2007 Zonnebloem Shiraz & 2006 Straccali Chianti

Since last week I've drunk two wines, a 2007 Zonnebloem shiraz from South Africa and a 2006 Straccali chianti.  I think the shiraz ran me in the low teens, and the chianti was $17.  I'll start with the chianti.

The Straccali comes from the Chianti Classico region of Italy.  The label is vague on notes, just "red ripe fruits," and says it's good as an accompaniment to "grilled meats, flavorful pastas, and a variety of cheeses."  That covers a lot.

This chianti was drinkable, but another chianti that tasted like pizzaria-quality red wine to my taste buds.  I didn't get any outstanding notes from it, and for $17, I think a wine should taste at least a little better than average.

Next was the Zonnebloem shiraz.  I haven't had good luck since my first South African shiraz, the Sincerely a couple weeks ago, that was pretty interesting with its smoky notes.  The first glass of this one had an off-flavor to it, and I'd let it sit for about 15 minutes after I opened it.  I didn't finish the first glass.

I tried a second glass last night with some brie; I thought sitting for 24 hours might help.  This time it was drinkable, but just barely and not outstanding.  My notes say it was "kinda thin, no nose to it, no complexity". The label says this wine has a 5 to 8 years maturation potential, so maybe I drank it too soon.

So I'm still looking for the perfect shiraz.syrah and chianti, with 3 months or so to go on this red wine saga.

2 South African Shirazes

I'm still not keeping up on writing these reviews, but maybe in 2011.  I've never seen a December that was this busy.

The first South African shiraz I've drunk lately was a 2004 Sincerely produced by Neil Ellis Wines in the western Cape.  It ran me $17.

This shiraz has very distinctive smokey notes in it--almost too much so.  After the first glass my mouth tasted like I'd smoked a cigarette with my wine (though it's been a while since I've done that).  After a day, though, the smokeyness wasn't nearly as pronounced.

It was also less intense than the primarily U.S. syrahs I've been drinking thus far this fall.  It's more delicate, more towards a chianti-like body.  I liked this wine, though it might be an acquired taste for many people.

The second one was a 2004 Guardian Peak, also from the Western Cape.  I think this one ran me in the low teens.

This shiraz wasn't nearly as distinctive as the Sincerely bottle.  It was closer to U.S. syrahs, a little sweeter maybe, not particularly outstanding but OK as a wine to serve with dinner.  I have a little left that I'll probably use for cooking.

Finally, a syrah that I like

Last week I hit the jackpot.  I finally drank a syrah that I liked--and finished the bottle--and I picked up a viognier in a clearance bin that I also thought was better than average, especially for under $7.

The syrah is a 2005 Bridlewood from the central California coast (Healdsburg, north of San Francisco and almost directly west of Sacramento). I didn't jot down how much I paid for it, but I think it was in the $10 range.

I think I liked this one better because it was slightly sweeter than other syrahs I've drunk this fall.  I don't tend to prefer sweet wines, but this was just sweet enough without being too sweet, and I didn't get the overbearing tannin that I've gotten from other syrahs.  The label says the wine has blueberry notes, which I didn't notice but which might be one reason I liked it because blueberries are one of my favorite fruits.

This would be a good wine to go with just about any nice meal:  a roast, steak, or even hamburgers.

The viognier is a no date Pepperwood bottled in Napa with the grapes from various vineyards.  It started out at a little over $11, and I found it in a clearance bin for $6.99.

This wine has an attractive dark amber color, and its flavor is about the most fruity of any white wine I've drunk.  I got pear from it, but the label says apricot, which may have been what I was tasting.  The label also says clove, which I didn't get at all, and honey, which I'll agree with.

I've tried to think what kind of meal this viognier would be best with, and the only thing I can come up with is a cheese and fruit spread.  Or maybe some good bread and cheese and fruit, perhaps chicken breast in an orange sauce.  I'll have to get back to that clearance bin and see if they have any more.


2006 Bivio Chianti Classico

Earlier this week I was drinking a 2006 Bivio Chianti Classico.

The label says it has raspberry and blackberry notes with touches of violet and toasted almond.

This was another chianti that didn't bowl me over.  I sure didn't get the toasted almond notes.  It's a perfectly nice wine to go with a meal, but this wasn't anything special for casual sipping.  I didn't finish the bottle.

I forgot to jot down how much I paid for it, but it was $10 or $12 range.

2007 Castle Rock Syrah and 2003 Sant'Appiano Chianti

I'm struggling with getting this blog out regularly because frankly I haven't been crazy about any of the syrahs and chiantis I've had (and I've been really busy). 

So I'm going to take a different tack: back to reviewing at least a couple cocktails a week in addition to these wine reviews.  I may even sneak in a beer from time to time.

So here are the 2 wines I've had in the last couple weeks, both middle-of-the-road red wines, not bad, not great, acceptable for a family meal or a dinner where the guest isn't anyone too important.

This chianti retails in the $15 range; I bought it for $12.  It's a nice pasta dinner wine.  The label says it's aged in oak for 6 months and in the bottle for 3.

The second is a 2007 Castle Rock syrah from California's Russian River Valley.  This bottle ran me about $10.  The label advertises notes of black cherry, smoke (guess I'll have to learn what smoke tastes like), and plums, with spice notes.  I would agree with the black cherry. 

This wine has a much more fragrant nose than other syrahs I've drunk this fall, and it was more drinkable right  out of the bottle without having to wait 30 minutes or more.  A good value for the price.

2008 Gabbiano Chianti

I'm still not making my 2 wine reviews a week goal, but I'm working on it.

The last few days I've been drinking a 2008 Gabbiano chianti. The label says this vineyard [or winery], located in the Chianti Classico region, has been around since the early 1100s.

The Chianti Classico region is one of the 7 subregions in the chianti-making part of Italy.  Wikipedia reports that "Wines labeled Chianti Classico come from the biggest sub-area of Chianti, that sub-area that includes the old Chianti area."

This bottle ran me $15, but it tastes more like an under-$10, pizzeria red wine. There's  nothing wrong with Lady and the Tramp spaghetti vino, but this bottle didn't have any strong notes that hit my nose or my palate.  I bet it would be good with spaghetti actually.

This is another red wine where I didn't finish the bottle, which didn't happen much with the sauvignon blancs last summer.  One of these weeks I'll find a syrah or a chianti that I really go for.

3 Syrahs and 1 Hurrah

I didn't realize it had been so long since I wrote up a bottle of syrah--over 3 weeks--but I should have known from the bottles accumulating in my kitchen.

I'm just going to give a quick summary of the 3 syrahs I've drunk lately and not give detailed tasting notes.  One thing I've noticed, being something of a neophyte in the field of syrahs, is that these reds really do need time to adjust once you uncork or unscrew the bottle, and probably even decanting.  If you drink some of them right out of the bottle, they aren't very good at all.  Some were more noticeably mellow the second day after opening, although that's not optimal for drinking wine, of course.

The first is a 2007 Yalumba shiraz (94%)-viognier (6%) blend from South Australia.  When I drank my first glass of this, I didn't like it at all.  It was bitter, and it almost tasted like a straight blend of a red and a white mixed together.  Here's a case where wine was better the next day: mellower, sweeter, subtle, and even the nose was much improved.

Next was a 2003 Glass Mountain syrah from California that ran me in the $9 range on sale.  I guess I didn't make any tasting notes on this, but I don't think I finished the bottle.  In general I wasn't impressed by it (for $9, what could I expect?).

Last is a 2008 Veo Ultimate syrah from Chile.  This one has detailed notes on the back of the bottle on how it was produced, and they note that it will benefit from decanting.  I should know by now to read the instructions first.  

This bottle struck me as very blah on first taste, although it had a more fragrant nose than the other two.  On the second day, this one too had mellowed and was a little sweeter, with a lot more flavor.

I guess if I'm going to appreciate syrahs that I need to buy myself a decanter for Christmas.

2006 Snoqualmie Syrah

Still running behind on postings, but I promise to do better.  Sometime.

I started my fall/winter 2010-2011 syrah and miscellaneous reds sampling this week.

First off was a 2006 Snoqualmie syrah from the Columbia Valley in Washington State.

The label claims notes of blackberry, cherry, spice, and 'a touch of oak'.  On first tasting, I got a strong molasses note.  I love molasses, so I liked it out of the gate (or bottle).  I think I also got a black cherry note, which I guess is a cross between their blackberry and cherry.

Ultimately, however, I wasn't all that keen on this wine.  It was a tad sweet for me, and I didn't finish the bottle.  Maybe a little stronger tannin kick would have helped my appreciation of it. I didn't write down how much I paid for it, but it was in the $10 range.

I'm also working my way through chiantis this fall and winter.  My first one was a 2002 Terrabianca Scassino made with 97% sangiovese grapes and 3% canaiolo (which, honestly, I've never heard of).

This was a $29 wine on sale for $18, and even $18 was too much for it.  There was discoloration of the cork, so I think the wine might have gone a tad bad.  It showed no character and was just a step up from red wine vinegar.  I drank a couple glasses of it, but it was definitely problematic.  It could have been used in cooking, but $18 (let alone $29) is a lot to pay for a cooking wine.

