Monthly Archives: November 2009

“Killing it” with 2004 MonteMaggiore Paolo’s Vineyard Syrah

2004 MonteMaggiore Paolo’s Vineyard Syrah

About this time last year I visited and wrote about MonteMaggiore Vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County. When I have wines from California (or elsewhere) that I know I can’t get easily, it makes it hard to drink it. Well, I had two wines left from MonteMaggiore, one being their 2004 Paolo’s Vineyard Syrah, which I opened last night.

After I pulled the cork I noticed a good 1/8th of an inch of sediment on the end of it, so I made sure to run it through the little mesh screen as it went into the decanter.

Check out the details:

Varietal Blend: 95% Syrah, 5% Cabernet

Appellation: Dry Creek Valley

Average Sugar at Harvest: 27.0° Brix

Alcohol: 4.7%

Cooperage: 70% French, 30% American

Percentage New Oak: 48%

Cases Produced: 400

This wine was just jumping out of the glass, I believe my tweet about it last night was precisely that “the ’04 MonteMaggiore Syrah is killing it!” Well it kept killing it with rich, layered, Syrah goodness leaving me both happy and sad, realizing with each sip I was closer to the end of my last bottle of this wine.

My Tasting Notes:

Nose: blackberry, bacon, black currant

Taste: cassis, black currant, cinnamon, cedar black pepper and “suede”

Mouthfeel: full body, rich, leathery tannins that are starting to settle down, but still going strong

Finish: long

If you have a bottle of this, or can find a bottle, it is drinking great right now and I highly recommend it!


Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Categories: $30-$40, wine review | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Weekend Palate Wrap Up

For Monday I think I will start a new series in which I review everything I drank, tasted, sipped from Friday through Sunday and where I had it. Friday’s will be padded because of the tasting at The Wine Cellar.

At the Wine Cellar

J Cuvee 20 Brut Sparkling – yeasty sourdough bread, apple, pear and citrus, crisp with pretty tight bubbles, medium bodied – very nice

2007 Helfrich Pinot Gris Vin D’Alsace – melon, almond and a hint of petrol with a hint of lemon zest towards the finish and a touch of sweetness.

2006 Schloss Reinhartshausen Old Vine Riesling – petrol and slate laced with light fruit notes of apricot, peach and Asian pear.

2007 Carmel Road Pinot Noir Monterey – plum and cherry up front on the nose with a mixture of cedar, plum and raspberry on the palate. Medium to full bodied.

2006 J Lohr Fog’s Reach Vineyard Pinot Noir Arroyo Seco – beautiful aromas of cola, raspberry, dried cherries and mint. Full bodied palate filled with cedar, vanilla and more dark fruit flavors of black cherry, boysenberry and cola again on the finish.

At Tandoori Tikka and Kebab Indian Restaurant

2008 Covey Run Riesling – fairly simple effort, apple and apricot notes with a hint of petrol. Medium bodied with a good off dry sweetness that was perfect for the spicy Indian food.

At Home

2008 Valley of the Moon Unoaked Chardonnay – aromas of apple, pear and slight hints of tropical fruit. Light and fairly simple medium bodied palate of apple and honeydew melon, crisp and clean finish.

Cafe Catura

Southern Tier India Pale Ale – light amber color, beautiful hop and slight malt aromas, fairly fruity and nice bitterness. Paired well with our vegetarian chili and veggie panini.

At Home

2006 Terlato Pinot Noir – Aromas of sweet campfire, blueberry, Indian spices and vanilla. Flavor profile dominated by plum, fig and tangerine with interesting notes of tamarind, sage cola and cherry.

In green were my favorites.


Categories: Weekend Palate Wrap Up | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Trained wine tasters think more about their sips

After reading the story in the Wall Street Journal about “Why wine ratings are badly flawed?” it got me thinking. Not about wine ratings because that part of the article I agree with, wine ratings are subjective, and can generally be inconsistent across various types of “raters”. I’ve always thought it weird that one wine in Spectator can get a “90” and then in Enthusiast receive a “78” or vice versa.

There is a rich history of scientific research questioning whether wine experts can really make the fine taste distinctions they claim. For example, a 1996 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology showed that even flavor-trained professionals cannot reliably identify more than three or four components in a mixture, although wine critics regularly report tasting six or more.”

The above comment is the one that got me thinking and one that I disagree with. Personally I know that I can taste more than 3 distinct flavors in any wine. Also, my years working in Sensory Research did many studies with trained panelists in which they identified more than three components in a mixture. I tried to find the study with no avail and was kind of disturbed that the author of the article in the WSJ didn’t put in any reference to the exact article. So, I couldn’t look at that particular study and examine exactly how that experiment was conducted.

