Gabe's View

Wine: Reviews, Thoughts & Culture

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Henry's Drive - 2010 Morse Code Chardonnay

A number of years ago I first ran across a bottle of Pillar Box Red. This Australian blend was well priced and tasty. Since that time I’ve gone back to it on numerous occasions, recommended to people and had the opportunity to taste it alongside its winemaker. Most compelling for a wine in its price-point is how consistent its quality and general flavor profile has been from year to year. This isn’t often the case with wines around the $10 mark. Last week I had dinner with Henry’s Drive winemaker Renae Hirsch and Winery owner Kim Longbottom. We tasted through much of their current portfolio, including classics like Dead Letter Office and Parson’s Flat as well as The Scarlett Letter a Sparkling Shiraz that’s new for them. Across the board the Henry’s Drive wines are well made and appropriately priced for the quality they offer at each level. In many cases their wines over deliver. One of the wines that really outperforms its price-point is The Morse Code Chardonnay. This is one of the few wines we tasted that night which I had not sampled previously. The Henry’s Drive 2010 Morse Code Chardonnay was produced using fruit sourced in the Padthaway region of Australia. This offering is 100% Chardonnay. A small amount of oak was used in the production of this wine. 5,600 cases of the 2010 vintage were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $8.99.

Ripe orchard fruit aromas leap from the glass of this Chardonnay. A host of both tropical and continued orchard fruit flavors are present on the incredibly pleasing palate of this wine. Pear, pineapple, apple and a hint of papaya are all in evidence along with a core of spices such as nutmeg, clove and vanilla bean. The finish is crisp and refreshing with terrific acidity and good length. This wine is delicious on it’s own but will pair well with lighter foods.

The bottom line for me on the Morse Code Chardonnay is that it’s a steal. This wine is loaded with Chardonnay character. The subtle amount of oak used, adds some complexity as it should, but never detracts. You’re going to be hard pressed to find a Chardonnay for less than $10 that provides as much varietal character, purity of fruit and just sheer delicious drinkability as this wine. If you need a house white wine for the summer a case of Morse Code Chardonnay is a great bet.

The Henry’s Drive Wines provide quality, distinction and value at every price point. Whether you’re spending $8.99 on the Morse Code Chardonnay, or $49.99 on the Reserve Shiraz you’re going to get value for your money. And with them continuing to push the envelope adding new and exciting releases like “The Scarlett Letter,” a delicious Sparking Shiraz, the folks at Henry’s Drive always have something compelling for wine lovers to sample. Buy their wines with the confidence that they are one of Australia’s best and most consumer friendly producers. If you’re a fan of Australian Wine, there’s no doubt in my mind their portfolio has something you’ll be interested in.

Reconsiderng a Napa Valley Legend; Robert Mondavi Winery

As we’ve grown precipitously as a wine drinking nation over the last couple of decades our choices have also increased. The number of outlets selling wine is way up and the options we have once we go there are in sharp contrast to what was available a number of years ago. The temptation in our culture is also to chase the new hot thing. Sometimes that leaves little room to reconsider or reconnect with something we already love. In this case that something is the Robert Mondavi Winery. There was no greater ambassador for both California wines and the importance of wine on our tables in this country than Robert Mondavi. Napa Valley and perhaps the entire US wine industry would look radically different today if not for the chances he took and the advances, in quality and more, that he championed. In the sea of wine that’s out there it’s easy to forget that. Recently I had the opportunity to taste through some current and older releases with winemaker Genevieve Janssens.

Tasting both new offerings and an older Cabernet Sauvignon really showed off the quality of winemaking that is still going on at this venerable Napa Valley house. A particular standout was the 2007 I Block Fume Blanc. This wine is made in tiny quantities (207 cases) and sourced from a specific block of the To Kalon vineyard. It was one of the more impressive Sauvignon Blancs I’ve tasted in quite awhile. At three plus years old it’s fresh and vibrant and still has plenty of life ahead of it. It’s only available through the winery (SRP $75) and well worth the extra effort to get it.

The event took place at Hearth Restaurant in New York and this allowed us to taste these wines as they are meant to be consumed; side by side with food. I sampled the 2008 Napa Valley Chardonnay with a rotating cast of different appetizers. This wine was produced with fruit sourced in Carneros (58%), East Napa foothills (29%), Sonoma County (10%), other Napa vineyards (3%). 69% of the juice was fermented in barrel; 13% of them were new. The balance was fermented in stainless steel. This Chardonnay which is widely available has a suggested retail price of $20. Orchard fruit aromas fill the nose of this wine along with a hint of spice. Golden delicious apple, pear, pineapple and guava all make their presence know through the palate. Minerals, apple pie crust and baker’s spice are each part of the finish which has impressive length for a Chardonnay in this price category. The use of oak here was judicious and it adds to the complexity, as opposed to some Chardonnays where it becomes a distraction. The bottom line is that this wine pairs well with a wide array of different foods and also drinks beautifully on its own. It’s one of the work horses in the Mondavi portfolio and it’s well worth trying if you haven’t had it in awhile.

Two vintages of the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon were impressive for different reasons. The 1996 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is an excellent example of the age worthiness of good Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon. Most (79%) of the fruit for it came from Oakville; much of it from To Kalon. When Robert Mondavi spoke of comparing Napa wines to his French counterparts it was wines like the reserve Cabernet that I bet he had in mind. This wine still has plenty of fruit on it, but it’s also become earthier and softer. It’s a pleasure to drink both with food and without.

The Robert Mondavi Winery 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon was made entirely with fruit from Oakville and 93% of it from To Kalon. This wine is bigger, bolder and a bit brasher today. It has firm tannins that need some time in the bottle or some aeration to soften a bit. The elements which make the 1996 so drinkable today are also there in the 2007. It’s simply loaded with fruit and spice flavors that are accented by the time spent in barrel. Just less than 10,000 cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $135. Ultimately, the 2007 has the hallmarks of a wine that promises to be an even more impressive effort than the 1996. The question after purchasing it is if you have patience. It’s very enjoyable now, particularly with full flavored foods. However if you give it 5 or 10 years of proper storage you’ll be rewarded with a slightly mellower, more resolved wine that will just knock your socks off. You really can’t go wrong either way, it depends which experience you prefer.

Tasting these wines and several others with food, over a leisurely evening made a couple of facts crystal clear. Most importantly if you haven’t had wines from the flagship Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley for a while, it’s high time to revisit them. Their releases still showcase some of the best that Napa Valley has to offer. This was apparent both in widely available wines like the Chardonnay and Cabernet as well as small production items like the I Block Fume Blanc. The other point is that as much attention as the To Kalon Vineyard gets, it should probably get more. The wines that were sourced there show off a tremendous sense of place and are simply impressive efforts. Genevieve Janssens who has been making the wines at Robert Mondavi Winery since 1997 (she worked at Opus One previously) is doing an impressive job shepherding the philosophy of Mr. Mondavi into the future. The best way to thank her for that effort is to taste these wines.

Tasting Shirvington Cabernet Sauvignon & Shiraz

I recently had the chance to taste wine, over dinner, with the Shirvingtons. The namesakes of this Australian Winery were in the United States for the first time in many years showing off their wines. Lucky for me they brought quite a treasure trove of goodies to share. Lynne and Paul Shirvington started down the wine road in 1995. Their aim was for a simpler existence as farmers, and thus they decided that growing grapes would provide the life they were looking for and the challenges they craved. Between 1996 and 2001 they purchases 3 parcels of land. Their vineyard manager Peter Bolte has been with them since 1997 and their winemaker Kim Jackson since 2004. Starting with the 2001 vintage they have made wines that have garnered significant attention and acclaim. I was quite curious to sample their wines as I had not previously done so. It’s generally instructive to do so with the folks responsible and the Shirvingtons were no exception. In addition to founders Peter and Lynne their son Mark was in attendance as well. Their pride in their wines was clear as was their hospitality and charm.

