Scattered toward every wind …

Las Rocas 2007 Garnacha

My love affair with Spanish wine began roughly a year and a half ago. It wasn’t a specific instance. No moment of sipping a Spanish wine and having a “best wine ever” epiphany. No trip to Spain. No passionate Spanish woman (a la Penelope Cruz’s character in Vicky Christina Barcelona) came into my life. Those things would have been lovely. But my love affair was rather,  a culmination of several different things that I happened to love, coming together. A perfect storm, if you will, of loves. Deepening more with each additional element joining in.

Element #1: Tapas Teatro & Pazo

These two Baltimore tapas restaurants set aflame my heart and palate. Pazo’s open atmosphere and fantastic tapas and wine menu quickly made it one of my favorite Baltimore bars/restaurants.


Where Pazo is a huge open room full of energy, Tapas Teatro, located just north in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore, is everything you would picture a European street cafe being. A small, charming, and warm space with tasteful art adorning the walls, and right-on-the-sidewalk seating.Where Pazo tends to be more widely Mediterranean, Tapas Teatro is almost exclusively Spanish.

Tapas Teatro

Where I would end up on a given night, would depend on my mood. If I was feeling more social and felt like putting up with crowds, I’d go to Pazo. If I was looking for something more chill, a casual night with friends, I would go to Tapas Teatro. You would’ve been more likely to find me at Tapas Teatro. Their small plates were amazing. The attention to detail, from presentation to flavor, was stellar. The sangria: served in a giant rounded pitcher, icy, ruby-colored, and jeweled with fresh cuts of fruit. If you’re ever in Baltimore, go to Tapas Teatro.

Element #2: Hemingway (Specifically, The Sun Also Rises)

The Sun Also Rises was the first Hemingway I read. Ever. His writing style is understated and simple. His stories are almost always based on his own experiences. The Sun Also Rises follows a group of friends (and expatriates) living in Europe. The story jumps from Paris to Spain (San Sebastian and Pamplona) where the characters take part in the running of the bulls and the fiesta surrounding it.

“El vino did flow.”

Although it was most likely a product of the atmosphere surrounding the celebration in Pamplona, drinking all hours of the day seems to be romanticised by Hemingway … which is why I am a bit uncomfortable with the fact that I felt drawn to the particular lifestyle our expat friends were living. But c’mon, who wouldn’t want to spend their mornings, afternoons, and evenings enjoying (for the most part) food, booze, coffee, and friends?

Hemingway and friends in Spain

Element #3: A Summer Visit to Seattle/My First Encounter with Las Rocas

Living in a Baltimore suburb. In my parent’s basement. Working at a Christian radio station. These three things don’t exactly allow one to “fall into culture”, if I can quote my own phrase. My limited exposure to wine was basically my Dad bringing home a bottle of Corbet Canyon Merlot or Chardonnay from Buttons, one of the local liquor shops. I began to branch out a little, but was still more of a beer guy, truth be told (I still am, by the way). I am totally going to be nailed on this, because I am going to come off sounding as if Seattle has culture and Baltimore does not. If you are thinking that, let me refer you back to the three opening sentences of this paragraph. The point is that as things were in Baltimore, I had to try hard to find things I loved. I had to go out of my way. That was not the case in Seattle.

Seattle (courtesy of Ork Posters)

My dear friends (and now housemates) Emily & Scott moved to Seattle in the summer of ’07, thus opening a bright, shiny (sometimes rainy), and obsessive place to me. Obsessive? Seattle seems to be a place where everyone wants to perfect their craft, whatever that may be. Restaurants (for the most part) want to be the best at what they do. Brewers and wineries want to craft the perfect beer or wine. Coffeeshops and roasters want to pull the perfect shot and achieve the perfect roast or blend. With this attitude seemingly all around me, it was easy to get excited about finding really good stuff in Seattle. Emily and Scott certainly fell for this aspect of the Emerald City. It was transmitted to me upon my first visit in October of ’07.

