The “Judgment of Pittsburgh” – one of a kind tasting event!!

So far as I am aware, there has been no other tasting in the world that combined the film “Bottleshock”, an actor guest (Hal B. Klein who played “Shenky” in the film), a history lesson (guest Elizabeth Downer was a member of the Academie du Vin in Paris, and knows Steve Spurrier, played by Alan Rickman in the film) AND a blind wine tasting with wines representing modern versions of the varietals featured in the film.   In addition to this event’s rarity, we are quite stoked because we think that a blind tasting with food and a little history and movie-making experience will make for a really fun time!  It has been sold out for weeks but we are finally here and ready for a great time – here are the wines to be tasted (blind, just like in the actual “Judgment of Paris” tasting):

  • US Chardonnay – the subject of the film: Chateau Montelena 2009
  • French Chardonnay (White Burgundy) – Louis Latour Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru Morgeot Blanc 2006
  • US Cabernet Blend – Josh Cellars Cabernet 2009
  • French Cabernet (Bordeaux Blend) Cordier Chateau Andron 2009
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Cordier Chateau Andron Medoc 2009 Bordeaux

Cordier’s Chateau Andron 2009 has a lot going for it.   It is from the highly respected Medoc region within Bordeaux AND this vintage is considered by many to be one of the best in memory!   Bordeaux wines are some of the most famous in the world, and pricing can be very high – indeed some of the top Bordeaux wines fetch prices that would make most people wince in financial pain, and even then many of the wines must be held for years before proper enjoyment can take place.   However, the Bordeaux region also produces countless wines, priced for the ‘rest of us’ that are approachable from a price and taste standpoint.   Cordier is a well-known Bordeaux trading house with history dating back to the 1800s, and although Cordier carries a number of very highly regarded (and priced) wines, their vineyard connections and wine-making expertise is not lost on their more affordable wines, such as the Chateau Andron.

In the glass Chateau Andron is a deep garnet color and the nose exhibits dark fruit notes with a pleasant, perfume-like character.   Upon tasting, the Andron’s density is immediately apparent, and this blend of 50% Cabernet, 48% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc is more weighty than expected at this price point – not thick in viscosity, but dense in flavor.   I enjoy the blend of earthy, savory notes with the sweet, dark fruit flavors – and the balance of these is clearly successful, with the flavors flowing evenly through the finish with no sharp edges or disappointing harshness (aspects that could be present in a less well made wine or perhaps a lesser vintage).   This wine is good – and especially good at the reasonable $30-ish price point in three local restaurants (list below).

To my knowledge, these are the three local restaurants that carry Chateau Andron Medoc 2009

Legume Bistro

Paris 66


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My Picks for the Pittsburgh Wine Festival – 12 must-try wines!

Here are my top twelve picks for the Pittsburgh Wine Festival (with comments and table numbers so you can find them!)   Enjoy the Festival!!!

1999 Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne

Winery:Nicolas Feuillatte


Notes:Vintage Champagne is always worth trying and 1999 was known to be a great vintage. Table 150


2004 Louis Roederer Cristal Champagne

Winery:Louis Roederer


Notes:Cristal is the holy grail for many Champagne purchasers – worth trying for sure! Table 165


2006 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon

Winery:Ridge Vineyards

Region:Santa Cruz Mountains

Varietal:Cabernet Sauvignon

Notes:Table 24


2007 Masi Agricola Costasera Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico Corvina

Winery:Masi Agricola

Region:Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico


Notes:Many Americans do not know this type of rich, flavorful Northern Italian wine – worth trying. Table 107


2008 Allegrini Palazzo Della Torre Valpolicella Classico Superiore Corvina


Region:Valpolicella Classico Superiore


Notes:Table 83


2008 Hall Wines Cabernet Sauvignon

Winery:Hall Wines

Varietal:Cabernet Sauvignon

Notes:Super Napa Cab from former Ambassador to Austria, Kathryn Hall. Table 47


2008 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Margaret River Chardonnay

