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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Rethinking Banrock Station Wines: Why Is It the Most Read Item On This Blog?

For the life of me, I can't figure it out. One day Green Dragon comes home with a couple bottles of inexpensive wine from the grocery store. They were so cheap, she said, that they could be a casual sipping wine or even cooking wine. One of them was Banrock Station Moscato and you can read the tasting notes by following the link.

In short, while I didn't give it the lowest of the low ratings (which is "ghastly") it came mighty close. I figured that at the price of about $4 it didn't put on airs by pretending to be an ultra sophisticated complex wine.

What I didn't expect was that this post would get the most comments of any post (out of more than 350) in the short history of this blog. The story has been viewed 496 times and it seems like every day someone from a far-flug part of the world is reading it again. (If you look on the right sidebar and scroll down you'll see the Feedjit gadget which shows a real time listing of who is reading what on the blog. Chances are that if you look today you'll find someone reading about this wine.)

I guess the adage holds true, you should drink what you like -- and if almost 500 people seem to like it, who am I to tell them they are wrong. At a wine tasting recently I was told by a reader that I was "too nice" in my reviews. Well, my goal isn't to be the "wine curmudgeon" telling people that they can't possibly be enjoying the wine they've been drinking because it wasn't aged in Slovakian Oak and grown using Biodynamic techniques. My philosophy is to let people experience the world of wine and discover the style they like -- everyone likes a different style or else there would be only one wine: Banrock Station Moscato. (See how I cleverly got back to the main topic?)

Earlier this year I did get an e-mail from Kimpton Hotels talking about their "Happier Hour." Each Kimpton property has a hosted wine reception for guests each evening. It's really a nice touch. When we stayed at a Kimpton hotel last summer while in Denver, they had a nice selection of wines and they rolled out a Wii for people to play while enjoying their wine.

Kimpton changes their wines monthly and their theme in 2010 has been "Wines That Care." Here's what they had to say about Banrock Station, one of their monthly selections.
"Banrock Station produces quality wines, with character. Part of the proceeds from every sale go to conservation projects around the world. For instance, Banrock's Plant a Tree Project encourages customers to plant a tree with every product purchase. Banrock Station Chardonnay. (A soft buttery flavor rounds out the fresh tropical fruit and fresh citrus characters of this wine. The palate is full-flavored with a burst of peach, pineapple and refreshing Meyer lemon fruit.) Banrock Station Shiraz Cabernet Blend. (Vibrant purple colored and laden with spicy pepper, cassis, chocolate, and black cherry flavors. This is a crown pleaser!)"

Perhaps I would have enjoyed the Moscato more if I were drinking it in the hip lobby of the Kimpton hotel in Seattle, let's say. And the focus on environmentalism is a plus.

I'm not ready to jump on the train as it leaves the Banrock Station -- but it is clear that this brand has some fans around the world.

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Friday, September 3, 2010

Colome 2007 Estate Malbec Vino Tinto De Gran Altura

Bookmark and Share This tasty, upscale Malbec was originally scheduled to be part of the Toledo Wines and Vines tasting held at Corks. To make sure that it passed the quality standards for the tasting (and because we were thirsty) we popped the cork on this vino a few days before.

One sip immediately signals that this wine is a cut above the simple, entry level Malbecs. I'm a Malbec fan, especially liking the accessibility of this grape. Malbec, the signature grape of Argentina, is highly drinkable and there is a whole spectrum of flavors that can be coaxed out by capable winemakers.

This Malbec is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat and aged in French Oak for 18 months. This had floating layers of exotic flavor including incense, fig and raspberry -- quite unique. This wine was named #32 of Wine Spectator's Top 100 in 2009. I paid about $28 for this, but you might be able to pick it up for a few dollars less.

This is highly recommended!
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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Ohio Winery Visits: Hermes Winery, Firelands Winery

Josh Kessler and Casey Stover are tasting team members who travel far and wide to report on interesting wine destinations. Here is their latest report.
Picture 026 We were at it again.  Casey and I took her daughter to Kalahari in Sandusky.  We just had to make a winery stop...or two while we were at it.
With a quick search in my phone, I came upon Sand Hill winery that was in proximity to our destination.  We passed signs for Firelands along the way, which we decided we would hit on the way back.  On a side road just before our arrival to Kalahari, there was a sign for Hermes Winery (pronounced Hermez).  It turns out the address I had for Sand Hill is also the same winery as Hermes.

