Category Archives: 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!

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!

kicked in the pants

Thanks to an impromptu chat with a wise new mother, I was suddenly inspired to throw off Preggo Prohibition and Freaking Have A Glass Of Wine Already (my words, not hers). Yeah, mothafuckah……! (flips the upside-down bird at abstinence) Take that! I’m BACK!

Since the rapidly growing criatura is the size of a turnip this week, we’re celebrating said humble root vegetable with take-out Thai food and a Jaboulet “Parellele 45” Cotes du Rhone Rose 2007. Makes sense in my head, anyway.

After ordering the Scamp household classic Thai food comfort order (spring rolls, pad thai, red chicken curry), I toddled off to World Market for some wine, thinking vaguely that they might have chilled wine. It’s been so long since I opened my cellar closet door, I couldn’t even remember what was in there, and I certainly haven’t been keeping anything cold.

WM doesn’t have a cold box, unfortunately, but I enjoyed browsing anyway and I bought a couple of wines from their Wine Speculator Top Whatever List display (an 05 Lehmann Shiraz and a Mosel Riesling), but for tonight’s momentous occasion I grabbed the Jaboulet Rose for only about $11.99, which is reasonable if not ridiculously cheap for said bottle.

I mostly went to WM because it was quite close to the restaurant, Blue Bamboo, which is the Thai place closest to my house. They’re both in this ridonkulous strip mall on Highway 71, and I was mitigating the guilt over my splurge on Wednesday’s dinner by not driving all over creation. For the record, in Texas this can be a challenge. I have found some decent inexpensive everyday wines at WM, so I have to give it at least a B- as far as a wine shop goes.

Blue Bamboo gets a C, I think, after their second chance. It took a Really Long Time to get my take-out order, and their pad thai is stunningly bland, though the red curry was acceptable and the spring rolls had nothing particularly wrong with them. I’ll try eating in the restaurant before I give up on them completely, but Thai Spice in Lakeway is much better, for the same money or less.

The wine wasn’t cold when I brought it home of course, and the bean was insisting on food immediately upon my arrival home. What’s a wine lover to do, in this situation? Unless you have a way cool insta-wine-chiller, I recommend the method indicated in the photo.

The Jaboulet CDR Rose is a charming salmon pink in the glass. Nose of grapefruit, raspberry, and strawberry, with a hint of herbal-greeniness. On the palate, this mutha is TART, with flavors of strawberry lemonade with mineral ice cubes. Nice body and comfy mouthfeel. A tasty rose, complex for its price point, but not too involved.

With the pad thai, which needed lots of lime to bring it to life a little, the wine’s fruit just disappeared, leaving all the tartness and mineral – rather not The Thing, if you understand me. With the curry, however, which was much spicier and had that sweet-creamy richness of coconut milk, the fruit was much more forward. It was kind of like the tartness, and to some degree the mineral, was so busy fighting the hot pepper that it never made it to my tongue.

The wine is made up of 50% Grenache, 40% Cinsault and 10% Syrah, according to Jaboulet’s website. I’m not going to gabble on about the French region of Cotes du Rhone just now because it’s late and my womb treats everyone better when I get some good sleep. More than one post in June, though – I promise!

Tasting Wichita Falls Sangiovese 2004

Wichita Falls Sangiovese 2004Oregon family came to visit for Easter weekend, and bought some Texas wine for us all to enjoy together! I had never tasted this one, which they picked up at Specs for about $15.

Bright, clear red in the glass with soft corners. Rusty strawberry aromas, with some crushed strawberry leaves as well.

On the palate, hot strawberry syrup and some tart cranberry edge and some dirty green notes. Kind of a lipstick sidebar there in the attack (which is to say, at the beginning of the flavors when you taste). Not terribly acidic, but decently balanced between acid and tannin. Very competent other than the chemically floral note.

Wichita Falls is located far to the north of me in Texas, almost in Oklahoma. Most of the truly great grapes being grown in Texas right now are from the northern growing areas, especially around the Panhandle plains. Wines with the Wichita Falls label are from 100% Texas grapes; the winery also produces wines under the Gates label, which are blends of Texas and California fruit.

