Tag Archives: wine

Wine O’Clock: Cannery Row Cellars Chardonnay 2008

28 Jul

Another pick from my Wine Insiders haul, this Cannery Row Cellars Chardonnay hails from my old stomping grounds just outside of the Monterey Bay area of California’s Central Coast.   Central Californian Chardonnay has quickly become one of my favorite wines of Summer with plenty of bright tropical fruit and crisp acidity to cut through the humidity and pair with a wide variety of summer foods.

I may not have stepped foot on Cannery Row since I was wearing Ninja Turtle underwear, but at least now I can drink wine vinted in the foothills of one of this country’s truly spectacularly scenic places.

Cannery Row Cellars Chardonnay 2008

Varietal: 100% Chardonnay

Vitals: 12.6% abv

Company Line: “Fresh fruit aromas herald delicious flavors of apple, nectarine and ripe melon.  Oak aging adds depth and complexity with hints of toasty oak and vanilla.  Balanced acidity makes this wine particularly refreshing.”

My take: pale straw yellow in the glass.  Nose opens with sharp apple and tropical fruit flourishes ensconced in a veil of soft vanilla.  Apple and citrus blanket the palate with a satisfying acidity.  Body is emboldened with rich oakiness which also serves to taper the acid in the finish.

This sits right in the middle of the California Chardonnay spectrum between intense tropical fruits and buttery oakiness.  While I certainly wouldn’t call this example buttery, it’s oaky and vanilla softness acts as a nice counterbalance to the fresh fruit that dominates the front of this wine.  A nice summer drinker with the versatility to pair with poultry, fish, cheese or fruit and pastry-based desserts.


Wine O’Clock: Fair Oaks Ranch Zinfandel Reserve 2005

26 Jul

Yes, I’m still alive and YES, I’m still drinking wine.  Here’s proof – an empty bottle of Fair Oaks Ranch Zinfandel Reserve 2005.  A recent local Groupon deal netted me $75 at Wine Insiders, an online wine-monger with a similar price-vs.-quality philosophy as Barriques, for only $25.  I ended up with 6 bottles in the $10-$12 range for only $30, including shipping.  While I wasn’t familiar with any of the wines I ended up with, at $5 a bottle, I wasn’t out much either way.  After Sumptuary opened my eyes to the raw power of the California Zinfandel, I had to delve deeper into the grape.

Fair Oaks Ranch Zinfandel Reserve 2005

Varietal: 100% Zinfandel

Vitals: 12.5% abv

Company Line: *crickets*

My take: deep ruby in the glass.  Jammy blackberry and black cherry play off spice and cedar in the nose.  Wild berries and bramble dominate the fore-palate with leathery tannins and a hint of pepper bringing home a long, dry finish.

This Zin is a lot tighter and dryer than I tend to prefer, but it nonetheless hits the standard notes of the varietal.  Probably not an example that I’d revisit, but more accessible for those who prefer a more straightforward, mellowed-out red.

There’s More to South Africa than the World Cup: Chamonix Chardonnay 2006

29 Jun

So now that the emotional roller coaster that was following the USMNT (United States Men’s National Team, not United States Mutant Ninja Turtles) is over after a tough loss to Ghana in the knock-out stages of the World Cup, most fair-weather fans of the Beautiful Game have turned their attentions away from South Africa.  Beyond World Cup soccer and Apartheid (what, too soon?), South Africa has long produced the best wines on the Dark Continent.  As a former European colony, winemaking took hold in South Africa in the 17th century.  Only recently, however,  has their wine become widely available on the international market.

Initially dominated by dessert wines and niche varietals like Chenin Blanc and Pinotage, the influx of so-called flying winemakers on the New World wine scene brought popular Old World varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay to the industry.  In particular, the Huguenot settlers of the Franschhoek (‘French Corner’) brought their rich winemaking tradition with them, transforming the Western Cape Province into the premier wine region of South Africa.

This past Friday saw me pouring a variety of Chardonnay from across the world to an intimate group at Barriques Wine and Spirits (tasting schedule) in Middleton.  Out of the 8 wines I poured (3 American, 2 French, 1 Australian, 1 Argentinian, 1 South African), the later was one of the more unique.  Aside from being the eldest of the group, the Chamonix Chardonnay 2006 stood out with its unique blend of fruit and oak complexity.

Chamonix Chardonnay 2006

Varietal: 100% Chardonnay

Vitals: 13.5% abv; nearly a year on mostly new French oak

Company line: none to be found for the 2006 vintage, 2008 notes here

My take: pours a vibrant golden yellow.  Ripe tropical fruit and grapefruit weave a juicy bouquet while richer notes of oatmeal, caramel and spice lay a smooth, oaky foundation on the palate.   Finish is clean with a pleasant, citric acidity and light buttery note.

