Author Archives: Andrea Middleton

Tasting Trader Joe’s Grand Reserve Carneros Lot #23 Pinot Noir 2014

I rarely remember which TJ’s grand reserve Pinot I really like when I’m at TJ’s, but I’m nearly positive it was the Carneros a few years back. I remember it being light, silky, and structured enough to be interesting, but not so interesting that it had to be enjoyed thoughtfully, if that makes any sense. 

The 2014 vintage isn’t really that wine. It’s still a good value for about $10 per bottle, but style-wise, it’s much meatier and dense.

Aggressive cherry, green cardamom, and mint on the nose, with high acid and tart, zingy plum on the palate, finishing with dense, smoky, chewy oolong afternotes. With all that body and acid, it seems to call for bbq of some sort — maybe Korean flanken ribs. I’ll see how it does the next day too. 

Not a bad wine — a good wine actually — just not what I was hoping for. I kinda hate how the flavor or style of wine is opaque like that sometimes; seems like we could do better in this day and age. 


The folks at Santa Margherita USA sent me some samples for review this week, with the understanding that I don’t guarantee reviews for samples, etc etc. 

That said, all the bottles retail at a price that’s in my drinking/reviewing sweet spot, so I’ll probably let y’all know what I think about them. The Muller Thurgau is particularly interesting, and who doesn’t love a Tuscan Rose? (I mean, probably lots of people have never had one, so maybe the answer to that question is “lots of people.”) I also really like Nero d’Avola, and blending it with Syrah is very promising for the summer bbq season. 🙂

Here’s the question: should I have a little Italian night with my family (per my step-mom’s suggestion) and taste them all at the same time, with food? This is, after all, how Italian wines are made — to be drunk with food. Tasting them alone usually doesn’t do them justice. Alternately, I could drink them individually with whatever food I happen to have made when it seems like a good tasting time. 

On one hand, individual tastings seem to give me more time to spend with each wine, but on the other hand, having a big Italian wine and food nights sounds pretty fun. 🙂 

If you have a strong opinion either way, let me know in the comments! 

Tasting Erath “Prince Hill 115” Pinot Noir 2012

Sometimes you just have to open up a really nice bottle of red wine to go with your Friday night leftovers. 🙂 Half (or more) of my professional community is living it up in Vienna this weekend, but I’ve had a week of conferencing myself, and had a great round of idea-spinning today at work. Anyhow, between Brexit and various other hullaballoos, it’s been a heck of a week. 

Enter this well-heeled swashbuckler of a Pinot Noir! Bright and deep: bright red plum and cherry aromas, underpinned by really whiffy mushroom. On the palate, some really spicy-zingy stuff happens: cranberry, that plum again, then some slinky, tiger-tiger-burning-bright, smoky oolong action lingers on and on. Like, a lot. For a long, long time. You can’t really call it a “finish” — more like the slowest of slow fades. These flavors stick around longer than an unloved in-law. 

This magnificent malingerer isn’t cheap — probably about $40-50 — but if you like big Pinots that go for days, you might want to check it out! 

Tasting Erath “Dion” Pinot Gris 2013

Well, this was a pleasant surprise! I thought this was just a simple Oregon Pinot Gris that I had chilled down and forgotten about, but I pulled it out of the fridge and lo! Unexpectedly fancy wine!

The nose has a great combo of tangerine and peach, served up on a steele-rimmed plate of sassy mineral undertones. (Amelia says it smells like beer.) The texture is rich (which means it’s thick in your mouth, like whole milk ), and the mineral comes in strong on the palate, trailing some yellow raspberries behind it. The whole thing slowly lingers into a gentle but enthusiastic tangerine flavor. Really excellent!

Quick, go check the back of your fridge for some inexpertly great wine. Can’t hurt to try!  

Piper Sonoma Brut NV

(null)You’ve had a rough day in the trenches. The kids were “spirited.” The dishes were ugly, but they’re done. You want a glass of wine, but just one, but you have no intention of drinking tired plonk out of the fridge for the rest of the week. Bah! Surely there’s a solution.

And there is! Sparkling is the perfect weekday wine. It shines when chilled, and with one little pressurized stopper it stays largely fresh all the way to Friday. Plus, if your evening plans include a non-liquid treat as well, bubbly goes with nearly everything from sweet to savory.

But wait, isn’t champagne expensive? you ask. Well, yes and no. Actual for reals Champagne from the French region of Champagne? Yes, pricey. But very drinkable weekday sparkling wine can be found at your local grocery store for around $15 a bottle, and one of my favorites is the California house of Piper-Heidsieck, a Champagne producer that dates back to 1785. Piper Sonoma runs around $15/bottle; check it out!

Stiegl Radler Grapefruit


It tastes especially great when drunk out of a pint glass from one of the best open source conferences around.

It tastes especially great when drunk out of a pint glass from one of the best open source conferences around.

Is it a shandy? It it beer soda? Is it (says my husband scornfully) alcoholic Ting?

