Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Curtis Mourvedre 2005

I've always enjoyed the product of Curtis Winery. Tonight I had to work rather than attend the Mardi Gras festivities in Hillcrest so I selected a bottle of their 2005 Mourvedre. Mourvedre is best known as a blending grape of the Southern Rhone valley and even this offering is a Mourvedre/Syrah blend (85%/15%).

The wine is a beautiful deep cherry red in the glass and leaves lovely legs when you swirl. The nose is pleasant, a combination of violets, blackberries, hints of cherry and smoky oak and just a tiny touch of gaminess that one often gets from French Rhones. The mouthfeel is nice, good acidity and solid but not harsh tannins combine with the fruit to make for an enjoyable medium length finish.

Sadly, no one to toss beads at me... oh well, there's always next year. This year I will just enjoy the wine.

Wines reviewed in 2009: 123

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ghost Pine 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon

What a day/week/month. Recent events are really weighing on the mind and soul and deprived of my beau or any other social interaction I decided to spend some time out in the cool of the afternoon just sitting and thinking. Since there was no human companionship I choose to pass the time with one of the offspring of Bacchus, Ghost Pine 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. This is an interesting blend of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from both Napa and Sonoma allowing for a melange of smells and tastes from the two northern California regions. Yeah, I know, a 2006 Cab would lead one to think "too tannic" and "needs time" but this youngster makes a good companion. Nice deep, rich color in the bowl the nose is greeted with lovely blackberry, black cherry, and notes of spicy oak. But as we know the nose can deceive but not in this case. This wine is bursting with fruit backed up by smooth tannins and mouthwatering acidity combining to produce a medium length finish. The effect is as desired, a relaxing communion with something basic. Bacchus speaks, hopefully not too loudly in the morning.

Wines reviewed in 2009: 122

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Cougar Winery

Tio Ely calls me a gay "cougar" so I decided to scope out Cougar Winery in Temecula. I've seen the sign before and even been to their neighbor Frangipani, so this time I took the winding road up to their tasting room. It was not a disappointing detour. Rather than trying to move into an already crowed Bordeaux group, Cougar is making a nice name for itself with some Italian and Argentine grapes (including but not limited to Malbec, Sangiovese, Arneis, Nero d'Avola (which I am really wanting to try), Malvasia Bianca, and Aglianico). Ambitious, but what I tasted today definitely shows there is some skill at this winery and they may just pull it off. Some of the highlights of today's tasting:

  • Arneis 2008. Lovely little wine, full of peaches and apricots. Difficult to grow and often used as a blending wine in its native Piedmont region of Italy, this is a nice, crisp. "fruit-sweet" wine perfect for a hot summer's day.

  • Sangiovese 2006. This is actually a super Tuscan blend creating a nice medium-bodied wine, lots of fruit and a touch of spice, soft tannins and good acidity. If you're looking for a grill wine or a pizza wine this should be on your shopping list.

  • Malbec 2006. I really enjoyed this wine. Deep puple bleeding out to the edges of the bowl, aromas of plum and I swear smokey bacon, very fruit forward on the tongue, nice tannins and the acid made my mouth water. This was definitely a keeper.

  • Malvasia Bianca 2008. Green apples and honey. Sweet but not cloying, just enough acidity that it could be a sipping wine for those who like their wines sweeter but for me would make a nice dessert wine.

  • So if you're in the area and looking for something a little different Cougar is well worth the stop.

    Wines reviewed in 2009: 121

    My Two Temecula Favorites

    Well, it was time to pick up my shipment from Baily so today after breakfast with my beau it was up to Temecula. Of course, it didn't make sense driving up just to pick up one wine club shipment so I made it a threesome by dropping my Leonesse and picking a winery I had not been to before (Cougar Winery which gets its own posting). Since I have written extensively about Baily and Leonesse before I will just highlight some new findings in their every growing and increasingly excellent wines.

    Two newbies for me at Baily are:

  • Montage 2007. This is a Sauvignon Blanc/Semillion blend which is somewhat typical in Bordeaux but relatively new here in the states and somewhat of a trend I have been seeing lately (Brander, a California star of the White Bordeaux, has been making this for years but it seems to be spreading). The Montage is very lightly gold in color. Hints of figs and melon on the nose while on the tongue the fruits and a hint of the "herbaceousness" one gets from Sauvignon Blancs does peek out. Very nice acidity, this is a good little wine to drink now and through the next year or so.

