Friday, July 28, 2006

Three Eyes

2005 Rosé, Tres Ojos
Calatayud, Spain
Jen’s Notes

As we discovered during our weekend tasting trip, there are weird blends, and there are good ones. This unusual rosé is a 50/50 blend of garnacha (aka grenache) and tempranillo. It should have been odd, at the least, but we enjoyed it. It is probably a bit sweeter than we usually like, with an almost sangria-like weight and fruitiness. This is tempered by a tanginess and smoky notes. It manages to be both juicy and floral. With its deep, pomegranate color, it drinks like a red, rather than a lighter, more refreshing rose.

Sonoma Tasting Trip

Shane’s Notes

We picked one heckuva day to go wine tasting. I’m guessing the temperature hovered around 110 degrees. Our biggest challenge was to prevent our wine purchases from exploding in the car. I put a system in place that worked quite well. We took a large cooler for the wine and put four blue ices into it. We also took a smaller cooler and packed it with ice. Throughout the day, we used the ice in the smaller cooler to continually refreeze the blue ices. It worked well until near the end of the trip when we were forced to supplement the blue ice with small bags of ice. Fortunately, the wine was kept cool so the whole process was successful.

We started the day at Murphy Goode because they opened at 10:30. We have had their Merlot and Cabernet and thought both were decent for the price. This time, we decided to focus on the whites. Overall, we were slightly disappointed. Clearly, they are better at reds than whites. I didn’t like either of their Sauvignon Blancs (2004 Tin Roof for $9 and the 2003 Fume Blanc for $10). The Tin Roof was the more pure of the two, but it just didn’t have much of a palate. The Fume Blanc, although supposedly only lightly oaked, was too oaked for my palate but it was certainly drinkable. The best of the tasting was probably the 2003 Minnesota Cuvee Chardonnay. No, the grapes don’t come from Minnesota but the barrels do. It was also heavily oaked, but it did have an interesting palate. It had the typical buttery flavor with a very interesting spicy finish. We almost bought a bottle until I tried the late harvest Muscat. It is very rich and sweet with a tangy orange/peach flavor underneath. We bought the Muscat and headed for winery number two.

This tasting trip was organized around two wineries that are highly recommended by Matt Kramer. I usually like the Kramer recommendations, so we had high hopes for these two wineries. Our first Kramer winery was Preston Vineyards. We were not disappointed – everything we tasted at Preston was very impressive. Preston obviously favors a non-interventionist style, and the varietal flavors shine through in all their wines. The 2005 Viognier ($25) was the best new world viognier we have tasted. It was bursting with flavors of honeysuckle and peach and had a good minerality on a lengthy finish. The 2004 Mourvedre ($24) had a very enjoyable velvety texture. The 2004 Zinfandel ($26) was jammy with white pepper.

Our next stop was Cellar 360 in Healdsburg (Well, our next stop was actually Carl’s Jr. but we didn’t have wine there – only Western Bacon Cheeseburgers). We wanted to try the wines of Chateau Souverain but the building has been recently purchased by Coppola. Until Souverain finishes construction on their new tasting room, they send you to Cellar 360 to sample their wines. The tasting featured two Chardonnays (a regular and a reserve) and a Sauvignon Blanc. We also tasted two non-Souverain wines. We enjoyed the SB – it seemed relatively pure with ripe flavors. We bought a bottle and will be reviewing it in the near future. The two Chardonnays, the regular bottling and the reserve bottling, were unremarkable. They had too much of that buttery flavor and the acidity was too soft. The tasting also included a chardonnay by Sbragia. Once again, I thought it was too buttery, but, surprisingly to me, Jen enjoyed it saying that there was varietal flavor underneath with decent acidity. Jen bought a bottle so we will also be reviewing this one soon.

