Rating Wine

Is just saying, “I like this wine or I don’t like this wine a true rating system? Absolutely, if that’s how you determine whether or not you would buy another bottle of the same wine again is a bonafide rating system that’s usually infallible.

Let’s face it, wine reviews are not objective be it mine, yours, or theirs. Or anyone else’s either, unless of course you have fancy schmancy initials (remember them?). Wine reviews are the perception of the wine which makes it subjective due in part to the many distinctive palates out there. So, my 100 point rating scale is entirely different than Wine Spectator’s 100 point scale, or Mike’s Cellar Emporium (I don’t really have a basement, but I keep the house like a wine cooler rating scale), or Cousin Carl’s Schnozzola Sanctararium’s 1-5 point rating scale based on smoked bacon, or Jacuzzi Jack’s Persnickety Palate to discern the “green apple”, or Gumshoe Guido’s Garage Grapevine “is this really a grapevine growing on the garage?”, or Sparing Sharon’s “can I get 2 bottles for $12?”, or Susie Q’s Silver Saloon’s “goodness, I love this label!”, or for that matter, my wife’s “I like it” or “I don’t like it” rating scale. But they all fall into the same basic category – the “it works for me” category.

However, some of us attempt to become a bit more scientific, or a bit more sophisticated, or a bit more technical, or a bit more refined, or you’re just a plain “ol wine snob. In the past I have rated wine with price being a specific criteria to the eventual outcome of the wine’s rating. I have come to realize this is not entirely fair to the quality of a wine. So, I’ve decided to just rate the wine based on it’s merit but I will add the value of the wine based on the cost which I will call “cork value”. Yeah, I know it will take awhile to get used to, including myself. Anyway, here goes…

The revised 100-point rating scale

95-100     Oh yeah, I stumbled on a good one. Darn I knew I should’ve bought more              but by the time I tried this and went back to the wine merchant, they didn’t have any left and they couldn’t reorder. You don’t find these everyday.

90-94      A really great wine, why can’t I open these everyday. This is like going to         wine heaven with your entire inventory and they have a climate controlled room with your name on it.

85-89      A really good wine. You wouldn’t mind opening these every day either. This is the kind of wine that your friends enjoy when they come over and they hope you open one up.

80-84      A good everyday table wine to have with whatever meal you have cooked or for a good wine to sit by the fireside with a good book.

70-79      A so-so wine, drinkable and worthy of second chances if you have any         doubts, but given my druthers…

<70        Not a chance, dump it down the drain, don’t donate it (they’ll know where it         came from), don’t buy another bottle (if you happened to buy two, bring one back and make up any excuse to get your money back), if that doesn’t work don’t cook with it either. If all else fails, refer to my first comment – dump it down the drain.

The new “cork value” rating system

5 Corks    A great buy. Keep plenty in stock and hope it ages really well.

4 Corks    A good value. Yeah, you might want to buy a case of it.

3 Corks    An average buy. You’re getting exactly what you paid for. Buy as the moment hits you.

2 Corks    Below average. It depends on your wine inventory. Just because it’s below         average doesn’t mean it isn’t good wine. If you’re a wine collector this doesn’t really matter (you’re in a different league). But if you’re just an average wine drinker (like me) the higher the cork value the happier I am.

1 Cork      Way below average. Don’t waste your money when there is so much wine to choose from. Again, just because this is a low cork value doesn’t mean this isn’t a good wine, I would just prefer a better value for the wine I purchase.

Well, there you have it, here are some wines to ponder while you’re trying to figure out the revised and new ratings.

Chateau Ste Michelle 2003 Columbia Valley Semillon. Melon aroma (the label also indicated sweet red peppers but I couldn’t get the ‘ol schnozzola to pick up on this – can you?). Tangerine, Mandarin orange, and nectarine flavors with an orchid finish (isn’t this a flower you can actually eat?). $7.99 86 rating, 4 1/2 corks. Definitely a good buy. I had this with Cajun scallops, cross trax fries (they look like a potato chip with criss-cross lattice work) and green beans (yes, fresh ones). The Semillon wine is underutilized and doesn’t get the notoriety of the Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs and I for one need to drink more of this varietal.

