30 December, 2008

Open that bottle! Review of 2003 Ridge Pato Mataro





What I love about the holidays is the chance to get together with friends, old and new, and have the time to really appreciate everything!



So, with alacrity, I responded to Luscious Lush Thea's invite to her "Open that Bottle party! (Xandria---Girl! What you missed on account of that frozen tundra!). Knowing Thea's cellar, I wanted to bust out something special. And what with the other invitees, I had to find something super fun. Way in the back, waiting for an occasion was one of my special bottles. I had to almost physically wrestle four bottles of this from the Ridge Tasting Room person's hands. I cajoled and nearly wept. The next time I went back, I promptly joined their ATP program!

One went to my Uncle Manolo who only drinks Spanish wine. The rest I have parcelled out for special occasions. I have enjoyed each bottle more than the previous and this was the last:

'03 Ridge, Mataro: I love Mataro/Mourvedre/Monastrell...a rose by any other name...etc. etc. It's a difficult varietal to track down good examples of. This was a stellar bottle. Made in the single vineyard Ridge style and launched from only 375 barrels, the color was dark, tempered ruby. The nose was perfumey, blackberry deliciousness with a hint of savory bark. The flavor was pure luscious blackberry with tannins as smooth and lush as the pear shaped tones of an Episcopal choir. Whoosh! Delish!

Silver Oak, Lovingly decanted by Thea. KostaBrowne '05 Pinot cleverly negotiated by Alex P. Cain Cuvee, as new to me as new acquaintances, Andy and Katherine. '89 Georges Latour unfortunately as soured as Doug and Kris are sweet! What an great experience to leave Christmas town and hop on the shuttle to 2009-ville!

I completely recommend Thea's party idea to everyone! Bring together wonderful friends and each bring a beautiful bottle you are saving for a special occasion and get all Sideways---in a good way!

MAYA
No, but I do like to think about the
life of wine, how it's a living thing.
I like to think about what was going
on the year the grapes were growing,
how the sun was shining that summer
or if it rained... what the weather
was like. I think about all those
people who tended and picked the
grapes, and if it's an old wine, how
many of them must be dead by now. I
love how wine continues to evolve,
how every time I open a bottle it's
going to taste different than if I
had opened it on any other day.
Because a bottle of wine is actually
alive -- it's constantly evolving
and gaining complexity. That is,
until it peaks -- like your '61 --
and begins its steady, inevitable
decline. And it tastes so fucking good!


- from the "Sideways" Screenplay

Many thanks to all of you read the blog and comment from all over the world! We thank you and wish that 2009 is your best year ever!

Happy New Year!

A Guide to Sabrage or How to Safely Decapitate Champagne


And now for something completely different. ...

