food & wine pairing grapes reviews

Tasting Zolo Bonarda 2009

Honestly, I don’t know how this bottle even got into my cellar.  It looks like something I would buy; (1) it’s Argentinian, so reasonably priced, (2) interesting grape and (3) just plain fun to say.  Heh, kidding on number three.  I don’t buy wines because they’re fun to say.  Much.

Bonarda is a super-prevalent grape in Argentina and nowhere much else.  In California, it’s called Charbono but doesn’t enjoy the same level of popularity. Bonarda (or Charbono) is used generally as a blending grape due to its ink-dark color and intense tannins.

Evidently Argentina is experimenting with single-variety Bonarda wines. Cool! Zolo is a wine brand made by Finca Patagonias; they mostly do Tapiz, and describe themselves as “one of the most technological wineries in Argentina.” Which, totally not trying to be condescending here, cracks me up.  That usually tells me that they’ve got solid grapes, maybe always have, and now focus on the science of making large quantities of stable, crowd-pleasing wines. Fair enough.

The color is all Heart of Darkness, all the time in the glass.  The nose is pretty hot, with stewed blackberries, jammy jam and dusty earth notes.  The palate is spare – prunes are hanging around, and there are certainly tannins, but there’s also enough acidity to keep them from waking the baby.  And then there’s that smoky, toasty, don’t-call-me-fruity-or-I’ll-punch-you finish.  Something about this wine makes me think of… leather.  Not black leather, as the color would lead you to believe, but the dark brown leather of good riding boots.

All the dark tones of this little goth number make me think of what to pair it with.  Duck confit? chocolate coated pepper steak? boiled leather aux herbes?  Actually, the chocolate isn’t far off the mark – I snuck some dark chocolate chips out of the freezer, and they’re a hit.  But the smokiness of this wine makes it an excellent wine to go with my husband’s favorite food… Texas barbecue.  Yep, 12-hour smoked beef brisket would totally make out with this Bonarda.  They can get all intense and philosophical together, and talk about how they hate their parents.  It’s a date.


Wine gear

The best money you’ll hardly notice spending on wine paraphernalia

I was talking last weekend to someone (at our incredibly successful fundraiser, in fact; thanks to all who attended and gave!) about champagne and sparkling wine and how much we both love it. This is no secret to anyone who knows me – I am a fiend for the bubbly. Anonymous Nice Wine Lover Lady and I were in the same boat as far as number of wine drinkers in our homes – that number being one, each – and she was expressing regret at how it was so difficult to find good sparkling wine in splits, etc.

And I was all, dude! Champagne stoppers will change your life! And she was polite about it but possibly didn’t understand the part about Changing Her Life, but she will, if she ever gets a champagne stopper.

This cheap little apparatus is a rubber stopper with hinges, and it clamps onto the top of your only-just-touched bottle of bubbly to keep it fresh and sparkly for days! Days, gentle readers! Days of drinking a beautiful, petillant, refreshing, goes-with-any-food glass of the good stuff.

No one can be sad when they’re drinking champagne, unless it’s flat. A decent champagne stopper is like your frugal bubbly wingman. Get you one, and never cry again.

blogosphere frivolity reviews

Tasting Domaine Ste Michelle Brut NV

It’s Oscar night.  Chez Scamp never watches the Oscars, but we’re breaking our custom… for what reason I have no idea.  We’re about 7:48 in right now, and I can’t say I’m really sold on the decision, but I’ve decided to pop a bottle of bubbly, so I’m likely to see it through.

Domaine Ste Michelle is one of my favorite “mixer” bubblies, so I’m actually going to taste the wine on its own as well as made into a mimosa and a poinsetta – which is bubbly mixed with cranberry juice and triple sec; I meant to make poinsettas over Christmas sometime, and I will confess that the cranberry juice has been waiting in the very bottom and back of my fridge, unopened since December.

Let’s start with the wine unadulturated: color is a perfectly respectable straw yellow in the glass.  Perlage (that’s fancy wine talk for bubbles) is quite fine, which testifies to the stunning high quality-price-ratio that DMS delivers.