Evodia 2009 Old Vines Garnacha Calatayud Red Wine. This wine was decanted for about an hour before tasting it and red raspberry, boysenberry, and clove aromas immediately dominated the nose. On the palate, blackberries and clove flavors preceded a smooth blackberry finish. I had this as a stand-alone wine and it was exceptional. $9.99, 86 rating, 4 1/2 corks.

Harthill Farms NV California Merlot. Cherry, cherry, and cherry aromas with a hint of boysenberry. Cherry, cherry, and cherry flavors with a hint of clove on the palate. This is a “drink now” wine as I’m not sure if I want to cellar this other than to drink it within the year I bought it. However, I gave it an 81 rating and it only costs $4.00, and of course it deserves a value of 5 corks. I paired this with a Portobello mushroom burger, American cheese, and salt & vinegar chips. I could not find a picture of their Merlot but did find one with their Cabernet Sauvignon just to give you an idea of what the label looks like.

Quail Creek 2008 California Shiraz. This wine opened with red raspberry, tart strawberry, and leather aromas. On the palate I found cherry hard candy and pepper flavors. This is a very decent wine that did not need decanting and didn’t taste much different the night after I opened it. $5.00, 83 rating with 5 corks as a way to ease the pocket book or wallet. I was quite impressed with this as a stand-alone wine but would not hesitate to have this with anything off the grill.


Vacation Planning Begins

Ah, this is the time of the year that we can’t wait for winter to shut down and spring to open up and we begin to make vacation plans to somewhere. It’s been one heck of a winter so far with all the snow that we’ve received. And cold too, what’s up with that? (Can you tell that I just read an article on ‘Global Warming’). I’m certainly glad that we had someone with a plow dig us out after each snow storm we had and we’ve had some doozies.

There are many memorable vacations that we have taken and I would like to share the following one with you. This was a chance of a lifetime as my daughter was going to Ireland to study soils. Well she asked if we’d like to join her after her classes were over and we decided ‘why not’ and started making all our travel plans. So, we decided to visit four countries in a three and a half week trip. Let me tell you that is a lot of traveling in a short time.

Well, we figured staying in local bed & breakfasts would be the sensible, if not cheapest lodging other than a hostel which we weren’t keen on so it was B&B’s except for France where we decided on a self-catering apartment which as it turned out to be a pretty good choice.

Anyway our first ever trip to Europe started with a limousine ride to Logan Airport in Boston to head for Dublin, Ireland. It was a red-eye flight that leaves late in the night and gets you to your destination in the early morn‘ (ya gotta say this with an Irish accent). Once you adjusted to the jet lag which hit instantly upon landing there were so many sites to see you don’t know which ones to do first. We opted to see the “Ha Penny Bridge which used to cost a half penny to cross, however it is such a tourist attraction that it is free to cross both ways. We took a double decker bus (yes, we sat in the very top in the front row but it was damp and cold even for the summer. We traveled down a wide street where each door to the residents‘ home were all painted a different color. Of course the proverbial question arose as to why they did this. The answer was simple as the tour guide told a story of when one of the young husbands came home from the local pub after too many pints he wandered into the wrong door and went to bed with someone other than his own wife and as a result the wives had the doors painted different colors so their man would know which house was theirs. Apparently it solved the problem of husbands going into the wrong doors.

We also visited a castle which was real neat. Then we went to the the night club district and visited the coveted Temple Bar (other than visiting your favorite winery, going to a pub in Ireland is one of the best things in the world to do). It seems that any pub you may visit in Ireland there is always a table or booth or a corner of the pub you know that you should not sit at. Well, once you’ve staked out your favorite bar stool a musician will show up and sit where you knew you shouldn’t and then another musician shows, then another…well you get the picture. I got the impression the Irish did not go to the pubs to drink per se, but rather to socialize. And it was wonderful. It seems that everyone was enjoying the moment.