2005 Toasted Head Viognier

I let the week get away from me in writing up my wines.

I came across another viognier, so I decided to try it as my last white of the summer and compare it to the viognier I reviewed a couple weeks ago.

This 2005 Toasted Head is from the R.H. Phillips vineyards, located in the Dunnigan Hills up in Yolo County, CA.

I could tell the difference between the 2 viogniers as soon as I opened the bottle (cork).  Much more interesting nose than the other one.

The wine had more interesting flavors as well.  I fell down on my tasting duties and didn't jot down notes, but this bottle was considerably sweeter than the other viognier.  Almost too sweet for my taste but just on the edge.  It certainly didn't have the acidic kick of the SBs I've been drinking all summer.

Not a bad white wine for grilling or a pasta dinner maybe.  I got it on sale at about $13.

2007 Casa Silva Reserva Viognier

I'm not sure I've ever drunk a Viognier, so I was eager to see what one was like after all the Sauvignon Blancs I've made my way through this summer.

This one is a 2007 Casa Silva Reserva from Chile's Colchagua Valley.  Here's a good description of the location from Wink Lorch's wine-pages.com: "Colchagua Valley is a zone within a sub-region (Rapel Valley), which in turn lies within a region (Central Valley). Within Colchagua itself are six areas including a couple that might be familiar: Chimbarongo (on many Cono Sur labels) and Santa Cruz (on the Montes Alpha range)." My description would be that it's almost exactly in the middle of the country, not counting the little hook (or pretty big hook) down at the bottom of Chile.

According to the label, the Silva family were some of the first settlers to grow grapes in the valley, and now 4th and 5th generations run the estate.  Their wines have won a lot of prizes--but, frankly, it seems like everyone's wines win a lot of prizes. I think judges take turns handing them out so everyone has some. Sort of like hospitals.

They describe this wine as "complex, elegant and unique", which sums up this bottle pretty well.  It certainly doesn't have the grassiness of so many SBs.  I haven't drunk a pinot gris in a while so I can't compare it to those, but this seemed like a pleasant middle-of-the-road white, not too acidic, not too sweet, not overloaded with different notes. 

This bottle ran me around $10 and would work great for almost any dinner party, from casual to formal, or just a casual get together.

2006 Pouilly-Fume and 2006 Argentinian Cabarnet Sauvignon

A busy work week so a slow week here.  I'm combining mini-reviews of two wines I've drunk the last few days.

The first I grabbed out of desperation because I didn't have any beer or white wine in the fridge:  a 2006 Pascual Toso Cabarnet Sauvignon from Argentina.  This winery was established in 1890 and is located in Maipu, a few miles east of Mendoza in the well-known wine-making province of that name.  This wine is 100% Cab Sauv.

I accidentally bought this bottle when I was buying Sauvignon Blancs and just saw "Sauvignon" on the bottle, not the "Cabarnet" or the fact that the wine was red.  I was in a hurry.  This ran me about $15, and the alcohol content is 13.8%.

I have never been a big Cab Sauv fan, and after not having drunk any for probably several years, this bottle reconfirmed my feelings.  It's a very fruity wine: I got blackberries and vanilla.  This would go great with a roast or grilling if you're having steak.  It's just a little too 'red winey' for me, and it's getting pushed to the back of the counter to use for cooking.

The second bottle was my last bottle of Sauvignon Blanc for the season, although this is actually a Pouilly-Fume from the Loire Valley:  a 2006 Domaine Seguin, which is based in Pouilly-sur-Loire, so you can't ask for a more authentic P-F than that.  This bottle ran me $29 and it's 12.5% alcohol by volume.

I went to one of Indianapolis' biggest ethanol product emporiums looking for Pouilly-Fumes (Kahn's, which is one of my favorite places just to browse and read labels, though I do buy things there too to support my reading habit), and this was the only bottle I saw, down on a bottom shelf.  I was surprised they carried only one (or, if they have others, that they weren't in the Loire Wines section).

I liked this bottle much better than my first P-F a few weeks ago (at $29, I should).  If you hid the label, you probably wouldn't know this wasn't, say, a California SB.  It had the typical SB nose, though not as grassy/asparagussy as many of them.  The wine itself was just ok in my book, no great subtleties of flavor, just a pleasant white wine/SB.  I tend to drink these without food; maybe I'll start doing some of my tastings with a meal because it definitely makes a difference.  The SB from a few weeks ago that I was drinking while eating pretty potent blue cheese was a revelation paired with food.

If you want to impress the boss or the future in-laws, this wouldn't be a bad wine to serve them.  Practice pronouncing the name first.

2004 Soliloquy Sauvignon Blanc

I saved my most expensive, and I was hoping the best, Sauvignon Blanc of the season to the end:  a 2004 Napa Valley Soliloquy that ran me $28.  It's made by Flora Springs, which is located on Zinfandel Lane a few miles SW of St. Helena (almost directly east of Santa Rosa).

There are disappointments in life, and this was one of them.  I wasn't crazy about this wine, to the point where I was pouring out the last glass, I was debating whether I really wanted to drink any more of it.

If you like the often-heralded 'honeydew' notes and tones in SBs, you will love this wine.  It almost knocks you over when you swirl the wine in the glass, and it's almost as noticeable on the tongue.  I'm not a big melon fan, I'll admit (except for watermelon), though I don't mind small pieces of it. But I thought it was way too overwhelming here.

On the other hand, the balance of acidity and sweetness was good: not an acid wash like a few SBs I've drunk this summer, but not sticky sweet to go with the melon notes either. If you want to go with a higher-end Nappa Valley SB for a dinner party, this one might work better for you than it did for me.

I was looking back at my reviews the last 6 months, and I found 4 SBs that I really liked, 2 from Chile and 2 from New Zealand:

2008 La Fortuna Chile
Lapostolle 2008 Casa Chile
Nobilo Icon 2007 NZ
Sauvignon Republic 2008 NZ

I have one more SB-related review before I switch to syrahs and shirazes this week, and that will be another Pouilly de Fume.

Barefoot & 2006 Domaine de Gournier Sauvignon Blancs

I'm combining 2 reviews today because my tasting notes weren't very complete, so the reviews will be up of the thumb up and thumb down variety.

First is a No Date California Barefoot Sauvignon Blanc.  This is the cheapest one I've drunk this summer, only $5.50 on sale. 

The nose wasn't anything special, but the wine was surprisingly good for being so inexpensive.  Certainly as good as if not better than some $15 bottles I've drunk this summer.

It seemed a little 'thin' on the tongue perhaps, with a little though not overwhelming acidity.  I caught a taste of something--the elusive honeydew that so many SBs advertise maybe?  I certainly didn't get the 'smoky finish' mentioned on the label.

A perfectly good wine for a last-minute dinner party or Chinese take-out for that matter, and you can't beat the price.

The last couple nights I've drunk my way through a 2006 Domaine de Gournier, an estate between Avignon and Nimes.  This is probably one of my favorite, if not favorite, SBs I've drunk all summer (though the $15 California one from a month-six weeks ago gives it a run for its money).

This one has a more complex nose than any of the SBs I've drunk in the last few weeks.  You don't get just the typical SB grassy meadow when you swirl it in the glass.

I can't put my finger on specific notes in this one except to say that I thought I was very smooth and goes well with food.  I was eating some blue cheese and dark bread while I was drinking a glass, and I was surprised how well it went with the cheese.  An almost perfect combination.  I also drank a glass with a spicy hamburger dish, and the wine tasted great with that too.

This bottle ran me $12.  It was on the bottom shelf in the Loire/Other Whites section and so easily overlooked, but it's a SB that you should search out for casual drinking or having the boss over to dinner. I may stock up with a few bottles to have on hand.

Rickeys, Vol. 2

I've gotten way behind on reporting my adventures with Rickey (not Martin).

All of these use roughly 2 to 1 spirits to lime juice, with a lime shell and soda water on ice to fill roughly a 10 oz glass. For 1 1/2 oz of liquor, 1/2 oz instead of 3/4 oz of lime juice works better for me. The lime starts to overpower the spirit if you use more.  I found that in my early rickeys I was pouring too much soda (I gotta get decent glassware), and that was responsible for their slightly watered down taste.

The first one is an Irish Rickey: Irish whiskey (I used Jameson's 12 year) and lime.  This one just tasted like watered-down whiskey, and with this whiskey, that's a shame.

No. 2 is  a Whiskey Rickey; I used Jim Beam Distiller's Series, but you could also use rye.  Here's an example of where 3/4 oz lime juice to 1 1/2 liquor is too much: I couldn't taste the bourbon through the lime. As with the Jameson's, with this liquor, you want to taste it (and paid to taste it).

Next we come to a Scotch Rickey, here using Jimmie Walker black.  Not bad if you keep the lime at 1/2 oz.  I could taste the Scotch, and it made for a nice summertime drink.

Going south of the border, a Tequila Rickey, using a reposado.  Not bad, not great.  With salt on the rim of your glass you could call it a Margarita Rickey.

