Acronym for millennials… and the rest of us

I stumbled upon Acronym GR8 Red Wine on sale, $9.99, at Smith’s (Kroger, to you non-Nevadans) this week. I couldn’t resist picking up a bottle, and paired it with spaghetti carbonara and sauteed zucchini. 

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The 2011 California red blend, primarily pinot noir and syrah, is thick and viscous with a deep cherry color. The tobacco, vanilla, bold black cherry flavor is delicious on its own, but takes on a sweet tinge when swigged after a big bite of bacon-laden carbonara. 

The wine was develolped by Winery Exchange with “millennials” in mind… whatever that means, Actually, it seems to mean that it was designed to appeal to users of LOL, WTF, and BRB, and I have to say that I really like this wine despite not being part of its target market. Perhaps I’ll take that as affirmation that I am most certainly not a millennial.

The irony of illustrating this post with an Instagram pic is not lost on me, however. 

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Happy non-Valentine’s Day with Pink Panda

My husband and I don’t “do” Valentine’s Day. We’ve never been the sappy-card couple or the dress-in-pink-and-go-out-for-a-fancy-dinner couple. One year he gave me roses… that he bought at a gas station, and that was the first and last year we bothered to get romantic on Valentine’s Day.

In fact, I kind of prefer the intentionally non-romantic gestures. A big middle finger to the establishment. Yeah, that’s right. No romantic comedies on our Netflix tonight. It’s all about “Apocalypse Now” this February 14!

Ok, maybe that’s getting extreme, but it sets the stage for today’s wine pick,
Pink Panda, a marvelous pink sparkling wine from the ultimate middle-finger-to-the-establishment winery, Naked Rebel Winery. Yes: Naked. Rebel. (more on their eponymous wine here)

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Winemaker Chip Forsythe. C’mon, you can totally see how “Naked Rebel” and a pink dancing panda could come from this.

This is a winery composed of California college buddies who liked the notion of making their own wine (so they didn’t have to buy it) and recruited some friends to join the adventure. I’m pretty sure there must be a story behind the winery name… probably stemming from too much sampling of their wares, but that’s just speculation.

But why shouldn’t they sample their own creation? It’s really good! (you like that segue way?)

The Pink Panda is an Alexander Valley, Calif., pinot fermented with the Charmat method, which produces light, airy fizz., and is fairly close to the “sweet” end of the sugar scale. (yeah, I had to check wikipedia to make this line sound so smart)

pink panda 2The result is a delicious mix of sugar-crusted grapefruit, or a juicy cherry wrapped in pink cotton candy. I once had a cocktail that was some sort of fruit-liquor concoction poured over a mound of cotton candy, which then dissolved into the drink. Yes, it was sweet, but balanced so nicely with the fruit that it was drinkable… more than drinkable, it was delicious! I had three!

This is epitome of fun sparkling wines. The bottle is fun (who doesn’t love dancing panda bears?), the winery is fun, and the flavor is fun. If you’re snobby about your wine, you may not want to play in this sandbox, because this is where the cool kids hang.

And these Naked Rebels have obviously done their research in labeling, and by “research,” I think they’d agree that means lots of drinking in lots of questionable locations. And their research led to the decision to screen print the bottle with a glow-in-the-dark label. You know, so you can find the bottle with the lights off!

pink panda 1Ah yes, my Valentine’s night was not softly lit by candles and a crackling fire. No, my husband and I gazed at each other’s faces illuminated by explosions of napalm on the TV and a glowing dancing panda.

If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.

Update: For some silly reason, we didn’t finish the bottle on Valentine’s Day, so we polished it off tonight. It didn’t pair well with my chicken enchiladas AT ALL, but who cares?

Note: This wine was provided to me by the winery. But as with all wines I sample, I only write about what I like. My mama taught me right: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Get wild with Naked Rebel

I’d planned on saving my bottle of Naked Rebel red wine for a special occasion. But, well, that special occasion turned out to be a friend and me running out of this ridiculously tasty Captain Morgan punch and deciding that thNRW 3e wine with the mustache label looked like a fun follow-up.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t admit that I drank a bottle of wine after running out of booze, but for some reason, I think the guys at Naked Rebel would approve. I suspect that might be the very reason they started making wine in the first place. The 20-somethings who created Naked Rebel aren’t concerned with the usual wine snobbery; they boast on their website that, “Our Napa blend tastes just as good out of a Mason jar as it does out of fine crystal.” That’s a good thing, because I don’t have any fine crystal.