When I visited again in the summer of ’08, Scott & Emily were more settled and more in love with Seattle. Summer in Seattle is brilliant, if you didn’t already know. You probably thought it rained all the time, didn’t you, Steinberg? Not even close …

Let me set a scene for you wizards …


BRIAN, ERIC, & SCOTT stand together on the deck off of a house. The deck overlooks Lake Union, the Cascades mountain range, and the Seattle skyline. The three young men enjoy a cold brew, a clove, and take in the view that is laid before them. The sun is still high in the sky. It is Sunday. It is warm. It is perfect.

After a drink or two and a smoke, we headed inside to the dining room table for dinner. Forgive me for not remembering the meal exactly (Apricot Chicken?), but when we sat down for dinner with Emily and Tab (Eric’s wife), there was a bottle of Las Rocas on the table. The rest, as they say, is history.

Las Rocas

How much do I love this wine? In short, about as much as one can love a liquid. It goes well with anything. Just ask my friend Dave S. from back in Baltimore. He had it for the first time with a peanut butter sandwich and said that it was a nice complement.

Las Rocas drinks well out of it’s price point. It’s peppery, a bit sweet, and subtle. The tannins are smooth. The fruit (cherry and raspberry, mostly) is present, but not overpowering. There is oak. There is some chocolate. There is a whole lot of goodness in this bottle. A whole lot of goodness for around $10.

Maybe I think this wine so great because I’ve been influenced by the perfect storm of events that surrounded my trying it: the tapas, Hemingway and Pamplona, a Seattle summer and good friends. Maybe I want so badly to love it because I love the places, characters, events, and friends that helped me experience it. Or maybe I love it because it actually is a fantastic wine. One that is easy to drink, cheap, really good, and complements sitting down with friends, a good book, a good meal. This is why I like wine as a whole. It screams of community. There is no better representation of this than what adorns a wall in our apartment. Beer bottle-caps line the frame. Wine corks from bottles, long emptied and enjoyed, line the inside. Tacked to the cork are pictures of friends. Loved ones. The people we most enjoy, over a drink or two. For relaxing times, make it Suntory Las Rocas time.


The Wolftrap 2008, Boekenhoutskloof

The Wolftrap

The Wolftrap, from Boekenhoutskloof (that’s the vineyard in South Africa), is a red blend consisting of 68% Syrah, 30% Mourvedre, and 2% Viognier. Picked it up on a whim. Just perused the wine aisle at Whole Foods and found an intriguing wine for under $10, of which there are many.

I am not very familiar with South African wine … on New Year’s we drank a South African sparkler … outside of that, I don’t know that I’ve encountered another South African wine. So, I conducted a bit of research …

South African winemaking dates back to 1659 and has experienced a rather varied worldwide interest since. South Africa’s current production puts it in the top ten wine producing countries in the world, though this wasn’t always the case. Before the end of apartheid throughout much of the 20th century, South African wine received little attention worldwide.

“Its isolation was further deepened by boycotts of South African products in protest of the country’s system of Apartheid. It wasn’t till the late 1980s and 1990s when Apartheid was ended and the world’s export market opened up that South African wines began to experience a renaissance”

Once the export market opened up, the renaissance experienced in the South African winemaking was helped along by the Vine Improvement Programme. This program(me) was brought into existence in order to bring up the standards of South African wine by bringing a better understanding of the viticultural arts, if you will, to the winemakers. This has spurred the winemakers to strive toward a more “international style” of wine, that would find fans on a global scale. In some cases, winemakers from France, Spain, and California were flown in, bringing with them new techniques and styles to the already unique style of South African wine. Today, as I mentioned earlier, South Africa is in the top ten of wine producing nations in the world. It should be an exciting world of wine to delve into … okay, enough cheesiness …

The Wolftrap

Traditionally, many South African wines have been characterized by very rustic flavors, and The Wolftrap certainly hits on the rustic side. It is a very substantial wine; full and heavy, with a touch of gameyness (Some describe it as meaty. I don’t like the sound of meaty) to it, which I didn’t find unappealing at all. Loads of spice and smoke throughout. There is a subtle floral quality I picked up on that was soon washed away by heavy berry influence (blackberry, strawberry). With all of these heavy flavors (the smoke, spice, gameyness), the subtleties remain intact, interestingly enough, which added to the surprising balance achieved in this red blend. If you like big, red blends full of spice, smoke, dark berries, this wine is for you … just be prepared for the gamey aspect, it could be a turnoff to some.

