Friday, April 29, 2005

Something Sweet from Hungary

1995 Hetszolo Tokaji Aszu
6 Puttonyos
$34.99 (500 ml)
Shane’s Notes

The Tokaji Aszus are partially botrytized wines. The level of botrytization is measured by the “Puttonyos” scale with one being the lowest level of botrytization and six being the highest, except for the very rare Essencia. They are white wines made primarily with the Furmint varietal. This particular wine was coppery gold (reflecting the bottle age) with an aroma of sweetness, apricots and honey. It smells like it will be thickly textured but the texture is only slightly syrupy and a bit voluptuous, probably because the alcohol content is only 10.5%. The complex flavor palate includes a creamy middle with a tart, citrus, baked apple flavor on the backside. The sweetness is more of a fruit-flavored sweetness than a sugary or honey sweetness. There is a nice acidity to this wine and it has an amazingly long finish. The botrytized wine has been seamlessly blended with the regular wine. It is quite unique and we highly recommend it.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Mon Dieu!

2003 Trader Joe’s French Market Chardonnay, Vin de Pays d’Oc
Jen’s Notes

I couldn’t believe how good this was. I feared vin de plonk, but this wine turned out to be a very well-made Chardonnay in the classic French style: fresh and lively, with racy citrus flavors and a hint of mineral underneath. Great with food or on its own.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Why You Should Try Sherry

Pedro Ximenez
Cardenal Cisneros
Reserves Especiales de Romate
Bottled by Sanchez Romate HNOS, S.A.
April 26, 2005
Shane’s Notes

We had sampled this at the Bounty Hunter tasting bar in Napa and were really looking forward to having an entire bottle to ourselves. This is a truly amazing wine. The grapes are sun-dried and the wine is cask aged for 15+ years. This is a white wine but its color is deep brown to black with an amber meniscus. The texture is thick, viscous and syrupy. The texture and color remind me of motor oil. When swirled, there is about a ten second delay before the legs slowly slide down the glass. The aroma exhibits raisins and hazelnuts with a strong alcoholic smell. The flavor palate is complex and includes burnt, caramelized and maple syrup flavors with hints of coffee and chocolate on the backside. Also, it is very, very ,very sweet. The flavors really expand into the lengthy finish. We’ve never had anything like it. If you can ever find a Pedro Ximenez Sherry, you absolutely have to experience it.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Dessert Wine on a Budget

Trader Joe’s Muscat
$4.99 half bottle
Shane’s Notes

This wine has a pale yellow color and exhibits a sweet, grapey aroma. The wine is very sweet with no balancing acidity yet it still has a nice (but short) finish; it stops abruptly with a lingering sweetness. The flavors are light – honey and butterscotch – and the wine is not complex. It reminds me of a poor man’s Sauternes. This definitely needs to be served chilled. It is pleasant to drink and we recommend it for the price.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Tasting Trip 3.0 (with some engaging news!)


Nickel & Nickel
2000 Dolce, $80 half bottle

Opus One
2001 Opus One, $160

Zahtila Vineyards
2002 Oat Hill Zinfandel
2002 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
2002 Beckstoffer Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

Clos Pegase
2000 Hommage Cabernet Sauvignon, $75
2003 Circle Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, $17.50
2003 Chardonnay Mitsuko’s Vineyard, $21

Jen’s Notes:

We set off bright and early for our trip to Napa. We planned to visit only a few wineries, have a nice dinner, and stay overnight. The lodgings and first winery were a secret very well kept by Shane; dinner was at Pere Jeanty, and the rest we would play by ear.

Nickel and Nickel

We arrived just before 10:00. Reception buzzed us in through the gate, and we went to the Gleason Barn, a huge, gorgeous barn, which the proprietors had restored. Big, high windows and glass doors let in the morning light. We were greeted by Helene, the hospitality director, who had set out glasses and the 2000 Dolce.

The 10:00 tour had been re-routed, so we had the barn to ourselves for about half an hour. Shane had arranged all of this in advance so he could propose, which he did! I had been expecting to yell out “YES!!!” but I was so overcome that I could barely manage a squeaky and tearful “yes!”

We drank to our new lives together with the absolutely wonderful Dolce. The wine boasted succulent tropical fruit flavors, unctuous honey and crème brulee, with exotic sweet spices (maybe nutmeg?). As with all botrytized wines, one of the attractions is the glorious texture. Dolce does not disappoint: the wine coats the palate while the flavors explode in the mouth. It is pleasantly sweet in a way that doesn’t downplay the complexity of the wine. Compared to Dolce, French Sauternes seem very reserved.

