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!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A divine meal with divine wines

I don’t expect there will be many times I will be able to enjoy classic wine with friends served with a delicious meal cooked with care. Just such a time occurred when Curt, Tim, Todd, Dan and I enjoyed a stunning meal, prepared by Tim, complimented with equally stunning wines, the 1989 and 1990 vintages of Château Lynch-Bages, a Sonoma-Cutrer 2009 Chardonnay, and a 1986 Sauternes from Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey.

Both of the Lynch-Bages vintages are highly-rated, but each is distinctly different from the other. The 1989 is subtle, the flavors nuanced and delicate: there’s tobacco followed by a long finish that continued to deliver surprises. The 1990 has firmer tannin, the fruit more noticeable with cassis, blackberry. They were served with delicious beef tenderloin and roasted Brussels sprouts. Initially I thought the 1990 was pairing better with the beef, but as the wines continued to take shape, it became clear the 1989 was the star performer.

Wine Spectator’s tasting notes show that both these wines still have a lot of time left on them.

WS notes on 1989 (from 2010): Delivers so much blackberry, leather and dried fruits on the nose. Full-bodied, with ultrapolished tannins and a silky mouthfeel. The palate turns to leaves, cedar and dried berries on the finish, which goes on and on. This is still reserved for the vintage, suggesting a long life ahead. Just coming around now, but will improve many years ahead. I have always loved this Lynch.

WS notes on 1990 (from 2007): Aromas of tar, currant and berries follow through to a full-bodied palate, with silky tannins and a long, long finish. Still not completely ready, but so good anyway. Age this as long as you like.

For me, the 1989 was clearly a 10 using my scale at the left, and I would rate the 1990 with a 9.5. Both wines were classic.

The earlier course of the evening was a cocksnail, a preparation of mashed potato mixed with a bit of wasabi and white truffle piped into a martini glass upon which was a prawn poached in court bullion made with vermouth, and snails. With this we had a Sonoma-Cutrer 2009 Chardonnay that was light and crisp, showing a character very similar to a white Burgundy. Definitely very easy drinking. I rate this wine a 9 using my scale at the left.

For dessert we had a fruit galette paired with a 1986 Sauternes from Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey. We had this same wine the prior evening, served on its own with some shortbread cookies. At that time it was rich, creamy and buttery like flan. Served with the fruit pastry dessert, however, it was delightful, light, the richness still present but without the deep flan character. Delicious.

WS rated this in 1989 with score of 86, and remarkably noted that it was, “Drinkable now or in the next three to five years.” Clearly this wine had much more life to it than was thought back in 1989, and I would rate it much higher with a 9.5 using my scale at the left.

Graham’s vintage Port 1985

This was a handsome drink. Delicious with some softened Gruyère. This is the only true vintage port I’ve had.

Granted, Leelanau Cellars has a “vintage Port,” and while quite good, it cannot compare with the real McCoy from Portugal. With real vintage Port, a true vintage only comes around a few times in a decade. While each house may declare their own vintages, they don’t do so until the second spring following the harvest in question.

If I wasn’t already stuffed from the delicious meal and all the good wine prior to having this I would have considered drinking this far into the night.

Wine Spectator notes from 2008: Dark color, with intense aromas of blackberry, licorice and hints of flowers. Full-bodied, lightly sweet, with super-refined tannins. Long and caressing. Very youthful. Will improve for a long time. This is really excellent. Always has been. Just starting to come around.

I rate this with a 9 using the scale at the left.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Clos du Mont Olivet 1989

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a wine worthy of the cellar, a wine that you can lay down for years provided you have reasonable conditions. My cellar – er closet – does not provide the ideal cellar conditions necessary for holding a wine for decades, so even the ones I hold for a few years are still consumed quite young. My friend Curt’s cellar isn’t ideal also, but he manages a fairly constant temperature in the low 60s, which has allowed him to hold on to some really breathtaking wines.

On Christmas Day we enjoyed one of them with dinner.

The 1989 Clos du Mont Olivet was a beautiful bright ruby. The cork came out smoothly and had the luscious inky stamp of age. But here’s where this wine really became intriguing. The nose held barely a hint of fruit, but was filled with earthy scents of forest duff, truffles and rich soil. Supremely drinkable, velvety smooth and filled with earthy flavors that went exceptionally well with our two entreés, the first being a poached Scottish salmon with morel mushroom, the second a delectable duck confit served with roasted Brussels sprouts.

The tannin just about disappeared with the salmon, but when it came to the duck, the tannin returned firmly as well as a bit of pepper. And the finish on this wine was long and complex.

I had to look up what Wine Spectator had on this wine, and I was surprised at what I found. WS rated the wine in 1991 and scored it with an 85, rather a pedestrian score for a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. And incredibly, their review announced that it would best from 1992-94!

Parker was a bit more serious with his rating of 92. At the time of release, the wine retailed for $29. It is available still at some retailers for about $45 to $55, which seems like an outrageous bargain to me. But who knows what conditions it was stored in with these sellers.

Regardless, it was a wonderful experience. I rate it 9.5 out of 10 using my scale at the left.

Altos las Hormigas, 2010 Malbec Clásico, Mendoza

The nose right from the beginning signals a light and delicate aroma, minerally, but then you begin to wonder: will it be subtle and delicious, or thin and weak?

As it turned out, this wine, a great find at $10, is a fairly complex drink that combines strong fruit with blackberry and cassis, but is delivered on a wonderful mineral beam giving it a light presence more like a Burgundy rather than a Malbec from Argentina.

It has a rich, purple coloring like grape juice, but despite that it delivers a spicy nose, a little hot with the 14.2 percent alcohol, but the tannin on the finish is smooth and leaves a delicious snap.

I had this with a rib eye steak, mashed potatoes with goat cheese mixed in, and mixed vegetables – a very basic meal. And it was superb!

Seriously, you can’t beat the $10 price, and it wouldn’t surprise me if you could find it a bit cheaper.

I rate this an 8.5 using my scale at the left.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Three grapes of deliciousness

There's a wide selection of wines that do well with lamb. Many will think of Brunello di Montalcino, and Borolo is a good choice as well. But the wines of the Southern Rhône are exceptional matches with lamb. And there’s such variety! Recently I prepared a boneless leg of lamb stuffed with goat cheese and spinach, served with the 2007 Domaine les Aphillanthes Côte du Rhône-Villages Cuvée 3 Cépages.

Despite my fail on the entrée – the rolled lamb came undone in the oven and overcooked a bit – this Côte du Rhône-Villages matched wonderfully with the lamb, goat cheese and spinach. Domaine les Aphillanthes has produced some great wines over the years, most scored in the high 80s and low to mid 90s by Wine Spectator. It has delicious fruit that comes across smooth, velvety, with just the right amount of tannin giving it a long, memorable finish.

The name 3 Cépages refers to the three grapes used in this blend: Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. The 2009 currently out is highly rated as well and you ought to be able to find it for less that the suggested $25 retail price. I paid $16 for the 2007, which was rated 91 by WS.

I rate this with a 9 using my scale at the left.

Despite the over-doneness of the lamb, the leftovers made excellent stew. As I revealed here, the secret to great lamb stew is the wine you use to cook with. With this particular batch, I used a 2009 Ventoux, an appellation in the Southern Rhône. The Cuvée des 3 Messes Basses is an inexpensive blend that you ought to find for about $10. It’s good drinking on its own, but it was also great in this stew. Of course, nothing comes close to the batch I made with a 2004 Châteauneuf-du-Pape. That was one awesome stew!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Thanksgiving holdovers

I guess I kind of dropped the ball with my posts about all the wine we drank for Thanksgiving. I managed to get the post written about the Gruet sparkler we had, but there was a lot of wine that day that I have written about.

Two wines we had were both quite good, although perhaps we drank them in the wrong order.

The first of the two was a Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, the 2007 Estancia Reserve. A very nice drink; full-bodied with a hint of spice that often comes with good Pinot Noir. Definite dried cherry, and my brother-in-law Jack added he thought there was a bit of tobacco too. All in all I nice wine that probably would have done well paired with the turkey.

