Every bottle has a story

I am not a wine expert, but with each bottle I try and share with friends, I learn more. Wine is an exceptional social drink; it is the marijuana of alcoholic beverages because it must be shared. I seek to share with you my thoughts and experiences as I drink the wine in my closet, as well as my enthusiasm for the finds that come my way and the excellent values that I find. I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences too, so please share!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

One that should have been decanted

Last night I prepared a dinner to go with a wine that should have blown me and my guest away. But instead, it was vaguely unsatisfactory. The wine was a 2005 Gevrey-Chambertin; the year was stellar for red Burgundy, but this wine was not stellar. Coming from Domaine Drouhin-Laroze, it had plenty of potential, but never seemed to push through.

I served it with roast chicken presented with an herb jus I prepared with some leftover Barbera d’Alba. Even the chicken was not as savory as I had hoped. This should have been a fantastic pairing, and it had been in the past, but for this time, it was most emphatically mediocre.

Decanting this wine might have helped, because at the very end of the bottle, the delicious fruit of the wine was finally showing through the strident minerals that dominated the wine for most of the night. I’ve had much better Gevery-Chambertin in the past, particularly for 2005.

I will rate this with a 4.5 based on my scale at the left. For $40, this was definitely a disappointment, but even at half the price, this wine just failed to show up.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

French rosés are back

More and more French rosés are showing up on the shelves, and there are many very good ones. One I shared with friends about a month ago is the 2009 Le Pavillon du Château Beauchêne. This light, refreshing and delectably juicy rosé is from the Côtes du Rhône applellation and retails for less than $10.

I drank this as an aperitif with my friend Curt, and another friend Carl, before we went out to dinner at Broadway Cellars in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago. We had some delicious goat cheese and a halibut dip. The wine was quite dry, with a delicious strawberry flavor backed by minerals giving it a bracing taste with a fresh finish. This wine is all summer and good conversation.

One other review of this wine I read came very close to calling it awful, then added the note that perhaps they had a tainted bottle. I think so! Because this was really good! I give it an 8.5 on my scale to the left.

A decent New World Chardonnay

When looking for an inexpensive Chardonnay from a New World producer (and even when tasting some expensive New World Chardonnays), I have been so disappointed that I would exclaim that I don’t like Chardonnay the way some might say they dislike Merlot. My complaint is that New World Chardonnay is often too cloying, too much like an over-ripe peach that is about to spoil. They remind me of Elton John’s song “Rotten Peaches.” And then one day I was caught in my contradiction, because I frequently sing the praise of white Burgundy, which is, of course, Chardonnay. So my lament has changed to that of, “Why can’t New World producers create something like a white Burgundy?”

One comes pretty dang close, and that is the Chilean producer Cousiño-Macul. Its 2009 Chardonnay is a delightful quaff that can be had for $10 per bottle, sometimes less. This wine has a round and fleshy taste of both light citrus and orchard fruit with a brilliant finish that has a subtle mineral quality: None of that cloying puffiness of many other inexpensive Chardonnays from the New World.

Cousiño-Macul has been around for a while; it was founded in 1856 in the Maipo Valley. This winery has been a very-consistent producer over the years, and not just with its whites, but with its red varieties as well.

I drank this one several weeks back with my friend Curt, and as I recall, it was with a meal of some pan-seared salmon with a vegetable medley of sautéed peppers and summer squash. It had the right crispness and fruit for the salmon, and would make a suitable choice for a similar dish any time.

This is a great value wine that ought to bring you nothing but praise should you bring it to a dinner party. And for less than $10, I’ll be buying this one again. I rate it with an 8.5 from my scale at the left.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Domaine de la Solitude 2001

I celebrated my birthday at my sister Roberta’s home where her husband, Jack, grilled some delicious Porterhouse steaks served with huge baked potatoes and Harvard beets. For the wine, I pulled out my oldest bottle of Châteauneuf du Pape, a 2001 from Domaine de la Solitude. I found a very interesting blog with a recent post about this producer. The author, Christian Schiller, notes that for many years, the appellation received little notice until Robert Parker “fell in love” with the region. I, too, love these wines, and now I have Robert Parker to blame for their prices.

At the producer’s website, the wine is described as being a blend of 55 percent Grenache Noir, 25 percent Syrah, 15 percent Mourvedre, and 5 percent Cinsault. The grapes are hand-picked when they’ve reached the appropriate ripeness.

As is often the case with the wines in my closet, the longer I hold something, the riskier it becomes when I decide to open one. Particularly recently, because we’ve had an awful stretch of hot weather and my apartment can get really warm and stuffy during the day when I’m not at home. But I was blessed with this selection.

Like all Châteauneuf du Papes, this one was big. There was a delicious nose of plum and blackberry, bold fruit scents that pillowed upward with a hint of vanilla in the background. In the glass, the color was brick red. And on the first taste, the tannins were there, but soft and luscious. As the wine breathed, the tannins became firmer, muscling through the fruit to let through some more of the vanilla, spice and even a bit of smokiness. Against the steaks it performed well, and complimented also the sweet Harvard beets.

