Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Delas Saint-Esprit Cotes Du Rhone 2007

Recently my beau and I were shopping at San Diego Wine Company and picked up a bottle of delas Saint-Esprit Cotes Du Rhone 2007. This southern Rhone wine is made up of about 75% Syrah and 25% Grenache. I have to say, this wine is tasty and for a price of less than $10 it is one of the best buys I have had this year. This wine is loaded with black fruit, red berries and spice, a touch of oak, sweet tannins, creamy texture, and beautiful acidity culminating with a mouthwatering medium-length finish that makes your taste buds beg for a second taste. While not harsh at all it is powerful and I am curious what one more year will bring, but if you find this gem do not hesitate to "pop and pour".

Friday, December 19, 2008

One More Down

Passed my "Wines of the Southern Hemisphere" test. It was quite a pain, the toughest so far for me. Worse than the test on Italian wines!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Rhone Tasting at San Diego Wine Company

I was looking for my notes and realized I had not written about the last tasting I attended at San Diego Wine Company. On Thursday, 11-Dec-2008 I met up with my friends Elbert and Cory for a selection of Rhone wines to be tasted (well mostly Rhone... there were a couple of exceptions). While primarily known for its reds the Rhone Valley is home to both reds and whites. The Rhone Valley is roughly divided into a Northern Rhone and a Southern Rhone region with more of the whites coming from the Northern Rhone and made from Viognier, Marsanne, and Rousanne (the last two typically blended together). For interesting Viogniers check out the Condrieu and Chateau Grillet appellations. As for reds (which was the object of this tasting) the star of Northern Rhone red is Syrah (check out the appellations Cote-Rotie, Hermitage, and Crozes-Hermitage). For the Southern Rhone the reds are blends, typically Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre (with others). Here the powerhouse appellation is Chateauneuf du Pape which is allowed up to 13 different varietals to be blended.

For this tasting the following wines were tasted (along with a few notes of mine):

  • Les Deux Rives 2006 "Corbieres Rouge" - not a Rhone wine but from the Languedoc-Roussillon region. Made with traditional Rhone grapes (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre with a dash of Carignan). While this wine has a spectacular pedigree it just didn't do anything for me.

  • Domaine Grand Nicholet 2006 "Rasteau Villes Vignes" - Yum! Double the price of the Duex Rives yet still under $18 this was a wonderful wine. Inky-black in color and juicy, big fruit, this wine seemed like a cross between a French Grenache and an Aussie Shiraz. This came home with me.

  • Domaine del la Charbonniere 2006 "Vacqueyras" - again didn't do anything for me. Next.

  • Chateau Fortia 2006 "Chateauneuf du Pape" - Now we're talking again. Beautiful dark red wine, hints of violets, raspberry and spice on the nose, wonderful fruit and tannins. Beautiful wine for under $30.

  • Bosquet des Papes 2006 "Chateauneuf du Pape" - Nice. Hints of cherry and pepper with a medium-bodied delivery on the tongue. I prefer the Fortia though, especially at the better price.

  • Pierre Usseglio & Fils 2006 "Chateauneuf du Pape" - I was really looking forward to this, but after a beautiful nose it was like a flash in the pan. In my handwritten notes I have "All talk, no action".

  • Domaine de la Charbonniere 2006 "Chateauneuf du Pape" - Wonderful wine, like biting into ripe fruit. A broad mouthfeel, soft tannines and low acidity makes this a fantastic experience, though we're getting out of my usual price range.

  • Cuvee de Vatican 2006 "Chateauneuf du Pape" Reserve Sixteen - Beautiful nose, promise of dark berries and vanilla, oak, and a touch of lavender. Soft, silky tannins and a lovely long finish. Stellar.

  • Le Vieux Donjon 2006 "Chateauneuf du Pape" - We're really hitting some consistency with the wines at this level. Cedar, current, black plum with an undertone of earthiness that I loved. Juicy.

  • Domaine du Pegau 2005 "Chateauneuf du Pape" - concentrated, almost rustic at times. Interesting on the tongue, almost as if there was a dry center wrapped in a sweet, juicy layer of fruit. Wonderful experience, but at $75/bottle I have to say I enjoyed others at least as much for quite a bit less. Maybe it just needs a little time for me to pry open my wallet at this level.
  • Monday, December 8, 2008

    Quick Trip To Temecula

    Since I chose the "Pick Up" option for my shipments from Leonesse Cellars I now have an excuse for going up at least quarterly. Saturday was one of those time and it was supposed to be a "double date", Cory, Elbert, my beau and me, but my sweetie has worked for about 28 hours straight and needed to sleep so the three of us took off to the wilds of San Diego's wine country. I've written several times about Temecula and how it seems to be improving with each trip in its offerings so I won't do a lot of redundant tasting notes on this posting, just the highlights.

    Since we arrived before Leonesse was open we decided to go to a place I had not been, Keyways Winery just down the road from Leonesse. The grounds were quite pretty and the tasting room was very nice though we all detected one thing missing... their beautiful bar doesn't have a foot rest. Throughout the tasting we were all trying to rest one foot or another while standing there. One interesting wine they offered was a 2005 Frolich, made from 100% Lemberger grapes, a little known Austrian varietal. Nice hint of cloves and cherries. My favorite (which followed me home) was their 2005 Cabernet Franc which greets the noise with notes of berries, spice, and vanilla and delivers nice fruit and soft tannins ending with a medium finish.

    Once Leonesse was open we hit the tasting area in the barrel room. I love Leonesse and nothing disappointed (though they were out of their lovely Cab Franc/Merlot blend). After the normal tasting we were treated to a couple of barrel pulls including their soon to be released new blend of Cab Franc/Merlot, a little more balanced in the grapes and quite lovely, but the real "Wow!" was their not yet released 2006 Syrah which was, simply, awesome! Watch for it in the spring of 2009.

    Lunch time took us to Ponte Family Estate and the Smokehouse Restaurant where we had a nice lunch served by the cute and capable Keith. Instead of a separate tasting, for about the same price we each got a flight of wines to go with our lunch. The wines were alright, but for some reason they didn't make me want to buy a bottle... nice, but nothing to write home about (or blog about) this time. I'll be back, they do some decent Italian wines but my palate just didn't jump for joy.

    We tried to go to Alex's Red Barn Winery but they were closed until January! Disappointed we went to the much larger Falkner Winery but again nothing spoke to any of us. The most interesting was something they called "Hot Lips" which is their 2006 Luscious Lips (a semi-sweet red wine) mulled with a special blend of spices. Quite good, very "Christmasy".

    It was starting to get a little late so we decided one more stop. Cory is a fan of Baily's Winery so we stopped there. I have to admit, I had been there once before and just wasn't that impressed but thought what they heck... and I am glad we did. Something seemed to have caused them to step up in this taster's opinion, so much so that I joined their win club. Their 2003 Meritage was quite nice but the star of the show for me was their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. Outstanding! Excellent dark fruits, hints of vanilla, well balanced acid and tannins that all combine to a nice, lengthy finish. A wonderful find for the end of the trip.

    So again, Temecula surprised me... it's slow going, but the potential is starting to become reality for the local boys and girls in the wine game.

    Sunday, December 7, 2008

    Wine And Cheese

    Ah, the "holiday season", a time we could rename "wine season" since this seems to be the time of year most people they they should have a gathering and serve wine which can be a bit stressful for those who tend to serve wine at only this time. Last time I wrote about pairing wine and chocolate. This time let's look at the more likely pairing for people, wine and cheese.

    When I as growing up in the back woods of Missouri cheese meant one of two things... American cheese or Pepper Jack. That was it. Cheese was something you put on ham or bologna sandwich or on a hamburger. Eating just cheese was pretty much unheard of. My first experience of any other type of cheese was in my freshman year of college when the professor running the lab I was working in brought some smoked Gouda (been a fan ever since).

    Cheese, like wine, has a complexity that become more appreciated the more you sample it. Different companies have variations on a theme when they make their cheese, so cheddar from one producer does not mean all cheddar tastes like that one, so once you find a style you enjoy take a note of it. As with the posting on chocolate I'll have to speak in generalities but hopefully you can glean the basic ideas of the pairing I suggest and find what works best for you.

    OK, two big broad statements: An Alsatian Gewurztraminer is probably the most "cheese friendly" wine, and hard cheeses are most reliable for pairing with wine (notice I said more reliable, not best).

    OK, let's break it down a little more. With over 100 different types of cheeses available to you I will put them into four categories: soft, semi-soft, firm, and hard. When it comes to pairing wine with cheese there are three main things to take into consideration about the cheese:

    1. Texture. Soft cheeses tend to coat the mouth more than harder cheeses so you'll want to gravitate toward whites with a higher acidity to cut through that coating.

    2. Sweetness/Tartness. Remember the issue with chocolate... sweet chocolate will make a wine that is less sweet seem tart. Generally speaking, off-dry or sweet wines will have a broader compatibility with cheeses than will a dry wine.

    3. Flavors. There isn't a "cheese taste" so you have to take into account whether the cheese is ripe, pungent, etc. In general you want to pair a strong cheese with a strong wine (red or white).

    When you think about it, these considerations are no different than the considerations for any wine/food pairing, so now lets look at some specifics:

    1. Soft Cheeses. Here we're talking about cheeses like Brie and Ricotta who keep their softness by retaining moisture. They often have a more delicate flavor, calling for more delicate wines. For a Brie try a sparking wine or Champagne (or for a little more adventure a nice Pinot Noir which will have the acidity you are looking for). With Ricotta try a Lambrusco or a Sauvignon Blanc. Feta is also a soft cheese but unlike Brie and Ricotta it has a more pungent taste so try an Ouzo or a Beaujolais.

    2. Semi-soft. I have to admit I'm a sucker for semi-soft cheeses. Here we get into some of the moldy cheeses like Blue Cheese and Gorgonzola as well as Mozzarella and Gouda. Here you really start to see variations in cheese production so we're going to be really broad with the recommendations. Both Blue Cheese and Gorgonzola would pair well with a sweeter dessert wine, try a Sauternes or a Port with either. If you want a regional match with the Gorgonzola try pairing it with a good Barolo. For Mozzarella give a good Sauvignon Blanc a try while for Gouda a good dry Rose, Gewurztraminer or a Pinot Noir makes a nice pairing (if you want to try something a little different look for a Valpolicella).

