Red Blends

Crushpad Fusebox Makes Blending Fun

by Tim Elliott on February 8, 2009

I’m writing this post drinking a glass of Chateau Cheval Blanc. Last night I had Chateau Lafite Rothschild and Dominus Estate. No, I haven’t won the lottery or joined Bob Parker’s tasting staff, I have been experimenting with the Crushpad Fusebox.

Of course my wines aren’t the real thing but blends based upon these famous wines. I’m not sure if any one of these actually tastes that close to the real thing but that doesn’t really matter since the wines are very good examples of what can be made from Bordeaux varieties in California. Of the three wines I’ve blended so far, I’ve only had Dominus for real and the home blended version is pretty close to the mark, if a bit less concentrated.

Crushpad sent me this Fusebox back in 2007, no doubt hoping I would blog about it before now. It never really occurred to me to open the 7 half bottles in the pack by myself as the Fusebox is a natural center point of a wine party. Their idea is to gather friends together and have a blending party using 5 of the 6 Bordeaux varieties to create your own custom wine.

They have provided everything you need to do this properly with a graduated cylinder and 4 pipettes to create your blends. Easy to follow instructions, blend recipe cards and tasting aids are also included. In all, Fusebox is a complete wine blending course in a fun package that just might induce you to try your hand at winemaking.

I’m having so much fun I wish they sold a recharge kit with just the 6 half bottles you really need to create your blends. But their “mystery bottle” is a stroke of genius as it encourages you to blend up the entire kit in order to compare and figure out which blend they have put in that bottle.

The Fusebox is available at their website for $120. For what you get, that seems to be a fair price and it would make a great gift for any wine geek. Excuse me while I mix up some Niebaum-Coppola Rubicon…

Disclosure: Crushpad send me this Fusebox as a sample.

WBW 50: Which wine, which wilderness?

by Tim Elliott on October 8, 2008

Wine Blogging Wednesday rolls around again with a theme from Russ, the Wine Hiker, of “Which wine, which wilderness.” Sounds pretty straightforward… which wine would you bring on a hike near where you live. The only problem is, I don’t hike.

It’s not that I don’t like hiking, I do, but rarely get on the trail these days here in Minnesota. I like walking and it is my exercise of choice but it’s usually done in my suburban neighborhood or around one of the many lakes in the Twin Cities. Rarely have I ventured up north to where the real action is here in the land of 10,000 lakes.

But this theme not only got me to think about where I might hike but also which wine I might take on the journey. Since I’m one to pack lightly, I chose a wine I could enjoy without a corkscrew. That left every wine made here in Minnesota behind but there were several choices left on the shelf. I also assumed I would bring simple water glasses or metal cups and not the usual Riedel stems on my hike so the choice should be something hearty. This got me thinking of the wines of Italy which are often consumed in humble glassware. Alas, I was not able to find a wine in screwcap or other non-corkscrew closure from Italy but my friends in California did not disappoint.

Since part of the task was to match this wine with a hike, I consulted Google to select one of the top 10 hikes in the country right in my backyard, the Superior Hiking Trail. This trail covers over 200 miles from Two Harbors, MN — near Duluth — to the Canadian border. The north shore of Lake Superior is some of the most beautiful country you are likely to see and this time of year it’s awesome due to our long Indian summer and fall colors. At some point, I will make this hike and might just bring along the wine I picked up for the journey, Hey Mambo.

This is one of those “marketing wines” from Don Sebastiani and Sons which I’ve been meaning to try anyway. Great label, interesting premise and the Zork closure all for $12.99. I was also intrigued by the blend of Barbera, Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Carignane and Alicante Bouschet which I thought would be a good choice for my water glass/cup scenario. So I was looking forward to what might be in the glass tonight.

Tasting Notes:

The Other Guys, “Hey Mambo”, Sultry Red 2006 ($13) – Dark purple in color with aromas of blackberry, cranberry, fennel and sage. Bright and juicy in the mouth with blackberry, red cherry, bell pepper and vanilla finishing with moderate tannins. An interesting and satisfying blend in an nice package.

