the sweet syrup added just before bottling to boost the residual sugar. The result is a bone-dry wine, drier even than brut sparkling wine. These are fairly rare, or have been. I thought this wine was outstanding. Super crisp, light fruit, a little yeast. An elegant, value-priced rockstar.

Revelry 2008 “The Reveler” Red Wine ($20)a blend of Bordeaux varietals from Walla Walla, Washington. However, instead of being mostly cabernet or merlot, this blend is over half petit verdot. Rich, dark, layered, and sexy.

Lioco 2009 Sonoma Chardonnay ($18) – One of my favorite things about the festival is knowing that I’d run into some old friends. Brian Scott, who’s taught me as much about wine as anyone, introduced me to one of his Vintner Select clients, Kevin O’Connor, the founder of Lioco Wines. Kevin was droll as hell, and he cranks out some great wines. This was a fascinating chardonnay. I thought for certain that this was done in oak, but it was one of the richer wines done in all-stainless that I’ve tasted in quite some time. Layered, rich, and elegant, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better value in a quality California chardonnay.

Airlie Winery 2008 Müller Thürgau ($10) – The best smile at the wine festival, far and away, was that of Elizabeth Clark, the Airlie winemaker. She was unbelievably pleasant and friendly to chat with and, during our conversation, she opened my eyes to this interesting little varietal. The Müller (pronounced “Mueller”) was a varietal she felt simply brought joy. Her creation would be an absolutely fantastic brunch wine. Slightly sweet, packed with peaches and pairs and a vinho verde-esque little fizz, the wine just sings for the patio. The Arlie “7” white blend also scored with me as a flavorful, dry springtime sipper at $12.

Longboard Vineyards 2007 Russian River Syrah ($25) – Looking for a great grilling wine? Look no further. This wine was tailor-made for grilled meat. Rich, earthy, coffee tinged goodness. A nice one to stash away, as well. There’s enough structure here that you could hang onto a bottle or two for several years. I have a feeling this will evolve into something really special.

Babich 2009 “Black Label” Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($12) – Not to be confused with the horrid beer of the same name. The “Black Label” is Babich’s lower priced New Zealand SB, but I thought it was a superior wine. I also tried the “standard” Babich, and it was so grapefruity that you wanted to eat it for breakfast. (Hey, Mike B…are you listening?) The Black Label, I guess, was less “New Zealandish,” but I thought there was more balance, more tropical fruit, and an overall superior drinking experience.

Peter Franus 2009 Carneros Sauvignon Blanc ($22) & 2007 Brandlin Vineyard Zinfandel ($30) – I spent a nice long while chatting with Mr. Franus. He’s a quiet, pleasant man who produces quiet, pleasant wines. The Sauvignon Blanc was, bar none, the best white wine that I tried at the entire festival. Superior balance, nice acidity without being puckery, rich citrus fruit flavors, and a crisp, easy finish. The Zinfandel, also up there around the top of my list of reds has a powerful nose, but the flavor is deep, smooth, and richly balanced. Absolutely an excellent bottle of wine. Check his stuff out, for sure.

Marchesi di Barolo – I had four wines of theirs marked as keepers. Their Villa Crespia Franciacorta Brut is Chardonnay-based bubbly that I simply wrote “Killer” next to. Their Moscato d’Asti may have been the best Moscato I’ve tasted – reminded me of my grandmother’s canned peaches, and that’s a really good thing. Their Barbera d’Alba and Dolcetto d’Alba were outstanding Italian reds. All of them retailed in the ballpark of $20, give or take, and I’d recommend them all.

Domaine Serene 2008 Yamhill Cuvee Pinot Noir ($30) – Domaine Serene is in Oregon, and their spread of wines were my favorite reds at the festival. Their Yamhill Cuvee was my favorite red at the event. They had two other more expensive pinots, but I thought that both in flavor and in value, this was my choice. I’m a sucker for red Burgundy, and this is one of the most “Burgundian” American pinots that I’ve tried. Plenty of blueberry and cherry and a nice deep earthy character. I would imagine this would be an amazing food wine, but I’d rather pair it with high thread counts, low lighting, and the SPinC.

A few other notable bottles to look out for:

Simonsig 2009 Chenin Blanc ($13) – just a pretty wine from Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Hogue Cellars 2007 Genesis Red Meritage ($14) – very flexible, solid red from the Pacific Northwest.

Gustave Lorentz 2009 Gewurztraminer Reserve ($18) – Alsatian gewurz. Smells like flowers and drinks wonderfully.

