MmmmmMonastrell Monday! 

Taking a break from my studying, I caught myself in a little daydream; thinking back to not long ago and a trip to Jerome, AZ. 

I’d heard of Caduceus Cellars from my nephew, Aaron, who’s really into the bands Tool and Puscifer. What does this have to do with wine? Caduceus was founded by Maynard James Keenan, frontman and songwriter of Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer. Established in 2004, Caduceus is described as a ‘small production family owned winery’. Unlike some celebrity winemakers, Keenan likes to get his hands dirty in all aspects of the business; from planting and harvesting to winemaking and marketing.  

From our wine flights, HubbyDoug and our friends Carl and Deb picked the 2013 VSC Anubis (50% Cab, 30% Cab Franc, 20%Petit Syrah). My pick: the 2014 VSC Monastrell (100% Cochise County Monastrell). 

Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre) is a thick skinned grape that provides color, fruit and tannic structure especially when blended with Grenache and Syrah; it is the ‘M’ in GSM wines. On its own, it has intense perfume notes and blackberry flavours along with hints of meat. Age brings out more leather and gingerbread aromas and flavour. 

The wine in my glass had a beautiful garnet colour with sage on the nose (what I imagine the scent a desert flower would have). It had light-medium body with neutral oak, and flavors of basil, thyme, juniper with a kick of licorice and olive. It made me think of a fragrant, lush herb garden. Normally with reds, I expect to have more of a jammy, fruit forward experience, anything herbaceous I associate with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. It wasn’t sweet wine, far from it. But, much like it’s winemaker, its juxtaposition from what I thought it should be, and what it was, I found a true expression of where it was cultivated. 

This Monastrell is hand-picked (by Keenan himself), sorted, submerged cap fermented and puncheon aged for 18 months. Puncheon is an extra large oak barrel (70-100 gallons). The larger size allows for stronger/ stricter controls in the wine’s development due to the higher inner barrel surface – wine ratio. 

I’d only had this varietal before as part of the GSM blend but on its own it was a wonderful surprise to add to my list of exceptional wines with a twist. 



Dream a Little Dream

Red, robust, and resplendent. I kept these words in the back of my mind when I was searching for an enjoyable wine to serve with dinner. And it’s a nice surprise when you find it. 

We’d enjoyed the Dreaming Tree‘s Crush Red Blend a couple of weeks ago while on vacation in Muskoka, and really enjoyed its rich flavors. So when I happened across their 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, into my shopping cart it went. 

Dreaming Tree Wines is the California based collaboration of Dave Matthews (yes, that Dave Matthews) and Kiwi winemaker Sean McKenzie.

 A widely sustainable winery, Dreaming Tree is part of a solar initiative including four wineries that are collectively powered by  17,000 solar panels; the largest solar footprint in the U.S. wine industry. The bottles are made of a lighter-weight glass, and labels are recycled kraft brown paper. 

I’m not one to be swayed by the fact that a wine is affiliated with a big name; if I like the wine, it’s because I enjoy what’s inside. But this wine, paired with our grilled tenderloin, buttery mashed potatoes, steamed seasoned green beans and spinach salad was a good match. The dark bouquet had hints of black cherry and swirled flavors of rich raspberry compote, and a whisper of chocolate and oak that tasted like… more. 

Moderately priced (around $14.99) ~ it was a tasty, easy drinking wine that paired well with a relaxed dinner on the patio. 


Hollywood and Vines: Top 5 Wine Movies

Action! Coppola's Director's Cut Zin

Action! Coppola’s Director’s Cut Zin

I love movies. I love them almost as much as I love wine. And with this being Oscar weekend, I thought I’d list a few that I enjoyed this past week ~ two documentaries and three dramatic.  I paired one of the movies with a rich and beautiful 09 Francis Ford Coppola Director’s Cut Zinfandel. I’d never tried it before and gave it two thumbs up.

So, for your consideration, and in no particular order:

Blood Into Wine (2010) ~ 90% documentary and 10% great marketing, Blood Into Wine stylishly illustrates Maynard James Keenan and winemaker Eric Glomski’s journey and struggles in the world of making Arizona wine. Keenan, drummer and frontman to some great bands such as Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer, discusses how something ‘clicked’ for him about wine, leading him on a journey of ‘self-discovery’ and compelled him, ‘to know more…and see how far I can take this as an artist.” For Eric Glomski, a background in river ecology and early experiments with apple wine, made it clear how winemaking “helps us understand our relationship with the earth. And how wine is an expression of home.” The doc explains the growing seasons, the trials and tribulations of being a frontier winemaker in a rough northern Arizona terrain. From the political issues of water rights, to Javelina stripping one-third of their Sangiovese crop, to winter frost (which happens in higher elevation AZ vineyards), winemaking in Arizona is not for poseurs. For the entry-level wine drinker, it educates about the process and history of winemaking in a way that is entertaining and cool. Keenan is a rare celebrity winemaker who knows what he’s talking about, admits that he’s still learning and, literally, isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. His story about his mother and the pride he has for Caduceus Cellars‘ ’07 Nagual de Judith Cab Sav (named in her honor) is very touching. While it occasionally had the subtle feel of a marketing video, that’s okay. I have no problem with promoting awareness and generating buzz for a burgeoning wine region.