Alton Gates and his wife Lana founded their Wichita Falls Vineyards & Winery in 2002, having begun planting vines they bought in California back in 1997. Armed with only a few oenology classes from Grayson County College and a Texas-sized sense of adventure, they now produce about 15 wines between their two labels. They currently grow Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Ruby Cabernet, Zinfandel, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay. Typical for Texas, their most popular wine is a sweet red blended from Zinfandel, Cabernet and Sangiovese.

Their straight Sangiovese is varietally correct, though, and a very drinkable wine that would pair well with pasta or barbecue chicken. If you’re in Texas and you can find it (again, Specs y’all), I recommend giving it a whirl.

Tasting Verget Au Fils du Temps NV

Verget Au Fil and toolsWhat wine goes with celebrations? Champagne, of course. What wine goes with contemplation? Perhaps an aged Brunello or Burgundy or Bordeaux. What wine goes with sitting on the porch on a summer’s evening? Rose, surely.

What wine goes with a short break from home improvement gyrations? I have no definitive answer, but in this case it’s Verget du Sud Au Fil Du Temps (as time goes by), a French vin du table (table wine) that I paired with a microwaved Michel Angelo’s Chicken Parm last night. One of the things that makes this an excellent wine for the occasion is that it won’t add to the mounting Home Depot and Lowes bills you’re likely to rack up during your remodel project; it’s priced at Specs for only $6.62 a bottle.

Dark red in the glass. The wine presents a yeasty nose, with earthy blueberries, violet notes and black pepper aromas.

Earthy on the palate too, with just enough structure to rap the berry fruit on the knuckles and tell it to sit up straight. Slightly raw like a nouveau, but not scratchy at all. Verget Au Fils and toolsMore of a corduroy texture: soft but with ridges. Nice acid, and even earthier with the bland frozen dinner.

The wine’s a blend of Syrah, Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon; the idea is that Burgundy negociant Verget takes all its leftover juice from all the fine wines it blends every year and tosses them into this “bistro blend.” Jean-Marie Guffens’ Verget was founded in 1990, and is a good value brand that you can count on, especially for Chablis. Specs has a great offering of their wines.

Fortified by a nice big glass and most of Robert Altman’s incredibly goofy movie Popeye (a certified Middleton Family Cult Classic), I’m ready to start back to work. Feel free to try this solution whenever mounting tasks threaten to sweep you away in their wake.

Tasting Saint Cosme “Les Deux Albion” Cotes du Rhone 2005

Saint Cosme and listJeepers, it’s been a week since I stopped in to Vino Vino for a glass of wine to let stupid Austin traffic die down. VV is one of those places that make me really wish I lived closer to town. They have engaged, educated servers who provide a cozy experience for someone just wandering in by herself. The bar is dark, but with warm light spilling from lamps and bottles lining the walls. In another two months, when the Texas Heat of Death begins to really hit its stride, this place will be a cool, soothing godsend.

Plus, they’ve got a hell of a sense of humor. I had to try the Saint Cosme at $9 a glass because of the following description on the list:

“There is no reason to believe this wine isn’t made by elves… or gremlins, trolls or fairies for all one can find out about it on the internets. I’ll have to wing this one. This wine is 100% syrah or 50% syrah and 50% white clairette or the love sweat of rutting goat-gods which has been bottled by little, bitty people with their teeny tiny hands and shipped to us by winged squirrels.”

I mean, seriously – how do you NOT taste a wine written up like that?

I personally found it to present dusty, heady raspberry aromas, white pepper, slight truffle and some of that umami edge of aged cheese.

On the palate, it’s crispy with tannin on the edges with an ooey-gooey fruit center. This wine gets a tight grip on your lips and teeth and proceeds to spew all over your tongue with earth and brick-house raspberry goodness.

Saint Cosme labelMy bartender tasted it for the first time near where I was sitting, and I overheard her comment that the wine “smells like Jewish Christmas.”

I chose the country pate to go with my wine, despite the bartender’s recommendation of the “Portuguese gumbo” soup, and I probably should have gone with her idea. The pate was excellent, don’t get me wrong, but it was too rich for the Cotes du Rhone. Or rather, the wine’s tannins met their match with the fatty pate, but then the acidity just went crazy. It was much better when I added some red onion, capers, olive or a cornichon. I bet it would have been great with a thinly sliced tomato, too.

