Tasting Notes: Valserrano Rioja Crianza

It has been a BUSY last couple of weeks for Kevin and me. We celebrated Thanksgiving across the pond in London, and then last weekend, I got to visit my best friend in New York City! I've been on the go, and it doesn't look like the holiday time will slow down for me much, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy some good wine, right? This week, I decided to get back to the 2017 Total Wine Top 20 list with this red from Rioja.

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The Facts

  • Producer: Valserrano
  • Region: Rioja, Spain
  • Vintage: 2013
  • Variety: 90% Tempranillo, 10% Mazuelo
  • Where I purchased: Total Wine
  • Price: $16.99

For those not familiar with Spanish wines, particularly those from Rioja, the region's star grapes is Tempranillo and the region has a board that controls the quality of wine. This is similar to France and Italy. You can read Wine Folly's more detailed post here, but I'll summarize some key facts. There are four levels of Rioja, starting from base to top quality: Rioja, Crianza, Reserva, Gran Reserva. Each level has longer aging requirements in both barrel and bottle, and each level gets more expensive. So, for a wine in the Crianza level, the Rioja board requires 1 year of aging in barrel (usually used oak) and 1 year in bottle. Why does that matter? The flavors that come from oak won't be as strong on a Crianza, and the wine will be more affordable than those with longer oak aging.

I'd say that sets up this wine pretty well. The bottle stated that it was cask aged over 16 months, and I bought the 2013 vintage, so it's been in the bottle for a couple of years. Overall, the wine smelled very nice -- like dark red fruit, pepper, and some smoke or earthiness. This all translated to the palate, too. It's very fruit-forward with black cherry and maybe even some blackberry with a hint of spice. The wine was not very tannic, which surprised me for Tempranillo, but the acid makes it very food friendly. We paired it with this wild rice casserole by Budget Bytes, and I thought the flavors went well together. I think it could stand to "open up a bit" because the flavors developed over time. So, if you can remember to do this, open the bottle about an hour in advance, or even better, decant it! Great flavor, good price point, and overall, a nice wine to have with dinner. 

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Two Thanksgiving Wines

Thanksgiving is next week! I can hardly believe it. Kevin and I celebrated early with his family and my parents since everyone will be all over the place this year. I always like setting a pretty table and using our wedding crystal! In case you missed it, last week I put out a little Thanksgiving Wine Guide to help with pairing options. This week, I actually have two specific recommendations (a white and a red) that I think would be great accompaniments to your Thanksgiving dinner, assuming it's a traditional one. Both are from the United States, too!

Acrobat Pinot Gris

In my guide, I stated that a Chardonnay was a classic pairing. However, when I was researching pairings, I saw several references to Pinot Gris as well. I'd never bought a Pinot Gris before, so I was excited to give it a whirl this year. First, you may be thinking, what is Pinot Gris? Pinot Gris is more commonly known as Pinot Grigio! Same grape, just different name and different styles. This article from Wine Spectator describes it very well, but the short hand is that Pinot Gris is usually richer and creamier while Pinot Grigio is crisp and clean. 

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The Facts

  • Producer: King Estate
  • Region: Oregon
  • Vintage: 2015
  • Variety: Pinot Gris
  • Where I purchased: Whole Foods
  • Price: $14.99 

The wine is a dusty, pale gold color. Even from the beginning, it looked slightly different from the Pinot Grigios I have had in the past! The wine smells of peach, lemon, and something tropical... pineapple, perhaps. It is very pleasant to drink! It's got a nice, balanced acidity. It cleans your palate without it being so mouth puckering (like a Sauvignon Blanc, for example). My mom, who has an aversion to a lot of acid, even liked this one! I got the taste of apple and pineapple, but there was also a creaminess of texture. No oak or vanilla, in my opinion, but the texture was definitely there. This would go so well with the all of the creaminess at Thanksgiving dinner (hello, gravy and mashed potatoes!). Finally, it should be noted that it was a Wine Enthusiast 2016 Best Buy pick, and received 91 points from them. I don't always live by point ratings, but I'd have to agree with their opinion on this one!