The wine probably was past its prime. Although still very delicious and impressive, it lacked the full breadth of muscle this wine normally has. Roberta commented that there was a taste of prunes about it; not a negative per se, but it does suggest that this bottle may have endured one or two too many hours in my closet at its less-than-ideal climate. The drink window varies significantly when you compare the producer’s recommendation with that of Wine Spectator (WS rated it among the Top 100 wines of 2003, ranking it 33). The latter suggests this wine could be cellared through 2015; but the producer suggests that it should have been opened by 2007. I’m more inclined to think that Wine Spectator had it right, because if stored properly, I’m sure this wine has the staying power necessary for long aging. But given the conditions in my closet, I probably would have done much better to have followed the producer’s guidelines.

Oh well, it was still a handsome choice for my birthday, and I rate it with a 9 based on my scale at the left.

Not strawberries, but peaches

There are some really good rosés out there, and many are very reasonably priced. Another French rosé I recently enjoyed comes from the Rhône appellation of Costières de Nimes. The 2009 Mas Des Bressades has a lovely color, a luscious, clear and bright red that is just this side of pink. It has a light, fruity nose that tends toward the orchard. It is semi-dry and fills your mouth with the subtle tastes of peaches and nectarines delivered on a solid, mineral base. The finish is smooth, but doesn’t linger very long, leaving your pallet feeling fresh.

It’s an excellent choice as an aperitif. I enjoyed this on my birthday with my sister Roberta and her husband, Jack. It went very well with the smoked salmon we had, as well as some sliced cucumbers with whitefish paté.

According to the producer’s website, this rosé is a blend of 50 percent Grenache, 30 percent Syrah, and 20 percent Cinsault. Interestingly, the producer describes the taste as being a “concentrate of small red fruits,” which didn’t come across for me at all. No strawberry or raspberry for me; it was definitely more toward the peach, but none of the cloying orchard fruit flavor that so many poorly made Chardonnays develop. This is likely because the producer asserts this wine goes through no malolactic fermentation.

Overall, this was a great buy at roughly $11. I rate it with an 8 from my scale described on the left.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A ho-hum Puligny Montrachet

Is it possible for a white Burgundy to be, well, mediocre? What about a Puligny Montrachet? Can this appellation be mediocre?

I first learned about the white Burgundy appellations of Puligny Montrachet and Chassagne Montrachet from the Wall Street Journal wine columnists John Brecher and Dorothy J. Gaiter, whose lovely columns brought the elegance of wine to the hoi polloi. Their advice was you hardly could go wrong choosing a wine from either of these stellar appellations along the Cote d’Or, so evening finding a “cheap” Puligny was a good buy. Cheap, of course, is relative. When most of these wines retail from $60 to $80, and many commanding much more, a cheap Puligny or Chassagne would fall in the $30 range. And by and large, that advice has been sage, whether it be a white or red Burgundy; there was only one caveat. Let it be a good year.

So in my closet has been a 2004 Puligny Montrachet by Olivier Leflaive. Wine Spectator rated the year 2004 for white Burgundy with a 90, so I figured that would mean just about any white Burgundy from that year would be good. I selected this wine because I thought the price was at least reasonable at $40.

The trouble is, one comes to have certain expectations with a wine at certain price points and from certain places of origin.

I enjoyed this wine (yes, I did enjoy it) with my friend Curt during a meal of broiled sword fish and our usual accompaniment of vegetables. It had all the wonderful brightness of a white Burgundy on the front end: the brilliant mineral quality, the light and vivacious taste of apples and pear. But on the back end, the finish, this wine was decidedly lacking. Another one of those all tits and no ass types of wine. Which, considering the origin of this wine, made it even more disappointing. If I want to drink a disappointing Chardonnay, I can do that with just about any California bottling and for $10 rather than $40.

But I have to admit, I did enjoy it. It wasn’t awful, or even bad; just disappointing. And that does happen from time to time.

So I shall rate this Puligny Montrachet with a 5.5. Alas, it had such promise.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Albarino - A new discovery

First, I want to apologize for the dearth of new posts. My personal laptop died on me, the motherboard fried because of a shorted connection with the external power cord. Silly me, I tripped over the cord one day, which broke the internal connection just enough to not completely sever it. As a result, the partial connection sparked over time and killed the motherboard.

Anyway, I have found an alternative setup to catch up on my posts while I continue shopping for a new laptop. So don’t be surprised if you see a flurry of new posts here over the next week. It’s not that I’ve drank all these wines in just a few sittings! Rather, I’m just catching up with the wines that I’ve enjoyed over the past month.

As you may recall, I’ve been on a search for the perfect summer white, with the idea of purchasing an entire case. However, my search has been so enjoyable that rather than purchase a case of a single wine, I instead bought a mixed case. It’s just way too much fun trying out all these different wines!

And one new discovery I made was in trying a Spanish white from the region Rias Baixas. It’s an Albarino, a varietal that I admittedly had never tried. The one I sample was a bit pricy at $17, but this Dom Bardo 2007 was really quite nice. Wine Spectator wasn’t very impressed with it, scoring it with a 79. But I thought it was a very nice introduction for me to this varietal.

The wine had a light straw color and a lively nose that was fresh and clean. It reminded a little of Chardonnay, but not those heavily oaked California excuses for wine, nor something too creamy and peachy. Rather, it tended more toward a classic Burgundy style of Chardonnay with just a snap of the liveliness you would expect from a Sauvignon Blanc. The finish was strong and refreshing. One thing I noticed with this wine is that you don’t want to serve it too cold. It really gains character as it warms up a bit.

Given the fact this wine was $17, I’ll rate it with a 6.5: I might buy it again if I see it on sale. But it certainly was a positive introduction for me to this Spanish white called Albarino.