    3. Firm Cheeses. These cheeses retain little of their moisture in the process and are wrapped and stored from anywhere between two and 18 months, intensifying the flavors. Into this category we get Swiss, Gruyere, Jarlsberg, and Cheddar. Nice safe bets for the first three include Gewurstraminer and Riesling. Jarlsberg's nutty, creamy flavor also goes well with a Chardonnay while Cheddar sneaks over into the reds and can pair nicely with a fruity Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Zinfandel (or if you have a milder cheddar try an oaky Chardonnay).

    4. Hard Cheeses. Here we're talking about Parmesan and Romano. These cheeses are salted in brine, and left to mature for 2 to 7 years which accounts for their tangy, salty taste. These robust cheeses require robust wines so look towards Merlots, Cabs, and for a regional pairing go for a nice Chianti.

    Well there you have it, my basic pairings. Hopefully you get the idea and can extrapolate for whatever kind of cheese you want to go with your wine. As always, the best way to find out what fits your palate is to experiment.

    Tuesday, December 2, 2008

    Wine And Chocolate

    During a layover on my flight back to San Diego my friend Erwin sent me a text asking what wines pair up with chocolate. I shot him back some traditional responses from the hip but on the last leg of my trip I thought it would make a good post to talk about this interesting pairing.

    First off, I will have to address the issue in a somewhat general manner since there are both variations in a given type of wine and variations in the way chocolate is made (not only the basic dark/milk/white chocolate but various blends, nut or fruit additives, etc), that is, to be a bit technical, there are a multitude of taste profiles for both wine and chocolate which means no single wine will be a universal match. One good thing is that the same basic rules of food apply to chocolate, that is, you pair the wine to the body and sweetness of the chocolate. Dark and bittersweet chocolates go best with stronger red wines like Cabernets, Syrahs, and even Zinfandels, milk chocolates and some whites pair better with very light reds or sweeter white wines (the problem with pairing wine with sweet chocolate is that the wine should be at least as sweet as the chocolate or it will come off as tart).

    That's it, the basic guidelines to follow. However, we can add a couple of excellent pairings that many people don't think about. If you want a sweet wine to pair with a rich chocolate you might try a Muscat. It has the balance and structure to pair with a richer chocolate. One of my favorite pairings with a good, rich chocolate is a Porto or Port (I tend towards a tawny but a ruby can go well too). Another fortified wine that is a little harder to fine but makes a wonderful experience with chocolate is Banyuls, a red wine made from Grenache and comes to us from Southwest France.

    If you are looking for "Mike's List" of pairings it would appear something like this:

    Bittersweet Chocolate: Banyuls, Cabernet Sauvignon (or a Bordeaux), Grenache, Port, Shiraz. If you want to be more adventurous try a Malbec or another fortified like Cognac.

    Semisweet Chocolate: Beaujolais, Merlot (Argentina has been putting out some fantastic Merlot that goes well with semisweet and even milk chocolate), perhaps a spicy Zin to bring out some of the nuances of Chocolate. If you like fruit with your chocolate try an orange Muscat. Port works here as well.

    Milk Chocolate: Muscat, a good Tawny Port

    White Chocolate: A sec or demi-sec Champagne (especially if you are dipping strawberries in the chocolate), Muscat, and if you can find it Mas Amiel (a sweet wine from SW France... the Vintage Blanc makes an excellent companion to white chocolate).

    Of course this is a start... we haven't addressed what if the chocolate has coconut or nuts in it (a Brachetto D'Acqui is a fantastic pairing here), cinnamon or chilies (a spicy Zin to accompany it, coax it out more perhaps), caramel (hmmm... maybe a Sauternes which is both rich and sweet)... I can go on but I think you get the point. Just think about what it is you're eating and trust your own tastes. As you eat more chocolate and drink more wine you'll build the list of tastes that will lead you to your ideal pairing... and who can argue with eating more chocolate and drinking more wine?

    Monday, December 1, 2008

    Kenneth Volk Pinot Blanc 2005

    While digging around in my cooler I came across a lone bottle of Kenneth Volk Pinot Blanc 2005. It has been a while since I tasted this wine and since it was the only bottle (not nearly enough to share) I decided to open it. For those of you not familiar with the name, Kenneth Volk founded Wild Horse Winery and Vineyards in Paso Robles in 1981. In 2003, he sold Wild Horse founded Kenneth Volk Vineyards at the eastern end of the Santa Maria valley. A bit adventurous in his wine making (I reviewed his Negrette earlier), he is one of the few wine makers who does a Pinot Blanc. What's a Pinot Blanc? The Pinot Blanc is a white grape, a genetic mutation of the Pinot Gris grape. An interesting grape, they look like a Chardonnay grape (and even lead some people to call them "Pinot Chardonnay"). In Europe you find the Pinot Blanc grape in France (in the Maconnais and Alsace regions), Italy, Germany, and Austria. Outside of Europe there are some plantings in Uraguay, Argentina, and some in California. Pinot Blanco is a somewhat neutral grape with good acidity.

    Kenneth Volk's efforts show a good oaked representation of a Pinot Blanc wine. The wine is yellow with a tinge of green, clear and pretty to look at in the glass. The nose delivered a light apple/pear combination that made me wish for a bit of cinnamon and vanilla for a wintery treat. I almost got my wish... except for the cinnamon that is, for I got a little creamy, toasted vanilla pear/apple cobbler (mmmm... perfect for Christmas time) with nice acidity (though I wished for just a touch more bite to it), finishing up with a touch of minerality (flinty pear/apple cobbler) that trails off for a nice length.

    For a typical summer wine, this delivered a lot of winter-time thoughts and feelings for me.

    Monday, November 24, 2008

    Alamos Malbec 2007

    As I am studying the wines of South American my study companion tonight is Alamos Malbec 2007 from the Mendoza region of Argentina. Truth be told I wasn't sure what to expect for $10 but being the adventurous types (and always on the lookout for a bargain) I picked up a bottle. A native of the Cahors region in France Malbec has come to prominence in Argentina (which for those of you who didn't know it is the world's fifth largest producer of wine). The wine is dark and inky as you would expect. The nose is interesting... ripe black fruits (especially plum) with a hint of spice, leather, and I would swear a little "tar". Once in the mouth you get a light/medium bodied wine with wonderful raspberry and currant flavor, very sweet tannins and nice acidity that makes the mouth water. The finish is quite nice, medium/long in length, not weak at all.

    Well made wine plus excellent price = a fantastic introduction to the wines of Argentina.

    Thursday, November 20, 2008

    Food Friendly Wines For The Holidays At Mellow

    Tuesday night was a special Thanksgiving tasting at Mellow. I've written about going to Mellow before and I enjoy the place. I went with my friend Elbert to taste what looked like a good line up of wines (if you saw my basic wines for Thanksgiving list it matched up pretty well). Unfortunately, though the company was enjoyable overall the wines were unimpressive:

    Veuve du Vernay Sparkling Brut. It's interesting hearing people talk about this champagne but alas, it's technically a sparkling wine. Although it is from France, it is not from the Champagne district. A very pretty sparkling wine, beautiful bubbles, a little yeasty on the nose but it had no taste at all to either of us.

    Willm Gewurztraminer 2007. Another offering from France, this one was more to my liking. Touches of apricot, honey, and spice. Although it is a dry wine we both detected a touch of sweetness. Not a lot of acidity, seemed a little thin but not bad, would make a good simple introduction to Gewurztraminer but not a showcase example of what you can do with the grape.

    Morton Estate Pinot Noir 2004. We move from France to New Zealand here, Hawkes Bay to be more precise. This Pinot was rather dark in color and reminded me of a chocolate-flavored brandy. It seemed a bit "hot" in the mouth and it just didn't do much for me. I'd like to try this again, but it really didn't excite me like I thought it would.

    Ventana Pinot Noir 2006. This one suited me more. This U. S. offering from the Arroyo Secco AV around Monterey was lighter in color, more the traditional cherry color, delivering milk-chocolate and cherries with a touch of earthiness I like in my reds.

    La Tunella Verduzzo 2006. We finish up with a Friulano (Italy), amber in color, honey and apricots, sweet but not too sweet. Not a bad wine but the nose dissipated very quickly. I think it would go well with pate de foie gras.

    If I had to make any recommendations out of this list I would suggest first the Ventana Pinot Noir and then the Willm Gewurztraminer and the La Tunella would be an adequate dessert wine.

    Sunday, November 16, 2008

    Gainey 2006 Limited Selection Chardonnay

    Last night in trying to figure out what to serve with my soup to the dinner crowd I selected Gainey 2006 Limited Selection Chardonnay. It was a hit with this non-white-wine-inclined group. This is not some wimpy little wine. In their 2006 Limited Selection Chardonnay Gainey pilled out the stops. This wine is bold, wearing its oak barrel fermentation proudly. In aroma and taste we got creamy goodness, somewhat like apple pie with ice cream and a touch of butterscotch. Big, round, smooth, comforting are the words that come to mind. I didn't get quite as much acid as I would have liked but all-in-all a very fine wine for seafood (nice complement for a creamy bisque or chowder) or poultry.

    Monday, November 10, 2008

    Wine, Food and Thanksgiving

    I miss summer... not only the warm weather but the general simplicity of the food that lends itself to most types of wines. In the fall and winter we have two of the biggest headaches for people when it comes to wine selection, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. People have been trained "red meat, red wine" and "fish, white wine", but what the heck is turkey? The problem is not so much their learning a red wine/white wine rule but the lack of understanding what it means. First, it isn't a rule and as you gain more exposure to more wines (especially wines with food) you find out that the world is far more open than that simple rule.

    What's wrong with the rule? Simply put, it doesn't do enough with the information about the food. The actual food product is but one part of the pairing equation, you need to think about how it is prepared. Baking, roasting, BBQ, boiling all change the basic flavor of the food (Raw tuna and grilled tuna have different flavors and different textures). How the food is dressed needs to be taken into account as well. What spices are present in the preparation? Is the food "hot" or mild? Are there heavy sauces present? The list goes on and on...

    Afraid now? Don't be. You can cut through a lot of this with some simple augmentation of the basic "red wine red meat" rule. Rather than that rule, learn these simple guidelines:

  • Pair lighter-bodied foods with lighter-bodied wines. You don't want the wine to overpower the food and you want to be able to taste the wine "through" the food.

