Thursday, June 30, 2005

Here's a Name You Don't Hear Every Day

2004 Picpoul de Pinet, Hugues Beaulieu, $6.99
Jen’s Notes

Shane and I tried our first Picpoul (a rare white Rhone varietal) at the Rhone Rangers tasting in March. That one was from Tablas Creek and, like all of Tablas Creek wines, was very good. I had been curious to try another.

We snagged this Picpoul at K&L several weeks ago. Shane was a bit skeptical, but for $6.99, we decided that it was worth trying. I had put the wine in the refrigerator overnight, so it was initially too cold. After about 20 minutes of thawing on the table, the wine showed complex herbal and tropical fruit aromas. The flavors reinforced this impression nicely with hints of kiwi and sweet, musky spices. For such a light wine, it was surprisingly mouth-filling and sumptuous mid-palate. Interestingly, there was the barest suggestion of botrytized creaminess even though this wine was not botrytized. In fact, it is steely dry.

The flavors stay mid-palate, and the finish is short. All in all, an interesting wine, full of can’t-quite-place-it flavors. A good choice for those hot summer evenings, assuming we ever get any in San Francisco.

Oloroso Redux

Shane's Notes

After the J Lohr tasting, we went to a dinner party. Our host informed us that someone had given him a port, and that he had not liked it. He asked us if would like a sip of it. We naturally said yes only to watch him bring back an Oloroso. This of course elicited a brief lecture from Jen and me on the difference between Sherry and Port, and then I happened to notice that this particular Oloroso had been sweetened with Pedro Ximenez grapes. Now, we have had a Pedro Ximenez Sherry and loved it and had an Oloroso and hated it, so it was interesting to taste a combination of the two. The grain alcohol taste of the Oloroso is still a bit too much for us but this one was definitely drinkable as the Ximenez grapes added a nice sweetness to the wine. If you absolutely have to try an Oloroso, look for the Oloroso/Ximenez combination.

J Lohr Tasting

2000 Cuvee POM, $50.00
2003 Carol’s Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, $18.00
2004 Estate’s Bay Mist Riesling, $8.50
2003 Estate’s Los Osos Merlot, $15.00
2004 Crosspoint Pinot Noir, $12.00
2003 J Lohr Estates Bramblewood Zinfandel, $15.00

Shane's Notes

I really enjoyed J Lohr wines when I started drinking wine many years ago. I used to think that they were the first serious wines I had tasted. After revisiting their wines during a tasting at their San Jose tasting room, I discovered that I was sadly mistaken: their wines do not rise above the level of plonk. We primarily tasted wines ranging in price from $8.50 to $18.00 a bottle. I even paid two dollars for a tasting of one of their Cuvee wines (a Cabernet Sauvignon blend) which they sell for $50 a bottle. All the wines we tasted lacked flavor and complexity. Several were over-oaked (100% aged for two years in new oak barrels), and we suppose the quality of their grapes is poor. We need to research basic wine making techniques in further depth so we can figure out why and how some of these wineries are churning out bland, simplistic offerings.

Wine and the Bard

Shakespeare Festival
Nickel and Nickel PonzoVineyard Zinfandel, $45.00
Tablas Creek Cotes de Tablas, $23.00

Shane's Notes

We always imbibe premium wine on our annual trip to the Shakespeare Festival in Orinda, so we brought a Nickel and Nickel and a Tablas Creek. These two wineries are definitely among our favorite California wineries. The Nickel and Nickel Zinfandel is true to their style and especially stunning for a Zinfandel. This one has a heavier flavor palate than some of Nickel and Nickel’s other offerings – juicy black fruit and raspberries with a hint of white pepper at the end. The Cotes de Tablas, a Rhone style blend, is also amazing for its price range. The flavors are subtle and include plums and licorice. The Cotes de Tablas has a much longer finish than the Nickel and Nickel as the flavors keep expanding on the palate. Both wines have firm, hidden tannins and both are extraordinarily well-crafted. You could easily spend twice as much as we did and not find wines of this quality.

On a theatrical note, we highly recommend going to the Shakespeare Festival in Orinda – it can be a bit chilly, but it is a great outdoor venue complete with picnic grounds. We usually have a bottle of wine with a light snack before the play, and then we have another bottle during the play (yes, you can actually bring wine and snacks into the theater!). I have been going for over 7 years now and the productions are usually excellent. My only complaint is that they are starting to slip in some non-Shakespeare plays, but I suppose the Bard just doesn’t fill the seats.

There was even some post-production entertainment at this play. After the play, the man next to me loudly exclaimed to his female companion, “You are so uptight that I couldn’t get a needle up your ass with a jackhammer.” A very funny comment after a few bottles of wine.

