Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Shane's Birthday Weekend

Shane’s Notes

On Friday night, we began the weekend with a 2005 Chateau Coutet, Sauternes/Barsac ($20/375ml). The palate was creamy and showed honey, cream and baked apple with a touch of orange peel on the finish. It was nice but not fantastic. Jen prefers them racier.

On Saturday, we headed to Napa for a tasting trip. We no longer take tasting notes on our Napa trips but here are some of our general impressions.

Grgich was our first stop and easily the best tasting of the day. All the Grgich wines have very distinctive flavors. The best wine of the tasting was the Violetta which is their dessert wine. The Violetta is fantastic. It would give some of the better German Riesling dessert wines a run for their money (although it is a blend of several white varietals). While very sweet, it is also intensely flavorful. We bought a bottle and will be reviewing it later.

Our next stop was Raymond. We drink their wines at the Berkeley Rep and are glad the Rep serves them. At most symphonies/operas/plays, the only options are very cheap, very bad wine. While Raymond wines are certainly better than bad, cheap wines, we found them indistinctive. I tasted three different Cabs that were all well-oaked, non-descript and interchangeable. A Merlot Rose was decent enough for us to buy a bottle.

Stop number three was Peju. To be fair, we were in a hurry to get to our appointment at Frog’s Leap, so we might not have given these wines our full attention. We found these wines to be bland except for the Sauvignon Blanc, which was actually quite bad.

We had a blast at Frog’s Leap. We took the tour and our tour was joined by a bachelorette party. There was quite a bit of laughter on the tour and most of the docent’s speech was drowned out. The tour ended with everyone taking one shot at basketball hoop that was about a top of the key shot. My shot bounced off the rim and I think I actually saw look of concern in the docent’s eyes as Jen’s shot flew wide and smashed into the wine barrels. We will take a pass on reviewing the wines – all but one of the wines were served to us at various points on the tour and were simply too cold to taste properly.

Our last stop was Stag’s Leap. The Stag’s Leap Cabs were fine – the Fay and the Cask 23 both showed nice fruit and were pleasant to drink. However, I think they are horribly overpriced. Neither stood up to Grgich’s Cab and for a premium Napa Cab, we’ll take Chateau Montelena’s Estate Cab or a good mountain Cab (Keenan, Guilliams and Howell Mountain come to mind).

After a short nap at our B&B, we went to the Bounty Hunter for dinner. We had the beer can chicken, a half a plate of beef ribs and a 2005 Chateau Caillou Chateauneuf de Pape. The Chateauneuf ($90 restaurant price) was very fruity and perhaps not as funky as you would expect from a Chateauneuf. We both enjoyed it. The food was simply out of this world. The chicken is actually served with the beer can shoved up into it. The skin is very spicy and the chicken is incredibly moist and tender. I didn’t think we’d finish it but we kept picking at it until there was nothing left but a skeleton on the beer can.

We finished our evening at the Bounty Hunter with a glass of Tattinger Brut Cuvee. It was very tasty – like a laser beam of flavor shooting out of the minerality.

We ended the weekend at home on Sunday night with a Billecart Salmon NV Demi Sec ($55). While at the Bounty Hunter on Saturday, Jen clandestinely purchased this Champagne while I was using the restroom. She knows I love Demi Sec Champagne but she also knows I hate forking out that much money for a bottle of wine. This was truly a magnificent Demi Sec – the best we have tasted. I could not believe how much flavor shone through the sweetness. Here are Jen’s tasting notes.

Deep gold color. Sweet but lighter in texture than other sweet bubblies, making for a balanced wine. The palate includes Apricot, Lily Pear, a little bit of fennel and musky spices. Delicious with a bright zesty acidity.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Presidents' Day Weekend

Shane’s Notes

We began our three day weekend with the Tablas Creek 2006 Counoise ($28). It is easy to find single varietal Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre (to a lesser extent) but a single varietal Counoise is rare. If you ever wondered what Counoise brings to a Rhone blend, here’s your chance to find out. This Counoise showed a Blueberry flavor accented by florals and dirt. The finish was medium length, smooth and tangy. It vaguely reminded us of a Douro table wine. We thoroughly enjoyed it but I’m not quite sure it is worth 28 bucks.