  • Riesling - Dry, 2008. Baily offers two Rieslings, this one is a special one produced for the 150th anniversary of Temecula. Very light color in the glass, lovely notes of apple and apricot on the nose while in the mouth one gets good fruit, and nice acidity for a light-bodied wine experience. At first I thought I detected more sugar than I should have but then decided it was really the fruit-forwardness of the wine that was creating an apple-cinnamon combo that was delicious.

  • And a non-newbie but a new release:

  • Merlot 2005. Recently released, this fruit-forward wine delivered strawberries and hint of vanilla, nice acid, and solid tannins but I think it is still a bit young and could profit from another year or so resting in a nice, cool, dark cellar. Quite drinkable but not at its peak yet.

  • Once again, Baily's confirmed my decision to join its wine club.

    Leonesse, as always, was a joy to visit. What was fun this time was nothing I tasted was on the tasting list, so you get some idea here from what can be purchased at the barrel room tasting area but you won't find on the shelves. Today, the cute and articulate attendant Mike poured me the following:

  • Compilation 2006. This was something new and pretty exciting, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cinsault, and Zinfandel. Very fruit forward, spicy and peppery, soft tannins, good acidity, all components clicking together to create a medium/full bodied wine with a long delicious finish.

  • Dry Muscat 2008. Brand new and just out on the floor this was an interesting experience. Everyone wants to think of Muscat as sweet but this wine proves that need not be the case. The nose promises apricot and just a little hint of peach which gets delivered with an interesting "green" (Mike's term) on the finish (I was saying "grassy" but I think we meant the same thing) which took a little getting used to because it was a total surprise. The wine maker said that this "green" was produced by the wine skins so I'll take his word for it. The natural fruit flavors and acidity combine to make a definitely not sweet, fruit forward enjoyable wine... once you get over the "green" surprise.

  • Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 "Signature Selection". A veriable fruit explosion in the mouth! Nice tannins, lovely acid, very well integrated components, all you could hope for in a Cab but alas, not scheduled for release until 2010 so get up there, join the club, go on a weekend tasting and beg to get a sample.

  • Zinfandel 2006. Yum. Beautiful fruit and peppery spice. Medium bodied, soft, almost sweet tannins, mouthwatering acids, long lovely finish. Soon to be released (March I think).

  • Barrel sample Merlot/Cab Franc Blend. Light bodied, nice fruit, very soft tannins and good acid. I will be anxious to try it when it grows up.

  • Barrel Pull Cabernet Sauvignon. No release date, this one was "special". Oak and fruit on the nose and tonuge, soft tannins (somehow Leonesse has great control of the tannin components of their red wines), good acid. The finish was a little harsh and Mike said that it seemed like there was something missing at this stage. I agree, it was like all of the kids showed up but they don't yet know how to play well together. Shows promise though and I will keep an eye on this one for you.

  • Once again, Leonesse has shown why they are my favorite in Temecula.

    Wines reviewed in 2009: 117

    Wednesday, February 11, 2009

    Queen of Hearts Pinot Noir

    Today after work was hair cut day and after Diego got me all ready for Valentine's Day I decided to stop for a glass of wine at Wine Steals in Hillcrest. Normally I don't go there because it tends to be way too crowded and the depth of perfume and cologne in the room often makes it difficult to determine the nose of your wine. This time though the place was almost empty as it was just at the start of "Happy Hour", so I settled in at the bar and ordered a glass of Queen of Hearts Pinot Noir. Sadly I didn't catch the vintage of this Santa Barbara Pinot, I need to make sure to start asking when I order wine by the glass.

