Monthly Archives: May 2007

Dancing Bull Zinfandel 2005

Dancing Bull ZinfandelPrice: $8
Maker: Rancho Zabaco Winery, Healdsburg, California
Variety: Zinfandel
Packaging: Bottle, natural cork
Alcohol: 13.9%
Our Rating: 8 out of 10

When we picked up a bottle of Dancing Bull Zinfandel 2005, we noticed some subtle changes. Since we last tried Rancho Zabaco Dancing Bull Zinfandel 2004, it seems the winery is shifting its brand emphasis. The “Rancho Zabaco” name is gone from the label, and even the website has shifted – it’s now dancingbullwines.com. Even the wine seems to have changed. The spicy, earthy aroma is still there, but this Zin was dominated by juicy raspberry and cherry notes, with mild spice and soft tannins. The 2005 is much fruitier than the 2004. Breathing toned down the fruit a bit, and added a bit more balance. Overall, this is a very approachable and drinkable wine, though it isn’t the kind of big, complex Zinfandel that lovers of that varietal might prefer.

The new Dancing Bull website is notable for its main feature, The Guy’s Guide to Wine. This is a Flash “booklet” that covers a variety of wine topics, ranging from food pairings to how to store wine. The site, unfortunately, lacks much information about the winery. The Vinicode blog tasted Dancing Bull Zinfandel 2005, and two out of the three tasters like it: “As for the taste, I liked what I believed to be a nice earthy quality. But the aftertaste did have a kool-aid kind of quality to it.” The third didn’t like it at all. Most of the other blog comments we found seemed to be for earlier years. If your tastes lean toward the fruity/juicy, try this Zin and see whom YOU agree with.

Wine and Dementia

The latest issue of TIME highlights a new study by geriatrics researchers at the University of Bari in Italy that seems to link moderate alcohol consumption with lower rates of dementia in older individuals. First, the good news:

A survey of elderly Italians — 1,445 of whom had no cognitive impairment and 121 who suffered mild cognitive impairment (MCI) — found that, over 3.5 years, those with MCI who drank less than one drink a day progressed to dementia at a rate 85% slower than those who drank nothing.

The article is quick to point out, however, that the scientists who did the study aren’t ready to declare a cause-and-effect linkage. Other factors, such as the idea that healthy, active people might be more inclined to have a glass of wine vs. their less able, more heavily medicated peers, could be at work. Nevertheless, they don’t dismiss the possible benefits of that glass of wine:

Alcohol could offer some protection against cognitive decline, after all. Moderate alcohol consumption has been linked with reduced risk of vascular disease, and good vascular health could slow the progression of dementia. The study authors note that some experiments show that ethanol encourages the release of a brain chemical that could be responsible for improved memory; that alcohol is associated with high levels of HDL cholesterol, linked to better coronary health; and that anti-oxidants in wine, the main source of the elderly Italians’ alcohol intake, might also boost cognitive performance.

If nothing else, studies like this show that having a glass of wine each day doesn’t hurt, and may help in several key aspects of staying healthy. In addition, enjoying a glass of wine has its own merits. Cheers!

Sebeka Cabernet Sauvignon Pinotage 2006

Price: $8
Maker: Sebeka Wines, Hayward, California
Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage blend
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, artificial cork
Alcohol: 13.5%
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Sebeka Cabernet Sauvignon Pinotage 2006 comes in the same creative packaging as Sebeka Shiraz, a colorful cheetah theme; one has to love the bright yellow spotted artificial cork. The origin of the wine is listed as Western Cape, South Africa. The wine’s nose is leathery, with berry, spice, and vanilla notes. The flavor is bright, juicy cherries that lead into a finish that balances oak, spice, and acidity. In the Shiraz we thought the tannins in the finish were slightly too prominent; that’s not the case with the Cabernet Sauvignon Pinotage, which was fruit and never demanding.

Since our last post, it looks like E. J. Gallo has managed to at least get a holding page in place at the Sebeka Wines website. There’s still not a lot of information, but they promise more soon. They refer to this wine as their “Cape Blend,” due to the inclusion of the Pinotage.

This brand hasn’t received much attention yet, but WorldWineReviews declared it, “Overall, a nice tasting wine.” They found an odd cheese-like note in the nose that was fortunately absent from our bottle. We liked Sebeka Cabernet Sauvignon Pinotage 2006 quite a bit – it’s a very accessible wine that’s fruit forward but maintains complexity. At its very moderate price, it’s a great choice for upcoming summer cookouts.

Les Hauts de la Brune Coteaux du Languedoc 2004

Les Hauts de la Brune Coteaux du LanguedocPrice: $8
Maker: Domaine de la Brune
Varietal: 80% Syrah, 10% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, natural cork
Alcohol: 13%
Our Rating: 8 out of 10

We picked up Les Hauts de la Brune Coteaux du Languedoc 2004 as an alternate choice for WBW #33 – its inexpensive price disqualified it from the $15 – $30 price range, but we thought we’d give a sub-$10 wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon region a try. At that price, and with its 80% Syrah composition, this wine would compete directly with a broad range of Shiraz/Syrah wines from Australian and California. The nose was very mild, with spicy berry aromas predominating. Our initial take on this wine was that it was rather thin and very dry. Even an hour or two of breathing didn’t alter our feelings much. Oddly, after being stored for a day (with argon) and another hour or two of air, the wine smoothed out considerably. We found mainly cherry, currant, and black pepper notes, with slightly sharp tannins. We’re not crazy about this wine, but ultimately it was fairly drinkable.

