Rubicon Red and Rouladen

Tahoe Ridge is one of only three wineries in Nevada, and let’s be honest, Nevada isn’t known for wine. So I wasn’t sure what to expect from the the $5.99 bottle of Tahoe Ridge Rubicon Point Red. I tried this wine years ago and decided it was time for a more serious tasting.

The Rubicon Point Red is a red blend of undisclosed varietals. Tahoe Ridge uses California grapes and Nevada grapes grown on-site, but no indication on the label or website what grapes are used in the Rubicon. I found it at a local liquor store, Ben’s Liquor, for $5.99, but I’ve bought it at the winery for $10 and seen it online for $12. I would buy it again at $10, but it will become a staple in my wine rack at $5.99.

The color is a deep ruby, nice and thick with viscous legs. However, the taste is lighter, complex without being heavy. It has a blend of vanilla, coffee and green pepper. A quick swig reveals a jammier taste, but give this wine a good, long swirl and swish and you’ll discover a full array of flavors that the casual drinker will miss.

Tonight I tried a new dish: Beef Rouladen (here’s a similar version to what I made). It’s a German dish that paired well with the Rubicon. Ok, this is kind of a weak way to introduce the fact that Tahoe Ridge is headquartered in Minden, Nev., a German settlement in northern Nevada. That MUST be why it went so well with my German dish! Ok, maybe not. But the nearly dry red, with just a hint of sweet, complemented the saltiness of the pickles in the dish. (Seriously, look up the recipe, it calls for pickles!) This would be a good red to pair with pot roast or beef stroganoff.

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Torrontes surprise

I’m a big fan of Alamos red wines, so you can imagine how my review of the Alamos Torrontes white wine will go. Yum. There, review done!

Ok, I’ll give you a little more substance if you really want it. But for those of you on a tight schedule, you can stop reading. It’s yum.

Torrontes is an Argentinian white grape, THE white grape in that country, according to this guy, who also says that it’s “aromatic and perfumed” like a viognier or muscat. This is all true, but I think that comparing it to a muscat is a disservice because muscat is so often sweet. This torrontes tastes florally sweet (is florally a word? Sure, why not?). If we’re going to attribute sweet to it, it’s like mashed-up dandelions, not like syrupy over-ripe grapes.

There’s a nice balance of vegetative tastes in this wine, actually. Dandelion, some bitter green beans, and a sunny splash of citrus. I’m admittedly ambivalent toward white wine, and when I tasted this fun find, I actually said, “Oooh, this is good!” (high praise, believe me!) The wine also has a fizzy feel on the tongue, a nice surprise for a Tuesday night! (um, yeah, not sure how I feel about that statement)

You can pick this up in the $13 range, but I’ve seen it on sale for under $10. I paired it with a very mild fettuccine alfredo with breaded chicken and steamed broccoli. The strong flavor of the broccoli worked very well with the wine, but I think a stronger pasta — maybe spicy sausage rather than chicken — would have complemented the torrontes better.

Clif Climber hits a home run… again

I’ve been saving my 2009 Clif Climber Sauvignon Blanc for a special occasion. With two kids and a full-time job, special occasions are hard to come by. So when my husband brought home some fresh Ahi tuna that a custpomer gave him, I decided that was special enough. (Hey, fresh sushi-grade tuna IS a  big deal!) He took care of the cooking and I took care of chilling the wine.

Clif Climber Sauvignon Blanc with seared Ahi

Clif (yes, as in the health bars) has become one of my favorite wineries for its green practices (read about that here, in last year’s review) and reasonable price tag. The sauvignon blanc retails for about $14 and is worth every penny.

The wine is nearly clear, which is a good hint at the taste. It’s fresh and light and a little tart in a palate-cleansing way (as opposed to the lemon-sucking way). There’s a nice presence of pear, but what makes this wine great is that no single flavor jumps forward; it’s just mellow and tasty. Not overly intrusive with any fruit. And that’s why it was perfect with tonight’s “special occasion” meal.

Tonight my husband marinated the Ahi in soy sauce, wasabi, green onion, cilantro, lime juice and sesame oil, then lightly crusted in sesame seeds. He seared it perfectly and paired it with stir-fried veggies (sauteed with a little Hoisin sauce) and teriyaki Rice-a-Roni (hey, we had to make something our kids would eat!). The tuna was so light and fresh, the veggies were so light and fresh, so it made sense that the wine be light and fresh too. The meal would have been destroyed with a heavy, dominant wine; it needed something to brighten up the sesame but not be so tart and fruity that it overpowered the tuna.

Clif Climber Sauvignon Blanc is one of those wines that will be your best friend at dinner time because it will complement just about anything. However, it’s also drinkable on its own (as I’m finding out at this very second!) because it won’t make you pucker after two sips. I’m admittedly not a huge fan of white wines, so I have a bias against sauvignon blancs. This one makes me look forward to my next bottle (and next Ahi filet!), and that’s big in my book.

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.