The website is laden with the kind of laughing-at-ourselves machismo that makes it attractive, not arrogant. They proudly claim that, “This is a wine that can stand with all the big boys of Napa, but chooses to sneak under the table and make out with the bridesmaids instead.” Yeah, they’re THOSE guys… and you can’t help but love them for it.

One of the big selling points for the wine is its label that glows in the dark. So you don’t have to turn on the lights to pour another glass. Hmmmm, maybe that’s where these rebels found inspiration for the “naked” part of their name.

So my friend and I decided to test the glowing label and rushed to the bathroom and turned off the lights. Sure enough, a faint glowing mustache appeared next to the sink. Damn if that isn’t clever!

In fact, just about everything with this winery is clever, but perhaps the most clever trick they’ve pulled is that they’re actually making really good wine. It’s not all gimmick. These are the college party boys who actually aced their finals. This is the anti-wine winery that actually makes fantastic wine.

Despite my Captain Morgan and red wine haze, I actually did remember to make some notes on the wine. The blend of California Cab and Syrah creates a wonderfully hearty and spicy cherry flavor. I was impressed with the light touch of tobacco and leather – not too heavy and perfectly balanced with black cherry. The wine is a deep red and certainly meaty, but it’s not too thick. You don’t feel like you’re chewing your wine, just enjoying a smooth Naked Rebel.

This wine retails for about $19.99, making it a respectable price point to impress your girlfriend or wife, but not a budget-breaker. It was part of a sample that sent to me by the winery, but as always, I don’t write about wines just because they’re sent to me. If I don’t like it, I don’t write about it, and if I do like it, I tell the world.

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Rock and Vine: a peek at new Napa winemakers

I recently had a chance to preview a new book called “Rock and Vine,” and you, Image
dear readers, have a chance to win one of your very own! Leave me a comment by midnight PST on Feb. 3 about your favorite Napa winery, and I’ll randomly select two winners to receive a copy of the book! Easy!

So what is this book, you ask? It’s a beautiful coffee table tome from Chelsea Print and Publishing about the new generation of Napa vintners – a generation that has learned from its parents and friends and is infusing tradition with innovation.

Through photography, interviews, and the author’s insight, we learn about this new generation of winemakers that has spent a lifetime learning from the masters and is bringing a fresh face to the wine industry. We learn how their parents pioneered grape growing in California and turned a sleepy California town into the most famous wine region in the country. And we see that the pioneering spirit lives on in the now-grown children who are applying new techniques and innovative marketing to reinvent the region.

What is perhaps most inspiring to this writer is that the new generation is not trying to compete with the older. They are creating something new – another layer to the rich culture of Napa to be explored and enjoyed.

While I call it a coffee table book, “Rock and Vine” is really a fascinating read and not one that should collect dust on your table. You’ll gain insight into wine making and learn about a plethora of new wineries to be explored in California.

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Christina Turley of Turley Wine Cellars

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L-R: Ben Flajnik, Mike Benziger, Danny Fay, childhood friends and partners in Envolve Winery.

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Jordan Kivelstadt, right, oversees the winemaking process at Free Flow Wines, which kegs its wine rather than bottle it.

Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

If you have ever traveled on Interstate 5 south of Portland, Ore., you have passed Willamette Valley Vineyards. Its beautiful tasting room towers over the freeway, surrounded by sloping hillsides of grape vines and pine trees. It’s hard to miss, but for years I drove past it and didn’t take the time to stop. wvv 3

In August 2012, I righted that wrong while on a tasting trip with the Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland. The winery is even more beautiful up close. And bigger! There are 50 acres of vines on the Estate Vineyard, and the winery imports from non-estate vineyards to round out its production.

Did I mention that it’s sustainably grown too? You can read about the soil, climate and elevation here, and I’ll move on to the taste!

Tonight I opened a 2009 Pinot Noir, a fantastic example of why Oregon is wvv 1known for its pinots! The color is a ruby-jewel color, clear and crystalline and almost pink during the pour. The aroma is black pepper, green pepper, tobacco and plum.

