TFTT 2011 Top 10 wines Under $15 USD – watch this space

26 12 2011
Snow day means Red Day!

Winter © Tales from the Trellis, 2010

As 2011 is coming to a close, I am reflecting back on all the great (and not so great) wines I have sipped this year. In the next few days I will be revealing my personal choices for “Best Under $15” as well as some to avoid. Hope you all had great holidays and continue to be safe throughout this year and always.

Watch this space.

Best,

Steve@talesfromthetrellis.com

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Thanksgiving Wine Pairing Suggestions Under $15 USD

23 11 2011

Here in the US, we are quickly approaching Thanksgiving and many of us are scurrying around in preparation for the big day. While many are cooking away and in advance, some have still not completed their wine shopping. So, for those that are still searching for the right pairing, I have a short list of suggestions for you.

Pairing wine with the traditional bird is fairly easy and I always reach for two varietals: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, sometimes Riesling. That being said, below are the best values for your money and from all over the globe.

Pinot Noir:

1) Gloria Ferrer, 2007 Carneros – California. This is light on its feet but has plenty of flavor (raspberry, plum, cherry) and a long smooth finish. Also, if you love bubbles – go for their sparkling wine, you won’t go wrong at under $20 for that at Thanksgiving! Check out my previous post on value priced sparkling wines that are excellent values and also perfect with whatever you are serving!

2) Leyda, Leyda Valley – Chile. Packed with dark fruit flavor and a touch of herb and earthy, fantastic value at around $11 USD.

3) Matua, Marlborough – New Zealand. Strawberry, plum and nice body on this excellent value wine. Light in style and simple with clean flavors and floral.

Chardonnay:

1) 4 Vines Naked, Central Coast – California. This has become my go-to house white wine. It is packed with flavor (apple, lemon) and has great acidity at the end that allows for better food pairing than buttery Chardonnay. Nose of peach, pear and apple. My favorite for the money.

2) Cupcake Vineyards, Central Coast – California. Though much more buttery, Cupcake is a good value and this is simple, easy drinking – though extremely buttery and less likely to go with the rest of the meal. Tropical fruit, vanilla, apple, BUTTER!

Riesling:

1) Pacific Rim Dry Riesling, Columbia Valley – Washington. Great concentrated flavors of citrus (orange and grapefruit), pear and spices with some mineral. Nice acidity at the end, not sweet and low in alcohol (12.5%) that make this a great food wine overall. If you can not find this, try Chateau St. Michelle, also from Washington, though a bit less dry, still a solid alternate.

Wishing you all a safe and happy Thanksgiving. I am thankful for your support of Tales From the Trellis!

Best,

Steve From the Trellis





2011 Summer Rosé Recommendations – a quick short list of highly available summer sippers

3 07 2011

Since July 4th is upon us here in the states, I always want to make sure I have a supply of value priced Rosé on hand. Many that see the color immediately think of that “other” blush wine that is sweet like candy. I refuse to slam White Zin, as it actually works to bring people into the wine fold from other alcohol based choices. My wish is that those White Zin sippers move on to try other things beyond that door. But enough about White Zin.

For US-based Rosé, a value priced  standby is always the Bontera (had some last night) and The Bony Doon Vin Gris de Cigare. Muga from spain is usually fantastic and highly rated as well. But…if you can find it, the Domaine Le Galantin Bandol Rose 2010 is a classic Provençal rose. All under $20 and most of these under $15!

Look for my Sparkling Rosé recommendations soon.

Let the sun shine and keep pouring me Rosé. Guys, don’t be afraid of the pink…trust me, it’s summer in a glass.

Please drink responsibly during the holiday and always. Be safe. Enjoy.

Steve From the Trellis

steve@talesfromthetrellis.com

©2011, TalesfromtheTrellis

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Eating Local in Mt. Olive, NJ: Gabby’s II – the Review

10 03 2011

We heard about Gabby’s II  in Hackettstown from good friends Tara and Dan,  and I am pleased to welcome this new Italian restaurant to the area. Sure, we are flooded with so many pizza “joints” you can throw a rock and hit one in any direction on RT 46, mountain Ave, or RT 57 – but you won’t find this care of ingredients, preparation and quality of food in any of the rest.

Hector & Josh, Owners of Gabby's II

Gabby’s II resides were Carlena’s was – 190 Mountain Ave. in Hackettstown (to the right of the IHOP). It opened in December, 2010 and the owners are warm and gracious hosts Tricia and Hector Salazar (locals from Mount Olive) and partner Josh Harris (of Flemington). They come with a wealth of experience – this is their second restaurant (Gabby’s I is in Flemington, NJ).

