Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Journey to Alsace

1999 Trimbach Gewurtztraminer, Alsace
$11/375 ml
Shane’s Notes

I’m not sure what to think about this one. Jen didn’t like it, and I’m not sure I did either. However, I was so fascinated by the palate that I did keep drinking it. It was massively concentrated displaying zesty apricot flavors with maybe a touch of kerosene. It was very rich, very acidic and very tangy. I think I might have preferred a younger version.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Domaine de Marcoux

2004 Chateaneuf du Pape, Domaine de Marcoux
Shane’s Notes

We definitely drank this one too young. After an initial taste, we decanted for about 45 minutes. The aroma boasts wet wool and sweet, red fruit. The palate shows subtle red fruit, toasted flavors and herbs. It is subtle and elegant. We enjoyed it but I still prefer Gigondas to Chateauneuf du Pape. To my palate, Giggy’s are more concentrated albeit a bit more rustic. I’ll accept the rusticity for the great concentration – I don’t want a subtle Rhone.

Another Winner from Sinskey

2005 Pinot Blanc, Robert Sinskey
$18/375 ml
Shane’s Notes

We tasted this at the winery and enjoyed it as much at home as at the winery. This wine boasts strong aromas of pear and vanilla. The palate includes key lime, pear and strong florals. This wine has good concentration with a medium finish. We have now had a few Pinot Blancs and have really enjoyed them. The palate reminds me of Vouvray.

Reliable Rhone

2005 Cecile Chassagne, Cotes du Rhone
Shane’s Notes

The Chassagne is very elegant for an inexpensive Rhone. The subdued flavors include violet and cedar. There is an almost watery flavor to this one as well. The finish is very dry and astringent. It’s another good QPR wine.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Dinner at San Remo

Domaine de Verquiere, Rasteau,
Shane’s Notes

We went to San Remo for dinner in San Carlos. San Remo is one of our favorite pizza restaurants. They serve authentic Italian style pizza and dining there always reminds us of our honeymoon. Unfortunately, their wine list is lousy. So, we paid the ten dollar corkage fee and brought a Rhone to go with our sausage, pepperoni, onions and bell pepper pizza. This one was a bit tannic and closed. We probably should have aged this one for a few years. It had a nice blackberry flavor with hints of tobacco and cherry. It wasn’t spectacular, but it went well with the pizza.

Napa Tasting Trip

Rutherford Hill
Silver Oak
Cliff Lede
Domaine Chandon

Shane’s Notes

We invited a group of people to the Silver Oak release party but no one was interested. Must be the wine…Anyway, besides the Silver Oak party, we decided to visit some old favorites on this trip. Rutherford Hill is one of the first wineries I tasted at in Napa so we made them our first stop. Would my ever changing palate still favor their wines? We also wanted to hit Sinskey again. We love just about everything they make. On a whim, we added Cliff Lede, and of course, we finished at Domaine Chandon. We didn’t take any notes so here are some general impressions.

At Rutherford Hill, I was only interested in the reds. As they will readily tell you, it is the reds that make them “famous.” I was a little disappointed. We both thought the Cab and the Merlot were slightly overoaked. There was some varietal flavor underneath but it was just too hard to find it.

The Silver Oak party was too crowded. We have never seen so many people at one of their release parties. We had our tasting and left. This $100 a bottle offering (Napa 2002) is one of the worst Silver Oaks we have tasted. It had the usually massive vanilla flavor with a tang on the finish that we found offensive. I’d take my $5.00 Aveleda Charamba over the 2002 Napa Silver Oak.

Sinskey is simply an amazing winery. They produce wines that are varietally pure and we’ve never had an overoaked wine from them. The Pinot Blanc was complex and flavorful – it is the best Pinot Blanc I’ve tasted. The Pinot Gris was also very flavorful albeit much more simple. We bought a bottle of the Four Vineyards Pinot and will be reviewing it later.

We have heard a lot of hype about Cliff Lede, so we dropped buy and paid our $50 for two tastings. Their cabs proudly display their region of origin but overoaking stamped out any regional differences. The Stag’s Leap cab seemed less oaked and did show some interesting flavors, but it still wasn’t worth the asking price.

Once again, we finished the day at Domaine Chandon. It was early afternoon so it wasn’t crowded. We ordered our glasses of sparkling wine and relaxed on a couch. We sipped our sparklers and discussed our next Napa trip. For Jen’s birthday in early March, we are tasting at Keenan and Schweiger on Spring Mountain and then having dinner at Cole’s Chophouse. We can’t wait!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Zinfandel Tasting at Fort Mason

Shane’s Notes

This was our second Zinfandel festival and probably our last. We aren’t huge fans of Zinfandel and this festival was just too crowded. I don’t want to spend half my time pushing people out of the way to get a mediocre glass of wine. At its best, Zinfandel can have nice concentration with a little spice and that’s about it. It really is just a pleasant quaffer and until I taste that magical Zinfandel which leads me into a rapturous epiphany, there won’t be too many Zins on our wine rack. So, when I see that a winery like Turley is charging $75 for a bottle of Zin, I just laugh. For that price, I can get a magnificent Condrieu or Pinot.