  • Think of counterbalance (say, spicy food and a sweeter wine) or compare (say a sweet wine with a dessert).

  • Acidity is one of the best keys for wine pairing. Acidic wines go well with acidic foods, fatty foods (one of my favorite pairings), and even salty. This is why you see Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir very common recommendations. In fact, when in doubt these are three very good "go to" recommendations for almost any meal.

  • As you grow in wine you can augment and change these rules to make your own. Let's see how we can use them for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Here we have tart (cranberries), fatty (mashed potatoes and gravy), slightly sweet (yams with or without marshmellows), roasted fowl (turkey). What to pick? How can one wine go with all these flavors? Two very traditional picks are the Riesling (leaning toward a dryer domestic or a German Kabinett) and a Pinot Noir. You won't go wrong with these and here you have a white and a red offering. Here acidity is king and the lighter bodied, higher acid, and in the case of Pinot Noir lighter tannins make these two the wine equivalents of "universal donor". Want something a little more off the beaten path? Consider the following:

  • Beaujolais. Even the best "cru" are not very expensive and can add a little flair to the meal. Beaujolais tend to be lighter bodied and relatively high acidity (note the theme here) with good, straightforward fruit.

  • Merlot. The chameleon of wines, a good "cooler region" Merlot like those of Washington state are light/medium bodied, good acidity, fruit forward (almost Pinot-like in its characteristics). Ignore the rantings of Miles from Sideways and pick up a good Washington Merlot.

  • Gewurztraminer. I love a good Gewurztraminer. These wines tend to be somewhat "perfumey" and have a hint of spice that goes well with most roasted poultry dishes. I love these wines because they often have a little "kick" to them and they provide another white wine to add to your list.

  • Those are the basics. You'll find some people will like more spice, more pepper and offer a Syrah while other keep the elegance flowing with a good brut sparkling wine (the exploration of sparkling wines is a joy... you will find out they go with a wide range of foods). In the end the key rule the the rule you should always follow when buying wines, that is, buy what you like and don't let anyone make snide comments about your selection. After all, you're the host and they should be gracious guests at your table.

    Wednesday, November 5, 2008

    Norton Malbec 2007

    Since I am getting up to speed on Chilean and Argentinean wines I thought it a good time to pop open a bottle of Malbec. I decided on Norton Malbec 2007. Not bad. Deep inky-red in color, almost like melted dark cherry candy in the glass. The nose is blueberry with some earthy hints and just a touch of peppery spice that delivered on the tongue. The body is a little lighter than I expected, medium-light at best but with a good balance of acid and tannins it delivered a great value for the price (less than $10 for the bottle). A nice, approachable introduction to the Malbec of Argentina.

    Thursday, October 30, 2008

    2005 Fess Parker Melange Blanc

    It's been hot lately so I'm switching from my beloved reds to whites today. It was a tough decision but I pulled a bottle of Fess Parker Melange Blanc 2005 from my cooler. As I have stated before I find ol' Dan'l... er, Fess, a place that improves with virtually every bottle I open. This wine is a white Rhone blend of Rousanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc. This cool wine is a pretty bright straw color that looks good in crystal. The aroma and flavors remind me of a melon-based fruit salad garnished with honeysuckle and wild flowers (ok, when I was kid I did taste honeysuckle but I didn't eat wild flowers... bear with me on the mental imagery folks). The wine brings along with the fruit a touch of flinty "minerality" in the mouth (and no, I never licked flint either) and a little sweetness in finish. My one complaint is that it could use a touch more acid in its structure to lend it some crispness that would make it an even better compliment on a hot "Indian summer" day.

    Monday, October 27, 2008

    Torremoron Tempranillo 2006 (And A Little Education To Boot)

    It's been stressful lately so tonight after laundry and grocery shopping, since I was not with my beau, I decided to open a bottle from the collection. Since I just passed my certification exam on the wines from Spain and Portugal I thought something from Spain.

    If you like red wine and you don't know much about the wines of Spain there are three names you should remember: Tempranillo (a grape), Rioja (a wine region), and Ribera del Duero (another wine region). Tempranillo is the red wine grape of Spain and tends to be low both in overall acidity and sugar, but relatively high in tannin, making wines that are moderate in alcohol and are quite long-lived. Wines made from the Tempranillo grape tend to have aromas and flavors of berries, "earthiness", very aromatic with good acid balance.

    OK, now I have in mind a red wine from Spain meaning one made from Tempranillo, but what region. Rioja is the better known (it holds the highest Spanish viticultural designation) while Ribera del Duero is the up-and-coming challenger. I tend to like to back the "new kid" so I bypass the couple of Rioja wines and select the 2006 Torremoron Tempranillo.

    After decanting and letting it breath a bit I pour my glass. The wine is a beautiful, bright violet/garnet color. The nose is a little red currant, cherry and mint with a good touch of old-world earthiness that I enjoy in my wines. The wine is medium bodied, good tannins and acidity delivering juicy raspberries and producing an "Ahhhh" of pleasure.

    This is a pleasure and for its price (about $13 at Bevmo) a good introduction to Spanish wines.

    Friday, October 24, 2008

    Two Traditional Wines

    News has been a bit depressing both in terms of media as well as familial. Last night before the cut-off time of fasting before my yearly physical I went to The Vine. Nice crowd, not so loud I couldn't think. While contemplating the universe and my place in it I decided it would be a "red night" and selected the following:

    2004 White Oak Merlot, 25th Anniversary. At 89% Merlot and 11% Cabernet Sauvignon this was a delightful wine from Napa. Ruby red, rich in color as well as aroma and taste that hinted of cherries, chocolate and just a hint of blackberry. Beautifully balanced fruit, alcohol and tannins hitting all areas of the tongue and mouth like a good wine should. The soft tannins gave a long finish that was quite enjoyable.

    2005 Seven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine made my "good choices" a two-for-two. This is what a Cab should be... medium bodied, deep color, balanced alcohol and tannins and delivering black currants, berries, a little peppery spice and a hint of vanilla all blending together to make me go "yum".

    After a couple of glasses and some fun wine-related conversation with Brian I went home, a little lighter in the heart.

    Wednesday, October 22, 2008

    Another One Bites The Dust

    Just passed my fourth wine certification exam on the wines of Spain and Portugal! Only four more to go.

    Sunday, October 12, 2008

    The Judgment of Ocean Beach...

    OK, perhaps that was a bit pretentious but the results were quite interesting and probably unexpected except by "true believers". What am I talking about? Saturday I invited my beau and a few of friends over for a semi-blind tasting of Cabernet Franc wines. What I didn't tell them was that one of those wines was from my home state of Missouri. So along with a couple of hearty cheeses, a baguette, and a little grilled beef off we went. In the line up (and in the order tasted) we had the following:

    2005 Ironstone Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Franc
    2007 Westphalia Vineyards Cabernet Franc
    2005 Corsentino "Franc"
    2005 Hahn Cabernet Franc

    Everyone was given a write up about Cabernet Franc wines which included a tasting profile and a couple of reviews of wines (different from the ones in the line up) as examples. The instructions given were simple:

    We’ll taste Cabernet Franc from four different wineries and roughly same vintage in a semi-blind tasting (since we know the varietal it can’t be a blind tasting). Unlike a tasting in a professional setting we will not be judging the wines on how close they come to a baseline Cabernet Franc wine but more on simple “drinkability”. Try to pick out some of the commonly-occurring aromas and tastes but focus more on things like balance (do the tannins overpower any fruit? too much alcohol? too little acid?) and just an overall impression (this I like, that not so much). After you have tasted all four wine use the accompanying index card to rank the wines from the one you like most to the one you like least. Include a brief comment on why you picked the “best” wine and why you assigned the “worst” wine the positions you did. Don’t confer with anyone else, I am just looking for your individual assignments of the wines.

    And the winner was...

    The way the wines were scored was very coarse... a wine picked at first by someone got 4 points, second got 3 points, third got 2 points and fourth got 1 point. No wine was rated first by everyone tasting though Westphalia did get a first ranking by half of the tasters and Hahn was not ranked first by any taster. No one wine was ranked last by all tasters. All of the wines were kept at 58 degrees Fahrenheit and decanted before tasting. After the cards were filled out and the final scores tallied the results were as follows:

    First Place: Westphalia
    Second Place: Consentino "Franc"
    Third Place: Ironstone Reserve
    Fourth Place: Hahn

    One interesting note was we all said that the Ironstone was a bit different than the other three, more "quiet" than the others. Westphalia was described as "rich", "juicy", "big fruit", "a little too rich" for one taster. Most people felt that the Hahn held out a promise but in the end failed to deliver when compared to the others.

    So... congratulations to Westphalia

    Wednesday, October 8, 2008

    Dinner At Kous Kous

    Well, last night I just didn't want to sit home so after feeding Romeo I went out by myself to have a light dinner at Kous Kous Moroccan Bistro in Hillcrest. As I got there at 6pm I was immediately offered any place I wanted to sit so rather than a table I chose a big, comfy chair in the lounge. Not wanted a lot to eat I ordered from the tapas menu, choosing the chicken brochette, a grilled chicken skewer with ginger, garlic and fresh herb
    marinade, and the traditional B’stila (smaller than I remember from last time... this time looking more like a cannoli rather than a "pie"). To accompany the meal I choose 2006 Wild Horse Viognier. The food was excellent (though I have to say a couple of pieces of pita had a little bit of a charred taste) and I relaxed sipping the lovely wine.

    2006 Wild Horse Viognier is a nice little wine. Clean and greenish-yellow in tint it delivered notes of honeysuckle and apricot with a touch of nectarine. Good acidity, not thin at all (some rest in a neutral oak perhaps?) with a flinty, mineral finish that I found very agreeable with both the meal and a bit of a palate cleanser.

