Reds, Whites, and Bios! Oh, My!


As if working full time in a 50-60 hour a week job and taking wine classes isn’t enough to keep me busy, I’m also on the Board of Directors for my condo association. One of my BOD responsibilities is chairing the social committee, which clearly meant organizing a wine tasting! After contacting almost all of the wine stores in Arlington about holding the event, I only received responses from two—Grand Cru Wine Bar & Euro Café was by far the easier store to work with. I outlined the association’s budget, and they worked with Republic National Distributing Company wine specialist Andy Hoyle to pick out wine options for our tasting. The BOD decided on 4 wines, although Andy surprised us with several extras, including the Signaterra wines by Benziger.


While I’ll share short overviews of all the wines we tasted, I can’t help but focus on the Signaterra wines. According to Andy, Benziger has been selling limited quantities of these wines onsite, but it’s only recently that they’re appearing in restaurants and wine stores. Therefore, while the wines may not be available at your wine store yet, start asking for them. Besides being unique and tasty, Andy explained that attendees at last night’s wine tasting were among the first in Virginia to try these wines. That was a double bonus for us!


Signaterra uses organic and biodynamic viticulture methods. Biodynamic viticulture is based on the ideas of Austrian philosopher/scientist Rudolf Steiner, and The Wine Anorak has an interesting and thorough explanation of the process, if you’re looking for more information. The Signaterra website describes the philosophy well, though, as they say the wines are about “integrating the right resources of the Earth, the inescapable forces of Nature, and the attentiveness of Man into a distinctive wine. Admittedly, I’m skeptical about the idea that biodynamic methods produce better quality wine, but regardless, all three of these are delicious. I actually ended up buying a bottle of each at the event.


With that introduction…let’s talk about the Signaterra wines—the 2007 Shone Farm Sauvignon Blanc, the 2007 Bella Luna Pinot Noir, and the 2006 Three Blocks.

2007 Benziger Signaterra Shone Farm Sauvignon Blanc
$35
This Sauvignon Blanc had a clean, medium lemon color. On the nose, there were strong fruit aromas—particularly grapefruit, although there was also some lime, peach, and apricot. I found the same fruits when tasting the wine, and they were joined with a hint of wet stone mineraliness that kept the wine from being dominated by fruit. The wine also had a bright, pleasing acidity.

Is this worth a glass after work? Definitely! If you see this wine in the store, grab it; you won’t be disappointed. At $35 a bottle, this wine is not only environmentally friendly, but also palate and food friendly.

Overall: 4 corks


2007 Benziger Signaterra Bella Luna Pinot Noir
$55
The Pinot Noir was hands-down the favorite wine of the night.
Several people came up to me to say that they normally don’t drink Pinots, but that this one was very flavorful and enjoyable. At the same time, I also had a couple of people tell me that they were big Pinot fans and that this was among the best they’d tasted. I thought it was interesting that the Bella Luna was able to straddle the Pinot/Non-Pinot lover line.

The color of the wine was a nice intensity that matched the robust strawberry and red cherry aromas. The red fruit was followed by a hint of white pepper and an earthy depth that gave the wine character overpowering the other aromas. In the mouth, the flavors matched what I found on the nose. The medium tannins and low acidity resembled what you would expect from a Pinot, although the wine had a slightly more substantial body and finish than I anticipated.

Is this worth a glass after work? It’s worth more than one! What are you waiting for? At $55, this wine is a little more expensive than many of the “every day” wines that I review, however, it’s worth every penny. This wine is so smooth and inviting that it’s great for drinking on its own, but also would pair nicely with seasoned meat like a pork tenderloin or with a grilled salmon.

Overall: 5 corks



2006 Benziger Signaterra Three Blocks Bordeaux blend
$55
The Three Blocks Bordeaux blend was my least favorite of the Signaterra wines, although I wonder if I needed more time to really sit and think about the wine, as there was a lot happening with it. The Three Blocks is a blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon and 36% Merlot, with a deep purplish-ruby color. The wine had strong dark fruit aromas—mostly plums—followed by the smell of powdered cocoa. In the mouth, I found similar plumy flavors, although the cocoa turned into more of a sweet spice taste. The wine had strong tannins, although it was well-balanced. There were some tartrates in my glass, which had some attendees concerned, but, as I mentioned in this week’s TT&T post, tartrates are nothing to worry about.

