Milagro Vineyards Zinfandel New Mexico 2012



milagroIn our recent wine tasting visit to New Mexico, this was the most impressive winery we found  A small-production labor of love, located in Corrales just North of Albuquerque, owner and winemaker Rick Hobson is not into growing larger or maximizing profit. It’s all about making the best wine that he can. He has a full line up of reds and whites using exclusively estate or estate-controlled grapes all produced in a distinctly old world, elegant style, no small feat in wine region known for its hot summers.

I’ve seldom had a more elegant Zinfandel.

The well-developed, complex nose is now showing fig, delicately threaded with  earthy dried leaves, baking spices and coffee. Despite the developed nose, in the mouth it’s still fresh and vivacious, with a soft, round introduction, ripe without being too jammy, gathering momentum midpalate with a burst of incisive acidity, and finishing tangy and medium length with fine-grained supportive tannins. Harmonious, in a graceful style with a beautiful, velvet texture.

The beguiling  juxtaposition of mature nose and youthful, vibrant palate leaves an impression of youthful wisdom found occasionally in wine, seldom in humans.

Aged 23 months in used French Oak barrels.

What better companion for this reflective yet pulsating wine than some reflective pulsating jazz from Miles Davis.

Score: 92

Alc: 13.5%

Price: $28

Thanksgiving Wines


wine bottlesMany websites will give you advice about what to pair with Thanksgiving turkey. The problem is too many dishes and too many guests with too many preferences. There is no wine that will pair with the turkey, the cranberry sauce, and the sweet potatoes with marshmallow that will also make Uncle Harry the big red guy and Aunt Mabel who drinks nothing but Moscato happy.

And trying to do some fussy sequence of dishes with different wines is probably not what your guests want.

The solution—open a bunch of wine and let your guests serve themselves. Make a variety of reasonably priced wines available, some old standards as well as something unusual, so the wine geek and the casual drinker can find something they like. And think in terms of a variety of weights—light-bodied wines such as Pinot Grigio or Chablis, medium bodied Chardonnay or Pinot Noir and heavier Cabs and Syrah. And don’t forget to add some sweeter options, a semi-sweet Riesling or a modern, sweet red blend such as Apothic or Ménage à Trois for guests with a sweet tooth.

Bubbly is always good.  Rosé is currently popular.

It’s also probably not the right time to bring out that 1982 Lafite you’ve been saving for a special occasion unless you won’t mind a guest dropping an ice cube in it to, you know, freshen it up a bit.

Budget Wine: Bodegas Mas Que Vinos Ercavio Tempranillo Tierra De Castilla 2013



ercavioBursting with fleshy dark fruit, dried fig and smoke, with toasty oak on the nose. In the mouth it’s full bodied and juicy up front gaining coffee notes at midpalate as it turns lean, yet firm showing vibrant acidity and ripe, integrated tannins but with a surprising bitter note lingering as it fades. A bit of a changeling from bold, succulent, sensuous introduction to a more svelte, yet edgy finish. It sustains a hint of sweetness from beginning to end to maintain balance.

Lots of flavor and structure for a budget wine, an excellent value.

The grapes are Cencibel a clone of Tempranillo well adapted to the hot summers and strong winds of La Mancha in central Spain. Fermented in stainless steel with malolactic fermentation occurring in clay amphoras and aged for 6 months in French oak. Pair with grilled steaks or burgers.

Score: 88

Price: $10

Alc: 14%

This is a younger Bruce wine, lean, muscular swagger but with a tender side tinged with bitterness

On Jerks, Snobs and Wine Appreciation



wine snobsWe wine lovers are constantly accused of snobbery, pretension, and arrogance, some of it deserved but most of it misplaced. All of this sniping, often encouraged by the media, could be set aside by simply acknowledging the fact that there are many reasons to drink wine and each require their own norms.

Sometimes we drink wine to get buzzed, to enhance our enjoyment of friends or grease the wheels of social commerce, to relax after work, or to accompany a meal. The aim of all these activities is simple pleasure and, to achieve this goal, wine quality need not matter much. Truth be told, 99% of the wines on the supermarket shelf will be satisfactory for this purpose and it’s pointless to be concerned with scores, tasting notes, sniffing and swirling or any of the other paraphernalia of wine tasting if this basic form of enjoyment is all you’re looking for. People who pretentiously introduce sophisticated tasting activities in these contexts really do risk being jerks unless their expertise has been requested.

But sometimes we drink wine in order to appreciate the wine—that’s why we’re wine lovers after all. We want to fully experience the wine and discover all there is to know about the wine and its origins—what its features are and how they produce pleasure. With appreciation we’re concerned with our own experience of the wine, an experience that has intrinsic value. We enjoy experiences not because they are useful for some purpose but because they are good in themselves and the appreciation of wine is no exception. We can appreciate a wine regardless of whether anyone else does and regardless of how it compares to other wines. Since the primary focus is not on comparing a wine to others except for purposes of classification and understanding, wine scores, producers, and prices have only a minor role to play in the process of appreciation. But wine talk and our ability to articulate what we are tasting is essential, because it is through shared experience that we sharpen our perceptions and acquire knowledge.

