Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What will you be popping open this New Year’s Eve?

The things I have to drink for my readers sometimes is just torture. Lucky for me my love of sparkling wine and Champagne made this one review I looked forward too. Plus it gave me the opportunity to open a bottle of Sparkling Wine when ever I wanted in the name of providing the information to you.

In all honesty I probably would have opened the bottles anyway. I don’t know why but the months of October to December find me popping open a bottle of bubbly at least once a week. This time of year just seems ripe for those little bubbles tickling my nose. Sparkling wine and Champagne are just fun and festive and I love to drink it for no reason at all.

Sparkling wine is a wine with high levels of carbon dioxide which make it fizzy when exposed to air. Sparkling wine and Champagne are produced in the same way but in order for a bottle of bubbly to be classified as Champagne, it must be produced within the Champagne region of France. In Portugal you’ll see the word Espumante to describe the effervescent drink, Spain uses Cava and Asti in Italy.

When choosing a bottle of sparkling wine or Champagne, there are a few cues to look for on the label to determine the sweetness of the wine.
Brut Natural or Brut Zéro (less than 3 grams of sugar per liter) will be on the dry side.
Extra Brut (less than 6 grams of sugar per liter) A little less dry but still not overly sweet.
Brut (less than 15 grams of sugar per liter) This one will be sweet and they only get sweeter from this point.
Extra Sec or Extra Dry (12 to 20 grams of sugar per liter)
Sec (17 to 35 grams of sugar per liter)
Demi-sec (33 to 50 grams of sugar per liter)
Doux (more than 50 grams of sugar per liter)

Most of the wines listed here are California sparkling wines made in the Champagne method as my budget does not allow for a bottle of true Champagne.

Totts Brut – This sparkling wine has a cork and cage which I think adds to the sparkling wine experience. You can get that slight little pop when you uncork. Be sure to remove the cork slowly so you don’t have a way ward cork and wine flowing all over the floor. Nice and fruity with a slight sweetness and not too dry. $8.99

Cooks Brut – Lots of bubbles, a tad on the sweet side but light and fruity. $6.99

Beringer Sparkling White Zinfandel – What can I say, it’s White Zinfandel with bubbles. Very sweet and tastes of peaches, did I mention very sweet. $8.99

Korbel Extra Brut – By far my favorite of these tastings. Dry and well balanced, very nice flavor with lots of tiny bubbles. It is on the higher end for my budget but it can be found on sale for $10 or less.

Andre Pink – This is for the frugal sparkling wine drinker when you just need some pink bubbly and you’re not as concerned about the quality. Maybe this is something you buy for New Years when you’ve already consumed the good stuff but just want to keep celebrating. It’s cheap at just $4.99 and little pink and some bubbles go a long way.

Depreville Sparkling Wine Brut – Crisp flavor, good bubbles and only $8.99. It has a good balance of sweetness and dry. This is one I had not tasted before and found it to be very drinkable.

Freixenet Cordon Negro Extra Dry Cava Spain – Wow, tons of tiny bubbles, not too sweet and very refreshing all in an elegant black opaque bottle. Found this one for $8.99.

However you choose to ring in the New Year, I hope it’s a happy and prosperous one.

2009© Kellie Stargaard. All Rights Reserved.

Follow me on:

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Screw Kappa Napa comes to the rescue

What does one do after scheduling a routine AC maintenance only to be told there is mold through out the system and will be costly to clean and prevent, drink some Screw Kappa Napa Merlot of course.

The wine is just another wine from Don Sebastiani’s Three Loose Screws winery and is another score for wines under $9.99. The name obviously comes from the screw cap closure. The wine is a deep ruby color and as I smell beyond the sanitizer just pumped into the AC ducts, I detect blackberries and cherries. Flavors consist of strawberries, cinnamon and a hint of vanilla.

I’ve written about several of Don Sebastiani’s wines so I won’t bore you with the same details but I did learn Sebastiani served in the California State Assembly from 1980 until 1986. In 1986, he ran in the primary for California State Controller but lost. He then returned to Sonoma to run the family's wine business, taking production from just 200,000 cases to 8 million cases. He headed the family business for 15 years at the helm. In 1986, he and brother-in-law Roy Cecchetti, Cecchetti Sebastiani Cellar (CSC) and developed the label Pepperwood Grove.

In the Spring of 2001 he started Don Sebastiani & Sons with labels such as Smoking Loon and Plungerhead. In 2008 the wine company reported they had reached 2 million cases in sales and it appears there is no slowing down, at least not if I keep buying the wines.

After the work is completed tomorrow I think I’ll turn on the AC even if the high is only 74 degrees.

