Monthly Archives: December 2013

Blue Fin Petite Sirah

Making a pizza with pancetta tonight and thought this would be perfect – one of Trader Joe’s major house brands. I tried their Viognier about a week ago.

Blue Fin Petite Sirah (2012) California – $5

Photo0325Color: the classic purple-black tone of Petite Sirah, practically opaque at the center.

Aroma: blackberry, tar, and some Asian spice notes.

Taste: a good, chewy Petite Sirah, with stewed and fresh fruit (including plum, berry, and cherry), ginger, black pepper, and a moderately tannic finish.

Quite nice. Not the best Petite Sirah by a long chalk, but an excellent introduction to the variety, and a good party wine. Recommended.


Winetasting Report: Kroger Centerville

Spent a pleasant hour with Rick & Linda at the Kroger in Centerville. Some interesting wines, including a few bottles left over from yesterday’s tasting, but nothing that really stood out.

Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs (NV) California – $35

Moderate toast, with predominately fruit notes on the palate. Not much floral character at all. Pretty good.

Beaulieu Reserve Chardonnay (2007) Carneros, California – $20

Not what I was expecting at all – fruit, just a little oak, and very light. I’d go so far as to call this thin. Just a little bit of butter on the finish. Not recommended.

Beaulieu Pinot Noir (2010) Napa Valley, California – $23

Pretty dark for a Pinot. Aromas of cherry, with some anise and spice, then earthier on the palate. A little tight, as a matter of fact. I liked it.

Beaulieu Cabernet Sauvignon (2009) Rutherford, California – $33

Tight. Much more of a spicy Cab. Typical Cabernet fruit complex of cassis and blackberry as it opens up. OK, but not worth the money.

Buena Vista “The Count” (2012) Sonoma Valley, California – $20

An undisclosed red blend – Ken says that there is a touch of port in it. Big fruit, and almost a touch of sweet cheese (like mango cheddar, maybe?) if you really get your nose into the glass. Pretty nice after having been open for 24 hours. Very drinkable.

Ghost Pines Cabernet (2011) North Coast, California – $20

Yeah, this is nice – also open for 24 hours but still very dense and loaded with fruit – black and red. Best wine of the entire tasting.

Drinking Tonight: Caretaker Cabernet Sauvignon

A new bottling I saw at Trader Joe’s last week. I’m drinking this with some pulled pork.

Caretaker Cabernet Sauvignon (2011) Paso Robles, California – $12

Photo0324Color: garnet-ruby red.

Aroma: lots of red fruit – cranberry, cherry, red currant.

Taste: definitely on the red fruit side – loads and loads of cherry, with some kirsch (cherry brandy) notes as well. Not terribly tannic, but has a little black pepper towards the finish. This develops some more spice and earth notes, including anise and tea, as it opens up.

A good pairing choice, as it turns out. This is softer and more complicated than the usual California Cab fruit-bomb, and bears looking in to. I’ll buy a few more bottles to cellar for a 2-3 years.


Tasting Note: Trader Joe’s Petit Reserve Pinot Grigio

I’ll be catching up on some tasting notes that I scribbled down in the midst of Christmas parties this week. First up, a limited-production Pinot Grigio from California’s Central Coast.

Trader Joe’s Petit Reserve Pinot Grigio (2012) Paso Robles, California – $8

Color: relatively dark for a Pinot Grigio, with a straw-yellow complexion.

Aroma: apricot and honeysuckle; the cooler climate in Paso is more like the Alsace or Austria than it is sunny Italy, so the fruit notes exhibit less citrus and more stone fruit.

Taste: pleasant; this still has good acidity if you’re looking for a thirst-quencher, but it also has a smoky richness towards the back of the tongue.

This style won’t suit everyone; if you’re looking for lemony Pinot Grigio, then skip this. But I think this would make a nice foil for a rotisserie chicken or Pad Thai.


Tools of the Trade: Decanters and Carafes

Decanters and carafes can add another element to your enjoyment of wine. They are nice items of tableware – you can use them to dress up your table or to add a comfy, rustic vibe to a picnic or casual dinner. But they can also be crucial to the chemistry, flavor, and appearance of the wine.


Carafes and decanters are both made of clear glass or crystal, and they can be smooth or faceted. And they both look nice on the table. But the similarities end there.

Decanters are designed so that the neck is narrow but the base is very broad. After you’ve poured a standard 750 ml bottle of wine into a decanter, the exposed surface area of the liquid should be very large. They come in various symmetrical or asymmetrical shapes, with or without handles, but they all feature that broad surface area.