Yummy green apple and lemon on the nose – as well as a mild undertone of earthiness. Palate of self-same lemon and quince (which is an appley-pear taste, if you’ve never had a quince) with a crisp, refreshing acidity that bounces around your mouth and leaves you wanting another sip.  SUCH an incredible value for about $10.  Seriously.

Why is it that I adulturate this wine again?  I seem to consistently forget how good it is.  Don’t forget like I do, gentle reader!  Remember! Buy this wine!  Drink it every day!

Anyway, I’ve mixed the drinks – and the glass of straight wine is gone – so let’s move on to the mimosa.

Color is, well, obviously, orange.  OK, I’ll dispense with the traditional structure of a Scamp tasting, because if the nose on a mimosa doesn’t smell like orange then I don’t know what.

Oscar Sidenote: wow, Anne-Hathaway-Singing-At-The-Oscars-And-Doing-The-Wolverine-Thing? So unutterably hideous.  Upside, we then get to look at Dame Helen, who makes me want to dye my hair white.

Anyhow, DSM Brut makes a good mimosa – it brightens up the orange juice with all the lemon, and the sweetness of the orange makes the wine even more suck-down-able.

The poinsetta… is interesting.  Without the triple sec, the drink is painfully sour.  The triple sec takes the edge off, but there’s still a definite bitterness here.  I can definitely see this as a sharp contrast to a heavy holiday brunch, bracing after a night of caloric overindulgence.  As an independent cocktail, I can’t recommend it, and I like sour/bitter drinks (I’m famous in my family as the only one who can happily drink Campari).  If you’re planning your Boxing Day Brunch and wondering how to balance the homemade cinnamon rolls, cheesy egg & sausage strata, and leftover pumpkin pie, this might just be your ticket.  I’m not finishing it tonight, even though Anne and James Di are about as cloying as an entire pan of frosted baked goods.

The mimosa was gone in about as long it took for Cate Blanchette to lead us through the clips of makeup nominees.  Oh, Rick Baker.  I love effeminate straight men with pure white ponytails.

OK, Wine Scamp out – there’s some serious laundry yet to be folded up in here.  For true Oscar liveblogging and general awesomeness, check out Kari Anne Roy’s hilarious Haiku of the Day.  I aspire to her life on multiple levels.

grapes reviews wineries

Tasting Tablas Creek Tannat 2005

This poor wine – somehow, I have let it molder age in my cellar for what is probably WAY too long, but Tablas Creek built this thing, and they build them to last, my friends. Let’s see how it’s drinking. This post is being taped before a live studio audience. (At least, I think the cat is still alive. Granted, he has not moved in a while.)

The wine is Dark. Joseph Conrad Dark. Pink Floyd Dark. Pretty intense nose – hot (which means I can smell the alcohol) and dusty, with a generous note of pepper and some vague tobacco-ey hints. Wow, I may not have over-aged this. Cool. Crap, I should have opened it for a special occasion. Oh well.

Palate is pretty flat. Crap, I seem to have over-aged this. Cool, it didn’t ruin a special occasion.

But wait, Tablas Creek’s own vintage chart says this wine is in its early maturity! I guess I need to let it open up. Granted, it’s been in a glass for at least 30 minutes, but maybe that’s not enough for a 6 year old Tannat. OK, let’s cut to commercial information about Tannat.

Tannat is originally from the foothills of the Pyrenees, in southwest France. It’s a highly tannic grape, known for having lots of spice and dark, dark fruit. And spice. These days, the people who drink the hell out of Tannat are the Basques and… wait for it… Uruguayans. Yep, there is more Tannat grown in Uruguay than in France – in fact, one third of all wine made in Uruguay is Tannat. Random, huh? Now I know two things about Uruguay – 98% literacy rate and seriously suckers for Tannat.

Oh look! Wikipedia says that Basque settlers brought Tannat to Uruguay. OK, that makes sense. Shew.

Tasting wine again – yes, it’s opening up now. OK, good – I can be chagrinned about the lack of a party; that’s always a better thing to be bummed about than over-aging your wine.