A Gentleman's Guide to Sabrage aka Decapitating Champagne: (contributed by guest blogger, Desi_Wino)
Sometime in the 17th century, a Benedictine monk by the name of Dom Perignon figured out how to turn a defect in his wine - the introduction of carbon dioxide gas during fermentation - into a desirable attribute.Thus, the sparkling wine now known as Champagne was born. Unbeknownst to him, Dom Perignon also laid the cornerstone of the modern software industry's credo "It's a feature, not a bug. Stupid."
Since that fateful day, no celebration has been deemed complete without the obligatory popping of a champagne cork. Which brings us to the topic of this post, the ideal method of opening a bottle of champagne. As every gentleman knows, the restrained pop of a well opened champagne bottle is a sensual treat, but wouldn't it be even better if it were accompanied by... oh say, some saber rattling, some tinkling of broken glass, some screaming from startled young ladies? Of course it would! Welcome to the art of sabrage, where you will learn all about the nuances of decapitating a bottle of champagne, and in the process win friends, influence people, and charm the ladies.
Sabrage is the art of using a saber or sword to precisely cut off the head of a bottle of champagne. Its invention is credited to Napoleon's fearsome cavalry, the Hussars, as they celebrated their military exploits with a bottle or two. Napoleon himself famously said that one always needed champagne, in victory to celebrate, and in defeat for consolation. That was a wise man! To successfully saber a bottle of champagne, one needs three things, a well chilled bottle of champagne, a saber or saber-like device and an audience.
Chilling is important to reduce spillage and also to ensure that the cork does not pop out prematurely. A gentleman should always take the necessary precautions to avoid premature spillage. Besides, holding a foaming bottle of which the cork has blown on its own makes a man look like a fool, which is to be avoided at all times. Also necessary, a saber. There are very many excellent champagne sabers available at all fine wine stores. However, in a pinch, a chef's knife will do the trick. Use the blunt side of the knife – again very important. Most importantly, an audience. Here's the process, once you have your ingredeints assembled.
First take the bottle and locate the seam on the bottle. This is the secret to the whole trick. The seam of the bottle runs the length of the bottle, and is usually located between the labels on both sides. Find the spot where the seam meets the neck of the bottle. This is the weakest point in the bottle and we will use this point, and the pressure within the bottle, to do the job for us. Remove the foil and the wire holding the cork. Again, the bottle should be well chilled, so the cork does not take off on its own at this point.
Be careful and point the bottle away from anything fragile, like fine crystal or old people. Also, this is best performed outdoors. Take your saber (or chef's knife with the blunt side outwards), and run it along the same to the neck. Take a couple of practice moves, and then in one smooth motion, swing the saber or knife through the point where the seam of the bottle meets the neck. Concentrate on a good follow through. If it helps, you can also murmur "I am Tiger Woods" as you do this. Lo and behold... you will find that the entire top of the bottle has been decapitated!
Let the champagne bubble out for a bit to carry out any bits of broken glass, and then serve your admiring audience with the well sabered bubbly. Bask in the glory. A votre sainte!
[NOTE FROM BrixChick_Xandria: My friend "Desi_wino" recently passed away. Fortunately I asked him to write this interesting post about sabering champagne before his sad demise. So please enjoy this posthumous post, just in time for your New Year's Eve Celebration. And, you will be missed, "Desi-wino."]


Happy New Year and thank you all for reading our blog. May your 2009 be filled with an abundance of love and peace.
Posted by Xandria 0 comments

25 December, 2008

Top 10 wines for $10 and under at Trader Joe's



Here is the year-end wine round-up you have all been waiting for! Because I have such a glamorous job working at Trader Joe's in Northern California, people are constantly asking me for recommendations of the cheap yet good wines. Yes, I have wallowed through the muck and mire and found a few treasures which I will share with you. And no, Charles Shaw is not on this list. All of these wines should be available now (at least in No. CA.) and most of these wines can only be found only at Trader Joe's.


The ones to try:

Tier 1 - aka as my favorites


Whites:

*Rias Baixas Albarino 2006 Good minerality, good fruit. Refreshing acidity. $7.99

Reds

*Chiuso Grande 2006 Tommolo Montepulciano d'Abruzzo – This is an organically- produced "rustic" full-bodied, red. Good pizza wine but just as good on its own. $4.99


*Trader Joe's Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 $10.99- balanced and smooth, don't miss it before it's gone. And avoid the TJ Reserve 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. NOT good.


*Sogrape Callabriga Dao 2005 (Number 57 on Wine Spectator's Top 100 of 2008). This Portuguese stunner is worth more than it's 8.99 price tag. Run to Trader Joe's now...

Okay, the next two wines are a little over $10 but well worth it:

*Chateau Chevalier 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District Napa Valley – This is a steal @14.99. This comes from the Spring Mountain Winery in St. Helena and sells for around $50 at the winery. If you are not running to get the Callabriga Dao then you should run for this classic Napa Cab.

*Papillon 2006 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir - From the Cherry Hill Winery in the Eola Hills area. Layers of aromas and flavors with a tangy finish make it one of my favorite Pinots - plus it has the cutest label you will ever see:) $12.99


Tier 2 - These are all are under $6. Yes, I have always said "Life is too short to drink cheap wine." but sometimes you don't have a choice so here are some good ones:

Whites and Sparklers:

*Zonin Prosecco 2006- fruity with a little sweetness. These bubbles will make ya happy especially because a bottle is only $5.99!

