Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A Pomerol Powerhouse

1998 Chateau Cantelauze
Pomerol, Bordeaux
Jen’s Notes

This wine, named after the larks who sing in the vineyard in the morning, will get fans of aged Bordeaux singing too (especially at this price!). Being a Pomerol, this one is mostly Merlot (90%), with just a touch of Cabernet Franc (10%).

The color is an inky red and the nose evokes ripe, dark cherries, dirt and leather. It is also a touch smoky. On the palate, it becomes clear that this wine is not just about texture, although it certainly boasts the hallmark silkiness of wines from Pomerol. It is also dense, concentrated and has firm tannins. Rounding out the palate are decadent, juicy currant flavors, spiked with floral, leather and smoky notes. The finish is medium-length and the structure is superb. This Bordeaux is perfectly harmonious in every way.

As many of us Bordeaux geeks are fond of saying, this is no wimpy merlot. It has plenty of finesse, but there’s a powerhouse underneath. Drink now through 2010ish.

A Delightful Blush

2004 La Vielle Ferme
Cotes du Ventoux Rose
Jen’s Notes

This wine is a blend of Cinsault (50%), Grenache (40%) and Syrah (10%). It exhibits a bright, rosy pink color and scents of strawberry jam. Like the nose, the palate is packed with ripe, juicy strawberry flavors. Though concentrated and nearly sweet, it is never cloying. Herbal/floral notes round out the palate. The wine finishes dry and clean with hints of mineral and bright citrus.

This is the best rosé I have ever had – an incredible bargain to be enjoyed with food or on its own. Though rosés are traditionally summer wines, this one is substantial enough to pair with your first few meals of Autumn.

Port fit for a Prince

Quinto do Infantado
1992 Vintage Port
Shane’s Notes

I decided it was time for another Vintage Port,so Jen and I traveled to the Wine Stop in Burlingame to mull over their selection. We narrowed the choice down to the Warre’s 1994 and the Quinto do Infantado 1992. The Warre’s has received spectacular reviews (and 1994 was a better overall vintage than 1992), but I was afraid it might be too young to drink. However, we had never had an Infantado so it was an unknown. We took a chance and grabbed the Infantado.

In the glass, it is an opaque red. The overpowering aromas include cooked fruits, jam and raspberries with overtones of earthiness and sweetness. The palate was initially much too tannic. We let the wine open up in the decanter and listened to some Bob Dylan before approaching it again. It definitely improved (I recommend letting it sit for at least a half an hour). The texture was dense and syrupy, and the palate displayed rich flavors of jamminess, dark chocolate, black licorice and black cherries. Jen detected hints of vinosity and mint on the finish. It is extremely well-structured and finishes dry but not as dry as a Dow. It is definitely a powerhouse, and we suspect that the tannins will soften and even more complexity will develop in the next two to five years. Even if we are wrong and the wine is peaking now, it is still an excellent Vintage Port. It’s quite a deal for the price.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Our Trip to Lake Tahoe

1996 Billecart-Salmon Champagne
Cuvee Elizabeth Salmon
Dow’s 10 Year Tawny, bottled in 2004
Freemark Abbey 2001 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Shane’s Notes
Act I – The Tawny

We drove to Tahoe after work on Friday and arrived at our room late in the evening. We pulled out the half bottle of Dow’s 10 Year Tawny (I drank the other half on the previous evening) and finished off the bottle before going to sleep. The Dow smelled of alcohol, sweetness and cream. The palate was creamy and hot. Like their 20 Year Tawny, it was dry and refined. I’m about through experimenting with tawnies: I just do not like the way that the varietal flavor is buried under the oaky creaminess. After all, I vociferously attack any wine that is over-oaked and despite their reputation as fine wines, tawnies are simply over-oaked ports.

We began the next day by taking the gondola ride to the top of Heavenly. The view of the lake from the first station is absolutely spectacular. We pondered having a glass of wine at the cheesy café at the second station but quickly changed our minds when we discovered that they were only serving Woodbridge by Mondavi.

We grabbed a bite to eat and began to worry about the $130 bottle of Champagne waiting for us back at the motel. What if the room became too hot and ruined our treasure? Saving the Champagne became a high priority, so we bought a Styrofoam cooler (with a NASCAR logo) and a bag of ice and headed back to the motel. With the Champagne safely buried in ice, we headed over to Emerald Bay for a look at the lake from the other side. After the Emerald Bay side trip, we headed back to the hotel to drink the Champagne.