Our tasting notes are rather cursory. We don’t want to waste all our time taking notes at social events. We just scribbled down a few quick impressions of some of the more memorable wines.

Alexander Valley Vineyards
NA, 2005 Redemption Zin
$20 2005 Sin Zin
$15, 2005 Temptation Zin

My brother came with us on this trip so we wanted to get things off to a good start. We started with Alexander Valley Vineyards’ troika of Zins. We loved these Zins last year but they were disappointing this year. The Redemption Zin (I always like to drink the Redemption Zin, then the Sin Zin followed by the Temptation Zin) was out of balance (hot) and had just a slightly sweet red fruit flavor. The Sin Zin was the best of the three but still nothing great. It was well balanced and had good concentration with a dark berry flavor. It was a touch oaky with a medium finish. The Temptation Zin was my favorite last year and my least favorite this year. I wrote down “cloying and sweet. Bad.” Enough said.

$20, Eberle, 2005 Stenbeck, Wine Bush, Paso Robles

We love Peachy Canyon so we thought we should try a few Paso Robles Zins. We stopped at Eberle and their Zin was decent. It was smooth with a mild berry flavor tinged with vanilla. It was also borderline oaky.

$30, 2003 Century Vines, Shaw Vineyard, Sonoma

Kunde never ceases to amaze me. They must have high case productions and they make such a wide variety of wines that you would think they couldn’t possibly do them all well. However, Kunde somehow manages to consistently craft good wines year in and year out. Their Century Vines Zin was again one of the best of the tasting. It had a concentrated berry flavor and was spicy. Despite the concentration, it somehow managed to be subtle. This is about the most any winery could get me to pay for a zin. Now, my brother wasn’t thrilled with this one so I asked him why. The answer was simple – he doesn’t like pepper on his food and he certainly doesn’t like the pepper taste in his wine. No way around that one.

It was about at this point that I noticed that two guys had actually brought their own wine glasses. I was curious about who would bring a special glass to a Zin tasting so I watched them taste. They received their pours and immediately commenced with these hilarious, affectatious swirls before jamming their noses deep into their glasses. They took tiny sips and began pontificating on the glories of the wine. I wanted to tap one of them on the shoulder and say, “Zinfandel, dude, it’s just Zinfandel.”

$75, 2005 Hayne Vineyard, Barrel Sample

We had not liked the Turley Zins at the festival last year, but I was more than willing to give the iconic Turley another chance. We tried the 2005 Hayne barrel sample and we all liked it. Personally, I’m not thrilled with barrel samples because I don’t think I have the expertise to tell how the wine will taste in the bottle. That said, this was very smooth, devoid of spice, was well balanced and had a nice fruit flavor with a medium finish. If it gets better by the time it hits the bottle, it will be a nice Zin. We did our tasting without looking at the prices. I remember tasting this one and thinking it might be worth as much as $30 a bottle. I laughed after the festival when I saw the price. No Zin is worth $75.

$28, 2005, Ridge Paso Robles

Ridge was another winery that failed to impress us at last year’s festival. We tried their Paso Robles offering and thought it quite nice – well balanced with light berry flavors.

Peachy Canyon
$19, Westside

We really liked this one. It was much more subtle than most Zins, but it hit the palate with deep, pure waves of flavor (if that makes any sense). Peachy Canyon makes some interesting Zins.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Another Great Schmitt

2005 Schmitt Longuicher Maximiner Herrenberg Kabinett, Mosel
Shane’s Notes

Sometimes, I wonder why we buy any wine other than German Riesling. German Rieslings are without peer in the under $20 category. A Napa Cab or Bordeaux of equal quality to this Schmitt Kabinett would cost at least double the price. This is our second Schmitt Riesling and they have both been amazing. This Kabinett showed rich flavors of honey, peach, lemon and nutmeg. These flavors were balanced against a very acidic, stony finish. This is a magnificent Kabinett with unusual mid palate richness. It looks like 2005 is a great vintage for Mosel.

A Winner from Loosen

2003 Dr. Loosen, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Mosel, Auslese
$22 (375 ml)
Shane’s Notes

This is an amazing wine. The complex palate shows lemon, guava, kiwi, key lime and florals. The flavors, while magnificent, are not quite as rich as those of other Auslesen we have tasted. I suspect this wine is closer to the true definition of an Auslesen. The finish is acidic and steely and greatly complements the rich flavors. There is a great, classical structure to this wine (it reminded me of a symphony by Mozart). I checked the price on this one prior to posting this review. I couldn’t believe we only paid $22 for it. I would have paid twice the price.

