Sunday, December 13, 2009

Compre este vino

I think it’s happening again. A couple of years ago, Sue and I picked up a Spanish rioja at a really great price (about $12) that we loved. It became one of our go-to wines. Today, the Marqués de Cárceres rioja sells for closer to $20.

A couple of weeks ago, we picked up another Spanish red, a 2006 Sabor Real Toro, for $9.99. We both thought it was so good that I kept the bottle around to remind me to write a review (even if telling people about it will drive up the price).

The 2006 Sabor Real Toro is made from 100% Tempranillo grapes. Toro is the name of the wine, the name of the Spanish region that wine comes from, and the name of the Denominación de origen under which the wine is classified. (The Spanish are conservative with names like that; but for those in the know, the naming system quickly lets you know specifically where a wine is from.)

As I’ve written before, I’m terrible at telling you why I like a wine. But I can tell you that since Sue and I both liked it, that means it’s not too light and not too heavy, not too fruity and not too spicy, not too sweet and not too dry. I also know that we’re not the only people who have discovered that the 2006 Sabor Real Toro is an outstanding value. Just Google it and see what I mean.

If you find this wine—especially if it’s still about $10 a bottle—give it a try. And let me know if you agree.

P.S. Sue and I just joined the Zagat Wine Club. Have any of you tried this?

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Non-Reviews

So, over the weekend I hosted a partylite party. One of our daycare teachers is a college student and she became a partylite consultant to make a few extra bucks. I'm not really the candle-party-type, but I figured what the hell..... I'll open a bottle of wine and the consultant will do the rest.

Well, that was a great plan -- except..... not too many guests were able to make it (damn flu!) which made me anxious.... one glass of wine, led to another, to another -- bottle number two, bottle number three.......

So, I'm here to tell you that I had three really good bottles of wine on Saturday night and I can't tell you anything about any of them.

I think I'm going to go re-buy them

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sarah and Shafer Sitting in a Tree...

Last week my husband and I went to wine country. Please excuse the fact that there isn't a bottle of wine for sale at this place that falls within the price range of the average Whiney requirement. Hell, there isn't a varietal for sale at this place that you can buy for three times the under $15 suggested price, but I have to tell you about the best wine I drank when I was in California.


Let me start by saying that when I called Shafer for an appointment about five weeks before my trip the person who answered the phone laughed at me. She said they were booked up for over two months. I got on the waiting list for three different days.

That isn't how I got in.

I don't want to give away all the details but I will say that we completely got lucky. I was at another vineyard doing a tasting and by chance the guy who was doing the tasting happened to be married to someone who just so happened to work at Shafer. It was our very last day in California.

I begged, I groveled.

I told them I was a wine blogger.

THAT is how I got in.

That is also the exact minute I stopped being embarrassed to tell people that I blogged for a living.

People told me that Cakebread was the #1 place not to miss. I moved my appointment at Cakebread to go to Shafer.

I was not disappointed.

This is the tasting room.

Shafer Tasting Room

As beautiful as this photograph is (my husband took this picture) it doesn't even do the room justice. The place was breath taking and the vineyard is 100% solar powered.

They gave us this:

Shafer. Mmmmmm. Shafer.

That is five of their wines: the Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay, the 2007 Merlot, the 2006 One Point Five Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2006 Relentless (a Syrah and Petit Syrah blend) and the 2005 Hillside Select® Cabernet Sauvignon.

I know Chardonnay gets a bad rap as a shitty grape (we even saw t-shirts at Honig that said "Friends Don't Let Friends Drink Chardonnay") but this was the absolute best Chardonnay I've ever had.

And every glass of wine we tasted there was better than the last one.

Everything was exquisitely balanced.

Listen, we were in California for a week. The lowest end winery we hit was Sterling. We ate at The French Laundry and Cyrus and drank what was recommended to us. I drank a lot of wine last week and this wine was superior to every other thing I tasted.

I don't mean to gush, but DAMN!

If you ever want to buy a bottle of wine for a special occasion and you have $50 I highly recommend the Shafer Chardonnay or Merlot. I am not generally a fan of Merlot but in this case I make an exception. I would give up an entire week of football for this wine.

If you ever want to buy a bottle of wine for a special occasion and you have $70 the One Point Five and The Relentless are outstanding. I would wear a Rams t-shirt for the One Point Five Cabernet Sauvignon. I would wear a Kurt Warner jersey for a bottle of the Relentless.

For a bottle of the Hillside Select I would do unspeakable things.


I am talking about things that involve rooting for the Yankees.

The Shafer Hillside Select retails for $215 a bottle, assuming you can find it in a store. You might have to join the club to even have a chance to buy a bottle.

I joined the wine club. Hell, if there were some sort of Shafer cult I would have joined that too.

The wine was that good.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I bought it for the label....

C'mon, look at this guy..... you'd want to bring him home with you too, right?

Okay, well if not the guy... unleash your inner 6-year old and buy a bottle of The Bastard!

I got this quite some time ago and wasn't really sure what to expect. This 2007 bottle of Il Bastardo Sangiovese Rosso di Toscana was really my first foray into Sangioveses.

A little history....the Sangiovese is a red Italian wine grape most commonly use in making Tuscan Chianti. The grapes themselves are said to be fruity like strawberries, but with a hint of spiciness and take on a distinct oakiness when aged in barrels.

The Il Bastardo winery is located in the Rufina area of Tuscany just outside Florence in the Sieve River Valley -- this is said to be the best area for Sangiovese grapes.

The Big Dubya opened the bottle and poured two healthy glasses -- I took my first sip and was very pleased. It was extremely mild -- fruity, sweet, but not sticky sweet. I didn't detect any strawberries -- but there was a hint of blackberry for sure. The flavors weren't terribly deep, but that was okay because they were comfortable -- complex in it's simpleness. The finish was pleasant and very smooth -- there was no bite at all. This is the kind of wine you could drink a lot of and not feel weighed down or heavy.

I found myself wishing I'd picked up more and at less than $10 a bottle -- I'll keep an eye out for this one.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Pumpkin Ales: A Comparative Study, Part 1

Welcome to October, my friends — the most wonderful time of the beer. It's the month that inspired U2's great song/album October, the month that moved the Germans to devote an entire 30-day stretch of the calendar to the celebration of beer... and the month that transforms happy little orange gourds into fearsome jack'o'lanterns across North America. It's a glorious month, and while Oktoberfest beers are a wonder in and of themselves, the sudden and simultaneous proliferation of similarly seasonal Pumpkin Ales is one of the great, consistent joys of my life.

Dozens of great microbreweries nationwide have taken to brewing Pumpkin Ales; as it happens, the wares of three of them made it into my fridge - and, subsequently, into my mouth - over the past week. Shall we review, I ask the crowd? "Oh, yes," you say. "We shall."

Win the crowd, and you win your freedom.

1. Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale
I've been a bigbigbig fan of Smuttynose for quite some time now. Brewing out of beautiful Portsmouth, NH, they produce a wide range of generally quite good beers that are available across New England and - if you happen to be in Portsmouth proper - in the truly wonderful Portsmouth Brewery. So it was with great joy that I found myself face-to-six-pack last week with a six of Smutty's Pumpkin Ale at one of my local fine purveyors of hopped goodness.

Unfortunately... I've gotta admit: I was less-than-thrilled with the result. Overall, the brew has a lovely amber color and very subtle spicing for the genre, but there's a kind of lasting bitterness that arises in the aftertaste that ultimately overwhelms the mellow pleasures of the beer itself. This is the part where I should probably go into some kind of long-winded explanation of how that's a function of the hops and blahblahblah... but really, the fact of the matter is this: the beer was okay, but the aftertaste was bitter enough that after TheWife and I had both downed one (well, alright... it was two for me) we looked at each other and said, "This isn't actually all that good."

I won't hesitate to try other Smutty seasonals, but going forward I'm thinking this is one I'll be avoiding.