By the way, Gabby is the name of Hector and Tricia’s little girl, which makes sense as this does feel like a family place.

We came in and sat at a one of the available tables early on a Tuesday night. A few people were already sitting and it was just after 5 p.m. We were given menus (nice selection) quickly and decided to order a few things to share – so we can see how they prepare some of our favorite Italian-American dishes (no Osso Bucco tonight).  We decided on Chicken Francaise, Eggplant Parmesan hero, and Penne in Vodka Sauce. Dinners come with the usual salad and pasta choices.

Gabby's II Dining Room

Tricia took our orders and returned quickly with bread and soon followed up with the salads. Nice crisp fresh greens, onion, tomato and olives, with a good balsamic dressing (not to heavy).

We were given both garlic and regular bread in a basket and I had a good feeling after taking a bite. Hot, crunchy, amazing. No bits of raw or overcooked garlic or over oiled. The bread itself is actually seeded French bread (as Hector explained) to give it the right texture. This was not the soft spongy bread that are the norm in these parts, it was crunchy outside with a great bite and taste, and just enough garlic and butter.

The food came out and the Eggplant Parmesan hero had the perfect combination of eggplant, tasty sauce and fresh mozzarella cheese and of course – served on that excellent bread.

The Shrimp Parmesan dinner was equally good – with large shrimp breaded perfectly and topped with that delicious Marinara sauce and fresh cheese. Generous portions!

The Penne was cooked perfectly al denté and the vodka sauce was rich and thick – extremely creamy! Plenty to share all around.

The Chicken Francaise was the best dish so far, with a perfect blend of lemon, butter and lightly breaded, fork-tender, thin chicken. The ziti that accompanied it was also cooked perfectly al denté and served alongside (perfect in the lemon sauce too). This is my favorite dish and something I learned to cook from a chef many years ago and has become my “signature dish”. This was even better than my own – I love this dish.

We were too full order dessert, but they have a nice selection! The pizzas looked great too and we will certainly be back to try those!

Hector came around to the table and introduced himself, and asked how everything was. We  explained were really here to try his food and see if we liked it (which we did) and see about catering for an upcoming party. He was very accommodating and sent us home with a sample of the Sausage, Onion and Peppers to try  since we were interested in having it on our menu for the party. It was cooked and seasoned perfectly –with tender sausage (sweet not hot). It was so delicious that I ate the peppers and onions as ravenously as the sausage!

Hector’s care about ingredients is evident, as he told me they do not buy that frozen pre-breaded stuff that typically helps cut corners (time, money but most of all, quality). You can taste care in everything they do.

It is a BYO so don’t forget to bring something to pair with your meal. I had a Cupcake Vinyards Sauvignon Blanc that had nice lemon, lime and grapefruit flavors and paired well with the Chicken dish. I have recommended it in earlier posts. For $8 on sale, it is a great value. I wish I had also brought the Falesco Vitiano from Umbria (under $10 and always an easy drinking Italian Red Blend of Merlot, Cabernet and Sangiovese) that would pair well with the red sauce dishes).

I welcome Gabby’s II with open arms. I know we all get set in our ways and remain loyal to our tried and true dinning establishments we frequent with family and friends. I too understand how easy it is to fall into that, but quality and taste are what we are after right? Everyone in the area should give Gabby’s II a try one night – instead of the usual Frank’s, Branda’s, Mamma’s or Pietro’s. I think you will taste the difference, I know I did. Their tagline is “Love at First Bite”, and they deliver on that promise.

Oh, and speaking of deliver – did I mention they will DELIVER! Hard to find a great Italian place that will drive your food to you around here anymore!

Gabby’s II: 908 850 1803 • 190 Mountain Ave., Hackettstown, NJ

Gabby’s in Flemington: 908 237 9990 • 203 Main Street, Historic Flemington, NJ

More information on their websitehttp://www.gabbyspizzapasta.com and there is a coupon when you click “Specials”.

Buon Appetito!

Steve from the Trellis

©TalesFromTheTrellis, 2011

Note: My reviews are always uncompensated and honest – based upon my palette. Your taste/opinions may differ. I base my opinions not only on taste – but always a baseline of quality that is factual. I have no affiliation with any restaurants or wineries. Full disclosure: I am known to be extremely picky, critical and often brutally honest about food and wine, taste and preparation. I welcome any and all comments on this blog.





