Category Archives: Restaurant Review

50 Wines in 90 Minutes

Flemings-logo

Ultimate Speed Tasting

I joined a small group of wine enthusiasts this weekend at an unusual tasting event at a Fleming’s Restaurant in Chandler, AZ. The restaurant had three attendants pouring 50 wines for a group of 20-25 customers. The original email invitation offered 120 minutes for the tasting: roughly 2.5 minutes per bottle. I came prepared to give this a shot with full tasting notes… but on arrival, I learned we would have only 90 minutes to complete the task, or less than 2 minutes per bottle. OK, I am game :-\

The tasting started with an introduction by the restaurant’s wine director and these instructions: “You have 90 minutes to taste 50 wines. Each will be a measured 1 oz. pour. 50 oz. of wine is near two full bottles. Be careful. There are spit buckets at the corner of each table. Go!” I thought this might descend into disaster, but amazingly everyone remained responsible and were evaluating the wines, rather than drinking them. Kudos to the Phoenix wine community… this was a serious consumer event.

Observations & Comments

This was a major journey into masochism. I have been to wine tastings with this number of wines before, but always with near twice the time per bottle and while seated at a table. This wine tasting was characterized by service upon request and no place to sit. I would find it difficult to suggest attending one of these Fleming’s 100 Tasting Events, unless you are either a wine journalist, or just ignore the challenge of sampling the entire list. I tasted a large number of wines in a very short time and if you have no experience with preventing palate fatigue, the sheer quantity can make everything taste the same half-way through. The wine list was quite diverse representing many different varietals, countries and styles. In my opinion, a large percentage on this list were not premium category wines, but six were worthy of taking note as either a step above, or a great value. Navigating lengthy restaurant wine lists can be daunting and this is only HALF of this Fleming’s offering. It is a shame, I found less than one in five that I would go out of my way to order. I hope my readers will find this lengthy article helpful, especially those who enjoy Fleming’s Restaurants as my wife and I do.

Event Wine List

(full wine descriptions shortened in the interest of brevity)

Sparkling – White/Rose/Red

  • Mionetto Prosecco Extra Dry NV – Italy
  • Jean-Charles Boisset JCB Brut #21 NV  – France
  • Distinguished Vineyards Sophora NV – New Zealand
  • Banfi Rosa Regale Acqui NV – Italy

Still Whites

  • 2014 Loosen Brothers Mosel Riesling – Germany
  • 2014 Jean Baptiste Gunderloch Riesling Kabinett – Germany

From here, I realized I was already in trouble on time and stopped asking for the vintage information…

  • Vinedos Santa Lucia Sauvignon Blanc – Chile
  • Hess Family Bodega Colome Torrontes – Chile
  • Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc – New Zealand
  • Maso Canali Pinot Grigio – Italy
  • Coppola Virginia Dare Two Arrowhead Viognier-Roussanne – Paso Robles, CA
  • Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay – Canada
  • Taken Complicated Chardonnay – Sonoma County, CA
  • Meiomi Chardonnay Santa Barbara-Monterrey Counties Blend – Sonoma Coast, CA
  • Kendall Jackson Chardonnay Vintner’s Selection – CA
  • De Loach Chardonnay La Reine – Sonoma Coast, CA
  • Glen Carlou Chardonnay – South Africa
  • Franciscan Estate Chardonnay – Napa Valley, CA

Still Reds

  • Wine by Joe Pinot Noir – Willamette Valley, OR
  • Mark West Pinot Noir – CA
  • Jean-Claude Boisset Bourgogne Rouge – Burgundy, France
  • Rodney Strong Russian River Pinot Noir – Sonoma Valley, CA
  • Cambria Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley Clone 4 – Santa Barbara County, CA
  • Calista Edna Valley Pinot Noir – San Luis Obispo County, CA
  • Bertoldi Gran Passione Rosso – Italy
  • Bodegas Bagordi Navardia Red Blend – Spain
  • Pascual Toso Malbec – Argentina
  • Ziobaffa Toscano Rosso Organic – Italy
  • Michel Gassier Cercius Rhone Red Blend – France

If you have had it with this wine listing just skip to the bottom for my ABBREVIATED notes

