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.