Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Wine Tasting: 2001 Northstar Merlot Columbia Valley

I received this bottle of Merlot from my parents for my birthday back in May but it retails for around $50. I knew it was supposed to be a rockin’ bottle of wine so we held on to it for just a little bit longer. We drank it the other night with some great veggie Stromboli from our local pizza joint Candelas.

A bit of background on the wine – Northstar is located in the Walla Walla region of the Columbia Valley in Washington State and is famous for their ultra-premium Merlot. According to Northstar, 2001 provided a long stable growing season that lead to ideal (warm clear days with cool nights) harvest conditions in September. Ripe grapes were destemmed and crushed, leaving 25% whole berries intact, then inoculated with various strains of yeast including Prise de Mousse and Fermirouge. Individual lots were fermented separately in 2.5-ton fermenters and punched down 2-4 times daily during the 6-day fermentation process. After primary fermentation to dryness, the wine was racked into barrels where it underwent malolactic fermentation. The wine was then aged for 17 months in primarily French and some American oak, using 83% new barrels and 17% one-year-old barrels. The final blend was created from 20 different varietal and vineyards lots. The final blend of the wine was 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and was bottle in June 2003.

My Tasting Notes:

Nose – Plum, black cherry and toasted corn husk

Taste - Blackberry, chocolate and leather

Mouthfeel – Rich, supple and smooth and very full bodied (especially for a Merlot)

Finish – long – over a minute

Wow, what an awesome wine. It is probably the most full bodied Merlot I have ever had. The wine itself was really big but very well balanced and I think it justifies the $50 price tag. Although I got it for free, I don’t think that swayed my opinion at all. Each sip was smooth and rich, and the flavors were all very powerful and the aromas just jumped out of the glass.

If you want a really nice wine for dinner, or are looking to get a nice bottle as a gift for a wine lover, the 2001 Northstar Merlot Columbia Valley fits the bill.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Wine Closure Systems and the Environment


Cork vs. Screw cap: A fight over the environment” is the title of a recent article in the Seattle Times. The title being what it is, I thought it would be a push towards screw cap usage to better the environment – I was surprised to read that I was wrong.

Apparently, cork farming is good for the environment on an ecological as well as a socioeconomic level. Cork trees take up 6.7 million acres of land in the Mediterranean regions where they thrive, and cork is a sustainable product that promotes healthy growth of the tree over its approximate 200 year life span.

Here is a quick primer on how cork is harvested (from After about 25 years of the tree´s life, cork used for wine can be harvested. It is after this period, the tree is considered mature and the cork is cut in the form of strips. These strips are then carefully removed and dried for 6 months or so, after which they are boiled for a few hours and then left to dry for around 3 weeks. Subsequently, they are cut and/or molded into the correct cork size. The cork trees can be restripped every 8-14 years throughout its lifespan.

Next, the washing process occurs where a variety of chemicals are used to sanitize the corks against bacterial growth. Some manufacturers are utilizing new technologies such as irradiation as a weapon against the potential bacteria growth, which results in cork taint. Corks are then sealed in bags containing inert preservation gases before being shipped to wineries.

Since the trees are not killed during harvest, it is considered a sustainable resource. The article points out that, as screw cap usage goes up, cork farms will begin to be neglected and will eventually die. Since the majority of cork forests are privately owned, the decline of business for farmers could lead a sell-off of land and subsequent industrial and commercial development. Obviously the ecosystem would be terribly disrupted, in addition to the sociological impacts of 100,000+ people losing their jobs, which could also be devastating to the economy.

So why do winemakers use screw cap closure systems if the use of them threatens cork tree existence? Well it is mostly an issue of quality. Cork is a pretty awesome closure system but it can have its bad days. The biggest reason for use alternative closures whether it be screw caps or synthetic corks is the removal of the possibility that the wine will get cork taint, chemically speaking TCA (2,4,6 Trichloroanisole). TCA will give the wine that famous musty, wet cardboard smell that affects an estimated 5% of all bottles sold. Also, screw caps aren’t susceptible to drying out and letting in air that can oxidize and ruin the wine, or just become brittle and break apart as someone is trying to open there bottle for dinner. So if your brain is anything like mine, you are thinking – well at least screw caps are recyclable? According to the article they are not. The typical process involves non renewable resources and a plastic insert that make it difficult to reuse and not acceptable to most residential recycling programs.