Jen’s Notes
Act II – The Champagne

This otherwise perfectly lovely experience taught us the following two lessons: (1) blogging your wines means that you might have to search for a pen before opening the bubbly; and (2) at altitude, your bubbly will more than likely open itself if you neglect to do it within a nanosecond of removing the bail. This will cause you to panic and demand a glass from your darling fiancé while you try to minimize the spillage. Fortunately, we lost less than half a glass to the carpet in our room at the Tahoe Tropicana. After the dust settled, we noted the following.

This Champagne is a gorgeous, deep rose gold and very effervescent (obviously, given the explosion we just witnessed). The nose is straw-scented, fresh and minutely toasty.

The palate initially showed bright grapefruit. As the wine warmed up (our rescue mission with ice and the cooler made the wine just a touch too cold) and opened up, the slightly tart citrus flavors expanded into lemon meringue pie and fig. Though not as complex as Krug, this wine boasted unusual intensity, richness and concentration. It wasn’t merely like the taste of lemon meringue pie, it almost was lemon meringue pie, complete with a soft creaminess and mouth-filling satisfaction. Happily, the wine finished long (because who would want this to end!) with just the tiniest hint of toast.

This Champagne was an absolute delight. Shane really enjoyed its elegant structure peppered with sublime bursts of fruit, more of a Mozart to Krug’s Mahler. It was the perfect choice to initiate our Riedel Champagne flutes.

Shane’s Notes
Act III – The Freemark Abbey

We left the motel and had dinner at the Sage in Harvey’s Casino. Our dining experience was abysmal: Black Angus has better food and atmosphere for a much cheaper price. The mark-up on the wines was so high that we were forced to go with a lesser quality wine than we would have liked. However, we both usually like Freemark Abbey and fully expected their 2001 Cab to be very good. After all, 2001 was a banner year for Napa Cabs. We were very disappointed to discover that it was over-oaked: the varietal flavor was barely noticeable. Shame on you Freemark!

After dinner, I showed Jen how to play video poker, and we headed over to the sports bar to collect my winnings from the A’s game. My 25 bucks returned 97.50 as the Rangers broke their 19 game losing streak against my beloved A’s (yes, I bet against my own team – the odds were just too enticing).
We called it an evening and went back to the motel and finished the Champagne. We had a great time, but we strongly believe that Tahoe should be a national park sans the casinos, motels and restaurants.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Mourvedre in Spain?

2003 Bodegas Castano Monastrell
Yecia, Spain
Jen’s Notes

For you Rhone geeks out there, Monastrell is known as Mourvedre in France and is one of the varietals used to make the powerhouse reds of the Rhone region. You don’t often see it as a single varietal wine so we were a bit skeptical.

We decanted this one, not only because of its youth, but also because there was some rather unpleasant gunk in the neck of the bottle, and the wine displayed a funky aroma. Fortunately, decanting took care of both.

The wine definitely evolved in the glass as well. At its peak, it showed interesting herbal and floral notes on the nose and palate. The wine was surprisingly intense mid-palate, bursting with a concentrated, tart fruit. The finish was long and boasted a shower of spices. This was not a very complex wine, but it definitely packed a wallop. We really enjoyed it.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

We licked the Sugar Crystals off the Cork

1990 Suiduiraut
Shane’s Notes.

This was our first premium Sauternes. We extracted the cork and licked the sugar crystals off it. This Sauternes was a golden, amber color and had a rich aroma that included apricots, marmalade, vanilla beans, lemon and cinnamon sugar. The palate was definitely complex but much more subtle than we expected. It had honey and floral notes with steely undertones and a burnt, caramel taste on the finish. The texture was amazing – it was very syrupy and unctuous. In fact, the texture was probably more interesting and enjoyable than the flavor palate. There was a bit of acidity at the end which nicely balanced the fatness of the texture. We really enjoyed it, but we still prefer the flavor explosion of Dolce, Nickel and Nickel’s California style Sauternes.

Dow's Twenty Year Tawny

Dow’s 20 Year Tawny
Shane’s Notes

On a lazy Sunday afternoon, we decided to go to the Top of the Mark for a drink. Jen donned a dress and high heels, and I actually put on a polo shirt and cotton slacks. We trekked over there only to discover that it was closed. We then tried the Tonga room and it was closed. We headed back to a wine bar near Jen’s and it was closed. We were amazed. When did San Francisco enact blue laws? Anyway, we finally found an open bar at the Monaco hotel.

