Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Top Twelve

Shane's Notes

Here’s our eighth top twelve list. A quick review of the rules that we follow: we choose 4 wines in the under $15 category, 4 in the $15 - $30 category and four in the over $30 category. Also, a winery can only appear once on the list.

The Charamba and the La Loggia are two of the best wines we’ve ever tasted in their respective price range. In fact, I have no qualms about serving the Charamba to guests. I bet a lot of people would guess that it costs $10 to $15 or even more. The Chablis was a huge surprise to Jen. She’s the Chablis person in our marriage, and she insisted that a seventeen dollar Chablis could not possibly be any good. This Chablis changed her mind.

I felt like we had been slighting Napa wines, so after some diligent research, I bought a couple of Spring Mountain wines and they both made the list. To my palate, they appear much more concentrated than the wines coming from the valley floor.

For the first time, we had a mild disagreement over a few wines that could not be resolved. I wanted the Loring Pinot on the top twelve list, and while Jen liked it, she wanted the Vosne Romanee on the list instead. Jen loves Burgundies and well, let’s just say that I once said Burgundies would taste better if all the Pinot were uprooted and replaced with Gamay (Please don’t flood us with emails calling me an idiot. I know that many oenophiles think that Burgundies represent the pinnacle of fine wine. However, these determinations are purely subjective, and since I’m writing this, I get to push my point of view). There are several reasons why I don’t like Burgundy. I heavily favor QPR wines and even Burgundianphiles admit that Burgundy is a lousy QPR wine region. Also, I just don’t like the flavor palate of Burgundies. We once bought a Burgundy for around $60 that tasted like soy sauce! Anyway, it is my humble prediction that in a hundred years, new world Pinot will be the standard and Burgundy will have faded into oblivion. So, if you agree with Jen, your top twelve includes the Vosne Romanee, and if you agree with me, your top twelve includes the Loring.

The Montelena and the Condrieu were sublime – both are absolutely world class wines.

$4.99, 2004 Aveleda Charamba
Aye Charamba Redux, 1/29/07

$5.99, 2004 La Loggia, Barbara d’Alba
A Great House Wine, 12/18/06

$9.99, Castano, Hecula, 2003 Yecla red
A Heckuva Hecula (or A Yummy Yecla), 12/8/06

$14.99, 2005 Vouvray, Champalou
Another Great Vouvray, 11/29/06

$16.99, 2005 Chablis, “Champs Royaux” William Fevre
Inexpensive Chablis, 11/29/06

$19.99, 2005 Carl Schmitt-Wagner, Riesling Spatlese, Mosel
A Spicy Riesling, 1/2/07

$24.99, Schweiger 2001 Merlot, Spring Mountain
Return to Spring Mountain, 1/29/07

$26.99, 2003 Walter Hansel Russian River Pinot
A Russian River Pinot, 11/22/06

$39.99, Guilliams 2002 Spring Mountain Napa Cabernet
Birthday Wines, 1/29/07

*$46.99, 2002 Vosne Romanee, Vieilles Vignes, Domaine Armelle & Bernard Rion
Smoked Meat and Leather, 1/9/07

**$46.99, 2005 Loring “Rosella’s Vineyard” Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
Birthday Wines, 1/29/07

$74.95, 2005 Condrieu, Yves Cuilleron "Les Chaillets"
A Stunning Wine, 11/8/06

$125, 2001 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
A Napa Cab, 1/3/07

*Jen’s Choice
**Shane’s Choice

Monday, January 29, 2007

Return to Spring Mountain

Schweiger 2001 Merlot, Spring Mountain
Shane’s Notes

We were initially disappointed with this one. We thought the flavors were faded and that maybe it had aged too long. By the second glass, the wine really opened and the flavors definitely emerged. It is amazing how the last glass of a bottle can taste completely different than the first. The palate showed red fruit and chocolate – in fact, it tasted like a cherry covered milk dud. It had very soft tannins with a silky texture. It is a very well crafted wine and quite unlike any other Merlot we have tasted. It was so rich that it was impossible to drink it quickly. Jen still had half a glass left when she went to read in bed. She fell asleep with a few more sips left in her class and regretted falling asleep before finishing it. This is our second Spring Mountain wine and we are very impressed with this AVA.