One thing I can assure you: if you drink a generous helping of this wine with nothing in your stomach but spaghetti squash and chayote, you will probably have a headache in the morning. I’ll report back about that.

On the subject of food, this wine would be awesome with some of those Central Market truffles I finished two weeks ago. Also, it would be tasty with a big, thick steak or some duck or pate or other fat-rich plate of goodness. Even well aged, this wine is all about the tannins.

Finally, 90 minutes after pouring, getting that smooth plum and blackberry fruit on the palate. This is really coating, rich stuff – stick to your teeth kind of wine. And spice-er-iffic: LOTS of cigar box, pepper, herb and other earth scents on the nose now. Fuck, I love Tablas Creek. They ferment the shit out of some grapes, y’all.

Surely there is some decent chocolate somewhere in this house.

I’m not sure how easily you’ll run across this vintage in your average wine store, but if you happen to find the current vintage of Tablas Creek’s Tannat, know that it will age beautifully for at least 6 years, and that it’ll take a while to communicate all its flavors once you pour it into a glass. It runs about $25 per bottle – I got mine when I was part of the winery’s wine club – and is well worth the cash.

Austin Wine Shops events

Think, think, think…

Surprise! I’m leading a wine tasting in less than two weeks. I wonder what I remember about wine after 2 years of not really writing or reading much about it?


I was actually super-nervous about this, going down to Twin Liquors, which is a sponsor for the event, Hawthorne Montessori School’s Casino Night and Silent Auction. Barrett Nicholson, the GM of Wholesale for Twin, very kindly agreed to help me pick out the wines, and since I didn’t want to waste his time, I went down early to scope out the selection, which was excellent.  In the end, I picked all the wines myself with the help of The Really Nice Guy Behind The Counter Whose Name Might Be Bill – thus saving Barrett lots more time than either of us anticipated.

My working theme for this tasting is “Best Value Wines That Only Insiders Know About” – I may need some help tightening up that title – and the inspiration comes from periodic wine shopping trips I take with some girlfriends to Austin Wine Merchant on Saturdays when the store holds their wine tastings. My friends and I taste what’s on pour, and then I shop with/for them, helping them stock up their cellars with wines I know are good and that I know they’ll like. It’s mutually beneficial, because I get to shop for wine, which I love, without having to buy all the wine I love, which would put me in the poor house. And then my pals get the benefit of a personal wine buyer.

Wine can be such an effed-up business. There are so many variables that affect how a wine tastes, and you so rarely get to preview what the stuff is actually like. No, you have to plunk down $6-60 to see if that pretty rose with a heart on the label is even worth buying – imagine if that was the purchasing model for a pair of jeans or a book.

But if you have ever worked in the business, you learn a few predictors of quality. And if you have tasted lots and lots of wines (ahem), you also up your hit rate in imagining what a wine will taste like before you get it home.

Since I’ve been OUT of the business for so long (6 years now, but who’s counting?), I was particularly nervous about picking out the wines for next week’s tasting, because I was sure I wouldn’t recognize any of the brands and hot tickets any more. Imagine how my ego was soothed by 30 minutes of browsing in Twin’s wine stacks, recognizing old friends (wine, not people (though some wine makes me happier to see than some people, I admit)) and new efforts by producers I know I like. It was almost depressing, to see how far the business hasn’t come without me.

And I am supercalifragilisticexpialidocious-excited about this tasting, now! I picked out some really, really obscure wines that are HUGE values, and I will be researching them over the next week in hopes that their producers have some good stories to tell. I can’t WAIT to introduce 20 people to these 4 wines they’ve never heard of and would never pick out for themselves! Each costs about $10 and drinks like a bottle that costs at least twice that. That’s the kind of wine I’m most passionate about, if you were wondering – Really Cheap And Really Good.

Maybe I haven’t lost my mojo after all.