What we did have with the turkey was a Moulin-à-Vent, the 2009 Domaine Diochon, a nice Beaujolais with good mineral and a light, racy flavor. Perhaps too light, however, to go with the turkey. Jack suggested we probably should have drank the Beaujolais first and followed up with the Pinot Noir with the turkey.

Either way, they were both good wines. The Beaujolais had a rating of 90, while the Estancia was scored an 88. I give both of them an 8.5 using the rating scale at the left.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Winter nights and Port

There’s freezing rain falling outside. It’s nights like these that have my mind at times thinking of Port. I don’t have a lot of experience drinking vintage Port, but one I recall enjoying came from Michigan. Yes, Michigan. I had the Leelanau Cellars 2002 vintage Port, and I would gladly purchase their Port again. The 2007 vintage is currently on sale now for $22. I don’t recall what I paid for the 2002, but I know I held it for a few years before opening it. I think that was last year, or maybe the year before. Who knows?

It’s a good, stout pour, smooth and not sickly sweet. It’s a really good match with dark chocolate, and on a cold, drizzly, sleety night like this one, I wish I had some around.

I went to see their website tonight and saw that they are sold out of their Raspberry Port and the Cherry Port. I recall that when I bought the 2007, I wanted to buy the Raspberry and Cherry ports, but they were sold out of the raspberry. I was seriously disappointed. I did pick up a bottle of the Cherry Port, however.

Later that same day I was wandering about downtown Traverse City when I happened to find a story that had one – yes one – bottle left of the Raspberry Port. I snatched that up right away. I think I held on to it for a year before I finally opened it. It was divine. Distinctly raspberry, but not jammy or cloyingly sweet.

I just may need to make another trip to Leelanau Cellars next year and this time I hope I’m there in time for the Raspberry Port.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A New Mexico sparkler

Ever since my trip to Arizona in September, I have been intrigued by wines made from grapes grown in the Southwest. A Nebbiolo grown in Arizona? The intrigue continues with a sparkling wine from a New Mexico producer.

I first learned of the Gruet Blanc de Noirs when Wine Spectator featured it recently as a Smart Buy. Not only is this relatively inexpensive sparkler rated a 90 by Wine Spectator, it’s also ranked 43 in that publication’s Top 100 wines for 2011. I picked this up for less than $14 to enjoy with my siblings and their spouses for Thanksgiving.

Wine Spectator uses terms like “elegant and focused,” but for our gathering, we found this wine exceptionally good, light and toasty with delicious fruit. And oh was it drinkable!

It’s not recommended for cellaring, as most NV sparklers are usually designated “drink now.” But I have had good success in the past holding a NV wine for as long as 3 years. Wine Spectator suggests you ought to be able to hold this one until 2014.

This was a delightful find and I expect to pick up 1 or 2 more to have around. I rate this with a 9 using my scale at the left.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Adding to the closet

It seems I haven’t written anything here since my trip to Arizona, and there’s good reason for that. It’s not that I’ve been negligent in writing about the wines I’ve been drinking, it’s just that I haven’t been drinking all that much wine of late.

There were a couple wines, but in those few cases I was negligent because I didn’t jot down any notes. In one case I did jot down a few words. It was for a 2001 Rioja, the Aribau Cuvee Reserva, a Spanish Tempranillo about which I wrote: “Very light, almost like a Pinot. Delicious fruit.” I think I drank this wine at a tapas restaurant in Columbia, S.C., but I’m not certain. Apparently Parker rated this vintage with a 90.

I did find a Kim Crawford 2010 Sauvignon Blanc for just $11; it was an exceptional bargain as this wine usually retails for $17. It was excellent!

And there was a white from Portugal, the 2010 Casa de Vila Verde, the first white wine I’ve had from Portugal. I recall it being very fresh and delightful, but I jotted down nothing for notes.

But I haven’t been completely idle. I’ve added some exciting wines to my cellar – er, closet – and some of them I expect to be drinking this Thanksgiving with family.

One addition to the closet is a 2009 Lirac, which is in the Southern Rhône, the Chateau de Segries Cuvee Reservee by Henri de Lanzac. I drank this one twice so far – once at a restaurant in Conway, S.C. and the other during a dinner with my friend Curt – but I’m afraid I didn’t take any notes. Suffice it to say that I was very impressed with this wine, considering it was just $15. Ah, but I have two more bottles and I will definitely devote a post to this exceptional find. And if you can’t wait, just go out and buy some! It’s that good!

I’ve decided I’m going to attempt to create a vertical flight – or at least as close as I can come to creating one – for Châteauneuf-du-Pape. With the exception of 2008, I have bottles going back to 2005. Even accounting for the fact that my wine cellar is a closet, these wines are age-worthy, many of them for 15 to 20 years.

My most recent additions of these are the 2009 vintage from Domaine Jean Roger, about which I know absolutely nothing (Cellar Tracker suggests you hold until at least 2014), and the basic bottling from Domaine de Cristia. This latter wine comes from a very consistent producer and the 2009 vintage was rated with a 92 and is expected to cellar through 2023. Domaine de Cristia offers some higher end Châteauneufs that are also 90+ wines, but these will cost you; the basic bottling you can find for about $32.

I also recently added a 2009 Beaujolais, the Domaine Diochon Moulin-a-Vent, which we may drink this weekend.

Some new ones for drinking right away I picked up include the 2010 vintage of the Dry Creek Vineyard Wilson Ranch dry Chenin Blanc. The 2009 vintage was such an exceptional value with its fresh, crisp taste that I thought it worth the risk to try the 2010. We shall see.

For Thanksgiving, Curt was kind enough to donate his Italian Merlot, the2009 Falesco from Umbria. This is a reasonably-price wine from a consistent producer who has offered solid wines for the past decade; this should be a decent match with turkey. We’ll also have the Gruet Blanc de Noir sparkler from New Mexico, which Wine Spectator rated as a Smart Buy recently and gave it a score of 90. Not bad for $13.

So while I may have been silent recently, there will be plenty to write about very soon!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A “ghostly” and “insane” dinner

I enjoyed another wine tasting menu while in Jerome, Arizona, and I also want to share with you the wines I drank with a nearly splendid meal I had at The Asylum, the restaurant in the Jerome Grand Hotel (which allegedly is haunted!).

When I saw that The Asylum had a tasting menu, I knew I had to try it. You may select four wines from their tasting menu for a reasonable price of $10. It’s a great opportunity to try new varietals as well as new producers.

My first choice was the Schwartzbock Grüner Veltliner 2009. This was a light, fresh, juicy and crisp Austrian wine, one of my favorite varietals. I loved this one.

The next one was a Spanish blend that was 60 percent Verdejo, 25 percent Viura and 15 percent Sauvignon Blanc. The Con Class Rueda 2009 was full of orchard fruit on the nose and had a clean mineral taste with a bit of lemon. It finished like a cool mountain stream lined with Colorado columbine. It was, indeed, a delightful wine.

Moving on to reds, I tasted the Los Lobos Malbec 2009, a very interesting wine from Mendoza that was spicy on the nose with a hint of cassis. Yet despite that intriguing aroma, the wine was very subtle on the pallet without much tannin. The finish was smooth and nice. All the flavors were very interesting and I couldn’t quite nail them down, but I know that this is a wine that I would enjoy a bottle of.

My final wine of the flight was the Villa Pozzi Nero d’Avola 2009 from Sicily. I’ve been disappointed by these wines in the past, but this one redeemed all its brethren. It had a rich, blackberry nose heavy with fruit, but not off-putting. It was delicious, juicy with plum and cherry with a tight, dry finish. You don’t taste the tannin until the finish, which leads me to think that this has some closet time potential. This was very good, certainly the best Nero d’Avola I’ve had after a string of disappointments. In fact, I ordered a full glass of this to enjoy with my entree, their delicious grilled Achiote rubbed pork tenderloin, prepared perfectly.

The previous night I had dinner at The Asylum as well, they had so many good wines! I began that evening with the Indaba 2010 Chenin Blanc from the Western Cape, South Africa. I haven’t had much success with South African wines, but this was a nice find. It was smooth and delicate like an excellent Chenin Blanc, ripe with apple, pear, and even a bit of pepper on the finish.

