Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A Bit Green for our Taste...

2004 Forman Chardonnay
Napa Valley
Jen's Notes

For a long time, one of my hallmark Chardonnays had been Ric Forman’s, and I was curious to revisit it after having tried some seriously excellent contenders, such as Newton and Sinskey.

The aromas are overwhelmingly tropical, with the barest hint of mineral underneath. Initially, the palate was tight, hinting only at green apple and zesty citrus. As the wine opened, we detected kiwi, fig, and slightly more richness.

This is an excellent, well-made wine, and a perfect example of the racier, cleaner style of Chardonnay that sometimes comes out of Napa. However, I have found that as I taste more and more Chardonnays, I often want greater complexity and something a touch softer, creamier and rich.

Give me Liberty...

2003 Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon
Jen’s Notes

This cab is an easy drinker with nearly delicate tannins until the finish, where they rebound just a bit. The palate includes mint and leather notes, and… well, that’s about it. The nose is more interesting, boasting perfumey florals and berry fruit scents. I'd love to see more complexity and/or concentration, but 13 bucks for a weeknight quaffer? I won't complain too much.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Another Napa Trip

$22 - 2004 Sauvignon Blanc, Juliana Vineyards
$29.50 - 2003 Dutton Ranch Chardonnay
2001 Napa Valley Reserve Merlot
$35 - 2003 Sonoma Pinot Noir
$35 - 2001 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
$29 - Antigua Desert Wine (Muscat)
Chateau Montelena
$125 – 2001 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
$140 – 1999 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
$115 – 1998 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
$18 – 2004 Potter Valley Riesling
$35 – 2003 Napa Valley Chardonnay
$28 - 2002 Estate Zinvandel
Clos du Val
$21 – 2003 Carneros Chardonnay
$24 – 2003 Carneros Pinot Noir
$38 – 2001 Red Table Wine
$44 – 2002 Signature Merlot
$64 – 2002 Signature Shiraz
$68 – 2002 Signature Cabernet Sauvignon

Shane’s Notes

This certainly was not our best tasting trip. We enjoyed tasting at Merryvale and Chateau Montelena but the other wineries were disappointments. The trip culminated in a visit to a Persian-style nightclub serving rather flat wines. It was only later that we discovered it was really a winery called Darioush.

We began the day tasting at Merryvale. It had been years since I had tasted there and I was anxious to try their wines again.

The Sauvignon Blanc was very interesting. It was less acidic than the average Sauvignon Blanc and the flavor palate was surprisingly rich showing flavors of melons, oranges and tangerines. I know a fellow wine drinker who says that drinking Sauvignon Blanc is like licking a steel ball. I suspect he would have liked this one.

The Chardonnay is 100% malolactic. The aroma is buttery. Surprisingly, the butter taste does not overwhelm the palate. It is definitely present, but so is a nice fig flavor and a lemony finish. It is okay but nothing special

The Merlot smells spicy. The palate is spicy, briny and brawny. It is an interesting style and quite un-Napan: there is no fruit burst in this wine. In fact, it is slightly vegetal. I wasn’t thrilled with it but it might appeal to some.

The Pinot shows a smoky, dry strawberry aroma. The palate is very restrained – in fact, much too restrained. Neither of us liked it.

The Cab was similar in style to their Merlot. The flavors are very soft and the texture is silky. There is a mild cranberry flavor on the palate and the finish is a bit alcoholic.

The dessert wine has an orangey, rich Sauternes-like aroma. The texture was syrupy and once again, the palate was restrained. There were mild flavors of oranges and hazelnuts. The finish was long but the flavors should have been more concentrated.

After Merryvale, we made the long journey to Chateau Montelena. We figured this would the be best winery of the trip so we decided to do both their tastings. For the first tasting, we paid $25 a piece and were ushered into a semi-private room to taste three of the estate Cabernet Sauvignons.

