Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pumpkin Beer Round-Up

Happy Halloween! No tricks here -- just a little treat for the beer drinkers. A few weeks ago, Brian and I picked up a six-pack sampler of pumpkin beers. We didn't intend to review the beers, but wanted to know which brew to buy more of so we took some tasting notes. Here is the result of the three head-to-head battles with a special bonus beer at the end! (Ideally, we would have tried them all at the same time, but that would have meant drinking six beers in one sitting. No one wanted to called in "sick" the next day.)

Round #1: Uinta Brewing Company Punk'n vs. Blue Point Brewing Company Pumpkin Ale
(consumed with braised beef and roasted vegetables)

Uinta Brewing Company Punk'n
Salt Lake City, UT
4% ABV, 10 IBU

Appearance: A cloudy, light copper.
Aroma: Lighter, more delicate aroma of cooking spices and bread.
Flavor: More like a brown ale, subtle. Better flavor and more spices than Blue Point.
Bonus: Brewed with renewable power, USDA organic and 2010 Silver Medal in World Beer Championships.
Rating: 4/5

Long Island (Patchogue), NY
6% ABV, 26 IBU

Appearance: Clear copper.
Aroma: Pumpkin, stronger nose of the two.
Flavor: Malty, nice yeasty flavor. No bitterness on finish. Pleasant bitter notes on mid-palate.
Bonus: Sustainable practices at the brewing facility and product packaging.
Rating: 3/5

Winner: Uinta Brewing Company Punk'n

Round #2: Stegmaier Pumpkin Ale vs. Dogfish Head Punkin Ale
(consumed with cheeses: Prima Donna and Brie)

Stegmaier Pumpkin Ale
Wilkes Barre, PA
5.5% ABV, unknown IBU

Appearance: A little cloudy, darker amber color.
Aroma: Gingerbread, cinnamon and sugar. From Brian, "You know it's a pumpkin beer from the nose!" (Not all of the pumpkin beers sampled smelled like their namesake.)
Taste: Gingerbread! Yummy. The ginger flavor really lingers. A sweeter brew that is fun, bright and a true seasonal. Lovely spices. Finish reminds me of sweet tea. Coarser mouthfeel; not as creamy as Dogfish Head. I couldn't drink more than two because of the distinct taste; good to sample. Recommend for the folks who like sweeter pumpkin ales.
Bonus: Second largest brewery in PA.
Rating: 4/5

Milton, DE
7% ABV, 28 IBU

Appearance: Clear copper color.
Aroma: Toasty with hints of brown sugar and cinnamon.
Taste: Just as toasty as the nose with a strong "toasted popcorn" flavor. Great mouthfeel, a good sipping beer that is not heavy. Complex but subtle flavors. This fall beer could easily stretch into winter drinking, if only it didn't sell out so quickly. Deserves to be classified beyond "seasonal" because it is not overtly pumpkin. Toasty nose and flavor are what set it apart from the other sampled beers. (The "toasted popcorn" flavor became very distracting. Brian was blissfully unaware until I pointed it out and that was all he could taste too. I wonder if our batch received higher than usual toast.)
Bonus: Delaware's first brewpub; also distills vodka, rum and gin. Supports local non-profits.
Rating: 3.5/5

Winner: Stegmaier Pumpkin Ale

Round #3: Schlafly Pumpkin Ale vs. River Horse Hipp O Lantern Imperial Pumpkin
(consumed with pizza)

St. Louis, MO
8% ABV, 16 IBU

Appearance: Clear copper, a little dark than the River Horse.
Aroma: Sweeter nose of pumpkin, very aromatic!
Flavor: Tastes like pumpkin pie! Sweet with cinnamon flavor to start, followed by clove then nutmeg. Very complex flavors. Ideal if you like your pumpkin brews on the sweeter side without going too far.
Bonus: Sustainable practices, food for restaurant is either local or grown on premises.
Rating: 3.75/5

Lambertville, NJ
8.5% ABV, unknown IBU

Appearance: Clear copper.
Aroma: Distinct pumpkin.
Flavor: Enjoyable hoppiness (I'm not an IPA drinker), caramel finish, and toast that doesn't overpower (unlike Punkin). Brian really liked this one and couldn't imagine what he'd change to make it better. He said he would order more than one at a bar and, the true testament, would not tire of it if we got a six-pack.
Bonus: Unfiltered, vegan-friendly beers (with some exceptions like the Oatmeal Stout).
Rating: 4.5/5