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Samuel Robert Winery Vintner's Reserve Pinot Noir

If you read my review of the Ropiteau Pinot Noir, you know I'm skeptical of inexpensive Pinots. That doesn't mean I'll stop trying because just like with Cabernet Sauvignons, I'm on the hunt for delicious and affordable options. I saw this Samuel Robert Pinot at Total Wine, it had a good rating from Wine Enthusaist, it was on sale, and it was a pick of one of the staff members. I was sold!

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The Facts

  • Producer: Samuel Robert Winery
  • Region: Willamette Valley, Oregon
  • Vintage: 2015
  • Variety: Pinot Noir
  • Where I purchased: Total Wine
  • Price: $14.99 

I was extremely surprised by the nose. It smelled so complex for only $12.99 (I got it on sale, and I think it still is)! There was cherry, of course, but also some cinnamon and a hint of earthiness or decaying leaves. "Decaying leaves" doesn't sound good when reading it, but you know that smell of fall? I personally love it. When I tried the wine, it was less bold in flavor than I expected based on how the wine smelled. The spice was missing on the palate, but there was some good cherry and cranberry flavor. The fruit flavor and acid was well balanced, not being jammy or too thin. If you can catch this on sale at your local Total Wine with a coupon or in-store promotion, it is definitely a great bang for your buck! Even at its full price of $14.99, I think it's a great value. I really enjoyed my small tasting glass and am looking forward to opening the full bottle later! For now, this is the best Pinot Noir I've had recently for less than $20, so I'm giving it four bunches.

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Thanksgiving Wine Guide

Thanksgiving is the holiday I try not to zoom past on the way to Christmas once Halloween is over. I've noticed that stores tend to forget about it, going directly from spooky spiders and skulls to glittery ornaments and all things Santa. It's important to take a day to spend quality time with family and friends, eat a delicious meal, and reflect over all we have to be thankful for. With all of the tragedy in the world today, it feels especially important this year.

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Pairing wine with Thanksgiving is particularly tricky because most sources agree that there is too much going on in the meal for one wine to satisfy all dishes. If you have a traditional Thanksgiving meal, your plate is filled with a wide variety of flavors -- sweet, savory, green, acid, and butter. So. Much. Butter. What's the best wine to pair with all of these flavors and dishes? See below for a guide that will hopefully point you in the right direction. If you have the budget and ability, I recommend having a variety of options on the table for the various courses. 

Reds

Our families are red wine drinkers, so I know we need to have a good bottle of red on the table. This year, I plan to pair our meal with this Seghesio Family Carignane from Weekly Tasting. It is the most food friendly wine I think I've had, and the flavors will go so well with a lot at the table. The mild tannin will not overpower any of the dishes, it's got the warm spices like cinnamon, and there's a hint of tart cherry or cranberry in there. Does that not sound like Thanksgiving in a bottle?!

If you don't have access to the Carignan, I recommend a Zinfandel or lighter Pinot Noir. Classic Thanksgiving reds right there. Zinfandel has similar quailities to the Carignan I mentioned, and Pinot Noir has that earthy, acidic quality that mirrors cranberry and will go nicely with the turkey.  

My recommendations: Gnarly Head Zinfandel for the price point and availability, or La Crema Willamette Pinot Noir.

Whites

If our family is full of red drinkers, why even have a white? Butter. Green beans. That's why. A classic Thanksgiving white is Chardonnay. I'd go for one that's oaked because that malolactic fermentation will give you the creaminess you want to go with those mashed potatoes. Don't get an oaky, butter bomb, but find one that is well balanced and you'll love it!

As for green vegetables, they are infamous for being tough to pair with. Brussel sprouts, asparagus, green beans... they're all stumpers. Some would say to just re-hydrate with that course and drink water, but if you really want something to go with the veggies, I'd mimic the flavors in a Sauvignon Blanc, or if you're feeling adventurous, a Gruner Veltliner. The whites are also where you can bring in.

My recommendations: Ramey Chardonnay for a higher price point, or for a more affordable bottle, try the Olema Chardonnay. Both are from Total Wine. For the greens, try the Starborough Sauvignon Blanc, which I believe is widely available in grocery stores, or the Winzer Krems Gruner from Total Wine.

