Thursday, October 27, 2005

An Eleven Dollar Bordeaux

2003 Chateau Jouanin
Cuvee Prestige Rouge
Cotes De Castillon
Jen’s Notes

Though a very well-made wine, this was one of those "I wish we had our Koolspace wine storage unit" wines. This one was definitely built to last, with fierce tannins and tightly-wound flavors. Decanting helped a bit but it needs to age for 5-10 years.

We initially noted tart berry fruit on the nose. Once the flavors microscopically opened up, we detected currant, pepper, and tobacco on the finish.

Wine Fit for the Dulcinea

2002 Quixote, Petite Syrah
Stags' Leap Ranch, Napa
Jen’s Notes

Our first brush with the power of this grape occurred at the Rhone Rangers tasting in March of 2005 when we tasted Stags' Leap Winery’s (not to be confused with Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars) Petite Syrah. We were interested in the Quixote wines because of their connection to Stags’ Leap. The former owner of Stags’ Leap, the irascible, iconoclastic Carl Doumani, left in the 90’s and founded Quixote.

This wine exhibited a deep, inky black-purple color. The nose is huge, redolent of jammy, sweet berries.

The palate is very interesting with bold tannins, peppery spices, cola, and luscious blackberry underneath with the barest hint of warm vanillin This isn’t your snooty, elegant varietal like Pinot Noir. This is a brawny, briary, mouth-filling, powerhouse with massive, shifting flavors that feel as if they have leaped out of your mouth and bitch-slapped you.

A Dee Vine Tasting

1. 2004 Keller Westhofen Kirchspiel Kabinett, $23
2. 2004 Schloss Vollrads Kabinett, $22
3. 2004 Muller-Catoir Haardter Herrenletten Spatlese, $29
4. 2004 Schloss Vollrads Auslese, 375 ml, $52
5. 2003 Max von Othegraven Kanzemer Altenbert Spatlese, $31
6. 2003 Reinhard and Beate Knebel Winninger Rottgen Auslese, 500 ml, $30
Shane’s Notes

This tasting was held at Dee Vine Wines located at Pier 19 in San Francisco. We paid $15 to taste 16 German Rieslings from the 2004 vintage and 2 from 2003. Dee Vine sets out the wine and lets you pour for yourself which makes for a very fun tasting. Here are some of the highlights:

1. From the Rheinhessen region, spritzy like a Mosel with the palate showing lemon and blood orange flavors with a slightly metallic taste. Very good.

2. From the Rheingau region, completely different than the Mosels we have been drinking, creamy instead of spritzy with a palate that is smooth and tangy. Dominant flavor is peach pie.

3. From the Pfalz region, one of the best of the tasting, very creamy, complex palate with flavors of peaches and lemon curd. Crisp acidity on the finish.

4. Best of the 2004’s that we tasted, probably 100% botrytized with a palate dominated by honeysuckle with enough acidity to hold it together. Tastes like a Riesling Sauternes.

5 and 6. These were both absolutely fantastic. The palate on these 2003’s is elegant and restrained with plenty of acidity for balance and aging.

This was hardly a representative sampling of the 2004 vintage – five wines were from Muller-Catoir, four from Keller, four from Erben von Beulwitz, and three from Schloss Vollrads. Heavyweight producers such as Gunderloch, Joh. Jos. Prum, and Dr. Loosen were all missing from the tasting. So, we will refrain from making any broad generalizations about the 2004 vintage. We will just say that most of the 2004 Rieslings at this tasting were flabby and disappointing.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The "Two Buck Chuck" Challenge

2003 Chateau St. Michelle Sauvignon Blanc
2004 Charles Shaw Sauvignon Blanc
2003 Clos du Bois Sauvignon Blanc
Shane's Notes

