Tag Archives: Wine Tasting

The Tasting Room – Wines of Washington

Wine TastingThe Tasting Room in Seattle, Washington is exactly what you need. The small wine shop, tucked away, was a hidden gem on my trip to the Pacific Northwest. The small shop’s wooden tables and mismatched chairs was warm and inviting. Passing a couple playing Bananagram, my friends and I sat at a far table removing jackets and bags, literally taking the load off.

The Tasting Room only sells wine from Washington and Oregon, allowing customers to fully immerse themselves in these types of wines.  Washington and Oregon excel in Cabernets, Syrahs, Zinfandels, Pinots and Rieslings. The concept behind The Tasting Room is very simple; it is a place to come relax, play a few games and taste wine. Tasting four wines cost just $10 and the price for a normal glass of wine between $8 – $15.

While my friends randomly found Clue and began to set up the board, I perused the wine menu to make my four choices. There we were, tasting wine and playing Clue, like a bunch of East coasters. Somehow everyone knew we were outsiders… but we were accepted.

Tasting wine can be done in so many ways, it all depends on the taster. Are you tasting to learn about new wine? Are you tasting to enjoy wine you already love? Are you tasting to drink more wine in a socially acceptable situation? All of these are legitimate. Honestly, tasting wine is entertainment. It’s fun and opinionated. You’re right, you’re wrong, it’s silly – bada-bing, bada-boom! Regardless, we enjoyed a minute out of cold, wet Seattle and stumbled into a place I’ll never forget.

Oh, and it was Professor Plum with the Baseball Bat in the Observatory.

1. Wilridge Winery – Estate Nebbiolo 2010 – Flavors of pepper and currants, full of tannin.

2. Harlequin Wine Cellars – Jester’s Red 2007 – 58% Syrah, 42% Zinfandel. Light and sweet – fruit forward with touches of honey and anise.

3. Camaraderie Cellars – Elegance 2007 – 60% Cabernet, 20% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot. Chocolate nose, smooth and clean. The Malbec softened the fruit, the Petit Verdot added tannin.

4. Nota Bene Cellars – Ciel du Cheval 2009 – 59% Cabernet, 27% Cabernet Franc, 14% Merlot. Notes of vanilla, toast, currant and blueberry.


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Grove Winery and Vineyards – Red, White and Blues Festival

Grove Winery FestivalIf you know anything about North Carolina you know it’s riddled with the smallest towns you’ve ever driven through, making you buckle your seatbelt, roll up the windows and re-lock the doors (just to be sure). Before GPS, you’d have asked yourself if your final destination was worth it and “maybe we should turn back?” After GPS, you’re still wondering if your iPhone isn’t just playing a joke (certainly this road isn’t a highway?). However, if we had turned back we would have missed a little gem situated amongst cow pastures and corn fields; Grove Winery and Vineyards – Gibsonville, NC.

Though I didn’t know it until now, I’m a sucker for those real North Carolinian events; the ones that make me proud to live here, maybe even to be called ‘Southern’ *gasp*. Wondering what constitutes a “real” North Carolinian event?

  • Beards (there were many, see photo above)
  • BBQ (a smoker full of ribs and chicken, collards and hushpuppies on the side)
  • Music (any instrument with strings)
  • Tasty Beverages (Wine, beer, shine? not here)
  • Outdoor Venues

The Red, White and Blues Festival at Grove Winery though an hour and a half’s drive from Raleigh opened before us with grape vines, seating area, tasting room and the best weather we could ask for. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, Grove Winery is actually the winery I volunteered for during the Great Grapes festival in Cary 3 years ago. Grove Winery has great wine and they have won loads of awards for them! We sat down to listen to Blues music from some terrific artists, drink a couple bottles and eat some local snacks. Some folks brought their own food items, including cheeses, fruit and a whole
lasagna… Yea, that happened.