Value Wine Alert: Wily Jack Wine for $5 – The Review!

5 03 2011

 

 

 

 

As I hinted at the end of my last post about the Three Wishes wines for $2.50, I had recently purchased 2 bottles of Wily Jack (pronounced Why-lee) wine in a local Bottle King (a large retail chain in New Jersey) for a sale price of $5 each. The label captured my attention first, as it was a bold and well branded wine – with Michael Schwab illustrated label (his name was right on the bottom of the label, interesting).

Though this bottle was purchased on sale for $5, it typically sells for anywhere between $7 – $10. These wines are non vintage, like Three Wishes, meaning they can blend different years together. The grapes were sourced from vineyards all over California, so a blend of many areas as well. They offer a Chardonnay, Cabernet, and a Zinfandel (was not available at Bottle King at my time of purchase). They have been around since 2009, and owned by Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines. The brand is meant to be fun and approachable. These wines should be enjoyed now, not aged.

They had a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon, so I took both and walked away for less than the price of a typical everyday drinking bottle. I thought this would be a good – post as it was twice the price of the last Three Wishes bottles – but was it twice the value?

I decided to bring the two bottles, along with some others, to a gathering at friends Chris and Karen’s home last night. Great cheeses and Karen’s homemade desserts like cheesecake, apple crisp, brownies and mixed fruit salad. All delicious, thanks Karen!

Wily Jack Wines ©TalesFromtheTrellis, 2011

Wily Jack Wines ©TalesFromtheTrellis, 2011

The Chardonnay:

Nice notes of apple and pear on the nose. Medium body,  with great pineapple and tropical fruit taste. Then, surprisingly, the citrus (acidity) kicks in on the dry finish– which is fairly cleansing and refreshing. Worked especially well with the softer goat milk cheese, and would recommend brie with this as well.  I was really happy about this wine for the price. It was not just worth double the price of Three Wishes, but the quality was substantially better. Again, I like this at $9 but love it at $5! This may be my new house white wine!

The Cabernet:

This was the second bottle that I opened, after the Chard disappeared quickly! It had cherry and dark fruit with violet on the nose. Plum, cherry and vanilla (oak) on the tongue. Smooth sailing from the first sip through the mid-palette, then the finish goes a bit tannic, but in a god way. It had some guts to it and more power than I expected. After some time in the glass swirling, it calmed down a bit and really smoothed out the edges. I enjoyed this with the brownies! Yum! Was this really $5? This wine also seemed to be a success, and it looks like this was a winner.

I’m shocked that I haven’t seen this wine in stores, or even heard about it until now. The web site is simple but well-organized and designed. Have a look.

I am excited to recommend these wines to you, an excellent value with great quality for this low price. Please go try these and let me know what you think!

Santé,

Steve from the Trellis

©TalesFromtheTrellis, 2011





Three Wishes Wine…for $2.50 USD, the Official Review (my 3 wishes too)!

1 03 2011
3 Wishes Lineup

The 3 Wishes Wine Lineup ©2011 TalesFromtheTrellis

When I was visiting family in Maine this past Holiday season, I stumbled upon a new wine brand named Three Wishes. The bottles peaked my interest as they were oddly shaped (shorter and lighter than the regular  750 ml bottles) with a pretty label – clean and simple.

Three Wishes Vineyards is based in Livermore, California. They produce non-vintage wines (meaning not from a specific year and can be blended with many vintages) in and from California and started appearing for sale at Whole Foods Markets in October of 2010.

I picked up all three of their offerings: Merlot, Cabernet and Chardonnay. Each were $2.50. This is a brand that intends to compete with Trader Joe’s low price entry-level wine called Charles Shaw’s 2 Buck Chuck. So, in the name of science and value priced wine experiences – I had to buy all three to try them and let you know how they fared.

Here are my notes:

Chardonnay: Extremely pale in color, not quite straw. When swirled, the body is light as well, with no tears on the glass. Nose of stone fruit, perhaps guava or papaya..and pineapple with honeysuckle. Traces of citrus like lime or grapefruit. Not giving much away from the nose. Taste is similar though, with definite stone fruits like apricot and very definitely grapefruit. If I did not pour this myself from the bottle, I would think it was a cheap New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or even off-dry (semi-sweet) style Riesling. The mid palate is invisible, it goes from initial fruit and sweetness to an incredible dry, tart, sour, metallic and astringent finish quickly.  This wine is extremely unbalanced as the fruit and the alcohol have not quite come together. I can not recommend this.