Mondovino (2004) ~ This documentary by Jonathan Nossiter examines the conflict between big wine, in this case Mondavi, and the smaller European winemaking families trying to preserve their land and culture. It’s a whirlwind flight from Brazil, into the vineyards of Burgundy, and Sardinia, on to the gilded drawing rooms of Italy, and finally the sprawling colossus of the Mondavi vineyards in Napa. Early on, Nossiter introduces you to Michel Rolland, a wine consultant, who advises an international array of wineries in making their wines to suit a more “uniform, Mondavi style.” He uses the term ‘micro-oxygenation’ which such frequency and at almost every vinery he visits, you’d think it was his middle name. When asked about ‘diversity’ in winemaking, he replies, “That’s why there are so many bad wines.” Ouch. It goes on to illustrate the power of the Mondavi marketing machine and how the smaller ‘generation’ winemakers must, in essence, conform or be cast out. I think the point Nossiter is trying to make is that in order for the smaller wineries to compete at all in an ever expanding market, they have to allow Mondavi and it’s marketing power to take over, which means selling out their own expression, or terroir, to a standardized style of wine. It’s referred to as ‘globalization’ of wine and the narrative raises some very interesting points, to be sure. If there’s no diversity or personal expression/signature in wine, what’s the point?

A Good Year (2006) ~ Hmmm, my best nutshell description: icy Master of the Universe-inherits vineyard-meets and falls for sexy French chick-life dramatically changes. Russell Crowe plays Max Skinner, a British financier who, in the midst of his chaotic life, finds out he is the only living relative of his beloved, yet forgotten, Uncle Henry (Albert Finney). He becomes the default owner of his uncle’s French Chateau and adjoining vineyard. At the start, he sees it as just a piece of real estate, to be cashed in and sold off. What he doesn’t expect is that his life will be transformed (voila!) in a mere 7 days. Told partially through flashbacks to sunnier days of fun and wine with Uncle Henry, it’s nicely romantic but predictable ~ there’s even a mention of… Mondavi (ha). Still, it’s good to see Russell Crowe in something a little lighter and no phones were thrown. There’s a quick, ironic scene where Max makes a Lance Armstrong reference, which is funny, but now for a very different reason.The loose ends tie up a little too neatly but the beautiful shots of the Chateau and vineyard make up for that. The point is more than hit home that, try as you might, you can’t ever really outrun the ties that truly bind; for memories, love and wine will inevitably stand the test of time. Oh, the sexy French chick? Marion Cotillard.

Sideways (2004) ~ Starring the great Paul Giamatti, it’s probably one of the most famous movies about wine so I don’t think I need to go into a plot synopsis. Suffice to say,  it probably cast the most light on the whole Merlot vs. Pinot debate. My favorite scene is when Virginia Madsen’s character, Maya, waxes poetic on what she loves about wine; how wine continues to evolve over time, gaining complexity and how it is, actually, alive. Much like love. Amid the comedy and chaos of the movie, this is the scene that distills what it is to be a true lover of wine.

Bottle Shock (2008) ~ If you can get past the really bad wig that Chris Pine has to wear, Bottle Shock is an interesting look at the fledgling California wine industry in the mid-’70’s. Loosely based on a true story, it follows two tales. The first is the struggle between a failing California winemaker Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman) and his slacker son, Bo (Pine) to produce the perfect wine. The second, British wine educator Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman), living in Paris, trying to find a bold way to promote his (at the time) unremarkable business. On the advice of an American friend, Spurrier creates an international wine competition to find the best of California to compete with the French. It illustrates the beginning of the globalization of wine and how a snubbed wine region can rise to the occasion and triumph. The message: sometimes you can make something too perfect; and that letting go is when perfection can truly be achieved. Woah. I think I need a drink.

This week, I watched some great wine movies, and enjoyed a new favorite wine. I’m ready for the big night with a chilled bottle of Chandon.

For those of you who, like me, are still waiting for that lost invite to the Governor’s Ball, I hope you enjoy the show.


