Tag Archives: wine

Soccer Mom Sommelier: The Seven Deadly Zins 2012 Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel

Soccer Mom Sommelier: The Seven Deadly Zins 2012 Zinfandel

This week I was on a mission to revisit types of grapes that I had at some point in my life decided were not to my taste.  One such wine on my dislike list is Zinfandel.  I’ve only ever had a few, and I can’t even remember which specific brands, but for some reason I’ve avoided Zinfandel for years.  It doesn’t really seem fair to write off an entire selection of wines from a few bad experiences, so that is how I found myself at the grocery store recently trying to decide which lucky bottle was going to redeem the entire Zinfandel name for me.

After about fifteen minutes (hubby, knowing my indecisiveness, usually leaves me alone in the wine aisle and continues shopping) had it narrowed down to two bottles.  One appeared serious and “respectable,” the other boasted a cheesy moniker on a faux-burnt label: The Seven Deadly Zins 2012 Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel.  It was so corny looking that it couldn’t be legit– so of course that’s the bottle I picked.  Priced at $12, it wouldn’t be a huge loss if it turned out to indeed be terrible.

An intense ruby, almost blood red color in the glass, it was actually a very attractive wine.  I took a whiff before I tasted any– it smelled pleasant enough.  First sip– “Oh!”  I think I actually said that out loud.  It was full of deep, complex flavors and I really liked it.  Subsequent sips (or gulps) only solidified my happy surprise.  There’s plenty of smooth, jammy fruit: ripe cherries, blackberries, and plums.  There is a dose of warm vanilla and cinnamon, balanced by a hint of the spicy burn of black pepper.  A little earthy leather rounds out the palate.

It is still a bit difficult for me to look past the kitschy bottle and name, and maybe it’s not what you’d give the boss as a meant-to-impress Christmas present.  However, it is a really tasty wine and I would absolutely buy it again to enjoy in my home or to take to the rare, but much-needed “Girls’ Night.”  And really, for $12 you can call it whatever you want as long as it’s good!

fisher ridge pork barrel red wine

Soccer Mom Sommelier: Fisher Ridge Pork Barrel Red

Last night my Granny cooked a spaghetti dinner and asked mom and I if we could pick up a couple bottles of wine for the occasion.  Mom had the idea of a family tasting which I could write about in my Soccer Mom Sommelier series.  I always love suggestions and this had fun written all over it, so we headed out into the rain on a mission to bring back some goodies for the evening.

At the local drug store (with a surprisingly nice wine selection), I saw a shelf dedicated to West Virginia vintners.  Obviously, West Virginia is not known for wine– at all– but I thought it could be interesting to try a local blend.

There were a lot of strange offerings with descriptors like “sweet blackberry” and “spiced” that sounded more at home on a stack of pancakes than stemware.  Then I spotted a bottle of Fisher Ridge Pork Barrel Red, a table wine that claimed to be a “West Virginia Tradition.”  I was drawn to this one and had the feeling it was going to be just what I was hoping to find.

Bright was the word that came up most often during our tasting, whether to describe the beautiful cherry color or the bountiful fruit flavors.  I was excited just at the sight of this wine when I poured my first glass– a photo doesn’t quite capture the vivid red that was almost too pretty to drink…almost.  This blend was light and refreshing, yet stood up well to the bold spaghetti with meat sauce and sautéed chicken livers (ok, so no liver for me…)

I was dying to know what was in this bottle, but Fisher Ridge Winery has no website (yes, there is an address on the bottle, but it goes nowhere) and I could find very little information with an internet search.  I suppose it’s kind of fun to leave it a mystery.  An interesting tidbit I ran across in my research: the name “Pork Barrel Red” is a sort of salute to the late Senator Robert Byrd who was infamous for his “pork barrel” politics– winning massive amounts of government money for local projects.

support local wine

Disappointingly, Fisher Ridge Winery only sells within the state of West Virginia, so there will be no more Pork Belly Red for me until the next visit– bummer!  But I am so glad that I took the time to try this local wine, and it will be something for me to look forward to every time I come “home.”  It also gives me more motivation to explore Texas wines, and look for more obscure gems.  Next time you’re in the market for a new bottle to try, consider something you can’t find anywhere else– it’s always a plus to support local businesses, and you just might be in for a pleasant surprise!

concha y toro carmenere

Soccer Mom Sommelier: 2013 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Riserva Carmenere

Have you ever planned out a blog post, only to have it end up going in a completely different direction that you had originally intended?

