Thursday, May 26, 2005

A Good Summer Wine - From Austria!

2003 Nigl Gruner Veltliner
Jen’s Notes

Gruner Veltliner is a white wine varietal grown primarily in Austria, and Nigl is one of the more renowned producers of this wine. At their best, Gruners are herbaceous and minerally with racy citrus flavors. This wine exemplifies those qualities. It also boasts a slight spritzy feeling on the palate (note, though, that these wines are completely still) and a long finish. By the time we got to the second glass, I noticed softening hints of nectarine in addition to the lively citrus.

Shane noted that the acidity provides the backbone, not the tannins, as would be the case with reds. As such, the flavors of the wine should balanced against it. Here, the acidity is perfectly moderated against the fruit flavors, and it does not overwhelm the wine's light body.

Good Port, No Storm

Warre’s 1995 LBV
Shane’s Notes

This Late Bottled Vintage Port was aged 4 years in oak and then four years in the bottle prior to being released. It is also unfined and unfiltered. The aroma is sweet and earthy. The wine is deep red, slightly rich and medium-bodied. The palate is dominated by a chocolate covered cherry flavor with less sweetness that I was expecting. The tannins are nicely integrated and this LBV could easily age for a few more years. As with most LBV’s, this is a pale imitation of a vintage port but it is definitely the best LBV we have tasted. My only complaint is that I wish it had been sweeter.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Tasting at Bonny Doon

2004 Sauvignon Blanc, Exquisite Coupe, $18.00
2004 Ca Del Solo,Malvasia Bianca (Muscat),$13.00
2002 Syrah, Le Pousseur, $15.00
2002 Old Telegram (100% Mourvedre), $32.00
Muscat, Vin de Glaciere, $17.00
2001 Ruche
Shane’s Notes

I really wanted to like Bonny Doon’s wines. They use interesting varietals and have quirky names for their wines such as “Le Cigare Volant,” which is the French phrase for flying saucer, or UFO, and “Bouteille Call.” Unfortunately, you can’t drink a name and Bonny Doon’s wines barely rise to the level of drinkable. They all have a decent backbone but either lack flavor or have flavors I simply do not like. We did not taste one wine with the requisite complexity to be considered a serious wine.

I thought the Sauvignon Blanc was steely and lacking flavor. There may have been a touch of tropical fruit flavor but the dryness quickly removed it from my palate. Jen liked this one better than I did. She thought it was zesty and citrusy with a nice finish.

The Muscat had a honeysuckle aroma and was sweet and dry (how did they manage that?). The sweetness is pleasant but there are no underlying flavors. This one leaves you thinking “Not bad, but why am I drinking this?”

The best wine of the tasting was the Syrah. It had a blackberry jam aroma with a jammy, smokey, spicy palate. The initial burst of flavor is mildly pleasant but the wine is not well balanced and the fruit flavors clash with the smoky/spicy flavors. Once again, this wine has the typical Bonny Doon “where did the flavor go?” finish.

The 100% Mourvedre Telegram has a licorice and spice palate and was a bit tannic. The licorice taste is quite unpleasant - the Telegram proves that Mouvedre is a blending varietal.

The worst of the tasting was the Ruche. We were told that it is a rare varietal, and we are quite glad that we are likely never to encounter it again. The wine had an overpowering gasoline taste on the palate making it absolutely undrinkable. I’d drink two buck Chuck before I’d drink this swill.

The Muscat was decent although overpriced. It has a floral aroma and a nice, syrupy texture. It is very sweet with a bit of peach underneath the sweetness. The finish is clean and long.

The last wine in the tasting was a Framboise, made from Washington State raspberries. Jen absolutely loved it. I have to disqualify myself from reviewing this one because I don’t like raspberries.

Jen’s Addendum

Except for the Ruche, I like all of their wines more than Shane. Although I didn’t find them world-class, they are all quite drinkable, especially with a meal.

Que Syrah Syrah

2002 Nickel & Nickel Syrah
Darien Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Jen’s Notes

Deep, red-purple in color; delicious aroma of black cherries. This wine is mouth-filling and substantial with a long finish. Initially, we noted rich, plummy fruit flavors supported by a hint of gravel and firm tannins. The dryness was offset by the lushness of the fruit.