My dinner was a Rocky Point shrimp scampi with tomato Beurre Blanc and shredded Parmesan brown rice. With this I had the Zolo 2010 Torrontes from Mendoza. The Torrontes had a really nice bite with my appetizer, a delicious butternut squash soup that was divine! By the way, if you visit the restaurant’s website, you can find the recipe! The wine was also quite good with the entrée, although the shrimp was a tad overcooked.

All in all, the wines found at The Asylum were delicious and the variety inspiring.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Nebbiolo grown in Arizona?

I hadn’t visited the former ghost town of Jerome, Ariz., for 30 years, so I was anxious to return to see what had happened to this arty enclave clinging to the side of a mountain determined to slide into oblivion. When last I visited, the hippie and art crowd were just beginning to squat, turning old, crumbling buildings into new shows, restaurants and even apartments and condos. I in no way expected to find so many wine tasting shops when I returned, and one I visited had some very interesting wines produced from grapes grown in Arizona.

Yes, in Arizona, and among them was a rosé crafted from Nebbiolo grown in the hills north of Wilcox, Ariz., which is in the southeast corner of the state. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Caduceus Cellars & Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room in Jerome offers a wide variety of wines and tasting flights, including some that match cheese and other appetizers with their wines. The $10 flight I tried included four wines: a white, a rosé, and two reds.

The first wine was called Dos Ladrones, a 2010 vintage made with Malvasia Bianca and Chardonnay grown in Arizona. It had a bright, fragrant nose, but was a bit creamy on the first taste. Happily this creaminess disappeared on the finish, which was fresh and had just the right combination of orchard fruit and citrus. There seemed to be a little bit of herb and maybe even some white pepper? It was a very nice start.

Then came the wine that intrigued me the most: a rosé made from Nebbiolo, but not just any Nebbiolo, but Nebbiolo grown in Arizona! What was this? To me, Nebbiolo is a truly noble grape used to craft outstanding Barolo. And like Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo can be a delicate and finicky grape. Certainly, I was familiar with the beautifully elegant and even muscular Barolos, but a rosé?

Called Lei Li Rosé, this 2010 vintage had an almost amber pink color. The nose was fresh with lovely but so ephemeral fruit that had just a bit of zing to it. Tasting, this wine was very delicate, the flavors very subtle but really quite good followed by a lingering finish. Seriously, the flavors were so delicate that I could see someone easily missing them. This was a wine that demanded your attention, but was a delight to drink. So delicate, I wondered how to pair it with cheese. They had an answer for me at the shop, but unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the cheese; it was a creamy French cheese with a mild flavor unless you got piece next to the rind.


Number 3 was a 2009 vintage blend of Syrah and Malvasia Bianca, also grown in Arizona, called Primer Paso. It had a very oaky nose, so overpowering that I couldn’t smell any fruit no matter how I swirled and sniffed. The oak was so strong it was almost like sniffing a cedar box. It was juicy, not jammy, on the taste, but there was nothing left for the finish. Not my favorite at all, but surprisingly it was the favorite wine of one of the pourers in the shop.

The final wine was made with grapes from California, a 2008 vintage blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. Called Nagual de la Naga, I half expected something robust and even muscular, not just because it was the last wine in the flight, but also because one of the pourers described it as a “super Tuscan” style wine. Powerful it was not, but it was a nice wine. There was a light nose of cherry and cassis with a bit of herb and earth; very rustic. It was juicy and bright, the Cabernet nicely tempered, I thought, by the Sangiovese. It had nice tannin as well, suggesting that it might cellar for a few more years.

So there you have it. Even in a town like Jerome, Ariz., you can find wine tasting rooms with interesting offerings and even some surprises, like that Nebbiolo rosé.

Los Nevados

The Mendoza region of Argentina is probably best known for Malbec, so it may come as a surprise that more and more land is being planted with Chardonnay. The Los Nevados 2010 is very inexpensive at less than $10 a bottle, and being unoaked, it is an excellent choice for making kir.

Beyond that, there’s nothing truly remarkable about this wine. It is fresh and vivacious with a crisp finish and is excellent for drinking on its own. These very qualities make it highly suitable for mixing with crème de cassis, turning it into the popular aperitif from Provence. You can serve with a variety of cheeses – goat cheese works really well, as well as pungent French cheeses – or smoked salmon.

So if you’re looking for something different to serve with appetizers, consider this kir and this Chardonnay will work excellently.

I rate this wine with a 7.5 using my scale at the left.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A red Burgundy like Mary

Similar to what I said in a previous post about white Burgundy, red Burgundy can also be very pricey and not always worth that cost. And even when the region has an outstanding year as it did in 2005, you can still find yourself paying a premium for a disappointment. Nonetheless, 2005 was a grand year for red Burgundy, with wines produced from that vintage showing superb class and finesse virtually across the board. And it’s quite possible that my previous “dud” was more related to how I was storing it rather than the wine itself. After all, my wine cellar is a closet.

Pinot Noir is the primary grape for red Burgundy, hence its ephemeral nature. It takes great skill to craft a wine from this delicate grape, and Bouchard Père & Fils does it again with the 2005 Gevrey-Chambertin, which I was able to find for just under $40. It’s been “cellaring” for a little more than 2 years in my closet, and last night became its moment.

My guests – Curt, Steven and Nathan – and I all agreed that while this wine was truly splendid, we didn’t want to mire ourselves with the same old tired descriptors. And as we discussed this wine’s subtle beauty, we gradually arrived at this wine’s character.

“This wine reminds me of Mary in ‘Gosford Park,’ in that the character Mary was very restrained, she was very reserved, but she was very astute, she knew what was going on,” I explained to my guests. “And this wine has a reserved character of intensity as well as, what? Tell me!”

Well, the discussion degenerated a bit into a puerile comparison, but alas we were saved by Curt.

“Think of a Scottish banker,” Curt said to our confused silences. “It just means she keeps it all to herself, that she is very reserved and conservative. She doesn’t share much with anybody, but when she does, she’s really generous. And that describes this wine.”

That was beginning to capture the experience, because despite the restraint, you could taste the bursting fruit and mineral tones while enjoying a delicate and beguiling boquete.

“The bouquet says she’s a coy little whore,” Stephen suggests. “She’s not going to tell you a whole lot about her trade, but you know what’s going on.”

“I don’t think that’s so,” Curt counters. “I think she’s an ingénue.”

“OK, so this is not Marilyn Monroe,” I say, running with the analogy, “this is Bridgette Bardot?”

“No, that’s all flash in the pan, and that’s not what this is about,” Curt retorts. This was beauty, he said, but an enduring and wholesome beauty, much like Mary in “Gosford Park,” Curt continued to say.

And then Nathan put it all into place: “It’s not trying hard to be what it is, because what it is is amazing.”

This beauty of a wine was served with an herb roasted chicken seasoned with fresh thyme, Rosemary, and lavender buds; beet greens prepared with bacon, onion, garlic, carrot, some sugar and apple cider vinegar; roasted potatoes; and a new beet preparation with sliced onion and a vinaigrette prepared with horseradish and champagne vinegar. When roasting the chicken, I basted using equal parts chicken broth and an inexpensive Pinot Noir from Smoking Loon.

It was an exceptional meal with a delicious wine that I shall rate with a 10 using my scale at the left.

Friday, August 12, 2011

When white Burgundy wins

From time to time, as my regular readers know (I am aware there is only a few of you and I thank you all so much!), I pull out a wine from my closet because I sense its time has arrived. Feeling all Orson Wells-like, I was sure that time was arriving for a white Burgundy I had lying in the gloom of my closet. But first some background.

I don’t have an inexhaustible fund for buying and closeting, er, cellaring wine, particularly when that wine cellar is my closet. So I do my best to find what I hope to be outstanding wines at reasonable prices. Burgundy is traditionally known as the premier appellation for Chardonnay when it comes to white wine, but Burgundy is also traditionally known for its price. Some of us may need a guide, a compass to help us know when an inexpensive white Burgundy might be worth buying. And what is an “inexpensive” white Burgundy?

My threshold is about $35. When I see a white Burgundy for that price, my interest is aroused. But it’s not just the price point. Remember the Wall Street Journal wine columnists Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher? They “invented” the classic “Open that bottle night,” a night when you have that special wine lying around and you need an excuse to drink it rather than save it until it spoils. Gaiter and Brecher had some very sound advice when shopping for white Burgundy.

