Zinopolis Zinfandel ~ 2010 ~ $7.99 ~ 86 pts

ImageA city of wine; specifically, I suppose, Zinfandel…I would not be opposed to that. I bought this wine for two reasons: 1) because it was originally like $20, and for $8 it was a steal or the wine was on its way to vinegar-dom…I took the chance, and 2) for the name. When I read the label it instilled the question, What do wines aspire to be? One could say that the winemaker wants his or her wine, whatever the variety, to the best of that wine ever made. But I don’t think that’s the case. Most of the winemakers I’ve come across simply want to make good wine with some distinctive character about it. Making the world’s best wine is like making the world’s best coffee or best tasting water…it may be there for an instant, but in a blink it will change. Wine is ever evolving, both in and out of the bottle.

So with that, I asked, what is Zinopolis aspiring to be? From the name it sounded like it wants to be the big wine city, like New York City or Chicago. Something big, where everyone will get something out of it (or be annoyed by its traffic and just stay away). Or, it wants to be a representative of all Zinfandels…but I quickly thought that this was too akin to the “best wine on Earth” thought, so dismissed it. All I concluded was that this wine wanted to be recognized for something…just what that is, well…I guess I had to find out!

The wine is fairly similar to most Zins I’ve had…raspberry, vanilla-oak with a touch of pepper. Very mild and drinkable with pretty much any dish and very fine all by its lonesome. It’s not spectacular…that is to say, there’s nothing really unique about Zinopolis, other than its broad stroke of hitting a decent Zin. In other words, if I wanted a good Zinfandel, no special sparks and nothing over the top or weak, just a good balance, I would go back to this in a heartbeat. It’s a bit strong on the alcohol taste, but the fruity, peppery vanilla overcome this well.

So what does this wine aspire to be? Well, I suppose it aspires to be a good Zinfandel. Not the best of its kind, but certainly a good representative. If you’re new to Zins or want something mild and drinkable, try this guy out.

As listed on its website, I bought this one at Kroger but you can see where else to buy it from. I’m guessing Zinopolis’ other wines are pretty darn good, too: http://www.zinopolis.com/

New York Times: Oregon Chardonnay Speaks Up

Nice article by Eric Asimov of the NY Times about the recent history of Oregonian Chardonnay, along with a great list of tasting notes:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/14/dining/reviews/oregon-chardonnay-wine-review.html?hpw

Enjoying Wine in a Relationship

Some may have noticed that I have not written an entry about wine for quite some time. My absence from writing prolifically about my journeys through the wine world does have reason. For one, well work has just been nuts and I usually get to a 2nd or 3rd glass of wine before I feel I can write something about it, but then of course wonderful alcohol takes its effect and my ability to prose is severely limited. But for the second reason, I started dating someone about five months ago who really doesn’t drink wine. (My boyfriend’s going to kill me for writing this.) He doesn’t mind if I drink wine. He just doesn’t like tasting it, and isn’t too happy when he tastes it on my lips. He’s not upset, and he doesn’t say, “Oh, you can’t drink wine.” Because then I think I would just have to say, “Um…I like wine way too much – sorry!” But our moments of romance are a bit interrupted when I’m asked to brush my teeth before going any further. I completely understand – if I really didn’t like a food and tasted it on someone’s lips, I would ask them to purge the taste of it as well. So, usually I simply abstain from drinking unless I know we will not be together.

So what do you do when your significant other does not like wine and you do? It can affect romance, social activities, networking and simply hanging out. Like it or not, you liking wine and the other person not liking it is a big deal. Well one way to avoid the whole problem is simply not drinking wine around the other person. But, as I’ve found from my limited experience, this actually puts a strain on the relationship. Not a big one at first, mind you, but it will grow. The reason? Your significant other knows you.

