Wine Tasting Notes

May 31, 2011

Paco & Lola Albarino 2009

Thumbnail image for paco-lola.jpg
VARIETAL: Albarino
REGION: Rias Baixas, Spain
PRICE: $15

I could very easily get stuck in a wine rut with this one. It is a ray of sunshine in a glass and it seriously taps into my bygone scratch n sniff addiction. Incredibly aromatic with lovely summer stone fruit notes like white peach and nectarine tempered with bright, zesty citrus peel. I could swirl and sniff all night. Of course I don't. Just sniff it, I mean. How could you? It just begs to be sipped and slurped and sipped again. I admit I have a soft spot for albarino, but this one really rocks. I first tried the Paco & Lola in a restaurant that utilizes tiny, single serve carafes to serve their wines-by-the glass--probably a good thing because had I seen the cutesy polka-dot label and unconventional burgundy bottle on a shelf in a wine shop, I likely would have mocked it instead of trying it.

Buy it at Liquorama or The Spanish Table.

Noël Wallace at Permalink social bookmarking

March 21, 2011

Sedara Donnafugata 2008


Varietal: About 50% Nero d'Avola, blended with merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah
Region: Sicily, Italy
Price: $6.99

Southern Italian and Sicilian wines can be fantastic values. Generally speaking you get a whole lot of rustic flavor for under $15. The hot dry climate and terrain in Puglia and Sicily tends to yield wines that are strong and spicy with rich dried fruit notes. Nero d'Avola is one of those local Sicilian varietals that can be intense and brooding, and occasionally downright belligerent. I guess that's why more producers are choosing to temper the intensity by blending it with smoother, more consumer friendly friendly grapes like cab, merlot and syrah as Sedara did with the Donnafugata.

This wine looks intense in the glass. It is fairly opaque and if you give it a good swirl you get whiffs of saddle leather and pipe tobacco, with spicy cassis and black cherry. Unfortunately, it is significantly more aromatic than flavorful, but I did get some dusty dried fruit flavors. It is pretty smooth and easy drinking--especially considering where it comes from. But frankly I like my Sicilians to pack more of a punch. I like my Nero d'Avola to taste like Nero d'Avola and not some generic red blend. That said, for what I paid, though it is unremarkable, this wine was a pleasant everyday pour that would definitely be a crowd pleaser at a pizza party. Which is exactly how I enjoyed it.

I picked mine up at Cost Plus World Market but you can also find it on

Noël Wallace at Permalink social bookmarking

September 13, 2010

Wattle Creek Mendocino Sauvignon Blanc 2009

VARIETAL: Sauvignon Blanc
REGION: Mendocino, California
PRICE: $19

One sip of the Wattle Creek sauvignon blanc and you can just tell it comes from a cooler climate. This zippy sipper just screams refreshment--from the lovely green-gold hue to the bright, grassy nose. Lots of mouthwatering grapefruit and lime zest punctuate the soft stony backbone. This wine is the perfect foil for a 108 degree September day. But for those of you who don't live in the desert, I'd serve it with a simple salad of mesclun greens, heirloom grape tomatoes and pan seared [insert light white fish of choice here].

I picked this one up on a bit of a whim... I'd never seen it before and had never even heard of it, but was quite pleasantly surprised. I'll definitely be investigating some of the other Wattle Creek wines, including some from their Alexander Valley vineyards. I love that it is a family owned operation and most importantly, I love the juice. It retails for about $19 on the Wattle Creek site, but I found mine at a local market for about $15.

Wattle Creek Winery

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June 14, 2010

Stonecap Riesling 2007

VARIETAL: Riesling
REGION: Columbia Valley, Washington
PRICE: $7.99

I would venture to guess that some of you just saw the word "riesling" and are already mentally moving on... Don't go! This is not your granny's Blue Nun. The only thing you should fear from this wine is polishing it off yourself in one short sitting. In fact, why don't you just put your forefinger over the "R" word and imagine it says, "Stonecap White 2007." Are we ready to move on?

If you've been turned off by old world rieslings--which can be syrupy and redolent of kerosene and nectar--you must give a new world version the chance to wow you. This one does have a hint of nectar, but more of a whiff, like you've just come across a wild honeysuckle bush while playing capture the flag. One drop of honey on the tongue and the rest is all orange and grapefruit peel, almost ripe peach, juicy nectarine, and enough citrusy acidity for a clean crisp finish. Infinitely interesting and surprisingly well balanced, the Stonecap is also dirt cheap. I was not aware of the price point when I first tasted it and I would have guessed it fetched somewhere in the $14-$18 range.