This wine blends Old and New World chardonnay characteristics in a rich, complex, and ultimately satisfying way.  At ~$14.99 bottle at Barriques, this wine makes for a solid value for the level of fruit and oak interplay going on.  Notes on the 2008 vintage suggest their Chardonnays hit their peak around 5 years, so the 2006 is just reaching the height of its maturity.  Also available by the glass at Restaurant Magnus in downtown Madison.

Wine O’Clock: Bighorn Cellars Camelback Vineyard Chardonnay 2007

22 Jun

Chardonnay exploded onto the California wine scene in the 1970’s with the hometown boys of Chateau Montelena besting the French in the famous Judgement of Paris in 1976.  By 1988, plantings of Chardonnay in California surpassed those in all of France.  By 2005, California-grown Chardonnay accounted for 100,000 acres or 25% of the world’s Chardonnay plantings.  Those Left Coasters know their way around the grape.  I have come to love Chardonnay from Sonoma and Napa since I poured a Sonoma vs. Napa tasting at Barriques in Middleton  a few months ago.  The best examples I have tried have expertly balanced New World-style tropical fruits with soft, buttery oakiness for a sublimely complex-yet-smooth experience.

The Bighorn Cellars Camelback Vineyard Chardonnay 2007 comes from the Los Carneros AVA, which is in the Sourthernmost extent of Napa.  As such, the grapes are soothed by ample coastal fog and bay breezes that allow the grapes to develop complexity without ripening too quickly.  This offering is currently a tasting selection at Barriques Wine & Spirits in Middleton.

Bighorn Cellars Camelback Vineyard Chardonnay 2007

Varietal: 100% Chardonnay

Vitals: Los Carneros AVA (Napa); 14.4% abv; ~$25/bottle

Company Line: “Our 2007 Camelback Vineyard Chardonnay is an exquisite example of the varietal, showcasing an excellent range of fruit on the nose from pineapple and tropical fruits to ripe pear, orange-blossom and brioche. The palate is tantalizing, lush and full bodied with flavors of grilled pineapple and apricot…

Gold Medal Winner – 2009 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Tasting

My take: pale lemon yellow in the glass.  Nose exhibits ample overripe tropical fruits with an undercurrent of caramel apple and braised pear.  Full-bodied on the palate, bringing fruity notes of overripe pineapple, dried apricot and bright citrus over an undercurrent of smooth, understated buttercream.  Finishes clean with a mild lemon twist.  A highly drinkable chardonnay exhibiting the balance of fruit and oak that Sonoma and Napa examples are known for.  Reminds me of the fantastic La Crema Chardonnay from Sonoma that I poured during a recent early spring tasting.  I don’t think anyone does balanced, well-composed chardonnay like Bay Area winemakers.

Wine O’Clock: Pancake Cellars Big Day White 2009

10 May

A recent evening that began with 5 hours of roller derby, ended with a kitchen full of friends, dips and drinks – including this bottle of Pancake Cellars Big Day White 2009. The others were not impressed, so I felt obligated to weigh in with my increasingly well-traveled palate.

Also, THIS IS MY 100TH POST! Thanks for sticking with me for over half a year’s worth of too many beer and wine reviews, random music shout outs and a smattering of recipes from a cook who admittedly hates recipes.   It’s humbling to know that there are people out there other than my mom who care about what I have to say (or at least have nothing better to do while procrastinating at work).

Pancake Cellars Big Day White 2009

Style: White Blend

Vitals: Grapes – 27% Chardonnay, 24% Sauvignon Blanc, 24% Viognier, 21% Muscat Canelli, 4% Pinot Blanc; Origin – Paso Robles, CA (Santa Maria Valley AVA)

Company Line: “A freak of nature, the BIG DAY WHITE offers delicious flavors of white peach, apple and cantaloupe, along with orange blossom, honeysuckle and lemongrass.  Serve with Thai green curry, turkey sandwiches, chicken apple sausage, or pesto anything.”

My take: pale straw yellow in the glass.  Nose bursts with white peach juice, clover honey, oaky Chardonnay vanillin (as the majority component, it’s not surprising that the Chard characteristics shine in this blend) and a spike of sharp lemongrass.  Palate is off-dry and incredibly soft, with hints of orange blossom and melon.  Acidity is sharper when chilled and the finish lacks some luster as it warms.  This is the type of blend that I’ve come to really enjoy as of late.  They go great with grilled white meats and seafood and are a refreshing respite as the weather warms (if it ever does – HEY WISCONSIN> It’s the middle of May.  I don’t want to see Thirty-anything on the thermometer anymore.  Enough already).  Hard to go wrong with this 5 buck-ish bottle from Trader Joe’s.

