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Tamas Red

tamasCalifornia doesn’t always have to taste like “California.”

Here’s what I mean by that:  the “California” style often means a big giant fruit bomb, with way too much oak, and alcohol, and everything.

But there are wineries making more restrained, more balanced, more elegant wines.

Tamas Estates is one of them. This Central Coast winery (which is owned by Livermore Valley’s Wente Vineyards) has an international feel. That’s no surprise: their tag line is “Hop on the Bus for an International Wine Tour.” I’ve reviewed their Sangiovese Rosato and Pinot Grigio, and both were really good Old World style wines.

Tamas Double Decker Red 2008 is no different. It’s a blend that incorporates ripe California fruit but doesn’t go over the top on “fruitiness.”

I started off with the nose, which offered some soft raspberry and blueberry aromas. The palate was balanced but not too big, with more gentle raspberry and blueberry notes.  And the best part was a nice dose of acid and gentle tannins, to add structure and balance. Double Decker never tasted too jammy or rich.

And then I gave this the Second Day test. This is  real simple test — it means leaving the bottle overnight to see how it develops with a little time. And Tamas Double Decker passed the test.

The fruit tasted richer and softer, with a nice vanilla finish.

And at around $10, this is good value. Cheers!




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Intensity Without Heaviness: Siduri Strikes Again

siduriI’ve said plenty of nice things about Siduri Pinot Noir, because they just always seem to be knock-down good.  So when I wanted a Pinot for a wine and food pairing dinner, I took a flyer on a Siduri I’d never tasted and that was so new it had (gasp!) no ratings!

Did I dare serve a wine that hadn’t been blessed by one of the Godfathers of the wine biz? This would be crazy behavior for all those review freaks who drink and buy according to someone else’s opinion, but I know Siduri, and Siduri knows Pinot Noir, so I knew I’d made a safe bet.

So lets’s get down to the wine. I chose Siduri Sonoma County Pinot Noir 2009, which was so new that it hadn’t even made it to Siduri’s own website. I checked out the tech notes on the previous vintage (which was, of course, long since sold out), and learned that Siduri’s Sonoma County is usually a blend of  fruit from several vineyards from Sonoma Mountain and the Sonoma Coast AVA. I’ll discover the blend eventually, but the proof, as they say, is in the pudding, and we sure loved our pudding…

The wine I poured showed very youthful, vibrant color and the nose jumped right out of the glass and into my nasal receptors.The intensity of the fruit was clearly obvious, with rich dark cherry, spice and a hint of smoke. The palate didn’t disappoint — sweet berries hit me right up front, followed by hints of cola, tobacco, and more rich berries. The whole thing was wrapped up in a velvet package, with a mouthfeel that was so voluptuous it was almost sinful (almost…).

Here’s the best part: it was intense without being heavy. It never slipped over the line into that, “Is this a Pinot or Petite Sirah” territory. I think this is an indication of masterful winemaking, and that’s why Adam and Dianna Lee, Siduri’s owners/winemakers, been so well awarded over the years.

Clearly, I was knocked out (again) by a Siduri Pinot. I want to taste it again, though, and see what a few months of bottle aging does to it. Hey, I see another wine and food pairing dinner coming on…. Stay tuned!

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Women, Wine and Golf: Great Pairings

women golf

That's me... no, not really. I wish...

It works any way you pair it: Women and Wine, Women and Golf, or Wine and Golf. (Wine and Golf may seem a little shaky, but I can testify that a glass of Chardonnay can sometimes make the back nine a lot easier.)

I bring up these three things because I just read that California’s Mirassou Winery is now the Official Wine of the LPGA (or Ladies Professional Golf Association).

I think that’s exciting, because no one, ever, pays enough attention to us women golfers. Big-name corporations aren’t exactly falling all over each other to sponsor women’s golf events, so this seems big to me.

With a little research on the Mirassou website I discovered that the winery has a history of supportmirassouing women’s golf. (There’s even a tab on their website home page about wine and golf.) Besides their LPGA gig, I discovered that they’ve co-sponsored many golf tournaments and events.