We’re not sure if this is the winery’s official site, but it indicates that this wine earned an impressive 90 points from Wine Spectator. Based on that, it’s an incredible value, though I can’t say I’d rate what I tasted at nearly that exalted a level. Feel free to give this one a try, though if you are into a fruitier Syrah/Shiraz I’d suggest one of the many decent Australian Shiraz choices that are in the $5 to $10 range. If you do pick up a bottle, plan on plenty of time, or decanting (maybe an aquarium bubbler?) to bring out the flavor and balance in this wine.

Rate Our Blog!

We’re testing a new blog rating widget from RateItAll – it’s an innovative approach, as you can interact with the rating site right inside the widget. Even if you aren’t a RateItAll member, you can do a three-line registration right inside the widget. We’re impressed by this technology. Right now this widget is in “closed beta”, but for our blogger readers we expect availability to begin soon.

If you enjoy reading our blog, please take a minute to rate us and add a one-line “review”. Feel free to comment on how well this works for you in this post, or if you have any problems. We’ll pass the info along to the developers. And thanks!

WBW #33 – Languedoc-Roussillon value wines

One of the fun things about Wine Blogging Wednesday is that it gets you outside your comfort zone and forces you to try something different. WBW #33, hosted by Doktor Weingolb, is no exception. There’s little chance I would have tried to hunt down a wine of this month’s theme – Languedoc-Roussillon value wines, in the $15 to $30 range – without the impetus of WBW. Indeed, I had to visit a couple of stores before I found some wines that fit the bill. I finally hit paydirt in a well-stocked spirits and wine shop. I carried in Dr. W’s list, and soon had two store staffers scurrying around reading labels and making suggestions. (If you are on a wine scavenger hunt, it’s always good to visit the wine shop when it’s not busy – the staff have time to kill, and can be very helpful.) Thanks for a great theme, Dok W!

Chateau Tour Boisee Minervois

Chateau Tour Boisee Minervois 1999

Our primary selection for this WBW challenge was Chateau Tour Boisée Minervois 1999, which we found for $17. Though we found this wine to be a bit dryer and more mineral in nature than our usual California and Aussie fare, we liked it quite a bit. The nose was very prominent, exhibiting berry, anise, spice, and caramel notes. On the palate, this wine was a mix of juicy cranberry and plum with peppery notes. Overall it was quite astringent and puckery, though the bold flavors and complexity balanced the wine to the point where that character wasn’t unpleasant. Extra breathing time rounded out the flavor to a degree, but some bite remained in the wine’s sustained finish. The wine is composed of 30% Syrah, 30% Grenache, 30% Carignan, and 10% Cinsaut. For additional commentary and wine details, see Chateau Tour Boisée Minervois 1999.

We also bought a secondary bottle – Les Hauts del la Brune Coteaux du Languedoc 2004. This cost only $8, and hence didn’t meet the WBW #33 criteria. Check out the full report. Like the Minervois, this is a rather dry red, but overall it is not nearly as flavorful. We’d happily trade two bottles of this Languedoc for one of the Minervois.

A big thanks to Doktor Weingolb for hosting, and of course to Lenn Thompson for launching this virtual community.

Chateau Tour Boisée Minervois 1999

Chateau Tour Boisee MinervoisPrice: $17
Maker: Domaine La Tour Boisée
Varietal: 30% Syrah, 30% Grenache, 30% Carignan, 10% Cinsaut
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, natural cork
Alcohol: 13.8%
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

We tried Chateau Tour Boisée Minervois 1999 (Marie Claude) as part of WBW #33. From the beginning, this wine makes its presence known. It had a prominent nose, with berry, anise, spice, and caramel notes. Its flavor was a mix of juicy cranberry and plum with peppery notes, with a mineral character. Overall it was quite astringent and puckery, though the bold flavors and complexity balanced the wine to the point where the astringency wasn’t unpleasant. Extra breathing time rounded out the flavor to a degree, but some bite remained in the wine’s sustained finish. Our personal tastes lean toward the slightly fruitier, less dry offerings of California and Australia vineyards, but it was interesting to try the more European Chateau Tour Boisée Minervois. After this intriguing experience, I might have to seek out some other reds from similar regions to compare.

The wine is imported by Wine Adventures, and according to the commentary on this wine, “Jean-Louis Poudou represents the fifth generation of the Poudou family to produce wine on this domaine in the Languedoc region of southern France. The wine is a blend of 30% Syrah 30% Grenache 30% Carignan and 10% Cinsaut, with the average age of the vines about 60 years old. The wine is unfiltered and aged in steel tanks. Full bodied, the wine has the taste of dark fruits and spice. A wonderful finish adds to the enjoyment of drinking this wine. Food and Wine Magazine rated this wine a “best buy” in September 2001.” Wine Adventures has been around since 1999, and was originally founded to bring good French wines to Iowa. The firm now claims distribution in 11 states.