  • Prats & Symington Post Scriptum de Chryseia Red Blend – Portugal
  • Saldo Zinfandel – CA
  • Red Diamond Merlot – Washngton State
  • Chateau Haut-Colombier Bordeaux Style Blend – France
  • Duckhorn Merlot – Napa Valley, CA
  • Lidio Carraro Serra Caucha Agnus Red Blend – Brazil
  • Greg Norman Cabernet -Merlot – Australia
  • Trefethen Double T Bordeaux Style Blend – Napa Valley, CA
  • Gundlach-Bundschu Mountain Cuvee Red Blend – Sonoma County, CA
  • Paraduxx Propietary Red Blend – Napa Valley, CA
  • Treana Red – Paso Robles, CA
  • 14 Hands Cabernet Sauvignon – Washington State
  • Liberated Cabernet Sauvignon – Sonoma County, CA
  • Susana Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon – Argentina
  • Chateau St. Michelle Indian Wells Cabernet Sauvignon – Washington State
  • Oberon Cabernet Sauvignon – Napa Valley, CA
  • Round Pond Kith & Kin Cabernet Sauvignon – Napa Valley, CA
  • Hall Cabernet Sauvignon – Napa Valley, CA
  • Justin Cabernet Sauvignon – Paso Robles, CA
  • Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon Knights Valley – Sonoma County, CA
  • Yardstick Cabernet Sauvignon Ruth’s Reach – Napa Valley, CA

Highlights of the Tasting Notes

Notable Wines

Top Three Whites

Jean Baptiste Gunderloch Riesling – Acceptable German Riesling. More red apple on the palate, than stone fruit (peach, apricot, etc.), but crisp and refreshing. At around $17/btl market price, decent value too. For the same price though, I would recommend the U.S. made Chateau St. Michelle Eroica Riesling first.

Maso Canali Pinot Grigio – Second best white of the evening. A crisp mouth-feel with high acidity. Lemon citrus palate with a lingering finish. Nice balanced profile. Would be great as a before dinner sipper, or with white cream sauces.

Coppola Virginia Dare Two Arrowhead Viognier-Roussanne – Best white wine of the night! Beautiful soft mouth-feel with high acidity. The wine was fruit forward, without being sweet, or overpowering. Citrus palate with a beautiful floral lingering finish. Missing the bitterness of some Roussanne wines. Great for food and on its own.

Top Three Reds

Justin Cabernet Sauvignon – This is my go-to restaurant wine, when there is a weak wine list. It is distributed almost everywhere and usually easy to find. Not like a traditional big Napa Cab, but fruit forward, balanced and with high acidity. Nice food wine that can accompany most fine dining dishes.

Hall Cabernet Sauvignon – Medium priced Napa Cab at around $45/btl. market price. Gives you most of what you are looking for from Napa, at an easier to manage price-point.

Round Pond Kith & Kin Cabernet Sauvignon – I enjoy most Round Pond wines, but being exposed to only their ultra-premium wines, I had not seen a sub-$50/btl. of wine from this producer. This was the best Cab Sauv of the night and has a market price of only $30/btl.! Tremendous value! Round Pond’s focus on mouth-feel, is a primary method I use for differentiating top wines. This was a fruit-forward, balanced wine, with high acidity and great mouth-feel. Look for this wine. I will be running out and grabbing some myself.

The majority of the reds were easy drinking. With a few exceptions, these were average wines that could accompany a steak capably. Although, I will have to say, this growing movement toward red blends WITH residual sugar (i.e. Apothic style) is hard for me to handle.

There was a group of better than average red wines: Duckhorn Merlot, Susana Balbo Cab Sauv, Chateau St. Michelle Indian Wells Cab Sauv. Here are two wines worth considering that may not be on your radar:

Michel Gassier Cercius – Nice Rhone red blend. Fruit forward with good acidity and a reasonable price. If you enjoy Southern Rhone style red wines, this represents the region capably.

Prats & Symington Post Scriptum de Chryseia – Wow, I like Touriga Nacional based Portuguese wines! Unfortunately, this is the premier varietal in Portugal and can be pricey. This was a nice find. For under $20/btl market, you get much of what makes this varietal great at a reasonable price. If you haven’t tried wines from Portugal yet, this would be a quality entry level option.

Bottom of the Barrel

All of the sparkling was barely drinkable.

Mionetto Prosecco – Mionetto is a well respected Valdobbiadene producer and my wife and I had tried to visit the winery when we were in Italy a few years ago… but our schedule did not allow. If this wine is any indication, I did not miss anything. I read about the “Prosecco Revolution” everywhere on the wine scene these days, but have yet to try one that approaches quality Champagne, or even quality California sparkling. Another bust.

Banfi Rosa Regale Acqui – Thought a sparkling red might be interesting, like a decent Lambrusco. Wow, this was horrible. Sweet beyond belief, with cotton candy and strawberry hard candy flavors. Don’t be tempted, you will toss it in the planter next to your table.