We tried Roanoke River Red and Haw River White. The Roanoke River Red is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Grove Winery WinesSauvignon, Nebbiolo and Merlot – tannin-y dark fruits with a hint of spice on the palate, nice with cheese to soften. The Haw River White was 100% Chardonel – an interesting varietal tasting more like Viognier than what you may think would have been Chardonnay. Full and heavy mouthfeel, with a medium-high sugar content. It was a nice aperitif to begin with because it was chilled and easy to drink on its own.

We finished the evening with Traminette (Riesling-esque) flavoured sorbet. Dumping the last of the red in our glasses on top of the sorbet was like icing on the cake! What a brilliant evening with my parents and sister. Chalk up another point for North Carolina wine/wineries!

Traminette SorbetTraminette Sorbet

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Boordy Vineyards – Maryland

boordy grapesThere were a few things that made my trip to DC/Maryland special. For one, I was able to bike to and through the National Mall in Washington, DC. It was a beautiful hot August day and there’s nothing that makes you feel young again like the wind in your air as you race along the gravel road. Although I didn’t think it possible, the weekend got even better as my family strode through Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail. The scenery is breathtaking and if you’re daring enough to do rock-climbing over rushing water, they have that too.

Anyway, let’s get to the point, Boordy Vineyards near Towson, Maryland.

Boordy Vineyards sits tucked in the center of rolling hills filled with vines and vines of grapes. They have another area in Maryland they call the “South Mountain” where there keep even more vines and grow Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot as a few examples. The main house is a giant barn serving as a type of venue; they have an underground store with another event area in the back (you feel like you’re in the cellars). Also, an element I am very fond of, they had a seperate tasting area. This structure had many employees inside where they were able to open at least 5 windows for group tastings. We didn’t have to wait at all to get going on our tasting and some places with just a bar fill up pretty quickly.

You can choose between two series of wine: The Standard Tasting and the Landmark Tasting.  The woman told us that the Boordy WinesStandard Tasting is for those who like sweeter wine as the tasting includes many of their fruit wines, blushes, semi-sweets, Rieslings and sweet reds. This tasting is $5. The Landmark tasting was more our style, not that I don’t like sweet wine, I do, but the call of the Cabernet Franc Reserve and something called the Landmark Reserve were too much for me. We paid the $10 a piece for 10 1-ounce pours of each in the Landmark Series.

Something fun to mention, I fell in love with the art on the bottles. You can see from the picture, the Landmark Series has their rustic picteresque label showing Boordy vineyards (we are told it was taken with a disposable camera!). The Icons of Maryland Series is probably my favourite showing sketches of Maryland’s wild life beside an artsy typeface.  And if art is your thing, beware the colors and images of the Just for Fun Series – Jazz Berry makes me feel like a trip to New Orleans.

Landmark Series - Boordy Wines

Landmark Series

Icons of Maryland Series - Boordy Wines

Icons of Maryland Series









Oh yea! The wine!

Pinot Grigio – Dry with a round aftertaste. Flavours of citrus splash out of the glass.

Chardonnay – Steel tank and oak mix. Hint of melon pulls out the crispness nicely.

Chardonnay Reserve 2011 – Fermented in new oak barrels resulting in a semi-sweet toasty taste on the tongue. Balanced, dry and one of the best Chardonnay’s I’ve had in a while.

Dry Rose – Only made from free-run juices, made from a mix of red grapes harvested from the South Mountain, delicate and light.

South Mountain Red – Easy drinking red for an afternoon or afterwork drink without food. Fresh cherry on the palate, a little astringent on the nose.

Cabernet Franc Reserve 2010 – A perfect Cab Franc. Less smokiness than others, yet good white pepperiness, the taste of black pepper can be strong. It’s cedar flavours and  long finish is rich. Certainly one of the favourites still.

Landmark Reserve 2010 – Boasting $40 a bottle, we hoped this had a lot to offer. It did. 69% Merlot, 19% Syrah 6% Cabernet Sauvignon 6% Petit Verdot. Close to a Bordeaux, but softer. Still full bodied with its oak aging. More dark fruits than the South Mountain Red.

Eisling – Almost a Riesling, but not. Not overly sweet, still contains the nice fruit flavours of a Riesling. Honeysuckle breaks through at the finish.

