April in Provence


Ted Friedli of Excel Travel  whose company slogan is “Make us happy, go away!” is asking people to do just that on a cruise through the heart of Burgundy and Provence in April 2013. He says a river cruise in France is the perfect way to enjoy springtime weather.

He says he is planning an eight-day, seven-night cruise aboard the River Royale  to sail through France’s legendary Provence and Burgundy regions April 14-21, 2013.
The river cruising portion of the trip begins in Marseille with a transfer to the River Royale docked in Arles. As many art lovers know, Vincent van Gogh found inspiration in the Provençal light and the vivid colors of Arles, he spent a period of intense and impassioned work under these bright sunny skies.

From Arles, the River Royale will sail past quaint hilltop cities and lively towns, lush vineyards, fields of flowers, and sun-drenched vistas while making stops at the well-preserved Medieval city of Avignon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, brimming with history and the Popes’ Palace Square for an inside view of the maze of galleries, chambers, and chapels that make up the grand Palace of the Popes—seven 14th-century popes resided here during a turbulent period in church history.
Then the River Royale sails to lovely Viviers, and Tournon/Tain l’Hermitage. Nestled among famous vineyards, the twin cities of Tournon/Tain l’Hermitage are an ideal location for a Côtes du Rhône wine tasting. Friedli says the travelers will be able to indulge in some beautifully made mid-valley Côtes du Rhône wines. From Tain l’Hermitage the next stop is the gastronomic capital of France: Lyon.

The cruise includes shopping at open-air food markets, a Crêpes Suzette-making demonstration and tasting and a special wine and food pairing dinner along with eight excursions and several choice is yours options which include your choice of going “active”, “gentle walking”, or use of bicycles for exploring the countryside.
The cruise includes all meals onboard (7 breakfasts, 5 lunches, 7 dinners), prepared using the finest and freshest ingredients; complimentary fine wine, beer, and soft drinks during lunch and dinner onboard; bottled water replenished daily in your stateroom; and 24-hour specialty coffee and tea station as well as onboard local entertainment;  “Vincent van Gogh’s Troubled Destiny” lecture and the exclusive Epicurean Adventurer Program.™

Provence to Burgundy_550x445Because it’s on a cruise ship availability is limited so if you’re interested contact Ted today at 732-571-1960 to make your reservation. Outside cabin pricing starts at $2999 per person. Paris add-ons and flights are also available through Excel Travel. Excel Travel is located at 50 Atlantic Avenue, Long Branch NJ 07740. Phone: 732-571-1960.

Wine I Like It Blind Tasting – November 2010


The latest Wine I Like It blind wine tasting was an eye-opener for many of the tasters. None of them were prepared to discover these wines each had an average price point of $12 and were wines most of them knew, had previously tried, or had once considered as a favorite wine. The ten wines hailed from eight different wine regions.

This tasting group seriously set about tasting and providing feedback.  Most tried guessing the varietals and a few tried guessing both the varietal and region. One taster correctly identified each varietal and region of all ten wines and named the producer on three. Two correctly identified seven of the ten wines and the remaining tasters each averaged five correct indentifications.

The fifth wine tasted was correctly determined by all to be Chardonnay, with one taster correctly identifying the region. Another interesting note about the tasting: wines number one and two were only one point apart, and wines three, four, and five were each separated by two points. This was the highest rated and closest point grouping to date.

So what were the top five wines from this selection?

Well, number one was the last wine tasted: [yellow tail] Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, a multi-regional blend from Coonawarra, Wrattonbully & Padthaway, Australia. Full-bodied, structured, complex, and elegant, it had aromas of ripe, black cherries, blackberries, mint, oak, and velvety smooth tannins.

Overall our tasters commented on the “smoothness and lack of harsh tannins”. Some comments included:  “very smooth cab”; “a drinkable red, touch of sweetness at end”; “good flavor, smooth, yet has nice body to it”;  “very yum”;  “great nose, nice color, nice finish, tastes great!” and  “Love it!”

Our tasters were surprised to see that this was [yellow tail] Reserve Cabernet and that it retailed for around $13 not the $18+ they had guessed.

Number two was [yellow tail] Reserve Chardonnay. This wine was correctly identified by everyone and one person correctly identified it as [yellow tail] Chardonnay from Australia. Gasps of “Yellow Tail? You’re kidding!” were heard at the reveal.  Tasting it blind, they had been able to concentrate on the full-bodied wine’s melon, peach, tropical fruit rather than brand name. All of the tasters commented on the fresh palate and powerful fruit.