The aroma is mirrored in the taste — peppery, plummy, and just a touch of smoke. This is something I love about good pinots – deceptively complex flavors in a seemingly thin wine.

There are a great many pinot noirs that are just watery and hardly worth the effort to drink them. But the ones I like to drink — like this Willamette Valley selection — are spicy like a good zinfandel but light and in feel and aftertaste.

Bonus points to Willamette Valley Vineyards for an abundance of info on thewvv 2 label. I have never seen a label that includes the grape clone names, soil type, date of harvest, and best dates to drink it. This wine is best consumed between 2011 and 2013, so I feel quite confident in what I’m tasting now in 2013.

Chandon in the desert

For New Year’s Eve, my husband and I drove out Highway 50 through Nevada (aka “The Loneliest Road in America”) to a hot spring I’ve been wanting to check out. This seemed the perfect place to pop open a bottle of Chandon sparkling wine given to us as a wedding gift almost nine years ago (gasp!). If this isn’t the picture of serenity, I don’t know what is. This is the best kind of lonely!

Chandon sparkling wine at a natural hot spring in 9 degree weather. Happy New Year!

Chandon sparkling wine at a natural hot spring in 9 degree weather. Happy New Year!

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Zonin Prosecco, fresh take on sparkling wine

I had the best intentions of tasting and recommending Zonin Prosecco for Christmas dinner,  Imagebut here it is mid-January and I have yet to post my thoughts on this most fantastic bubbly. Really, my words will be brief. It’s such a simply perfect sparkling wine that my advice is just to go buy a bottle and enjoy it. Now!

Ok, I suppose I should give you a little more than that. I enjoyed the prosecco with roast turkey, cornbread stuffing and salad on Christmas Eve. And I enjoyed it with the s’mores I had for dessert. I would have enjoyed it again on Christmas Day, but it was gone. You see, this wine goes with simply everything. It is so light and easy to drink that you can pair it with anything – or nothing – and it will shine.

Prosecco is generally dry, and Zonin’s creation certainly is dry, but what sets it apart is that it’s not tart in its lack of sugar. It’s remarkably refreshing and smooth, the perfect presentation of fruit with a nutty note. The bubbles are so delicate, they froth rather than fizz. That’s one of my favorite traits of a good sparkling wine – a buttery froth rather than an explosion of carbonation.

Zonin is Italy’s largest privately held winery, and they have been perfecting the region’s varietals since 1821. This prosecco is a new addition to their lineup of wines, and it’s a wise addition. They manage to present a fresh take on an old wine. It’s the kind of bubbly you can feel proud to serve on a special occasion or just to dress up a weeknight dinner.

The next holiday coming up is Valentine’s Day, and this would be an excellent choice to impress your loved one. It’s an out-of-the-box choice, not your standard Champagne, and not one of the hundreds (thousands?) of California sparkling wines. It’s an Italian classic tastefully rejuvenated by the Zonin family.

There I go, getting wordy when I said I wouldn’t. So go buy it. Now.

* Note: This wine was provided to me by the winery. 

Insolia, my new favorite white varietal

I’m feeling adventurous tonight, so I thought I’d open a wine that I’ve never heard of: Insolia. I thought I knew most varietals, or at least enough to not be surprised when I see something Imageunfamiliar, but I admit that this grape threw me for a loop. I have truly never heard of Insolia. What the hell is it?

Well a quick perusal of Wikipedia tells me it’s an white grape indigenous to Italy, primarily grown in Sicily, and and in Tuscany under the name of Ansonica. There are lots of other names it’s known by, but for our purposes, I’ll stick to Insolia.

I’ve read that it can be light and bright, like a sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio, but the one I’m tasting tonight strikes me more like a mellow chardonnay. The grape is often used in blends to make Marsala, a fortified wine.

This Feudo Principi di Butera — part of the Zonin family of wineries, which is the largest privately owned wine group in Italy — is so gentle I almost don’t want to breathe lest I upset its reverie. Just a touch of tingle on the tongue reminds me that this indeed made from a fruit; every other note is just pure silk. The dry grass with a nutty tone is balanced with a spray of tropical fruits, almost a creamy pineapple. Yes, I know “creamy” and “pineapple” don’t generally go together, but that’s just what this wine makes me think of.