    The was rather pretty in the glass, a clear garnet, but I have to say that right from the bottle it didn't impress me. The nose was almost non-existent except for a little spice and the indication of "heat". The first sip was alright, some cherry and spice, soft tannins and decent acid but nothing exciting. After putting the glass down and reading an article in Wine and Spirits I picked up the glass, stuck in my nose and was greeted by a much more pleasant aroma of cherries, red fruits, and the same spice with a hint of oak. The taste was of a light-bodied Pinot, nice cherries, a little spice and oak, soft tannins and nice acidity. Over the span of about 30 minutes the wine unfolded quite nicely. It was never complex, never what the heavy hitters would call a "serious" Pinot, but it was a very drinkable, fruit-forward, short-finish Pinot. A nice Pinot for those nights you just want a Pinot and not think about it. With a price point of around $10 a bottle it's a decent drink, just remember to decant first to let it find its voice.

    Wines reviewed in 2009: 109

    Tuesday, February 10, 2009

    A Bite At Bite

    One of my favorite places in Hillcrest is Bite. Recently they have made a few changes to both their menu (moving from a strict "small plate" venue to offering some "larger plates" of their seasonal offerings) as well as their wine offering (such as 1/2 price bottle Mondays). They've started offering a limited selection of wines at happy hour for $4.50 per glass and it was this that drew me out. Tio Ely joined me and we had some lovely appetizers (at incredibly reasonable prices): chicken liver mousse and their always tasty grilled flat bread with white bean and roasted garlic "hummus". For wines I had a glass of the following three (sadly I don't have vintages for them):

  • Cono Sur Viognier: A nice opener, this Chilean wine delivers quite well what I would expect from a Vigonier. The nose is floral with hints of apricots, citrus, and I would swear a little "grassiness" (though my nose could be a little off due to the change in weather). Delivers good fruit and lively acidity on the tongue, nice, slightly short finish.

  • Calina Cabernet Sauvignon: The other night I had a good experience with the Calina Merlot so I thought "Wow, what a great chance to try another Calina". Sadly for this taster at this time it turned into "Wow, what the heck happened?" The nose wasn't bad at all... cassis, blackberry, hints of chocolate and a touch of oak, pretty typical for a Cab. The delivery to the mouth was another story. Something about this wine just set me off. The tannins seemed really rough, the acidity too low making it flabby, and nothing seemed integrated with what fruit was there. My tasting notes have the word "ash" scribbled in them and this was how I best described what I tasted. The experience was so bad that I asked the server to take it away because it was so disagreeable to me. I'm not giving up on Calina, they have a good track record but this was a shocker for me.

  • Doña Paula Cabernet Sauvignon: OK, leaving Chile I jumped the Andes and went for an Argentine producer. Better. A little lighter in color than the Calina. Cherries, black fruit, hints of bell pepper, lighter, softer tannins and pretty good acidity combine to deliver a drinkable medium finish. Not a favorite but orders of magnitude better than what I experienced with the Calina.

  • Wines Reviewed In 2009: 108

    Note To Servers On A Pet Peeve Of Mine

    DON'T try to correct my pronunciation of varietals or wine names. Trust me, I know the proper pronunciation of "Carménère" and "Viognier" (as well as many others) and if I have doubt I will ask (though probably not you since you butchered your attempted correction). Your job is to get me what I want even if I simply point at the list and grunt. You may be young and cute and work in a wine bar but that doesn't mean you know Vitis vinifera. Next time you're in the Central Coast area, stop in at Bridlewood and check out the shirts with the various pronunciation guides on them.

    Thank you and good night.


    Sunday, February 8, 2009

    Calina Reserva Merlot 2007

    A while back Gary Vaynerchuk talked about the Merlots from Chile being good and exciting enough to bring interest in that varietal to him and ever since I have been on the watch for Chlean Merlot. Both Chile and Argentina are great places to get excellent value for the wine produced, but imagine my surprise at finding a $7 Merlot at San Diego Wine Company. Come on now, I know what you're thinking... a $7 Merlot? How good can it be? Well in this case pretty darned good. Is it a keeper? Naw, I wouldn't make room in my smaller cellar area for it, but for a friendly, fruit forward wine to wet your whistle it fills the bill quite nicely.

    If you like fruit you'll love this wine. Deep purplish in color, very clear (looks quite pretty in crystal). Lovely cherry and blackberry on the nose and tongue with just a hint of vanilla. Very soft tannings, nice acidity (makes the mouth water), short finish. A great little wine to take to a party for those who "don't drink red wine".