©TheWineStudent, 2013

Celebrity Skins: The Grapes of RUSH

Finally! I had to take a step away from working on my aeration post to give a hearty congratulations to RUSH on their Rock Hall nomination. After so many years of not even being a bridesmaid ~ much less the bride, they are being recognized. And it’s about time.

While their reputation as a preeminent rock band is legend, it’s the commitment that both Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson have to Grapes for Humanity Global Foundation that’s very cool indeed.

Founded in 2001 by Arlene Willis, who lost a brother to a land mine accident, GFHGF works to support land mine survivors by  building prosthetic clinics and aiding survivors in welfare issues. Their chief means of fundraising is putting on wine related activites such as wine tastings, wine pairings and wine auctions. Over the years, their philanthropic endevours have expanded and direct proceeds of the events go to specially selected projects that strive to make the world a better place.

It was seeing the direct effect of the money raised from the events that appealed most to Lee. He tells Samaritan magazine (via ultimateclassicrock and noisecreep), “I was very drawn to it because we did small projects. If we raised $50,000, we’d go to Honduras, build a clinic, and you saw the direct result of that money in action.  And that’s something, to me, that makes you feel really good because you know there’s no waste there.”

Geddy sortin' da grapes @ Tawse Winery, Grimsby ON ~ image via John Gundy

Geddy sortin’ da grapes @ Tawse Winery, Grimsby ON ~ image via John Gundy

He and Lifeson hosted the maiden “Excellent Adventure ~ Grapes Under Pressure Tour”  in 2009 at Tawse Winery in the Niagara region. The excursion featured a day trip to the winery in a private car generously supplied by VIA rail. There, participants spent the day out in the vineyard picking and sorting grapes, then enjoyed a luscious lunch with wine while bidding on items in the silent auction that featured RUSH memorabilia. The event raised $37,500.

The venue changes each time to feature a different local winery in a different Canadian wine region. Huff Estate Winery in Prince Edward County played host in 2011. The Excellent Adventures have raised over $350,000 for Grapes for Humanity Canada which is awesome. Touring this way is a great way for the GFHGF to gain more exposure to a wide variety of communities, and for the participating wineries to gain new visitors.

I’ll definitely keep good thoughts for RUSH next spring for the Rock Hall induction. I’ll keep even better ones for the their continued success raising funds and awareness for Grapes for Humanity.


Celebrity Skins 101~ Muscat Love

Drake with Martini Moscato D'Asti (Photo credit: David Becker/ Wire Image)

Drake with Martini Moscato D'Asti (Photo credit: David Becker/ Wire Image)

I have to admit, when I think of Muscat I think of soda pop: One that goes to your head quicker than a fast roll down a hill. I know that’s making an uneducated assumption because lately, you can’t escape the fact that Muscato D’Asti’s popularity is growing in leaps and bounds. That’s thanks, in part, to the constant references by artists like Kanye West, Drake, Lil Kim and others singing about its sweet charms and how it makes them feel. It also seems to have helped christen it as a bonafide brand. Muscato is now what Cristal used to be in rap songs: the wine of choice for a new generation of trend setters rolling to the club and chilling in the VIP.

It’s an interesting pick, but not surprising when you think about it. Muscato is a good, easy drinking, entry level wine: sweet but not overpowering, light and refreshing. And the price point of between $12-14 a bottle makes it an attractive alternative to white zinfandel.

According to a recent article in New York Magazine, the demand for Muscato is far outweighing the supply, with wineries scrambling to increase its cultivation and production.Most of the bigger producers of wine are now introducing or heavily promoting their Muscato offerings.  A big push is being felt even here in the Cleve. Heinen’s Strongsville wine manager Paul Hoefke says he’s seen a steady increase in sales over the last eight months and doesn’t expect it to dip any time soon. He suggested an ‘11 Galilee Muscato from Golan Heights, an Israeli winery. It’s one that is difficult to come by and once gone, can’t be found again for at least a year.  The price point on this was about $17.99 as compared to most Moscato I saw that ranged between $9.99 and $14.99.

'11 Galilee Moscato from Golan Heights

'11 Galilee Moscato from Golan Heights

One of the oldest known varietals, Muscat thrives in warmer climates. You won’t see any grown here in Ohio, it’s too damn cold.  The largest producer in the US is California, which makes perfect sense. There are more than 200 types of Muscat and range in color (from white to  blush to a black); some are sparkling, while other less so. The main distinction with Muscato is in the fermentation process,Golan Heights states that it is the stopping of fermentation early that makes it sweeter. It has a relatively low alcohol content that makes it lighter and more refreshing. Since it has a strong, sweet base, Muscat generally pairs well with light cheeses like Parmiagiano-Reggiano, goat cheese, triple creams, desserts with Marscapone;  spongy cakes and cookies. Yet, contrary to some opinions, a dryer offering in the style of  Muscat d’Alsace apparently pairs nicely with shellfish such as lobster or shrimp. Drake was right!