Vino Vino will open most everything on their shelves for a nominal fee, and their wine by the glass list is really unusual. They’re pouring a Franciacorta, a Dolcetto and a Corbieres, among other gems. Lots of wines you’ve probably never heard of, but all of them good.

Wine Blogging Wednesday #43: Comfort Wine

800 boxes of kitchen with wineYou’ve probably noticed that The House of Scamp favors a certain Scandinavian home furnishings store. Well, we’re remodeling our kitchen, and guess where the new cabinets are coming from? That’s right, I have 800 boxes of kitchen piled up in my living/dining room, and for the next 2-3 weeks I’ll be assembling, installing, and then playing with tile as well.

So I’m very glad that this month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday theme was chosen by Joel at Wine Life Today to be “comfort wine,” because I could really use some right now. Tearing up my kitchen is starting to have a rather profound effect on my psyche; something about chaos affecting the hearth makes my house feel less like a home and more like a take-out dumpster.

But from this destruction will arise a phoenix of a kitchen: a kitchen with more than 36 inches of counter space, with more than 5 cabinets and enough room for all of my appliances! (For the record, “all” equals 7, including the toaster, coffeemaker and blender. OK, I meant for that to seem like Not A Lot, but instead it seems like A Lot. How many appliances do you have?)

La Vieille Ferme Rouge 05And I have my comfort wine to keep me warm in the meantime. It’s not fancy by any means, and I mean that: La Vieille Ferme Rouge is a mere Cotes du Ventoux, a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Carignan. It’s a friendly little table wine from the Perrin family, the makers of the iconic Beaucastel Chateauneuf-de-Pape, and I discovered it when I was in the wine business. As you can see from the label, it’s not much of an eye-catcher on the shelf, and thus it’s a well-kept secret. I’ve been drinking it for years; some vintages it’s a little lighter and sillier, some vintages it’s more intense and rich.

Dark, deep red in the glass. Nose of grape must and raspberry juice, as well as dusty earth and a hint of white pepper. Pretty structured this vintage, with brusque tannins, dark earth, cranberry and blackberry on the palate. Really, this wine would go better with barbecue or kielbasa than the turkey and dressing I frequently pair it with (it’s been a go-to Thanksgiving wine for many years now). Also, it’s less of a quaffing wine this vintage; however, it sells for about $6.99, tastes damn delicious, and really takes the edge off of a slight mis-calculation in kitchen dimensions and the subsequent gnashing of teeth.

Thanks to Lenn at Lenndevours for inventing Wine Blogging Wednesday, the wine blogosphere’s most enduring meme, and to Joel at Wine Life Today, for reminding us that wine can soothe just as much as it can excite.

Tasting Veramonte Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2007

Veramonte Rsv SB 07Trying to clear out the fridge, readying the kitchen for the remodel, so thought I’d cook an old stand-by on Sunday, greek chickpeas with spinach. This is a great, cheap, quick meal that I can just eat forever. Served it on brown rice with petite peas, topped with feta cheese.

On the way back from the grocery store (just for the feta, I swear) I stopped by World Market, having been told one too many times that they have great prices on wine. They were having a tasty little sale on about 50 wines, 10% off when you buy 4. The selection is just as I recalled it being, rather pedestrian, but with a few interesting points. They did have a neat selection of Texas wines, impressively.

I picked up a South African Chenin Blanc for $8.99 and this Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc for $9.99. Also a lovely throw pillow for half-price. I won’t be reviewing the latter. I was on the fence as to which wine to drink with dinner; the Chenin Blanc would have the roundness and body to stand up to creamy flavors like chickpea and feta, but the dish is really lemony, with tomatoes and spinach, which made me lean in the direction of the SB. As it turns out, the pairing couldn’t have been better.

Almost completely clear in color, maybe only slightly straw-tinged. Bright, zesty aromas of passionfruit, grapefruit and melon. Hints of floral notes and a big grassy shalamazzama. Driving, intense acidity on the palate with steroid-pumped lemons and grand swaths of green grassy flavors. And, oddly, you know that strangely mellow bite of a really unripe banana? That, too.