Winner: River Horse Hipp O Lantern Imperial Pumpkin

Bonus Round: Iron Hill Great Imperial Pumpkin Ale
(consumed with veggies and dip, Cheddar and Brie cheeses)

Iron Hill Great Imperial Pumpkin Ale
9% ABV, unknown IBU

Appearance: Beautiful deep golden amber color, good foamy head.
Aroma: Gingerbread and nutmeg.
Taste: Malty sweetness with a solid body; good toast, long finish with pleasant bitterness. Cooking spice aftertaste. Not sweet. Great average of all the "best" pumpkin beers above.
Bonus: The Great Imperial Pumpkin is a bottled reserve for dine-in or take-out. Iron Hill was the site of our wedding's rehearsal dinner!
Rating: 5/5

Overall winner: Iron Hill Great Imperial Pumpkin Ale (subject to further taste testing)

We are by no means beer afficionados. Tell me, what pumpkin beers should we have tried? What are your favorite fall beers??

Saturday, September 10, 2011

I need this!

While out to dinner last night at Orillas Tapas Bar with the new husband, I spotted a wine poster I'd never seen before. Throughout dinner, I kept craning my neck to get another look at it. I was smitten. Wine, data and a beautiful graphical display - I'm sold!

source: De Long's Wine Grape Varietal Table

Now I just have to find an empty wall with enough space to display it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Chilean Syrah & Red Blends

This is the second part (long overdue) of our guinea pig tasting with a concentration on syrahs and red blends.


Falernia 2006 Syrah Reserva
Elqui Valley, Chile - $11.50
Dusty red fruit, blackberry, hints of barnyard. More rustic aromas and rougher all around initially. Light body. Green, herby aroma somewhere between green pepper and eucalyptus (hay, pot?) faded in/out quickly. Light tannins for just enough structure. Dominated by earthy and green notes.
Note: Elqui Valley is a cooler climate than Colchagua.

Montes Alpha 2007 Syrah
Colchagua Valley, Chile - $20
Sour cherry & leather aromas. Richer, deeper nose than Falernia with darker berry fruit. Smooth, grippy with tip of tongue spices. Dark chocolate joins sour cherry and dark berry flavors. Long finish. Syrupy, condensed aroma. Similar to Cousino-Macul (see below). As a whole, less fruit forward than California syrahs (a relief). Best on its own.

Nose: Montes
Flavor: Falernia (after drinking the heavier wines, Montes edged out the Falernia)
Finish: Montes
Wild card: Falernia
Favorite: Falernia


Seña 2005
Aconcagua Valley, Chile - $28.50
Blend of Cab Sauv (57%), Merlot (25%), Carmenere (9%), Cab Franc (6%) and Petit Verdot (3%).
Greener, more fruit forward than Montes. Bold with spicy, condensed port-like flavor. Long finish with lighter body. Bolder nose than flavors. Didn't care for the finish as the wine opened up, became bitter. This is a wine for drinking on its own or with food. You're able to continue drinking it after you finish a meal. Brainchild between Chadwick (Viña Errázuriz) and Robert Mondavi, hence the fruit forward approach. Produced by Viña Sena, imported by F. Wildman.

Cousiño-Macul 2007 Finis Terrae
Maipo Valley, Chile - $26
Blend of Cab Sauv (60%) and Malbec (40%)
Unfiltered. Softer nose with lots more everything. Complex! Spicy (cooking spices) with smoother mid-palate. More elegant than the Sena. CS focuses on the US export market. The Finis Terrae label, while tasty, is still not the top label available at CS.

Nose: Cousiño-Macul
Flavor: Cousiño-Macul
Finish: Cousiño-Macul
Wild card: doesn't matter
Favorite: Cousiño-Macul

Friday, October 29, 2010

Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon

All 100% Cabernet Sauvignon with about 14% alcohol, $15-22 range

(We are guinea pigs and have no qualms about it. We've been helping Brian's dad and step-mom taste, review and select the final wines that will be presented at an upcoming wine group event. It's hard work but we're up for the challenge.)

1. Santa Rita 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva estate grown D.O. Maipo Valley, Chile
First sip revealed juicy red fruit, green pepper (barely there) and a flatness/bitterness that resembled lead pencil. Light body, light tannins. Aroma was nothing outstanding, just expected red fruits. Not steak-ready, better with lighter meats. Priced at $10, this was wasn’t expected to stand up to the wines to follow. For the price, it makes a nice house red but don’t bring it to a BYOB.