Loosen Brothers Mosel Riesling – I have tried many Loosen Brothers Rieslings that have been excellent. This was a real disappointment. It was missing the crisp acidity that defines a quality Mosel Riesling. It wasn’t horrible, but I guess it made the list as a let-down from a quality producer.

The Sauvgnon Blancs and Torrontes were unpleasant. The Sauv Blancs were particularly grassy.

There was not a single Chardonnay that stood out on this list, in either the stainless steel, or oaked styles. The oaked Chardonnays were so woody, they could have been used as fuel for a fire.

The Pinot Noirs were not notable. The best of the bunch was the Rodney Strong: very drinkable, with some complexity at $18/btl market – a reasonable value. It is difficult to find good Pinot Noir anywhere in the world under $20USD/btl.

Several red wines were favorites of the group, but with enough residual sugar to make it to the bottom of my list: Gran Passione Rosso, Treana Red and Oberon Cab Sauv. Not my thing.

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Filed under Restaurant Review, Wine Education, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

2014 Italian Wine Tasting Event

Location: Allesia’s Ristorante Italiano – Mesa, AZ

Tasted Saturday, November 22, 2014

INTRODUCTION

This is really a great little Italian Restaurant that could hold its own if you dropped it almost anywhere in the country. Jon is the friendliest of proprietors and is quite knowledgeable regarding Italian wines. He has a ridiculously good wine selection for such a small location.

For this event, he partnered with a wine distributor (Young’s Market) to offer a really fabulous Italian wine tasting event. Young’s brought two of their sales reps and the importer was present too. I was able to ask questions and take notes, but it was more for the public, than the trade… so, I couldn’t stay seated and evaluate the wines and record my impressions fully.

If you live in the area, enjoy Italian food and wine and haven’t stopped in, you are definitely missing an experience.

WINE FLIGHT 1 – DAILY DRINKERS (9 NOTES)

Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT

Galloni gave this a 91… He must really enjoy big, rich Chardonnay. I enjoyed the nice acidic backbone and the opulent mouth-feel. The aging on the lees added serious texture and body. This wine had a strong red apple nose and palate. The style of winemaking muted the freshness of the fruit. I enjoyed this for what it was, a nice expression of a chardonnay meant to stand on its own. The richness would make food pairings a bit more challenging.

Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT

Easy drinking red table wine. Nice balance and mouth-feel for an inexpensive wine. This red is made with a minimum of oak influence and the freshness of the fruit shines through as a result. The structure is just barely enough with medium tannins and medium-high acidity, but for $12 retail, this wine will accompany most all Italian fare without a hitch. The palate is dominated by a fruit-forward presentation of black and red cherry with a relatively short finish.

Italy, Piedmont, Asti, Barbera d’Asti Superiore

This wine continued to reinforce Alba as the premier Barbera producer. Barberas like this from Asti are much simpler and less complex. In Alba, Barbera transcends table wine. In Asti, Barbera table wine is what you get. Even the several Asti DOCG producers I have tasted, just aren’t in the same league. This is a very light and simple wine… to the point of uninteresting. Medium-low tannins and medium acidity for a weak backbone. Drink this now, it won’t last in the bottle more than a year, or two. Black and red cherry flavors on the palate, with a touch of plum. No finish. Works best as a medium quality table wine for pairing with lighter fare…

Italy, Umbria, Lago di Corbara

Slightly sweet, very simple wine, with poor structure. Not acidic enough for a table wine to accompany food. Not tannic enough to bottle-age and not interesting enough to drink on its own…

Italy, Tuscany, Chianti, Chianti Classico DOCG

Actually, a very typical chianti profile with sour red cherry, high tannins and high acidity… but I believe the bottle was flawed. Poor storage, or a leak in the cork. Either way, it was definitely oxidized. I certainly hope the wine was not intended to have that character…

Italy, Tuscany, Chianti, Chianti Rùfina

Nice, but unremarkable traditional Chianti. Slightly sour bright red cherry with black cherry overtones on the palate. High acidity and tannins for good structure, but very rustic. A bit thin. This could handle some bottle-age. Would be a good food wine for pairing with rich red sauces and red meat. If I was a bigger Chianti fan, I would give it another point for being very true to the regional profile.

