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Archive for February, 2010

Hey, Baby Amarone!

Hey baby don’t you worry, even though the road is rocky
I’ll be coming home to you again
And if you thought that I was lost, I have to bury my cross
Now I’m free from all these chains.  Stephen Marley

There’s a whole big world of wine out there just waiting to be discovered.  As I looked over my own experiences from last year, one whole big world that I sure was missing out on was Italy.  Italy is home to some of the oldest wine producing regions in the world.  Long before the Romans started planting vines, there were the Etruscans and Greeks. Two thousand years later, Italy has become one of the world’s foremost producers, responsible for approximately one-fifth of the world’s overall wine production.  

Located in the province of Verona, Italy, east of Lake Garda is the very hilly and marble rich soil of ValpolicellaWinemaking has existed in this Italian region since the time of the ancient Greeks.  The name Valpolicella is derived from a Latin and Greek mixture, which translated in English means “Valley of Cellars.” Today, the “Valley of Cellars” economy rests heavily on the production of wine.  The hallmark or signature wine of this region is the recognizable full-bodied style red wine known as Amarone.

However, one not so familiar style of red wine from this Italian region is Ripasso.  Ripasso comes from the verb, ripassare, meaning to “pass over” or to do something again.  The process of making Ripasso wine is by first taking the leftover skins, pulp, and seeds of a previously made Amarone wine, then having this liquid go through a second fermentation that can sometimes last for as long as 3 weeks. The result of this technique gives the wine an increased level of alcohol that clocks in around 14%, yet compared to a traditional Amarone, Ripasso wine will be a bit softer, fruitier and less tannic in its youth. The process of creating a Ripasso wine only occurs in exceptional vintage years. Think of Ripasso as being the “Baby Amarone” that you drink today.  The best part about this style of wine is that it costs a fraction of what you’d pay for an Amarone.  

I recently had the pleasure of trying one of these “Baby Amarones” and sure was kicking myself for passing them over time and time again in the past.  The 2006 Tezza Corte Majoli Valpolicella Ripasso is a terrific example of “Old World” winemaking with just the right splash of “New World” style to liven it up a bit.  This wine is made with a blend of estate grown grapes, mostly Corvina. The double fermentation or ‘Ripasso’ method gives this wine big fruit flavors that reminds one of ‘New World’ wine, but being Italian, there’s plenty of dried cherry and rich spicy flavors that let drinkers know where this baby was born.

We paired the 2006 Tezza Corte Majoli Valpolicella Ripasso with a lobster mac-n-cheese dish that was, in a nutshell, pretty fantastico!  The 2006 Tezza Corte Majoli Valpolicella Ripasso is an outstanding value for under $15.

  

3 Stars out of 4.

New World vs. Old World – Who’s Got the Power?

Diversity.  It’s supposed to be a good thing and not a bad thing, right?  Most of us were taught at a very young age that there are lots of different people, religions and beliefs in the world.  As we grow and mature we learn tolerance, understanding, respect and compassion to appreciate the things and people that are different from us and our own personal experiences.

 

So, if we were taught that diversity is a good thing, then why is the wine industry so hell bent on pouring one homogenized, “cookie cutter” flavor, and style of wine down our throats?

 

I recently attended a blind-tasting and sampled about 40 different wines comprised of whites, reds, and sweet wines.  And guess what?  Nearly all of the whites (as a collective group) and all of the reds (as a group) tasted stylistically the same – in a scary sort of way!  No joke.  Only a handful of these wines stood out in the crowd, and it wasn’t just me and my palate that noticed the frightening similarity.  At the end of this tasting, when the identities of these wines were revealed, all of the tasters conveyed similar thoughts.

 

In defense of all the wines that were poured that particular evening, each one of them could be found across the US for less than $15 and had production numbers that exceeded 10,000 cases per year.  Let’s face it, 40 wines priced under 15 bucks with big production numbers is certainly not enough empirical data to make a proclamation that all wines are beginning to taste the same.  However, if you’re an everyday wine drinker like myself, who spends on average between $10-15 on a bottle of wine, it should be very apparent, “New World” style wines have a strangle-hold on consumers in the world of “inexpensive” wine – and they’re not about to loosen their grip anytime soon.

 

 

 

One can place blame for this often repeated and copied blueprint on the likes of influential critics that prefer their wines overripe, over-oaked, and high in alcohol.  You can even blame California, Australia, South America and others (Europe too) for flooding retailers’ shelves with wines that are separated more by a marketing budget and less by their unique characteristics. 

 

The bottom line and reality of it all, is that it’s getting harder and harder to tell the difference between two wines because so many of them have been made devoid of the slightest individual personality that gives drinkers a sense of where they came from.