A short plane ride to France yielded a more subdued crowd that didn’t outwardly show the gaiety the Irish were famous for. However, Paris is the home to so many museums, where do I start. The most famous being the Louvre. My biggest thrill was seeing the Mona Lisa and of course the French wine. I got to see the Eiffel Tower both in the day and the night time. Both were exceptional sights to see. One note when you make reservations for a foreign country you’ve never been to is you really do not know what neighborhood you getting yourself into. The taxi driver that took us from the airport to the apartment warned the three ladies with me (my wife, daughter and her classmate) were not to venture out in the evening alone. He did say however that it was okay for me to travel alone. It was the shopping district of Paris. Great for the daytime activities but I guess it gets a bit risque in the evening. I had the pleasure of visiting the same croissant store each day and I was able to speak enough French to order breakfast for everyone and when I reached a certain point in the French language one person would start speaking English. I would like to visit Paris again.

Next was a overnight train ride from Paris to Florence, Italy. Not a good trip and that’s all I’ll say. Florence is a very beautiful city with their open air markets. You do not need a car in Florence as everything is in walking distance. Seeing as I was so close to Pisa I had to visit it. I rented an Alfa Romeo and it was the sweetest car I’ve ever drove. It’s very difficult to get an automatic in Europe so I was thrilled when I got to drive this beautiful car at enormous speeds on the Italian highways. Anyway there were signs all the way from Florence to Pisa stating that the museum was a certain exit. I reached the exit easy enough but there were so many roads that none of them seemed to be the one to the Leaning Tower I so yearned to see. 1 hour and 45 minutes later after still failing to find my destination the Leaning Tower has turned into the Tower of Terror. I was so frustrated (not being able to read Italian street signs) I finally decided to cut my losses and head back home. I turned down this side street and saw a sign directing me back to the highway and what do I see on my left reaching into the afternoon sun? Yeah, the friggin‘ Leaning Tower of Pisa. So I had to stop and take pictures, etc. and do the tourist thing. After fifteen minutes I headed back to the Alfa Romeo to head back to Florence. Go figure, but it took me another 90 minutes to find the highway. The next day we visited Tuscany winding through the hills in a sweet Alfa Romeo. If you’ve seen “Under The Tuscan Sun” you’ll get the picture. The next day we visited Rome. I loved old Rome but not new Rome. New Rome was not a good experience (will discuss in comments section when appropriate).

Next an all day train ride to Interlaken, Switzerland (of which we just made the last train to where we were going) where you can see the most beautiful jade green colored rivers was the beginning of a new tourist adventure. Awesome comes to mind when trying to describe this scene. And yes, we took the cog railroad to the top of the Swiss Alps. A gorgeous site to see although a bit slim on breathable air. In the B&B’s where we stayed the hosts made fresh yogurt each morning with all the fixins’. Only spent two days here and we wish we had more time than this. Another trip perhaps??

Next up was a train ride back to spend the evening in Paris before heading to Dublin where we headed for the Ring of Kerry to explore the Irish countryside. When you decide to visit Ireland make sure you visit Doolin, County Clare and stop in the pub for a pint. Oh, and a must see are the Cliffs of Moher, preferably before you go in for that pint of beer.

No matter what kind of vacation you’re inclined to embark on, make sure you make the most of it and enjoy the simpler things in life, like laughter – it does wonders for the soul.

Here are a couple of wines for you to take on vacation:

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2007 Ethos Columbia Valley Reserve Merlot. Blackberry, cassis, and oaky aromas roused the senses to precede boysenberry, plum, and raisin flavors. This wine ended with a tart cherry finish. $32.00, 90 rating. We paired this with roast turkey, rosemary baked potatoes, and leftover vegetables.

Wrongo Dongo 2009 Monastrell. This Spanish wine opened with red cherry cough drop aroma with a hint of tobacco and earthy notes. Cherry, blueberry, and spice flavors led into a surprisingly minty mocha finish was very pleasing. $7.99, 85 rating. We paired this with linguine with meatballs and Italian sausage.

Clean Slate 2009 Riesling. This German wine opens with a peach aroma with a hint of spice on the nose. The palate experiences the same peach flavor but with a hint of lime leading into a silky smooth mineral finish. $9.99, 86 rating. Serve this with spicy Pad Thai or with appetizers like shrimp cocktail, stuffed clams, or oysters on the half shell.