Last, a Mezcal Rickey: This was my favorite of the batch. I prefer mezcal's stronger flavors to tequila generally, and the smokiness of it appealed to me with the lime, sort of like grilled fish.

We've still got a few weeks of summer left, so I'll report on one more batch of rickeys between my looks at Sauvignon Blancs.

2009 Dancing Bull Sauvignon Blanc

I drank a bottle of 2009 Dancing Bull Sauvignon Blanc over a couple days that ran me in the $9-$10 range. 

I found this to be a so-so bottle of SB: the nose didn't seem particularly distinctive.  The mouth wasn't as overly citrusy as some SBs I've drunk this summer, which I liked, but the flavors weren't particularly notable, just generic.

The winery's web site (very graphic-intensive and one of the best designed I've seen) claims that both the nose and the mouth show fresh mown grass and boxwood.  I guess I need to get to a nursery and sniff some boxwood, but that seems a little over the top. 

Both the site and the label say that this wine would be good with Chinese take-out, and I do agree with that.

2008 Bogle Sauvignon Blanc

I haven't drunk many California Sauvignon Blancs this summer, so I decided I should try a few more.

This 2008 Bogle, which hails from Clarksburg (apparently where they have lots of quail or pheasants or some kind of game birds running around; two are in gold on their green label), ran me in the $10 range. Clarksburg is just south of Sacramento on Interstate 5.

The nose didn't blow me away with any noticeable sniffs.  The wine itself, the first glass at any rate, struck me with strong apple notes.  I didn't get that quite so much from subsequent glasses.  This was also a sweeter SB with a low acidity than most of the ones I've drunk this summer, on the edge of being almost too sweet for my taste.

If you prefer your wines a little sweet, this would be a good choice at the price point.

2009 Brancott Sauvignon Blanc

This review will be short and pretty sweet.  Last weekend I drank a 2009 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from Brancott.  I think it ran me roughly in the $15 range.

It was a very hot and sticky weekend, like the rest of this summer.  I don't usually drink more than 2 glasses of wine on any given day (I've gotta get with the program), but Saturday I think I drank 3 glasses, and Sunday I finished up the bottle.

Now, this wasn't a particularly outstanding SB.  The nose was uninspiring, and the flavors weren't particularly subtle, especially compared to the Crossings bottle at the same price point from a week or so before. But it was a pleasant wine for a hot summer day, and that's what counts sometimes.

And a p.s.: the Pouilly Fume from last week that I didn't care for:  it works great for poaching fish with a pat of butter, herbs, squeeze of lime.

2007 Regis Minet Pouilly Fume

I was looking forward to trying a Pouilly Fume after all the Sauvignon Blancs I've drunk this summer to see what the difference is since they use the same grape.  I was in for a let down.

This 2007 Vielles Vignes Regis Minet from the Loire ran me in the $25 range, and it's another example of higher-priced wines not necessarily being better.

It was about the tartest wine I've ever drunk, almost like acidulated water.  More lime than lemon notes to my tongue, or maybe lemon-lime.  I did get a little of the SB grassiness.  The nose wasn't anything to sneeze at.

Other reviewers have reviewed this vintage pretty highly.  Maybe I just got a bad bottle.

2008 Mapema Mendoza Sauvignon Blanc

This week I drank a 2008 Mapema Sauvignon Blanc from Argentina.  These grapes are grown pretty high up, 3,900 feet, "in the shadow of the Andes mountains," in Tupungato Department in Argentina's well-known Mendoza wine-growing region.

The label describes this SB as "Floral with crisp, lemony citrus and melon flavors," and that sums it up pretty well, though I never get the melon notes that SBs are supposed to show.  My initial assessment was that it was one step up from water with lemon, but it grew on me.  It doesn't have the strong, herbal notes of many SBs, as if you're drinking a grassy meadow smoothie or watered-down green Chartreuse.

This is a very light wine, but enjoyable; it runs in the $12-13 range. Definitely a good summer wine for the 100 degree weather we're having.

Rickeys, Vol. 1

I was surfing Internet Cocktail Database, and I discovered that there's a s***tload of recipes for rickeys.  I like lime juice, one of the principal ingredients in most rickeys, and the Rickey is a classic summertime cocktail, so I decided to start checking out some of these in between my bouts of Sauvignon Blanc.

I started with the simplest ones.  Both the Gin Rickey and the Rum Rickey call for 1 1/2 oz of the base spirit, 1/2 oz lime juice, and fill over ice with soda.  If you've just juiced your lime (as you should), leave half of a lime shell in the glass.

I liked the Gin Rickey (I used a London dry) better than the Rum (I used Tommy Bahama).  I've never been a big rum fan, though I really like 10 Cane, and I think gin brings more botanicals to the mix.  A little sugar would turn it into a limeade, but there's nothing wrong with that!

More Rickey recipes to come.

2009 Crossings Sauvignon Blanc

This 2009 Crossings Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand's Awatere Valley shows that a $15 bottle of wine can be better than a $25 one.

The owner of my local liquor mart, a nice older lady who I hadn't talked to before, recommended it to me when I told her I liked SBs.  She said she loves them and that this one is outstanding.

It's not the best SB I've drunk this summer, but it's very good and comes close.  Certainly more subtlety of flavors than the $25 bottle I drank last week.  The label lists stone fruits, passion fruit, melon, flinty finish, etc., but what jumped out at me was grapefruit.  I've always liked grapefruit juice, so maybe that's why the very pronounced grapefruit notes appealed to me.

The nose was a good blend too, not just the usual asparagus and grassy meadow.  A very nice, reasonable bottle of wine.

Peach Brandy Sangarees (3rd in a Series)

The last two, and final, cocktails I tried making with peach brandy were a letdown.  Both were "sangarees," meaning mainly that they call for a sprinkle of nutmeg.  One specified port floated, which is also often found in sangarees.

The first one was a Peach Sangaree:  2 ounces of peach brandy on ice, fill with soda (a double highball glass, or whatever you have that's about that size), sprinkle of nutmeg, and 3/4 oz port floated on top.

I am absolutely no good at floating anything or making pousse cafes; I ended up with as much port on the counter as I got in the glass, and I can't say that was floating.  But the cocktail had port in it.

Nothing to write home about:  the drink tasted like spiced watered-down peach brandy.

The second one is a Sangaree Comfort: equal parts (1 oz here) bourbon (I used Four Roses) and Southern Comfort, 1/4 oz each peach brandy and lemon juice, and a little sugar.  Shake on ice, strain, add ice, fill with lemon-lime soda/pop (I used Sprite).  I skipped the nutmeg; wasn't in the mood to wash the grater-thingee.

This just tastes like Sprite with bourbon.  Southern Comfort has peach flavors too, of course, but I didn't get much peach kick from either the SC or the peach brandy.  Not a bad drink, but I'd just doctor Sprite with SC and be done with it.

And that's what you can make with peach brandy.  Apricot brandy is a lot more versatile; this fall or winter I'll tackle some of those drinks.

2008 Whitehaven Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

This last week I drank a 2008 Whitehaven Marlborough Blanc.  Whitehaven is owned by Greg and Sue White, who have enlisted the expertise of Simon Waghorn to create SBs and Pinot Noirs on New Zealand's South Island. This was one of the most expensive SBs I've drunk this summer, running around $25.

Unfortunately it wasn't worth $25.  The nose was more interesting than the taste itself, which was lacking almost any interplay of flavors.  The last bottle I reviewed here was cheaper and much better than this.  The Whitehaven also was a little more acidic than my last few SBs.

The fact that the label notes don't describe any gooseberry or tropical fruits or the usual notes you find in SBs makes me wonder if this is a relatively young winery that isn't up to speed yet but thinks they can charge prices that compete with the better Marlboroughs as a marketing ploy. This 2008 isn't a bad wine, but it should be running $15 tops, not $25.

Peach Brandy Cocktails, Part 2

I tried a few more cocktails made with peach brandy this week.

The first two use both brandy and peach brandy.  The Brandy Melba calls for 1 1/2 oz brandy, 1/4 oz peach brandy, 1/4 oz grenadine, 1/2 oz lemon juice, and peach bitters.  I didn't have peach bitters so I left that out.

This would work well as a Manhattan substitute.  It isn't overly sweet, and the acidity is just right.  The peach brandy is subtle.  I wouldn't drink it every night but it's ok.

The next one is the Fish House Punch:  1 oz lemon juice, 1/2 tsp sugar, 1 oz Jamaican/dark rum, 1 oz brandy, 1 oz peach brandy.  Add ice, fill with soda.  Stir well (voice of experience).  I accidentally used a little more sugar.  Teaspoon, ounce: once you've seen one unit of measure you've seen 'em all.

This is a tad on the lemony side, but the extra sugar helped.  The spirits blend well: it doesn't taste overly rummy, and it doesn't taste like watered-down brandy.  A good summer patio cocktail.

As a wild card I tried something called a Green Dragon Variation:  build (bartending lingo in this case for mix) equal parts green Chartreuse and peach brandy.  The brandy cut the grassy flavor of the chartreuse, but it was still awfully sweet.  I didn't finish it.

