Monthly Archives: October 2011

A Great Wine List In Oman??

31 October 2011

I’ve written about poorly organized wine lists before, but until now, I haven’t felt moved to remark on a particularly well done wine list. Apparently, it took traveling to Muscat, the capital of Oman, to find one worthy of note!

Our first night, we dined at a hilltop Indian restaurant called Mumtaz Mahal. Because I was worried that jet lag, alcohol and a rental car wouldn’t mix, I didn’t drink any wine, but I did marvel at the restaurant’s list. Here, on the edge of the Arabian Peninsula — a region not exactly known for wine appreciation — was one of the better wine lists I’ve ever encountered:


A Synaptic Journey

26 October 2011

After visiting some wineries in California’s Amador County, we headed to the town of Placerville to dine at Z-Pie, dedicated to serving creative pot pies. But before we dug into our pots of golden, flaky goodness, I spied a wine bar/shop which offered inexpensive tastings. It turned out to belong to a local winery called Synapse.

In their chic tasting room, samples aren’t complimentary as they are in the other wineries we visited, but the fee is waived if you purchase a bottle or two. I liked the look of the place, and I had yet to try a local Syrah, a varietal appearing several times on the menu.

I picked the oldest of the lot, a 2005 Synapse Syrah ($18). This wine, unlike many I had tasted earlier in the day, actually took me on a journey. A cherry, almost Robitussin-like aroma gave way to flavors of black pepper, some tangy fruit and pleasant finish of vanilla. I made my first purchase of the day.

On a whim, I tried the 2010 Synapse Rosé Noir ($17), a rosé made from local Syrah. Surprised by the wine’s very deep pinkish purple hue, I exclaimed, “Wow, that’s really dark for a rosé.”

“Oh yes,” the Synapse representative replied. “You know, last year’s was actually even darker, because we were all watching a football game. We got really into it and forgot about the rosé, and left it on the [grape] skins longer than planned.”

I had a feeling this would be my kind of rosé.


Highlights of Amador County

23 October 2011

We tasted about 25 different wines during our afternoon in Amador County in the Sierra Foothills. Fortunately I had perfected the use of the spit bucket at the Wine Bloggers Conference back in July.

Here are some quick reviews of my favorites. You may not see these on the shelf of your local wine shop, but most of these can be ordered from the wineries’ websites. If you live in Illinois, as I do, shipping wine to your home is no problem.

2010 Villa Toscano Shenandoah Pinot Grigio: I’m not usually a big Pinot Grigio fan, but I very much enjoyed the nose of honey and apples, the juicy mouthfeel and the flavors of citrus and lemongrass. ($18)

2008 Villa Toscano Tre Stellina: This blend of 50% Sangiovese, 32% Zinfandel and 18% Montepulciano tasted of chocolate and cherries, but it felt tight and dry, making me want a good steak. ($26)

2010 Villa Toscano Old Vine Zinfandel: Big flavor — spicy and lively, with a port-like aroma and a long finish. (Barrel Future)

2010 Villa Toscano Barbera: Though it had a chocolatey nose, there was also something green in there, piquing my interest. It turned out to be huge, spicy and chewy. In my notebook, I wrote, “Buy it!” (Barrel Future)


A Different California Wine Country

19 October 2011

Everyone has heard of California’s famed Napa Valley, home to many a cult Cabernet. It’s a wonderful place to visit, with top-notch restaurants and beautiful wineries set in a picturesque wide valley. But since everyone has heard of it, Napa Valley is best enjoyed on a weekday or off-season, when the traffic abates and tasting rooms have elbow room.

Some Sacramento-based friends recently introduced me to another wine country northeast of Napa and Sacramento: Amador County’s Shenandoah Valley (not to be confused with the Virginia AVA of the same name) in the Sierra Foothills.

The rolling, golden hills and unpretentious tasting rooms made this region a joy to explore and hop from winery to winery. Because it was so lovely, I thought I would try something a little different and post a series of photos of the experience, with tasting notes in a subsequent post. Enjoy!


A White Delight From Istria

15 October 2011

The World Atlas Of Wine asserts that Croatia is “a country full of original, if elusive, rewards…” It helps then, to have someone like Sasha of the distributor Tasty Wine Company separate the rubies from the garnets. He turned me on to an Istrian winery called Piquentum, which makes some fascinating stuff.

Back in May, I wrote about my experience with the Piquentum Teranum in this post. Though clearly well made, this wine simply wasn’t to my taste (more an indication of a flaw in my palate than in the wine, surely). I let the other bottle of Piquentum wine, a 2009 Istrian Malvasia, languish on my shelf for months thereafter.

It was worth the wait. This wine was most certainly to my taste.


The Wine Of Kings (Almost)

12 October 2011

Before Bordeaux became the standard for quality wine, there was Tokaji. This Hungarian wine dazzled the royalty for hundreds of years, becoming known as “The king of wines and the wine of kings.” Tokaj’s vineyards were classified into first, second and third growths more than 100 years before their compatriots in eastern France (Tokaj is the place, Tokaji is the wine).

