Tuesday, August 31, 2010

MAN Vintners Cabernet Sauvignon Coastal South Africa 2008

Spying this bargain wine priced at $6.99 at a local liquor store, I had my doubts. Not sure what the name, MAN Vintners, was trying to represent, I had to give into the unbeatable price tag. Turns out it’s not a chauvinistic representation in wine, just the initials of the three owner’s wives, in an effort to get them on board with their new winemaking venture. This was my first revelation; the second was the great tasting juice inside the bottle.

The glass is filled with aromas of oak and red berries. Cassis, red currant, plum and blackberry burst open in a wash of flavor. Tannins are smooth like butter, flavors complex and finish is nice and long. So glad I took a chance on this one.

Located in Coastal South Africa, the area sees little rainfall but with a little intuitive work, crops can produce grapes bursting with flavor. The shale soil provides the grapes with its minerality and complexity in flavors along with aiding in water retention.

Fermentation occurs in stainless steel tanks for five days, the wine is then pressed and goes back into the tank for further fermentation. 50% of the wine is placed in American Oak barrels for 12 months to age. I assume the other 50% remained in the steel tanks for this same amount of time before combining the two when bottling.

This is the kind of wine that can appeal to a wide variety of wine drinkers. It has enough bold tannin for those who like their wines on the dryer side and enough residual sugar to be enjoyed by wine lovers who prefer a little sweeter wine. Holidays are just around the corner, pick up a few of these gems and keep both Grandma and Uncle Harry happy.

My rating -  We'll drink the rest tomorrow.

2010© Kellie Stargaard. All Rights Reserved.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

2009 Gazela Vinhos Sogrape Vinho Verde, Portugal

Feeling that it’s about time to start wrapping up my summer whites series, figured I had a few more in the hopper I could share. Intrigued again just by the labeling, I picked up a bottle of 2009 Gazela Sogrape Vinhos Vinho Verde.

Though the wine in the bottle looks almost clear like water, the color in the glass is a very pale yellow. Aromas of tropical fruits, lemon and other citrus flavors, typical to Vinho Verde come through in abundance. Slight fizz at the front of the palate is followed by a sharp tartness consisting of lemon and lime yet the finish turns into a smooth creamy mouthfeel. This wine should be renamed Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride for all its twists and turns.

Sogrape was founded in 1942 with the intent on putting Portugal on the wine making map. Gazela Vinho Verde, sources juice from private owners with vineyards located near the city of Barcelos, smack in the heart of the Vinho Verde region. Today run by third generation winemakers, the winery owns 1,200 hectares of vineyards in Portugal, Argentina, Chili and New Zealand. Seems they’re all over the road, much like the wine.

As Jimmy Buffet’s Son of a Sailor, plays in the background, I know the Florida summer is no where near the end. But I’m already looking forward to cooler days when I can spend my time outdoors drinking wine instead of hiding inside with the AC. But don’t worry; I still have enough white wines to go through before I hang up my white wine glass for a while.

Gazela Vinho Verde wasn’t the best white wine I’ve tasted this summer but it wasn’t the worse either. Priced at $7.99, it's worth a try.

My rating – We’ll use the rest to make Sangria.

2010© Kellie Stargaard. All Rights Reserved.
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Friday, August 20, 2010

2007 Mutt Lynch Portrait of a Mutt Zinfandel

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m guilty of judging a wine by its label. Let’s be honest it is the first thing that draws your eye to the bottle, well that and the price. So here I go again, falling for that great marketing ploy of a great label. This time it’s Mutt Lynch and his wine mutt’s drawing me in for a closer taste. Who can resist the scrappy little dog looking at you, makes you curious about the juice inside.

Aromas consist of spicy bark and black cherries, flavors are packed with cherry and plums. Reminds me of a Cherry Tootsie Pop but in a really nice way. Smooth mouthfeel but well represented tannins burst through in the end. As the wine temps dropped, it got a little jammy and less spicy but was still nice and easy to drink.

