Thursday, September 2, 2010

Universal Pleasure

This isn't a wine review, but I couldn't help myself. Here is a link to a story about African baboons getting drunk off wine grapes:

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Muscat Love

It's true, though: I do love muscats.

There are a lot of wine drinkers out there who don't like sweet wine. There are also a lot of wine drinkers out there who ONLY like sweet wine. Whatever pleases your palate is alright by me, but personally, I just like good wine. Sweet, dry, red, white, sparkling, still ... it all depends on too many variables like the weather, my mood, the meal.  Tonight, the meal was past, the weather was gloomy, and the mood was relaxed, so the fella and I popped open a bottle I've been dying to try: the 2008 Saint Supery Muscato.

Muscat's a fun little grape. We (wine geeks) presume it to be the oldest cultivated variety of wine grape (vitis vinifera). We presume this because of the staggering number of different types of muscat - over 150 have been identified by Pierre Galet, world-renowned ampelographer (botanist who identifies and classifies grapevines - seriously, that's a thing). Its many varieties, from black to orange and everything in between, are used in dessert wines - and table wines as well - the world over. In Australia, R.L. Buller and Sons make a solera-aged version that tastes like a tawny sherry's sticky lollipop. It's astounding. In Italy, it's most well known as Moscato d'Asti, a low-alcohol frizzante quaff from the Piedmont region. It's custom there to buy your friend a round of Moscato d'Asti when you meet in the street. We should adopt this custom here in the states.

Saint Supery's version, from the Rutherford area of California's Napa Valley, is done in the American style - slightly sweet, still apertif wine bottled in 375ml portions. At only 9.6% alcohol, I'm expecting it to be rather on the sweet side, but not too heavy. It's a beautiful pale gold in the glass.

The nose entices with thick, seductive aromas of cantaloupe and lychee, honey and spice. The first sip delivers an intense explosion of the same, with threads of cinnamony peach cobbler, rose, and white tea. My expectation turns out to be true - this is rather on the sweet side. Quite a bit on the sweet side, actually. It's very, very sweet. The residual sugar level is not betrayed on the label, but comparing it to a wine I know to be 7% I'd put this one at around 8%. There's a nicely lilting acidity to the finish, though. Not enough to be quite a "tang," but just enough to lighten the impact of this sugar-bomb and keep it from being cloying or syrupy.

Mmmm, yeah this is nice. I wish I had some cheese.

Date: 8/31/2010
Wine: Saint Supery Moscato
Grapes: Moscato
Vintage: 2008
ABV: 9.6%
Origin: Rutherford, Napa Valley, California
Color: pale gold
Nose: cantaloupe, lychee, honey, spice
Palate: cantaloupe, lychee, peach cobbler, cinnamon, rose, white tea
Price: $8 (375 ml)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Que Syrah, Syrah!

I love secrets.

Juicy, delicious secrets.

I shared one with you in the last post, about the outstanding Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc rebottled under the unassuming label “Maxwell Creek.” I have another. I have my sources.

Let’s just say a little sheep told me about this one.

The esteemed Saviah Cellars in my home state of Washington is well known for its fruit-forward Washington style wines. Their red blend, The Jack (featuring non other than the Jack of Clubs on the label) is widely available and widely enjoyed. But this post isn’t about The Jack. Or rather, it is … The Jack of Hearts. The 2008 Columbia Valley Syrah.

Where the sheep-sourced secret comes in is that this “Columbia Valley” Syrah actually came from a single vineyard in the Columbia Valley: Stillwater Creek. But wine lovers are not immune to the current economic climate, and so neither is the wine industry. This year, Saviah didn’t find its loyal fans quite as willing to shell out fifty bucks a bottle for their single-vineyard masterpiece.

So they relabelled it “The Jack Syrah” and started selling it  for fifteen bucks instead.