I wanted to try one of the two buck Chucks, but Jen refused to let me bring any of them into her apartment. After much discussion, I was able to get her to agree to try a blind tasting of Sauvignon Blancs in which a two buck Chuck was one of the wines. I went to Trader Joe’s and bought the above mentioned wines. We put them in brown paper bags and shuffled them. We numbered the bags and then made our pre-tasting prognostications. We both predicted that two buck Chuck would come in last. I predicted that Chateau St. Michelle would win while Jen picked Clos du Bois. Our notes on the tasting are as follows:

#1 – Fresh, clean, citrussy aromas, especially lemon. Palate is simple, decent acidity, definitely drinkable. A very respectable finish. No major flaws and actually a decent wine. Best of the tasting.

#2 – Funky smell, absolutely vile, major flaws in this one - palate has chemical taste, no acidity or flavor. Undrinkable.

#3 – Has a bit of a cat urine smell, palate is simple with green apple flavor. A bit zesty. No major flaws but relative lack of acidity is a minor flaw – borderline drinkable.

We naturally figured that #2 was the two buck Chuck. We confidently pulled #2 out of its bag and were both stunned to see that it was the Clos du Bois! We had just tasted there and liked almost everything they poured for us, including their Fume Blanc. This was either a rare mistake for Clos du Bois or something ruined (TCA taint?) this particular bottle.

Jen was really nervous (bordering on horrified) at this point – were we actually going to have declare two buck Chuck the winner? We tentatively reached for bag #1, the declared winner. We slowly pulled the bottle out of its bag – it was the Chateau St. Michelle. Jen breathed a sigh of relief. Two buck Chuck didn’t win but we both have to give it credit for not finishing in last place.

However, I don’t think we will be making two buck Chuck our house wine anytime soon. We much prefer the Santa Ema wines at $3.50 a bottle and Concha y Toro’s Xplorador wines, which we have been able to find on sale for $3.52. These wines are a quantum leap in quality above two buck Chuck.

Also, the Bronco Wine Company (owner of the Charles Shaw brand) is releasing a stunning volume of Charles Shaw wines. I read one article that mentioned the figure might be as high 5 million cases in a year.* With such a Brobdingnagian case production, they obviously must be constantly changing the source of their grapes which would mean that consistency would be a problem.


Tannin Management

Concha y Toro
Xplorador, Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
$3.52 (2 for 1 sale at BevMo)
Silver Oak 2001 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Shane’s Notes

“Tannin Management” is one of the latest catch phrases in the wine industry. Tannin Management techniques revolve around extracting the harsh and bitter tannins while retaining the soft, chewy, mouth-filling tannins. A variety of methods are employed including ripening the seeds of the grapes, using a gentle cap sprinkle instead of blasting the cap and of course, the much vilified “micro-oxygenation.”*

Unfortunately, it is difficult to discover which wineries are employing which techniques, so it is difficult to judge the results. However, judging by the extreme velvety mouth-feel and lack of astringency in Silver Oak’s 2001 Alexander Valley offering, I would guess that Silver Oak is using every tannin management technique known to U.C. Davis. I will admit that I enjoy the mouth-feel and I certainly don’t miss the astringency, but I really miss the flavor. There is not any varietal flavor underneath the texture which is a serious flaw. I’ll continue to attend Siler Oak’s lavish release parties, but I will never again pay $60 for their wine. I suspect that the wine making techniques they employ to strip the wine of bad tannins also strips the wine of its flavor.

I am also guessing that Concha y Toro has a tannin management program, and they appear to be more successful at it than Silver Oak. Concha y Toro’s Xplorador Cabernet has a velvety mouth-feel, but it is not as dense as the Silver Oak. The varietal flavors underneath the texture are not complex but at least they exist. Jen thought the palate was dominated by cranberries with touches of white pepper and Rosemary ,while I thought it was dominated by violets. There were good (pun intended) tannins underneath, and it was a touch dry. This is a spectacular deal at $3.52 a bottle and still an amazing deal at $6 to $7 a bottle.