2. Dogfish Head Punkin Ale
Great googly moogly — now THIS is how you do a pumpkin beer. The spicing is clearly present but also extremely well-balanced: the pumpkin, allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg add wonderful layers to the rich brown ale rather than overwhelming it, which is always the risk you face with spiced beers. It's a rich, full flavor but not so rich that it's too-filling... we actually found it to be a very adept accompaniment to food that actually added to our enjoyment of it, rather than competing with it as so many other spiced or heavy beers may do.

My one complaint: four-packs! It's like the packaging is custom-designed to build you up to a nice little happy place, ready for reach for another one... only to discover THEY'RE GONE. Of course, this is something that Dogfish likes to do with many of their seasonal or über-artisinal beers, so I suppose that's the price you pay for delving into the Dogfish world. But as is true of just about everything they brew... they do it right, and even though you're paying a premium for fewer beers, you're getting a legitimate, top-quality product for your money.

You rarely regret going Dogfish Head, and the Punkin Ale is no exception. Outstanding.

3. Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale
This is the first Weyerbacher I've ever tried, and it's very, very impressive. I'll have to admit that going into it, I had a couple of reasons for trepidation. First off... this was another four-pack, and one even more expensive than the Dogfish Head I'd enjoyed so heartily earlier in the week. I think it was something like $12 for the four-pack, plus deposit — which it's hard not to admit is a rather hefty investment. Secondly, I've had mixed feelings about Imperial Ales in the past. TheWife is a big fan, but I tend to find myself a bit overwhelmed by the intensity of the Imperial hops. Our divergence over Harpoon's Leviathan Imperial IPA this summer was a case in point; I found it ultra-hoppy to the point of being almost unbearably bitter, whereas she went completely head-over-heels for it.

Nevertheless, I forked over my fortune-for-a-four-pack (and you're most welcome for that crafty bit of alliteration, btw), and brought the pumpkin-headed beast back home with me. It sat waiting in my fridge for nearly a full day until this afternoon, as I sat down to watch the Pats take on (and ultimately defeat) the Baltimore Ravens... when I felt the need come upon me, so during a timeout I repaired to the kitchen and opened a bottle.

To be honest, I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but the result was clearly very, very pleasing. The Imperial hops are a strong presence, but not one nearly as overwhelming as I feared — in fact, they worked in symphony with the delicate spicing (which included cardimom and clove) to create something very balanced, flavorful and entirely enjoyable. I'd say that overall it's a less-spiced animal than the Dogfish Head, but the spices are still a tangible enough presence that they add character and depth to the brew. It's an interesting contrast to the Dogfish - which, honestly, I'd presumed would be the best Pumpkin beer I'd taste this year - and a drinking experience pleasurable enough that if I had to choose one over another... honestly, I'm not sure which way I'd go.

But really? It's a win-win. Check 'em both out. And then, let me know: what else do I need to taste?

Friday, September 25, 2009

September/October Assignment

Okay, yeah I know... I'm late -- but, it's not like everyone jumped on the last couple of assignments...

So, here's a two-fer -- September & October rolled into one.

I'd like you all to review/recommend/experiment with a fall cocktail. It doesn't have to be wine -- it can be your favorite fall cocktail, Oktoberfest beer, cider, wine, recipe..... c'mon the rules are loose here at The Whinery -- have a ball with it.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Something berry this way come....

It all began with my company's summer outing..... a summer picnic on September 17th.... yes, our summer picnic was in the late part of September..... I don't know, just accept it and move on, okay -- I have.... well, sorta.

Because it was a "summer" outing, I really wanted a summer beer -- so I went to the local Mom & Pop package store to see if they might have something left. It's one of those hole-in-the wall kind of places that totally overcharges, but... if they have what you want -- you'll suck up a few extra bucks.

Low and behold, they had one six-pack of Harpoon Summer left -- SOLD! But, I can't walk into my summer outing with a six-pack.... I'd NEVER hear the end of that -- it would be the stuff of workplace-urban-legend..... "Remember the time MrsBigDubya showed up with a six pack..... how cheap is she??? " -- so I scanned around to see if anything else caught my eye and I saw Sam Adams Blackberry Witbier..... hmmm.... I'm intrigued..... blackberries are summer-esque, right? so yeah -- it works for me.

Of course, I've had berry beers before.... raspberry beers tend to be too sweet, blueberries seem to crave balance -- they are usually either too much blueberry or well, not enough -- and cranberry..... just tastes weird. I was honestly not expecting much from a blackberry beer -- figured I'd have one -- either like it or not and then move on to the guy who brought a case of Corona.

Thing is -- I actually liked it. The scent was more sugary than the taste -- the flavor was crisp, sweet -- but not sticky sweet, there was a hint of orange so the tang of the citrus offset the sweetness of the blackberries nicely -- and, it still tastes like beer, unlike Sam's Cherry Wheat which I found to be so sweet that it lost it's "beer-ness"

Beer Advocate
only rates this beer a B-. I'm not a beer connoisseur by any stretch, but I know what I like and I think B- is a bit unfair -- I'd say B+ and other sites I've looked at have been quite a bit kinder in their commentary.

Let's put it this way.... all twelve of my beers were gone when I left.... and I picked up another six of the Blackberries to enjoy while I watched the Patriots/RedSox games on Sunday.

Bottom line -- I'd say that you should give Sam's Blackberry Witbier a whirl.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


My brother once commented that people are going to think all I do is drink. My reply? I do it for the readers. I'm punishing my liver and adding to the girth around my middle so you don't have to. I'm out there, on the front line, trying beers and equally bettering and battering my tastebuds so you can go into your local packie well-informed, ready to make a decision on what adult beverage to take home and enjoy. I'm doing it for Johnny, man! (RIP Darrell Curtis). I'm selfless like that.

And since my last beer review in July...JULY!?!, this post is gonna be loaded (pun most certainly intended). Anyway, since my last review in July, I have been a busy, busy man. Oh sure, I've had favorites in the fridge at all times: Torpedo (if I turned you on to this fantastic Extra IPA, I'll expect some sort of thank you in the comments), Sam Summer, Harpoons of varying style, and so on. But I've also been trying out some other micros and regional offerings. So, let's get to it, shall we?

Woodstock Inn, Pemi Pale Ale: I've taken to trusting the recommendations of the clerk at the liquor store at the bottom of the hill from our house. He has noticed that I like the hoppier brews on the market and, if I'm appearing undecided on a particular Saturday afternoon, he will make some suggestions. Recently, he mentioned Pemi Pale Ale from Woodstock Inn Brewery. The Brewery is part of the Woodstock Inn Station & Brewery in North Woodstock, NH. The Brewery also offers brewers weekends during which you get hands-on instruction in the fine art of beer making. Anyway, I thought this a good opportunity to try out one of their many offerings - we will be in that area for Thanksgiving - before we visit. The description on the web site is rather thin: Best Pale Ale in the Northeast and second overall in the Country at the United States Beer Tasting Championships. Pale amber in color with O.G. 1.057 / 56.4 IBUs / 5.7%abv. Um...ok...guess I'll just have rely on my own description. The Pemi pours a deep amber, bordering on red, color and has a full head that dissipates rather quickly however. It has an aroma that is citrusy with a hint of pine. The hops are also present and there is a faint odor of malt; somewhat bready but not a prominent or powerful aroma by any means. The fruity/citrussy qualities are again present in the first sip, but they are blunted by the presence of hops and their bitterness that immediately follow.  Malt is there as well, but only subtly and is entirely gone on the finish. It's nowhere near has hoppy as the Torpedo or some other bolder IPAs (that's evident in its IBU of 56.4), but it is a solid offering nonetheless. I can say that this beer intrigued me and I am looking forward to popping into the brewery in November - their newest brew, Through Hiker Double Rye Pale Ale, has peaked (ha! get it? hiker...peaked? yeah, I know.) my interest.