    Sunday, October 5, 2008

    Saturday Night At Wine Steals

    Last night before the rain (and my subsequent congestion) I met my friends Cory and Elbert at Wine Steals in Hillcrest. Truth be told, it's not my favorite place for tasting wines yet almost paradoxically it was the place I chose to meet them. Between the two I have visited I prefer the one in Point Loma, seems less noisy, less congested, fewer "wine posers" and has a much better outdoor dining area. But it was where we met. Before they got there I had sampled the following wines:

    2006 Cortijo Rioja. Since I am studying Spanish wines for my certification I wanted to take advantage of their offering it as a special for the night and had the cute server pour a glass. I was a little taken aback by the rather large number of cork particles floating around but since cork can't hurt you I let it pass. After taking it back to the table I took my first sip and was a bit let down. The second sip was no better. While it had some of the expected aromas and flavors (strawberry, spice, hint of tobacco) it was sour, far more than should be expected. The mouthfeel was all off and there was an odd character to the taste. As I looked at I noticed a couple of little white clumps on the inside of the glass... not cork, almost like soap particles. I would have thought I was seeing things but I noticed the guy next to meet was looking at his white wine and rubbing the inside of his glass with a finger trying to remove something. At this point I took the wine back and politely requested something else. I won't review the wine, it wouldn't be fair and I didn't order the same thing for fear of the first bad experience tainting the second glass and that's not fair to the wine.

    2004 Tenuta di Arceno Prima Voce. In a fresh glass this little wine didn't disappoint. A Super Tuscan blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Sangiovese (heavy use of the first two), it showed abundant amounts of chocolate, cherries, raspberries, and a hint of earthiness with good acidity and tanin balance with a medium-long finish. The bottle was freshly opened and I could tell that this wine would serve well from being allowed to breath or at least decanted before serving (note to self on this fact) given how it unfolded in the glass over time. I think this wine fits quite well with the "Italian wines are made to go with food" concept I've heard so much about.

    Just a note... do you find wine bars often serve their wines too warm? All of the wines on the tasting menu were on a shelf and being served at room temperature. Since we are not in northern Europe, room temperature is not in the 60-ish degree range that I find optimal for red wines.

    Tuesday, September 30, 2008

    Gainey In The Movies

    My beau took me to the movies to see Ghost Town. During a dinner scene I noticed the bottle of wine had a label I recognized but couldn't quite make out. When they put it down, label towards the camera, I was so happy to see it was Gainey!. Nice to see that Hollywood is learning there are wines outside of Napa and Sonoma.

    Wednesday, September 24, 2008

    Curtis 2005 Syrah Vogelzang Vineyard

    I love the Curtis Winery in the Santa Ynez Valley. Nestled in the hills around Los Olivos and in the shadow of their once "cousin" winery Firestone Curtis truly is a gem if you love Rhone varietals. After having dinner with my beau I wanted something yummy and full so I decided on their 2005 Syrah Vogelzang Vineyard and within minutes of opening the bottle I knew I made the right choice. If you check the Curtis site you'll find that this vintage garnered several medals and scored an "88" from Wine Spectator making this a well-accepted wine (though I don't quite get the same nose and fruit that those at Spectator found). The wine is rich and deep in color with an aroma of red fruits and spice with a hint of vanilla (18 months in French Oak according to the fact sheet). Once in the mouth I get the expected cherry and strawberry blend and slight hint of clove with well-balanced acidity and soft tannins whose combination makes my mouth water. A good way to spend my time studying for my next MBA test on emerging technology (an even better way to continue with my AW certification studies).

    If you come across anything from Curtis (but particularly a Syrah) buy it!

    Monday, September 22, 2008

    2006 Paolo Scavino Dolcetto d'Alba

    OK, back from my wonderful Hawaii trip (thanks honey, you're wonderful) and after a week of variations on the Mai Tai it's time to get back to wine (by the way, if you are in Honolulu check out the Mai Tai at Hula's... great drink and a fun place). Tonight I opened a bottle of 2006 Paolo Scavino Dolcetto d'Alba. This is a yummy little wine from the Piedmont region of Italy. Normally when people who don't give much thought to Italian wines hear Piedmont they think of Barolo (the regional king) or perhaps Barbaresco (both made from the same grape, Nebbiolo), but Piedmont is home also to Barbera and Dolcetto (both popular reds) as well as Asti and Gavi (popular whites). Of the reds the Dolcetto tends to be the lighter of the lot, very approachable with good juicy fruit, light tannins and solid alcohol delivering dark cherry fruits, almonds and a hint of chocolate. This relatively inexpensive Dolcetto does not fail to deliver in what one would expect. Dark in color, medium-light bodied, mouth watering acidity, I wish I had a good sausage pizza right about now. Definitely worth the $17 per bottle standard price.

    Sunday, September 21, 2008

    OK, I'm Back...

    Sorry, it's been 10 days since I posted here. How time flies! My beau took me out of town for a week and I was out of touch except for my cell phone. I'm back now and will be putting up a new post tomorrow so stay tuned!

    Thursday, September 11, 2008

    Mellow Wine Bar

    I like trying new places and even though it has been around a little over a year I decided to hit Mellow, A Wine Bar in nearby Liberty Station. I was there for almost two hours and it was time well spent. There was plenty of parking for this "mellow" place. I got there for happy hour (which runs from 3pm - 7pm, a nice change from the typical and hard to get to 4pm - 6pm that most places have). The place was simple and sleek in layout and the staff fun and chatty which is always a plus for me whenever I go somewhere new.

    Mellow lists about 100 wines in their menu with nearly half available by glass and most are reasonably priced. One thing I did enjoy was that they didn't separate reds from whites. The wine list was divided "Old World" and "New World" with "Old World" separated by country and "New World" by varietal. This appealed to the "wine geek" in me because it meant you had to know more about the wine you were ordering (for example, that the French Vouvray and Spanish Albariño are whites). The overall offering of wines is pretty good, the one shortcoming seemed to be in the realm of Italian wines. They offered several flights (3 wines each in the range of $11 - $16 per flight) but I decided to go for the glass. I selected the following from their happy hour list:

    2006 Qupé Syrah, Central Coast. It's kinda hard to go wrong with an offering from Qupé and I was not disappointed. The nose is classic Syrah... berries, spice and licorice. Fruit forward and well balanced acid and tannins make this a lip smacker.

    2006 Ventana Due Amici. "Due Amici", Italian for "Two Friends" is a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon and it was quite tasty. This is a medium bodied wine with nice rounded tannins, good blend of cherry and blackberry notes with a hint of vanilla from the oak. I would definitely look for this one if you are thinking of having a grill night with friends.

    At this point the server poured a round of something they didn't sell but was a promotional from someone (since he had only one bottle I am assuming as much), 2005 Opolo Sangiovese from Paso Robles. A nice basic full-bodied wine with traditional black cherry and hints of raspberry, mild tannins, good acid. I would think this to be a very food-friendly little wine.

    For the final wine (four in an evening is enough when you're drinking and not tasting) I just told the guy to pick something. He brought me Bell Cellars 2005 Big Guy, which from the label looked like they threw in everything but the kitchen sink. Big Guy is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Syrah (the first five being Bordeaux and the final a Rhone varietal). I have to say, based on what I had been drinking and our chats (he talked a lot which I enjoyed) he made a good selection. Medium bodied, good complexity of fruits, soft and supple tannins made me want something BBQ'ed right then and there but alas between diet and location nothing around served what I wanted.

    So, all-in-all it was a fun trip out to a new place that I am sure to visit again.

    Monday, September 8, 2008

    Couldn't Resist - Westphalia Vineyards 2006 Norton Reserve

    OK, after the fight with UPS I just had to see if the prize was worth it so I cracked open a bottle of the Westphalia Vineyards 2006 Norton Reserve. Oh what a treat (and no, I am not letting its origins cloud my judgment... come taste it for yourself). For those not familiar with the Norton grape (another American varietal, this time red), this wine makes me think that a Zinfandel and a Syrah had a child. The color is a beautiful deep purply-red and produces firm, thick legs in my Riedel. The nose delivers peppery spicy goodness complementing the currant and berry fruits which are transported into the mouth along with a hint of vanilla (interesting note, Westphalia uses Missouri Oak for its barrels making Westphalia Vineyards the closest I can do in "buying Missouri") where we have the flavors mixed with balanced tannins and acid and providing a medium-long finish. The mouthfeel is interesting... it starts off a little soft but firms up the farther it goes through its finish. The juicy fruit makes me smack my lips after each taste and for some reason I cannot stop "sniffing" the wine (it's triggering something from my childhood but I cannot quite tell what it is).

    This is a fabulous wine. I wish I had a nice juicy grill-seared steak (I can definitely see this as an alternative to the typical Zinfandel served at cookouts). This is a pretty big wine, drinkable now but should be able to keep a few more years. If you like Zins and Syrahs this wine from a young winery definitely deserves a checking out.

    Wresting With UPS

    Finally got my shipment from Westphalia Winery in Missouri! What happened? It fell victim to what I have been experiencing more and more frequently at UPS... they "couldn't find it" when I went in to pick it up Friday after work. They told me it was pulled off the truck, they said it would be there and yet after waiting around for several hours for the "will call" to open they told me to come back Monday. This is the 4th care of it happening out of the last 6 shipments to me. I was also a little ticked off that the ticket was marked "Second Attempt" for delivery yet I had never received a "first attempt" sticker so unless I have a "UPS Deliver Notice" bandit I have no idea what happened. The important thing is that I now I have wine. I'm looking to set up a tasting of Missouri wines so let me know if you're interested.

    Saturday, September 6, 2008

    A "Kiss" From Missouri - Montelle Winery 2007 Dry Vignoles

    My first shipment of Missouri wine finally arrived. I had ordered wine from Montelle Winery and Westphalia Vineyards. The Westphalia wines have not yet arrived but yesterday I received my bottles from Montelle. As today was a hot day I decided to try my chilled 2007 Dry Vignoles. I had high hopes since this wine was the 2008 Governor's Cup winner for best Missouri wine.

    First, what the heck is Vignoles? For those of you who have not expanded your palate beyond what Andrea Robinson calls the "Big Six" grapes, let me do the introductions. Vignoles is a hybrid white grape popular in the Midwest and Northeast (particularly Missouri and the Finger Lakes area of New York). For Missouri it appears to be one of the "work horse" grapes, producing wine that made my beau think it was a Riesling and in fact most literature will tell you that in fact the wines do tend to be reminiscent of German Rieslings. The wines produced can be anywhere from dry to sweet (like a Riesling).

    OK, enough talk... now the wine. Even though this pretty little wine is called "dry" to me it seemed a bit more "off-dry", just a touch of residual sugar remaining. The wine has the beautiful straw coloring that would mark a nice Chardonnay. The bouquet brought fruit and flowers, primarily a floral rendition of strawberry and citrus (pineapple?). The taste was like a natural fruit salad of apricot, citrus and pineapple (picked up from the nose perhaps) with a touch of natural sweetness. Nice mouth feel, enough acid that the sweetness doesn't seem cloying in the mouth and a nice medium-length finish.

