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Montupoli Red Wine 2008 -Abruzzo, Italy

I’ll warn all of you ahead of time this review is going to be brutal. So if you’re squeamish turn away now. There will be blood and guts everywhere by the time I am done.

I bought this wine to pair up with a recipe of Pasta Bolognese that I intended to make for company that was coming (I had a nice vegetarian version up my sleeve by the way). The recipe called for a robust red wine and I also wanted a nice Italian wine to drink with the meal. So, of course, I headed to my local Total Wine store.

At the store I was assisted in my wine selection by one of their wine experts (though she was new to me so I knew I was taking a risk. I know a few people there that never steer me wrong…she wasn’t one of them I later found out.) I told her my requirements and she immediately suggested this ‘lovely’ Montupoli wine from Abruzzo, Italy. She said she always has this wine when she has Italian food. I trusted her! I also was intrigued by the fact that the wine was made with Sangiovese grapes. ‘How could that be bad?’ I thought to myself!

She also suggested a cheaper Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon (to be reviewed at a later date) for the recipe itself because no one really wants to cook with a more expensive wine after all. So with my treasures in hand I skipped home to start my cooking. Once home I discovered that my guest was not coming and so I put off the meal for another day.

A few days later I decided to open this ‘lovely’ Montupoli wine from Abruzzo, Italy and really enjoy it. I opened the bottle and I at once was not ‘at one’ with the smell. ‘Maybe that’s just the Sangiovese grapes’ I told myself. I bravely poured myself a glass and took a sip. It was HORRIBLE! I can’t even tell you what it tasted like but it was unlike any wine I’ve ever tasted. It actually tasted like it was formulated in a chemical plant to me. Absolutely AWFUL! This, my friends, is the first wine in a long time that I actually labeled ‘Undrinkable’. I saved it in my refrigerator with the hopes of at least cooking with it but I can’t bring myself to do that at all. It will be dumped…right after I finish writing this.

So my rating is this…I give it a rating of 4. It gets 2 points for having a cork rather than a screw top and 2 points for the mere fact that it was imported from Italy.

Maybe I got a bad bottle. That’s always a possibility but I am gun shy now and I probably won’t be trying another bottle of this wine any time soon. It was a wasted $9.99 in my opinion.

Interesting Wine Facts: Fact #4 – Most Wines South of the Equator are Screwy!

Stelvin capsYes, it’s true! Although I’ve stated in a previous blog that I equate ‘screw caps’ with cheap wine and hobos the fact is that if I want to review any wines from New Zealand and Australia, to name a few, I will most likely have to swallow my pride and purchase a wine with the aforementioned ‘screw cap’.

These ‘screw caps’ also known as a Stelvin cap (named for the company that first invented them back in the late ’60s early ’70s) are predominately used on most wines produced south of the Equator such as in New Zealand and Australia. Although they were met with resistance  and phased out in the early 1980’s they were reintroduced in the 1990’s.

Since then the consumer acceptance of these Stelvin caps on wines have gone from 1% in 2001 to 70% in 2004 according to Wikipedia.The main reason, or so I am told from a wise wine instructor, is three-fold.

First off, there is the debate that Stelvin caps actually preserve the wine better and virtually guarantee that the wine will reach the customer in the condition that the wine maker intended it to. Others still argue that the slight oxygen leakage that comes from cork helps the wine age better. Who’s to say who’s right?

The second reason for the re-emergence of Stelvin caps particularly south of the Equator is cost. Cork trees primarily grow in countries that run along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, where there’s plenty of sunshine, low rainfall and high humidity. The countries that produce the most cork include Portugal, Algeria, Spain, Morocco, France, Italy and Tunisia. Because of this geographic dilemma using cork in wines produced south of the Equator adds more cost to producing a bottle of wine. When that happens you pay more for wines from these regions. (That explains that really expensive bottle of New Zealand wine with a cork I saw the other day…but I digress…)

To keep the cost of the wines down in Australia and New Zealand most wineries in those areas use Stelvin caps instead of cork. It’s easier and more cost effective to produce Stelvin caps locally then to ship in cork from all the way across the world.

