after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Archive for the ‘PLCB-approved’ Category

goodbye La Crele, hello Saldo

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t says:  For those that haven’t checked out “the cellar” yet, it features reviewed wines that g and I like to keep on hand.  Two of the wines in there haven’t been formally reviewed in a post in the blog, so I’m just going to put them up now.  Here we go!

First up is one of our favorite sauvignon blancs.  We are sadly down to our last bottle and no more can be found [at a reasonable price].  Truth be told, it is time to move on, as this particular white isn’t likely one that would age well (peaking now), so it’s not like if we found more, we’d continue drinking it forever.  Goodbye La Crele.  You served us well.

2009 Domaine Thomas & Fils “La Crele” (France, Loire Valley, Sancerre; $20 at Cherry Hill Winelegend; $27 at PLCB).  This is a Sauvignon Blanc based wine from the Loire valley in France.  It was recommended by a guy named Phil at Winelegend in Cherry Hill; it was “the best Sauvignon Blanc he had in the store”.  I figured, “g likes Sauvignon Blanc”, so I picked up a bottle to score some brownie points with the Mrs.  What I didn’t expect was how much I would like it … I liked it a LOT.  Gone was the petrol zip of typical New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs that normally put me off – instead was a pleasant herbal zip surrounded by surprisingly plush fruits and florals that kept on the pressure well after swallowing.  This was no ordinary Sauvignon Blanc.  Even Wine Spectator agrees: “Very juicy, with a delicious core of lemon verbena and straw laced with hints of nectarine, white peach and mineral. The finish is long and fresh. Delicious. Drink now. (90 Points)”  I couldn’t remember the last time I had as pleasant a white wine.  Quintessa’s Illuminations?  Dare I utter that rare unicorn of a wine in the same breath as this $20 off-the-shelf bottle?  Yikes.  I just did.  I confronted Phil the next week to ask him whether this was typical for Sancerres (certainly none that I’ve had).  He said, “No – just this one.”  I believed him.  I instantly bought 3 more, and each has been as good as the first.  My only advice is to not precede this wine with something sweet (e.g. Lillet), because it’ll make this wine taste too petrol-y.  Other than that, order that fish or salad, pull out La Crele, and hold on tight!

The other wine we have here is a dry-but-oh-so-fruity zinfandel – and unlike the above, it actually is available.

2009 Orin Swift Cellars “Saldo” (USA, CA; $29.99 at PLCB).  a is a big fan of Orin Swift Cellars.  Actually, he was the one who introduced us to “The Prisoner” back at Talula’s Table.  It was delightful!  We had another sampling of The Prisoner at The Wine School when the gang went for its Luxury Wines of Napa class.  Again, another beautiful showing.  Too bad the price of The Prisoner was increasing in recent vintages to $40+, which puts it out of the range that g and I want to spend on a “nice dinner out”.  This was problematic.  So recently, when g and I found ourselves in K&L during our trip to California, seeking a Prisoner-like experience but unwilling to pay that amount of money, I pulled up Orin Swift’s website to find their second-label Zin: Saldo.  For under $30, we hoped it would deliver.  And deliver it did!  There were gobs and gobs of chocolate and cherry/strawberry/raspberry preserves, with a bit of cinnamon/nutmeg and a hint of sweet (almost off-dry!).  It wasn’t as complex as The Prisoner, but that was actually quite a nice feature, as this was pure thought-free enjoyment from sip to sip.  Coupling it with some steak and dark chocolate would result in an absolutely hedonistic meal.  Unfortunately, PA’s stash of it is thin right now, so one should act quickly.  Procuring more in PA after the few bottles in the city are gone will require a Special Liquor Order but then the price is $35/bottle, which really kind of ruins the “steal” this is supposed to be.  Fear not, however, as Saldo’s pretty easily found , in Jersey (the 2008 vintage is just as good if not “better” than the 2009).

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26 March 2012 at 7:31pm

dr. loosen’s red slate loses my attention (and a Serbian wine review)

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t says:  Very recently, I wrote about Dr. Loosen’s “Blue Slate” Riesling, gushing with praise.  a fired back that perhaps I should also try their “Red Slate”, which is their dry version (at the bottom of the post) …

So I took his advice a few days later …

We had the 2010 dr. loosen "red slate" Riesling ... not the 2009 ...