In searching for some rebuttal papers I came across a cool article that I remember reading years back in the Journal “NeuroImage”. Using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) this study showed that trained wine tasters, in this case 7 sommeliers, showed higher brain function when it came to tasting wine versus untrained wine consumers.

A larger and well-defined cerebral network elicited by wine tasting was identified in sommeliers compared to naïve subjects that included the left insula and adjoining caudal orbitofrontal cortex, the left putamen, the right inferior frontal gyrus (opercular portion), and the inferior portion of the middle frontal gyrus in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) bilaterally.”

…A final intriguing finding was the consistent activation in sommeliers of the inferior DLPFC. In this region the BOLD signal time-course peaked initially during the taste period and then well after the cue to swallow had been given, suggesting higher cognitive processing modulated by expertise.”

So basically the paper is saying that people trained in wine tasting have a additional cognitive processing that is linking both taste, olfactory and somatosensory sensations together to evaluate the wine. Pretty cool! With all this extra brain functioning going on, I don’t know how someone who is a trained taster could not detect more than three flavors in a wine or a mixture.

If anybody knows the exact journal number that was referenced in this WSJ article let me know, I would love to look at it.



MLODINOW, LEONARD. “A Hint of Hype, A Taste of Illusion.” Wall Street Journal 14 Nov 2009,

Castriota-Scanderbeg, Alessandro, Gisela Hagberg, Antonio Cerasa, and Giorgia Committeri. “The appreciation of wine by sommeliers: a functional magnetic resonance study of sensory integration.” NeuroImage. 25.2 (2005): 570-578.

Categories: wine education | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Tuesday Quick Sip – 2007 Preston Viognier

Megan and I picked this wine up about this time last year on our visit out to Sonoma/Napa, at Preston Vineyards. If you haven’t been, I recommend it, not only for the wine but for the experience. A beautiful place to have lunch as well as pick up some local veggies and eggs, that Preston grows and raise themselves. A very cool experience.


2007 Preston Viognier

The Facts:

Appellation: Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma

Soil: Predominately gravel & sand, along creek bed

Grape: 100% Viognier

Barrel Fermentation: 40%

Price: $28

My Tasting Notes:

Nose: apricot, sourdough, apple core, butterscotch

Taste: peach, honeysuckle, brown sugar and green tea

Mouthfeel: Full body, fat but clean

Finish: long with nice tropical fruit notes and lingering tea flavors

Great Viognier, very California in style with it’s big full body and rich viscous layers. Wish I had more of this, and unfortunately it’s a winery exclusive I can’t order anymore.


Categories: wine tasting | 3 Comments

Virginia Wineries on Twitter

I comprised a list of Virginia Wineries that are on Twitter, some of which I already followed and others were new ones that I found. After searching on Twitter itself, I went through every wineries website, looking for their Twitter Tag. Surprisingly of the 142 wineries in the state only 17 are on Twitter. There may be more that I missed so if you aren’t on this list and want to be, shoot me an email.

You can link to any of the wineries twitter account by clicking below or you can follow the whole list here.

Winery Name – Twitter Tag

Rappahanock Cellars – @rcellars

Corcoran – @corkysfarm

Philip Carter Winery – @Pcwinery

Keswick Vinyeards – @keswickvineyard

Glen Manor Vineyards – @GlenManor

Veramar Vineyard – @veramarvineyard

James River Winery – @JamesRiverWine

Paradise Springs Winery – @ParadiseSprings

Aspen Dale Winery – @AspendaleWinery

Barboursville Winery – @barboursville

Byrd Cellars – @ByrdCellars

Casanel Vineyards – @Casanel

Cooper Vineyards – @coopervineyards

Fabbioli Wines – @FabbioliWines

Hillsborough Wines – @HillsboroWine

Notaviva Vineyards – @notaviva

Quattro Goomba Winery – @QuattroGoomba


More added:

Jefferson Vineyards @th_jefferson

Afton Mountain Vineyards @AftonMountain


…And More

Gadino Cellars @Gadino_Cellars

Sweely Estate Winery @SweelyWinery

Molon Lave @MLVineyards

Delfosse Winery @delfossewinery

Veritas Winery @VeritasWinery

Barrel Oak Winery @BarrelOak

Winery at La Grange @winerylagrange

Kluge Estate @KlugeEstate

Breaux Vineyards @breauxvineyards

Lost Creek Winey @lostcreekwine

As more wineries get on Twitter, I will update the list.