Out of a love for wine and dogs, Mutt Lynch Winery was born in 1995. Chris and Brenda Lynch both had the wine bug and took that first step entering into the wine biz. Chris’ wine making courses combined with Brenda’s keen sense of how to get things done, have allowed the winery to produce quality but inexpensive affordable wines for 15 years.

Leaving the grape growing to the professionals, Mutt Lynch Winery sources grapes from the California Coastal region. Two areas of particular interest lie in the Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County. The winery has held agreements with vineyard owners for several years, producing Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petite Sirah varietals for the winery.

Here’s another reason I like this winery, Mutt Lynch supports local animal rescue organizations. Partnering with local wine shops and restaurants this year alone, the winery will donate $10,000 to Hmm, a wine that tastes good and gives you that nice warm fuzzy feeling knowing you’ve done something to help the pooches. That’s what I call doggone good!

So pick up a couple of bottles of Mutt Lynch wines, drink up and feel good about it. Most varietals can be found for less than $10.

My rating - We’ll drink the rest tomorrow.

2010© Kellie Stargaard. All Rights Reserved.
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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

2008 Murphy-Goode Sauvignon Blanc The Fumé (North Coast)

Feeling blah and wishing I could find a job I love, it’s time to reach for something that at least sounds like something positive, Murphy-Goode Sauvignon Blanc, The Fumé is just what I need in a wine right now.

Tropical fruit and citrus aromas entice my senses and begin to take me away to another land. Packed full of pineapple, guava and orange blossom flavors come through and provide a creamy mouthfeel.

Wine Info:
Appellation North Coast
Variety 100% Sauvignon Blanc
Harvest September 7, 2008 – September 27, 2008
TA .62 grams/liter
pH 3.38
Oak Aging 57% French and 43% American, 6% New
Alcohol 13.5%
Bottling Date January 2009

Founded in 1985 by friends Tim Murphy, Dale Goode and Dave Ready the three had a keen sense of a good business model; friendship, hard work, humor and most important, good wine. In a matter of years the winery sprang from two labels to now more than two dozen. Starting with Fumé Blanc and Chardonnay as the original two varietals, the winery now produces Bordeaux style wines with the focus on reds. Abiding by the friends and family circle plan, the winery was sold to friend and local farmer, Jess Jackson in 2006 however, the Murphy’s still own the original vineyards and David Ready, Jr. stayed on as the winemaker.

While conducting research for this article, I found it interesting while people value the great wine consistently produced by Murphy-Goode year after year, equally important to Murphy-Goode fans is their knack for finding unique and talented people to make and promote good wine.

Want proof, checkout the number of entries they received in 2009 while searching for a social media correspondent, more than 2,000 applicants. Of course the compensation didn’t hinder anyone from entering.

When you love what you do, you tend to excel in that task and that quality resonates strong. Here’s to hoping I too can find something I love to do soon. Any wineries or wine professionals hiring in the Tampa area? How about North Carolina or Georgia, I’m willing to re-locate for the right offer, just something to keep in mind.

My rating - We'll drink the rest tomorrow

2010© Kellie Stargaard. All Rights Reserved.
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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Big House Red California Red Wine 2008

Sometimes I think my little side line is almost criminal. I get to drink and write about something I love and sometimes I get to do this at no cost to me. I recently had the privilege of sampling Big House Red in the new Octavin home wine bar package. I’m a sucker for clever or different labels, it’s the first thing that draws my eye to the wine, second is the price. Big House wines provide both the great label, affordable price and most important, nice easy drinking wines.

Aromas of black berry and vanilla intermingle with intense flavors of raspberry, blackberry and plums. The wine finishes with a touch of spicy black pepper and a hint of leather and smoke. Though packed full of fruit flavors, the wine is light and smooth enough to enjoy in the hot summer months.

Big House wines, part of the Underdog Wine Merchant portfolio, has a great wine making philosophy: have as much fun as possible, produce wine and wine labels that inspire people (have to wonder about this one, since the labels chronicle criminals and prison) and retain the natural qualities of the grapes. This last one leaves me to ponder on the practice where tainted fruit is processed and impurities are removed. I’m not sure if Big House follows this practice but with the wild fires in 2008 and the smoke flavor in the grape, I think they may not and I’m ok with their choice to leave the smokiness in the juice.