The 2001 was herbal, concentrated and rich. The palate showed olive, spicy currants, tobacco and thyme. It was my favorite of the tasting.

The 1999 had a dry finish. It showed aromas of cinnamon, coffee cake and streusel. The palate was spicy, minty and showed mild fruit flavors.

The 1998 had a very Bordeaux like aroma showing earthy and herbal notes. The palate was very earthy, leathery and full. There was also some licorice. This was Jen’s favorite.

All of these Cabs were amazing. They were elegant, complex and eschewed the Napa tendency of producing fruit bombs.

While we were walking back to the main tasting room, we spotted the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay hanging on the wall ensconced in a glass case. This bottle of Chardonnay is perhaps the most famous bottle of wine to ever come out of Napa. If you know your wine history, then you know that this Chardonnay took first place in the 1976 Paris Tasting. I wanted to salute the bottle and break into a chorus of God Bless America.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, the French assumed that Napa was only producing plonk. They scoffed at the notion that Napa could compete with their fifth growths, much less with their first growths. A British gentleman who owned a wine shop in Paris had travelled to the United States and actually tasted California wines. He recognized the high quality and brought some bottles back to France. He set up a blind tasting in Paris pitting Napa wines against French wines. The judges’ credentials were impeccable and they took great joy during the tasting in denouncing American wines. When the wines were revealed, Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay had won in the white category and a Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon had won in the red category. Time magazine called the event the “Judgment of Paris” thereby mythologizing the tasting. The display at Chateau Montelena includes a copy of the Time magazine article.

We split a regular tasting at Chateau Montelena because we simply had to taste the newer incarnation of that famous Chadonnay.

The tasting started with their Riesling. It was sweet and dry. The palate showed flavors of apricot and lemon. While not as complex as a good German Riesling, it was okay.

The Chardonnay was amazing. There is 0% malolactic in this Chardonnay, yet Montelena has still somehow reduced the mouth-puckering acidity. The complex palate shows flavors of pear, green apple and lime. The palate is crisp, rich and juicy. We have recently had some high price Chardonnays including the Newton and the Forman, but this clearly is the best of all them. The French never had a chance in 1976.

The Zinfandel was restrained with the palate showing a raspberry flavor. The texture was silky. It was nice but I don’t want a nice Zinfandel – I want a floozy bursting with flavors.

(Non-oenophiles may skip the next four paragraphs)

During the tasting, someone asked us if we liked Mondevino. Both Jen and I mentioned that we didn’t like it and were stunned when someone working at Montelena began defending the film. Someone working at the winery that won the Paris tasting is admitting that he loves the American-wine bashing Mondevino? It was tantamount to blasphemy. I was still feeling patriotic after my encounter with 1973 Chardonnay so I attacked Mondevino. The documentary constantly made the argument that American wines do not show terroir. I told the Mondevino lover that we had done a vertical tasting at Nickel and Nickel (where each Cab comes from a single vineyard) and that each Cab had distinct nuances and flavors revealing the effects of the terroir. He said that he preferred the blending approach of Montelena which allowed their Cabs to show the effects of several terroirs. I was getting a little confused because it seemed like he was backing up my side.

He switched gears and mentioned disdainfully that Michel Rolland was now consulting all over Napa Valley. I asked him to name some of the wineries that the infamous Rolland was consulting for and he named Merryvale. Fortuitously, we had just tasted at Merryvale so were in a position to defend Merryvale the techniques of Rolland. I mentioined that we thought the Merryvale wines were pretty good and did show complexity and varietal flavor. He didn’t directly respond to me but he did admit that Rolland’s methods weren’t necessarily bad. I then asked him what he thought of micro oxygenation, and he admitted that the technique had been unfairly villified in the film. He said that it is fine when done properly.

He and Jen discussed Robert Parker for awhile and they both agreed that Parker had been portrayed fairly in the movie. Jen and I were now out of Mondevino topics – it seemed like he agreed with most of our views yet he liked the film. What did Mondevino mean to him? After our long, dilatory conversation, he finally made his point. He said that he was against the usage of overripe grapes in wine. Interestingly, I don’t even remember that being mentioned in Mondevino.

