Tasting Exercise: Alcohol Levels

My goal while learning about different wines is to become proficient in all of the aspects of tasting.  There are a plethora of tasting exercises that can be completed to help accomplish this goal.  This week I will be focusing on learning about alcohol levels in wine.


* Pour one low alcohol (9.5% to 11%) white wine with no residual sugar (Mosel Kabinett Trocken, Muscadet) and one high alcohol (14% to 16%) white wine with no residual sugar (certain New World Viogniers or Chardonnays) side by side knowing what they are, then in a blind fashion five times.  There should be a low alcohol and a high alcohol level.  Repeat five days in a row.

* Repeat exercise with a Beaujolais Villages versus a Dry Creek Zinfandel or a Sancerre Rouge versus an Amarone della Valpolicella.


Ruffino Aziano Chianti Classico

Ruffino Aziano

Chianti Classico


(Tuscany, Italy)

On Bottle/Website:

* Ruby red, vibrant & inviting

* Sangiovese based wine from the Chianti Classico region

* Sweet violet, red berries and wild cherries with slightly spicy undertones with hints of rosemary and tobacco

* 13% alcohol

My Notes:

Appearance: clear, bright, ruby/garnet, high concentration, rim variation (ruby on the edges), medium/medium plus viscosity

Nose: clean, medium minus intensity, jammy fruits, raisin, blackberry, raspberries, black cherry, dark fruits

Palate: dry/off-dry (a bit of sweetness in the aftertaste), fruits confirm the nose, tobacco, leather, saddle/cowboy scents (no brett), medium alcohol, medium minus acidity, medium tannins, medium plus finish, medium complexity

I tried this Chianti with a mini-burger and it was too strong for the ground beef.  It would be more suited to a heavy pasta or an Italian dish with spices that can hold up to this wine.  It was also quite fruity without many spices to hold up on its own.

Guilt Free Cocktail: Blueberry Punch

I have a sweet tooth at times, so fruit is the ultimate guilt free indulgence for me.  Succulent, juicy berries bursting with flavor are one of my favorite things about summer.  I like to use the abundance of fresh fruit this time of year to my advantage by making some cocktails.  An added bonus for this recipe:  the antioxidants that make the berries blue may trigger increased fat burning.

Blueberry Punch

1/2 cup blueberries, plus 12 for garnishes

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 cup water

2 cups sparkling water

6 ounces elderflower flavored liqueur

4 lavender sprigs for garnish

* In a small saucepan, bring to a boil the blueberries, sugar and water.

* Cook 1 minute, breaking up berries with a spoon.

* Strain syrup, reserving liquid (you should have about 1/2 cup); let cool 15 minutes.

*  Fill a large pitcher with ice. Add blueberry syrup, sparkling water and elderflower-flavored liqueur (such as St-Germain); stir well.

* Pour into 4 glasses; garnish each with 3 blueberries and a lavender sprig. Serve immediately.


177 calories per drink, 0 g fat, 22 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g protein

Stone Cliff Winery, Dubuque, Iowa

The atmosphere of Stone Cliff Winery, located in the Port of Dubuque, is more reminiscent of a bar than a wine tasting room.  They offer multiple beers on tap as well as bottled beer and their selection of wine.  I initially opted for a pint of local craft beer for my first drink, as I have already tried their wine and have established my opinion.  I decided later to do a tasting for research purposes and record my impressions.

Stone Cliff offers five wine samples for $5 and for an additional $2 you may purchase the tasting glass.  I prefer dry wines, so I sampled the one dry white and one dry red that they offered.  Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes do not grow in the climate we have in Iowa, so I am curious if they use these actual grape varietals or simply call their dry white a Chardonnay and their dry red a Cabernet Sauvignon because they are recognizable to the general population.

One of my friends that I was drinking with warned me that he and his wife had tried the Chardonnay a few weeks earlier and it was not dry, but I certainly wasn’t expecting the semi-sweet nature of this wine even with the heads up. There was a strong alcohol taste in the finish.

The Cabernet was certainly not what I would describe as full-bodied, as it was labeled on the tasting list. The wine had such a low concentration that I could read the tasting menu through while assessing the appearance of the wine.  It had a jammy, dark berry quality.

The Riesling was more on the sweet side with a hint of cooking spice flavors.  I tried to pinpoint it, but I am still not knowledgeable enough about spice scents to be proficient.  No one else at the table was able to nail down the spice flavor, either.

The Moscato was cloyingly sweet for my tastebuds.  There was a hint of cotton candy flavor to it.

The Red Fox was a semi-sweet that was a bright apple red in color.  It tasted of concord grapes and current berries.

The Strawberry Rhubarb was a sweet fruit wine that reminded my of a Jolly Rancher.  Although I don’t like rhubarb, I was told that the flavor of it wasn’t overpowering and it added a nice touch of tartness to the wine.  I surprisingly enjoyed it, although it was too sweet for me to drink much more than a few sips.

