Friday Odds and Ends

Friday, September 25, 2009

Just a few things for today:

  • This week, I had a chance to meet with Jonathan Newman from Newman Wines. If you'll recall I featured their 2006 Mockingbird Hill Petite Sirah as a value alert. They've got more more value plays in their line-up, and I had a chance to try their 2005 Crauford Cabernet Sauvignon. Phenomenal- and available for less than $25 retail. I'll probably be writing more about their wines in the future, but for now I'd definitely recommend you check out their portfolio.
  • I started taking some formal wine education courses. I'm doing the Wine & Spirits Education Trust Intermediate Certificate course at the Boston Center for Adult Education. It's just like college classes except you get to try 12 different wines each week. Good times!
  • (The Boston Globe's website) featured my interview with Paul Sequeira from Red Car Wine Company on their front page. Man, for as much as people say newspapers are dead that site drives some traffic. Even for a tiny little text link at the bottom of their page it leads to hundreds of visitors.
  • I submitted a piece that was published on TwiTip yesterday. TwiTip is a side project from ProBlogger that helps people be more effective with their use of Twitter. I considered publishing the piece on this site, since the tips are useful to my wine friends getting started on Twitter. However, I thought it would reach a wider audience on TwiTip so I published it there. Check it out- I hope you find it helpful:
    A Concise Guide to Understanding Replies, Mentions, and Direct Messages on Twitter
  • Two Boston-area events for this weekend, the 4th Annual Newport Mansions Food & Wine Festival and Wine Riot II. I'm planning on attending the Newport Mansions event on Sunday but I can't make it to Wine Riot unfortunately.
I had reason to crack open some nicer bottles recently. Here are some quick-fire notes:
  • 2007 Red Car Heaven & Earth La Boheme Pinot Noir
    Utterly enjoyable for its vibrant, fresh strawberry flavors and spicy aromas. Classic California Pinot Noir. Falls short of being the best Pinot Noir I've ever had. Not surprisingly, I couldn't taste the 97 points Wine Spectator gave this one. I'll let the other bottle rest a year or two to give it some time for secondary characteristics to develop.
    Around $60.
    93 WWP/Outstanding
  • 2004 Sea Smoke Southing Pinot Noir
    The first Sea Smoke I've ever had, and it didn't disappoint. Really enjoyed the balance this wine presented. It's a big wine, don't get me wrong, but it balanced earth with fruit and tons of flavor without being jammy. Thoroughly enjoyed this wine and looking forward to a bottle of 2006 Sea Smoke Ten.
    Around $55.
    95 WWP/Oustanding
  • 2005 Hewitt Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford
    I love a big, dense, Napa Cab but at this point in time I feel this one is over the top. Even for me. Dark purple- nearly pitch black. A little hot with alcohol. Needs time to calm down.
    Around $65.
    88 WWP/Very Good
Let me know if you have any thoughts on these items. I hope you enjoy a great first weekend in autumn!


California Pinot Noir Producer Reacts to Top Rating with Excitement, Humility

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

When Wine Spectator recently released their round-up of 2007 California Pinot Noirs, they called it the best vintage of California Pinot Noir ever. I noticed an interesting bottle on the cover I didn't recognize- the 2007 Red Car Heaven & Earth Pinot Noir. At 97WS/$60 I consider it a value wine (Wine Spectator has only rated one CA Pinot higher- ever). Paul Sequeira from Red Car Wine Company was kind enough to respond to the following questions. I hope you find his responses as interesting as I do.

Q: If you would, tell us a little bit about Red Car Wines and your role there.

Paul Sequeira: Red Car was founded in 2000 with the idea of producing delicious, expressive Syrahs from the Central Coast of California. We have evolved since then to produce both Pinot Noir and Syrah, and have moved north to the Sonoma Coast. However, we are still committed to making excellent wines and marketing them in a creative, unique way.

Our wines are divided into three tiers. Our most economical tier is called “Boxcar”, and in this tier we make dry Rosé, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. Our middle tier carries the iconic Red Car label, and we have nicknamed these wines the “Trolley” series. At this point we make only a Pinot Noir and a Syrah in this tier. Our reserve wines all tell their own story, both in the bottle and on the label. We made two reserve Pinot Noirs in 2007, the “Heaven & Earth” and the “Aphorist”. Our two reserve Syrahs were called “The Fight” and “Cuvee 22”. I function as both a viticulturist and the director of sales, which is an odd combination. In fact, I’ve never met anyone else with the same job description!