Some of the written comments were: “a little sweet, but good”; “dry, smooth, great dinner wine”;  “a hint of oak/butter in the finish”; “It’s oaky—Chardonnay. Not sure where it’s from”; “powerful, tropical fruit”; “oaky”: “ It’s my favorite white so far.”; “ Loving these wines”; “tend not to like Chardonnay, but would drink this again”; “hint of citrus oak flavor comes through” and “nice bouquet and great flavor”.

The tasters said they would pay up to $16.80 for it. The actual price point is around $12. Both top wine’s alcohol level hovered around 13.5%.

Number three was Ramon Bilbao Crianza Tempranillo from Spain. This medium-bodied wine was a bright, deep, cherry-red with intense aromas of ripe black berries, savory hints of balsam and licorice. It was fresh, well-structured and textured with smoky cedar, spice box, leather, violets, and blackberry nuances.

All of the tasters commented on the intriguing earth, smoky aromas and the lenghty, peppery finish. A few noted a bitter edge to the cherry flavors. Overall, the wine was well received and comments included: “Nice nose, deep color, very nice”; “smooth, mellow, love it!”; “ Great flavor and body, dry finish, like this a lot”;  “definitely yummy. Strong finish”; “My favorite so far”; “ love the flavor”;  “smooth cherries”, and  “not sure of what this is, but would drink again.” All wanted to know where this wine could be purchased and the average estimate for this $12 wine was $16.50

The first wine of the evening  [yellow tail] Bubbles ranked at number four. The first thing the group noticed was the stopper or “zork”—a reusable sparkling wine stopper that the user presses down firmly to seal, and then pulls the side clasps down until a click is heard—they were intrigued. Made using the Charmat process (Tank Fermentation),  Bubbles was delightfully fresh and fruity. Flavors of tropical fruits and a medium sweetness led to a delightful, crisp finish.

Some of the group thought it was  a $14 Cava. The sparkling wine lovers  thought this was “a delicious, fun sparkler”. One stated it was “too fruity for my taste”, but most agreed that it was a “good, general occasion bubbly”. Other comments included:  “good flavor, but a twiggy after taste”; “sparkling wines are my favorite.”; “Refreshing lemon-lime, yummy and light”; “nice amount of bubbles”; “love the apricot and peach flavors’; and the final comment “It’s sparkling, it’s white, what’s not to like?” They especially liked the $9 price tag.

Rounding out the top five was Hob Nob Merlot, a red from France made in a “New World” style.  The group picked up on the black-currant, plum, and blackberry aromas and flavors. Most of the group commented that it was “Full-bodied with a nice soft, dry finish”. One commented “This is interesting. I like the smooth, deep flavors would pay $15.” Written comments included:  “nice tannic finish and the best so far”; and  “tastes like rasins, but I think it’s merlot— nice chocolate undertones.” Most  agreed they would buy it again and they would pay around $15.50 for it. They were delighted to discover it was an $11 wine.

This tasting offered several surprises, instead of tasting something new and different, they were  reintroduced to some old favorites and great values.

The next wine I Like It tasting will be held at Branches Catering on January 25, 2011.

Most of these wines can be found at local retailers, including: Gerards Wine & Spirits in Point Pleasant, Wine King of Wall, Spirit of 76 in Manasquan and Monmouth Bottle Shop in Oakhurst.

September’s Wine I like It Wine Tasting


Wine I Like It had it’s most recent tasting at Branches Catering in West Long Branch NJ September 39, 2010. This month the ten wines represented several different wine regions rather than just one as we had done in previous months. The wine regions represented: California, Hungry, Chile, South Africa, and Italy.

Wine I Like It is a not for profit blind tasting group designed to help people discover the sorts of wine they like, and at the same time, to help winemakers, distributors and retailers, determine what consumers look for in their wines. It is especially helpful for launching new wine products and or relaunching a once popular brand that has grown a little “tired”. The Wine I like It tasting panel group consists of more than 300 members who come from all walks of life and backgrounds. The ages range from 21 to 70-plus. Some are neophytes in the wine world wanting to learn more, others consider themselves wine experts and then there are the members who just love wine and are looking for something new and different for their  wine rack. The group is nearly evenly divided between male and female.

For each tasting panel, members are selected based on the day of the week they stated was the best day of the week for them to come and taste. All of the members for that particular day of the week are invited to attend the tasting, but only the first thirty to reply are accepted for the tasting, the next five are wait listed in case of cancellations, all of the other respondents are given first call for the next blind tasting date.