Sweet wines made from Furmint and Hárslevelű grapes rule here. These wines, like fine Sauternes, owe much of their flavor profile to the botrytis fungus, known more poetically as “noble rot.” The renowned Tokaji Aszú, ranging in concentration from two to six puttonyos, is not inexpensive, but it’s a wonderful splurge.

But this is not a post of puttonyos. It’s been years, unfortunately, since I’ve allowed myself a bottle of Tokaji Aszú. Our ridiculously weak dollar has not helped its affordability.

I sampled a somewhat less royal cousin of Tokaji Aszú, a 2008 Disznókő Late-Harvest Tokaji Furmint. This wine, according to the Disznókő website, is aged but a few months in barrels, in order to preserve “intense, fruity flavours and aromas.”

Since one doesn’t run across a non-Aszú late-harvest Furmint every day, I was excited to give it a try.


Not For Mixing With Coke

9 October 2011

It wasn’t until I traveled through Guatemala that I realized rum could be more than just a tasty component of a Cuba Libre or a Piña Colada. There, on my very first evening in the country, I encountered the supremely delicious Ron Zacapa Sistema Solera rum.

My traveling companion and I expected  a relatively low-key first evening in the bar of the Camino Real hotel, but before long we’d made friends with some rather tipsy locals. Our new, seemingly wealthy friends insisted on buying us round after round of Ron Zacapa, which we insisted they help us finish. They gladly obliged, and much ridiculous dancing ensued.

Later, when I had a chance to actually focus on the flavor of the Ron Zacapa, it floored me. I had no idea rum could rise to the level of a fine bourbon or even Cognac. As our time to return home drew nearer, I despaired that I had been unable to find a bottle to bring back with me. But Ron Zacapa, ever a step ahead of the game, thoughtfully provided a fully stocked shop in the airport.

I brought home a couple of bottles of the Sistema Solera 23, which blends rums aged between six and 23 years in “one of the highest aging facilities in the world,” 2300 meters above sea level in Quetzaltenango. Here, “the thinner air and lower atmospheric pressure helps intensify the infusion of flavours from the barrels,” according to the website.

Perhaps I should have guessed that you can also purchase Ron Zacapa in the U.S. Binny’s carries the 23-year rum for $43, not much more than what it costs at the Guatemala City airport. It’s worth the investment.

The rum smells tantalizingly of vanilla and molasses, and it presents surprisingly complex flavors. When you sip it neat (the Ron Zacapa website suggests adding a cube of ice), a momentary burn of alcohol makes it seem as if it will be unpleasantly strong, but the rum instantly relaxes on the tongue, giving way to a sprightly, butterscotchy goodness and a long, warm finish. It’s an ideal autumn digestif.

Fortunately, just as my bottle of Ron Zacapa is about to run out, the Wall Street Journal ran a column on October 8th recommending an array of fine sipping rums. That Santa Teresa 1796 from Venezuela sounds mighty tasty at $40…

Drinking: Good For You And The Planet

5 October 2011

Let me start by saying that I enjoyed my taste of VeeV, a clear spirit distilled from Idaho winter wheat. Alone, it tasted sweet and smooth, with a distinct berry note from the infusion of açaí. Shaken with fresh lime juice and sage leaves, the VeeV made for quite a delightful cocktail. The citrus cut through the inherent sweetness of the 60-proof liqueur, and the sage added an unexpected twist.

VeeV’s marketing campaign is a little harder to stomach. The brochure I received makes only one oblique reference to VeeV’s taste, focusing instead on the health benefits of the açaí berry, “the world’s preeminent superfruit,” according to the VeeV website. This Amazonian wonderberry is Oprah’s #1 superfood, a promotional brochure reassures us, with “57% more antioxidants than pomegranates.”

Never mind that clinical studies have failed to show that antioxidants prevent chronic diseases such as cancer or heart disease. And exactly how much of that big bottle of booze is actually açaí berry anyway?

The second half of the brochure’s cover goes on to tout the company’s green initiatives. VeeV (or rather, the consumer) donates $1 per bottle to rainforest preservation, wind power provides part of the distillery’s electricity and carbon offsets ensure that the company is carbon neutral. All of which is very admirable, if tangential to the flavor of the spirit.

So, basically, if you’re seeking a pseudo-health liqueur which goes out of its way to assuage your guilty consumer conscience, by all means, drink up. You can “Drink Better. Live Better. See how at”

Personally, I prefer not to pretend that 60-proof alcohol is a health food. I think I’ll be getting advice on how to “live better” elsewhere.

VeeV: Available for $30 a bottle at Binny’s.

To make the cocktail described above, shake two parts VeeV (or berry-flavored vodka), one part fresh lime juice, a dash of simple syrup and two fresh sage leaves vigorously with ice. Strain in a martini glass, and garnish with a fresh sage leaf or a lime slice.