In total we tasted five vintages of Shiraz and four of Cabernet Sauvignon. The fruit was sourced from their own vineyards. So the first step in consistency is controlling their source. Of course there is plenty of vintage variation between them. Tasting the wines side by side was an eye opener into their winemaking style and their track record as a producer. So while there was plenty to differentiate the wines I was struck by the positive attributes they have in common. There is a trio of things that most impressed me about the Shirvington wines as a whole.

The first is the balance and restraint both the Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz showed across each of the vintages. While these are by no means small wines, their heft is quite reasonable. The flavors are mouth-filling, even a bit relentless in their attack at times, but never over the top. Despite alcohol levels well over 15% on almost every offering, not a single one belied any discernable heat. Considering all the disproportionate wine from the world over, that is certainly no small feat.

The second thing that made me really take notice in these wines is their persistence and duration of palate. From the first whiff of the expressive nose through what is an above average finish on each of them, they’re profiles are notably lengthy

Age ability is another other quality about the Shirvington wines that stands out above most others. These wine have the legs to last quite awhile. The oldest wines we tasted were from their second vintage, 2002 and the youngest from 2008. The oldest wines were amazing; particularly in how much fresh fruit they still showed. It would have been very difficult to pick up that the Shiraz was an 8 year old wine. It speaks really well to the small lot, terroir driven approach they employ to make their wines. The older Cabernet was also very good, but showed more of the hallmark signs of an offering with some age on it. It’s hard to say precisely how long these wines will go but at 8 years old now they surely have a couple years more left to go, at the very least. The younger wines which benefited from additional aeration over the course of the evening have the same overall structure and characteristics to indicate that they will have a similar shelf life; perhaps even more as the vines gain age and they learn more and more about them over time.

It’s important to note, as I referenced above, that while there are many qualitative similarities between these wines, the vintage rules they day. The Shirvingtons are keen about making wines that speak very specifically about their place of origin in McLaren Vale. And even that very specific spot has different things to say each year. Weather is of course a huge factor and there have been some vintages affected to different degrees by drought. The Shirvingtons are extremely committed to overall quality; in fact if the fruit isn’t up to their standard they simply won’t make the particular wine that year.

The proof is in the bottle. For me the bottom line is the wine, and it’s clear when it comes to that they’re making all the right decisions. These are world class examples of Australian Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon respectively. Current vintages have a suggested retail price of $66.99 (Shiraz) and $59.99 (Cabernet Sauvignon). Whether you pick some up to knock your friends out today or you want to lay down some wine for the next decade, the Shirvington offerings are selections you should strongly consider.

2010 New York Wine Expo Is Around The Corner

The 3rd annual NY Wine Expo is coming next month. I've attended the first two and found it to be a large scale wine event worth attending for wine lovers. Read my review of the 2009 edition here, and 2008 here. Readers of this site can save $10 on either Friday or Saturday tickets by using the code: GABESVIEW. Specific event details follow:


The 3rd Annual New York Wine Expo is February 26 through 28 at the Jacob Javits Center. In all, the Grand Tasting offers attendees a chance to sample more than 600 wines from over 170 winemakers from around the globe. Seminar presenters include Gloria Maroti Frazee, who oversees Wine Spectator School, and Leslie Sbrocco an award-winning author, and Founder of “Thirsty Girl” a brand new multi-media company focused on wine, food and travel.

New York Wine Expo Hours Friday, February 26, 6:00 – 10:00 PM; $75, prior to Feb. 19 Saturday, February 27, 2:00 – 6:00 PM   $85, prior to Feb. 19 (Sunday is for trade professionals only)   Go to for tickets and additional information or call 800-544-1660.

Win 2 Tickets to ZAP !!!

ZAP, the organization devoted to Zinfandel is having its 19th Annual Festival in San Francisco this month. And as a reader of Gabe's View you have the chance to win two free tickets for the Grand Tasting on Saturday January 30th. All you have to do to enter is send me an e-mail and tell me what your favorite Zinfandel is. Use the "Contact Gabe" form at the top of the page to e-mail me. Make sure you include your e-mail address and name. The contest ends at 11:00 PM Eastern on Sunday January 24th, 2010. I'll randomly pick a name from all the entrants and get in touch with you to arrange the tickets the week of January 25th. Cost of the tickets is $59 per ticket for non ZAP members. Good Luck! If you want a second chance to win (a different set of tickets), you can enter at Drink Dry Creek too, using the "e-mail Gabe" form there. What follows is ZAP's press release about the event:

ZAP CELEBRATES 19TH ANNUAL ZAP FESTIVAL 2010 Zin in Paradise features celebrity chef Beverly Gannon

Rough & Ready CA, January 2010----The 19th Annual Zinfandel Advocates & Producers Festival takes place January 28-30, 2010, in San Francisco. The Festival will ‘headline’ Chef Beverly Gannon, one of the founders of ‘HAWAI`I regional cuisine.’ Chef Gannon is the proprietor of Maui’s world famous Hali`imaile General Store and possibly the most well-known chef in Hawaii. She will develop the “HAWAI`I regional cuisine” menu for Dinner With The Winemakers as well as prepare a signature Hawaiian dish for Good Eats & Zinfandel Pairing; she will also be visible throughout the three days of the Festival and her new cookbook, Home Style Meals at The Hali`imaile General Store, will be for sale. To order tickets call 877/772-2545; tickets can be purchased online at   “Meet” Chef Gannon in a series of Skyped-video chats now online on ZAP’s website. Bev explains the magic of Zinfandel from her perspective and gives you a few hints about the Festival.   Chef Gannon’s dinner menu for Evening With The Winemakers will consist of Asian Duck Tostada; Blackened Ahi With Sweet Thai Chili Sauce, Wasabi Micro Greens, Tobiko, Mashed Potato In Filo Cup; Smoked Salmon Pinwheels With Chipotle-Chili Fresh Fruit Salsa; Kalua Pork And Goat Cheese Won-Tons With Mango Chili Sauce; Terrine Of Foie Gras, BBQ Eel, Potato Pineapple Compote, Vanilla Syrup And Spicy Micro-Greens; Lamb Shank Cannelloni With A Poached Fig Demi-Glaze Double-Cut Lamb Chop, Lavender Honey Glazed Baby Carrots and Chocolate Macadamia Nut Tart ( and for Good Eats & Zinfandel Pairing, she’ll be preparing her Signature Crab Cannelloni with Saffron Cream Sauce and Joe's Favorite Meatloaf with Hawaiian Sweetbread Roll from the Hali’imaile General Store (more at   The ZAP Festival will include more than 200 Zinfandel-specialist wineries from all across California pouring their barrel samples and new releases for over 10,000 enthusiasts during three days at four separate events.  There will be silent auctions during three events - Good Eats & Zinfandel Pairing, The Grand Zinfandel Tasting, and Evening with the Winemakers; proceeds support ZAP’s Heritage Vineyard projects.   Good Eats & Zinfandel Pairing takes place on January 28, 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. at Fort Mason Center (Marina Blvd. at Buchanan, San Francisco 94123). Approximately 50 restaurants will pair with wineries. Tickets for non-ZAP members are $125; for ZAP members, $95. A list of the participants and matches can be found at Some tickets may be available at the door, but it is recommended to buy tickets in advance.    Chef Bev Gannon’s Crab Cannelloni with Saffron Cream Sauce, Chef Gannon’s Meatloaf With Hawaiian Sweetbread Roll, Filet Mignon Tartare, Curried Goat with Mango Chutney, Duck Strudel, Sweet Potato Timbale Filled With a Trio of Cheese, Wild Boar Sliders with Caramelized Red Onion Marmalade, Lamb Lollipops, “Great Balls of Fire” and more….Some of the Good Eats participants are Acorn Winery/Alegria Vineyards with Zin Restaurant & Bar; Alderbrook Winery; Artezin Wines with Knickerbockers’ Catering; B.R. Cohn Winery with Preferred Sonoma Caterers; Barefoot Cellars with Sonoma Cake Creations; Barefoot Cellars ‘2;’ Barnard Griffin Winery; Blaauwklippen Vineyards with Radio Africa Kitchen; D-Cubed Cellars; Deep Purple Winery; Dogwood Cellars; Dry Creek Vineyard with The Peasant & The Pear; Edmeades Winery; Four Vines Winery; Gnarly Head Cellars; Grgich Hills Estate; Guglielmo Winery; Hartford Family Winery; J. Rickards Winery & Vineyards; John Tyler; Klinker Brick Winery; Marr Cellars; Mounts Family Winery; Outpost Estate Wines with Mustard’s Grill; Murphy-Goode; Peachy Canyon Winery with Hali`imaile General Store; Peirano Estate Vineyards; R& B Cellars; Rancho Zabaco Winery; Ravenswood; Ridge Vineyards with Lark Creek Steak; Rockwall Wine Company with Angela’s Bistro; Rosenblum Cellars with Miss Pearl’s Jam House; Saddleback Cellars; Sausal Winery with EOS Restaurant & Wine Bar; Scott Harvey Wines; Sextant Wines; St. Amant Winey with A Chef For You; St. Francis Winery & Vineyard; Terra d’Oro-Trinchero Family Estates with Taste; Three Wine Company with Hali`imaile General Store; Tin Barn Vineyards; Van Ruiten Family Winery; Z-52.   Flights: A Showcase of Zinfandels, a seated tasting with in-depth seminars focusing on limited-production Zinfandels, takes place on January 29 from 10:30 a.m. until 1:00 p.m., at The InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel’s Peacock Court (1 Nob Hill, San Francisco, 94108, 415/392-3434). Topics will include the role of blending in the world of Zinfandel. Tickets for non-ZAP members are $80; for ZAP members, $65. Tickets are available only in advance and not at the door. Flights will focus on the history and heritage of Zinfandel, also delving into the latest Zinfandel trends and the timely topic on the art of blending. Five top Zinfandel winemakers will each present a quintessential Zinfandel: Eric Baugher (Ridge Vineyards), Matt Cline (Three Wine Company), Jeff Cohn (JC Cellars), Steve Hall (Robert Biale Vineyards) and Morgan Peterson (Bedrock Wine Company). Each panelist will also feature a proprietary Zinfandel-based red wine, blending other grapes with California’s heritage wine, to produce wine styles with flavors from casual to sophisticated. A buffet lunch will follow the tasting.