Each member of the panel is provided with a blank form with space for each of the ten wines being tasted. Here they are asked to record their initial impressions of the wine as to whether they like it or not based on a 0 – 5 scale with 5 being I like it a lot. There is also space for them to write notes, let us know how much they are willing to pay for this wine in a retail shop, and, if they like, guess they type of wine and wine region. The panel members are introduced to one another and then asked to refrain from speaking about wine or their impressions of each wine during the tasting so as not to influence one another.

The 25 tasters began the evening with a light, sparkling Moscato before settling down to begin the sampling.

The top wine this month was Dardano Zara Rosso 2008. Zara is a rich deep nebbiolo bend from the Langhe area of Piemonte in Italy. With 119 out of 145 points it was the clear leader. The comments ranged from  “Nice texture, full-bodied, smooth, rich cherry flavors” to “dried meat taste”. “Big and complex”  was noted by several of the panelists.  One wrote “Crisp flavor, it would be nice with a steak.” Another stated, “Best of the reds!” While others put it simply: “My favorite!”,  “Delicious!”, and “Yummy!” This wine normally sells for around $17 and the tasting panel was on track estimating they would pay up to $18 for a bottle.

There was a tie for the number two position, these two wines couldn’t have been more different from one another, yet both wines scored a total of 103 points out of 145. This Bliss Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008 from California was one of the two and the other came  from an area approximately 7000 miles way in Hungary, In Vino Veritas Tokaji Furmint Félszáraz (Medium-Dry) 2007.

Most of the panel surmised This Bliss was a California appellation Cabernet Sauvignon. One taster simply drew a smiley face for her comments, but most wrote the wine was “Nice aromas, big, jammy, slightly peppery and spicy with a smooth finish” One proclaimed it was amazing and another simply said “Excellent! I want barbecue! This Bliss normally sells for around $12. Here, the panel was generous, they said they would pay $17 for it.

Furmint wasn’t a grape most had tasted before, so many guessed it to be a German dry riesling or a gewürtztraminer from Germany or Austria and were surprised to discover the wine was Hungarian. The comments were unanimous: “Clean, crisp, fruit flavor of pears. Good and sweet”. One said it reminded him of salt water taffy. Another commented that it was “Nice and crisp fruit—good with Indian or Thai food” One declared it the favorite wine of the evening.  The panel was on target when it came to price, they said they would pay between $15 and $16 and this wine is normally offered for sale at around $16.

Coming in with the third highest score, but still  number four was Stellekaya Boschetto 2004—a red blend from Stellenbosch, South Africa. Boschetto is a blend of 40% cabernet sauvignon, 40% merlot, 10% shiraz, and 10% sangiovese.  Most of the tasters commented on the smoky aromas and flavors. One taster immediately guessed she was drinking a South African wine and thought it might be a cabernet/merlot blend. References were made to the scent of “forest floor” and “band-aids”.  Many agreed it was “layered, earthy, and complex with smooth tannins.” One commented the wine was “Easy to drink and good for a party”, while another stated, “Great flavor, well-rounded. I’m in love!” Here, our tasting panel underestimated the cost of this wine—$17 as opposed to the normal retail price of $31.

Rounding out the top five was Grand Sasso Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2008 from Italy. Nearly all noted the aromas of violets and strawberry were noted. One taster opined that the wine had “lots of fruit on the nose, but drier on the palate than I thought it would be.” One person suggested  “Light-bodied red —would be great with fish, pork, or chicken.” Another wrote: “Dry and flavorful—I like it!” The average price was estimated at $15.75—close to the $15 retail price.

While most of the tasters were unsure of the style and type of wines they were drinking, one taster correctly identified seven of the ten wine varietals and four of the wine regions. It was a fun and informative session for all panel members.

The next Wine I Like It Blind Tasting is scheduled for the end of October 2010 and WineILike It is actively seeking to add panel members.

1. Dardano Zara Rosso 2008 Nebbiolo blend

2. This Bliss Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008

2. In Vino Veritas Tokaji Furmint  Félszáraz (Medium Dry) 2007

4. Stellekaya Boschetto 2004 40% Cabernet Sauvignon/40% Merlot 10% Shiraz / 10% Sangiovese

5. Gran Sasso Montelpulciano DOC, 2009

Wine I Like it Blind Wine Tasting Panel


The latest Wine I Like it Blind Wine Tasting was held August 31 at Branches in West Long Branch. This month the wine tasting consisted of nine wines, which were sampled and rated by the 29 panel members.

