Tasting Notes: Carson Ridge Cabernet

If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you know that my heart has been very heavy for those affected by the fires in the Sonoma and Napa areas in California. The fires have been absolutely devastating and my heart breaks for everyone there. Kevin and I got engaged in Napa, so this region holds a very special place in our hearts. If you'd like to help those who have lost everything, please consider donating to Rebuild Wine Country, fiscally sponsored by Habitat for Humanity where 100% of the donations will go toward rebuilding homes, or the Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund. Please continue to keep them all in your thoughts and prayers as the fires are starting to be contained and the rebuilding process begins.

Every year, Total Wine releases their Top 20. As a disclaimer, I have no earthly idea how they decide what to base the Top 20 on. Is it sales? Is it reviews? Is it politicking by the distributors? Who knows, but I do like to give them a whirl because they are almost always affordable and good values. In this year's Top 20, I think the most expensive bottle is Champagne at about $35 a bottle. That's certianly more than my every day budget, but it's also not a bad price for Champagne!

Anyway, I picked out about five or six bottles to try for this first go around. Also, sidenote: I've given Olema Chardonnay a try before. Different vintage this year, of course, but you can read my review of the 2013 Olema here. First up was the Carson Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Facts

  • Producer: Carson Ridge
  • Region: Paso Robles, California
  • Vintage: 2016
  • Variety: Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Where I purchased: Total Wine
  • Price: $11.99
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My first thought was, "DANG. This is pretty good for $11.99 (or less if you've got a coupon)!" I'd say it's more medium body, likely thinner than people expect for a Cab and the dark ruby red color. Dark fruit and fruit pie come across on the palate, but there's a zing of acid. I've come to expect that jammy or stewed fruit flavor from low dollar Cabs, but this one is by no means a vanilla bomb which makes me happy. Not very tannic. Overall, I'd say there's a decent balance and complexity for the price. 

The wine went well with our hearty short ribs, mashed potatoes, and green beans dinner. I actually found I liked it less after dinner, which was unexpected. It's utlimately why I bumped it from three bunches to two. Overall, good value, but doesn't necessarily blow my socks off. I think I can find better, but if I don't, I'll come back and change the rating because... well, $11.99.

Rating:

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Pink Peppercorn Beurre Blanc

After that title, you may be thinking, "Wait, did I read that correctly? Is this becoming a food blog?" Answer: No, it's not. BUT when I make a recipe that is oh-so-delicious, and I happened to have a well-paired wine with it, I just have to share. This recipe was sent to me by my dad, but is courtesy of a great restaurant in Highlands, North Carolina -- Wild Thyme. If you're ever in the area, be sure to check them out!

So back to the Pink Peppercorn Beurre Blanc... what's not to like? Shallots. Butter. Pepper. All things I love, so bring it on. The recipe is super easy with the most difficult part being keeping your arm from cramping with all of the whisking. The recipe is below, but if you prefer to download and print, you can get the recipe here!

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Pink Peppercorn Beurre Blanc

  • 1 tbsp shallot, minced
  • 2 tsp pink peppercorns
  • 8 tbsp unsalted, cold butter
  • 2 tbsp dry vermouth
  • 2 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
  • Salt
  • White pepper
  • Lemon juice, if desired (I recommend!)

Get your mise en place together! Mince the shallots. Crush the pink peppercorns using a mortar and pestle, or a ziploc bag and a mallet works just fine, too. Cut the chilled butter into tablespoon-sized pieces, and set aside.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the shallots, vermouth, white balsamic vinegar and crushed pink peppercorns. Bring mixture barely to a simmer, and allow the mixture to be reduced by about two-thirds, stirring the mixture constantly, until it reaches a syrupy consistency.

Reduce the heat to the lowest setting, and whisk in the cold butter cubes, one piece at a time, to slowly form the emulsion. Once all of the butter has been incorporated into the peppery-vermouth mixture, season it generously with salt and white pepper. If needed, add a few dashes of lemon juice to tweak the flavor of the sauce.

Keep an eye on the completed beurre blanc while you prepare the rest of your meal, making sure to keep the sauce warm to the touch and whisking often to prevent the smooth sauce from splitting.