Opus One

They were pouring the 2001 Opus One, which is a blend of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, 3% Malbec, 2% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. The wine was a dark ruby color, so deep that sunlight did not pass through it. It had a big, fruity-floral bouquet. Though very drinkable now, we thought a few years of bottle age would bring out more complexity and soften the tannins. It was well balanced between succulent cherry fruit, and firm, integrated tannins. The most delightful aspects of the wine were its silky texture and long, refined finish.

Shane’s Notes: deep, dark berry aroma; color is dense purple, inky. Silky texture. Berry flavors with a hints of vanilla and pepper and a touch of tannins. Nice length on the finish. A finely crafted wine – I would have to try this after 7-10 years of bottle age before deciding if it is worth the price.

Zahtila Vineyards

We tasted three wines from 2002: Oat Hill Zinfandel, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and Beckstoffer Cabernet Sauvignon. All were good, clearly well-made and balanced between ripe fruit and supporting tannins. The Zinfandel boasted spice and wood notes, as well as deep, plummy fruit. The Napa Cab was more floral than fruity, with hints of violets on the nose. The Beckstoffer Cab was bolder and fruitier, with flavors of cherries and currant over toasty oak and firm tannins.

Clos Pegase

Even with the wonderful experiences at Nickel & Nickel and Opus One, Clos Pegase was still a highlight. We did the tour, as this is the only way to see the proprietors’ awe-inspiring art collection, featuring classical statuary among other pieces.

This was a chance for Shane to revisit the Mitsuko’s Vineyard Chardonnay, which he liked a bit less than in years past. I, on the other hand, was pretty happy with the big buttery character of it. It is definitely not complex, but on a warm afternoon, sitting outside with my fiancé of only a few hours, it was just right.

I got my socks knocked off for the second time that day when I tasted their Sauvignon Blanc. It was, and this is a bold statement, the best Sauvignon Blanc I have ever tasted. The literally endless finish boasted soft peach flavors that seemed to echo on the palate for minutes. This SB was perfectly made – no hints of grassiness or cat, uhm, pee at all. Nothing but lovely tropical fruit spiked with floral/herbal notes (think lavender).

Another winner was the 2000 Hommage, a complex, perfectly-tailored Bordeaux-style blend. Underneath the velvety black fruit, the tannins were supple and smooth, though I could see laying this one down for a couple of years, too.

The only disappointment at Clos Pegase was the Mitsuko’s Vineyard Pinot Noir, which was watery and lacked flavor.

We purchased bottles of the Zahtila Napa Cab, Clos Pegase’s 2000 Hommage and the Sauvignon Blanc – stay tuned for more in depth reviews.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Claret, California Style

2000 Guenoc Victorian Claret, North Coast
Jen’s Notes

“Claret” is the English term for Bordeaux. The Victorian Claret is a Bordeaux-style blend (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot, cabernet franc and carmenere) from the Guenoc Valley in Lake County, California. The wine exhibits a beautiful, sweet, violet, fruity aroma, and though significantly more fruit-forward than a Bordeaux, it also has defined tannins and balanced acidity. In addition to jammy, berry fruit, the wine exhibits flavors of vanilla, anise and wood smoke. It is silky in the mouth and finishes long. Although I liked this wine quite a bit, it is overpriced at $18.99 but a great deal on the “buy one bottle and get the second bottle for a nickel” special at Beverages and More.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Patience is a Virtue - Aged Bordeaux

1994 Chateau les Ormes de Pez, St. Estephe
Jen’s Notes

Perfectly aged Bordeaux for under $20.00? Yes, we are completely serieux. Probably some of the best deals in Bordeaux come from St. Estephe, including the top-shelf Cos d’Estournel, which rivals the biggies from Pauillac and Pomerol any day of the week, and is often less expensive.

The de Pez is not as elegantly refined as some other Bordeaux, but with eleven years of age, it is smooth, silky, and very well-structured. (I’ve had them in their youth, and they can be ornery; but if you’re patient or a watchful shopper, you can find one that’s just right.) The wine exhibits a full bouquet of cedar, leather, smoke and earthy notes, which echo beautifully on the palate with accents of soft cherry fruit.

Shane’s Notes

I’m absolutely sick of hearing French Americaphobes gripe about our fruity wine. I love a fruit forward wine and have never been able to understand how someone can enjoy a wine that is not fruit forward. Now that I have tasted an aged Bordeaux, I at least am beginning to understand their point of view: a relatively tasteless wine can actually be appreciated for its texture and structure (I can only describe this wine as "thick"). I might even let Jen store a few Bordeaux in our wine cellar, lol.