I was intrigued by another link on the Mirassou site. They’re involved with an organization called Women on Course, which organizes events around the country where women (mostly working women, I think) can get together to golf, network, and of course, drink wine.

Sign me up! I’m going to check out their site ( and see if I can find something happening near me.

I’m also going to drink some wine…but you knew that. Cheers!

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Another Great Value from Spain

monteI know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: no other country beats Spain for great tasting, great value wines.

The wine that’s got me going again is from Bodegas Borsao, a winery that specializes in the Garnacha grape (“Grenache” to the rest of the wine world). They make many spectacular wines such as Borsao (the baby brother — read my review here), and Tres Picos (the muscular uncle). All of Bodega Borsao’s wines are the darlings of wine critics: they share a boatload of “Best Buy” and 90+ ratings from all the Critics Wine Drinkers Really Listen To.

Monte Oton 2009 is made from grapes grown high on the slopes of an extinct volcano in Spain’s Borja region, where a lot of sunshine and a very little rainfall produce grapes with intense, focused flavors. You get the concentration right away with this wine, and much more complexity than you’d expect at this price point.

The nose offers rich berry fruit, with cherry snuggling up to plum and a little spice creeping in on the backside. The palate is full-bodied but mellow, with more ripe cherry and blackberry fruit. Just when you think it’s simple and tooty-fruity, a zingy, wild, peppery note kicks in on the

Monte Oton was a lot of fun to drink, even though I happened to be eating Thai Coconut Chicken with it. Who would think a peppery red would be palatable with creamy hot/sweet coconut curry? I didn’t, but it really worked. In fact, the experience really opened up my thinking on wine and food pairings.

Did I mention that you can pick up a bottle of Monte Oton for around $10. That’s what I mean about Spanish Value. If you want to find more, look for anything from Spain with the imprint of “Jorge Ordonez Selections” on the back label. This importer has put together an absolutely amazing portfolio of wines, from $8 to $100 or more, and I haven’t found a stinker yet. I’m beginning to look at his imprint like a Seal of Approval…


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The Wine Lady Wine Survival Training: Host a Wine Tasting Like a Pro

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The Wine Lady–Trashes Cooking Wine

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A Response to Randall Grahm on NPR


Last Sunday I tuned into National Public Radio about halfway through one of my favorite shows — The Splendid Table. There’s usually lots of interesting talk about food and sometimes twine, and this week the host was interviewing Randall Grahm, who is a very well respected California winemaker and wine industry leader, as well as the creator of the Bonny Doon label. He was apparently promoting his new book, “Been Doon So Long,” but I turned on my radio (i.e. got into my car, which is where I always listen to NPR), while Grahm was talking about Australian Shiraz.

Actually, he wasn’t just “talking,” he was criticizing Aussie Shiraz. He seemed to be suggesting that it’s substandard wine that has no redeeming qualities, not even as an entry level wine to launch beginning wine drinkers on a road that will eventually lead them to better quality wines. He was comparing Aussie Shiraz to French Syrah, and saying the folks Down Under pale by comparison.

Now there’s LOTS of Australian Shiraz out there, everything from tooty-fruity slightly sweet stuff to very serious and highly-rated wines. Does he really mean they’re all bad — that the output of an entire continent is questionable? And if Aussie Shiraz is all bad, is French Syrah really all good? Read the rest of this entry »

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More Wine from Wente: Syrah

wenteThese guys just keep on making great stuff…

They’re the guys at Wente Vineyards, and in my last post I introduced readers to this heritage winery in California’s Livermore Valley. Five generations of the family have made wine in this appellation east of San Francisco Bay, and the three I’ve tried were pretty impressive.

Of course, they’ve got a great micro-climate to work with. Because their valley runs west to east from San Francisco Bay, it sucks in the morning fog that rolls through the Golden Gate Gap. But it settles on the valley floor, allowing more sunlight and warmth on the slopes above the valley. That’s where the warm-climate red grapes are grown, including the Syrah used for the Wente Shorthorn Syrah 2008.syrah

There’s a good story here, too — back in 1918, the second generation of Wente’s began raising Shorthorn cattle on the slopes and ridge lands bordering the Livermore Valley. Good thing, too, because when the Depression and Prohibition destroyed most of the California wine industry, Wente Vineyards was able to survive. Their Syrah grapes are now grown on those same slopes and canyons, so its name is a tribute to their history of winemaking and cattle ranching.

