Archive for June, 2013

Wine of the Week #4 – 2008 Bodegas Ramon Bilbao Crianza (Spain)

2008 Bodegas Ramon Bilbao Crianza

Spain > La Rioja > Rioja Alta

Where Purchased: Kroger ($15)

They say that to find the best wine values right now, look into countries where Spanish is spoken.  I love a deal and recently tried a couple of wines from Spain’s Rioja region.  I was not disappointed.

Ramon BilbaoBackstory:

A mountainous region in the north of Spain, the Rioja region is known for producing wines of tremendous value.  Why?  I’m not sure, but it may have  something to do with the fact that Spain has more vineyards planted than any other country in the world.  They have to sell all that wine somehow.

Rioja is divided into three main regions that you should be aware of:

  • Rioja Alta – a higher elevation area that produces “earthier” wines
  • Rioja Alavesa – a medium elevation area that produces “fruitier” wines, reminiscent of California red wines
  • Rioja Baja – a desert area whose wines are primarily used for blending, although occasionally something good slips through.

Bodegas Ramon Bilbao (the Spaniards call their wineries “bodegas”) was founded in 1924 and has grown to become one of Rioja’s largest bodegas.  Even though today the bodega is owned by a Spanish wine conglomerate, the wines are well-regarded and highly sought after.

My take:

The Ramon Bilbao is one of the most aromatic red wines I’ve encountered in a very long time.  The floral aromas – rose petals and violets I’d say – jumped out of the glass.  On first sip there were lots of blackberry flavors, with just a hint of char and some vanilla notes.  The wine was plenty tannic, but not at all unpleasant, and it ended with a long, plummy, slightly oaky finish.  Overall, this wine was excellent!

Technical Stuff:

100% Tempranillo. Alchol – 13.5%

Note that this wine is labeled as a Crianza. This means it’s been aged for two or two and-a-half years prior to release – a year or so in oak barrels, and another year or so in the bottle.


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Wine Tasting Around Kentucky – Part 2

Here is the long-procrastinated Part 2 of our whirlwind tour of Lexington-area wineries.  In case you missed part 1, you can find it here.  This post focuses on two South Lexington favorites – Talon Winery Jean Farris Winery.

Talon Winery

TalonJust south of Lexington on Tates Creek Road, Talon Winery has become one of the area’s most coveted wedding venues, so expect them to be busy during the summer.  Their 200 year old farmhouse-turned-tasting room is very pleasant with a traditional tasting bar that overlooks the vineyards.  There’s also an outdoor picnic area in case you want to pack a lunch, buy a bottle and make an afternoon out of it!

Talon produces 16 wines.  Their Chardonnay has been consistently good over the years, full of lemon and grapefruit flavors with very mild toast and vanilla from the French Oak aging.  I was also impressed with their two Cab Franc blends: Equestrian Series III and Monarch,which were rich in pepper, tobacco, and berry flavors.  Their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignons had very different personalities.  The regular Cab was spicy and earthy, while the Reserve Cab was a fruit bomb with vanilla, oak, chocolate cherries.  They were both great, but priced unjustifiably high at $29 and $50 respectively.  The Traminette and Syrah were both off-putting.  The Traminette tasted soapy, and the Syrah was just weird.

Our Favorites:
– NV Chardonnay ($20)
– Equestrian Series III (Cab Franc/Cab Sauv Blend) ($23)
– 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon ($29)
– 2008 Cabernet Sauvingon Reserve ($50)
– NV Monarch ($25)

Jean Farris Winery

Located off Richmond Road, Jean Farris almost deserves its own blog post.  A visit to a winery – not in Italy, not California, but get this – Missouri, inspired winemaker Jean Farris to begin a career in wine.  Now there’s a fun story!

jean farrisThe hallmark of the Jean Farris property is their very popular restaurant – wine tastings are held at its (relatively small) bar.  If you visit, try to avoid the dinner rush.  Or better yet, stay for dinner and taste at your table while you dine!

Jean Farris sources all of their grapes from Kentucky vineyards, with the exception of Zinfandel (which I assume is used in some of their blends, since they don’t produce a zin.)   Taste the reds… you won’t believe it.