Merlot: Again, light in color, especially for this varietal. Nose of cherry and vanilla (um, sounds like they are doing a switch on the varietals here again. This looks and smalls like a light – albeit cheap, pinot noir. Starts with raspberries and a bit of that cherry vanilla cola, and fades fairly quickly into the night. It is easy drinking, no harshness like it’s Chardonnay brethren. Sweet through the mid palette right to the finish – with a bit of fake candy-esque sweetness. Wish it had a bit more personality or backbone, but it’s OK for casual settings or newbies. This won’t make anyone take notice/remember it, or get sick. Note: it improves slightly after some time swirling or decanting. Again, this one, for $2.50, is “OK”.

Cabernet: Lighter than most cabs, with a nose of dark fruit. Plum on the initial taste, with dark berries. Ok, so this one actually tastes a bit more like what the Merlot should be. So strange. This one goes from ok to bad quickly…finishes with a hot,tart and tannic bitterness that I can not get past. This one is a no-go, for any price.

So, which did I pour a glass of after tasting it all? The Merlot. But again, I can’t really call it that, as it really has more of a cheap pinot noir profile. So, for $2.50, I would say – try it. It is better than some of the cheap bottles I have had for more money (i.e Estancia Pinot Noir).

Please don’t misunderstand me – I am not saying this is life changing, good or must try stuff…but if you are in Whole Foods and have been drinking “2 Buck Chuck” – try this at the same price and see what you think. I would also say try the Chardonnay, but don’t expect Chardonnay since it has more of the initial NZ Sauvignon Blanc traits (then that dry sour aftertaste).

Three Wishes Chardonnay Label ©2011, TalesFromtheTrellis

Three Wishes Chardonnay Label ©2011, TalesFromtheTrellis

My Three wishes:

1) I wish these wines were better – but they are under 3 dollars and that’s a tall wish.

2) I wish my palette could not differentiate between great, good, bad and really bad wine. Unfortunately I can, and I think you will notice on this occasion if you have not yet.

3) I wish people who try this will see the difference between this and a decent 7-9 dollar bottle in terms of quality – and go with something made well, but value priced like Chateau St Jean, Columbia Crest Two Vines from Washington State, Cupcake Vineyards, and Yellowtail. Big House wines that come in the Octavin have 3 liters and comes out to about $5 a bottle and a really great buy for the quality!

I also have a 4th wish:

I hope if new wine drinkers try this, it will be an entry point into wine, not a final destination.

In winning the battle between Charles Shaw and Three Wishes –being the best of the worst is still not a huge compliment is it? Their Merlot (that taste like Pinot Noir) is the best of the 3, then the Chardonnay, and last is the Cabernet.

Try and see – is what I recommend, then you be the judge. It’s cheap enough to try this tasting at home for under $8. But as I always say – “Life is too short for (really) bad wine”!

Coming up next post:

I am about to do a tasting for a new brand called Wily Jack. It is about $5 USD and comes in Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. Let’s see if doubling the price doubles the quality of the last one! Oh, and for those in the brand/marketing field – Michael Schwab (I love his work) designed the labels! Nice bold branding. Check back soon!

Cheers,

Steve From the Trellis

©TalesFromtheTrellis, 2011

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Valentine’s Day Sparkling Wine Suggestions Under $11 USD – Spreading the Love!

14 02 2011

 

 

Mionetto Prosecco on the Sill ©2011 TalesFromTheTrellis.com

Mionetto Prosecco on the Sill ©2011 TalesFromTheTrellis.com

Since today is Valentine’s Day, let me quickly suggest a few value-priced sparkling wines under $11 USD –  that bring a lot of quality for very little cost that I tasted blind, with my wife and mother last month (we are all avid sparkling wine fans). Champagne put you into a higher price point so we went with these international sparklers for this tasting.

Domaine Ste. Michelle from Washington and Charles De Fére-Reserve Blanc de Blanc from France, were the top two based on the comments and notes from the rest of the tasters with me. Barefoot Brut Cuvée and Yellowtail Bubbles Rose (YT was good for the price but a touch sweet and creamy-so those with a love for the sweeter style wines will love this). The new label is beautiful and the closure is amazing. It seals the bottle! At the bottom was Woodbridge by Mondavi-Brut – which I can not recommend at any price.

Also check the post about Riondo and Mionetto Proseco, both are excellent sparkling wine choices for today (or any day) as well!

Last year I posted this article about sparklers, have a look.

Have a happy and safe Valentine’s Day everyone, cheers! Peace, health and love today – and always.

Steve@TalesFromTheTrellis