Archive for ‘California Wine’

December 29, 2010

When you just feel like paying a lot for a glass of wine: CrĂş Wine Bar


Do you ever go to the car dealership to get your oil changed? You figure they sell your particular car, so they should know the most about them. Right? Shouldn’t the dealer be able to tell you exactly what you need to do to maintain your car better than just a generalist mechanic? So what if it costs $20 more for an oil change. To me, going to a dealer to get my car serviced is like going to a wine bar to get a glass of wine. One would think that I go to wine bars fairly often seeing as I love wine and all, but I just don’t. I know that going to a wine bar can be a good way to try wines by the glass before committing to a full bottle. I realize that many of them have knowledgeable staff that can suggest good wine to try. There are also plenty of decent wine bars in town with a good selection of wine. So why don’t I go to them more often? I get my oil changed at Jiffy Lube because I can’t stand paying way too much at the dealer. That’s how I feel about going to a wine bar. I recently went to Crú Wine Bar in the Domain in north Austin and had the oil change at the dealer experience.

Read the full post at the new home of What are you drinking: http://whatareyoudrinking.net/2010/12/when-you-just-feel-like-paying-a-lot-for-a-glass-of-wine-cru-wine-bar/

October 20, 2010

Prolonging Summer with Cakebread Sauvignon Blanc


God I love Indian summer. I love the toasty smell of fallen leaves, the chill mornings lit by the glow of Venus and Orion, the top-down heat of the afternoon sun that beckons me to stare into the brilliant blue of the cloudless sky just a little bit longer transported back to dreamy, lazy summer vacation days. It’s a cheat. Its summer reincarnated just weeks after it left. Don’t ya feel like you’ve been given a second chance? I do.   

This summer I wrote about my love for Sauvignon Blanc on a hot day in the post Suitable Wines for a Summer Romance. Even though summer has officially graduated to fall, this little taste of Indian summer is a perfect excuse to break out a light, crisp bottle of liquid sunshine. Beautiful Wife and I visited Cakebread Cellars last summer and stashed away a bottle of 2007 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc for just such an occasion.

Cakebread is a family joint in the heart of Napa Valley started in 1973 by patriarch Jack Cakebread. It’s known for delectable Cabs, Chardonnays and the aforementioned Sauvignon Blanc. Cakebread grows most its Sauvignon Blanc grapes in Rutherford with some sourced in other various vineyards in the Napa region.

Mother Nature has some fantastic building blocks to create tasty wine in that blessed valley in California, but it’s nothing that couldn’t be enhanced by a little artistry. Winemaker Julianne Laks blends 4% Sauvignon Musqué and 7% Sémillon in the Sauvignon Blanc for enhanced aromatics, softer acidity and brighter citrus. Cakebread further coaxes complexity and intensity from the grapes by fermenting and aging the wine in a combination of tank-fermentation and in neutral French oak barrel aging; fermentation and aging in barrel; and tank-fermentation with no barrel aging. 

That seems like a lot of work, but it’s worth it.

Look Harvest moonbeams in a glass slipper, staying at the party well past midnight.
Smell Flinty oyster shells and lemon rind left on the plate after a picnic. Plenty of grapefruit and kiwi left for desert.
Taste Intense as an Indian Summer that knows its days are numbered. A rich harvest of melon, grapefruit, lemon zest and honeysuckle with a nice balance of crisp mineral with an undertone of vanilla oak for a lasting finish.
Price $26

Yankee haters across the nation, put on you rally caps because we are going to stretch this summer into extra innings.  If you want to hold on to that summer ease for just a little longer, give this Cakebread a try. You’ll feel like going for a swim in the lake before you finish the second glass.

What are you drinking?

October 8, 2010

Oscar Worthy: Rubicon Estate CASK Cabernet Sauvignon


Translator: The general would like to know if you will drink a toast with him.

Patton: Thank the general and tell him I have no desire to drink with him or any other Russian son of a bitch.

Translator: [Nervous] I can’t tell him that!

Patton: Tell him, every word.

Translator: [In Russian] He says he will not drink with you or any Russian son of a bitch.

Russian general: [In Russian] Tell him he is a son of a bitch, too. Now!

Translator: [Very nervous] He says he thinks you are a son of a bitch, too.

Patton: [laughing] All right. All right, tell him I’ll drink to that; one son of a bitch to another.

Francis Ford Coppola has made a ton of great movies like Patton, The Godfather trilogy, Virgin Suicides, American Graffiti, etc. He also makes some kick ass wines. The Niebaum Coppola Estate Winery (they changed the name to Rubicon Estate in 2006) has been around since 1975 when Coppola bought the Inglenook winery, and makes both prestige and affordable wines.  He borrowed part of the name from Gustave Niebaum, the founder of Inglenook. I’ll drink to that.

Beautiful Wife and I visited the winery several years ago. It’s a gorgeous estate and worth a visit the next time you are in the Napa Valley. We brought along Argyle Nuthouse Pinot Noir that I bought with my employee discount to trade for some excellent Niebaum Coppola wines. With a trade, we were lucky enough to score a bottle of 1998 Rubicon Estate CASK Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the prestige wines.