There were two particular appellations in the Burgundy region they suggested as the most consistent, and when you’re looking at prices in the range of $50 and more for white Burgundy, it’s not unusual to pay that much for a rather disappointing wine. But, Gaiter and Brecher guided, if you focused on the appellations of Chassagne-Montrachet and Pugliny-Montrachet, you could hardly go wrong.

That sage advice has guided me with virtually all my purchases of white Burgundy. Granted, I haven’t strictly followed this rule. But as a general guideline, it has served me well. So I was understandably delighted when I found a 2007 Pugliny-Montrachet from the very consistent house of Joseph Drouhin for $30.

This wine had a creamy floral nose with pear and bright citrus. It was delicious with bracing mineral and lime followed by a fresh, clean finish. It was really delightful. I served it with poached cod and it was exceptional. The poaching recipe comes from the pages of some women’s magazine, maybe a Ladies Home Journal or Better Homes & Gardens. The page looks like it was circa 1970. And while the recipe is for poached sole with hollandaise, the preparation works excellently for poaching cod.

It’s pretty simple. Just heat up 2 cups of water with a sliced carrot and sliced celery stalk, add half an onion sliced up (recipe calls for 1 small onion, but most onions these days are fairly large), 1 lemon sliced up, some pepper corns, 2 bay leaves and some fresh parsley or cilantro sprigs. I used cilantro. Also, a teaspoon of salt.

Let this simmer for at least 10 minutes. I actually let mine simmer for about 20 minutes while I prepare other items or enjoy a bit of cheese and crackers with my guests. After this has simmered, remove all the ingredients and discard. Poach the fish in the remaining water covered for about 4 minutes or until the correct doneness, when the fish easily flakes but won’t completely fall apart. Serve the fish with sliced lemon and garnish with more parsley or cilantro. I didn’t bother with the hollandaise.

It was a delicious meal. I rate this wine a 9.5 using my scale at the left.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Dry Chenin Blanc with Coho salmon

What goes with a really well-prepared Coho salmon fillet? A really inexpensive dry Chenin Blanc, that’s what, and the 2009 Clarksburg vintage of Dry Creek Vineyard’s Wilson Ranch Dry Chenin Blanc is a great match and value at just $10 a bottle.

The first word I tapped into my iPhone notes about this wine was “Wow!” I’m going to be buying some more of this, that’s for sure! This crisp, dry, bright wine has a mineral quality and bright acidity that really buoys the citrus fruit and juicy green apple. The finish is clean and fresh. Just really grand for a $10 wine.

The Coho served with this wine was simply prepared. I sprinkled some fennel seed onto the fish and pan fried both sides in a bit of olive oil. I then added some sake and lemon juice for a final steam before serving. The Chenin Blanc was excellent with the preparation, the licorice-like flavor of the fennel playing really nicely with the fresh citrus of the wine.

I score this wine a 9 using my scale at the left. It’s worth repeating, I will be getting some more of this while it lasts in the stores!

A deliciously complex Albariño

I’m a relatively new convert to Albariño, a deliciously crisp and vibrant white varietal from northwest Spain, and this has been a great year to try this wonderful wine.

Recently I shared a bottle of the Burgáns 2010 Albariño with my friend Curt at Glenn’s Diner here in Chicago. This was a deliciously beguiling wine! Yes, it was fresh and vibrant, but it had a very blossomy nose like a fruit orchard. I suggested to Curt it was orange blossom. The wine tasted juicy like baked apple without the sweetness, but definitely with a spiced back end. That was the beguiling part – what was that spice? It was so familiar, but I just couldn’t name it. The best I could come up with was cardamom with a hint of snake fruit – a delicious and somewhat spicy fruit I had once in Bali. And there was blood orange.

Whatever the tastes were, the wine was delicious! We split a Cobb salad as an opener and the wine was great with it. And it was well suited with both our entrees, although I didn’t think the sauce with my seared sea scallops was the right style. Despite that, it was a great wine and meal.

This is a wine I have no qualms with scoring a 9 using my scale at the left.

A southern Rhône producer does it again

I wrote about the 2009 vintage of the Le Pavillon du Château Beauchêne rosé from the Côtes du Rhône with high praise for this juicy wine that packs delicious strawberry on a solid mineral beam with just the right amount of dryness. Well, guess what? The 2010 vintage is another great one from this producer, and is widely available.

The latest vintage is consistent with its fresh strawberry and bracing mineral qualities that give this a clean and fresh finish. Very food friendly, I enjoyed with everything from strongly-flavored soft cheese to pasta with tomato sauce. And it’s also excellent for just plain drinking! And perhaps best of all, you can find it for $10 a bottle!

Another great year for French rosé. I score this with an 8.5 using my scale at the left.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Villa Medoro, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, 2007

My previous experience with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a light red wine from central Italy, was unmemorable. But the 2007 vintage from Villa Medoro was much better, and being priced from $12 to $15 makes this a decent value (granted, I’d be more likely to pick this one up again if it were just a tad cheaper).

This was an inky wine the color of dark prunes. It had a really interesting nose with aromas of meat and vanilla with a hint of chocolate; it was very earthy, not fruity at all. It had firm tannin as well, but the taste was not very distinct; it wasn’t bad, but rather undistinguishable. After being opened a while, the wine’s dark prune color transformed into an even darker blackberry.

It was a pleasant wine that went well with pasta and tomato sauce. A fair value that I will rate with a 6.5 using my scale at the left.

An unmemorable Italian red

There were notes for this wine entered into my iPhone, but I obviously didn’t write about it soon enough after drinking it because I was unable to find the label. Did I throw the bottle away without first saving the label? Alas, no, this was a wine I drank at a restaurant with friends, hence the very dark image that is displayed. It finally occurred to me to search for the image in a computer folder. And after looking at the image background, which for quite awhile wasn’t stimulating my memory, I finally remembered where and with whom I drank this. It was at Francesca’s on Bryn Mawr in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago, and it was with Curt.

What did we have to eat that night? I made no notes as to what we dined on. Judging by the notes I did make regarding the Barba Colle Morino, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, 2006, this wine was OK, went well enough with what we did eat, but not really memorable.

Here’s what I tapped into my phone: Light and acid, nose is much better than the taste, buttery blackberry on the nose, but tastes more cherry.

And that’s it. Given the terse nature of my notes, I would say this wine didn’t inspire much (unlike Thomas Jefferson it seems, who was very impressed with the wines of Montepulciano). It was acceptable. I’m sure the meal itself was wonderful – they always are at Francesca’s. The wine, however, I will rate with a 6 using my scale at the left.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A mismatch with a poorly-prepared lamb chop

France’s Rhône valley has always been my favorite wine region, ever since I had my first bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the early 1980s. I have explored other appellations in both the Southern and Northern Rhône regions, finding extraordinary wines all the time. One appellation in the Northern Rhône that I had a lucky find several years ago was Saint-Jospeh. As I recall, it was a delicious bold and brilliant wine full of character and terroir. But lately the wines of Saint-Joseph have been beguiling to me, much like Côte-Rôtie. I have purchased and drank highly rated examples of these wines, but was generally left with a feeling of ambivalence. Was the wine really that good? Am I missing something?

Such was the case with the 2006 Domaine Georges Vernay, Saint-Joseph. I had two bottles of these and both time I drank them, I was always left with the thought of how could Wine Spectator rate this a 92? Don’t get me wrong, the wine was very good, but a 92?

And a misstep in preparing the lamb chops the wine was served with probably didn’t help much either.

My friend Curt and I opened my last bottle the other night. The stain on the cork was such a deep violet it was almost black. The nose was a rich and delicious mixture of dark, heavy fruit, of cassis buoyed with a spicy hint of licorice and pepper. This was an incredibly inky wine pouring out of the bottle, dark as night and opaque.

But the taste wasn’t nearly as exhilarating as the nose and its beautiful color. The strong mineral beam carried the fruit nicely, but it struck me as a bit acidic. Again, it was good drinking, but the acid flavor to the wine was exacerbated as well by the lamb served with it. And that brings me to my preparation faux pas.

