Wine Blogger

Blind tasting Wine | Almost as Delicious as Humble Pie

Sometimes we all need a thick slice of humble pie to chew on. If you find yourself routinely puffing your chest out or staring for long periods in the mirror at your handsome reflection, I suggest a blind tasting.

wine tasting at FnB Scottsdale

Lots of wines, no labels

Not only are they grounding, but blind tastings are also a great way to test your “wine chops”.  A while back, I attended a blind tasting at a local wine bar.   There were 4 wines, 2 whites and 2 reds.  We did not know the varietals or where they came from– known as a “Double Blind” tasting. We were given only one clue: The wines were single varietals, not blends.

When blind tasting, every part of the wine tasting process needs to be intricately analyzed. Is the wine pale in color, like water? Or is it a deep, honey golden color? When it’s swirled, how viscous does it appear – thin and watery, or cloying and thick? Are the aromas more earthy and woody, or sweet and fruity? When tasting, is the wine heavy with mouth drying tannins or more light and silky? Each identifiable characteristic will act like a piece to a puzzle, helping you more accurately label a wine a certain way.
To make it even more interesting, the wine bar was offering a $25 gift certificate to anyone who could guess all 4 wines correctly.  After all the eager contestants had arrived, we got down to business.
weekly wine journal wine blogThe first white wine was placed before us like a microorganism beneath a microscope. Guests put their noses in the glasses, taking notes, swirling and gazing into the distance searching for analogies. This was repeated several times, as gazes turned to puzzled, contorted facial expressions.
I found the first wine tasted like lemon Theraflu – not exactly appealing. The second white wine was marginally better with a sort of buttery chardonnay mixed with grassy Sauvignon Blanc taste, a somewhat confusing flavor profile for me.  Halfway through the competition and my confidence had already taken a harder beating than BP Oil.
weekly wine journal wine blogNext came the reds. The first red wine had me completely stumped.  It was unlike any red wine I had ever tasted before, and not in an amazingly good way either.  I found it to be one of the single worst tasting wines I have ever tasted and I couldn’t finish it.  The other guests finished theirs, and the girl next to me remarked that she really like it. I thought to myself, “if you like flavors of nail polish and forest fire with a muddy dirty mouth feel and very little in the way of fruit, this is right up your alley.”
The second red wine I liked a lot more; smooth, with decent fruit, light acidity and tannins. My mind went straight to Merlot. Without a doubt, no questions asked.
It turned out to be a Cabernet.  Then the moment we had all been waiting for – the results. While the $25 gift certificate would be nice, it was our pride that we were all hoping to walk away with.
The first white: Pinot Grigio. I could have sworn it was blended with Theraflu.
The second white: a Sauvignon Blanc – I was almost there!
The third of our flight turned out to be a Zinfandel (a poor excuse for Zinfandel, if you ask me).
And finally, the fourth and final wine… a Cabernet Sauvignon. I would have bet good money it had been a Merlot. Maybe they had poured me the wrong stuff?
We looked around the room to find that a few had 3 out of the 4 pegged correctly, but nobody got them all right. No cash prizes, but there were plenty of defeated wine aficionados.
Blind tasting is a learning experience to say the least. Analyzing wine without knowing the brand, varietal, or price point really puts your palate to the test and is the single most honest way to evaluate a wine.  It’s an interesting and fun way to add mystery and intrigue to a wine tasting or wine party, especially if you venture out of the more well known grape, wine regions and flavor profiles.
Have you ever put your palate to the test in a blind setting?  If so, what were the results? Were you pleasantly surprised with your wine wherewithal? Or did you leave with a bruised palate ego?
Edited by Jon Troutman

New President of the Arizona Wine Grower’s Association | Peggy Fiandaca

Here is a quick 5 minute video with Peggy Fiandaca, the new President of the Arizona Wine Grower’s Association (2011).  Peggy brings many unique and valuable skill sets to the table and in this interview she explains a few of them.

Lawrence Dunham Vineyards WEBSITE

Partners for Strategic Action WEBSITE

Interview | Curt Dunham | Lawrence Dunham Vineyards

I took a little tour of Curt Dunham’s personal wine cellar at his home in Fountain Hills, Arizona.

Lawrence Dunham Vineyards WEBSITE

Affordable California Cult Wines | Venge Vineyards

“California Cult Wines” usually connote images of big wigs spending massive amounts of money, bidding on wines at auction. I was lucky enough to attend a tasting that made me rethink the definition of Cult Wine. This is the second installment of a five part series, where I profile wineries making small amounts of incredible quality wines, at very reasonable prices.