Up next, I think I will (finally) write about one of my long time favorites: Las Rocas Garnacha

Las Rocas Garnacha

Cat Amongst the Pigeons 2008 Unwooded Chardonnay (Australia)/2007 Atteca Old Vines Garnacha (Spain)
Sunday, 31 January, 2010, 4:26 am
Filed under: Wine & Food

My favorite red and my favorite white from the wine and cheese party I threw when I traveled back to Baltimore last week …

Cat Amongst the Pigeons 2008 Unwooded Chardonnay

2007 Atteca Old Vines Garnacha

My good friend Dave and i traveled down to historic Ellicott City, MD from Baltimore to one of my favorite wine shoppes, The Wine Bin. I love this particular shoppe, firstly, because it is in an old brick firehouse, and second-of-ly because the owners are awesome people who stock what they like … this means they are able to speak passionately and informatively about the wine they carry. Dave and I drove down on Saturday afternoon prior to the party to look over potential suitors. Dave is more of a white wine drinker, and I, as evidenced by this blog so far, am more of a red wine drinker. After chatting up the owners for a bit, we began our search. I am a sucker for Spanish wine … Tempranillo, Garnacha, Monastrell, all good, if you ask me. I gravitated toward a display in the center of the shoppe that featured a large selection of Spanish wines. Dave, meanwhile, browsed through the over 200 wines under $20 that the Wine Bin carries. I looked for my two favorite Spanish reds, Las Rocas and Monte Oton, both garnachas … both were sold out. My search for something new began …

Meanwhile, the owners were gracious enough to open a couple of whites for Dave and I to taste. Dave had, up until this point, picked out an Australian Cabernet Shiraz blend. So as we began tasting the couple of whites that were opened for us, Dave began to slowly drift away from his first decision. Based a couple of comments I made about my dislike for fruit juice, one sided white wines, they opened a bottle of Cat Amongst the Pigeons Unwooded Chardonnay. I was skeptical, yet gave it a try. I find most white wine to be too sweet, and it either tastes like Welch’s white grape juice, or apple juice that has sat in the fridge way too long. This one, an unoaked chardonnay from Australia, was surprising. If I do like anything about white wine, it is when there is a lot of oak present. The fact that this particular chardonnay was unoaked worried me. I worried it would be overwhelmingly sweet and fruity. I was wrong …

Sorry I doubted you, Cat Amongst the Pigeons ...

I found Cat Amongst the Pigeons to be really, really good. Nice and dry with lots of minerality and citrus in the finish. A little pear and a little stone fruit present as well. I found that the minerality more than made up for the absence of oak. When I tasted it again at the party, hours later with food, I found that more sweetness was brought out, which bothered me a little at first, but once my palate adjusted, I found Cat Amongst the Pigeons to be a white wine that I will definitely be buying in the near future (provided I can find it in Seattle). it was especially good with a nice, creamy gouda.

2007 Atteca Old Vines Garnacha

I try not to judge a wine by its label, but some labels are so damn aesthetically pleasing, that I can’t help but to be interested. Sadly, a great label and a great wine are not always congruous, but sometimes, the stars align. Atteca piqued my interest. A Spanish old vine Garnacha … “Old vine”, in particular, caught my eye. I’ve been a big fan of the old vine zins for a while now, so I was excited. My hope was that the old vine garnacha would carry the same punch, the same intense fruit and spice of a good old vine vinfandel. Whether this hope/logic is sound, I don’t know, but I hoped for something good.