Seven of the nine wines were from Spain, primarily tempranillo from the Ribera del Duero (although there was one Cabernet Sauvignon) and one white wine from Rueda. The remaining two wines to make up the set were a Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from California.

The wines were presented “blind”—no information was provided about the wine prior to tasting, nor could the tasters see the bottles before the tasting. The guests were told to rate the wines on a scale of “0” – “5” with “5” being “I liked it a lot” and “0” being I didn’t like it at all. Only the top five results are published. Full tasting results and information is provided to the to participating vendors, suppliers and distributors who request it.

Distributors / Vendors / Winemakers are asked to supply 2-3 bottles of each wine(s) that they would like to promote and/or sample with the public. If the wines are currently available locally, information regarding the basic price points and local retailers is conveyed to the tasters. If the wines are new to the market/area, providing suggested retail price aids the taster panel members when they ask for the products at their favorite retail establishment.

Guests were encouraged to guess the region and appellation of the wines and to mark down how much they would be willing to pay for the wine in a wine shop, rather than guess the retail price of the wine.

To help them remember the wines and tell their friends about the wines they liked, each taster had a two-piece rating sheet. The top sheet was returned  with their scores and what they would be willing to pay for each wine.  The bottom sheet listed the wines they tasted in the order of tasting, and since it is a carbonless transfer, they also retain their scores and comments. Additionally, each panel member was given (at the end of the evening) information regarding the wines, varietals and region to take with them.

If you would be interested in participating in the wineilikeit.com wine tasting panel program, it would be greatly appreciated. for more details on the particulars, check out the website or please contact: Art Foss at oceanwineguy@aol.com or Barbara Hay at hayseeds@mac.com or winepro@wineilikeit.com

The top five wines were:
1. Tinto Roa Reserva 2005
2. 24th Annual Belmar Seafood Festival Chardonnay from Domenico Winery
3. Tinto Roa Crianza 2007
4. Tinto Roa Roble 2008
5. Tinto Roa Musai de Tinto Roa 2006

The number one performer was the sixth wine that was tasted: Tinto Roa Reserva 2005, a tempranillo. Comments were very generous: “very bold fruit-forward wine, yet balanced”; “nice oak”; “it makes your mouth explode!”; “very full, big and spicy”; and “nicely balanced, great nose, smooth finish, jammy fruit-forward and big. Great for pasta” The prices people were willing to pay for this ranged from a low of $7 to a high of $25+ with the average coming to $15.

The number two-rated wine was the second wine tasted, it had been referred to as number eight. This was the 24th Annual Belmar Seafood Festival Chardonnay from Domenico Winery in California. Comments included: “excellent length, hints of flowers, and nice buttery finish”; “dry and oaky rounded flavors”; and “would be nice with food” The average price the tasters said were willing to pay for this wine was $10. One taster did say she would pay $4 while another remarked they would pay as much as $15

Finishing in third place was the fifth wine tasted: Tinto Roa Crianza 2007, another tempranillo. Overall the tasters seemed to agree that it had “good flavors, smooth mouth feel, and not too tannic”. One taster noted that it seemed “smoky, like pinot noir”. Many commented that it had a nice amount of oak and a “great finish” Another taster wrote “big and oaky, nice body with a good dry finish, nicely dry with a bit of spice—soft and smooth, good depth. In a word, yummy!” This wine was given a low price point of $7 and a high price point of $20 with the average dollar amount coming to around $13

Following the Crianza in fourth place, was the the fourth wine sampled, the wine was referred to as number 3 during the tasting: Tinto Roa Roble 2008. This wine had less aging than the previous two tempranillo offerings, and the tasting notes reflected the lighter body. Comments included: “reasonably dry”; “opens up to a nice fullness and depth”; “earthy, smooth, and dry”; “easily pairs with a lot of food”; “smooth, fresh flavors, light-medium-body, fills the mouth with berry”. The amounts the tasters said they would pay ranged from a low of $6 to a high of $20 with the average price point around $12.

The last wine of the top five was the number seven wine: Tinto Roa Musai de Tinto Roa 2006. It was apparent the tasters either “Loved it” or were indifferent toward it as it received more “5” point ratings than any other , but it also received more “1” and “2” point ratings than the other wines in the top five. The tasters comments included: “good structure, very impressive wine”; “nice, deep color and bold complex flavor—love it!” “The best of all with a big spicy finish”;, “wow! where”s the pasta?” “nice body and substance, sticks to my tongue” This tempranillo also garnered the highest amount that the tasters were willing to pay $27+,  but the tasters who were not enamoured of it seemed to prefer an $8 price tag, bringing this wine’s average price the panel was willing to pay to $15.

