Trione treat

A box of samples from Trione Winery have been taunting me for the two-plus months they’ve been sitting on my shelf. The array of mini sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, syrah and more has been not-so-patiently waiting for me to get around to tasting them. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to, but you don’t just drink a sample of $35 wine for the fun of it – it has to be savored. And who has time to savor anything these days?

Who would have thought that my daughter having the flu would present me with an occasion to savor? She slept all day, only waking when I ventured beyond the confines of our living room and kitchen – her Spidey Sense knows when I break the 20-foot barrier. Confined to the living quarters closest to her while she slept off her fever, I had a chance to try a new, rather complicated dinner recipe that I suspected would pair perfectly with the Trione Pinot Noir.

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I served the pinot with flank steak roulade – beef rolled with steamed spinach, red onion, feta cheese, coriander and pepper. A green salad with more feta, almonds and basil vinaigrette shared the limelight with creamy garlic rice.

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The pepper and coriander on the meat did not make the wine sing as I thought it might, but oh, the feta made it divine. The creaminess of the cheese crumbles played up the silky quality of the pinot, as did the garlic rice.

The Russian River Valley red is worth every penny if your budget allows. It’s an almost herbal pinot with the smoothest smoke and wood flavors. I’ve found that a really good pinot noir is hard to describe because it abounds with subtlety. There’s fruit and herbs and a touch of green pepper, but each is so perfectly intertwined with the next that it’s a taster’s challenge to single them out.

While subtlety is a challenge to the simple taster like me, it’s what the Trione family has spent three decades perfecting. They have grown some of the best grapes in the Sonoma region, providing other winemakers with their complex grapes, and in 2005 they decided to use those grapes themselves under their eponymous label.

The Trione varietals are small-batch productions, using only the best 3 percent of their grape harvest. The winemaking is a family affair, with three generations overseeing production and management.

While this label is certainly out of my standard weeknight budget, it’s a treat to taste the best from a family that only produces the best. The winery is located in Alexander Valley and the tasting room and picnic area is open to the public Thursday through Monday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Kendall-Jackson Summation Red

Today I found a Kendall-Jackson red on sale – $9.99, originally $16.99 – so I thought I’d give it a try. Kendall-Jackson is reliably good, but usually out of my  weeknight wine budget, so this was a treat!

The 2008 Vintner’s Reserve Summation is a blend of red varietals, “inspired by Bordeaux style wines,” according to the label. It also purports to be “smoother than cabernet sauvignon, richer than merlot, more balanced than zinfandel.”

I will attest to all these claims and more. I poured it alongside a heaping dish of savory pot roast with vegetables and garlic bread. This pairing was perfect! A buttery quality of the wine balanced well with onion and garlic in the pot roast and with the weight of the gravy. The meat’s natural smokiness brought out a hint of tobacco and chocolate in the wine.

This Summation is a wine I would gladly drink by itself, but that would be doing it an injustice. It is the perfect complement to a hearty meat dish. I’d like to try it again with an antelope meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I think I’d steer clear of spicy rubs or marinades and stick with savory, herbal pairings.

The 2008 Summation red is on sale at CVS, snatch it up while it lingers in the under-$10 crowd.

Celebrating #CabernetDay

Happy #CabernetDay! Yes, if you’re a Twitter nerd, you’ll hear that name screaming “social media event!” But hey, social media and wine — what could be better? All around the Twitterverse and blogosphere, and all around the physical world too, people are drinking cabernet sauvignon and tweeting, blogging, Facebooking and maybe even Google+ing about it.

My pick tonight is a 2008 Louis Martini Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon. It has a mossy aroma with a hint of black cherry. It’s earthy but not heavy. While the initial mouthfeel is thick and smooth, the taste is a fresh mix of black cherry and green beans. There’s also a toasty quality, that lends a beautiful balance to the cherry and bean flavors.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to plan a gourmet dinner to complement this wine, so I threw together some pasta, parmesan and broccoli. Not gourmet, but damn tasty. The cab went well with the pasta, but absolutely rocked with my ice cream sandwich dessert! Believe me, I never claimed to be a chef, and with two young kids swarming me as I made dinner, pasta and ice cream were about all I could muster. Thank god for good wine on nights like this!