Here’s to good wine, good food, and good friends…


The 14th of February

Most of you know what today is and unless you live under a rock – Happy Valentine’s Day to all. Hope any plans you have for the evening are all you expected. But the real reason I’m sending this off isn’t about Valentine’s Day but about things you are passionate about. And those of you that really know me know that I love wine. I love to read about wine, talk about wine, smell wine, drink wine, visit wineries to drink and smell their wines, just about anything to do with wine is what I love to do.

Anyway, I’ve babbled enough and I want to let you know of a few other wine blogs I have come across that may whet your appetite for the delectable grape. They’re not professional but they could be.

The first one is called Pull That Cork where you can get wine reviews that are distinct and from the heart. You can even put in your “two cents” worth with your own comments. Based in California where there are a plethora of vineyards to choose from you receive great reviews on wines, some of which I haven’t even tried yet. Nancy & Peter make  “views on wine more fun”.

Next, is Swirl, Sip, Snark. This site gives you a no-holds barred review of Virginia wines where they give good and bad reviews of wines they taste. They profess that their site is “sort of a cross between a serious wine blog and a vaudeville act” and they live up to it.

And the last one I like is Wine Peeps. This wine blog is comprehensive and their passion focuses on Washington State wines. This site has a wealth of information. I check there often to see if I’ve missed anything.

If you’re on the Wit Is Out homepage you can access these wine blogs on the “Wit” Links. Don’t forget to subscribe to them as they’re really good. Have a great Valentine’s Day.

Oh, I almost forgot. Let’s review a couple of wines for this evening’s festivities.

Cline Cellars 2008 Los Carneros Viognier. Peach and apricot aromas with a hint of honey immediately hit the nose. Apricot, apricot, and apricot on the palate. Either my palate was “off” or this was all I got. $19.99, 84 rating. Had this with a spicy hot vegetarian chili that my wife made (actually I added a bunch – remember my definition of bunch? of hot sauce to the chili) and it was pretty good.

St Francis 2006 Behler Sonoma County Merlot. Black cherry, clove, tar, and bacon aromas with black currant and mocha flavors hit the palate with a hint of blueberry and boysenberry. Had this as a stand-alone wine. $22, 88 rating.


Across The River

I grew up in a town on the Connecticut River and had some relatives “across the river” to whom we would visit often. One thing nice about having relatives live so close by is that you get to see them a lot. Which in this situation was great because my aunt was famous for saying what was on her mind like “relatives are just like fish, after three days, they stink”. Of course my aunt was a no holds barred type of Italian that would speak her mind no matter who was around, no matter the situation, no matter who got embarrassed. But we all knew that was her demeanor and we loved her for it.

Well, one weekend the parents went away for a visit somewhere and my brother and I were shipped “across the river” to visit with my aunt and uncle and our cousins but that wasn’t a bad thing because at least my cousin was only a couple of years older than me and we got along pretty well. Well, the morning after our arrival we were sitting down at the breakfast table and our aunt was making toast for all of us. I don’t know how my aunt did it but she was able to bring a plate full of toast for the hungry monsters anxiously awaiting for the slightly browned bread without missing a beat.

Of course my aunt was good at making it look like there was more toast on the plate than there actually was by slicing the toast in half and was piled at least ten inches high and we would gobble the toast and dunk it into our coffee/milk mixture quicker than a lightening flash. Anyway, my brother is six years younger than me and eight years younger than my cousin (there was another older cousin who was like ancient because she was in her teen years and we just didn’t understand what the fuss was about). Well, every time my aunt brought a new plate of the delectable toasted nourishment my brother managed to finagle half the prized toast and my cousin and I were left with the other half which we collaboratively shared equally. Seeing as with each plate of toast my brother’s stash was growing larger my cousin and I were starting to develop a plan independent of each other but I’m sure supernatural forces were involved to prove otherwise.