Venge Vineyards was founded in 1992 by Nils Venge, who is known as “The King of Cabernet”.  After graduating UC Davis with a Bachelor of Science in Grape Vine Viticulture, Nils took a job at well known Sterling Vineyards. In 1971 he was hired by Villa Mount Eden as their first wine maker.  While there he made the 1974 and 1978 vintages of Cabernet which put Villa Mount Eden on the map. While at Villa Mount Eden, Nils and his father in law bought a 17 acre Cabernet Vineyard right in the heart of Oakville.  The vineyard supplied Villa Mount Eden with its grapes and is now surrounded by other big names such as Silver Oak, Opus One and Groth.  In 1982 Nils Venge became a minority partner with Dennis Groth, and helped form Groth Vineyard.  His skills as a wine maker became well known while he was at Groth, and in 1985 the Cabernet Sauvignon received a 100 point rating from Robert Parker, making it the first Californian wine to receive 100 points. In 1992, Nils took his amazing track record and formed his namesake vineyard, Venge Vineyards.
In 2008 Venge moved operations to the newly acquired Rossini Ranch, a 12 acre cabernet ranch.  Over the years Venge Vineyards has consistently attained amazing ratings.  Check the last 3 vintages of the Family Reserve Cabernet for example:
2005: 94 points, Wine Enthusiast,
2006: 95 points, Robert Parker
2007: 95-98 points Robert Parker.
Only 150 six-bottle cases of the 2007 vintage were produced and at $125 it would seem like a good investment. Not everyone can afford to drop 100+ dollars on a bottle of wine, and luckily Venge produces much more affordable, Cult-quality wines. These are some labels to look out for.
2009 Venge, Champs de Fleur Proprietary White:
The name comes from the French term “field of flowers”, which is what the aromatics of this wine are like.  There are slight lemon grass accents and solid tropical fruit flavors on the palate.  A little bit of passion fruit and lemon drop in the mix, and you’re in for a treat.
The blend is 55% Sauvignon Blanc, 34% Chardonnay, and 11% Viognier, with the alcohol weighing in at 14.5%. This wine was whole cluster pressed and each varietal was fermented in separate stainless steel tanks before being moved to neutral French oak for 8 months. 25% of the wine underwent Malolactic fermentation which adds a nice softness to the finish. With only 675 cases produced and retail price of $25 a bottle, this certainly constitutes as a California Cult wine.
The second extremely good value Venge has to offer is called “Scout’s Honor’ named after Nils’ his dog.  Robert Parker raves about this wine calling it a “superb value” and states that the 2007 vintage is the best yet, awarding it 92 points. The 2008 vintage is currently in pre-release and you can only buy 2 bottles at a time from the website. Again, if this isn’t cult wine, I don’t know what is.
The 2008 Scout’s Honor blend is 66% Zinfandel, 15% Petite Sirah, 15% Charbono, and 4% Syrah. Charbono is not common in California, however it is the 2nd most popular varietal in Argentina where it is called Bonarda.  It was aged for 16 months in 60% new American Oak from Missouri. The alcohol is a knock you on your butt 15.2% – wow!  The beauty of this wine is that there is absolutely no heat present; the alcohol is very well integrated. The nose is full of red cherry and licorice while the palate is rich and very ripe with peppery accents. There is also a bit of minerality from the Charbono; very interesting, complex with a nice long finish.  Just over 1,000 cases were produced, and it’s priced at $38 on the Venge website. Thankfully, my favorite local wine merchant has it for $23.99!  If you like the more ripe, Lodi style of Zinfandel but want something with more complexity, you will definitely want to get your hands on a case of this wine.
Stay tuned for three more names to watch for, producing Cult-like quality at prices that won’t break the bank.

Morton’s and the Mondavi families, celebrating the legendary blend

This past Thursday, October 7th I was invited to a very special event 27 liter bottle of wineheld at Morton’s the steakhouse in Scottsdale, Arizona to raise money for the Make a Wish Foundation. But the event was much bigger than just the Scottsdale location.  The main event was actually held at the  Charles Krug Winery Carriage House in St. Helena, Napa Valley and was broadcast live in high definition to more than 50 Morton’s Steakhouses across the country.  3 generations of the Mondavi family were on hand including Michael, Marcia, Timothy, Marc, Peter Jr. and 96 year old Peter Sr.  The highlight of the evening was the wonderful speech that Peter Sr. gave.  He had a lot to say, but who wouldn’t given the enormous amount of experience.  He touched on many of the key points that us wine nerds have been talking about lately including the recent trend to higher alcohol.  He also talked about harvesting at night and cold fermentation back in 1937.  Peter Sr. still goes to work everyday and I was told that he drives to work every day in his ’86 El Dorado!  The big buzz pertaining to wine that evening was the unveiling of a 27 liter one-of-a-kind blend put together by the 2nd and 3rd generations of the Mondavi family.  Known as the legendary Primat, Siamo Insieme, “We are together”.  The wine is currently being auctioned by the Hart Davis Hart Wine Company through October 30th and is expected to fetch between $10,000 to $20,000 with  100% of the proceeds going to the Make a Wish Foundation.