Tasting La Vieille Ferme Cotes du Ventoux Rouge 2007

La Vieille Ferme Rouge 2007I keep coming back to this wine. Founded by Jean Pierre Perrin, the owner of renowned Chateauneuf de Pape house Chateau de Beaucastel, this house wine house consistently produces an undervalued, over-producing bottle of juice every year. I’ve reviewed it before, and the 2007 vintage is mighty fine, dear reader – just the thing for a value-driven wine lover who isn’t afraid to wander the dustier aisles of French wine real estate.

Cotes du Ventoux is a tiny little area in the larger Rhone region of France. That’s immaterial unless you just like knowing your geography – because what matters the most about this wine is not its countrified label or its low, low price (under $7, typically), but rather its snazzy one-size-fits-all style.

Comfortable in crystal or in a jelly glass, this wine does not peer at your dinner disapprovingly, or wonder why your friends are drinking Tecate from a can or vodka-and-cokes. Like a faithful golden retriever, this wine is just glad to be with you, alone or in a crowd, dressed to the nines or slumped on the couch with holes in your socks. There’s no judgement in this wine, only Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, and Carignan – and no more than 30% of any of those, as mandated by French law.

Raspberry/blackberry fruit on the nose, with a spicy/cedar hint around the edges. Palate has lots of acidity, making this one juicy mouthful of red berries and pepper. Just enough tannin, so it clings slightly to the teeth, as if the wine is running its hand along the slats of the banister on its way down the stairs.

But ignore that last paragraph and just drink it! Drink it with gumbo, red beans and rice, turkey-and-cranberry-sauce sandwiches, or gazpacho. Chill it down a little, like you would with a Beaujolais Nouveau, and swig in peace.

food & wine pairing grapes reviews

Tasting Oxford Landing Viognier 2006

I buy all nearly all my wine in large batches.  Part of it is because there are frequently deals in my local wine shops in which you get 10-20% off when you buy a case. A mixed case, of course – I’m never in a position to buy a whole case of one wine at a time, as tempted as I might be.  Though I admit that I have considered buying that Famega by the case.

So in this last batch of wine, I bought a selection of white wines under $10.  It’s not easy to get a viognier for around $10 – the grape is a pain to grow and all – but Oxford Landing is a good bet for value, no matter the grape. I think I paid about $8 for this bottle.

Oxford Landing Viognier 2006: pretty yellow
Oxford Landing Viognier 2006: pretty yellow
This is a bit of a case of “you get what you pay for,” but not to the point of Stop Drinking.  The nose is heavily perfumed, almost soapy, with notes of overripe peach and newly cut oak slats. Palate = lemon, nectarine, something greenish, and cream.  Weirdish, like apple ice cream.

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that this wine did not pair well with a PBJ (J was strawberry jam).  I was thinking about that, and viognier is actually a wine that I would have picked for PBJ, in that the body might stand up to the peanut butter oil.  Alas, a tannic wine would probably be better; the viognier was just nasty with it.

The wine WAS quite pleasent with beef stroganoff, though.  Makes sense; cream to cream, you know.  Unless you like a thick and creamy wine for sipping, this is not a “sit down and glug a glass in front of the TV” kind of wine, to my mind.  Good for pairing with creamy dishes, as mentioned, and perhaps some cheesy enchiladas or some such. Peach melba.  Fondue?  Enchiladas suizas might be the perfect dish… just brainstorming here.


Tasting Famega Vinho Verde 2008

So simple, even a child understands it!
So simple, even a child understands it!

This is my model wine for the summer.  I don’t know if you recall that I live in Texas?  We had about 67 days in June in which temperatures reached triple digits this year.  I always say that summer in Texas is like winter in the north – the weather irresistably drives one indoors for months, very inspiring of cabin fever.

(tin bugle sounds) Famega Vinho Verde to the rescue!  It’s so clear it almost looks like water – except with the slightest of green tinges.  Slight, as well, the effervescence in the glass – but it’s there, and it make this wine even crisper and lighter on the palate, and more fun to drink.  Flavors are Granny Smith apple, yellow Sweet-Tart and an inclination toward herbs and Honeydew.  The alcohol level is a smoking low 9.5%, making it really too easy to have a second glass, or a third.