The third reason that wines south of the equator use Stelvin caps rather than cork is to preserve the environment or so some are saying. I, myself, am doubtful of this. The argument is that all the cork being used for wine will deplete the cork forests however I’ve read other articles (namely this one from that state just the opposite.

Conservationist, environmentalists, and local cork regions are concerned that if wine producers stop using cork for their bottle closures then the cork forests will be discarded and the local animals and environment that depend on the cork trees to survive will also be discarded and ultimately destroyed. Being the tree-hugging vegetarian that I am I have to say that this view makes more sense to me than the former. It will make it even harder for me to buy a bottle of wine with a Stelvin screw cap.

So there you are! Your little tidbit of wine knowledge for the week. Use it as you see fit. Please feel free to comment, ask questions, and base your decision on cork versus screw top on what makes sense to you. 🙂

Interesting Wine Facts: Fact #3 – Determining the Body of a Wine is as Easy as Drinking Milk

At my recent visit to Total Wine an More’s ‘Wine 101’ class I learned a very easy way to determine what the body of a wine is. Up until taking that class determining the ‘body’ of a wine was a distant concept to me. I knew that they were talking about the ‘heaviness’ of the wine but still couldn’t figure out how everybody was coming to their conclusions so  easily and with conviction.

Well I now know that it is really easy to make this determination using something that most people have a daily experience with – drinking milk! Now I haven’t had a glass a milk in over 20 years but I am no stranger to the differences in consistency when it comes to dairy products. It was something that I wholeheartedly participated in prior to that 20 years.

Most people will agree that when drinking milk there is a distinct difference in consistency when it comes to skim milk, 2% milk, and whole milk. Skim milk, to most, has the weight and consistency of drinking a glass of water. 2% milk is slightly heavier/thicker and whole milk is the heaviest/thickest in the mouth. Knowing this simple fact is the key to determining the ‘body’ of the wine you’re drinking.

‘Light Bodied Wines’ are those that when you take a sip and move it around your mouth has the consistency and thickness of water or skim milk. It’s very ‘light’ on the tongue.

‘Medium bodied Wines’ are those that when  you take a sip and move it around your mouth has a slightly heavier weight and thickness. They are the equivalent of drinking 2% milk.

‘Heavy bodied Wines’ are those that are thick and…well…heavy on the tongue. They are reminiscent of drinking whole milk or even heavy cream. They loom large in your mouth as far as thickness is concerned.

Now that I’ve learned this little comparison trick it’s been easy for me to identify the body of every wine I’ve been drinking with little or no need for second thought. It’s an immediate ‘knowing’ now which frees me up to figure out more about the complexities of the wine like the bouquet and aromas that want to be identified.

I also want to add that a wine can fall between those categories of ‘light, medium, and heavy bodied’ too. Like anything else there’s a scale where something can be mostly light bodied but bordering on medium and thus you might say that that particular wine is a light to medium bodied wine or a medium to heavy bodied wine.

Nothing is absolute. It doesn’t have to fall neatly into just one category. Just like a person can be primarily an introvert but with some extrovert qualities a wine can absolutely do the same thing. It’s a living and breathing thing just like you and I are and even though a particular wine may be described as a medium bodied wine it can still have some slight variations too.

So now armed with this new knowledge (I am assuming it’s new to you too…if not then forgive my assumptions here) I challenge you to get out there and start to get to know the body of your wines. Feel them, touch them, get to know them! 🙂

Interesting Wine Facts: Fact #2 – Serve White Wines Cold

Well being last week’s Interesting Wine Facts was about the serving temperature of red wines I figured it would only be fair to do the same for white wines.

Most people already know that white wines are served chilled but most, like me, don’t know what that temperature actually is supposed to be. White wines should be served between 48-53 degrees F. This is usually the standard temperature that you’ll find in your refrigerator.

It’s also good to note that even though white wines are supposed to be served cold make sure you don’t serve them too cold. That can affect the flavors of the wine too.

Another good tip for white wines is to take them out of the refrigerator 10 to 15 minutes before you’re going to drink them.

If you’re serving a champagne, sparkling wine, or Prosecco it should be served between 40 to 45 degrees F. In order to get it to this temperature you may have to place it in an ice bucket filled with ice or put it in the freezer for 5 to 10 minutes before serving to get it to that temperature. Of course, you should have had it in the refrigerator before that but the standard temperature in your fridge is not going to be cold enough to get your bubbly to the right temperature thus the use of the ice bucket or freezer stated above.