Categories: virginia wine | Tags: | 12 Comments

Tasting with Giuseppe Vajra of G.D. Vajra

gdvajraToday I had the opportunity to meet Giuseppe Vajra from the winery G.D. Vajra in Piedmont, Italy. I have been a fan of Vajra wines for sometime so it was a great experience to meet Giuseppe today. For whatever reason, I find it intoxicating when Italian’s speak of their wines, more so than any other region.

My Tasting Notes:

2008 Langhe Bianco – 100% Riesling – floral with light citrus, and apricot notes. Lucious pear combined with great acidity at the back of the palate. Very Austrian in style of texture but the mid – palate is much “fatter”. Extremely nice!

2007 Langhe Rosso – Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo blend with 5% Pinot Noir and 2% Freisa – lots of red cherry, cola, red currant, leather notes and spice. Medium bodied with velvety tannins.

2007 Dolcetto D’ Alba – light cherry and raspberry notes with the flavor of actually berries. Red currant and cherry predominate the palate with hints of cola. Full bodied, especially for a Dolcetto – smooth tannins.

2007 Langhe Nebbiolo – leather, blackberry and “rum” on the nose. Palate full of black cherry, leather, dry dirt, hints of eucalyptus and cassis. Full body, with great acidity.

2004 Barolo – tomato leaf, rustic red fruit aromas, leather, boysenberry, blackberry and truffle oil on the palate. Fuzzy tannins and full bodied long finish. Still plenty of life, but approachable now. Beautiful!

2005 Langhe Freisa – menthol, leather and slight barnyard notes with fruit start to appear towards the back of the palate. Dark cherry and black currant predominate with some brambly fruit character and black pepper making an appearance. Lively acidity and full bodied. Excellent wine.

I spoke with Giuseppe on the ’09 vintage and he said it was a great, but not excellent one. “Definitely couldn’t close your eyes and sleep through this vintage, we had to do some work.” For most of the harvest it was status quo but some rain in September brought about that question of “pick now or later”. They chose to pick later and after the rain passed, had an incredible week of brilliant sunshine and cooler than normal nights. This helped to raise sugar levels and increase ripeness while maintaining great acidity. “It is an extermely hard thing to watch all of your neighbors bring in their fruit, while you wait out the ‘storm’.”

If you get a chance to try Vajra wines, I insist that you do – they are quite nice, and fairly priced for the region.


Categories: barolo, piemonte, wine tasting | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Back to Shinn Vineyards – more than a winery

During our recent visit to the North Fork of Long Island, we had the pleasure of staying at the Shinn Vineyards Farmhouse B&B. Following a fabulous lunch at Shinn during Taste Camp back in May, Megan and I agreed that we MUST come back and stay at Shinn—six months later, here we were!


Cabernet Franc Grapes

We visited Shinn during harvest, so it was a lot of fun to see (and taste) all the action while we were there. Each morning we took a long jog along their country road lined with vines, while tractors and field hands (and birds and bees) buzzed back and forth between vineyards. Then we returned to the house to enjoy a cup of hot coffee while wandering lazily through Shinn’s vineyards, snacking on nearly ripe grapes. We also spent the mornings watching grapes get sorted and crushed on the crush pad, tasting fresh juice, chatting with their winemaker Anthony Nappa, and generally getting in the way.

Once we had worked up on appetite, we had the pleasure of an amazing breakfast prepared by owner David Page, a former professional chef. We had everything from homemade fruit smoothies to leek and mushroom risotto topped with a fried duck egg. Needless to say, these scrumptious breakfasts got our wine tasting days started on the right foot.


sampling '09 juice in the winery

Our tasting at Shinn began in the vineyard with owners Barbara and David. During the walk we learned more about their growing techniques while we sampled Cab Franc and Merlot grapes fresh from the vine. When fellow bloggers Lenn Thompson and Michael Gorton Jr. arrived, we headed into the winery with David and Anthony to sample their current works in progress. We tasted some of the ’09 juice that had already come in, including the Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Blanc. I was most impressed with the Pinot Blanc, which was produced as a wild ferment. It was wonderfully crisp, beautiful citrus with touches of petrol – very reminiscent of an Alsatian style.


In the "library" tasting back vintages

Tasting raw wine is a treat in itself, but we had the additional treat of sitting in the Shinn “library” and tasting some back vintage wines with the gang:

07 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillion – lots of white tea, fully body and tropical fruit, with the addition of a nice briney, mineral quality.