My response to all these contrarians is that in order to prove their point of view, they have to ignore the incredible diversity of wines on the market. There is literally something out there for everyone. Without even leaving Napa, you can find wines from Nickel and Nickel and Chateau Montelena which are not fruit bombs, are structured very elegantly and express the terroir magnificently. You can find wines like the Rombauer Zinfandel and the Rutherford Hill Merlot which are fruit bombs but they are still serious wines and do show some complexity. You can find a restrained, Bordeaux style wine at Opus One, and a “soft tannin”, flavorless, well-made ready to drink Cab at Silver Oak. You can find a great malolacted Chardonnay that retains some varietal flavor at Newton or you can go to Clos Pegase and find a simplistic, butter bomb Chardonnay. If you don’t like wine at all, you can always head for the plonk at Coppola and Sutter Homes. It is a great era for wine drinkers.

After the tasting and the conversation, we walked over to Jade lake. It really is more of a pond, but it is still absolutely beautiful.

We tried Peju Province but there was actually a waiting line for the tasting. We drove to Cakebread and were were stopped in the parking lot by a peon who snobbily informed us that we would be unable to taste unless we had an appointment. With his attitude, you would have thought he was working for Lafitte!

From Cakebread, we went to Clos du Val, and unfortunately, they let us taste there.

Their Chardonnay was 65% maolactic but it was not well-made. It was very buttery and lacked varietal flavor underneath. It may as well have been 100% malolactic.

The Pinot Noir had floral and graphite aromas. The palate did not live up to the aroma. It was flat and simple. The finish was astringent

We tasted a few others but did not take notes. Overall, it was a disappointing tasting.

We decided to try one last winery so we went to Darioush. The design of Darioush is supposedly based on a building at Persepolis. It is the type of building that gives Napa a Disneyish glow. Inside, there are even wide screen televisions showing scenes from Persepolis while a techno style music is playing. At one point, Jen and I even started dancing.

Jen and I can forgive bad architecture but not bad wine.The Darioush tasting was amazing but for all the wrong reasons. We tasted three different varietal wines and a Bordeaux style blend. I could barely distinguish any differences between them. We couldn’t tell if the tasting was a horizontal or a vertical flight. All the wines had soft tannins and some mild, generic berry flavor and no complexity. It was like drinking lesser versions of Silver Oak. Their wines are lousy.

Monday, November 21, 2005

From the Cellar of the Devil

Casillero del Diablo (Concha y Toro)
2004 Cabernet Sauvigon
$5.99 on sale

The aroma is rich and jammy (sweet cherries). The palate is juicy and herbal. Initially, the finish was very quick and very dry. As the wine opened, more flavors emerged. The palate was earthy and tart. Although not technically a flaw, there was a flavor that I didn’t like. It was mouth-puckering and reminded Jen of persimmons. Although not as complex, I actually liked their “Xplorador” Cab better.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Jammy, Concentrated and Tart

Nickel & Nickel
2002 Rock Cairn Vineyard
Napa Valley
Shane’s Notes

The aroma exudes sweet cherries and blackberries. It almost smells sweet enough to be a dessert wine. The palate is jammy, concentrated and tart with a sweet, floral/herbal flavor and an earthy underpinning. There is also just a hint of vanilla. The tannins are soft but a bit astringent. The finish is bone dry. The palate was rather simple but we still enjoyed it.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A Washington Sparkler

Domaine Ste. Michelle
Blanc de Noirs, Premium Cuvee
Columbia Valley, WA
Jen’s Notes

As domestic sparklers go, this one is probably a best value. Certainly, no one else delivers such a well-made sparkling wine at this price point.