By the second glass, we noticed tobacco and cigar-box spiciness and a touch of cherries at the very end. The flavors were rounder and juicier. Shane suggests that there might also be a very, very slight hint of new oak. While not a particularly complex wine, the flavors are extremely pleasant and concentrated, and it is difficult to imagine anyone making a better single varietal Syrah.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Revisiting that Clos Pegase SB

2003 Clos Pegase, Mitsuko's Vineyard, Pegase Circle Reserve, Sauvignon Blanc
Jen’s Notes

This wine knocked my socks off on our last Napa trip (see Tasting Trip 3.0), so I was anxious to revisit it. I still liked it, although I didn’t find myself quite as bowled over when we had it at home. It was, however, quite good and refreshing. The wine boasted tropical fruit flavors, including smooth, almost creamy mango flavors, with tangy lemons/lemon zest. It was minerally underneath and had a lengthy finish with echoes of that succulent mango flavor.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Our First Foray into German Rieslings

2003 Piesporter Goldtropfchen
8.5% alcohol

Shane’s Notes

The Germans label their Reislings according to the relative sweetness of the wine. On their scale of six ranging from dryest to sweetest, Spatlese is only one above the dryest. This particular Riesling is so light in color that it is almost white. The wine is not very fragrant and given the lack of aroma and color, we were not expecting much flavor. We were amazed to discover the wonderful tropical fruit/citrus flavors on the palate. It had a nice mango flavor that reminded me of a Rousanne. It is also much sweeter than we expected. The finish is short and has a nice, crisp acidity. This is an excellent wine and it’s unbelievable that Rieslings are not more popular. We can’t wait to try some of the sweeter ones.

Perfectly Aged Vintage Port

Grahams 1985 Vintage Port
Bottled in 1987
Shane’s Notes

Jen and I have been trying all the dessert wines: Sherry, Sauternes, Tokaji and Tawnies to name just a few. We finally decided to try the king of the dessert wines – a well-aged Vintage Port. After poring over vintage charts, surfing websites and reading Broadbent’s Vintage Port tasting notes, we decided the best deal for the money was the Graham’s 85 Vintage Port. I like Grahams sweeter style and with 17 years of bottle age, the pundits agreed that this port was at its peak.

We peeled off the seal and were relieved to see a clean cork (we had recently bought a 1994 Broadbent Vintage Port and the wine had soaked the cork and was completely oxidized). The cork looked fairly solid so we tried a rabbit-style corkscrew and achieved a clean pull. If the cork had broken, we would have used a two prong extractor to remove the broken piece. These extractors work by easing two metal prongs between the cork and the bottle and are the best way to remove broken corks. Due to the sediment in an aged port, we decanted and used a funnel with a screen.

The color of this port was a dark, inky, ruby color because of the bottle age. The complex aroma included licorice and sweet black cherry. The first sip revealed a very, rich texture – I just held it in my mouth and savored it. The palate is complex and includes figs and chocolate covered cherries with a hint of mocha on the finish. True to the Graham style, this Vintage Port is very sweet. The finish is short and there are still some tannins left although I suspect this wine is peaking right now. The third glass was definitely the best.

Aside from the ports, all the dessert wines that we have tasted have been white wines. Vintners use a myriad of techniques to extract sweetness and flavor from the white grapes: they late harvest the grapes, they sun dry the grapes, they use botrytized grapes and they sometimes even partially oxidize the grapes. All these techniques help but they can’t overcome the “the white grape problem” which is a lack of complexity and flavor when compared to red grapes. A good Vintage Port will always be superior to the white dessert wines (and everyone should try one at least once) but I have to admit that I have not yet made up my mind whether it is truly worth the price.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Monterey Wine Festival

April 30, 2005
Jen’s Notes

Shane and I had been looking forward to this for a long time. The tickets were Shane’s birthday present to me in March – and I am always glad to continue the celebration!

The festival is a weekend-long series of events. We saved our palates for the Saturday tasting, aka Red Night. We bought our tickets in the morning and then headed out to see the sights. We drove the famous 17 Mile Scenic Drive and picnicked on the beach.

After that, the wine most definitely flowed.

Charles Krug Winery
1999 Cabernet Sauvignon Vintage Selection Reserve, $51.00
2001 Family Reserve Generations, $38.00
2000 Family Reserve Merlot, $36.00
1986 Cabernet Sauvignon, price not available

After watching Robert Mondavi get crucified in that horrible, technology-phobic, American-phobic, “documentary” Mondovino, we really wanted these Mondavi/Krug wines to taste fantastic (even though they are made by Peter and not by Robert). Unfortunately, all the generalizations that the film fired at American wines applied to these wines: they were pleasantly fruity but, unfortunately, lacked complexity, structure and tannins. When we noticed they were pouring a 1986 Cab, we almost didn’t try it. What would their tannin-less wine taste like after that much bottle age? The answer is musty, flat and undrinkable.

Jordan Vineyard and Winery
2001 Cabernet Sauvignon, $48.00

This wine exhibited a charming floral aroma and cherry flavors, spiked with herbs. It was quite dry. It was tannic and very tight – it could benefit from a few years of bottle age. Otherwise, it was well-balanced and structured, considering its youth. It should develop nicely over the next five years or so.