*Bear's Lair Viognier2006 - good acidity, stonefruit on the nose, some viscosity on the mouthfeel. Excellent for $3.99

*Pancake Cellars 2007 Big Day White
60% Sauvignon Blanc, 27% Chardonnay, 12% Gew├╝rztraminer, 1% Pinot Blanc. 13.7% alcohol. Lovely fruity nose, tastes a lot like a Gewurzt...$4.99

Reds:

*Well Red Organic Cabernet Sauvignon – organic/ sulfite-free. Try this if red wine gives you headaches...$5.99


*Black Mountain Fat Cat Cab 2006 - One of the best-selling wines at TJ's and for good reason. Good fruit with smooth tannins. Not too much sugar. A little young but quaffable nonetheless. $4.99


*Ruggero di Tasso 2006 Nero d'Avola - $3.99 - another great Italian food wine. Nice berry and plum flavors with good acidity.

If you cannot find these at your local Trader Joe's ask your order taker to get them for you. If I have skipped your favorite please post it here. Thank you for reading and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

22 December, 2008

Savannah Chanelle

My friend Marsha has the best taste in wine. She had previously given me a bottle of the 2005 Gary's Vineyard Pinot Noir and I found it delicious. So, naturally, when she invited me to a little holiday get together it was a no brainer to brave the evil weather and unnatural traffic to get out to Saratoga to parti-sip-ate! Saratoga, officially described as a "village" is an adorable area in the mountains above the Silicon valley. The Savannah Chanelle tasting room is up Big Basin Way tucked into a redwood studded property off a twisty private road int he Santa Cruz Mountains. The Tasting Room is built into an old wooden barn that dates back to 1912. Soaring ceilings, seasoned woods and gifts galore, it was a great place to while away a rainy afternoon. Thanks to Marsha, we tasted a ton of things. All of it delicious! Here are my highlights:

'06 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley: Made from a blending of grapes from three vineyards Tina Marie, Gunsalus and Sonoma Coast, this was a lighter in color, bright red with very balanced acidity. The initial nose I got was almost floral and also tons of red fruit. The flavors were cranberry, red plum and towards the end, strawberry. It had a lovely finish.
'07 Pinot Noir, Gunsalus Vineyard: This single vineyard Russian River Valley pinot was a luscious, typical Russian River Valley example. It had a fruit forward nature tempered by the cooler climes. The mouthfeel was silkier than the previous wine. Given my predilection for all things Russian River Valley, you can guess, I loved it!
06 Pinot Noir, Armagh Vineyard: Also delectable. The nose has a slight hint of yeast and bakery spice. Lots of red fruit in the aroma and flavors. People had been saying cranberry of the previous wines, which I did not get so much. However on this one, I totally got the cranberry splash.
Library wine Bonus: '05 Montmartre: This red blend was a stunning wine. It was dark, savory and fruit forward with a luscious ripeness. Unfortunately, this late in the progression, my note taking got very sketchy and that is all I wrote.
All in all a great adventure! In rain, lovely and very Santa's Village. In sunshine, there is a lot more to see on the property. For all you Silicon Valley folks for whom the Russian River Valley is a major trek, here is a gem within your midst.
And to Marsha, THANKS! for the great invite!
Savannah Chanelle Tasting Room
23600 Big Basin Way (Highway 9)
Saratoga, CA 95070

21 December, 2008

Wine, Rain and Cupcakes!