I marinated the chops in olive oil, lemon juice, minced garlic and fresh oregano with salt and pepper. They were perfectly broiled and tender as could be. But I way overdid the lemon juice in the marinade, which also could have used more pepper and maybe even more oregano and garlic. The lemon was so strong it nearly dominated the lamb’s flavor and the tartness of the lemon conflicted with the wine.

Lesson 1: I shall remember that wonderful experience with the first Saint-Joseph I had and will continue my search for another.

Lesson 2: I will use far less lemon in the marinade for the lamb chops, and I think I will also go for a more peppery coating so they grill a bit crispier.

OK, I went back and changed my rating for this wine from an 8 using my scale at the left to a 6.5. This wine was frankly disappointing. Am I missing something with these wines?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Altos las Hormigas 2007

Altos las Hormigas is a well-known house in the Mendoza region of Argentina and its Vineyard Selection Reserva is a consistent performer with the 2007 vintage sustaining that tradition. In fact, the 2002 vintage was ranked in Wine Spectator’s top 50 of the top 100 wines available in 2005. Wine Spectator had high praise for the 2007 vintage as well, rating it with an excellent score of 91.

This is an inky wine with a deep violet color with a nose that is dense and fruity with a spice note of pepper and forest and caramel smoothness that is soft and delicious. And that’s just the nose!

The first taste shows firm tannin with blackberry and cedar. Wine Spectator indicated that it was a “drink now” wine, but I really think this wine had a few more years available in the cellar, er, my closet. As the wine opened up, the juiciness and spice was retained and it was delicious to slosh it around in my mouth, mixing with bits of food.

It was served with a beef chuck roast marinated in a bulgolgi sauce for several hours and served very rare. The fruit of the bulgolgi marinade matched excellently with the boldness of this Malbec. A really excellent food-friendly wine.

I’ll rate this with a 9 using my scale at the left.

A Flipflop flop

Sometimes you can find an extraordinary wine for $5, like with this one I wrote about in the past. But sometimes a $5 wine is just a $5 wine.

The Flipflop 2009 California Cabernet Sauvignon is one that falls into the latter category. It has a definite cabernet nose full of oak barrels with a hint of cedar and not a lot of fruit, which was a pleasant surprise. The taste brought out cassis and cherry that was a bit fruity, but not quite a full-blown fruit bomb. It was slightly dry with tannin very subtle. The finish? Nothing.

It was well suited for the hamburgers we had, but I don’t think I’ll be picking up any of this wine in the future. I’ll rate it with a 4.5 using my scale at the left.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Cold chicken time

I picked this up at The Blue Goat in Traverse City, Mich., which is a very interesting wine store. I was looking for a wine that would go with cold chicken and corn on the cob. But I also needed it cold because I didn’t want to wait for the wine to chill; I was hungry! There were several different white wines in the cooler at The Blue Goat and this is what the shopkeeper steered me toward.

At $14, it was a bit more than what I wanted to spend, but I thought I would give it a try. The Villa Puccini 2009Pinot Grigio has a light nose of pear. It is crisp and acidic, coming off as very juicy, but there’s nothing on the finish.

Nonetheless, it was a perfectly acceptable wine to go with the cold chicken and corn on the cob. The chicken seasoning brought out the wine’s juiciness even more, but there was still no finish.

I rate this with a 7.5 using my scale at the left. If you can find this for less than $12, it’s a decent wine for a picnic. If it’s priced any higher than that, you can find something else.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Cupcake Red Velvet 2009

This was a complex wine, but I don’t necessarily mean that in a good way. I had this at a party recently; I was intrigued because I had heard about it – I thought. Turns out that it wasn’t the Red Velvet that I had heard about, but the 2008 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, which Wine Spectator rates with a 90.

I don’t think WS will rate this one with a 90.

First of all, the name should have been a hint as to what I was about to taste. The nose was dense and lush with a blast of jammy fruit. The taste was very fruit-forward, almost sickeningly sweet, but there was something else there that was both intriguing and beguiling. It was odd. There was licorice and definitely chocolate, both on the palate and the nose.

The wine smoothed out a bit and became almost tolerable. It did have a velvety texture and the chocolate was intense. And then it hit me – this wine tasted just like a slice of red velvet cake with all its decadent richness and almost bloating body. The fruit was so intense: blueberry and blackberry jam on buttery biscuits. There’s enough intrigue to keep you drinking, but at the end of the day, the cloying sweetness was too much and the wine becomes intolerable.

This is a California blended wine of Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It retails for about $12. I was surprised by some of the generous reviews that it received from others. As for me, I will only give this wine a 3.5 using my scale at the left. It’s drinkable, but I would never buy a bottle nor recommend it.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Rosé d’Anjou 2009

I think rosé is going to be my favorite summer wine for 2011. I recently wrote about a delicious 2010 rosé from Côtes de Povence, noting that 2010 is turning out to be a great year for rosés from this region. But I found an extraordinarily tasty bottling from Anjou, an appellation in the Loire Valley.

The 2009 vintage from Barton & Guestier is a juicy and racy wine with a very pale pink color like a pink topaz. There’s honeycrisp apple, strawberries and kiwi that are refreshing and held together well on a light, mineral beam. The finish is lingering, but not cloying. It is a very food-friendly wine that I managed to find for about $12 and I am certainly going to continue to pick this one up wherever I see it.

Most recently I took a bottle with me to the Chicago restaurant Mixteco Grill. It went very well with both my dish – a grilled pork chop sliced and smothered in a mild and tart green chile sauce laced with shredded jalapeño – and my friend Curt’s (sorry, I can’t recall what he had). But this wine is certainly a perfect quaff for spending the day at the beach reading a fine book.

Have you recently found a favorite rosé? Please tell me about it!

I rate this one an 8.5 using my scale at the left.

Rosso Conero 2009

Some may be daunted by the broad selection of wine that is out there, and I admit that at times I just can’t make up my mind while browsing the aisles. But trying unknown wines can be great fun, as you may never know what you may find unless you take a chance and try something new.

I recently took a chance on an Italian red that turned out to be rather nice. The 2009 Fattoria le Terrazze Praeludium from the Rosso Conero region is a dark, almost inky, wine that is a bit fruit-forward with a deep flavor of cassis, but is light on the finish with fresh flavors of black cherry and blackberry. The tannin is soft and round, giving the wine a smooth finish.

Fattoria le Terrazze has been in the Terni family apparently since 1882. A visit to their website and you will be treated to Bob Dylan’s “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.” The majority of its wines are crafted from “select” Montepulciano grapes grown on the estate. However, this particular bottling is Sangiovese.

I picked this wine up for about $12, but the price range is probably closer to $16-18 in most other areas. It went very well with a simple dinner of pasta and tomato sauce and it was quite pleasant to drink on its own as well. Certainly, the Rosso Conero region of Italy is one I will be on the lookout for again.

I rate this one with an 8 using my scale at the left.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

2010 was the year for French rosé

There are many rosés on the shelf right now from the 2010 vintage, and the ones from the Côtes de Provence are particularly delicious. There’s a wide range of prices, but most are under $20 and there are some delicious finds for less than $10.

One of these great bargains is the 2010 bottling of Domaine Houchart Côtes de Provence rosé. For just $9 you can have this delicious wine so suited for lazy quaffing on a summer afternoon before dinner preparations begin. It is so friendly that you can have whatever you want for an appetizer.

It has a beautiful pale color, a light salmon pink that offers a sumptuous nose of fresh fruit and summer. It is full of juicy flavor with a fabulous finish of fresh strawberry and kiwi. Yet, the mineral quality leaves your palette fresh and clean. More suited for mild cheeses, the label suggests it would go well with sushi, and I bet it would! It’s a delicious blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvèdre. And it comes from one of my favorite areas of France – the southern Rhône and Provence.

I rate this with an 8.5 using my scale at the left.

Are you a rosé drinker? Tell me about your favorites! I’d love to try them.

A Chilean Sauvignon Blanc for summer

Sauvignon Blanc has always been one of my favorites for summertime whites, but finding a good one can be really hit and miss when you your price point is $10 or less. Granted, I will pick up more expensive Sauvignon Blanc from time to time; they usually come from New Zealand. But Chile has some good ones out there and it’s often worth the risk to buy one blind.

