Posts tagged chardonnay

Black Box Wines: More to Like? Yes and No

black box pinot-noir-hamIf you’re like me and you want great wine at a great price, sometimes you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince. (Though, as a positive-type person, I don’t tend to write about most of the frogs because I like to concentrate on recommendations, not warnings.)
Anyway, when the Black Box Wines people asked me if I’d like to sample their wines, I remembered trying some good ones years ago. Between their samples and visiting friends, I’ve tried two whites and two reds in the past few weeks. What I like about all the boxed wines is that they really do last for weeks, since there’s no aeration to start degrading the wine quality immediately (which is what happens with wines in bottles). Also, each box contains the same amount as four bottles of wine, so there is some saving in $$ as well as in manufacturing and shipping.
But how are the wines themselves, you ask? I liked the 2013 Pinot Noir (around $20/box) because it’s what you would expect from a reasonably good California Pinot. Made with grapes from several California regions (78% pinot noir, 21% syrah, 1% “dry red” whatever that means), it has strawberry and cherry flavors augmented by some green leafiness, along with acidity and mild tannins — meaning that the wine pairs well with many different types of foods. A medium-long finish, too.
What about the Chardonnay, Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon? At various gatherings, people seemed to like them but I was unimpressed. They all lacked balance and complexity, and I, personally, would not go back for more. Stick with the Pinot Noir this season…

More Unsatisfactory Chardonnay

So much of the time I’m disappointed – or even appalled – when I taste Chardonnay wines. I’d like to say this time was different. But it wasn’t.
Paul Hobbs’ 2013 Crossbarn Chardonnay (around $26) offers a variety of very separate sensations. Perhaps they will come together in the future, but why not wait until then to release the wine?
After tasting, I studied the label more carefully. The grapes come from respected areas: Sonoma Coast and Sonoma County. Which should have been fine. Only it wasn’t.
Scents of flowers, dark fruit and cardboard wafted through the aroma. A bit of sweetness reared its head on the palate, only to be knocked down by bitterness on the end-palate, with bitter acid in the finish. Food only made it worse.
20140617_131021 Dismayed, I put the rest of the bottle in the fridge and tried it again before lunch the next day. The random collection of disparate scents and flavors persisted. However, I did fine one food pairing that made it marginally better: whole wheat toast. But how useful is that?

Moving on, I sampled the 2010 Monteverro Chardonnay, IGT Toscana. Flavors and aromas were polarized from toffee-vanilla sweet to a sharpness that suggested the wine was acidified. Nothing good on the palate. And it only got worse with food – both at dinner and the next morning.
Wait, I just checked the price online: it’s almost $100! How could that be?
Did a little research and heard that others have had problems with this chardonnay too. Is this a badly thought-out wine? Or simply an unstabilized wine? Or something else?
Strange, especially because the red Monteverro wines I sampled recently were good: the 2010 Tinata and Terra di Monteverro.20140617_130908

Surprises — good — with Pays d’Oc wines at lunch

I was kind of surprised at a luncheon last week to find that a former table-wine area of France has really grown up nicely. Several of the Pays d’Oc IGP wines I sampled were much finer than I had anticipated. This region (mainly in the Languedoc-Roussillon area) is also marketing their wines at a somewhat higher level, too: as more of the Pays d’Oc wines reach the US, they are targeting $10-$14 for many of their “entry level” wines, with some going a few dollars higher. Here are three of the wines that impressed me during our very French meal at Capsouto Freres in New York.

2010 La Forge Estate Sauvignon Blanc. One of the most successful wine and food pairings at this lunch: perfect with the Spinach Souffle. In fact, the pairing made both the food and the wine better. It’s a fairly low alcohol wine by current standards, at 12.5%. Floral and herbal aromas moved into the flavors, which had some sweetness. The palate and body showed more roundness than expected due to a touch of neutral oak. A light but longish finish had a persistent citric note.

2010 Domaine de Larzac Roussanne Chardonnay, surprised me by coming down on the flinty side of chardonnay – more austere than I had expected. Still, there was also some roundness, and the two grapes’ flavors were nicely integrated, and with balanced acidity.

2010 Domaine Gayda “Figure Libre” Cabernet Franc. Paired well with lamb and duck. Aromas of big, dark cherry made you want to put the wine in your mouth right away. A good idea, because the flavors did not turn out to be overly fruity, as might be expected. Structure and tannins were balanced, and there was a nice bite of acidity, too.

Water Witching like Marc Mondavi

When I was little, we went out on my great-uncle’s farm in Illinois one day, while he was figuring out where to dig a new well. My great-uncle had hired a dowser, which was the preferred Midwestern term for a “water witch” — someone who has the natural ability to detect water underground. In this case, the dowser used a forked stick of a certain type of new wood, I think it might have been a fruit tree. That day, the dowser let me try holding the forked stick: I didn’t feel anything. He let my sister try, and the dowsing rod went wild, leading her right to a small source of water, before the dowser had found it.
(In the end, yes, the dowser found a large source of water, and yes, they dug a well, and yes, it worked.)
So as soon as I heard that Marc Mondavi’s company was sending me a dowsing rod with their Divining Rod wines, I couldn’t wait for my sister to visit. As luck would have it, the package kept getting delayed different places, and I finally received it the day before she left. She was in the middle of packing when I made her go out into the yard to do some of the dowsing exercises recommended in the accompanying booklet. I tried holding the dowsing rods (metal, in this case) and nothing much happened. She tried, and the rods really started moving, crossing over each other and leading her around the yard – to where we later found out was the location of the water main near the street. Somehow, she ended up packing the rods, too…
What about the wines? Oh yeah, I almost forgot. There’s a 2010 Alexander Valley Cab: red fruit-y, with mild tannins, pleasant, better with casual food – like pizza and lasagna — than without. And though I have had problems with Chardonnay from this area in the past, Divining Rod is making steps in the right direction: this 2010 from the Santa Lucia Highlands is less flabby than others, more structured, offering some fruit without being totally overwhelming.


Still trying to get my head around the wines of Puglia, where I spent several days last week. All sorts of great native grapes — negroamaro, primitivo, uva di troia, bombino bianco, malvasia, fiano — and some chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon.
As with many emerging wine regions, Puglian winemakers are caught in a dilemma: should they be promoting their indigenous grapes or concentrating on wines made with internationally-known grapes? They have an added handicap because Puglia has been producing bulk wines for decades.
What do you think they should do?