The sauce works well on any white, flaky fish (halibut, sea bass, snapper, etc.), but would also be great on scallops. Pair it with a medium to full body white wine that balances a creaminess with acidity (Chardonnay -- maybe even with a little bit of oak, Sémillon, Pinot Gris, etc.). What wine did we have? This white, or vinho branco, from the Dão region of Portugal found in my Spain & Portugal Weekly Tasting pack. 

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Dão is certainly more well known for its reds, but their dominant white grape is Encruzado, which is also the main grape in this Prunus wine. Encruzado was described as being similar to Viognier, and I definitely agree. It was very aromatic, which is so characteristic of Viognier. To me, the wine smelled and tasted of white peach and had a great mouth coating quality. It was buttery in texture but the apple notes and acidity kept it from feeling too heavy. This creamy texture went so well with the weight of the sauce. Weekly Tasting said it'd be a crowd pleaser, and I can certainly tell why. Easy drinking with different features that could appeal to every type of white wine drinker. Plus, it has a pretty label! Gotta love wines that are pretty AND taste good. While it's definitely different than the whites I typically go for, Prunus Vinho Branco gets three bunches in my book!

Rating:

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Our Trip to Portugal

In case you missed it, we recently went on a trip to Portugal with my family. How was it, you ask? AMAZING! That's how it was. Seriously, Portugal far exceed my expectations... beautiful views, lovely people, and of course, delicious wine. While in Portugal, we did lots of things, from hiking steep cliffs to visiting old towns, but we also had to fit in a few wineries. I posted two short articles while I was gone about two of Portugal's most popular wines: Port and Vinho Verde. We consumed our fair share of both, but I also enjoyed seeing their pride in all the regions we tried... Dão, Alentejo, and the table wine from Douro. 

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In my first post about Port, I mentioned how Portugal is known for their indigenous grapes with the most popular and well known being Touriga Nacional, a red grape that reminds me of Cabernet Sauvignon. This is the grape that Port is made from, but is also quite popular for their table wines. Anyway, what I was surprised by is that a lot of the wineries we went to mentioned planting international grapes to raise the world's awareness about Portuguese wine and make Portuguese wines more "approachable". While I can certainly understand their decision to do that, it's a little disappointing... wines made from their native grapes aredelicious! Although, so were their wines from international grapes.

I wanted to show you some of my favorite pictures from the various wineries we went to a give you a short blurb on each. This post will probably be a little longer than normal, but I just want to entice you to visit Portugal yourself. I think it should be on everyone's travel list!

Monte do Além

This small winery in the Algarve region was owned by a Belgian woman, and it was home to all international grapes except for one Portuguese variety: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Petit Verdot, and Aragonez. We actually visited during harvest, so we were able to see the production process. Very cool to see a destemmer in action! The wines were delicious, and it was our first taste at how inexpensive they are. Their top reserve, which was very good, was only €14! We also found out our hotel was selling the magnum, which is equal to two bottles, for €96... talk about a mark up! We purchased five bottles here to take with us for the rest of the trip, so I was able to try my first rosé made from Cabernet Sauvignon.

Casal Santa Maria

The second winery we visited was also started by a foreigner, a Swiss banker! He had unfortunately been diagnosed with cancer, so he was looking for a place for his beloved wife to go once he passed. Long story shorter, they fell in love with the plot of land in Portugal, near Sintra, and started a home there. They bred animals and were most known for their Arabian horses. He ended up outliving his wife and surviving two cancer diagnoses. To mourn his wife's death, he planted over 4,000 roses on the property. At 96, the Baron decided to plant a winery after a dream he had post-surgery. The Baron passed away earlier this year at 105, and the property now belongs to his grandson. Casal Sta Maria has mostly international grapes, but they like to blend them with some Portuguese varieties. They're also very proud of their terroir and micro-climate... perfect for grape growing and achieving minerality. The most fun fact for a wine nerd? This region is one of the few in Europe that has original vines. Phylloxera destroyed most of the European vines, but the sandy soils didn't allow the bug to flourish. Hooray!

