Vinous Views


Saturday, May 30, 2015


My favorite retailers (Underdog Wine, Cellar Rat, and Gomer's Midtown) have been doing a great job stocking their shelves with plenty of pink wine this Spring. Here are a few I've enjoyed recently and highly recommend:

Santa Barbara AVA, California
$26 at Underdog

Blend of Pinot Noir & Gamay
Loire Valley, France
$16 at Underdog and Cellar Rat

Mostly Cabernet Franc with a touch of Grolleau
Loire Valley, France
$18 at Gomer's Midtown

These wines may be from different grapes but they have a few things in common (besides being from the 2014 vintage):
  • Soft, fruity aromas and supple, juicy flavors that make them drink so easy.
  • They pair well with just about any sort of food.
  • The bottles will be emptied in no time once opened.  So it might be good to have 2-3 on hand.
If you're just strolling by the rosè section in these stores without paying attention to the pink offerings, you might reconsider your shopping priorities because you are truly missing out on delicious wines that are a pleasure to drink.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

March Highlights

The Pinks

(40% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Pinot Noir per the label)

Some wines summon a visual image.  For me, the Biscaya conjures the period following an early spring rain when wet leaves, grass and earth are just starting to be warmed by the sun.  

I love it when a wine is more than just about the fruit.  The Biscaya may be pink, but it revels in the green aspects of the vine.  It has a pleasing herbal quality that makes me think of leaves and stems.  The finish hints at fruit candy, like the last few seconds of a watermelon Jolly Rancher as it dissolves on your tongue.   

This is beautiful rosè.  Unfortunately, the 2014 may not be as widely available in the KC area.  Kevin at Cellar Rat mentioned he was unable to get his hands on the upcoming vintage. 

Available at Cellar Rat $22

(Blend of Blaufränkisch &Merlot)

Another delicious rosè from Austria.  It drinks quite lovely over the course of a week and has a restrained core of juicy fruit flavor that never goes over the top.  I could drink this wine at any time of the year. 

Available at Gomer’s Midtown $19

Dry & Savory
(55% Grenache, 23.5% Mourvèdre, 10% Rousanne, 2.5% Carignane, 2% Grenache Blanc, & 7% Cinsaut)

Lots of rainy goodness in the aroma, very similar to the Biscaya.  With time in the glass, a peppery anise note develops.  Good, juicy flavors with some pepper spice to provide a savory finish.

Available at Cosentino’s Brookside Market ($15 on sale)

Best Value

Love, love the fresh and juicy aroma on this white wine.  The juicy flavor is persistent, but nicely restrained and not overt like some Sauvignon Blancs.  This is about as perfect as a weekday white wine can get.  It’s a gulpable, well-crafted wine. 

I drank it over the course of week and tried it with a variety of foods.  I think this wine will pair well with just about anything.   It held its own against the sweet, saucy flavor of General Tso’s Chicken from Bo Lings.  Most wines seem to melt against this dish, which is why beer is my preferred choice.  I’m not saying it was a perfect match, but the wine held up well with a notoriously difficult dish to pair with.  On another night it was a fantastic pairing with roasted Brussel sprouts and a sriracha aoli. 

This wine is a super value in 1L format.  For your next backyard party, you should have a couple bottles of this ready to go on ice.

Available at Cosentino’s Brookside Market & Cellar Rat ($15-$16)

Odds & Ends

A non-vintage Grenache blended using the Solera system.  It’s straight forward with lots of dried fruit and spice flavors.  If you’re firing up the grill for burgers or sausages, this wine will do nicely.

Available at Underdog Wine $12

I drank this in early March and didn’t take specific notes.  I wasn’t impressed with the first glass, but this wine grew on me over the course of a few days.  Bland and harmless at first, it really opened up to be a more lively Riesling by the last glass. 

