Friday, March 30, 2007

Opera Night

Benton Lane Pinot Noir
Shane’s Notes

Jen and I drove to San Jose to have dinner and attend the opera. We ate at Il Fornaio and the wine list was respectable. I looked at the wine list and smiled. We ordered a Benton Lane Pinot. It retails for around $20 and tastes just like a good $20 Pinot should taste. It was crafted in a lighter style (as opposed to the Syrah like Pinots) and was quite perfumey. It was a bit hot at first but that blew off after about ten minutes. It obviously lacked complexity but was a good Pinot for the price.

After dinner, we headed over the theater, broke out our new opera glasses and saw La Traviata (You just can’t go to an opera without opera glasses). I had previously seen four operas – two by Puccini and two by Mozart. I thought the Puccinis were slightly bombastic, and the Mozarts could have been a little more bombastic. La Traviata was in between and we both really enjoyed it. I’m sure we’ll be back next year for Rigolleto.

A Subtle Dolcetto

2003 Rivetto, Dolcetto D’Alba, Frach
Shane’s Notes

We can’t say it enough – we love Italian wines! The palate on this Dolcetto is light and shows flavors of blackberry jam and cherry. It has a medium finish and like other inexpensive Italian wines, it is not complex but very enjoyable to drink.


2005 Patricia Green, Croft Vineyards
Willamette Valley
Shane’s Notes

Pinots are expensive and frustrating and I don’t know why I keep buying them. The huge problem for me is that I haven’t found a region that consistently produces the style I like. We both enjoy the Santa Lucia Highlands Pinots, but they are a bit too flamboyant. We also aren’t too thrilled with massive, syrah like Pinots. So, we’ve widened our search to include Russian River, Sonoma and Oregon Pinots. I think my favorite so far has been last year’s bottling of Rochioli’s basic Pinot.

This Patricia Green was very close to what I’m looking for so we will definitely try a few more Oregon Pinots. The smoky, herbal aroma on this one is much more restrained than a Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot. The palate has a nice wave of flavor that tastes like strawberry coulis and a bit of that smoky aroma finds its way into the palate. This one should definitely be aged or at least decanted for an hour. It is one of the better Pinots I’ve had recently and Jen laughed as she called it “Burgundian.” I’ve disliked Burgundies so much that I’ve said Burgundy should uproot their Pinot and replace it with Gamay. Maybe they should wait awhile just in case I want to revisit their Pinots.

Nectarine and Florals

2005 Erben Von Beulwitz
Kaseler Nies’chen, Spatlese
“Alte Reben,” Mosel
Shane’s Notes

We bought a half dozen 2005 Rieslings at Dee Vine and this was the unknown bottle – neither of us had tried any Rieslings from this winery. As with the other 2005 Mosels, it was excellent. It showed extremely ripe, sweet fruit. It was juicy, honeyed and showed mouth coating nectarine with florals. It might be too flamboyant for some but not for us.

Another Aveleda

2005 Aveleda Alvarinho Vino Verde
Shane’s Notes

I absolutely love Aveleda’s Charamba, so I had to try their Vinho Verde. I’ll admit that it took me a glass to warm up to this one. It is light, spritzy and tight on the palate entry. Once the palate opens, it reveals an intense, bright citrussy flavor (lemon with maybe a tinge of lime) that disappears rather quickly. It is a very enjoyable quaffer and is in the running for our next top twelve list.

Dinner with Diano

2001 Stefano Farina
Diano d'Alba, Barolo
$55 (restaurant)
Jen’s Notes

Alas, this one was probably a little young to drink. Although it did open up a bit in our glasses, decanting would have helped; and, obviously, there's no real substitute for bottle age. Give it a few years.

Initially, the wine was tight and inky, with hints of plum and black cherry fruit. As the wine opened up, we detected earth, herb and spice flavors that paired very well with my smoked duck risotto. There was also a pleasant tang of orange peel and a good reverb on the finish.

Tocai Friulano

Blason, 2005 Tocai Friulano
Shane’s Notes

How can you pass up a wine from a cool sounding region like Tocai Friulano? This is a very unusual white wine. There is a slight spritz up front and initially, the wine is almost creamy up front (although this sensation ended after the bottle was open for about 10 minutes). The palate expands into concentrated citrus flavors – grapefruit with accents of lime and pear. At times, the finish seemed a little steely. This is a wonderful wine for the price.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Domo Arigato, Mr. Muffato

1999 Antinori Muffato dell Sala
Shane’s Notes

We had our first (and second) Muffato while honeymooning in Italy. It quickly surpassed Vin Santo as our Italian dolce vino of choice. Muffatos are at least partially botrytized and they explode with interesting, concentrated flavors. Drinking this Antinori Muffato is like eating an apple covered in vanilla and honey with a sprinkling of nutmeg on top. This is much more flamboyant than a Sauternes and probably more acidic. For those seeking minerality (e.g. flint, stone and/or slate and pencil lead), look elsewhere. This wine was so darn good that I wanted to simultaneously drink it quickly and savor it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

An Italian Quaffer

2005 Allegrini Valpolicella Classico
Jen’s Notes

This wine begs the question of why California seldom produces really good wines under $10.00. This was a BevMo find, one we knew nothing about before buying. After that, it hung out on the wine rack for a good long time until we decided to open it last night.