We left Healdsburg and headed over to Rochioli, our second Kramer winery. Kramer mentioned that they make some of the best Pinots in California. Unfortunately, their premium pinots are so popular that there is a seven year waiting list just to get on the mailing list. So, we didn’t get to taste the best they have to offer but judging by what we did taste, their best must be in the upper stratosphere. The tasting room features a Sauvignon Blanc, a Pinot Rose and a Pinot Noir Special Cuvee, a blend of pinot from their various vineyards. The 2005 Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($24) is highly unusual. It has a concentrated grapefruit flavor with a massive flinty taste mid palate and into the finish. It is also very racy. It is so different than any SB that we have tasted that I wasn’t sure what to think. Jen absolutely loved it. I will definitely give Rochioli high praise for crafting such a unique wine. I’d love to present this one at a blind tasting and see all the bewildered faces. The 2005 Rose Pinot ($20) is the best Rose Pinot we’ve tasted. It has a heavy strawberry flavor with a dry finish. The palate is delicious. The 2004 Special Cuvee Pinot is an amazing pinot for this price point ($32). It is elegant and the texture is silky smooth. The primary flavors include blackberry and tea and each sip brings out a different flavor. Jen practically leaped over the counter to grab a bottle.

After Rochioli, we took a chance and tried the winery next door – Hop Kiln. We are very sorry we did. Their winery is like an oenophile’s hell – their bizarre blends are unholy and sacrilegious. As the young lady at the counter (dressed as if she were working at Coyote Ugly) mentioned the varietals in the Rosé she was pouring, I could hardly believe my ears. She said the varietals included Grenache, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. We tasted it and immediately searched for the spit bucket. It was an abomination – it was so sweet that it made white zinfandel seem dry. We were informed that the 2004 Big Red ($15) is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. As Jen said, it should be called a Cano. It found its way into the spit bucket as well, and we walked out the door.

Our last stop of the day was Iron Horse. The tasting was outside. This might be fun on a normal day but not on a 110 degree day. Also, Iron Horse committed a major wine faux paux by not having a spit bucket. The other people tasting there drove us nuts, but I guess we shouldn’t hold that against Iron Horse. The first four wines we tasted were sparkling wines. They were all decent if unexceptional. Jen liked the 1998 Blanc de Blanc ($35) (yeasty) and the 2003 Wedding Cuvee ($36), while I preferred the 2001 Classic Brut ($30) because it had a concentrated fruit flavor. Iron Horse should probably stick to the bubblies as the still wines were not good. The 2002 T-bar-T Cab ($35) was vegetal. The 2005 T-bar-T Viognier ($24) was sweeter than syrup and in the absence of spit bucket, Jen threw it on the gravel underneath our feet. Jen did say that the 2002 Estate Pinot ($34) was at least drinkable. Having just about approached our limit, we skipped several of the wines being offered and headed home.


Alianca Foral Reserva 2000, Douro
Shane’s Notes

The aroma was very perfumey. The palate showed sweet cherry up front and some dark chocolate on the finish. The flavors were lighter and the wine was more elegant than most of the other Douro table wines we have tasted. It was very tangy. It’s a pretty good deal for the price.

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Monkey is Less Funky

Monkey Bay
2005 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough
Shane’s Notes

Andrea Immer said that Monkey Bay beat Cloudy Bay in several blind taste tests. Otherwise, we never would have bought a bottle of wine with such a cute label. Anyway, this is a fantastic sauvignon blanc for the price, but it doesn’t beat the funkier, grassier Cloudy Bay.

The aroma shows grass and grapefruit. The palate is slightly grassy up front while the mid palate is very concentrated and fruit forward showing grapefruit and key lime. The finish is quite long. We hope Marlborough continues to churn out these pure sb’s for a long time to come.

Black Currant

St. Julien Reserve 1998
Shane’s Notes.
The aroma shows black currant and cedar. The palate has a mild juiciness up front and in the middle followed quickly by a very dry finish. The main flavor is black currant. It was a bit tannic and tangy for my tastes but then again, Jen is the Bordeaux fan.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Oak vs. No Oak

2002 Chalk Hill Chardonnay, Sonoma
2004 Four Vines Naked Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County
Jen's Notes

We decided it was time to taste an unoaked and an oaked wine side by side. Shane chose the unoaked Four Vines, and it was up to me to choose the oaked one when I popped in to K&L for the Four Vines. As often happens, left up to my own devices, I chose something expensive. This ended up putting an interesting twist into the tasting.

1. Color

The color is the same in both wines (oaked Chardonnays are supposed to be darker than unoaked, but this was not the case here).

2. Aroma

Four Vines was tangy and clean, with pronounced scents of pear and green apple, which we detected very easily.

Chalk Hill was a little harder to figure out. The initial impression was one of size - this was definitely a big, rich and creamy wine. After a few more sniffs, I detected undertones of melon and nutmeg.