Veritas Vintage Port 2008 – The Port is 18% alcohol and 16% residual sugar. It was light and nice to drink without a dessert companion. Aged in barrels for 2 years.

Well, that’s all for Boordy! The drive up is beautiful, the vineyards have so much to offer and I hear they do parties in the summer each Friday or so. Try and make it up there, we don’t think vineyards in places other than California have anything to offer, but the east coast is full of them if you just know where to look.

Boordy VineyardsWine Tasting - Boordy Vineyards

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Back to Basics

ImageAfter a nice long chat with an old friend (@nmcgivney) and a new friend (@laurenceveale), I realised it’s time to get back to basics. I love wine, I started a WINE blog and it should be about wine. I made the move and thought I might have to change up the blog a bit, but honestly my passions sprung from You Had Me At Merlot and there they shall stay.

So we’re back and better than ever. I’ve a few wine labels for you that I think are pretty good and for around 6-7 euro when on sale. Oh did I mention I’m an “on sale wino” now? I think I always was, but Europe is fantastic for cheap wine. I thought I would just have to get used to giving up Trader Joe’s wine aisle, but as it turns out – every wine shop has good, inexpensive wine. I think it’s actually become a game – how low can you go?

Emotivo, Montepulciano, Italy 2010  (6 Euros)

Rare Vineyards, Malbec, Pays d’OC, 2011 (7 Euros)

Vina Albali, Tempranillo, Spain, 2011  (Should be decanted) (6 Euros)

If you can find them, try them. On this end, I’ll be doing more wine tastings, food pairings, beer tastings and overall just spending too much money on alcohol. I’m excited to say that things are going well and life is good.

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“Did You Taste the Earth?”

The instructor asked this question of us during a wine tasting education class I attended last night. Yes and no. If you mean, did I taste a little twinge of, not more than a whisper of earthiness in the wine? Then perhaps I did, but it was but dust in the wind.  You could imagine how the rest of the wine tasting progressed.  I feel as though I could have taken my amateur wine status and blown the other tasters away, sans Power Point presentation; though the visual map was a nice touch.  What do you say? What do you like your wine tastings to involve?

  1. Good wine – tasted with the instructor’s own lips, not just assumed based on point value.
  2. Good wine that goes with any type of hors d’oeuvres chosen.
  3. A few notes and knowledge about the wines.
  4. Entertainment.

Obviously these are just the basics for wine tastings that I’ve chosen.  There’s no saying as to how one specific tasting or event should go, but I think these are the most important.  The person leading the tasting should taste the wine they intend to discuss.  Maybe you’re thinking…”duh,” but there are some people that pick wines that are supposed to be good or just have a good number attached.  This doesn’t mean that they ARE good; it also dismisses any notion that a person would be able to pair hors d’oeuvres effectively.

At last night’s tasting there were 9 wines ranging from a sparkly Cava to 3 sweet raisiny port wines.  Spanning such a large range, it amazed me that they only served bread, crackers, a few different cheeses and Serrano Jamon. Yes, yes, wine and cheese are like peas in a pod, but they weren’t labeled.  They also weren’t brought up during the tasting. I only happened to try out the Mimolette (a hard yellow cheese) with a Tempranillo we were trying because I thought the flavors might go well together.  Sure enough, the cheese softened the astringent flavor of the wine and made it much easier to drink.  I also tried a piece of bread topped with goat cheese and Serrano with the Cava, another good pairing. My question, why weren’t these suggestions coming from the instructors? My answer, they probably hadn’t tasted what they were serving us. Boo.

Just like 1 and 2 go hand in hand, so do 3 and 4.  I want to emphasize a “few” notes, not an overwhelming amount of notes to novice – expert leveled wine tasters and sparing only but a minute to let us fill them out.  Not only were we led to look, smell, taste and assess in 5 minutes flat, but we had to do it on a sheet that provided the opportunity to decide between 5 different colors, 5 different aromas, 5 different taste intensities, 5 different styles, 4 different flavors with 4 sub flavor categories, even more sub categories on flavors and tastes ranging from tannin to acidic bringing even more sub categories, 4 different balance choices, 5 different finish choices and an over assessment.  Then you take ALLLLL of that and rate each section based on points to then rate the wine somewhere between 1-100 points.