They know you perhaps better than you know yourself. They can tell when you’re in the mood for some wine, craving a peppery pinot noir or a fruity zinfandel. Don’t try to hide it. I usually need to have a glass of wine in hand when I call my parents – not that it’s a chore and that I need a buzz to take away the pain. It just loosens the conversation a bit and makes conversation more fluid. My boyfriend knows this. If I don’t have wine in my hand, he gets inquisitive. Of course I’m thinking, “Well he doesn’t like the taste of wine, so I’ll go with a Fresca instead.” He knows me too well, and says, “BJ. Go get a glass of wine.” Ha! How about that for good communication?

The point is – abstaining entirely from wine when you’re significant other is around is impractical. Sure, sometimes it’s the appropriate action depending on the night’s activities. (I’ll leave that open to interpretation.) You need to discuss this with your significant other, especially if he or she is living with you. Then the whole abstaining thing really doesn’t work. Now if you want to cut down on wine a lot because you want to lose weight or you think you’re drinking too much, please do so. But I would not sacrifice what you see as a life-giving activity and hobby because it causes a bit of discomfort that a good tooth brushing usually takes care of.

Now let’s talk specifics. You and your significant other (S.O.) are having a nice dinner at home. You both decided on the ingredients and the menu, and you both contributed to cooking the meal, setting the table, the whole nine yards. As you finish cooking the meal and setting the modest feast (with plenty of aphrodisiacs) on the table, you think of a wine that would complement the meal perfectly. You have a bottle of it in the basement. The thought of it makes you close your eyes and “mmm” with delight. But here’s the dilemma: should you open a bottle of wine at this dinner if your S.O. will not partake with you? This is a romantic dinner, a meal where you and your SO are sharing something intimate with each other. By having wine while the other is having water or soda is bad taste and will, either consciously or subconsciously, separate you two. It will be as if you are each having your own meal. But what if my S.O. encourages me to get a glass of wine? What if she/he doesn’t mind? Ignore the desire! Even if they “say” it’s ok, it really won’t be.

Now, it is allowable if you two decide to have drinks with dinner, where you decide to have wine and he/she decides to have beer or cocktail. This is totally acceptable as each party is imbibing in alcohol, not just one. If just one of you is having alcohol, it will be as if the other is the DD (designated driver), who is present but really isn’t enjoying themselves at the party watching everyone else get drunk. So, as best you can, level the playing field. You can share the drinks if you wish, though the other probably won’t try your wine. But encourage them to try it. Then, after the meal, share a dessert drink to really even everything out – a coffee, espresso, chocolate martini or what have you. This will end the night on a great note. You are no longer interested in what you want, but are geared toward what you and your S.O. want together.

This is precisely why you should not have alcohol, specifically wine, at a dinner when your S.O. is not drinking – it is a sign of self-interest and selfishness. In a relationship, you should not necessarily be disinterested in your own wants and interests, but you should modify some of them to fit with the other person. And wine should be a tool of such transformation, of bringing people together, forming the bonds of friendship and relationship, helping to bring peace and love to people’s lives. Perhaps I am idealistic in thinking wine can do this much. But why shouldn’t I be? Don’t put that stopper back in the bottle just yet, take another whiff.

Tisdale Merlot (Year ?) ~ 65 points ~ $4.95

So it’s been a crazy past few months as I have been finishing up my master’s in theology at Notre Dame. But now I’m back on track, and of course I re-enter wine tasting commentary with a really awful, horrendous wine. I mean, it’s not undrinkable, as if I didn’t finish the bottle in two days. But, there’s really nothing about it that’s unique, and the taste is a bit like mixing cheap vodka and fruit juice. Some people are into jungle juice. I’m not one of them, especially when it comes to wine.

But let’s shift gears and talk a little bit about Tisdale Winery. And, well, that’s the problem. The only thing I know about Tisdale is that they are located in Modesto (the wine circuit). So this probably means they are one of hundreds of vineyards with a not so interesting history. Maybe that’s why they don’t list their history on their website.