Such was the case with the Rayun 2010 Sauvignon Blanc from the Central Valley of Chile. This refreshing wine has a light, citrus nose with a hint of grass and some herbal undertones. This grassiness and herb note doesn’t come through very well on tasting; instead you’re hit with a juicy and bright flavor of lemon with a faint background of grapefruit. And the finish is long and lemony.

The acid in this wine worked well with some penne pasta served in a creamy Alfredo sauce and held up admirably with a spicy Italian sausage link accompanying the pasta. And for $9, that isn’t bad.

What’s your favorite summertime white? Do you share my love of Sauvignon Blanc? Tell me what you’re drinking this summer!

I rate this with an 8 using my scale at the left.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Washington Hills Gewürztraminer

Normally a Gewürztraminer can be a good pairing with spicy food, particularly Asian food. But this grape can come off too sweet, even bubble-gummy. The 2007 Washington Hills almost hits that too-sweet level, and what I had hoped to be a good pairing with spicy pork tenderloin didn’t pair so well after all.

This wine had a subtle melon nose when first opened, and when tasted, it might have been a little too cold. It had a nice, bright acidity with a smooth finish with pear and maybe even some banana. There was definite melon as well, which made the wine a tad too sweet for my pallet. And despite the spiciness of the pork, it didn’t mesh well. Oddly, it did go well with the vegetable medley I prepared: a simple preparation of zucchini and summer squash sautéed with red, yellow and orange bell pepper, seasoned with some chili flakes, oregano and cilantro.

The pork was quite good. I used a chipotle rub mix with dark beer, fresh lime juice, olive oil, garlic and some cayenne. I marinated the pork overnight, then baked in a moderate oven until almost done, letting it rest and finish cooking before serving. I think a drier Gewürztraminer would have worked really well with this.

I rate this wine with a 7 using my scale at the left.

A Beaujolais bargain

I need to do some serious catching up because I’ve tasted quite a few wines recently, but I just don’t seem to get around to posting about them in a timely fashion. And here’s one example that shouldn’t have taken so long.

Moulin-à-Vent is an appellation in the region of Beaujolais, which is north of Lyon and the Rhône where the red wines are predominately crafted with Gamay. Despite many Beaujolais being light bodied, those from Moulin-à-Vent can cellar well and are generally considered the most full-bodied of the wines. Geroges DuBoeuf has a rather nice one out now with the 2009 vintage, known as the “flower label.” It is reasonably priced and drinks easily.

Wine Spectator rates it with a 90, a really nice score for a wine that retails for $16 or less. Its minerality gives the wine a nice balance with the tannins and flavors of ripe cherry and a bit of blackberry. Not sure I get the fig, however. And it does have a juicy finish. I served this with a steak and it was delicious!

This can be held for another 4 to 5 years, so I recommend you pick up more than one bottle when you see it.

I give it an 9 using my scale on the left.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Like canned peaches

It can be difficult to find a decent Riesling with just the right amount of sweetness that it isn’t cloying, as these wines are excellent pairings with spicy food. But American Riesling tends to be too sweet for me, and I ran into one recently that was disappointing.

Another wine suitable for pairing with spicy food is Gewürztraminer.

Granted, there may be those who will like the 2009 Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling from Columbia Valley, but I won’t be among them. And adding to my disappointment is the fact that I had some very nice wines from Chateau Ste. Michelle in the past.

This wine was paired with pork tenderloin that had been in a spicy Korean marinade for several hours before cooking. When opened, the wine already gave itself away with a heavy nose full of the “ripe peach and juicy” pear described on the label. Upon taste, I kid not, I was reminded of the juice that canned fruit is packed in. Curiously, the sweetness indicator on the bottle placed this wine right in the middle between medium sweet and medium dry.

But you have to remember that my preference is for dry to off-dry whites. I don’t mind a sweet wine occasionally, but the flavors need balance, and this was a bit heavy. Even when eating the spicy pork tenderloin, the wine was still too syrupy. Oddly though, it did pair well with the butternut squash that was seasoned with nutmeg.

I’ll give this one a 4 using my rating scale at the left. But remember, if you like this type of wine, you may like this one.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Young, big and delicious

Recently I went out to dinner at erwin in Chicago with friends Curt and Todd. The special for the night was a French country style chicken, which both Curt and I ordered. Todd ordered the sautéed calf’s liver served with turnips. Both entrees had very flavorful sauces. The chicken thighs also were served atop a bed of green and ripe olives with other herbs, and came with a delicious leek soup.

I was delegated the wine choice, and considering our dinners, I identified three choices, noting I leaned heavily toward a Gigondas I saw on the list. My guidance was followed and we had the Elegantia 2009 Gigondas.

A southern Rhône appellation, Gigondas is like a value Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Normally not as big as a Châteauneuf, Gigondas nonetheless can have great depth and character, and the better ones age rather well too. Better still, you can find some really outstanding Gigondas for $25 or less, while a similarly stellar Châteauneuf-du-Pape will cost you a minimum of $50, mostly like closer to $100 or more. While this was a bit pricy on the menu, the Elegantia retails for under $20.

The Elegantia is not a well-known wine. The label shows no information regarding a house or vintner, which likely means the wine is made through a cooperative. That might indicate to some people lower quality, but I assure you it does not. This wine turned out to be a superb accompaniment for both entrees.

It has a beautiful light and delicate color, almost like a Pinot Noir. The taste is light with subtle mineral and a deliciously long chocolate finish. There’s even a hint of chocolate on the nose with light berry. It was juicy, but not jammy. And the cassis fruit was so delicate it really gave it a fine focus and depth.

I give this a 9 using my scale at the left.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A wine bar weekend

On Saturday a new friend of mine and I went to a wine bar in Lincoln Park and sampled two of their flights, one white and the other red. My friend, Andrew, wanted to learn more about wine and the wine bar was a perfect solution.

D.O.C. Wine Bar has many locations throughout Chicagoland, and like many wine bars, offers you the opportunity to sample flights of similar wines so you can get an idea of what a region offers or what a varietal offers. It’s a great way for neophytes to learn about varietals and regions, as well as learn the techniques to discern flavor differences and test your pallet. For more experienced wine drinkers, these wine bars can present opportunities with their various flights to sample new wines you may be unaware of, as well as give you opportunities to sample varietals that you might normally not purchase.

The abbreviation D.O.C. in Italian is for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, and is the equivalent to France’s Appelation D’Origine Contrôlee. It reflects a wine region’s denomination designation, and for the DOC, this is defined by the geographic area of production and specifies the varietals that may be used for wine making in order to earn that designation. This board also controls the minimum alcohol content in the wine, the maximum allowable yield with the grapes, and specifications for aging.

For our tastings, Andrew and I started off with three wines in the “Euro trash” flight, a curiously named trio of varietals that I am aware of, but haven’t much experience drinking. I tapped my notes into my iPhone as we drank, and below is what I chronicled.

Strele 2009 Soave, Vento, Italy: Light nose, orchard fruit, apple, peach, a very light flavor, not too sweet, very fresh and crisp, juicy.

Reventos 2009 Muscat/Macabeo, Penedes, Spain: Nose more rustic, longer finish, more herbal, fruit gradually exposed, a curious, almost medicinal flavor, not unpleasant.

Chateau Moncontour 2009, Chenin Blanc, Vouvray, Loire Valley, France: Light, fresh nose, juicy, spicy apple, light finish, best of the three.

Andrew and I both agreed we thought it interesting how the three wines were ordered. The Soave presented juicy and delicious orchard fruit followed next by the Muscat, which was decidedly more herbal and even a bit suppressed. Andrew didn’t care much for it, but I thought it good, though very different from the first. And then the Chablis placed itself right in the middle, having both the light juiciness of the orchard fruit, but still presenting complexity and mineral qualities.

We thought, then, that the ordering was deliberate, so when we ordered a Pinot Noir flight next, we anticipated a similar progression. Before tasting, I explained to Andrew why Pinot Noir can be so beguiling, how difficult it is to grow and how delicate it is to craft into good wine. Nebbiolo is also like this, which is why red Burgundy and Barolos can be such huge disappointments at times: both tend to be expensive, and both varietals are very similar in character. So when Burgundy or Barolo is made well, these wines are extraordinary. But when made poorly, they can be enormous duds.