    If this enjoyable wine is any indication of what Missouri has been doing with its wine in the almost 20 years since I last sampled some I will be a happy "amant de vin" indeed! Thanks Tim for turning me onto Montelle's offerings... now if I can only get my Westphalia shipment!!!

    Watch for more reviews of "Show Me" State wines.

    Wednesday, September 3, 2008

    Three Down...

    Well, I passed my certification exam covering Italian wines. Even with the assistance of a glass of Bolla Valpolicella 2006 it was the most difficult (lots of questions on individual producers, far more than the other exams, only scored 90%) so this will mean a review but it was high enough to pass. That leaves only five more exams!

    Tuesday, September 2, 2008

    Bolla Valpolicella 2006

    First day back to work after the Labor Day holiday and since I am still reviewing Italian wines I opened a bottle of Bolla Valpolicella 2006. Not a bad little wine, it comes from the Veneto region of Italy and made from the Molinara, Rondinella, and Corvina grapes (one of the major Veneto grape varietals). The wine is a light cherry red in color telegraphing at least part of the nose and taste quite well. Along with black cherry I detected hints of raisin and maybe a touch of almond. The wine is dry, almost velvety mouth feel, light-to-medium bodied with lip-smacking acidity making for a rather refreshing little red wine. This wine, coming in at around $9 or $10 a bottle, makes for a good end-of-summer sipper.

    Saturday, August 30, 2008

    Rivetto Nebbiolo d'Alba Lirano 2004

    Well, still no calls to do anything so I walked down to Subway and got a 6" Meatball Marinara for dinner (maybe it's all that Italian wine literature) and returning home opened up a bottle of Rivetto Nebbiolo d'Alba Lirano 2004. Turned out to be a nice choice. Cherry colored with cherry and light bell pepper on the nose, good fruit, soft tannins balanced with good alcohol and a touch high acidity made it mouth watering and a nice compliment to the meatball and marinara.

    Saturday Tasting At San Diego Wine Company

    Well, with my beau out of town and no phone calls from any of my friends to do something I decided to go to the weekly wine tasting at San Diego Wine Company. I've been there before to purchase wine but never for a tasting and I discovered I have been missing out! The offering of 11 wines for $10 was topped only by the fact that you serve yourself. Although there were signs everywhere asking patrons to hold themselves to one tasting per wine (no limit on the size of what you pour) I did notice two older guys taking this as an opportunity to turn it into a wine drinking rather than a tasting. You will be proud to know that I limited myself to the usual 1 - 2 oz pouring. Since there were so many I will briefly present my notes for you here:

    First up (and the only white) was Villa Mt. Eden 2005 Grand Reserve Bien Nacido Vineyard Chardonnay. Golden straw in color and oaky, buttery nose. Good acidity, oak, creamy butterscotch and fruit makes for a rich Chardonnay.

    Next was Domaine de Montrabech 2006 Vin de Pays D'Oc, deep purple in color with oak and mushrooms on the nose. Light bodied, good acidity and light tannins make this a pretty decent sipping wine.

    We turn to Italy (my current country under study for my certification) with Tenuta di Mormoraia 2006 Chianti Collo Senesi made from the Sangiovese grape. Pretty ruby red in color with oak, earth and cherry on the nose and red fruit and moderate tannins and balanced acidity with a medium length finish. Great little wine.

    Next up is another Sangiovese, Ca Del Solo 2005 "San Benito" Sangiovese made by Bonny Doon from California's Central Coast. Ruby running almost to garnet, earth and spicy cherry on the nose with cherry and spice well delivered to the palate. Wine was a big bang but over quickly with a short finish.

    The Vivir Vivir 2006 "Ribera Del Duero" made a nice change. 100% Tempranillo, purplish red in color, spicy red current and cherries on the nose and red fruits with supple tannins and good acidity made this wine a pleasure to taste.

    The Jindalee Circle Collection 2007 Shiraz was a good example of a very approachable Shiraz for the non-Shiraz crowd with spice, plums and blueberries on the nose and a fruit-forward light tannin palate.

    Summerland 2006 Grenache, light red in color, raspberry and plum with almost a "brandied" scent and finish.

    2005 Lolonis Redwood Valley Zinfandel from Mendocino County, California was a bright clear red, hints of spice and peppers with red fruit, rounded tannins, good acidity culminating in a medium-length finish made this a fine little Zin.

    The next one was a surprise, a $10 Cab that didn't taste like a $10 Cab. Stonehouse 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon was a nice red (leaning towards a deeper hue), the black fruit/cassis nose, rounded tannins and good acid with the promised fruit on the palate made this inexpensive Cab a rather enjoyable Cab.

    I had not heard of Panacea Winery but their 2005 Vindetta was a nice meritage. Red in color with some depth, black fruit with a hint of licorice on the nose and spice and fruit delivered with mild tannins and balanced acid will have me looking for more of their product.

    We end the tasting with Michael-David 2005 "Petite Petit" Petit Syrah. Deep purplish-red in color with blueberries and touch of vanilla on the nose delivering black fruit with oaky vanilla, rounded tannins and mouthwatering acidity. Yummy!

    Monday, August 25, 2008

    Diving Into Italians - Gavi

    It's nearing the end of summer, my best friend and college roommate has his oldest son starting college, and so it's time to transition my wine education into an area I know almost nothing about, Italian wines. Given the relatively hot temperature I need a white so I pull out a bottle of Stefano Massone Gavi Vigneto Masera 2007 to aid me through a reading of the Piedmont area. And here I thought France was confusing! Burgundy has nothing on Italy when it comes to names and types of wine. So let's start with the basics... Gavi is made from the Cortese grape grown primarily in the Piedmont region (in Northwest Italy... this wine was made in the Capriata d'Orba municipality in the Province of Alessandria). Being a DOCG, this wine was made under some pretty rigorous controls. It is a light crisp white wine, almost lemon yellow in color. Coming in at 12% alcohol you don't get knocked backwards when you bring the nose to the glass to be greeted with citrus, apple and pear aromas. The palate delivers nice light fruit, maybe some green apple (soft at first but gaining a little bite on the finish) and the pear I got from the nose. Light bodied and refreshing with a little minerality and a medium/short finish it makes for a good relaxing summer sipper. I think it would pair nicely with a pesto dish or a light sandwich.

    Saturday, August 23, 2008

    Two Wineries In Three Hours

    Today Mr. Beau and I used the excuse of picking up my wine club shipment to do a little wine tasting in Temecula. Since we got a little late start we went to Leoness Cellars and had lunch at the wonderful Block Five restaurant. I had their flat bread "pizza" (crispy flat bread with pesto, roasted chicken and feta cheese) while my beau had their salmon. For an accompanying wine I had their 2006 Pinot Grigio (stainless steel fermentation allows the green apple and melon notes to speak uninfluenced by oak with nice crispness and refreshing finish) and he their 2006 Riesling (an off-dry offering with tasty apricot on the palate). After having satisfied our hunger we went to do a tasting and pick up our wine club shipment. I didn't go to any whites this time (having just had the Pinot Grigio) my taste buds lead me to the following standouts:

  • 2007 Lana~Lisa Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon, named in honor of the wives of the owners of Leoness Cellars this rosé was made "saignee-style" made by running off or "bleeding" a certain amount of free run juice from the just crushed dark skinned grapes. A touch of sugar and nice raspberries on the tongue would make this a nice pairing for something spicy.

  • 2005 Cabernet Franc-Merlot, a nice nod to St. Emilion (could this become Temecula's Chateau Cheval Blanc?) this blend is wonderful with spicy notes on top of strong black cherry and blackberry, well rounded tannins balanced with good acidity and medium-long finish made me wish for a medium-rare steak to go with it. As I write I have a glass of this wonderful blend beside me.

  • 2005 Meritage, a tasty blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and just a touch of Petit Verdot carried aromas of tobacco and some hints of eucalyptus and brought black fruit and spice to the tongue. A fine blend.

  • There were others I could talk about (such as their yummy Zinfandel and Mr. Beau's ravings on their Muscat Canelli almost made me break my red binge) but you should be getting the idea I really, really like what Leoness Cellars produces.

    Our other tasting today took us to the other end of the Temecula Valley wine trail to Alex's Red Barn where we enjoyed the peace and tranquility of the place while being served by non-other than Alex himself! I have enjoyed his wines since my first trip to Temecula several years ago and today did not disappoint. As testament to the overall skill of Alex Mr. Beau told me that he enjoyed everything on the tasting list: Riesling, Viognier (one of the best I have tasted), Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon (and Mr. Beau almost never likes Cabs), Syrah, and Cream Sherry (a rare treat)! Alex doesn't "massage" his wines, letting the grapes speak for themselves. Many of the grapes come from vines that were planted over 40 years ago and have yielded fantastic fruit. As Alex told us, "When you have good grapes you don't have to "massage" the wine". One of the first wine courses I took said that the character of a wine is combination of "the grape, the ground, and the guy". Alex's Red Barn is a fine example of what can be done when the quality of all three is high.

    Friday, August 22, 2008

    Charity Wine Tasting For Momma's Kitchen

    Last night my beau and I attended a charity wine tasting for Momma's Kitchen, a local organization that prepares and delivers food for people with HIV or other critical illnesses at no charge (a very worthy cause in my opinion). We arrived there at 7, just missing the whites being served but we did get a glass of sparkling wine before sampling the reds and diving into the finger food supplied by some of the better local restaurants (including one of my favorites, Bite). From what I could tell all of the wines were from one producer, Alice White. I was able to sample three:

    Alice White Shiraz 2007 - light plum and peppery nose (though I have to say, this was a smoking event so my sense of smell might have been a little off), very soft tannins for a young Shiraz, OK acid, short finish. A little soft for me, I like my Shiraz/Syrah to be a little more bold. Drinkable but nothing exciting.

    Alice White Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 - better results than the Shiraz for me. Typical Cabernet Sauvignon with firmer tannins and better acidity than the Shiraz and a longer finish. Real Cab lovers might find it a little thin but again, drinkable.

    Alice White Lexia 2007 - a dessert wine from the Muscat grape. Nice honey-colored liquid with floral, peach, and apricot notes. A touch too sweet for me without something spicy to pair it with(a little more acid would have added some crispness that would have made it a better "drinking" wine) but a nice example of a dessert wine.

