I like to celebrate grape holidays in a close proximity of my wine fridge – there is always a good chance that I have a good bottle of the appropriate celebratory wine. So if I would’ve been next to my cellar for the #ZinfandelDay, I would be able to chose between Turley, Carlisle and St. Francis – not too shabby, right? Only I wasn’t. I was traveling, so it was the whole different game.
Once again, I was in California. As it was mentioned many times in this blog, when I’m in a close proxomity of Trader Joe’s which sells wine, then Trader Joe’s it is. So I went to Trader Joe’s and bought 3 different Zinfandel wines – two of the Trader Joe’s own labels, and Ravenswood. Literally next door to my hotel, on my way back, I saw a store called Grocery Outlet, which I never heard of before. So I had to stop by and check it out. Interestingly enough, the store also had a wine section with the number of very interesting bottles, with prices starting from $2.99. When I saw another Zinfandel at $5.99, it was also quick and easy decision. And now, there were four.
Below I will share with you my notes on the wines, which ranged in prices from $4.99 to $9.99. Some of the takeaways were quite interesting, as I tasted the wines over a few days, but I will let you read through my notes as they are. And there was one more Zinfandel to mention. Here we go:
2012 Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel Vintners Blend California (13.5% ABV, $7.99) – Crushed red fruit on the nose, touch of earthiness. Palate is a little thin on the finish, first showing a burst of dark fruit and smoke, but again, the finish was disintegrated with sharp acidity. This was the end of my notes on the first day – as you can see, I didn’t really like it. At the end of the second day, however, the wine showed a lot more round, integrated and balanced – dark fruit, spices and touch of herbs (sage). Drinkability: 7+
2013 Trader Joe’s Zinfandel Growers’s Reserve Paso Robles (13.5% ABV, $4.99, made with organically grown grapes) – Touch of fresh berries on the nose. Smoke, clean fruit, blueberries and blackberries on the palate. Clean, simple, easy to drink. Opened up even more at the end of day 3 (!) – smoke, sandalwood, round with nice open complexity. My favorite out of the 4. Drinkability: 7+/8-
2012 Trader Joe’s Reserve Zinfandel Lot #92 Dry Creek Valley Sonoma County (14.5% ABV, $9.99) – dark fruit on the nose with touch of blackberries. Hint of smoke and roasted notes on the palate, blackberries, restrained, somewhat round, but need more substance. This was the end of the day 1 – an okay wine (I’ve been nice here), but not anything interesting. At the end of the day 3 (!), very noticeable tannins came out with smoke and dark fruit, overall much better than before. Needs time? Drinkability: 7-/7+ (on day 3)
2009 Parallax Zinfandel Amador County, Sierra Foothills (15.1% ABV, $5.99 at Grocery Outlet) – touch of fresh blueberries on the nose, just a touch. Round, clean, blackberries on the palate. Touch of earthiness. Finish somewhat lacking, need more complexity – this was an initial assessment at the end of the day 1. At the end of the day 2 – nice complexity, spices, lots of blackberries, very noticeable tannins. An excellent steak wine, good balance, more dark fruit. Very impressive. Drinkability: 8-
So what do you think? A very interesting experience, if you ask me. It took these wines a few days to change and open up – the biggest winners were Parallax Zinfandel and Ravenswood, which improved quite a bit, from barely drinkable to pretty much delicious. And the most interesting wine was probably the least expensive Trader Joe’s Grower’s Reserve Zinfandel, which tasted fine from the very beginning and even throughout the three days. Considering its taste profile, it would make it a perfect Thanksgiving wine, as it will match a wide range of flavors.
Well, to top it all off, I need to include one more Zinfandel here. On the exact #ZinfandelDay, we had dinner at the 71 Saint Peter restaurant in San Jose, and as you can imagine, I wanted to start the dinner with the Zinfandel, just to properly acknowledge the holiday. Out of only three Zinfandel wines available on the wine list, 2012 Peachy Canyon Westside Zinfandel Paso Robles (14.5% ABV, $22 winery, $45 at the restaurant) was highly recommended by the staff. You know, when you drink the wine in the restaurant, you don’t have a luxury of playing with it for 3 days to see what will happen… The wine had ripe blackberries on the nose, and was dark, firm and concentrated on the palate, and also had some nice black fruit. I think it would open up more if it was given a chance, but it was gone way too quickly, so in the interest of fairness, I will not rate this wine.