I opened my Octavin wine bar box about 3 weeks ago. I had my doubts the other night when I poured some in my glass but honestly it was as fresh as the first day. These packages are great and very affordable and great for travel. I’m spending a week in Boone, NC to visit my parents next month, I may just put one of these in my suitcase.

2010© Kellie Stargaard. All Rights Reserved.

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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Wily Jack Zinfandel Sonoma Valley 2007

After months of being on my white wine kick, I feel like I’m finally settling back into the reds. Anyone who steps outside can tell you it’s not because of any cooler temps but I think I miss the familiarity of those bold reds. I hesitantly opened a bottle of Wily Jack Zinfandel not knowing anything about the wine; I was hoping this wasn’t just another quirky name and label pulling me in with false hope.

First sip and I knew this wine would make me happy. Aromas of vanilla and toast tantalize my senses. Deep purple in color the plum and blackberry flavors come through strong. A little on the jammy side with medium residual sugars, but well balanced enough, it’s not too overwhelming. A hint of green pepper at the back of the palate leads to a very smooth and nice finish.

Wily Jack, located in Sonoma, CA, launched their winery in August of 2009. The grapes are sources from regions across the entire state or California. The website mentions the wines are meant to be enjoyed right from the bottle, (so no glass required?) and consumed within the first few years of bottling.

For a young winery, they already have two medals under their belt. The 2008 Chardonnay and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon won silver and gold respectively at the 2010 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

Like Wily Jack’s motto, “many roads, one path” I continue to look for my new path in life. It’s been a year since I started this venture and I can say I’ve gotten farther than I could have imagined. Here’s to hoping my second year steers me even closer to my correct path and doing something I truly love.

All Wily Jack wine varietals can be found for under $10.

My rating - too good to put down.

2010© Kellie Stargaard. All Rights Reserved.

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Must food “do’s” in Key West and a few you can skip

Fresh off my week long trip to Key West, I figured I would provide a list of my annual must “do’s” and those you can skip once you’ve done them once. So if you find yourself with some time in Key West I strongly suggest you do:

1 – Kelly’s Caribbean on Whitehead St for the best happy hour on the island running 4-7 nightly. Home of the original Pan Am building and now the Southernmost Brewery, here you’ll find locals, tourists and the occasional pooch, sitting elbow to elbow noshing on some of the tastiest wings you’ll ever find along with Kelly’s microbrews, brewed and served on site only. When in KW, you’ll find me sitting at the bar every day around 4:00PM with wings (1 lb/$3.99/hh) and either a Super Margarita ($3/hh) or microbeer ($2/hh). Get the wings with sauce on the side, the wings are so flavorful, it’s like eating a mini fried chicken. The Tuna Sliders are also delicious and Doug, Erica and Chris will take very good care of you and make sure you don’t go thirsty.

2 – Schooner Wharf for breakfast at the end of William St and the Harbor district. The bar has 3 happy hours and the first starts at seven AM so get that spiked coffee and Bloody Mary to get your day started. Try the breakfast sandwiches and the many versions of Eggs Benedict. My favorite Benedict is the Crab which is a crab cake atop your classic Eggs Benedict. My only tip would be, ask for the Hollandaise on the side. The quality can be iffy, this is an island dog bar after all. Also, be careful how much you drink, the bar is in the marina and only portions are roped off. It’s not unusual to see a scooter submerged in the shallow waters.

3 - Have a drink at the bar at Grand Cafe located at 314 Duval St. The pizza is inconsistent, we ordered one last year and it was good, this year the crust was soggy and under cooked. For $17 I expect a much better pizza than what we were served. The Norwegian Smoked Salmon was nice and light and very refreshing on those hot evenings. The bar looks like it stepped out of a Tommy Bahama ad but it really is nice and relaxing. It’s the type of home bar I would like if I had a place in the Keys.

