Friday, April 28, 2006

Napa Trip

Shane’s Notes

Our first tasting was at Phelps. Naturally, our controversial President happened to be in St. Helena on this particular Saturday. In order to avoid the protestors, we surfed the web to discover the exact location of the protest and then mapped our route around it. Unfortunately, Phelps is just too cool to have a sign for their winery on the main road, so we drove past the cross street. I knew that the protest was about a half a mile away, so I desperately wanted to make an illegal u-turn but it was already too late. We hit the fringe of the protest, and I was not about to make an illegal u-turn in front of the ubiquitous highway patrol and police offers. So, we had to drive through the protest and then turn around and drive through it a second time on the way back. Not a great start to the trip.

Joseph Phelps
$35, 2004 Chardonnay
$35, 2003, Le Mistral
$40, 2002 Merlot
$175, 2001 Insignia

We had a 10 a.m. appointment at Phelps. You have to love wine tasting trips – where else is it socially acceptable to start drinking at 10 in the morning? Anyway, we were really looking forward to this tasting. We even took the unprecedented step of not taking any notes during the tasting. We wanted to focus our full attention on these wines.

These wines are expensive (especially the Insignia), so our expectations were high. The wines were well-crafted but not one of them knocked us on our butts. If all we can say about a $175 bottle of wine is that it is well-crafted, then we are disappointed. We expect expensive wines to have a really distinctive flavor palate and none of these wines met this criterion. In fact, I was really upset with the Chardonnay – I felt that the malolactic fermentation flooded out the other flavors, but Jen thought I was overreacting and pointed out that it did have balancing acidity.

$75, 2002 Generations Cabernet
$45, 2002 St. Helena Reserve Cabernet

On the other hand, we had fairly low expectations for Raymond. I think our two for one tasting coupon was partly responsible for this reaction. After all, would a high quality winery actually give out coupons??? We used our coupon for the highest priced tasting and were pleasantly surprised. Unlike the Phelp’s wines, these wines did show distinctive characteristics. The Generations Cabernet was a bit spicy and the palate was plummy with some vanilla overtones. It was good, if a little overpriced. The best of the tasting was the St. Helena Reserve Cabernet. It had a very interesting palate that showed tobacco with a light berry flavor. It also had a spicy finish. We would both take the St. Helena Reserve over the Insignia.

Louis Martini
$65, 2000 Monte Rosso Cabernet (95% Cab, 5% Petite Verdot)
$70, 2002 Monte Rosso Cabernet (94% Cab, 5% Petite Verdot, 1% Malbec)

We also had a coupon for the tasting at Martini. However, we have enjoyed several of their wines so there was no stigma attached to this coupon. We went with the Monte Rosso Cabernet vertical. Our neophyte pourer was only too happy to show off her newly memorized knowledge which we found a little annoying. We just ignored her, but it would be nice if people didn’t offer help unless you asked for it.

The 2000 had peppery and gamey aromas. Palate – tea and floral, almost nutty. Touch of spice.

2002 - Flavors include cherry, cassis, pepper, cedar and thyme. Complex, distinctive and best wine we tasted on this trip.

Whitehall Lane
$15, 2005 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
$28, 2004 Carneros Chardonnay
$22, 2005 Belmuscato, California Dessert Wine

Whitehall has a fun crew working there, so we really enjoyed the tasting. We knew the tasting would be a blast when Jen mentioned that our dog likes to butt dance (our dog likes to place her butt against the bed post and sway like Stevie Wonder) and we didn’t get cut off (as happened at Kunde). The conversation turned to wine storage units. I was horrified when the guy behind the counter practically had Jen talked into buying a 500 bottle storage unit instead of the 200 bottle unit we have our eyes on. Jen spends enough on wine without having a 500 bottle storage unit to fill, lol. I quickly distracted him by steering the conversation to Vintage Port, of which he was a huge fan. We discussed some of the vintages and dreamed of owning the twin 100’s from the 94 vintage, Taylor and Fonseca. We even picked up a great tip at Whitehall – half bottle, screw cap wines are great for sneaking into movies.

We sort of took notes at Whitehall. They gave us a tasting sheet and for each wine we tasted, we circled the descriptions on the sheet we agreed with, crossed out the terms we disagreed with, and grudgingly scribbled comments if we felt it was necessary. All of the Whitehall Lane wines were well crafted, if nothing special. However, given the price of their wines, that is about all you would expect. We both liked the Sauvignon Blanc, but Jen liked it more than I did. It was a typical, generic SB with a bit of vanilla. I thought it could use more acidity but Jen disagreed. Neither of us was thrilled with the Chardonnay. The malolactic fermentation was just too heavy. The best of the tasting was the dessert wine. It showed flavors of apricot and honey. It was very, very sweet yet it was not cloying.