Massive Meursault

2004 Meursault-CharmesDomaine Jean Monnier et Fils, Premier Cru
Jen’s Notes

Though extremely well made, we did not particularly enjoy this one. It is truly excellent and beautifully made, but I suspect that we drank it way too young. The acidity here is quite powerful, and I had some difficulty getting my palate around it. Nevertheless, I could still detect apple and peach flavors layered over firm minerality. It is a classic, full-bodied Chardonnay. It is always risky for non-experts making guesses like these, but I'd say this one would be perfect in maybe 7-10 years.

Theise-ing Our Palates

Review of Seminar and Tasting by Ferry Plaza Wine Merchants and Terry Theise
Jen’s Notes

A couple of weeks ago, Shane and I attended this absolutely excellent seminar by importer Terry Thiese, featuring artisanal Champagnes and 2005 German wines (primarily Rieslings). The event was limited to 60 people, so practically the second the email from FPWM landed in my inbox, I was on the horn booking our reservation. I was so quick that the guy who answered the phone and only just seen the email as well.

We love our Rieslings, what can I tell you? And the opportunity to hear Terry live and in person was just too good to pass up. I found myself thinking of wine in new ways – more epic and slightly romantic than I ordinarily would; as if each wine was a person with something absolutely captivating (we hope) to tell me.

Terry is a witty and engaging speaker, and I think when he first stood up to speak felt that he had to shake us out of our school-room reticence. You see, we were seated in a big meeting room – plain, apart from the fabulous view of the bay - at the sort of stick-figure tables and chairs that reminded me of my classrooms in law school (except that they were covered in white tablecloths and had wine glasses set up). The two Champagnes had been poured, and no one had taken a sip.

Justifiably, Terry chided us, saying that once Champagne has been poured, we can drink it. Before taking his first sip, he said “let’s see if this shit’s any good.” Happily, it was better than good, and we all loosened up quite a bit after that.

All of the wines were impressive in their own way, but for us, there were some definite standouts, starting with the first Champagne:

Pierre Peters “Cuvee Reservee” Grand Cru , Blanc de Blancs, Le Mesnil

Both Champagnes (the other was Billiot Brut Rose, Ambonnay) were “grower” Champagnes, meaning that the same person grew the grapes and vinted and bottled the wines. This is rather uncommon for Champagne and, even more impressively, the Peters is also 100% grand cru vineyards.

The wine showed some classic Chardonnay character (being a Blanc de Blancs…) as well as surprising depth and smokiness. It was perfectly balanced: while crisp, it was not too acidic, nor did the crispness and minerality outweigh the creamy banana fruit that we detected. The flavors were full and ripe. We loved it, and had never tasted anything like it before. Of all the wines we tasted, it was the one we felt we had to buy. I am sure that some of the others will find their way to our wine rack as well.

Riesling Kabinett:

2005 Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer

We are both fans of Mosel Rieslings. Shane, in particular, prefers their texture and richness to many of the other areas in which Riesling is grown. This one was excellent, and sweeter/richer than you would ordinarily expect from a Kabinett. Its impression was more of weight than of particular flavors: it was concentrated and honeyed, with a floral palate.

2005 Jost Bacharacher Hahn, Mittelrhein

Legally, this could have been an Auslese (that is, two grades sweeter than a Kabinett). It was lovely. Though concentrated and sweet, there was a pronounced zest to it and steeliness on the finish. It was rich with persistent flavors, and really wonderful to drink.

Riesling Spatlese:

2005 Hermann Donnhoff Schlossbockelheimer Felsenberg, Nahe

A contender for best of tasting, this wine was a study in contrasts: surprisingly bright aromas and while gorgeously sweet, it had a lightness and elegance as well. It boasted juicy pineapple flavors that balanced nicely against the minerality underneath.

Riesling Auslese:

2005 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenurh Auslese **, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer

Continuing the theme, this Auslese was actually almost sweet enough to be a Beerenauslese. Its intensely floral perfume was echoed beautifully on the palate. Though appropriately sweet and rich, there is firm minerality underneath, which was most expressive on a lingering finish.

Terry said a couple of things that we found interesting. He advised that it was useful to go back and forth among the wines that were poured. I know I tend to slavishly follow the order set out on the tasting sheet, drinking all of wine 1 before moving on to wine 2, and so forth. It truly never occurred to me to do this, so I experimented with some of the wines and noted that some of the contrasts seemed more pronounced – particularly between the two Auslesen featured in the tasting. While the Selbach-Oster, discussed above, was quite sweet and rich, the other one (by Meulenhof) had a refreshing zest to it that was completely different, but all the more delightful contrasted against the S-O.

Terry also happened to say something that Shane has always suggested from the very beginning of our wine experiences together, which is that he gets a better sense of a wine after the first glass. So, when Terry said (I am paraphrasing here) that a wine tells you its meaning at the end of the bottle, not at the beginning. The more wine I drink, the more I agree with Shane and Terry. I can go back and forth in tasting, and now I won’t rush a wine in to telling me its message in the first swirls and sips.