There are a couple of  interesting features to a bottle of this size.  One is that the empty bottle itself is worth about $1,500.  Secondly,  due to the size this bottle will easily age for a minimum 25 years.  The enormous size means the wine is not as susceptible to temperature fluctuations or oxidation.  A lot of people are probably wondering how do you pour wine from a 125lb 3 foot tall bottle?  Well first you open it was a standard cork screw and then you can either use a custom pouring device designed by Peter Mondavi Jr. or you can use a siphon.

In addition to the legendary blend guests at each location were able to bid on a very special 3-pack of wine in a custom made wood carrying case, including Continuum, M by Michael Mondavi and Charles Krug Vintage Select Cabernet.

The evening started out with a



Morton's main dining room


reception in the main room featuring smoked salmon pizza, tenderloin crostinis and miniature crabcakes paired with Charles Krug 2009 sauvignon blanc from Napa Valley.  This wine is actually harvested at 3 different times to help bring out the different components.  Predominantly tropical fruit, pineapple pear and peach, this wine is quite well suited to being first to taste.  It retails for about $18 a bottle.

After the reception we were ushered into a private dinning room complete with a huge screen to view the festivities live from the winery.  The room had mahogany walls and reminded me of a cigar club.

The first course was an amazing salad consisting of Harvest greens, topped with Sea Bass and a roasted caper vinaigrette and paired with Isabel Mondavi’s 2008 Chardonnay from Carneros, Sonoma.  This Chardonnay comes in a Bordeaux style bottle which was the first indication of something different.  80% of this wine was barrel fermented in french oak and the remainder saw stainless steel fermentation, however this Chard is very light on the oak.  It retails for about $18 a bottle which I found to be quite amazing because of the tiny production, the 2007 vintage is only 400 cases!

Next up was the main course.


My kind of dinner!


For our main course, 3 glasses of wine were pre-poured and paired with a massive New York strip sirloin, baked sweet onions with Gruyère cheese, roasted tomato stuffed with leaf spinach and roasted Yukon gold potatoes.

The first wine was Continuum 2007 Napa valley.  This wine was stunning, it completely blew me away.  The ’07 Continuum is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc and 18 % Petit Verdot.  Silky and smooth with Cherry and Currant and a hint of Anise.  This wine was rated 97 points by Wine Spectator and retails for $140.

The next wine was M, 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Animo Vineyard, Napa Valley.This wine was very different from the first.  Quite young and intense, with an amazing explosion of chewy tannins and plummy fruit.  I enjoy young wines, but some people do not.  This wine could use a few more years of cellaring if you find big and bold too much for your palate.  For me it was just perfect.  Only 900 cases were made and the wine retails for about $175 a bottle.

The 3rd wine was Charles Krug 2006 Vintage Selection Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa.  This wine was the most approachable at this point in time.  The fruit was ripe and the tannins soft, predominately ripe cherry and plum.  A little over 1,800 cases of this wine were made, and it retails for about $70 a bottle.

For dessert we were served Cappuccino cream.  A nice big cup of thick mouse like cappuccino topped with an ample amount of whipped cream and dark chocolate shavings.  This was paired with Charles Krug Zinfandel Port, Lot XIII from Napa Valley. Only 700 cases of the 375ml bottles were made, so this was quite a nice little rarity.  This is a very nice port, rich smooth, very little in the way of alcoholic heat even thought the alcohol weighs in at around 18%.  Delicious, but take small sips, it is potent!

Throughout the evening we watched pre-recorded as well as live interviews with the members of the Mondavi family and were treated to some wonderful musical performances.  There was a segment on the making of the 27 liter bottle of wine where the 2nd and 3rd generations of the Mondavi family were sitting in the wine cellar sipping sniffing and taking notes and discussing the blend.

Meanwhile back in Scottsdale, the guests were well taken care of by the attentive staff at Morton’s.  Unfortunately, the evening seemed to end too soon, but it was already 8pm and it was a Thursday night.  Although I very nearly convinced some of the other guests to make an all-nighter out of it.  Maybe next time.