We skipped their white wines this time around, and started instead with their red blends.  The rose was a little funky.  The nose was buttery and caramelized, almost like a creme brulee and the taste was of tropical fruit and strawberry.  But for some reason the flavors just didn’t work together.  The 2009 Tempest was complex, but seemed astringent.  The 2009 Hell Hound Red was a total knockout – complex, and terrifically balanced.  We bought a bottle.

The single-varietal reds are where Jean Farris really shines.  They were all rich, well balanced and very enjoyable.  You’d never guess these wines were from Kentucky!  Greatness comes at a price, however, as the Jean Farris wines are some of the most expensive in Kentucky.  On the plus side, their wine club discount is HUGE. It may be worth joining just for the discount.

Our Favorites:
– 2009 Hell Hound Red Blend ($32)
– 2010 Pinot Noir ($55)
– 2009 Merlot ($18)
– 2009 Malbec ($40)
– 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon ($28)
– 2009 Petite Syrah ($65)

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Wine of the Week #3 – Espiral Vinho Verde (Portugal)

With temperatures on the rise, and summer looking to stick around for a while, I thought it appropriate to feature a wine that is definitely summer-ish.  So today’s victim is a white wine from Portugal called Vinho Verde

Espiral Vinho Verde

Portugal > Minho Province

Purchased From: Trader Joe’s ($6)

Vinho VerdeMy Take:

If Champagne and Sauvignon Blanc were to have a love child, Vihno Verde would be it.  It’s dry, super-acidic, fizzy, and delicious!  It’s also pretty straightforward – lots of green apple and lemon flavors with a finish that is slightly bitter.  Some describe it as semi-sweet, but I disagree.  It’s pretty tart.


One of the more unusual things about Vihno Verde is the way it is produced.  Grown in the northwest corner of Portugal, the wine is a blend of as many as seven grapes.  Unlike the large, sprawling, neatly trellised vineyards we all know and love, Vinho Verde growers allow their vines to grow up the sides of trees, fences, and even telephone poles – anything high off the ground.  There are over 30,000 Vihno Verde growers in Portugal, most of whom primarily grow vegetables and other forms of produce.  They sell their small batches of grapes, almost as an afterthought, to large producers who bottle and sell the wines.

Vihno Verde is meant to be drunk almost immediately after bottling – within  a year – in fact the name Vihno Verde, mistakenly translated to “green wine” by many, actually means “young wine.”  Fortunately, Trader Joe’s moves mountains of the stuff so you’ll never have to worry that it’s been on the shelf too long.


This wine is incredibly flexible – it goes great with your summer BBQ, spices up your fish or chicken, and feels right at home with salad and fresh veggies from the garden.

Technical Stuff:

Blend of up to seven grapes: Alvarinho, Arinto, Avesso, Azal, Loureiro, Trajadura.  Alcohol: 9%

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Gift Basket Surprise

We just got around to opening our last bottle from a Wine Country Gift Basket that we received last Christmas.  The basket included a bunch of snacks plus a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon.  The wines were from someplace called Kiarna Vineyards – a winery I’d never heard of.  Honestly, I’d expected the wines to be horrible, so I had been procrastinating on opening them.

Google revealed that KiarnaVineyards is owned by Houdini, Inc. – the parent company of Wine Country Gift – and is one of several house brands that Houdini owns to supply their gift basket business.  In other words, you won’t see these wines in stores.

According to Kiarna’s web site they produce five different wines.  Kiarna claims the wines come from Monterey, California;  however, the wines are only labeled as “California” which means the grapes could be from anywhere in the state.

2013-04-03 05.04.13Upon finally trying the wines, we were pleasantly surprised!  While neither of the wines were show-stoppers, they were both well-made with decent levels of complexity and balance.  The Chardonnay was crisp with lots of lemon and green apple flavors, hints of butterscotch and even some raw hazelnut.  The Cabernet was effervescent and tart, with notes of cola, strawberries and raspberries.  Both wines seemed  “sticky” which made be wonder if  there was some  extra sugar added to the mix.  Both also claim to be barrel aged, but unlike many California wines, the oak was subtle – a big plus if you prefer European wines.