Shifting back to the wine, it’s also unclear when this wine was made. The year of bottling or making or anything is missing from the bottle, and even from the website. I just emailed them to see if they can tell me what year the merlot I just drank was, but I thought it was pretty common practice to list this openly. Maybe they don’t know when the wine was made? Or maybe they forgot? Maybe they’re drinking too much? In any case, this is quite disappointing.

As for the taste, yes it tastes like black cherry and mixed berries…if you blended them up, poured CVS rubbing alcohol on them, and served them in a bowl. OK maybe that’s not fair. I did not pour the wine out, after all. But I did cringe a few times when drinking it. Now, should I expect anything more for $5? Not really. But Two Buck Chuck is $2 and is amazing.

Would I recommend this wine? Because it’s cheap yes, only if you don’t care what it tastes like and just want some wine to have around for yourself. I would not recommend this for any sort of social gathering, though, as it can be interpreted as offensive. So be warned. I give this a 65. Ouch.

Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc 2008 ~ 85 pts ~ $14.95

For some reason, I find myself edging closer to white wines. This perplexes me, because a year ago I would have answered, “White wine? Psh! I’m a red-only wino, thank you very much!” But perhaps this scoff at the white grape comes from not a general distaste of the wine, but a series of unfortunate tastings that can be characterized easily as theme park wine. For many, sweet white wines are fun, easy to get to, and in the end serve a purpose that is sugary and instant gratification. I do not mean to balk or look down upon people who like really sweet wines. My roommate loves sweet wine – he thought a mulled wine was good to drink as a table wine, whereas I can’t stand the stuff. Whatever wine you like, embrace it and enjoy! For me, most white wines do not agree with me because I usually don’t like the sweeter wines – which explains why I really don’t like most Michigan wines.

But this Sauv Blanc is something entirely new to my palate and experience. Its appearance is nothing unusual – lemony straw-like. The nose is tight. Very tight. Lemon, ripe berries and citrus rind. I enjoyed the fresh smell of this wine immediately. The taste is equally tight, very acidic with an explosive taste of green pepper. Imagine taking the rind of a lemon, sprinkling it on a piece of green pepper and just chomping down. Yeah, intense, isn’t it! While I enjoyed the wine, though, it is definitely a wine that cannot be enjoyed with anything. I would highly suggest cheese, fish or chicken. The wine almost needs a complimentary food item to be tamed down a bit. I could definitely drink it by itself, but it is an acquired taste that does not go down quite as easily as, say, a mulled wine.

Now for a little bit about Whitehaven. A relatively new wine maker/seller, Whitehaven was founded in 1994 by Greg and Sue White, and Simon Waghorn. By all estimations their winery started as a small venture in New Zealand, likened to any other small winemaker found in the countryside of Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan or Oregon. With 40 acres of land, it seemed like they were hoping for a local clientele. Now, Whitehaven distributes across the world (including, thankfully, the U.S.). They make a number of other wines, but are known for their whites. And their 2009 Sauv Blanc has won numerous awards, so perhaps the reader would be best to try that one instead? Or perhaps a comparison? If you do try both, let me know your thoughts!

Ghost Pines Merlot 2005 ~ 89 pts ~ $19.99

Hosting a wine party can be fun and informational, if you make wine the main event and purpose of the party. A month or two ago I hosted an outside wine party at the house, but what was going to be a sniffing, swirling and glass-gazing extravaganza actually turned into just a regular house party. Now, let me clarify. I absolutely loved the party. We had a bunch of visitors, and everyone had a great time. The wine, however, was secondary. This event actually accentuated the purpose of wine – more often than not it should not be the focus of attention. Wine helps bring people together, much in the same way beer brought our president and his visitors together. While this blog is indeed focusing on wine for wine’s sake, I also try to give a picture of what surrounds the wine. Tasting wine, critiquing it, giving it a score is helpful to gauge how to use wine appropriately. So, having a wine party, where scores are given, may be left for the wine enthusiasts rather than with people who don’t care whether they have a glass of chardonnay or a Bud Light in their hand.