There you have it, my friends – my [mostly value] Zinfandel experiences, with some interesting outcome, when even the inexpensive wines can evolve and surprise you. How was your #ZinfandelDay? Cheers!
I don’t know what you think based on the title, but the premise of this [short] post is simple. The Wondering Gourmand has a permanent monthly feature in his blog, called “Beer Versus Wine Pairing Challenge”. In that challenge, you are given a choice of a dish, and you are supposed to come up with the wine or beer (and don’t forget the cider!) pairing suggestion which then gets voted for.
As a lucky winner of the September challenge, I had an opportunity to come up with the new dish for the challenge, and my suggestion was … deviled eggs! So now you can suggest a choice of pairing, and may be then get a lucky challenge of coming up with the next dish suggestion. Here is the link to the official post – use the comments section in the Wondering Gourmand post for your beer versus wine recommendations.
Stamford, the town where I live, is a vibrant, “alive”, modern city, with no shortage of the restaurants (according to the Trip Advisor, Stamford, a city of about 123,000 has 390 restaurants – I believe that accounts for McDonalds “restaurants” as well, but still). And nevertheless, when I think about new interesting restaurants or when I’m asked to recommend a restaurant in Stamford, I almost start mumbling – especially, if the request is for the new restaurant. I can easily recommend places in Norwalk and other towns near by, but Stamford is always a challenge. This is why I was very happy when I was invited to yet another bloggers dinner at the new restaurant in Stamford, called Gastro Bar.
I like it when the name of the restaurant becomes part of the experience, as it builds anticipation. Think about it – when you are planning to visit a restaurant called “Corner Cafe” – does it create any level of expectations and excitement? Not unless you do the research and figure out what people think about it and what is served at such a restaurant. At the same time, when you hear the name “Gastro Bar”, such a name right away creates a feeling of excitement, as it hints at the upcoming gastronomical experience.
Gastro Bar is located in one of the busiest restaurant enclaves in Stamford – Columbus Park. From the street you walk into the nicely decorated space – it has charm, but doesn’t overwhelm. The front wall of the restaurant is pretty much made out of glass, so even while you are inside, you have a feeling of the open space and feel connected to the street outside. Bar is very substantial, and looks very appropriate for the place which has the “Bar” as part of the name. As usual, we started our visit from a few drinks. The cocktails list was small, but the drinks were outstanding. Slow & Low (Slow & Low whiskey • muddled oranges & lemon • ginger beer) had delicious fresh orange, very refreshing. Gastro Mule (Hendricks Gin • pineapple juice, triple sec • St. Germain • Rose wine) was my favorite – I really don’t like sweet cocktails, and this was a perfection – very tasty and again perfectly refreshing. Wine list had a good selection, mostly focused on California and Italy. We ended up choosing 2011 Justin Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles – the wine was rich, with dark fruit and tobacco notes, beautiful depth and excellent balance; this was definitely a spot on selection for our dinner.
And then there was food. We started with the Fried Calamari (Smoked Aioli) which had a very good texture. Next appetizer was Oysters (Crispy oysters, avocado, pureé, grapefruit & radish), which were deep fried and served in a very unique way, with avocado and grape fruit. We had two pizzas, which were more of a tart style, with a very think and crunchy crust. Fig Pizza (goat cheese, 10 year balsamic, prosciutto, arugula) was delicious with large chunks of prosciutto and fig wonderfully balancing the goat cheese. Mushroom Pizza (mushrooms, bacon, fontina) was outstanding, with each ingredient contributing its own flavor profile, and every bite been cravingly delicious.