2. Cousino-Macul Antiguas Reservas 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo Valley, Chile
Better nose than #1. Great mouth feel. Stronger flavors, more body and tannins. Flavors of brambly red fruit and mocha with pleasant tongue-coating tannins. Lovely on its own, softens with food. Not a tannic monster. Lightly perfumed. Tartness develops as it opens: cranberry flavor, but mostly aroma. This wine was priced at the low end of the range and does well for a $15 bottle. Rated 90 points by Wine Advocate (Parker).

3. Lapostolle 2008 Cuvee Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon Apalta Vineyard, Colchagua Valley, Chile
Softer aromas and flavors, cedar, red fruits (not brambly), light spice and finely integrated tannins. Really like the tannins in this wine! Better than #2. Subtle and elegant! Balanced, smooth and still powerful. Personality-wise , it is a blend of #2 and #4 (see below). Pleasant to sip on its own. The most expensive bottle of the group at $22 but really delivers. This is the second highest “level” for Casa Lapostolle; top tier wines in this approach $60-70. Normally rated 91-92 by Wine Spectator & Enthusiast, this vintage was in the high 80’s (2008 was not a “great” year).

4. Marques de Casa Concha 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon D.O. Puente Alto, Chile
Amazing nose, very strong. Similar to Lapostolle initially but bolder, more tannins, and a little more heat (less balanced, alcohol). Medium tannins. More like a CA Cab (out of the 4) but still not as tannic. Better suited for steak and heavier meats. Lots of personality. A portion of their Puente vineyard is sourced for the higher tier Don Melchor; Casa Concha is the third highest tier in the Concha y Tora line-up. Price varies by a few dollars if you shop around: $17 at Costco, $20 other retailers. Rated 90 points by Wine Advocate (Parker) and 91 points by Wine Spectator.

The results:
-No one liked the Santa Rita against the others but fine on its own. Not fair to compare.
- Cousino-Macul isn’t bad but wasn’t anyone’s favorite; in third position.
- The ladies preferred Lapostolle. The guys liked it as an alternative to the bolder Marques.
- For lamb/steak dinners, go with the Marques de Casa Concha. It’s heavier in body and style.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Pour me some of that "Steve" wine...

Our buddy Steve loves a good Zin. So much so that I've started calling (red) Zinfandel "Steve" - partly in honor, partly in jest. While I was at Moore Bros. Saturday, I made sure to pick up a bottle. We opened it last night. Yes, Steve was in attendance. It was a hit because the contents disappeared pretty quickly.

Three 2007 Old Vines Zinfandel - California, $18

What I sampled I liked: great berry aromas, full body, decently long finish, fruit-forward flavors, spice (but nothing nearly as spicy as Wilson's Tori) and easy drinking. A buy again. Produced by Cline (Matt Cline). Shhhh.

We also opened a great wine from last October's Finger Lakes trip: Ravines 2008 Sauvignon Blanc. Perfect with guacamole!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Terrain at Styer's birthday dinner

Brian and I dined at Terrain last night for my real birthday dinner. Uncorked a wine from our 2008 California trip: Arista 2006 Longbow Pinot Noir. We were so relieved it was better than we remembered and had yet to peak. After our first sip, we just sat there with eyes closed savoring it and the memory of the trip.

Our second bottle should be beautiful in about six months.

Birthday dinner

Sampled at Dom. Hudson on 9/27/10 at a true "wine with friends" dinner.

Praxis Pinot Noir Monterrey, CA 08
Great nose. Lots of rich berry. Smoky nose. Slow start but stronger mid-palate pulls through to long finish. Bittersweet chocolate flavors barely there. Reserved fruit. Strong aroma was my favorite part of this wine, best of the three here. 7 of 10

Le Cadeau "Red Label" Pinot Noir willamette valley, OR '07
More delicate nose. Restrained. Odd bitter mid-palate but not unpleasant. Fades slowly. Better with food. 5 of 10, 6 of 10 with food

Daniel Rion Bourgogne, Burgundy, FR '08
Vegetal, sweet nose. More vegetal and definitely more tannic than the le cadeau. Sour cherry flavor. Light body. Probably too light for food; nuances disappear.

1st: Polenta with shirred egg and truffle oil
2nd: Wild mushroom risotto
Dessert: Poached peaches (plus fourth drink - a lovely tawny port)