Winery:Leeuwin Estate

Region:Margaret River


Notes:Arguably Australia’s benchmark Chardonnay. Table 125


2008 Penfolds Wines Kalimna Bin 28 South Australia Shiraz

Winery:Penfolds Wines

Region:South Australia


Notes:Well-made Shiraz from Australia’s most famous winery – great to compare with the Dead Arm. Table 139


2009 Chateau Montelena Winery Napa Valley Chardonnay

Winery:Chateau Montelena Winery

Region:Napa Valley


Notes:The Chardonnay that won the white competition at the famous “Judgement of Paris.” Table 69


d’Arenberg Wines The Dead Arm Mclaren Vale Shiraz

Winery:d’Arenberg Wines

Region:Mclaren Vale


Notes:Benchmark Australian Shiraz, smooth, deep, and savory from family owned winery. Table 98


Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot

Winery:Duckhorn Vineyards

Region:Napa Valley


Notes:Napa Merlot may be out of fashion, but Duckhorn makes fantastic Merlot that should never be out of fashion. Table 59


Quinta do Noval 20 Year Old Tawny Douro

Winery:Quinta do Noval


Notes:Vintage Ports can be pretty rough when young, but the 20yr Ports are superbly approachable. Table 168

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Casbah and Chateau des Leotins 2009 = Great Restaurant Value

Restaurant wine lists are often intimidating and expensive.  Coupled with a the often snooty Sommelier, the common American restaurant wine experience can easily result in a fast order of beer or mixed drink just to avoid the difficulty and expense of ordering a bottle of wine.

Recently I have been on the hunt for value in wine lists and decided to test my theory at Casbah, a well-known local restaurant with an extensive wine list.  Although there are many high priced bottles on the list, I happened to notice several Bordeaux bottles listed in the mid $30s – the wine director was kind enough (and not snooty with us at all – despite the fact that we were looking at some of the least expensive wines on their list) to bring several bottles up from the cellar for us to look at and make a choice.   We chose a 2009 Chateau des Leotins.   Our rationale was driven by the fact that 2009 was such a good vintage that even inexpensive wines may be good, and since we knew nothing about this wine, or the blend (turns out to be nearly equal parts Cabernet and Merlot with a dash of Cab Franc), we just rolled the dice and went for it.   The Chateau des Leotins is a medium bodied wine with some earthy fruit and nice balance that matches nicely with savory foods.   While inexpensive Bordeaux wines in poor vintages can exhibit a bitterness (sometimes herbaceous), 2009 was such a good year that none of those negative characteristics are present.   As it turns out the wine is a surprisingly good for the price category, and at $36 on the Casbah wine list it qualifies as a great value for a restaurant bottle.

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Affordable Bordeaux in Pennsylvania!!!

Affordable Bordeaux actually exists!   This would seem a surprise during the current era when huge media attention is given to the steep annual price increases – driven, to a great extent, by Asian wealth discovering a taste for the most significant Bordeaux wines.   However, while it is true France’s most famous wine region produces some of the world’s most famous wines; Bordeaux also produces huge quantities of quite drinkable table wines and good quality mid-priced wines.   As a bonus to the consumer, Bordeaux has enjoyed several stunning vintages in the past few years, and the historic 2009 vintage resulted in high quality wines across all price points.

These three wines – all three available in the Pennsylvania State Stores – are great examples of solid quality, affordable Bordeaux wines that are worth a look and a taste.   If ranked against each other, they would sum up in price order from least to most expensive – but all three price points are well represented.

Chateau Camelot La Chapelle AOC Bordeaux 2009 ($7.99 PLCB code: 36348) – Proof that a $7.99 wine need not taste like its price.  Made from a traditional Bordeaux style blend of 50% Merlot and equal parts Cabernet and Cab Franc.   While this wine is not rich, or madly complex, it easily delivers light to medium bodied pleasant fruit against a back drop of earthiness that makes Bordeaux wines so popular.