Needless to say, it’s astoundingly good. I’m saddened on behalf of the winery that they were forced to sell it for so much less than the fifty dollars it so clearly is worth. But on behalf of myself, and you dear reader, I’m glad. Glad, glad, glad, glad, glad! Fifteen bucks for a fifty-dollar single-vineyard Syrah? Are you kidding me? Unbelievable!

In the glass, it’s a beautiful deep violet, like a luxurious crushed velvet curtain. No, better yet – a King’s robe! You know, the kind lined with white leopard fur, like in the cartoons. On first pour, the nose exudes a symphony of black fruit: bing cherry, blackberry, blueberry, and a bourbony heat. Bit of rose on the back end.

Now, because my secret sheep informed me of the true nature of this beast, I then … poured another glass. Through my Vinturi brand instant aerator. Which I love. You should get one. They’re awesome.

The nose suddenly extended by a half mile or more, tacking on seductive spice notes of saffron, vanilla, and the trademark Syrah aroma: black pepper.

I returned to the first “pop and pour” glass for the initial taste. As one might expect from so young a Syrah of such high calibre, it was very tight with high acid. But even at this age, and with no decanting whatsoever, the tannins, while packing a wallop, were streamlined and disciplined. The finish was FANTASTICALLY earthy, with all the dirty Syrah flavors I love so much: gravel, cedar, tobacco, and a sort of damp, mossy, mushroomy flavor that brings to mind nurse logs for me. After aeration, the flavors remained (with the addition of a hint of oaky vanilla), but the texture became much softer and silkier.

I had it with The Brick’s Spaghetti and Meatballs from the Northern Exposure cookbook. Which I nailed, as per usual.

There is NOT MUCH of this stuff to go around, folks, so call your wineseller and get your paws on some quick! You have got to put this in your face. Repeatedly. Buy a case if you can find one, deals like this don’t come around every day.

Date: 8/10/2010
Wine: Saviah “The Jack” Syrah
Grapes: Syrah
Vintage: 2008
ABV: 14.1%
Columbia Valley, Washington (Stillwater Creek Vineyard)
Color: deep violet
Nose: bing cherry, blackberry, blueberry, bourbon, rose, saffron, vanilla, black pepper
Palate: black fruit, earth, gravel, cedar, tobacco, nurse log, vanilla
Price: $15

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

White Hot Summer

Yes indeed, it's the first week of August, and summer is in full swing. I've been privileged to enjoy some extremely tasty whites over the last couple weeks.

First up is the Maxwell Creek Sauvignon Blanc. If you've never heard of Maxwell Creek, there's a very good reason. It doesn't exist. That's because Maxwell Creek is the name a local wine retailer used to relabel the remainder of the 2008 vintage they got at bargain basement prices. I'm not going to tell you who REALLY made the wine, because frankly, I'm not sure I'm allowed to say. I'm also not going to name the retailer, for the same reason, so do a quick search on and you'll find it. But suffice it to say, this gorgeous bottle came from the Rutherford area of Napa Valley. It got 90 points under its original name and generally sells for $25. Which is why the $7.97 I paid for it is a SCREAMING deal.

I'm going to repeat that in case you weren't paying attention - a 90-point, $25 Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc for $7.97.

It's easy to see, when tasting the wine, why the original label sells for so much. The nose is nothing short of decadent. I love it when a wine is so much fun to smell that I almost forget to start sipping. Intense candied grapefruit comes through, along with a hint of peppery capsicum, gooseberry, and fig. And something else I can't read. Curse my handwriting. But I bet it was good. 

This is one case of truth in advertising. The palate delivers the flavors promised by the nose, but the true pleasure with this bottle lies in the harmonious way they weave together. The lush viscosity gives the wine a rich, round mouthful, yet the bracing acidity keeps the texture light and lively. The flavors manage to be intensely fruity, yet dry, with a flinty minerality laced throughout. Limited quantities left on this stuff, so find some quick and put it in your face!