Q: Congratulations on the 97 point rating from Wine Spectator. What do you think was it about the 2007 Heaven & Earth Pinot that James Laube liked so much?

Paul: I think James Laube prefers ripe, forward, textural wines, be they Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir, and the 2007 Heaven & Earth fits that description. I personally prefer our 2007 Aphorist, which is much more perfumed and nuanced, but maybe that’s why I’m not a famous journalist.

Q: Same question I've asked other winemakers who have received big numbers from Spectator: Where were you when you first heard about the rating? What was your reaction?

Paul: Carroll, our winemaker and founder, called me in hysterics. I was on the road – in Maine I think. Neither of us give much weight to critical scores personally, but we both knew what it would mean to the winery in terms of exposure. We immediately froze all sales of the wine until we could allocate the remaining inventory equitably to our customers. It was a very exciting moment – we knew in an instant how differently our year would unfold.

Q: There were only 350 cases of the Heaven & Earth produced so it's very hard to find. Which of your wines would you recommend as an alternative that would give us a sense of the style of Pinot Noir that Red Car is making?

Paul: Actually, there were only 292 cases produced, and they were sold out almost instantly after the rating became public (they were almost sold out already, and the ratings just sealed the deal). The Red Car 07 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (aka “Trolley” Pinot) is the closest to the Heaven & Earth stylistically. It also sold out immediately after receiving 94 points in the same Spectator issue. Our Aphorist Pinot Noir is more aromatic, less extracted, and perhaps more age-worthy due to a higher level of acidity. It is sold out at the winery as well, but may be available on the market. For a bargain alternative, try our Boxcar Pinot Noir, which retails for around $30.

Q: Did I read somewhere that you're moving from Los Angeles to Northern California? What's next for Red Car?

Paul: The winery moved to the Sonoma Coast just before harvest of this year, which made for a very crazy August. We hope to open our tasting room by the summer of 2010. The most dramatic development for Red Car right now, other than our move north, is that our estate vineyard northwest of Cazadero on the “True” Sonoma Coast will yield its first full crop this harvest. We expect to release the first of our estate wines (both Pinot Noir and Syrah) in the spring of 2011. We have great expectations.

Other interviews with top Sonoma Pinot Noir producers:

I was able to find a couple of bottles of this wine and I cracked one open recently. Here are my tasting notes.

Question of the Day: Have you ever tried wines from Red Car? If so, what did you think? If not, would you buy them if you saw them?


Wine Riot II September 25th & 26th, 2009

Monday, September 21, 2009

Wine Riot II is coming to Boston this weekend, September 25th & 26th, 2009. This time, the venue shifts to the John J. Moakley Courthouse on the waterfront. Here's a list of the wines that will be poured. Looking through the list, I see an eclectic mix of wines I've not tried but would like to.

A few I've enjoyed that I'd encourage you to seek out:

  • Travessia's Semi-Sweet Vidal Blanc is one of the best wines I've had this year. If you like German Riesling with a touch of sweetness, give this one a try.
  • Speaking of German Rieslings, Dr. Loosen's Kabinett "Blue Slate" Riesling is one I'd recommend.
  • I've always enjoyed the red wines from Stuhlmuller Vineyards.
  • Crios de Susana Balbo Torrontes will be poured, which landed on my list of Five Freaking Delicious Wines (that wine geeks won't make fun of you for drinking)
  • The Buena Vista Carernos Pinot Noir is a great example of California Pinot Noir that won't break the bank. It was featured in The Hunt for $20 Pinot Noir as well as a recent Twitter Taste Live event.
Some things to consider for the event:
  • Don't be afraid that the event is going to be too wild (it's not really a riot, though it is a good time). There's some seriously smart and cool people who can help you make the most of your time at the event.
  • Arrive with a full stomach. Although Wine Riot does a much better job providing food than other events, it's easy to get excited about the wines and forget to eat.
  • Spit as many of the wines as you can bear. You'll get tipsy even if you spit everything, so take this opportunity to make note of the wines you like as you try news things.
  • Spend time talking to wine makers. If you find a booth that's manned by someone who actually made the wine, talk their ear off and listen to their answers. Turn what would be just a regular tasting into a mini-visit to the winery.
  • Bring your own stemware. It may seem like the ultimate wine-geek maneuver but I've found that tastings like this frequently have either plastic stemless glasses (that are still off-gassing until you've tasted through a half dozen wines) -or- stemmed glassware that's too small. Bring a nice glass from home so you can get your sniffer in there and assess wines the way you're used to.
  • Take public transportation, catch a cab, or assign a designated driver. Drunk driving isn't cool. Nor is driving tipsy. Plan ahead and avoid making a judgment call at the end of the event so you can enjoy yourself.
  • If you don't like crowds, attend the Friday night VIP Riot. I attended the VIP Riot time slot last year and thought it was great. They sell half as many tickets for the VIP Riot as they do for Saturday night's "Riot Two". April's VIP Riot was festively attended, but there's still enough room that you could get around without waiting too long for a pour.
Question of the Day: Any other tips for enjoying the event? Are you planning on attending Wine Riot II?


