Archive for QPR


Posted in Info on Wine with tags , , , , on June 19, 2010 by ballymote

Back in the day when there were far fewer than the 10,000 wines that currently fight for the 200 spaces on a retailer’s shelf, Chateau St. Michelle and Columbia Crest were two Washington State wineries that you could always count on for good wines at good prices. It seems as if their popularity has dropped a bit in recent years as new QPR (Quality/Price ratio) wines from Argentina, Spain and Australia, as well as countless new California offerings have relegated them to the back-burner.

A couple of Sundays ago while visiting my son and his wife near Pottstown, PA, I made a visit to a local state store in search of a Chairman’s Selection that would go nicely with dinner. I couldn’t find much that enticed me until I came across the 2005 Chateau St. Michelle “Orphelin”, the sign claimed that it was “quoted at $30.00 NOW just $11.99 Save $18.01”. I knew from past experience that Chairman’s Selection marketing tended to over price the “quoted” dollar amount but still, this one seemed interesting. 

Once opened back at the house it went quickly and everyone who had a glass thought it was great, myself included. Some research revealed that it was a blend of leftover grapes consisting of 56% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre, 10% Cinsault, 8% Grenache, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Touriga, 1% Pinot Noir and 1% Vigonier. It’s somewhat reminiscent of a Chateauneuf du Pape with earthy black and red fruits intermingled with the peppery syrah. The bottom line is that it is a great value and a small gem of a wine at $11.99. The real problem is that there is very little of this remaining in the PA State Store system and I would imagine when it is gone, that will be the end of it. I managed to  grab two more bottles the other day. You should try to do the same.


Posted in BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Philly BYOB Reviews, Sycamore Restaurant, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , on April 9, 2010 by ballymote

Sycamore Restaurant in Lansdowne, PA is not that hard to find. I managed to make a minor adventure out of it but a phone call from one of my dining companions guided me to the door. Tonight’s group was the childhood perv, oops, I mean, the guys I grew up with. We last met at Pesto on Broad Street a couple months back. This evening we were meeting at a BYOB within walking distance of our old neighborhood. Joining me were Steve J, Ange C. and Val S. Our fifth derelict, Frank D. was not feeling well and became a last-minute cancellation. Our wine for the evening were a couple of PA State Store Chairman’s Selections. The 2008 Pillar Box Red and the 2006 Clare Luce Abbey, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon. Both of these reds showed lots of dark fruit, some pepper on the Shiraz blend and some smooth mocha on the Cabernet. I had previously had the Clare Luce Abbey at the Spring Mill Inn in Conshohocken back in 09. The Pillar Box has been one of my favorite QPR (quality/price/ratio) wines for many years and the crazy price that it is currently selling for as a Chairman’s Selection makes it a strong candidate for case purchase.

Our server, Elenore, wasn’t quite sure what to make of our group but to her credit she maintained her composure and good humor throughout the night.

Sycamore offers a Cheese Plate, a Charcuterie Plate and a Combo Plate  (3 cheese selections and two meats for $19.00) as an appetizer. The others all passed on appetizers but I ordered the Pancetta, Onion and Goat Cheese Tart, Phyllo Crust and Deep Carmelized Onion for $7.00.        

 It proved to be a nice flavor combination with the crispy tart and tangy cheese and a few dressed greens on the side. Entree selection was a little  more difficult. I was considering the chicken but it was served with scrambled eggs. There was another item that came with a fried egg. I am seeing this more and more and I have to confess I am not a fan of eggs with my dinner. In my mind, eggs are a breakfast item and should be limited to pre-noon meals. That’s just a personal flaw in my culinary make-up. Anyway, I quickly reduced my choices to the Scallops and the Crab Cakes.  Elenore helped me settle on the crab cakes and it turned out to be a good choice. Two perfectly cooked cakes low on filler and high on crab were joined by the Chipotle Like Jimaca Slaw and a delicious Roasted Pepper Remoulade that was a great marriage for the crab cake.  Ange C. also ordered the same dish and he too enjoyed his meal. Val opted for the Poussin, Deboned Young Chicken, Stuffed with Seasonal Greens, Mushrooms and Brie, Scrambled Eggs with Spring Asparagus. As I mentioned earlier, I would have been unable to get past the scrambled eggs but Val found his dish flavorful and nicely prepared. He even paused once in a while in his story-telling to eat a bite or two. I was proud that he was able to feed himself without his wife, Patty being there. The guy is making real progress.