Thanks to evil Ford Karma, my planned Saturday wine adventures were postponed till Sunday. It started with a fun brunch where I invented a BBLT, by adding Brie to home baked mini croissants and stepping up the BLT part by using apple smoked center cut bacon, herb infused spring mix. I also doctored the Little Spendids with a pinch of lavender salt and thyme in the fig balsamic maceration. Delicious! We paired with a Trinitas Sauvignon Blanc that picked up the herbal notes in salad mix and contrasted nicely with the fig, salty meat, creamy cheese, buttery fresh bread. From there, I braved the weather and the miscommunication issue to track down Luscious Lush Thea at Treasure Island Wines. Located on scenic Treasure Island midway between the San Francisco Bay Bridge's two spans, the promised "Ideal Natural climate" statement was challenged by the advent of the Ice Station Zebra weather we are currently enduring. But the wines poured by Bryan of Vie Winery
and Sol Rouge
were like bottled vignettes of a Rhone vacation with Zinfandel-colored sunshine! Everything they poured was delightful. Decorated and heat lamped against the chill air, we worked through the progression and even got a bonus preview of the 2007 Les Amours, which was ripe with layers of cherry notes and eucalyptus tinges in the nose, delicious cherryness in the flavors and an interesting cherry waterfall finish. I can't wait to see how that shapes up. I ended up buying the Sol Rouge Zinfandel, which was truly like



bottled summer with lush fruit, spice and everything yummy about Zinfandel. I also picked up a Gypsy Blanc. I loved the stemmy nose, and the variegated fruit flavors. I tasted stone fruit, tropical notes. Yummy! From there, we raced over to the Friends and Family Sale at Cellar 360. Located in historic Ghiradelli square in a building that used to be an old woolen mill, the patina of the aged brick is utterly authentic. It's a gorgeous spot, with impossibly beautiful views in any season and an elegance of placement that is archetypically San Franciscan. Since we were already there, we stopped in to try out what the folks at Wattle Creek were offering as well. Phil did a great job of leading us through a long list of California wines named like Australian wines. It was funny, but tasty, to try an Anderson Valley "Shiraz". Bonus: Thanks to Visa Signature, this tasting was free!
Once through that interesting line up, we were off to Cellar 360, where we took advantage of their Wine and Cheese Pairing offering. Three wines matched with three cheeses. First a white with Pecorino Pepato cheese, which was a mild sheep's milk with black peppercorns stirred in. It was shaved very thin to mkae it seem even milder, but the peppercorns were hot and bitey. Next, was a delightful fresh Gouda, which ended up tasting salty and creamy and paired very well with the delicious Sbragia Merlot. Third was a nice Brillat-Savarin, the light creamy brie-like cow cheese that was paired with a Cabernet. A smudge of rose jelly on the plate was an exotic palate refresher. I had absolutely fallen in love with Penfolds Grandfathers Tawny Port and Bin 311 Tumbarumba Chardonnay when we participated in the Penfolds panel. I stocked up! And of course, tawny port in hand, who could resist the lure of Kara's Cupcakes? Neither Thea nor me! I stocked up on those too, grabbing a Sweet Vanilla (luscious cream cheese-butter cream dome of icing paved in white jimmies) with an exceptionally tender crumb of which each was permeated with a Madagascar bourbon vanilla. What I wouldn't have given for a corkscrew to change my "pairing" from water to tawny port! I also snagged a chocolate Fleur de Sel (filled with caramel, topped with a crunch of sea salt), Meyer Lemon filled and Coconut. The cupcakes are made with the freshest, most delightful ingredients so that they taste home made, but lighter than air and sweeter than Spring! If you are in a 10 mile radius, stop and try one (or four!)






18 December, 2008

"X" Rated Wine Blogger Love? You make the call...

BrixChicks
Wine Blogger Love on Wine Biz Radio! Thank you, Randy!

Listen to 52 minutes of great fun and info! Hear Luscious Lush: Thea, El Jefe, and the sounds of summer fun in Santa Rosa, CA at the Wine Bloggers Conference to brighten this cold winter weather! Brrrrr!

PS: Xandria is the "X" rated one!

Riva Cucina! Do you Nasco?