Ok, enough about the chaos… back to the wine. This cab sells in the $15 range, so it’s a tad more than my usual weeknight wine, but won’t break the bank. It’s a bottle I’d serve to guests, and perhaps keep a bottle on hand for myself.

Happy #CabernetDay!

Odonata Chardonnay

Last spring, I went wine tasting in Santa Cruz, Calif., during the quarterly Passport Weekend. It’s a fantastic way to try Santa Cruz wines and spend an afternoon within a short walk of the Pacific Ocean. You buy a passport ($40) that has a page for all the wineries belonging to the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association, which is just about every winery and tasting room in Santa Cruz. And you taste your way through the book. Word to the wise: Don’t try to fill out the entire passport in one weekend (really, don’t! I learned the hard way.). You can keep it and use it again and again until you visit every winery in it. The benefit is that you can use the passport as a guide to tasting rooms, and many wineries pour special vintages while others ONLY offer tastings during Passport weekend. Many local restaurants offer discounts to Passport holders too.

I love family-owned businesses. It’s a small way I show my patriotism; I don’t wear flag pins or have a yellow ribbon magnet on my bumper, but I do support locally owned, family owned businesses. So when my friend and I wandered into the borrowed tasting room for Odonata Wines during Passport Weekend, I was intrigued. The man pouring the wine was the winemaker, Denis Hoey. He talked about his love for wine, the science of winemaking and how he hopes to grow his winery. But he didn’t just talk, he listened. He listened to my reasons for not liking most white wines (too sweet, too fruity, too tart, no depth, too oaky, blah, blah, blah) and he poured me his 2008 Chardonnay.

How did he know? How did he know that this would make me eat my words… or drink them, at least? The Odonata Chardonnay is at first like microwaved popcorn – buttery with just a hint of toasty vanilla . The fruit taste is a mellow apple or pear, not melon like a sauvignon blanc or grapefruit like a pinot grigio. And it doesn’t depend on overpowering oak flavor to give it depth like so many chardonnays. There’s a distinct minerality to the wine, something I haven’t paid much attention to in most other wines. It’s a wine that makes you stop and think about what you’re tasting, and want another taste!

I immediately bought a bottle, and was disappointed to learn that Odonata wines are made in small batches. So like all best things in life, you have to grab it when you find it and savor it.

And savor it, I did. Tonight I made chicken provençal (chicken and bell pepper, onion, eggplant, tomatoes and herbs sauteed in white wine and chicken broth) but went easy on the tomatoes and heavy on the bell pepper and onions. It would have gone well with a red wine, but I chilled the Odonata Chardonnay and was pleasantly surprised by how well it paired with dinner. The bell pepper seemed to bring out the butter in the wine.

Cheers to trying new things, appreciating a vintner who takes the time to talk to his customers, and enjoying a warm spring afternoon in Santa Cruz!

(In checking Odonata’s website, I see that the 2008 Chardonnay is still available. It’s $24, and the winery only offers tastings the first Saturday of the month or by appointment.)

Charity Case Rosé

I’m a bit of newcomer to rosé, so I was excited to try Charity Case Wine’s 2008 Rosé– a new experience! I’ll start with  the basics, in case you’re a newcomer too.

The color is a deeper orange/pink than I expected. The aroma fresh grapefruit. The taste… well, this is why rosé is so interesting. I’m expecting it to be sweet. I admit, the pink color and fruity smell makes me think it’ll taste like the dreadful white zinfandel. But it doesn’t.

The taste is tart like grapefruit, but not bitter or sweet. It also has just the tiniest hint of vanilla, a nice balance to the bright fruit, and a touch of pepper.

I paired this rosé with barbecued pork chops rubbed in garlic, orange zest and onion salt, a side of long-grain rice pilaf and carrots sauteed in butter and garlic. The slightly spicy chops were perfect with the fresh, dry wine. If I were to serve it with fish, I think a zesty Cajun mahi would be a nice pair.

Just a few days ago, I swore I’d never taste a pink wine, but I was woefully shortsighted and thinking mainly of white zin. Charity Case has opened my eyes — and taste buds — to rosé, and this is a wine I’m looking forward to pouring on a warm spring day.