If you noticed, most of the wines on this list all contain a grape you may or may not have heard about before: Tempranillo. It is often referred to as Spain’s “noble grape”. Tempranillo grapes thrive in a short growing season and this early ripening tendency is the source of the name Tempranillo, which translates to “little early one”. Tempranillo also has many different regional identities worldwide, including aragon, cencibel, extremadura, valdepeñas and many derivatives of each.

Tempranillo wines can be consumed young, but the most expensive ones are aged for several years in oak barrels. It is frequently used as the base variety in blends, mostly with grenache, (aka garnacha in Spain), carignan (aka mazuelo in Spain’s Rioja region), syrah, and, more recently, cabernet sauvignon. Tempranillo aromas and flavors often combine elements of berryish fruit, plums, herbaceousness, vanilla, tobacco, an earthy-leathery character, and good minerality.

As our wine panel discovered these wines provide value for the money and are definitely worth a taste.

Wine Tasting with Polaner Selections and the Wine Concierge


Micheal Hoffmann of Polaner Selections and The Wine Concierge of Allenhurst hosted a spectacular wine tasting in  a gorgeous private home in West Long Branch.

The tasting of the selections began promptly at 7pm  with a sparkly little number from Italy: Sorelle Bronca Prosecco. It’s interesting to note that this prosecco is made primarily of the prosecco grape with a smattering of the indigenous varieties Perera, Verdiso, and Bianchetta and all of the the grapes are certified organic. The wine is classified as a Prosecco Colli Conegliano DOCG, the region having recently achieved DOCG status as of April 2010. This wine deliciously captures all of the original aromatics and fruit flavors of the grapes, and features sweet pear, nectarine and white blossoms in perfect condition.

The Bronca family team works hard in the vineyard and in the cellar to produce this purest and outstanding Prosecco Extra Dry, and they have succeeded. It is a truly stunning example of Italy’s favorite sparkler—perfect as an aperitif, with delicate dishes and fish, and for celebrating any special occasion.

This was immediately followed by a very full racy mouthful: Domaine du Haut Bourg Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu 2009. Located in the heart of the Muscadet appellation, fourteen kilometers southeast of Nantes in the Loire Valley, the Domaine du Haut Bourg was built by four generations of winegrowers. The “Côtes de Grandlieu” AOC is formed by nineteen townships that surround the Lac de Grandlieu. Made from from sustainably farmed 45-year-old  Melon de Bourgogne vines, this is classic Muscadet—bracing, salty, racy, and vibrant with delicious mature fruit flavors.

The third wine hailed from the slopes of Mount Etna  in North-eastern Sicily. This white was simply called Calabretta Carricante. This is considered to be a rare white wine made from old vine Carricante, interplanted with Minella Bianca for acidity. The winemaker, Massimiliano Calabretta, is also a part-time college professor at the University of Genova, and he makes only about 2,000 bottles of this a year.  This intriguing white is redolent with melony fruit and hints of straw and almonds. This medium-bodied white has a beautiful texture, lovely acidity and a lingering memory on the palate. It is a perfect wine to pair with nearly any sort of warm-weather foods or to serve as an aperitif. It was truly a unique wine.

The Calabretta Carricante was followed by a wine from one of Italy’s top “superstar” winemakers—Elisabetta Foradori’s Myrto I.G.T. Vigneti delle Dolomiti Bianco. Myrto is made from a blend of sixty percent Sauvignon Blanc and forty percent of a little-known grape, Incrocio Manzoni. It is a classy, medium-bodied and zesty dry white wine that perfectly captures the bounce and classic soil expression of the best white wines of the Trentino-Alto Adige. Myrto comes from the biodynamically farmed Foradori vineyards that lie in the side valley of Campo Rotaliano. Needless to say,  Myrto is a beautifully made delicate expression of elegance that offers up outstanding value.

The next wine was a Vouvray. Chenin Blanc has been identified with Vouvray for at least 11 centuries, and many of its great vineyards were known by the 14th century for producing some of the world’s most compelling white wines. By those standards, the 80-year-old Huët estate is relatively young. Yet, Domaine Huët Vouvray Le Mont 2009 , the fifth offering of this tasting has been the standard-bearer for great, ageworthy Chenin Blanc since its founding in 1928. Domaine Huët’s founder, Victor Huët, purchased the first of his great vineyards on Vouvray’s “Première Côte”in 1928. In 1957, the estate purchased the prime Première Côte vineyards: Le Mont. Le Mont Vouvray shows a fascinating level of transparency, purity, and knife-edged balance. Presently, this young wine is full of intense minerality. With age, this wine will develop great length and finesse. This is an epic vintage, it was exciting to taste this latest offering from one of the earliest adopters of biodynamic practices in the Loire Valley.