After our long journey, Jen decided she required something stronger than wine and ordered a large Cosmopolitan. I tried Dow’s Twenty Year Tawny because I really enjoyed Dow’s 1998 LBV. I definitely prefer the vintage/lbv style to the tawny style but I usually have tawnies at restaurants and bars. Once opened, tawnies last much longer than vintages or lbv’s, and opened bottles of Port frequently collect dust in bars and restaurants. Dow’s Twenty Year Tawny has a brown sugar, caramelly aroma. From the aroma, I thought the palate would be very rich, but it was restrained and elegant. It had a light, butterscotch flavor with subtle, creamy undertones. It had the typical, dry Dow finish. It was okay, but I prefer more complexity and a flashier palate.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Gravel, Leather & Chocolate - It Must be a Bordeaux!

1994 Baron de Pichon-Longueville Bordeaux, Pauillac
Jen’s Notes

Nose of tea roses and sweet, soft cherries. The palate entry shows sweet, concentrated fruit, definitely reminiscent of the nose. The mid-palate shows fruit flavors supported by earthy, leathery notes and gravel. The finish is dry, yet lingering and redolent of chocolaty earth. The tannins are integrated and very balanced. This Bordeaux is nicely structured. While 35 dollars is not to be parted with lightly, I would definitely recommend this as a good value, especially for one’s early forays into aged Bordeaux.

A Bordeaux Quaffer

2004 Les Caves Joseph Bordeaux
Jen’s Notes

This is a simple weeknight quaffer, an easy food wine. The palate shows nice, tart, cherry flavors. It is not complex but the thing I appreciate most about wines like this is that the winemaker lets it stand or fall on its own. There isn’t the profligate use of oak, malolactic, or other techniques to gussy up the wine. There’s no pretense here of something more serious. Just enjoy it.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Nickel and Nickel Syrah

2003 Nickel and Nickel Hudson Vineyard Syrah (Carneros)
Jen’s Notes

The aroma is huge and jammy, redolent of black cherries and marmalade, with hints of graphite and peppery spices.

The first sips indicated that the wine was very tightly wound. It definitely needed some time to open up. Subsequent glasses revealed more flavor. However, this Syrah was not as complex as Nickel & Nickel’s other offerings. It showed slightly tart, black fruit flavors (currant) and a layer of gravel underneath with classic Syrah spiciness. The finish was short and dry. Unfortunately, this offering falls short of Nickel and Nickel’s high standards.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Another Top Twelve

Here is a list of twelve wines that we highly recommend. Think of it as a mixed case that will see you through most occasions, from your usual weekday dinner to something more special for a Saturday evening. Just to keep things interesting, we have given ourselves a few ground rules: (1) we will attempt to always list four wines that cost under $15.00, four wines that cost between $15.00 to $30.00 and four wines that cost over $30.00; (2) we will also try to list a variety of types of wines (we’ll even throw in some whites!); (3) no winery can have more than one wine on the list at a time; and (4) we will only list wines that we have reviewed on this site (the title and date of the review are directly underneath the wine).
$6.99, 2004 Picpoul de Pinet, Hughes Beaulieu
Here’s a Name you don’t Hear Everyday - 6/30/05

$10.99, 2002 Domaine la Soumade Cabernet Sauvignon
Mon Dieu! (Part Deux) – 5/2/05

$13.99, 1998 Dow Late Bottled Vintage Port
A Dry Port in a Storm – 8/2/05

$14.99, Bollig-Lennert, Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling-Spatlese
Our First Foray into German Rieslings – 5/12/05

$16.00, 2003 Kunde Chardonnay, Estate Series
Tasting Trip 2.0: Sonoma – 4/6/05

$16.99, 1994 Chateau les Ormes de Pez, St. Estephe
Patience is a Virtue – Aged Bordeaux – 4/12/05

$23.00, 2002 Cotes de Tablas, Tablas Creek
Wine and the Bard – 6/30/05

$27.99, 2002 T-Vine Merlot
Another Birthday Dinner – 7/28/05

$34.99, 1995 Tokaji Aszu, Hetszolo, 6 Puttonyos
Something Sweet from Hungary – 4/29/05

$42.99, Sanchez Romate Pedro Ximenez “Cardenal Cisneros” Sherry
Why you should try Sherry – 4/27/05