2010 Dr. Loosen “Red Slate” Riesling ($13.99 at PLCB).  I got a lot of the chemical nose that the “Blue Slate” had, but not a lot of fruit.  My tongue was greeted with the zip and refreshing quality that I find desirable in a white wine … but … it was missing a very important feature: fruit!  No peaches, no apricots.  It’s all structure with no flash, no plush.  Maybe some white grape juice on the finish as the zip fades away, but that’s about it.  g didn’t feel it to be as lacking as I had found; for her it was “like the Blue Slate, but watered down”.  All in all, while better than something like a Cavit white wine, there’s not enough to motivate me to buy it again – not if I can find a bottle of Shaya “Old Vines” around.

Sorry Lord Riesling … I’m sure you’ll bring this up next time we talk wine …

In other news, drb at curiouser and curiouser posted about the first ever bottle of Serbian wine I’ve ever seen.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

24 March 2012 at 9:00pm

another reason to be suspicious of wine “perfection”

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t says:  Ok – so from the last post, you know that I sought out some wine from the PLCB based on a pretty strongly-worded review.  Well, this past Friday, I put that wine to the test:

what a Snooki-shaped bottle! (before the weight loss)

What I didn’t mention previously about my purchase is that the bottle is a pretty silly shape.  It’s short and stout.  It won’t fit in any wine cellar/refrigerator that I’ve seen, including the one that I own.  And it’s not particularly pretty when lying down next to other bottles.  Actually, it’s not pretty in any orientation.  All in all, pretty silly if you ask me – but what do I know?

So I got to decanting the wine for a half hour or so and eventually poured it into the glass.  I reviewed The Wine School’s note:
Luxurious, like a velvet cushion of dark sweet fruit. The only fault is its perfection –round, sexy, slick perfection– which takes away some of the pleasure of drinking a Umbrian wine.”

I braced for “perfection”.

I didn’t find it …

2009 Falesco Tellus (Umbria, Italy, $13.99 at PLCB)Sweet-smelling dark fruits on the nose, like blackberries.  On the palate, there’s some initial pleasant fruit but a surprising lack of the spice or pepper that I normally think of when I think “shiraz” (I guess I’m used to Australian Shirazes).  There’s a medium body.  The finish is kind of short – shorter than I’d expect from a shiraz.  However, it’s also silky-smooth, with only trace tannic bite and only a tidbit of alcoholic heat.  It’s a dry wine, but it goes down really easily.  As far as flavors are concerned, it’s a little one-dimensional. a’s review was similar to mine: “A ‘berry-e’ nose, good fruit up front, not much on the back. Certainly NOT perfection, unless ‘perfect’ means ‘enjoyable’.”

In my mind, the Tellus lost in a head-to-head against a Cali Cab (PLCB Product Code: 000514628) that I had also pulled out that night – one that I had purchased for $10 in NJ.  a disagreed, though, feeling that the Tellus was more interesting of a wine with a fuller, more inviting body.  I felt the opposite.  Knowing that a can handle some criticism, I told him he was “wrong”.  He informed me I was misinformed and requested that I re-taste the Tellus to ensure we were tasting the same wine.  I did.  Nope – it was the same Tellus, so I wasn’t budging.  I suspect it’s because he has higher expectations from a California Cabernet Sauvignon than an Italian Shiraz.  Despite not agreeing after a few more seconds of debate, it didn’t come to fisticuffs, as we agreed that no matter which way we sliced it, this wine is definitely not “perfect” in any aspect: bottle shape, nose, flavor, finish, etc.

In summary: It’s smooth and pleasant and it won’t disappoint anyone at a party … well … unless they’re expecting “perfection”.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

11 March 2012 at 8:38pm

Posted in PLCB-approved, Wine Room

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another reason to hate the PLCB

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t says:  There are many reasons why people dislike or even detest the PLCB.  Today, I will share my latest grievance with them.  Having been on the email list for The Wine School, I received their March newsletter containing reviews of some bottles that can be found in PA Wine and Spirits Shoppes.  One particular wine stood out (I hope they don’t mind that I reproduce it here):

2009 Falesco Tellus (Umbria, Italy, $13.99 at PLCB)per The Wine School: “Luxurious, like a velvet cushion of dark sweet fruit. The only fault is its perfection –round, sexy, slick perfection– which takes away some of the pleasure of drinking a Umbrian wine.”

And trust me – these guys at The Wine School have no incentive to promote PA wine sales – they just really like wine!  Furthermore, the Wine Advocate had a glowing review as well (check the PLCB link above).  So I logged onto the PLCB website, searched for the bottle, and found that a some-what local store in center city.  So I walked on down to 12th and Chestnut, skipping along, ever-so-excited by my impending purchase.  I mean, come on: “round, sexy, slick perfection” – who could resist?.