From the Loire, the tastebuds travelled to Livermore, California’s Kalin Cellars. Kalin Cellars Chardonnay Cuvée W Livermore Valley 1994. Yes, 1994. One taste, and even the most anti-Chardonny drinker will discover a unique California wine experience. Located in Marin County, the goal of winemaker Terry Leighton is to “produce wines of enduring value with traditional European style and character.” Terry is also professor emeritus of microbiology at UC Berkeley and understands the science of winemaking. The grapes were sourced from the Wente Estate Vineyard located near Livermore. Kalin Cellars makes this an artisanal wine of substantial depth, complexity and style. The aromas are reminiscent of lime blossoms and freshly toasted bread. The flavors are rich, powerful, but counterbalanced by an extraordinary, racy mineral acid fruit structure. This singular 100% Charonnay is a wine to match with food.

After these six Beautiful whites it was time to think about sampling the magnificent reds that were featured this evening. What better way to ease the transition than with a glass of Bedrock Wine Co.’s Bedrock Rosé? Bedrock is an itsy-bitsy winery making wine in a converted chicken coop and their 2009 ‘Ode to Lulu’ Rose Sonoma Valley is a fabulous rosé. For all the point counters, last year’s vintage of “Lulu” received the highest score for rosé ever given. It received  90 points from both the Wine Spectator and Steven Tanzer. This rosé is made from Mourvedre and the vines are 120 year-old vines.  The Mourvedre has bright aromatics of red currents, cherry, and hints of white pepper, bordered with the added complexity of the  funky mustiness of the Mourvedre grape. The palate is clean and vibrant with dusty minerality leading to a lengthy finish. This wine paired beautifully with the offerings of cured meats, cheese, great bread, fresh tomatoes, and basil.
The first red of the evening was Evodia 2008 from Altovinum. Altovinum is a new project—a joint partnership between Eric Solomon, Jean Marc Lafage and Yolanda Diaz. The wine is 100% old vine Garnacha from the D.O. Calatayud’s  village of Atea. This wine is fresh with pure strawberry and raspberry deepened by notes of licorice, black tea and pungent herbs on the nose. Supple in texture, this young garnacha is velvety, offering sweet red fruit flavors, hints of spicy pepper and a nice smokieness that only adds to the complexity. The wine is incredibly smooth with nicely persistent, red berry-dominated finish. It was extremely easy to drink paired beautifully with the cheeses and meats that were offered.

The second red was from Mendoza Argentina: La Posta Bonarda. Bonarda is a grape that has taken off in Argentina,  and this 100% example is one of unusually high quality. This winery has been growing grapes in Mendoza since 1887, and the present Bonarda vineyard was planted  in 1963. This Bonarda sports bright aromas of fresh red & black raspberries and subtle smoky oak notes. The flavors are of freshly-crushed raspberries, white pepper, dark chocolate, a touch sandalwood and mint. Though quite rich and hedonistic, the seamless structure of this wine makes it a candidate for drinking inow or over the next few years. It will pair well with just about any food with which you would drink a fruit-driven red or  a Zinfandel.

The first Pinot Nor to be sampled came from Sonoma, 2008 Mary Elke Pinot Noir. The 2008 Mary Elke Pinot Noir is 100% Donnelly Creek vineyard fruit that reflects the cool climate and soils of the Anderson Valley. Elke Vineyards practices organic farming as much as possible, yet they describe their vineyard practices more accurately as “sustainable,” allowing them to use very limited chemical inputs to the vineyard and do canopy management practices that help to reduce spray applications. The Pinot exudes rich, ripe, red fruit flavors combined with a slight spice element and a slight mid-palate tannin to produce a “bigger” style Pinot Noir. This is an an elegant wine characterized by ripedark chrry fruit, a spicy backbone, and velvety texture which will continue to develop with bottle aging. Elke is a limited production Pinot Noir with 1,200 cases.