Evening With The Winemakers: A Benefit Live Auction & Dinner, takes place on January 29 beginning with a reception-tasting at 5:00 p.m., at the InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco (1 Nob Hill, San Francisco 94108, 415/392-3434). Tickets are $260 for non-members and $210 for ZAP members, available only in advance and not at the door. Participating wineries are Alderbrook Winery, Artezin Wines, Cakebread Cellars, Charter Oak Winery, D-Cubed Cellars, Dogwood Cellars, Edmeades Winery, Four Vines Winery, JR Wines, Mazzocco Winery, Peachy Canyon Winery, Ravenswood, Ridge Vineyards, Robert Biale Vineyards, Rosenblum Cellars, Saddleback Cellars, St. Francis Winery, Starry Night Winery, Terra d’Oro-Trinchero Family Estates and Three Wine Company. Continuing updates are at The reception will include the opportunity to taste, for the first time, the 2008 Heritage Vineyard Zinfandel (made from ZAP’s experimental vineyard by Tom Mackey of St. Francis Vineyards & Winery). Guests will then enjoy a feast prepared by ZAP’s celebrity chef, Beverly Gannon; guests are seated with a winemaker host at their table. Proceeds from the silent and live auctions benefit ZAP’s Heritage Projects, preserving the historical and viticultural significance of America’s heritage wine.  The 19th Annual Grand Zinfandel Tasting takes place on January 30 from 2:00 until 5:00 p.m. at the Festival and Herbst Pavilions at Fort Mason (Marina Blvd. at Buchanan, San Francisco 94123). Tickets for non-ZAP members are $59; for ZAP members, $49. Over 200 wineries will pour their wines; a list of participating wineries can be found at There will be a silent auction based at the Festival Pavilion from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., benefiting ZAP’s Heritage Projects. Participating wineries listed at   A ticket to all four events for a ZAP member is $419; for a non-member, $524. A VIP package (for 2) is available at $995—this consists of tickets to all events plus a number of additional benefits including a bottle of The Heritage Vineyard Zinfandel.   “The world of Zinfandel is full of surprises and out-of-the-box thinking,” says Rebecca Robinson, ZAP’s Executive Director. “Since Zinfandel lovers are always looking for new adventures, we anticipate that Chef Gannon’s headlining the Festival will energize wineries and attendees alike,” Ms. Robinson adds.   More about Ms. Gannon:   Continuing updates on events as well as ticket purchasing at   Visit, to join in the enormous online world of Zinfandel lore and socializing or join that conversation at Twitter (, Facebook (Facebook/ZAP-Zinfandel.   The Association of Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) is a non-profit, educational 501(c)(3) organization. ZAP is dedicated to advancing public knowledge of and appreciation for American Zinfandel and its unique place in our culture and history. Winegrowers, winemakers and wine enthusiasts combine to form the membership. The common focus is the preservation and recognition of Zinfandel as America’s heritage wine. ZAP’s membership includes approximately 300 winery-members, 6,000 advocate-members and 50 associate members.  

Bordeaux Matchmaking at Cipriani

This is a guest column. I was unable to attend this event. thankfully a friend of mine did make it and he wrote this account which I'm sharing here at Gabe's View. I look forward to attending a future event of theirs as this sounds like a lot of  fun. I hope you enjoy reading it.


I stood outside of Cipriani on Wall Street waiting for my party companion. They had set up a tent in front of the entrance lined with tables, and women sitting about 3 feet from each other with lists of guests in alphabetical order.

Another woman stood at the entrance to the tent greeting older men wearing impeccably tailored tuxedos and the women in ball gowns who accompanied them. I was there for the Bordeaux Matchmaking event – an event organized with the intention of reintroducing Bordeaux wines to America as a more casual, affordable wine. Two thoughts came to mind as I watched a group of men emerge from a black Bentley – 1) I’m grossly underdressed, and 2) this crowd isn’t doing anything to positively help the bold, expensive, and unattainable image of Bordeaux wines that we’ve grown to know.

I came to find out that I was standing about 15 feet from where I should have been. Cipriani is a large restaurant with many entrances, and apparently plenty of room for more than one event. The educational wine tasting I came for turned out to be more of a dance party with plenty of great food, attractive and hip 20 – 30 somethings dancing, laughing, and of course tipping back their glasses of delicious and affordable Bordeaux wines. And by the time the saxophonist joined the DJ school was out, and Bordeaux dance party was in full swing. If this sounds atypical of a wine tasting, it is. The purpose of the event is to show that Bordeaux wines can and should be enjoyed casually is a hip, party atmosphere. The event certainly achieved this. Plus, the wines are quite good.