Up next – Salmon Tartar (Jalapeños, shallots, crispy potatoes, cilantro) – perfectly salmon, perfectly clean profile with nice heat in the back and textural contrast of crispy potatoes. Brussel Sprout Salad (Shaved Brussel sprouts, truffle oil, lemon juice, crispy risotto cake) was also very tasty, a nice combination with risotto cake. Fried Quinoa (Mango Chutney) had perfect balance of flavor and was quintessentially Mediterranean, very much resembling falafel – and it was very tasty in cobination with the mango chutney. Artichoke-stuffed Portabello Mushrooms also had an excellent balance of flavor, with artichoke complementing and extending the mushroom flavor. Albondigas (lamb meatballs, pomodoro, baby kale) had a clear lamb profile, and the dish worked perfectly with the Cabernet Sauvignon we were drinking. Crab Cake (arugula, fresh tomato, cherry pepper sauce) finished our appetizers selection, and what finish this was! Beautiful presentation, and the freshness of the crab cake was on par with the best crab cakes I had in a restaurant in Chesapeake Bay, made from the freshly caught crabs. Even thinking about this crab cake makes me salivate…
Out entrée started with Panzotti (butternut squash, toasted almonds, brown butter), delicious homey pasta, a perfect comfort food. Baked King Salmon (horseradish, beets, whipped potato, braised celery) was outstanding all the way. While salmon was perfectly cooked, for me the stars of the dish were vegetables – sweet beets and braised celery were just spectacular.
Then Chef Fernando Gomez showed up to personally present the Paella:
After all this food, I’m very glad that dessert was of a reasonable size. The Cheesecake had very nice density – not too hard, but not easily falling apart either. And as I like all the things coffee, the Espresso Crème Brûlée was just a wow finish to this outstanding meal with its clear coffee profile.
As usual, a big thanks to the Executive Chef Fernando Gomez, and I’m also glad that I had an opportunity to include into the picture our tireless guide to all the culinary extravaganza – Lin Kavanagh.
We are done here, folks. I hope I didn’t make you too hungry. And I’m also glad that Stamford now has restaurants such as Gastro Bar, where classic perfectly mingles with innovation and creativity. Cheers!
Disclaimer: I visited restaurant as a guest of the management. All opinions are my own.
Gastro Bar Stamford
78 West Park Place
Stamford, CT 06901
Yes, it is a #CabernetDay, and a post about Cabernet wines should be rather appropriate – but somehow, I was on the fence about it, until the AME opened up a little bit… When the wine give you lots of pleasure, why not talk about it? Well, this is how I felt anyway.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc make some of the very best wines in the world, both when they fly solo, and when assisted by the other grapes. Myriad of
love letters err tasting notes, blog posts and articles had been written to those grapes and wines, and hundreds millions of dollars traded hands for the pleasure of owning and drinking the Cabernet wines. Yes, we love our Cabernet wines (even Miles didn’t dare to poop on them). Thus I will not inundate you with another ten (or fifty) interesting facts, and instead will simply share the pleasure I had drinking the wines.
The greatness of the #GrapeDay is in the fact that it helps to select the bottle to be open. It also makes it appropriate to break a special bottle, and so I did.
The first bottle opened was 2009 Gramercy Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley. What makes it special? I had only one bottle, and read some rave reviews advocating giving this wine some time – thus I was waiting for the “special occasion” (thank you #CabernetDay).
I don’t know how this works, but when I think about the wines in the terms of how I would describe them, I get some random analogies at random times. This time my brain decided to go with the athletes analogy. To give you an idea of how this wine tasted, imagine a runner, may be a sprinter – perfectly built slender body, perfectly visible muscles, everything is tightly wound and ready to spring at any moment. A perfectly looking, but minimalist body. That was the impression of this wine – restrained cassis notes, espresso, earth, plums, clean acidity, firm and perfectly structured – a great package all around. (Drinkability:8)
The second wine was 2005 Neyers Vineyards AME Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. What makes it special? I love Neyers wines – their 2003 Cabernet was spectacular, for instance. And I had only two bottles of the AME (I rarely buy wines by the case, so having only two bottles is rather common). I would say that this wine was special even for the Neyers – the AME constitutes first initials of the names of their 3 children – Alexandra, Michael and Elizabeth.