Peach Brandy Cocktails

After drinking my way through various cocktails made with Parfait Amour, I looked around my liquor closet for another mixer than generally sits there gathering dust, and my eye fell on the bottle of peach brandy.  That's the only flavored brandy I have at the moment, and it doesn't get tipped very often.  And I thought it was a good question to investigate: What can you do with peach brandy?

The first two cocktails I made are sipping cousins.  The first is called a Bidou cocktail: 1 1/2 oz gin (I used Bombay), 1/2 oz dry vermouth, 1/2 oz PB.  (PB doesn't mean peanut butter.)  My notes say this drink was 'kinda blah'.  I wouldn't bother with it again.

Its relation is the Judgette cocktail:  equal parts gin (Bombay again), dry vermouth, and PB, with 1/3 as much lime juice (e.g., 1/4 oz if each of the others is 3/4 oz).  The first time I made it I was out of limes, so I used Rose's.  This is better than the Bidou, considerably stronger, and the Rose's adds sweetness.  Too much for me.

I bought some limes, and the second attempt using the real stuff was an improvement: not as sweet, and the lime is actually pretty subtle--it doesn't make the drink overly acidic or overpower the other ingredients.  Not a bad cocktail.

Cocktail #3 was the Bacardi Peach cocktail, though I used Tommy Bahama light rum instead of Bacardi: 2 to 1 light rum to PB (I started with 1 1/2 oz rum), 1/2 oz lemon juice and 1/2 tablespoon sugar, shaken, strained, etc.  This one was pretty good.  It doesn't taste overly rummy; the rum and PB play well together.  The 1/2 oz (1 Tb) lemon juice made this a tad on the tart side though; using half as much would make this a better cocktail. 

Last was the Hotel Bristol Special cocktail: equal parts cointreau and PB shaken on ice, then strained over shaved/crushed ice in a cocktail glass.  This tastes like a snow cone with a buzz.  As an alternative, I tried PB with Mandarin Napoleon, and it was even better:  more orangey than the cointreau, and it blends well with the peach.  I bet using apricot brandy would work well for this too.  A nice summertime cocktail.

2009 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc

The last couple days I've been drinking a 2009 Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand's Marlborough region.

This bottle ran me in the $22 range, more than I usually pay for a SB but the price reflects the higher quality in this case.

The nose wasn't anything out of the ordinary, it smelled like your usual SB.  The taste is what makes the difference.  The flavors are much more subtle and multidimensional than in the $10-20 range SBs.  The bottle label lists notes of gooseberry and 'ripe tropical aromas'.  I got vanilla, I think, as well as a hit of citrus on the back of my throat.

The label also boasts of a long finish.  This is one of the few I've drunk where I can say I got that.  I try not to keep a partial bottle in the fridge very long (especially at this price point), but this SB held up well overnight.  It didn't taste like a $10 bottle the next day.

A very nice SB; I'd buy it again for a special dinner or occasion.

More Parfait Amour Cocktails

Finishing up my quick survey of a few cocktails made with the very purple liqueur Parfait Amour, today I'm reporting on three.

A little more info on Parfait Amour first.  As I've said, it's very purple.  The main flavor I get is an almost cloyingly sweet vanilla.  (My bottle is Marie Brizard.)  Wikipedia says it's usually made with a Curacao orange base; I don't get the orange at all.  Bols, who created it, use orange peel, vanilla pods, rose petals, and almonds.  De Kuyper supposedly use lemon, coriander, and violets in theirs.  Mme. Brizard herself/itself just lists sweet Spanish oranges, orange blossoms, and vanilla.

The first is the 'Tryst' cocktail, also called a Trilby Variation.  It's a mix of equal parts sweet vermouth, Scotch (I used Dewar's), and PA, with a little pastis (I used Ricard) and a dash of orange bitters.  Orange bitters aren't available locally, so I used angostura.  (One liquor store here only had Peychaud's, which I bet means they know nothing about bitters!)

This is very sweet.  You don't get a strong sweet vermouth kick (which suits me just fine), and the Scotch and the Ricard are both subtle, especially the Ricard.  The color is off-putting, but the drink is the best of the three today.

The second one is the 'Passenger List' cocktail:  equal parts brandy (I used Hennessy), gin (Bombay), 2/3 as much each PA and yellow Chartreuse, and a dash of pastis (Ricard again).  You don't find many recipes that call for yellow Chartreuse.

This one is mainly just sweet, and though I just drizzled in a little Ricard, it's very anisy.  That combined with the Chartreuse, it's like drinking a Provencal meadow smoothie.

The last one is a 'Barnacle Bill' cocktail.  No idea where the name came from.  This one is equal parts PA, yellow Chartreuse, and pastis/Ricard.

Another very sweet one, though the color is more purple and less off-putting than some of the other PAs.  It's also very anisy/herbal like the last one.  You might as well sip Ricard with a little water and get pretty much the same effect but not so cloyingly sweet.

And thus endeth my survey of Parfait Amour cocktails.  Glad that's over with.

2009 Araucano and 2008 Bonterra Sauvignon Blancs

This last week I worked my way through two very different bottles of Sauvignon Blanc.

The first was another Chilean, a 2009 Hacienda Araucano Reserve from Chile's Central Valley.  I think I found it at Whole Foods in the $10-12 range.

I picked up a citrusy note in the nose, but it wasn't the usual SB citrus.  I couldn't quite place it.  I also got the usual grassy overtones. (Is that a mixed metaphor, having overtones in an odor?)

The flavor was very 'grapey' and citrusy, perhaps a little more on the acidic side.  There weren't great subtleties of flavor, but it wasn't a bad wine.

The second one is a 2009 Boneterra Vineyards made with 54% organic grapes from Lake County, CA, and 46% from Mendocino County.  I guess if you use organic grapes, you can get your percentages more precise.

I didn't make any notes while I was drinking this, but it seemed to be more 'full bodied' than most of the SBs I've drunk this summer.  One or two of them have been pretty close to water on my tongue; this one was closer to a lighter red wine.

The notes in the wine were just average, nothing particularly outstanding although the flavors were good.  I did pick up a note that reminded me of lemongrass.  The label says gooseberry, kiwi, and honeydew, so I was close, I think.  I haven't been blown over by the California SBs I've drunk this summer, but this is one to try.

Orange Liqueurs, Part I

I wrote a couple articles on orange liqueurs for another site, and I'm going to republish them here.

When many of us start acquiring a collection of liquor so that we can have a drink in the evening or offer guests a cocktail, mixers tend to stump us.  What mixers should I buy?  Does my liquor cabinet need to look like the bars that Tom Cruise works in Cocktail?

Fortunately a few basic mixers are called for in the majority of cocktails that you will want to shake up or stir, such as a daiquiri or a margarita or a cosmo.  This article will make you an expert on the most commonly found orange-flavored liqueurs that should be found in every home bar.

Triple SecTriple sec (which means distilled three times in French) is the most widely used orange-flavored liqueur, used for flavor and sweetness.  If you’ve drunk  a Between the Sheets, Cosmopolitan, Long Island Iced Tea, Margarita, or Sidecar,  you’ve tasted triple sec.

Triple sec was invented in 1834 by Jean-Baptiste Combier.  A Combier brand of triple sec is still made today, using oranges from Haiti that are distilled in 100-year-old copper stills.  Nineteenth-century bar guides sometimes called it “white curaçao”  (see below for more on curaçao liqueur).

All brands of triple sec are distilled from the dried peel of Caribbean oranges.  The higher-priced brands use brandy or cognac as a base.  Many brands are colorless, but some of the ones you will find have an orange color.

Today triple sec tends to be 60 proof (30% alcohol by volume).   The brands that you will find in your local liquor mart tend to be Bols, DeKuyper, and Hiram Walker.  Bols has a higher alcohol content, 42%, and sometimes is drunk straight up or on the rocks.

Triple sec has a decidedly OJ-like smell when you sniff it, and it tastes a bit like an orange gumdrop: very sweet and orangey, although not overpowering. The sweetness makes a big contribution to sweet drinks such as cosmos and margaritas.  If you are making a sweet dessert orange sauce, consider using triple sec to give your dessert a little unexpected kick.

Triple sec will run you under $10 a bottle and is a must-have for every liquor cabinet.

Curaçao and Blue CuraçaoCuraçao, in its blue version, is what makes that Smurf cocktail blue.  An orange-flavored liqueur like Triple Sec, curaçao is distilled from the laraha, a bitter citrus.  The laraha was developed from Valencial oranges on the island of Curaçao, off the Venezuelan coast.  Its fruit is so bitter as to be inedible, and only the dried peel is used.

Curaçao was first distilled by the Seniors, a Jewish family of Spanish and Portuguese descent.  The Senior brand is still sold today as the original curaçao.

After the peel is soaked with alcohol and water, spices are added.  Some manufacturers add other flavors, such as rum-raisin and chocolate, but the predominant flavor is orange.  Curaçao ranges from 40 to 80 proof (20 to 40% alcohol by volume).

Orange or green coloring is often added to curaçao, which is naturally colorless, but blue curaçao is probably best known.  Both blue and green curaçao are used to add color to mixed drinks, but all colors have basically the same flavor with just slight differences in bitterness.