Among those I tasted were a Chateau de Fonbel – a red in dark, vibrant purple from the Right Bank of the region. It has hints of black currant, cassis, and according to the info on the table pencil shavings. I also tried a white, citrusy Mouton Cadet – very similar to a sauvignon blanc in its’ dryness, but also subtly sweet, a dark and bold Chateau La Bonnelle, and a sweet white from Chateau Lupiac. I detected a hint of horseradish in the nose, and again in the first couple of sips. The flavor eventually mellowed into a soft, subtle white which according to Mollie Battenhouse, wine director and advanced sommelier at Maslow 6 wine shop in Manhattan goes quite well with foie gras – a combination I will be sure to try. Battenhouse is also on as part of their Le Wine Buff video chats. All of the bottles featured were under the $35 price point – a number most people should be comfortable paying for what I found is extraordinarily great wine.

By 10:30 the wine was nearly gone, and the table hosts began packing up their stations. The party was hardly over, though as the music got louder and the crowd – at least the ones not dancing began to flock towards the bar. I took what was left in my glass and walked out onto the terrace, and gazed out the window watching the black town cars, limos, Mercedes, and Rolls Royce’s arrive in anticipation of what I came to learn was Platts Global Energy Awards dinner letting out. With my head slightly tipsy from the wines, and my stomach generously coated with the delicious hors d’oeuvres I couldn’t help but think how lucky I was to have been at this party rather than the other one.

Could they have had nearly as much fun as I did? Doubtful. I only wished I had the means to attend the remaining two events in Chicago & Miami. And with that I went back inside – this night was just beginning.

Dinner With Winemaker Cristobal Undurraga

Terrapura_Sauvignon_Blanc_Label_mainDating back to the 1880’s the Undurraga family has played a significant role in the Chilean wine industry. As it relates to Chilean wine in the US they were the first to export here. And when Chilean wine started to find a significant home on US shelves they led the charge in brand recognition. In 2006 they sold their namesake winery, brand name and vineyard. But instead of retreating from the wine business they approached it anew. Alfonso Undurraga Mackenna great nephew of Undurraga founder Francisco started a new brand with his sons. Thus Koyle Winery was founded. I recently had the chance to sit down with winemaker Cristobal Undurraga and taste the wines he’s making with and for his family winery. The goal at Koyle Winery is two-fold. They want to show off the fact that Chile can produce small lot premium wines. And within that focus their goal is to over deliver on each release. Throughout dinner, Cristobal who is a charming speaker told us very passionately about their goals for the Koyle brand. Before tasting the Koyle wines though we tasted through the family’s value brand Terrapura.

The wines in the Terrapura range are varietal selections. With 25,000 cases of each made they’re going to be widely available on US shelves. Each of them has a suggested retail price of $9.99.

Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Carmenere are the Terrapura wines we sampled. There is also a Cabernet Sauvignon in this line. While I felt they were each well made and more than fairly priced, two stood out as favorites for me:

Terrapura – 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. This first wine of the night also turned out to be one of the favorites for both myself and others at the table. It’s loaded with lots of very fresh fruit flavors. Citrus abounds. It has tremendous acidity and a touch of creaminess on the finish. For $10 this wine is a steal.

Terrapura – 2008 Merlot. This offering has a big an alluring nose filled with rose petals and cherry aromas. Throughout the palate it features continued cherry, as well as chocolate and plum notes. The finish is beautifully dry with earth, chicory and spice. This Merlot is well balanced with good acidity. It’s tough to find a Merlot in this price category with this type of varietal character. That’s going to make this selection hard to beat.

Cristobal spoke knowledgeably about the Terrapura wines though he doesn’t make them. One of the decisions the family made when they started anew in 2006 was to operate their value and premium lines as separate wineries as opposed to different lines in the same winery. I can’t speak to what they would have tasted like if they didn’t make that decision. But I can tell you that what they decided worked very well. There are style differences in addition to qualitative differences in these wines that make them distinct.

Koyle Winery was named after a purple plant that can be found in their mountain vineyards. The wines are produced from both estate fruit and sourced grapes. The fruit they source comes from long term growers who have relationships with the Undurraga family that date back many years, assuring they get the quality they are looking for. Currently Koyle has four releases. The total case production for them stands at around 12,000. This encompasses two Cabernet Sauvignons and two Syrahs.  Each wine has a standard release ($16.99) and a “Royale” ($25.99) which is their version of a reserve offering. The 2007 vintage that we tasted is the first for the Royale wines. My impressions of these offerings follow:

Koyle_Syrah_2007_BottleKoyle - 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. This selection also has 12% Carmenere blended in.  This Cabernet has a really big and expressive nose showing lots of dark, brooding berry fruit. Berry flavors continue through the palate joined by spice and earth notes which lead to a nice finish. This wine has firm tannins. If you’re drinking it now decanting is heartily recommended.

Koyle – 2007 Syrah. 13% Carmenere is also blended in. Blueberry, plum and blackberry are all prominent in the nose of this wine. The palate has an appealing jammy feel to it. It seems to find a sweet spot that nestles itself between the very ripe offerings that often come from Australia and the more reserved old world selections. This would pair beautifully with barbecue foods.

Koyle – 2007 Royale Cabernet Sauvignon. Malbec (9%) and Carmenere (6%) are blended into this selection. I found this Cabernet to have even darker fruit than its counterpart.  It also has bigger, firmer, chewy tannins and a notably lengthy finish. This wine is nice now, but I don’t think it’s close to being at its best yet; 5 years of proper storage should help this one really evolve. It should drink well for several years after that.

Koyle – 2007 Royale Syrah. 11% Malbec and 4% Carmenere are blended into this wine. The nose of this Syrah is loaded with floral notes. Cassis, blackberry pie and copious baker’s spice emerges throughout the full bodied and rich palate. Dry fruit and espresso notes kick in on the lengthy finish. As with the Cabernet this wine will easily get better in the upcoming years under proper storage conditions.

Speaking with Cristobal throughout the evening and tasting the wines his family is producing was a noteworthy experience. His passion for wine in general and the promise of Chile in particular shines through with every word he utters. The Undurraga family has played a key role in the history of Chilean wine. It stands to reason that they will be one of the producers that causes the world to realize, on a larger scale than they currently do, that Chile stands not only for value but for premium quality as well.

Most impressive to me is that each of these wines does meet their stated goal of over-delivering on their price-points. That’s no small feat. If you drink Chilean wines, keep your eyes open for the Koyle and Terrapura wines, they’re well worth giving a shot. If you currently don’t drink much wine from Chile, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

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Dinner With Kim Longbottom & Renae Hirsch of Henry's Drive

Last week I had the opportunity to have dinner with Kim Longbottom and Renae Hirsch of Henry's Drive. This Padthaway Australia producer has a vast repertoire of wines; some appropriate for everyday drinking and others for special occasions, gift giving or cellaring. I'd met Renae last year (read that report here) and at the time she had only been on the job a short while. WithParsons_Flat_Bottle_big this followup meeting I was looking forward to learning how things had progressed for her at Henry's Drive. And of course I was also happy to be meeting proprietor Kim Longbottom. The first two wines we tasted were both Chardonnay based. First up was The Postmistress Blanc de Blanc. This sparkling wine is 100% Chardonnay and when it makes it to the US sometime in 2010 it will retail for $19.99. I found this to be a tasty lighter style of sparkling wine, one I'd consume with Brunch foods perhaps. The second wine was Morse Code Chardonnay. This is one of two varietal entries that will be part of the under $10 tier for Henry's Drive. It's fair to think of it and the Morse Code Shiraz as single varietal counterparts to the two Pillar Box wines. I really enjoyed the clean, fresh, fruit forward style of this 2009 Chardonnay. For a suggested retail of $8.99, this will make a solid choice for everyday drinking when it's released here in the next month or so.

Pillar Box Red is the first wine from Henry's Drive I became aware of several years back. I find that it's been a consistent offering in the value category and also a popular one. In speaking to Renae she indicated that a wine like Pillar Box Red which many people drink and are aware of is one of the selections she feels a bit more pressure in producing since it's had a longstanding reputation that preceded her becoming winemaker. No question to me that she's achieved her goal as the overall quality of this wine and its flavor profile have remained true to the course.