L’Angevin Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2007 is a  Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley. This Pinot has a traditional and refined feminine character of fresh black cherry, bergamot, mint, and tea leaves. There is an intense layered bouquet of strawberry, raspberry, orange blossom with notes of vanilla and spice. On the palate, there is a beautiful acidity, silky tannins and red fruit flavors that makes for a well balanced medium-bodied wine with a moderate finish and smooth texture. Simply put, the wine is delicately smooth and is full of beautiful cherry fruit from start to finish. This  Pinot paired with the pasta, rice, cheese and meat platters offered.

The next red was the latest signature blend from winemaker extraordinaire Karen Culler, Culler Wines La Palette 2005. When Karen Culler started producing her own wines in 1997, she wanted to make wines that she liked to drink—just in case they weren’t a hit with the public. This Cabernet is a blend of 91% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Petit Verdot, all from Alexander Ranch fruit. The wine is big, dense, and jammy, with gobs of black currants violet, and spice flavors of licorice and bay leaf. The nose is aromatic with roasted herbs, black currants, leather, minerals and toasty oak. The fruit-driven flavors  and ripely tannic structure define this  medium-bodied red,  culminating in an elegant finish. Delicious!

The cab was followed by a 100% California Zinfandel: Outpost Zinfandel Howell Mountain 2006. Outpost creates world-class 100 percent varietals from their hand-cultivated, organically farmed 42-acre estate vineyard, and this Zin shows why Howell Mountain Zinfandel attracts such a devoted following. The old vines add aromatics and acid backbone while the younger vines provide mid-palate weight and rich elegance. There is a  fragrant floral nose, hints of rich ripe  black raspberry, black currant, and a spice-scented bouquet. Full-bodied, with espresso, mocha and chocolate, a good texture, a layered mouthfeel, and a long finish, it went very well with the chocolate dessert and oatmeal cookies.

The flagship Barbera from the Trinchero estate: Barbera d’Asti “Vigna del Noce”, was to be the last wine tasted for the evening. The vines for this Barbera were planted in the hills of Asti in 1929. This vintage was the 1999. Trinchero makes one of the longest-lived and most profound examples of Barbera to be found in all of Italy, and this wine lived up to the reputation with impressive complexity and the depth. Aromas of ripe dark cherry, figs, truffle, mushroom, prune, leather, stony minerality, and hints of smoke wafted up from the glass. The palate was earthy, juicy, with layers of cherry, truffle and fig with more smokey, earthy tones intermingled with spice accents that seem to expand in mid-palate. The long finish is dark, earthy, with dry tannins and  minerals. This wine is the perfect wine to end an enjoyable evening.
All of these wines can be found at the Wine Concierge in Allenhurst and at Gerard’s Liquors in Point Pleasant.

Wine I Like It Blind Tasting Panel – Spanish Wines


Wine I Like Blind Tasting Panel Results from Thursday, July 22

Wine I Like it is a non-profit organization dedicated to finding out what the “average consumer” thinks about various wines.    To that end, Wine I Like It hosts “I Like It” wine tasting panels comprised of people who are not professionals in the wine industry. These “non-professionals ” taste wines to see if they “LIKE” them “OR NOT”.

There is a series of several different panels. Some are based on age, some on wine preferences and others on a combination of preferences. Our goal is to find out how people outside of the wine industry feel about various products—whether they “Like It” or “Dislike It”. It is fun and informative for the tasting panel members as well as enlightening for us to see what consumers prefer.

Our panel rates the wines based on a proprietary system, exclusive to Wine I Like It that serves to help demystify the number systems wine buyers currently rely on by making valuations as simple and transparent as possible.

This month the wine tasting stayed in a single country and within two specific regions – Castilla y León and Castilla La Mancha, Spain. Some of the tasters were surprised to find they were tasting Spanish wine, only one taster knew immediately they were from Spain. We tasted two whites, two rosés, and six reds that were all classified Vino de la tierra.

Here are the top five including the average price the panel was willing to pay for each wine.

  1. Cotoval Tempranillo 2004
    Vino de la tierra de Castilla y León
    Aged 12 months in Oak
  2. Tavera 2008 Vendimia Seleccionada
    A selected blend of Tempranillo, Grenache and Syrah
    Vino de la tierra de Castilla
  3. Cotoval Tempranillo 2006
    Vino de la tierra de Castilla y León
    Aged 6 months in Oak
    Average Price: $15
  4. Tavera Syrah-Tempranillo 2008
    Vino de la tierra de Castilla
    Average Price: $14
  5. Cotoval Tempranillo 2008
    Vino de la tierra de Castilla y León
    Average Price: $13

The all-around number one favorite was the Cotoval Tempranillo 2004 Vino de la tierra de Castilla y León Aged 12 months in Oak. Some of the comments about this wine included: “I need a slice of pizza!”, “Nice finish and flavor”; Awesome I’d lay it down for a year if I could stay away from it!” “Best of all! Would pay $30 for this one!”