Sub-$20 Oregon Pinot Noir Knocks it Out of the Park

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Remember the 1999 Major League Baseball All-Start Game at Fenway Park? It was the year Mark McGwire crushed pitch after pitch over the Green Monster in the Home Run Derby. I recently opened a wine that so competently delivered on what I'm looking for in an Oregon Pinot Noir that it reminded me of McGwire's performance in that competition.

I'm basically looking for 3 things in this category:

  • Earthy aromas
  • Stawberry/cherry/spice flavors
  • Silky smooth texture and finish
The 2005 August Cellars Pinot Noir stepped up to the plate and knocked each and every one of these expectations out of the park. Boom, boom, boom. I thought it was outstanding, and utterly surprising given its relatively reasonable shelf price of $16.99. The wine is incredibly confident, complete and balanced. 92/WWP: Oustanding

I'll definitely be buying more of this one, though I'm not sure about its availability nationally. Wines from August Cellars have never been rated by Wine Spectator, and this vintage hasn't been rated by anyone else on CellarTracker. I bought it based on a recommendation from Steve Grant at Blanchards. If you're in the area, definitely seek out his recommendations. He hits for a very high average in my experience.

Where to buy:
Blanchards Wine & Spirits in West Roxbury, MA
Follow @blanchardswine on Twitter

McGwire didn't win the 1999 Home Run Derby. He tired after hitting 13 home runs in the first round and failed to advance to the finals hitting only 3 homers in the 2nd round. Funny how all I remembered was how he effortlessly smashed pitch after pitch over the wall. Can you guess who won it before looking?

Further Reading:
I've been tasting through highly rated Pinot Noirs lately and I'll be writing about my impressions of them in upcoming pieces. I'd love it if you subscribed to the site via E-mail or in a feed reader so you can hear about new content without needed to check back.

Question of the Day:
Have you discovered any Pinot Noir values lately? We'd love to hear about them.


Truchard Wine Dinner at BOKX109 in Newton, MA

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

First of all, I wanted to thank everyone for reading and commenting on the shelf-talker piece I submitted to Palate Press last week. The comments and discussion generated awareness around a subject I feel is important, and I really appreciate your support.

A quick mention of an event tomorrow night in Newton...

BOKX109 in Newton is having a 5-course paired wine dinner featuring Napa Valley’s Truchard Vineyard. I went to a similar dinner featuring wines from Robert Foley a couple of months ago and thought it was excellent: Very good food paired with outstanding wine.

WHEN: Thursday, September 17th, 2009 at 6:30pm
COST: $75.00, excluding tax and gratuity.

1st Course:
Oysters with lychee, green smith apple mignonette
Mushrooms pupussa with hen of the woods, farmers cheese, green papaya slaw
Crispy Chicken with sausage, corn jitters
Roussanne 2007

2nd Course:
Bass and Lobster with artichoke, asparagus, preserved lemon butter
Chardonnay 2006

3rd Course:
Wood Grilled Quail with cranberry, wheat berry, almond, licorice
Pinot Noir 2005

4th Course:
Shepherds Pride Lamb Loin with morels, candy fennel, chard, chippolini
Zinfandel 2005

5th Course:
Lookout Farm Braeburn Apple Tarte with almond, bourbon
Late Harvest Chardonnay 2006

Check 'em out:
BOKX 109 American Prime
399 Grove Street
Newton, MA 02462
(Located inside Hotel Indigo)
Follow @BOKX109 on Twitter

For reservations and more information call 617.969.5300 or visit


Shady Shelf Talkers (Guest Post on PALATE PRESS: The online wine magazine)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

"According to data from Compete, the top 20 wine bloggers in aggregate have a larger audience than the Wine Spectator online." -VinTank Social Media Report

These words opened the door for someone to combine the efforts of top wine bloggers and make them greater than the sum of their parts. PALATE PRESS: The online wine magazine debuts today and will test that theory. I contributed a piece for the inaugural edition on a subject I enjoy talking about:

A recent visit to the Costco in Waltham, outside of Boston, gave me a chance to spot-check an assertion I had made while defending Costco’s shelf talkers on another wine blog. I said that I hadn’t seen Costco withholding more recent ratings when they were available and cited the Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon specifically. I’m sad to report that it appears I was wrong. Read more...