Newport Storm, Kim (Cyclone Series): I see Newport Storm everywhere and, yet, have never tried it. As the breweries roll out their fall/Octoberfest offerings, I figured I would give this Märzen style a try. During this time of year, if you were to open the "beer fridge," you would find Sam Octoberfest or Harpoon's offering of the same name lining the shelves. Honestly, as far as beer seasons go, I am in my glory now. This is the time of year for heavier, bolder choices - a time of year when crisp and refreshing are supplanted by warming and comforting. Kim does not disappoint. Dark orange, sort of rusty color with an off-white head, Kim appears to retain some of its yeastiness near the bottom of the glass - it gets hazier the lower you go in the glass. It has aromas of malt (natch) and caramel. There is also a nuttiness that is faint but present, as well as a mild hoppiness - I don't get as much on the hops side as other reviewers have, though. I can taste the malts right away which is to be expected - it is a Märzen after all. But I was surprised by a taste that was hoppier than expected. Not that I mind. It's fuller, breadier, in the mouth and that tones down the 7.9% ABV meaning no "alcohol burn" going down. Overall a very nice lager - if you see in a store near you, pick it up - it won't be around very long.

Sierra Nevada Kellerweis: For fans of authentic (read: German) hefeweiss (hefeweizen, Hefeweißbier), you usually have to search far and wide for a decent liquor store that stocks offerings with -brauerei on the label. I've tried enough American offerings to feel comfortable saying, "Meh, they're okay, but they didn't wow me." Not anymore. Sierra Nevada (which is quickly becoming my brewery di tutti breweries) has unleashed upon the world Kellerweis "the only American Hefeweizen made using the traditional Bavarian style of open fermentation." Well, slap me on the ass and call me Shirley. Thank. God. The Kellerweis pours a big yellow to orangey color with a nice, frothy head. Be sure and follow the directions on this one: pour 2/3 into a glass, swirl and pour remainder - that way you are sure to get every bit of yeasty goodness. The aroma always takes me back to Capo's in Neu Ulm where I had my first hefe: bananas, spices (cloves in particular), yeast, malts and citrus. Taste is nearly the same but with a faint note of hops as well. This is a complex brew, make no mistake about it. All-in-all an admirable weißbier entry from Sierra Nevada - certainly among the best (if not the best) American offerings.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Another Lost Angel

"Oh, Lord why doesn't this come in a bigger bottle?"
--- Honest first words upon sipping a glass of Lost Angel 2006 Petite Syrah

It's been a while since we killed this bottle of Lost Angel. I can't remember what we had for dinner or even if we had dinner. It might have been a wine entree night. But when I took my first sip of this petite syrah, I was hooked. I wanted another. I wanted it intravenously. Scratch that. Intravenously would not allow me to taste it. I wanted to funnel it. It needed it to come in a barrel so I could do keg stands. Wait. Do wine drinkers DO keg stands?

I don't claim any sort of wine snobbery. I'm a beer drinker by birth - I believe there are still trace elements of Schlitz coursing through my veins or attached to my DNA (thanks, Dad!). I say this as a matter of disclaimer. Just because I like a particular bottle of wine (or beer for that matter) does not necessarily mean that you will like it or even that it's a good bottle of wine. You should never take my reviews as gospel. I've been known to drink Boone's Farm out of a paper bag and to have chanted "What's the word?" "THUNDERBIRD!" Oof, just disclosed my inner monologue...moving along now.

All that being said, I do like the Lost Angel 2006 Petite Syrah (Sirah). According to the tasting notes, the varietal was harvested in September 2006 and aged for 12 months in neutral oak barrels. One good whiff is all it takes to identify the raspberries and cherries as well as some floral notes. But it was its taste that got to me. I could taste the cherries and raspberries, but there were some richer, darker elements as well, chocolate primary among them. I half-expected to have this wine disappoint me on the finish - there's gonna be some acidic aftertaste or it's gonna burn all the way down. I was so happy this wine dope slapped my cynical nature. It had a medium finish wherein there were some subtle spices and tobacco and a slight earthy flavor just like the tasting notes mentioned would be there.

In short, I like this wine and for the $11 I think you should go out, find a bottle and give it a try. It's a nice casual wine that can be opened any time. Hopefully, you too will wish it came in a bigger bottle.

Friday, August 14, 2009

So we bought a box of Bota Box

In keeping with the August Assignment, the Big Dubya went out and bought-a-box of Bota Box Shiraz (2008) (sorry, couldn't help myself).

It was really hot this afternoon and after a day chasing kids and catching up on housework, the thought of firing up the stove or even the grill was more than I could bear.... so the Big Dubya agreed to grab a couple of pizzas on his way home and what better Friday-night pizza cocktail than a good old glass of red wine.... in this case, a 2008 Shiraz.

The Big Dubya and I agree that we were both pleasantly surprised by the first glass. It didn't taste like what I would expect a boxed-wine to taste like. It was full flavored, not over powering -- there were distinctive fruit undertones.... the tannins weren't at all severe. The Big Dubya noticed a definite cherry influence, whereas I thought the oak flavor was more present. It paired well with pizza, I think it would also stand up well to steak or a grilled dinner.

The typical bottle of wine is supposed to yield 5 glasses -- we usually get 2 glasses each (4 glasses). The box is supposed to yield the equivalent of 4 bottles/20 glasses (well, 16 in the Dubya house) and I'd say at this point we are probably ¼ of the way through it...... the night is still young!

Bottom line, I think this is a decent (and fairly versatile) table wine. The Big Dubya seemed to like it a little more than I did -- I wouldn't rush out and buy it again, but I wouldn't caution anybody against it either -- at $20ish for 16-20 glasses, it's certainly a good value.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Too Hot, Too Cold--Am I Goldie Locks?

We made friends with the guy who orders wines and beers at our local shop—his card reads “Wine & Spirit Educator”—but let’s just call him Ken. He called the other day to say that a wine that we requested was in, and I said “No Torpedo though, huh?” “The customer comes first,” he muttered and confessed that he had five bottles—not quite a six-pack. I said I’d be there that afternoon to pick it up. Score! We brought home four bottles and gave Ken the fifth. Apparently, he’s yet to enjoy a Sierra Nevada Torpedo himself—they can’t keep it on the shelf long enough for him to get to it.

In any case, along with the Torpedo, a bottle of
Strong Arms Shiraz 2007 came home with us, too. It's a screw top from South Australia which I will be reviewing for this month’s assignment a bit later. Before I do, however, I wanted to share a little something about wine temperature. I am not a wine snob, I mean, I drink wine from a box, so I can’t be, can I? A few years back, my husband and I decided to sign up for a single evening wine class at the wine shop, and the one thing that has stuck with me from the two hours of trying all kinds of wine (we’re lucky I retained anything useful from the evening!) is that temperature matters. White wine should be served chilled, but not at 38 degrees, as I had previously thought. White wine is best served a bit warmer than right out the fridge, say, about 20 minutes warmer. Red wine, on the other hand, should be served cooler than room temperature, about 20 minutes in the fridge cooler. Why does it matter? I asked that very same question. My answer to you is to try it. Get two identical bottles of wine and try one as you normally would--fresh out of the fridge for a white or straight from the wine rack for a red, and the other, pour it a bit chilled or warmed, depending on the color. Try both side-by-side and I promise you'll notice a difference in taste. In fact, you might even question that both glasses contain the same exact wine.

I tried this myself, with a red wine I quite like, but don’t love. Even a wiff of the stuff at room temperature smelled off to me. It smelled “dirty” according to my husband and that's a fitting description. It had a strong alcohol odor, as well as a strong alcohol taste. The chilled red wine, however, smelled fruity and tasted nothing like the warm wine, and had alcohol burn on the back of my tongue. In the room temperature glass I couldn't find a hint of the cherries I tasted in the cooled wine.