PHEW! Did I just run a marathon?  I feel like I did. I’m sure I lost you somewhere around “another sub category.” I’m even lost myself, what am I talking about?  I am also an advocate of giving tasting notes after people have written down their own thoughts so as to not evoke the power of suggestion.  I’d rather someone say, I taste absolutely nothing than say, well you said it should taste like vanilla and so it does. Bleh. Taste what you think it tastes like, if you don’t you, won’t ever truly buy the wines you love.

By entertainment I just mean that other than tasting a lovely beverage, people do wine tastings to learn and be entertained.  I want a wine instructor that cares about the wine they are pouring.  I want the leader to be knowledgeable enough that you don’t have to ask questions, because during their presentation they’ve fully and explicitly told you everything you want to know.  I also want the instructor to laugh and make jokes.   If you can’t have fun with wine in a room full of old cronies (sorry Dad/ Uncle Alan) then who CAN you have fun with?

The best times during that whole wine tasting class were when my roommate and I hoped and pleaded that the oldest wine pourer on earth would be pouring our taste as it was likely she would pour 3 ounces too much.  She also instructed me to “knock it back!” when I hadn’t quite finished off the last little bit of wine; what a rock star.  My roommate referred to Port as the 11th deadly sin because she disliked it so much (must have been really bad because we skipped 8, 9 and 10).  We met the coolest woman who told us to always go for our dreams!  And finally, there was a line for the men’s bathroom, when the ladies was free and clear. In your face!  I left $20 lighter, but I didn’t frown a bit.

*From the Funny Apron Company website

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Mother’s Day – “Sangri-la”!

First of all, I’d just like to say that Mothers are great! They’re there when you need them, they’re there when you don’t; and if you’re Jewish, they’ll be there when you’re not hungry.  They are also terrific wine tasting partners, which is what my mom and I did this past Sunday.  Chatham Hill Winery, Raleigh’s Urban Winery, hosted a free wine tasting and tour for moms, when accompanied by their child.  I took the liberty of being said child so my mom could have a free day!

The winery opens at 1pm on Sundays, so as you would expect we got there at 12:50. Ready and willing we jumped at the opportunity to start tasting before the crowd arrived.  We were able to taste 10 wines in all. (3 white, 3 red, 1 rosé and 3 fruit) Chatham Hill uses two different names and labels for their wine, so you will find that all the fruit flavored wines will be titled Sweet Carolina Wines and the others will remain Chatham Hill.

The first white we tried was a Viognier.  I was talking to a girl the other day about her favorite wines and she mentioned that she loved “Vig…vion…vigo…some V word.” On that note, I thought I would now phonetically write out the tougher grape names.  You can’t go to the store and ask for that V-Word wine, people will start staring. So here we go, say it with me – Vee-own-yay! Close enough and easy to remember. Chatham Hill’s 2008 Viognier was light and delicate with heavy apricot flavors. My mom said it wasn’t her favorite, but I think that’s because she likes viogniers with less floral aromatic notes and more acidic crispness.

Next, we sampled the 2008 Chardonnay.  Fermented in stainless steel and then aged for 8 months in French oak barrels gives the wine a hint of vanilla on the palate.  A vanilla and or buttery flavor in wine is indicative of oak barrel aging.  I love the flavor, some people don’t, and it is up to you for whatever you prefer.  You can get really greedy and like them both, as I do. The aftertaste had a strong flavor of lemon lime, which is one reason I really liked this Chardonnay.

The third white, a Pinot Grigio, took the lead as our favorite white. It was explained that this Pinot Grigio was made in the French style instead of the Italian style.  Italian style Pinot Grigios are acidic and crisp without a lot of flavor from the grape or other fruits.  A French style Pinot Gris does include more fruit flavor.  The reason this wine was so good to us, was that it was so different.  The Pinot Grigio was light and delicate with lots of mango and pineapple on the palate.  The smell almost met that of a Gewurstraminer, which to me is the best smelling white of them all (like a bouquet of flowers).