Charity Case is a fantastic cooperative movement of Napa Valley wineries “devoted to raising funds to support local non-profits, providing services to children and their families.” One hundred percent of the proceeds go to charity; all work and supplies are donated. The rose retails for $11.99.

McWilliam’s Cabernet

Ok, ok, I promise to start writing about white wines eventually. I just really, really like my reds! So bear with me: one more red before I bring some white back into my blog. (Note to reader: I will probably never write about a pink wine. I suppose a rosé might be in my future, but don’t ever expect me to taste a white zin and have anything nice to say about it. I’m a white or red girl, no pink.)

A friend recommended McWilliam’s 2008 Cabernet, a label I’ve never tried, so I was excited to try something new. I was greeted by a ripe bouquet of black cherries and vanilla. I want to say I detect a hint of sandlewood too.

This cab is heavy on the tannins, but not so much your mouth puckers, just enough to make you feel the wine you’re drinking. I may not have been too off the mark with the hint of sandlewood – there is definitely something aromatically woody about this wine. (I hate to mention oak, because that carries such a pre-defined description. This woody taste is more vanilla or almond than oak). Tart berries nip on the tongue but are chased away by a whisper of black pepper.

McWilliam’s Hanwood Estate is an Australian winery, established in 1877. I’d venture to say that they’ve perfected the craft in the six generations of growing grapes and making wine. The 2008 cab retails for about $12, but I’ve found it in several stores on sale for $8-$9. It would be delicious paired with a peppercorn steak or bacon-wrapped meatloaf, which was on my plate tonight. It’s also a wine you could proudly serve to guests without worrying that they will go home wishing they’d brought their own bottle.

Constant Conquista

Move over, Concannon, I’ve found a new stand-by wine: Conquista. I’ve tried the Conquista de Argentina Malbec before and liked it, so it’s not surprising that the cabernet is good too. But I was surprised by just how good it is.

It has a mellow black pepper aroma while the bouquet brings together black cherry, espresso and a hint of cocoa. It’s playfully tart without evoking that sour-wine pucker. It’s sturdy enough to drink alone and feel fulfilled, but not so heavy that it could replace dinner. It would pair well with a peppercorn steak or chocolate cake — what? I’m hungry!

Regular price is about $10 for the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, but I’ve found it several times on sale for $6.99. This is definitely getting a permanent place on my wine rack!

Mighty Montes Malbec

Ok, ok, I know. It’s not right to review wine on the day after corking. It’s downright sinful to wait until the third day. I KNOW this! But I’ve been busy, people! It’s not my ideal way of tasting, but kids and husband and a job kind of derail even my best intentions. So get over it and continue reading if you’re still interested.

Three days ago, I searched the meager malbec collection at my local grocery store. Apparently malbec is just a little too exotic for the neighborhood store, and I’ve already tasted most of the $10 options. But I did manage to find one I haven’t tried yet: Montes 2008 Malbec, which hails from Colchagua Valley, Chile.

I took my new find home and opened it with dinner. And then my glass sat there, untouched, until AFTER dinner. So not right, I know! I’m all for allowing the wine to breathe, but damn, this is just ridiculous! When I finally had a chance to taste it, I zoomed right past “tasting” to “gulping.” It wasn’t pretty, but the wine tasted good and I was ready for bed.

Day 2: I made a very sophisticated dinner of pepperoni pizza and salad (hey, it was homemade pizza at least!). It paired well with the Montes, so good that I couldn’t wait to hop on the computer to blog about it. And then my 20-month-old smeared pizza sauce in her hair. Bathtime replaced wine time. Surprise, surprise.

Day 3: The husband is getting home late, so I made a quick dinner, dunked the girls in the bath and sent them to bed. (No, I’m not a terrihble mom; I read them a bedtime story and kissed them goodnight.) Now I can finally enjoy and take notes on this Montes Malbec. Finally. Three days later. Finally.

The first note should be obvious: I’m still drinking it after three days, so that’s a good sign. It still has the nice tobacco smoke, which actually blends even better with the tart tannins on the third night. Reds can get too tart after a day or two, but the tobacco mellows it and creates a very nice, complex third-night red. I taste just a hint of chocolate and figs, but no single flavor really pulls away from the pack.