04 Cabernet Franc – raspberry reduction on the nose with lots of cedar and spice, slight floral note on the palate with raspberry, green bean, cassis and a hint of brett(??). Very well integrated tannins and acid – beautiful.

05 Cabernet Sauvignon – lots of cherry, raspberry and red currant. Still a young with beautiful leather tannins and loads of ripe fruit

06 Cabernet Sauvignon – dark fruit with a great black tea component, black currant and nice earthy quality. Smooth and silky, a bit more “ready” than the ’05, hint of mint/eucalyptus on the back of the palate

07 Malbec – roasted chestnut, cocoa, black fruit with fairly racy acidity. Full bodied, young and vibrant.

David was also nice enough to pull out a 95 Cabernet Sauvignon from Bedell Cellars – barnyard and earth, leather, dark fruit and cedar. Ripe plum and blackberry. Still very big tannins and “spicy” acidity.


David and I in the vineyard

I appreciate Shinn’s wines not only for how they taste, but also for how they are made—hand-crafted, and with a dedication to sustainable vineyard practices. David, Barbara and Anthony take a very holistic approach to “wine growing.” Megan did a great post on Shinn after our visit during Taste Camp–here is an excerpt:

Shinn Estate Vineyards has embraced biodynamic principles, and continues to strive for complete sustainability. Shinn uses extensive cover cropping to maximize soil nutrition, to prevent erosion and to encourage biodiversity. They use solar panels to partially power their farmhouse and winery. They also work closely with Cornell University to explore the benefits and risks of various sustainable viticultural techniques and chemical alternatives, and thus contribute to both the knowledge of the field and to others in the region who are struggling with similar challenges.”

Over the next couple of days we sampled Shinn’s regular tasting room lineup — I will give you a tour of those wines in a future post.

Thanks to David, Barbara and Anthony for showing us a great time.


Categories: New York Wines, winery review | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

On the Monticello Wine Trail with Pollak Vineyards

A week or so ago I wrote about my visit to Blenheim Vineyards with Frank and Dezel. On the same trip we visited one of my Virginia favorites, Pollak Vineyards, and met up with friend and winemaker/GM Jake Busching. On this visit, we also had the opportunity to taste and visit with Dave Pollak, the owner of the winery. I have written about Pollak several times in the past and on the tasting menu there weren’t too many new wines since our visit back in May. We did get to sit down and taste some new releases though and a couple that I had not tasted before.

The wines…

pollakcfreserve2008 Viognier – floral with pear and apple on the nose; honeysuckle and tropical notes on the palate. Full viscous body with a dry and clean finish.

2006 Meritage – beautiful nutmeg, black currant, leather and mint on the nose; raspberry, red currant and spices on the palate with smooth fine tannins.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon – lavender, blackberry, mint and red currant with touches of floral notes. Full bodied and young with leathery tannins.

2007 Cabernet Franc Reserve – (17 mos in French Oak, 60% new; picked at 25º Brix) – ripe raspberry and red currant, wet earth and vanilla on the nose; mocha, coffee, spice, cooked greens, red currant and cherry on the palate. Very smooth full body with a lush mid-palate.

The other cool part about visit, besides the special tasting with Jake and Dave, was that we got to taste a bunch of samples from the 2009 vintage.

Everything came in early and with better numbers than I have EVER seen on EVERYTHING. Incredible year for Pollak. We were done picking on Sept 30th and that included a Cab Franc at 26.5 brix and a late Viognier at about 31 brix. From the vineyard! Sept 30th! Needless to say I haven’t slept in 2 months…Jake Busching on the ’09 vintage


Jake unveiling fermenting Petite Verdot

The samples…

09 Viognier – already showing apricot and peach

08 Merlot (barrel) – smooth with red fruit and mint

08 Cabernet Sauvignon (barrel) – smoke, raspberry, “candy?”

09 Cabernet Franc (barrel) – lots of red fruit with a little blueberry

09 Petite Verdot (still fermenting after 2 weeks of maceration) – very dark, dark fruit – HUGE teeth coating tannins

09 White Port – flavor and texture of a slightly over ripe pear – very nice

Thanks to Jake and Dave for the visit – great time as usual!