So my question to help settle the debate would be to ask, which manufacturing process is better for the environment? Does one process have less of an environmental impact than the other? Unfortunately I do not know the process of making screw caps nor do I know how much energy and/or waste is produced in the process for cork making outlined above. And at the winery level, which is most efficient on the people power as well as which method has the smallest carbon footprint? The question above is purely to settle the environmental/ecological side of the debate. There is no real way to account for the loss of 100,000 jobs unless you build screw cap mfg. facilities on the sites of old cork farms.

Obviously their are other debates out there on cork vs. screw cap like: screw caps take away the romance of opening the bottle, and only cheap bottles have screw caps. Well the second is definitely not true anymore as bottles over $100 are starting to show up on wine store shelves with brand new screw caps.

So what does everyone think? Give me a shout with your opinion on the subject.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Friday night wine tasting at the Wine Cellar - 10.26.07

Here is what Jeff and his crew are serving up this Friday night at the Wine Cellar.


I am really excited to try all of these wines, although I have had past vintages of the Campus Oaks Zin, and actually have one in the wine cellar at home. The Campus Oaks is always a great value Zin. They are well balanced with a lot of dark fruit and rich chocolate aromas and not too hot which I feel a lot of the Zins from Lodi sometimes are.

The two wines that are on sale look on paper to be fantastic. I really can’t wait to try the Bighorn Cab, as well as the Bethel Heights Chardonnay.

Hope to see you all there! FREE as always from 5-8pm.

Even though I am a devoted Wine Cellar shopper, I feel that I need to start let people know about the other wine tastings that are going on around Richmond. I am sure there are more than these but these are the ones I know about. If you are a wine shop or a devotee to another weekly tasting that I didn’t mention. Please email and I will post it up regularly.

River City Cellars - Free Weekly Tasting Friday, October 19th, 5-7pm: Tuscany!
Corks and Kegs – Every Friday from 5:30 – 7:30
Private Stock Cigar and Wine – Every Friday and Saturday

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Wine Review - 2005 Keswick Vineyards Consensus

We purchased this wine in June from Keswick Vineyards while we were there for a tasting. I wrote about the visit back in July I think – here is the link. It was part of a big day of wine tasting and lunch at the Palladio Restaurant.

We happened to be in the Keswick area this past weekend (after apple picking at Graves Mountain Lodge) and stopped by the winery on our way home to Richmond for a little wine tasting. In doing so, when we got to the 2005 Consensus, we remembered how impressed with it we were and also remembered that we still had a bottle at home. Funny coincidence also that day – we happened to run into our friends Paul and Warren from Virginia Wine Time. So, we all enjoyed the tasting together and afterwards enjoyed a bottle of Viognier while we chatted about all things wine.

So the next night we opened a bottle of Consnesus to have with our “famous” homemade veggie pizza.

Here is a little background on the 2005 Keswick Consensus.

The 2005 Consensus is blended solely by members of the Keswick wine club. This wine is a blend of 50% Cabernet Franc, 30% Syrah, and 20% Petite Verdot. The wine was fermented in stainless steel, and aged in 2 and 3 year old French and American Oak. It was bottled in February of this year and total case production was only 245.

My Tasting Notes:

Nose – Blackberry, Cherry, Smoke (kind of like diluted liquid smoke that you can buy for grilling), and hazelnut

Taste – Cocoa, Black Cherry, and Sautéed green peppers

Mouthfeel – Great body / weight on the palette – smooth tannins with a balanced acidity – slight bit of spiciness towards the finish, - maybe from the American Oak

Finish – nice length, between 45 seconds to a minute

Megan and I were very impressed by this wine and it is another example that Virginia can make good red wine. At $20.95 it is not cheap but I think that the wine definitely merits the quality to justify the price. The Consensus doesn’t have the tannins to stick around in the cellar for more than a couple years so if you pick up a bottle I would recommend drinking it right now. That being said it does have the backbone to deal with heavier Italian dishes that feature robust cheeses but probably not big enough to have with a juicy steak – not that I would know being a veg head.