Overall: 3.5 Corks


The other wines we tasted:

2006 Paso Creek Zinfandel, which I reviewed in March.

2006 Valley of the Moon Barbera (vineyard; snooth), which I will review in a separate post, as I was able to take a leftover bottle home with me.
$18

2006 Veramonte Cabernet Sauvignon (vineyard; snooth)
$13
This wine had aromas of burnt tar and blackberry. In the mouth, there were strong tannins that pulled on your gums, but helped contribute to the balance between the bitterness of the tar flavors and the sweetness of the blackberries. This was a big, juicy Cab and would be great with a steak and potato dinner.

Planeta La Segreta Rosso (vineyard; snooth)
$14
This wine had an interesting mix of flavors and aromas, as there was a mix of red and black fruits. The wine is a blend of 50% Nero d’Avola, 25% Merlot, 20% Syrah,5% Cabernet Franc, and had medium tannins and a nice body. Overall, it was good. Not the best wine of the night, but something that is definitely drinkable.

Erath Pinot Gris (vineyard; snooth)
$15
This Pinot Gris smelled and tasted of ripe melons and grapefruit. In the mouth, there was also a hint of mineral. Overall, it wasn’t terribly complex, but it was enjoyable.

2007 Vaca Chardonnay
$14
The Vaca Chardonnay had a strong buttery, tropical fruit smell and tasted like buttered, ripe banana and vanilla. There was a hint of green apple in the finish, but it was very faint. Oaky chardonnay is NMS, so I wasn’t a huge fan. However, the wine was a good quality and had a nice balance, so if it’s a style you like, this is a wine you should check out.


Celebration in a Bottle

As I mentioned in a post earlier this week, I was doing “the happy dance” on Tuesday because I received my WSET Level 2 Intermediate Certificate in Wines and Spirits test results, and I passed with distinction.  You could probably tell from my discussions about work that my current career is not within the wine industry.  My boss, however, is nice enough to allow me to leave the office early, once a week, so that I can attend wine classes.  Granted, that means school nights are particularly long days for me, since I leave my house around 7:30am and don’t walk back in until after 10pm, but it’s worth it, particularly when I receive good test results! 


Once I had my results, the big question was what I should open to celebrate.  Tuesday night was a busy one because immediately after work, I had a condo association board meeting.  As I’m a member of the board, I not only had to stay for the open session that residents could attend, but also the closed executive session that occurred afterwards.  It was an intense night, as there was significant disagreement between board members on a few hot-button issues.  Ultimately, I didn’t get home until almost 9:30pm, but that wasn’t going to stop my personal celebration.


During the first course, I was introduced to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and my love affair with this Southern Rhône Appellation bloomed.  Because of that, it seemed only appropriate for me to celebrate my results by opening a bottle of 2005 Perrin & Fils “Les Sinards” Chateauneuf-du-Pape (vineyard site, vineyard blog, snooth).  This blend of 70% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 15% Mourvèdre had a beautiful ruby color.  On the nose, there were strong red fruit aromas, mostly strawberry and raspberry, followed by a nice savoriness—a mixture of leather and sweet cooking spices.  In the mouth, the raspberry flavors were more prominent than the strawberry, but they both blended nicely with the taste of cloves and leather.  There was also a hint of spicy white pepper that helped give the wine character without dominating or becoming distracting.

Is this worth a glass after work? Definitely!  If you see this wine in the store, grab it; you won’t be disappointed. At $38 a bottle, this wine might push the limits of what some readers may be willing to spend on an everyday wine.  However, it’s a nice, maturing wine that will offer a solid flavor that you can sink into without being overwhelmed by it.  Plus, while I did open this bottle up for a special occasion, I can attest to its ability to be enjoyable after a long, tiring day.  In terms of food pairings, while I didn’t actually drink the wine with dinner, I think it would make go well with a roasted chicken or a seasoned pork tenderloin.