Two wines stood out as overall favorites for me. The Trial of John Montford was one. This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (90%) and Cabernet Franc (10%), leads with a big nose of leather, berry and vanilla. Cherry and earth are amongst the dominat notes through the palate and they lead to a lengthy and layered finish. This 2007 selection has a suggested retail price of $29.99. While I think it's quite tasty now, a few years in the cellar will really help it come together into an even nicer package.

The 2007 Dead Letter Office Shiraz was my other favorite of the evening. This selection blends Shiraz from McLaren Vale (67%) in with the Padthaway (33%) fruit. Of the higher end reds in the Henry's Drive portfolio this is the wine that evolved the most dramatically in the glass throughout the evening. The combination of fruit from two sources lends itself to creating a very balanced Shiraz with a multitude of layers. The suggested retail price on this wine is $26.99

In all we went through 10 selections. Beside the wines already mentioned we tasted Pillar Box Reserve, Henry's Drive Shiraz, Henry's Drive Reserve Shiraz, and the Parson's Flat Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon. In speaking with Kim throughout the evening it was clear that the goal is to create full flavored wines with balance. This is a goal that in my opinion they're reaching. Certainly I have my favorites as I indicated above, but the house style in general is one that I have an overall fondness for. This is an Australian producer I gladly recommend; regardless of your wine budget there are Henry's Drive offerings you can find room for.

One of the other pleasures of meeting Kim was getting to hear details I wasn't familiar with about their use of Postal Service terms, names and legends for their wines. Having a story is one thing, but when it's backed by historical fact and reality it adds something to the intrigue of a bottle of wine.

By all means if you have the unique opportunity to spend some time, and taste wine, with these charming ladies I highly recommend it. Some even say they're a couple of Saucy Aussies.

Imported by Quintessential Wines.

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Toast Of The Town 2009 Is Coming !

logo_tott09Each year Wine Enthusiast’s Toast of the Town is one of the most impressive tastings in Manhattan. In addition to the bevy of fine wines and spirits poured annually, key New York City restaurants come out and each prepares a signature dish at the event. All of this is set against the backdrop of a tremendous venue, Lincoln Center. Over the years Toast Of The Town has grown and in 2009 it’s being held in 4 different cities. Next year Dallas will be added and it’s expanding to 5. This years Toast Of The Town in New York City is Monday June 15th, just a few days away. Over 500 wines and other spirits will be poured there. The main event starts at 7:00 PM and lasts until 10:00 PM. Tickets are $95 and can be purchased through their official site. There is also a VIP tasting that begins at 5:00 PM. During those first couple of hours quite a few reserve and limited production wines are poured. The ticket price for the VIP tasting, which also includes the main tasting, is $195.

Each year I get to many wine tasting events of every shape, size and scope. I’ve attended Toast Of The Town a number of times and highly recommend it. It is without question one of the most complete premier tastings year after year. If you can swing it, the VIP tasting ticket is the way to go in my opinion. If not, the main event is still quite excellent. I hope to see you there!

Drinking With The Douro Boys

A couple of days ago I had the pleasure of tasting wine with the Douro Boys. dbWhat’s that, you don’t know who the Douro Boys are? In short they’re five Winery principals from the Douro Region of Portugal. For the last seven or eight years they’ve joined forces to market their wines and their region together. While I said I tasted wine with them, it was really so much more than that. These folks present a Masterclass in their wines that’s an excellent introduction, or at the very least enhancement, of the knowledge one has of the Douro. Each of the Douro Boys (one of them is a female btw) exudes passion about the region and its ability to offer unique world class wines. They are of course very different individuals and they approach wine making with divergent thoughts and ideologies. One thing they seem to agree on is this. For the Douro to have a major impact on the global wine market they need to focus on indigenous varietals. The Douro is loaded with old vines, many of them field blends with dozens of varietals planted. It’s in these old vines and Portuguese varieties that they have something to offer no one else does. To plant Cabernet Sauvignon or some other international variety wouldn’t serve them, nor would it offer anything new to wine drinkers.

Of the 23 wines we tasted through four were white, six were ports and the remainder red. I’ll mention some specifics about my favorites below but first a few generalities. The wines we tasted had retail prices starting at under $15 all the way up to over $100. In general the quality was very high and the wines were clearly crafted with care and passion for the art. While I had my favorites, by and large each of them was unique and interesting in its own way. I found the reds to generally have particularly expressive bouquets, often with prominent spice components.

Here are a handful of the wines that stood out most to me:

Amongst the whites, the 2007 Redoma Branco Reserva from Niepoort was my favorite. This wine is composed of about 30 varietals. I found it to be and impeccably balanced white with an excellent finish. Touches of caramel, nutmeg, and toast stood out.

Several of the wines poured are still in barrel back in Portugal. One of these was likely my overall favorite of the day. The 2007 Reserva from Quinta do Vallado is a field blend. The vines it was sourced from are about 80 years of age. I found this wine to have some sour cherry notes, a touch of bacon fat on the finish with a nice bite. Excellent acidity and good balance also stood out here. I found myself crazing roast leg of lamb with rosemary and garlic when tasting this wine. The suggested retail price for this offering once it’s bottled, will be about $50.

I mentioned the excellent aromatics most of these wines contained, a shining example of that was the Quinta do Crasto 2006 Reserva. 24,000 cases of this beauty were produced from vines with an average age of 65 years. The nose was simply loaded with spice. Clove and nutmeg stood out in particular. For $35 I recall this being an impressive wine that seemed like it would pair with diverse foods.

The Quinta Vale D. Maria Van Zellers 2007 was a wine I found particularly interesting. Approximately 2,500 cases of this offering were produced from purchased fruit. This red was aged in stainless steel. I found it to be a straightforward wine with some Beaujolais like qualities. This is a red wine I’d serve with a hint of a chill on it. An excellent choice for Paella

One of the ports that really stood out was the Quinta do Vale Meão Vintage 2007. This is an incredibly aromatic wine. It offered plenty of dried red fruit characteristics as well as excellent spice. This was a superbly balanced port that I imagine will age nicely. Decanting it and drinking over a long evening would be an interesting study.

The last wine tasted was a Niepoort 1991 Port. This one wasn’t on our tasting drsheet and Dirk van der Niepoort pulled it out after someone commented on his 2005. The 1991 was a real stand out for me. Nuts, caramel and fig notes were the story of a gentle but complex palate. This wine was sweet but restrained. Graceful and elegant are the two words I feel best summed up this lovely finish to an afternoon of tasting and learning.

Anyone tasting these wines, especially with the Douro Boys, would know a lot more about Portugal and the Douro afterwards. The best way to learn about wines is of course to taste them. You can read about them all day, but one sip tells you more than days of research. This Masterclass from the Douro Boys was a case in point. While I’ve had quite a few Portuguese wines in the past, tasting these current and upcoming releases from the Douro was nothing short of a revelation. Going forward I know I’ll have a stronger need to taste the wines of Portugal.

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2009 New York Wine Expo

When I attend a large scale Wine Tasting in successive years, one of the first four_beauty_420copy_smthing I look for, is differences from the previous one. Last year I felt that the New York Wine Expo was very good, particularly for a first year event. I was hoping however that the 2009 event would be even better. What I found upon entering the Javits Center, is that the 2009 New York Wine Expo was being held in a larger space than last years event. As I hoped, that meant it was more spacious, (not just crammed with more tables) and easier to get around. Another upgrade, in my opinion was the selection of wines. I do believe there were more wines being poured this year, but that's not what I mean. The wines being poured formed a broader cross section of the wine world at large. Each area represented seemed to have a number of producers, allowing tasters to get a nice feel for a region. Argentina, Austria and Germany are three countries that I particularly noticed good representation of.