Quinta da Pacheca

Our first stop in the Douro Valley did not disappoint! We had a lovely picnic outside and then proceeded to have a tour of the winery and a tasting. This was our first exposure to winery that seemed very Portuguese! Lots of Touriga Nacional and, of course, Port! Their 30 year Tawny was delicious, but I also enjoyed their table white wine. It was so refreshing and perfect for lunch! They also showed how they still press the grapes with their feet, just like in I Love Lucy. Two poor employees were forced to demonstrate for us, but usually there's a big team of men doing it. Overnight, they use a machine. Why do they do this? They think it's the best way to get juice and color without breaking the seeds, which give it the bitterness and tannin. 

Graham's

Last, but certainly not least, was Graham's! If you like Port, you've most likely heard of Graham's... it's one of the biggest Port makers out there. We stopped by for a tour when we were in Porto and had a great time! To make Port, grapes (again, mostly Touriga Nacional) are grown in the Douro Valley, but the conditions are better in Porto for the aging process, so wine is transported there after the first winter in barrels. It used to be done on these pretty, gondola like boats down the Douro River, but now it's simply done on trucks. Not nearly as cool! Graham's has a long history, but it was ultimately started by Scottish brothers and is still run by their children. It's a big, hulking winery type place so there were tons of people (some of which may have had too many tours), but we got to go into one of the coolest tasting rooms I've been to for our vintage and tawny tasting.

I hope this small snip of our vacation has piqued your interest about Portugal. It really was a wonderful vacation, and I hope to go back some day!

Wines of Portugal: Vinho Verde

Vinho Verde was another popular wine I came across in my few tastings of wines from Portugal. I had never really heard of it but was instantly drawn to the refreshing quality of the whites. I am starting to come around on the more hearty whites, but I will always have an affinity for a white that is crisp and citrusy. 

Picture: winesofvinhoverde.com

Picture: winesofvinhoverde.com

  • Vinho Verde is a region, not a grape, and is also known as Minho. The region is the northernmost wine producing region in Portugal.
  • The region was first settled by Celtic tribes over 2,500 years ago. Vinho Verde wines were the first to be exported to Europe during the Middle Ages.
  • "Verde" does not mean green the color. It means young! These wines are meant to be consumed right away.
  • Vinho Verde produces red and white wines, and they're usually blends. Whites are what they're known for because 86% of the region's production is white. White grape varieties include: Alvarinho (Albariño), Arinto, Trajadura, Loureiro, and Azal.
  • If you like seafood or Asian dishes, a Vinho Verde white will make the perfect pair. These wines have low alcohol which makes them food friendly (especially with something that has a little heat!).
  • The wines usually have a slight spritz to them.

Portuguese wines haven't totally taken hold here in the United States, despite them being delicious and a good value. They're unfortunately usually lumped into the Spanish section, which is unfair. However, I have been able to find some Vinho Verdes, so keep your eyes peeled!

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Wines of Portugal: Port

In preparation for our upcoming trip to Portugal, I wanted to look into what types of wines I would be having. I have been to a few tastings, but wanted to do some more in-depth research. The one thing to know about Portuguese wine is that they almost solely have indigenous grapes as opposed to international varieties that everyone knows like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, etc. This makes knowing how to identify something you'd like a little tough, but also makes it very exciting!

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If you know anything about wines from Portugal, it is most certainly about Port, the fortified dessert wine originating from the country, specifically the Douro Valley. I mean, the name should give you an idea of that! Here are my favorite facts from my research: 

  • While many think of Port as just being this dark, reddish-brown wine, there is also white and rosé Port! I am hoping to be able to give those a try while over there.
  • Port is a fortified wine, which means a neutral grape spirit (brandy) is added to stop the fermentation process and boost alcohol content. Stopping the fermentation process leaves residual sugar in the glass, making the wine sweet.
  • Five grapes that are commonly used to make Port are Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional.
  • Tawny Port (arguably the most popular in the USA) is made by aging the wine in oak barrels, slowly exposing it to oxygen.
  • If you're looking for a wine to go with dessert, Port is a great option! You want your wine to be as sweet or sweeter than your dessert, so wines with residual sugar are best.

While I typically see Port as a "love it or hate it" wine, I hope these little facts helped you learn something new. I can't wait to go to Portugal and report back all that I learned!

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