Generally, a white that’s served too cold or a red served too warm can cause certain unsavory aspects of a wine to overpower more favorable characteristics. Now, if I were a real wine snob, I might be able to tell you that your chardonnay should be enjoyed at 48 degrees Fahrenheit, but your sparkling wine could stand to be a bit cooler and I won’t tell you that port should be served closer to room temperature, unless it’s vintage. I don’t test the temperature of my wine before I drink it, but I do drink my reds a bit colder than most folks I know, and if I happen to have a white, I generally drink that a bit warmer. Give it a try and tell me how it works out.

The Perfect "10"?

The other night my hubby and I stopped at a local eatery for a quick bite to eat after a movie. I had wanted to try this particular restaurant because they tout themselves as a haven for localvores—which I try to be—and I was not disappointed. Even the draft beer was local. I ordered my first Ten Penny Ale, the debut brew of the Olde Burnside Brewing Company in East Hartford, Connecticut. I've just recently returned to Connecticut after a 20-year-long hiatus, so if you have already discovered the gold-mine that is Ten Penny or any of the other brews from Olde Burnside, please just bear with me.

I did not even finish reading the beer descriptions on the menu before I made my selection. I chose this particular beer because I am pretty familiar with Burnside Avenue in East Hartford. My mom is from East Hartford and my uncle still lives in the house that they grew up in, which is not far from Burnside Avenue. My sentimentality took over and I’m glad it did.

The beer arrived and although I did not take a lot of time to admire how it looked, it did display a short, fairly dense head and a strong amber hue. It looked good enough to drink—so I did—the first word that came to mind with my first sip of Ten Penny was clean. This is not a light beer, however. It has a good malty body and a smooth caramelized taste. The menu description categorized it as a Scottish ale, but it’s not quite a full Scottish ale in my opinion, but still quite tasty. Not surprisingly, Ten Penny’s ABV is 5.5%, which accounts for some of its smoothness.

In preparation of writing this review, I visited the Burnside Brewing Company’s website. You’d think I stole my review from them: Ten Penny “is a smooth, amber-hued mellow version of a Scottish Ale.” But then again, how many words are there to describe a good beer—and Ten Penny is a straight forward beer—it does not have tremendous depth, but it is neither flat nor thin. It paired perfectly with our tomato pizza with mozzarella, roasted garlic and basil pesto.

Ten Penny and several of Burnside’s other brews, including Dirty Penny Ale, are sold only in growlers at your local (if you’re in Connecticut) liquor store. You can’t buy a six, but the ½ gallon gives you enough to share with a friend or two. It’ll run you a bit more than a six, but you're paying for local and it’s worth it.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

August Asssignment

Swheeze hit upon it in her inaugural post earlier this week -- I've got myself convinced that wine that comes in a box is crap...... screw top wine too (I know, I've got some issues), but for now, let's stick to wine in a box.

Cognitively, I know that boxed wine is perfectly fine -- some of it is high quality, even expensive -- yet I can't seem to bring myself to pull the trigger and buy a box. I walk by them, read the labels.... and then saunter back over to the traditional bottles.

After some reflection, I think it's because once upon a time, my mother drank Riunite and her best friend drank Paul Masson.... from what I recall, both of these wines were both simply awful. My Mom's friend switched to wine-in-a-box, I can't remember what kind it was -- just that it was terrible and took up half a shelf in her fridge.

Anyway, it's time to get past this boxed-wine-phobia I have -- so, join me won't you?

August's assignment is to try and review wine that comes in a box (or some alternative packaging).

If you are dead-set against the boxed wine idea..... how about a wine with a screw top, although I've had them and it appears to be the "wave of the future"-- I'm still skeptical about that too.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Thinking Inside the Box

Perhaps it is not a great idea to have my very first post be about something as taboo as boxed wine, but it’s what’s on my mind right now.

Boxed wine has a not so nice reputation, with good reason. If you have ever tried Franzia, you know why. I do recall our local wine seller talking about the idea of boxed wine actually being a good one—you open the wine but it never has contact with air so it stays “fresh” for much longer than an open bottle of wine. He also explained that in France and Australia, boxed wine did not have the same reputation that it does in the U.S. and that boxed wine was widely accepted and there were currently several very good options on the market. I noted that he did not have any boxed wine for sale, we laughed, and that was the end of that.

Until now. My father-in-law has consumed boxed wine for several years. I think he started out with Almaden in a box—it was not very good. He’s now moved to Black Box Cabernet Sauvignon. He has a glass every day with lunch for his health—seriously, I think a doctor recommended it. Of course we have all heard that red wine, in moderation, is good for you. Apparently, there are beneficial anti-oxidants in the skin of the grapes—not to mention, sitting down with a glass of wine to unwind has its benefits, as well. So, for those who drink wine for their health, wine becomes almost like a medication, and therefore the wine box is just the “easy open cap” version.

I noticed this year that there was more and more boxed wine to choose from at our local liquor store. I had to walk right by it on my way to the beer cooler in the back. Then my husband noticed it, too. We bought a box. I think we went with Black Box. It was fine. Really. I mean, nothing special, but it was a far cry from the Franzia or Almaden crap that was served at neighborhood parties when I was a kid. (Or, as Mr. Big Dubya noted in November, the kind of wine that woo-girls drink.)

Okay, so my point is, boxed wine might be worth some exploration. I have done some myself. I really like Bota Box Old Vine Zinfandel—I like bolder flavors in my wine and this one in particular stands up to spicier and heavier foods. It is surprisingly complex. I’ve tried the Bota Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and the Shiraz. All are pretty good and are worth a try. Amazingly enough, Bota Box Old Vine Zinfandel, along with all the others I mentioned, also fits with July’s tasting assignment—it’s made it the U.S.—Cali, of course.

Boxed wines are not what they used to be. I am curious to know if anyone else has tried boxed wines and found some hits? I am seriously considering have a tasting with only boxed wines and sharing the results here, but, that’s a lot of wine (most boxes are equivalent to three to four 750ml bottles—or about 20 glasses of wine). I’d need to have a lot of guests, not to mention a lot of glasses. I’ll keep thinking about this. In the meantime, let me know your thoughts on boxed wine.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Welcome Swheeze!

I am so excited to announce our newest contributor..... the gorgeous Swheeze (don't let the name fool you!)

Not only is she a career woman -- she's also a great friend, a fabulous cook and a lover of wine.... actually, she loves all kinds of adult beverages.

I'm confident that she and Mr Swheeze will not only be sharing their wine reviews, but will also be injecting their fabulous humor into our little wine club.

Please join me in welcoming Swheeze!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sangria Anyone?

Recently, a friend of ours posted his sangria recipe on Facebook and I'll confess, I was immediately intrigued.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should probably offer two points of information

1. I am not a sangria drinker -- have maybe had it once or twice in my life..... if at all -- so I honestly have no frame of reference whatsoever.

2. This friend is, like myself, insanely competitive. He would never post a recipe as his own unless it was tried & true and in his opinion.... damn near perfect. This is a "go big or go home" kind of guy, he plays to win.

I think it was the latter point that put me on a mission..... a mission to try this baby out.

The recipe:
1 Bottle of red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Rioja, Zinfandel, Shiraz)
1 Lemon cut into wedges
1 Orange cut into wedges
1 Lime cut into wedges
2 Tbsp sugar (use more sugar if using a Cab or Shiraz)
Splash of orange juice or lemonade
2 Shots of gin
1 Cup of raspberries or strawberries (may use thawed or frozen)
1 Small can of diced pineapples (with juice)
4 Cups ginger ale
Chill overnight

So, last Friday I went and grabbed all the necessaries and set about assembling a big ole pitcher of Sangria. I went with a bottle of Little Penguin Merlot we already had on the wine rack (not bottom of the barrel, but good enough to drink -- should work okay, right?) I used orange juice (not lemonade) and raspberries (not strawberries).