You remember that I mentioned that my aunt sliced the toast in half when she brought it to the table, well the next time a plate arrived my cousin and I both grabbed a pile of toast which left nothing for my brother (mind you he already had a stash greater than the plate of toast that just arrived) which prompted him to cry the blues. I can’t remember whether my aunt and uncle tried to be diplomatic with my brother or my cousin and I got yelled at, but every time I make toast I think of this. Memories, it is what makes us who we are, enjoy and cherish them.

Well, let’s try some wines, shall we?

Apothic Red 2008 Winemaker’s Blend. This blend of Syrah, Zinfandel, and Merlot grapes are crafted to bring us red raspberry, cherry, and hints of vanilla on the nose. I used to make a strawberry rhubarb jam when I canned foods, well this wine tastes just like that strawberry rhubarb jam and to top it off it had a mocha finish. $9.99, 90 rating. Pair this with a turkey pot pie with all the vegetable staples or a Shepherds’ pie.

Riondo NV Prosecco. This sparkling wine opened with floral notes, orchard fruit tones, graham cracker and a hint of vanilla on the nose – a really nice combination. Sweet lemongrass, honeysuckle, and pear flavors followed and ended with an elegant, delicate finish. I’m really surprised with this Prosecco which in my mind would give some of the best champagne a run for the money. $10.00, 91 rating. Buy a couple of bottles and let your next party be filled with wonderment from your guests on how much you spent buying them champagne. Pair this with anything you’d like. It will go well as an
aperitif, a wedding toast (not to be confused with sliced toast:), an evening on the beach (yeah, I know it’s winter), appetizers for the super bowl, for a quaint evening on the back porch with smoked salmon and crackers (yes, when it gets warmer), or for any special occasion. You won’t be disappointed. I think I’ll pick up a few bottles although I wouldn’t recommend keeping them for more than a year.

Bohemian Highway 2008 California Merlot. This wine opened with fruity notes with mulberry aromas and a hint of cherry. Black cherry, black raspberry, and pepper flavors were dominant with a fairly smooth cherry finish. A lot of cherry in this wine. Not a bad wine for a stand alone. $5.99, 78 rating. Probably would go well with a naked dog or one more complex – the dog, not the wine!

Here’s to good wine, good food, and good friends…


Aunt Millie’s Spaghetti Cake

There was once a woman that really only cared for others and never thought of just her own needs. One that you could confide in, go to the movies with, out to lunch with, go shopping with, or just drop in at 2:30 am in the morning and she would fix a cup of tea without any complaints. One that enjoyed the simple things in life. We all have an aunt like this, mine was Aunt Millie and she made the most wonderful spaghetti cake – spaghetti what? Yeah, a spaghetti cake. I’m not sure of the measurable ingredients but I know it had cheese, eggs, other herbs like pepper and salt, and of course, spaghetti. Not just any pasta will do but your regular spaghetti, not thin spaghetti, not fettuccine, not linguine, not rotini, not ziti, not elbows or bowties (farfalle), not fusilli nor rigatoni, not vermicelli, not cartwheels or shells, not gnocchi or tortellini. Nor can you use ravioli or cannelloni or capellini or cavatappi or rotelle or raditore or mostaccioli. Not acini pepe, strozzapreti, tagliatelle, not even penne and never lasagna. You must only use regular spaghetti, trust me on this.

If you’ve never had spaghetti cake you have not lived. Eaten hot or cold it is the staple of many Italian families and so easy to make. Although mine is never as good as the ones Aunt Millie made. You start with regular spaghetti and cook to what it tells you on the box. Then crack a couple of eggs into a bowl, add pepper and salt to taste (these are the only herbs my aunt used that I know of), and here’s the secret ingredient – cheese. I’ve seen my aunt use romano, parmesan, and pecorino. If she used others I didn’t know but I guess a little experimentation wouldn’t hurt. Once the spaghetti is cooked toss with the cheese and egg mixture to coat the spaghetti and fry in a large saute pan lightly sprayed with olive oil and cook till bottom is a golden brown. Now here comes the tricky part – you need to flip the spaghetti cake onto the other side and repeat the cooking process. When done enjoy a slice with a glass of wine.

Let’s get to some wine reviews.