4 – Have dinner at the new Taku located at 613 1/2 Duval St. Open just two months, the Kurobuta pork belly with sautéed Foie Gras is pure sex on a plate. If you don’t do any of the others, be sure to check this restaurant out, it’s pure Foodie heaven. The chef and owner recommended the next location and it was a great find.

5 – Indulge in the Hearty Breakfast at Azur located at 425 Grinnell St. The dish is a hash consisting of beef rib and Yukon potatoes, topped with two poached eggs and truffle Hollandaise sauce, this was to die for. The Carbonara Breakfast with its angel hair pasta, crispy pancetta, cream and topped with two poached eggs, is different and tasty but a little too rich and heavy for morning fare for my tastes. I ended up taking most of it home and eventually tossing before we came home.

6 – Blackfin Bistro located at 918 Duval St, the end of the street where the food takes on a little more of an original flavor and not just fried touristy crap. The Mediterranean Mussels were as big as my palm and so flavorful. The entire restaurant can’t seat more than 30 and the small but adequate bar (beer and wine only) serves as a locals hang out. If you’re staying towards the Mallory Square side, you get to pass all the drag queens promoting their various shows, always good for a laugh.

6 - Order the Rev Joe’s Burger from Carolines at 620 Duval St. I admit, I did avoid this place for years but heard from a fellow traveler they had great burgers. I have to admit, it was tasty. More of a family atmosphere so a lot more children dining, just a warning.

7 – Checkout the ambiance at B.O.’s Fish Wagon, no folks, it’s not Bo’s, there is punctuation and the initials stand for Buddy Owen,the owner. Drives me nuts when people who go to KW year after year can’t figure out these are letters not a name. Their big draw are the fish sandwiches offered fried or grilled. The fish is fresh but I must warn you, you’re eating in a shack, there are no real walls and the food is very pricey. However, you are in KW and it is an experience.

8 – Capt. Tony’s Saloon, the original Sloppy Joe’s, located 428 Greene St. This is dive bar at its best! The tree in which the bar was built around was the official “hanging tree” from which pirates and other law breakers were hung. The bar was also the first ice house and first morgue. The coroner buried his daughter in the floor and she’s still there, in the pool room. Also notable, my husband and I got engaged at Capt. Tony’s, yep right there at the bar. I was sitting on Clint Eastwood’s bar stool, my husband on John Goodman’s. That same night, I hoisted a coin in the fish’s mouth hanging outside the saloon on the first try. It’s suppose to bring good luck and I think it did!

The majority with the exception of B.O’s, Schooner Wharf and Capt. Tony’s, had extensive wine menu’s. To be honest, I didn’t even look at a wine list at Caroline’s as I had an open bottle of sparkling wine to return to after dinner.

If it’s your first time to Key West, I understand you have to do all the touristy things, get them out of your system so the next visit you can skip. Here are a few of my, do them once and move on:
- Sloppy Joe’s – great for live bands, terrible food
- Margarittaville, honestly the worst burger I’ve ever had in the Keys. We went a few years ago and had to send both burgers back, they and the fries were cold.
- Hogs Breath, one word, yuck!
- One Fish, Two Fish, if you like fried crap on a plate, this is the place for you. Otherwise, skip it and go elsewhere.
- Rick’s Blue Heaven, kitschy with the outdoor seating amongst free roaming chickens, roosters, baby chicks and cats all living in harmony but the food is pricy and hasn’t been updated in years.

So there you have it, my Key West haunts. Remember to check out all the local history and most of all, relax. Sometimes when on vacation it seems you’re trying to pack so much in to such a short time. It’s nice to know Key West has survived hurricanes, pirate invasions and invasions of the cruise ship kind and still has not lost all of its charm although with all the national retail chains, it’s getting harder to stay on “Island Time”. That being said, the Keys will endure and be there for me to return to in another year. Who knows, maybe some day we’ll have a winter home on one of the Keys.

2010© Kellie Stargaard. All Rights Reserved.

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