A Bubble Bath and a Sauternes

2002 Doisy-Vedrines
Shane’s Notes

Jen and I tasted this Sauternes in a bubble bath (an activity I highly recommend) so I have to admit that I was a bit distracted but here are my impressions. The Vedrines has the typical, botrytized sweetness and its texture is a bit less than unctuous. The flavors include apricot and pear with a touch of cream brulee. There is also a slight grapey flavor which is a definite flaw. The beginning of the finish has a bit of an alcoholic heat but the heat quickly fades into a long, sweet finish. The Vedrines is pleasant to drink but not very complex and I only give it a mild recommendation. We have now tasted several Sauternes and none of them has come close to matching the complexity of Nickel and Nickel’s botrytized Dolce (although we have not yet tasted the quasi-mythical Chateau D’Yquem).

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Tasting Trip 2.0

Kunde - 2002 Gewurztraminer, $13, 2003 Chardonnay, $16
Gundlach Bundschu

Domaine Carneros
The Bounty Hunter tasting bar - Sanchez Romate "Cardinal Cisneros" Sherry – Jerez, $43.95

Shane's Notes:

My brother joined us on this tasting trip so it was more of a social event than a serious tasting trip. As a result, we will only discuss a few wines we tasted and offer some broad generalizations about the wineries.

We started at Kenwood primarily because they open at 10:00 am and don’t charge for a tasting. We didn’t expect much from Kenwood – I told Jen and my brother that we would probably taste a few decent wines amid much plonk. Unfortunately, I was too optimistic. With each wine we tasted, my brother would say, "I don’t really taste anything. What should I be tasting?" There wasn’t much we could tell him: we didn’t taste flavors in any of the wines either (except a wonderful grassy, cat urine flavor in one of their Sauvignon Blancs) . Somehow, they have managed to strip the tannins out of their wines and the flavors as well. The lady behind the counter was very nice and kept pouring us additional wines. I was ready to pay her to stop.

After Kenwood, we stopped at Kunde which is one of my favorite wineries in its price range (most of their wines are between $15 - $25). Their wines aren’t spectacularly complex but each of their wines exhibit nice varietal flavors with a few surprises here and there. Jen tasted a Sauvignon Blanc which she enjoyed that had a minty flavor in mid palate. All three of us really enjoyed their 2003 Chardonnay which has a crisp acidity and nice citrus flavors with a mild overlay of butter. The buttery flavor was so soft that I was surprised to discover that 60% of wine had undergone malolactic fermentation. This is very well balanced wine and a great deal for the price. Unfortunately, Kunde was not tasting their Gewurztraminer, but I’ve always enjoyed it so Jen and I bought a bottle. At $13, their Gewurtz is a candidate for our next top twelve list. It is not as sweet as some Gewurztraminers so the sweetness never overpowers the flavors. It is spritzy on the tongue and has nice citrus and floral notes. This is how a Gewurtz should taste.

Our next stop was Gundlach Bundschu (pronounced "Gun lock bun shoe"). This winery is definitely off the beaten path and they host some interesting summer events (Shakespeare plays and Misummer Mozart), so I was really rooting for this winery. We tasted four wines for five dollars and the wines were only marginally better than Kenwood’s. There was just a hint of flavor in each one. We were definitely disappointed.

Our last planned stop was the beautiful, French style chateau of Domaine Carneros. Jen tasted a flight of their champagnes and my brother and I had the Pinot flight. Jen liked one of the champagnes and was disappointed in the other two while neither me nor my brother liked any of the Pinots. The Pinots were decent but they lacked the sine wave flavor undulations of great Pinots/Burgundies. They had mild framboise flavors but the flavors came straight at you and then just disappeared.

We wanted to finish the trip with a good tasting so we headed over to the Bounty Hunter tasting bar in Napa. The Bounty Hunter specializes in hard to find wines. I had a flight of botrytized wines (decent but nothing worth noting) and I bought my brother a half glass of Warre’s 20 year tawny which he really enjoyed. The bartender poured us a taste of Sanchez Romate "Cardinal Cisneros" Sherry from the Jerez region. I’ve definitely never tasted anything like it. The wine was absolutely black and had a muted chocolate flavor to it. It tasted more like a liquer than a wine. Jen said that it tasted like Mole (smoky chocolate and chiles!). The price is a bit steep but it really is unique. It was a great way to end the trip.

Friday, April 01, 2005

A Lovely Pinot on the Embarcadero

2002 Robert Sinskey Vineyards Pinot Noir (Los Carneros)

Jen's notes

This is a charming Pinot with subtle flavors of cedar, herbs, smoke and cranberries. The flavors unfold in long waves, with a mild "reverb" on the palate, somewhat reminiscent of Burgundies. (Burgundies tend to have a stronger reverb and tighter, more nuanced, unfolding of the flavors). The wine exhibits a dry, medium-length finish with the barest hint of refined vanilla. This wine is a pleasure to drink.