It turns out that Allegrini delivers pretty much the perfect weeknight red: not very complicated, but certainly tasty, with focused flavors of spice, herbs, and tangy fruit. It is enjoyable and easy going, but still gives us a little something to hang our hat on.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Blackberry Jam

2004 Qupe Syrah
Shane’s Notes

We are not Syrahophiles but we like the Qupe. The palate shows blackberry jam, tangy cranberry and maybe a touch of cherries with a hint of smoke. The finish is pretty quick but it complements the sweet fruit.

Bold from Uboldi

Schweiger 2005 Sauvignon Blanc
Uboldi Vineyards, Sonoma
Shane’s Notes

This was the first of our wines from our last Napa trip, and it was even better than I remember. This S.B. is unblended and very acidic. The palate emits a laser beam of flavors including lemon, grass, melon and green apple. This wonderfully complex and concentrated S.B. is closer in style to a New Zealand S.B. than to its wimpy Bordeaux cousin weakened with Semillon. It is one of the best S.B’s I’ve ever tasted and a huge bargain at this price.

Napa Trip

Hansel South Slope Pinot

Shane’s Notes

We decided to visit a few Spring Mountain wineries on this trip. We made appointments at Keenan and Schweiger. Since we were having dinner at Cole’s Chophouse, we decided to keep the wine tasting to a minimum and were almost successful.

We didn’t take any notes on this trip, but we did buy at least one bottle of wine from each of the wineries we visited so we will be posting notes later. The Spring Mountain reds seem pretty massive and tight – I think we will really enjoy them but we will have to decant. Some of the whites we bought are much more approachable and quite unique.

Our first stop was Keenan. The Keenans were out, but we were met by Laura who was very welcoming and helpful. Actually, we were initially met by one of the Keenan’s dogs who stood in front of our car and blocked our entry. When we got out, she was so friendly that I thought she was going to jump into our car.
While sampling Keenan’s wines, Laura asked us where we were headed next and we told her that we had an appointment at Schweiger in about an hour. She immediately urged us to visit Guillams and before we knew it, she was on the phone with the Guilliams telling them we were on our way.

The Guillams winery was just a little further up the mountain. When we arrived, Mr. Guillams was in the yard working on a board. I almost felt like we were imposing, but the loquacious Mr. Guillams was very friendly and made us feel welcome. It was a gorgeous day so we stayed outdoors for the tasting. We sat in lawn chairs at the top of the vineyard and were greeted with a stunning view. We looked out over Mr. Guillams vineyards and to the valley floor far beneath us. The view was worth the very slight sunburn that we suffered from sitting in the sun.

Mr. Guillams reminisced about attending Berkeley and discussed some of his vineyard management techniques. He stressed that he practices sustainable agriculture rather than organic agriculture. When I mentioned that I first heard of his winery from a book by Matt Kramer, he talked about meeting Kramer and how he disagreed with Kramer’s review of his winery. For the record, Kramer liked his wines but found them inconsistent. I told Mr. Guillams that coming from Kramer, that is actually a pretty good review. After all, this is the guy who disses Screaming Eagle along with many other Napa cult cabs.We tasted the 2002 Merlot and Cabernet – both were excellent but I think they need to open up to be fully appreciated. At this point, I snuck a look at my watch and Mr. Guillams realized we were pressed for time. We met his wife and bought a bottle of Merlot. (It’s such a small operation that they don’t accept credit cards). We waved goodbye and headed for Schweiger. I wish we had spent more time with the Guillams. We really enjoyed meeting them.

Schweiger was a larger operation than Keenan or Guillams. We were greeted by Kimberly, and she mentioned that Mrs. Guillams was her way over with the correct bottle of wine. Sure enough, Mrs. Guillams arrived seconds later and brought us a bottle of Merlot (she had mistakenly given us the Cab).

Kimberly started us off with a Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay outside, and then gave us a brief tour on our way to the barrel room for the rest of the line up. Kimberly was very nice and knowledgeable. The Schweiger winery was also “guarded” by a big dog who lumbered after us into the tasting room. She immediately went to sleep and snored quite loudly. All the wines were good, especially the Sauvignon Blanc.We had intended to head back to the hotel after this tasting but we noticed that Provenance was open for tasting. We have long been a fan of their cab so we couldn’t resist visiting. They poured a variety of cabs and merlots and all were very good. They weren’t necessarily complex but had wonderful concentration and were not over oaked. The Provenance style is definitely fruit forward (I enjoyed them more than Jen did).