If you have had this or if you have it in the future, shoot me a line and let me know what you think.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Wine Review - 2003 Chateau Lacombe Noaillac - Medoc

When I started writing Anything Wine it was mostly wine reviews, then it was almost all about weekend tastings, then their was nothing, and now I am writing about everything. Being inspired by fellow Virginia blogger Sonadora over at Wannabewino (who posts about every bottle she and her husband drink) I am going to try and post my wine notes more frequently. I haven't even been keeping up with putting my notes into Cork'd which populates the list on the right side of the page. So here we go....

So lets start with a little background on Chateau Lacombe Noaillac.

Lacombe Noaillac is located in Jau-Dignac-Loirac north of the Médoc appellation not far from the Gironde estuary. The first vines at Chateau Lacombe Noaillac were planted in 1979 and now total acreage exceeds 30 hectares (about 90 acres). Vineyard plantings which correlate directly to the perecntage of grape make up in the wine are as follows - 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 5% Cabernet franc and 3% Petit Verdot.

Price - $16.95 from the Wine Cellar

Tasting Notes:

Nose - Boysenberry, suede, Rhubarb and Shitaki mushroom

Taste- Bright fruit in particular red raspberry with a nice finish of asparagus

Mouthfeel - Tannins still present, but not rough at all. Medium bodied - good weight in the mouth.

Finish - Surprising; I was expecting something decent but it was fairly lengthy lasting up to a minute.

This is a great value Bordeaux. This is the second time we have had this, the first being about 8 months ago. 2003 was a fairly hot vintage in Bordeaux. This led to really ripe fruit and in some cases more fruit forward style of wines. You would think this was the case with this wine as that is definitely comes out of the gate with really rich fruit flavors and aromas. But after about an hour of being open, the terroir of the gravelly soil definitely starts to come through and exhibit more old world characteristics.

Chateau Lacombe Noaillac is pretty widely distributed so check it out if you get a chance.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Friday Tasting at the Wine Cellar - 10.19.07

Here is what Jeff and the folks from the Wine Cellar will be serving at their free tasting this Friday.

1. McMANIS VIOGNIER 2006 (DRY) $12.45
2. McMANIS PINOT NOIR 2006 $12.95
4. McMANIS ZINFANDEL 2005 $12.45
5. McMANIS PETITE SIRAH 2006 $12.45

McMANIS is one of those go to wines. It is WIDELY available, and can be found in almost every grocery store and wine shop. All of their wines are consistently good, and are always fairly inexpensive for the quality. If you haven't had any of McMANIS' stuff, check out the Viognier and the Zin, both great values.

FRIDAY NIGHT FROM 5:00 to 8:00


Where to plant a 2099?

According to a small article in National Geographic this month, by the year 2099 most of the current major viticulture areas in the world will have become too hot to produce wine at all. Or if wine production is still feasible, these areas will not be able to produce great wine from the varietals that are currently being planted. Growing seasons will become too short, and sugar levels will rise to outrageous levels long before the fruit itself has time to mature and develop its wonderful character. The wine industry does recognize this and think it is big issue as well and are taking it seriously. In fact in February of 2008 will be the second conference on Climate Change and Wine in Barcelona Spain where Al Gore is the keynote speaker.

Check out a few articles on Global Warming and Wine – (there are ton of articles out there- just Google it)

Why the Wine Industry Should Care About Global Warming
Grapegrowers Feeling the Heat
Australia at the Crossroads
Global Warming and Wine

I do believe that global warming is truly an issue and will continue to be an issue for all agricultural businesses, but that isn’t why I am writing this entry. I am trying to put a little bit of a thought provoking/ humorous spin on it.

So to the title of the blog entry, where would you plant a vineyard now, knowing the fact that it may not be sustainable in that same area in the year 2099? Do you believe that Global Warming will truly make that dramatic a difference in viticulture as to shorten growing seasons by leaps and bounds? Or are you a glass half full kind of person? Do you believe that we (humans) will solve the climate crisis and, and current viticulture areas will still be producing wonderful fruit in 2099? Or maybe you are a little bit of both! Do you think that the climate will definitely change, for better or worse, but that viticulturists and enologists will develop new grape varieties that will flourish under the new global conditions?