*San Francisco Chronicle, “Taming the Tannins,” by Janet Fletcher, February 20, 2003.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Shell and the Bull

2004 Concha y Toro Merlot, “Xplorador” (Chile)
$3.52 at BevMo sale
Jen’s Notes

With its nose of Jelly Belly Buttered Popcorn, jelly beans and Shasta Black Cherry soda, you know this is going to be a fun, easy quaffer that you don’t have to think too much about (unless you’re blogging your wines, that is!). This merlot boasts soft fruit flavors, a deeply velvety mouthfeel, a whisper of tannins on the finish and…well, frankly, not much else, which is often just what you want.

Up in Smoke

2003 Sea Smoke Pinot Noir
Southing, Santa Rita Hills
$46.00 (available by mailing list only)
Jen’s Notes

Both Shane and I agreed that this was the best Pinot Noir either of us had ever tasted. I ventured to guess that it might be the best thing that has ever touched my palate. All hyperbole aside, this wine was absolutely stunning. It exhibited a nose of intense, sweet strawberry fruit, black licorice, and herbal/tea notes.

The flavors were intense, focused and concentrated, featuring rich, plum fruit spiked with graphite, cedar and tobacco. Not only are the flavors fantastic, this wine has structure like the Sears Tower. More than just a nice Pinot-reverb, this one exhibits a controlled expansion that makes you sit back and say “how did they do THAT?” Even more than the flavors, the silky texture and succulent acidity made this wine a true pleasure to drink. It was the perfect choice to inaugurate our Riedel “O” decanter (a gift from Shane’s parents).

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Esprit de Gasoline

Tablas Creek
2002 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc
Shane’s Notes

This is a Rhone style white blend consisting of 70% Roussanne, 25% Grenache Blanc and 5% Viognier. Neither of us detected much of an aroma. The palate entry was a little spritzy, and the middle palate displayed some mineral and herbal notes with a smooth mouthfeel. Unfortunately, there was a rather offensive flavor that dominated the palate which we couldn’t quite identify – it is an almost gasoline/kerosene flavor that initially appears in the middle and really dominates the finish. I guess it is either due to some acidity flaw, or it is just a natural flavor component of the wine. Either way, neither of us liked it, and it ruined the wine for us.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Cru (Not Nouveau) Beaujolais

2002 Chiroubles, Clos Le Farge
Domaine Chrysson
Shane’s Notes
$7.99 (375 ml)

This Cru Beaujolais has a deep, red color and a sweet, strawberry aroma. It has a tart, crisp acidity with a simple cranberry palate. Nothing spectacular but I do occasionally enjoy the crisp acidity of the gamay varietal.

Another Value from South America

Bodega Jacques Francois Lurton
Valle de Uco – Mendoza
2003 Cabernet Sauvignon

The aroma is big and fruity, like cherry cordials and Bubbilicious grape bubble gum. The palate is tight, sharp, tart and tangy. This one has plenty of tannins and acidity. After the palate opens, a pleasing mint flavor predominates. We enjoyed it, but this one might be tough to handle if you are used to the less acidic Napa fruit bombs.


Wattle Creek Winery
Ghiradelli Square

Jen and I found ourselves at Ghiradelli Square during Fleet Week and were desperately seeking a refuge from the crowds. We noticed that the Wattle Creek winery had a tasting facility in the square . We had never heard of Wattle Creek but decided to split a tasting. The white wines of Wattle Creek receive our infamous “Four F” rating: flaccid, flabby and fatally flawed. Their whites were overripe and completely lacked acidity. Unfortunately for Wattle Creek, writing, “crisp acidity” in the tasting notes has no talismanic efficacy on the wine. Their $35 Cabernet Sauvignon had the opposite problem – it was underripe causing a thin, vegetal palate. We definitely prefer our $4 house cab (Santa Ema). We recommend that Wattle Creek hire a consulting winemaker. Perhaps Heidi Barrett is available…

An Aged Kabinett

1998 Reinhold Haar Riesling Kabinett
Piesporter Goldtropfchen, Mosel-saar-ruwer
Jen’s Notes

This wine was a daring choice: we were not certain that a Kabinett could survive seven years of bottle age. While we certainly wouldn't age this one any longer, we are happy to report that it is holding up quite nicely.