    Wines reviewed in 2009: 105

    Saturday, February 7, 2009

    Folie a Deux Menage a Trois Red 2006

    Being home alone tonight I decided to look through my wine collection. I had been watching Bottle Shock (lovely follow up to the morning's Cabernet Sauvignon tasting) and much to my surprise I am terribly Rhone heavy with respect to reds. My home collection is not huge (coming in at a little over 100 bottles) but a good 65% are Rhone varietals (Syrahs and said blends, etc). However, I was still in the mood for a Bordeaux red (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cab Franc, etc) when I found a bottle of Folie a Deux Menage a Trois. This is an interesting little wine, a blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. In many ways it is to me the typical California "drinking" wine (not meant in any way disparaging)... lots and lots of blended jammy red and black fruits, little hints of spice, low tannins and moderate acid, a combo that someone just wanting a red wine to drink would have fun with. This is not in any way, shape, or form an "intellectual" wine, but it is a fun wine and I'm glad I found it. If you're wanting something that says "fun" that almost anyone will enjoy I recommend it (the modest price makes it a great buy).

    Wines Reviewed In 2009: 104

    Upscaling It A Bit

    This morning being a grass widower today I decided to go to the weekly Saturday tasting at WineSellar & Brasserie, one of the best restaurants (and wine merchants) in San Diego. Today's tasting was "Cabernet Confidential" and featured six lovely wines that you can purchase on site. If you haven't been, they pour the wines blind and give you tasting descriptions of the wines so you can play a guessing game of which wine is which on the list. Here are the wines not in pour order or price (just for the record, the most expensive was the one I liked least but it just needs time) but in the order that I liked them:

  • Camellia Cellars 2002 "Dry Creek Valley": Deep, right color. Nose a little closed at first but opens to a lovely bouquet. Juicy, deep flavors, soft tannins fantastic acidity with a lovely long finish.

  • Laird 2006 Estate: Fruit-forward nose, deep purplish color. Smooth. Black cherries and currnts, dusty tannins, nice acide blending to a medium-length finish. Lovely.

  • Old River Road 2005 "Ponderossa Vineyard": A little lighter in color than the others, strong but pleasant cherry on the nose. Lovely hints of cherry and herbs in the mouth, almost explodes in the mouth with flavor.

  • Fontella 2006 "Napa Valley": Something "old world" on the nose that was absent from the others. Good black and red fruit blend with soft tannins making this a pleasant drink.

  • Fritz 2005 "Dry Creek Valley": Nose not as proniyubced as some of the others but nice. Blackberry, cassis and coffee with firm tannins and moderate acid. This one is a blend with Malbec (not sure of the percentages).

  • Caymus 2006 "Napa Valley": Powerful, definitely needs some time to rest. Deep rich color, seductive nose of blackberry, cherry, and rose petals. Low acidity, very firm tannins. Nice now but not at its peak.

  • Wines Reports On In 2009: 103

    Wednesday, February 4, 2009

    Back To Cafe Bleu

    At five bucks a glass during happy hour can you blame me? Didn't think so. Kept it easy as this really was by the glass and not a tasting. The crowd was smaller this time which was to be expected since it was a Tuesday night around 6. For the evening's libation I chose the following:

  • Cantina di Soave 2007: Nice, straightforward offering of this Italian wine. Lightly floral nose, tasted like a non-sweet Jolly Rancher. Good acidity, light mineral finish. Very nice opening wine.

  • Costa Azul Grenache 2006:From Baja California, Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico. Jammy strawberries and raspberries on the nose and palate. Tannins seems a little rough, might have stood decanting or given more time to breathe as they did soften over time.

  • Wines Reported On In 2009: 97

    Tuesday, February 3, 2009

    Tasting In Style - Escondido and Temecula (Part Two)

    The next stop was a favorite of mine Alex's Red Barn. I've written about them before and nothing has changed. They produce some of the cleanest, more "fruit-speaking" wine in Temecula. While it's tough to go wrong with any of their wines some of my favorites are:

  • Viognier: Very elegant, beautiful floral nose with hints of the apricot and peaches to come. Wonderful acidity, almost worth the trip to Temecula itself (and this from a "red wine" guy).