Steve J. took time out from insinuating that my Grand Prize Win in the NCAA Tournament Pool run by my son, Brian was more than just good fortune and coincidence  to place an order for the lamb.  Cumin Dusted Lamb Steak, Artichoke Pistachio Pesto, Merguez and Spinach Fricassee. His medium well dish was just as he had requested and, although I think he still feels the pool was fixed, he at least did not go home hungry.

As with most of these “neighborhood” dinners, stories were told and retold for the 200th time and lots of laughs accompanied the meal. We split two of the desserts , the Banoffee Tart  (Banoffee = Banana and Toffee explained Elenore) and the Warm Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. Both of these were very good but I would give a slight edge to the cake which was extremely good.

Sycamore is a very nice BYOB with some great menu choices, a warm and welcoming atmosphere and very reasonably priced. The meal, with tax and tip was $41.00 per person.


Posted in Anthony's Restaurant, BYOB Restaurant Reviews, Info on Wine, South Jersey BYOB Reviews, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 15, 2009 by ballymote

 IMG_3654Another rainy Saturday night and another very good dining experience. I had made reservations for 6 at Anthony’s in Haddon Heights, NJ at 8:00 P.M. Late that afternoon, Jerry and Sue C. returned from their trip to Ireland, and what with Ireland not being the culinary capital of Europe, they were in the mood for a great meal so they decided to join us. Anthony’s was kind enough to add two more seats and after a short wait in the lobby, where our group paged through the latest copy of Hitzel’s Restaurant Magazine, we were guided to their upstairs dining room where we had an entire room to ourselves. Wines were opened and poured and Jerry showed pictures from his trip on his Ipod Touch while we scanned the menu and caught up on the latest news. Our server brought baskets of warm bread, butter, a dish of oil, and two plates of roasted veggies which we enjoyed while considering our selections. My wine for the evening was a Malbec from Patagonia, an area in the far south of Argentina, where the temperatures are far cooler.IMG_3655 There is an interesting story behind this wine. I had received an e-mail from Moore Brothers in Pennsauken about ten days ago. They were singing the praises of this particular wine Patagonia Malbec Barrel Selection Fabre Montmayou 2007. 

Their write-up on the wine made it tempting enough for me to decide to take a ride up to their store and grab a couple of bottles. Coincidently, the very next day I was at Monster Beverage in Glassboro and their it was, the very same wine for just 50 cents more than the price at Moore Brothers. It even had the familiar “Fleet Street Shipped at 56 degrees” which I thought was sort of a Moore Brothers trademark. Anyway, I was, and continue to be, puzzled as to how this wine which I thought was exclusive to Moore Bros. ended up on the shelves of Monster Beverage.  The wine, however, was worthy of all the praise. At $13.00 this is an excellent QPR delivering tons of flavor. I am making a note to try and get back to Monster for a couple more bottles before it is gone so, if you are reading this, pay no attention and please, stay away from Monster Beverage for the next few days. Thank You.

Meanwhile, back at Anthony’s, in between spoonfuls of a delicious crab bisque, I am outlining plans for a trip next year to Napa Valley. Everyone seems interested and I am looking forward to it like a muslim would to a pilgrimage to Mecca. Now the entrees are arriving and I have taken my friend, Tom T.’s advice and ordered the selection which bears his name, the Crab Tomasso.IMG_3659 It turned out to be an excellent recommendation as the dish was first class. It featured jumbo lump crabmeat sauteed with basil and garlic, fresh tomatoes and tossed capellinni in a blush sauce. The portion was large enough that I thought I might be taking some home but I kept going and before long my dish was clean. I guess I could have taken the purple orchid home but I wasn’t sure what kind of wine went with orchids so I left it on the plate.

Some of the other selections that my dining partners chose were:IMG_3660IMG_3662IMG_3661 from left to right,  Jerry’s veal chop served over risotto which he referred to as a cheesesteak risotto. He offered me a taste and it really was good. Joe B. and my wife, Kathy both had one of the seafood specials of the evening, the baked grouper. I heard no complaints from either one of them. Sue C. had the lamb, pine nut-crusted in a thyme and  port reduction sauce with Yukon mash potatoes. The final entree was Barbara T.’s IMG_3663Wild Mushroom Ravioli. She said the sauce was wonderful and despite the fact that I am an avid mushroom avoider, I sampled hers and have to confess that it was very good. As with the other there was nothing but the flower left on her plate and as we continued the conversation we ordered a couple of desserts to pass around. There was a round chocolate cake that was delicious and others shared a warm apple cinammon concoction with blackberry sorbet. Just before the check was presented, our waiter surprised us withIMG_3664 a home-made concoction he refered to as Chococello, a very unique imitation of the lemoncello that so many local Italian restaurants serve as a perfect ending to the meal. This chococello was a big hit and although we all would have liked to have more, it isn’t available in any stores that we know of as it is simply a drink made and bottled by the owner.