The wine exhibits a lovely pink-rose color and small, persistent bubbles. Surprising aromas include single-malt Scotch whisky (something herbal and peaty there), bubble gum, and smoke. The palate is rich, creamy and slightly toasty, with apple pie flavors. It finishes long and minerally, with a tart citrus burst at the very end.

A nice choice for your house bubbly.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Our Third Top Twelve

Shane’s Notes

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).

$3.52, (2 for 1 sale) Concha y Toro Xplorador Cabernet Sauvignon
Tannin Management - October 25, 2005

$7.99, 2004 La Vielle Ferme - Cotes du Ventoux Rose
A Delightful Blush - August 31, 2005

$12.99, Dow Fine Ruby Porto
An Elegant Ruby - September 8, 2005

$14.99, 2000 Finca Sobreno, Seleccion Especial
Estupendo Vino - November 8, 2005

$15.99, Gunderloch “Jean Baptiste” 2003 Riesling Kabinett
Another Great Riesling - September 1, 2005

$22.00, Clos du Bois 2000 Flintwood Chardonnay
Four Wineries and a Detour - September 20, 2005

$25, 2003 Alexander Valley Redemption Zinfandel
Four Wineries and a Detour - September 20, 2005

$28.99, 2002 T-Vine Zinfandel, Brown Vineyard (Napa)
An Elegant Zin - September 7, 2005

$46.00, 2003 Sea Smoke Pinot Noir, Southing, Santa Rita Hills
Up in Smoke - October 19, 2005

$45.00, 2002 Newton Chardonnay
Structural Perfection - October 11, 2005

$55.00, Weingut Grans-Kassian, 1997 Piersporter Goldtropfchen, Riesling Auslese,
Two Rieslings - September 16, 2005

$130.00, 1996 Billecart-Salmon Champagne - Cuvee Elizabeth Salmon
Lake Tahoe - August 19, 2005

Normally, my favorite wines are in the $15.00 - $30.00 category. This category usually has the wines with the best price to value ratio. However, this was our weakest category this time. Three of the wines in the under $15 category were excellent (apologies to Dow) with the Finca Sobreno being quite possibly the best wine we have ever tasted in this price range. All the wines in the over $30 category were stunning.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Dry and Tangy

Ferrari Carano
2004 Gewurztraminer
Shane’s Notes

The aroma is minerally and sweetly floral. The palate is tangy and almost rich and creamy. The dominant flavors include apricots, lemons and candied violets. The finish is dry. With the dryness and the tanginess, this one isn’t for everyone but we really enjoyed it. We have an Alsatian Gewurztraminer in queue and are looking forward to seeing how it compares to this one.

Estupendo Vino

2000 Finca Sobreno
Seleccion Especial
Toro, Espana
(100% Tempranillo)
Shane’s Notes

This wine is dark red and exudes jammy aromas with strong scents of currant and cedar. The complexity of the palate is amazing for a wine of this price. The palate entry has a rose water flavor, and the mid palate shows a myriad of flavors including jam, cigar box, currants and buttered popcorn. There is also a light vanilla flavor that complements rather than overpowers the other flavors. The texture is silky and the finish is tangy, dry and very, very long. All the flavors are mild so this is an excellent food wine. This wine is elegant and quite stunning!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

A Few More Rieslings

Nackenheim Rothenberg Auslese
1997 – Rheinhessen
Shane’s Notes

This Riesling has an aroma of pears. The dominant flavors include honey and melon with a touch of lemon on the finish. The palate is not complex but extremely concentrated and almost syrupy. Imbibing this Riesling is like drinking liquid candy. It’s another winner from Gunderloch.

Chateau St. Michelle
2004 Riesling
Shane's Notes

This Washington state Riesling is spritzy and includes a light, peachy flavor with a hint of citrus. It has good acidity with a short, clean finish. The palate lacks the creaminess and/or richness and concentration of a good German Riesling. It is decent and drinkable, but we’d much rather pay the $18 - $25 for an “inexpensive” German Riesling