    The event appeared to be a success with the bulk of the crowd staying the entire time allotted. We are now looking into ways we can further support this organization.

    Sunday, August 17, 2008

    Bottle Shock

    Tonight my beau and I went to see Bottle Shock at the Landmark Theatre in Hillcrest. Happily we both enjoyed the movie based on the event that has become known within wine circles as The Judgment of Paris. I had just read George Taber's wonderfully written book by the same name (as the event, not the movie) so I was up to speed on all of the details. As is the case with most movies based on actual historical events or based on written works the "facts" in the movie are liberally expounded. I don't recall Jim Barrett (played by Bill Pullman) being so hard up for cash or divorced (not quite sure why that part was thrown in), I don't recall the part of Sam (played by Rachel Taylor) in the written account nor Jim's son Bo (played by Chris Pine) being such a druggie/slacker but these things aside (and with Alan Rickman being a great Steven Spurrier) the key affect of the movie was made... that France was no longer alone in producing "world class" wines. The analysis at the end of Taber's book makes for a good read for anyone interested in the effects of globalization and how the one event literally created an awakening within the world to what is possible outside traditional thinking.

    After the movie my beau took me across the street to Sushi Itto for a wonderful dinner. Traditionalists might throw a fit but we love this place (a little pricey but everything we've had thus far has been good). We're fans of the calamari and their Panama roll. To accompany dinner I had a glass of the Columbia Crest 2006 Grand Estates Chardonnay, one of the better Chardonnays you can get for under $30 a bottle (retail price closer to $10 in most places... a steal). A nice fruit-forward Chardonnay with hints of spicy apple and pear leading to melon and just a light touch of sweet buttery oak on tongue with a mid-length finish makes this a enjoyable summery wine.

    So if you are just a little curious I would recommend you (1) see Bottle Shock and (2) grab a bottle of the Columbia Crest. If you really want an excellent accounting of the Judgment of Paris (as well as one heck of a crash course in the world of fine wines) get Taber's book, and of course if you are in Hillcrest drop in to Sushi Itto. Most importantly, do any or all of the with someone you love.

    Friday, August 15, 2008

    What a Coincidence

    I just finished reading Judgment of Paris by George Taber last night and TODAY is the opening of Bottle Shock with Alan Rickman and Bill Pullman. A local wine group is going tonight but my beau and I have theatre tickets to see Romeo and Juliette so I can't make the group outing but I intend to attend the cinema this weekend!

    Wednesday, August 13, 2008

    Foxen Tasting At Wind Steals - Point Loma

    Today I passed my second wine certification test (Wines of the United States), so to celebrate I decided to attend the Foxen tasting at Wine Steals. Given how much I enjoy California Central Coast wines I was really looking forward to this. Wine Steals at Point Loma has a beautiful location but no parking so I went a little early to find the place already packed. I grabbed a glass of Primitivo and went to the patio to find a place to settle in and wait for the tasting. After about 30 minutes out the wines came and I happily took my place in line. The tasting (4 wines, $5) went as follows:

    2006 Chenin Blanc Ernesto Wickenden Vineyard “Old Vines”. Light and crisp, good acid balance and hints of apple and pear (in some ways I was being reminded of a clean Sauvignon Blanc).

    2007 Chardonnay, Tinaquaic Vineyard. Again, light colored with a little more yellow tint than the Chenin Blanc. The nose reminded me a bit of buttered popcorn (malolactic/Oak fermentation) with notes of peach and vanilla. Nice acidity and minerality, will want to see what this wine is like in another year.

    2006 Pinot Noir, Bien Nacido Vineyard. A fine example of a young-ish Pinot Noir. Clean, translucent cherry red coloring, notes of raspberry and cherry, well balanced acidity, fruit and soft tannins with a nice finish. Nice work!

    2005 Sangiovese Volpino, "Little Fox". Technically a blend of Sangiovese and Merlot (78%/22%) producing tight nose of earth and what I could best describe as chocolate-covered cherries. Firm tannins, good acidity and a nice finish make this a good food wine to have on hand.

    The Chenin Blanc and Sangiovese are nice examples of what a good winery can do with some of the "non-standard" grapes one usually finds around here. Now on to studying for my next test over wines of Italy... Filippi's anyone?

    Monday, August 11, 2008

    (Not) Sharing a Bite in San Diego

    Today a friend of mine was lamenting that he was bored and that he had nothing planned for tonight. Since I could not be with my beau I decided (admittedly last minute) to go to Bite, a small-plate restaurant in Hillcrest in San Diego and texted him on when I would be there. Sadly, I wound up alone this evening but I happily continue to recommend Bite to anyone wanting a fun Epicurean experience. I've been to Bite several times, most notably when my beau took me and several of my friends there for my 45th birthday dinner and over the last couple of years the food has remained consistently good. The menu is playfully divided into "Field", "Ocean", "Farm" and "Sweet". For a nice little appetizer I ordered from "Field", the grilled cheese baguette of Cremini mushroom, thyme, roasted shallots and melted Fontina. Just perfect for a meal for one or to share with one or at most two others.

    Hoping that my friend would arrive I ordered a bottle of MacMurray Ranch 2006 Pinot Noir. For those of you old enough this is Fred MacMurray of My Three Sons and Disney's Flubber fame. Monday is a great day to go to Bite because bottles of wine are half-price! Anyway, the MacMurray was a nice little Pinot Noir, bright ruby in color with a nose that promised red cherry and cola (with a hint of vanilla) and it delivered what it promised with a decent if not blunt cherry finish. So while I was deprived of the company of my friend I was able to spend some time with this wine as well as enjoy the wonderful Breakfast at Tiffany's playing on the screen.

    On another note, my best friend from college has challenged me to taste some wines from our home state of Missouri. I'm trying to find good, tasty representatives of what the "Show Me" state can produce. Once I do, I will get back to you.

    Sunday, August 10, 2008

    Warm Summer, Cool Wines

    Last night I gathered a few people together at the house for a little cookout. The afternoon was cool and breezy, one of the benefits of coastal living but since it was summer I decided to provide some nice dry and off-dry whites to go with the slightly spicy appetizers (a shrimp skewer where the shrimp was marinated in a nice little concoction that included cayenne pepper and habanero chile) and shirmp quesadillas with colby jack cheese). On the menu were Alex's Red Barn 2006 Viognier and Leoness 2006 Riesling both from Temecula and Kalyra 2007 Pinot Grigio from Santa Ynez. All three were yummy and a great compliment to the food. The Red Barn Viognier was crisp with wonderful balance of fruit, acid and alcohol that left the mouth feeling fresh and clean, a testament to how they make their wines. The Leonesse Riesling was fresh, full of apricot and peach (the color even had a hint to peach coloring in it) delivered to both the nose and palate. These two wineries are my favorites in Temecula and both delivered on their promises for the meal. The Kalyra Pinot Grigio was delicious as well, bright and clean with nice fruit and mouth feel that made the consumers quite happy.

    After a while I decided that it wasn't fair for whites to get all the attention so I broke out a bottle of Fess Parker 2006 Pinot Noir American Tradition Reserve showing lovely red color matching the cherry and plum fruits it promised and delivered with just a touch of earthiness I enjoy in my Pinot Noir and just continued to show me how good Dan'l Boone is at winemaking (or at hiring the right people to produce consistently excellent wine).

    At meal time I offered my guests the Château Petit Bocq 2005 which I reviewed before and paired wonderfully with the marinated beef that my beau grilled for us.

    Thursday, August 7, 2008

    Kenneth Volk 2005 Négrette

    I'm having some sadness as of late. You see, I started my wine collection some years back with my ex before we knew much about wine, not properly storing them and not knowing that most wines are meant to be consumed 3 - 5 years of vintage (a good rule of thumb if you need one). As it is the start of fall shipments I wanted to make room in my racks for the new comers (I just received my Fess Parker shipment) so I opened a bottle and discovered to my dismay that it was turning. Sadly this experience was repeatable on 5 different bottles! Oh well, now I know better. Anyway, I came across one that I had not see in a while, Kenneth Volk 2005 Négrette. "Négrette?" I hear you query. Not something you come across in your typical supermarket or even big-box liquor store. The Négrette is a red grape typically found in the south of France in the Midi region. The grape is thin-skinned, small-clustered and bares some resemblance to the Pinot Noir in tis being difficult to grow (the French call it the "little black bitch". Kenneth Volk says, Négrette is "difficult to grow, difficult to make, and difficult to describe". Think of a Pinot - Syrah hybrid. Luckily for me 7 was a lucky number, the wine was not spoiled! Deep in color (almost purple), it gave me a mix of earthiness, plum, spice and black licorice on my first inhale. Swirling produced some nice thick legs bearing the deep color down the inside wall of my glass and brought a smile to my face. The wine is fairly light bodied with a nice balance of alcohol, soft tannins, and hints of strawberry. With a glass in hand I was starting not to feel quite so bad over my lost treasures and a new appreciation for Matthew 6:19.

    Wednesday, August 6, 2008

    Firestone 2006 Gewurztraminer

    After a long, hot day and a light sushi dinner my beau and I opened a bottle of 2006 Firestone Gewurztraminer. Light yellow with a green tinge and citrus blossoms and minerals on the nose, the delivery followed up nicely if a touch short on the tongue and in the finish. Definitely some tangerine and pineapple. Pretty dry (about 0.5% residual sugar), small mouth feel and some decent acid to make the mouth water. Not a bad example but one that is lacking a little something, maybe should have opened it up earlier. Would probably be enhanced if eaten with a spicy food like a Thai curry. Probably peaking now so if you have a bottle open it and enjoy it in the heat wave.

    Thursday, July 31, 2008

    Celebrating with Château Petit Bocq

    Today was a good day for me as today was my annual review and I received my numbers for my raise and bonus. The raise was in line with what I thought but my performance bonus greatly exceeded my expectations so to celebrate I stopped off at The San Diego Wine Company to look for something. As this was my first time in the store I spent way too much time drooling, er, reviewing their selection and decided on a nice little wine I had heard about, Château Petit Bocq 2005. I had only read a little about it in Robert Parker's book Bordeaux (my textbook for the Bordeaux intensive test coming up in my wine certification quest) and given that "god", er, Robert Parker said that it was a cru bourgeois that competes with fifth growths (a good ranking in the scheme of Bordeaux wines if you didn't know), it was from Saint-Estèphe and from the fantastic 2005 vintage how could I pass it up?