Available at Costco Midtown $13

A perfect, springtime white wine from Sicily.  It’s bright and juicy, almost Sauvignon Blanc-ish but less in your face.  There is an herbal undertone that grounds the juicy flavors and keeps the wine from being overbearing. 
Available at Cellar Rat $16

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Finding Frappato

In August of 2013, I found myself in the aisles of Wilbur’s Total Beverage in Fort Collins, Colorado.  My wife and I were at our final stop before heading out west on Hwy 14 into the Rocky Mountains for a week-long vacation of relaxation, hiking, reading and attempts at fly-fishing.  Wilbur’s was our last chance to stock up on beer and wine for the week.  I had brought a few bottles with me, but I always like to visit wine stores in other states to scope out the selection and see what I’m missing in Kansas City.  I was looking for something unusual and off the beaten path and while standing in the Italian section I spotted a bottle of Tami Frappato.  I knew Frappato as a grape blended with Nero d’Avola in Sicily, but had not seen it bottled on its own. 
After the hour or so drive west into the mountains, we arrived at the cabin where my mother-in-law had prepared Italian Sausage with white beans simmered in tomato sauce.  Everyone was hungry and I was perfectly content to go with the obvious choice of Italian wine with Italian sausage.
The Tami Frappato was lively and fresh, which seemed appropriate for our first night in the cool Rocky Mountain air.  The cool, brisk flavors complemented the fennel flavor of the sausage and the acidity of the tomato sauce.  It was one of those wines you drink effortlessly with dinner.  I should have purchase two bottles!  Everything you eat and drink seems to taste a little better when you’re on vacation and the Tami tasted really good.  I didn’t have the opportunity to snag some more on the drive back home, but as luck would have it a few months later the Tami Frappato popped up as one of my wine club selections from Cellar Rat.  And it was just as good as I remembered it. 
What about other Frappatos?  This grape was now firmly on my radar and I needed to taste more!  Unfortunately, it took a while to come across additional offerings in KC but I recently picked up a bottle of Valle de’Acate Frappato from Cosentino’s Market.
The VdA bottling confirmed to me that Frappato deserves more attention from wine consumers.  The wine’s aroma is utterly inviting and immediately put a smile on my face.  I’m talking extremely fresh with flowery scents reminding me of jasmine and orange blossom.  It offers lively flavors of dried cherries with an herbal undertone.  The finish is not long and this is not an overly complex wine, but it’s fresh, invigorating and downright delicious to drink. 
Based on drinking the Tami and VdA Frappatos, I think any dish resembling an Italian preparation will be right at home with Frappato.  But I would be excited to drink Frappato with just about anything.  The great thing about these wines is they don’t compete with the food.  They are perfectly content with a supporting role at the table.
You can currently purchase the Tami Frappato at Underdog Wine Co. and the VdA Frappato at Gomer’s Midtown and the Brookside Cosentino’s.  These wines are in the $15-18 price range.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Exploring Italian Wine

When it comes to wine, I love to explore.  Enter Italy with its immensely diverse selection of native grape varieties.  Of course, Italy also has its share of international varieties with plenty of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio to be found.  Just check out the Italian wine section in your store and you'll probably spot several Cabernet or Merlot blends and all the Pinot Grigio you want. With many new and interesting Italian wines popping up on the shelves in Kansas City, I find myself less interested in trying the usual stuff.  I would much rather try an Aglianico from Campania, a Frappato from Sicily, or a Dolcetto from Piedmont than a Cabernet blend from Tuscany.

So when my December 2013 Cellar Rat Wine Club included an Aglianico from Campania and a Cab-Merlot blend from the Veneto, I obviously had a pre-determined favorite.  Of course, I ended up being totally surprised.  The 2011 Brentino from Maculan is a Cab-Merlot blend from the Veneto and a terrific Italian wine.  Here is a red wine that embraces the "green" or herbal qualities of the grapes.  There is a definitive herbal component to the aroma, not heavy, just persistent in a pleasing way.  The fruit and spice flavors are generous without being overdone.  Over time the wine developed a licorice scent and a touch of vanilla on the finish.  On the second day the herbal aroma was still present, but had faded to the background.  This wine is nicely balanced and truly satisfying to drink.  It completely squashed my "boring Cab-Merlot blend" notion.