Interestingly, Domaine La Tour Boisée practices biodynamic farming – who knew? I should have hunted this one down for the earlier WBW #29, when I had difficulty finding a biodynamic entry and ended up with a pedestrian (but apparently fully organic) Fetzer Valley Oaks Gewurztraminer. Chateau Tour Boisée Minervois 1999 would have been a far more interesting choice.

WBW #33 Reminder – Languedoc-Roussillon value wines

I’ve done a few Wine Blogging Wednesdays at the very last minute, and missed one or two because I couldn’t find what I was looking for in the time available. So, with a couple of days to go, I thought I’d post a quick reminder about this month’s WBW. It is WBW #33, hosted by Doctor Weingolb – details are here. The theme is Languedoc-Roussillon value wines, in the $15 to $30 range. If you need to find an appropriate bottle quickly, print out this list and take it shopping. I had no luck at my well-stocked mega-supermarket wine section, but a visit to a conventional spirits and wine store with a fairly extensive selection found a few candidates quickly.

It’s not too late – head out to your favorite wine store, list of Languedoc-Roussillon wines in hand!

How To Optimize Your Buzz

You don’t actually DRINK wine, you TASTE it, right? After inhaling the wine’s nose for a while, you carefully slosh some of the liquid around in your mouth, seeing how it affects different parts of your tongue. You let a few wine molecules drift down your throat to be sure the back of your tongue gets a chance to contribute to evaluating the wine, and spit the rest out. Right? Well, for those of you who occasionally let more than those few molecules down your gullet, and may occasionally even appreciate the mood-altering effects wine or spirits, CalWineries has a guide to optimizing your buzz.

The site notes that “people drink alcohol because it makes them feel good. But that’s true only up to a certain point, after which alcohol makes you feel worse, then bad, then sick, then…well…dead.” They provide a somewhat unscientific but probably qualitatively accurate graph that shows how initially, increased blood alcohol produces a positive mood swing, while consuming more alcohol eventually sends you on a downward slope of feeling worse, and eventually, feeling nothing. “After you pass your optimum buzz, increases in your blood alcohol content (BAC) are not only going to make you feel worse, but are another nail in the hangover coffin. Depending on the person, the ‘best’ feelings from alcohol come when your BAC is between 0.03 and 0.12.” That’s quite a range, but no doubt the value for most people is in that range somewhere.

They also provide a chart for weight and alcohol consumption to let the user calculate how much alcohol it takes to achive a more or less optimum BAC level and then how much to maintain that level. Wine and beer drinkers have an easier time of it than spirits drinkers, no doubt, since the alcohol content is lower and it’s easier to stretch a glass of wine or a bottle of beer than, say, a neat single-malt scotch. It also means that wine drinkers can consume at a comfortable pace for a bit longer before approaching the point of declining returns compared to, say, someone knocking back vodka martinis, and that there’s somewhat lower probability of overshooting. The latter might occur when the individual reaches his personal optimum, but already has consumed a drink or two which haven’t been absorbed yet.

You can do the math using the data on the CalWineries site to calculate the effects of what you are drinking on a person of your weight. As a really rough rule of thumb for wine drinkers, though, it looks to us like once you are in your optimal zone, limiting your consumption to about a glass of wine per hour will keep your BAC more or less constant. Drink more, and you risk continuing to increase your BAC and the negative factors associated with that. Remember, real-world results vary greatly depending on the individual’s weight and how they metabolize the alcohol.

I should point out that some of the “optimal” range described in the article is at a level which would make it illegal to drive a motor vehicle in most states, not to mention making it downright dumb to operate a chain saw or nail gun. So, if you decide to try optimizing your buzz, please do so in a safe, responsible, and legal manner!

Infinitus Tempranillo 2005

Infinitus TempranilloPrice: $9
Maker: CIV USA (Importer)
Varietal: Tempranillo
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, natural cork
Alcohol: 14%
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Infinitus Tempranillo 2005 is a tasty Spanish red wine that offers a great value for under $10. Its aroma is spicy berries with a subtle leather note. The flavor starts off with lots of juicy blackberry and plum flavors, and segues into spice and oak notes with a dry, almost astringent, finish. This combination makes Infinitus Tempranillo more interesting than the typical fruit bomb red wine. We liked this wine a little better than the Infinitus Cabernet Sauvignon – Tempranillo 3004 we tried last year.

Tempranillo is an uncommon varietal in the U.S. It’s native to Spain, and is used to make a variety of wines including the moderately well known Rioja wines. According to the wine’s data sheet, the grapes hail from “the great plains of Central Spain (yes this is where the rain in
Spain falls mainly…) is actually the largest wine growing region in the world. Larger in fact, than Australia and Chile combined!” There are actually six Infinitus wines, all reds except for Infinitus Chardonnay. We’ve only seen two or three of them in our local stores, but we may hunt down a couple of the others.