Featured Wine Personality: Wannabe Wino, @Sonadora

Megan hard at work

Name:  Megan

Blog:  Wannabe Wino

Twitter name:  @sonadora

Blog Ranking: #25  See the list of top 100 wine blogs here

Weekly Wine Journal (Tim):  So I haven’t been blogging for very long, got a lot to learn…I have been following you on twitter since I first signed up.  I was thinking of things to blog about and then (suddenly) the thought occurred to me: The Wannabe Wino and Sonadora!  You recently won an award for your wine blogging…

Wannabe Wino (Megan): I recently won an award? That’s news to me!

Tim: You won a Gold Star!

Megan: Oh, haha. Yea, I gave myself a gold star for posting 365 days in a row, not sure that counts! Lol.

Tim: How many days in a row have you posted on your blog?

Megan: Actually, not very many days now, I was unable to connect in Portugal so I missed a day! Before that I had blogged over 365 days in a row.

Tim:  So you have been blogging for a long time now, but how long did it take before the free stuff started rolling in?

Megan: 2 years but I think that also had to do with people not “getting” blogging at the beginning.   I see it happening faster now for newer bloggers than it did back in the past.  Around fall of 2008 is when the sample thing started for most of us.  However, I never expected to get any samples, I intended just to write about all the wine I buy…which is a sizeable amount!

Tim: How many full bottles/cases of wine do you have in your house right now? How many empty ones? lol you might not want to answer that!

Megan: I have about 400 bottles of wine in the house right now.

Megan at play

I have a problem with wine buying…I can’t walk into a wine shop without buying something.  Only one empty at the moment, but only because today was recycling day.  I often wonder what the recycling guys think about us!

Tim:  How do you store your wine?

Megan: My wine is stored in our basement.  In a mishmash of bins, racks, styrofoam shippers and unopened boxes.  I ran out of real storage so I’ve simply stopped opening anything I’ve purchased!

Tim: You are married.  What does your husband think of all this blogging?  Have you seen the movie “Julie & Julia”  What is your favorite movie?

Megan:  I am married.  I actually started the blog as a semi-result of our honeymoon.  We went to Sonoma for part of our honeymoon and I was hooked…I’d always been a wine drinker, but that cinched it for me.  He encouraged me to start the blog, but I’m not sure either of us imagined it becoming what it is now.  At first it was an outlet to talk about the wines we had in our house that no one else talked about.  Samples and such were almost unheard of then and I ran the blog for over a year just drinking wine from our collection with one or two exceptions.  I’ve seen Julie and Julia.  A little sappy for my tastes.  My favorite movie?  Honestly?  PCU.  My film tastes are hardly refined.

Tim: What was the first wine you ever drank?  The first wine you ever enjoyed? When you are not drinking wine, what do you drink?

Megan: Boone’s farm apple wine.  No, I’m actually quite serious.  The first wine that made me sit up and take notice? 1999 Schmitt Sohne Riesling.  Seriously, I actually think back then it got rated as a best buy.  When I’m not drinking wine I drink skim milk or hot tea.  Hard alcohol and I are not friends and I enjoy a good beer, but it makes me very full, so I rarely drink it.

Tim:  When did you start blogging about wine? What changes in wine blogging have you noticed in that time?

Megan: I started blogging in November, 2006.  The blog has grown exponentially in that time.  I used to be REALLY excited that anyone other than me and the few friends that I bribed into visiting were reading it.  The growth was slow at first, but after the 6 month to one year point, it really took off and has been going up ever since.  Over my 3+ years blogging about wine I’ve seen a ton of wine bloggers come and go.  I miss many of those I considered friends from the beginning of my wine blogging days, but I also enjoy meeting all the newcomers.

Tim:  You recently traveled to Portugal, were you able to send any wine back? What wine region outside of the U.S. do you want to visit next?  and why?

Megan: Shipping laws prevented me from shipping any wine back to the States.  I was able to put a few bottles into my checked baggage (and I could have probably checked a few more in a separate case, though I don’t know the customs laws on taking much more than I did) but that was it.   I’d really love to visit Chile.  It’s supposed to be a beautiful country and I speak Spanish.  Plus, I got to know a bunch of the wines over 2009 when one of my goals for the year was to learn about Chilean Wines.

Tim:  If you could have a super power what super natural ability would you choose?

Megan: If I had a superpower, I’d like to be invisible

Tim: Is there anything that you think I missed that people might want to know about you?

Megan:  Other things to know about me.  Hmm.  I collect teapots.

There you have it folks, Megan aka @sonadora aka the Wannabe Wino was gracious enough to make time for the Weekly Wine Journal.

Megan’s blog: Wannabe Wino