Tuesday, January 31, 2006

An Aged Napa Cab

1997 Chateau Montelena, "Calistoga Cuvee"
Jen’s Notes

1997 being a banner year for Napa cabernets, Shane and I nabbed this one super-quick, at a wine shop that is happily within walking distance from home (Wine Globe in the Bel Mateo shopping center).

This wine boasts a vivid, deep red color, and smells like well-aged Bordeaux, including scents of cassis, leather and a slight funkiness. On the palate, the flavors include cassis, licorice and smoke. The tannins are smooth and integrated, and the wine finishes long.

Though obviously a well made wine, especially given the fact that it has aged for nine years, Shane and I were somewhat disappointed. While it is concentrated, it lacks that something extra (complexity, for example) that would make it truly great. Also, we suspect that this wine was a better value at its release price (current releases are in the neighborhood of $30.00), and the extra $20 we paid was due to the magic number 1997.

Pretty Xweet

Sherry, Pedro Ximenex, Bodegas Dios Baco
Jen’s Notes

We'd been eager for another PX sherry; when I saw this at WINE a couple of weeks ago, I had to get it, along with the Laughing Magpie for Shane's blind tasting.

This wine showed a deep, opaque brown color, and boasted aromas of caramel and sweet raisins. On the palate, it was mouthfilling and succulent, bursting with concentrated flavors of butterscotch, sugared dates, caramel, and a touch of dark chocolate. The texture was creamy, thick, and super-smooth. The one disappointment was that the wine was a touch hot on the finish.

Though not as complex as the Sanchez Romate, it is altogether yummy, and a fine example of a Pedro Ximenex sherry at a great price.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Our First Nebbiolo

Podere Ruggeri Corsini
Langhe Nebbiolo 2002
Shane’s Notes

The color is light, reminiscent of a young Pinot Noir. The aroma exudes tart cherry, orange peel and minerals. The palate is mildly concentrated showing flavors of violets and orange marmalade. The finish is moderately long with hints of strawberry. The tannins are there but this one is not ageable. It is medium bodied and very dry. It was interesting but this certainly isn’t one of the world-class Nebbiolos.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Another Douro Table Wine

Prazo de Roriz
Douro 2003
Shane’s Notes

The aroma consists of licorice and brambly, dark, chocolate cherry. The palate displayed blueberry, licorice, tart cherry, Peking Duck skin (Jen’s descriptor), and bitter chocolate on the finish. It is dry with firm but not overpowering tannins. I was hoping the flavors would be a bit more pronounced but was pleasantly surprised at the mild complexity of the palate. You usually don’t find this much complexity in the sub $15 range.

I bought this one and did not tell Jen the price. After we finished the bottle, she guessed that it costs $25. We are really enjoying the Douro table wines.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Mouth Puckering Acidity

Kim Crawford
2005 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
Shane’s Notes

We have had a few wines from “down under” and have not been impressed. The Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc has received rave reviews so we decided to try it. The color is pale, almost greenish. The aroma is dominated by grapefruit. The palate has a tart, massive grapefruit flavor with mineral undertones, and the finish is relatively long. We have enjoyed plenty of relatively acidic sauvignon blancs but this one goes too far: our cheeks were caving in after every sip. I barely finished my last glass.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Turnabout's Fair Play

2003 d'Arenberg "Laughing Magpie"
Jen's Notes

I chose this Aussie blend of Shiraz (94%) and Viognier (6%) for Shane's blind tasting. This presented two other opportunities: (1) the first Australian wine of our blog, and (2) checking out the newish wine shop/bar in Embarcadero Center. It is called, appropriately enough, WINE and is auspiciously located between L'Occitane and Peet's Coffee.

The shop has a smallish, but well-chosen selection of wines from all over the globe, and most of them are mid-priced. The bar area boasts a relaxed elegance that I am sure people will find welcoming after work.

On to the wine.

Shane's Notes: Inky color, with sweet, jammy aromas. Palate: no tannin management here! It is dry and has nice mid-palate juiciness, but the finish is clipped and too short - as if the flavors are snatched off your palate. Perhaps it needs to age? Not complex. Well made, though I don't really like it.

Guesses: French Rhone blend, $20-25.

Jen's Notes: Deep purple-red in color, aromas of ripe raspberries, pepper, cedar/tobacco. After aerating, the aromas soften to flower and herb scents. Palate is quite peppery, especially on entry. Pronounced tannin. Very dry. Flavors include tangy berry/plum fruit, spiked with tobacco. Focused, chewy, mouthfilling. Short finish is disappointing, but otherwise, I quite liked it.