Carafes, on the other hand, have a more compact shape, with vertical sides and a smaller cross-section. They are most typically used in restaurants to transfer a few servings of wine to the table; the restaurant can’t just drop off a bottle or half-bottle to your table, since the wine comes to them in bulk.


Young wines, especially those that are high in tannin, are often described as “dumb” or “closed off”. The process of aging involves microscopic amounts of oxygen penetrating the cork, and reacting with the various flavor and aroma elements to create additional notes and soften the wine.

If you haven’t had enough time to age the bottle in your cellar, you can simulate some of that change by pouring the wine into a decanter, giving it some big swirls, and allowing the newly-introduced oxygen to do its thing over the course of 15 minutes to 2 hours. This is the real definition of letting a wine ‘breathe’ – just popping the cork doesn’t expose enough surface area to really get any chemistry going.

Alternatively, old wines may have a lot of loose sediment as the result of aging. This can take the form of big chunks at the bottom of the bottle, or very fine particles suspended through the wine. Vintage ports and well-aged red table wines like Bordeaux and Barolo are the classic examples. In this case, you pour into the decanter very slowly and carefully, and stop when you notice the sediment approaching the neck of the bottle.

But be very careful not to do this decanting in advance! The older wines don’t need to breathe – if you let them sit for any length of time, all the wonderful aromas will tend to waft away and leave you with something that’s flat and tart. You can use a decanter or a carafe for this purpose, although a decanter is more traditional and generally easy to handle during the slow pouring process.

Carafes are also great for serving wine cocktails and punches, like Sangria or Mimosas. It’s faster and easier to mix an entire carafe, rather than trying to make multiple individual servings. And they look much nicer on the table than a pitcher. Check out my ebook on wine cocktails for some other great ideas.

Buying, Gifting, and Cleaning

You can spend anywhere from $10 to $200 on a carafe or decanter, so make some decisions in advance about who you’re buying for, how they are likely to use it, and what your budget is.

There’s no advantage to cut crystal over plain glass in terms of the flavor of the wine; let the taste and decor of the giftee guide your decision here. Make sure that the decanter can be swirled easily – pick it up and mime the action in the store. If it’s unwieldy or asymmetric, it may just sit on the shelf.

Also consider the durability of the glassware, and how active the giftee is likely to be. There’s no point in buying a nice $150 decanter if it’s going to get thrown into a picnic basket and chipped within the first year. Get a plain $10 carafe, dress it up with some ribbons and beads, and throw in a bottle or two of wine to create a complete gift.

It’s important to clean your decanter or carafe well. Don’t put it in the dishwasher, and make sure to at least rinse it out at the end of the evening, if you don’t have the time or energy to clean it fully. The best method for cleaning is just copious warm water; detergents will usually leave a film. If you notice any persistent staining from red wine, then use a little neutral white vinegar and baking soda, and then scrub with a soft wire-handle brush and more water. Be careful not to scratch the glass!

Store it someplace where it won’t collect dust or odd smells; and if you do any frying in the kitchen, make sure that airborne grease won’t settle on it! If it’s been sitting for a long time, do a quick clean before you use it again, just in case it’s accumulated any cruft during storage.

Drinking Tonight: Caves Saint-Pierre Vacqueyras

You’ve probably heard of the Rhone Valley in France – Vacqueyras is one of the small village-centered subdistricts of the Cotes du Rhone wine region. Along with the neighboring village of Gigondas, it’s often referred to as “the poor man’s Chateauneuf-du-Pape.” Vacqueyras is only a few miles down the road from Avignon, and produces great Rhone blends that are both hearty and sophisticated, for a fraction of what Chateauneuf-du-Pape costs.

Tonight I’ve got a recently purchased Vacqueyras (pronounced VAH-kay-rah) to go with salad and leftover pizza. I’m eager to see what this is like – a good Vacqueyras is a perfect thing to drink all winter long with beef stew, chili, pot roast, and other stick-to-your-ribs cold-weather fare. Vacqueyras must contain at least 50% Grenache, with the rest usually a combination of Syrah, Mourvedre, and Cinsault.

Caves Saint-Pierre (2011) Vacqueyras, France – $13

Photo0314Color: a nice dark ruby, verging on purple towards the middle of the glass.

Aroma: spicy and brambly, with some herb notes – what the French call ‘garrigue‘ –  followed up by dark plum and berry fruit. There’s even a touch of chocolate and tar as this opens up.

Taste: harmonious, with berry fruit leading off and then transitioning into herb and spice notes. It has a final blast of fruit, before settling in to a gently tannic and spicy finish. This has good texture, the right acidity for food, and a good mouthfeel.

An top-notch Rhone for $13. Make sure you drink this at cellar temperature (55º to 65º F). Recommended.