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.
  • Amant de vin?

    Amant de vin, French for "lover of wine". Makes me sound like a wino doesn't it? Well, I'm not. I thought at first of naming the blog "Wine Snob" but I'm not really. I do like wine though... as I told my friend Elbert I love everything about it. I like not just the alcohol (lets face it, if I wanted to get drunk there are cheaper ways), but I love how wine engages all of my senses. Sight, smell, taste, touch, and yes even sound (imagine how the crystal clinks when you toast someone) are all touched by a single glass of wine. I love how wine cuts across academic disciplines: biology, chemistry, horticulture, history, literature, philosophy and many, many others at one point or another discuss wine. One can drink wine alone or with friends, as a standalone beverage or something to enhance a meal. Wine can be used to celebrate or to mourn, to loosen up social constraints or to propel one into deeper thought. Wine speaks of a lifestyle, of sophistication and (or) of genteel living. Modern "brass and glass" and high-powered business and at the same time of "terroir", of soil and climate and gentle care and nurture. of going out of town to "wine country" and of the backyard BBQ. Wine to me represents all of these things and more. So I hope you will join me as I explore this fantastic world and all of the things that accompany it.