I was very impressed with Shane's guesses. He got the money, and was on the track, suggesting that the wine was a Rhone-style blend. The sticking point, of course, was the region, which I think most people would have a tough time pinning down.

This is fun!

Vosne Romanee Redux

2001 Rouget, Vosne Romanee
Jen’s Notes

Ever since our Burgundy tasting at K&L last year, Shane and I have been wanting to try another Vosne Romanee, an appellation in the Cotes du Nuits area of Burgundy. We picked this one up at Beltramo's in Menlo Park awhile back -- taking a bit of a chance, since we know comparatively little about Burgundy. It turned out to be an excellent deal.

We recommend decanting to filter out sediment (there was a small amount in our bottle) as well as to let the wine breathe - about 25 minutes should do it.

This wine is garnet-hued, with a nose of ripe, sweet strawberries, intermingled with my much-loved Burgundian funkiness (earth, leather).

On the palate, the wine is surprisingly fruity, with concentrated strawberry/dried cranberry flavors. There are also hints of licorice, violets and smoke. Though not particularly complex (I mean to say, this wine does not have the palate reverb/flavor expansion that we usually associate with Burgundies), this concentration makes for a succulent wine. The tannins are noticeable at the finish, which is quite long.

This wine is very enjoyable now, and would probably last another ten years or so. Because it lacks the gamy/funky flavors of some other Burgundies we have tasted, I would also recommend it for your first-ever Burgundy, if you are so inclined.

Our First Lapostolle

Casa Lapostolle
Cuvee Alexandre, Apalta Vineyard
Shane’s Notes

The color is dark red. The dominant aroma is cassis with some jammy and herbal undertones. It has a smooth mouth feel but still plenty of tannins to hold it together. The palate is tart, concentrated and displays cassis and a hint of chocolate on the finish. The finish is very spicy (almost too spicy). It has excellent, subtle flavors for a wine in this price range.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Opposite of Krug

Moet & Chandon
Nectar Imperial
Jen's Notes

This pale gold Champagne exhibits tiny, persistent bubbles. It is quite aromatic, including scents of graphite, honeysuckle, and stone fruits. As the name might suggest, this is a much sweeter style of Champagne, although this quality is balanced by fresh acidity and M&C's hallmark steeliness on the finish. On the palate, it is lush and creamy, boasting flavors of banana, nutmeg and mango, with a layer of minerality underneath. Though we certainly enjoy the drier sparkling wines as well, this wine is a delightful change of pace.

Vertex of Viognier

2003 Condrieu "Clos Chanson"
Andre Perret
Jen's Notes

This was our first Condrieu, and one of the very few Viognier wines we have had. Condrieu, a region in the northern Rhone, makes only white wines from the delicate and finicky Viognier grape. Needless to say, they can be quite difficult to find.

The Clos Chanson is quite fragrant with scents of herbs, flowers and fresh air. On the palate, it is creamy, smooth, and boasts a nearly endless finish. Though dry, with good minerality underneath, the fruit is round, juicy and super-concentrated, including flavors of honeysuckle, pear, apricot, and sweet, earthy spices. An altogether delicious and seriously structured wine. I loved it and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. I am quite anxious for my next opportunity to have a Condrieu.

Remove the Training Wheels...

Shane’s Notes

We have been blogging for almost a year, so we have decided to occasionally remove the training wheels and try some blind tastings. We try to be impartial but we are only human, and I’m sure that our tasting notes are sometimes influenced by price and/or the name of a fancy winery. We are still amateurs and learning everyday, so I’m certain that we will frequently embarrass ourselves my making mistakes like misidentifying varietals and/or mistaking a high quality wine for plonk. The road to knowledge is a painful one because you have to first admit your ignorance before you can learn. Anyway, it should be fun so here we go.

Jen was the victim of this blind tasting. I bought a red and we both tasted it. I did not tell Jen anything about the wine. Here are our notes.

Jen’s Notes: Nose: vanilla, round berry fruit, spices. Palate: smooth, fruit forward, a touch oaky, nice mid-palate succulence, not terribly complex but tasty fruit. Long finish with a bit of astringency and cedary spice, also something roasted. Gains a bit in complexity and concentration as it opens. Good BBQ wine.
Guesses: New World wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, $15.00.

Shane’s Notes: Color: dark red. Aroma: very sweet, maybe blackberry. Palate: Extremely smooth and harmonious. Very well structured. Sweet and juicy up front with a touch of pepper on the finish. Maybe some vanilla. Lacks complexity. Okay but not spectacular. Tastes like maybe it is a bit faded. Improves a little after 15-20 minutes. Not bad but a little over priced.

