Tag Archives: wine reviews

Wine of the week: Layer Cake Primitivo 2008

The Wine Curmudgeon is never quite sure what to make of the Layer Cake wines. A year-old review of the shiraz was one of the most popular posts on the blog in 2010, and it's still getting comments. Is it the quality of the wine that elicits so much enthusiasm, or the quality of the label, what with it featuring a chocolate cake?

For the primitivio ($12, sample) the answer is the quality of the wine. It's made in Italy, but done in a decidedly New World Style — lots of oak and lots of dark black fruit, with vanilla thrown in for good measure. But it also offers plenty of traditional zinfandel-style spice and brambliness, which helped balance the wine — and the alcohol is only 13 1/2 percent. Another point in its favor: I tasted the wine about a year ago, and it wasn't as interesting as this. Another year of bottle aging seems to have helped.

Why the zinfandel reference? Because primitivo is apparently the same grape, though there is still some debate about the subject. In this, too many Italian primitivos I've tasted, including one the other night to compare to the Layer Cake, go whole hog for the New World zinfandel style without understanding what's involved. It's not a pretty sight.

Pair this with almost any Italian-American red sauce dinner (I did Mark Bittman's take on chicken parmigiana).

Wine review: Dancing Bull Zinfandel 2009

Want to see how wine changes over time, taking into account things like vintage difference and consumer preferences, and especially how the big wine companies see consumer preference?

Then taste the Dancing Bull ($9, purchased), which is one of the most popular wines among visitors to the blog. In my review of the 2007 vintage, I wrote that it wasn’t “quite as spicy or brambly” as it was when the wine debuted a decade ago, but that it was still more or less a traditional zinfandel. The current vintage has changed even more. It still has some zinfandel character, with pepper on the nose and spice at the back, but there is a huge dollop of sweet red fruit in the middle that wasn’t there in the 2007 or when I first tasted it.

Which is where consumer preference — or what companies like E&J Gallo, which makes Dancing Bull, see as consumer preference — comes in. One of the big changes in U.S. grocery store wine over the past several years is, for lack of a better term, the addition of sweet fruit. It’s not that the wines are sweet, and the Dancing Bull is bone dry. Rather, it’s what Eric Asimov of the New York Times describes as not the “actual sugar in the wine, but also (more often) of the impression of sweetness. This impression can be provided by dominant fruit flavors and high concentrations of glycerol, a product of fermentation that is heavy, oily and slightly sweet.” And, he writes, California zinfandel exactly fits that description.

Gallo’s market research, apparently, has determined that consumers want that sweet fruit in their wine. So the company makes the wine that way, and the Dancing Bull is the result. Is this good or bad? Neither. As the Wine Curmudgeon has said many times, good and bad doesn’t apply to wine. It’s what each person wants to drink.

Mini-reviews 22: Bota Box, Raymond, Fess Parker, Freemark Abbey

Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month. This month, an all California lineup:

? Bota Box Malbec 2009 ($18 for a 3-liter box, sample): Wine for people who aren't all that fussy about what their wine tastes like. Lots of sweet blackberry fruit without much tannin or acid.

? Raymond Merlot Reserve 2007 ($23, sample): A fair bit of merlot character, which means it's not as fruity as other California merlots at this price and even (dare I say?) a little more subtle. A step up from the $15 merlots that so many people drink.

? Fess Parker Syrah 2007 ($24, sample): Big, huge syrah with traditional bacon fat aroma, lots of rich, black fruit and 14.9 percent alcohol. If you like this style of wine, you'll love this wine.

? Freemark Abbey Viognier 2009 ($27, sample): I didn't think there was any way I would appreciate this, given that it was oaked and had 14.5 percent alcohol. But it was mostly in balance, with apricot fruit and peach pit finish.

Wine of the week: Falesco Est! Est! Est!!! 2009

The Wine Curmudgeon does not approve of exclamation marks. If Hemingway didn’t need them, no one else does either. Which should give everyone an idea about the quality of this wine, since it has five exclamation points in its name.