Argentine wines are a particular interest of mine, and I'm always glad to see their wines out in force. Germany and Austria are both countries I feel often get short shrift at tastings and on US Wine Store shelves. So to see them being well represented, was pleasing.

Among the producers that stood out, Château de Valloubière had a lovely Rosé that I look forward to sipping all summer long on my deck. New Zealand's Staete Landt had several impressive selections including a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Noir. Amongst the Austrian standouts was the Tegernseerhof 2007 Rosé Zweigelt and the Steininger Loisiumweingarten 2007 Gruner Veltliner. The 2004 Hall "Kathryn Hall" Cabernet Sauvignon impressed me with its complexity and finish. It's sure to age for close to a decade. Several selections from Portuguese producer Quinta do Vallado stood out as well. Neige, an apple Ice Wine from Quebec, provided something quite different, and memorable.

Also of note was Four Wines 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. This is the first wine in a tube. What this represents is the latest take on premium boxed wines. It's the equivalent of 3 liters of wine (4 bottles), with a suggested retail price of $40. I found it to be a tasty wine, more complex than the average $10 bottle of Cab. They claim it'll be good for a minimum of 4 weeks after opening.

Wine lovers in the NY area who didn't attend the 2009 Wine Expo will want to keep their eyes open for the 2010 iteration. The number, and variety, of available wines, from the world over, makes this a worthwhile event.

Starting  this Thursday: 12 Days of Cabernet Franc! 

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2009 New York Wine Expo

expoThe 2nd annual New York Wine Expo is just two weeks away. I attended the premiere event last year and wrote about it here. This years event takes place from February 27th through March 1st. Once again the event is being held at the Jakob Javitz Convention Center. I found last years Expo to be a good one, especially for a first year event. There were a wide range of wine to taste from many corners of the world. The event was also well organized out by region. I'll be attending it again this year and writing about it.

Winemaker Dinner; Renae Hirsch of Henry's Drive

Last week I had the opportunity to taste through the Henry's Drive wines at dinner in New York City with their winemaker Renae Hirsch. Within the last year she's become the head Winemaker there. Throughout dinner Renae told us about Henry's Drive vineyards, their wine-making philosophy and a good deal about making wine in Australia in general. Most people are likely familiar with the Pillar Box series of wines. Pillar Box Red has been around quite a few years longer than its counterparts. What the Pillar Box wines have in common are the quality and value they represent at a very low price point. With 500 acres in their estate, Henry's Drive has control over quite a bit of fruit.

The wines of the evening were:

Pillar Box White- This blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Verdelho can often be found on shelves for under $10. The 2007 was being tasted. I found it to be crisp and fresh with some tangy and mineral notes on the finish. A nice wine to sip on it's own, especially while it's still nice out.

Pillar Box Red- This blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot was my first exposure to the Henry's Drive wines a few years back. As with the white the 2007 was being poured. I found it to be jammy up front with gamey red notes on the mid-palate through the finish. White pepper notes stood out as one of the hallmarks of a nice tingly finish. In comparison to other vintages of this release I've had the 2007 struck me as smoother and a bit more layered. For around $10, this has been an excellent value for several years now and that continues with the current vintage

Pillar Box Reserve - Unlike the other two wines in the Pillar Box line, the reserve is 100% Shiraz. The fruit characteristics on this 2007 wine were very dark, much more so than the Pillar Box Red. It ‘s also less jammy, even smoother and featuring quite a bit of black pepper. Suggested retail price is $19.99

The Trial of John Montford- The 2006 release is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Wild blackberry and brambly earth notes fill the nose. Typically jammy as much Australian Cabernet can be. Not overly jammy though as it features excellent acidity which provides very nice balance. Smooth and fairly silky, this is an impressive effort for the $29.99 Suggested Retail price.

Dead Letter Office- This 2006 Shiraz has fruit from both Padthaway (33%) and Mclaren Vale (67%). Of the wines I tasted at this dinner this one struck me as the least immediately accessible. It needed more time to really open up than the rest. Decanting this for an hour ore more would be recommended. Otherwise another 6 months to a year of age should really help it come into its own. Once it did open up, lots of fresh red raspberry and bing cherry was accompanied by subtle spice and light vanilla notes. $26.99 Suggested retail price on this one.

Henry's Drive Shiraz - This 2006 Shiraz was sourced from older estate vineyards than the Pillar Box Reserve. It features a lot of dark berry fruit and an undercurrent of mocha on the finish accompanied by a clingy tart note that rides out on the back of the throat for awhile. $34.99 SRP.

Parson's Flat- 65% Shiraz 35% Cabernet Sauvignon make up this 2005 estate blend. Cab & Shiraz are natural partners in Australia, Perhaps as much as Cabernet & Merlot are in France. They work well in this blend. Berry, mocha and spice fill the nose and palate of this wine. It's was a bit reticent at first but opened up nicely as the evening progressed. Significant, velvety tannins are this offerings hallmark. It should be able to improve for several years and drink nicely for 4 or 5 after that. Nice effort. $39.99 SRP.

Henry's Drive Reserve Shiraz - This single vineyard wine from 2006 is filled with chocolate covered blackberry notes in the nose and early to mid-palate. The finish brings out significant spice and lingering notes of dried berry fruit. $49.99 SRP.

Tasting these wines with Persian food at Shalizar worked well. The potpourri of flavors on the table were well matched by what was being poured. The Henry's Drive wines are well made and fairly priced at their different tiers. What I like best about this portfolio of wines is that they manage to have a connective tissue or house style that ties them to each other, but they manage to be distinct in their own right. To my taste that house style is of wines filled with ripe, full flavored fruit that fill your senses but never overburden the palate or feel too "in your face." They are by and large balanced by good acidity and all work well with food. Most of their fruit is from their own Estate Vineyards which allows them to control quality year in and year out. That difference is especially felt in a wine like Pillar Box Red. Often wines in that price category vary wildly from year to year as many vintners are making them from whatever fruit they find on the market that year. By controlling almost all of their own fruit and buying the rest from friends they are assured of a quality level each year.

Speaking with Renae throughout the evening it's clear she's looking to continue the style in place at the winery and make the best wines the fruit allows her to each vintage. Whether you're looking to head out to a Barbecue and bring a fun wine such as one of the Pillar Box selections, explore Australian Shiraz a cut above or tuck something away to see how it ages, Henry's Drive has some fine, interesting and most importantly well made selections to offer.

Imported by: Quintessential Wines.

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Toast Of The Town - New York City

Wine Enthusiant's annual tasting is hitting New York City in just 2 weeks away. Having attended this event in the past I can attest that it's an excellent event with a wide array of wines and food to sample.

Wine Enthusiast TOAST OF THE TOWN NEW YORK 2008

Toast of The TownExperience Wine Enthusiast’s spectacular annual epicurean evening of wine, food and soft jazz in the city’s cultural epicenter, Lincoln Center of the Performing Arts. International wine and spirit companies will pour more than 500 of their premium products, and over 30 top New York restaurants will be showcased.


Date: Monday, May 19, 2008 VIP Tasting: 5:00-7:00 p.m. Grand Tasting: 7:00-10:00 p.m.


Location: Lincoln Center’s New York State Theater

63rd Street and Columbus Avenue, NYC

Silent auction to benefit: City Harvest and the Food Bank For New York City



VIP Tasting $185 Grand Tasting $95 Space is limited, reserve in advance: or call 800-847-5949

Up Next: The 12 Days of Petite Sirah Continues!