We even stopped at Beaulieu Vineyards on this trip. I don’t remember exactly why, but I think we thought it might provide a few laughs. Before we paid for a tasting, we were offered a free sip of a Sauvignon Blanc. One sip was all it took – we grimaced and immediately left. Note to BV – do not pass out the plonk before we pay for the tasting.

Once again, we finished the trip with a stop at Domaine Chandon. One of my favorite Champagnes is Moet and Chandon’s Nectar Imperiale. Since Moet and Chandon own Domaine Chandon, I figured they might have a sparkling wine crafted in a similar style. I asked them, and they told me to try the Riche. Although it wasn’t as good as the Nectar Imperiale, I really enjoyed it. We bought a bottle and will review it in the near future.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Tropical Chardonnay

Concha y Toro
2005 "Xplorador" Chardonnay
Jen’s Notes

Another fantastic deal from Chile! Most Chardonnays, regardless of origin, fall into one of two camps: big, ripe, often oaky and/or malolacted, or austere, flinty, and maybe a bit standoffish.

This one is totally unique. It boasts aromas of apple and citrus. On the palate, it shows Meyer lemon, tropical fruits, and a hint of warm nutmeg spice. It is tangy and refreshing, but without any pucker. The acids are lively and perfectly balanced within the wine. Overall, it is honest, clean, and very enjoyable.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A Winner from Roederer

Roederer Estate
Anderson Valley Brut Rosé, NV
Jen’s Notes

This absolutely lovely rosé is a fine example of just what can be done with bubbles in California. It shows a light, peachy-pink color, and the perfect ring of pearls at the meniscus. The aromas are slightly yeasty/toasty.

On the palate, this sparkler is medium-bodied, with a creamy texture. The flavors include raspberry, licorice, and soft citrus. It is very concentrated leading into a long finish. This wine is very well balanced, and the price is remarkable for such a wonderful experience.

Très Bien, Trebiac

2000 Chateau Trebiac
Jen’s Notes

The Bordeaux is a blend of Merlot (60%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (40%). We recommend decanting for approximately 30 minutes. On the nose, this wine shows sweet, cherry pie scents, with gravelly/funky undertones. Interestingly enough, there is no fruit on the palate. Instead, the flavors include smoke, herbs, and a slight earthiness underneath. There is good astringency on the finish. The wine is silky-textured and elegant.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Sour Grapes

Coudoulet de Beaucastel
2002 Cotes du Rhone
Shane’s Notes

This Rhone displays strong aromas of funk and violets. The palate is disappointingly mild, showing floral notes with a tart finish that is sour. The sourness is very annoying. We were not too happy with this one.

Friday, April 21, 2006


2003 Roar Pinot Noir
Gary’s Vineyard
Santa Lucia Highlands
Shane’s and Jen’s Notes

This Pinot roars with the strength of a lion. The massive aromas of pinot fruit and cola made our nasal passages tingle.

The palate is massive, intense and concentrated. You would never mistake this for a Burgundy. After tasting it, Jen scribbled down “Knocks you on your ass.” The palate displays floral notes, roasted notes, cola, earth, smoke, toast and is slightly tart. Interestingly, the fruit flavors are a bit restrained. There is a nice flavor expansion into the long finish.

As Matt Kramer points out, a Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot is an excellent example of terroir*. We can’t imagine any other region, Old World or New, producing a Pinot in this style. We have never had a pinot with such ripe fruit yet still enough acidity to provide a solid backbone. We don’t believe this would one would age well – we recommend drinking it very young. While we both prefer the fruit to be a bit less ripe (like the Santa Rita Hills AVA Pinots), we highly recommend this one.

*Matt Kramer’s New California Wine, Running Press Book Publishers, 2004, page 256

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Tokaji Redux

1997 Disznoko
Tokaji Aszu, 6 Puttonyos
Jen’s Notes

My first, and prior to this, only experience with Tokaji was, putting it mildly, mind-blowing. The designation "aszu" indicates that the grapes were affected with Botrytis Cinerea; so, you would be tempted to compare them with the great wines of Sauternes. Don't bother. Tokajis are quite different, with an intensely apricot infused palate and nose.

True to type, this one is syrupy sweet and rich, with a hint of apple and florals to accent the apricot flavors. It was, unfortunately, slightly hot on the finish, but this faded a bit as the wine opened up. Also, this one is probably a bit young, and the heat would likely vanish with bottle age. Similarly, although the wine wasn't very complex now, it would probably continue to develop over the coming years.

Though we enjoyed it, we definitely think this Tokaji needed bottle age to make it a truly extraordinary experience.