13.5% ABV
Zork closure
Rating: ★★★½☆

Buy this wine online

Thanks to Russ for a great theme this time… It will be good to see him again at the upcoming Wine Blogger Conference later this month. Look for the next theme to be announced soon.

WBW 48: Roots Wines

by Tim Elliott on August 13, 2008

Tonight is the 4th anniversary of Wine Blogging Wednesday, our monthly virtual tasting. And for the 48th edition, founder Lenn Thompson has asked we go back to our wine roots and taste wines we drank when we first got into wine.

Like many wine lovers, my journey started with California jug wines. Since I came of age in California during the early 1980′s, many of these jugs accompanied meals through my last couple years of college. Brands such as Almaden,  Italian Swiss Colony, Paul Mason and Inglenook were regulars but the first jug to become a “house wine” were from Gallo.

The first wine book I picked up, for a whopping $1.95, was the Signet Book of Inexpensive Wine by Susan Lee. My original copy was thrown away many years ago but I picked up another copy at a used book store earlier this year as part of my research for my book, And browsing the “United States” section of this book tonight, I see Gallo’s Hearty Burgundy in the “Best Buy” category (3 stars). This was my go-to red and the first wine I picked up for our roots tasting tonight.

Today Hearty Burgundy is part of Gallo’s “Twin Valley” brand while it’s white cousin Chablis Blanc is now in the ultra-budget “Livingston Cellars” brand. Since the latter was only available in 1.5L and 3L bottles, I passed on trying this wine tonight but did get a bottle of Hearty Burgundy; my first in over 20 years.

Gallo Family Vineyards
, “Twin Valley”, Hearty Burgundy NV ($5) – Deep garnet in color with aromas of red raspberry, geranium and fennel. Bright red fruit flavors with cherry pie filling in the mid-palate finishing with moderate tannins. Clean and state of the art for industrial wine blends but seems unnatural (what Gary would term as “fakey-fake”).

13% ABV
Synthetic cork closure
Score: 77
Rating: ★★½☆☆

Since my former house white of Chablis Blanc was only available in industrial quantities, I decided to pick up my first house Zinfandel. Back in 1981, this was from Sebastiani which I bought on sale for $2.50 a bottle.  Since Sebastiani has since rebooted their brand as a limited production, premium product, I settled for my second place Zin from the 1980′s: Sutter Home.

Yes, from the house that was built from white Zinfandel but back in the early 1980′s, they made some pretty interesting red Zins. My favorite being their reserves tasted on my frequent visits to Napa Valley during my college years. But their regular release was also pretty good from memory so I thought it would be interesting to revisit this wine.

Sutter Home, Zinfandel, California 2005 ($5) – Medium ruby in color with aromas of black cherry, strawberry and sage. Fresh red cherry and strawberry fruit flavors, some black pepper, finishing with supple tannins. A very light style of Zinfandel but a decent red for pizza and pasta dishes.

13.5% ABV
Composite cork closure
Score: 81
Rating: ★★★☆☆

An interesting tasting that shows how my tastes have evolved since the days of the first Reagan administration. But it’s also good to see both wines being clean, fresh and drinkable… although I would not drink these wines daily as I used to.

Thanks to Lenn for his leadership over these last 4 years and I’m hoping to blog WBW 96 with him and other friends in 2012.

Pillar Box Red 2005

by Tim Elliott on December 4, 2007

Henry's Drive, Pillar Box RedI first heard about this wine on the 3 Wine Guys podcast (thx, T-bone) so I picked up a bottle when I saw it at a wine store this summer. And I’m glad I did as it really shows off what blending young vines can do for a wine.

This is a blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot from noted winemaker Chris Ringland. I’ll have to check out his other efforts given what magic he casts on this modest wine.

Henry’s Drive, “Pillar Box Red” 2005 ($10) – Deepest purple-black in color. This one needs to unwind a bit before it shows it’s best but once fully open it features nice black and red fruit aromas with fennel and a bit of chaparral. Full and rich black cherry and strawberry fruit gives way to a bit of licorice, vanilla and spice on the finish. A delicious fruit bomb for everyday drinking.