We ended up having a few beers that evening, so the sangria would have to wait.... and wait, and wait some more. On Thursday night we put the kids to bed and poured a couple of glasses. The Big Dubya thought it was good -- but there was some underlying flavor that was distracting him -- he just couldn't put his finger on what it was. I asked -- is it the lime? maybe.... the lemon? maybe..... the gin -- yeah, that's it!

I found my glass a bit too strong for me -- I added some more ginger ale to see if that helped -- but it was still just really strong, I was tired and not in the mood to experiment. We kind of walked away a little unsure of whether or not we liked it..... but, neither of us was ready to discount it either.

On Saturday night we had a small dinner party and, as is par for the course at casa Dubya, the cocktails were flowing. I pulled out the pitcher of sangria and everybody tried some. We got some mixed reviews.... one fellow came looking for another glass saying that he couldn't say that he loved it -- but did find it oddly compelling. Another fellow coined the term gin-gria, noting that the gin was most certainly a detectable undertone.

In fairness, the above recipe is a little loosey-goosey so it's entirely possible that I screwed it up. The size of the fruits, the definition of a splash.... all subject to interpretation.

Bottom line, this is a good solid base-recipe that I'll probably tweak a bit to make it more my own.... but I'm interested to hear -- anybody got a good sangria recipe they'd like to share?

Friday, July 17, 2009

I Got the Blues

Since Mr. Big Dubya opened up the door to beer reviews on this site, I'll toss one in too.

I went out today to pick up Sierra Nevada's Torpedo that Dubya posted about last month. No luck. I learned instead that the IPA has become so popular (due solely to this website's review I'm sure) that it quickly sold out. I also learned that the brewery used some hard-to-find hops and has to wait for more to grow before it can brew more.

I was out to buy a new beer though, so I did pick up something I hadn't tried before.

I have had blueberry beers, and I've liked them. I'm usually a fan of dark beers and stout, but I occassionally like something sweeter too. The time seemed right for a blueberry beer.

Wild Blue blueberry lager from Blue Dawg Brewing in upstate New York seemed worth a shot. I hadn't heard of the brewery before, but I'm sure there are hundreds of great breweries I haven't heard of. I wasn't going to let that stop me.

I poured the beer to check out the look of it too. It was bluish red in color with a foamy purplish pink head. "My daughter would like this color," I thought. Still, I didn't let the look of it stop me; it wasn't really surprising from a blueberry lager anyway.

Then I tasted it.

Crap. Seriously. Crap. And I don't use that word lightly. It tasted like someone poured fake blueberry flavoring and artificial sweetener into a bad beer. And the color was probably fake too.

Only then did I do a little Googling to learn that my Blue Dawg Brewery was actually Anheuser-Busch. I don't have anything against that company (although I don't normally buy their beer), but their name isn't even on the damn bottle. If it were, I would have picked a different blueberry beer.

According to the Anheuser-Busch press release about Wild Blue, it's a full-bodied beer "not suited for timid or reserved beer drinkers." I don't think it's suited for anyone. Not even the dog on the bottle.

Has anyone else tried this? Anyone else been tricked by a major brewer? Now, I'm off to try a new beer from Magic Hat. At least I know where those really come from.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Welcome Mrs Gnu!

We have a new contributor!!!

I'm so excited to have Mrs Gnu in our little group -- not only is she simply lovely, but she loves wine with reckless abandon!

Wife, mother, successful career woman, a fabulous hostess and... she's been known to get tipsy at wine tastings and order bottles & bottles of wine unbeknownst to Mr Gnu!


Monday, July 13, 2009

Eye of the Hawk Select Ale

I have been touting Sierra Nevada's Torpedo to anyone who will listen lately. Apparently, it's in short supply so I must not be far off the mark. Anyway, I picked up another six-pack a few days back and while I was doing some shopping, I decided to grab something else to review. This particular liquor store has a vast array of micros and independent breweries - enough to satisfy the most discriminate drinker like yours truly. However, with so many to choose from, it's not hard to begin feeling like a stoner in the snack aisle. Decisions, decisions. I opted for Medocino Brewing Company's Eye of the Hawk Select Ale.

Eye of the Hawk can be categorized as an American Strong Ale, those ales which come in at greater than 7.0% ABV (alcohol by volume). This offering pours a rich amber with little head - this is something I am really not that much of a stickler for: lacing, heavy lacing, light lacing, it's not a deal breaker for me. Anyway, the aroma is sweet and bready and faintly malty - can I add any more -y's? There is also a good dose of fruits - some have said raisins, but I'm not sure that's it. The taste is definitely of malts and yeast which is to be expected given that it is bottle conditioned, a process which introduces actively fermenting yeast to the mature beer right before bottling. There is a slight taste of hops, but this should not be confused with a "hopbomb." The 8.0% ABV is barely noticeable, which makes it a rather devious and dangerous beer: tasty enough to enjoy a few at a sitting, but be careful when you stand up as you may have lost the use of your legs.

All-in-all, this beer did not disappoint, nor did it break the bank as I picked up this six-pack for $7.49 - a great value for a good to great beer.

The Devil is in the Details

If you were to judge this wine by its label (which I never, ever do...ever), you wouldn't be faulted for instantly thinking about the generic products in the supermarket or on television with their austere black and white labels marked "Beer" or "Rice". No, it looks like someone booted Microsoft Publisher and got all minimalist on the oenophiles of the world. However, to say the Velvet Devil Merlot is generic or minimalist is to do it a great disservice.

Vinted and bottled by Charles Smith Wines (I guess it's a tad less generic than John Smith Wines, although he is anything but), this Columbia Valley Merlot pours a nice, deep ruby red in the glass and has a rich nose of spice, plums, smoke and cocoa. I must say, however, my first sip or two were not favorable. The tannins were a bit overwhelming and masked and overpowered the flavors I should have been tasting - I chalk this up to mixing poorly with the acidity of the tomato sauce on the pizza we were enjoying and maybe not breathing enough. But, with subsequent sips, I found the "velvet" in the name was more than accurate and not misrepresentation. It was bold and proved to be very smooth and robust - I could taste the plums and a hint of cedar with every mouthful. After a rather underwhelming start, this wine really did come through and, you know what? We are all the better for it.

Mrs. Big Dubya picked up this particular bottle (as well as the Kung Fu Girl Riesling) at bin ends for about $12. I suggest you go grab a bottle or two. As they say, "The Devil you know..."

Friday, July 10, 2009

Stem, No Stem, -- Decanter, No Decanter

A friend & I were chatting about making good on our promise to go for a glass of wine after work some night soon and she suggested a place near the office that sounds fabulous. I don't see it on the menu, but apparently they have something called truffle fries..... hand cut steak fries drizzled with a blue cheese sauce of some description -- my God, I'd be in heaven.

Anyway, my friend mentioned that the only downside to this place was they serve the wine in stemless glasses -- her feeling is that she drinks the wine too fast in this type of glass, as opposed to the traditional wine glass. I actually like the stemless glasses.... but the set I have came with a decanter and I mentioned that I have never actually used a decanter..... do people actually do that? Maybe it's that my budget wines don't call for a decanter.


Monday, July 6, 2009

Pink Truck

I drink the wine, I just don’t usually post. Lazy I guess. And I hadn’t even checked the website for the July assignment when, luckily for me, Clare picked out this wine when we were at the package store. (What? You don’t let your seven year old choose your wine? I won’t judge). Since she’s a girly girl, she chose a pink wine. Pink Truck wine to be exact. The wine sells for $8.99 on the website, and I paid $9.99 at the package store.

Now Darren and I like the other truck wines (Red Truck and White Truck), so we had high expectations for the Pink Truck. Cline Vineyard is the originator of the Truck wines (they’ve since sold the brand to the current owners – check out the website for more info) and the Red and White Truck wines have been pretty consistent in their appeal and value.

As I said, high expectations. This will come back to haunt us. I placed the Pink Truck in the refrigerator to chill and we opened it the night of 4th of July while watching fireworks on tv (first from DC, then NYC). The wine’s color is reminiscent of pink Hi-C lemonade in the glass…and the smell was fruity. Zinfandel, Grenache and Mourverde are blended to make this wine.

