You Can’t Drink a Label or Price Tag

“You can’t drink a label or a price tag or anyone else’s palate.” How often have my friends and tasting companions heard me utter those exact words? More times than they care to remember, I’m sure. And all this time I thought they were reaching for another bottle of wine simply because they liked it, and not to inoculate themselves from my redundancy. Well, to that I say “some things are worth repeating.” Wine snobs buy wines to impress other people, wine lovers buy wines they and their friends like to drink. The former is about status and insecurity, the latter about sharing and partaking in the best that life has to offer. Surely, what appeals to one may not have that same appeal to another. So, to thy own palate be true. Yet, who can deny the existence of a true quality factor in wine? Some wine as food for thought.

Collector’s Series Top Picks

Choosing this month’s Collector Series Top Picks isn’t any easier than in previous months, but I don’t feel the same sense of guilt. Why? This month’s Collector Series white has a good self image. Colli di Lapio’s delicious Fiano di Avellino has been a perennial favorite of mine and of the club membership, too, so no disrespect intended nor perceived. With that being said, my first Top Pick for this series goes to the 2010 La Vau Gigondas. It’s a pure, polished Gigondas from one of the finest vintages in the Southern Rhône in recent memory. Moreover, I can drink this wine happily now or better still, lay it away for several more years to gain further depth and complexity . . . but that’s only if I can contain myself. My second Top Pick is Pezzi King’s 2007 Old Vines Zinfandel. It’s classic, old time Sonoma County Zin: it’s big, brawny, and positively packed with flavor. No wimpy wine here and no smoke or mirrors, either. This big boy will never be mistaken for White Zinfandel, and for that I’m thankful.

Don’s Premier Series Top Picks

This month’s first Premier Series Top Pick is a no brainer for my palate.  Pietra Santa’s 2009 Cienega Valley Pinot Noir gets the first nod.  Why?  Pietra Santa had built an enviable reputation over the years for fashioning classic Italian varietals, most notably Sangiovese and Pinot Grigio, but I wasn’t sure what to expect from Pietra Santa’s first estate bottled Pinot Noir.  Well, now you know.  I think winemaker Alessio Carli got it right.  His first estate Pinot Noir is bright, juicy, and true to the terroir and climate of Cienega Valley.  Pinot Noir is a tough grape to grow and a difficult wine to make, so Carli gets my first Top Pick and my second Top Pick, too.  Yep, his excellent 2010 Amore Signature Collection Pinot Grigio is simply delicious.  It’s by far one of the top two or three California Pinot Grigios in the market.  Nevertheless, this second Top Pick was a tough choice to make because I really like this month’s Vergenoegd Runner Duck Red.  It’s an incredible value and a unique wine with a lot going on.  I’m also pleased with 1805’s crowd pleasing Chardonnay.  It’s not always easy to reach a consensus on Chardonnay, but this one seemed to have something everyone enjoyed.


A Votre Santé!



Chardonnay: A Love Hate Relationship

True confessions, yes!  Remorse, no, I don’t plan to lose any sleep over past transgressions, mine or anyone else’s.  So, here it goes.  Years ago, I loved  Chardonnay, and then I just lost interest.  At first, it was benign neglect.  But then I found myself loathing quite a few Chardonnays, especially a certain breed of California Chardonnay with its propensity for flabbiness and preponderance of oak.  At times, after tasting some of these wines I thought I would have to pick splinters from my mouth from the less than judicious use of raw wood. “Is this wine I’m drinking or oak water,” I asked myself.  And honestly, I wasn’t sure.  I began to hate such concoctions.  Admittedly, there were exceptions and some extraordinary California Chardonnays that were not over-oaked or under-wined depending upon one’s perspective.  And there were still many French white Burgundies (the original Chardonnay and my first Chardonnay love) that stood the test of time, but the cost of the finest French Burgundies went through the roof in the 1990s and have kept on soaring to the point where such classics are now the exclusive domain of multi-millionaires and billionaires, which precludes me and nearly the rest of the planet, too.  I still get to taste these Burgundian classics on occasion, but purchasing them is out of the question.  Too bad, but aside from the ridiculous cost, the payback just isn’t that great . . .  most of the time.

So, what now?  I’m coming full circle on Chardonnay, back to where I once belonged.  I enjoy lighter more affordable French Chardonnays such as Pouilly-Fuissé and many California and Washington State Chardonnays, too, now that these producers have begun to eschew oak and those that still barrel ferment and age their Chardonnays have come full circle, too.  Many producers have toned down their use of oak and now allow the luscious, natural flavor of Chardonnay to show through.  Apparently, I was not alone in my distaste for wood chips, splinters and mega doses of vanillin.  So, for me there’s more now to love than hate.


A Votre Santé!


Best Summertime Sangria

(Serves 4 people, with room for refills)

2 Bottles of White Zinfandel (I prefer using White Zinfandel to red because it is lighter and crisper, and mixes well with any fruit I decide to use)
½ cup Remy Martin VSOP
½ cup Absolut Peach Vodka
1 can papaya juice
1 can guava juice
1 cup cranberry juice (NOT cocktail)
½ bag frozen peaches, sliced
½ box fresh strawberries, quartered
½ box blueberries
2 oranges

The beauty of sangria is how versatile it is.  It never needs to be made from a standard recipe like so many other cocktails and punches seem to.  In fact, you can pretty much make sangria any way you like, as long as you incorporate the key ingredients: wine, fruit, sweetener, brandy.  The kind of wine and fruit you use, and any other ingredients you want to throw in as well, are all up to you.  This is what makes sangria such a fun, experimental cocktail.  Red sangria, white sangria, sparkling sangria?   It’s completely up to you!