Rieslings are by nature very food friendly. Pair this one with asian or the recommended seafood. Next time, I'll enjoy it with a little St. Andre smeared across some Jacob's cream crackers.

Find it here.

Noël Wallace at Permalink social bookmarking

June 9, 2010

Bodegas Volver Tempranillo La Mancha 2007

volver.jpgVARIETAL: Tempranillo
REGION: La Mancha, Spain
PRICE: $14

This wine is a lovely and luscious surprise in so many ways. I bought it out of spite really. I was picking up a few lamb racks for my mother's birthday dinner and realized that I since she ONLY drinks white, I needed only one bottle of red for my uncle and I to share. Since he drinks mostly California pinot noir and cab, and he insists that it is impossible to find a decent bottle of anything for less than $20, I just had to find something totally out of his comfort zone. He was taunting me and I was determined to prove him wrong. So I grabbed this tempranillo thinking it would be a good match for my lamb--and that's exactly how I would spin it for him--and I just wouldn't mention the price.

At first whiff, the Volver tempranillo is completely mesmerizing. Warm aromas of saddle leather and coffee go straight to your head where they mingle for a while with the intense fruit notes you get from macerated red berries and dried currants. It is ever-so-slightly floral, but a more dried, dusty floral--just a hint of dried violet, or maybe lavender. First sips quickly turn into an empty glass. Sharing is definitely a problem with this one. The rich, round fruit notes are layered with subtle spice, sweet tobacco, and supple tannins. This tempranillo has wow. I think I could have polished off the bottle before the lamb racks hit the grill.

This wine so completely blew me away. My uncle was even impressed and thought I spent $25 or $30 on it. Check your local Whole Foods or get it online here.

Find it. Get it. Drink it. Thank me later.

Noël Wallace at Permalink social bookmarking

May 13, 2010

Josh Cellars Amber Knolls Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

VARIETAL: Cabernet Sauvignon
REGION: North Coast, California
PRICE: $15

I have a dear cousin named Josh. Growing up he was more like brother to me and though it seems a bit silly to associate a wine with a human personality, I could not help thinking of my Josh while enjoying this one. There must be something about the name. This seemingly unassuming and straightforward cab has something of a hidden personality, a surprising richness of character and interest that draws you in and makes you feel at home. But this cab is beyond smooth. It is quite the charmer. Bold cassis and sweet tobacco notes add layers of intrigue to the warmth and familiarity of ripe and dried berry fruit essences. The Josh Cellars is a lovely $20-$30 cabernet--except that it is not. This is truly a stunner for only $15... a thoroughly enjoyable drink-on-its-own gem. But if you must, please enjoy responsibly with a neatly seared filet mignon, perhaps finished with a pat of thyme butter.

Image from Joseph Car Wine

Noël Wallace at Permalink social bookmarking

May 11, 2010

Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc 2008


Varietal: Sauvignon Blanc
Region: California
Price: $10

This is surely going to be a go-to wine for me this summer. The very pale golden color is somewhat misleading. Though it looks more like a pinot grigio, I can assure you this wine has a lot going on for a mere $10. It is lovely and aromatic with layers of juicy stone fruit and citrus blossom. Bright and crisp yet soft and round, this sipper stimulates all of your senses at once. An array ripe summer fruit will linger on your palate, but this sauv blanc finishes clean. I'm thinking seared scallops and a salad of mache dressed with a simple vinaigrette.

Image from Mason Cellars

Noël Wallace at Permalink social bookmarking

April 29, 2010

Octavin Home Wine Bar - Artisan Wine in a Box... Sort of

Monthaven Imagery1.jpg

Okay so it technically isn't a box, but rather an octagon... And of course the wine is housed in a stay-fresh collapsable bag, but you get the idea. I figured since I've been chatting up the boxed wine concept quite a bit lately I should probably prove to you that on occasion, I practice what I preach.

Things I love about the Octavin Wine Bar:

  • The footprint is smaller and takes up less space on my counter or in my fridge

  • The spout is easy to use and doesn't make a mess

  • Great value, you get a whole lot of wine for $20-$25 dollars

  • Most importantly, the wines are GREAT. You get real wines, well established artisan wines, not just left over juice from here and there all thrown in a bag.