We decided to venture off before supper the first night to see what Hermes had to offer.  The first impression is pretty good.  The tasting room is located in an old barn with picnic tables in the back, nestled among the vineyard.  I could hardly believe the wine list when I was shown.  Hermes is devoted to growing both exclusive and Picture 027 unusual varieties of vinifera grapes, especially those of the Rhone, Spanish, and Italian varieties, thus disproving the myth that Ohio is only for hybrids and cold-tolerant viniferas.  Afterall, Sandusky, Ohio and Italy are on roughly the same latitude.  Wines on the list included: Aglianico, Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Picture 031 Grenache, Malbec, Merlot, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Syrah, Tempranillo, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Viognier.  Many of these varieties are unheard of in this country, let alone Ohio!  Of course, I had to try them all.  I thought each were very good, but the Malbec was very light in body and flavor.  To me, it was virtually a Rose.  I was told this was the first year for this wine, therefore it was a work in progress.  Unfortunately I do not have individual tasting notes on the other wines, but our favorite reds were rich, spicy, and had notes of tobacco .  We took home a bottle each of Sangiovese, Cote de Hermes (Grenache blend), Barbera, and Nebbiolo, with the Nebbiolo being our favorite.  I think there is some polishing that could be done, but I was very impressed with this little winery.  In all of my Ohio wine research, I somehow missed this place.  Lucky for us, we got to enjoy this little gem!

Picture 041 On our way home, we made our stop at Firelands Winery.  This has been, in my opinion, one of the better Ohio wineries.  I think it has a lot to do with them having a climate unique enough to have their own AVA on Isle St. George.  Grapes are brought from the island to the winery via a large boat.  For $3 you can try six different wines; either six dry or six sweet.  I thought this was a pretty good deal, as it is not legal to serve free samples of alcohol in Ohio.  We sampled Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Dolcetto, and Walleye White.  The Dolcetto was the shining star here.  We took a bottle home not just because of the taste, but to have something different on our wine rack.  I like a variety of uncommons.  Firelands has been around a long time, and they are definitely doing some really good things.
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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wine Tastings & Events: September 1 - 4, 2010

Murganheira Bottle of sparkling wine.Image via Wikipedia

Beer and Wine Cave, 4400 Heatherdowns, (419) 382-6221. 6-8 PM. Wine tasting. $15. 

Thursday, September 2
The Andersons, Maumee, Wine Tasting. 5-7 PM. Wines of the Tour de France featuring Champagne and other Sparklers. 1. Moet & Chandon – Champagne (France), 2. Gruet – Brut Sparkling Wine (USA – New Mexico), 3. Cristalino – Brut Cava (Spain), 4. Riondo – Prosecco (Italy). Flight $9 or nominal fee per sample. 
The Andersons, Talmadge Road. New Australian Wines: 1. Syn Sparkling Wine, 2. Alkoomi Dry Riesling, 3. Alkoomi Unwooded Chardonnay, 4. Omrah Plantagenet Unoaked Chardonnay, 5. Heartland Cabernet, 6. Heartland Shiraz, 7. Syan Tradition, 8. Jonsey Dessert Wine. Nominal fee per sample.

Beer and Wine Cave, 4400 Heatherdowns, (419) 382-6221. 6-8 PM. Wine Tasting. $15.

Corks Wine and Liquor, Promenade Plaza, 27250 Crossroads Pkwy., Rossford – (419) 872-6800. 6-9 PM. Ampelography - The Return: Join us as we welcome back our good friend Adam Mahler for another tasting of his delicious wines. Last time Adam rocked Corks with a stellar lineup.Nominal fee per sample.

Friday, September 3
Aficionado Wine and Cigars, The Shoppes at RiverPlace, 26567 N. Dixie Highway, Suite 135, Perrysburg, (419-873-4444). 5:00 – 8:30 p.m. Huge Reds: 1. Kenneth Volk Mourvedre, 2. Novy Syrah "Page-Nord Vineyard," 3. Delectus "Argentum," 4. Caldwell "Rocket Science." $15 tasting.

Corks Wine and Liquor, Promenade Plaza, 27250 Crossroads Pkwy., Rossford – (419) 872-6800. 6-9 PM. Ampelography - The Return: Join us as we welcome back our good friend Adam Mahler for another tasting of his delicious wines. Last time Adam rocked Corks with a stellar lineup.Nominal fee per sample.

Saturday, September 4
Aficionado Wine and Cigars, The Shoppes at RiverPlace, 26567 N. Dixie Highway, Suite 135, Perrysburg, (419-873-4444). 5:00 – 8:30 p.m. Huge Reds: 1. Kenneth Volk Mourvedre, 2. Novy Syrah "Page-Nord Vineyard," 3. Delectus "Argentum," 4. Caldwell "Rocket Science." $15 tasting.

