Monthly Archives: August 2013

Drinking Tonight: La Finca Malbec

A cheap ($5) bottle from Mendoza, Argentina.  I’m not expecting much, but I’ll be pleasantly surprised if it’s varietally correct and has no rough edges – a good wine to serve at big parties, for not much more than 2-Buck-Chuck. I’m having this with steak salad.

Photo0227Color: Nice reddish-purple.

Aroma: plum, cherry, and spice – a mix of fresh fruit and stewed fruit.

Taste: That’s more than decent for a cheap Malbec; a mix of fruit and spice washing over the tongue, with just a touch of vanilla from the oak. Nice length on the finish, good with beef.

This isn’t a fruit-forward California style, but should be more than good enough for a large crowd of casual wine-drinkers or a carryout cheeseburger for dinner. Recommended.

Drinking Tonight: Grifone Riserva Chianti

This is the 2009 vintage – a $7 bottle from Trader Joe’s.  I’ve had a few other Grifone bottles before, with mixed results.  Let’s see how this does; I’m drinking it with an eggplant-mushroom-onion pizza.

Photo0224Color: bright, clean red.

Aroma: not very striking on the nose – dried cherry and spice.

Taste: good balance, with just enough acidity throughout. Spice dominates over the fruit; there is plenty of tannin on the finish. It’s medium in body, with enough power for this pizza; but I think it would fall short if you had a meat-lover’s.

A pretty good bottle for only $7; I think this would really shine with pasta and a meaty sauce, or a hearty lasagna. Recommended.

Drinking Tonight: 2 Tempranillos with Pork Stir-Fry

I have 2 inexpensive Tempranillos from Trader Joe’s, to go with my home-made stir-fry and brown rice.  I’ll give you the recipe first, then we can talk wine.

Pork Stir-Fry

You’ll want to saute this in batches over medium heat in canola oil, using a large, deep saute pan – and then combine at the end.

  • Batch 1: 5 carrots, washed and sliced + 2-3 Tbsp ginger, finely diced + 1/2 jalapeno, diced (optional)
  • Batch 2: 2 zucchini and/or yellow squash, seeded and cut into bite-sized chunks + 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • Batch 3: 1/2 head bok choi or similar greens, washed and chopped. Cook this batch only lightly – you want the stems to get soft, but don’t let the leaves wilt.
  • Batch 4: 1 pound pork loin (trimmings are fine) + 2-3 onions, chopped.

After the pork is just browned and the onions are starting to get translucent, add all the other ingredients back in. Then add 1 cup of a marinade or sauce: ginger-soy or teriyaki work well, plus 1/2 cup of water or stock.  Simmer another 10-15 minutes on low, covered, until the flavors have started to blend, and serve over white or brown rice.

I’ve already expressed how much I love Spanish wine – especially Tempranillo – with pork. Today we’ll be trying out Terrenal and Zumaya. Zumaya has the better pedigree, coming from the renowned Ribera del Duero region; hence the price difference.

Terrenal Tempranillo (2010) Yecla, Spain – $6.00

Color: straight garnet red.

Aroma: just a touch musty at first, but that blows off and leaves behind dried fruit notes and a touch of dried floral aromas too – rose petal?

Taste: this is just a touch raisiny; I’ll have to do some research, but I suspect that it was a particularly hot year in Yecla, and they difficulty keeping everything in synch. The mid-palate and finish are pleasantly dusty, and the acidity and tannins are fine. This might be better with smoked or barbequed meat. $6 isn’t a bad price point, but I’ve written about competitors at that range that I think are better-made.


Zumaya Tempranillo (20011) Ribera del Duero, Spain – $11.50

Color: quite dark purple-red; this is very promising.

Aroma: right up front a touch of vanilla from the oak, then dark plummy fruit; some jammy/smoky hints underneath the straight fruit.

Taste: lots of character, with an excellent, rich mouthfeel and a taste profile that goes from tight dried fruit, through jammy fruit, and on to a spicy finish. They really got their money’s worth from the brief barrel aging. A good choice for the garlic-ginger-soy notes in the stir-fry.