Feudo Principi di Butera ferments its Insolia in steel barrels and allows it to age in the bottle, which likely accounts for the hint of fizz on the palate. What I find interesting is that this wine retains its dry, spry features (thanks to the steel barrels) while somehow achieving the creamy quality common in oak-aged wines. It is not smoky or oaky, but is somehow still smooth and almost buttery without the butter flavor.

Confused yet? Yes, that’s because this is a wine the likes of which you have probably never tasted.

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The tasting notes recommend pairing it with vegetable-based soups, pasta dishes, fish soups, shellfish, or white meats. I am craving shrimp lightly sauteed in garlic butter with my glass of Insolia.

It took some Googling to find an average price for this wine in the U.S., but you can find it in the $14 vicinity at various online retailers.

Recuerdo this torrontes

While at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland, Ore., in August, I received a sample bottle of Recuerdo Torrontes, a perfect taster-size that I’ve been dying to try. So today I chilled it and cracked it open, a perfect pre-dinner refresher Torronteson this warm, Indian Summer night.

The pour came out pale yellow, and a floral aroma mixed with Honeycrisp apple wafted upward.

Torrontes is a prevalent Argentinian varietal, and the Recuerdo label does its home grape well. It’s a smooth yet crisp wine, refreshing yet savory. The sugar is not syrupy, and the hint of lemon is just enough to brighten the palate without causing a pucker. Floral flavors meander through the entire sip, from first inhale to final swallow.

The moniker “Recuerdo,” meaning “memory” or “momento” in Spanish, and the wine is made as an homage to – or memory of – Argentina’s terroir. The wine is stored for three months in stainless steel to preserve the naturally refreshing qualities. Each bottle should capture the essence of its year, presented as a straightforward representation of that year, unmanipulated in the process of winemaking.

Recuerdo produces only two varietals – Torrontes and Malbec – Argentina’s two most recognizable wines. But the Recuerdo brand puts an American twist on its winemaking, partnering with a Napa Valley vintner to make Argentina’s best wines accessible to a North American marketplace.

At only $15 per bottle, this is a wine one could easily pour on a weeknight, and just as easily feel proud to serve to guests. The wine is available in specialty shops, online, and at its Napa home, Ma(i)sonry.

14 Hands and a Standing Ovation

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Oops, I may have poured a little too much. Don’t judge. It’s a good wine and I knew I’d finish it, so I was just a little generous on the pour. No one’s looking. I can do that from time to time.

I first tried 14 Hands wines at the 2012 Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland, Ore., and remembered wishing I had more time to really investigate it. I made a mental note to come back to it while I moved on to the myriad other wines being poured that day.

As it turns out, this Washington State wine is readily available at grocery stores in the Pacific Northwest (sigh… what I wouldn’t give for a Fred Meyer near me!) and is now readily available in my home state of Nevada too. I brought a pinot noir home with me and picked up a chardonnay once I got home.

The 2010 Chardonnay is tonight’s pick, pairing perfectly with my husband’s barbecued chicken and fresh spinach salad with a berry vinaigrette.

The aroma is slightly grassy and apple-y, but with a fantastic floral note. The bouquet is not deceiving – the first sip on the tongue echoes the nose, bringing forward fresh apple, pear and spring flowers.

The feel is soft and supple, perhaps a bit sweet with the floral tones. But it’s not heavy in its sweetness, like a crisp apple lined with veins of natural sugar – both sweet and fresh and perfect in balance. This light mix of floral sweetness and fruit tartness produces a chardonnay safe to serve with just about any meal.

I love the idea of “patio wines” – those wines you can sip all afternoon on the patio while the sun warms your face and the cold wine cools your head. This is one of those wines, and that’s a good thing in my book. It’s something I’d be proud to serve to guests, but would be happier keeping to myself and sipping on a hot summer day.

The winery’s name, by the way, is an ode to the wild horses that used to roam freely over Washington’s Columbia River valley. Horses were measured by hands – 14 hands were the height of these particular mustangs, and the image they evoke of freedom and spirit is reflected in the winery’s approach to winemaking.

To this Nevadan who loves to see our wild horses trotting through the sagebrush, the winery couldn’t have chosen a more perfect moniker. My two hands applaud 14 Hands, and then they pour another glass.