Every bottle has a story

I am not a wine expert, but with each bottle I try and share with friends, I learn more. Wine is an exceptional social drink; it is the marijuana of alcoholic beverages because it must be shared. I seek to share with you my thoughts and experiences as I drink the wine in my closet, as well as my enthusiasm for the finds that come my way and the excellent values that I find. I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences too, so please share!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A “ghostly” and “insane” dinner

I enjoyed another wine tasting menu while in Jerome, Arizona, and I also want to share with you the wines I drank with a nearly splendid meal I had at The Asylum, the restaurant in the Jerome Grand Hotel (which allegedly is haunted!).

When I saw that The Asylum had a tasting menu, I knew I had to try it. You may select four wines from their tasting menu for a reasonable price of $10. It’s a great opportunity to try new varietals as well as new producers.

My first choice was the Schwartzbock Grüner Veltliner 2009. This was a light, fresh, juicy and crisp Austrian wine, one of my favorite varietals. I loved this one.

The next one was a Spanish blend that was 60 percent Verdejo, 25 percent Viura and 15 percent Sauvignon Blanc. The Con Class Rueda 2009 was full of orchard fruit on the nose and had a clean mineral taste with a bit of lemon. It finished like a cool mountain stream lined with Colorado columbine. It was, indeed, a delightful wine.

Moving on to reds, I tasted the Los Lobos Malbec 2009, a very interesting wine from Mendoza that was spicy on the nose with a hint of cassis. Yet despite that intriguing aroma, the wine was very subtle on the pallet without much tannin. The finish was smooth and nice. All the flavors were very interesting and I couldn’t quite nail them down, but I know that this is a wine that I would enjoy a bottle of.

My final wine of the flight was the Villa Pozzi Nero d’Avola 2009 from Sicily. I’ve been disappointed by these wines in the past, but this one redeemed all its brethren. It had a rich, blackberry nose heavy with fruit, but not off-putting. It was delicious, juicy with plum and cherry with a tight, dry finish. You don’t taste the tannin until the finish, which leads me to think that this has some closet time potential. This was very good, certainly the best Nero d’Avola I’ve had after a string of disappointments. In fact, I ordered a full glass of this to enjoy with my entree, their delicious grilled Achiote rubbed pork tenderloin, prepared perfectly.

The previous night I had dinner at The Asylum as well, they had so many good wines! I began that evening with the Indaba 2010 Chenin Blanc from the Western Cape, South Africa. I haven’t had much success with South African wines, but this was a nice find. It was smooth and delicate like an excellent Chenin Blanc, ripe with apple, pear, and even a bit of pepper on the finish.

My dinner was a Rocky Point shrimp scampi with tomato Beurre Blanc and shredded Parmesan brown rice. With this I had the Zolo 2010 Torrontes from Mendoza. The Torrontes had a really nice bite with my appetizer, a delicious butternut squash soup that was divine! By the way, if you visit the restaurant’s website, you can find the recipe! The wine was also quite good with the entrée, although the shrimp was a tad overcooked.

All in all, the wines found at The Asylum were delicious and the variety inspiring.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Nebbiolo grown in Arizona?

I hadn’t visited the former ghost town of Jerome, Ariz., for 30 years, so I was anxious to return to see what had happened to this arty enclave clinging to the side of a mountain determined to slide into oblivion. When last I visited, the hippie and art crowd were just beginning to squat, turning old, crumbling buildings into new shows, restaurants and even apartments and condos. I in no way expected to find so many wine tasting shops when I returned, and one I visited had some very interesting wines produced from grapes grown in Arizona.

Yes, in Arizona, and among them was a rosé crafted from Nebbiolo grown in the hills north of Wilcox, Ariz., which is in the southeast corner of the state. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Caduceus Cellars & Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room in Jerome offers a wide variety of wines and tasting flights, including some that match cheese and other appetizers with their wines. The $10 flight I tried included four wines: a white, a rosé, and two reds.

The first wine was called Dos Ladrones, a 2010 vintage made with Malvasia Bianca and Chardonnay grown in Arizona. It had a bright, fragrant nose, but was a bit creamy on the first taste. Happily this creaminess disappeared on the finish, which was fresh and had just the right combination of orchard fruit and citrus. There seemed to be a little bit of herb and maybe even some white pepper? It was a very nice start.

Then came the wine that intrigued me the most: a rosé made from Nebbiolo, but not just any Nebbiolo, but Nebbiolo grown in Arizona! What was this? To me, Nebbiolo is a truly noble grape used to craft outstanding Barolo. And like Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo can be a delicate and finicky grape. Certainly, I was familiar with the beautifully elegant and even muscular Barolos, but a rosé?

Called Lei Li Rosé, this 2010 vintage had an almost amber pink color. The nose was fresh with lovely but so ephemeral fruit that had just a bit of zing to it. Tasting, this wine was very delicate, the flavors very subtle but really quite good followed by a lingering finish. Seriously, the flavors were so delicate that I could see someone easily missing them. This was a wine that demanded your attention, but was a delight to drink. So delicate, I wondered how to pair it with cheese. They had an answer for me at the shop, but unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the cheese; it was a creamy French cheese with a mild flavor unless you got piece next to the rind.


Number 3 was a 2009 vintage blend of Syrah and Malvasia Bianca, also grown in Arizona, called Primer Paso. It had a very oaky nose, so overpowering that I couldn’t smell any fruit no matter how I swirled and sniffed. The oak was so strong it was almost like sniffing a cedar box. It was juicy, not jammy, on the taste, but there was nothing left for the finish. Not my favorite at all, but surprisingly it was the favorite wine of one of the pourers in the shop.

The final wine was made with grapes from California, a 2008 vintage blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. Called Nagual de la Naga, I half expected something robust and even muscular, not just because it was the last wine in the flight, but also because one of the pourers described it as a “super Tuscan” style wine. Powerful it was not, but it was a nice wine. There was a light nose of cherry and cassis with a bit of herb and earth; very rustic. It was juicy and bright, the Cabernet nicely tempered, I thought, by the Sangiovese. It had nice tannin as well, suggesting that it might cellar for a few more years.

So there you have it. Even in a town like Jerome, Ariz., you can find wine tasting rooms with interesting offerings and even some surprises, like that Nebbiolo rosé.

Los Nevados

The Mendoza region of Argentina is probably best known for Malbec, so it may come as a surprise that more and more land is being planted with Chardonnay. The Los Nevados 2010 is very inexpensive at less than $10 a bottle, and being unoaked, it is an excellent choice for making kir.

Beyond that, there’s nothing truly remarkable about this wine. It is fresh and vivacious with a crisp finish and is excellent for drinking on its own. These very qualities make it highly suitable for mixing with crème de cassis, turning it into the popular aperitif from Provence. You can serve with a variety of cheeses – goat cheese works really well, as well as pungent French cheeses – or smoked salmon.

So if you’re looking for something different to serve with appetizers, consider this kir and this Chardonnay will work excellently.

I rate this wine with a 7.5 using my scale at the left.