2009© Kellie Stargaard. All Rights Reserved.

Follow me on:

Monday, December 21, 2009

Santa’s Reindeer have arrived, at least in the form of wine anyway

Just like Vampire wine is my standard go to Halloween wine, Comet & Cupid Cabernet Sauvignon and Dasher & Dancer Merlot are two of my must have wines during the Holiday Season. Since Florida is finally feeling like Christmas, it’s time to let the reindeer loose.

Comet & Cupid Cabernet Sauvignon
Garnet purple hues fill the glass and the nose is filled with black cherries and currants. The wine has a nice mouth feel as the berry flavors wash over the palate finishing with a nice hint of oak. The wine doesn’t just have a cute holiday name, it really is very enjoyable.

Dasher & Dancer Merlot
Lighter in color than the Cabernet and lighter berry aromas as well. The flavors are a little thinner than the Comet & Cupid and tastes more like a Zinfandel than a Merlot but is light and easy to drink. Would pair well with light appetizers or ham.

The wines are part of the Reindeer line produced under the Eight Tiny Reindeer label. The story goes that not only is Santa busy during the Fall months getting ready for Christmas but is also busy harvesting and making his Christmas wines. The Reindeer watch and wait for the grapes to grow and when they are smiling Santa knows the grapes are mature. Because everyone knows, happy reindeer make good wine.

Eight Tiny Reindeer
National Control Label
Product Tier:
California Premium
California Appellation
Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, White Zinfandel

If you’re looking for a fun gift or a holiday hostess gift, grab a bottle of Comet & Cupid Cabernet or Dasher & Dancer Merlot, if it makes the reindeer happy; imagine what it can do for people.

2009© Kellie Stargaard. All Rights Reserved.

Follow me on:

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Chalone Vineyard Monterey County Merlot 2006

The house is decorated; linens ready and waiting for guests and the first holiday guests will be arriving tonight. Along with the guests arrival, looks like we’ll be getting several days of cooler air; finally it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Since I ventured to the mall today in shorts, t-shirt and flip flops, the cooler temps will be a welcome change. Another welcoming change is another great tasting inexpensive wine, Chalone Vineyard Merlot.

Deep crimson colors with loads of berries on the nose along with hints of leather. Tastes of oak and red berries wash over the tongue; flavors are a little thin but have a nice dry finish.

Chalone Vineyards is the oldest bonded vineyard in Monterey County California and the only vineyard in the Chalone appellation. They are also one of the few US vineyards growing grapes in limestone allowing them to produce Burgundy style wines with high tannins and a velvet smooth feel. Chalone is located in an arid environment, where temperatures can vary as much as 60F° in one day. Average rainfall is only 12 to 14 inches of rain fall per year. These factors combine to create the signature profile of a wine growing region. The grape yield is low but the limestone and decomposing granite provide intense flavors that can pack a punch.

I found this wine for $8.99 and like the dropping temperatures; it was a welcome change.

2009© Kellie Stargaard. All Rights Reserved.

Follow me on:

Monday, December 14, 2009

2009 worst of the worst inexpensive wines

For the past few months I’ve been tasting wines that are priced at less than $9.99 in hopes of finding some great inexpensive but wonderful tasting wines. I have found several that have now become some of my favorite go to wines but I also tasted some that were so vial I couldn’t even come up with enough material to write about. Here are some of the 2009 worst of the worst tastings I encountered.

Oak Leaf Merlot – When I found this wine at Wal-Mart (a store I avoid like the plaque) I couldn’t believe it, wine for just $2.99…yippee. I should have known better, not all $2.99 wines are created equal. It was like drinking grape Tang with a touch of turpentine. I swear this could double as a cleaning solvent, perhaps used in the removal of rust or paint but use caution, too much and I truly think it could eat right through metal.

Lizard Flat Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2002 – Chandra, this one was for you. It’s a 1 liter boxed wine priced at just $1.99 at a reputable wine store. The owner of the store said her husband tried it and thought it was fine. I thought it tasted like Listerine and leather making it taste like old boots. After the 3rd sip, my palate was numb. I noticed the wine had a long and lingering finish but I just wanted it to go away, much like a house guest that has stayed four weeks longer than planned. Even worse, I picked up two of these 1 liter boxes…..

Two Oceans Shiraz – This one showed promise, it was a South African Shiraz. It wasn’t undrinkable unlike the first two and had a really great smoky flavor. The problem with this wine was it was like drinking a grape Jolly Rancher with Chipolte flavoring. Loved the Chipolte, didn’t love the Jolly Rancher.