  • Old-vine Johannisberg Riesling: Slightly sweet, lovely fruit (apricot and peaches) along with mouth-watering acidity makes this a favorite of mine.

  • Solera-Type Cream Sherry: Lovely Sherry made from the Palomino grape. Full-bodied and as they say "candy in a glass". A lovely after dinner drink.

  • Last on the list was another new winery for me, Hart Family Winery. Loved the little tasting room, reminded me a bit of Foxen in the Santa Ynez area. During this the inaugral visit to Hart some real finds I tasted were:

  • 2005 Viognier: Lovely floral nose, hints of oak, nice acidity. Nice, but not something I should have had after Alex's offering but nice for the price.

  • 2006 Sauvignong blanc: Nice offering, floral nose, fresh fruit and good acidity makes for a mouthweatering finish.

  • 2005 Syrah: Lovely peppery spice and fruit on the nose, lovely mouthfeel, good tannins and acid leading to a medium-long finish

  • For the price, Hart shows some excellent value for the wines offered. Definitely worth a try.

    So I really enjoyed our outing to Temecula... not just the wines and the limo, but spending time sharing with friends. I think this is the real spirit of wine.

    Wines Reported On In 2009: 95

    Monday, February 2, 2009

    Tasting In Style - Escondido and Temecula (Part One)

    Of course, by "in style" I mean with friends (though the limo rented by my beau didn't hurt either). On this the day after my birthday (and the day before Cory and Elbert's anniversary) Sarah, Elbert, Cory, Heather, my beau and I spent the day sampling local vino offerings.

    The day began with us all meeting at Orfila, a local award winning winery in Escondido. To be honest, for all of its accolades I have never had one of their wines and I now regret this oversight. Their method of tasting was basically you get to pick six of anything they offer for an exceptionally reasonable price. I have to say, nothing disappointed me which makes me so happy they are close to home! For this outing I tasted the following:

  • Estate Viognier "Lotus" Lot 67: Nice light gold tint, floral notes with a hint of vanilla. Crisp, lovely balanced furit and acidity providing a lovely medium-length finish.

  • "Bien Nacido" Chardonnay 2007: Orfila offered a couple of Chardonnays and I decided to go with their "no oak" offering. Stainless steel fermentation really let the fruit shine. Greenish-yellow tinge, loads of melon and green apple, very crsip with a lovely citrus finish makes this something I intent to have on hand this summer.

  • Pinot Noir Lot 37: This wine is made from grapes grown in SLO. Deep lovely red in color and a nose of cherries and raspberries and just a hint of vanilla delivering the fruit on a beautifully balanced acid/tannin backbone. Very classic Pinot Noir.

  • Estate Sangiovese 2006: Nice raspberries on the nose and tongue. Tannins were a little rough, good acid though. I think this wine shows great potential but needs to rest another year before its beauty really show through.

  • Merlot 2007 - Barrel Sample: I love getting barrel samples and this one filled my expectations of what I was coming to learn about Orfila. Purplish youth, fruit forward, young tannins. Good now, will be very good with a little more time to rest.

  • "Seasons" Syrah 2005: A nice "everyday" Syrah. Hints of pepper and black fruit, good tannins and acid. Not a cellar wine but definitely good to pick up this year.

  • Estate Heritage Syrah 2005: A limited selection offering showing some excellent wine making. Cherries and blackberries, solid tannins, long finish. Very good now, shows potential for drinkability over the next 5 years or so, but why wait???

  • With near perfect timing the limo that my beau reserved for us arrived and off we went to Temecula. Along the way we "sampled" two Cabernets I had pulled from my collection to help pass the time to our first destination, Leonesse. I enjoy Leonesse, it is the first winery in Temecula whose wine club I joined and this visit simply reinforced the reasons. On this trip down to the "member's tasting area" I tried:

  • Viognier 2007: Lovely honeysuckle and orange blossoms, crisp acidity. This was my palate cleanser for the rest of the tasting.