This has just 2 months of American oak aging after stainless steel fermentation, so it would be classed as a Joven (young) – they also make a Crianza but I haven’t seen it on the shelves. A nice introduction to this important growing region for under $12 – recommended.


Drinking Tonight: Found Object Malbec

This is an $8 bottle from Mendoza, 2011 vintage, from Trader Joe’s – came recommended from Bruce and Bill. I’m having this tonight with a chile relleno.

Photo0217Color: rich reddish-purple.

Aroma: plummy fruit with some spice – nutmeg maybe? – but not overwhelming aroma.  I’ll see if it opens up a bit with some air.

Taste: a nice complex of flavors; this is not a 1-note Malnec. I get dark plum, black cherry, cherry jam, oak, black pepper, and pomegranate liqueur. Pretty impressive for $8!

It stands up to the stuffed pepper quite well.  I would also serve this with dry-rubbed barbeque, pulled pork, or a meaty pizza. After about 20 minutes, the nose opens up – it’s still more on the earthy/spicy side, but it does become more generous. Recommended!


Winery Visit: Talon

Along with Elk Creek, I also visited Talon Winery in Kentucky. My earlier travelogue post has general details about the trip.

My hosts for the weekend are members of the Talon wine club, so we got discounted tasting. Most 1 ounce tastes at Talon are $1, or 6 tastes for $5. A few of their premium wines are $2 for a taste. I tasted a combination of vitis vinifera and hybrid grapes. Most of their wines are still non-vintage dated.

Moondance Pinot Grigio (NV) Kentucky – $21/bottle. Gunsmoke and flint aromas, with an oily body – very Alsatian in style. Some citrus on the tongue. Finishes a little quickly, but still nice.

Traminette (NV) Kentucky – $16/bottle. A spicy/sweet Gewurztraminer-style nose. Off dry with a good, full body. Nice spice notes plus lychee and orange peel, and a touch of star anise. I bought a bottle – recommended.

Reserve Chambourcin (NV) Kentucky – $25/bottle. The reserve bottling of this variety indicates a longer fementation. This has a heady nose with some licorice. A good body for the grape – balanced acidity and berry fruit. Nice.

Syrah (NV) Kentucky – $30/bottle. Some heat on the nose. This is medium bodied, with lots of pepper.  I’d consider it a good $10 bottle, but $30 is asking too much.

Cabernet Sauvignon (2008) Kentucky – $29/bottle. Some smoke and bacon on the nose. A medium body for a Cabernet, not particularly fruit-forward. Nothing special.

Monarch Cabernet Franc (2008) Kentucky – $25/bottle. A classic pepper and cedar nose. Too tart on the palate, however. Disappointing.

We hung out for a while at the picnic tables with an afternoon snack, and passed around a bottle of the Coyote Red.  This is a blend of Vidal Blanc and Chambourcin; darker than a rosé, so the Chambourcin is the dominant grape in the blend. Very interesting to see how it got sweeter at lower temperatures. A fun wine for $17 a bottle, with great notes of rhubarb – this would be a great wine to have with strawberry shortcake or other fruity summer desserts. I purchased a bottle for the cellar.

My overall impression is that they need to work on concentration of fruit in their reds – their land is flatter, and they may need to do something else with pruning or green cropping to boost the intensity of flavor.


Winery Visit: Elk Creek

Here are my tasting notes for Elk Creek in Kentucky from my visit last week. For more info on the winery, see my earlier travelogue post.

I purchase the $15 Premium flight – 2 ounces each of 5 wines, vitis vinifera with a combination of estate and purchased fruit.

Barrel-Fermented Chardonnay (2009) Kentucky – $18/bottle.  This had a toasty nose; not too much heavy butter or butterscotch. Good acidity and pretty well-balanced for an new producer. The finish is just a little short. Nice.