Overall: 4 Corks


Raising The Flag For This Flagship Wine

After two weeks in the bullpen, life is calming down a little.  The room is loud, like people on the other end of the phone ask me if I’m paying attention because there is so much noise in the background type of loud.  However, I have my own little space, so no one is looking over my shoulder at the computer screen, and I have a window behind me with a view of a tree that has beautiful pink flowers, so I can enjoy Spring (although without my beloved balcony).  I admit that with yesterday’s warm weather, I spent a lot of time longingly looking at those pink flowers. 

I think it was the feeling that spring had finally arrived that made me remember there was a bottle of Chrysalis Vineyard’s 2006 Viognier in the refrigerator.  Since I walked in the door before Hubby, I opened the bottle, poured a glass, sliced a chunk from the block of NY Sharp Cheddar in the fridge, grabbed my latest issue of Food & Wine, and settled-in at the little bistro table in our sunroom.  The windows were all open, so there was a nice breeze, and the afternoon sun was beating down on me.  It was perfect!

Chrysalis Vineyard is about an hour outside of DC and sits on the Loudoun and Fauquier County line in Middleburg, VA.  The website calls the Viognier Chrysalis’ “flagship” wine, and after tasting it, I’m not surprised.  The wine has a clear, medium gold color, and in a characteristic Viognier style, the strong fruity aromas rise temptingly out of the glass.  Immediately, I smelled stone fruits—peach and apricot—followed by a slightly less intense honeydew and pineapple.  There was also the smallest hint of lime and of flowers.

Upon first tasting the wine, I was struck by how the fruitiness faded in the mouth and there were only hints of the stone fruits that I found on the nose.  The tartness from the lime was surprisingly strong, although not unpleasant, and the perfume from the flowers disappeared completely.  I thought it was fresh and enjoyable, just crisper and more dominated by citrus flavors than I was expecting.

After a few more tastes and some note writing, I took a bite of my cheddar, opened my magazine, and settled in to read and sip away.  All I can say is WOW!  The sharp cheddar brought out such amazing flavors in the wine that I was surprised it was the same pour.  Suddenly, my mouth was full of white blossoms and ripe peaches.  The tart, citrusy wine from a few sips ago turned into an aromatic, full-bodied mouthful.  A smile spread across my face as I went in for another nibble of cheese and another sip of wine. 

Is this worth a glass after work? It’s worth more than one!  What are you waiting for?  At $30 a bottle, and a few more dollars for a nice sharp cheddar cheese, your money will be well spent.  Admittedly, on its own, the Chrysalis Viognier isn’t out of the ordinary, although still decent and reliable, but with the right food pairing, the wine catapulted to a glass that I just couldn’t put down.  Plus, any glass of wine that pairs well with cheese is a wine worth having in the house.

Overall: 4.5 Corks

Move Over Manischewitz, There Are New Kosher Wines In Town (WBW #56)

Between the mention of kosher and the mention of Passover, you may ready to click the “x” on your computer screen to close the window, but don’t! I have some wine reviews that may surprise you…they definitely surprised me. As I mentioned in my post last week, The Cork Dork picked fine kosher wines for the Wine Blogging Wednesday topic. Since I liked the idea of finding good wines for this year’s holiday, I decided to taste “Kosher for Passover” wines—four, to be exact.


  • 2005 Domaine Saint Benoit Laureline Chateauneuf-du-Pape (Mevushal)
  • 2006 Bazelet HaGolan Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Bartenura Prosecco (Mevushal)
  • 2006 Baron Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon

For those new to kosher wines, it’s worth a quick look at what it means for a wine to be kosher, as there are two methods and the wines I tasted are a sampling of both. The first method for making kosher wine dictates how the wine is handled—throughout the entire wine making process, the materials can be handled only by an observant, orthodox Jew. The other method dictates how the wine is prepared—it must go through boiling or flash pasteurization. This method is necessary for strict kosher laws and the result is mevushal wine. Mevushal wine can be handled by anyone. With either method, in order for a wine to be “kosher for Passover,” it not only must be made using one of these two processes, but also must not come into contact with chametz (bread, grains, or leavened products). Once made, a rabbi must certify that the wine has been prepared in accordance with Jewish law (one of these two methods).