Well in talking to people in the wine industry, there are definitely people that represent all of the above schools of thought. A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle entitled “Winemakers look to hardy hybrids for solutions to environmental challenges” talks to the third point above in regards to developing new grape hybrids that can handle the stresses of higher temperatures and the increasing issues with climate change. In addition to climate change, the growing trend toward greener viticulture practices and reduced fungicide use will also increase the need for more hearty hybrids.

So readers out there let me know what you think. Whether or not you think Global Warming is real, I want to hear your thoughts on the future direction of viticulture.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Wine and Dessert Tasting at Relish

So after you hit the Wine Cellar for their free tasting this week, head on down to Relish for their dessert and wine tasting event.
As the flyer says - $15 in advance or $20 at the door.
Sounds like it will be a lot of fun!
See you there!

Friday Night Tasting at the Wine Cellar

Here are this weeks wines that Jeff will be serving at the Wine Cellar in Midlothian.



Friday from 5-8 and as always FREE!

See you there.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

My heart a Barrel Thief!

Saturday evening Megan and I ventured up to Barrel Thief Wine, the new wine shop/ wine bar/ café across from Short Pump Towne Center. We were heading there for some dinner and (of course) wine.

Prior to leaving for the restaurant we checked the website to make sure they had vegetarian options on their menu and to get a sneak peak at what wines they serve. We were slightly disappointed to see that they only were currently serving 12 wines by the glass, but were excited nonetheless to try the new wine café out. I mean come on, it has to do with wine. Ha ha

Our disappointment about the limited by-the-glass wine list quickly dissipated while we were waiting to put our name on the list for a table (they were quite busy). We saw a cute little sign that effectively said, "see any wine in the shop you want, take it to your table and the waitress will open it for you, the price will be the retail price on the label plus six dollars." Sweet, a $6 corkage fee!! So while we waited for a table, which was only about 10 minutes, we got to peruse the wine shop-- it was like taking a virtual tour of their wine list. They have a nice, diverse selection, which according to what I read online is currently around 300 bottles, though it seemed like more.

Once we were seated we looked over the menu, which consistedof salads, tapas-style dishes, cheese plates, panini and desserts. The back of the menu had information about the 12 wines they are serving by the glass.

The wine we chose was a bottle of the 2005 Vietti Barbera d’ Asti, which our waitress gladly opened for 6 bucks and brought us two nice Schott Zweissel glasses to drink from.

The tomato mozzarella salad had nice red and yellow vine tomatos with fresh mozzarella, layered with an excellent fresh pesto and topped with toasted pine nuts. The pesto really set it above the typical caprese salad drizzled with balsamic. Don’t get me wrong, I love the typical caprese, but this was a nice spin on the classic.

The sandwich we both ordered was the portabella mushroom Panini which was layered portabella, manchego cheese and sun dried tomato pesto. It was very nicely grilled with a good amount of olive oil- not “greasy” in the slightest. Again, the pesto (this time sun-dried tomato) really set the dish off. It was also nice to have the manchego cheese instead of the typical mozzarella. We both enjoyed the sandwich thoroughly and the Barbera was a perfect match. Our only complaint was that the plate looked rather bare with just the sandwich halves sitting on it. There was no drizzle of sauce or garnish to add a little color to the stark white plate, but if you have to complain about something, I would rather it be that the plate looked naked versus the food.

A few notes on the wine: As I said it was very nice pairing with the food that we ate for dinner. The mushrooms on the sandwich brought out the earthiness in the wine and the fact that the sandwich itself was not laden with oil and not too “heavy” allowed the fruit room to express itself. The Barbera had great aromas of plum, cherry and blueberry, with similar flavors on the palate followed up with a hint of tobacco. The tannins were definitely noticeable as we drank the wine prior to the meal arriving, but the food and the cheese in both of the dishes help manage those quite nicely. If I were to buy this for drinking at home, I would wait another year before opening it.

For dessert we shared a miniature pound cake Panini with Nutella spread in the middle and some fresh whipped cream on the side. Holy cow it was good, and just the right size. The flavor of the grilled pound cake alone was fantastic. My mouth is watering as I am recounting the experience. To go with our delicious dessert we paired an Australian Tokay with it, which is quite similar to a Port in taste but is the Australian version of the Hungarian Tokaji (kind of like Shiraz is the Australian Syrah). It was a great treat, and was served in a unique dessert wine glass. In drinking the Tokay you could definitely taste the alcohol, but it was smooth, with nice round toffee and honey flavors.