Going to the sports analogy, imagine the same perfectly built athlete, but make all the muscles at least 3 times bigger – still perfect body, no fat, just muscles, but much bigger frame and much bigger muscles. We are not getting to the bodybuilder sizes, but this might be Stallone rather than Schwarzenegger – I hope you got my point.
Delicious open nose of dark fruit, cassis, loads of cassis, eucalyptus, earth. On the palate – so many things happening – cassis, plums, earth, pencil shavings, dark chocolate and espresso combined, clean acidity, perfect balance, firm structure and powerful tannins – a wow wine. (Drinkability:9).
There you have it, my friends – two great wines in honor of #CabernetDay. What is in your glass? Cheers!
Yesterday I posted about the challenge of trying the wines from all 50 states in US and visiting wineries in those 50 states. One of the comments had a suggestion – how about the wines of the world? Really, how about it?
It is not that simple even to create the list of wine-producing countries of the world. Considering that the wine is at its peak of popularity, many countries are entering the winemaking arena. Yes, of course, there is a core of the wine-producing countries – about ten or so – but based on the data in Wikipedia (which also differs between different articles), about 60 countries produce the wines in the world today, give or take a few.
I wanted to find a good map to illustrate the wineries concentration around the world, but that didn’t happen, so here is the map of the winemaking areas according to the Wikipedia article:
Now, how many of you tried the wine from Algeria or Thailand (well, I know that Oliver did)? I’m sure those are not easy to find in your local wine boutique. I would argue that the typical [good] wine store in US would have the wines from about 15 countries; some of the best stores will probably account for about 20 at a time. Thus if you really want to try the wines from many different countries, you will have to make an effort.
Is that a worthwhile effort? That is strictly a personal question. I’m genuinely curious how the different wines taste like, so I’m excited to try the wines pretty much from anywhere. Should you expect to find great wines? You definitely will – I had many mind-blowing wines from Serbia, Croatia, Lebanon, Israel, Georgia and other lesser known wine-making countries. Of course you will encounter a lot of plonk along the way, that is also given. So, should you take upon this challenge? I can’t answer that question – as I said, this is strictly driven by the personal interest, so you be the judge.
If you are curious where do you stand now, use this word document to track your progress. As a reference, I can tell you that at this point, I tasted wines from 36 different countries out of 58 listed in the document, and visited wineries in 6 (yeah, need to travel more…). What would be your score?
Below is the table showing my exact list of wines and wineries per country.Challenge yourself! Cheers!
Do you like wine? (Argh, with an opening question like that in the wine blog, I probably lost half of my readers on the spot) When you look at the shiny wine bottle in the store with an artfully (or not) designed label, do you know about – better yet, can you vividly imagine – all the hard work which went into making sure that bottle will get to you and [hopefully] will also taste good? Soon, you will get a chance to get to know it first hand and almost experience it – with the help of the big TV. No, I’m not talking about the new Sideways or SOMM – I’m talking about the real winemaking drama taking place in the format of the Reality TV.
10 aspiring winemakers, two teams, two great wine regions. Lots of vineyard and winery chores. Clash of characters. And pain of elimination. Until only two contestants are left to make their best bottle of wine. Then celebrity judges will put an end to it and decide who gets the $100K and opportunity to bottle one vintage under the Best Bottle label. That’s all there is to it. Intrigued? Want to learn more? Great, as I was intrigued too and wanted to learn more when I heard about Best Bottle Reality TV competition series and its kickstarter campaign.
In an effort to learn more, I got an opportunity to interview Scott Krauger, the executive producer of the Best Bottle series – and I would like to share with you our conversation. Oh yes, before we get to the interview, here is the Best Bottle trailer, for you to get an idea of what to expect from the series:
And here is our Q&A:
How did you start your love affair with wine?
In 1993 I was brought on board to help develop the estate vineyard at Archery Summit Winery in Oregon. My mentors Bernard Lacroute and Gary Andrus taught me about the love of wine, showed me how wine is crafted and the terroir. I was exposed to people who had a deep love for wine-making, and through their art and style, learned to craft exceptional wine.
