Friday, September 23, 2005

Pedro Ximenez otra vez

Sandeman, Royal Ambrosante, 20 years
Old Solera Pedro Ximenez
$20.00/500 ml
Jen’s Notes
Sandeman first started making this sherry in 1894. It is a blend of Pedro Ximenez wines, the youngest of which is 20 years old. Some of the wines in the blend are more than 100 years old.* It is produced in very limited quantities, and each bottle is numbered. You’ll want to chill this just a touch. The wine tastes a little hot at room temperature.
This sherry boasts a deep, opaque brown, nearly black color. Believe it or not, Pedro Ximenez is a white wine varietal! It is quite viscous, exhibiting a delay before the legs run down the glass. The nose is intensely grapey and raisiny, with hints of maple syrup.

Like the nose, the palate is quite raisiny, especially on the finish. The mid-palate is creamy, with vanilla, rose and smoky flavors. As we had hoped, this wine is super-rich and sweet without being over-the-top. It is also well structured, and the flavors are harmoniously balanced. Since you wouldn’t want something like this to be over too quickly, the finish is long and smooth.


Northern Rhones vs. Southern Rhones

A Tasting at K&L Wine Merchants
Shane’s Notes

K&L billed this tasting as a Northern vs. Southern Rhone tasting, but the tasting definitely featured more Southern Rhones than Northern Rhones. To the best of our knowledge, Northern Rhones favor Syrah while the Southern Rhones rely more heavily on Grenache. We feel obliged to reveal our bias: we both prefer the more flavorful Grenache over Syrah, so it’s no surprise that we prefer Southern Rhones. Here our are notes on 8 of the 13 wines at the tasting.

2004 Costieres de Nimes, Mas Grand Plagniol Rosé, $10.99 (Southern): This Rosé is very light in color and has a rather flat flavor palate. The acidity is soft and the finish is sweet. Unfortunately, the finish displays a slightly disturbing flavor of pickle juice. It was okay but not nearly as good as our last Rosé (See “A Delightful Blush” posted on August 20, 2005).

Chateau Saint Cosme “Little James Basket Press”, $11.99 (Southern): This one was the best value of the tasting. It has a concentrated fruit burst on the palate (primarily raspberries) and shows floral notes and some tar. The finish is dry. It is very well-balanced.

2003 Vacqueyras La Bastide St. Vincent “Pavane”, $16.99 (Southern): It smells sweet and tart and has a floral, perfumey palate. It finishes dry and is well-structured. This was the second best value of the tasting.

2003 Cotes du Rhone Villages Sablet Piaugier “Tenebi”, $15.99 (Southern): This one exudes an aroma of bitter licorice. It has a nice fruit burst with a touch of anise, but all the flavors are quickly engulfed by a very dry, peppery finish. It is a little too dry and not quite tannic enough.

2003 Gigondas Montirius, $29.99 (Southern): At $30, it’s not exactly a value wine but it was my favorite wine of the tasting. It is well-structured, and the palate shows light berry flavors with a lot of pepper. Unfortunately, the palate is very tight. This one needs to age at least 10 years before it reaches its potential.

2003 Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine Grand Veneur, $24.99 (Southern): It smells jammy and has a strawberry/floral palate with a bit of graphite. It is definitely drinkable now but it could also age. We liked it, but it might be a bit overpriced.

2003 Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Les Bosquet des Papes, $34.99 (Southern): This one is undrinkable. It smells like cherries dipped in soy sauce, and the soy sauce dominates the palate. I don’t know what causes a soy sauce flavor, but I know that I certainly do not want it in my wine.

2001 St. Joseph Rouge Pierre Gaillard “Cuminaille”, $31.99 (Northern): This one is smooth and peppery with a palate that is more herbal than fruity. Jen also detected some currant notes. It was okay.

I usually find the wine tastings at the K&L in San Francisco rather pretentious, but this tasting provided some humorous moments. Two guys behind us were tasting the Rosé and were speaking in hushed tones. However, everyone stopped talking at just the right moment, and we all heard one of the guys exclaim, “This one tastes like marijuana!” I quickly checked my notes – I suppose he could have been talking about the rather bizzare pickle juice flavor on the finish, but I suspect the more likely culprit was the the flavor of his last joint still lingering in his mouth.

We also overheard a discussion in which a young lady complained, “We went to France on our honeymoon and couldn’t find any good wines.” Jen and I simultaneously laughed and cringed when we heard that statement. It will probably end up as a scene in Mondevino, Part II.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

French Dessert Wine

Domaine Des Coteaux Des Travers
Rasteau, Vin Doux Naturel
Recolate 2000
Shane’s Notes

How could we pass up a port-style Grenache? It is brownish in color with aromas of cinnamon and creamy vanilla. The palate is maple syrupy with a caramelly finish. It is more vinous than we expected and has a hot finish. It is light-bodied, and we thought it would be sweeter and more flavorful. It was okay, but we will not be buying a second bottle.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Four Wineries and a Detour/Tasting Trip no. 5.0

Alexander Valley
Jen’s Notes

Lancaster Estate

The initial raison d’etre for this trip was the release party for the 2002 Lancaster Estate, a Bordeaux-style blend that neither of us had ever tried before. They were also offering barrel tasting (another first), a barbecue lunch and a live jazz band. As it turned out, the food and music were more enjoyable than the wine.