    Visually the wine is quiet pretty, a deep inkish purple with a halo of red. The legs formed beautifully on the swirl and the nose delivered blackberry, some currant, and to me some underlying "leather" with a hint of smokiness (though I have to admit I was a little congested so I may have to try it again at a later date). The play in the mouth was nice... medium bodied with a good tannin/alcohol/fruit balance, the tongue tasting what the nose promised. I immediately got a nice, juicy feeling in my mouth, almost "mouthwatering". The finish is medium length but seems just right for this wine.

    Given the price I paid (Under $19) this was quite the bargain. I'll have to pick some more up for the gathering here next week.

    Château la Bergère 2005

    Well, last night I passed my exam on French wine, the first step in earning the right to add two more letters after my name (AW, Aficionado of Wine from Robert Parker). In celebration I headed to Ocean Beach's newest award winner (and a personal favorite of mine) The Vine. Since I had been immersed in the arcana that is French wine I selected a glass of the 2005 Château la Bergère. As this wine is from Montagne-Saint-Emilion (the Libournais, that is the "right bank" in Bordeaux) I expected a Merlot heavy blend with some Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and I got what I expected. It was a very pleasant wine, deep red, inky center with well formed legs on the swirl. The nose delivered a bit of alcohol that I was not prepared for but it carried with it the mouth-watering scent of red berries. The tannins were soft, not abrasive at all with a good balance of alcohol and fruit and a mid-length finish making it a very approachable wine. All in all a good experience, and with the happy hour pricing all the better!

    Sunday, July 27, 2008

    I am soooo wanting to see this movie...

    And to hear Alan Rickman's take on the movie...

    Ocean Beach Award Winner!

    Congratulations to one of my favorite OB haunts, The Vine for earning a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.

    Fess Parker 2006 Ashley's Vineyard Pinot Noir

    Last night I opened a bottle of Fess Parker's 2006 Pinot Noir, Ashley's Vineyard. I knew of the wine's pedigree (stellar) and fears of it being too young to the contrary wanted to taste it. I was not disappointed. Yes, it was a little young to be opened but what it delivered told me that I was right to hide my second bottle. This young Pinot Noir was scrumptious! The wine was visually clean showing beautiful translucent red coloring. The nose presented a youthful exuberance, tight cherries and raspberries and just a touch of oak with a near perfect balance of jammy fruit, alcohol, and tannin in the mouth that says the wine can age gracefully. Unlike most young wines the tannins were attention getting but not abrasive (no one at the table demanded a glass of water to rehydrate) and for those of us that like Burgundian wines there was that touch of Old World earthiness. The finish was medium length, just long enough to savor the current taste and teasing us to take the next sip.

    I can't wait to see what this wine will be like in 12 months... I've hidden my bottle in a cool, dark place and updated my Yahoo calendar to text me in a year. If you're nice to me over the coming year I might share.

    Saturday, July 26, 2008

    Inn at the Park

    Last night my beau and I went to see the Old Globe's production of The Merry Wives of Windsor. One advantage of buying the season tickets is the discount offered on meals at certain nearby restaurants. We decided to choose one from the list, Inn at the Park, located in the lovely little Park Manor Hotel just across from Balboa Park. I had never dined in the restaurant and have been curious about it for quite some time.

    The dining room was cozy and well done, kinda like being in an well-worn sitting room, comfortable and relaxed. Since we made reservations our table actually had a "reserved" sign on it (nice little touch). Service was attentive without hovering, very enjoyable (thumbs up to Jayson our waiter/server).

    The menu was small but very enticing with a nice selection from which to choose. We started with their Calamari Fritto Misto (I enjoyed their kaffir lime and avacado sauce). For the main course my beau chose their chili-dusted mahi mahi and I, pretending to make a healthy choice, selected the skirt steak and baby arugula salad. Both dishes arrived beautifully plated. I ordered my steak medium rare and it was cooked to perfection for my tastes. At first I was worried about my beau's mahi since he isn't one for hot spice but he ate every bite (a compliment to any chef).

    The wine selection is limited but serviceable (both of my selections came from "other" listing... other whites and other reds). My first selection was a 2006 Sterling Sauvignon Blanc which delivered a nice array of grapefruit, citrus and a little bit of melon and pineapple on both the nose and palate. Finish was a bit short but it went well with a first selection and was a nice crisp starter. With my steak I went with the Coppola Pinot Noir (sadly I didn't get down the vintage). It went well with my course (though I was a little scared at first since the dressing was a lime chipotle, but the chef's hand was light and the meat/wine pairing prevailed). I have to say, the more Coppola I have the more I like (both wine and restaurants). The wine was clean and had a pretty ruby color with nice legs. I got bits of plum and spice on the nose with a bit of strawberry on the tongue and a good balance of acidity and tannin with a nice mid-length finish.

    At the end of the meal we were starting to be a little pressed for time and (sadly) skipped dessert for coffee. Next time though... and there will be a next time.

    Thursday, July 24, 2008

    A Gem In Temecula (Repost from my other site)

    Mr. Beau has been showing an interest in wines so a few weeks back we took a little trip up the 15 to Temecula. In earlier posts you read of my trip with Elbert and some of the places we visited. On this trip I thought I would do two things: introduce Mr. Beau to more wines and find perhaps another place where I could get local wines that I would not be afraid of offering to my friends. As luck would have it I hit the jackpot on both with our first stop, Leonesse Cellars. In fact, I liked it so much I joined their wine club. After a couple of samplings together (a good representative Pinot Grigio, stainless-steel fermented so you get the melon and light green apple notes and their not overly oaked Chardonnay showing some traits of malolactic fermentation) I turned Mr. Beau loose on the whites (his palate tended towards the sweeter white Merlot and their rather good Riesling with very nice fresh fruit aromas) while I went off into red land. Their Melange de Reves is a nice medium bodied Rhone blend of Syrah, Cinsault, and Grenache with good berry tastes and just a hint of smokiness. Their 2004 Syrah is a good representation of a smooth Syrah, almost seductive with layers of black fruit, pepper, and a hit of smokiness. A big surprise was their Zinfandel which, given the current trend of overly alcoholed concotions was very smooth with good blackberry, pepper, and hints of clove with soft tannins. To top it off we had a fantastic lunch at their recently opened Block 5 restaurant. I really do recommend spending the extra time there sipping wine in the outdoor environment and enjoying their wonderfully prepared food.

    So, Temecula is showing promise. I look forward to seeing how the area develops over time.

    Monday, July 21, 2008

    Chateau Sansey 2006

    Today I decided to get serious about my wine certification and thought the best way to kick start the process was to sip some wine while reading about the various growing regions in France. After work I hit the closest wine bar and restaurant to my domicile, The Vine. While there I sampled the 2006 Chateau Sansey, a white Bordeaux from the Graves region. The wine is a mix of the three whites allowed by the laws covering AOC: Semillion, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. The wine is clean and light yellow reflecting the wine in general with simple legs. The nose has an interesting blend of pine and peach (Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion) and while refreshing was a touch sweeter than the glass of 100% Sauvignon Blanc varietal I had just moments before (from the Muscadelle) with a touch of that Old World minerality from the gravely soil. The mouthfeel was nice but not a completely round feeling in the mouth, OK acidity and I thought the finish a little short. It wasn't bad, but I've had better. I am thinking I should give it a later second chance to prove it's worth.

    Sunday, July 20, 2008

    Gainey 2006 Chardonnay - Santa Rita Hills

    Late Sunday summer afternoon. After a long, fun day with my beau I'm retiring to the balcony to watch the ocean and reflect on the week-long training I had up in the San Francisco Bay area. As my beau does not live with me at this time my companion is a glass of Gainey Winery 2006 Chardonnay, Santa Rita Hills and while not as lovely enveloping as my beau it is a fine companion. Made from 100% Chardonnay and allowed to rest for about 10 months in oak this is not a typical California "oak bomb". When I was at Gainey a few weeks back I was told that 2006 was a cool vintage and it is reflected in the wine. The wine is a clear beautiful straw and nice legs. While I do get a little butter (malolactic fermentation was used during part of the fermentation process), the nose delivers refreshing hints of citrus blossom and minerality. In the mouth the wine delivers a good balance of acidity, fruit, and alcohol with refreshing melons and a touch of, well, to me of lemon meringue pie. As the sun slowly sinks in the sky headed towards the horizon I welcome its company.

    Tuesday, July 15, 2008

    When in Palo Alto - Cafe Rosso and Bianco

    Once again I traveled to downtown Palo Alto for dinner and was happy to discover Cafe Rosso And Bianco, a great restaurant featuring Italian food and the wines from the Coppola winery. For dinner I selected the Rigatoni al Forno. Figuring out the accompanying wine was difficult so I was happy to see that they not only sold wine by the bottle and glass, but have a hand-crafted Enomatic wine system allowing you to select wines for a taste, a half-glass, or a full glass, so I created my own little tasting.

    First up was the 2004 Francesco Rinaldi Barbaresco, a delicious clear ruby-red wine with nice legs. Complex bouquet of blackberry and a touch of plum, smooth silky tannins and nice fruit with a long finish made the drinking experience a delight.

    Next I had the 2001 Bussia Soprana Barolo. Mmmmmm. A beautiful ruby-red hue with garnet undertones, a rich complex perfume of licorice and cherry jam, this wine delivered a rich, full-bodied mouthfeel and delivered plums and red fruits on the tongue with prominent but not overpowering tannins and nice acidity.

    It is interesting to taste these two wines considering that they are both made from the same grape, the Nebbiolo. For Italians, Barbaresco is known as the "Queen of wines" while Barolo is the "King of wines". Generally the Barbaresco is a little leaner, less alcohol and lower tannins than does the Barolo.

    Finally I tried the best of the bunch for me, a 2004 Rubicon Estate Rutherford "Rubicon". By the end of my first taste I was doing my best impression of Homer Simpson as a drooling, slobbering hedonist. Rubicon is a Cabernet/Cab Franc/Petit Verdo/Merlot blend. The color is deep, almost black, bleeding out to a deep ruby. The nose is complex (I picked up blackberry, a little bit of black olive and some dark chocolate). The wine delivered deep fruit, dry but not too dry, nice round tannins with agood full mouthfeel and a deep, long finish. If you can afford it, I suggest you try it.