 

My question is:  Has diversity and geographical nuances, that were once common in wines from different parts of the world, been sentenced to a slow and painful death? 

 

The Mercy Rule is in effect.

 

 

A Shining Example for Other Box Wines!

Is it possible to get a box wine that actually tastes as good as a wine that comes from a bottle?

 

After two lackluster experiences last year with Casarsa Pinot Grigio/Blanc Blend and Killer Juice Cabernet Sauvignon, I was asking myself that very question.  It sure seemed to me the stigma that box wines are cheap and of lesser quality than traditional bottled wine was holding as true today as it has in the past.

 

Believe you me – I wanna show some love for the box for lots of reasons:

1.) It’s supposed to stay fresh for up to 4 weeks after opening.

2.) The cool little tap is pretty nifty and very convenient.

3.) The eco-friendly component:  It’s recyclable, takes far less energy to produce and transport, reducing the carbon footprint by 50% versus glass bottles.

 

But in the end, if this bag and cardboard alternative to bottled wine doesn’t taste as good, does it really matter?

 

I was curious to take another stab at this box wine thing after a wine buddy of mine, who is accustomed to spending $20 per 750ml, became a loyal imbiber of this box.  I was even more curious after learning that this box wine was a two-time blind tasting finalist in, “The Wine Trials 2010“.  Ok then – Bring on the Black Box!

 

black-box-cabernet-sauvignon-2008

 

The Verdict:  The 2008 Black Box Cabernet Sauvignon is by far the best tasting box wine that I’ve ever tried.  For what works out to be about $5 per 750ml of juice, you’re getting a fairly decent dose of red berry and peppery flavors that’ll make you think that you’re drinking a more expensive bottled California Cab.  It’s a good, all-purpose, inexpensive red that most wine drinkers will enjoy – especially those that still think that good wine and cardboard box are not to be mentioned together in the same sentence.  Go out and try it for yourself – you just might get turned onto a box wine like I did!

 

Finally, I must mention that this box was a generous sample given to me by the Holden Family the day before my family and I were trapped in our house for 2 days after a blizzard dumped two feet of snow.  My sanity remaining in check during this time was due in large part to this glorious box of wine.  Holdens – Many thanks for your contribution towards our survival of the Blizzard of 2010!

 

 

 

WineLife365 Rating: 3-Stars

From: California
Price: $19.99 (Box = 4 750ml bottles!)

 

 

 

 

 

This Ain’t Yo Mama’s Jug Wine!

This one’s for you, Casey!

 

A while ago, a dear friend of mine came walking through our front door carrying a big jug of wine in her hand, called Wine Garage.  I thought to myself, “Holy crap, she’s either homeless and never told us, or she’s smoked way too much Christmas Weed?!”  I wanted to say, “CHILD PLEASE!  Have you done lost your wine-soaked mind comin’ up in here with that jug-o-wine?!” 

 

After getting my wine snooty-side under control, I made my way closer to the jug to get a good look at its rather simple and generic looking label – it read, “Wine Garage Red Wine Blend B1″.  I’ve seen and tried a lot of jug wines, but this jug was completely foreign to me.  Besides that, what did the “Red Wine Blend B1” actually mean?

After doing a little Google search on Wine Garage, here’s what I discovered about this jug wine that sat squarely in the middle of our dinner table just waiting to be opened:

wine-garage-red-wine-b1

The Wine Garage store is actually housed in a former gas station/tire shop just south of Calistoga, California’s main street. The Wine Garage has approximately 200 different wines available for purchase.  They seek out and personally visit small wineries throughout the Napa Valley and other wine regions in California such as Lodi, Paso Robles, Amador and Mendocino looking for what they feel are hidden gems.  Another interesting snippet, is that they actually “pump” the wines that go into their half-gallon glass jugs with specially designed gas station nozzles.

The Wine Garage offers up two different jug blends to choose from:
1. The “B1”, (the one we tried) is a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet, Carmenere, Merlot and Petite Verdot.

2. The other jug is a Rhone-style blend consisting of Syrah, Zinfandel, Grenache, Mourvedre and Petite Syrah.

 

I’m gonna be completely honest and straight to the point about the “B1” red blend:  There were four of us that night that drank this jug to its last glorious drop, and out of the four only one said, “it’s ok”, while the rest of us thought it was hands down the best damn jug wine that we ever had the pleasure of sucking down.

 

Grab a jug of Wine Garage, round up a few close friends, and reminisce about the good old blotto days when the jug of choice was Riunite Lambrusco!  In the immortal words of Chad Ocho Cinco, “Just cause you got money, don’t mean you gotta spend it!”

 

 

WineLife365 Rating: 3-Stars

From: California
Price: $29.99 (1/2 gallon!)

 

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