When the goal is appreciation, some of the paraphernalia of wine tasting—sniffing and swirling, tasting notes, type of glass used, temperature at which the wine is served, characteristics of the region it’s from, etc.—become very relevant. These practices make the characteristics of the wine more available. When the goal is appreciation, clowns who complain about “know-it-all” wine tasters are being the jerks. They should find a good sports bar and belly up.

Finally, we might drink a wine in order to evaluate it. For purposes of evaluation I’m interested not primarily in my own experience but in the capacity of a wine to interest others as well. So evaluating a wine brings instrumental value into the picture.  In evaluation, we treat wine as a stable object that other people also have access to and as useful in generating aesthetic experiences.  So we’re trying to answer the question “How good is this wine in general at producing pleasure when compared to other wines?” Comparison and judgment are essential to evaluation so wine scores and prices, if they help in the process of comparison, are essential tools as is knowledge and trends in the market, what other people are inclined to like, etc. When the goal is evaluation, people who form strong opinions and express them are playing the game correctly; people who don’t like judgments should find a beach and soak up rays, with a bottle of cheap Chardonnay within reach.

If we pay attention to how drinking and talking about wine serves a variety of purposes, peace in the wine world will reign—and maybe it will spread.

Well, we can hope can’t we?

Hermann J. Wiemer Blanc de Blanc Sparkling Wine Finger Lakes 2009



hermann j wiemerSparkling wine is a drink of celebration but, if it is of sufficient quality, it aids lamentation as well. This remarkable sparkler from the Finger Lakes got me through a difficult election night.

This is one of the best domestic sparkling wines I have tasted. It features a focused nose of apple and citrus woven with lovely almond nuances and subtle toast. The palate is bright and expressive with richly layered textures giving an impression of fullness and depth yet crisply  balanced with a long, mineral finish. A serious, sophisticated wine from one of the Finger Lakes’ canonical producers.

It is the richness of the mouth feel that sets this wine apart which is the result of 5 years in bottle resting on the lees. In the making of sparkling wine, when the base, still wine is bottled and then dosed with sugar and yeast to create the bubbles, the wine is allowed to rest on the dead yeast cells (lees). The yeast cells break down releasing proteins and enzymes into the wine, resulting in a fuller body and less astringency. In Champagne a wine labeled with its vintage must rest on the lees for at least 36 months. This wine was on the lees for 5 years, an expensive practice that only the best Champagne houses follow.

The difference is extraordinary and well worth the additional cost.

The grapes, 100% Chardonnay, are from their HJW estate vineyard. Produced méthode champenoise, the wine is unfined and unfiltered.

Score: 92

Price: $45

Alc: 12.5%

This wine deserves a happier occasion, accompanied by music that is soul stirring and exultant:

Cheese, Wine and Time


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wine and cheeseFor flavor hounds, this article about cheese and wine pairing on NPR’s The Salt gives one a lot to chew on.  First, it’s nice to see the science of taste catching up to something I’ve been insisting on for a long time. The quality of tasting experience is determined as much by how substances evolve on the palate as it is on static structural relationships between elements. A new method of scientifically assessing flavor  called Temporal Dominance of Sensations (TDS) attempts to capture this dimension:

TDS is designed to reveal how the taste of something evolves as you consume it. The taster sits down in front of a computer screen with a black glass of an unknown wine. On the screen are 11 words describing attributes or sensations such as sour, astringent, bitter, floral and so on….The taster takes a sip and then clicks on whichever sensation is dominant at that moment. When the sensation changes — say, from “sour” to “red fruits” — the tester clicks the new attribute, until there is no sensation left.

The idea that it is changes in sensation that make the flavor experience interesting, exciting and satisfying has been largely ignored by flavor science. This experiment with wine and cheese is the first time I’ve come across flavor science trying to measure this dimension which to my mind is crucial.

As to the main point of the article, it claims that in general white wines pair better with a wider variety of cheeses than red wines do, contradicting  the widely accepted view that red wine and cheese is a natural pairing.

Although the researchers did not set out to recommend specific pairings, The Salt pressed Dr. Galmarini. Her latest study, as yet unpublished, does offer some advice.

“If you have many cheeses, better to serve a white wine,” she says.

It would be nice to have had a summary of the evidence for this. The article quotes food writer Ed Behr on the topic:

Behr points out that most red wines “are completely unrefreshing.” That’s fine with a little cheese at the end of a structured meal, to finish the red wine. But Behr says, when the cheese is more than just a taste but “maybe the central protein of the meal, what you want is a drink that’s much more refreshing.” In other words: a dry white.

I think that is broadly correct. But the problem I have with wine and cheese pairings is that cheese is almost always mouth coating, and this often cancels the perception of subtle nuances in wine, whether red or white. The article acknowledges this effect.

… Galmarini says there is a clear conclusion for certain sensations, such as sourness and astringency, which would probably be considered negative.

“With cheese,” she told The Salt, “the sensation is reduced. It does not last so long in the mouth.”

Right. So wines that are sour or excessively drying—bad wines—will taste better with cheese because of this mouth-coating effect. But what isn’t mentioned is that, by the same token, good wines will be diminished when paired with a mouth coating cheese.

This is not to say that the combination of wine and cheese is never satisfying. Sauvignon Blanc and a good chevre or a tawny Port with Stilton are magical. But you may not be getting as much nuance out of the wine when paired with a mouth coating cheese.