A while back my mom suggested I pick a Malbec to taste. With Argentina effectively adopting Malbec as it’s national wine and amping up production in the past couple decades, this grape has become widely popular while maintaining an affordable price.  That being said, I’m not a huge fan.

I was game though, and figured I could find a Malbec I actually liked.  Instead, while at the grocery store (yes, I was in a grocery store) I spotted a bottle of Carmenere (which is essentially Chile’s national grape), and thought perhaps I could offer a Malbec alternative.  At $9 a bottle, it would be quite the bargain if was pleasant to drink.  This was detour number one from my original post vision.

On Wednesday night (don’t judge!) I decided to have a glass of wine and draft the blog post in advance.  Usually I do my wine tastings on the weekend, but this week had been insanely busy and the weekend looked fully scheduled, so I didn’t want to put off my writing and find later that I didn’t have the time or was too tired.

I polished my crystal, poured a glass, photographed the bottle, got out my trusty tasting notebook, and sat down to enjoy.  Except I didn’t.  The wine was a beautiful deep hue of ruby-purple in my glass.  It begged to be drank and promised rich, fruity, and exotic flavors.  But it didn’t deliver.  I did taste fruit, but it was tart: cranberries and not-quite-ripe blueberries.  There was an overwhelming spice of black pepper.  Where were the raspberries, blackberries, and hints of chocolates the label had described?

The next day when mom came to visit I showed her the bottle and explained my dilemma.  I remembered loving Carmenere the first time I had tried the varietal– had I just picked the wrong brand?  What was I going to write about this week?

Mom made herself a little tasting glass. “I like it.” she said, “Have you tried it a second time?”  Seeing as it was only 3pm the next day, I hadn’t.  But as she pointed out, some wines need to be opened for a while to mellow and develop their flavors.  I had been planning on giving it a second chance (who throws away a practically full bottle anyway?) but now I would do so with a more open mind.

And you know what?  It WAS better the next day.  Not just drinkable, but enjoyable.  Gone was the harsh pepper that bludgeoned the other flavors into submission.  The fruits had “ripened,” and now my glass was full of jammy raspberries, blackberries, and even a little pomegranate.  There was still a spice component, but it was a compliment to the rest of the elements.

What I hope you will take away from this post is not just a solid bottle of Chilean wine, but that some wines may need to “air out” before drinking.  We’ve all been taught that red wine needs to be enjoyed as soon as possible or it will start to get a vinegary taste (the official term = oxidization.)  But counterintuitively, some wines can actually use a little air.

So if you open a bottle and the first glass seems harsh, try a couple things:

  1. Leave your glass on the counter for 30 minutes and come back to it.  Red wine glasses are designed to have a large surface area, so this is almost as effective as a decanter.
  2. Decant the bottle.  If you have company and know you’ll finish the bottle that night and maybe have some fancy glassware you want to show, why not?  Again, you should be good to start drinking in 30 minutes.
  3. Cork the bottle and revisit in a day or two like I did.  Low surface area and a cork mean that you have a little extra time to get back to it.
  4. They do have a fancy gadget called an aerator that you can pour the wine through and speed up the process.  It’s not a necessity–I’ve shown you some ways that don’t require buying anything– but it is a neat party trick and could be a unique gift for that difficult person on your Christmas list.

I didn’t set out to write an educational post, but nothing about this one went the way I had planned. However, this offered an opportunity to share some simple advice for saving “bad” wine.  Maybe the wine isn’t bad after all, but just needs a little extra TLC.  If you’re like me and cringe at wasting wine (or any food/beverage– a value instilled in me by Depression-era grandparents), you can worry less when trying a new wine– if it’s not thrilling at first sip, a second chance could change everything.