And something good is what I got. The Atteca was everything a good garnacha should be: lots of berry and cherry, a good deal of spice, and a nice, smooth mouth feel with enough tannins to hold on through the long finish. A bit of mineral was present as well (I think the vineyard mentions graphite in their description?), but I really liked the amount of spice … some vanilla and some toasty oak notes. I’m guessing this wine would benefit immensely from being held for a year or two before popping it. If you do open it right away, let it breathe. I would definitely buy it again if given the chance!

So, I suppose the wine and cheese party was a success … I had some pretty terrible wine, but also came away with a couple of new wines to try to have on hand in the future. I hope to be able to find Cat Amongst the Pigeons and Atteca here in Seattle!

Coming up next: The Wolftrap, from Boekenhoutskloof of South Africa …

The Wolftrap

Château du Donjon 2006 Minervois

So i went with the unknown upstart: Château du Donjon 2006 Minervois

Château du Donjon 2006 Minervois

i’d no previous knowledge of the minervois appellation and actually found it quite difficult to track down much information on it. here is what i did find …

The Minervois name comes from the village of Minerve, a scenic village located in the south of France in the Languedoc region. Here is a map for visual reference:

Minervois wines are exclusively red wines “and are produced from Carignan (which can account for no more than 40% of the blend), Grenache, Lladoner Pelut, Mourvedre, and Syrah grapes”. This particular Minervois from Château du Donjon is made from Grenache, Syrah, and Carignan.

A couple more interesting things to know …

Carignan had become the most widely grown grape varietal in France by 1988, but in an effort to drive the quality of wine up, the European Union started a vine pull program. This program offered cash subsidies to vineyard owners provided they pull up their vines. Though this vine pull program didn’t target only owners of Carignan vines, it had its largest effect on the varietal, dropping from 167,000 planted hectares in ’88 to 95,000 hectares in 2000. Merlot is now the most widely planted grape in France.

On to business …

We consumed the entire bottle of this Minervois in one evening, so there is no second day to talk about.

First Pour: Not surprisingly, right out of the bottle, the first sip was acidic, effervescent, and a bit harsh. The notes that did come through were dark cherry and some spice. The finish seemed to linger forever.

Second Pour: A full glass this time, after letting it breathe for 20-40 minutes. As expected, the effervescence disappeared along with most of the harsh acidity. Replacing these characteristics was a wonderful balance of cherry and a bit of raspberry and white pepper. Some of the initial heat from the first pour lingered, but i felt added depth rather than making this an unpleasant wine.

Last Glass: Little nose, lots of finish. Plenty of oak and white pepper. Cherry and even a little plum coming through … the heat that i thought added depth to the second pour, was, for the most part, absent from this final glass. The wine had mellowed a bit too much for my liking.

Overall: Showed promise, but lost too much of its mystique by the final pour. I would rate it as a slightly above average everyday table red. As with most wine, i would be curious to see what a year of cellaring would do. Probably won’t buy again, not because i didn’t enjoy it, but just because there are a lot more wines to try and a handful of wines that i know i love for around the same price (i paid around $13).

Coming up … a white???

that’s right … i traveled “home” to Baltimore last week and had a little wine and cheese party where i managed to find a white wine i truly enjoyed.

2008 Cat Amongst the Pigeons Unwooded Chardonnay

The breakdown of the tasting experience will not be as in depth because of the nature of the party … i didn’t have the same amount of time with the wine that i normally do … with that said, i think what i will actually do is pick my favorite red from the night as well and just talk about the white i loved, and the red i loved.

Stay tuned …

Dead Trees, reprise
Sunday, 10 January, 2010, 2:46 am
Filed under: drawing, photography | Tags: , , , , ,

Dead Tree

A brief visit back to some dead tree drawings …

2008 Bodega Renacer Malbec Punto Final

2008 Punto Final is a Malbec from Argentina.

Malbec is an interesting varietal because it was first grown in the Bordeaux and Cahors regions of France, but because of a devastating frost in 1956, 75% of the vines were destroyed. Though some were replanted, the grape dropped in popularity in Bordeaux but stayed fairly popular in Cahors, where it is primarily used in blends.

Malbec was introduced to Argentina in 1868 and since then, it has really come into its own. The Argentinian Malbec produces “a softer, less tannic-driven variety than the wines of Cahors.” It is said that the Malbec in South America (it is also grown in Chile) has virtually nothing in common with its European sibling. As a varietal, Malbec has become almost synonymous with Argentinian wine. This is no surprise as evidenced by the abundance of Malbecs to be found on the shelves of wine shoppes worldwide. They are fruit-full wines, packed with full bodied punch, and one can usually do well for under $20. I picked up this bottle of Punto Final from Whole Foods for around $11.

First pour: Harsh and overwhelmingly fruity, but promising. A shit ton of dark fruits with a finish rife with minerals, green earth, and acid. Virtually nothing on the mid-palate.

Day One: Perhaps i was a bit congested, or perhaps Punto Final needed some more time to open up, but the notes on the mid-palate explode in this wine after letting it breathe a bit. Still very fruity and sweet … cherry, some cranberry, currant, almost raisinlike. The mid-palate reveals pronounced earthiness. Berries linger, but with notes of tobacco and green earth. Finish is hot and woodsy. Had part of a glass with some spicy chili and the heat of the chili was intensified by the heat of the wine. Preferred it by itself.

Day Two: Had a guest on Day One, so the bottle didn’t make it past first day intact …

Overall: I am curious about this one. On the fence a bit. Would maybe buy it again and keep it on hand for a year or so, since it is so young, and see what happens, but definitely a good Malbec.

Coming up — A couple options … i picked up a bottle of Château du Donjon 2006 Minervois today. That is on the table along with a bottle of the intense and delicious Bogle Phantom, and a bottle of the old standby of Las Rocas Garnacha.

Château du Donjon 2006 Minervois

Bogle Phantom

Las Rocas

Will I go for something tried and true? or go with the upstart unknown??? Stay tuned!

Corvidae Wine Co. Rook 2007 Red Wine Blend
Thursday, 7 January, 2010, 8:11 pm
Filed under: Wine & Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Rook is a red wine blend from Washington state consisting of 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 57% Merlot, 26% Syrah. each of these grapes adds some of its own character to this tasty blend. now, i’m not a sommelier or wine connoisseur, nor will i pretend to be, so i won’t throw out a lot of the wine tasting jargon, but will instead speak/write simply.

i purchased this wine several weeks ago from whole foods for around $12. i just got around to opening it on Tuesday night (1/5).

when opening a wine, i usually like to pour a sip into my glass to swirl and drink right away, just to get an idea of what lies ahead of me. but i also do this to refine my palate; tasting the usually harsh first pour and comparing/contrasting it with the second pour, which i usually taste after about 20-30 minutes.

First Day: Scotty and i both felt that straight out of the bottle, the Rook was heavy and sweet with dark fruit with a rather harsh acidic finish. after about 30 minutes, the second pour was strikingly more mellow. more character was exposed as the sweetness gave way to some nice spice and the finish revealed medium tannins and mild oak.

Second Day: poured the last two glasses a couple of hours ago. the wine had mellowed even more. the sweetness was dulled a bit more and i felt as though i was able to discern more specific notes of cherry and dark plum, giving way to some mellowed spice and dark chocolaty bitterness. the oak held fast in the finish.

Overall: i found the Rook to be enjoyable. an easy drinking wine that is pretty typical as far as WA state blends go. would definitely go for another bottle … perhaps with some food next time. giving it time to breathe was the best way to go. enjoy it on the second day.

Coming up next — 2008 Bodega Renacer Malbec Punto Final