Birthday Wines

Shane’s Notes

2005 Loring “Rosella’s Vineyard” Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

Guilliams 2002 Spring Mountain Napa Cabernet

2000 Recioto della Valpolicella, “Le Brugnine” Venturini
$37.99/500 ml

I usually drink Rhone and Port on special occasions, but I thought it would be fun to try some wines we don’t usually buy. We love the massive concentration of the Santa Highlands Pinots but since they are expensive, they can’t be everyday purchases. As far as Napa wines, I am always defending them yet we rarely drink them. While we like Napa wines, we just think that most are overpriced, especially the infamous cult cabs. We have had a few of these high priced war horses (Insignia and Opus One) and found them quite nice, but we certainly wouldn’t pay the sticker price for them. I decided to try a less famous Napa Cab from a (hopefully) distinctive region: Spring Mountain. I have also been very curious about Recioto so used this as an opportunity to try one.

Jen and I had the Loring for our private celebration. The Loring reminded me a lot of the Roar. These are powerful pinots that would never be confused with Burgundy. The aroma from the Loring exudes cherry and licorice. The palate boats a massive blueberry flavor and is meaty and roasty. Loring deserves a lot of credit for crafting this massive wine and keeping it in balance. I was afraid it would be hot but it wasn’t. The palate was mildly complex and elegant. The texture was light and not Syrah-like as seems to be popular these days. The finish was quite long. I don’t often say this about wines in the $40 range but this was easily worth the price.

We drank the Guilliams at my parent’s house as an accompaniment to my mom’s meatloaf. We didn’t bring the decanter so we poured a few huge glasses (The decanter size glasses given out at Silver Oak’s release party are perfect for this type of occasion) and let the wine sit for a half an hour. It was the most massively concentrated cab I’ve had yet it was well balanced. It wasn’t hot and the tannins were easily manageable. Concentrated, sweet, red fruit flavors dominate the palate and in a blind tasting, I might have guessed it was a Southern Rhone. It was an amazingly distinctive cab and was well worth the price.

After dinner, we retired to the living room and sat by the fire. My parents actually have a real fire place that burns real wood, and I always enjoyed our Friday night fires when I was a kid. Once the fire was blazing, we opened the Recioto. It was rich and had a heavy, sweet raisinated taste. I was in such a good mood that I even let my mom try a few drops. She really enjoyed it.

All of these powerful wines were excellent but drinking them back to back to back left my palate a little fatigued. These wines were a great change of pace but they would be a bit much if you drank them every day.

Aye Charamba Redux

2004 Aveleda Charamba
Shane’s Notes

Our regular readers know that I loved the 2002 Aveleda Charamba. I easily drank over a case of it. So, when I saw the 2004 in CostPlus, I eagerly bought a bottle and drank it that night. I was stunned when I tasted it: the 2004 is much better than the 2002. It has better structure and balance with extremely smooth tannins. It has a nice velvety texture, and the palate shows the same red fruit/perfumey flavors of the 2002. The finish is medium length. I immediately went back and bought a case. It is one of the best under $10 wines I’ve ever tasted. I’ve listed the stats on the wine below.

Producer: Quinta da Aveleda
Region: Douro D.O.C.Grape Varieties: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Barroca
Soil: Schistous
Vinification: It is vinified by the "classic" method for red wines. It is aged in Portuguese oak barrels for 6 to 9 months.
Alcohol Vol.: 12% Total Acidity (tartaric acid): 6,0 g/l
Residual Sugar: < 2.0g/l
Conservation: 6 to 8 years.
Recommended Serving Temperature: 18-20ºC


No Recommendation

No Vineyards 2004 S.B., Lake County, Healdsburg
Shane’s Notes

The “No” in No Vineyards stands for no oak, no cork and no malolactic. How could you resist trying this one? It exudes citrussy, barnyard aromas. The palate shows a bit of lemon lime and not much else. The bizarre finish is stony and salty. It was definitely unusual and definitely unbalanced. We can’t quite recommend this one.