They poured the 2004 (barrel tasting), 2002, 2001 and 1999 vintages. The 2002 was about the best of them. Unfortunately, it was served too cold. After it reached a more appropriate temperature, we noticed rounder fruit, with hints of spices. Even so, the wine lacked the structure and complexity that you would expect from a wine in this price range (around $65). The 2001 was quite a bit flatter and had barely any tannins. We also noted that the 1999 had a slight taste of green peppers, suggesting that the fruit was underripe.

The 2004 barrel tasting was an interesting experience – though clearly a work in progress, underneath the vanilla and oak from the barrel, there were hints of riper, sweeter fruit than in the other vintages we tasted.

Alexander Valley Vineyards

We left the release party and headed for Alexander Valley Vineyards. Shane had been a fan of their wines for some time and was curious to see whether he still liked them. I had only tried their entry-level cab, which I liked, and was anxious to try more of their wines. Across the board, these wines are quite affordable and most offer a good value.

2003 Estate Viognier ($25): tropical fruits and lemon flavors; steely, dry finish.

2003 Reserve Chardonnay ($20): beautiful straw color and vanilla bean aromas. Full-bodied, with creamy, tropical fruit flavors mingling with intense nutmeg/spice notes and vanilla.

2003 Estate Pinot Noir ($20): Bright, strawberry fruit, cocoa and hints of vanilla. Slight palate reverb. Good flavors, but they disappear quickly.

2003 Sangiovese: an unfortunate “no” - flabby and simplistic, with aromas of overripe fruit.

2003 Redemption Zin ($25): while not a fruit bomb, this wine did boast nice blackberry flavors with intense pepper. Dry finish. Good flavors. Unusual and interesting. The winery recommends that the Redemption follow their Sin Zin, which of course makes sense. With a Redemption this good, it might be more fun than the Sin!

2002 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($20): smooth, classic cab, with just the right amount of oak. Moderate complexity, including cherry, licorice and tobacco flavors.

2001 Cyrus ($50): this Bordeaux-style blend was intense and focused, with a velvety mounthfeel. It had nice, firm tannins, rich berry flavors, and an overlay of peppery spices, which seems to be a hallmark of this winery. Unfortunately, there was also a slight taste of bell peppers, usually a sign of underripe fruit.

2000 Cyrus ($50): showing much better than the 2001. Similarly structured, but riper (no bell pepper). Flavors are deeper, more intense, and better integrated. We enjoyed this one at home as well; the wine was even better than we remembered. Serious structure and finesse; more spicy and earthy than fruity, although there are definite cassis notes underneath.

Clos du Bois

Next on the agenda was Clos du Bois. This was another historical wine for both of us. In our early days of wine drinking, Clos du Bois was at the top of our list. We were delighted to discover that they are still producing solid wines at excellent prices. This tasting highlighted wines at every level of the winery’s portfolio.

2004 Pinot Grigio ($15): Zesty citrus. A light, easy drinker with a touch of spritz. Flinty, steely notes lend seriousness to this casual white wine.

2003 Fume Blanc, Reserve ($16): 10% Semillon softens this Sauvignon Blanc just a touch. Pretty floral aromas and a hint of graphite. Gently oaked, balanced against characteristic smoke and grapefruit.

2000 Flintwood Chardonnay ($22): Partial malolactic and a touch of oak. The buttery/vanilla flavors are well balanced against fresh acidity and bright citrus flavors. Surprisingly spicy flavors echo the coffee cake aromas. Complex, concentrated, and succulent. Tastes like a $40 Chardonnay.

2003 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Reserve ($22): Very Burgundian. Super-sweet strawberry fruit, spiked with tobacco and cedar. This is a serious Pinot; very well made. Only a slight palate reverb. The bottle we opened at home was even better, showing more reverb and elegant, refined structure. A superb value.

2002 Merlot, Alexander Valley, Reserve ($23): Beautiful color, pretty floral aromas. A smooth, classic Merlot but definitely with backbone. All about finesse. A bit of spiciness on the finish.

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon ($18): This is Clos du Bois’ entry level Cab, almost universally available. Unfortunately, the weakest wine of the tasting. Flat and a touch vegetal. It is, however, not overoaked and there are nice spicy notes.

2002 Marlstone Meritage, Alexander Valley ($50): Disappointing. Insufficiently complex for a wine at this price point. Lacks grip and power.

The Detour

On the hunt for a nice way to end the trip, we accidentally went to Trentadue. We were lured there by the sign on the road which indicated that they were pouring Ports. We started off with their complimentary tasting (the Port tasting was $5). The first pour we chose was their sparkling wine, made by Wente from Lodi fruit (French Colombard and Chenin Blanc). It was too sweet, too bubbly, and bore no resemblance to the finer California sparkling wines. We tasted two more wines which were absolutely awful and do not merit reviews. Suffice to say, we had no intention of trying the Ports and left the winery when the pourer’s back was turned.