Greek chickpeas with spinachThe wine went well with the chickpeas; the spritziness met the lemon in the dish, and the herbal character winds up around the spinach and shows it how to jig. I had expected some trouble from the feta, but it all came out very nicely, as did the creamy flavor of the chickpeas. We stay with an overall lemon flavor, very pleasant, after the jubilee’s all done.

Veramonte is a Chilean winery, founded in 1996 by Agustin Huneeus. You may recognize him as the founder of Concha y Toro, Franciscan, Estancia and Quintessa. All now belong to large corporations except for Veramonte and Quintessa. Veramonte is a really reliable, inexpensive wine brand that nearly always delivers. Their Sauvignon Blanc is well-known and quite delicious all the dang time. One thing about wines from the Southern Hemisphere to keep in mind, especially in the case of Sauvignon Blanc which you almost always want to be young, is that they’re on the opposite seasonal schedule from us northerners. Thus if you’re shopping for Chilean SB in February of 2008 in Texas, 2007 is just right. 2006 will do, 2005 is a bit past it, and 2004 is OK only in a pinch.

In any case, I’ve spent $10 a lot worse this week, and so will you, unless you spend it on this lovely, wrought-iron delicate Sauvignon Blanc.

Winebat Tales: Oregon Pinot Noir

I represented Oregonians with a brief talk at last Monday’s Winebat tasting of Oregon Pinot Noir, and had a blast doing it. The wines all showed beautifully, and the resulting tasting was an orgiastic, olfactory delight.

Here’s a summary of the infotastic blurb I introduced the wines with:

“As with most areas in the US, winemaking in Oregon dates back to pioneer days and was halted by Prohibition. Oregonians waited over 30 years after the Repeal to get back to stomping the grape, though, and it was actually Californians who brought the impetus and the grapes to plant in the Willamette (rhymes with “damn it”) Valley in the late 60s and early 70s. A milestone for Oregon wine was when a Pinot Noir from Eyrie Vineyards won the Wine Olympics in 1979. Oregonian wineries, like those in Texas, tend to be small and family-owned.

The Willamette valley, home to the largest concentration of Oregon wineries, is located at roughly the same latitude as Burgundy, with cold, wet winters and warm, dry summers. No, it doesn’t rain all the time everywhere in Oregon. Pinot Noir makes up about 70% of the wine output of the state.” Or something like that.
Then I laid down a brief description of What You Might Be Smelling and Tasting and commented on how PN is well known for its uniquely silky texture. And we all set to the serious business of sniffing and sipping. I’ve listed the wines below in order of my preference, but really all of them were lovely business.

Penner Ash WV PN 05Bethel Heights Casteel Reserve Pinot Noir 2005, $50: Gorgeous minty, Bing cherry, lavender, mushroom and forest floor aromas. Bright, sweet explosion of acidity on the palate, with really integrated tannins and lovely Portobello and clove flavors. The texture is truly fine, solid but satiny. Extravagantly good.

Penner Ash Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2006, $48: Very fragrant, with mint and truffle, vanilla and strawberry syrup on the nose. HUGE on the palate, with bright cranberry and concentrated cherry cordial. Very intense, spicy tannins, and rich, unctuous, concentrated structure. Flamboyant, but sleek.

Benton Lane Pinot Noir 2006, $26: Candied cherry, vanilla, rose petals and over-the-top strawberry. Slightly on the astringent side, the palate has cranberry, earth tones and sharp-edged tannins, with a little Prince of Wales tea on the back end. Very structured.

A to Z Oregon Pinot Noir 2006, $19: Kind of a whang on the nose at first, but that blew off to show really distinct strawberry and cherry, with a really earthy palate of plum skin, crazy overflowing spice and ripe mushroom. The finish goes on and on.

Erath 05 PN labelErath Pinot Noir 2006, $19: Nutmeg and distinct strawberry cream cheese on the nose. Smooth and sensuous on the palate with black tea and bright cranberry cocktail. Sexy, sexy.

Solena Cellars Grand Cuvee Pinot Noir 2006, $25: There was this chewing gum in Mexico that came in the flavor “violet,” and this had that smell, kind of chemically flowers, along with some slightly charred truffle. Soft and supple on the palate, without much grip. Kind of mediciney.

I’ll be at the Winebat blind tasting tonight at Green Pastures, where we’ll be enjoying six Spanish reds and matching light apps for only $25. Coming?