$125.00, Krug Grand Cuvee
Are you Krug Worthy? – 7/6/05

$80/375 ml, 2000 Dolce
Tasting Trip No. 3.0 (with some engaging news) – 4/21/05

We have now posted two, mixed case lists (the other was posted on 3/25/05), so we have been able to compile some stats. Fourteen of our recommended wines are single varietals with Cabernet Sauvignon leading the way with four, and ten are blends with Ports and Rhone style blends (including some California Rhone style blends and a Southern France Rhone style blend) tied with three each. Ten of the twenty-four are from California but none of the eight in the under $15 category are from California. Six of the eight in the $15 - $30 category are from California. After California, the next most prevalent country in our two cases is France with seven, including four in the under $15 category. The only other country with multiple listings is Portugal with three. Lastly, there are fifteen reds on our lists and nine whites.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

A Tasting Trip - Sinskey, Rudd and Silver Oak

Robert Sinskey Vineyards
2004 Pinot Blanc, Los Carneros, $18 (half bottle)
2003 Chardonnay, Three Amigos Vineyard, Los Carneros, $30
2001 Merlot, Los Carneros, $26
2004, Riesling, Los Carneros, $24 (half bottle)
2001 Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, $55
2003 Chardonnay – Bacigalupi Vineyard, $60
2001 Edge Hill Zinfandel – Napa Valley, $28
2002 Edge Hill Zinfandel – Butala Vineyard, $35
2002 Oakville Estate Proprietary Red, $125
Silver Oak
2001 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, $60

Shane’s Notes

Jen and I took another trip to Napa for the Silver Oak release party. We began the trip with a tasting at Robert Sinskey Vineyards and were not disappointed. Many of their wines display a mild complexity of light flavors and finish dry. Unlike the typical Napa fruit bombs, these are excellent food wines. We started with the 2004 Pinot Blanc and it was an amazing wine. It had good complexity and showed flavors of honey and pear with a dry finish. We moved on to the 2003 Chardonnay and after a few sips, Jen thought she detected a hint of malolactic fermentation. We asked our pourer, and he confirmed that they allow some natural, malolactic fermentation. The flavors were light with pear and vanilla being prominent and like the Pinot Blanc, it finished dry. It was very elegant, and Jen thought it was one of the most well-balanced Chardonnays she has tasted.

While our eager server was explaining the Sinskey philosophy, he either became too interested in the conversation or too interested in Jen’s cleavage as he missed her glass by about 10 inches. The red wine (naturally, it was a red) splashed her just a little leaving a few red drops on her white dress. The “pour” guy was mortified and offered to pay for the dry cleaning bill. Jen was good sport and we continued with the tasting.

The 2001 Merlot displayed a light, cherry flavor with just a touch of spice. Once again, it was very well-structured albeit not as complex as some of their other offerings. The 2001 Cab displayed a berry flavor with a bit of chocolate and had a beautiful, dry, echoing finish. Their 2004 Riesling is one of the better California Rieslings we have tasted, but it is not quite up to the level of the German Rieslings. A lush, creamy flavor starts to hit the palate but quickly disappears. According to our server, the Riesling is fairly new for them, so we are anxious to see what they do with it in a few years. We also tasted the Cabernet Franc but, since I do not like that varietal, I recuse myself from reviewing it.

After Sinskey, we went to Rudd’s release party which was a bit more sober of an event than Silver Oak’s. We started out with their Chardonnay which was just mediocre. It had a green apple flavor with a buttery echo and was well-built but lacked complexity. The 2001 Edge Hill Zinfandel tasted a bit jammy with gravelly/cranberry overtones and had mild tannins. Like the Chardonnay, it was okay but lacked complexity. For the 2002 Edge Hill Zinfandel, my notes simply read, “Not much to it.” The last wine of the tasting, their Estate Proprietary Red, was just too young to taste. It tastes like it is built for aging and may turn out to be a spectacular wine, but it needs to age 7-10 years to develop.

We met my parents and headed over to the main event: the Silver Oak release party. The Silver Oak spectacle is a sight to behold: cars lined up on Oakville Crossroad, shuttles taking you from your parking space to the winery, people in lawn chairs sipping wine and eating quail, barbecues filling the Napa Sky with clouds of smoke, awnings stretched across swathes of land to block out the Napa sun, over twenty styles of t shirts for sale, paintings of corkscrews for sale, the winemaker signing wine glasses, pseudo-oenophiles with an ice cream bar in one hand and a glass of Silver Oak in the other, and of course, rows of pourers dispensing the precious wine. Whether you like the wine or not, you have to go just to witness the event.