I'd appreciate if you clicked through and finished reading the story, and if you leave a comment on the site you'd be my BFF. Thanks for your support.


Restaurant Review: Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Update (10/14/2013): This restaurant has closed.

So often in discussions on wine and ratings, we seem to fall into the trap of saying which wine is better than another. I know I have. However, as I was trying to decide which restaurant to visit on a recent trip to New York City it occurred to me that it isn't a matter of there being a single "best" restaurant any more than there's a best wine. It's a matter of aligning our palates with what we're in a mood for at this point in time. Whether it be the flavor profiles we're comfortable with from past experience, the level of formality we're up for given the occasion, or the mood we're in given the season- it's all about combining the restaurant or the wine with the circumstances at hand to create a unique and memorable experience.

Here's what I was looking for in a restaurant for this occasion:
  • Needs to be something I can't find in Boston
  • Needs to be something we could get excited about
  • Should be fancy enough that it's a special occasion, but not so fancy as to be stressful
  • Not a steakhouse, and not seafood
As much as I love wine, I'm not big on restaurant wine lists. Few wines can deliver value when their release price is multiplied by 2 or 3 times and for me the experience of drinking a bottle of wine at a restaurant isn't highly differentiated vs. drinking it at home. Paired dinners can be great, but they're sort of a different animal vs. scanning an overpriced wine list as a steakhouse.

One restaurant that's been on my mind ever since I received the cookbook for Christmas was Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill. The book is really beautiful to look at, and the recipes make my mouth water. However, they're not the easiest things in the world to make. Tons of ingredients in the name of the dishes alone tempt you to skip an element that might turn out to be essential. This, combined with what we were looking for on this occasion, made it the perfect place to try for our visit.

I had some concerns about the restaurant after reading this negative review of another Flay restaurant. After looking around on Trip Advisor I was downright spooked: "On Par With Chili's" read the reviews. Hey- I don't think Chili's is so bad in the grand scheme of things (though I think I do understand the connotation the reviewer was aiming for) so I plowed forward.

Unfortunately, when I tried to make a reservation on Open Table the restaurant was full all weekend. Fortunately, the concierge at our hotel and was able to secure us a reservation for 7:45PM on a Saturday night. We arrived at 7:30PM and our table was ready for us. We were seated at an excellent table at the front of the house.

There was a lively crowd at the nearby bar, but we were able to hear each other talk. The tables were tightly packed initially, but the party seated next to us was a group of 3 so the tables were rearranged giving us elbow room. (In the image at the top of this piece, we were seated at the table to the right against the wall.) The waiter come over immediately, greeted us, gave us menus and took our drink orders. I ordered a glass of Malbec per a suggestion I got ahead of time from @TheWineExpert (The Capital Grille's Master Sommerlier George Miliotes). It was *fantastic*. I'm not certain of the vintage, but I think it was a 2008 Urban Uco Malbec. Tons of fruit to balance out spicy steaks. Highly recommended at about $10 a bottle in stores (or $10 a glass if you're in at Mesa Grill).

When we had a chance to look at the dinner menu, I remembered why it was that I wanted to come here in the first place: 90% of the menu sounds so good to me. For an appetizer, we took our waiter Matt's suggestion of the Goat Cheese “Queso Fundido” with Rajas + Blue Corn Tortilla Chips. It was delicious. Salty cheesy goodness with sweet roasted red peppers and jalapenos.

For sides, we again took our waiter's suggestion of the Roasted Corn with Smoked Chiles,
Cotija Cheese + Lime along as well as Mashed Potatoes with Cilantro Pesto. The Corn was outstanding and the mashed potatoes were very good.

For entrees, Deanna chose the Cornmeal Crusted Chile Relleno filled with Roasted Eggplant + Manchego Cheese with Sweet Red Pepper Sauce + Balsamic Vinegar. I ordered the Red + Black Pepper Crusted Filet Mignon with Mushroom-Ancho Chile Sauce. Both were very good. The filet was as massive as I've seen, but I would have preferred it to be a little more seared on the outside and a little more done on the inside. It was dark red in the center and I ordered it medium. No biggie- I was stuffed at that point anyway.