Check out what Frank and Dezel had to say about the visit

Frank: Drink What You Like – Roaming the Monticello Wine Trail

Dezel: Dezel’s Vine Spot – Pollak Vineyards: Yes, Jefferson would be proud



Megan enjoying the fireplace at Pollak

Categories: virginia wine, winery review | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

From Poop to Juice

We sat in a van surrounded by large piles of poop, food waste and fish heads, while seagulls circled hungrily above. While some may see a garbage dump, others see a nutrient-rich (and highly coveted) compost pile and a key ingredient to fine wine production. We have visited many wineries and vineyards over the years, though we have never encountered such a monstrous pile of poop as that which resides on the Macari Vineyard site on the North Fork of Long Island, NY. (Don’t worry, this is nowhere near the tasting room!)


As we rode around the vineyard property (all 500+ acres; 220 under vine) with Alexandra (“Alex”) Macari, we learned of some of the Native American heritage the land holds, and the deep rooted respect for the soil. We also learned about the Macaris’ long-term efforts to be biodynamic and organic (at least to the extent possible) to nurture healthy and vibrant grape vines. Alex pointed to a wooded lot which holds hundreds of buried cow horns, a method for making natural fertilizing teas. She pointed to a contraption in the center of the vineyard which focuses positive energy into the soil. She drove us to the bluffs which overlook the Long Island Sound at the rear of the Macari property- an important source of cleansing breezes. And as we made our way back from the vineyard to the tasting room, we passed the animal paddocks housing steer, chickens, goats, and more – important sources for their homemade fertilizer.

It is important to note that, while Macari does follow many/all of the biodymanic farming practices, they are also very sensitive to the common exploitation of those terms. Macari admits that at times conventional chemical sprays are necessary, and as a result they avoid formally (or even informally) labeling their wines as biodynamic or organic.


After our tour around the property, Alex saddled up to the tasting bar with us and poured through their current lineup. Joining us for our tasting was one of Macari’s primary winemakers, Paula from Chile.  On the whole, we were impressed with consistent quality of the wines, not to say we loved every one, but the winemaking style was clean and unobtrusive.

On to the wines…

2008 Sauvignon Blanc – $22.99 – beautifully tropical nose, with a touch of “sweet” grapefruit on the front of the palate, followed by a bit of peach and Asian Pear. Great acid, clean finish!

2007 Estate Chardonnay – $18.99 – (stainless steel) apple, pear, hay field – beautifully round mid palate, crisp acidity with “mineral” finish. Clean and dry

2009 Early Wine – lots of green fruit, touch of sweetness which was surprising because of the bone dry finish. Appley aftertaste.

2007 Reserve Chardonnay -$22.99 – (12 mos. French Oak) hint of vanilla and baking spice, lemon custard, Asian Pear and hay. Full body, very well balanced.

2008 Rose – $14.99 – (45% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot, 14% Cab. Sauv, 7% Pinot Noir, 4% Malbec) bright red fruit with an interesting fresh cut hay note on the nose, with watermelon and pomegranate notes on the palate

Collina 48 Merlot – $12.99 – (3% Cab Franc) spicy with black fruit and leather notes, medium body with a soft velvety finish.

2004 Merlot Reserve – $35.99 – earthiness & black pepper, black cherry, black currant and boysenberry with hints of wet cedar. Full body, great tannins – very nice.

2007 Syrah – $34.99 – huge fruit up front, most dark with a hint of red currant shining through, black pepper, tar and graphite, all rounding out the mix. Very full body, kept expanding on the palate.

2007 Malbec – great cola and raisin on the nose, very cherry filled, but slightly “green” tasting and floral towards the finish.

2007 Dos Aguas – $26.99 – (45% Cab Sauv, 36% Merlot, 15% Cab Franc, 4% Malbec) tobacco on the nose with black fruit and mint. Red currant, green bean, pipe tobacco and blackberry on the palate. Silky but rich tannins

2004 Bergen Road – $42.99 – (42% Merlot, 29% Cab Sauv, 24% Malbec, 5% Petite Verdot) – cocoa, mint, “sweet” black fruit, tobacco leaf (raw). Beautiful acid and tannin integration.



Alex and Joe Macari


After tasting we took a walk through the tank and barrel rooms with with Alex and Paula, and even saw a little fruit being pressed. Following the tour, we were honored to join Alex, and her husband Joe, and their biodynamics manager for lunch. They prepared an amazing lunch for us– a huge vegetarian spread, including a second course of pasta and a cheese course to finish it off. It was great to sit and talk with Joe and Alex and learn more about them, their family, and their wines. Thanks to them both for showing us a great time.


Categories: New York Wines, winery review | Tags: , , | 1 Comment