We moved on to the Rosé.  Don’t you like how I figured out the accent?! Small victories people. Chatham Hill’s Rosé is made a little differently, not with your usual Grenache grape.  However, Rosé has really become a fun, dry wine to drink – not to be mistaken for a White Zinfandel.  Its taste is completely different with much less sweetness, but in this Rosé’s case, hints of strawberry and peach.  The wine’s taste was a little too astringent for me; maybe some carbonation would have helped.

We then progressed rather quickly through the reds as more and more people poured into the building.  The Rubio (just a name, not a grape) came next as a blend of Carignan (Care-ig-yawn) and Ruby Cab.  A nice mixture with rich flavors of sweet cherry, though the wine remained relatively light with a nice mouth feel.

The 2008 Cabernet Franc is one of Chatham Hill’s gold medal winners.  Cabernet Franc is one of my favorite kinds of wine because of the smoky, peppery flavor that this grape lends to its wine.  Rich in dark currant and blackberry, this Cabernet Franc has soft tannins and full flavor.  Earthiness might sound weird for a wine, but it sure does taste good and is easy to drink.

The last of Chatham Hill’s red was the 2005 Syrah, a terrific year!  The Syrah tasted of mixed berry jam. Soft blueberry and blackberry flavors arose and had a nice finish. I really enjoyed this one as well.

As I’ve written before, Chatham Hill makes really great fruit flavored wines.  These wines taste just like the fruit and aren’t clouded with too much sweetness.  The wines are blended with Chardonnay and are wonderful for Sangria.  We tried Pomegranate, Cherry and Blueberry.  I hold the Pomegranate in high regards.  When life gives you sweet wine (or you bought it for that purpose), make sangria!

Pom Sangria: (Serves 4? – Might only serve 2… or in some cases if Aunt Helen is coming, 1)
A bottle of Sweet Carolina Wine, Pomegranate
1 green apple, diced
1 blood orange quartered, squeezed and dropped in
10-15 strawberries
2 ounces of brandy (I used Courvoisier)
1 ounce of apple brandy (optional)
About 8 ounces of lemon-lime flavored sparkling water

We took a tour of the winery from the winemaker himself, Marek Wojciechowski.  He is a brilliant man and winemaker.  Of course I can’t forget about Red Light Chocolates, as I’ve now become a groupie.  Please check out this family owned and operated company, making artistically yummy chocolates out of their dining room!

With one last thing on my mind, I say: I love you mom and without you, I wouldn’t be here today. 🙂


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Wine is made in basically the same way across the board.  But you might be surprised by how many different things a wine maker can do to change the taste of each specific wine.  You say you like the flavor of oak in a Chardonnay, or the smoky, peppery flavor in a Cabernet Franc… well those flavors come from outside influences and from the grape respectively.  Sometimes it is the flavor of the grape that shines through, sometimes it is the government controlled regulations that are being followed and sometimes it is the way the wine maker has chosen to make a particular wine.  Either way vinification (wine-making process) is never as random as it seems.

There is a local winery here in Raleigh called Chatham Hill Winery.  The outside looks more like an attorney’s office, but they’ve certainly made the inside look beautiful.  When you walk in there is a huge bar and to the left many tables to sit and relax.  I like this winery because it’s small and was a great place for me to start a while back.  They give you a tasting and tour of the wine being made.  If you do have a winery near you, I definitely suggest going just to learn and see how wine is made on a small or large scale.

So the title is “random”-ification because I wanted to jump around a little bit.  Suppose I could have just grabbed a trampoline, but it wouldn’t fit in my room! There are four things in particular that I wanted to touch on with this entry: vinification, fermentation, types of tasting and the random wines I’ve tasted lately.

Vinification I’ve already touched on.  It is the process of making wine and all processes are different.  The skins can be left with the crushed grapes longer, wine can be aged in barrels or stainless steel drums, juices can be added at the end, sugars can be left unconverted and so on.  In order to understand further vinification processes, lets jump to fermentation.