Interesting Wine Facts: Fact #1 – Serve at Room Temperature

Here I would like to introduce you to a new series of posts called ‘Interesting Wine Facts’. This is where I will share a few interesting facts that I’ve learned about wines recently. So without further ado here’s fact #1.

FACT #1: Red wine should be served at a temperature of 65 degrees.

Most people have heard that red wine should be served at room temperature and never put in the fridge. The fact is that in the old days in European wine country that was indeed true and for the most part is still true however, ‘room temperature’ there is different then say here in Florida. If I serve my red wine at room temperature you’re going to get a nice hot wine most of the time.

The fact is that it is best to serve wines at their suggested temperature rather than some arbitrary, nondescript instruction of ‘serve at room temperature’. The actual  serving temperature for most red wines is 65 degrees F. If you are in a cooler  climate you probably can achieve that by leaving the wine at ‘room temperature’ but if you’re in a warmer climate it’s perfectly okay to put the bottle in the refrigerator for an hour or so, use a bucket of ice to chill it for 15 to 20 minutes, or any other method to get it to reach its optimal temperature. No one is going to take your head off for doing that especially if they really know their wines.

How to Pair Wine and Chocolate

For those of you who know me personally you know that I have several really strong loves in my life: Matt, Wine (obviously), The Beatles/Paul McCartney, and chocolate. Any time that I can mix any and of all those together, in my book, it’s heaven!

Now I have always liked to eat chocolate with wine. To me it’s natural to do that but I am constantly intrigued when friends look at me in horror as I am doing it. I usually get that bewildered look and they’ll say something like ‘Chocolate and wine? Really?’ My blissful reply to them is usually something that sounds somewhat like ‘Oh my God, yes!’

I say ‘sounds somewhat like’ because my mouth is usually stuffed with chocolate and wine and I am doing the yummy moan. You know that moan. It’s the one that comes out of your mouth involuntarily when you’re eating something that’s sooooo good that you can’t reply fully with words. Yes, that’s the one.

Now when it comes to matching wines and chocolates I’ve never really given it much thought really. I mean if I am drinking a really nice wine and there’s really nice chocolate nearby what’s there to think about? But apparently there is a skill to it that if mastered can make your wine/chocolate pairing even better than nature intended. Sounds awesome, right? So here I will attempt to share with you what I’ve learned about this skill.

Now the first thing to know is, in my opinion, there is no right or wrong when it comes to doing this. The simple fact is that if you like the combination then it’s right and if you don’t, it’s not right…for YOU. Someone else might think it’s absolutely wonderful. So there is no judgment here.

As a general rule though you should match lighter-flavored chocolates with lighter-bodied wines and more intense-flavored chocolates with more full-bodied wines. By the way, ‘lighter-flavored chocolates’ is not referring to whether it’s milk, white, or dark chocolate. It is referring to the intensity of flavors in the chocolate. For example, most people think of dark chocolate as intense but many dark chocolates are light compared with a milk chocolate with intense caramel or nut fillings.

When pairing wines and chocolates there are no rights and wrongs as I’ve said before. You can pair chocolates and wines that share the same flavors like spicy, cherry, minty, etcetera or you can look for wines and chocolates that contrast each other. Whatever floats your boat really. 🙂

Here’s a list of what wines match up well with the different chocolates (remember this is not a definitive list and let your taste be your guide):

Bittersweet Chocolate (Dark chocolate with 70% to 100% cacao): These chocolates match up really well with a Beaujolais, Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvigon, Cognac, Grenache, Malbec, Marsala, Merlot, Shiraz, Zinfandel, or a Tawny Port.

I find it really interesting to find that my favorite chocolate is Bittersweet Dark Chocolate with at least 70% cacao and my favorite wine at the moment is Merlot. Perfect matches and I didn’t even know anything about pairing the two before doing my research for this post. That’s why it’s important more than anything else to go with what you like and what works for you. You will innately know what matches up for you even if you don’t know how to justify it or describe it to someone else.