Dessert

I HIGHLY recommend having a dessert wine for all the pie. Many people will continue drinking whatever they had a dinner, and really, it's doing a disservice to the drinker and the dessert. The key for pairing wine with dessert is that the wine should be sweeter than the dessert or it will taste funky. If you don't care, then cheers to you! I've definitely done that 99% of the time. This year, I'm feeling a little celebratory and will be sure to have a 20-year Tawny Port to go with dessert. Other recommendations are Vin Santo, Canadian Ice Wine, or a late harvest Riesling.

"I can only have one bottle."

If you truly want just one bottle to go with everything, I'd choose a sparkling wine. It'll be your best bet because the bubbles will help cleanse the palate between dishes. Champagne is a great choice if your budget allows, but you can also find a good option at a lower price point. 

My recommendations: For the lowest price point, I'd try Juvé y Camps Pinot Noir Rosé Cava found at Whole Foods. For something a little more celebratory, try a bottle of Schramsberg - Blanc de Blanc or Brut Rosé would both be tasty.

I hope you all have the most wonderful holiday, and that your hearts (and bellies) will be full and happy!

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Tasting Notes: Ropiteau Pinot Noir

I'll be honest: I'm always very skeptical of "cheap" Pinot Noirs. Why? Because Pinot Noir is a very tough grape to grow and its flavors are very nuanced; therefore, I feel like the higher price you usually see for quality Pinot Noirs is justifiable. So, when I see a Pinot for under $10, I have low expectations. I definitely judge a book by its cover. But, I saw that this one was on Total Wine's list, and they're usually on point. For $10, it was definitely worth a try!

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The Facts

  • Producer: Ropiteau Freres
  • Region: France
  • Vintage: 2016
  • Variety: Pinot Noir
  • Where I purchased: Total Wine
  • Price: $9.95

As soon as I poured it out, I thought, "Man, this going to be light." It was a pale ruby color*... think a transparent purple-red. There wasn't much on the nose, but then again, I wasn't using a varietal specific glass. I had this on Halloween and had to get in my last use of my jack-o-lantern wine glasses! Sometimes festivity should outweigh practical. Anyway, the wine was straight tart cherry. It was more mouth drying than I expected since I find Pinot Noirs to be more acidic than tannic, but I kept getting that mouth drying sensation. Unfortunately, my expectations were accurate. The wine was one-note, thin, and just not very fun to drink. Did it taste BAD? No, definitely not bad. I just wanted more complexity and earthiness to go with our mushroom wild rice soup (YUM!), but perhaps that's too much to expect from a wine under $10. 

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*If you've ever wondered where I get my color descriptions from, I reference the always awesome Wine Folly and their wine color chart. You can find it here

Tasting Notes: Greyrock Sauvignon Blanc

Kevin makes a mean chicken piccata. Like better than any restaurant I've ever been to, especially when we have it with this local, handmade parsley and garlic pasta. Seriously, probably in my top three meals we make at home. The recipe Kevin uses calls for white wine, and I always like to find a good Sauvignon Blanc for it. It's a great wine to have on hand just for this reason... especially with a screw top! When I saw that there was a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from the famous Sauvignon Blanc region of Marlborough on the Total Wine Top 20 for 2017 list, I thought perfect! Into my basket it went.

The Facts

  • Producer: Greyrock
  • Region: Marlborough, New Zealand
  • Vintage: 2016
  • Variety: Sauvignon Blanc
  • Where I purchased: Total Wine
  • Price: $14.99
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When I first poured this wine, I was a little taken aback because it was so clear! It just had the slightest tint of yellow to it. You definitely get a handful of grapefruit on the nose, but also some green pepper. You may even be able to call it jalapeno because it almost smells spicy! These aromas are not a surprise given the Sauvignon Blanc is from the New World. The wine has a short finish, meaning the flavor doesn't stick around on your tastebuds for a long time. I would say it was less acidic or mouth puckering than other Sauvignon Blancs I've had. I'm not sure that it's better than the Sauvignon Blancs you can get at the grocery store (for example, Starborough) that are usually a tad cheaper and don't require a second stop, but if that doesn't bother you, this is a definitely a good option! The mellower flavors and acid will definitely appeal to many.

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