Date: 7/20/2010
Wine: Maxwell Creek Sauvignon Blanc
Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc
Vintage: 2008
ABV: 13.5%
Origin: Rutherford, Napa Valley, California
Color: pale straw
Nose: intense grapefruit, capsicum, gooseberry, fig
Palate: same. very dry w/ minerality throughout, lush viscosity balanced well by bracing acidity.
Price: $8

Next up, I had an opportunity to retaste one of my all-time favorite whites, Caymus Condundrum. Caymus, also located in the Rutherford area of Napa Valley, is primarily known for producing intense, high-end Cabernet Sauvignon. At $25 per bottle, their white blend Conundrum is their most affordable offering ... and also one of the most expensive splurges to which I ever treat myself. Needless to say, I found a great deal I couldn't pass up - 375ml bottles for $6.49, effectively half price.

The nose is a complex symphony of tropical fruit, exotic flowers, rare herbs, and vegetation.  Sensual nerula and honeysuckle entwine with fig and spicy fennel. Grapefruit, green pepper, and a bright freshly torn watercress follow. Gorgeous flavors completely fill the mouth. Honeyed apricot, ripe peach! Papaya, mango!  Exotic hibiscus and rosehip, and a gentle hint of hay on the finish. Full-bodied with fantastic legs and an absolutely perfect refreshing acidity. Not too dry, not too sweet ... this one's just perfect. Perfect. If you can find an excuse to splurge, put it in your face!

Date: 7/26/2010
Wine: Caymus Conundrum
Grapes: State Secret
Vintage: 2007
ABV: 13.5%
Origin: Rutherford, Napa Valley, California
Color: light gold
Nose: nerula, fig, fennel, grapefruit, green pepper, fresh watercress
Palate: honeyed apricot, ripe peach, papaya, mango, hay, hibiscus rosehip
Price: $25

Friday, July 23, 2010

Pinot Way!


I found a $10 Carneros Pinot Noir. And it's good.

I know what you're thinking, and I'm fairly certain I have neither lost my mind nor jumped the shark on this one. As many of you are no doubt aware, $10 Pinot Noir that's decent is hard to come by, and one that's downright delicious is practically unheard of. There are two factors accounting for this.

One is the fact that Pinot Noir is a tricky grape. It's tricky to grow, being extremely sensitive to sunlight levels (too much sun will fry the stuff - no hot Syrah climates for this baby), cropping levels (the flavors inherent to the grape are so delicate that anything above the lowest yields results in bland, insipid wine), and soil (it requires chalky clay to truly thrive, none of the volcanic rock or gravel that gives Cabernet Sauvignon such character). It also doesn't grow on what might call "robust" vines; its delicate structure and thin fruit skins make it highly susceptible to any number of hideously crippling vineyard blights. It's tricky to vinify as well, being extremely sensitive to yeast strains and fermentation techniques. It's also highly malleable by the soil, which can drastically affect the direction of the wildly varied flavor profile.

The other is what I call the Paul Giamatti Factor. Let's face it, Sideways was a huge movie. I admit, I love it. But if the movie damaged the reputation of my beloved Merlot ("If anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving!"), it did twice as much good for Pinot Noir. The price shot through the roof and demand made a rare wine even rarer. Two harvests after the movie was released, vineyards in the state of California crushed almost twice as much Pinot Noir grapes as they did in 2004, when the movie came out. Producers struggled to keep up. Cheap, low-quality Pinots started flooding the market.

Enter the Caviste Pinot Noir.

Now, I can't help but notice that in 2007, the vintage of this wine (the only vintage I can find of this wine, bottled by one of my favorite Napa wineries, Acacia), the tonnage of Pinot Noir dropped off sharply from that 2006 peak I mentioned, only to regain its former girth in 2008 and grow even MORE in 2009. This makes me wonder ... what was wrong with the 2007 vintage? Was it not a good year for Pinot? Did something happen to affect the size and/or quality of the harvest? Perhaps that's why this bottle is sold so cheaply. Maybe their stuff just wasn't good enough for their ordinarily outstanding Acacia Carneros bottling.