Red Bicyclette 2008 Merlot. This French diamond in the rough wine exhibited vanilla, spice, black cherry, and cherry aromas. Blackberries, cherries, and black currants dominated the flavors. Bottled by Sica les Caves du Sieur D’Argues. $8.99, 87 rating. The French wine industry is really making an effort to compete with Californian, Argentinian, Chilean, Australian, Spanish, and South African wines that are very good and moderately priced. By the way, pair this with spaghetti and meatballs with arrabiata (spicy) sauce as well as the spaghetti cake.

Jacuzzi 2009 Paicines Arneis. You will find citrus notes yielding to orange peel and lime flavors. Serve chilled, $22, 84 rating. This will go well with the above recipe. However, I paired this with shrimp and angel hair pasta with artichoke pesto and with shrimp and penne with cilantro garlic pepper pesto. Don’t know what was better, the food or the wine, you decide.

Cline Cellars 2008 Mouvedre Rose. Floral notes on the nose, with mango, and white grape aromas too. Pomegranate and plum flavors with a smooth fruity finish. $9.00, 90 rating. Pair this with lemon-pepper haddock or a baked/grilled tuna steak with sauteed onions, green beans, and cheese risotto.

Here’s to good wine, good food, and good friends…


The Fellowship

After a hard day at work (yeah, right) a bunch of us wine enthusiasts decided to gather for good wine, good food, and good friendship. It seemed the right thing to do after all. What with spending 8 hours in a conference room with a dozen or so people can get pretty intense and you have to let out some steam somewhere. One of our wine enthusiasts invites us over for dinner periodically for conversation, wine, food, and a few laughs, okay a whole bunch of laughs. The host prepares the food which is something you would find at a restaurant and sometimes forget that you’re not in a restaurant as the food is great. We all bring wine for each of us to discover. I’ve been to a couple of these gatherings and I don’t think I’ve had a duplicate bottle of wine yet. This is a really good thing as we all get to try a variety of wine which I love to do so I learn more than I think I already know.

Anyway we had a bunch of wine of which most of us can’t remember but I do remember a couple of bottles that we had. Now, the 1970 edition of the Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language defines bunch as:

1. a cluster of things growing together: as, a bunch of grapes. (now they’re onto something).

2. a collection of things of the same kind fastened, grouped, or thought of together: as, a bunch of keys (now if they had said a bunch of wine bottles they’d be on the right track).

3. a group (of people) to form or collect into a bunch or bunches (now if they had said a bunch of wine drinkers, wine lovers, or winos they’d be scaring me, but they didn’t so we have nothing to worry about).

So, my definition of bunch is: more than a 1/2 dozen but less than a gross which gives you an idea of how many bottles of wine we tried. So, with out further ado, regretfully I can only remember three of the wines we sampled that evening. A Camille Cayran 2008 Secret de Campane which was mentioned in an earlier post. A Jacuzzi 2009 Moscato Bianco (which was discussed in a private special edition of the Witless Whiner) and a Blackstone 2009 (I think) Merlot.

The Blackstone Merlot was actually a blend of Merlot – 86%, Syrah – 10%, Cabernet Sauvignon – 3%, and a Zinfandel – 1%. Fruity aromas finds its way to the nose then bing cherry and clove rests on the palate leading to a smooth velvety finish. Not sure of the price but I gave this an 85 rating. Not sure if we opened this for the meal or not but this is a good time to mention what food we paired with the bunch of wines we had. The meal consisted of roast pork with mashed potatoes (couldn’t tell if these were the starch staple of the meal or it was the dessert – yeah, it was that good), and an apple/butternut squash that was utterly delectable.

The Jacuzzi 2009 Moscato Bianco found pear, green apple (only one of us found this and then we all agreed it was green apple, thus one of our wine enthusiasts was dubbed with fancy schmancy initials), melon, and citrus notes on the nose. Bartlett pear and cantaloupe found the palate with a citrus finish. $19.00, 88 rating. Some of us paired this with an Italian Cannoli. I don’t know which was better – the wine or the cannoli. Try the combination and let us know which is better.

Camille Cayran 2008 Secret de Campane.

Here’s to good wine, good food, and good friends….