Semisweet Chocolate (Dark chocolate with 50% to 69% cacao): These chocolates match up with all the same wines as the Bittersweet chocolates above and the aftertaste will be balanced and not too sweet either.

Milk Chocolate: Milk chocolate has a higher percentage of sugar and a smaller percentage of chocolate liquor than the dark chocolates so the pairings are going to be a bit different.

Good pairings for milk chocolate are Muscat/Moscato, Tawny Port, as well as something called Mas Amiel Rouge & Vintage Blanc (I don’t know what those are so don’t ask 🙂 ). The best match for milk chocolate is said to be the Tawny Port but again try different wines and see what you like.

White Chocolate: White chocolate is my least favorite chocolate unless it’s from Switzerland because they know how to make it in my opinion. White chocolate is not really chocolate. It has no chocolate liquor. It is made from cocoa butter, sugar, and milk and in my opinion is just way too sweet to enjoy usually.

But if you like white chocolate good wine matches would be Champagne, Gerwurtztraminer, Mas Amiel Vintage Blanc, Muscat/Moscato, and a nice Riesling.

Chocolate with Coffee in it pairs well with Sherry.

Chocolate with fruit in it like chocolate covered cherries or dipped or glazed fruit goes really well with a nice Cabernet Sauvigon, a Mediera, a Merlot, or a Ruby Port.

Also any chocolate that has liqueur in it will pair really nice with its corresponding liqueur. Kind of the like attracts like concept though in my opinion that might be too much of the same thing but I’ll have to try it and let you know. Oh the things I do for you all. 🙂

So that’s the basics of it all. I hope it’s opened your eyes to the wonderful marriage of chocolate and wine and has given you the inspiration to get out there and find out what your favorite pairings are. When you do find some please feel free to comment below and let us know what great pairings you’ve found. You might just discover a combination that no one has thought of and I for one would love to try it too.

Also here’s a great short video, called appropriately enough “How to Pair Wine and Chocolate’ from, to walk you through the whole wine and chocolate pairing journey.

Until next time enjoy yourself and experiment!

No Wine Shall Ever Be Wasted!

Okay, today we’re going to talk about a little fiction. Let’s pretend that you’re sitting down with friends and enjoying a bottle of wine. Now let’s pretend that at the end of the night you find you still have an unfinished bottle of wine left (I know…I know. I told you this was fiction but stick with me anyway 🙂 ).

So at the end of the night you find that there’s an unfinished bottle of wine. Now I ask you: what do you do? Now I know many of you are saying ‘THAT just wouldn’t happen”. I’ll confess it doesn’t happen in my house often either when I am sharing with friends BUT there are times when I just want a glass of wine in the evening and I DO have left overs. Why? Because in my house my other half very rarely drinks wine. He says it tastes and smells like vinegar to him. I just think we haven’t found the RIGHT wine for him yet…but I digress.

Initially when a bottle of wine is opened oxygen actually helps the wine to ‘breathe’ and express its true self better but too much of that oxygen for too long will start the rapid process of deteriorating the wine. This is where left over wines need your help. There are basically four ways to slow that deterioration process.

  1. Put the cork back in the bottle and put the bottle in the refrigerator. This is probably the most common way to slow down the process of oxidation on a wine. By doing this you are stopping the bottle from being exposed to more oxygen and the cooling temperature in the refrigerator also slows down the process of the wine spoiling. This is also the cheapest way to preserve wine though not the most effective way.
  2. Transfer what’s left of the wine into a smaller bottle. By putting the remaining wine in a smaller bottle you are in essence reducing the amount of oxygen that the wine stays in contact with. How? Well, if there’s less room in the bottle for oxygen there’s less oxygen touching the wine. Simple. 🙂
  3. Pump out the air from the bottle with a ‘wine pump’. This is slightly more effective and has a minimum amount of cost (about $10). These  ‘wine pumps’ are available at any wine store, Target, Bed Bath and Beyond, etcetera. This isn’t a foolproof way though because no ‘wine pump’ can ever get all the air out of a bottle. It will preserve the wine for a few days but it will work even better if you still put the wine in the refrigerator too.
  4. Pumping the bottle with gas. You can find these gas cartridges or bottles at most wine stores or online. These gases are inert (meaning they won’t hurt you or anything else for that matter) and are usually a combination of Nitrogen and Carbon Dioxide. This is the most effective way to preserve wines and can even preserve them for WEEKS if done correctly. Though me being who I am I would probably still put the bottle in the fridge just to be extra sure.