2005 M. Chapoutier, Bellerouche, Cotes du Rhone
Shane’s Notes

This is a serviceable, inexpensive Rhone. The tannins are very smooth. The palate is perfumey with some sweet, red fruit in the middle and a touch of spice. The finish is short and tangy.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Serviceable Muscadet

Domaine de la Pepiere 2005 Muscadet “Classique”
Shane’s Notes

While I don’t think anyone (including us) would place Muscadet up there with the world’s greatest wines, they are fun to drink. This one was citrussy and minerally with tangy flavors of guava and steel. It has just a hint of complexity and finishes dry. It is very tasty.

Let Them Drink Cakebread

2005 Cakebread Sauvignon Blanc
Napa Valley
Jen's Notes

This might be the best Napa SB we have had. It invites you in with zesty grapefruit scents, and then delivers bright, tangy citrus layered over gravelly minerals on the palate. The flavors are quite concentrated and meld into a medium-long finish. This wine is refreshing and delicious - I could easily see this as a case-worthy white to have hand for those times when you want something good on a warm evening.

Friday, January 12, 2007

A Red Vanilla Bomb

2004 Los Vascos Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Shane’s Notes

I met a friend at the Warriors game on Saturday for some tailgating. I took a bottle of the Los Vascos Reserve Cabernet, because Jen and I really enjoyed it the last time we had a bottle. I was very embarrased when a few sips revealed that this particular bottle was a vanilla bomb with just a touch of spice on the finish. I had to apologize for bringing such a lousy bottle of wine. It turns out that Jen and I had the 2003 while this bottle was from 2004. It’s a good lesson in how a vintage can make a difference and in how the Americans aren’t the only ones guilty of overoaking wine (Los Vascos is owned by none other than Barons de Rothschild - Lafite).

Parlez-vous Oaky?

2003 Ch. de Callac, Graves
Jen’s Notes

We had moderately high hopes for this Bordeaux, since it was recommended by one of our favorite wine shops. Though interestingly smoky and toasty-oaky on the nose, the oak character was overpowering on the palate. Underneath it, we did detect soft, slightly tangy fruit and a little funk, but there was just too much wood and vanilla for our taste.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Honeymoon, Part III

Shane’s Notes

The trip from Rome to Praiano was quite an adventure. We took a train to Naples, and then caught the Circumvesuviana, a commuter train, to travel to Sorrento. In Sorrento, we waited in line for over an hour for the privilege of standing on a crowded SITA bus which would take us to Praiano. The drive is harrowing, and it frequently looks like the bus is about to plunge over a cliff. Jen dubbed the bus the SATAN bus, and when we made the return journey, we traveled by boat.

The views of the cliffs and the Mediterranean in Praiano are absolutely sublime. Praiano has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world and trying to describe its beauty is a futile exercise. You simply have to see it to believe it. Our hotel was magnificent. It was located on the side of a cliff and our balcony overlooked the Mediterranean. We immediately raided the mini bar and had an Aglianico, Antiche Torri 2004. It was cold (it’s a red), but after our long journey, we just needed some alcohol. It showed a touch of plum and was gamey underneath. It was decent.

At dinner that night, we had a Sammarco table wine (Costa de Amalfi, Ravello). Because it was so cheap (4.5 Euros for a half bottle), I didn’t take any notes. I should have. For its price range, it had an amazing concentration (red berry fruit) and a very long finish. We could not believe how good it was. We later found it in the local grocery store for 3 Euros a bottle. At that price, it is one of the best QPR wines we have ever tasted.

Later that night at the hotel, we went to our balcony and opened an Antinori Muffato della sala 2003 Castello della sala. We paid 35 Euros for this 500 ml bottle. After having an amazing Muffo at a restaurant in the Trastavere, we had kept our eyes open for any Muffo we could find. We finally found this Antinori and even though I was the one constantly thinking about our budget, I bought it as soon as I saw it. It took a little while to open up but once it did, it was almost as fabulous as our other Muffo. It was honeyed, unctuous and rich with a green apple flavor and some candied orange peel on the finish. It had great structure and a nice tang on the finish. Why isn’t Muffo more popular in the U.S.?