Cachette 2009 Cotes du Rhone ($13) – Very tasty Grenache-heavy blend. Super value.

Pivka 2008 Prestige Traminec & Vranec ($6) – Macedonian table wine. The white reminds me a little of retsina while the red is a light-bodied, basic wine. But for six bucks, certainly worth trying something new…

I’m still deciding on how to proceed with the wine festival for next year. I’m considering taking a year off from the trade tasting, but I’d hate to miss out on being exposed to some new things. I’ve got a year to think about it, at least…


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Wine & Dinner of the Month Club, Round 2!

Much to the pleasure of Christine the Pie Queen, her hubby Jeff is back by popular demand for another round of the Wine & Dinner of the Month Club. So, with a big note of thanks to Jeff and without further ado:

As you may recall, I had planned to stop submitting entries to the Vine after Christine’s January 2011 dinner, even though the wine/dinner of the month club continues and is now a permanent part of Christine’s birthday gift each year. However, for various reasons I have decided to continue as a contributor. First, I could not bear the thought of leaving my loyal readers (i.e. Christine’s family) in the lurch and second, Mike agreed to increase my royalties by 10%. Now, technically 10% of zero is still zero, but how many people can say they got a raise last year?

I will be doing things a little differently this year as I won’t be providing links to recipes because as much as possible I am going to get my recipes from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook Third Edition (© 2010 by The Editors at America’s Test Kitchen) which Christine gave me for Christmas this past year. With that introduction, here is the entry for February 2011.


2007 Dei Rosso di Montepulciano


  • Dates Stuffed with Parmesan and Toasted Walnuts
  • Long Cooked Meat Ragu
  • Green Salad
  • Triple-Chocolate Mousse Cake

(I didn’t make the last two menu items--more on that later.)

The dates were simple enough. Toast the walnuts in a dry pan on the stove. Take pitted dates from the package and stuff them with a walnut half and a small piece of parmesan cheese. You get the smokiness from the toasted walnuts blending with the sharpness of the cheese and sweetness of the dates for a simple and tasty treat.


The ragu was simple to make but does take some time because it has to simmer for an hour or two. You basically make a tomato sauce with some onions and red wine and then place beef short ribs, which have been browned, into the pan and let it simmer until the meat on the ribs is tender. Since the ribs are mostly bone, there really isn’t that much meat in the sauce, but since it all simmers together the flavor of the beef permeates the sauce all the way through. When the sauce is done, the bones are removed from the sauce, leaving the tender meat. The sauce was served over ziti pasta with parmesan cheese grated over top. It had great, rich flavor that went well with the wine. The problem is that it was so good I almost finished eating before I drank any wine. Christine said next time I need to try more savoring and less shoveling. Good advice for life in general, I would say.


The salad and cake were brought over the night before by our friends Dave (our go to guy for salad and goat cheese) and Barb (dessert queen). You read that right. Christine may be the pie queen, but for other desserts, particularly chocolate, we defer to Barb. We had them both over for dinner the night before and the salad and cake were left over from that evening. The salad was a nice mix of greens, Craisens, carrots and blue cheese. The cake was three layers of decadence including, from bottom to top, a flourless chocolate cake, dark chocolate mousse, and white chocolate mousse. (The recipe is from Cook’s Illustrated.) It was a great way to top off a great meal!


Sunday, March 06, 2011

The Alphabet Soup Project – G is for “Grenache”

A quick programming note before we get rolling. I’m going to be co-leading a wine tasting with Danny Gold on Wednesday evening (March 9, 2011) from 6:30-8:00 at the Party Source in Bellevue, KY. The cost is $20, but you get a $5 gift card. The theme is “California Wines under $15,” so come on down, grab a glass, and hang with us. Want to reserve a spot? Click here.


I owe my earliest memories of Grenache to my folks. Back in the day, they usually kept a jug of Gallo white Grenache around for entertaining visitors. (In case you’re wondering, Mom – I never sneaked any…) Almaden, Rossi, Franzia – all of the major jug wine producers cranked out inexpensive, sweet blushes made from Grenache. White Grenache was what White Zinfandel eventually became in the wine market – a “refreshing” wine. (Gallo actually tried to market White Grenache as an upscale alternative to White Zin in the late 80’s. That campaign didn’t last long.)