And what about the other wine?  The Mastro Aglianico from Mastroberadino was less refined and more brutish.  The wine's most memorable quality is the intensity of cigar spice in the aroma. Sticking my nose in the glass instantly reminded me of walking into the humidor for the first time at Diebel's on the Plaza and inhaling the rich, cigar aromas. A pleasing attribute for sure, but not enough to make it standout.    

I would have never bought the Brentino for myself, which is one of the many advantages of being a member of a wine club.  My biases or preferences do not go into the selections, so there is always opportunity for me to be surprised.  And I want to be surprised.  It can make wine drinking so rewarding.

I plan to continue exploring, but will keep in mind that surprises can be hidden in both the familiar and unfamiliar.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Spanish Delights

What's the cure for the wintertime blues on a cold Saturday afternoon?  A big Spanish wine tasting at Cellar Rat of course.  Here are a few random thoughts from the recent tasting (sorry, I don't have vintages listed for each):

2011 Txomin Extaniz Txakoli (chak-o-lee):  Trying to pronounce the letter X in Spanish gets me every time.  A white blend from the Basque region and it was easily the weirdest wine of the tasting.  It had a distinct salty cheese twang to the aroma and tongue tingling acidity.
2011 La Cana Albarino:  Juicy crisp Albarino.  It received a star of approval.
Zerran Tinto:  Raspberry yogurt!

Telmo Rodriguez 'Gago':  One of the more intriguing wines.  The provided tasting note described it as a modern-styled and super rich Spanish Red that takes ripeness to the limit.  However, the first sip revealed a more subtle wine with a fleeting glimpse of rich, yet refined spicy fruit.  Maybe the wine just needed time to open up and show off those super rich flavors.  Or perhaps the salty piece of aged cheddar I consumed before tasting the 'Gago' had dulled my taste buds.  Whatever the case, I was pleasantly surprised by its refined nature and briefly contemplated taking a bottle home for later, but ultimately it was out of my price range at $33.

2009 Finca Sandoval 'Salia':  The favorite of the tasting!  This red blend has a good depth of fruit, earth and spice flavors for the price ($18).  We purchased a bottle of this and took it to Sunday dinner with the family.  It was fantastic with a saucy dish of Papas Rellenos (stuffed potatoes) and its abundant saffron and garlic flavors.
2005 Muga 'Prado Enea':  The most expensive wine at the tasting ($60).  It was refreshing to taste a red with such bright acidity and a pleasing bitterness to the finish.  Think red grapefruit.  I wish I had paid better attention to fellow taster's reactions, but I was off to the side nibbling on a cheese plate.  I'm curious to know if people were expecting more (rich fruit and big flavor) for the price.  I imagine most would not be interested in paying $60 for this red, but might be persuaded otherwise if they could have sampled the Prado Enea with a roast leg of lamb. 

Borsao 'Tres Picos' Garnacha:  It had been a couple of years since I last tasted this red and I remembered it fondly.  Unfortunately, it turned out to be my least favorite of the tasting.  The tasting note from the 'Gago' would have been more appropriate with the 'Tres Picos'.  The sweet fruit jam and toasty graham cracker flavors proved ripeness and oak have their limits.

Ordonez No. 1 Seleccion Especial:  A sweet wine with moderate sweetness and enough richness to match the salty goodness of the aged cheddar.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Westphalia Vineyards

The Missouri Winery of Westphalia Vineyards uses a non-conventional winemaking approach.  They do not add any sulfur to their wines.  I'm not sure how many winemakers in the United States use this approach, but I do know the use of sulfur has become a heated point of debate in the wine world.  I will not go into great detail about this, but the basic argument against sulfuring comes from the thought that the use sulfur can restrain the liveliness and freshness of a wine.  Westphalia clearly states this belief on the label by noting "We add no sulfites during the productions of our handcrafted wines and they are fresh, vigorous, and ready to drink".  The argument for sulfuring is that it promotes stability and longevity in the wine.  I do not have enough experience with tasting and comparing sulfured versus non-sulfured wines, so I'm not going to provide any opinion as part of this post.  But I do want to share a few thoughts about the bottle of Westphalia's Prodigal Son I recently consumed. 