When we woke up late next morning, we realized that we didn’t have anything planned for the day. We really enjoyed Florence and Rome but found it quite refreshing to have absolutely nothing to do. We walked to the local grocery store and bought some fresh bread, cheese and a half bottle of wine for lunch. We went exploring and picnicked at an isolated spot overlooking a bay. The wine was only 2 Euros for a half bottle and was a Lachryma Christi. It was mildly sweet.

We couldn’t find any restaurant that opened before 7, so we just accepted the Italian way and took a nap and had a late dinner. The restaurant that we went to turned out to be our favorite restaurant in Praiano, Il Pino. The tables had gas lamps and from the restaurant, you could watch the sunset over the Mediterranean. As Jen said, it was insanely romantic. We decided to try some more local wine. We went with a bottle of Selva delle Monache 2004, Ravello, Costa d’Amalfi for 20 Euros. It was a bit tannic and smoky. It had a rich, lavender, herbal flavor mid palate and a tangy finish. It was a very interesting wine. The label mentioned that Aglianico was one of the varietals.

On the next day, we made the mistake of leaving Praiano. We took a short trip to the much more famous Positano. It was beautiful but lined with shops and crowds. There was a café on the beach that must have seated a hundred people. We couldn’t get back to Praiano soon enough. We headed back to our room and had a 2001 Amarone della Valpolicella Bolla on our balcony (21 Euros). It was very sweet and one dimensional – concentrated prunes. Okay, maybe there was a touch of chocolate on the finish. Anyway, it was a bit too simple for the price but I did enjoy the massive concentration.

At dinner that night, we had a 2003 Olivero Casa Vinicola Bushced Dolcetto d’Alba Roddi for 18.5 Euros. It was sweet up front and tannic on the backside. The palate showed cherry cordial and sage and it was a good food wine.

That was the last time we took notes. We loved Praiano and our stay ended much too soon. We slept late every morning and wandered around the town enjoying the views. We took two hour lunches, peaceful naps and enjoyed three hour dinners (Every restaurant had a sea view). We spent every afternoon sipping a glass of wine on the veranda of our favorite outdoor café. We went to the beach and Jen swam in the translucent water. One day, we hiked about three quarters of the way up a cliff to see the church of San Domenico. The views from up there were sublime.

On the last day of our stay in Praiano, we finally stopped at a local gelato place and it was just about the best gelato we had on the entire trip. For our last dinner, we headed back to the insanely romantic Il Pino and had another fabulous meal. I had a steak wrapped in a carapace of salt and displayed inside an aluminum foil swan while Jen had a local seafood dish. We slowly ate our meal and drank our wine while strains of Dinah Washington wafted through the restaurant. We had after dinner drinks and lingered as long as possible, but as they say, all good things must come to an end. The dinner put a fabulous exclamation point on our incredible honeymoon.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Back to Italy

Vitiano 2004 Falesco, Umbria
Shane’s Notes

The palate is rich and juicy and the finish is very, very dry. It is reminded us of many of the wines we had while honeymooning in Italy – unpretentious and quite enjoyable. It is like a dry Crus Beaujolais, so I guessed that it was some rustic, Italian varietal. After a bit of research, we discovered that it is a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a good food wine and we both enjoyed it.

Smoked Meat and Leather

2002 Vosne Romanee, Vieilles Vignes
Domaine Armelle & Bernard Rion
Jen's Notes

We picked this one up at K&L a couple of weekends ago, tempted by the glowing write-up on their website. It did not disappoint, and is a comparatively excellent value in Burgundy. It boasted classic aromas of herbs, soil, tobacco and spices. It was intensely scented. On the palate, we detected tart, cranberry fruit, smoked meats and leather, with herb and floral notes underneath. There was good astringency on the finish. Overall it was quite elegant and subtle, with a long finish. Although I enjoy many of the new world Pinots we have had, my heart belongs to Burgundy, and this is a great example of what I love.