Cheers to saving money and wine!

Alexander Valley Vineyards 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

Soccer Mom Sommelier: Alexander Valley Vineyards 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

The hubby is actually very supportive of my blogging.  Every day he bugs me to see if I have written anything and if I haven’t yet, reminds me of how important it is to keep up with new material.  But somehow I have the reputation of being the nag…hmmm!

Another, more appreciated form of support is that every time he goes grocery shopping, he always brings home a new bottle of wine or two for me to try for my Soccer Mom Sommelier section.  This week he presented me with a bottle of Alexander Valley Vineyards 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon.  My last job was Sales & Marketing Manager at a high-end steakhouse– unbeknownst to hubby, this was our house red.  However, I was pregnant most of my time there, so I never had a chance to taste it.  How funny that this is what Mateo grabbed for me!  I was very curious, as house wines are usually nothing to write home about.

I loved this wine at first sip!  I should have known it would be a quality bottle– I spent a few months training under our Wine Director, and he really knew his stuff.  It comes as no surprise that the cabernet he selected for our house red would be more than just your average swill.

While the wine is primarily made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes (it has to be in order to carry the name), it is blended with small amounts of the classic Bordeaux varietals: Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec.  This, along with 14 months barrel aging adds a complexity not usually found in Cabernets in the bargain price range (this one was right at $15.)

As is common is California reds, Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon is decidedly fruit-forward.  Black cherries, plums, currants, and ripe blackberries burst on the palate.  What I especially love about this wine is the smooth texture that I can only describe as velvet in your mouth– so unexpectedly luxurious.

I’m enjoying a glass as I type– my reward for cleaning the laundry room (which seems to be the area of the house we let slide– I know I’m not the only one!)  But really, who needs an excuse to have a fabulous glass of red wine?

Ruffino Riserva Ducale Chianti Classico Riserva

Soccer Mom Sommelier: Ruffino Riserva Ducale Chianti Classico Riserva 2011

This is another favorite of the hubby’s from his days at an Italian restaurant.  Maybe you’ve heard of it already.  Ruffino is a well known Italian winemaker, and their Riserva Ducale Chianti Classico Riserva sets the standard for everyday Italian reds, specifically Chiantis.  If you’ve yet to try this grocery store gem, rest assured that like all of my other wine picks, you can usually find it for under $15.

As a classic example of an Italian red, Ruffino Riserva Ducale is rich and earthy.  You’ll taste smooth Oak (it’s aged for 24 months), supple leather, and fall leaves.  Don’t believe that these could be good things to have in your glass?  Just trust me and give it a try.  Ripe cherries and dried fruits like figs add brightness and balance.  It will definitely have a different profile than your usual California red (see last week’s “lesson” on Old Word vs. New), but simply put, this is a great introduction to Italian wines.

The weekend is just about here, and if you even need an excuse to pick up a bottle of wine, you can always say that you are broadening your horizons and going global.  I’ll toast to that!

Tenuta Ca'Bolani Pinot Grigio

Soccer Mom Sommelier: 2013 Tenuta Ca’Bolani Pinot Grigio

I recently hosted a family game night at my house with my sister, brother, brother’s girlfriend, mom, and mom’s “friend” as Lilu likes to say while making exaggerated finger quotes.  I thought for sure that this would provide ample material for an upcoming blog post, but the evening was surprisingly uneventful.  However, mom and her “friend” are fans of the Soccer Mom Sommelier, so they brought a couple bottles of wine to try.  They instructed the wine salesman at a local specialty shop to recommend his favorite red and white under $15 a bottle.  Out of the two, the white was more to my liking, and a definite departure from my last two reviews, so I thought it would be a good one to share.

Last week’s Pinot Noir (MacMurray Estate Vineyards) and the week prior’s Chenin Blanc/Viognier (Pine Ridge) were both made in California, and as is common with American (especially Californian) wines, they were full of bold flavor.  Tonight’s pick, a 2013 bottling of Tenuta Ca’Bolani Pinot Grigio from Italy could not be more different, and provides a great lead-in for my first official Soccer Mom Sommelier “wine lesson”– Old World vs. New World.