Now there are other things you can do with left over wine too. If you cook then you can use the left overs in recipes for things like risotto or gravies and other yummies.

Another thing you can do is freeze the wine in an ice cube tray for use at a future time in a recipe. This will keep it even longer then just refrigerating.

Also, as my friend Camille from Camille Cooks mentioned in a previous post here, you can make mulled or spiced wine. This is something that is popular around the holidays/winter in countries like the Czech Republic (I’ve had some in Prague. It was pretty good 🙂 ) It’s hot and spicy and so different from that glass of Pinot Noir you had last night.

So there you have it, some tips and tricks for preserving every last drop of wine. My philosophy is that not a drop should ever go to waste. Even a bad wine can usually serve it’s purpose in a recipe for something.

Also, if you live in a colder climate than I do (Florida) and the room where you have the half bottle of wine is 65 degrees or cooler and it’s a red wine then you don’t have to put the bottle in the refrigerator. I figured I would just add that last little tip in there. I forget sometimes that others live in climates that are a little cooler than mine. 🙂

Anyway, I’ll end here for now. Come back again on Sunday for my next wine review and if you like chocolate you might want to make sure you don’t miss next Wednesday’s post. Just saying! 😉

Conte Priola Pinot Noir – 2009 Italy

From Total Wine and More:

‘Silky smooth, this Pinot Noir has well defined flavors of red berries and cherries. Medium-bodied with soft tannins, this food friendly wine is easy drinking and pairs well with tuna, swordfish and flavorful vegetarian entrees.’

Price: $7.99

First off, if anyone reading this can tell me what Delle Venezie means I would really appreciate it. I believe it’s the wine region in Northeast Italy where this wine is from but a Google search revealed nothing but other sites trying to sell me Italian wine. And now…back to our regular scheduled program….

I found this to be a very nice wine. It’s color was a nice deep burgundy one. It tasted very oaky and earthy with a strong flavor of berries. It was a very mellow wine that went down easy with a long-lasting, dry finish. I found the finish mellowed out after the wine was left to breathe a little bit but I don’t really know if that was an actual reality or if it was just the result of the alcohol’s influence on my taste buds. I’ll have to try it again to know for sure.

I drank this wine by itself for the pleasure of having a glass of wine so I can’t comment on whether or not the food pairings that Total Wine and More referenced are correct though I would imagine it would be a great wine to accompany a fish or vegetarian meal.

Buzz factor: 6, it’s a nice wine with a bit of a buzz but not overly so. Very pleasant.

Overall likability: I rate this wine at a 9. I really enjoyed it. It was mellow without being weak or watered down. I will definitely be keeping a few bottles of this wine in my wine rack.

Pardon The Language But What The Hell Are They Talking About?

What's in your glass?

Okay, we’ve all been there (and some of us still are). You’re in a restaurant or at a party and you’re enjoying a really good wine and blissing out because of it and then someone starts talking all about the nuance of the wine using terms that you can only guess what the hell they’re talking about. Suddenly without any warning you’re pulled out of your wine induced bliss by a feeling of guilt because you don’t know the terminology associated with drinking wine. Should you even be allowed to enjoy that glass of vino? How embarrassing!

Well fear no more. We are going to learn this terminology together and furthermore I would just like to say that you can talk about wine without using this terminology. What’s really needed to talk about wine intelligently is an understanding of the qualities of a wine and then just be able to communicate those qualities in regular, good old English (or the language of your choice 🙂 ).

So here, and in the next few Wednesday posts, I will attempt to put this terminology into a language we all can understand and share.

Okay, first off when someone talks about the ‘bouquet’ of a wine they are simply talking about what the wine smells like.

When they describe the ‘bouquet’ or ‘nose’ of the wine they will use several different characteristic ‘aromas’ to describe it. Among those aromas are: Caramel, earthy, floral, fruity, herbaceous or vegetative, nutty, spicy, or woody.

Now it does get more complicated than that because each of those aromas I noted above have other more precise characteristics that help you describe exactly what you’re smelling.