This wine, as most of the wines sampled that evening is a Vinos de la Tierra (VdlT). The concept is similar to the Vins de Pays of France and, according to Spanish law, is seen as sort of transitional term for areas that can, after 5 years, apply for Denominación de Origen status. However, many wineries in Vinos de la Tierra areas have relished the greater freedom than exists under the D.O. system to produce grapes and wines as they wish. The result is wines that are more innovative and exciting than those of D.O.s. These broader geographical designations will appear on the label such as Andalucia, Castilla y León, Castilla La Mancha and Levante.

Three of our  top five, (including number one) hail from Castilla y León, IPA. Known formally as the Community of Castile and León, is one of the 17 autonomous communities of Spain. It was constructed from the historic regions of Old Castile (Castilla la Vieja) and León, first as a preautonomía—a “pre-autonomous” region—in 1978 and then as an autonomous community in 1983. It is the largest autonomous community in Spain, covering an area of 94,223 square kilometers (36,380 sq. mi).

Number two on the list is Tavera 2008 Vendimia Seleccionada. This wine is a selected blend of Tempranillo, Grenache and Syrah. Although this wine is drinking beautifully now, it will  benefit from some time ageing in the bottle. For the word “Vendimia” or vintage year to appear on the label, a minimum of 85% of the grapes must be from that year’s (in this case 2008) harvest. This wine is from the Vinos de la Tierra de Castilla, central Spain, the Spain of Don Quixote. This region is noted for its hot, arid plains. The V. de la T. de Castilla was formed in 1999 to take in those areas outside of the several D.O.s in the area (such as La Mancha). The region as a whole has 600,000 hectares (1.48 million acres) of vineyards, which represents nearly 6% of the world’s vineyards.

Many of our tasters described this wine as “A nice piece of salmon is calling me!”,”Good summer red wine, nice soft tannins” “Great aroma and flavor” “really nice finish, would pair nicely with food” “excellent! A nice full-bodied wine.” The average price our tasting panel was willing to pay for this wine was $14, with some saying they could easily pay more than $20.

Number three on this hit parade took us back to Castilla y León with Cotoval Tempranillo 2006
Vino de la tierra de Castilla y León
. This wine is aged 6 months in oak. In Spain, red wines that are aged for a two years with at least 6 month in oak are considered a Crianza. Our panel agreed that it had a “Great nose and smooth tannins” “Soft tannins with a nice full flavor”and “Smooth finish” this wine fell into the $15 average price category.

The fourth wine, Tavera Syrah-Tempranillo 2008 Vino de la tierra de Castilla took us back to Castilla La Mancha just outside of Toledo. This blend of Syrah-Tempranillo received the following comments: “I need a piece of mild sausage and Italian bread with this!”; “Very Fruit forward – it explodes!”; “Very versatile”; and “Good bold flavor that grows on you!” The average price point suggested was $14.

Our last top wine, number 5, was Cotoval Tempranillo 2008 Vino de la tierra de Castilla y León. One taster commented “I’m in love!” Another asked “Is that a slight pepper taste?”; ”Nice aromatics and cherry flavor” ; “Smells great! Nice finish, best one!” …and the short but sweet “Excellent!” The average price they said they would pay was around $13.

If you noticed, each of the top five wines on this list all contain a grape you may or may not have heard about before: Tempranillo—often referred to as Spain’s “noble grape”. Tempranillo grapes thrive in a short growing season and this early ripening tendency is the source of the name Tempranillo, which translates to “little early one”. Tempranillo also has many different regional identities worldwide, including Aragon, Cencibel, Extremadura, Jacibiera, Tinto, Tinto Fino, Valdepeñas and many more too numerous to list here.

Tempranillo wines can be consumed young, but the most expensive ones are aged for several years in oak barrels. It is frequently used as the base variety in blends,and is most frequently mated with grenache, (aka garnacha in Spain), carignan (aka mazuelo in Spain’s Rioja region), syrah and, more recently, cabernet sauvignon. Tempranillo aromas and flavors often combine elements of berryish fruit, plums, herbaceousness, vanilla, tobacco, an earthy-leathery character, and good minerality.

As our wine panel discovered, these wines provide value for the money and are definitely worth a taste.

For more information about the wines that were sampled or to find out how you can become part of the wineilikeit.com tasting panel, visit http://www.wineilikeit.com