As you can tell we had a great time and plan to go back often. We talked with one of the owners, Ned I believe, who let us know that the 12 wines by the glass should be changing weekly and added me to the email list to get updates on what wines they are currently serving.

So go check 'em out! Your heart will be stolen too!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

My thoughts on Virginia winery tasting room staff!

One of my complaints about tasting rooms at wineries in Virginia is that a good percentage of the time the staff are not very knowledgeable about wine. Seems as though that should be one of the prerequisites for the job! Now of course I understand that wineries aren't going out and hiring sommeliers to work the counter for $9 or so an hour, but at least give them a crash course on basic wine facts.

Now I am sure you are asking what sparked this blog entry.... well it was the following dialog between myself and some tasting room staff at a northern VA winery:

Me: "so how long was this aged in oak?"
Tasting room person 1: "18 months"
Me: "wow, so this was just bottled recently then, being that it is a 2006"
Tasting room person 2: "No, it has been bottled since 2006, they put the year it was bottled on the label"
Me: weird look at Megan (my wife for those readers who don't know)
Me: [trying to be polite]"Oh, I thought the year on the label represented the year the grapes were harvested"
Tasting room person 1: "No, it is the year it was bottled."
Me: "Okay, thanks" [slightly sarcastic]

Have you ever been in a situation where you KNEW the correct answer but some dumb comment made you think twice? Well this was that moment for me. I definitely did a double take in my brain.

Alright, now I am not saying everyone in the world should know that the year on the bottle is the year the grapes were harvested, but if you are working in the wine industry that is definitely a must (no pun intended). I will say the staff were very friendly and personable, but this was just one of the many things they said that urked me. If you don't know the answer to a question, just say I don't know, that is okay.

So am I being too picky?

When we go to wineries where the staff is knowledgeable about wine we definitely let the owner or the person themselves know how much we appreciate it and them. It just makes the experience for us that much more enjoyable, especially when you have to pay for the tasting.

Let me know what you think!!!!

Friday, October 05, 2007

A quick vegetarian rant!

First of all this has nothing to do about wine, so disregard the title of the blog for the next few minutes. :-)

I have been hearing good things about Karsens in Carytown, but unfortunately I couldn’t seem to find a menu online. Well yesterday the Times Dispatch did an article on Karsens and within the article posted the restaurants website. So I was all excited to see what entrees they had on their menu – for a Vegetarian.

And to my amazement (not really), and confusion another fine dining restaurant in Richmond has not one single Vegetarian entrée on the menu. Come on people, this is ridiculous and it totally baffles mine and Megan’s mind that any restaurant not to mention fancy ones don’t have ONE vegetarian option. I am not asking for 2, 3, or 4, just 1. And yes I know if you go there with other people, usually the chef can whip something up, but sometimes not.

This is not a stab at Karsens, just at fine dining establishments in general that commit the “crime” stated above. Their menu does in fact look delicious for someone who eats meat and fish.

I think that current statistics claim 15% of the population is vegetarian, that is a pretty good number of restaurants goers. So fine dining establishments here in Richmond and across the country listen up, I want to give you my money so get creative and give me a veggie entree option!!

Thank you for letting me rant! Ha ha!!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Friday Night Tasting at the Wine Cellar - 10.6.2007

Hello again everyone - here is the list of what Jeff will be serving up this Friday for his FREE tasting at the Wine Cellar.

2. AQUINAS PINOT NOIR 2006 $11.95

See you all there!

5-8pm this Friday Oct. 6th

October is Virginia Wine Month

So with grape harvest in Virginia wrapping up, there are many winery open houses and festivals to help you celebrate the fact that October is Virginia Wine Month.

Click the link to the Virginia Tourism site to check out a complete list of what is going on this month around the state.

A small plug to the family winery right here in Richmond (well Midlothian is close enough) Woodland Vineyard. We are having a open house on Saturday October 13th from 12:00 to 5:00. Click HERE for more info! Also Woodland Vineyard is going to be participating in Powhatan Festival of the Grape this year so come check us out as well as all of the other participating wineries.