A mathematical equation to remember – sugar + yeast = alcohol + CO2.  Wine is made when all the sugar has been converted to alcohol and the alcohol kills all the yeast.  This is starting to sound like a behind-the-back slasher movie in the making. (Or at least one that Daniel Craig can get behind…. Oh, I’m kidding I’m sure Aliens vs. Cowboys is going to be a stellar film.)  If you’re wondering what happens to the Carbon Dioxide, it floats up to heaven like an angel, unless you’re making a sparkling wine, then it stays and makes any kind of wine angelic.

Next in this random jumble of information there are different types of tastings.  I only mention this in case you were hoping to do a wine party of your own, where it might be fun to choose wines that work with these types (and to be able to tell your guests that).  There is horizontal tasting [tasting wines from the same vintage], vertical tasting [tasting wines from different vintages], blind tasting [tasters don’t know anything about the wine] and semi-blind tasting [the taster knows limited information about the wine].

Finally, the only way to learn more about wine is to try every different kind that you can.  I learned my whole basic knowledge of wine simply by going to so many different kinds of tastings.  How are you to pick out the flavor of a Cabernet Franc in a red blend if you’ve never had 100% Cabernet Franc?  How are you to know that German Rieslings are more acidic than American Rieslings?  How are you to know that you don’t really like a wine’s oakiness if you’ve never tasted one without oak aging?  Well the easy answer, you can’t know.  There is no way for you to know, if you haven’t tried it.  There are some jerks out there that will go to a tasting and act like they know everything, possibly making all of us feel inadequate.  The problem, they are there for the same reason, to learn more!  In the end, we all get wine – cause for a smile and another taste!

The Randos – (Random Wines I’ve tasted lately)

2007 Bonterra Vineyards, Zinfandel, Mendocino (Organic)(plum, blackberry, astringent, hint of pepper) 2 Feet.

2007 La Gramiere, Grenache/Syrah, Castillon du Gard(black pepper and clove, full-bodied, dark fruit bouquet and raisin) 2 Feet.

2007 Chateauneuf-du-Pape, B&G, Syrah/Grenache, Rhone Valley(spicy and bold with flavors of plum, smooth from beginning to end) 1 Foot.

2009 Don Miquel Gascon, Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina(dark cherry, blueberry and blackberry with a hint of mocha, lots of tannin) 2 Feet.

2007 Kavaklidere, Emir/Narince/Semillion/Sultaniye, Cankaya(similar to a Riesling with more acidity, apricot and grapefruit flavors, light in body) 2 Feet.

2006 Torbreck Barossa, The Struie, Shiraz, Australia(another fruit filled red, blackberry, raspberry, coats the tongue, smooth) 1 Foot.

2009 Cuma Organic, Torrontes, Argentina(reminiscent of Pinot Grigio with citrusy sweet flavors and a hint of grapefruit, a bright wine that opens up to mineral and herbal flavors in the aftertaste) 2 Feet.

Every time I have a glass of wine I try to choose something I’ve never heard of before.  Some of these were random purchases, others gifts and others just chosen from a wine list for the funky name.  Don’t worry; I still try to pair accordingly.

If you are new to the blog, the “feet” thing came along as a way to rate wine.  The problem with rating wine for me is that I like them all and I can usually find something good about each.  Other than it being a hilarious way to rate wine, it really isn’t a terrific indicator.  How about if I taste a really bad one, I’ll just tell you?  Ok, it’s settled.

Ps. I learned the 2005 is a wonderful vintage across the world for wines.  Anything 2005 will be good.

Next Wine Tasting opportunity:

* Great Grapes Wine Festival in Cary (4/16) – Tickets $20 – 11am – 7pm

* Grove Winery, Wine & Song Concert Series (4/15) – $Free.99 – 6pm – 930pm (Gibsonville)

* Mother’s Day (5/8) at Chatham Hills Winery in Raleigh – Free for you and your momma – 1pm – 5pm

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