3. Palate

Like its aroma, on the palate Four Vines was fresh and clean, with citrus top notes and juicy pear/apple underneath. It was pretty complex, but the big attraction here is the concentration - like that welcome glass of fresh lemonade on a hot day. It boasted a long finish. Probably the best Chardonnay we've had at this price point.

Chalk Hill's creamy nutmeg aromas were echoed in the palate. It tasted mostly of spicy vanilla notes, and was certainly more about being big and rich than anything else. Although I recognized it as a particularly well made example of this style, I preferred the bright zest of the Four Vines (at 1/3 the price).

4. In sum...

There is a clear difference between the oaked and unoaked Chardonnays, and it is likely that you would develop a preference, if not immediately, then perhaps over time. Our concluding thoughts are best summed up by Shane's observation that the oak in the Chalk Hill masked the fruit flavors and left us feeling like someone took away our toys. Shane went on to note that this might be why he hasn't liked Chardonnay in the past.

I agreed - no matter how well made it was, I definitely preferred the cleaner, juicier style of the Four Vines. It would be much more versatile and food-friendly.

New Port Glasses

1995 Vintage Port, Quinta do Bonfim
Shane’s Notes

We recommend decanting for at least an hour which of course means that this one is really too young to drink right now. It should probably age for another 10 years. However, we still enjoyed it. It had a nice cherry, dark chocolate/almond flavor and is just beginning to develop the rich texture of a good vintage port. As is typical of Dow’s style, it was not as sweet as most vintage ports. In fact, the finish could almost be called dry. It was a pleasant way to break in our new “O” port glasses.

Grenache Quaffer

La Ferme Julien
Cotes de Ventoux
Shane’s Notes

Yes, you can actually buy a drinkable wine for under five dollars. This wine shows some sweet Grenache fruit (sweet blackberry). The flavor echoes nicely into the finish. Not much to it but a pleasant wine for the price.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Grean Beans and Grass

2005 Sauvignon Blanc
Oyster Bay
Marlborough, NZ
Jen's Notes

Want a wine that makes the Cloudy Bay SB seem like a Sauternes? This is it. It is just on the right side of being vegetal. Aromas include hay and green beans. The palate is intensely minerally and dry, with bright, zesty acids and juicy/grassy flavors (like when you were a kid and rolled around the lawn right after dad mowed it and ended up covered in grass stains - but I digress). It probably isn't as complex as the Cloudy Bay, but it makes up for it in concentration. There's a nice bit of pepper on the finish, too.

Barbecue and Bordeaux

1996 Pagodes de Cos d’Estournel
St. Estephe
Shane’s Notes

We finally decided to buy a barbecue. Due to regulations at our apartment complex, we had to go with a gas barbecue. I put it together on Sunday and had to run back to the hardware store to buy the recommended 14.1 oz propane tank instead of the 16 oz tank we purchased with the barbecue. Who knew that a 14.1 oz propane tank even existed? Anyway, to break in the barbecue, we picked up some New York steaks from Lunardis and a 1996 Clos Pagodes, the second label of Cos- d’Esternoul. I was so concerned that I was going to overcook our New Yorks that I think I checked them about every 30 seconds. When I finally took them off the grill, they were perfect even if they had lost a bit of juice from my frequent slicings.

The wine went spectacularly well with the steaks. It was sweet up front and the mid palate was floral, tangy and had a light, dark berry flavor. The wine was a bit funky and had excellent tannins, astringency and a spicy finish. It was very flavorful for a Bordeaux with good concentration. Why don’t we see more “bargain” Bordeaux like this on restaurant menus? Too often, we see either aged first growths costing the price of a gold bar or new Bordeaux that are much too young to drink. We highly recommend this one.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Winery in San Carlos

2001 Dominico Carignan Port
$25 375/ml
Shane’s Notes

A few weeks ago, I discovered Dominico Wines in San Carlos while on the way to the video store. It’s kind of a strange sight - you just don’t expect to see a winery in the middle of warehouses in the city. So, we absolutely had to drop by for a tasting. Mr. Dominico (at least I’m guessing it was Mr. Dominico) was very nice and poured us a wide variety of wines crafted primarily from Italian varietals. We weren’t too impressed by his wines, but many had recently been bottled so we withheld judgment. Since the tasting was free, we took a chance and purchased his Carignan Port.