We were doing so well with our waiter's suggestions that we couldn't resist a look at the dessert menu. We went for the Toasted Coconut Layer Cake with Coconut Cream Sauce. It was OK. A little dry- couldn't find the cream sauce. After our server comped our dessert for no reason in particular, our bill was $112.14 with tax. I thought this was extremely reasonable- an excellent value.

Overall, I'm glad we visited this restaurant and I would recommend it to anyone who likes what they see from watching Bobby Flay on TV or from reading the menu. Was it on par with Chili's? I think Z'Tejas would be a more fitting comparison. For me, Mesa Grill was a more upscale version of Z'Tejas with New York flair. It was a dining experience I won't soon forget.

  • Cordially greeted and promptly seated
  • Excellent Malbec by the glass
  • Lively atmosphere without being too noisy
  • Professional, down to earth, well-paced service
  • Mouth watering food that lived up to my expectations
  • Very reasonably priced, especially for New York City
Areas for improvement:
  • Filet Mignon was a little undercooked
  • Toasted Coconut Layer Cake was a little dry
Check 'em out:
Mesa Grill
102 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10011

Question of the Day: Have you ever been to a Bobby Flay restaurant? If so, what did you think? If not, would you like to?


Tasting Report: Truro Vineyards of Cape Cod

Friday, September 4, 2009

Truro Vineyards is located on Cape Cod in the town of Truro. The winery was established in 1992, and has been owned and operated by the Roberts family since 2007 when Dave Roberts retired as CEO of United Liquors. Truro Vineyards makes wines with a combination of estate grapes and grapes sourced from other locations in the United States.

I had a chance to taste two wines from Truro recently. Here are my impressions:

2007 Truro Vineyards Vignoles

Winemaker Matyas Vogel/David Roberts Jr.
Grapes 100% Vignoles
Alcohol 11.5%
Residual Sugar 3%
Retail Price $13.99

Winery Tasting Notes Truro Vignoles presents a delightful simultaneous flavor sensation of lush ripe tropical fruit balanced with tangy spices. This crisp off-dry white wine has 2.5% residual sugar, which matches up perfectly with spicy food and sushi.

The grapes in the Vignoles come from Upstate New York.

My Notes Distinctive and enjoyable pineapple aromas stop just short of being full-on yummy on the palate. A bit of wet cardboard haunts the finish along with herbal notes. I enjoyed the wine- it was good. But for me it would have been very good if it were a little more focused and shed some of the herbal distractions. 84 WWP/Good

2007 Truro Vineyards Cabernet Franc

Winemaker Matyas Vogel/David Roberts Jr.
Grapes 100% Cabernet Franc
Alcohol 12.5%
Fermentation Handpicked, crushed and fermented in open vats in the traditional Loire style. Prolonged skin contact for optimal color, flavor and tannin extraction.
Barrel Aging 20 months in American oak.
Retail Price $15.99

Winery Tasting Notes Cabernet Franc is the signature varietal of Truro Vineyards. Open vat fermentation, extended maceration and 18 months barrel aging all contribute to rich varietal fruit flavors and herbal tannins. This tasty dry red wine is best served with beef, pork and varied roasted dishes.

90% of the grapes in the Cab Franc are grown in Truro.

My Notes Medium bodied and deliciously fruit forward. Backed up with a dry finish, but in an easy drinking style. 86 WWP/Very Good

What To Do Next:

  • Try their wines. They're available in stores in Massachusetts including Nine East Wine Emporium in Natick and OmniFoods in Weston. You can also buy their wines online.
  • Visit the winery. They have an active schedule of events in the upcoming months.
I'd like to thank Truro Vineyards for giving me the chance to try these wines.


Wine Spectator New York Wine Experience: October 22-24, 2009

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

If you're a fan of Wine Spectator and/or you like tasting great wines, you won't want to miss the New York Wine Experience October 22nd-24th, 2009 at the New York Marriott Marquis.

There are several ways to take part in the event. First is to purchase a $250 ticket for one of the Grand Tastings. These are "expo-style" stand up/walk around tastings that feature an impressive list of wineries. Second is to purchase a $1,875 weekend pass that gives you admission to two nights of the Grand Tastings, some meals -and- (most notably) admission to sit down seminars moderated by Wine Spectator editors.

Although I've never attended one of these events personally, the sit down format in particular has always looked attractive since they provide an opportunity to focus and learn more about specific wines right from the editors of the magazine.

Click here to visit the event site.

Question of the Day: Are you planning to attend this event?



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