Wine O’Clock: Glazebrook Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2008

28 Apr

Any self-professed geography nerd with a blog named after the geographic coordinates of his hometown has got to love a wine that proudly displays the lat and long of its home soil.  41 degrees 28 seconds South, 174 degrees 54 seconds East places this Glazebrook Sauvignon Blanc in the Northeast corner of New Zealand’s South Island.  Marlborough is a region renowned for the Sauvignon Blancs that sparked the nation’s wine industry and comprise some 70% of domestic production.  I first had this wine as part of a Wildman & Sons portfolio tasting at Barriques Middleton a few weeks ago and both I and my coworker were stricken by its intense herbal/grassy bouquet.  As the lawnmowers creep out of sheds across southern Wisconsin, the greenness of wines like this draw the mind to the summer days that lie just around the corner.

Glazebrook Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2008

Style: Dry White

Vitals: 100% Sauvignon Blanc; 13% abv;  current Barriques Middleton tasting selection

Company Line:


In each vineyard the grapes were machine harvested in two lots to give flavor complexity. They were de-stemmed, cooled and the juice left in contact with the skins for four hours before gentle pressing. Two different yeast strains were used to maximize varietal flavor. Fermentation at 12-14ºC took place in tank and the wine was bottled young without malolactic fermentation.

2008 Harvest Notes:

The growing season started cool then developed into a warm, mild summer and harvest period. The grapes for this wine were produced from three vineyard sites, one in Brancott to the south, one on Raupara Road to the north of the Wairau Valley, and one in the upper Wairau. Each site contributes to the spectrum of flavors in the final blend. The four year-old vines were cane pruned and VSP trellised.

Tasting Notes: The wine shows intense passion fruit and mango aromas, backed by classic herbal notes of boxwood, nettle and ripe capsicum. It has a lively palate of tropical fruit with crisp lime acidity and lingering passion fruit.

Food Match: sushi, shellfish, salmon, oysters, grilled vegetables, fish, crab, chicken, Asian cuisine.

My take: Pale straw yellow wine  displays ample nose of melon, white peach and grassy herb.  Intensely herbal on the palate with a bracing acidity cut by lighter fruit notes of tropical citrus and passion fruit.  Another overwhelmingly grassy New Zealand Sauvingnon Blanc that opens up in fruit and acidity as it warms slightly.  The greenness really grew on me the more I drank and I can imagine this going as well with grilled seafood as it did with the fresh, cilantro-heavy, smoky pico de gallo I made this morning and am snacking on as I type.  Summer feels closer with each sip.

CLIFhanger: The Climber White 2007

14 Apr

Like energy bars and wine?  Who doesn’t?!  The folks at Clif Bar read our minds and now finally produces both.  Yeah – I had to double-take when I saw that the Clif Bar people were making wine, too.  As white wine season slowly inches its way in, my palate craves crisp, fruity wines with bright acidity to refresh and pair with the grilled fare that dominates my summer diet.  The Climber would seem to fit that bill nicely.

Clif ‘The Climber’ White 2007

Style: White table wine

Vitals: 13.5% abv; Blend: 81% Sauvignon Blanc, 12% Pinot Blanc, 4% Chenin Blanc, 3% Muscat (Pinot Blanc and some Sauv. Blanc Organically-sourced); Bottled January 2008; retails for ~$14/bottle

Company Line:

Our 2007 blend is a unique blend of our favorite white varietals. Sauvignon Blanc makes up the backbone and structure of the wine with purity of fruit. Pinot Blanc adds a fleshy and tropical note. Chenin Blanc increases the purity and acidity of the blend. The Muscat adds a sweetness of tropical fruit, increased terpene aromas and richness in the mouth. 100% stainless steel fermentation and lack of malolactic fermentation enhances the purity of the fruit, classic varietal notes and crisp refreshing mouthfeel.

My take: light lemon yellow in the glass.  White peach and lemon/lime zest dominate the aroma and foretell the light stone and passion fruit nectar and pinpoint acidity of the palate.  Crisp on the tongue and clean in its lightly acidic finish, The Climber makes for a great warm weather drinker and would pair beautifully with grilled white meat and seafood dishes.  Who knew creating a better energy bar to get you through a tough run would translate into a penchant for crafting fine wines for cooling off afterward?

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