I arrived and couldn’t find the bottle on my own.  No big deal – they only had 2 bottles left, so it was going to be hard.  I approached a person stocking shelves and asked them for help.  They had no idea what I was talking about, which was to be expected, so they looked it up on the slower-than-molasses computer.  “We’re supposed to have 2 of these.”  I was not surprised.  “You couldn’t find ’em?”  No – of course I found ’em – I was just testing him because I have nothing better to do on a Wednesday.  Duh!  But I was nice and politely responded, “nah – I’ll check the Italian section again.”  He then went back into the storeroom to “ask the wine guy”.  A few minutes passed.  He came out and said, “we don’t got ’em”.  None?  “Nope.”  And then he walked away.  The mysterious “wine guy” didn’t come out and say anything.  No “oops”.  No “let me help you find something else”.  Nothing.

Thanks PLCB.  I love you, too.

NOT.
PS  I just went to the PLCB on 5th street and they had 7 or so bottles – from which I selected two.  I hope they’re not compromised!  (The corks seem to be riding a little high.)  If so, it’d be anotherreason I’d hate the PLCB …

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7 March 2012 at 5:37pm

if wine were a cocktail …

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t says:  We invited over dz and smn a night or so ago for some take-out and wine (and dessert … don’t forget dessert*).  With pizza from Gusto’s, I went into my “cellar” and pulled out a pinot noir.  Now, I had never had this particular Pinot, so I was gambling a bit, because when it comes to a new Pinot, I never know what I’m going to get.  As soon as I hear “Pinot noir” (assuming I’m talking about red still wine), the two flavors that come to mind are red cherries and earth.  This is interesting because depending on the absolute intensities of cherry and earth as well as the cherry:earth ratio, different pinot noirs can be very different from each other.  You can get some over-extracted, over-the-top, fruit-bomb pinot noirs that coat your mouth and and scream “cherry” (or even darker fruits) from the top of its lungs, or you can get an elegant symphony of fruit and leather and earth and wood that moves you to tears.  To paraphrase that dude from the movie Sideways: “when it’s great, Pinot noir produces the most complex, hedonistic, and remarkably thrilling wine in the world.”  I assure you that the wine we had was not such a wine, but of course, it’s pretty unreasonable to have such expectations for under $20 … and with some take-out pizza.

2009 calera pinot noir

2009 Calera Pinot Noir (USA, CA, Central Coast; $24.99 at PLCB, but <$20 everywhere else).  The first thing I noticed about this particular bottle was that this was unlike any closure than I had ever encountered.  Here’s a closeup:

what’s the deal with the glass stopper?

That’s right – it’s not real cork, it’s not synthetic cork, it’s glass!  How interesting!  Maybe I need to drink more wine or something, because this is the first time I’ve seen it.  g did the honors and popped it with ease.  Wow!  No corkscrew necessary!  While I’m sure this will affect/limit any attempt to “age” the wine over time (or am I?), it’s definitely darn spiffy.  Plus, if there’s any left, you just pop it back into place and it’s [relatively] sealed once again.

The wine itself was intriguing because it didn’t quite remind me of pinot noir.  I’ll let g explain:

g says:  I smelled “jazzy strawberries”. It wasn’t just plain old strawberry – there was something else there – a lot like mint.  When I smelled it, it made me feel like I really wanted to drink it, if that makes any sense. It tasted just like it smelled, with strawberries, other red fruit, and a strong minty flavor (the fresh-cut herb, not like peppermint or spearmint). It also felt like it had a little bit of carbonation on my tongue. I guess it was kind of like a cocktail!  If t finds more at under $20/bottle, I think he should get some.

t says:  I completely agree with the above assessment.  As a matter of fact, we both mentioned red fruits (strawberry in particular) and mint independently and when I checked the Wine Advocate tasting note, I was not surprised to see that the wine critic found those two kinds of flavors as well.  The wine critic then mentions “polish” and “elegance”, but I’m not so sure I’d go there.  It does have this moderate-length finish where you continue to taste the pitter-patter of berry-mint flavor well after you swallow which is very pleasant, but it’s definitely not-so-much “elegant” as it is “flirtacious”.  To be truly “elegant”, I’d expect something else to come into play to balance the cocktail-ness (or maybe “cocktaility”?) of the wine.  There was some mouth-watering acid (which probably made it feel a little fizzy), but not a single bit of bitter tannin or funk/earth anywhere on the palate.  I did get some earth on the nose, but that’s about it.