The main manufacturers of triple sec also make curaçao: Bols, DeKuyper, and Hiram Walker.  You can also find higher-quality versions made by Marie Brizard and Bardinet.

Curaçao is sweet, similar to triple sec, but with a more mellow flavor.  Some brands have a very strong rubbing alcohol taste, like the orange-flavored cough medicine that you may have had poured down your throat as a child. Blue curacao, like the orange variety, has very little smell.  It has a slightly different taste from the orange, with not as much of the cough medicine flavor.

Orange curaçao can be used where triple sec is called for in a recipe.  Popular drinks made with the blue version include the Blue Hawaiian,  Blue Lagoon, Electric Lemonade, and Zombie.  Like triple sec, curaçao will run you around $10 a bottle.

Other Orange-Flavored MixersBesides Cointreau, Grand Marnier, and Mandarine Napoléon, higher-quality (and higher-priced) orange-flavored liqueurs that will be discussed in a follow-up article, a few other orange flavorings are worth investigating, although they aren’t must-haves for your liquor cabinet.

Torani Amer is a San Francisco–distilled aperitif with a bitter orange flavor and notes of gentian and cinchona.  It is a good substitute in recipes that call for Amer Picon, a French orange liqueur that is unavailable in the United States.  Torani Amer has become a popular ingredient in the cocktail revival of the last few years.

Orange bitters cannot be used as a substitute for triple sec or curaçao, but you can give a few dashes for a slight orange flavor in recipes where bitters are called for, like the Manhattan. You may have to order them over the Internet; I couldn't find them locally or even in a nearby, fairly well-stocked liquor mart.

Orange flower water is a very intensely orange-flavored clear liquid.  It is usually used in baking and is not a substitute for triple sec or curaçao, but a few drops will give a definite orange flavor to any drink.

And, of course, there is always fresh-squeezed orange juice (please don’t use the stuff from concentrate in your cocktails) or, better yet, blood orange juice.

If you are putting together a liquor collection for everyday use or buying an assortment for a special occasion, triple sec and curaçao are basic, inexpensive mixers that you will want to have on hand.

Parfait Amour Cocktails

I have a bottle of hardly touched Parfait Amour (Marie Brizard brand) in my liquor closet, so I thought I'd see what I can do with it.

You might have trouble finding Parfait Amour; I couldn't find it locally or even nearby locally, but I finally located a bottle in Indianapolis.  It's a deep purple liquid with a very sweet vanilla flavor.

The first cocktail I made with it is probably the classic PA drink, the Parfait Amour Cocktail--equal parts gin to PA with half a measure of maraschino liqueur.  This is very sweet, almost too much for me.  The flavor of the maraschino does manage to poke through.

I wondered how this would be with a little acidity, so for my second attempt I squeezed a half of a lemon, not quite squeezed dry, into it.  This made the drink into a sweet and sour concoction.  It was OK, a lot better that the no-lemon version.  Amaretto might make for an interesting stand-in for the maraschino.

The second drink I tried was the Jupiter Cocktail, which was one of the cocktails on my drink-a-day calendar 2 years ago when I started this blog.

This calls for 1 1/2 oz gin (I used Bombay), 1/2 oz dry vermouth, 1/4 oz PA, and 1/4 oz orange juice.  I don't tend to drink OJ and I didn't want to buy even a small bottle at the Kwikee Mart just for 1/4 oz.  I did have on hand some orange sherbet, so I spooned about a tablespoon into my shaker.  You just want the orange flavor, after all.  I also drizzled in a little more of the PA than the Internet Cocktail Database recipe calls for.

This tastes like a sweetened up martini.  The color isn't particularly attractive (sort of a greenish-brown); I can hardly imagine ordering it out.  It's an OK drink to try once, but unless you have a mixologist with a magic touch, it's not a drink that's going to win people over as a martini or mimosa replacement at brunch. 

I'm going to continue with a few more PA cocktails this week, some calling for yellow Chartreuse and pastis, and even egg white.  I'm girding my loins.

2008 Yali Sauvignon Blanc

This wine comes from Chile's central valley just a tad south of Santiago, specifically the Rapel Valley.  The Rapel River flows into the Pacific and is the confluence of the Cachapoal and Tinguiririca rivers, which divide the valley into two subregions:  the Colchagua Valley and the Cachapoal Valley.  You'll find these two valleys listed on wine labels more often nowadays than the more general Rapel Valley.  This area gets a lot of minerals that the various watercourses bring down from the Andes (no Incan treasure, I'm guessing).

This Sauvignon Blanc ran me in the $10 range, so a reasonable price for a Chilean SB.  The nose stood out more than a few that I've tried this summer.  I thought I detected a 'fruity' nose, and that's what the wine label says better schnozes than mine have whiffed.

The wine itself is a little more acidic (perhaps what the label means by 'crisp').  I thought I caught the famous SB asparagus in this one, but no great subtleties of flavors, a pretty average SB.  Not a bad summer or picnicking wine for the price.

More 1 on 1 Amaretto Mixed Drinks

This weekend I tried 3 more 1-on-1 combos using Amaretto; see my last post for the first 2 or 3 that used Scotch and bourbon.

The French Connection is brandy to amaretto, 2 to 1, shaken on ice, though stirring it would work just as well.  This one was a frog with no hope of ever becoming a prince.  The brandy overpowers the amaretto, and it's just a waste of good brandy (esp. when you use Hennessy Privilege).

The Zorba is Metaxa to amaretto, 2 to 1.  Metaxa is an interesting spirit from Greece if you're not familiar with it:  It's a mix of brandy and Muscat wine with various secret herbs and spices, including rose petals, bay leaf, and cinnamon.  I like Greek spirits (ouzo not so much).  I'm one of the 7 Americans not of Greek ancestry who like Retsina, especially with a piping hot Greek mixed meat platter.

The Zorba is way better than the French Connection.  It's pretty sweet, with the amaretto coming through more, but you also get a bite from the brandy.  Make sure the bartender takes out the bay leaf before he serves yours.

Last is what Internet Cocktail Database calls an Italian martini variation:  2 1/4 oz gin (I used Boodles) to 1/4 amaretto.  How do you dole out 1/4 oz, you ask?  Half a tablespoon.

This is better than I thought it would be.  You get just the right sweetness from the amaretto cutting the gin.  I'm vodka-less at the moment or I'd see how it works with that.  Amaretto is a surprisingly good substitute for the usual vermouth, though I think it's missing one ingredient that would make it a really standout drink.  Lemon curl?  Olive?  Try it sometime and see what you think.

2008 La Fortuna Sauvignon Blanc

This 2008 Chilean Sauvignon Blanc comes from the Lontue River valley in Curico in the middle of the country (both north-south and east-west).  This is the first SB I've had that's made from organically grapes; I think I picked it up at Whole Foods but forgot to jot down the price.

This bottle had more nose than the last 2 or 3 SBs that I've tried.  Generally herbally, no asparagus or cat pee jumped out at me.

The flavor was very nice.  Slightly more acidic than recent SBs but not overwhelming.  Very fruity; I think I finally caught the melon tones that so many tasting notes mention.

A gook choice for a summertime SB.  I liked it.

Amaretto Cocktails

I bought a bottle of Lazzaroni amaretto at the liquor mart the other day.  Lazzaroni is the one made by macerating amaretto cookies.  It looked interesting (and was cheaper than Di Saronno) so I figured it'd give it a swirl.

A quick review of three 2-part mixed drinks that I made with it.

The first is 2 to 1 Southern Comfort to amaretto, which Internet Cocktail Database calls a 'Sicilian Kiss'.  I like SC, but this was too overly sweet for me.  I was reaching for the insulin.  I'd drink an amaretto sour before I'd order or mix up one of these.

The next one is 1 1/2 oz bourbon (I used Jim Beam single barrel) to 1/2 amaretto, called either 'Boss' or 'The Godfather'.  In this one the bourbon overpowered the amaretto, which didn't come through very strongly.  A bourbon and branch would have been better.

Last, a variation on the Boss using blended Scotch; I pulled out Johnny Walker Black.  I'm not a big blended Scotch fan, but this wasn't bad:  the amaretto came through, and the sweetness took some of the edge off the Scotch.  I wouldn't order it out, but not a bad drink.

2005 Attitude Sauvignon Blanc

The last part of last week I was drinking a 2005 Attitude Sauvignon Blanc.  This $16 wine hails from the Pascal Jolivet vineyards in the Loire valley.  The label doesn't have any tasting notes on it, just, mainly, a URL.

For a 5-year-old (more or less) wine this didn't taste noticeably more distinguished from the younger SBs I've drunk.  The nose wasn't particularly fragrant.  My notes say just light and fruity.  There's no great subtlety of flavors.

Not an outstanding SB but drinkable, and I'm glad I caught it onsale at $12-something.

2008 La Florencia Sauvignon Blanc

I tried my first Sauvignon Blanc from Argentina, a 2008 vintage from La Florenzia.  Their vineyards are located pretty high up, 3,000+ feet, near Mendoza in the north-central part of the country. 