At $7.50 on sale (regularly in the $11 range), this is a wine I would gladly pick up again. Especially for busy weeks when I know I might not get to drink it right away.

Bolla fulla flavor

Wine is all about nuances. So when I find a wine that puts a nuanced spin on everyday flavors, I take notice. I love smoky wines. (I rave about smoke here and here.) But my definition of smoky has been all about the cigar and tobacco tastes. Tonight I experienced a new side of smoky: bonfire smoke. Hello nuance! I’d still call it smoky, but with an entirely different taste than I’m used to.

Tonight’s Bolla 2008 Sangiovese di Romagna is a wonderful mix of bonfire and green pepper. An odd mix in print, sure, but in the glass it just spells flavor, flavor, flavor! The vegetable taste keeps it spry and crisp while the smoke brings it back down to earth.

Bolla is a staple in supermarket wine sections and sells in the $8-$10 bracket. This pick paired equally well with my lasagna last night and my chicken pot pie tonight. It’s versatile, which we busy moms need! Sangiovese is a great alternative to your everyday cabernet and merlot. It’s a perfect summertime red when the warm weather just doesn’t warrant a heavy, oaky wine.

Clif climbs to new heights with Climber White

While I’m not big on trends or fads (will someone PLEASE tell me who this Justin Bieber character is? I have no clue!), there are a few bandwagons I’m happy to hop on. Organic, sustainable farming is one of them. I’m guilty of feeding my children processed macaroni-and-cheese more often than I care to admit, but I try very hard to fill them with healthy foods, preferably from a source I know. I know my garden and what it took to grow our carrots there. I like buying fair-trade coffee (not always organic, but that’s another story of its own) and knowing that the earrings I bought my sister for her birthday were made by a fellow mom in her own home. I can’t always stick to these ideals, but it means a lot to me to try.

That’s a very long-winded way of introducing tonight’s wine: Clif Family Winery & Farm’s 2008 Climber White. Yes, we all know Clif for the delicious snack bars, (Oh my god, the carrot cake bars are to die for!) but I have a feeling we’ll soon know the Clif Family even better for its wine.

A little bit about the Climber White: I tasted it without reading the description and found a fascinating blend of tastes that I couldn’t quite pinpoint. Fruity and melony like the sauvignon blanc I suspected made up most of the blend, but with a delicate note of honey and flowers that I just couldn’t quite figure out. So I cheated. I read the description and found that it’s primarily sauvignon blanc (88 percent) with 4 percent muscat, 3 percent riesling, 4 percent chardonnay and 2 percent chenin blanc.

My palate isn’t trained well enough to pick up the minute presence of chenin blanc or to differentiate the chenin blanc from the chardonnay. But I KNEW there was something delicately floral in it, and that’s the muscat.

Clif Family owners Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford have been making Clif bars for, well, a long time. But they opened their St. Helena, Calif., winery in 2008 with the mission to “craft unique, regional wine and foods using practices that care for our earth; to support growers who use sustainable, organic farming methods; and to contribute to a more vibrant, healthy food community.”

Clif sources its grapes from local growers that raise organic or sustainable grapes. While the winery doesn’t yet grow its own grapes, it supports farmers that mirror the winery’s own dedication to good-earth practices. Besides wine, Clif Family runs a farm that raises turkey and chickens and grows olives, fruits and vegetables — all organic, naturally. AND all the farm vehicles are bio-diesel. Yeah, baby!  And they sent the wine (bottled in lighter-weight glass bottles) to me in recyclable, not-excessive packaging.

Sure, you could say this is just a fad, but isn’t it a smart one? (and I’d argue that it’s NOT a fad, it’s a smart business choice) Shouldn’t we support local farmers whose kids we help send to college by buying their produce? When we eat an apple, wouldn’t it be nice to know we’re only eating an apple, not chemicals and dyes?

Ok, I’ll get off my biodegradable soapbox. And I’ll drive my admittedly not-so-eco-friendly SUV (hey, I can’t do it all!) to the store and stock up on the Climber White for my next family barbecue. My family may not know they’re drinking my philosophical statement, but I’ll smile knowing that my $14 is supporting another family and protecting our earth. Who knew you could get all that in a bottle of wine?