They also offer many other fruit wines, including appleberry, sweet cherry, sweet cranberry, spiced apple and a sweet concord wine.  The tasting menu is heavy on the sweet wines, very light on dry or semi-sweet offerings.

The location of Stone Cliff Winery is ideal, as it is situated right along the Mississippi River with an amphitheater area outdoors.  It is a good live music venue and offers nice outdoor seating for patrons.

Varichon et Clerc Dry Rosé

Varichon et Clerc

Dry Rosé



Via wine-searcher.com

On Bottle/Website:

* Unoaked, Medium Bodied, Dry

* Located in the alpine region of Savoie, between Lyon and Geneva

* 12% alcohol

* Suggested to use as an aperitif

* Grape Varieties Used (20% of each):  Altesse, Cinsault, Gamay, Molette, Sciacarellu

My Notes:

Appearance: clear, bright, pink, low concentration

Nose: clean, weak, strawberry

Palate: dry, medium bodied, strawberry, medium alcohol, medium low acidity, medium plus finish, medium complexity

In an effort to challenge myself to write more frequently, I am attempting to participate in more writing opportunities in the blogging community, specifically in relation to wines, beer or spirits.  I recently wrote a post based around the concept of trouble for a writing challenge.

When Talk-a-Vino posted a link to the Wine Blogging Wednesday 80, Dry Rosé, I was intrigued but I wasn’t actually confident that I would have an opportunity to pick up a dry rosé before the deadline.  This week I had lunch with a close friend and we ended up stopping at a wine studio afterward.  Upon perusing the wine menu, I noticed a dry rosé.  It didn’t even click in my mind at the time that it fit the WBW criteria. I chose this particular wine because I am newly intrigued by rosés, mostly because I have not tasted many of them and I am trying to broaden my horizons and build my memory bank of wines.  As I read through Talk-a-Vino’s recent post tonight, I was reminded of the challenge and excited that I had fulfilled the requirement of tasting a dry rosé.  It was my first, but it will not be my last.  I loved it! And I am thankful to have read more than a few suggestions that they are not to be relegated to the summer months.


Rancho Zabaco Dancing Bull Cabernet Sauvignon

Rancho Zabaco Dancing Bull

Cabernet Sauvignon


(Modesto, California)

On Bottle/Website:

* Intense flavors of black currant, dark spices, milk chocolate and vanilla

* Bold notes of dark fruit, cloves, brown sugar and herbs

* Pair it with anything you can throw on a grill

* Ready to be enjoyed right away

My Notes:

Appearance: clear, bright, ruby/garnet, high concentration, rim variation, medium viscosity

Nose:  clean, medium minus intensity, youthful, jammy fruits, plum, raisin, red raspberry, cinnamon, honey

Palate: dry, medium plus to full bodied, blackberry, earthiness, dirt, raisin, medium plus alcohol, medium acidity, medium/medium plus tannin, medium minus finish, medium minus complexity

The nose of this wine smelled like a port to me, with the deep jam flavored dark fruits and hint of sweetness.  The palate was surprisingly dry after the nose (although I clearly expected that because it was a cabernet sauvignon). Although it notes that it will pair well with anything you throw on the grill, I did not think it was a solid pairing with the mini-burger I had as an appetizer.

Wine & Food Pairing Tip: Aged & Red Wine

I am a firm believer that everybody should eat and drink what tastes good to them.  That simple.  Every person has a different palate.  Every person finds different tastes pleasurable.  Find what makes your tastebuds sing and go with it! That being said, there are many wine and food pairing tips that work beautifully for the majority of the population.


When the wine is aged and red:

* Serve rare preparations of meats to fill in the flavor gaps left by the drying out of the youthful fruit that occurs as the wine develops in the bottle.

* Remember that because tannins soften over time, an aged red gives you a broader range of food options than a tannic young wine.

* Remember that wines become more delicate as they age; choose simpler preparations to show them off rather than make them compete with complex recipes.

Tasting Exercise: Complexity Levels

My goal while learning about different wines is to become proficient in all of the aspects of tasting.  There are a plethora of tasting exercises that can be completed to help accomplish this goal.  This week I will be focusing on learning about complexity levels in wine.

* Pour a Petit Chablis versus a Chablis versus a Chablis Premier Cru versus a Chablis Grand Cru from the same producer and taste knowing what they are.  Coment overall numer of notes you take about each wine (fruits, earth, wood, other) and combine with length of finish (short, medium, long) and overall pleasure factor.  There should be a range from simple all the way to highly complex.

* Then taste in a blind fashion five times and try to guess which level of Chablis you are tasting.  Repeat five days in a row.

* Repeat exercise with Bourgogne Rouge all the way to Grand Cru within one village (Vosne-Romanee, Chambolle-Musigny, etc.) and one producer.