Chateau Semonlon Haut Medoc Rouge 2009 ($13.99 PLCB code: 18655) – Chateau Semonlon is produced near the uber-famous Bordeaux sub-region of Margaux, which is known for producing delicate and stylish wines.  In this case the wine is a Merlot and Cabernet blend (60%-40%) that sees no oak ageing, resulting in a light to medium bodied effort with some depth in the fruit but even and balanced throughout – a nice wine for the price.

Chateau Haut Surget Lalande de Pomerol 2009 ($21.99 PLCB code: 36349) – A “right-bank” Bordeaux blend is apparent in this wine (70% Merlot, 15% Cabernet 15% Cabernet Franc) as the Merlot-driven blueberry notes are integrated through the medium bodied, well-balanced wine.   Some oak ageing took place and the balance is successful between fruit, oak, tannins etc.   This is a wine that could stand up against more expensive and better known wines, so we are fortunate to have access!

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June Tuesday Tastings – great European Variety!

Braddock’s American Brasserie at the Pittsburgh Renaissance Hotel has agreed to carry these wines just for our tastings each Tuesday of June from 530pm-730pm – check out the great and interesting variety of European Wines!

Tuesday June 7 – These two wines were just featured in the wine spectator as “Best Values” in the Wine Spectator, and one blogger described the red as “Dangerously Drinkable”)   White – Esporao Monte Velho Branco    Red – Esporao Monte Velho

Tuesday June 14 – The 2009 Bordeaux Vintage is a classic vintage and the whites are becoming available – we will complement a fresh young Bordeaux Blanc with a classic Rioja red blend.   White – Chateau Merlet Bordeaux Blanc 2009     Red – Banda Azul Rioja 2006 

Tuesday June 21 – The West Loire Valley produces fresh and fantastic Muscadet whites – we will taste the fresh muscadet along side a Cabernet-based, Left-Bank Bordeaux.   White – Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine 2009   Red – Chateau Andron Medoc Bordeaux 2009  

Tuesday June 28 – A rich and exotic tasting Portuguese white will counter the dark and serious Solitude Cotes du Rhone.   White – Dona Ermelinda Branco 2009   Red – Domaine de la Solitude, Cotes du Rhone 2009

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Fantastic American Wine Dinner at Braddock’s American Brasserie

The 15thOff-the-Grid” Sunday Supper Series ( wine dinner was fantastic.   For our 15th dinner we wanted to try a dinner theme aimed at the good old USA – and our friends at Braddock’s American Brasserie (at Pittsburgh’s Renaissance Hotel) were more than happy to work with us.  

Jim Henning‘s entire Braddock’s management team and staff were engaged, professional and pleasant to work with throughout our planning and dinner.   Chef Brian Volmrich put together a stunning array of courses AND, most important for the wine enthusiasts in our group, he was happy to work closely with us to make sure the food and wine were complementary throughout.   The result was a dinner that we will all remember for a long time to come – I wish I could have another taste of the braised veal cheek and “Split Fathom” Cabernet…..

Here is what was enjoyed (I would not change a thing!)

First Course (Served on the 14th Floor private roof patio) – American Caviar and Lobster on Buckwheat Blinis with Crème Fraiche –  Gruet Brut NV (Albuquerque, New Mexico) – the delicate lobster and American Caviar flavors complemented the lovely effervescence of the Gruet Brut.

Second Course – Pan-Seared Bronzini with Blue Crab and Peppercress Salad and Warmed Fingerling Potatoes – King Estate Pinot Gris 2009 (Willamette Valley, Oregon) – nicely weighted course, with the Bronzini and Crab flavors matching the light and floral notes of the Pinot Gris

Third Course – Chilled Green and White Asparagus with Roasted Tomatoes, Prosciutto, Olive Bread Crostinis and Opal Basil Vinaigrette – no wine with the salad course, but wow was this salad tasty!

Fourth Course – Duet of Braised Veal Cheek and Grilled Petite Filet Mushroom and Herb Risotto with Bordelais Demi-Glace – Gundlach Bundschu Merlot 2006 (Sonoma, California) AND Treasure Hunter “Split Fathom” 2006 (Napa Valley, California) – no subtle flavors here, two richly flavored meats with serious California reds, the Merlot was good and the “Split Fathom” was big, rich and spicy!