Now, onto the wines…


2005 Domaine Saint Benoit Laureline Chateauneuf-du-Pape (Mevushal)

When I saw that there was a kosher Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which is among my favorite wines, I could barely contain my excitement. It’s also probably no surprise that it was the first wine I opened, both with the purpose of having a glass and making charoset—a traditional Passover dish made with apples, walnuts, cinnamon, honey, and, of course, wine.

The 2005 Domaine Saint Benoit Laureline Chateauneuf-du-Pape was a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, and Clairette grapes and was a mevushal wine. It had a nice, deep ruby color. Unfortunately, the great color did not match the rest of the wine. I was hit in the face with pungent medicinal strawberry and blueberry aromas, a smell that I did not enjoy. In the mouth, I was overwhelmed by a sour cherry flavor, which was followed by a hint of leather and a long finish of cherry cough syrup. For as little as I enjoyed the smell, I thought the taste was far worse.

Is this wine worth a glass after work? No…it’s not worth dirtying a perfectly clean wine glass.At almost $33, this wine is only a small step up from drinking Manischewitz and significantly more expensive.

Overall:
½ cork


Needless to say, this first wine made me a bit apprehensive about the remaining three wines.

2006 Bazelet HaGolan Cabernet Sauvignon

As I couldn’t use the Domaine Saint Benoit for my charoset, I opened bottle number 2—the 2006 Bazelet HaGolan Cabernet Sauvignon (winery, snooth). This Israeli wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and is not a mevushal wine.

The Bazelet HaGolan had a deep ruby color, with hints of garnet showing on the rim. The black fruit, particularly blackberry, aromas were delicious and were followed with a touch of toastiness. In the mouth, the black fruit flavors were intense and balanced with a hint of vanilla and olives, and nice tannins.

Is this wine worth a glass after work? Definitely!  Regardless of whether or not you’re looking for a kosher wine, if you see this wine in the store, grab it; you won’t be disappointed. For $27, you might actually want to grab two bottles—one to enjoy now and one to let age a little, since I think this wine has some good development potential.

Overall:
4 corks


Bartenura Prosecco (Mevushal)

Several days into the holiday, I opened my one kosher sparkling wine—a Bartenura Prosecco. This mevushal Italian sparkler had a clear, gold color with large bubbles, although there weren’t a lot of them. On the nose, a pleasant medium-to-light yeasty smell was followed by a hint of fresh oranges. In the mouth, the Prosecco was more fizzy than bubbly. This sparkler was high in acid, which was exaggerated by the lime and grapefruit tastes. It’s a fairly simple tasting sparkling wine, but well-balanced and refreshing.

Is this wine worth a glass after work? Sure…you won’t be drinking anything out of the ordinary, but you’ll definitely have a decent, reliable glass of wine. For $14.50, this wine could be a good choice to accompany any tomato sauce-based dish. On its own, it was just ok, the type of wine that I would recommend if you were looking for a kosher sparkler. However, when paired with the high acidity of my matzo lasagna, the wine showed its true, vibrant colors. It was an enjoyable pairing that increased my opinion of the wine.

Overall:
3 corks


2006 Baron Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon

As Passover is coming to the end, I opened my last bottle of kosher wine last night—the 2006 Baron Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon. This California Cabernet is not a mevushal wine. Appearance wise, it had a medium-to-light purplish-ruby color. My bottle was slightly reduced, so the sulfur smells were unpleasant and overpowering. Behind the sulfur, I had a hint of black cherry. I tried decanting the wine, which helped a little, but not enough to make the wine anything other than just passable. In the mouth, there were stronger black cherry flavors, which were accompanied by spice, tobacco, and cedar.

Is this wine worth a glass after work? Eh…if you have a bottle on hand, drink it, but if not, I wouldn’t go searching it out. The wine is only $14, so if you’re looking for an inexpensive kosher wine and your choices are limited, this probably could work. However, if you can afford the upgrade, it’s worth paying a little extra for a wine like the Bazelet HaGolan.

Overall:
2 corks


**Special thanks to The Cork Dork for hosting Wine Blogging Wednesday! Clearly, there are some enjoyable fine kosher wines out there for Jews and non-Jews alike.