* Repeat exercise with one variety within one region from one producer with various “reserve” levels of their winery.

Galena Cellars Winery, Galena, Illinois

If a vast selection of wine is a top priority for during your tasting experience, Galena Cellars downtown Galena location will not disappoint.  The memory can be a fickle thing, as I recall visiting this particular winery years ago and I don’t seem to remember a list quite this expansive.  I must admit that I was overwhelmed and impressed when whittling down my options during the tasting.  Galena Cellars offers five dry white wines, six dry red wines, five semi-dry wines, three roses, sixteen semi-sweet and fruit wines, and nine dessert and specialty wines.  A total of forty-four wines and descriptions await you for your final decision of six choices.

The wine tasting includes six samples for five dollars, which is very reasonably priced in my opinion.  They also offered an additional free sample of my choice of a white or red sangria.  Although I typically tend to gravitate toward dry wines, with such a selection I didn’t know where to begin so I dabbled in a little bit of everything.  I may have to study the wine list more intently and make a second trip to taste more options!

I started with a dry white wine, their 2011 Illinois Chardonel/Britt White.  According to their tasting menu, “This grape, grown in Southern Illinois, produces a big, round, heavier buttery Chardonnay style wine that is aged in French/American oak for six months.  This wine can be compared to the “big” Chardonnays.”  I found this wine to be more off-dry with peach and green apple notes and a hint of spice.  I did not get the butter aspect, which I was looking forward to tasting.  I love a smooth, buttery white wine!

Next I tasted their Vintage Red/Vineyard Red (St. Croix) because I am familiar with the St. Croix grape and typically enjoy wines produced from this hearty variety.  The tasting menu described this wine with the following description: “Spicy clove highlights this jammy, full bodied estate grown red French Hybrid grape, St. Croix.  One of our signature varietals grown at Galena Cellars Vineyard and featured on our Vineyard Tour.  Showcases the influence of 3 year old air-dried American Oak barrels.”  I certainly tasted the jammy dark fruits in this medium concentrated wine.

I have not tasted many roses, and thus am not very proficient in describing them or assessing their quality, so I thought that I should try one of their offerings to broaden my memory bank of different types of wines.  I chose their Frontenac Gris.  It was described as “a brilliant balance of fruit and acidity highlighting hints of enticing citrus and tropical fruit.  Limited release.  This new wine was made from locally grown grapes from just outside the Galena Territory.”  I found prevalent flavors of strawberry and honeydew in this wine.

I always enjoy and appreciate the suggestions of people working the tasting bar, so when the lady working mentioned their new Wedding Cake Wine and its popularity, I was intrigued.  This particular wine was described as a semi-sweet carbonated white wine infused with natural almond flavor.  They suggested it served as an aperitif or to compliment that special occasion.  I found it more on the sweet side, but surprisingly enjoyed it a great deal.  It definitely had a festive and celebratory feel.

The gentleman working behind the bar suggested the May Wine, which was a traditional German style semi-sweet wine made from Niagara and Riesling grapes and flavored with the herb Woodruff, which is refuted to be an aphrodisiac.  He thought I might appreciate the interesting flavor from the Woodruff, which I did.  It was hard to describe, but it added another dimension of complexity to the wine.  White flowers also dominated this wine.

My last choice was the Frontenac Port.  I always love a good port-style wine and can rarely pass it up on a tasting (as my dessert sample… kind of like how I like pancakes at the end of a gluttonous meal as breakfast dessert!) Their flagship port is made from locally grown Midwestern French hybrid grapes and has a lovely cherry and chocolate overtones.

I then chose to try the red version of their free sangria sample.  The Senior Sangria was described as a summertime favorite.  It is a light red wine infused with natural fruit flavors and works well over ice or spritzed with white soda and added fruit. The flavor of oranges was most prevalent to me. The gentleman working there mentioned how he and his wife will often pack this sangria with a couple of sandwiches and go to the local outdoor theater, which sounded like a perfectly lovely summer evening to me!

Backpocket Brewing Slingshot

Backpocket Brewing is a local brewery based in Coralville, Iowa.  The first time I tasted their brews was at a local brewfest and I enjoyed their offerings immensely.  While visiting a local winery, I tried Slingshot, as they had it on tap and I was not very impressed with the actual wine offerings.  As the Backpocket Brewing website states, “Don’t let the Slingshot’s color fool you, it has a light body, and smooth, subtle complexities that will remind you to never judge a book by its cover.”

Basic Info (via bottle/website)

* German dark lager

* A dark beer you can drink all night

*  Malts: Pilsner, Carmel Light, Carmel Dark, Munich, Chocolate

* Hops: Hallertau Mittelfruh, Perle

* 5.3% alcohol

My Notes:

This brew was very drinkable.  Its amber appearance showcased the caramel and pilsner notes.