The Red Truck website describes the Pink Truck wine as “a classic wine with a very sophisticated twist. This exceptional blend exhibits berry and citrus aromas and strawberry, raspberry and pomegranate flavors that tantalize the palate. Juicy orange notes make for a delicious, bright finish - a refreshingly complex wine crafted in a balanced off-dry style.”

Fruity smell – check. First sip (still pretty chilled at this point) similar to Bartles and Jaymes (those of you in college in the 80’s with me will know of what I speak). Not entirely bad – we’re thinking this could be a nice picnic wine; definitely summery.

However, as the wine warms, things take a turn for the worse. Cough medicine might be one way to describe it – very heavy and syrupy. I couldn’t finish my glass of wine (yes, I will be confessing this sin next time I go), and Darren actually dumped the rest of the bottle down the drain. This is one truck we won’t be picking up again (but do try the Red or White Trucks).

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Motherhood, Applepie & Wine.....

In honor of the 4th of July, this month's assignment is to select a wine (red, white, something-in-between) from the good old USA.

The United States has plenty of quality wines to choose from -- and no, not just from California -- so, I know this will be an easy one.

For extra credit.... write a post about your favorite wine shop (shoppe for those of you who are pretentious). Tell us why you like it -- link to it if you want to give them some props.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Hopping along trail

I've made no secret of my love for hoppy beer. Saranac, Stoudt's, Red Hook - these will always have a home here. I'm also a big fan of Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale and picked up a 12-pack last weekend. While at the counter, one of the employees asked if I had tried the Torpedo yet. Huh? What's that? Torpedo? "It's a newer offering from Sierra Nevada...pretty hoppy. Good stuff." How hoppy, I asked. 90-minute IPA hoppy? "No, not quite, but still up there."  A mental note was made to pick up some on the next run.

I mentioned the clerk's recommendation to Mrs. Big Dubya and lo and behold! she arrived home with a six-pack a day or two later. God bless that woman. The following evening I poured a bottle of the Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra Pale Ale into my favorite glass (thanks Boston Beer Works!) and admired its coppery, bordering on brown, color. I give it a good whiff and I'm encouraged by a pleasant citrusy, piney, hoppy aroma. There's also a faint odor of malt which blends nicely. And, what do you know, its taste did not disappoint. It is, again, hoppy with a faint malt taste - quite similar to the initial smell. It is a bit bitter from start to finish but that is to be expected. However, the bitterness is not quite as overpowering as some of the big IPAs and Pale Ales out there. The Torpedo's 7.2% ABV is also noticeable, there is a slight burn, but it is blunted by the hops.

All-in-all a very solid beer from a solid brewery. Don't be turned off by its IPA label, either. This fine offering could easily be a great summer beer if you want to avoid the lemon-, lime- and seasonings-infused beverages marketed by other brewers.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

I screwed up half the assignment, but the half that I didn't screw up was delicious

Okay: once again, I've failed. I've failed The Whinery, I've failed Mrs. Big Dubya, I've failed the American people... and I've failed you, gentle reader. The form of my failure: I did not complete the June assignment whilst complying with all the holy tenets of The Whinery — namely, the "keep it under $15" guideline.


See, here's the thing: I kinda suck at following the letter of the law. The people at Burger King once told me that sometimes, you've just gotta break the rules — and frankly, I'm in no position to question the good people at Burger King. With that in mind, I've embarked on a life of gentle crime: producing hopelessly verbose responses to assignments with little regard for the actual wishes and goals of those who... uh... assigned the assignment in the first place. I'm sure there's some deep-set, subconscious authority issues hidden within my psyche that enable this charming character trait, but really mine is not to question why: mine is but to drink and write.

And thus, I offer you a shining and delicious example of this month's assigned varietal: pinot noir. I've been a tremendous fan of pinot noir for years - ever since I read The Heartbreak Grape and was utterly fascinated by the idea that any wine could be that subtle and complex, that difficult to grow, that easy to ruin and that sublime to taste - and in the years since have sampled more than my fair share of California, Oregon and New Zealand pinots. I still think one of the best I've ever sampled is one of the first I ever tried, the spectacular Rex Hill Reserve... but this weekend we enjoyed another Oregonian that's well worth seeking out.

Here's the name you need to learn: Patricia Green. She produces tiny amounts of spectacular pinot noir that gets very little distribution beyond the Pacific Northwest (or so I've been told by people far more well-informed than me), but once in a blue moon my favorite local wine spot manages to get a case or two... and the owner parcels it out, bottle by bottle, to a selected few afficionados much in the same way that a distant and terrible father might parcel out hugs or kind words to a child.

I generally end up with two or three bottles of Patricia Green a year... and this weekend, we opened one. The 2006 Willamette Valley Reserve, to be specific. I paid $36 for it, which puts me well over The Whinery's specified limits. However, insofar as that it's a foregone conclusion at this point that Mrs. Big Dubya is going to kneecap me, I'm throwing caution to the wind and talking about it here. And you, gentle reader? You can either join me in a virtual glass... or grab yourself a crowbar. The choice is yours.

But enough idle chatter: the wine! The wine! The wine wine wine wine wine! (Say it like the Grinch, and it'll make sense.) It is, in truth, a thing of beauty. Just... elegant, quiet layers of flavor that build upon one another to create the kind of gentle, sublime experience that makes a great pinot such a thing of rare wonder. Ours was paired with a pair of especially thick and well-marinated pork chops and a handful of crackers with a gouda/sun-dried tomato spread, and it tasted a bit like heaven in a glass.

The point of all this? As is true with most things I do, there is no point. But should you find yourself in the market for an upscale bottle of pinot noir, and should you find yourself in the presence of virtually anything Patricia Green has ever created... splurge. She's worth it — and what's more, you're worth it.


Friday, June 19, 2009

It's Crafty

Picked up this bottle of 2004 Craftsman Cabernet Franc at BinEnds last week -- it lists for $14.909 -- I got it for $11.20.

The label's description isn't very informative -- "This wonderfully balanced and easy-to-drink red has been aged 6 months in new Hungarian oak barriques, as well as large oak barrels and stainless steel tanks. Faithful to its European pedigree, it will age beautifully. Lovingly crafted by winemaker Akos Kamocsay."

I wasn't really sure what to expect -- I've never had a Hungarian wine before. But, I was making a quick pasta-toss for dinner and needed a splash of wine to add some depth..... well, that and maybe a glass or two for me too.

I opened the bottle and it smelled nice -- it poured nice too. As I incorporated it into my sauce, I suspected I had a winner. It wasn't over powering -- but was definitely going to add some richness to the dish.

It had a smooth, fruity flavor -- medium body -- gentle finish. It complimented the dinner really well -- didn't add too much, didn't take anything away.

This seemed like a good wine to have on hand -- versatile enough to go with pasta, pizza, grilled food -- whatever you are having. It was good value for the price and I'd certainly buy it again.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Should you bother? Non-alcoholic wine...

I've been reading the recent reviews and have been envious of all the tasty sampling that has been going on lately. So why not join in the fun you may ask? Well I'm taking a bit of a sabbatical from drinking - a 9 or 10 month ( depending on how you track things) sabbatical to be exact.

Now before this gets out of hand, I know people tend to have very strong views on whether drinking a 1/2 glass or glass of wine or beer now and then while pregnant is acceptable or not. This isn't the place to discuss that topic and that being said I will not be reviewing any alcoholic wines or beers while pregnant. I will however be taking a tour of some non-alcoholic wines that I come across to see if they are worth the effort. (And before you get started, I know that non-alcoholic wines and beers do contain some alcohol - less 1/2 of 1 percent in most -- so flame away if you must) I have my first victim in sight. In fact I tried a glass the other evening, but I'm going to give it another chance with a more suitable food pairing. But first...