Fifth Course (Served on the 14th Floor private roof patio)  – Chocolate Bete Noire with Strawberry Basil Coulis and Crème Anglaise – Gruet Brut Rose NV (Albuquerque, New Mexico) – anything would have been good while enjoying the city lights on the roof patio, but how can you go wrong with a chocolate and strawberry dessert with a Gruet Brut Rose?

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Notes from Quantum Theatre “Maria de Buenos Aires” tasting with Grapenuts

For the fortunate 50 people who got tickets before they sold out – the Grapenuts ( goes to Quantum Theatre ( “Maria de Buenos Aires” tasting was great fun for all.   Even the performers enjoyed some authentic Argentine bites and wines before the show.   The empanadas were sourced from Pittsburgh’s absolute best Argentine Caterer, La Mendocina Caterning ( and the tasty special dessert pastries were generously donated by Flor Anderson’s dessert catering business: A Sweet Box (

Here are notes on the wines we enjoyed:   Corn and cheese empanadas were served with the lovely and luscious 2009 Elsa Torrontes from Valentin Binachi.   This Torrontes, like manyMendoza wines, is from relatively high altitude (2,000 ft and more above sea level) and spent full fermentation in stainless steel.  These elements created a fresh and crisp wine with tropical fruit and citrus notes leading to a clean, slightly spicy finish.

Traditional beef empanadas were paired with the Catena Zapata Cabernet Sauvignon 2007.   The savory, spiced meat of the empanada provided a fine counter to the strength of this dense and tightly tannic Cabernet Sauvignon.   While many Mendoza reds are heavy and fruit-bomb-ish, this Catena Cabernet is restrained and stylish by comparison.  For those who were able to restrain themselves long enough to allow the wine a few minutes of breathing, the reward was a nicely balanced, quality Cabernet that beautifully complemented the empanada.

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Château Haut Beyzac 2009 Bordeaux

If I didn’t know better I’d think this were a dense and muscular right bank Bordeaux – but it is actually a Haut Medoc (Left Bank) wine that uses a more-common-on-the-right-bank blend of 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon.

This wine displays trademark Merlot lushness and mouth feel, with big fruit flavors unadulterated by oak flavors since no oak barrels were used to age the wine.   The fruit is the king in this wine and there is no lack of it, but despite relatively soft tannins, the wine still has some structure to it.   Definitely a big fruity example of what the 2009 Bordeaux vintage may bring us.  Due to the super dry second half of the 2009 vintage, and with many wines yet to be released, the results so are have been fruity wines of relatively low acidity – thus making those wines best to be drunk sooner than later.   Even though this wine will last a few years, it is best enjoyed soon – so grab a bottle of Château Haut Beyzac 2009 (or any affordable 2009Bordeaux) and enjoy the great vintage!

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Chateau Tour de Rodet Graves 2009 Bordeaux

The Bordeaux region of Graves is located south and east of the best known Bordeaux regions.   Graves soils include a great deal of ice-age glacial alluvial gravels, so much so as to prompt the region to named after them.   It is said that the Graves gravel and clay soils influence the robustness of wines made there.   Famous white wines are produced in Graves as well (the Graves Sub-Region of Sauternes, well known for sweet wines like Chateau d’Yquem, which is possibly the best known sweet wine in the world), and only one third of Graves wine is red, so finding a Graves Red is unusual and a treat.  

Chateau Tour de Rodet Graves 2009 (currently $11.99 in PA, said to be quoted elsewhere at $24.99), is a Graves red featuring a blend of 65% Merlot and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon.   The nose is not aromatic, but the red fruit notes are apparent, if light and delicate.   Flavors in this wine tend toward sweet red berry fruits, currant and an underlying hint of blueberry (common to some Merlot-based wines).  The Palate is fleshy despite the wine’s medium to light overall weight.   The aforementioned flavors are bright and fresh, without strong tannins that might give reason to lay this wine down.   Grilled meats and blue-type cheeses would combine well with this wine.   Enjoy it soon, it is a good value at this price.

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