My parents are a lot of fun, and I really wanted my mom to taste Silver Oak because she is not a serious wine drinker. She thinks every cab she has tasted is too dry and too tannic, and her house wines include any white zinfandel, Sheffield’s “Port,” Andre Cold Duck and Harvey’s Bristol Cream. From the first moment I sipped Silver Oak, it has always been my contention that it is a wine for people who don’t like serious wine. It is expensive and has a cult cab status, but it is really a pretender. While a serious cabernet is tannic, complex and built for aging, Silver Oak is a simplistic, fruit bomb built for drinking immediately. Because of the price and status, people who drink white zins can drink Silver Oak and fool themselves into thinking they are drinking a fine wine (Considering their high case production, they do produce a well- structured wine. Unfortunately, Silver Oak just never rises to oenophile level).

I watched with eager anticipation as my mom sipped the Silver Oak. After a few tentative sips, she exclaimed, “Wow, I like it!” I felt like dancing a celebratory jig.

We had our share of food as well. We all had barbecue quail (very tasty) and my parents and Jen had strawberries. We skipped the Dove bars figuring the vanilla would not complement the wine. After the feast, we went back for one last tasting. Even though my dad isn’t much of a wine drinker, he proved to be quite useful. He went from pourer to pourer, working right to left, and brought the wine back and poured it into our glasses. We drank our share and then bade farewell to Silver Oak. On the way back to the car, my mom asked us if there were anything else like it in Napa. Jen and I just smiled.

We went to two more wineries but our palates were too over stimulated to continue our tasting notes. We went to Miner and enjoyed their wine bottle exhibit. They have the different sizes of wine bottles on display with the name for the bottle size on the label. We recognized all the names until we got to the biggest bottle – the label simply read “Bigolemofo.” Very funny.

The trip had the traditional Jen and Shane ending: we enjoyed a glass of sparking wine at Domaine Chandon. I cannot think of a better ending to a tasting trip.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

A Five Dollar Riesling

Dr. Beckermann
Piesporter Michelsberg Spatlese
2003 – Mosel-Saar-Ruwer
Shane’s Notes

The aroma is a bit minerally with mild grapefruit. The palate is spritzy, a touch metallic, and shows some light, tropical fruit. It is sweet and a bit acidic. Nothing spectacular but pleasant to drink and a good deal for the price. It is certainly better than any inexpensive white wine from Napa.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Santa Rita Cab

Santa Rita
Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserva, 2003
Shane’s Notes

This Cab has a light, tart cherry flavor with spicy and cedar overtones. The tannins are soft and the wine is very dry. Considering the underwhelming flavors, it is too dry. It’s okay, but it is definitely a little out of balance. We drank it on its own which was a mistake: this is a food wine. It might go well with a juicy prime rib.

A Dry Port in a Storm

1998 Dow LBV
Jen’s Notes

Of all the LBV’s we have tasted, this one is probably the most serious. Most of them, even the decent ones, still taste too much like a Ruby, which is the simplest of the bottle-aged Ports. This Dow tastes more like a true vintage Port with an elegant complexity and seamless structure.

We found distinctive black cherry and licorice aromas, spiked with herbal/minty scents. The flavors mirror the aroma and are reminiscent of cherry cordials (cherry, dark chocolate) with an interesting hint of roses. While the wine is quite sweet in the mouth, it finishes a little short and dry with a delightful touch of brown butter on the finish.

The wine boasts a gossamer, silky texture, and is lively on the palate; it is absolutely lovely.

Another Gem from Sinskey

2001 Robert Sinskey Vineyards Pinot Noir, “Four Vineyards”
Jen’s Notes

This pinot showed a light, garnet-red color, nearly amber at the meniscus. It was intensely perfumey, evocative of strawberry jam and sweet floral aromas.

While even the first sips showed depth of flavor and fantastic complexity, the wine definitely benefited from time in the glass. Structurally, the wine was extremely well-balanced and exhibited a strong palate reverb, which is a hallmark of a great pinot. The tannins were smooth and integrated, providing a solid bass note to the intense, lyrical fruit. As the wine opened up, we noticed hints of tea and spice. The wine finished long with an almost creamy mouthfeel. It was very Burgundian in style.

Shane and I were quite lucky to have this bottle. When we visited the winery on Saturday, there were only three bottles left.