107017I now continue with the current wine review: Ghost Pines’ Merlot, Vintage 2005. I bought this wine, honestly, because 1) it’s a Merlot, 2) it has a cool label, and 3) it cost $20. This was one of the wines for the party, and I wanted to perform an experiment – does a mid-priced wine with a cool label taste better than a cheaper wine? So, all in all I bought this wine without expecting much…but perhaps hoping for something special?

Let me say, however, that I am usually not a big fan of Merlot. I do tend to try it, and usually enjoy it for its fruitiness. But it’s because of its fruity flavor that I tend not to sway toward it. If I want fruity, I’ll have a white wine. In my reds I want something dark, sometimes bitter, earthy. So it is in this revealing that I say I really enjoyed this wine. With flavors of pepper, dark cherry and berry, it definitely had some substantial fruits, but I was pleasantly surprised by the pepper taste that is usually found in a Cab Sauv. Without being too dramatic, this wine gives a pleasant walk through Pepper-land, followed by Fruit-land shortly after. Very nice indeed.

Now for some background. Is it any surprise that this wine is made by Gallo? Well, actually it’s made by Louis Martini, but he, in fact, is owned by Gallo (who isn’t nowadays?) Martini began his first winery in 1933 with great success, having produced his first family wine much earlier in life and receiving an education in wine making from Italy. He prides himself on getting grapes from both Napa and Sonoma Valleys, a mark which, in my limited experience, I have not seen. That Martini draws from two major wine making valleys may pigeonhole him as dipping his finger in two Disney parks – they may be different but they’re still Disney: big, expensive, internationally known, and in some ways too big for its own good. I usually like to try wines outside the Napa culture, for the very reason that it seems to be saturated by wine. Yet, it is refreshing to see someone be a little creative and try mixing the best of both worlds.

Little Penguin Pinot Grigio 2007 ~ 80 pts ~ $7.99

The-Little-Penguin-Pinot_B80DCC57Let me first set the stage for why I bought this wine. I decided that I would cook homemade chicken noodle soup (one of my specialties) for myself and some friends, and so would need a white wine to add to the soup and compliment the dinner. Why I decided to cook a hot soup in the middle of May can be only answered by the fact that I am an odd fellow. Picking the wine itself, I wanted something fruity and tangy to go with the chicken, so bypassed the chardonnays and Rieslings and went straight for the pinot grigio. If a cabernet sauvignon were a person, imagine a goth reading Dostoevsky in the corner of a café. Pinot Grigio, then, would most assuredly be the flighty blonde valley girl, jumping up and down showing off her bosom and assets in Abercrombie’s latest and squeaking her boyfriend’s name. It is light, crisp and sweet, which is a great compliment to poultry which responds well to sweet fruits such as apple, pear, and even banana.

Swilling the Little Penguin (*imagines a mini-penguin being twirled around a bowl of glass*), you smell citrus – pear and a bit of lemon. It is slightly strong on the alcohol, which explains why Wine Spectator said to drink it NOW. The taste is, in my opinion, fairly bland. It does have a sweet taste with pear, but that’s really about it. Very unexciting, and nothing original about it. As a cooking wine, it’s perfect because it adds some flavor, sugar, and acidity to the dish while bringing out the flavors of the chicken (in my case) and the spices. My guests did not drink the wine after all (Bud Light Lime was the popular drink of choice), and I drank the rest of the bottle while playing video games. For $8, not bad for a cheap buzz.

Aside from the cheap price, I also bought this wine because it has a bird on it. king-penguin-chickI was looking for a wine with a chicken on the label to go with the chicken I was cooking, but the penguin was the closest I could get. Ironically enough, some of the profits go to saving penguins in Australia: http://www.thelittlepenguin.com/penguinzone/thepenguinfoundation

So, if you like little tuxedo birds, or fluffy chicks (see right) and enjoy cheap fruity wine, go get a case! If not, save this wine for when you need to make a chicken stock.