The wine: Ridge 2001 Paso Robles Zinfandel
The price: $23.99

This is the first time since we have been blogging that we have taken separate tasting notes. Interestingly, our notes are fairly similar. When we shared our notes, the main disagreement was over my comment that the wine was well-structured. I stand by my comment while Jen thought the wine was oaked instead of well-structured. Jen was in the ball park on the price, was right about the wine being from the new world and missed on the varietal. I’m not too surprised that she guessed wrong on the varietal, because we have never had a zinfandel with such a refined, elegant palate. We are used to rough zins with either massive fruit flavor or tons of spices and pepper. We liked this one but we aren’t too excited about it. Zins are like punk rock. You don’t want to hear the London symphony playing the Sex Pistols in tune and at a low volume. The music is too simple: the appeal is precisely that the music is out of tune and loud. Zins have a relatively simple flavor palate so there doesn’t seem to be much point in trying to craft a “classic” zin. We prefer disharmonious zins with a heavy concentration of juice and/or bizarre, spicy flavors

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

An Interesting Rosé

La Bastide Blanche
Appellation Bandol Controllee
Shane's Notes

This Rosé has a dark peach color and displays aromas of roses and herbs. I also detected a watermelon scent but Jen did not. The beginning is sweet, the middle is tart and there is some orange peel and minerality on the finish. (Jen thought the main flavor was currant). The acidity is low, the flavors are light and this is an easy drinking food wine.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Caves de Papes
Appellation Cotes du Rhones Controllee

I used to drink this one regularly and was looking forward to revisiting it. The aroma showed a general jamminess and some tobacco. The palate surprised me – it was watery, barely displayed any flavor and the tannins were so smooth that they were almost non-existent. There might have been just a touch of spice on the finish. I remember Caves de Papes having strong tannins and a fruity flavor palate. Either my memory is faulty or they have completely changed their winemaking style. Either way, we certainly won’t be buying this one again.

Friday, January 13, 2006

No Happy Ending

Storybook Mountain Vineyards
2003 Zinfandel – Napa Estate
Mayacamas Range
$14.99 (half bottle)
Shane’s Notes

It exudes aromas of tobacco, smoke and currant. The palate entry is peppery and sweet (blackberry jam). The texture is velvety. Unfortunately, we found this one disharmonious: the jammy fruit bomb flavor and the peppery, tobacco flavors pull your palate in diametrically opposed directions. Storybook should have chosen one of the two styles instead of trying to mesh both together in a single wine.

Extraño Vino

Les Alcusses
Valencia, Espana, 2003
Shane’s Notes

This one had been sitting on our wine rack for awhile. I finally mentioned to Jen that Parker gave it a 92 and it got bumped up in the queue. The aroma is reminiscent of a French Bordeaux – spicy, cedary, tobacco and rotting violets. An initial sip revealed a very closed wine. We let it sit for about a half an hour and tried it again. Most of the “rotting” flavor had disappeared. Now it only tasted like decaying violets – it is not very complex and the flavor is just damn bizarre. The tannins are also a bit harsh. Maybe it just needs a few years of bottle age.

The Goddess of Plonk?

2001 Aia
Napa Valley
Jen's Notes

The folks at Miner Family Vineyards are responsible for producing this wine, named after some obscure goddess. Upon tasting, I figured that Aia must be the goddess of plonk*. The Aia lacked both structure and any noticeable varietal flavors - huge flaws in my book.

Initially, the wine was barely drinkable. Irrationally convinced that it would improve with a bit of airflow, we decanted, turned on the ceiling fan, and watched a bit of TV. To be perfectly fair, the Aia did slightly improve. Some soft fruit flavors reared their pretty little heads, but not enough to save this $22 bottle of grape juice. If the goddess Aia really prefers this type of wine, a wine in which flavor and structure are sacrificed to produce a generically wine-flavored beverage that goes down easily, then she has worshippers at Darioush and to a lesser extent, at Silver Oak.

*Aia is the Sumerian goddess of the dawn.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Prototypical, Non-Vintage Port

Fonseca 1999 LBV
Shane's Notes

The color is dark red, almost opaque. The aroma reminded Jen of a See’s chocolate cherry cordial The palate is amazingly rich and complex for an LBV. The flavors include cherry, chocolate, butterscotch and brown sugar. It is very rich and sweet with relatively smooth tannins for a port. One sip of this one and you will find yourself uttering, “Now this is what a port should taste like!” It is definitely the best non-vintage port we have tasted.