How the idea for Best Bottle was born?
Three years ago I was producing a documentary called Heart of the Vine which highlighted the terroir, Mother Nature, and the vineyard people who craft the wines. I wanted to show how wineries and winemakers express a wine’s location and vintage.
Why California versus Oregon?
First, this show is all about Community (yes, with a capital ‘C’)! Thus the region vs. region. My mentor, Gary Andrus, gave me a huge shot early in my career when he hired me. Gary taught me so much and Community was at the top of the list. So, Best bottle is a celebration of wine regions and those individuals who delicately craft amazing wines for the world to enjoy. Future seasons are planned to expand into a global competition by shooting future seasons in New Zealand, Australia, France, Germany, Spain, and so on.
What was the selection process to select 10 “aspiring winemaker” contestants?
It really goes to the most entertaining characters with great back drop stories. They have an appreciation and love for making wine. They are artisans, aspiring or established wine makers. This show is used to showcase their skill and art on a world stage.
What makes you think that looking at the winery chores will be attractive enough for the viewers to make it a successful TV program?
With more than 20+ years of experience in the wine industry, it really comes down to the characters we cast for the show. We have exciting episodes planned for 14 seasons. The show takes the contestant and viewers through the wine-making process…”behind the scenes”. We are also demonstrating what happens out in the vineyard and the sale side as well. This all done in an exciting competition/challenge and elimination format.
Will the show be available on YouTube, or would it be a live TV-only program? Where on TV?
We have partnered with Mance Media, our World Wide Distribution agent. They will show case and take this show to VOD and foreign markets. They are already working on establishing the domestic broadcaster and global distribution into other television markets. We’ll also have YouTube clips and other video content highlighting not only the show but supporting aspects…i.e. Interviews and additional content from tasting events at food and wine shows all over the United States.
When the first episode will be coming out?
As you know, the wine industry is dependent on the seasons. Right now we are looking at Harvest of 2014 in the northern hemisphere or Harvest 2015 in the southern.
Do you think this show will be as successful as the movie Sideways? Do you expect your show to change the dynamics of the wine consumer market, as Sideways did for Pinot Noir versus Merlot?
That’s the million dollar question and I’d love to say, “Hell yes!” I do think the show will really showcase the thousands of vineyard and winery workers, who are often the unsung heroes. Everyone remembers the winery owner, but do they even think about the men and women who harvest and process the grapes? Or the many who spend hours blending and tasting to get just the right blend? Best Bottle will open people’s eyes, minds and hearts to the entire Community (there’s that word again).
Can you tell us what wineries will be involved in California and Oregon?
Not yet. That’s still super secret Hollywood stuff. We can say we have commitments for locations, support, and participants.
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Here are some additional links and information for you:
Producers: Scott Krauger, Rob Richards, Matthew Wilson, Annie Tonsiengsom, Matthew Mancinelli
Media contact: Kari Fredheim Karig@geminidigitalfilms.com
Please understand that Best Bottle series needs your support – visit the Kickstarter project page to learn about sponsorship options and use the opportunity to help to create first ever reality TV wine drama. Cheers!
Think about your best restaurant experiences – what do they consist of? Of course the company is first and foremost – if you are in the wrong company, nothing will taste or appear right – this is given. So outside of the company, food, wine, service, views, decor, ambiance – all play a role, these are all essential factors of your great restaurant experience.
As I mentioned many times before, when traveling, I always look for the opportunity to experience new restaurants. My last trip to Atlanta, Georgia was not an exception by all means – of course I looked for a good restaurant to visit. I used Yelp as my reference source, and it worked quite well. Canoe restaurant, located in the Vinings neighborhood, was well worth the 4.5 stars yelp rating out of 626 reviews (this was the number of reviews at the time of our restaurant visit).