The wine was pale in color and had a surprisingly tarry nose. The flavor palate boasts the Hallmark Mosel spritziness, with just a whisper of the tar underneath. The wine is rich and concentrated, including flavors of mango and honey. It isn't very complex, but it is definitely focused and mouthfilling, with succulent, juicy fruit. Even with all this fruit, the wine is quite dry.

Structural Perfection

2002 Newton Chardonnay, Napa Valley
Jen’s Notes

This chardonnay is unfiltered and uses only wild, indigenous yeasts during the fermentation process. This might help to explain its uniqueness in the world of Chardonnays - not only those produced in Napa, but those produced anywhere on the planet.

More than any other chardonnay I have tasted, this one boasts a perfectly seamless structure, balance and flavor palate. Its nose of tropical fruit and wet rocks hint at a panoply of flavors, including figs, melon, herbal notes, and minerality underneath. The flavors are fantastic, but this wine is all about structure.

Though malolacted, there is almost no buttery flavor. Like everything else about this wine, the malolactic is in perfect harmony with the other elements (unlike some chardonnays, which can have a "pasted-on" butter flavor). In fact, the malolactic appears more in the creamy, rich texture of the wine than in the actual flavors.

The wine finishes long, neither steely nor oaky, with only the barest hint of coffee cake (from Palio, for any of our San Francisco readers).

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Violets and Tar

Domaine Saint Benoit
Chateauneuf du Pape, Cuvee de Grande Garde
Shane's Notes

Finding an aged Rhone is about as tough as finding a Frenchman who praises American wine. When I discovered this 11 year-old Chateauneuf du Pape for only $30 at K&L, I had to buy it. In the glass, the wine was dark red with a brownish tinge on the meniscus, indicative of bottle age. The aroma was dominated by sweet cherries and film. The palate was initially tight and displayed a light cherry flavor followed by dirt. After about 20 minutes in the decanter, the palate really opened. The light cherry flavor turned into a heavy, concentrated floral flavor (reminiscent of violets) with some tar in the middle. It had a dry, lingering finish with barely enough tannins to hold it together. The texture was dense and chewy. We suspect this one peaked a few years ago and is just beginning to decline. The palate was rather simple but the heavy concentration of flavor made this one interesting. It was definitely worth $30.

Quoth the Raven, "It doth lack Flavor."

Quinto do Noval
$12.99 (500ml)

The Raven is Quinto do Noval’s Ruby Port. It is dark red in the glass and has aromas of dark berries, creamy vanilla and chocolate. The palate is more simple than the aroma suggests and shows light, cherry flavors. It also has a velvety texture. The tannins are soft, the finish is a touch hot, and it is a bit drier than the typical ruby. It is well-structured but I prefer a more complex and/or concentrated flavor palate.

Dinner at Pasta Pomodoro

Columbia Crest, Grand Estates 2001 Columbia Valley Merlot
Cuvee Selectionnee par Kermit Lynch, Cotes du Rhone 2003
Shane’s Notes

We had a dinner engagement at Pasta Pomodoro on Friday. Since Pasta Pomodoro is a casual restaurant, we left the Petrus and the Mouton at home and brought two value wines. We had the Columbia Crest Merlot prior to dinner. The flavor palate was a little tight and not nearly as concentrated as the typical Napa merlot. It was oaky, smoky and not very complex.

The Rhone proved to be much more interesting. It was minty and had soft tannins. The flavor palate displayed some tart, black fruits and earthy overtones. It was very enjoyable.