Whatever, I'll take it. Because while the Caviste Carneros Pinot Noir isn't worth $20, it's certainly a mark or two better than the majority of the $10 stuff out there, and a great cheap Pinot to put in your face.

The color is a stunning deep clear ruby. It's a pleasure to gaze at, truly. The 14.2% ABV shows on the nose ... it comes off a bit hot, but I wouldn't say it burns. Just a sort of port-like quality in with the black fruit like bing cherry and dusty, brambly blackberry, as if they'd been soaked in said.

The palate is honestly surprisingly complex for such an inexpensive bottle. I spent a long time swirling, sniffing, and sipping this one, and I still couldn't quite define each flavor. There was a lot of spiced plum up front and mint-infused blackberry chutney. There was a lot of exotic spice on the finish, like chai: flavors of black tea, cinnamon, clove, and cardamom, with a lovely floral, rosey quality. Certainly a great bargain for the $10. I paired it with a chicken/sweet potato curry, and the pairing was beautiful. The Indian-spice flavors of the wine complimented the meal perfectly, and the heat of the high alcohol content disappeared under the bombardment of rich flavor from the food, getting nicely out of the way for a lovely match.

Date: 7/17/2010
Wine: Caviste Carneros Pinot Noir by Acacia
Grapes: Pinot Noir
Vintage: 2007
ABV: 14.2% 
Origin: Carneros, Napa Valley, California
Color: beautiful clear ruby - great legs!
Nose: brambly blackberry, raspberry, bing cherry, port
Palate: complex! spiced plum, blackberry chutney, mint. clove, tea, exotic spices, more going on, can't quite define. rose?
Price: $10

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sergeant Pepper

Hey guys, sorry it's been a while since my last post. It's been a hectic couple of weeks, and sadly I haven't been tasting a whole lot. What I DID do, though, was clean the house, and lo and behold: I found some tasting notes I'd done during the months leading up to my actually starting this blog. Joy!

Today I'd like to discuss one of my favorite wines of 2010.  It takes one by surprise. Mainly because of the trendy label. I admit, I'm one of those snobs that thinks twice about a wine with a pretty dancing lady on the label and (I kid you not) polka dot foil. I'm going to repeat that in case you missed it: there are POLKA DOTS on the foil.

But I'm begging you to look past that, like I did, because the Penelope Sanchez Garnacha is a treat for lovers of big red wines.

This little beauty has 15% Syrah punching up the fruit factor - and thank God it's there, because the Garnacha is a BEAST. Called Garnacha in Spain, Grenache in France, Cannonau in Italy, Alicante by some people (including Francis Ford Coppola) and about a million other names across the world, is a diva of a grape. Ripening late and therefore reaching stratospheric sugar (and alcohol) levels, it's most often used as a blending grape, lightening up the party with its sweet flavors of strawberry and raspberry jam. But in the right hands, low-yield varietal Grenache can be a powerhouse of black pepper, tar, acidic olives, coffee, and other such flavors that us dirt-drinking lovers of earthy reds so enjoy. The Penelope Sanchez is one such example. In this bottle, Grenache is no chorus-girl ... it's the star of the show, and rightly so.

The complex nose of intense spiced plum is promising. Further aromas of cassis and rose invite; the pepper excites. Now, Grenache isn't customarily a grape known for its tannins, but in this wine they're certainly present. Tight and focused, they spiral down the palate with more of what was detected on the nose - those brandy-soaked plum flavors and an explosive black pepper finish. The acid is bright, lifting the flavors on the palate, but the wine remains silky smooth on the palate. This is a big wine, an intense wine, and not for the faint of heart. Those of you who are accustomed to "smooth, easy drinking wines" ... I love you, but look elsewhere. Score a bottle of that 14 Hands Hot To Trot Red I mentioned earlier in the blog, you'll love it. But those of you who, like me, demand a bit of character from your red wine, a bit of effort; or simply just need something to accompany your Granddad's Signature Seasoned Steaks(tm) - pick up a bottle of Penelope Sanchez Garnacha and put it in your face!