For more information on the Shakespeare Festival, go to their website at

Friday, June 17, 2005

Aged Bordeaux Redux

1997 Chateau La Lagune
Bordeaux, Haut-Medoc
Jen’s Notes

An expansive nose of classic, earthy Bordeaux aromas. A deeply colored, full-bodied wine. It was well-aged at this point, and could probably be cellared for another two years or so. Integrated tannins, chewy, complex. The black fruit flavors were spiked with tart cherry notes and peppery spices, as well as leather and tobacco underneath. The wine finished long with a pleasant aftertaste.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Riesling Auslese

Milz Laurentiushof
Trittenheimer Leiterchen
Riesling Auslese
Shane’s Notes

After really enjoying our Spatlese Riesling, we thought we thought we would try an Auslese, which is sweeter than the Spatlese. We did enjoy this one but not as much as the Spatlese which proves that sweeter is not always better. This one was a very light yellow and did not have much of an aroma which was actually a good indicator of the palate. The palate lacked complexity; it was tangy and very sweet with a dry finish. This wine reminded me of a sugary sauvignon blanc. Some Ausleses are partially botrytized but we doubt this one was. The original price was $32, and we bought it on sale for $20. It was okay for $20 but would have been a bad deal at $32.

Friday, June 10, 2005

The Collected Wisdom of Jen

Jen's Notes:

2002 Porque No? Zinfandel

For a wine in this price range, you’d hope for something a little better than, “just ok.” Certainly, nothing spectacular, but a wine with a bit of depth, complexity, etc. While this Zinfandel boasts juicy, tart berry flavors mid-palate, they fade quickly into an overly oaky-vanilla finish.

Vinicola Hidalgo
Oloroso Especial

If Billy Ocean wrote a song about this sherry, it would go something like, “get out of my mouth, and into my sink.”

After our Pedro Ximenex experience (see Why You Should Try a Sherry from April 27, 2005), Shane and I were really looking forward to trying an Oloroso sherry. This one had the lovely color of good Bourbon whisky and pleasing aromas of burnt caramel, raisins and pralines. Unfortunately, the taste was reminiscent of the cheaper Bourbon whiskies: grain alcohol, thin, no flavor. I was left wondering how something that smelled so good could taste so bad. We could not spit it out quickly enough.

1999 Baron de Curieres, Pommard

Unlike that sherry, our first brush with an aged Burgundy went quite well. Fearing that it might be a bit youthful and need a bit of air, we decanted it. The wine boasted a light garnet color and had softly sweet Pinot aromas with hints of ripe strawberries. Initially, it was somewhat tight and inaccessible. When the flavors bloomed, about 10 minutes after opening, the wine showed smooth, sweet strawberry pie or strawberry jam flavors with that nice “reverb” that we associate with a well-made Pinot, especially Burgundies. Speaking of well-made, this wine is perfectly structured with supple, fully-integrated tannins.

Though light in body, this wine did not skimp on complexity. Amid the fruit, there were hints of exotic, musky spices, all blending into a long finish.

This wine is very drinkable now with decanting and could be cellared for another couple of years.

Royal Oporto
20 year Tawny
$25.99/375 ml

What a wine!! This port was quite different from the other tawnies we have had. First impressions were heavenly: rose-gold/amber color and a lighter, pure gold at the meniscus. The wine exhibits a huge, very sweet aroma of maple and caramelized fruit. This port was quite complex, with flavors of hazelnuts, maple syrup, and even smoky bacon. There was also a whisper of fruit underneath.

This Port was lighter in body and not as creamy as other tawnies, but it was definitely more interesting. This port’s restraint and delicacy allowed the flavors to burst on to the palate, and it also tasted more like a wine than one would ordinarily expect. Ultra-long finish.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Collected Wisdom of Shane

Shane's Notes

Domaine des Senechaux
2002 Chateauneuf de Pape

This Rhone has a musty, rich, sweet cherry smell. Because of the mustiness, we gave it some time in the glass to open up a little. It is dark red, even a little inky. The palate is not complex but it does show flavors of tart cherry, earth and pepper with a hint of bitter chocolate. The flavors are mild and the wine is very well balanced. We both really enjoyed it, but it was a bit dry for my palate. This is an excellent food wine.

Mer Soleil
2001 Late Harvest White Wine
$32.99, 375 ml bottle

Mer Soleil’s Late Harvest white wine is 100% Viognier and it is botrytized. The aroma is overpowering and consists of candied apricots, honey, orange peel and graphite. The color is a very light yellow and the texture of this wine is beyond unctuous – swirl it in your mouth and your tongue is coated with honeyed apricot. There is also a vanilla cream flavor on the finish. It is not as complex as Nickel and Nickel’s Dolce, but it is delicious with a great texture.

Two Rubys
Cockburn Ruby Port, $12.99
Krohn Ruby Port, $10.99

I have previously mentioned that I dislike ruby ports but I am slowly changing my mind. You just have to accept rubies for what they are: simple and sweet (and any flavor is a bonus). The Cockburn and the Krohn are both excellent, inexpensive rubies. Both display a mild sweetness and the Cockburn’s actually has a bit of flavor underneath. The Cockburn’s is a bit more tannic while the tannins are barely noticeable in the Krohn. We have now had Krohn’s Ruby, LBV and Colheita and have enjoyed all of them. Krohn’s ports lack complexity but they are a great, inexpensive option.