The label says that they pick the grapes in 18 kg cases (roughly a little under 40 lb), which they cold process and leave on the yeast lees after fermentation.

They claim the wine tastes of pink grapefruit and lime, which I didn't pick up.  My notes say I thought this was a little sweeter than many of the SBs that I've tried, and the acidity is just right.  I didn't think there was any great subtlety of flavor, but it's a nice summer wine for a BBQ or a picnic.  This SB runs in the $14 range.

And now for something completely different

I want to post occasionally on using liqueurs, not just wine and beer, in cooking, and in baking in particular since I like to bake (more so in the winter than this time of year).

I bought some very nice pie cherries at the farmers market Saturday morning.  After checking my options on Epicurious, I decided to make a cobbler.  This was a pretty standard cobbler recipe except that the dough was a little sweeter than I'm used to - calling for a half cup of sugar and some vanilla - and included corn meal with the white flour.

I hadn't pitted cherries in many a year, and remember why now.  It's a time-consuming, messy job, with juice going everywhere.  At least it washes out.  I have a pitter, but it's more suited to olives than the smaller red pie cherries.  It did the job though.

Besides the usual base of cherries, sugar, and corn starch, I decided to add some sliced almonds, about half a cup to 4 cups of cherries.  The recipe called for 6 cups of cherries, so I was a little short.  It also called for either amaretto or Frangelico.  Somehow I'm out of both; the amaretto would have gone well with the almonds.  If I'd had Frangelico on hand, I would have added filberts instead of almonds.

As a substitute, I added some Licor 43, which has a combination herbs and spices-vanilla flavor, and left out the vanilla from the cherry base.

To make a long blog short, the cobbler was good.  A little too much topping in proportion to the base, since I was short on the latter, but both were pretty tasty.  I took some over to my mom's, and she really liked it.  I'm not sure I could taste the Licor 43, but I'm sure it added to the great flavor.  I should add that the recipe also called for a small amount of allspice.  I wouldn't have thought of using allspice in a cherry dish, but it added a nice hint of spice.

Two Campari Variations on the Manhattan

The last couple days I tried a couple variations on the Manhattan that called for Campari.  (See my write-up from a while back of the Belle of Camille cocktail, which is a cousin to these.)

The first one from Internet Cocktail Database is called the Special Manhattan: 1 3/4 oz bourbon (I used Russell Reserve), 1/2 oz sweet vermouth, and 1/4 oz Campari.  When a recipe calls for 1/2 oz, I use a tablespoon; for 1/4 oz, half a tablespoon.

This wasn't bad, not overly sweet but the Campari didn't overwhelm it with bitterness either.  Not a shabby take on the classic Manhattan.

The next one is called a variation on the Special Manhattan: 1 3/4 oz rye (I used Russell rye), 3/4 oz sweet vermouth, and 2 dashes of Campari.  Now, how do you dash Campari?  Just in the last day or 2 I read that 6 dashes equal 1 teaspoon, I think it said.  Or maybe it was a tablespoon.  I guess I'd better find that again 'cause that's a big difference.  Anyway, I just drizzled in some Campari and called it a double dash.

This recipe wasn't nearly as good:  pretty bland and lacking in flavor all around.  If I'm going to order a Manhattan, I'll just stick with the classic bourbon, sweet vermouth and bitters, maybe a cherry if I'm feeling extravagant. 

2008 Chateau Haut Rian Bordeaux Sec

The wine I was trying the end of last week was a French Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon mix, a 2008 Cheateau Haut Rian Bordeaux Sec.  It ran me in the $14 range.

This comes from Rions, which is SW of Bordeaux on the north bank of the Garonne River.  The grape blend is 65% Semiillon and 35% SB.  The bottle label describes the notes as 'pure and racy' (what does racy taste like?) with 'complex notes of melon, citrus and wet stone'.

My notes were rather poor, and it had to sit in the fridge 2 days after the first couple glasses; after 2 days, tasting notes aren't reliable.  What I did scribble down when I first opened it was I thought it tasted 'grapey', like the taste of eating whole grapes.  It certainly didn't have the wet meadow flavor of some SBs or the acidity of others.

It didn't blow me over, but not a bad dinner table white at a reasonable price.

Lapostolle 2008 Casa Sauvignon Blanc

Lapostolle is a Chilean label, and this is the first Sauvignon Blanc I've tried from that country.  The estate was founded by the great-grandaughter of the genius who invented Grand Marnier (who wasn't Chilean, of course).  It's located in the Rapel Valley, which is located in the central valley south of Santiago along the #5 highway.  These SBs are fermented in stainless steel vats, no oak.

This SB has a different fragrance in the nose that I couldn't put my finger on, but it's one I haven't picked up in other SBs I've drunk recently.  The wine has a subtle mix of notes and is also very different from New Zealand and California Chardonnays.  I think I finally got the famous 'gooseberries' in this one, and maybe an earthy flavor.  It's more acidic, though not as tart as some I've drunk.

This wine runs in the $16 range.  Very nice, I think it would go well with seafood, if the Gulf oil spill doesn't make that enjoyable only for the wealthy.

Chartreuse Cocktail

I was in the mood for something bourbony after work, and on Internet Cocktail Database I came across something called the Chartreuse Cocktail:  1 oz bourbon, 3/4 oz each dry vermouth and yellow chartreuse.  Shake over ice etc.

I was rather suspicious of the recipe; I don't tend to like bourbon drinks, like the Perfect Manhattan, that call for dry vermouth.  This isn't bad though.  The flavor is very herbal, sweet, and reminiscent of Benedictine.  For bourbon, I used Four Roses' Single Barrel.  Surprisingly, not a bad cocktail.

Back to the Shaker

I haven't reviewed a cocktail in a long time and was starting to miss them, so I've decided to intersperse my wine write-ups with occasional cocktails that I've tried.

Tonight was something called the Alice Mine Cocktail #2.  No idea where the name came from.  It's an easy one:  equal parts (I used 1 oz) bourbon (Jim Beam Distiller's line tonight), sweet vermouth, and Kummel (with an umlaut).  You don't find Kummel in very many recipes, but I've always liked caraway (Kummel is German for caraway), and this has a subtle sweet taste.  Shake over ice and strain.

The drink was pretty sweet for me, who prefers tart to sweet.  I might cut back on the sweet vermouth a bit, maybe even in half.  The caraway wasn't overwhelming and gives a nice spicy note.  The bourbon was great, of course.  I wouldn't drink it all the time, but not a bad drink if you want a change from a Manhattan.

Nobilo Icon 2007 Sauvignon Blanc

This week I've been drinking a 2007 Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc.  Nobilo is based in Auckland, on New Zealand's north island, but they get their grapes from various vineyards in the Marlborough region on the north end of the south island. 

This ran me in the $17-18 range, and it was worth it.  A very herby nose, with the famous SB asparagus coming out loud and clear.  I was looking for a white sauce to go with it.

The wine itself had complex, subtle flavors.  I got mineral notes from it, and maybe something oaky.  One flavor kept hitting the roof of my mouth that I couldn't put my finger (or tongue) on. 

The bottle says the predominant flavors are gooseberries (I guess I'm going to have to eat gooseberry pie this summer to remind myself what they taste like since every SB claims it tastes like them), passion fruit, and nettles.  What do nettles taste like?  Maybe that was the phantom flavor.

Anyway, a nice bottle of wine to enjoy with a nice meal.

2007 Starborough Sauvignon Blanc

Over the weekend I tried a 2007 Starborough Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand.  It has an attractive green label with a starfish on it (Starborough = starfish, I guess).  I forgot to jot down the price, but I think it ran me in the lower teens.

This is by far the sweetest SB I've had this year, almost closer to a Chardonnay.  It also tasted very fruity--don't ask my which fruit, but that was my first impression when I tasted it.

I don't tend to like sweet wines or drinks in general, and it probably won't appeal to the purists who like their SB as dry as a martini that's had the vermouth bottle just in the general vicinity, but this was a nice change from some of the extra-tart ones I've drunk recently.

Mondavi 2006 Fumé Blanc and Honig 2008 SB

Today I'm writing capsule reviews of two Sauvignon Blancs (one a 'Fumé Blanc') that I've drunk in the last week.  I had help, I didn't down them both by myself.

The first was a Honig 2008 SB, made in Rutherford in Nappa Valley.  Unfortunately I didn't scribble down notes while I was drinking my first glass, and I've found that after a day in the fridge the taste changes a lot, so the second glass isn't too reliable as a guide.  I took it over to friends' house to drink with a meal, and they liked it.

It's been several days now, but I wasn't all that impressed by my first glass.  It ran in the $16 range, and I had doubts that it was worth that much.  It did have some subtlety of flavors.  The back of the Honig bottle just talks about helping the earth, nothing about the wine itself, so that's no help in jogging my memory.

The second bottle was a Robert Mondavi 2006 Fumé Blanc.  This one is more acidic, almost tart, which is how it's described on the back of the bottle.  Drinking the first glass I did get the 'minerality' mentioned on the back of the bottle, and maybe the silkiness from 'sur lie' barrel aging.