The wine stands out with the 1800 style label printed on thin cork. Pretty cool. Coppola first made the CASK Cabernet Sauvignon in 1995 as a wink and a nod to the hearty Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon. CASK Cabernet is made from 100% organic Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown in the storied Rubicon Estate vineyards, Cohn and Chateau, in Rutherford, Calif. These vineyards first started producing fat Cabs in 1871. CASK is aged for 28 months in 500-L American oak puncheons to round out the hearty fruit.

We opened the ’98 CASK to celebrate our 11th wedding anniversary and drank this as the sun quietly set over our little rental house on Lake LBJ. We felt a little sentimental drinking it as this wine was bottled the same month we met, 12 years ago and we had also honeymooned in Napa. Ah love. It goes well with a great wine. Ah wine. It goes well with a great love.

Look Dark, inky purple as dark as the Nung River just after sunset in Apocalypse Now.
Smell Fragrant blackcurrant and rosehip like a Sicilian vineyard in late fall in The Godfather.
Taste Big dollops of black cherry jam, raisin, tobacco and cocoa came on as seductively as Johnny Depp in Don Juan DeMarco. It had a nice long finish with smooth tannins and gentle oak.
Price $70 (a hell of a lot cheaper if you can trade for it)

This was a fitting wine for a special occasion. While I like Coppola’s films, I’d choose this over any of them any day.

What are you drinking?

September 11, 2010

The Right Wine for a Tweet-Up: Arroba Winery


I’ve been hearing enough about Arroba Winery that I felt compelled to try its 2007Cabernet Sauvignon from the Sonoma Valley.  Arroba is linked with Deerfield Ranch Winery, where veteran craftsman winemaker, Robert Rex, produces delicious Zins and Syrah. The winery has a reputation for producing solid cabs and had introduced a line of affordable wines.

The first thing I noticed right away about the bottle is the ampersand featured prominently on their logo. Shrewd marketing perhaps? Using an @ just has to be a nod to the ridiculously popular social media tool, Twitter. Twitter users call out other people on it by putting an @ in front of their screen name. For example, I’m @MattMcGinnis on Twitter – adroit name huh?

Drinking this wine was just like going to a Tweet-up for me (don’t ya feel a little ridiculous saying the world tweet-up? It’s just stupid). Here is a wine that I know about by reputation, that I want to get to know better and that I have a chance to meet in person. That’s the whole concept behind Tweet-ups. They are gatherings of people that know each other online on Twitter who want to meet the real person behind the 140 character tweets. Do the people match their online personas, or is it hype? Who is that guy with the witty snark about the Austin music scene? Who is the person that posts a zillion lol catz and other memes? Who is the clever writer reviewing great cocktails and the accidents that happen after she drinks them? Who is the girl with the really hot profile photo?

There is a big Tweet-up in Austin that I go to sometimes called the Big Ass Twitter Happy Hour, or #BATHH. More than 300 people get together each month, slap their Twit name on their chest and mingle with other Twitter users. I’ve met several people that I stay in contact with off of Twitter. They are like decent wines that I’d known by online reputation that I’ve tried, like, and now buy and keep in regular rotation. I’ve met other people at BATHH that are nice enough, but aren’t nearly as interesting in person as they online. If they were wine, I wouldn’t buy them again. We’ll stick to being Twitter friends. And well, there are others that I’m getting out of the BATHH to avoid. I’m de-friending them as soon as I’m back online. I’d dump that bottle down the drain.

Let’s see how this Cab from Arroba Winery fares at a Tweet-up.

Look She carries herself well in a group setting, with rich, deep purple that could pass for opulent in a darkened bar. A great first impression at a Tweet-up.
Smell Pleasant, but not particularly well balanced with spicy raspberry, but just a little too much alcohol. On first meeting at a Tweet-up, you could see this going either way. She smells decent enough to have promise, but is that load of alcohol on her breath an indication that she doesn’t quite have it all together?  
Taste Now for the conversation. Here’s where we discover that she doesn’t measure up to the hype. Thin mouth-feel without the velvety lushness expected. The fruit is weak, unripen blackberries. She has enough alcohol to make me choke a little when I trilled the wine. She had a short finish without much to say.
Price $12

How do I break this to you Arroba Winery? It’s not you, it’s me. No, actually it’s you. You are a decent wine to serve at a Tweet-up where there is a big mix of people I don’t know all that well, some of whom don’t deserve good wine. Your snazzy packaging at least gets you in the door and your twist top makes you immediately approachable. Alas, you are not a wine that’s going to graduate from my interest in your reputation to a wine that I put in rotation at home. You’re just not that remarkable.

If I ever serve this wine to you at my house, it means that I’d prefer we stick to being just online friends. No really, you can take the rest of the wine with you in a plastic cup. There’s no reason for you to stick around any longer because you’re just not that interesting in person. See ya on Twitter.

What are you drinking?