Who cares? It’s delicious! Stiegl Radler Grapefruit combines Austrian lager with grapefruit juice/soda. Radler means ‘cyclist’ in German and was originally brewed for thirsty cyclists in Austria who wanted a tasty low alcohol beer they could take along on bike rides. This is only 2.5% alcohol, slightly sweet, and perfect for afternoon thirst-quenching. I love low-alcohol beers and wines in the summer.

Yes, I drink beer sometimes. Not very often. OK, pretty rarely, but I like a good beer, especially after mowing the lawn or at a cookout. I definitely prefer a decent beer to mediocre wine. And if there’s only mediocre wine AND mediocre beer, then it’s cocktail time.


Tour de France Friday Flight at Vino

tour de france flight from Vino

Never take a picture of 5 bottles back-lit by the summer sun.

This last Friday I flew out the door right after dinner was over so I could enjoy Vino‘s excellent Friday night flight event with my friend Jen. Vino hosts a wine tasting every Friday night of 5 wines for $10. The wines are excellent, the pours are generous, and you can bring in your own food if you want. Needless to say, it’s usually packed. 🙂

We got there late — around 6:30 — and couldn’t find a seat. We ended up standing at a bar table and tasting through the flight, which was hot but better than nothing. 🙂 Vino is a wine store I will miss when we move to Milwaukie in a few weeks, since they’ve got a stunning selection of fun, off the beaten track wines. Also the owner’s weekly newsletter is hilarious.

My friend Jen knows what she likes, but doesn’t waste her brain with all the vinifera/vinology details that I store. So it was fun to taste with her and get her input on the wines.

Tasting notes:

2012 DOMAINE PIERRE MARCHAND Pouilly Fumé (Loire Valley) $19.95: Straw yellow in the glass. This wine smells floral and gooseyberry-y, with a nose full of coastal breezes and fresh starts. I could smell this wine all day long, and longer. I wish I was smelling it right now. In the mouth, it’s nice and limey, opening up to a wide flavor of mineral stonyness, and finishing off with a slightly metallic whang. Just like Cyrano, this wine is all about the nose. And poetry and deceit and seduction, but focus on the nose.

wine flight glasses

This is what a flight of wine looks like if you put all the glasses on the numbers so you can keep track.

2013 L’HERMAS Vin de Pays Saint-Guilhem-Desert (Languedoc) $16.95: This rosé has a pale, salmon blush color. Even though the wine was a perfect temperature for tasting, the nose was kind of closed off here. I smelled lemon zest over unripe strawberries, with maybe a little herbal scent on the very edges, just barely showing up. And then you take a sip and this wine is Fun! Fun! FUN! A slight petillance (spritz) on the tongue makes you think of pop rocks, except not sweet. Instead these flavors are also very minerally with über-restrained rapeberries stuffed with thyme.

2012 DOMAINE DES FORGES Anjou Gamay (Loire Valley) $10.95: This wine was deep purple, with earthy musty dusty black licorice on the nose and an overly plushy pillow of a palate covered with faux fur. Finish was persistent but wallowy. I wondered if this wine was slightly corked, to be honest. I heard people buying it after the tasting, and based on this taste I couldn’t tell you why.

2012 DOMAINE POLI Niellucio “Ile de Beauté” (Corsica) $13.95: THIS wine, though. THIS WINE. It’s from Corsica, but it’s sassy and bouncy, as if someone made a wine from Clippy. Garnet in color, this one smells like baking spices and plums. Nutmeg. Cherries. Cloves. Fern spores. When you get tired of figuring out if that underleaf smell is really what fern spores smell like and take a drink, you’ll enjoy a sproingy, well-balanced wine full of fruit, enthusiasm, and presence, with a finish of sandalwood and beet chips which is (enjoyably) long-lasting. Buy, drink, repeat.

This is the least jowly photo that Jen took of me tasting wine that evening.

This is the least jowly photo that Jen took of me tasting wine that evening. And I’m even smiling!

2011 DOMAINE LABRANCHE LAFFONT Madiran “Traditions” (Madiran/SW France) $16.95 or 23.95: Huh. Ok, so the tasting sheet at Vino says this wine is $24 but their website says it’s only $17. I like it and wanted it to be about $14 and from Spain, so if it’s really $17 I’d be more likely to buy it. Madiran is kind of in Spain; it’s closer to Spain than lots of parts of France. It was getting trendy right before I left the wine business. Or I was getting trendy, not sure. Anyway, I don’t know if Madiran is trendy anymore or ever was, but this wine is pretty cray-good.

The color is a deep, dark purple-black, like Prince in a terrible mood. Smell it and you’ll enjoy a busy Manhatten street corner of a nose, with bustling vanilla, tobacco, blackberry, spice, earth, and coffee. And maybe some scents I lost in the crowd, like a rookie detective trying to follow a spy on her first day. Except it’s hardly my first day, Bruno. The taste? Oh my. The palate has amazing structure, with this Matrix-like slomo, elegantly composed, complex explosion of cane fruit (that’s mostly blackberries) and black currant with hints of toast and tar underneath. It’s really good, and in retrospect I like it a lot for $17. I’d like it better at $14, but I’m very cheap and maybe you’re not.