Milton Park Shiraz – This South Australian Shiraz tasted like someone poured Pixie Sticks in the bottle. Overly bold frontend and too thin of a finish and a high taste of alcohol.

Here’s to hoping I find more great tasting wines in 2010.

2009© Kellie Stargaard. All Rights Reserved.

Follow me on:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tiger Woods may be stuck in a sand trap but Greg Norman’s Australian Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2007 is a hole in one

At a time when everyone seems fixated on Tiger Woods and his alleged extra-curricular affairs, perhaps it’s time to focus on another golfer’s extra-curricular interests, Greg Norman’s Estate Wines.

The wine focus for today is Norman’s Australian Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2007. The wine is a ruby red color with aromas full of spice, red berries and cinnamon. Flavored with plums, spice and oak with nice tannins that create a slightly dry wine but provide for a nice lingering finish. While Merlot seems to be under attack lately, the blend of Cabernet and Merlot made for a smooth and velvety wine.

Upon Greg Norman’s first US trip while playing in the 1976 World Cup, he soaked up as much of the California culture as he could, including the growing wine culture. After years of traveling and tasting wines from various regions of the world Greg was finally able to build off his passion and started the Greg Norman Estates in Victoria, Australia.

While Norman is not the wine maker and does not own the vineyards he knows what he likes in a wine and oversees the bottling of each varietal. The grapes for Norman’s Australian Estates are grown in Limestone Coast, located in the southeastern corner in the state of South Australia. The region is one of the most significant wine zones in the country with producing almost one third of all wines in the state.

Norman also has produces California wines with grapes grown in Napa and Sonoma along with some of the lesser known wine regions, Lake County, Mendocino County and Santa Barbara. It’s the southern counties of California that typically produce grapes that appeal to mainstream America’s tastes for full fruit wines.

While we all know being a celebrity and having your dirty laundry aired to the public is par for the course, no pun intended, here’s to hoping the Tiger Woods news will blow over quickly and we can focus on more important things, like finding great tasting, inexpensive wines.

This wine can be found at your local wine retailer. I was able to find this wine at Total wine for $9.99. Easy drinking and affordable equals a perfect score for me.

2009© Kellie Stargaard. All Rights Reserved.

Follow me on:

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The weather outside is frightful but the Gnarled Vine is so delightful

As the winds whip around outside, the wind chimes have been taken down, aluminum cans set out for recycling are weighed down with heavy wine bottles, As the winds whip around outside, we’ve battened down the hatches and prepare to ride out the wild night of storms. May as well enjoy a nice bottle of Gnarled Vine Zinfandel while we watch the lighting flash across the darken sky.

The colors are a deep dark purple in the glass, aromas are very oaky and smell divine. Slightly dry with lots of oak and a nice finish with a hint of sweetness at the end. Gnarled Vine is almost as good as Seven Deadly Zins but cost only $8.99.

Gnarled Vine is produced by Oak Ridge Winery and is located in the Lodi appellation, between the Sierra Nevada foothills and San Francisco Bay. The winery was founded in 1934 and was purchased by Rudy Maggio and Don and Rocky Reynolds in 2001 and contains Lodi’s first tasting room. In addition to their own wines the winery also offers custom winemaking to other wineries as well as custom brands. If you live in Lodi and are part of the Rotary Club, they apparently meet every Wednesday at 7:00. Have to wonder if they’re doing a little taste sampling during the meeting.

Turns out once the storm hit us it wasn’t as bad as they made it out to be, which is a good thing. The other good thing is finding yet another affordable wine that I would be proud to serve to any of my holiday guests.

2009© Kellie Stargaard. All Rights Reserved.

Follow me on:

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Since my budget does not allow for Cakebread, I’ll have to settle for Cupcake Cabernet

We’ve all heard the hype on Cakebread but who can afford to spend $100 on one bottle of wine. This inexpensive wine drinker would rather stretch my wine dollars, so tonight I reach for a bottle of Cupcake Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 priced less than $10.

I wasn’t sure what to expect but was pleasantly greeted with oak and vanilla aromas. Full-bodied with soft tannins, blackberries and plums make for an easy drinking and very enjoyable wine.

Cupcake Vineyard is located in Monterey County, CA and benefits from the cool nights thanks to the proximity of the ocean and the warm days, slowing the growing process and allowing more time on the vine. This temperate weather provides balanced acids and sugars making for a well rounded wine. The grapes are then pressed and spend time aging in oak barrels.

Cupcake is a delightful wine and I will be sure to add it into my wine rotation. Maybe some day I can taste the hyped up Cakebread Cabernet for myself, but only when sold by the glass.

2009© Kellie Stargaard. All Rights Reserved.