New York Wine Expo

LogoThis weekend I attended the first annual New York Wine Expo. Similar events have take place in Boston and Washington DC for a number of years. The New York City version was held at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. Friday and Saturday was open to the public for $85 and $95 respectively. The event also took place on Sunday for those involved in the Wine trade in one form or another. With clearly numbered aisles and good organization it was easy to navigate around the venue and find particular wineries that were listed in program. The wines of a couple hundred producers were represented. Many wine producing regions were featured but Argentina had a particularly large representation. It was easy to see that there is quite a bit of diversity and quality coming out of this South American country, often at a great price. Being a New York event, local wines were also prominently showcased. In addition to those examples wines from Africa, Portugal, Chile among others were also featured along with the countries people traditionally think of when wine comes to mind.

Of particular note were some dessert wines from Cyprus that seemed to find the intersection between Sherry, Port and Madeira. I sampled four different releases and they were each remarkably delicious and distinct in character. A Pinot Noir from Fulcrum Wines of California also stood out. However these are just a few examples. There were a tremendous number of interesting wines to try throughout the weekend.

In addition to wine a few booths were dedicated to exhibiting food products such as cheese, organic snacks and churros. One strange thing for an event of this size was that bottled water was being sold. Most events of this magnitude seem to have a bottled water sponsor who doles out tons of the stuff for free to attendees. That said, regular ice water was available for free throughout the venue.

All things considered this was a very good event for Wine Lovers. The Javitz center has plenty of room and it was well organized and well run. If you missed it, look out for the 2nd annual New York Wine expo in early 2009.

This Week: Three Releases from Australian Producer Smidge Wines.

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Gambero Rosso - New York City

Yesterday was the Gambero Rosso Top Italian Wines Road Show in New York City. It was held at 583 Park Avenue, which proved to be an excellent venue for this type of event. PlenioThe idea to have the best and highest rated Italian wines from the previous year under one roof, is a terrific one. Over two floors and dozens of tables one well made, well rated and often legendary wine after another was available for tasting. The gamut of Italian wines from traditional Chianti, Barberesco, Barolo etc were poured alongside the relatively newer Super-Tuscans and single varietal bottlings of things such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and the like.

One of the most interesting tastings of the day for me was a 3 year vertical of Verdicchio. The years on hand were 2002-2004. All three vintages were unique and interesting. However the 2002 was for my palate the one to drink now. It has achieved a minerality and subtlety that the younger vintages have yet to achieve. This was proof for anyone who tasted through them that some Italian whites can age very well. In fact for me the 2002 Umani Ronchi Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Riserva Plenio (imported by Bedford International) was one of the top two or three White Wines of the event. Considering the great wines being poured that says a lot.

There were approximately 170 of the best Italian Wines being poured yesterday. To get to all of them would have been impossible. That being the case I made my way around in a leisurely fashion throughout both floors and made a point to taste some wines such as Tignanello that I was already familiar with. But I made even more of an effort to seek out wines that I was previously either unfamiliar with or only knew by reputation. I should be covering some of these hear in the not too distant future.

The bottom line is that Italy is producing some of the best wines in the world. Overall quality across price levels was impressive. If you have a way to beg, borrow or steal your way into a future Gambero Rosso tasting, it's highly recommended.

Wine Australia Festival - New York City

Yesterday I attended the Wine Australia Festival at Cipriani on Wall Street in New York WACity. Hundreds of wines were available to taste from all areas of Australia. As it has the last few years, this event sold out in advance. This is no surprise since it's been a consistently good and fun event to attend. One would have a hard time getting to half the wine, let alone all of it. My strategy was to taste some whites early in the day and then walk around cherry picking between favorite producers I was already familiar with and unfamiliar ones that sounded interesting.

I'm happy to report coming across several wineries I was previously unfamiliar with that impressed. In general there are some terrific wines emanating from some of the burgeoning cooler climate areas of Australia. Yarra Valley is amongst these areas. Several Pinot Noir's I had from this area as well as Chardonnays were particularly noteworthy. Amongst them was Giant Steps. Successive vintages of their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were standouts. Both were true to their varietals and made in an old world style. They were also well balanced and built for food. Overall the number of wines I tasted yesterday made in this style was impressive.  

Another noteworthy producer was Boggy Creek Vineyards. Several of their wines were quite tasty but my favorite was a Cabernet-Shiraz blend. It was full bodied, loaded with ripe dark fruit, but not overwhelming, or overly alcoholic.

Naturally there was a lot of great Shiraz to be had. Regardless of what style you like your Shiraz, you were bound to find numerous examples to tempt your palate at the Wine Australia Festival. Additionally there were a multitude of different blends, both red and white which were impressive. Some of them were standard types of blends such as the Cabernet-Shiraz I mentioned above. But in other cases they were slightly more unorthodox. One was a Chardonnay-Viogner blend that just knocked me out. It only had a small amount of Viogner in it but it lifted the nose to stratospheric heights. This wine was by Hungerford Hill. It's in their Fishcage Series. The retail is around $12.00 and it over-delivers at that price.

These are really just a few examples of what was a lot of good and interesting wine. There was also plenty of food placed strategically throughout the room to munch on.  Water was also readily available so everyone could make sure they stayed properly hydrated. I've attended the Wine Australia event several times now. If you're a fan of Australian Wine this is a great way to taste quite a few of them and likely come away with some new favorites. If you are new to Australian Wine this tasting is a good way to familiarize yourself with the wide array of wines and styles they're producing. The Shiraz tends to get all the hype, and it's deserved as it is their signature grape. But Australia is doing so much more than that with their wines these days it's really a very worthwhile country for wine-lovers to delve into and explore.

The event itself was well organized and thought out. In addition to the normal tables where wineries, distributors and importers poured their wares there were also "Regional Heroes" tents. They would pull standout wine from one area and varietal to taste side by side. This was a good idea and a terrific way to compare wines to their counterparts.

The Wine Australia Festival takes place in New York City every January with tickets going on-sale the previous fall. If you missed it in 2008, keep your eyes open for when tickets go on-sale for the 2009 version. It's well worth the time and ticket price, which was $70.00.

Sun Winefest at Mohegan Sun

WinefestThis weekend Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville Connecticut hosted Sun Winefest. Several events were offered throughout the course of the weekend,  but the centerpiece was the Grand Tasting. This took place both Saturday the 19th and Sunday the 20th from Noon to 5:00 PM. Separate tickets were available for each day. Additionally a weekend pass was available at a reduced rate that would gain you entry for both days. I attended both days of Winefest and it was a very well organized event. Approximately 1,000 wines were available to be sampled from all over the world. Several hundred spirits and beers were also available for tasting. A handful of exhibitors were there showcasing related products and lifestyle accessories. Numerous area restaurants were on hand to cook signature dishes and provide samples for a small fee that went towards the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. 

Wines were setup at booths throughout the Mohegan Sun convention center. Many of them were poured by the local distributors who bring these wines to market in Connecticut and neighboring states. However in some cases people from the wineries themselves were on hand to pour their wines and answer questions. In several instances the winemakers were available to pour and chat. For folks who may not have had the opportunity to travel to one of the great wine producing regions of the world this was a terrific opportunity to approximate the tasting room experience at a winery.

The wines available to taste ran the gamut from bargains that you could think about drinking everyday, to higher end MSwines aimed at special occasions, or for tucking away in your cellar to age. If you wanted to focus on just white, just red or even one varietal there where enough choices and variety that you could easily fill up the 5 hour event creating any sort of tasting you desired. The foods presented were also a broad range of offerings. At one table I had a delicious Pasta Bolognese while at another across the room I had Corn Dogs made with Kobe Beef Hot dogs. Water was placed strategically throughout the venue so everyone could access it easily. Live cooking demonstrations also went on at a stage towards the entrance to the convention center. There were chairs available so anyone who wanted to take a break from tasting could sit and watch some well regarded chefs cook.