A Decent Rhone

La Vieille Ferme
Cotes du Ventoux Rouge
Appellation Cotes du Ventoux Controllee
(50% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 15% Carignan & 15% Cinsault)
Shane’s Notes

This one is dark red and exhibits a perfumey, sweet, blackberry aroma. The palate is juicy up front and is floral, spicy, cedary and plummy. The finish is very dry. It is very well balanced and a nice deal for the price.

Friday, January 06, 2006

A Blend of Confusion

2004 Domaine de Pellehaut
Harmonie de Gascogne, Vin de Pays
Shane’s Notes

We tore the foil off and were amused to encounter our second SupremeCorq®. We just didn’t expect to find a plastic cork on a bottle of French wine.

The aroma is dominated by grapefruit and is woody and smoky. One sip and the flavor of grapefruit floods the palate. The palate is also grapey, tart, and citrussy, with a touch of vanilla. The finish is minerally. This was definitely a very interesting wine.

Jen guessed the primary varietal was Sauvignon Blanc, and I refused to guess. I had never tasted anything quite like this wine. I did some research on the internet which only led to confusion. K&L, where we purchased the wine, labels it a Sauvignon Blanc*, while an article on MSNBC.com lists the varietals as “a mix of Chardonnay and several local grapes…”** I tried the website on the cork, and the website said the wine is crafted from “Fruit de l’assemblage de Chardonnay et de cépages locaux (Ugni-Blanc, Colombard, Gros-Manseng, Folle Blanche et Sauvignon)”*** I don’t speak French but using my scant knowledge of Latin, recognizing cognates (hopefully none of them false) and using my knowledge of varietals, this seems to back up the MSNBC article. However, the “et Sauvignon” may refer to Sauvignon Blanc and of course, none of the sources mentions percentages.

**www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8557148/, “Sip-sational! You’ll love these ‘apertif wines,” July 12, 2005, article by Jon Bonne

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A Belated New Year's Eve Celebration

1996 Dom Perignon
Jen's Notes

What is a new year without a fantastic Champagne to mark the occasion?
With Pepper's good health confirmed and 2006 officially at hand, we opened the Dom in the evening on January 1. The wine boasted a beautiful, golden straw color, and a profusion of tiny, delicate bubbles. The nose was redolent of perfectly ripe nectarines. With an introduction like this, I could hardly wait to taste it.

Initial sips were inhibited by the chill of the wine. After it warmed a bit and the flavors expanded, we found concentrated citrus and plum flavors, with just a touch florals. Though minerally and slightly steely underneath, these characteristics are balanced by the intensity of the fruit. We both love a long finish and this one outlasted them all. Prone as I am to hyperbole, I think I can still taste it!

The flavors are wrapped in a decadent, silky texture that makes for a supremely elegant Champagne. Happily, the only toast was Shane and I raising our glasses to 2006.

New Year's Eve

Unfortunately, we spent our New Year's Eve at a twenty-four hour veterinarian hospital after our dog (Pepper) vomited several times. After x-rays and a battery of tests, the diagnosis was dyspepsia, and we were told to give her Pepcid and bland food for a week. By the time we got home, the New Year had already started and we were exhausted. We shelved the Dom Perignon and opened the Estola, our inexpensive, Spanish red from Don Quixote’s homeland.

The Estola had a French aroma (i.e. inky, funky and tart). The palate was dominated by violets and expanded quite nicely into the finish. I thought it was a touch hot while Jen thought it was a bit spicy. It is a decent, five dollar wine, but we probably won’t be purchasing another bottle.

A Peppery White

2004 Marques de Caceres
Jen’s Notes

A white wine front Rioja? You betcha! This interesting wine shows scents of lemon and freshly mown grass, which, come to think of it, reminds me of my childhood backyard in L.A., with our lemon tree and dad taking a beer break after a morning of yard work.

But I digress. In addition to its summery scents, the wine is a pretty, light golden color. The palate includes pronounced citrus flavors; although these seem a bit sharp initially, a hint of pear rounds them out mid-palate. The whole experience ends with a very peppery finish.

We had a bit of foolishness with our Rabbit corkscrew; the worm went in and out of the cork a couple of times without successfully pulling it. When we finally got it out with our two-pronged cork extractor, we noted a brand of cork we had never seen before: SupremeCorq®, made of a rubbery tan plastic material. Impressed as I am with their use of the letter 'q', I encourage our readers to join me in referring to all plastic corks as “plorqs.”