A Vin Blanc Quaffer

2004 La Ferme Julien
Cotes du Luberon
Jen’s Notes

This vin blanc is a blend of Bourboulenc (30%), Grenache Blanc (30%), Ugni Blanc (30%) and Roussane (10%). It shows scents of grapefuit and sweet florals, which reappear in the palate as well. Palate entry is a bit tart; the flavors include grapefruit, pear and herbal notes. The finish is remarkably long, and the concentration is surprisingly good for a wine of this price point. It is refreshing choice for your spring and summer wine drinking.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A Serviceable Chardonnay

Chateau St. Michelle
Chardonnay 2002
Columbia Valley, WA
Shane’s Notes

This Chardonnay has tropical aromas. The palate displays bright lemon and pear. It might be a bit oaked and the acidity is a touch soft – there might be some malolactic fermentation. However, there is enough acidity to provide a backbone. It is drinkable but not one of Chateau St. Michelle’s better efforts.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Plums and Prunes

Higuerela Cosecha 2003
Almansa, Grenache
Shane’s Notes

The aroma is fruity and funky. The palate displays plums, prunes and a tart finish. It was very flavorful, and we enjoyed it.


Casa Lapostolle, Cuvee Alexander
Apalta Vineyard 2004, Cabernet Sauvignon
Shane’s Notes

The aroma displays heavy cassis and black cherry. The palate entry is spicy with good astringency. There is a generic, red berry flavor with bitter chocolate on finish, and it is a bit tannic. It’s okay but nothing great.

Bursting with Tropical Flavors

2003 Winninger Rottgen Alte Reben
Reinhard Knebel, Spatlese, Mosel
Shane’s Notes

The aroma is sweet and lemony. The palate is honeyed and bursting with a variety of tropical flavors with some minerality in the background. This one is mildly complex, incredibly rich and ultra-concentrated. There is just enough acidity to hold it together, but I wouldn’t age it for long. This is drinkable now and it is magnificent.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A Sparkling Value

Domaine Ste. Michelle
Sparkling Wine, Methode Champenoise
Extra Dry
Columbia Valley
Jen’s Notes

Another great value from Domaine Ste. Michelle! The designation 'extra dry' in bubbly-speak actually means that the wine is somewhat sweet. This one is no exception, with its pear-scented nose and concentrated, juicy palate. Flavors include pear and guava. Nice length on the finish.

Remarkable Rosé

La Ferme Julien
Cotes du Ventoux, 2004 Rose (50% Cinsault, 40% Grenache, 10% Syrah)
Shane’s Notes

I suggested we break open our 1998 Bordeaux on this evening, but Jen insisted that a Bordeaux would not be a good match with our Ultimate Double Cheeseburgers from Jack-in-the-Box. So, we went with our inexpensive French rosé. The aroma consisted of strawberry, watermelon and herbs with a hint of licorice. The palate is rich, juicy, and tart with fennel on the finish. For once, we were unable to come up with any fancy flavor descriptors. Our palates just didn’t recognize the intense flavor up front. The combination of the juiciness with the spicy finish makes this one a winner. It is absolutely amazing that it only costs five bucks.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Rich Riesling

1990 Carl Schmitt Wagner
Longuicher Maximiner Herrenberg Auslese
Shane’s Notes

This was a modified blind taste test for Jen. Since this was a pricey one, I wanted to use the proper wine glass which meant that Jen knew it was either a Riesling or a Sauvignon Blanc.

Shane’s Notes – It has the deep, yellow color of an aged Riesling. There is a slight Kerosene smell and a very sweet aroma. The palate is extremely concentrated. It is rich, slightly syrupy and honeyed. It has a long, spicy, tangy finish. I was expecting a more complex palate – I wonder if it is a touch oxidized.

Jen’s Notes – It is a Riesling. There is a slight gasoline aroma and a mineral aroma. The palate is creamy and sweet. There is a slight spritziness. It is also tangy and minerally with tropical fruits, guava. It has to be an Auslese and is probably from Mosel. It probably has 10 years of bottle age. There is some botrytis – it is focused but not complex. It costs around $35.

As you can see, Jen did really well on this one. She even got the region! We both agreed that this one got much better about 20 minutes after we stopped our note taking. It just really needed time to open. Rich, tropical fruit flavors came to the forefront causing us to revise our “lack of complexity” comments. It had moderate complexity, and we really enjoyed it. It was definitely worth the money. German Rieslings are my favorite, single varietal wine.

Another Ruined Bottle

1999 Fonseca LBV for $20
Shane’s Notes

It looks like this ruined bottle was the result of an overfill. There was a sugary, port residue covering the neck of the bottle before we even opened it. I wish we had noticed this in the store. We’ve had the Fonseca 1999 before, so we know just how ruined (oxidized) this one was. It was drinkable but it had turned into a bland, sugary syrup instead of the flavorful LBV we remember.