Nieto 2010 Pinot Noir, Mendoza, Argentina: Can’t peg the nose, the smell is familiar, but can’t name it. A very young wine, thin, watery, no finish. Color a beautiful transparent ruby.

Block Nine 2009, Pinot Noir, California: Light berry nose, bit of spice, tannin noticeable, longer finish, a hint of cinnamon. Tasty, but nothing special.

Vincent Sauvestre 2008, Pinot Noir, Burgundy, France: Nothing on the nose, literally sans smell, bright fruit, but again diluted.

With this flight, we experienced the ephemeral quality that is Pinot Noir. All three wines were generally disappointments in my book, although I must say it was curious to see a Pinot Noir from the Mendoza region of Argentina. If I hadn’t of done this, I wouldn’t have known about the fact there are growers dabbling with Pinot Noir in Argentina.

Repeat visits to wine bars like this are a good idea because the tasting flights do change periodically, so there will be something of interest. And the bottle selection can be relatively deep, although rather expensive, particularly for the higher end wines. For example, D.O.C. has a Chassagne-Montrachet that goes for $116 a bottle, and a Chateuneuf-du-Pape that goes for more than $300.

All in all a delightful experience and one that shall be repeated.

Are there similar wine bars in your area? Tell me about them and your experiences by leaving a comment. What new wine have you discovered through similar tasting flights?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Delightful complexity

I return to my favorite region in France with a Côtes du Rhône that is decently prices at $13. The 2009 Cuveé les Trois Soeurs from Domaine les Grands Bois is a satisfying red with complexity and the fine mineral quality that I’ve come to admire with Rhône wines. Despite the fact my tasting notes match up pretty well with Robert Parker’s, I think he was a bit too generous to rate this wine at 90 points.

What struck me first as I poured the wine was the deep purple color, rich and dark like blackberry. On the nose there was faint vanilla, a subtle boysenberry backed by a denseness that always almost like a barrier to something else beyond. There were earthy notes, and a hint of leather, like tack.

Upon tasting, the firm tannins didn’t overpower the mineral quality or the subtle white chocolate. The fruit was faint, but discernable, served on a slate plate with an herbal dusting that reminded me of gentle spice: white pepper, cinnamon and savory herbs like light sage and thyme.

At $13, this wine certainly drank like a higher priced Cuveé, but as I mentioned, it wasn’t quite a 90-pointer in my mind. It went well with a simple pasta dish served with spicy Italian sausage. For the price, I will likely pick this one up again.

I rate it 8.5 using my scale at the left.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What, no grass?

What flavors and aromas come to mind when thinking about Sauvignon Blanc? For me, the best ones have a fresh citrus quality with a definite grassy flavor coupled with hints of herb. But I’ve enjoyed many that had a distinct bell pepper flavor sustained with juicy grapefruit.

So imagine my dismay when I tasted the 2009 vintage of Groth Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. When I opened the bottle, there was none of that grassy scent, no grapefruit. And the taste? The citrus was very mild, hardly there at all. In fact, I tasted pear, maybe even some apricot. Instead of tasting like a Sauvignon Blanc, I was tasting a Chardonnay it seemed, and not such a good one at that.

I drank about half of the bottle with my dinner, some Coca-Cola chicken (I know it must sound awful to you but it’s really quite delicious and there’s a video on how to prepare). I put the remainder in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day I tasted again. This time some herbal elements and bit of grass were starting to come forward, but by and large, this was still turning out to be a disappointment. It wasn’t awful, but at $22 a bottle (thank gosh I didn’t buy it, but was gifted to me), you won’t see me recommending this to anyone.

I later looked up past vintages of this producer in Wine Spectator. They hadn’t reviewed the Sauvignon Blanc since 2004, and that vintage scored a 87 and was estimated to retail for $16. The tasting notes had everything I would expect: “Concentrated, with a core of intense grapefruit, lemon and grass tones that unfold through a vibrant, lingering finish.”

What a letdown. I score this with a 5 using my scale at the left.

A very noble grape

My experience with Barolo is very limited, but I vowed that I would learn more about this wine and its key grape – Nebbiolo. I wrote one time before about a delightful Barolo I picked up on a whim, and recently I did the same with a Nebbiolo from the Langhe region of Italy.

The 2009 Marchesi di Grésy Nebbiolo Langhe Martinenga may not have much age to it, but this was a really nice experience all around. As I wrote before, Nebbiolo is a delicate grape much like Pinot Noir that when crafted well delivers beautiful results. And also like Pinot Noir, when Nebbiolo is done not-so-carefully, it can be a major disappointment. This is why Burgundy and Barolo can be so iffy at times, as these wines tend to be expensive, and no one wants to spend $50 on a bottle that doesn’t deliver.

This bottle, however, was very nice, particularly for the price of just $19. It had a beautiful light color that was transparent, a brilliant garnet. The nose was very rich with cinnamon mixed in with delicate fruit. There was a slight astringent quality on the taste, but it was pleasing, and the finish was soft and subtle, very clean. It was a wine experience unlike any other I have had.

While the 2009 vintage was not rated by Wine Spectator, the wine has a track record of moderately impressive scores with the magazine over the past decade, most in the mid 80s. For me, this was a very positive experience and I will be trying others.

If you have some interest in Barolos and other wines made from Nebbiolo, I encourage you to visit the blog La Cave de Fang, where you will find several posts on a number of Barolos and other wines made from Nebbiolo, as well as some other Italian wines.

I rate this wine with an 8.5 using my 10-point scale at the left. I will certainly pick this one up again.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Bordeaux meets Provence

I admit I am not very familiar with the wines of Bordeaux. I’m much more comfortable with the Rhône region; even with Burgundy I have had more experience than with Bordeaux. Many times when I’ve tasted inexpensive Bordeaux, they just haven’t been that impressive. And when it comes to the highly-rated vintages and houses, it’s just too expensive for me.

But I continue to dabble and a little more than a year ago I picked up two bottles of the 2005 Château la Bessane Margaux. It was highly rated (a 91 from Wine Spectator) and the price was great, just $22 a bottle.

Over Presidents Day weekend I planned a dinner around the wine. I used a recipe from the Woman’s Day “Famous French Cookery” 1969 edition for pot roast Provençal. I had tried this recipe out one time before using a pork tenderloin and it came out quite well. This was my first try with beef, however. I used a bottom round roast that I’m afraid I overcooked. Still, it was a hardy meal and the wine worked well, although I wasn’t sure at first.

Because when we first opened the bottle, the nose was nothing. Absolute zilch. And the taste? Again, nothing. You could sense there was something there, but it was definitely faint. I had heard about Bordeaux being delicate, but this was unnerving. Adding an aerator to the bottle helped bring out some of the character, and thankfully, as the wine breathed, the flavors began to come forward.

However, the fruit – some blackberry and there was a hint of licorice or anise – remained quite delicate against a light mineral backing. It was very smooth drinking, and went well with the beef despite the meat being overdone. I will definitely pay more attention to cooking times next time I prepare this.

Have any of you had a similar experience with Bordeaux? Particularly a young one? It certainly was a new experience for me.

Overall, it was a very nice experience. I will definitely hold on to the second bottle for a while to see how it matures. I rate this with a 9 using my 10-point scale at the left.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


I’m not one to buy wine based on the label alone, but recently I purchased an Australian red called Skulls. Besides the interesting name, the bottle label was very intriguing. It’s an ink drawing of someone ensnared by some vines between two trees, but when you look again, you see a large skull. At $17 and with a Parker rating of 91, I thought what the heck. I bought two.

It was a few weeks before I tasted it. The 2007 Skulls is from R Wines of Southeast Australia. It’s a blend of 60 percent Grenache and 40 percent Mataro, a grape I hadn’t heard of. However, I learned it’s another name for Mourvèdre. Mataro is a city on the Spanish coast in the region of Catalonia northeast of Barcelona. I didn’t know this about the wine at the time, but in the past I have enjoyed Spanish Grenache blends. They have a richness of fruit that isn’t too jammy sustained with firm tannins. Like a good Tempranillo, they get better the longer they are left open, particularly the blends from Jumilla. I have had some wines from this region that I opened the day before I want to drink them they are sometimes wound that tight.