The Prodigal Son is a red blend of Norton and Cabernet Franc.  The Norton grape shows prominently with its big, candied fruit aromas.  If someone had put a glass if front of me and told me to guess the grape based upon the smell, I would have said 100% Norton.  The Norton definitely overwhelms the subtle aromas typically characteristic of Cabernet Franc.  The wine has hearty flavors of cooked red fruits and spice, but does retain certain freshness.  This is the where the addition of Cabernet Franc may help to brighten up some of the thick flavors.  Or maybe, the freshness and lightness could be contributed to the lack of sulfuring.  I don't have a strong feeling one way or the other and who knows, maybe it's a little of both.  The wine finishes fairly smooth with sweet fruit flavors and ends up being quite friendly.

The Prodigal Son actually drinks even better with a slight chill to it.  Drinking at a cooler temperature further accentuates the freshness of the wine and makes some of the rich fruit flavors more crisp.  During the summer, it would be a good drink with burgers or spicy sausages hot off the grill.

I paid $15 for the Prodigal Son and according to the winery's website, there are multiple locations in the Kansas City area selling Westphalia wine. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Finds from Mount Etna

During a recent visit to Cellar Rat, two Italian wines grabbed my attention:  The Etna Rosso and Etna Bianco from Tenuta delle Terre Nere.  My curiosity was pique for a couple of reasons.  For starters, the Etna Bianco had a hand written recommendation from one of the staff describing it as one of the most unique white wines in the shop.  I had also recently read an article by Talia Baiocchi in the 2012 Fall issue of Wine & Spirits entitled "The Volcanic Terroir of Mt. Etna".  It's always fulfilling to find bottles from an exciting wine region I have just read about.  The descriptions of the land and vineyards were fascinating. Especially when you consider the vines are grown around an active volcano.  The article noted all Mount Etna wines seem to share a certain freshness and vivacity.  I drank each wine over a 3 day period and am happy to report that this description is on the mark.

The Etna Rosso has a lovely light red color.  The fruit aromas are fresh and vibrant and reminded me of the barely ripe raspberries I picked from the garden last summer.  There is also some leather and spice notes.  Tasting the wine revealed persistent flavors of tangy fruit and spice with good acidity.  It tastes very brisk and really needs food to show off.  The Etna Rosso is a little too wild and raspy to sip on its own.  Since I drank the wine over a few nights, I had the opportunity to experience it with a variety of dishes.  It was a fine drinking companion with Sicilian pasta with cauliflower, roasted mushrooms with fresh thyme, and cous cous topped with roasted leeks.

The Etna Bianco stands out because of how the fruit (lemon peel) and wild herb aromas are balanced by the persistent mineral based aroma of wet stone.  The wine's texture is rich and provides nice contrast to the light and tart fruit flavors that give way to a lingering herbal finish.  Just like the Rosso, the Bianco needs food to really show off.  I paired it with baked fried chicken prepared in a lemon and thyme brine.  The herbal qualities of the Etna Bianco complemented the flavorful and floral chicken and the wine was refreshing enough to soften the savory richness of the crunchy coating.

Once I had finished the two wines and had a chance to review my notes, I realized a common theme had occurred in my cooking.  After the initial tasting of each wine, I was preparing dishes on subsequent evenings with plenty of fresh herbs and aromatic vegetables.  I would like to think the wines had tapped into my subconscious palate and were guiding me toward ideal food pairings.  However, it's more likely the unseasonably warm weather in Kansas City had me craving the fresh flavors of Spring and Summer.  Whatever the case, these wines should pair beautifully with dishes that gain flavor from onions, leeks, garlic, fennel and herbs.

I appreciate these wines for their distinctiveness and food friendliness, especially when they retail for around $20.  You're getting a lot of character for the price.  Both hold up well after opening, especially if you store them in the fridge.  The Cellar Rat has these wines for sale, but I have not spotted them at other stores yet.  So be on the lookout for the Etna Rosso and Bianco and when you're preparing dinner after your first trip to the local farmer's market this Spring, you'll have the perfect wine(s) in mind.