Ratatouille and tempranillo

My husband surprised me with a bottle of Gallo Family 2004 Winemaker’s Signature Tempranillo, a gift from a friend of ours who works in the California wine business. When the friend said it’s guaranteed to be something I’ve never tried before, it’s true; I’ve never seen this in a store and I can’t find it online. It’s almost too bad because it’s delicious wine, and neiner, neiner, neiner!, you can’t have any!

Ok, so maybe that’s not fair. And maybe if you look harder than I did, you might find your own bottle. I find it interesting, though, that Gallo, perhaps the original king of value wine, is bottling such exclusive wines.

I remember a day from my college wine-tasting class when the professor advised us to search for the traditionally “cheap” labels because they’re making increasingly high-end wines but at a very reasonable price. Wineries that are known to produce cheap wine have to continue to sell their wine at a value or risk alienating customers who think they’re being overcharged. Like when you shop at Target and refuse to spend more than $20 on a shirt simply because it’s Target. You might pay $40 anywhere else, but because it’s Target, you think you’re being overcharged by paying that much.

I don’t know how I just connected wine and Target, but oh well.

So here’s my take-away from tonight’s tasting: Look for Gallo labels. Gallo’s vineyard is in St. Helena, Calif., a place where the grapes are so good, and the winemaking knowledge runs so deep, that it’s practically impossible to make bad wine. The key to finding great value wines is to look at where the grapes are grown and the experience and history of the winemakers (hey, Gallo has been around for ages for a reason!). And keep an open mind.

Tasting notes on the Gallo 2004 Winemaker’s Signature Tempranillo:

Does “simply delicious” constitute tasting notes? Maybe not. So here goes.

The aroma is mossy and earthy, like a redwood forest after a rain (ooh, try to imagine that if you’ve never been to a redwood forest!). The initial taste has a slight burst of oak tempered by some fresh green bean and mildly sweet blackberry.

I paired it with a ratatouille pot pie (recipe here, and I added Italian sausage to give it kick and some protein.). I found that the heat of the sausage brought out a smoky quality in the wine. The Italian sausage was mildly spicy, and I wouldn’t go much hotter than that with this wine lest the smoke, oak and berries be overpowered by the spice.

Zinopolis and leftovers

Yeah, baby! The value shopper strikes again! Tonight’s find is a 2007 Zinopolois California zin for only $10.99, on sale from $17. Not bad, eh? Didn’t I tell you a smart shopper can find great wines for $10? (and some change)

Zinopolis is one of my three favorite zins – CigarZin, 7 Deadly Zins and Zinopolis. Hey, wait a minute. Do I only like them for their names. It very well could be, actually. I love clever word play!

However, this zinfandel is much more delightful than just its name. It’s jammy without being heavy, spicy without being overpowering, and it’s just damn good. I’m always suspicious when great wines are discounted by so heavily; was 2007 a bad year for zinfandel grapes? Or did they simply have overstock they wanted to clear out of the store? I don’t know, but this is one time I’m not regretting my sale purchase and muttering “you get what you pay for.”  Ten-ninety-nine is a great price for this zin, and on a special occasion, I might even cough up the regular $17 price. (the sale was at Smith’s, a Kroger brand store)

Oh, and what wine review is complete without a food pairing? I am quite the master sommelier these days. This fine red wine paired perfectly with leftover veggie-beef chili and salad. The chili’s spice bounced well off the wine’s tannins, and the freezer burn was cooled masterfully by the wine’s fruity bouquet. A crisp green salad doused in ranch dressing brought the whole meal together. I highly recommend Zinopolis when raiding the freezer before payday.

Friday Cupcake

I don’t have a lot of energy on Fridays. I try to make dinner that involves more than frozen burritos, but I also don’t get as fancy as steak and twice-baked potatoes. C’mon, fancy dinners are for holidays and Sunday when I have nothing better to do than plan a three-hour meal.

Anyway, back to the point…

Tonight I decided to use whatever ingredients I could scrounge up in the fridge and make an “everything but the kitchen sink casserole.” Lucky for my family, the fridge didn’t have good casserole ingredients, so I made spaghetti topped with leftover sauce and some mild Italian sausage that I had to squeeze out of their casings. Yes, it’s just as disgusting a task as it sounds.

So what does one drink with leftovers?

A few days ago I bought some Cupcake Vineyard cabernet based soley on the label design and description on the back. Sophisticated, ain’t it? The label described it as having decadent fruits, molten mocha and toasty oak. Who can resist that? I decided that leftovers night deserved a tasty wine. I can’t guarantee how good the spaghetti will turn out, but I was figured the wine was a pretty sure bet.

I was right. The first taste of fruit almost made me question my choice, but then it hit me. The molten mocha. Oh yes! The toasty oak. There it is! Oh yes! Oh yes! Oh yes!

Ok, so the spaghetti wasn’t half bad, but the Cupcake cabernet is just divine. And, proving my theory that a smart shopper can find good wine for less than $10, it rang up at a nice $9.49 (or some sort of change). I think that was the sale price, but even the full price in the ballpark of $15 isn’t bad.

Want to know what goes well with leftovers? Or at least makes up the difference if the leftovers are less than delectable? Just try a Cupcake.