Italy, Tuscany, Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino

Every Italian wine tasting reinforces the impression… the best Italian Sangiovese is Brunello. I know purists will argue that Brunello is a sibling to Sangiovese, but genetic testing has shown otherwise. It IS Sangiovese. This area must be the perfect terroir for the grape, for the wines are just spectacular, if rather expensive. Fresh red and black cherry palate with a fantastic full mouth-feel. High acidity and high tannins make for a great backbone. The bigger mouth-feel makes the wine more approachable. This is a good example of a quality Brunello.

Italy, Tuscany, Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino

Brooding black cherry palate, with strong bitter dark chocolate character. The big mouth-feel and more refined tannins of most Brunellos is missing here. The high acidity and rustic tannins do not make the wine very approachable now. Perhaps, this is just made in a more ageable style. I have tasted several similar Brunellos, but this is not my preferred profile.

Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo

Maybe I am just a Barolo purist and should have scored this a little higher. The character is very typical, with a red cherry and leather palate, but the wine is simple, lacking the complexity of higher priced Barolos. Decent QPR for a representative Barolo, but missing the good things I try to find that make it special, namely: a strong floral nose & palate and an herbal mint character. This wine had the typical unique Barolo tannins with high acidity, in keeping with this wine’s fantastic ageability.

WINE FLIGHT 2 – SUPER TUSCANS (7 NOTES)

Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT

Nose of black cherry and brown butter. The palate is fruit-forward and a touch sweet and the Petit Verdot in the blend adds some mouth-feel. The structure is a little weak, with only medium tannins and acidity. Definitely, a wine to drink within the next year, or two. It was a decent everyday drinker, but the touch of sweetness would not be my preference with food.

Italy, Tuscany, Bolgheri

One of those wines that for me, is difficult to score. The flavors were right up my alley, but the structure was missing a tannin backbone. Weak nose with some spice. A fruit forward palate with a mild dark chocolate that starts from the attack and is present through the finish. A lighter wine style with a beautiful cinnamon and clove character to the spice. Good high acidity, but only medium tannins and a nice long finish.

Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT

Young’s Market is the distributor in our area and was selling this through Allesia’s at $22/btl retail. For that price, an ageable wine like this is a pretty good deal. Had a typical Super Tuscan profile, with good structure and mouth-feel. High tannins and high acidity with a really nice apple pie spice character. Give this 3-5 years in the bottle and it will make an even bigger impression…

Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT

I was told Suckling gave this a 95! Ooops! Where did that come from? Yes, definitely speaks Super Tuscan. Just because it is representative, doesn’t make it a best in class wine. This is fruit-forward with good structure and decent balance. Will age well and improve in a 3-5 year time frame. Black cherry, dark chocolate, a bit thin, but a good finish… all the components of a solid Super Tuscan.

Italy, Tuscany, Maremma, Maremma Toscana

A very nice example of a Super Tuscan with some age on it already. Very similar profile to the Crognolo label from the same producer and vintage year (see my previous tasting note)… but this added a big, elegant mouth-feel. I am sure the five years of bottle age has contributed to the elegance of the wine. This is fruit-forward with good structure and decent balance. Will age well and improve. Has a black cherry and dark chocolate palate with a good finish… all the components of a solid Super Tuscan. Decent QPR for a bottle-aged Super Tuscan for people who aren’t willing to hold and wait.

Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT

Past vintages of this wine have been consistently good. This may be a slightly better year than average. Spicy, fruity nose. Fruit-forward palate of black cherry and plum. Medium-high acidity and the tannins were high, but accessible, with a character that fills the mouth. Perhaps a touch too fruity for a top notch food wine, but the great structure and balance will provide a nice experience on its own. This is wine is one of my faves for the price.

Italy, Tuscany, Bolgheri, Bolgheri Sassicaia

One of my absolute favorite wines in the world. This vintage does not disappoint again. A young wine, but it is a touch more accessible than others in the past. I must extol its virtues now… again. Beautiful nose of fruit and spice. The palate is fruit-forward but the fruit is not over-whelming. This has the perfect balance of acidity, tannins, alcohol and texture. A food wine AND excellent on its own. Just a classically elegant wine that can be drunk now, or bottle-aged to add nuance and approachability. Is your mouth watering? Mine is. The retail is listed at $200/btl at the local shop… is the QPR right? Well, what can you compare this to? I am not a fan of spending $200 on a bottle of wine. Although in this case, how do you even put that question in context?

WINE FLIGHT 3 – SICILIAN WINES (5 NOTES)

Italy, Sardinia, Isola dei Nuraghi IGT

Another wine that was difficult for me to score. I love Carignan when it is done well. This particular wine is to be experienced, not tasted. The silky mouth-feel is way past its price point. Though, the structure is missing balance. Decent acidity and only medium tannins leave a hole… that I could get past, others may not. I am a sucker for this kind of profile. Fruit forward spicy palate with black cherry, blackberry and plum. A medium long finish of mild dark chocolate. This is definitely better on its own, than with food.