Since pink, sweet wines were never really my thing, I put Grenache out of my head for a long time. Along came the Sweet Partner in Crime. In our wine-appreciation infancy, we powered through many a bottle of Rosemount Estates’ Shiraz blends from Australia. When the weather got warm, we’d replace our bottle of Rosemount Shiraz/Cab with their Grenache/Shiraz blend, since it was lighter. Once our wine preferences began to broaden a bit, our everpresent bottle of Rosemount got replaced with other stuff and Grenache again retreated to an afterthought.

Fast forward a bit. I started seeing Grenache as a varietal more and more, especially as French and Spanish wines became more common in my rack. But what is it? One way to find out…

Grenache is a high-yielding grape that’s extremely common in the world’s hottest, driest wine regions. It’s best known as the backbone of the wines of the Southern Rhone region – especially Chateauneuf-de-Pape and many Cotes-du-Rhone. It’s the primary grape in Tavel, one of the best regions for rosé in the world. In Spain, it’s known as “Garnacha” and the wines of Rioja, Priorat, and Navarra simply wouldn’t exist without it.

Post-Prohibition winemakers in California grew a lot of Grenache. The sturdiness and drought-resistant properties of the vines (not to mention the high yields) made it a natural match for many of the growing areas. The wines, however, were often of the aforementioned jug variety. This began to change with the advent of the “Rhone Ranger” movement, where many winemakers started putting together high quality French-style blends in the late 1990’s.

Rarely used as a single varietal, Grenache yields a fruity, low-tannin, medium-bodied wine. The French Grenache-based wines tend to be quite earthy, since the bitterness of the tannin doesn’t get in the way of the “funk.” Spanish Grenache tends to be on the smoky side. American Grenache blends usually are more

fruit forward. Most good Grenache is be easy to drink and extremely food friendly. As a pairing, Grenache works in almost any instance where you’d normally choose a pinot noir. I’ve seen Grenache described as “pinot with a punch,” and that’s accurate – similar flavors, slightly heavier body, and a more fruit-forward flavor.

The SPinC and I did a side-by-side with a pair of Grenache-dominant wines. The first was the Writer’s Block 2008 Grenache from Lake County, California. The other was Penelope Sanchez 2009 Grenache/Syrah from Campo de Borja, Spain. The Penelope is 80/20 Grenache/Syrah and the Writer’s Block is over 80% Grenache with some Syrah and Conoise blended along. Both retail for $12-15.

Both wines improve greatly with a little decanting. The Penelope, especially, was very “tight” initially. (Javier Bardem commentary withheld…) It took a few minutes, even after some heavy swirling, for the smokiness and tannin to start balancing with the fruit. Once it had a few minutes in the air, it opened into a nose laced with herbs and vanilla. The body is light-to-medium and is well-balanced cherries, smoke, and vanilla. Those flavors all twined through a long finish.

The Writer’s Block (one of my favorite names for a wine) was heavier. Like most American wines compared to Euro-counterparts, the Lake County Grenache wasn’t as subtle and had a much “stronger” profile. Everything tasted “bigger,” even though the color of the wine itself was lighter. The nose was cherries and bubblegum with much less smoke. Very straightforward. There’s more of a “leather and cigar box” flavor on the finish. The SPinC thought it tasted like black licorice.

For dinner, we grilled some salmon and roasted some cauliflower with garlic and balsamic vinegar. When we tasted the two initially, our first reaction was that we liked the Spanish version better. The flavors in the food made the wine taste bigger and smokier. After a few bites, though, we came to the realization that we weren’t observing closely enough.

The Writer’s Block was better with the fish. There was more tannin (as would be expected from a Lake County wine *add link*), so the wine’s flavors cut much more easily through the oiliness of the fish and stood up better to the grilled flavors. The Penelope was better with the cauliflower. The roasting and the balsamic brought out the sweetness in the cauliflower, which was a much more harmonious pairing with the complexity of the Spanish entry.

Both wines were quite good. They’re excellent values and either would be fine with almost any food, short of something really heavy like a cassoulet or a meal dripping with cheese.

One last point about Grenache. I’ve mentioned grapes like Alicante and Cannonau a few times in this space as varietals with which I wasn’t very familiar. Turns out that I was more familiar than I thought – both of them are actually Grenache. Whatever name’s on the bottle, it’s well worth your time geting familiarized or re-familiarized. I’m certainly glad that I did.

(Also, for remembrances’ sake, I tried a bottle of the old Rosemount Estates Grenache/Syrah. Interesting how time changes one's view of things. Sweetish nose of blackberry jam. Lots of fruit on the palate and a little noticeable residual sugar. The finish is fruity and you sort of have to hunt for the tannins in the blend. I wouldn’t pick it for a normal tipple these days. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, I guess…)