Monthaven Chardonnay 2008
I was pretty terrified to try this one. Of all the boxed wines I've tried in the past, I have found the chardonnays the least forgiving, and overall the least appealing. This vibrant central coast chardonnay totally changed my mind. I was blown away by how well balanced, and flavorful it was. Great tropical aromatics and flavors add a little richness and roundness, but just a little. The pineapple quickly gives way to clean crisp golden apple. It is medium bodied and just generally crowd-pleasing and very easy to pair with food. Throw this in your cooler for all of your outdoor gatherings this summer.

Big House Red 2008
What can I say about the Big House that you don't already know? I hadn't tasted this wine in about 10 years, but it is EXACTLY as I remember it and I can tell you it tastes EXACTLY the same from a tap. This wine screams easy going and food friendly. Fruity and super smooth, it is the ultimate party red. Again, you'll want it around for that summer block party or BBQ.

The one thing you may (or may not) find fault with is the claim that these wines last for 4-6 weeks. Ahem, well I am here to tell you that 20 glasses of wine do not last 4-6 weeks in this household. They did last about 2 weeks--and they did remain as fresh as the day I popped the tap.

Noël Wallace at Permalink social bookmarking

April 21, 2010

Live-a-Little Rather Revealing Rosé

lal rose.jpg

REGION: Western Cape, South Africa
PRICE: $9.99

This is a first for me. I have long been a fan of shiraz (and syrah) and once those winter winds shift to spring breezes I seldom refuse a rose--unless of course it reads "white" something on the label--but was never inclined to marry those tastes. So in honor of Earth Day I thought I'd go totally mad and try a certified organic-no sulfites added-fair trade-shiraz-rose. Phew, I need a glass of something after that. This one happens to be a lovely pick from the value label from Stellar Winery, the largest producer of organic wines in South Africa.

Definitely dry (13% alcohol), the Rather Revealing Rose is also quite the fruit bomb. It is, after all, a new world shiraz and doesn't stray far from its roots. But rather than the fresh berry flavors you might get in a full blown red, this fruit is tighter... more like dried cherries and dried strawberries trying to reconstitute in kirsch. Very easy on the palate and sure to be a crowd pleaser throughout the summer with just about anything. I served it with grilled vegetable and goat cheese paninis made on rosemary foccacia and it was a great complement to the earthiness off the veggies and rosemary and the creaminess of the chevre. But it has enough oomph that next time I'm thinking ancho-rubbed, grilled something-or-other.

If you find yourself in the Really Resistant to Rose category, Stellar makes half a dozen different organic labels that include reds, whites, dessert and sparklers in every price range.

Noël Wallace at Permalink social bookmarking

April 19, 2010

Frey Organic Sauvignon Blanc 2008


VARIETAL: Sauvignon Blanc
REGION: Mendocino County (Russian River Valley), CA
PRICE: $9.99

Earth Day will be quickly upon us and as I have been perusing new and interesting organic and biodynamic beauties to try, I stumbled upon this Sauvignon Blanc amidst a tower of choices at my local Whole Foods. I've always been a fan of Frey wines, though I had never tried the SB and oddly enough, it never really registered in my somewhat wine-addled noggin, that Frey was the first organic winery in the US and the first certified biodynamic as well. Unfortunately, I think I'm going to have to give it another go, because something truly funky was going on with this bottle. As soon as the wine began its fine golden cascade into the glass, I knew something was up. It didn't have the aromatic expression of a sauvignon blanc... in fact it didn't smell like wine at all. Quite oddly, it smelled like beer. Specifically like a Belgian white beer. Very weird. Seriously off-putting, and not particularly tasty... unless of course you want a white wine that tastes like beer. Something must have gone awry with the non-GMO yeasts... Must have been super-yeasts because this was super yeasty.

So according to the back of the bottle (and the Frey site) this is what I should have tasted:
The ultimate food friendly wine. Tropical flavors of pineapple and passion fruit married with delicate French oak will complement spicy ethnic cuisine. This wine is a pleasing blend of fruit from Lake and Mendocino counties, California. Try it with goat cheese rolled in an endive leaf, topped with fresh minced herbs.

I'll definitely have to try it again. Frey offers so many wonderful award-winning wines that I have to believe this was just a little freak of nature.