Tucked away in an unexpected corner of Berkeley, Riva Cucina puts out delightful, Northern Italian food. The owners go to Italy every year and pursue their passion for discovering and creating high quality offerings. Cheese making, wine tasting, field trips to salumficio, etc. Their commitment to fresh, authentic ingredients shine through. We went with our friends Robert and Lisa on a rainy weeknight. Although I saw these pictures on their site and would love to go back when the sun is shining.

We ordered a selection of antipasti and contorni to start. Interesting tastes of artichokes, Brussels spouts, arancini di riso (savory fried balls of alchemically fused rice, cheese and eggplant), diver scallops daintily perched on their shells after having been succulently prepared. And that was just the opening act! The pasta dishes arrived fragrant, tender and each a plate of artful delights! I sampled Xandria's pasta and found it toothsome with a bolonese sauce patiently simmered with just the right (non basil) spices and pork and beef to add richness.



And best of all, our server Amy offered clever wine pairings. I was very pleased with the 2006 PATIANNA SAUVIGNON BLANC I was given when asked for chef's recommendation.. The nose was all grapefruit and tar. I like that in a sauvvy blanc. The flavors were grapefruit with subtle spice. Bright. clear, pale yellow in color with a pleasant almost silky mouthfeel, it was a great pairing with the butternut squash Capellacci. Brown butter and sage deliciousness!



Bonus! New Century club entry! Riva Cucina offers great selection of desserts (we got the chocolate cake and four spoons) Xandria and I split a glass of the 2002 Latinia Late Harvest Nasco. Nasco is a Sardinian varietal that produces perfumey, smooth, sweet wines. This was no exception with its fragrant vanilla and caramel infused aroma. As well, this Late Harvest had hints of exotic spice and a slight touch of citrus; its sweetness, pleasantly assertive without being cloying. The Latinia looked like tawny port with a bronzey color. Unusual and delectable.



Comfortable. Sophisticated. Yummy food. Interesting, carefully matched wines. Friendly, knowledgeable service. What more could you ask?
800 HEINZ AVENUE, 19

BERKELEY CA 94710

http://www.rivacucina.com/Riva-cucina.htm

17 December, 2008

Wine Bar Wednesday: The Wine Room, Palo Alto, CA

With the blustery weather and the holidays looming, the Wine Room whispers its siren song. "Come in. Sit by the fire. Have some wine and snacks. Relax. After all tomorrow is another day...."
Located in the bustling downtown of Palo Alto, amid the livelier places, the Wine Room is a charming respite. Two fireplaces were blazing the night I went there. It's a great example of historic Palo Alto Mediterranean inspired architecture giving the place an anchored, welcoming feeling. The door looks almost Dickensian and inside, there are lush carpets, dark wood and nooks and crannies to settle into for a meeting, date, whatever. It's quiet enough and nice enough to accommodate a variety of activities. We were lucky and got seats on a plush sofa in the back room. My colleague, Eileen, was craving whites, and I of course, red. The list had tempting options on both sides as well as a nice selection of sparklers, too. I didn't even consider the flights because of all the driving. We knew we wanted dessert, so asked the server for recommendations. Eileen picked the assortment of chocolates and the Yalumba Chardonnay, which ended up being an interesting pairing. The wine was crisp, robust and delicious. I wanted the Almond pear tart and he also suggested a California Pinot Noir, which had enough complexity to stand up to the not too sweet dessert. Also interesting and quite delicious. Two thumbs up from us! According to Xandria's criteria:
  • Affordability - Good job Wine Room considering this is Palo Alto. I thought their QPR was great!
  • Wine list - Great selection that changes often and is listed out online. I particularly loved the way so many regions were represented. Each category offered selections from California, France, Italy, Spain, Australia, Oregon, you name it. And interesting varietals as well. Apparently, the owner tailors what he is pouring to the weather, so that you always find something seasonal, interesting and climate appropriate
  • Wait staff- Very knowledgeable, and a good balance of attentive vs. intrusive. We had a lot to go over and our server was very respectful
  • Food- oh-so-yummy! Lots of cheeses, desserts etc. This is definitely a place to come after or before something and linger.

One caveat, you'd better be packing your Visa card, because the Wine Room does not accept AMEX.