It was kind of shocking. It didn’t taste like a port at all. It wasn’t even sweet. It just tasted like a very alcoholic wine. The palate was flat with a hint of vanilla and the finish was very hot. We would much rather have a good LBV (such as Dow’s or Fonseca) at less than half the price.

Cheap Pinot

Rex Goliath Pinot Noir
Shane’s Notes

Several people told me that this was a great, cheap Pinot. Well, it was definitely cheap. The aroma showed cedar and sweet strawberry. The palate was sweet and perfumey with a hint of cola. The flavors were tough to discern because they disappeared rather quickly. My main complaint with this wine is that it had that thick, sickly, sweet texture that I associate with cheap wines. I don’t know what creates this texture, but it literally makes me sick. I couldn’t even finish a glass of this wine. Jen offered a meek defense of the Rex Goliath saying that it wasn’t too bad, but she wouldn’t buy it again either. We recommend spending a bit more money and picking up the Clos du Bois Pinot.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Dad’s Seventieth Birthday

2004 Gigondas, Domaine de la Maurelle
Shane’s Notes

We went to my parent’s house for my dad’s seventieth birthday. We were having New York steaks for dinner so we opted for a hearty, red wine. We took over the Domaine de la Maurelle Gigondas. I am continually amazed at the consistency and quality of the wines from Gigondas. We occasionally have a thin, watery Gigondas, but they are usually like this one which had good mid-palate concentration and delicious flavors of lavender and violet. I know that many prefer the elegance of the Chateauneufs but at the bargain end of the spectrum (under $20 a bottle), Gigondas provides some of the best deals on the market.

Another Winner from Knebel

Knebel 2000 Winningen Uhlen, Mosel, Auslese
Shane’s Notes
$12 (375 ml)

The color of this wine really surprised me - it was golden-orangish as if it had been aged much longer than 6 years. The palate was thickly honeyed with a strong apricot flavor. It had an endless finish and tasted more like fruit syrup than wine. We enjoyed it and recommend drinking it immediately.

Back to the Beginning

2004 Les Heretiques
Vin de Pays de L’Heurault
Shane’s Notes

Our first blog entry was the 2003 version of this wine. We thought it was an incredible deal and were curious to see if the 2004 incarnation would be just as good. The aroma shows brambly cherry, violets and pepper. One sip and the wine coats your mouth with flavors of sweet fruit and violets. It finishes with tobacco, pepper and dirt (in a good way). It is a good food wine, and we definitely liked it as much as we liked the 03. If you have the room, buy a case.

A Languedoc Viognier

2005 Coteaux du Languedoc Viognier
Laurent Miguel “Nord Sud”
Jen's Notes

K&L says this tastes like a baby Condrieu, which happily turned out to be an apt description. The aromas are crisp and floral, with a clean characteristic that reminded me of freshly washed shirts drying in the sun. The palate is similarly crisp and clean, with intense floral flavors, slightly honeyed, and firm minerality underneath. It is a fantastic value, and if you're looking for inexpensive Viognier, I would definitely skip over any California offering and pick this up from K&L instead.

Monday, July 03, 2006

A Kabinett?

2004 Alfred Merkelbach Urziger Wurzgarten
Kabinett, Mosel (Riesling)
Shane’s Notes

The aroma displayed kerosene and sweet, tangy pear. The palate was syrupy up front with good mid-palate concentration (pear) which faded into a stony finish. The stony finish nicely balanced the up front syrupiness. It’s a bit tangy with a medium length finish. We really enjoyed it, but those of you looking for a “true” Kabinett should probably skip this one: it tastes more like a Spatlese than a Kabinett. It is drinkable now, but a few years of bottle age wouldn’t hurt.

Apple and Butterscotch

Castelmau de Suduiraut
2001 Sauternes
Jen’s Notes

This second label of Chateau Sudurait offers a lot of the bang of a premium dessert wine at a slightly more comfortable price point. It could definitely develop with bottle age, but you'll enjoy its youthful personality now as well. The nose is full of apple and butterscotch scents. On the palate, it is lively and bright, with apple pie flavors. Like the pie, it is both caramelly-sweet with a crispness on the edges. There is nice concentration of flavors now, but the greatest concentration and richness will come with bottle age.

Good minerally base note and endless finish. An excellent deal in Sauternes.