Image and content from Frey Vineyards

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August 13, 2009

Svelte Summer Sipper - Biokult Gruner Veltliner 2008

gI_0_biokultFrontLabel.jpgIt is hotter than Hades out there, and what better way to cool your palate than with a fun, fresh white. If you are unfamiliar with gruner veltliner, don't let the tongue-twister name intimidate you. This Austrian wine is similar in style and body to a sauvignon blanc, and similarly makes a super summer quaffer.

The Biokult gruner, which is made from organically grown grapes, is the pride and product of an innovative austrian family that practices biodynamic farming. So innovative in fact, that the wines are fermented in egg-shaped tanks! I don't know what that means for the wines, but I can tell you that this gruner is full of zing and pep. At first it reminded me of a vinho verde--very light and green and ever so slightly effervescent. But unlike the simple white from Portugal, this is subtly layered with soft fruit, fresh herbs and bright citrusy acidity.

Add this gruner veltliner to your arsenal of crisp summer whites, but resist the urge to drink it with a straw... you'll miss out on the vibrant and jaw-tingling aromas. I paired it with my bathing suit and floaties because as I mentioned, it is quite hot. But it would pair beautifully with simple grilled shrimp or a mesclun greens salad with grilled beets and herb crusted goat cheese. Find it at Whole Foods for $11.99

Noël Wallace at Permalink social bookmarking

July 20, 2009

Buehler Vineyards Russian River Chardonnay 2008

Varietal: Chardonnay
Region: Russian River Valley (Sonoma), California
Price: $15

It is no easy task finding good California chardonnay at this price point. And as I am willing to try just about anything, I often find myself looking, forlorn, into a glass of too flabby, too fruity, too fake-oaky swill. And consequently, you won't find too many chardonnay - particularly California chardonnay - reviews here. What keeps me going, what compels me to keep on looking, is that every now end then, I am ever-so-pleasantly surprised. Every now and then, I find one that I like AND that I can afford.

The Buehler Russian River chardonnay delivers on all counts. It is a lovely, golden, medium bodied beauty with up-front peach and orange blossom fruit. The fruit mellows into warm toastiness, which rolls into dreamy-creamy, and somewhere in there I get a little twist of lime peel. Full malolactic fermentation and sur lie aging provide the creamy richness. But thankfully there is enough acidity and a clean minerality that help provide balance and make the Buehler somewhat Burgundian.

An all around winner and certainly an elegant choice for the money... You can find it online here or at Buehler Vineyards.

Noël Wallace at Permalink social bookmarking

July 2, 2009

Mapema Sauvignon Blanc 2008

VARIETAL: Sauvignon Blanc
REGION: Mendoza, Argentina
PRICE: $11

I recently hosted a tasting and featured this lovely Argentine SB for purely personal reasons. I love it... and I'll find any excuse to share the love. I think it might even convert some white haters. If you're not a fan of sauvignon blancs in particular, I'm going to surmise that you might be a little off-put by the grassy, sometimes bitter bite that is common among so many good SBs. I can assure you that this one is quite different.

Though, true to form, it is is crisp with a fine acidic finish, the lead-in is all finely woven, ripe summer fruit. Melon and stone fruit add wonderful richness and aromatics, while a hint of golden apple and lime peel contribute a soft freshness that is clean, but not at all bitter.

This should be your go-to white this summer... great on its own, but fantastic as an aperitif... or fine with fish... super with salads... you get the picture.

Find it at your local Cost Plus Word Market or online from a number of retailers, but plan to add another few $$.

Noël Wallace at Permalink social bookmarking

April 20, 2009

Telmo Rodriguez Basa Rueda 2007


VARIETAL: 85% Verdejo 10% Viura 5% Sauvignon Blanc
REGION: Rueda, Spain
PRICE: $12

Sometimes good wines, like friends, come and go. But if you're lucky you can find a few that stand the test of time. The Basa is one wine that has always been there for me. we were first acquainted about 8 years ago, and since then, the Basa has been consistently on my tried-and-true list -- though I only recently learned it is a product of sustainable viticulture practices. And though the ratio of the blend may vary from year to year, the Basa is always lip-smackingly delicious. Bright and wonderfully fresh, this light white is bursting with bosc pear, golden apple and grapefruit blossom. Not to fear, it isn't all soft fruit and floral aromas. You get a punch of zesty citrus and a clean mineral finish. Perfect for summer, but why wait?

Basa Rueda 2007

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