Gloria Ferrer Champage Caves
NV Blanc de Noirs, $20.00
2002 Pinot Noir Carneros, $26.00
2001 Pinot Noir, Rust Rock, $40.00
2000 Cabernet Sauvignon Katnook Estate, Australia, $22.00

As always, I enjoy the bubbly. In fact, I had a little extra splash of it when Shane tried the Aussie Cab (which was actually quite nice!) Our favorite was the Rust Rock Pinot. It had nice, subtle fruit flavors with a long finish and good tannins. It was surprisingly full-bodied for a Pinot. The Carneros Pinot was also good, exhibiting a mild palate “reverb” and zesty cherry fruit. It was quite a bit lighter in body than the Rust Rock.

Qupe Winery
2001 Bien Nacido Hillside Estate Syrah, $45.00
2002 Los Olivos Cuvee, $25.00

We both liked the Syrah. It has a black cherry flavor with a clean finish and nice tannins. While it wasn’t complex, it did have soft fruit flavors. It has a fruity/floral aroma and is pleasantly chewy in the mouth.

Neither of us liked the Cuvee. We found it too buttery, lacking in fruit flavors, and unpleasantly inky and chemically.

2000 Quinta dos Canais, $55.00

This vintage Port exhibited pleasant sweetness, good fruit, and was smooth and silky on the palate. It was, however, very tannic; way too young to be tasting. This one was built to last – it has great potential for aging; we estimate that it needs 10 years of bottle age, and will probably continue to develop even longer. When Shane mentioned that this port required more age before it would be drinkable, the Cockburn’s representative said that if it had more age, it would not be a vintage port. Momentarily stunned at this answer, I realized she thought he was talking about cask aging as opposed to bottle aging. When we told her we meant that it needed 10 – 15 years bottle aging, she merely said that everyone is entitled to their opinion. It is our opinion that Cockburn’s should send a more knowledgeable representative to a wine festival. (Oh, and you can quit laughing – it’s actually pronounced “Coburns”).

Treana Winery
2001 Cabernet Sauvignon, $52.00
2003 Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon, $13.00
2002 Westside Red. $18.00

All of these wines were fruity, easy to drink and would be great paired with food. They showed good structure and are ready to drink now. The Westside Red was particularly nice. It is a Rhone-style blend of Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache, reminiscent, though not quite as good as the Rhone blends of Tablas Creek.

Black Box
2003 Shiraz, Barossa Valley, $18.00/3L

Why is it called Black Box? It’s not some obscure Aussie name for an old coal mine. It is, alas, wine in a box. When we walked by their table, Shane couldn’t resist laughing out loud. The lady pouring was amused and undaunted – she dared us to come back, and we did. There were quite a few wines in boxes on the table, and we tried this Shiraz, said to be the best of the lot by both the pourer and a very inebriated wine writer nearby.

The wine was not complex, but it showed surprisingly pleasant fruit. It was mainly notable for what it lacked: in a cheaper wine, I expect pasted-on vanilla, butter or oak, and this wine didn’t have any of that. So, points to Black Box for letting the juice rise or fall on its own merits. There were no tannins, and we certainly wouldn’t call it a serious wine but it is drinkable for your house red.

Niebaum Coppola Winery
2003 Diamond Series Pinot Noir, $17.00

Shane tried this one on a whim, while I partook of yet another glass of bubbly from Mumm’s. There are times when only the exact quote will do, and this is one of those times. He pronounced it “lousy, like Kool-aid; leaves you wondering how they managed to strip out the tannins and the taste.” I didn’t need to try it after that.

Grgich Hills Cellar

Amazingly, they poured a Zinfandel that smelled like rotten eggs. Shane’s subsequent research suggested that the wine was contaminated by too much hydrogen sulfide. They should not have been serving it. As with Cockburn’s, they need to send a more knowledge representative to a wine festival.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Mon Dieu! (Part Deux)

Domaine la Soumade
2002 Cabernet Sauvignon
Vin de Pays de la Principaute d’Orange
Shane’s Notes

I recently told someone that he could not get a serious Cabernet Sauvignon for under $10.00. Fortunately for my reputation, this Domaine Soumade Cab costs $10.99. This cab has a dark red color with a black cherry, herbal aroma. The palate is slightly complex and has rich, fruit flavors. The finish is medium length and dry. This is a smooth wine with just enough tannins to age for 2-5 years, but is definitely enjoyable now. At 13.5% alcohol, this is a very food friendly wine. Jen and I have paid twice as much for Napa Cabs that would lose to this Cab in a blind taste test.