Sunday, January 29, 2012

2008 Conte di Bregonzo Amarone

So for tonight's dining pleasure I've cracked open a bottle of 2008 Conte di Bregonzo Amarone, and for those of you with any wine knowledge or a functioning understanding of how to use Google, this is the (in)famous Trader Joe's version of Amarone.  To say the least, when I did a cursory review on the web, this one is definitely a love it or hate it wine from Trader Joe's, but hey, I guess you can't win them all, even if you are the retailer that brought Two-Buck Chuck to the wine world.

Now I'll try not to let the negative comments sway me, after all some folks thought this wine would ruin the perception of Amarone to an entire generation of wine drinkers, which I consider a little hyperbole.  After all, this wine has been coming out of Valpolicella since the Romans were running things, so I seriously doubt offering a bottle at a great price could ruin what took millennia to build.  In fact, I'd put greater odds on the wine makers themselves shooting the golden goose before TJ's could (2004 Brunello scandal anyone?).

Back to the wine.  For those unfamiliar, Amarone is an interesting wine made from a blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes, but before the grapes are made into wine, they are partially dried for about four months in a process called appassimento.  This results in a much more concentrated wine in terms of sugars and flavors, and much higher in alcohol content (the required minimum is 14%, but it can easily surpass 15%).  After the partially dried grapes are pressed to make Amarone, the leftovers are used for a second pressing to make Valpolicella Ripasso (also a kick butt wine!). 

So on to tonight's wine, which is also our office wine club selection for February (Happy Valentines Day wine club peeps!). Now it's generally good to let a bottle breathe a bit before serving, so this one's been open about 30 minutes or so.  In the glass, the wine has aromas of cedar, spice, and a sweet cherry or berry and a faint hint of anise.  The taste is concentrated fruit at the outset, with a touch of bitterness mid-palate, and somewhat concentrated tannins creating a smooth, dry finish.  Some have complained that this wine is one dimensional, and I could see that being the case, but I think they miss the beauty of what this wine is, a representation of a larger than life wine, with concentrated fruit that is to Italy what a big bold Cabernet is to Napa Valley.

Now considering that most Amarone's are tough to find in the sub$50 range, and that this one came from Trader Joe's at just under $20 makes this a considerable bargain.  If you're an Amarone expert, this one might not be for you, but if you enjoy a good glass of wine with a meal, this is your ticket!  Oh, and speaking of meals, what am I enjoying this bottle with tonight?  Glad you asked, I am having this with St. Louis style barbecue pork steaks, with my own variations (like adding a little habanero pineapple salsa to the barbecue sauce that the meat has been braising in for the last 3 hours), along with some homemade corn bread, and green beans with butter and slivered almonds, a real southern treat!  The bold spice of this wine should play nicely with the sweetness of the pork and sauce, I can't wait to dig in!  For the wine itself, I'd rate this one a solid 8, but given the bargain price, I'd boost that up to an 8.5 easily!  Enjoy!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

2009 Lost Weekend STB

Ok, get your minds out of the gutter, the wine is an STB, for Super Tuscan Blend, even though it's from California.  I got three bottles of this wine last week, thanks to a thoughtful wine gift certificate from my friends Carter and Kellyn (thanks guys!).  Now I decided on this wine because of course I like Tuscan blends, but also for the story behind this wine.  Apparently, "The Lost Weekend Saloon" was a hangout of forward thinking members of the coastal mountain community of Bonny Doon, Calif. since the early 1900s, but now it's the tasting room for Beauregard Vineyards, which produces this wine.

Now I will certainly give kudos straight off for the natural cork and the painted label on the bottle, very cool indeed, but we all know it's what's inside the bottle that counts!  Well inside this one is a blend of Sangiovese (80%), Cabernet Sauvignon (16%) and Durif (aka Petite Sirah, 4%).  As I uncorked a bottle, I was greeted with the aroma of a nice Italian red wine, with strong aromas of sweet fruit, plum, cherry and blackberry.  I poured a glass, and the color is lighter, very typical of the wines of Tuscany, and after letting the wine breathe a bit in the glass, the nose revealed less sweet fruit, and more spice, leather and earthy aromas.  The taste is quite fruit forward, with hints of cherry and ripe strawberry, but the finish is somewhat unremarkable.