And the wine’s good, too! The nose intrigued me with dark berries, mocha and smoke. The fruit on the palate made me think black cherries and tart cranberries, with a hint of the gaminess and spice I expect from Syrah. There’s a lot of body for the money, with a smooth mouthfeel and soft tannins on the finish.

All in all, this is great value for the money, and a fun glass of wine to pair with lots of foods. We drank it with balsamic-marinated chicken, and loved every sip and bite.

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When Wine Is Way Too Complicated


"Some Assembly Required"

The other night I was (accidentally) watching an infomercial about the newest, hottest, most decked-out universal remote control ever. I think it does everything but order out for pizza, and it has so many buttons and dials that it’s surely a gadget-guy’s dream come true.

But it’s certainly not my dream come true. It gave me a flashback to all the times I’ve struggled to figure out the buttons on our own universal remote so that I could watch a DVD, switch from the CD player back to the satellite, order a movie, or just turn on the darn TV! The problem is that this stuff is just way too complicated.

Now some things should be complicated — brain surgery, for example. There are a whole lot of facts and theories and techniques that I’d want my doctor to know before he/she stuck a scalpel into my gray matter.

But a television should not be complicated. And neither should wine!

I didn’t realize wine had gotten way out of hand until a good friend joined us for a blind tasting (it’s not the wine drinkers who are blind, but the wines, which are hidden in brown paper bags).  I think a Blind Taste is a blast: it’s like a cross between Trivial Pursuit and Beer Pong, except that you’re throwing out guesses instead of ping pong balls, and like Beer Pong, you end up kinda tipsy. At our blind tastings we all sit around a big table so we can hear each others’ thoughts, opinions, snide comments and drunken ramblings. And we also take turns explaining our analysis of each wine as we finish each flight (not flight as in “airplane”, but flight as in “two or three wines served side-by-side”).

So about halfway through this session, which means after a flight of Macon Villages vs California Chardonnay, and then Southern Rhone vs Australian GSM, I glanced over at my friend and saw — panic, confusion,and frustration in her face. She was most certainly not having a blast. In fact, she told me later that she felt like the kid hiding in the back of the classroom, slouched down in his/her chair, thinking, “Please don’t call on me, please don’t call on me.” She didn’t want to talk because she thought she’d look stupid, say the “wrong thing”, or (shades of Middle School), be laughed at by the cool people who knew the “right answer.”

First of all, we should all know by now that there is no right answer when it comes to wine tasting. We all pick up different sensations with our nose, mouth and brain, and we all interpret those sensations from the perspective of our own, unique experiences. Case in point: back when my children were young, we were tasting Viognier, which you may know is a white wine that can be intensely aromatic, floral, and (sometimes) cloying. I swirled my first glass, stuck my nose right inside, and said, “My God, this smells like wet diapers!” The wine was very pungent, and not in a nice way, and what it most closely resembled in my recent experience was the smell of my kids’ wet diapers. Some of my companions were puzzled and others laughed, but the point is that my comment was every bit as valid as the wine geek who talked about “violets and honeysuckle”. And I still don’t like Viognier.

So what do wet diapers have to do with remote controls? Well nothing, actually. So let’s get back to my friend. Her discomfort was my fault: she had been intimidated because I hadn’t done a good enough job of un-complicating wine for her. I should have helped her realize that learning and talking about wine is just an activity we do to further our enjoyment of wine, and our comments can be as simple as “I like this wine because it’s sweet and fun to drink,” or ” I don’t like this wine because it reminds me of my husband’s dirty socks.”

It’s that simple: talk about wine like it’s any other beverage (would you get worried about analyzing soda pop?). And if you reach a point where you want to go beyond the basics, then you can read some books, maybe take a class or two, and hang around other people who want to talk about and enjoy wine. Trust me, wine is not rocket science — or a universal remote control…

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