I read in some of the reviews that the Canoe Restaurant had a perfectly romantic appeal. It definitely had, especially considering how dark it was in the dining room (hooray to all the FlashLight apps on the smartphones, we would be left hungry without them). But on a more serious note, the restaurant is situated right by the river, with luscious greens and smart lighting making an outside look like it was a Thomas Kinkade’a painting. My photos will not do any justice to that outside setting, but I hope they will give you an idea of beauty and tranquility.
Going back to our dinner, while everybody were looking at the menus, I grabbed the wine list (what a surprise, right?). That wine list…. How can I describe it… It was probably the best wine list I ever held in my hands – there was an incredible amount of the excellent wines (that it not necessarily unique), priced in a very (did I say “very”?) appealing way. Moreover, one line in that list almost made me speechless – the rare bird was there, and it looked almost, almost – for the group of like-minded friends – affordable. Take a look below – can you spot the rare bird I’m talking about?
I’m assuming you found it – yes, it is the Screaming Eagle. Of course $850 is an exorbitant amount of money for the bottle of wine, but considering that this wine is simply impossible to find at any price, it might not sound that bad – I have a few friends who would simply jump at such an opportunity. But I was not with those friends, so as you can imagine, I was left salivating about such a close encounter with this rare bird.
Have you ever got excited of seeing something, took a picture, and only later on, looking at the picture, noticed that there was a more to see in the object of your “excitement-driven” photograph? This was precisely my case. Only looking at. The picture I realized that the Screaming Eagle bottle was actually a second label of this cult wine, called Second Flight (it doesn’t make a difference from point of view of the opportunity of trying this rare wine). Then also noticed lots of other cult wines being present in that list, such as Harlan and many others, many at a extremely reasonable price (for example, Peter Michael Le Pavots retails for $175 – $225 on the wine list is a steal). Anyway, I think I have a great incentive to go back to Atlanta, and drag a couple of friends along.
Enough about the wines we didn’t drink, let’s talk about the wines we had. For the white, we got the 2012 Sigalas Assyrtiko-Athiri, Santorini, Greece – touch of minerality on the nose, white stone fruit, refreshing palate with crisp acidity and more of the white stone fruit undertones. Our choice of red was 2011 Chehalem Three Vineyards Pinot Noir from Oregon – nice smokey nose, good fresh red fruit on the palate, some raspberries and sweet cherries, good acidity and good overall balance. It was nice and easygoing wine to drink, and it complemented well most of the group’s dinner selections.
Now, let’s talk about the food. Our waiter (we had a great service, by the way) explained that the restaurant’s specialties are the game and seafood. Somehow, I felt like embracing seafood (we only scored 9 pm reservation, so it was rather a late dinner), and I didn’t regret that at all. For the started, I had an Grilled Australian Octopus (Chorizo, Peppers, Horseradish Tomato Broth) – the octopus was perfectly cooked and it was chewy just enough to preserve the texture, and very tasty overall. For the entree, I went with Bacon Wrapped George’s Bank Monkfish (Asparagus, Brioche, Grape Tomato Vinaigrette), which was absolutely delicious – perfectly cooked, the flaky fish was melting in the mouth, and the vegetables were nicely fitting in.
And then it was the time for a dessert. Our waiter, who brought the dessert menu, mentioned that restaurant’s pastry chef was a genius, so after such an endorsement I had to change my mind (I wanted to skip the dessert altogether). With the dishes such as Caramelized Goat’s Cheese Cake (Bourbon Cherries, Balsamic) or Rhubarb Crisp (Strawberry Ice Cream, Oatmeal Crunch), it was almost impossible to decide on something. I ended up taking Popcorn Ice Cream Sundae (Canoe’s Cracker Jack), which was absolutely delicious and very unusual. Freshly made vanilla ice cream with chocolate covered popcorn and caramel sauce – this might be one of the possible spellings for “nirvana”.
To conclude my report of the wonderful dining experience, I can only say that this was an excellent and very memorable meal, and if your travel plans will take you to Atlanta, I highly recommend you will find the time to visit the Canoe Restaurant – and you can thank me later. Cheers!
4199 Paces Ferry Road, SE
Atlanta, Georgia 30339