We checked in at the hotel and then headed out for dinner. We had some time to kill so we had a drink at the Bounty Hunter before heading to Cole’s Chophouse. We had looked at Cole’s rather extensive wine least on the internet and were thinking of order the Cafaro Cabernet for $45. Unfortunately, I didn’t see it on the wine list and when I asked our waitress, she sent over the Sommelier. This was a huge moment for me – I have never talked to a Sommelier before. The very name conjures up an image of a snotty, intimidating French man who thinks good wine doesn’t exist outside of his country.

Anyway, the Sommelier was very down to earth and explained to me that they had sold out of the Cafaro. I asked him if he thought the 2004 Hansel South Slope Pinot would stand up to a New York (I wouldn’t pair a light pinot with a steak but I would pair a heavier, syrah-like pinot with a steak). He assured me that it would go quite well with the steak so that was our wine for the evening. He was right. It wasn’t as heavy as a Sea Smoke but it was quite concentrated and went well with our steaks. Jen ordered her steak rare and I ordered mine medium. Jen’s was blue rare and mine was closer to rare than medium, but otherwise, they were quite good. Cole’s is a little steep (as are all Napa restaurants. Call it the “Napa Premium”) but it is one of the best places I’ve eaten in Napa.

After Cole’s, we headed back to the hotel. We had a bottle of the Antinori Muffato back in the hotel room but decided to save it for another day. This was obviously an excellent decision as I awoke with a mild hangover. It was a very enjoyable trip. It was fun to taste at some of the smaller wineries and actually meet the people who make the wine. Their enthusiasm for winemaking really shines through, and it is a welcome change from the large scale corporate wineries on the valley floor.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Jen's Birthday

Nickel and Nickel
2005 Medina Vineyard Chardonnay
Shane’s Notes

I initially considered buying Jen a Condrieu for her birthday but quickly changed my mind when I saw this offering from Nickel and Nickel. This winery has become a part of our life ever since I proposed to Jen there. Also, Jen loves Chardonnay and the 2005 Medina is Nickel and Nickel’s inaugural offering from that vineyard.

We went to Mollie Stones and picked up a rotisserie chicken to accompany the Chardonnay. The pairing worked quite well. The Medina is Nickel and Nickel’s third Chardonnay (the Searby and the Truchard are the other two), and it just might be the best of the three. The Medina is definitely more acidic (no ml) than Nickel and Nickel’s other Chardonnays. The palate is very rich and shows flavors of tangy citrus, green apples and rose water. It is also slightly toasty and has floral undertones. The finish is amazingly long. This is one of the best Chardonnays my palate has encountered.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Italian Bubbly

Bisole “Crede” Prosecco di Valdobbiadene
Jen’s Notes

The only thing that would have made this excellent Prosecco even better would have been drinking it in Italy, perhaps at a little cafe overlooking the Arno. The wine was light and slightly sweeter than most, showing both concentration and an interesting unfolding of flavors, starting with lemon zest on the palate entry, and expanding into watermelon and tangerine. The finish is long, with a whisper of wet rocks underneath.

Liquid Lavender

2003 Niepoort “Vertente” Tinto, Douro
Shane’s Notes

This is an excellent wine. The palate is smooth, mildly concentrated and shows moderate complexity. The flavors include thyme, plum and a few other flavors we couldn’t identify (One flavor can best be described as “liquid lavender”). My only complaint is that I found it a touch rough, maybe from the oak.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Fennel, Mint and Plum

2004 Tardieu Laurent, Les Becs Fins
Shane’s Notes

Decant this one for at least a half an hour. The palate is mildly complex displaying fennel, mint and a tart, plum flavor. It is tannic and has a dry, medium length finish. This is an excellent deal. We bought another bottle on our next trip to Beltramo’s.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Of Lemons and Wet Rocks

2005 Gunderloch, “Jean Baptiste” Kabinett
Shane’s Notes

When I first tasted this wine, I didn’t like it. It was tight, tangy and very steely. As it opened, it blossomed into a magnificent Kabinett. The palate was still tangy but it opened up to reveal flavors of lemon, citrus and honeysuckle. Jen thought the finish was like licking wet rocks, while I thought it was akin to licking a ball bearing. Once again, Gunderloch has crafted an amazing Kabinett for under 20 bucks. If you haven’t noticed, 2005 was a pretty darn good year for German Rieslings.

Another Piesporter

2005 Grans Fassian, Riesling Spatlese
Piesporter Goldtropfchen
Jen’s Notes

Though not quite the knockout of our first Grans Fassian, this one was enjoyable. It was intensely concentrated, and packed with sweet, juicy pear flavors. A hint of citrus and balancing acidity provided a refreshing counterpoint.

Pierre Peters Revisted

Pierre Peters NV Champagne
Blanc de blancs
Jen’s Notes

This unique Champagne boasts fresh, creamy, tangy aromas - very reminiscent of crème fraiche. On the palate, it is crisp and slightly toasty with flavors of apple and lime. One of my favorite features of fine Champagne is a long finish, and this one does not disappoint; it seems to go on forever. This wine is lovely, showing more complexity and focus than Champagnes at twice the price.