Where to find non-alcoholic wines? Well it's not as easy as one might think. My first attempt, a small, but great, wine shop in the center of my town, came up dry. They usually keep a couple of bottles in stock but at the moment they were out Next stop was to a much larger liquor store that is close to where I work. Jackpot! (Julio's never let's me down!) While the selection was small there were a handful of whites, reds and sparklings to choose from. To start with I chose a Cabernet Sauvignon. Stay tuned for the review in the next couple of days.

If anyone has had success with non-alcoholic wines, please let me know. Recommendations are definitely welcome!


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Bin Ends

I happened to be back in my hometown earier this week and while I was there I popped into BinEnds. It's a non-traditional wine shop a little bit off the beaten path -- I've been following them on Facebook and Twitter, I really like their story -- I thought they might be worth a visit.

It's been around for just over a year, but when you walk in it still smells and feels new.

It's easy to navigate -- nice & spacious -- I hate feeling claustrophobic when I shop for wine.... narrow aisles just make me feel like I'm going to turn around too quick and break something. Bin Ends is huge..... and at first it felt kind of empty -- but, no -- there's plenty there it's just nice & spacious.

They offer free tastings, and unlike most wine shops I've been to -- you don't have to chase them down and beg them for a taste like some deranged alchoholic -- they come right out and offer.... don't mind if I do, thank you very much.

While I was perusing the wines, a gentleman (one of the owners) came over and introduced himself -- gave me a brief history of the store, explained that they are in the process of restocking (the do this on Thursdays) and welcomed me to ask any questions. There was no pressure or hard sell -- just a guy thanking me for coming in. Here's the kicker.... I think everybody gets this VIP treatment -- NICE!

BinEnds takes advantage of overstocks, closeouts, inventory reductions, etc. in order to offer fine wines to people like me.... people who like good wine but don't like to pay fine wine prices. They typically have between 200-400 wines to select from, and they have this amazing automatic mark-down system -- so you can get some real steals (up to 45% off)! Some of the wines were a bit out of my budget -- but many were priced just right.

The downside (or maybe it's an upside) is that their selection is constantly changing -- you may find a bottle you love, and then never see it again -- eh, c'est la vie -- they have more wines to try, right?

I picked up three bottles in the $11-$12 range, based on my internet research I saved a couple of bucks a bottle. Everybody else in the shop had at least 10-12 bottles in their cart, so I believe it when they say their inventory turns over every week.
If you live in the Boston area, I say -- go check 'em out -- if you don't.... don't fret -- they offer shipping!!!!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I just don't think I'm ready, are you?

In the wine shop (okay, so it was really the Liquor Depot... whatevah!) last week.... perusing some pinots for this month's "assignment" and I came across this contraption.....

Now, I know wine-in-a-box has come a long way since it was first introduced, but this.... I'm just not sure I'm ready. Although, it definitely looks like a great idea for picnics, tailgating, etc.

Please feel free to share you thoughts and/or experiences.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Vacation Whining

It’s been months since I’ve posted here on The Whinery. So I should probably slip back in, write a low-key post on this month’s assignment, and pretend that I’ve been here all along.

But I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to skip the assignment, break the “guidelines,” and whine about it while I’m at it.

Last month, Sue (the wife) and I went to Disney World with Clare (our seven year-old daughter). We’d originally waited a year for a reservation at the Beach Club Villas, had to change dates and lost that reservation last year, and waited another year to go back. The hotel was fantastic. Unfortunately, it rained five out of our seven days there. The rain was bad. Biblical bad. There was about two feet of rain in central Florida in a few days time.

So what did we do? Apart from staying out of the pool, we went on as usual. We went to the parks, enjoyed the shorter than normal lines, and had fun despite the weather. We also lingered a little longer than usual in some great restaurants (and even got a last minute reservation at one of Disney’s best) and enjoyed a few bottles of overpriced wine. Thinking ahead, Sue jotted down the names of each wine. Not thinking at all, I tossed out the envelope Sue’s notes were written on when we got home. Here’s what we remember.

Our first Disney wine, at bluezoo in the Dolphin, was a 2007 Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio. (I guess that is the assignment—although we drank it in May.) We both had fish, and it paired really well. It wasn’t too dry, and it wasn’t too fruity. (The restaurant overall was really fantastic too—even Clare liked it.)

Our second wine of the week was a Paolo Masi Chianti Reserva at the Yachtsman. We both liked it. We both had steak, and again it paired really well. That’s all we remember. Knowing us, that probably means that it wasn’t too heavy and it wasn’t too light. Chianti usually gets two thumbs up from us. (This is another great restaurant that we all liked too.)

Out third and last bottle of wine (we went with mixed drinks and beer some other nights) was a California Merlot at California Grill at the top of the Contemporary. This is the reservation that we snagged at the last minute, which is unusual since it’s the prime place to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks (especially when it’s raining). The wine? We know we liked it, but we don’t really remember any specifics at all. This isn’t much of a wine review, is it?

Here’s what I’m interested in though. Have you ever ordered a bottle at a restaurant (we probably paid $50-60 for $20 bottles of wine) and then bought a bottle to try out again at home? Did it live up to expectations? If we try it with these three (well the two we remember the names of at least) we’ll let you know.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

June's Assignment

I know some are still working on May's assignment, but..... onto June!

Some like Reds..... Some like Whites...... So this month's assignments is to try a wine that you've never tried before that begins with "Pinot".

This can be a Pinot Blanc (Pinot Bianco), a Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio), a Pinot Noir.... whatever tickles your fancy.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Drinking Our Way Through Disney

So, the Big Dubya & I are on vacation in Walt Disney World -- we are having a fabulous time and are dreading the prospect of tomorrow's flight home (have I mentioned that we have 3, yes 3 children under 4, yes under 4?).

Although the trip has been chock full of fun and adventure, there has been a certain amount of angst & strife.... and how do the Dubyas deal with strife? Yes, my friends.... we drink our way through it.

Let us begin..... our resort has an awesome pool..... and what makes the pool so awesome? I'm glad you asked.... you ask very good questions. Well, in addition to a kick-ass waterslide, it has a kick-ass bar. Yes, dear friends we spent Monday (and part of today) drinking over-priced cocktails by the pool. On this trip, our drinks of choice were the Orange Dream (
Skyy Orange Vodka and Monin Candied Orange blended with ice cream) and Poolside Lemonade (Bacardi O Rum, Bacardi Razz Rum, Sweet & Sour and Sprite with a splash of Grenadin) both of which were delicious, but let's face it -- Disney is no different than any other bar.... the bartender doing the mixing makes a big difference. The first bartender made us feel like we were getting our $7 worth (a.k.a stiff drinks) -- the subsequent ones..... ahhhh, no. But, all in all the drinks were still delicious and fully enjoyable.

On Tuesday, we went to Animal Kingdom -- and because, as my son kept reminding us, we were "in Africa", we opted for some beer from Kenya (Tusker Lager), South Africa (Windhoek Lager) and another faux African beer (Safari Amber)

The Tusker Lager was good -- light, but flavorful -- I can't say that I loved it, but it was refreshing and given the 85° weather, it hit the spot in a big way.

Bob, our Boston-bred bartender, told us that the Windhoek Lager was reminiscent of Heineken. Apparently he's never actually had Heineken, cuz.... uhm not-so-much. It had a little more flavor than the Tusker, but definitely not as hoppy as or edgy as Heineken. It was good -- but I wouldn't seek it out, and I certainly wouldn't mistake it for Heineken.

Safari Amber.... at the time, I thought I was drinking something from a far off land.... only now that I'm typing do I discover that I was bamboozled..... it's actually a product of St Louis, Missouri, as in Anhesuer Busch, St Louis, Missouri. It was much lighter than the typical amber, it had a red coloring, but like Kilian's it was really just a true Amber's weaker younger brother.