In the past, I’ve found Muscat to be a heady, sweet confection of a wine (although different from a late harvest or ice wine).  Since I was researching it, an experiment was necessary. It looked like fun as it poured into my glass; bubbles raced to the rim and released an effervescent scent of citrus and honey. While it was, as promised, sweet on the top, it wasn’t sickly or cloying. It was very light, very refreshing and very enjoyable. I could enjoy a glass on a hot summer day but only one small glass. Any more, and it would be a quick ride to headache city, a place where there is no VIP room.

Fizzy fun

Fizzy fun

It’s always good to try something a little different and fun, and this certainly was. As for what to pair it with, I think that has more to do with what an individual likes, as opposed to any hard and fast rules. That game, appears to be changing. Rapidly.


Face-off! 2007 Mike Weir vs. 2007 Wayne Gretzky Pinot Noir

2007 Wayne Gretzky Estate/ Mike Weir Wine Pinot Noir

2007 Wayne Gretzky Estate/ Mike Weir Wine Pinot Noir

Last night, I had a little tasting with my friends Judy and Terri and I wanted it to be as unbiased as possible. Since I’m an ex-pat from the Niagara region, I’m partial to many wines from that area, not just the Icewine that it’s noted for. Maybe I’m feeling a little homesick especially since it’s Grape and Wine Festival time. Sigh. I know it’s called ‘The Niagara Wine Festival‘ now, but it’ll always be ‘Grape and Wine’ to me.

For years, I’ve enjoyed the whites and particularly liked what had been coming off the vine from Mike Weir Wine. Having never sampled anything from Wayne Gretzky Estates, I wanted to try something different and compare the two. To keep things on equal footing, I chose the same type and vintage, otherwise it could be like comparing apples to oranges, and not really a fair fight. We poured both through an aerator since we didn’t have time to decant.

Armed with both the Wine Aroma Wheel and Mouth-feel Wheel, we started with the 2007 Mike Weir Wine Pinot Noir. The color ranged from a burgundy (Terri) to light claret (me) to garnet (Judy). We all agreed that, sadly, there didn’t seem to be much on the nose. As for mouth-feel, it seemed to be a bit thin and watery; as if it could’ve been cellared longer. We found the taste to be more tart berry; Judy thought it had a grippy, alcohol feel. Terri thought it had more of a chemical, bitter feel. She described it as ‘gird-y’: for her, it produced more of a burn-like sensation going down. Overall, it wasn’t bad, it just tasted quite young. I wondered if pairing it with something like Brie and fruit might have brought out more of its depth.

On to the 2007 Wayne Gretzky Estates (Estate Series) Pinot Noir. By comparison, the Gretzky was richer in color; a deep garnet with nice floral notes on the nose.  The mouth-feel was warm, satin-y and supple with a viscous, mouth coat texture (yes, ‘mouth coat’ is listed in the wheel). Terri found it had a smoother, softer, fuller texture compared to the Weir. It tasted of rich cherry, sulfur with a light smoky, butter finish, and would probably pair well with a nice filet or roasted chicken. We thought it was a nice wine to drink all on its own, from start to finish.

Looks like, for now, No.99 is still the Great One.


Hell’s Bells ~ AC/DC launches collection of… fine wines?

 AC/DC, my favorite metal band, is set to launch a new collection of wines with Warburn Estate, an Australian winemaker. I have to admit when I think of fine wines, AC/DC doesn’t immediately jump into my head but their varietal names are pretty cool: ‘Highway to Hell’ Cabernet Sauvignon, ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ Moscato, ‘Hell’s Bells’ Sauvignon Blanc and ‘Back in Black’ Shiraz.

Brian and Angus in Toronto. (QMI AGENCY).

Brian and Angus in Toronto. (QMI AGENCY).

That said, the names might be catchy, and the artwork totally righteous (although I haven’t seen it yet), the real proof will be what’s in the bottle. I’ve tried some celebrity wines in the past only to be a little disappointed with what ended up in my glass.

Warburn Estate is an independent, family-owned winery that started in the 1950’s, so it’s a good bet that they know a few things about producing a quality product. They also seem to be  very clear about their approach: that wine is for drinking. Sounds good to me. I can throw on my ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’ vinyl, pop open a ‘Highway to Hell’ Cab Sauv and see whether it shakes me all night long.

The AC/DC collection of wines launch in Australia at the end of this month and should hit our fair shores in the US by the end of the year.


I just found a picture of the bottles:

AC/DC Fine Wines (Warburn Estate)

AC/DC Fine Wines (Warburn Estate)