Sniffing out the good juice.

Archive for the month “August, 2013”

Piqued by Pinot Grigio, go figure!

To be blunt, I’ve never been a big Pinto Grigio fan.  I know, it’s Italy’s most popular white and the U.S. drinks an ocean of it, but… to me, it seems like something you’d put in an Italian baby’s sippy cup.  I generally find it watery and lackluster, without enough chutzpah to stand up to anything more than a quick, after-work Happy Hour.

So I was thrilled to taste Swanson’s 2010 Pinot Grigio – and ask for more.  Poured by Mr. Swanson himself (I’m sure that helped), it’s lemony and citrusy with a weight and mouthful surprising (to me) for a Pinot Grigio.  The debonair Mr. Swanson is proud to say this lushness comes not from oak (the wine only sees stainless steel), but from the quality of his Oakville grapes. (I’d say the addition of 10% chardonnay is also part of the success, but let’s not split hairs.)  There’s enough acid to pair with lighter food, and the balance is good.  If Pinot Grigio has let you down before, I’d give this California translation a swirl. Swanson Vineyards

While we’re talking about Swanson, I was also intrigued by their flagship Merlot.  As Chef Nancy said, “You don’t have to drink it, the gorgeous smell is enough!”

Don’t listen to Miles from the movie Sideways; there are tons of luscious California Merlots.  The best of them can get pretty pricey.  This one packs a juicy, black cherry punch at a fairly reasonable price.

Clark Swanson

Clark Swanson stopped by our neighborhood wine shop and charmed us all.


Reveling in Rutherford!

Here’s another stand-out wine from the 2013 SWE conference…

Stunner #3: Quintessa 2009 Red Wine [Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Verdot] ($145.00)

Quintessa Red WineIf you’ve got an expense account or need a Special Occasion wine, this one is a knockout (like the price).  Bright red fruit up front with a rich, gorgeous palate.  There’s oak but it’s in check; the wine is beautifully balanced and simply gorgeous. Long finish with milk chocolate, dark berries and cassis.  No wonder the critics often have very nice things to say about this one…


Time to Geek Out – The Rutherford Roundup:  Rutherford is a sub-region (or AVA), as well as the “historic heart,” of California’s Napa Valley.  Many of the big-deal wineries of Napa Valley that helped put Napa on the map as far back as the 1800’s (names like Inglenook, Beaulieu Vineyard, Louis M. Martini, Charles Krug Winery…) were – or still are – in Rutherford.  Justifiably famous for its gorgeous Cabernets with a touch of herbaceousness, this is your spot if you love a big Cab and are willing to pay for it.  In very general terms, these are wines that will age gracefully for a decade or more.

Wine Folly Napa Mapa

Wine Folly’s great map of the Napa Valley; Rutherford is right in the middle


Bring on the Beaujolais!

No surprise, the most common question I field after tasting 100-ish wines at something like the Society of Wine Educator’s conference: What were your faves? Believe or not, a few stunners really do shine in my memory. Over the next couple of days, I’ll quickly highlight them here…

Stunner #2: Georges Duboeuf Julienas Chateau des Capitans, Beaujolais, France ($17-$20)

We were lucky, lucky indeed to breakfast with the godfather of Beaujolais, Georges Duboeuf himself, at the Society of Wine Educators conference.  Well, breakfast in the sense that 6 glasses of Beaujolais constitute breakfast, but anyway…

Breakfast Beaujolais with Duboeuf!

Breakfast Beaujolais with Duboeuf!

Mr. Dubeouf’s wines are practically synonymous with Beaujolais; check out the “France” section in your wine shop, almost guaranteed you’ll see ’em.

Chateau des Capitans, Julienas

Juicy Julienas

The stand out Breakfast Beaujolais he poured was the Julienas Chateau des Capitans. It is rich and perfumed with roasted coffee on the nose and a lush blackberry and pepper palate.  The texture is chewy and full.  This would be great wine with grilled poultry or maybe even pizza and pasta.  At under $20, it’s a steal.

Time to Geek Out – Bit o’ Background on Beaujolais:  This French wine region is located just below Burgundy, kinda the east side of France.  99% of the wines are red, made from the Gamay grape, and are typically light bodied and fruity.  If you’ve had a Beaujolais and been disappointed, try again and look for the word “Cru” on the label.  In short, this means the wine came from one of 10 specific areas inside Beaujolais, and are held to higher production standards. They rock.   And they are often a great value.

Just to make you crazy, you typically won’t see “Beaujolais” on the label, but rather the name of the Cru: Saint-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly or Côte de Brouilly.  Don’t ask me why, it’s a French thing.  But do ask your wine shop to point you in the right direction; wine geeks can get pretty nerdy about Cru Beaujolais, for good reason.Beaujolais_SMALL-MAP

Winning Wines from the SWE

No surprise, the most common question I field after tasting 100-ish wines at something like the Society of Wine Educator’s conference: What were your faves? Believe or not, a few stunners really do shine in my memory. Over the next couple of days, I’ll quickly highlight them here…

Stunner #1: 2012 Onesta Bechthold Vineyard Lodi Cinsault Rosé ($18)
Oh, yum. (No secret, I’m passionate about Rosé – you can read my most recent musings here.) This bright-strawberry-and-guava gem just rang to me; dry in the classic French style, it’s bright, juicy and boasts a remarkable creamy character I just found addicting.

Winemaker/owner Jillian Johnson is crafting her copper/pink Rosé mainly from Cinsault, a native French grape we don’t grow alot of here in the U.S. This fruit comes from the Bechthold Vineyard, in Lodi, CA, which was planted in 1886 – these 127 year old vines are probably the oldest Cinsault vines in the United States.

Onesta owner/wine maker Jill Johnson

Onesta owner/wine maker Jillian Johnson celebrating her Cinsaults.

Lodi is a warm-climate wine region roughly East of San Francisco and south of Sacramento, and deservedly famous for its Zinfandels and historic old vines. Based on this Rosé, and several other impressive Lodi wines tasted both at SWE and from my cellar (Turley’s zins are a favorite and a story for another day), I am already planning a Lodi visit in Spring of 2014. Given the small production of the Onesta Rosé, knocking on the winery door may be the only way to snag some – I’m soooo there.

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