15% ABV
Stelvin closure
Score: 90
Rating: ★★★★☆

Buy this wine online

WBW 31: Casa La Joya, Cabernet-Carmenere NV

by Tim Elliott on March 14, 2007

I have to confess that this was the most challenging Wine Blogging Wednesday theme for me. When Roger from Box Wines announced his choice of Box Wines & Non-Traditional Packaging I thought this might be pretty easy. My plan was to go up to Solo Vino in St. Paul and ask for their best box wine. I know they have a few well chosen box wines not available at other area retailers. In the past six weeks, however, I have not had a need to go into St. Paul and it seemed a bit obsessive to make the 50 mile round trip just for a box of wine. So I ended up at one of those soulless wine warehouse stores out here in the ‘burbs over lunchtime today and selected the wine I will now present.

My selection criteria here is pretty much the same as normal for more traditionally packaged wines. I look for recommendations and then pick something I find the most interesting from the store’s selection. Roger has quite a few suggestions at his blog and I found some other recommendations at the San Francisco Chronicle. A scan of the box wine aisle at the store I went to turned up dozens of choices, but the most popular were the generics from Franzia and Almaden (mango sangria, anyone?). Of the more “high end” choices I debated between a Hardy’s Riesling or Shiraz-Grenache but held off since they were a full 3 liters and I didn’t need that much cooking wine should it be not my style. That is the root of the challenge here for me and I suspect for a lot of people; we don’t want to take a chance on buying this much wine we might not like. Perhaps that’s the genius of Roger’s theme here… we’ll certainly get a lot of interesting wines to try or avoid this month ;-)

Next in my wine browsing I looked at the Bandit Tetra Paks. I’ve had some of these at tastings and they were not too bad but the thought of a light and fruity Cab or Merlot didn’t seem too interesting to me. Then I looked down at the bottom of the shelf and found the last box of La Joya, Cabernet-Carmenere from the Colchagua Valley of Chile. For $18.99/3L I thought this was a decent value in everyday red wine and it seemed to be selling through well; another potentially good sign.

WBW 31: Casa La Joya, Cabernet-Carmenere NVCasa La Joya, Cabernet-Carmenere, Colchagua Valley, Chile NV ($19/3L) – A non-vintage blend of 50% Cabernet and 50% Carmenere. Purple-black in color with aromas of dark fruit, black pepper and mint. Full bodied on the palate with flavors of blackberry, bell pepper and gunmetal finishing with moderate tannins. A nice everyday red wine and reasonable value for less than $5 a standard bottle.

13.5% ABV
Bag in box with plastic spigot
Score: 82

Thanks to Roger for an interesting and informative theme this month and I will be interested to read what other wine bloggers came up with this time out. See you next month where I hope the theme will be somewhat less challenging ;-)

Chateau Bellevue Peycharneau 2002

by Tim Elliott on March 3, 2007

Ch. Bellevue PeycharneauI have to admit that Bordeaux is a blind spot for me. It’s not that I dislike the wines made there, it’s that I just don’t drink many of them for a reason I can’t quite explain. Since my cellar is still a mess, there are bottles in boxes all over my basement and I am finding quite a few orphaned bottles. This wine is one of those either bought on sale some time ago and put in my “don’t drink now” rack or someone gave it to me a couple years ago and it got misplaced. Whatever the reason, I’m pleased to have found it and popped the cork as this might be the first in a series of tasting notes from this region.

Chateau Bellevue Peycharneau is located on the eastern border of Bordeaux and their vineyard is 15 hectares in size. This vineyard is planted to 65% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc and the blend most years is consistent with these proportions. Chateau Bellevue Peycharneau is classified as a Bordeaux Superieur which is near the lowest rung of the AOC system. So it was with fairly low expectations that I selected and opened this lone bottle.

Chateau Bellevue Peycharneau, Bordeaux Superieur 2002 ($16) – Garnet in color with aromas of black currant, forest floor and pencil lead. Black currant, cherry and white pepper flavors finish with moderate tannins. An elegant wine with nice balance that I think will age for another 4-6 years.

13% ABV
Natural cork closure
Score: 88