The Est ($9, purchased) is a white blend of trebbiano, malvasia and roscetto (yet another obscure Italian grape, something that it seems all interesting Italian wines must have). In less capable hands, that grape combination can produce a wine that is all sweet and fruity. But Falesco, the producer behind Est, is one of the most capable hands in the world, and the Est lives up to Falesco’s long-standing tradition of cheap and well-made wine.

Look for a lemon/lime zest sort of flavor, more structure than a $9 wine should have, and some spice on the finish. Drink this chilled on its own, or with anything resembling fish. This wine would make even tuna casserole, made with cream of mushroom soup, taste better. And look for this in the 2012 $10 Hall of Fame, with Falesco’s Vitiano wines.

Wine review: Araldica Vini Piemontesi Gavi La Luciana 2009

Gavi is one of those mysterious Italian wines that is made with one of those mysterious Italian grapes, the cortese. It's a white wine that comes from the Gavi region in a corner of Piedmont, there isn't a whole lot of it, what there is usually doesn't make it to the middle of the country, and it's often quite pricey. If I see Gavi at all, it's on restaurant wine lists, and even then it usually takes a back seat to the Super Tuscans and the rest of the publicity hounds.

So when I found the Araldica ($14, purchased) at a Dallas shop that specializes in Italian wine, and at a price about two-thirds of what most quality Gavis cost, I bought it. And I'm glad I did. The Araldica was much better than I had any right to expect, especially for the price. It had a bit of spice and some lemon fruit, and though it wasn't very sophisticated — no sun-drenched Italian beaches, which is what a great Gavi brings to mind — it was fresh and clean.

I took it to dinner with a wine rep friend of mine, and it was much better than the tired, chain-style Italian food that the restaurant served. Serve the Araldica with any seafood and especially shellfish, and I'm going to buy another bottle to have with spaghetti with clam sauce.

Wine of the week: Coteaux d’Ancenis La Clotiere 2009

Here is why the Wine Curmudgeon loves wine. I was cutting through the wine department at my local Whole Foods, on my way to somewhere else, when I saw the La Clotiere on display. The label was unimpressive, it was stacked with a bunch of other $10 wines, and there was absolutely no reason to stop and look at it.

So of course I did, and the result was a Wine of the Week and an almost certain new member of the $10 Hall of Fame. Highly recommended, though availability may be a problem if there are no Whole Foods in your area.

This is cheap wine as it should be — professionally made, balanced, and with low alcohol. It comes from the Loire region of France and is made with gamay, which is not as odd as it sounds (though we don't see many of those wines in this country). But it has very little to do with $10 gamay from Beaujolais, where the wines are often very fruity, don't have much in the way of tannins, and are much simpler than this.

The La Clotiere ($9, purchased) is a surprisingly un-simple wine. There is red fruit in the front, a bit of a middle, and a mineral-like finish common to red wines from the Loire. I chilled it, because that's what I do with $10 Beaujolais, but that made the wine worse. Serve this at room temperature with any simple, middle-of-the-week dinner, and it would also be perfect for French Bistro night (steak frites, anyone?)

Expensive wine 23: Chalk Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

The Wine Curmudgeon's feelings about expensive California cabernet sauvignon are well known: Over-oaked, over-extracted, over-ripe and over-priced.

And then I tasted the Chalk Hill ($50, sample) and marvelled again at what talented winemakers can do with quality grapes. It's certainly Sonoma County wine, with black fruit and moderate (for Sonoma, anyway) 14.5 percent alcohol.

But there was an angularity to it that was quite appealing, some edges and rough spots that one normally doesn't find in these kinds of lush, ripe wines. I wouldn't go so far as to say it was an herbal character, which is a mark of red Bordeaux. But even the impression of herbal is more than one gets in most wines of this style.

Very nicely done, and even a value as these things go. It would make a fine gift for The Holiday that Must not be Named, or as the center piece for a classic red wine dinner.