Shopping Trip

K&L Shopping Trip: December 30, 2006
Jen’s Notes

This is the story of two people let loose in K&L Wine Merchants, equipped with a $250 gift certificate. Our initial reactions, besides surprise, gratitude, and delight, were otherwise completely different. My first thoughts flew to Bordeaux, more specifically, first growth Bordeaux, and the contribution that the gift certificate would make toward that one lovely bottle.

Shane, being far more practical than I, immediately set about creating a short list of expensive, but not extravagantly so, Wines We Ought to Have. It was a great list – we chose a couple of bottles from it, after which Shane left the choices mostly up to me, as we wended our way through the aisles at the Redwood City store.

We spent more than the $250, which only makes sense in my view, as your giver would be disappointed if any of the gift funds went to a boring thing like sales tax. So, if you have around $300 of wine money burning a hole in your pocket and would like some guidance, here is what we bought (reviews to follow as wines are enjoyed):

1996 Lanessan Haut-Medoc (Bordeaux) 19.99
2002 Domaine Armelle & Bernard Rion Vosne Romanee (Burgundy) 46.99
2003 Val Joanis, Cotes du Luberon (Southern Rhone/Provence) 11.99
2002 Dolce, Far Niente (Napa) 59.98/375ml
2002 Loring Pinot Noir, Rosella’s Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands (California) 46.99
2004 Domaine Jean Monnier Meursault, 1er Cru (Burgundy) 41.99
2005 Carl Schmitt-Wagner Riesling Kabinett (Germany) 18.99
2004 Domaine de Marcoux, Chateauneuf du Pape (Rhone) 49.99

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A Napa Cab

2001 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Shane’s Notes

We spent the last of our wedding money on this Cab. We decanted for about 45 minutes, and most people will probably want to decant it for twice that long. The aroma showed blackberry jam, spices and tobacco. The palate displayed flavors of green olives, blackberry, licorice and had a spicy finish. The palate was complex, concentrated and had good astringency. The finish is long. I’d love to try this one again in 7-10 years.

This is a truly magnificent Napa Cabernet, but is it worth $125? At tastings, we have tried the Opus One and the Phelps Insignia, both of which are more expensive than this wine. I definitely prefer this Montelena Cab to both of those wines. The Montelena shows more distinctive flavors and tastes truly unique. So, the answer is yes, it is worth the money (sigh).

An Excellent, Disappointing Wine

Domaine La Soumade
2003 Fleur de Confiance, Rasteau
Shane’s Notes

My instincts told me not to buy this wine. I do not like spending more than $50 on a bottle of wine, I certainly don’t think Rhones are worth more than $50 and I don’t think Grenache is interesting enough to be a stand alone varietal (this wine is 90% Grenache). However, we have enjoyed Doumaine La Soumade’s lesser offerings and Parker gave this one a 95. I’ll admit that I was swayed by Parker’s rating.

It’s easy to see why Parker loves this wine – it is complex, elegant and magnificently structured. It is so elegant that it drinks more like a high class Bordeaux than a Rhone. The flavors (seamlessly blended into one another) include thyme, sweet fruit, kirsch, cherry, plum and smoke. We both characterized it as port-like. Our one complaint is that it finished a bit hot.

I should have listened to my instincts. Yes, this wine was extremely well-crafted, but neither of us thinks it is worth the price. While the palate showed moderate complexity, it just wasn’t concentrated enough for our tastes. We don’t want an elegant Rhone – We want a flavor bomb!!!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A Spicy Riesling

2005 Carl Schmitt-Wagner, Riesling Spatlese,
Longuicher Maximiner Herrenberg, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer
Jen's Notes

I am always amazed at the diversity of German Rieslings. We typically go for flavor bombs like those offered by Knebel; this Riesling had similar flavors, but in a less flamboyant style. It was quite elegant, but still very flavorful and pleasant. The aromas were pretty, clean, and very floral, hinting at minerality. On the palate, we tasted crisp pear, creamy lemon, and some floral notes. There was good minerality underneath and steel on the finish. As the wine opened up, warm spices emerged. We enjoyed it more and more as our glasses were refilled. A lovely choice, especially with food.