On Saturday, we had lunch at La Boheme in Burlingame. Both the service and the food were fantastic. Jen had the salmon and I had chicken cordon bleu. The wine list contained more American wines than French, but how can you possibly drink an American wine in a French restaurant? We ordered a half bottle of Pouilly Fume (Claude Michel “Les Berthiers”, $30/375ml). We tend to favor the New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs but this Pouilly Fume went very well with food. The palate showed guava with a salty minerality. There may have been a touch of grassiness. It was bone dry.

Later that evening, we actually drank an American Zinfandel. After imbibing too many vanilla bombs, we had sworn these off a long time ago. I must have been slightly tipsy from lunch as I slipped this Pedroncelli into our basket when Jen wasn’t looking (2006 Pedroncelli “Mother Clone” Dry Creek Zinfandel for $12). Initially, there was too much of a vanilla flavor for my palate but it blew off after about 45 minutes. Then, the purity of the fruit shone through with a brambly, blackberry flavor. The palate was simple but very tasty. My one complaint is that the finish was short. If you have to drink a zin, this would be a great choice.

On Sunday, I watched the football games while Jen knitted. We drank a 2007 Sauvignon Republic Marlborough S.B. This was a very nice S.B. It didn’t have the massive grassiness of some Marlboroughs but it had a gooseberry flavor and was quite salty. It was much funkier than the Pouilly Fume and we really enjoyed it.

We decided to end our three day weekend with a can’t miss German 2005 Schafer-Frohlich Bockenauer, Kabinett, Nahe (20.50). Unfortunately, it missed. This Riesling might have displayed a touch of pear on the palate but beyond that, there was simply an overwhelming sweetness. Alas, this is the type of Riesling that gives German Rieslings a bad name.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

January, Week #2

Shane’s Notes

We are continuing with our P.E.P. (Pinot Extraction Program). Jen loves Burgundy so we decided to try a sampling of American Pinot. We added our name to a few mailing lists and built up a collection of Sea Smoke, Roar, Benovia and Williams Selyem. Alas, with the exception of the Roar vineyard designates, we didn’t like any of them. Now, Jen is opening them during the week to have by herself while I down my Charambas (an inexpensive Douro blend). This week, she opened the Selyem 2006 Sonoma County Pinot (I think cost us between $30 to $35). I tried it and had to keep my gag reflex in check – it tasted like melted vanilla ice cream. Why would someone do that to a Pinot? Would the vanilla (it must be from the oak) wear off with bottle age? Unfortunately, we can’t wait to find out as our aging capability is as limited as our capacity. Jen was a brave soul and drank it over the next few nights. I would have poured it down the drain.

I bought some medium priced bottles with my Christmas bonus, and we tried one the other night – the 2005 Moulin de la Gardette Cuvee Tradition, Gigondas ($23). I always cringe when we open bottles that cost more than 20 bucks. Yes, there are plenty of magnificent wines in the over 20 dollar range, but there are also many duds. For me, 20 dollars is a lot of money to spend on a wine that I don’t enjoy. Anyway, this wine was not spectacular, but it was quite good. It was fairly concentrated with flavors of blackberry, spices and dust. Our only complaint is that the finish seemed a bit clipped.

On Sunday, we went with a low alcohol wine – a 2003 Dr. Loosen Spatlese, Erdener Treppchen, Mosel barely tipping the scales at 8% ($15). Jen wanted to knit and I wanted to read, so a wine with about half the alcohol of a Napa bruiser was the perfect choice. This Dr. Loosen was simple but pleasant with sweet flavors of Apricot and Nectarine. There was initially a pronounced stoniness that receded with time. This wine would make a great aperitif and it was enjoyable way to end the weekend.

Monday, January 05, 2009

A Toast to the New Year

Shane’s Notes

Given the state of the economy, we have definitely reduced our wine budget and redoubled our efforts to find some bargains. We even decided to take a gamble on a Croatian wine – the 2006 Plavac from the Dingac Winery for $12. The Dingac winery certainly needs a new marketing department as the label merely states “Quality Dry Red Wine.” The Plavac varietal is supposedly related to Zinfandel, but to our palate, it tasted more like a light Beaujolais. The palate showed sour cherry and florals. This was a very pleasing (and quite unique) wine that we really enjoyed.

A few nights later, we tried another very interesting wine – a 2007 Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc/Viognier blend for $11.00. We have tasted at the Pine Ridge winery but it was a reds only tasting. The reds were fantastic, so we thought we’d give one of their whites a taste. This wine was refreshing and quite a bargain. The palate showed melon and grapefruit and was very clean and refreshing. We will definitely look for this one again.