Italy, Sicily, Sicilia IGT

Not your typical Nero d’Avola. I am familiar with this varietal as a dependable, low-cost, straight-forward table wine that consistently delivers good QPR. This wine has complex fruit flavors, with red, blue and black fruits. The backbone was decent, but the wine doesn’t fill your mouth like other examples of this varietal. A lightly spicy, chocolate character complements the entire palate. This wine has both more than I expected… and less. Sorry, I know this does not convey the tasting well. I would like to try this wine again, when I have more time to evaluate it, rather than at a tasting event.

Italy, Sicily, Noto

I was told Suckling gave this a 93. Apparently, his palate and mine are not close on Italian wines. There was significant complexity on the nose and palate, but the wine was too rich. The nose had a beautiful herbal mint undertone that I enjoyed. Either this wine had been oaked too long, or an extended maceration imparted a strong brown butter flavor. The wine has high acidity and only medium tannins. With more structure, it may have stood-up to the richness better. This may be one of those personal preference wines. Either a love it, or hate it kind of experience.

Italy, Sicily, Sicilia IGT

This Syrah is all wrong. No mouth-feel, poor structure, very light and the fruit is all red. It doesn’t work as a cool-climate Syrah either. This doesn’t fit into any category of Syrah I have tasted. I am told Wine Enthusiast gave this a 90. Whoa there, this is so NOT varietally correct for a 100% Syrah.

Italy, Sicily, Sicilia IGT

Probably another year, or two left in the drinking window for this one. This has a touch too much oak for my taste, but nevertheless a very good wine.  A big black cherry palate with lots of spicy character. Nice structure with medium-high acidity & tannins and is well balanced. This flavor profile leans toward cherry too much for this kind of blend, but still an enjoyable wine.

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Filed under Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Italian Wine, Nebbiolo, Piedmonte, Restaurant, Restaurant Review, Sangiovese, Super Tuscan Blend, Syrah/Shiraz, Toscana, Wine Education, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Wine Bars in Albuquerque, New Mexico?

I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, there ARE wine bars worth visiting in New Mexico!

I travel on business from Southern Nevada to West Texas… as you can imagine, this is not exactly the wine mecca of the United States. I always search out wine destinations where I travel. So, I thought I would throw these exploits on the blog. If you are ever traveling in the area, consider stopping in. They were both good, but Farina was special.

  1. Farina Pizzeria

    510 Central Ave SE, Albuquerque, NM 87102

    Wow! I come here most trips into the area. Fantastic brick oven Napolitano style pizza. I enjoyed the “Meatball Pizza”. It was delish! As you can see, reasonable prices too! They have Antipasto and Pasta dishes, but here is the pizza menu:

    I always enjoy their wine list. Often, less well known producers and usually pretty fair quality at a decent price. Have you ever heard of Malbec blended with Corvina? What a strange mash-up – it works, but the other wines were better. They change their selection frequently, bringing in new wines to keep things fresh. The stand-outs for me, were the Nero D’Avola  and Negroamaro Blend. I tasted these wines:

    IMG_0048 Nero D'Avola IMG_0049 Malbec-Corvina

    IMG_0050 Super Tuscan IMG_0051Negroamaro Blend

    Nice atmosphere and busy even on weekday nights. Could transplant this in San Francisco and it would work. Sit at the bar and Tasha will take care of you. Great service!

    2. Slate Street Cafe

    515 Slate Ave NW, Albuquerque, NM 87102

    Tried this restaurant for the first time this trip. Fusion of New Mexico and traditional flavors. Tried the chicken fried steak with green chili on a bed of smashed potatoes and broccoli – all surrounded by a red chili sauce. This was very good, but then again, I am a sucker for southwest fusion. Atmosphere was very blah and stuffy. See photo below:

    IMG_0054

    Dinner menu below:

    Nothing special about the wine selection. I tasted the wines separately from the meal. I was in the mood for red wine. Weather was chilly and it had been snowing up in Taos earlier in the day in mid-May – crazy weather. In any case, the reds would not go well with the moderately spicy food, so I drank before and after dinner. The merlot was very average, but I really enjoyed the Petite Sirah. Photos below:

    IMG_0059 IMG_0055

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Filed under Restaurant, Restaurant Review, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes