Batlle of the under $10 Pinot Noirs

As I was cruising the aisles at Trader Joe’s last weekend, I found myself looking at some wines and wondering “Russian River pinot noir for $8.99, really”. Yes, I know there’s a grape glut and the economy has gone south, so grapes and juice can be bought for less than a gallon of milk, but I had to wonder, is it any good? Under normal circumstances(good economy & balance of supply and demand for grapes) conventional wisdom says that pinots noirs under $12 usually aren’t very good. Why you ask, well pinot noir grapes are thin skinned and need to be handled w/ care and it’s a very finicky grape and a bit harder to turn into wine. Why that is I don’t know, ask a winemaker. So a friend and I doubled back and picked up a couple of bottles to see if it we could do a price to quality comparison.

1st wine we tasted was the 06 Mission Point from Central Coast. Probably one of, if not the oldest of pinots on the shelf this pinot seemed like the vines were to young or harvested to early. Stemy and green on the palate, the fruit component was dry and there was to much wood. This wine was out of balance and actually got returned for something else. 1 cork of out 5.

Then we tasted the 08 Hamilton -Stevens Russian River which had a good nose, soft & spicy on the palate, it had good fruit. A well balanced wine and hard to beat for $9.
3 1/2 corks out of 5.

Both wines cost is $8.99. So in the end it’s buyer beware, sometimes you do need to spend a bit more for certain quality expectations or if you’re looking for a easy drinking $9 they are possible to find, but you may have to taste a few to find them.

Blind tasting

Recently I had the opportunity to taste some AZ. wines blind with some fellow wine drinkers. What do I mean by blind… well just that. You don’t see what you are tasting other than what’s in your glass. Bottles are covered up or are not even present. Most wines rated by critics are tasted blind. Why you may ask, well let me tell you. By not knowing what you are tasting is the best way to give a un biased opinion. When one see’s a name of a winery, price or review of wine they unconsciously assume they will like it or dislike it. Ever hear “this bottle is $50 so it’s got to be good” from a friend or think that since this magazine gave it 92 pts. you will like it. Well you may very well like it, but you will have already made most of your decision whether to like or dislike it and you have not even tasted the wine.
Blind tasting can be very humbling. Wines you have liked before, you may see in a different light, if you don’t know what you are tasting until the wine is revealed.
As I tasted 2 whites and 2 red the other evening, I kept going back and forth on each wine. “Is it this or is it that”, “it tastes oaky, therefore a chardonnay, right” back and forth, second guessing myself, finally going with my 1st impression and gut instincts.
Usually blind tasting have 1 person who is responsible for covering(bagging) the wines so that know one knows what they are drinking and keeping the wines organized for the reveal. Blind tastings can be fun, you learn a lot about your palate and what actual flavors & styles you like. You may learn you don’t really like that jammy, big zin you always go for or you may realize you really do like New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Nowadays there are even darkened wine glass’s so you don’t know if you’re drinking a red or white wine until you taste it.
Have fun with a group of friends, see what you may learn about yourself and your tasting habits. Have a blind tasting, make it fun, enjoy.
I guess you’re wondering how I did with the AZ. wines I tasted the other night, well I got 1 out of 4 correct. The 3 I did not get correct were’nt even my 2nd choice.
Like I said, blind tastings can be very humbling!

Lagunitas Brewing Co.

Usually wine is on the agenda here, but as we are smack dab in the middle of the dog days of summer(no coincidence their is a dog on almost every label) an invite to a beer tasting sounded quite refreshing, so I grabbed my pen and pad and texted my drinking partner. It was a great chance to revisit some beers(and try some new ones) that I have not had in a few years, since I sold them around town. We tasted with Lauren, who came to town from San Diego on behalf of Lagunitas at Sportsmans, Phoenix location.
Lagunitas has been around since 1993 and is brewed in Petaluma, Ca.

First up was “Little Sumpin” Sumpin Ale- it’s Lagunitas, limited release summer wheat ale. It’s a hazy ale made with 50% wheat and offers a hoppy, smooth, profile. Nice finish. 4 bottle tops out of 5.

Next up came the “Hop Stoopid” Ale(22oz.), a big hop and malt style, a bitter flavor and richness that includes 7 different hops with 1 being extracted. Very aromatic on the nose. 3 1/2 bottle tops out of 5.

We then went on to the “Lucky 13 Mondo Large” Red Ale which is Lagunitas 13th anniversary brew, that gets made every years because it’s a staff fave. Using darker malts 13 has a smoky, big flavor. 4 bottle tops out of 5.

The finally was the “Maximus” IPA(22oz.)which is bigger style which includes more hops, more alcohol and more body. For those who like their IPAs with a spicier, fuller bodied taste this is the one. 3 1/2 bottle tops out of 5.

Pomo Pizzeria Napoletana is molto bene(very good)!!

Every so often a restaurant comes along that’s all the rage. Usually it has a celebrity chef in the kitchen, some unique concept or cuisine or delicacies. They tend to be trends for a year or two until the next one comes along. Rarely is all the rage about something simple say…. pizza. Yes, pizza. Dough, tomato, cheese & sometimes toppings. Phoenix has a lot of really good pizza establishments, some award winning and some just really good. Most have their claim to fame of wood burning oven, coal burning oven, ingredients direct from Italy, locally grown ingredients, etc, etc.

Along comes Pomo the most recent entry into the Phoenix pizza scene. It was brought to my attention by a friend of mine who does not like pizza because he remembers his days studying in Italy and the pizza he had there. Phoenix has never had the traditional very thin crust that needs to be eaten with a fork and knife. He’s been there no less than 10 times and I’ve been there 3, but who’s counting. And Pomo has only been around for less than 3 months.

Located at The Borgata in Scottsdale(Scottsdale Rd. & Rose Ln.) in a spot that has been a revolving door of restaurants in years past, Pomo is sure to see that the revolving door has stopped revolving. The generous menu of antipasti, insalate(salads), panini(sandwich) and pizza’s. 14 pizza’s with sauce and various toppings and 6 Pizze Bianche(white pizza)and something you don’t see very often, fried pizza.

Owned by native Italian, Stefano who had a desire for true authentic pizza of his homeland. So authentic so it’s certified by Vera Pizza Napoletana Assoc. following there guidelines and that of Italian government and European Union. Do they take there pizza seriously or what in Italy! Pizzas take only 60-90 seconds in the 950 degree wood burning oven. Most of the ingredients…flour, tomatoes, bufala mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil & Parmigiano Reggiano are imported from their respected regions in Italy.

Upon my visits we’ve had for starters caprese(mozzarella ,tomatoes & basil), bruschetta(homemade bread,tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and even tried a frita(fried pizza). The thin crust and quick frying really gives this a unique taste and way to eat folded dough, cheese & sauce.
As for pizza’s on one visit we kept it simple with Regina Margherita($11.95) San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, fresh basil and Parmigiano Reggiano. we also enjoyed Bufala($16.95) using the same ingredients as the Margherita except the mozzarella come from buffalo milk, not cow’s milk. and yes you can taste the difference. On another visit we chose the Donna Rosa($15.95) a white pizza using homemade pesto sauce and topped with roasted shrimp. mozzarella and cherry tomatoes. On of my favorites is the Capricciosa($14.95) which is topped with artichoke hearts,prosciutto sauteed mushrooms,cotto(ham)and Gaeta olives. Molto bene, molto bene!!

On 2 occasion we saved room for dessert and we tried tiramisu($7.95) an Italian classic that is light, fluffy and soaked in espresso. I would also recommend the Croccante($7.95) a nut basket filled with mascarpone cream and topped with fresh, seasonal fruit. It reminded me of a toasted almond bar that I loved as a youth.
Pomo also has a diverse, mostly Italian wine and beer list and some mostly Italian spirits.

So sometimes all the rage can be targeted at something so simple and easy that it gets often overlooked. It’s a good thing Pomo is opened 7 days a week from 11am-9pm Sun.-Thurs and until 10pm on Fri. and Sat. Pomo is located at 6166 N. Scottsdale Rd. in Scottsdale 480-998-1366.
4.5 corks out of 5 corks!!

Where I’ve been, what I’ve seen & what I’ve heard…….

I’ve been to
-Pomo Pizzeria several times and it’s one of the most authentic Neapolitan pizza around, so much so it has been certified that by Vera Pizza Napoletana Assoc. and backed by the Italian government and the E.U. Located at The Borgata in Scottsdale (Scottsdale Rd.& Rose Lane)it’s opened 7 days a week from 11am-9pm Sun thru Thurs. and 11am-10pm Fri. & Sat. Various selections of pizzas, salads, paninis and desserts. A nice selection of mostly Italian wines and beers. Review coming soon!
-Best Hong Kong Dining- SW corner of Dobson & Southern in Mesa. Good selection of Cantonese & Mandarin Cuisine.
-Niccoli’s Deli & Pizza is a mom and pop Italian deli tucked back in a small strip mall on 16th st. north of Bethany Home. Peppy & Joe have been doing it their way since 1955 and have been doing it right. Delicious sandwiches and fresh baked bread and rolls.
-Cafe Zuzu at The Valley Ho. Good comfort food, but somewhat pricey for burgers $12.00 and a $4.00 iced tea w/ mint & simple syrup. Still 4 bucks for an Iced Tea, come on now.

I’ve seen….
– “The Kids Are All Right”(2010).It’s getting some buzz. See review and it’s worth the search. Not widely released.
– The Boondock Saints”(1999) I caught this on IFC the other night. The Irish mob, meets the Italian & Russian mob in Boston. One of Willem Dafoe’s best as a somewhat flamboyant FBI agent tracking some killers. A rare non XXX appearance by Ron Jeremy. Look for it on DVD or cable.
-“Public Enemies” (2009). Johnny Depps portrayal of John Dillinger & Christian Bale as FBI agent tracking him. Good solid gangster movie about Dillinger and his escapades w/ Pretty Boy Floyd & Baby Face Nelson. A very good performance by Marion Cotillard as Dillingers girl.
-“Get Him to the Greek”(2010). A comedy with Jonah Hill, Sean Combs & Russell Brand reprising his role from “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” as a high maintenance singer that Jonah Hill’s character must get from to LA from London and the wild life of a rock singer that ensues.
-“Solitary Man”(2009)- a great performance by Michael Douglas as a womanizing, former car dealer who’s life starts to slowly spiral back out of control and how he tries to find out who he is. In limited release, but well worth finding it at a theatre near you. An Oscar nomination worthy performance for Douglas. Good supporting cast with Susan Sarandon, Jenna Fisher, Mary Loise Parker & Danny Devito.

I’ve heard…
Not much, it’s the dog days of summer here in Phoenix.
-Nobu is getting ready to open his new restaurant downtown in Heritage Square.
-The Grind at 40th St. & Camelback seems to be always busy.

Stay tuned and keep cool Phoenix!

You’re not into wine if……….

Over the years as I’ve been a wine professional I’ve been introduced to plenty of people who when they found out that I am in the wine business their first reaction was “cool”, followed by “I am so into wine”. Whether it was the film “Sideways” that influenced them or the fact that wine drinking has become main stream, wine consumption has surpassed beer consumption, just because you drink wine does not mean you are “into” wine. The same way one is not “into” photography if they buy a disposable camera every time they go on vacation.
So I’ve come up with several criteria to let those people who think they are “into” wine know that they are not into wine. If your attitude toward wine fits this criteria then, sorry, “you’re not into wine” you’re just a wine drinker.

If you can’t pronounce or know the difference between…..If you emphasize the ”t” at the end of merlot or the “s” at the end of pinot gris when asking for a glass not knowing they are silent. If you don’t know that pinot grigio & pinot gris are the same grape or that syrah & shiraz are also the same grape just called differently based on where they come from, you’re not into wine. I don’t know how many times people have said to me that they love shiraz, but don’t like syrah and are amazed to find out that it’s the same grape.
If you buy your wine based on “critter” labels or funky names……. You know what I am talking about, those cute little animals on the label that don’t even exist or a funny name of a wine with a sexual innuendo(Menage a trois) or a description of your ex-husband(Fat Bastard). Things that have nothing to do with the wine itself, just marketing 101. Its not about what’s on the bottle, but what’s in the bottle. If this is you, you’re not into wine, you’re into marketing.
This can also be said for people who by their wines based on “ratings” that some wines get. People who buy only wines rated ”90”points and above. Keep in mind that the people who rated these wines are only a few and like everything else nowadays, politics come into play. Can you say “pay to play”. There are plenty of great wines that don’t rate 90 points or above that drink real well.
If you are married to a wine…… Anytime I try to introduce people to a new wine, say chardonnay, I tend to hear “It’s my favorite” or “I’ll stick to what I like” referring to the chardonnay they ALWAYS drink. I tell them its OK to “cheat” on your favorite, it will never know. Its OK to have a favorite, we all do, our favorite pizza place, flavor of ice cream or even beer,(anybody see a food or drink trend here) but it’s always fun to find a new favorite & have old stand by that will always be there for us in our time of need. If you’re into wine you should be open to trying new wines is my point.
This also includes those that like to “play it safe”, jeez! it’s a wine recommendation not a stock recommendation.
If you buy your wine at a supermarket or big box retailer…….I know, I know some of these places have a better selection than they did 10 years ago but unless they have a wine savvy person working in the wine dept., this does not mean shelf stockers, you are better off going to a wine shop, or at least a place that specializes in wine & spirits. Most of the big box retailers stock the mass marketed wines from big companies who use marketing to influence buyers(see criteria #2). At the wines shops you can speak w/ a person who actually makes the decision to stock these wines, not a corporate buyer in an office wondering if we sell 20,000 cases will I get to go to Hawaii again this year. The wine shops and specialty retailers actually have knowledgeable people work there & who enjoy wines themselves. You may be able to taste the wine before you buy, plus how else would you find out about that cool new pinot noir from Oregon that only 750 cases were made or that Napa cab that all your friends that are into wine are drinking and talking about. If you were into photography would’nt you visit the local camera shop to see the latest and greatest camera’s, lenses’s & equipment, not to mention chat w/ the owner and employees to show the picture of that beautiful sunset you took in Turks and Caicos.
If you don’t drink a certain varietal……If you only drink red wine and swear off whites’s for no apparent reason then you are only into red wines. I understand you can’t like everything, I don’t, but not to drink white wine or certain varietals completely insane. I particularly don’t care for chards that are too oaky, but that does’nt mean I won’t try others when the opportunity presents itself. Saying red wine is better for you so you don’t whites is really missing the boat, especially when certain white wines pair well with certain foods.
If you spend 20 minutes………walking the wine aisle’s reading the descriptions and end up with the same wine you always buy. In this “I’m so busy” world we live in nowadays to spend that much time window shopping, knowing you’re going to play it safe does not show a real open mindedness to being into wine.

The moral of this story is that nowadays there is an ocean of wine out there. Hundred’s of different varietals coming from all over the world, not to mention the wines and places we have not seen yet. China, Israel and other countries we don’t associate w/ grape growing and wine making will soon be exporting in years to come. Wine is a ‘want”, not a “need” and despite what you hear there really are no rules with wine drinking, just drink what you want and what you like. I only ask that you keep an open mind as a consumer and not be afraid to try something new when its offered. Obviously if its more money than you are willing to spend, I understand. That reminds me of a guy I was talking to about a exceptional $11 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon the other day when he said “ I have to do my research”, I chuckled and I proceeded to give him a bottle thinking he meant take it home and drink it. What he really meant was to go home and research it on the Internet. I was thinking it’s not a car or big ticket item, it’s an $11 bottle of wine.
So if you really are into wine, great happy drinking, but if you think you are “into” wine and only drink wine quit pretending. If you just drink wine and don’t take it too seriously, cool! No harm, no foul maybe some day you will expand your horizons and you will see what the wonderful world of wine has to offer.

My thoughts on “The Kids Are All Right”

What happens when Jules(Julieanne Moore) and Nic(Annette Bening) meet Paul(Mark Ruffalo), the sperm donor they used 18 & 15 years earlier. Sought after by there kids Joni(Mia Wasikowska) and Laser(Josh Hutcherson) and there curiosity about who there father is, Paul enters there life much to the reluctance of of Jules and Nic. After several meetings he almost becomes part of the family bringing his independent, school’s not for me dynamic. This dramedy takes a serious turn when trust is betrayed and were not sure who will end up where. There is also some sub text of of “is Laser gay” and the entering of adulthood & independence for Joni.
All performances are very good, if not excellent with Nic being the dominant doctor, who likes her wine, to Jules’ free wheeling entrepreneurial spirit. This story of 21st century lifestyle show’s that all can co habitate in unfamiliar territory. Ruffalo’s performance is also very good as a free spirited restaurateur. Quite a bit of humor and one liners from all parties makes this film a almost must see for everyone except the kids as there is nudity and sexual behavior.
I give this film 4 out of 5 corks. You may have to search this one out in theatres, but well worth it.

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