Experienced wine drinkers can skip down to my tasting notes.  If you are a casual drinker (like I was before I decided to formally study wine) and your knowledge is just enough that you can tell red from white, then this is a great introduction to wine lingo.  You’ll be able to more easily select wines you like at the store AND impress your friends with your newfound “culture” at the next get-together 😉

When it comes to wines, it is easy to remember Old World and New World, as they are divided much like history.  Old World is Europe, including all the traditional wine countries (France, Italy, Spain, Germany).  The New World is North and South America and Australia, and basically anywhere else outside of Europe.

New World wines, like I touched upon at the beginning of this entry, will likely be BOLD and in-your-face.  Up and coming winemakers wanted to make sure that their offerings got attention when first entering the market.  New world wines are generally very fruit forward and many make liberal use of American oak which is more intense than European breeds– you can literally taste the wood!

Old World wines are known for being subdued and nuanced in their palate.  If there is oak used, it is usually aged and/or French barrels for a subtle effect.  Fruit is not as prominent, and there are often strong earthy or mineral notes.

So the gist of it is, if you like bold, fruity, and/or oaky wines, go for New World.  If you prefer subtle and earthy, choose a classic Old World style.  This Pinot Grigio from Italy is a great example of an Old World white.  When tasting (my whole family enthusiastically offered their input as well), it was difficult to pick out more than just a few specific fruits.  Though there was definitely pear and hints of lemon, what really stood out were it’s mineral characteristics: wet dirt, stone, gravel, etc (it tastes a whole lot better than it sounds…but if you try it you’ll know what I mean.)  The alcohol content is on the high end for white wine at 13% (bonus!), but it is very light on the mouth and would pair well with a wide variety of foods.  Or you can drink on its own, as we did during an intense game of Boggle!

And so concludes my first wine lesson– you’ve now learned one of the most basic ways of distinguishing wines, or you already knew that (heck you could be more knowledgeable than me) and simply found a new bottle to add to your list of ones to try.  Whatever the case, what I want to emphasize most is that learning is FUN–especially when there is wine involved!  Cheers!

2012 MacMurray Pinot Noir

Soccer Mom Sommelier: 2012 MacMurray Estate Vineyards Central Coast Pinot Noir

I wasn’t planning on reviewing wine tonight, but after an exhausting evening I figured it was a good excuse to have a glass!  When I was studying for my sommelier exam a few years ago, my hubby (just boyfriend at the time) brought me a bottle of his favorite pinot noir: MacMurray Ranch (also known as MacMurray Estate Vineyards).  To reward myself for hours of reading and memorization each night, I would taste different wines to help better understand what I was learning…seriously!  I was studying! 🙂

Back to the wine: hubby used to work at an Italian restaurant and often got to sample wines as they were added to the menu.  At the time, MacMurray Ranch was newcomer to the wine industry, but Matt thought their pinot noir was something special.  Fortunately, so did a lot of other people, as today it is pretty easy to find.  Not only is it widely distributed, the Central Coast bottle is inexpensive– we can usually find it for around $13 at the local grocery store.  But don’t let the price fool you– this is a quality wine– better even than some for which I’ve paid significantly more.

This is one of the richer pinots I’ve had, full of fruit, notably black cherry, raspberry, plum, strawberry, and blackberry.  A touch of oak adds a spiciness not often found in pinot noir– it reminds me a little of a syrah in that sense.  In very basic terms: this is fruity, yet complex wine bursting with flavor.  It is smooth and well-rounded– easy to drink for red-wine “beginners,” but interesting enough to please sophisticated palates as well.

This is our go-to red wine at the Rodriguez house.  Every time I open a bottle I am surprised by how much I like this wine and just how good it really is.  It tastes like a splurge bottle, but you can fit it on a soccer mom’s budget.  What’s more to love?