Walt Churchill’s Market, 3320 Briarfield. Maumee, (419) 794-4000. Noon to 5:00 p.m. Pay by the sample or flight.
[Information on tastings can be sent to TWAV@ATT.NET.]

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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

2010 ASAE Food & Wine Classic, Los Angeles

asae 002 Bookmark and Share   The American Society of Association Executives annual conference, held this year in Los Angeles, is a great professional development opportunity. There are great educational sessions and it is a chance to network with peers. This year’s program had two highlights for me. First, I gave a presentation, and second, I was able to attend ASAE’s Food & Wine Classic for the first time.

Thanks to the graciousness of my host, the Richmond Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, I was able to attend the VIP reception and the Food & Wine Classic – both over the top events with scrumptious food by world-class chefs and outstanding food and spirits.

Upon entering the Wallis Annenberg building for the VIP reception, we were greeted by a human fresco of models in a reflecting pool dressed as – I’m not sure exactly what, but you can see the photo – with streams of water jetting from their fingertips. The trio of women were striking poses while creating fascinating patterns with their spray of water. Meanwhile the smells of tasty food, sounds of music and the tinkle of wine glasses filled the hall.

asae 003 If you’ve sampled wine, you’ve undoubtedly tried cheese and wine pairings. In typical LA-style, the Food & Wine Classic jacked up this concept with the help of the Cheese Impresario. There were four stations pairing Wisconsin cheese with a variety of spirits. Our first sampling was Widmer’s 6-Year Vintage Cheddar. The pairing included High West Distillery’s Rendezvous Rye Whiskey. The whiskey sounded great to me, but since I had a 7:00 AM flight the next morning (which meant I had to get up at 4:30), I figured I wouldn’t last long if I started with whiskey sampling.

We stopped by the Malibu Family Wines table and I was soon enjoying their 2007 Saddlerock Pinot Noir. I had never heard of MFW until the Classic. The winery claims to integrate new-world technology with old-world artistry. The vines are grown at high altitude in rocky soil. Wines are aged in a combination of French and American Oak. The Pinot was smooth and rewarding, pairing well with the cheese samples. Soon after returning home I was watching a travel program about LA and, sure enough, there was a feature on Malibu Family Wines.

asae 004 Other cheeses offered were a Raspberry BellaVitana, which had a Parmesan flavor and creamy texture of Cheddar. The cheese is soaked in raspberry tart ale to bring out its fruity notes. This cheese was awesomely delicious.

My third and final cheese tasting was the Vintage Van Gough. Crafted in limited quantities, this creamy Gouda is aged six months to create a golden body and rich flavor with undertones of caramel and coffee.

The Classic was an indoor-outdoor affair with outdoor food trucks (serving gourmet treats) and beer garden and the bulk of the wine tasting going on inside the California Science Center. From the Border Grill Truck I sampled a Green Corn Tamale Cone and the Butter Chicken and Channa from the India Jones Food Truck.

Some of the dishes included Mexican Shrimp Ceviche with Chipotle and Jicama, Spicy Lamb Meatballs with Pefumes of Morocco and Harissa Glaze, Kushi Katsu Skewetrs, and Burmese Melon Salad. Tourism Canada hosted a tempting Canadian Ale Trail which featured great beers such as Devil’s Elbow and Diamond Head Oatmeal Stout.

Inside the California Science Center, the party was rollicking. We avoided a table with Sutter Home wines and headed to a table hosted by the Broadmoor which was featuring wine from Infinite Monkey Theorem. I was hoping for the 2008 100th Monkey, but since it was unavailable, I grabbed an Infinite Monkey Sauvignon Blanc, which I found enjoyable although a bit subdued. I imagine it is far better than the “limited” monkey Sauvignon Blanc.

We then climbed the stairs and headed to the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau for a wonderful spread 14 different wines. I started with the Thomas George Viognier. This is a dry white with citrus notes with nice aromatics. Next was the Foppiano Vineyards Petite Sirah. This is an inky black wine with blackberry and blueberry flavors. It has a hint of spice on the finish.

asae 005 We wrapped up with the Deerfield Water Dog Cuvee, this is a Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah blend. It is a full bodied wine that was enjoyable, but I couldn’t get the imagined smell of a wet dog out of my mind – so I’d really need to try this again to give it a fair trial.