  • VS Chardonnay 2006: This is their "Vineyard Selection" Chardonnay offering. Hints of oaky spice, melon and apple, nice acidity but I would let it rest just a little longer, perhaps another 6 months (just in time for summer)

  • Riesling 2007: Classic Riesling, clean, notes of petroleum on the nose unlying the floral and peach smells with lovely fruit and acidity.

  • Cabernet Sauvignon 2006: Hints of pepper, spice and currants all blended together. Lovely structure ending in a soft, medium-long finish.

  • Zinfandel 2006: Nice offering from a Temecula winery. Black pepper, blackberries and hints of clove makes for a lip-smacking wine with a long finish.

  • Back up the hill, we loaded into the limo and headed to another place I have not been, Oak Mountain Winery. It had gotten good reviews and I did find some offering that I enjoyed. For this tasting I had the following:

  • "No Oak" Chardonnay 2005: Another nice stainless-steel offering. Greenish tint, hints of green apple and melon on the nose and tongue with lovely acidity. I got some light spice on the finish, not sure where it comes from but it made for a lovely ending.

  • Sauvignon Blanc 2006: An off-dry Sauv blanc with pretty peaches on the nose and nice slightly-sweet fruit on the tongue with decent acidity. Made me want some spicy Thai food.

  • Miscela di Sangiovese 2005: This is a "Super Tuscan" blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Franc. Spicy strawberry and cherry, excellent acidity and nice tannins made me look for some tomato-based pasta offering around the area (alas, there wasn't any). A very good offering.

  • Cabernet Franc 2005: Deep, clean ruby colored wine, loaded with cherries and black fruit. Tannins were pretty powerful, might let it rest a little longer but there is potential here, definitely not a whimpy Cab Franc.

  • Brut Champagne: Not sure if I would classify it as a brut, seemed more dry to me. Nice, lively, good sipping bubbly. I prefer it to most of the other local sparklings.

  • Thus ends part one of the trip. I'll write about the remainder tomorrow when I again get to talk about my other overall favorite winery in the area...

    Wines Reported On In 2009: 89

    Birthday At Cafe Bleu

    Last Friday was my birthday and since my beau was out of town my friends Cory and Elbert took me out for drinks and dinner at Cafe Bleu. As I got out of work earlier than they did I arrived for happy hour and decided to add to my tastings count while waiting for them. I have to say, I enjoyed every wine I tasted:

  • Brandal Albarino 2005: From the Rias Baixas region of Spain. My notes from the evening: Floral nose. Bracing acidity. Grapefruit. Hints of minerality leading into a nice medium-length finish. Tasty.

  • Cono Sur Pinot Noir 2007: Another tasty little offering from Chile. My self-texted notes read "Cherry color. Earth, asphalt, cherry fruit on the nose. Lean. A touch young but won't cellar long but very drinkable now"

  • Les Jamelles Pinot Noir Vin de Pays d'Oc 2007: Ah, France. Even "country wines" can be fun. My quicky texted notes read "Dark color with ruby tints. Red berries on the nose, hints of oak (vanilla?). Jammy blackberries and cherries, nice tannins, smooth for a "country wine".

  • As I tasted I watched the staff who were very attentive to those at the bar and at the increasingly busy restaurant area. Cory and Elbert arrived and we were immediately seated. The ambiant noise level was a little high, the place showing good energy. For an appetizer we ordered calimari (my beau's favorite) and it quickly arrived hot with two dipping sauces. Nice texture, very yummy, hints of herbs and lemon and a great food to eat while chatting.

    Time to order dinner. Cory and I ordered the same thing, Coq au Vin, "Chicken with wine" while Elbert selected their Bleu Burger, an 8oz Kobe beef burger with bleu cheese (Tio Ely has an interesting story around his selection, ask him about it when you see him). The dishes arrived and I loved the Coq au Vin. The wine-braised meat was soooo tender it fell off the bone, the veggies showing the proper resistence to the bite while the "pomme souffle" was pretty fluffy for potatoes. During the meal Heather arrived and as good friends do only added to the enjoyment of the evening.

    I enjoyed my birthday (the enjoyment only increased when my beau came home that evening). I know that I will definitely go back to Cafe Bleu to explore more of their wines and their lovely food.

    Wines Reported On In 2009: 72