520 Ramona Street, Palo Alto, CA

Open every day - 4PM to Midnight (or later) Closed on major holidays They accept Visa/Mastercard

http://www.thepawineroom.com/

14 December, 2008

Review of "sexy" reds from Italy's Piedmont region: the Barolos and Barbarescos of Roagna




We Brixchicks love Solano Cellars in Albany, CA. They have some fabulous events there (check out Liza's posts on the Judgment of Albany and Oregon Pinot Night in November.) I recently attended a Nebbiolo tasting and learned a lot about this unique, and some say sexy, Italian varietal. But what exactly is a sexy wine? Wine appeals to the senses and I suspect that is what makes many of us lovers of wine. The aromas, the flavors, the textures, the mouthfeel make me call it sensual but others just cut to the chase and call it sexy. What is the difference between sensual and sexy? I don't know and am not going to attempt to answer that question in this post. However, I would like to know if these Barolos and Barbarescos are truly sexy. Let us proceed.

We tasted wines from three different wineries in the Piedmont region which is located in the northwest part of Italy, close to Switzerland, in the land-locked foothills of the Alps. Cool microclimates, fog, snowstorms, hills, mountains, limestone, marl, red clay and sandy soils all add flavors and textures to this varietal. Indeed, the name Nebbiolo comes from the Italian word for fog, as the grapes are harvested during the foggy autumn season. You should also know that Barbaresco and Barolo come from the Nebbiolo grape and are thus named by the location of the vineyard.

Two wine distributors were there to educate us and guide our palates through the tasting. We started the evening with Shawn Mead who recently returned from Italy where she stayed at the Roagna vinyard. Roagna is an unusual producer in a world of unusual producers and she had many interesting things to tell us about Roagna. The Roagna family use traditional wine making techniques in accordance with the Earth. All wines are organically produced , meaning no herbicides or pesticides. Also, there are low yields for all producers of Barolo and Barbaresco mainly due to poor soils and weather extremes. That is what gives value to these wines and they are enjoyed mostly for holidays or special occasions. These are not wines that are drunk every day with dinner. For dinner the people of Piedmont will go with Dolcetto d'Alba, which is one of the most common varietals of this region (and also produced by Roagna.)


On a more technical note, the grapes for the wines that we tasted are macerated for at least 80 days before fermentation (other producers do 20-30 day macerations.) Roagna is the only Barolo/Barberesco producer who ages the grapes in large oak bottis for up to 6 years and then 2 more years of bottle aging before releasing the wine for public consumption. This long-aging time happens because the tannins of the fruit need to soften quite a bit before they are ready to be enjoyed. Very little new oak is used for these bottis and it is mostly neutral oak.

So, how does this wine taste? I will start with the Non-vintage Roagna "Opera Prima" Barbaresco. $48
This NV Barbaresco is made by the Roagna family to drink in the short term as their Barolos and vintage Barbarescos are aging for at least 8 years. This ruby-toned elixir shows a profoundly fragrant nose with anise, berry, cherry, and violets. Ruby-toned, lite-bodied yet highly tannic, white pepper on the palate. Very drinkable but could benefit from decanting at least an hour before drinking. Ms Mead reported that there are 3 vintages used in this bottle from 1997-1999.

2000 Roagna Barbaresco "Paje"
Barbaresco actually refers to where this particular Nebbiolo is grown. This soil of this vineyard is of the red clay variety along with limestone and marl. As a result the wine has notes of clay on the nose and mineral on the palate. There is also anise and stewed black fruit on the nose. This Barbaresco is very tannic but the distributors made it clear to me that the tannins come from the grape skin and seeds and not the oak from the bottis. This is surprising considering the length of time the fruit is fermented in the oak bottis. The difference is that no new oak is used.


2000 Roagna Barolo "La Rocca e la Pira"
This Barolo was much smoother and delicate than the Paje Barbaresco. There are notes of sand on the nose along with herbaceous notes and a bit of black plum. The red fruit is very restrained yet there is a bright acidity on the palate, along with a sandy minerality, and there is a hint of whiskey on the finish. Hope to taste this one in 10 years.