Kentucky Blue Pinot Grigio (NV) USA – $15/bottle [they were out of the estate Pinot Grigio, which would normally be on the flight, and substituted this instead]. Crisp, with notes of melon – not a thin, tart Italian style at all. Very nice – I bought a bottle.  Can’t wait to visit again and see what the Estate Pinot Grigio will be like!

Sangiovese (2008) Kentucky – $25/bottle. A nice color and an absolutely classic nose – I’ve never run across a Sangiovese east of the Rockies before and was very interested in this one. Unfortunately, it’s thin on the palate. Disappointing, especially for the price.

Merlot (2009) Kentucky – $25/bottle. Standard Merlot styling, but some nice notes of blueberry. This needed air – it was too tart and thin on the mid-palate, but opened up after 10 or 15 minutes. Not bad, but pricey.

Cabernet Sauvignon (2010) Kentucky – $25/bottle. A little stemmy – either picked early or pressed a little too hard to maximize yield. It got a little softer with air, but there wasn’t much fruit in it at all. Not recommended.

I also tried a sip of their Riesling from one of my friends’ tasting – oy! So sweet that you can put that in your hummingbird feeder!

The estate Merlot was also on the table – it had a lot more body for only $5 more.  Might be something to consider on the next trip, by the glass or to stock the cellar.

Overall verdict – their whites are superior, and priced appropriately as well. They make a Cabernet Franc (which I consider to be the most promising grape for the Ohio Valley and the associated limestone formations from the Ohio south to the Appalachian Piedmont) but it wasn’t open for tasting.

As I mentioned in my travelogue post, it’s a very comfortable place with great views and nice food. Something to consider if you’re road-tripping down I-75. I’ll definitely have to hit them again!


Drinking Tonight: VINTJs Old Vine Zinfandel

Another Trader Joe’s exclusive wine, $8.  This is a 2011, the vines are at least 30 years old, and it’s from Lodi – one of the key heritage Zin regions in California.  I’m having this with some barbequed chicken.

Photo0216Color: a solid purple-red, with good intensity.

Aroma: smoky bacon and peppercorns – this is 14.5% alcohol, so make sure it’s not too warm, or else you’ll just get heat on the nose.

Taste: this runs spice-fruit-spice as it flows over your tongue; the finish is 15+ seconds of spice, smoke, and cigar box.

This is not quite spicy enough to stand up to a 3-alarm barbeque sauce; it’s better with a smoky-sweet style. Excellent texture and body, and the price is excellent. Recommended!



Road Trip – Elk Creek and Tallin, Kentucky

I took a road trip last weekend to a friend’s condo on Cumberland Lake in south-central Kentucky – thanks Lora & Joe!  On the way down Friday, we stopped at two vineyards – here’s the general road trip and impressions of each place; detailed wine-tasting reports will follow later. The weather was iffy, with lots of heavy rain.  But we got lucky; every time we stepped out of the car, we had dry weather.

Elk Creek is about 10 miles from I-75, an hour south of Cincinnati. It’s a large property, with steep hillside vineyards – they almost looked steep enough to plant vertically, like they do in parts of Germany. There’s a large, multi-level tasting room with extensive indoor and outdoor seating, and a selection of local art on display upstairs. The property also features a covered amphitheatre for concerts, events, and weddings. And Elk Creek also runs a skeet-shooting operation on the other side of the ridge! The small deli in the tasting room has a quite nice selection of cheeses, fruit, and made-to-order sandwiches.

Talon lies farther south, in more open, rolling terrain to the south of Lexington – it’s definitely horse country. Tasting is in a converted plantation house, with several rooms set up for tasting and merchandise. They have live music on the back porch most weekends.  Talon also has several event venues on the property, secluded in the midst of the grapes. Talon does not offer food, but picnic baskets are welcome.

Photo Gallery

As is typical for young wineries in this part of the country, both operations use a combination of estate and purchased fruit. Although they have vitis vinifera plantings (including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Pinot Grigio), they also feature a number of hybrid grapes and more than a few fruit wines. I only tasted a few of the sweet offerings – but I bought a bottle of one!  More details in later posts.