I also learned that this wine has some cellar potential, with Parker suggesting it will be good through 2015. That, to me, is an outstanding find for $17. And the tasting proved it.

I served it with a pork tenderloin very simply oven roasted with some squash and asparagus. It showed an interesting nose that combined forest scents with cherry, and the taste was laced with a delicious hint of cinnamon that gave the cherry a bracing zing on the palette. There is a mushroom quality as well that matches the forest scents. It looks quite delicate, having a transparent garnet color much like a Burgundy or delicate Pinot from Oregon. The tannins disappear as well, leaving a delicate and delightful wine that went exceptionally well with the pork. We’ll see how the next one tastes after I’ve left it in my closet for a while.

I rate this with a 9 according to my scale at the left.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A delicious left hook

When the Aussies do Shiraz right they do it awesomely, and the 2007 vintage of The Boxer was spot on. Mollydooker of South Australia produces many excellent wines, and most are reasonably priced.

I picked up this version of The Boxer about a year ago, and it survived the horrendous heat of last summer when my closet was routinely 80 degrees; not the best of conditions for storing wine.

At first taste, this wine presented a luscious, almost buttery flavor of rich blackberries and a smooth spiciness that finished long and elegantly. Damn, this was good!

This was served with a basic steak meal, except that the New York strip was bagged ahead of time in a Korean barbecue marinade normally used for chicken and pork, where it sat for about 4 hours. It gives the meat a smoky sweetness that went well with the spice of this Shiraz. Served also with butternut squash seasoned with cinnamon with a side of mixed veggies, the wine tended to lose its spice when accompanying the squash, but the fruit remained full and mouthwatering. And at the end of the meal, the spice returned for a flavorful finish.

Good stuff. I rate it with a 9 using my scale at the left.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Clos de L’Oratoire des Papes

Man, do I wish I had more of these. A subtle spiciness, yet light, with a true taste of rocky soil, mineral and cold rivers. Fruit was very subtle, currant surrounded with hints of cinnamon, cardamom even. It’s a blend of 80 percent Grenache, 10 percent Syrah, 5 percent Mourvedre and 5 percent Cinsault.

It was served with a roast leg of lamb, white beans and plum tomatoes. Acorn squash seasoned with cinnamon and nutmeg. It was a new method of preparing the lamb I was trying. Found the recipe in the Women’s Day Famous French Cookery. The beans are mixed with the plum tomatoes, as well as caramelized onions; a bit of seasoned salt and Rosemary is added. The leg is placed on top of the beans in a roasting pan then slow roasted until medium rare.

From the back label of the wine: “L’Oratoire means ‘Oratory,’ a place of prayer. This simple stone structure in a corner of the vineyard is dedicated to Saint-Marc, patron saint of grape growers and of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.”

I think this was another 10. It was really, really delightful.

A classic apéritif from Provence

I’ve been reading “The Magic of Provence: Pleasures of Southern France,” by Yvone Lenard, a wonderful book about the author’s experiences in Provence after she and her husband bought a vacation home there. And one of the very cool things about this book is that each chapter ends with a recipe. One of the recipes that caught my eye right away was for kir.

While there are many variations on the kir, the classic kir is made with a Chardonnay wine, usually a Chablis, that is poured over a small amount of Crème de Cassis. There is also the Kir Royale in which Champagne is substituted for the Chablis. You can use a New World Chardonnay as well, as long as you find one that hasn’t been in oak or has that annoying creaminess that too many American Chardonnays have.

Friends Nate and Steve came over for dinner and I asked them to bring such a Chardonnay with them for making classic kir. None of us had ever tasted this before, so we weren’t sure what to expect. I supplied the Crème de Cassis, but I had a bit of a dilemma when it came to what food to serve with the kir. Crème de Cassis is a sweet, dark liqueur made from blackcurrant. Given that, I was anticipating the sweet fruit of the cassis along with the freshness of an un-oaked Chardonnay with some minerality. I asked someone at Whole Foods, but they were just as flummoxed as I. For cheese, I settled on some drunken goat cheese, as its smooth and creamy texture ought to work well with the kir. And I also picked up some smoked salmon.

For a proper kir, you want both ingredients very cold. Pour a small amount – about a tablespoon – of the Crème de Cassis into the bottom of your wine glass. Then pour in the wine. Nate and Steve brought a 2009 Santa Barbara Chardonnay that worked excellently. The Four Vines Naked Chardonnay is aged in steel rather than oak, so it had the crispness and acidity desired. When you pour it into the cassis, you get a rosé-colored liquid that is rich and enticing. And tasting? It was delicious! Definitely a new drink to enjoy with friends. You could taste the blackcurrant, but the Chardonnay lightened it up so it wasn’t too sweet at all.

And it was fabulous with the smoked salmon. The drunken goat cheese was delicious with it as well. So I highly recommend serving kir as your next apéritif with friends.

A great deal from the Rhône

This will sound absolutely crazy to you, but it’s true: A 90-point Châteauneuf-du-Pape for less than $20! And it’s cellar-worthy for about another 7 years, which ought to do it some good.

It’s the 2006 vintage from Domaine La Roquète, and you can find it for just under $20 at World Market as long as you’re a member there (it’s free). I’ve been accumulating this one like you steadily buy a good stock. But after tasting one, I’m saving the rest for a while.

This one has the fine minerality of any good Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but it’s still a bit wound tight. I think with some modest cellar time this one will be fantastic. Wine Spectator describes it as, “Silky and fresh, with shiso leaf, raspberry and spice bread hints backed by a supple, fine-grained finish.” I get the silkiness and the raspberry, as well as the spice, but as I said, it was a bit tight.

Interestingly, and surprisingly perhaps, the bottle I opened had sediment on its side. So this one will benefit already from decanting.

I’m going to give it an 8.5 using my scale at the left. However, in a year, I fully expect this to be a 9 or 9.5.

A Rhône white worth trying

I still had the empty bottle sitting on a bookshelf, so I thought I’d write a small bit about a white wine from the Rhône, a Châteauneuf-du-Pape white no less.

Astounded you are? You thought that Châteauneuf-du-Pape only made reds? True, the region is dominated by red varietals and production, but a small portion is set aside for white wines, and a Châteauneuf-du-Pape white is something you really ought to treat yourself to if you’ve never had one.

While I don’t recall the specifics of the Clos du Mont-Olivet 2006 I drank (I can’t even remember when it was), I know that I liked it. I’m sure I would score it with at least a 9 (Parker gave it an 87). To give you an idea of how much land is set aside for the white varieties, Clos du Mont-Olivet has 2 hectares devoted to the white grapes out of 28 hectares.

In white Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Grenache blanc and Roussanne provides fruitiness and fatness to the blend while Bourboulenc, Clairette and Picpoul add acidity, floral and mineral notes. It has the freshness and bracing acidity of a fine Chablis or white Burgundy, but the floral characteristics really give the Châteauneuf-du-Pape whites a character all their own.

They tend to be pricey considering most are made to be drunk young; a few are cellar-worthy, but most will come with the notation of “drink now.” And at an average of $25 to $30, it’s not often that I will go out and buy one unless I have a specific meal planned around it. Despite the price, however, it is worth going out and picking one up the next time you’re at your favorite wine retailer. Not many carry the white varieties from this appellation, but when you find one, chances are you will be pleasantly surprised.

Malbec mania

Bodega Norton is a solid producer of Argentine wines from the Mendoza region. The wines are also frequently inexpensive. A good bet just about every time it is released is the Bodega Norton Reserva Malbec, and the 2007 vintage is out on store shelves right now. Rated with 90 points from Wine Spectator, you should be able to find this gem for less than $14.

The first one I opened had me worried. The nose was so heavy with blackberry it was like sniffing a jar of Smucker’s jam. Really jammy. But when you let this one breathe for a while, the nose becomes delicate and the blackberry jam recedes to the background. The wine has a beautiful and rich, deep garnet color. It’s a wine that’s easily influenced by other aromas in the vicinity. The tannins are firm but not quite chewy, and there is a slight mushroom quality that goes really well with beef.

I'll give it an 8.5 using my scale at the left.