So I am not going to quote Total Wine and More’s ‘Guide to Wine’ 2011 edition on these.

CARAMEL: Butterscotch, Honey, Molasses, Chocolate, Soy Sauce (For example, all of the above could be smelled independently in a glass of wine, but you could generally describe a wine as having a ‘caramel’ aroma if you detect caramel, molasses or honey in the nose). Some examples are Sauternes, California Chardonnay, and French Puligny-Montrachet.

EARTHY: Moldy, Mushroom, Dusty, Chalky, Mineral (Frequently used in describing Red Burgundy, Zinfandel or some fine examples of California Pinot Noir). Fortunately it tastes far better than the description allows. 🙂

FLORAL: Violet, Rose, Orange Blossom. Some examples are Chenin Blanc, Vouvray, and Sancerre.

FRUITY: Tree fruit, Tropical fruit, Citrus fruit, Red fruit, Dark fruits. Basically with this one when something smells fruity just simply ask yourself ‘what kind of fruit am I smelling?’ Some of the red wines that commonly display these fruity tastes are Beaujolais, Merlot, and Pinot Noir.

HERBACEOUS OR VEGETATIVE: Does it smell or taste like cut grass, bell peppers, or mint? How about olives or asparagus? Tea or tobacco? Just ask yourself ‘what does this remind me of?’ you’re probably not far off. Wines that might display these aroma characteristics are Sauvignon Blanc, Gerwurztraminer and Rieslings.

NUTTY: Walnut, Hazelnut, Almond. These aromas are often used to describe Sherries, Meursault, and Madeiras.

SPICY: Licorice, Anise, Black Pepper, and Cloves. Wines that might display these aromas are Australian Shiraz, Rhone wines, and California Zinfandels.

WOODY: Burnt (Smoky, Coffee), Resinous (Oak, Cedar, Vanilla). Good examples of this are Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

As you can see when it comes to the ‘bouquet’ and ‘aroma’ of a wine you just have to ask yourself ‘What do I smell? What am I tasting? What does this remind me of?’ If you answer those questions you’ll not only get to know the wine a little better you’ll also start to see what bouquets and aromas you’re more attracted to. Having this knowledge will help you to know what wines you like the best and why.

Also, you don’t have to be a snob when describing wines. All you have to know is what qualities you like in a wine and then communicate that to the people at the wine store or the sommelier at the restaurant. I don’t think anyone would fault you if you told the sommelier that you tend to like a wine that smells and tastes like cherries or chocolate or with a hint of almonds. If he’s a good sommelier he’ll know exactly what to get you

So that’s our education for this week folks. Join me again next Wednesday for another installment of ‘Pardon the language but what the hell are they talking about?’ Until then I’ll have another wine review on Sunday!

Ropiteau Pinot Noir 2009 – Southern France

Ropiteau Pinot Noir 2009 – Southern France/Burgundy

Description from Total Wine & More

“This super value is proof positive. Bright cherry and berry fruit is complemented by earth tones and a smooth soft finish. Enjoy with salmon, chicken, or pork.”

Okay, it’s time for another confession from me….I am a known Merlot addict! You see I tend to love red wines and in particular Merlot but this addiction stems more from inexperience rather than some finely tuned ‘knowledge’. Some time ago I stumbled upon a bottle of Merlot that was nice and ever since then I’ve identified myself as a ‘Merlot person’.

So in an attempt to ‘break out’ of my Merlot addiction I’ve been blindly trying different red wines. This week’s pick was a French wine from the Burgundy region. Why did I pick it? Because it was inexpensive ($8.99) and in the Total Wine & More ‘best sellers’ section.

So now without further ado I will attempt to give you my review of this wine. When I first opened and poured a glass of this Pinot Noir and took a sip I almost poured it down the drain. Why? Because at first taste it was, for lack of a better words, ROUGH and HARSH.

However after letting the wine breathe for a few minutes the character totally changed. It became a quite drinkable wine. It’s a very earthy wine with oaky overtones.

So here’s my overall rating of this wine:

Buzz factor: 9, after two glasses you’ll have a buzz on.

Overall likability: 6, after it was left to breathe a bit it was enjoyable but a little too rough for me. I prefer my wine a little smoother than this.