July 25, 2010

I totally struck out with my wife


Sometimes I get a little romantic when I shop for wine. I look for a bottle that I think will warm the cockles of Beautiful Wife’s heart. Last night I found one that instantly made me think of her. A 2001 Chateau Potelle Cougar Pass. I know what you are thinking and you’re right. Beautiful Wife is much too young to be a cougar. That’s not it. The hook is that we went to Chateau Potelle on our honeymoon. It’s a gorgeous property sitting at about 1,800 feet of elevation with spectacular views. It’s a bit off the beaten path west of Yountville, CA. It’s a stunning drive of about 5 miles straight up Mt. Veeder on a winding road.

 The memory of being there in our new marital bliss is one thing, but they also make decent wine. They also have a sense of humor. The higher end wines are designated “VGS,” or Very Good Shit. With all of this in mind, I presented the bottle with a gleam in my eye, knowing that it would stir loving emotions in Beautiful Wife.

 Cougar Pass is an interesting blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot. Sounds like a party. Oh the anticipation.

 With the first swirl and sniff my heart sank. It was corked. Blast it. By “corked” I mean that it was tainted with TCA (2,4,6-Trichloroanisole). If you’ve ever had a cork tainted wine, you know what I mean. It smells bad and the fruit flavors are muted, hidden under stench. Beautiful Wife took a sip, frowned and handed her glass back to me. This wasn’t VGS. It was VBS; Very Bad Shit.

 I dumped the entire decanter full of wine down the drain. Strike one.

 2001 Chateau Potelle Cougar Pass Paso Robles

Look Deep dark garnet like the shadows of Mt. Veeder.
Smell The first scent was a big dog wearing musty cardboard boxes followed by faint leather and blackberry.
Taste It tasted like I was drinking it out of a dirty leather work boot. You know what really sucks? I could partially detect what the wine was supposed to be with lush blackberry, gentle tannins and I wanted to march back to the store for a replacement bottle to taste it like it was supposed to taste.  
Price $15

 Knowing that it was too late to go back to the store, I turned to the wine rack and selected a 1998 Domaine Benazeth from the Minervois wine appellation in the Languedoc region of France. How could I go wrong with picking a wine made the year that we met? I could see the Mediterranean Sea breeze tussle her hair as I opened the bottle.

We’re typically fans of Rhone style wines. This wine is driven by Syrah and Mourvèdre, but is also a hodge podge of grapes typical in a southern Rhone including Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache, Lledoner pelut, Piquepoul and Terret.

I handed a glass to Beautiful Wife. She smelled. Ah, not corked. She sipped. She set the glass down and reached for a bottle of vodka to make a mixed drink. Strike two and no opportunity for a third pitch. I struck out tonight.

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with this wine. I thought it was delightful. It just didn’t suit her tonight. Sometimes it’s like that.

1998 Domaine Benazeth Minervois

Look Opaque as the plum colored Mediterranean at midnight.   
Smell A gardener’s delight with fresh turned soil, sweet rose petals and black currant.
Taste It is floral, with muted fruit and stoic minerality. Plum, currant, cinnamon and violet, finishing with the lingering taste of a limestone cave.
Price $14

 The second wine somehow tasted like rejection as I sat there drinking it by myself. A gift scorned. A lover’s advanced rebuffed, standing dejected still in the buff. I drank it knowing there would be another chance tomorrow.

July 4, 2010

Reliving the Honeymoon


Dead soldier

My beautiful wife and I got married in the vineyards of Gold Hill Winery in Coloma, California. A fantastic setting to begin our life together. We decided to go back to wine country to celebrate our 10th anniversary and visited wineries in Napa, Alexander and Anderson Valleys.

We absolutely love the quiet ease of the Anderson Valley wineries, the friendly charm of the people and the gorgeous landscape. It reminds us a bit of the Willamette Valley in Oregon – great wine without the congestion of throngs of tourists like in Napa. We had rented a lovely house on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific in Irish Beach, just south of Mendocino, so the trip over to Anderson was convenient. Lost in the romance of the moment, we made a rookie mistake – and mind you we are not wine tasting rookies. We joined the wine club at the last winery we visited at the end of a long day of sampling fantastic wine.

Husch Vineyards has a charming little tasting room in a rustic converted pony barn. The grounds have the graciousness of an antebellum plantation guarded by majestic, centuries old redwood giants. The wine tasted fantastic. We went through the entire roster and into the library wines. All of them delicious.

Doesn’t all wine taste better after you’ve already had 15 glasses?

Not long after we got home, we received our first club shipment from Husch. A nice enough selection of reasonably priced wines. Last night we popped opened one of the gems, a 2007 Reserve Pinot Noir. Here are the winery’s tasting notes. This wine was like a big budget Nicholas Cage film. It had promise. I approached it with the anticipation that a known star deserves. But, it was a Nicolas Cage flick. Shoddy acting, weak plot and thin entertainment. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it, but it didn’t live up to expectation.

Instead of velvet, the mouth feel was thin. I wanted a glass full of bright cherries, but got aged fruit. In place of a vanilla kiss of French oak, it brushed me with smokey coal.

This bottle retails for $35. My advice, take that cake and go buy 2 delicious Spanish reds for $17 each instead. If you are ever in Northern California, make the effort to visit the wineries in Anderson Valley, and don’t miss Husch. You’ll love it in person.