I've attended a lot of large scale wine tastings such as the Sun Winefest. Often with crowds as large as the ones gathered at Mohegan Sun this weekend it's very difficult to get around. Whoever setup the floor-plan knew what they were doing. The layout and flow of the room was better than many tastings of similar scope and size that I have been to. A similar type of tasting at Foxwoods last fall for example was an absolute nightmare to navigate. Perhaps this is a testament to the fact that Mohegan Sun has been hosting their tasting for five years while it's only been two for Foxwoods.

Entry for one day of Sun Winefest was $65.00. This is an absolute bargain for wine lovers. There are many events throughout the year that cost more, don't run nearly as long and have nowhere near the selection of wine, spirits, beer and food. For $95.00 you could buy a weekend pass that would get you into the Grand Tasting both Saturday and Sunday. To put the scope of the event in perspective, if you went both days, you would have to taste 100 wines per hour to get to every wine. Not that I'm recommending anything of the sort. It's better to take the five hours and soak in the atmosphere. Take time to talk to people and learn about them and the wine they're pouring for you. More than likely, you'll walk away with a few new wines to seek out for your collection.

If you missed Sun Winefest in 2008 I strongly urge looking into it for 2009. It's one of the better tastings around and an excellent value to boot.

Kramer Vineyards- Willamette Valley Oregon

Every trip I take to a wine producing region to taste wine results in some memorable tasting room experiences. Having spent less than 2 days so far in Oregon I've already tasted some great wines and met some friendly folks.

But then I walked into Kramer Vineyards late in the day yesterday. After a few minutes at the very welcoming tasting bar sampling one of their tasty sparkling wines I was asked if I had any interest in tasting a six year vertical of their Barrel Select Pinot Noir. Any interest? I had to laugh, this is exactly the sort of thing you hope to stumble accross when you're out wine tasting. And to make it even more appealing it was an incredibly modest $12.00 for the privilege.

I was ushered into the back room where I sat with the owners and winemakers Trudy & Keith Kramer as well as their friends the Lint's (RJ & Junaita) who it turns out are in the process of getting their own winery (Plum Hill Vineyard) up and running. Then I was also introduced to Marilyn Blen who seems to do a variety of different things around the winery including acting as in house chef (more on that later).

I sat down and was poured generous quantities of the above mentioned Pinot Noirs from vintage years 2002 through 2006. The 2006 came from a barrel sample as it's a few months away from being bottled.

Each of the Pinot's was well balanced and very drinkable. In the 2001 you can detect that it's optimum drinking window is coming to a close. But it's very enjoyable right now and the color has muted a bit from the cherry red of a young Pinot to take on some rust color.

The nose on all 6 was very distinct. The 2006 promises to be a blockbuster. It has a bigger almost jammy nose with lots of dark fruit. By the time it's released next fall it should really be singing.

My favorites were the 2003 and 2004. The 2003 was incredibly perfumed and just beautiful to drink. The sort of wine you want to grab a bottle of and sit outside and consume every last drop of. The 2004 also had a unique nose which I could not quite put my finger on. Anise came to mind but I'll reconsider when I taste it again.

We then moved on to their 2004 Heritage Pinot. WOW, What a tremendous wine. A big round mouth-feel, lots of cherry and spice characteristics and a lengthy finish. Just fantastic.

It was at this point that I was asked to hang with them for dinner. How could anyone ever say no to this friendly, gregarious bunch. We enjoyed salad and a slow cooked brisket that Marilyn had prepared with her family's plum BBQ sauce recipe. Delicious doesn't even begin to describe it. Of course several other wines were poured with the meal including a unique one called Carmine I believe. It comes from several grapes being combined genetically. The last wine was a Pinot port. A terrific way to end, it paired nicely with chocolate.

Close to 3 1/2 hours after I walked into Kramer Vineyards I actually left. Richer not only with the new wines I discovered but with an incredible few hours spent with some genuinely lovely and generous people who happen to make delicious wine and sell it at a very fair price.

If you have the chance visit them. If you don't have that opportunity order some through their website

Toast of the Town - New York City

Much like in past years Wine Enthusiast's 2008 Toast of the Town was amongst the best large-scale public tastings in New York. For those wanting to sample a large array of wines, from around the world, under one roof Toast of the Town provides that. Quite a few New York restaurants were also present, each preparing one signature dish for attendees to sample. A Jazz combo played music in the background that added to the ambiance and feel of the tasting. The event ran from 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM. The first two hours were a VIP tasting. Tickets to get in early went for $185, while tickets for the Grand Tasting, which started at 7:00 PM, were priced at $95. As it has in past years the venue was Lincoln Center.

The benefits of the VIP ticket were essentially three fold. Of primary importance was the fact that just about every exhibitor was pouring several higher end, and reserve wines during the first two hours that were not available during the grand tasting. Secondarily there are fewer VIP tickets sold and thus it's easier to get around during that portion of Toast of the Townthe evening. While it's not uncommon for an event of this scope, the Grand Tasting can be a crowded event, where it's sometimes necessary to jockey for position at a particular exhibitors tasting table. The final benefit of the VIP Ticket is the simple fact that you have 5 hours instead of three to make your way around. With all that time, there is no need to attempt a dizzying pace.

One of my first stops of the evening proved to be amongst my favorite tables of the tasting. The wines being poured at this table were several labels that Susana Balbo of Argentina produces. From her entry-level wines in the Crios line, to the BenMarco and Susana Balbo labeled wines, the selections were impressive. What I enjoyed about these wines was a combination of consistency in style and true varietal character. Look for more detailed coverage of her wines her in the future, as I'm confident they are worth taking a close look at.

Throughout the night there were a solid handful of wines that really stood out from a potpourri of exhibitors and producers. A Monte Rosso Cabernet Sauvignon from Louis Martini was noteworthy as was the newly released 2005 vintage of Don Melchor, the undisputed King of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. Dead Letter Office from Henry's Drive was the best Australian Shiraz I had at the event. Amongst a number of Italian wines I really enjoyed, the Biondi Santi Rosso Di Montalcino was a stand out. A bit more locally, the wines I sampled from Carneros producer Artesa Vineyards and Winery, particularly their Pinot Noir, really resonated with me.

Another table that was a highlight of the tasting for me also featured Argentine wines. In this case the producer was Luigi Bosca. Several Malbecs, Cabernets and blends were exquisite as well as excellent values. As with the Susana Balbo wines I plan to take a closer look at them in the future.

Outside of the wine realm there were also numerous exhibitors pouring fine spirits at Toast of the Town. Amongst these I found Domaine De Canton's French Ginger Liqueur unique, refreshingly different and well worth seeking out.

My one gripe with this event is a situation with the tasting glasses. At some point later in the evening I misplaced my glass. It was a bit of a struggle to get a second glass. The folks handing them out said they were under strict instructions that each person could only have one glass. Since there appeared to many boxes full of glasses right behind the folks I was speaking to, I'm not quite sure what the issue was. Eventually, I was able to get another glass, but it shouldn't have been so difficult. I noticed a few other people having a similar issue soon after. If there is a policy that each person can only have one glass for the evening, it should be made clear as people walk in. If I had known of such a policy I would have been more protective of the first glass I received.

As a whole, Toast of the Town continues to be an excellent event for lovers of fine wine, food and spirits. Lincoln Center is an elegant setting that lends additional class and an air of importance to the proceedings. Whether one chooses to attend only the Grand Tasting or the VIP tasting is going to be dictated by their own tastes and budget. If feasible the VIP tasting is the recommendation here as it does add significant value. If you have never been to Toast of the Town and you love wine, mark you calendar for Spring 2009.

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