This wine is a medium bodied blend, so if you are looking for a big, bold California cab like wine, you'll be disappointed, but it's a nice wine for what it is, somewhat fruity with a smooth finish that is unlikely to overpower the dish that it's paired with.  In fact, tonight I am taking a different approach and having this wine with some Indian curry, as I think the fruit will really complement the spice and earthy richness of the curry.  Overall, I would rate this wine a solid 7, it's a very nice everyday blend that I probably never would have encountered without the help of an online Christmas gift, and it is encouraging all the more that we are producing such nice Sangiovese blends domestically!  So if you find yourself in Santa Cruz with an extra $20 burning a hole in your pocket, pick up a bottle and have a picnic along the coast, or if you're like the rest of us snowbound in the middle of the country, considering ordering a bottle or two off the web!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

2008 Los Ailos Syrah Tannat

So tonight I am trying a new wine from a new region with an old favorite dish.  The wine is the Los Ailos Syrah Tannat blend from San Juan, Argentina.  Now this wine is from the Tulum Valley of Argentina, which is north of Mendoza (where most of the wine exported from Argentina comes from), and hence quite a bit hotter (remember, south of the equator things get hotter as you go north!).  Typically, the grapes grown in this region are used for bulk wines, sherry, brandy and the like, but in recent years more wines have come from this area as it's begun to come into its own.

This wines is a blend of syrah (60%) and tannat (40%), which is a famous grape in the Madiran region of France.  The addition of tannat to the blend results in a much more complex wine and really makes this wine pack a heck of a punch for the price.  The wine itself has a nose of leather and spice with a hint of earthy sophistication, and no, I cannot explain that combination of words even if I tried, but it's what came to mind as I had my nose buried in the glass!  As for the taste, this one is very interesting, as it initially presents an explosion of bright, ripe fruit, but not in a sickening sweet dessert wine sort of way, but rather in an exclamation of the fruit that made this wine possible.  Mid palate is filled with spice and herbs, with a hint of vanilla, while the tannins from the tannat create a smooth, very dry finish.

Tonight I am pairing this wine with some fresh mussels, sauteed in garlic and olive oil, and then simmered with tomatoes and basil and tossed with some linguine, and I think that this wine would balance the acidity of the red sauce while complementing the richness of the mussels, at least that's my hope!  As you can tell from the photos I have a lot of cooking to do!  As for the wine, I would rate this one a solid 7.5, especially considering the price, which is around $8 (though I got this one in the fall sampler from  So if you come across this wine, give it a try, I think you'll be quite pleased with the depth of wine you get for such little money!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2004 St. Mary's Bells & Whistles

Happy New Year! 

Well now that we've got that out of the way, let's get to the wine!  So I must admit I've been somewhat slacking over the holidays, but it's 2012, and time to start taking this wine blog seriously!  So tonight, as I wait for my roast chicken to finish cooking, I decided to try a new wine from Australia, the 2004 St. Mary's Bells & Whistles. 

Now Australia has done a fine bit of wine making over the last few decades, but I think what still impresses me is the wonderfully friendly, irreverent and self deprecating attitudes of so many wine makers from the land down under, and this wine is a case in point.  St. Mary's vineyard is located in the "Limestone Coast" region of the extreme southeastern section of South Australia, lying almost midway between Adelaide and Melbourne, and it produces a very prototypical Coonawarra style wine, but at a much more affordable price.  St. Mary's produces mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, but they pulled out all the stops for the Bells & Whistles.  As they say on the label, "When you're making wine these days, everybody is looking for something special and exciting.  It just ain't good enough to make great wine and sell it at a fair price...So we decided to load up one wine with all the goodies available in our winery." 

Hence they threw in all the "Bells & Whistles" and came up with a wonderful blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (55%), Shiraz (20%), Cabernet Franc (15%) and Merlot (10%).  The wine exhibits a nose of leather and tobacco with a hint of tart fruit and spice at the end.  At first taste, this wine is full of juicy fruit, but mid palate surrenders to a wave of herbs and a touch of oak.  The finish is quite nice, with mild tannins supporting a smooth finish of tart cherry notes.  Although this wine is now 8 years old, I am of the opinion that most Australian wines are better enjoyed young, so this wine is drinking quite well at the moment, but may move past its prime in relatively short order.  I am having this with roast chicken and all the fixins, but it would pair nicely with pasta, or some lovely Mexican or South American fare with a bit of a kick to it.

I bought this one from, and it was a wonderful bargain at only $8.  As for the wine itself, I would rate it a 7, with a half point knocked off for the screw cap (you know how I love good cork!) so head on out and grab a nice Australian for dinner tonight!