As a general rule, wines embellished with a celebrity name aren’t particularly well made. Relying on their fame to sell the wine, they siphon schlock into a bottle and call it a profitable day. (Read my blast of this trend from a few years ago.) But I have admit that the pop group Train at least tried to make a decent Pinot Noir. Jimmy Stafford, the quiet lead guitarist for Train, is a huge wine fan and teamed up with California winemaker, James Foster, to make their line of Save Me San Francisco wines last year. James is Senior Winemaker at The Wine Group, the same company that introduced generic Flip Flop Wines, Franzia and Big House to the wine drinking public. Not a huge endorsement for making great juice, so I didn’t have major expectations when I popped the (fake) cork on this bottle of 2011 Soul Sister Pinot Noir.
Read more: Celebrity wine review: Train’s 2011 Soul Sister Pinot Noir
There might be a turf war in our midst. For many years, Argentina has hung its wine hat on Malbec, a red wine so smooth, so drinkable and food friendly that Americans fell hard and fast for this grape. But enter one of their neighbors… Chile. Bastion of Carmenere, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, they’re taking the Malbec leap. Successfully, I might add. Casillero de Diablo Malbec hails interestingly from Chile’s Rapel Valley. Warm and dry, Rapel is known for Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere, its climate is very similar to Napa Valley where the north-south mountain ranges shelter it from the Pacific Ocean and trap warmth over the grapes. One of the newest arrivals varietals in this region is Malbec.
Read more: Wine review: Casillero de Diablo 2011 Malbec (Chile)
I will admit I’m not much of a Cabernet Sauvignon fan. Appreciation flows from so many other places, I rarely see the need to fawn. Often, it’s a wine with so much tannin that it begs for food to balm its harsh edges and I’m kind of a wine-for-all-purposes kind of girl (before, during and after dinner). But sometimes, just sometimes, one drops in at a blind tasting that woos me. This happened one night when the Jordan 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon showed up.
Read more: Wine review: Jordan 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley
I don’t hear much about Zinfandel these days, except during the annual Zinfandel Festival in nearby San Francisco. Last year, I produced a video which asked winemakers to describe their ideal Zinfandel food and wine pairings. The results were above and beyond the normal BBQ and grilled beef responses… Asian food? Mole? And why not? Low in tannins, high in juicy flavor with some having plenty of acid, Zinfandel can create quite the zesty love affair with food. Seghesio is a classic producer of Zinfandel, hanging their hat on the varietal and other Italian grapes such as Barbera (one of my favorites that they produce). Purchased in 2011 by Crimson Wine Group, I worried their quality would lag behind profit pressures but they seem to have weathered the transition pretty well so far.
Read more: Everyday drinking wine review: Seghesio 2010 Zinfandel Sonoma County
Folie à Deux (pronounced “folee ah duh”) is one of the bigger success stories in the wine biz. Their sister label Menage à Trois sells like sex on a street corner mainly because it’s sweet, juicy and, well, the name is enticing. I doubt anyone at that winery wonders if sex sells. But the Folie à Deux labels show a more serious wine side to them, with fruit coming from Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley (Cabernet Sauvignon) and Dry Creek Valley, which this little drinkable gem hails from. Dry Creek is a neighboring wine region to where I live, and the Zinfandel grape thrives where summer highs can be 8-10 degrees warmer than 20 minutes south in the Russian River Valley. That was something I had to get used to when I moved here. This fruit-forward, low tannin wine has captured my attention for years and I used to drink them more often until their alcohol levels practically morphed into 16% rubbing alcohol.
Read more: Zin love again: Folie a Deux 2009 Zinfandel wine review
The square in rural downtown Paso Robles, California (pronounced “ROBE-less” by purists, “RO-bulls” by locals), is often covered with lush green grass and a sea of smiling tourists during harvest. It’s difficult to believe this sleepy, virtually unknown wine region has been producing wine for a quarter century, but when you taste the quality, you quickly realize this former cow town isn’t hokey-pokey. An extremely warm climate area with the widest swings in daily temperature on earth, Paso specializes in grapes that bask in heat: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel and other French Rhône-origin grapes. One night recently, my husband and I grilled out steaks and I grabbed this unfamiliar label, Ancient Peaks Renegade, from the “samples rack” — which we affectionately dub our wine play area. I’ve found some gems amongst the army of bottles perched in our family room over the years and when I tasted this wine for the first time, the eyebrows raised.
Read more: Wine review: Ancient Peaks 2009 Renegade Paso Robles
Malbec is like the the golden retriever of wines — everyone loves its softness and friendliness. It’s grown around the world but Argentina’s Mendoza region owns this dogged grape variety and it’s rare that I’ve consumed a Malbec that was absolutely disgusting — can’t say the same for Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. This country simply keeps producing great, everyday drinking Malbecs.
Read more: Wine review: Argento 2010 Malbec Mendoza
I’ve finally comes to terms with the fact that I’m a Pinot-lovin’ woman. Call me an acid freak, but I just can’t sit down with only a glass (and no food), pop a cork on a Cabernet Sauvignon and enjoy the hell out of the experience. Nope, won’t happen. Too assaulting. Cabernet is a food wine, plain and simple — the tannins don’t allow my palate to fall backwards into its loving yet astringent arms. But Pinot Noir is a different story. It’s the smooth operator — the wine that massages your shoulders before making its move. It guides your hand to the glass, introduces its beautiful self to your life and entertains… nay… does a lap dance on your tongue. Seduction complete.
Read more: Wine review: Gary Farrell 2009 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
Sicily is one of those steeped-in-history places you see on the Discovery Channel, where warring tribes battle among the decadent, carnal masses. True to their roots, Sicilians claim they inhabit the birthplace of vino, where Bacchus himself bent down and buried the seeds in the rich soil. This fertile, 10,000-square-mile island (about the size of Vermont), floating in the Mediterranean Sea between Europe and Africa, has been fought over since 500 B.C. and more often than heroin deals in the Corleone and Tattaglia families. Fractious warriors including the Greeks, Romans, Barbarians, Arabs, French, Spanish and then finally the Italians marked the Sicilian territory. Each of these thirsty cultures left its footprint on Sicilian wine making, such as the Zibibbo grape introduced by the Saracen Arabs and Primitivo (aka Zinfandel) by the Albanian refugees in the Ottoman conquest. Though probably trampled many times over during battle, those grapes still thrive today, making Sicily a bright, unique wine region.
Read more: Sicily’s native son: Cusumano 2010 Nero d’Avola IGT wine review