I bought this little darling for under $6 at Spec’s.  It’s a screw-cap so you don’t have to pack a corkscrew to the picnic.

I’d tell you about the grapes and region, but they’re the only things complicated about this gorgeous gulper of a wine, so why worry about all that?  Buy a case and drink it until the air over the blacktop stops shimmering!

regions reviews Uncategorized

I’m Baaaaaaaaack….

Did you wonder if you’d ever hear from me again?  I wondered, too. I kind of thought I wouldn’t be back – that the Scamp was not motherhood-friendly.  I’ve been blogging, off and on, at Careening and Gestating, and now at Wigglet McFancyPants.  But it was pretty impossible to keep Scamping when I had no taste for wine while pregnant and then insufficient courage to risk wine drinking while feeding a colicky baby nothing but my breastmilk.

Colic?  Ugh. Don’t get me started.

I finally started drinking wine again a month or so ago, almost more as medicine than for enjoyment.  Returning to the Scamp with little money and less time to taste wine is going to be a challenge, but I hope that you, dearest reader, will suffer through it with me.  I imagine that more than a few of the denizens of the Mystical Interwebs find themselves equally challenged, both financially and temporally.

On that note, here are tips for all those New Mother Wineaux out there:

1.) Drink cheap.  exersaucers and convertible car seats and diapers and baby pools and rompers and, most of all, DAY CARE, has begun to act as a budget-eating virus on your life.  Evidently, this doesn’t end for a long time.  Once you start drinking wine again, you’re going to want to do it a lot, so don’t imagine that you’re going to be quaffing Sine Qua Non – or even Shafer – until the little tyrant is at least in high school.

2.) Drink simple.  The last thing I want to think hard about after a long day of work, child ferrying, breast pumping, rushing through traffic, scraping leftovers into a semblance of dinner and getting the kid to FINALLY go to sleep… well, the last thing I want to puzzle over is a complex, hard-to-warm-up-to bottle of wine.  The pleasures reserved for new parents are simple ones.  Use your brain power to eke out more than 10 minutes to yourself every week.

3.) Drink food-friendly.  If you’re breastfeeding, you’re probably going to be drinking a glass of wine with dinner.  If you’re not breastfeeding, you probably need to multi-task and will be drinking a glass of wine with dinner.  And since dinner in my household – I don’t know about yours; maybe you have Chateaubriand every night! – but since dinner in my household is a PBJ about twice a week, I stock my fridge with wine that’s high in acidity and low in tannin.  As an example, Viognier + PBJ = 🙁

4.) Drink a lot.  Ha!  Just kidding. I figure that a glass of wine with dinner at night will, at worst, encourage the Wigglet to sleep better that evening.  I have not done any research, internet or otherwise, so I am currently Making This Shit Up to the Nth degree.  For the record, I hate Pump & Dump.  It’s such a pain in the ass to express breast milk that I can NOT just throw it away.  I’d rather exercise a little restraint.  Especially considering that’s all the exercise I get these days!

I’ll be trying to give you a run-down of some of my favorite wines that fulfill all of the above guidelines.  If this can help a wine-deprived soul up to her elbows in poop and spit up, all the better!


cellar cat

To out myself with regards to how passive-aggressive my relationship with wine has been, I got this Tablas Creek wine club shipment in April or May. Tonight while watching Micheal Phelps win another gold medal for being Aquaman, I finally entered the wines into Cellar Tracker. Not even because I thought the wine might be bored, locked for months in its shipper. No, this weekend we’re having houseguests in for the wedding of some very dear friends, and I thought perhaps Mike shouldn’t have to worry about tripping over my unassuming brown box of exquisite, exquisite wine.

As you can see, I had some help unpacking. If I my cats have learned to love Tablas Creek as much as I do, there seems to be a good chance that my child will as well.

I did notice that I now have a couple of wines in my cellar that will still be drinkable when my kid is 17. Which, now that I think about it, is right when I’ll probably need a 17 year old bottle of Tannat or Riesling. That’ll be a good goal for building the cellar: what will wine will make for good enough drinking in 2026 that I’ll survive the years of my kid’s adolescence?