1995 Roagna Barbaresco Paje
Tom Switzer, the other distributer, brought this bottle out of his own personal cellar for us to try. This is what the 2000 Paje will one day be. The wine had a brown,"funky" tinge to it with a lot of sediment present but the nose was honeyed, violet perfume. After 13 years of aging this once tannic wine was now fleshed out and well-developed with red fruit on the palate and smoother tannins...nice. This just might be the example of a sexy wine that Mr. Switzer kept referring to...


This was a remarkable tasting for me. We got to try this grape in it's various vintages and how it differs in different stages of development. I learned that these wines are perfect for aging for long periods of time. It is also an opportunity for me to educate my "new world California" palate by tasting and learning about wines from Europe or the "old world." And for this I thank Jason of Solano Cellars.

But are these wines sexy? Well, let's just say I would love to spend an evening with a well-aged, smooth, sweetly aromatic bottle of Italian from Barolo...

Speaking of sexy reds the Brixchicks and Luscious Lush Thea just participated in a wine-blogger's forum sponsored by Penfold's of Australia www.penfolds.com. We tasted plenty of lush, ripe, fleshy reds (and some heavenly whites.) Please check back soon for story, reviews and a link to the video-taped panel.




09 December, 2008

Wine Bar Wednesday: Review of Marc 49, Oakland, CA


Wednesdays have officially been dubbed "Wine Bar Wednesday" here in Brixchicks land, and I can think of no better place to spend a rainy Wednesday evening than at a wine bar. Marc 49, in the hip Temescal neighborhood of Oakland, CA., is the inaugural wine bar for our series of reviews of the thriving wine bar scene in the East Bay.

This jem pulled me in with its romantically candle-lit ambiance and chandeliers, vintage photographs, wine labels and tasting notes posted on the walls. There is the main room, the bar, a heated patio and a larger room in the back that can be rented for private parties.

Yes, this is a lovely setting for enjoying some wine but what makes a good wine bar exactly? Here are my criteria:
-affordability -this is a no-brainer, really.
-wine list - (duh) good variety of varietals and price point.
-wait staff-I don't care how sexy they are they must be able to tell me about what I am drinking.
-food- good nibbles are necessary.

So how does Marc 49 fare?

Two things stood out to me. 1) All the wines on the list can be tried in a flight of either 3 tastes for $11 or 4 tastes for $14. (see my tasting notes below.) I love to create my own flights.

2) You can get a pannini and salad for $10. And the kitchen stays open late on the weekends.

Courtney was tending bar that night and she assembles the wine list. They sell by 3 oz, 6 oz pours, and by the bottle. The list includes around 34 red and white varietals, including French and South American wines. Prices are reasonable for 6 oz. pours (up to $12) and the most expensive bottle on the list is $39. Courtney reported that Marc 49 has been open for 5 months and she has made 3 to 4 changes to the wine list so far. She had some interesting choices (see tasting notes.)

Tasting notes
I like spicy, voluptuous reds and being the greedy oenophile I am I got the 4 taste flight. From light to dark here is the list:

Ramspeck Napa Valley Pinot Noir 2006 - This was not your typical light-bodied tangy red fruit Pinot. It was a bit smokier with a stewed red fruit nose with toasty cocoa notes. Medium bodied, earthy palate, medium acidity, medium cherry linger.

Chateau Virecourt Pillebourse 2005 Bordeaux Superieur- 90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc
This one tickled my palate with it's juicy red-fruit nose and honeyed tobacco finish. Smooth tannins, very little oak, good acidity. Very lively!

Rock & Vine Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
This one was the most interesting to me. It was a Bordeaux style Cab with a lean mouthfeel. The nose was all fig with floral notes and subtle oak. Stewed cassis on the mid-palate with a strangely Pernod- scented finish. Unexpected for a Napa Valley Cab.