Impression and Plan:  The Calera is an easy-going wine with flavors of mass-appeal (?who doesn’t like strawberry and mint?).  Overall, g quite liked it and she expects that kp will like it, too – we’ll see.  I feel that if it were $4 cheaper, I’d consider buying a bottle and having it on hand for emergency party situations.  g feels differently, and would pay up to $20.  I guess I just like something a little darker and a little more brooding.

*Noteworthy aside:  smn made this super-awesome lemon pound cake thingee from Ina Garten.  Holy crap it was amazing.  Between the lemon pound cake and the chocolate cake balls, she’s a pretty darn talented baker.  She was kind enough to let us have the remaining slice or two.  I will eat them when g’s not looking …

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18 February 2012 at 12:31am

big boy showdown

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t says:  Last time, we talked about the good times and good food had at Marigold Kitchen.  But, as you might have noticed, after all that hype in the beginning of the post, we didn’t have time to discuss the wine!  Just a reminder: the setup was that a and I each brought a bottle of wine unknown by the other.  After a little discussion and thought, we decided to make it a Cabernet Sauvignon showdown … a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon showdown …

I decided to pick up a spendy bottle of Cab from the PLCB; we needed a good splurge after the holidays.  Plus, I just found out that I could return my medical books to amazon.com for way higher than anyone else would buy them from me (Score!).  I searched high and low for what I should bring (our home cellar doesn’t have many spendy options that are “ready” yet).  And then I found it.  I found a bottle that would have some special meaning as well as fall within our budget (i.e. less than the $$ I got from the books I sold).  Basically, I was almost obligated to try it.  I should note that I technically didn’t buy the wine from a state-run “store”, rather, the state-run website: finewineandgoodspirits.com.  When you search for a wine, you can click the tab that says “special order” or something like that and see what’s lying around in the state’s warehouses (which I’ve read are kept at 65 degrees … however … with how tight moneys are nowadays in the state/nation/world, I seriously doubt anyone’s checking the thermostat regularly).  So yes, it was a risk.  With a vintage bottle of wine like the one I got, the risk is that it may have been improperly stored for several years and the consumer (little ‘ol me) would never know until I pop the cork.  That said, I do my best to minimize risk.  The most common problem with these warehouse-stored bottles (if there is a problem), is dried out corks (leading to air creeping down the sides of the cork and oxidizing the wine).  Consequently, as soon as I get home, I cut the foil off the top and check the cork.  And, if there’s the slightest bit of suspicious creepage of wine up the side of the cork (or less-than-perfect ullage or a cork that protrudes out the top some), I take advantage of the awesome  PLCB  return policy (i.e. no questions asked).  As previously blogged, I have run into a cooked wine, and I imagine if I ever run into a corked or oxidized wine from the PLCB, I’ll be returning it for sure.

Sooooo … I bought the wine, prepared it (i.e. decanted it), and brought it to the restaurant, ready to go toe-to-toe with a’s selection.  The waiter brought out the wines with the appetizers (i.e. after four or so amuses).  We tasted, analyzed, pontificated, and, right before entrees came out, revealed the wines’ identities.  This was followed by more tasting, analysis, and pontification.  In short – it was a lot of fun and something we’ll definitely do again (except a more fiscally responsible next time … or g will have my head …).

Now for 1/2 of the big reveal:

t's pick: 2002 dominus estate

2002 Dominus Estate (USA, CA, Napa, ?Yountville?; $97.19 at PLCBI had seen identical bottles going for $150 in NJ so I just had to give this one a whirl when I found it for under $100 at the state store.  Furthermore, Dominus holds a special place in g’s and my hearts, as a 1999 Dominus was the wine at our rehearsal dinner (we still have the empty magnum and cork) … and 1999 was a special year because that’s when we started dating <insert obligatory “aww” here>.

By the time we had gotten around to tasting, our ’02 had been decanted three times (once into the decanter, once back into the bottle, and once into the restaurant’s decanter) and allowed to sit for a total of 2.5 hours.  Because he’s tasted far more wines than I, I’ll let our wine guy take over:

a says:  To start, thank you t for bringing out the big guns. At first, on the nose, I found this a little underwhelming and mainly dominated by funky (but not FRENCH-funky) earth. On the palate, it was lighter than I would have expected for what I knew at the time (big cab from Napa) with much less fruit. Plain and simple, this wine was dusty with lots of dirt and leather. The grip was excellent and the tannins quite smooth, however, the aftertaste ended abruptly. As this wine decanted, it evolved with the meal and became more enjoyable and less dominated by library/earthy flavors; the fruit woke-up on the nose and palate along with some nice chocolate notes. When I learned of the bottle’s origin, I was genuinely surprised… by the label outside and restraint inside. Having never had Dominus, this was not what I would have expected. This drank more like a 3rd growth than a cult napa cab. It was definitely an enjoyable bottle, especially as it opened up, but that being said, was it worth the coin? I can’t say it was. And unless we popped this guy during a dumb phase, I have a hard time believing the drinking window purported by Parker. I would say this is ready now and quite possibly on the downhill.