So what does that mean?  Some wines, most notably Chardonnay and Champagne, are aged on the lees (deposits of dead yeast or other bits of organic matter that have drifted downward) in the barrel instead of being transferred to a 'fresh', 'clean' barrel.  Supposedly that gives the wine a more 'yeasty' flavor.  If the winemaker stirs the yeast to give it even more of a kick, the French call that process batonnage.

How does a Fumé Blanc differ from SB?  It's all in the marketing.  SB grapes didn't have a good rep in California in the sixties because of the whole asparagus smell thing, so Robert Mondavi decided to try to tone down the grape's aggressiveness.  He barrel aged it and called it 'Fumé Blanc', as an allusion to France's Pouilly-Fumé. (Fumé means smoke in French.)  The name doesn't mean that the wine has necessarily been aged in oak barrels (or smoked, I guess).  It's just a marketing thing.

I picked up the Mondavi at Sam's in the $15 range, and I'd say it's worth it.  A nice summertime wine to drink with chicken salad or maybe fish from the grill.

Justin 2008 Sauvignon Blanc

This week I've been drinking a 2008 Sauvignon Blanc from Justin vineyards on the central California coast.  It costs in the $17 range.

This was one of my least favorite SBs.  It tasted overly acidic, one step away from vinegar.  I didn't get the nose from it that I'd gotten from a bottle or two last month.  On the other hand, after a day or 2 in the fridge it had mellowed out, not that it had the range of flavors that I've found in other SBs.

Interesting info from the bottle label:  The 2008 growing season "started cool, shifted into lots of wind, and eventually into scorching heat which resulted in a "shatter" berry set which reduced natural yields by up to 50%."

Here's what the nice people at Wikipedia say about it: "Coulure is triggered by periods of cold, cloudy, rainy weather or very high out-of-season temperatures. The condition is most often manifested in the spring. It also occurs in vines that have little sugar content in their tissue. Flowers stay closed and are not fertilized. Thus the vines are not pollinated as the grape fails to develop and falls off. Coulure can also cause irregular bunches of grapes which are less compact than normal. These bunches are more sensitive to developing various grape diseases. The yield of a vine with coulure will decrease substantially."

There seems to be a related problem (syndrome? drinker's dillema?) called "millernandage".  Wikipedia has a much shorter description of it:  "Millerandage or shot berries is a French term referring to an viticultural problem in which grape bunches contain berries of greatly different size and, most important, different levels of maturity. Its most common cause is too cold or otherwise bad weather during the flowering stage of the vines. The condition causes lower quality in affected wines, which are often French or German."

Centennial 2006 Bong Bong Sauvignon Blanc

I only drank one bottle of Sauvignon Blanc this week, a 2006 Bong Bong from Australia's Centennial Vineyards.  Bong Bong is the name of a village about an hour south of Sidney; the name means "meeting of the water".  You learn so much reading wine labels.

This wine was in the $8-9 range, and frankly it tasted like it.  When I poured the first glass, it didn't have nearly as much aroma/nose as the $19 one last week.  The wine itself was also much blander; it just tasted like a house wine without any of the subtleties of flavor. I wonder if that fact that it was an older vintage (2006) had anything to do with it, i.e., that the bottle had been sitting on the shelf at the liquor mart and should have been drunk sooner.

Interesting though, after a day in the fridge, I thought it had more flavor than when I'd first drunk it, unlike most of the SBs I've drunk recently that tend to dull down sitting in the fridge.

This would be an OK wine for a summer picnic but it's nothing out of the ordinary.

Sauvignon Republic 2008 Sauvignon Blanc

This week I went upscale (or a little upscale) and tried a $19 Sauvignon Republic 2008 SB from the Marlborough region of New Zealand's South Island.

When I poured the first glass, I could immediately tell how that extra $10 or so makes a difference.  The aroma was much more pronounced than other SBs I've tried.  It really went right for my nose.  I didn't get any asparagus, let alone cat pee, but it was very herbal.

That extra $10 also showed itself drinking the wine.  This SB was a lot more complex than the cheaper ones I've tried, and I could begin to distinguish the different notes in it.  The bottle says gooseberries and "herbal grassiness" and "restrained minerality", but I thought I tasted vanilla.  Or maybe a fruit flavor with vanilla overtones.

Whatever the flavors, a great bottle of wine.  But I don't think it keeps that well.  I drank about half the bottle the first evening.  When I poured a glass the next night, the complexity seemed to be gone, both in the aroma and in the flavor.  It could have been a much cheaper bottle of wine.

Moral:  Never don't finish a bottle of wine in one sitting.

Sauvignon Blanc Wine Glasses

Salon.com has another excellent article relevant to drinking SB.  The really relevant bit is this: 

""white wines -- which rarely need to breathe as much as reds -- get glasses with narrower bowls that allow the wine to sit in a more compact shape, helping them keep cold longer."

(Actually I knew that white wine glasses had narrower bowls, but I didn't realize why.)  Most of their taste tests -- I think the results are all in their heads.

The author recommends somewhat pricey Riedel glassware, but amazon carries the Bormioli line, which is much cheaper and receives excellent reviews.

For the Salon.com article, go here: http://www.salon.com/food/wine/index.html?story=/food/feature/2010/04/20/wine_glass_shapes_matter.  The comments are quite entertaining too, with one by me; you'll be able to figure out which one.  So did Salon pay for his $125 test bottles of wine?  Where do I apply?

Matua Valley Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009

This Matua Valley Marlborough 2009 Sauvignon Blanc has more body than the last one I reviewed.  It's definitely more acidic and you can almost "roll it around on your tongue."  Since I'm just beginnining to explore the world of SB, I couldn't pick out any particular fruity notes, but it wasn't chalky, and the aroma wasn't especially "asparagussy".  It's a decent middle-of-the road wine in the $11 range.  (And I like their label.)

According to the back of the bottle, Matua Valley was the first winery to produce SB in NZ, back in 1974.  Doing a little wikipediaing, I discovered that Matua Valley is just the name of a winery (apparently), not an actual valley.  The Marlborough region is on the NE end of New Zealand's south island.  Production of SB there kicked off NZ's wine industry in the seventies, and SB is still the predominant varietal grown there, followed by pinot noir and chardonnay.

St Hallett Barossa 2007

I was looking through the limited Sauvignon Blanc assortment at a smaller local liquor mart, and I came across a St Hallett Barossa 2007 that uses SB, semillon, and riesling grapes.  So I decided to give it a try.

First, I wonder why an Australian winery would label a bottle of wine "Poacher's Blend".  Kangaroo poachers? Dingoes ate my baby poachers? 

The Barossa Valley is a major wine-producing region northeast of Adelaide in South Australia, which I didn't know until 30 seconds ago.

The wine itself:  very light, about the lightest white wine I've ever drunk.  I was thinking if I added some carbonation it would make a nice fizzy drink.  No distinctive aroma to speak of.

Maybe I was imagining things, but it seemed like the glass I drank after it had been in the fridge for 3 days was sweeter than the first glass:  because of oxidation maybe?

An interesting wine.  I'm wondering how it would be in a sangria, if it could stand up to all the other flavors.

Wente Louis Mel 2008 Sauvignon Blanc

The last two or three days I've been drinking a 2008 Wente Vineyards Louis Mel Sauvignon Blanc. This is my first USofA sauvignon blanc in my current round of tastings.  The bottle (cork, no handy screw cap) comes from California's Livermore Valley and runs about $12.

This was my least favorite SB of the ones thus far, even counting the first one, which I thought was too sweet.  The color of this one seemed too pale to me, and the aroma didn't capture my attention at all.  No asparagus, no cat pee.  Nor did the taste.  This wine was like one step above white grape juice.  The vineyard's web site claims it has "aromas of guava, melon, gooseberry, citrus, and tropical fruits," but I didn't smell or taste any of them.  Maybe a little citrus.  It's certainly drinkable, but at $12, I think it could show a little more distinction.

Marlborough 2008 Sauvignon Blanc

A mini-review here of a 2008 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc made by Kim Crawford, who's based in Auckland, New Zealand.  It ran in the $14 range at Sam's.

This had more flavors and wasn't as sweet, but had a little more bite, than its $8 predecessor that I drank last week.  I thought I detected a little chalkiness, and reading up on SBs, I noticed that chalkiness is often a quality, though more often in French ones.

Not a bad SB for the price.  I'm not a big fan of chicken on the grill (especially my brother-in-law's), but this would nicely accompany grilled chicken (properly cooked).

Sauvignon Blancs: Background Info from Salon.com

I guess I fell into a trend when I decided to try a few Sauvignon Blancs. Salon.com has an interesting article on them this week and how they're due to be a Next Big Thing in the wine world:  http://www.salon.com/food/wine/index.html?story=/food/feature/2010/04/07/how_to_buy_and_taste_sauvignon_blanc_ext2010
To excerpt a few points from their story:  the author calls this a "green" wine with notes of lots of green thingees, including herbs, kiwi, lime, even honeydew. (He actually calls the grape green, but same difference.) 

He describes SB as having a higher acidity than chardonnay, and I'll agree with that. I like flavors that tend to be sharper, not the frequently found soda pop marketed as wine, like my sister's beloved "pink Zins".  