On Wednesday we stuck with what we know.... and we know Irish. We spent the morning in The Magic Kingdom (which is woefully dry) and wrapped up the day at Epcot where the Rose & Crown pours a decent Harp. You might ask why we weren't drinking Guinness.... well, it was 85° and in addition to not being all that refreshing....the last time I had Guinness at the Rose & Crown it was absolutely AWFUL, so we opted for Harp, which at least on this visit was decent.

I know reviews on this site are supposed to be of wine, but..... it's my site and I'll break the rules if I want to :)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Review of a Wine I Can't Spell

This assignment was hard for me. I have been struggling to find a good wine to pair with barbecue for three summers now. It seems to me like a good Carolina or Texas barbecue sauce will really kill a wine.

So, I did what any wino would do. I asked my wine guy.

I asked him what I should get to drink with a big Texas style barbecued brisket.

He suggested this.

He said it was a big red.

The problem is, this particular wine guy and I don't always agree on what is a good pairing.

And in this case I thought the barbecue killed the wine completely. I really couldn't taste it. I has to switch back to beer for the meal.

After the meal was over I went back to my glass of wine and surprise, surprise.

Still nothing.

It was a very mild, old world red. I believe it was a Grenache and Syrah blend. Those are two of my very favorite grapes. I love a big, bold, fruity wine.

But this wine (insert long French words here. Dude, I took a picture, I wasn't smart enough to write it down too) tasted watered down.

I think it was $12.99.

It wasn't gross, like the cheaper bottles of wine. It didn't have that paint thinner aftertaste, it was just completely meh.

And there you have it.

(Stay tuned for EVIL - the post where I buy a bottle of wine based soley on the label. Just like a girl.)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

This post is brought to you by the letter "Y"

That's right — it's your old pal TwoBusy, back for another exercise in suck. "But why," you ask. "Why would he do such a thing? Why, Santy Claus, why?" A reasonable question, my young Who friend. And I shall answer it thusly:
  1. Because blogmistress Mrs. Big Dubya failed to break me off at the knees when I tried this last time. This'll learn her.
  2. Because nobody else has bothered to fulfill the demands of this month's assignment. (That's right. Nobody. I'm looking at you... and you... and you.)
  3. Because we happened to drink a bottle last night that met this month's requirements.
  4. Because I haven't thought of anything to write for DadCentric this week. (Speaking of unfulfilled obligations.) But hey: don't let that stop you from heading over there! Here... read what this old guy had to say!
And that's why I'm here. Sitting on the other side of your screen. Staring at you. Always, always watching.

Um. What I meant to say was: we drank a bottle that meets the May requirements — less than $15/bottle, and appropriate for grilling. And now I'm gonna talk about it! The it, in this case, is a bottle of Australian white with the horrifyingly long name of Yalumba Unwooded Chardonnay "The Y Series" 2007. That's about six words too long, if you ask me, but nevertheless that's what's on the label.

Yalumba is - per their promotional materials - Australia's oldest family-owned winery. Which is cool. I've actually been familiar with them since the dawn of time and/or the moment when I first began to explore the world of wine and discover that it was, in fact, a potentially pleasurable pursuit even for an uncultured simp (not chimp, mind you) like me. To be specific: the Boston Wine Expo of 1995. If you've been to the Boston Wine Expo at any point in the past seven or eight years, you know what an overcrowded logistical nightmare it's become... but back in '95, when I was but a pup, it was a completely different experience.

I went at the behest of one of my roommates at the time, and brought along TheGirlfriend (who would subsequently become TheWife) for laughs... none of us knew jack about wine, but we'd heard second-hand that you paid an entrance fee, walked around, drank a bunch of stuff, and generally had a great time. Given that there's not a whole lot else to do in Boston in mid-February when you're two years out of college and living off of a luxurious $24k/year in salary, we decided to give it a go.

What a great decision that turned out to be. There were plenty of distributors and wineries there, eager to share their wares with connoisseurs, restaurateurs and feckless simpletons like us. And to be truthful, it wasn't an impressive crowd — we had the full run of the place, and weren't shy about stopping at every booth to sample a glass of this, a sip of that, a snort of something else. To be clear... we got pretty sauced. But even as we sauced like sauciers, we also found ourselves discovering that we actually had preferences: there were some things we enjoyed more than others, and some specific wine styles we were enjoying consistently from booth to booth.

It was a great experience, but my fondest memory of the whole thing is the Yalumba booth. I know they had some reds and whites, but what really made an impression on me was their Tawny Port – from my first sip, I was hooked. It was beyond delicious: just a sumptuous, rich, throat-coating and belly-warming glass of amber wonderful. I couldn't believe how good it tasted, and felt compelled to prove and re-prove to myself how good it was by visiting and revisiting the table multiple times.

When we finally stumbled... I mean, walked... out of the old World Trade Center in Southie and into a February snowstorm, there were two things I knew: 1) we needed to hail a cab; and 2) I needed to find and buy a bottle of Yalumba Tawny Port.

So. That was 1995. Now, it's 2009 and I'm ancient, decrepit, and far more well-versed in the ways of wine. Still, when TheWife and I stopped by our favorite wine shop in Boston's majestic MetroWest last weekend, and the owner suggested we take a look at a few of the cheaper bottles he had on display - all of which, he claimed, were far better than the price suggested - my eye was immediately caught by the Yalumba name. Granted, I've had a few of their wines over the years (to varying levels of good and indifferent), but when I saw the bottle of Chardonnay for $12 even... I had to give it a try.

Which leads us to last night. As a quick dinner, I grilled up some chorizo, cut a whole slew of slices off a block of Vermont cheddar, threw a ton of fresh strawberries and raspberries into a bowl... and pulled this Yalumba Chard out of the fridge.

I have to take a moment here to offer a disclaimer: we're not Chardonnay drinkers. As I noted in last week's award-winning Whinery post, we're not really white wine drinkers at all... but Chardonnay, in particular, has always been something we've made a point of avoiding. Why? Because Chardonnay is what you always get when you go to catered events and there are waitstaff walking around offering you wine, and your choices are reduced to "Red or white?" And the white is almost always a Chardonnay. And it's always bland. Just... dull. Lifeless. Boring. A semi-chilled alcohol delivery system, and nothing more.

Granted, we've had a few high-end Chards that were pretty amazing - Grgich Hills leaps to mind as one example - but whenever we've picked one up with a price in the teens or even low twenties... it's served as a reminder of why we avoid Chardonnay in the first place. In short, we'd come to the conclusion that in order to get a good one, you had to drop a bundle. And for us, it just wasn't worth it.

With this in mind, we opened and poured the Yalumba with a little apprehension. The good part, of course, was that if it sucked or had little/no flavor at all, we were only out $12. The bad part was that we had nothing else chilled and ready to roll if this was a flop.

Good news: not a flop. I won't go to the extent of claiming that the Yalumba Y Series Chardonnay was anything close to a match for a true, high-end Chardonnay... but it had legitimate flavor and character. The back label goes into all kinds of absurd levels of detail in describing what we were supposed to be tasting - " aromas of melon, grapefruit and honey... fresh tropical fruit flavours of peach, pineapple and fig give this wine texture and palate weight" - but to be honest, I wouldn't recognize a fig outside of its natural newton habitat if one came up and bit me, so I can't truthfully say whether or not I pulled any of those specific flavours (to adopt the Aussie idiom) from my glass.

But. It was a decent bottle. There were legit fruit overtones to the wine, and what's more it offered a sense of subtlety and layering that I've never before tasted in a cheaper Chardonnay. I actually - to my surprise - found myself enjoying it. Does that mean I'll be foresaking my beloved NZ Sauv Blancs in favor of the Yalumba Y Series Chardonnay? Nope. For a couple of extra bucks, I can still pick up an Allan Scott Sauv Blanc that will blow this Chard out of the water. But that being said, I wouldn't be opposed to picking this up again. And if you've got more of a taste for Chardonnay than I do, I'd say it's well worth checking out.