The party continued to roll with the outstanding music of 50 Amp Fuse, a delectable assortment of finger foods and desserts, and some yet untasted wines. Regrettably I had to leave those wines for next year and I walked through the evening shadows and boarded the shuttle back to my hotel room.
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Monday, August 30, 2010

Vino 100 To Celebrate Anniversary

Bookmark and Share  Vino 100, Promenade West, 3355 Briarfield Blvd, Suite D, Maumee, (419) 866-8466, will be celebrating its fifth year in business 7:00 to 9:00 PM Tuesday, August 31, with a cake and -- of course -- a special summer wine tasting. The tasting will include seven different Bota Box wines to include: Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet, Old Vine Zin, and a Malbec. Special pricing will be offered.

These wines are convenient for camping, hiking, picnics, boating, cooking, and tailgating, especially with Labor Day weekend around the corner. The box is made out of recyclable paper so it is an environmentally friendly product.

No RSVP is required.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Michigan Wine Competition Results Announced

Bookmark and Share  Twenty-five wine experts gathered August 3 in East Lansing for the 33rd annual Michigan Wine and Spirits Competition. Judges included five Master Sommeliers, and internationally known authors, winemakers and wine educators. Leading the group through the day was food and wine writer Christopher Cook, who judged at the competition for 12 years before becoming its superintendent in 2001. Cook is also a judge at wine competitions throughout the United States and abroad.

Don Koivisto, director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture, welcomed the judges to the competition. He noted there is strong recognition at the state level of the importance of the wine industry to the state's economy, and expressed his delight in witnessing the industry's rapid growth in the past decade.

There was a great showing of wines from areas throughout the state, with gold medals split evenly between the Northern and Southern growing regions. Silver medals were awarded to wineries from all major growing regions, including the Upper Peninsula where there are now three commercial wineries producing wines from grapes grown in Michigan.

The Michigan competition is a favorite for many of the judges, as they are eager to learn about the state's exciting, rapidly growing industry. Wayne Belding, Master Sommelier with The Boulder Wine Merchant, commented that "tasting such a broad range of Michigan wines confirmed my opinion that there is a rising tide of wine quality throughout mid-America."

Joe Borrello has judged at this competition every year but one since it was first held in 1977 ... wedged between the horse and cow barns at the State Fairgrounds. Borrello says the competition--and the wines--have come a long way since then. "This year's judging was an excellent presentation of wines and what Michigan is capable of accomplishing," he said. Borrello is president of Tasters Guild International, which sponsored the Best of Class Dessert trophy, to be presented to the winning winery at a Gold Medal Reception at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center in East Lansing this evening.

Veteran Judge Dr. G. Stanley Howell, formerly with Michigan State University's Horticulture Department, was the competition's superintendent for several years prior to Christopher Cook taking the helm. Howell has followed the growth of the Michigan wine industry closely and noted, "The red wines from the 2007 vintage were outstanding and are a portent to Cabernet Franc joining much renowned Riesling, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay wines in recognition of their excellence."

Forty-four of the state's 73 wineries entered a record 399 wines for this year's competition, which is open only to wines produced from Michigan grapes and other fruit. Gold medals were awarded to a wide variety of wines--from bone-dry reds to deliciously sweet ice wines--from all of Michigan's major grape-growing areas. At the end of the day, judges awarded the top "Best of Class" awards to eight wines from a group of 52 gold medal winners, including eight double gold.

The top award-winners are:
  • Best of Class Dry White: Black Star Farms - 2009 Arcturos Pinot Gris
  • Best of Class Dry Red: Bowers Harbor Vineyards - 2007 Cabernet Franc, Erica Vineyard
  • Best of Class Semi-Dry White: Black Star Farms - 2009 Arcturos Riesling
  • Best of Class Semi-Dry Red: Lawton Ridge Winery - AZO
  • Best of Class Sparkling Wine: Black Star Farms - 2008 Sparkling Wine
  • Best of Class Dessert Wine: Fenn Valley Vineyards - 2008 "42" Ice Wine
  • Best of Class Fruit Wine: Uncle John's Fruit House Winery - Franc-N-Cherry
  • Best of Class Rose': Forty-Five North Vineyard & Winery - 2009 Blanc de Pinot Noir

In addition, Chateau Fontaine won a Judges' Merit Award for their 2009 Woodland White, a semi-dry white wine made from Auxerrois, a little-known grape variety in the United States, originally from France.

A complete list of medal-winning wines is available online at The Michigan Wine and Spirits Competition is sponsored by the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council, which is administered by the Michigan Department of Agriculture. For more information about the wines and wineries of Michigan, contact the council online, or by phone at 517-241-4468.
Photo by Joe Marinaro

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