Anthony’s bills itself as “creative Italian cuisine” and our dinner certainly lived up to its billing. I’m certain there will be future visits scheduled for this restaurant. All of us were pleased with the entire dining experience.


Posted in Info on Wine, Wine Ratings with tags , , , , , , , on July 13, 2009 by ballymote

You are strolling the aisles of your favorite South Jersey wine outlet searching for that perfect red wine to accompany that scrumptious steak you are planning for Saturday night. Your eye catches one of those “shelf-talkers”, those obtrusive little “ads” highlighting the wine just above it on the shelf. This one says something like “deep flavors of blueberry and anise, with soft tannins and a super long finish, 92PTS-RP”. What’s it all mean?? Well, basically it means that RP, that would be Robert Parker, arguably the world’s foremost wine critic, likes this wine very much and awards it 92 points on his 100 point wine scale. Here is what his point scale looks like:

An extraordinary wine of profound and complex character displaying all the attributes expected of a classic wine of its variety. Wines of this caliber are worth a special effort to find, purchase, and consume.

90 – 95:
An outstanding wine of exceptional complexity and character. In short, these are terrific wines.

80 – 89:
A barely above average to very good wine displaying various degrees of finesse and flavor as well as character with no noticeable flaws.

70 – 79:
An average wine with little distinction except that it is a soundly made. In essence, a straightforward, innocuous wine.

60 – 69:
A below average wine containing noticeable deficiencies, such as excessive acidity and/or tannin, an absence of flavor, or possibly dirty aromas or flavors.

50 – 59:
A wine deemed to be unacceptable.

Does this mean YOU will like this wine? No, it does not.  It simply means HE likes this wine. In addition to wine scores from Robert Parker, who publishes the Wine Advocate, a wine rating guide available by subscription both on line and thru the mail, you will also find wine ratings offered by, the Wine Spectator, a big glossy semi-monthly magazine on wine. These are the two PRIMARY wine rating sources. Here is what the Wine Spectator’s 100 point guide looks like:

* 95-100 Classic: a great wine
* 90-94 Outstanding: a wine of superior character and style
* 85-89 Very good: a wine with special qualities
* 80-84 Good: a solid, well-made wine
* 75-79 Mediocre: a drinkable wine that may have minor flaws
* 50-74 Not recommended

You will also see scores given by a wide array of secondary wine sources such as, Stephen Tanzer of the International Wine Cellar, the Wine Enthusiast, Wine & Spirits Magazine and The Connoisseur’s Guide to California Wines.

Many times the “shelf talker” will simply abbreviate the name of the rating source so you may see something like this on the card:

  • WA or RP =The Wine Advocate, or Robert Parker
  • WS = Wine Spectator
  • ST = Stephen Tanzer
  • WE = Wine Enthusiast
  • W & S = Wine and Spirits
  • CG = Connoisseur’s Guide

Keep in mind that these scores only reflect what that individual critic felt about the wine.  They do tell you that SOMEONE likes this wine and as a starting point for you, who at the moment is looking for a good wine that you will enjoy, this might be all you need to give that particular wine a try. As you progress and gain experience with your own palate you may find that you have a tendency to like the same wines as Stephen Tanzer or Robert Parker and seek out wines that have received high scores from them. These ratings can be especially helpful when a wine with a high score is accompanied by a low price. This is known as QPR or Quality Price Ratio but that is something for another day.

Finally, a word of caution concerning these wine ratings found on “shelf talkers”. You have to check to be certain the wine mentioned on the “shelf talker” is the exact same wine on the shelf above. Remember, these “cardboard ads” are placed there by the salesmen who sell these wines and often they will use a high rating from one year for a wine made in another year. Wines can vary from year to year and if it is not the same wine that scored the high points you may be disappointed with what you are drinking. So, Buyer Beware, check the vintage (year wine was made) on the label to be sure it matches with the wine being rated on the “shelf talker”. Enjoy!