Filus Malbec Argentina, Mendoza (? vintage)
This blue-fruit Malbec had the heavenly anise/cigar box aromas that I love but this was a very smoky nose as if the tobacco had already been smoked. It had a slightly bitter finish that Liza would love. This paired very well with my brie, pear and candied walnut pannini.

Why go to Marc 49?
-for a late night nosh
-for a romantic yet affordable wine-tasting date
-to try some different wines not found in other local wine bars (she even had a Cahors and Torrontes on the list for the wine geeks!)

I would definitely return on another rainy evening...Thanks Courtney and crew!

photo courtesy of www.Marc49.com
visit them at 4915 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, CA.

03 December, 2008

Waterbrook Columbia Valley Melange 2005 - Another winning 89 point wine

This wine was given an 89 rating by the Wine Spectator (reviewer(s) unknown) in 2007. Waterbrook Melange 2005 is made by Eric Rindal and the Waterbrook Winery is located in Touchet, Washington in the Columbia Valley AVA. It is called Melange because it is a blend of 5 varietals including 40% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Sangiovese, 7% Cabernet Franc,
3% Syrah.

Color: deep garnet with a light magenta rim.

Nose: every sniff carried a different aroma:

1st:chalk 2nd: spicy oak 3rd: black fruit ie; black plum, blackberry, black cherry cola 4th: leather 5th: Dr. Pepper! This is how all of the aromas come together... nice complexity...

Mouthfeel: cherry/pomegranate/leather finish with a medium plus linger.

What is this wine lacking that the Wine Spectator could only bestow an 89 upon it? It has balance, acidity, supple tannins. It is not an oaky fruit bomb (thank god). It is more subtle and smooth. Does it not represent the terroir of the Columbia Valley? Are the 5 varietals not as well-blended as they could be? I am looking forward to addressing these and other issues in rating a wine during our blind tasting of 89 point wines in the Twitter Taste Live event coming up on December 13th www.twittertastelive.com For a better idea of how this will work visit http://www.lusciouslushes.com

This is one of the best under $10 wines I have reviewed. It is lovely and satisfying. Well, I am giving it a 90 so there, WS!

02 December, 2008

2006 Te Kairanga Pinot Noir, Martinborough, New Zealand

'06 Te Kairanga Pinot Noir, Martinborough, New Zealand ($16.29). The nicest thing about tracking down 89 point wines that I love is that usually they are priced attractively,. This was no exception,. At only $16.29, this compared favorably with examples costing more than twice as much. It was suggested that this be opened six hours before service to let the complexity of flavors and aromas build. I was only able to open it 2 hours ahead of time, but I found that my trusty Vinturi http://www.vinturi.com/home.html improved the wine. The nose on this was spicy---redolent of pepper and plums. While it initially had a slightly bitter grapefruitish flavor, the Vinturi smoothed out the flavors to a Burgundian plummy taste, still redolent with tasty spice. A delicious example of a rare creature: a value Pinot Noir!

01 December, 2008

2005 Wishing Tree Shiraz

'05 Wishing Tree Shiraz, Australia ($12.29). At $12.29, this wine was a bargain. Beautiful dark Shiraz color, balanced acidity with aromas of cinnamon roll, licorice and smoked meat. I enjoyed the fruit forward nature of it, especially combined with its dryness. That, along with the tannins made it a very food friendly wine. A tasty wine and a great bargain!

At my 89 project party, we tasted it against '05 Jim Barry The Lodge Shiraz ($19.99). Once again, I pinned the 89 on the wrong wine. This example was similar, but had a little less robustness of fruit in the flavors along with an almost brandy-like and licorice-y aromas.

Still both were inky dark examples with lots of red and black fruit flavors and nice spice. When planning the party, it was kind of hard tof track down wines. One thing that was helpful, was http://www.wine.com. One of the fields they let you search by is "ratings". So, try this at home, but be careful. While it's fun and interesting to track down wine by ratings as an experiment, experiential evidence is a much more rewarding way to find fun, interesting wines.