29 October 2014

2012 Collazzi Libertà & 2009 Cune Rioja Reserva

Here's a glimpse behind the curtain of the wine writing world. A lot of people think that a sommelier shows up at your door, knocks politely, and then proceeds to poor a perfectly curated selection of wines that are all related to each other. Three vintages of a specific Chateau, for instance.

In reality, it is common to receive completely unrelated wines, but these are often linked by importer or distributor, or sometimes by grape or style. Thus the pairing shown here of two hearty reds in the $20 range.

2012 Collazzi Libertà
Toscana IGT
55% Merlot, 30% Syrah, 15% Sangiovese
$24, 14% abv.

Syrah and Sangiovese really dominate with the Merlot playing a surprisingly background role. Big tannins, spice, black pepper, and a long finish. Don't save this one for pizza night--make a marinara sauce from scratch and boil up a big pot of spaghetti and meatballs. This wine deserves a home cooked meal.

2009 Cune Rioja Reserva
Rioja, Spain
$20, 13.5% abv.
85% Tempranillo, 5% Mazuelo, 5% Graciano, 5% Garnacha Tinta

Light chocolate and leather profile, smooth body with mild tannins. Delightful balance and an elegant finish. Rioja remains an outstanding bargain across many producers and you'll see what wonders a mere five years of aging is able to accomplish with these grapes. Serve with a thick, medium-rare roasted pork chop that is heavily marbled and you'll never forget the meal.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

26 October 2014

Romanian Dinner

Recently, a Romanian winemaker named Georgetta Dane who has worked for Kendall-Jackson and Big House and other California brands posted a link on Facebook about Romanian food. And I realized that 1) I haven't been doing a lot of cooking recently due to a busy day job and 2) I really needed to taste something different. Dinner at the Benito table for one was going to be ciorbă de fasole cu afumătură and ardei umpluţi.

Both required long cooking but not a lot of effort. The dishes were basically a bean and bacon soup accompanied by a trio of stuffed peppers. My soup incorporated the following ingredients: cannellini beans, salt pork, Vidalia onions, Swiss chard, carrots, parsnips, and chicken broth. For the stuffed peppers, I used little yellow Hungarian peppers and filled them with a combination of pork sausage, onion, rice, and paprika. The sauce was made from sour cream and tomato paste thinned out with water. The peppers were roasted for a good hour and I was able to scoop up the sauce to spread over them.

I was very happy with the results, and think that the soup in particular will be useful to anyone bringing home winter vegetables from the farmer's market. The salt pork was delicious, but in the future I'd probably use a smoked ham hock or similar pork product, and I'd probably cook it longer to allow for the bones to provide an increased depth of flavor.

23 October 2014

Welcome, New Readers!

If you're seeing this blog for the first time, it's probably because of a Canadian study about analyzing content on wine blogs using new software called Leximancer. My wine blog was one of five chosen for a study published in the International Journal of Wine Business Research. The other four blogs used in the analysis were Vinography, Dr. Vino, 1WineDude, and Wannabe Wino.

Becca over at The Academic Wino blog wrote up a nice summary of the paper. Be sure to check it out as well as her many other fascinating articles about the world of wine research.

Check out the links to the left for the quick intro to my blog. Favorite Posts is self-explanatory, Press covers various media appearances and awards, and Other Publications goes into my freelance work for a number of different websites.

Welcome to Benito's Wine Reviews, and I hope you enjoy it!

21 October 2014

2012 Gnarly Head Authentic Black

Usually when you've got a blended red table wine and a blended white in your portfolio, the next entry is always going to be a blended pink. Gnarly Head decided to go in a different direction with black. Pair it with a trendy orange wine for a festive Halloween theme. The suggested music pairing is blindingly obvious.

The wine is not, of course black, no more than a Pinot Noir is really noir. But it is a deep, dark shade of red thanks to a lot of Petite Sirah in the blend and a lot of skin contact. I've always enjoyed the rich depths of the smallest red grapes, bottles made from Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and of course, Petite Sirah. They're not always the same, being made in a wide range of styles but distinctive for being noticeably darker than your average Merlot.

2012 Gnarly Head Authentic Black
Lodi, California
Proprietary blend dominated by Petite Sirah
$12, 14.5% abv.

The wine has a bold profile of blackberry and chocolate, though it is not particularly tannic thanks to 12 months of oak aging and a little decanting ahead of the tasting. It has a round body with a focus on dark fruit elements and a long, lingering finish. There were times when I was reminded of fruit wines made from blueberry or blackberry but without the usual sweetness. Pair with slow-smoked pork ribs.