Lingering Finish: J. Winery

Safely in the car, we were still at a loss as to our final winery of the day. We decided on J. Winery, whose bubbly I had seen in one of my favorite wine shops, but which I had not tasted. We got a bit lost but eventually arrived in the parking lot of this very cool property. The architecture reminded me of Domaine Chandon’s – that more elegant version of Frank Lloyd Wright’s famed prairie style. Inside, I felt like we were at a hip SOMA bar, with a striking metal and glass panel behind the tasting bar, and elegant food pairings on sushi plates.

Our palates were overstimulated so we dispensed with notetaking and just enjoyed their wines. The highlight of the tasting was J’s sparkling wine: light, zesty citrussy, and very enjoyable. It was a lovely way to wrap up our trip

Friday, September 16, 2005

Two Rieslings

Weingut Grans-Kassian
1997 Piersporter Goldtropfchen
Riesling Auslese, Mosel

Dr. Loosen
2003 Urziger Wurzgarten
Riesling Spatlese, Mosel
Shane’s Notes

The Dr. Loosen was white and had an aroma of pears. The flavor palate showed pears and lemons and was just a little creamy with steely undertones. It was spritzy, zesty, had a firm acidity and was tightly wound. We enjoyed it but think it could age for at least 5 to 7 years before the flavor palate matures.

We have enjoyed most of the German Rieslings we have tasted, so we decided it was time to try a premium, aged Riesling. Jen chose a 1997 gold capsule Auslese. The gold capsule Auslesen are sweet enough to be considered dessert wines and usually have some botrytis.* The synthesis of bottle age and gold capsule quality grapes definitely makes a difference. This Riesling is richer with a more concentrated flavor palate than the other Rieslings we have tried. We have called some of the other Rieslings “lush,” but that was only in comparison to a Sauvignon Blanc or a Chardonnay. This Riesling showed us just how “lush” a premium Riesling can be.

The aromas were minerally and lemony while the color was a deep yellow. The palate was spritzy (that’s the last time I’m mentioning this characteristic in a Riesling review – every Riesling we have drunk is spritzy) and included a rich, lemon curd flavor with a creamy overlay (probably from botrytization). There were also subsidiary flavors of tropical fruit and brown sugar. The palate was relatively complex and ultra concentrated. The finish was wonderfully long with just enough acidity to hold this one together. It might be too sweet for some people, but if your palate can handle it, this one is outstanding.

*Wine Spectator, April 30, 2005, page 115

Strawberry with Hints of Spice

2003 Domaine Paul Autard
Cotes du Rhone
Shane’s Notes

The aromas include spices, cloves and sweet, bright, red fruit. The color is a translucent cherry, and we immediately noticed that this wine resembles a Rosé. The first sip confirmed the visual evidence: it tastes like a Rosé with strawberry and tart cherry dominating the palate. The palate is juicy and the lingering finish displays hints of spice. We suspect that Cinsault is the dominant varietal. We enjoyed this one.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

An Elegant Ruby

Dow’s Fine Ruby Porto
Shane’s Notes

This color of this ruby is a beautiful, opaque red. The palate is subtle with nice berry flavors while the finish reveals candied violets with a slightly, creamy vanilla underpinning. It is light-bodied and finishes dry. Krohn’s ruby might be more complex but Dow’s is certainly more elegant. We highly recommend it.

Sugar Water

Rheingau – 2003 Riesling Qualitatswein
Freiherr Langwerth Von Simmern Eltville
Shane’s Notes

Unfortunately, this is a poor quality Riesling. It tastes more like spritzy, sugar water than wine. We drank it, but we certainly don’t recommend it.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

An Elegant Zin

2002 T-Vine Zinfandel, Brown Vineyard (Napa Valley)
Jen’s Notes

Only 597 cases were produced of this lovely and quite serious Zinfandel. This wine boasts aromas of cherries and cedar. It is definitely not the floozy Zinfandel you may know (and love or hate); instead of a fruit bomb, it is concentrated and focused, emphasizing structure and silky texture alongside the varietal’s hallmark jamminess.

This Zin is smooth and silky in the mouth with a minute touch of butter and oak, hinting at just the right amount of new oak. The raspberry fruit flavor is spiked with spices. It is dry with a hint of graphite on the finish. The flavors seem to arrive and deepen in waves, almost like Pinot. All in all, this is a wine-nerd’s Zinfandel, satisfyingly delicious, but also refined and elegant. Another winner from a superlative producer.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Another Great Riesling

Gunderloch “Jean Baptiste” 2003 Riesling Kabinett
Shane’s Notes

The aroma is tropical, zesty and floral. The initial palate entry is floral and sweet. The mid-palate is juicy, concentrated and displays flavors of tropical fruit, apricot, citrus and a touch of honey. It is almost too sweet, yet it still seems to finish dry with just bit of spritz. We have never seen so much sugary detritus after finishing a bottle of wine: the bottoms of our glasses were coated with crystals and a trail of sugar inside the bottle led from the bottom to the top. We absolutely loved this Riesling. We can’t wait to try a 2003 spatlese or auslese.