He says many people are put off by SB's aroma, as opposed to chardonnay's aromatherapy, which he says many drinkers compare to asparagus or even a whiff of cat pee.  Having to had to get rid of two wonderful male gold cats because of their predilection for peeing where they weren't supposed to, I'm well acquainted with that smell, and I haven't smelled it in a bottle of wine yet.

And I learned that "Fumé Blanc" is just a name given by Robert Mondavi in the 1960s to California-brewed SB aged in oak barrels that's supposedly asparagus/cat pee-less, less greeny, and "richer and fuller, riper and less acidic".  Sounds to me like that's dumbing down some of SB's strong points, but I'll search out a couple bottles of FB and let you know.

Chateau Bonnet Sauvignon Blanc

I'm going to start throwing in some wine reviews here, though my main focus will stay cocktails. It gets tough trying to throw together different cocktails often enough to keep the posts here frequent enough to keep readers' attention.  I tend to go for reds, though I also like dry whites.  Just like I don't like sweet cocktails much, I'm also not big on sweet wines.

I picked up a Sauvignon Blanc on sale at my local liquor mart for under $10:  it's a Chateau Bonnet, Entre-Deux-Mers (between 2 seas), 2008.  The grapes in it are sauvignon, semillon, and muscadelle.

For a dry wine, it still seemed sweet to me and close to a chardonnay.  I didn't pick up any particular notes in it.  Not a bad wine, but just a Get You Where You Wanna Go wine.


I wanted to shake up something with falernum tonight (more on falernum another time), so I pulled up a recipe on Internet Cocktail Database called the Royal Bermuda Cocktail.  Ingredients are 1 3/4 oz Barbados rum, 1/2 oz fresh lime juice, 1/4 oz Cointreau, 1/4 oz falernum, and 1/4 tsp sugar.

I didn't have any limes on hand, so I substituted Rose's and left out the sugar.  I also didn't have any Barbados rum (about the only kind I don't have) (and so why am I making this cocktail? you're asking), so I substituted blue cane Rhum Agricole from Haiti. I did have real velvet falernum, and that's made in Barbados, so that makes up for the wrong-island rum.  If you're making a drink with falernum, buy the real stuff, not the cheap American-made version.  Shake all this on ice, strain, etc.

Verdict:  well, fresh lime juice would have been better, but fresh limes make anything taste better.  Falernum tends to be sweet, so you don't really need any other sweetness (though I tend not to like sweet drinks, so don't listen to me necessarily) (just read my blog).  Not a bad cocktail.  I'm low on various varieties of rum right now (I'd like to try it with 10 Cane, one of my favorites), but I'd like to try this cocktail with different ones.  It has potential.


I like Campari, so I decided to play around with a few variations on negronis.  Negronis, for those of you who haven't seen The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, is the classic Italian cocktail with equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari.  Some drinkers add soda to turn it into a quasi-Americano, but I never understand the point of watering down perfectly good liquor (unless it is to be able to drink more of it).

The negroni was invented in 1919 by an Italian count of that name.  For a while his family manufactured ready-to-drink versions (the Gatorade of the time). Orson Welles wrote to someone when he was working in Italy in the 1940s: "The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other."

As you may recall from my more regular ramblings a couple years ago, I'm not a big fan of sweet vermouth (it may be I just have never had really good sweet vermouth).  So for my first attempt, I used the usual gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari, but cut back on the vermouth to maybe 1/2 the amount of the other ingredients and used a little Mandarine Napoleon.

Not a bad drink.  It was sweeter than the usual negroni, but the orange cut the Campari's bitterness and made it a bit sweeter.  I'm not a big sweet cocktail fan, but I liked this.

Second was one made with Punt e Mes.  I wrote about this pumped up sweet vermouth a couple years ago.  PeM takes the place of the Campari in the drink, but making a negroni with a double shot of PeM in lieu of using the vermouth doesn't work well, as I found out back then. This year, the flavor just seemed rather blah to me.  Too much vermouth flavor and not enough bitters; I'd just as soon use Campari.

Next, I tried my own invention, a 'perfect' negroni using gin, half a measure of sweet vermouth, half a measure of dry vermouth, and Campari.  This was the best of the batch, I think:  the dry vermouth cut back on the sweet's obnoxiousness, and you still get the Campari kick.

Last, I was really adventurous:  a negroni made with Pimm's.  Why not?  Pimm's is just gin on steroids.  And the negroni tasted like a drink on steroids too.  Very strong flavors, and it really packed a punch.  I used an ounce of each ingredient, and towards the bottom of the glass I was feeling like I'd drunk some of the brandy punch I made a couple years ago that threw me for a loop.  (Admittedly I hadn't eaten much supper.)  I'm not sure this totally works, but with some tweaking you might be able to turn it into a pretty lethal cocktail.

Creme de violette Cocktails

I have a bottle of creme de violette, and I got to wondering what I could do with it. A lot of recipes call for it in layered drinks (pousse cafes), but I've never been able to get the layering right. I just wanted something I could shake and drink.

The first cocktail I tried is called Arsenic and Old Lace: 1 1/2 oz gin (I used Bombay dry), 1/2 pastis (I used Herbsaint), 1/2 creme de violette, and 1/2 dry vermouth.

This cocktail is pretty sweet, and the Herbsaint comes through more than any other flavor. (Off on a tangent, Herbsaint works well drizzled on corned beef if you're slow cooking it; I tried that last week and it was great.) You can't taste the creme de violette at all; its main contribution seems to be in making the color of the drink a dirty river green-brown. I wouldn't bother with this one again.

The second one from Internet Cocktail Database is called an Atty Cocktail: 2 oz gin, 1/2 dry vermouth, 2 dashes creme de violette.

This one is just a very wet gin martini that's also slightly purple. The botanicals in the gin and vermouth cover up any flavors from the creme de violette.

So, to sum up, I think I'll have my bottle of creme de violette gathering dust for some years to come.

Cocktails with Blue Curacao

I've tried a couple blue curacao cocktails the last few days.

The first one is called the Blue Barn Farm: 50% gin (I used Booth's), 30% blue curacao, 10% cointreau, and 10% maraschino.

I don't know why some recipes give ingredients in 10ths or 5ths; it's a pain to convert. For this one I used a 1 tablespoon measure as a tenth (so 50% gin would be 2 1/2 oz).

This is very blue, and very sweet, though the gin comes through. Too sweet for me though.

The second one is called the Ribonade, which, according to Webster's, is just an old name for ribbon. A blue ribbon perhaps.

The recipe called for 2/5 gin (Booth's again), 2/5 clear curacao (my De Kuyper's was actually orange), and 1/5 curacao. For my fifth measurement, I used the 3/4 side of a jigger, so I ended up with close to 4 oz total.

Since I didn't have clear curacao, I ended up with sort of blue-green color. Actually it looks better than blue for a cocktail. The drink tastes like curacao with a little bit of gin peeking through. Too blah for me, though, almost like just slugging curacao from a bottle.

Is my tongue blue now?

Rendezvous Cocktail

This afternoon I tried a recipe from the Internet Cocktail Database called the Rendezvous cocktail: 1 1/2 oz gin, 1/2 oz kirsch, and 1/4 oz Campari. I like gin, I like Campari; so this sounded like a good drink for me.

I used Booth's for my gin in this. I had a bottle of maraschino liqueur out from the other day, so I substituted it for the kirsch (one cherry should taste pretty much like another, right?) for the first shaker full.

Results: not too bad, although pink, slightly sweet, and the Campari cut through the cherry (which wasn't overwhelming) and the botanicals.

For the second drink, I used a French kirsch. Results: not nearly as good. I like tart drinks, and most things tart, in general, but this was a bit too much for me. No sweetness from the kirsch, and the campari came through more strongly. Just a surprisingly almost unpleasant cocktail.

Make it with the maraschino, though, and it's not bad for a rendezvous.

The Three Bears' Hot Buttered Rum

I wanted to try some rum drinks, and I figured hot buttered rum is about the easiest and quickest. With temperatures getting up into the 60s here, we're not really having hot buttered rum weather, but better now than in August.

Hot buttered rum is just a pad or slab of butter, an ounce and a half or so ('to taste') of rum in a 12 oz mug, topped with boiling or very hot water. I give mine a stir. You can also add spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, etc.

The first rum I used was El Dorado 12 year Demerara rum. This is made in Guyana from demerara/turbinado sugar. Kind of fancy for hot buttered rum, but I had it on hand. I liked this one best (and for what it cost I should). Nice sweetness to it.

Next up was Rhum Barbancourt, which is made in Haiti. This is made directly from sugar cane juice (like rhum agricole and cachaça) instead of from molasses. This one was less sweet and gave a bit of a kick to the back of the throat. It wasn't earth-shattering.

Last, for Baby Bear, was hot buttered rum made with Rhum agricole distilled from blue cane juice in Martinique. This one was a little sweeter than the Barbancourt, gave a little kick, but also had a more distinctive flavor. After 3 drinks, my taste buds may have been perkier too.