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, 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.