Note also the prominent placement of Lodi on the label. I have noticed this on Gnarly Head wines going back several vintages, but increasingly wineries that source from Lodi for traditionally "California" wines are starting to specify where the grapes came from. Expect to see more of this in the future, even from brands that may surprise you.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.

18 October 2014

Leaf Vodka

Michigan's ironically named Temperance Distilling Company produces Leaf Vodka, a new brand in the specialty spirits market. Both of their products are distilled from organic wheat, with the ethanol making up 40% of the bottle, while the remaining 60% comes from distinctive water.

There are a lot of studies out there debunking the ability to differentiate various vodkas as well as various waters in a blind tasting environment. To be fair, some of the more public denunciations involve innocent civilians who are just trying to be polite. Vodkas can and do have individual aromas, and if you ever want an example, purchase the cheapest one you can find and enjoy the alluring aroma of lighter fluid.

As for water, not all H2O tastes and smells the same, and this can be proven by any 3 year old who is taken on vacation to a different state: "The water tastes weird!" You don't even have to travel far from home before the tap water starts to strike you as noticeably unusual. Hard, soft, fizzy, mineral, sulfurous, sometimes it's a shade other than perfectly clear... I think the worst I ever experienced was in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where the water smelled so horrible I wanted to take a shower after my shower.

Leaf Vodka
Certified Organic
$17/750mL bottle, 40% abv.

I tasted these two on my own as well as in a blind environment. In both cases it was easy to distinguish between them.

The green bottle is made using Alaskan glacier water, while the blue bottle comes from a Rocky Mountain mineral spring. The Alaskan is sweeter with a touch of citrus, and more of a pronounced grain aroma. The Rocky Mountain version has a darker, more stony and drier profile that reminds me of great Austrian Grüner Veltliner. Both are quite smooth, however I fear that the subtleties will be lost in cocktails. But for the price, these are both fantastic bargains.

Note: These bottles were provided as samples for review.

14 October 2014

Fee Bros. Cardamom "Boker's Style" Bitters

The story of Boker's bitters is a familiar one in the history of American alcohol production. For nearly a hundred years from the early 1800s until Prohibition, Boker's was popular in the United States as well as throughout the world, and then the company went out of business and multiple generations passed. Perhaps the most popular implementation was the Japanese Cocktail from the 1860s, which calls for two dashes of Boker's bitters. That means that since 1920, no one who is dedicated to strictly following recipes has been able to make this brandy-based beverage.

Fee Bros. has recently come out with a Cardamom bitters, subtitled as "Boker's Style". Only a few people in the world have actually sampled the few rare remaining bottles of Boker's, but they contributed to the development of this cocktail flavoring.

I'm not sure of the exact recipe, but the short version would be a delightful cross between gin and root beer, which is to say that there are lots of different botanical aromas including, from my sniff test: cardamom, pepper, sassafras, orange peel, coriander, and more. I won't ask for the secret recipe, but rest assured that you can add a few drops to a shot of vodka and you've effectively made a shortcut version of gin.

I tried it in a gin and vodka martini, and preferred it in the latter where the flavors didn't clash with the established spice combination in the gin. I have not tried it yet in a Japanese cocktail, mainly due to my residual irritation at making homemade orgeat syrup, the third ingredient beyond brandy and Boker's. However, I have many old cocktail books and will find the perfect one with which to use this rare and antiquated ingredient. I'll keep you posted.

Note: This bottle was provided as a sample for review.

13 October 2014

"Where've you been, Ben?"

The scene is a dentist's office in 1993. Dana, the dental hygienist, asks me, "Where've you been, Ben?" and laughs. Even I, a fan of puns, cringe slightly.

It was a joke that I heard roughly once a month for five years as I dealt with the regular schedule of tightening braces. Towards the end I could actually sleep through the procedure. It was also a pediatric practice, so I was the only patient driving himself to appointments.

I thought about this phrase recently because I feel like I've been neglecting the wine blog while at the same time doing more writing than I've ever done in my life. Here's what's going on in addition to my previous piece on working with Microsoft and the day job that keeps Bella fed.

I've picked up a freelance gig writing for Snooth.com, the company that has previously sponsored my press junkets to New York and Lodi. My first article for them is about 5 Wines for Prime Rib. I'm looking forward to more work with them in the future.

I'm also writing content for Nomacorc, the synthetic cork factory I visited back in February. I've written several pieces for their new blog, and the two that have been published are interviews with winemakers about five wines they love. One from Michael Honig and one from Ben Mayo.

This main site will always be the clearing house for everything that I write, and as I rapidly approach the ten year mark I am committed to continuing reviews of wines here at BWR. There are many great wines awaiting review downstairs, and I know that many more will be coming in the next two months during the holiday rush.

Thanks to everyone for reading, and be sure to check out my freelance pieces!