[on to the next wine:]

a's pick: 2004 Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon

2004 Chappellet “Signature Cabernet Sauvignon” (USA, CA, Napa; $40 in NJ some time ago)  This knocked my socks off. This was a good year from Napa Valley but I didn’t expect such a round wine from a lesser known producer at this price point. At the start, beautiful color with a lively nose of dark fruit and typical green vegetal notes. On the palate, I found blueberry jam, mocha, and some nice heat. This evolved to get a little more earthy [we mentioned baby-poop at one point] on the nose and peppery in the mouth, while beautifully lingering on the tongue. The heat did turn up during the final sips which could have been caused by warmish wine or just serious aeration for the last drops. Baller. (I have another bottle that I’ll give a little more time in the cellar.)

t says:  I agree with a here.  I think my unrefined palate may have gotten the best of me, as I, too, preferred the mouthfeel and plushness of the Chappellet.  With a slightly longer finish, a little less heat, and a bit smoother tannin, I would have be scouring the net right now to find every last bottle I could.  On the other hand, what the Dominus really needed was some sex appeal.  It had some funk, it had structure, and it had silkiest tannins I’ve had in a while, but it was missing the center-stage fruit.  It was like a Britney Spears music video without Britney (n.b. the Britney circa late-90’s, not the current Britney).  Compared to the ’99 we had back in the day, this ’02 had less fruit, less acid, and smoother tannins.  Parker-points-be-damned, the ’02 needed some oomph!  Nevertheless, I now look forward to future bottles of Dominus, as Christian Moueix’s later vintages are known to be a bit showier.  Dominus vertical in 2019?  Who’s game?

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14 February 2012 at 10:33pm

St. Henri disgusts me

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t says:  I was super-pumped after I saw one of these Chairman’s Selection wines: 2005 St. Henri Shiraz half-bottle.  That’s a screaming deal!  I stopped by the store on 19th and Chestnut, picked up a bottle, and immediately started planning how it was I was going to drink it.

After I got home, I then noticed something that took me by surprise:

2005 St. Henri ... well ... not really ...

As you can barely see in the above picture, this was a 2004 St. Henri … NOT a 2005.  That’s an entirely different year.  And, through some quick googling, I found that it was quite an inferior one.  Darnit!  Nevertheless, I pressed on and opened it up a week later for a tasting with g’s dad.

2004 Penfolds “St. Henri Shiraz″ (half-bottle; Australia; $14.99 at PLCB).  Upon opening the bottle (the cork was in great shape!), I was greeted with a familiar smell, but I couldn’t quite place it.  It was something vivid and in-your-face, but my mind was blocking.  So I poured it into a decanter.  As I swirled, I remembered: raisins.  It smelled of raisins.  Kind of like a port … uuhhh-ooohhhh.  I tasted it, and it tasted like – surprise – raisins!  Double-darnit!  That’s a cooked wine if I ever tasted one.  Basically, the bottle was kept at a very warm temperature for far too long a time.  The result of this is a very obvious raisin taste that takes over everything.  It’d be one thing if it then proceeds to taste good … trust me, this did not, as you can see from the title of this post.  It was bad news, man.  Bad news.  I was nonplussed as some might say.  So I poured the wine from the decanter back into the bottle, recorked it, and walked over to 19th and Chestnut with my receipt in hand.  I returned that mo’-fo’.  Got my money back, fo’ shizzle.

Other bottles of St. Henri in the state may not be cooked, but I wasn’t risking another bottle from that store.  Actually, I’d probably just not bother with the 2004 at all – there’s a lot of great Australian Shiraz to be had at under $30/bottle (remember, this one was $15 for a half-bottle).  If I happen to find a real 2005 St. Henri, I’d jump on it in a heartbeat.  And – even if it was improperly stored like the above one, I have no qualms about returning it.  They asked me no questions whatsoever.  That’s perhaps the best thing about PA state stores: no one there knows a single thing about wine so they have to just take your word for it.  You could probably just “not like the way it tastes” and get away with returning it.

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5 February 2012 at 10:08pm