According to Kiarna, both wines are medal winners at various wine competitions – a measure regarded by many as a better indicator of quality than the “100-point scale” reviewer ratings.

Wine Country Gift Baskets will ship the Kiarna wines to Kentucky, as well as baskets containing their other “house” wines, which is why I’m mentioning them on my Kentucky wine blog.  (Baskets containing wines from larger wineries are ineligible for shipment here.)

So if you happen to get one of these baskets as a gift, you can rest easy knowing the wines are perfectly drinkable, if not even enjoyable!


Wines for “weird” food

I’ve never been very adventurous when it comes to vegetables.  So when my wife and I joined a CSA program this year through Elmwood Stock Farm we discovered the need to be creative.Asparagus

If you’re unfamiliar with the CSA concept,  CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture (aka “Farm Shares”.)  Before the growing season begins you purchase a “share” in a community-supported farm.  Once the season gets going, you receive a weekly box of fresh (and mostly organic!) produce.  The only catch is that you don’t get to choose what’s in your box – it’s whatever the farm happens to harvest.

So far we’re big fans!  But early summer produce is heavily composed of “weird stuff” – lettuces, asparagus, radishes, kale, etc.  Healthy to be sure, but these foods clash with many wines and the result is that everything tastes metallic.

The secret is high-acid, low sugar wines.

So, fellow CSA-ers, here are a few wine suggestions for your early season veggies:

Sauvignon Blanc is the classic “wierd” veggie wine.  Of particular value right now are the wines from Chile and New Zealand, and their grassy notes compliment the green vegetable flavors.  California Sauv Blancs are a little fruitier, and won’t pair quite as well.

Vinho Verde.  Portugal’s famous dry, crisp, spritzy, (and cheap!) summer sipper.  Think of it as a Sauvignon Blanc with bubbles.  And it’s only $5 at Trader Joe’s.  In fact, just about any dry (brut) bubbly will work quite well.

Dry Riesling is another pretty safe bet.  Again, dry is the key here – so look for German “Kabinette” Rieslings, French Rieslings from Alsace, or American Rieslings labeled as dry.

Most Lexington wine retailers have a great selection of these wines.  Trader Joe’s is where you’ll find the Vinho Verde, although I spotted one at Corner Wine the other day that looked intriguing as well.

I’d  love your feedback on these.  What are your favorite weird food wines?

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Wine of the Week #2 – Black Barn IX

Black Barn IXblack barn

USA > Kentucky > Lexington

Purchased From: Kroger ($22.50) – Also spotted at Wines on Wine, Twisted Cork, Liquor Barn, Shorty’s Market


I’ve been dying to try this wine for some time – and it’s made literally right down the road!  After spotting it at number of stores around town  I started asking questions, and never have I seen a local wine receive such high accolades from the local merchants.

california wine regions-sierra foothillsThis is a Lexington-made wine (the winery is located on Newtown Pike) but the fruit is 100% California, grown in the Sierra Foothills region.  Located midway between Sacramento and Reno, the Sierra Foothills region is well off the beaten path of California’s wine country, but some truly spectacular wines are made there.

Black Barn Winery makes only one wine per year.  Though it’s always a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, each vintage is different as winemaker Collin Boyd adjusts the blend a little each year (presumably based on the quality of the fruit).  The IX signifies that it’s the 2009 vintage (the XII is the 2007, XIII the 2008 and so on).

My Take:

This is a dry, full-bodied wine and in my opinion it was very balanced and well-made.  It was deep garnet in color and incredibly aromatic – chocolate and fig were the prominent aromas.  The palate could be described as slightly “green”, with flavors of cocoa, brambles and just a little dried fruit – the tannins were plenty firm.  The finish was a little jammy, but unexpectedly short.


No food with this one – we paired it with good friends and good conversation.  However, this would make a great summer BBQ wine – burgers, steak, or smoked meats.

Technical Stuff:

Blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc.  Alcohol: 14.5%  Released: August 2012

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