    The excellent Rigatoni and the three delicious wines coupled with the alfresco dining made this squat little man happy (though missing Mr. Beau).

    Monday, July 14, 2008

    Dinning in Palo Alto

    I'm in Palo Alto for leadership training. Since tonight is my only free evening I decided to find a wine-friendly place to eat and a wine bar for an after dinner drink. I succeeded at both.

    It was my fortune to find I Tapas & Wine Bar in downtown Palo Alto. An eclectic place, I Tapas offers... tapas, small plates with an international flavor. An interesting little place, I sat across from a large black and white print of Paris, listening to Spanish music over the com system with a large Thai version of Buddha in the center of the restaurant. For dinner I selected two meat-intensive plates: BBQ pulled pork with lettuce wrap and their version of "Steak and Fries" sauteed in garlic and onion. Now what to drink. The restaurant offered a nice selection of wines by the glass and half-bottle as well as by the bottle (aggregated by titles like "Whites - Fruity, Whites - Flowery, Whites - Smooth and Oaky, and "Pink Pride". I settled on a glass of the 2005 Cicchitti from Argentina, a Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend. On its own it wasn't a bad selection, a deep purple-ish color, thick legs, decent fruit, hints of spice but with a short finish. The question was how it would hold up to some pretty intense foods. The pulled pork came first and of the two I thought the BBQ would overpower it. Surprisingly a synergy happened, the wine took on a more spicy/hot realm similarly to that of a high alcohol Syrah. I enjoyed it a little more with the pork than on its own. Not as much luck iwth the steak and fries. The plate was more like a Korean beef, thin strips of beef and potato which, while very good, it seemed to overpower the wine.

    After dinner and short stroll I wound up at The Wine Room, a cozy little place in downtown Palo Alto. Offering a nice list of wines by the glass (2 sparkling, 28 red and white as well as a flight of Sangioveses), I finally selected a glass of the 2006 Saison de Beauchène, Côtes-Du-Rhône. The wine appeared clear, light ruby in color, floral nose with hints of spice and strawberries, spice, cherries and Old-World earthiness in the mouth with a nice balance of acid and tannins with a good medium finish. An excellent wine that is easy on the wallet. Since I am here all week I will definitely be back.

    Saturday, July 12, 2008

    Taste of Spain - Gran Feudo Reserva Viñas Viejas

    Before going to The Old Globe's production of All's Well That Ends Well Mr. Beau took me to dinner at The Prado. Having a hard time deciding what to get I decided to try the Gran Feudo Reserva Viñas Viejas 2002, a blend of Tempranillo with a little Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Garnacha (Grenache) with my portion of their tasty New York Strip (often Mr. Beau and I split plates due to the fact that we prefer not to stuff ourselves). I was very happy with the pairing, the wine complementing the beef and the Cabernet reduction prepared by the chef. The Reserva had a nice deep, rich color with a complex nose delivering ripe fruit with a hint of smokiness. Excellent rounded mouthfeel, nice and full but not sharp tannins with a slightly dry, spicy finish. I could detect some oak but it wasn't an impairment to the enjoyment because of the deep and complex fruit it delivered. I will keep an eye out for this wine and look forward to tasting other years to compare.

    Send It Back?

    My friend Elbert and I had a discussion not long about about wine you order in a restaurant. I said I had never sent wine back because I didn't like it and only once when it was "bad". He said that had sent wine back because he didn't like it. Because of the mark up in wines at a restaurant I tend not to order ones I don't know (I've been quite fortunate and have tasted several hundreds of wines of the last few years that I have been into them), preferring to experiment at tastings where you get a wide selection for a much lower dollar amount. But the brief discussion got me thinking about the difference between not liking something and calling something bad. If you have read my other blog you know that along with wine I count philosophy as an avocation and what we have here seems to me to be the difference between subjective ("I don't like this wine.") and objective ("This wine is bad."), the ontology of wine so to speak.

    Don't get me wrong, wine can turn bad or the environment of its presentation to you can turn it bad (my one encounter with returning a wine was due to the reside of lemon Joy I detected in my Syrah which the waiter confirmed). But what do we mean when we say a wine is bad? A bad wine is one that has been damaged or manufactured poorly (though these days with modern techniques this is rarely the case). In most circumstances a wine turns bad due to either improper bottling or, more often, improper storage. The three most common ways to recognize a truly bad wine are:

    • The wine is "corked". This means that a fungus growing on the cork has come in contact with the wine. It has nothing to do with finding bits of cork in your glass which is perfectly harmless. Corked wine will have a musty aroma like wet cardboard. Corked wine is bad wine, send it back

    • The wine is discolored. If a wine looks brown (especially a young wine), tastes flat or like cooked fruit and has a weak aroma the wine has been oxidized. Exposure to air ages wine and if the cork has dried out (say from storing it with the bottle standing up) it can shrink a little and allow air to enter the bottle and prematurely age the wine. Oxigenated wine is bad wine, send it back.

    • The wine tastes like vinegar or tastes sour. This is due to a bacterial infection. Wine that needs penicillin is bad, send it back.

    Some common things that make people think a wine is bad but doesn't affect the product are:

    • Cork in the wine glass. This is actually pretty common particularly with older wines. If they bother you ask to have the cork removed. The waiter can decant your bottle if necessary but this is not the sign of a bad wine.

    • Small white crystal are in the bottle/glass. Don't panic, this is simply precipitation of a chemical called tartaric acid in the wine and it is completely harmless. If you want, have the bottle decanted. The same goes for dark sediments that you can find in some red wines. Nothing to worry about, simply have it decanted.

    • Mold on the cork. Sometimes in older wines you can find mold growing on the outside end of the cork. Don't worry, this often means that the humidity was a little high where the bottle was stored. Far more likely than not the wine is fine. Give it a taste to check but most likely it will be perfectly fine.

    So there you have it, the basics of telling if a wine is "bad". Picking out a good wine is far more subjective. While there are certain things you would look for (balance between fruit, acid, alcohol and in red wines tannins, "complexity" of flavors and aromas, and "finish" or the length of time the experience lasts in your mouth), the basic rule of a good wine is do you like the taste? But more on this later.

    Wednesday, July 9, 2008

    How Do They Get That From A Grape?

    It's late evening and I'm sitting out on my balcony sipping Temecula's own Falkner Winery 2004 Merlot. I always enjoy reading the tasting notes for wine and on their Web site you can find the following:

    2004 Merlot
    This Merlot is deep in color, rich in flavors, and very elegant in style. Enjoy the lovely black cherry aroma, the delicious black cherry flavor, and the delicate anise flavors on the finish.

    Nice deep color, hints of cherry on the nose, not unbalanced, and the taste delivers on what the nose telegraphs with a medium finish (and yes there are touches of anise). Not a bad job there Falkner.

    What is interesting is that the taste and the aroma aren't described as "grape". In fact, just scanning the descriptions on the Falkner site you see: black cherry, red cherry, blackberry, vanilla, green olive, plum, tobacco, smoke, peach, pineapple and grapefruit among others. Pick any winery site, scan their tasting notes and you will find many of these same aromas and flavors. Thinking on this I recall something someone recently asked me: "How much pineapple do you have to add to wine to get this flavor?" OK, don't giggle, it's a legitimate question and a nod goes to the wine maker whose wine can telegraph that to a novice. But have you stopped to think just how wine, basically grape juice, sugar, and yeast, can produce such a wide range of aromas and flavors? Amazing, isn't it, but except for perhaps some hints of vanilla ,coconut and butter (and maybe a little yeast from the process) all of those wonderful fruits, berries, and Old English attributes (tobacco, smoke, leather) tend to come from that simple little mixture in the hands of a vintner.

    What's the trick? It's your nervous system. You see, incoming scents are picked up by the olfactory epithelium, a dime-sized patch of nerve endings located deep within the retronasal cavity inside your head. The nerves in the olfactory epithelium then send signals to the olfactory bulb in the brain where they are interpreted. The olfactory bulb is part of the brain's limbic system where emotion and memory are processed. Since you associate memories with odors and flavors, you are reliving associations your brain has made in the past. The more foods you have tried and the more you have thought about the food while you eat, the wider range of associations can be made. You can find a lot more information on the actual chemistry here. The important idea to take from this is that your mind is telling you that there is some chemical that you have experienced before and the brain has associated something with that chemical, not that the aroma or flavor has been manipulated by adding what you experience to the wine + sugar + yeast formula. Don't get me wrong, the master vintner can do things to manipulate the basic formula (say fermenting in oak to add touches of vanilla or coconut or putting the wine through malolactic fermentation to "round the edges" and introduce a hint of buttery goodness), but no one is putting pineapple juice in your wine... we hope.

    Monday, July 7, 2008

    My Recent Winetasting Trip

    A couple of weeks ago Mr. Beau and I took a little trip up to the Santa Barbara area for some wine tasting. This was in part to just get out of town for a couple of days and in part to provide a wide selection of wines for Mr. Beau to taste and help me gauge where his wine preferences lay. Over a three-day weekend we traveled to and tasted wines at the following wonderful wineries (in the order in which we tasted):

  • Brander Winery (excellent all around offerings)
  • Gainey Winery (very good wines, nice chardonnays this year)
  • Kalyra Winery (a fun winery with some excellent lighter and dessert wines)
  • Beckman winery (top-notch Syrahs and and tasty Grenache... and the hottest pourers according to Mr. Beau)
  • Bridlewood Winery (they seem to have come up a notch in their offerings since the Gallo buy-out)
  • Firestone winery (Good wines, nice Riesling)
  • Curtis Winery (wonderful Rhone-style wines)
  • Fess Parker Winery (Davy Crockett knows his wines, but watch the alcohol content on the new Syrahs)
  • Zaca Mesa Winery (a new one for me, great offering, don't pass up the Z Cuvée or the Z Three from them)

    Nice, solid producers one and all. Each have their specialties as most wineries do and each gave us an appreciation for the types of wines they are known for. One of the more interesting trends I observed was with Fess Parker who is slowly pushing up the alcohol content on some of their Syrahs yet keeping things pretty well balanced (my only complaint is that with higher alcohol content I can't consume as much... but this was a tasting trip, not a drinking trip). In future posts I will examine each of the wineries and what I like about them. You will come to find that at this point in time I am a big fan of the California central coast producers and of the southern end (Santa Barbara County) most of all.