Date: 6/8/2010
Wine: Penelope Sanchez Garnacha
Grapes: 85% Garnacha, 15% Syrah
Vintage: 2009
ABV: 13.5% 
Origin: Campo de Borja, Spain
Color: violet-tinged ruby
Nose: plum and spice, cassis, rose, pepper
Palate: great garnacha! tight tannins, bright acid, clean finish. silky smooth with plum, pepper finish.
Price: $11

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Head For The Hills Part Deux

At the same tasting where I tried the two new H3 wines discussed in my last post, I also tried the new vintages of two of the "old" H3 wines - the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. I found the new vintages remarkably like I remembered. Just like before, they were both quite good, and certainly worthy of the 90+ ratings they consistently receive. And just like before, I liked the Merlot better.

The Cabernet Sauvignon had a nose of simple red fruit, and like previous vintages, I was surprised to find the flavors predominately vegetal, with green bean, cedar and resinous herb, like Rosemary. It's surprising because those are charactaristics I normally associate with cool-climate Cabs, and the Horse Heaven Hills are one of the hottest vineyard sites in the state. Also like usual, the finish had a distinctly gamey, roast-beefy finish, and the tannins were assertive without being too aggressive. I love a good reliable, consistent wine.

Date: 6/29/2010

Wine: Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon
Grapes: 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc
Vintage: 2008
ABV: 14.5% (on a Cab? Jeezy Creezy)
Origin: Horse Heaven Hills, Washington State
Color: violet-red
Nose: cherries
Palate: more herbal - rosemary, roast beef, cherry, cedar
Price: $13

The Merlot had a slightly more complex nose of cherry and cassis. Mouth-coating, utterly velvety tannins fill the palate with the slightly dusty fruit flavor I like to call "brambly blackberry." It's more like a blackberry you just picked off the side of a dry gravel road that hasn't seen rain in a week or more, as opposed to the just plain "blackberry" flavor of a clean, ripe berry. And of course, a nice lengthy finish with hints of mocha. Probably tobacco, too - I couldn't quite put my finger on one other flavor (gotta love those palate-bombarding big tastings) and the winemaker notes on the sell-sheet say that's the only one I missed. So there you go.

Date: 6/29/2010

Wine: Columbia Crest H3 Merlot
Grapes: Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc, a Kiss of Syrah (this is direct from the sell-sheet)
Vintage: 2008
ABV: 14.5% (again! I expect this sort of thing from a Syrah, but wow. Must have been a hot summer)
Origin: Horse Heaven Hills, Washington State
Color: deep brick red with purple highlights
Nose: cherry, cassis
Palate: Brambly blackberry with mocha
Price: $13

These are both very good wines, well worth their 90+ scores, so if you put them in your face you will be very happy. Personally, for the same price, I think I'd rather drink the Rattlesnake Hills Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in the Kennedy Shah series by Woodhouse Family Cellars. I'm adding this not to hate on the H3 series in any way, which I absolutely adore, but because I'm concerned that my penchant for focusing on the positive might make you beautiful readers think I just love absolutely everything the most possible OMG BEST WINE EVAR!!!!1 When the truth is, I really just tend to find something about everything that someone would like, and if I can't, well ... Momma always said if I can't say something nice, I shouldn't say anything at all.

But I digress, the point is, I love H3, but personally do slightly prefer Kennedy Shah in the same price range. However, Woodhouse Family Cellars is a relatively small winery in Woodinville Wine Country, and if you live outside of WA, you're unlikely to find it. So buy all means, wherever you live, whenever you see it, buy the H3 wines, put them in your face, and enjoy!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Head For The Hills (Horse Heaven, That Is)

Columbia Crest is one of the most successful wineries in Washington State. They have produced more 90+ scoring bottles than any other winery in the world, including last year's Wine of The Year (the 2005 Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet. If you didn't get yours, so sorry, mine are nestled snugly at the bottom of my closet where they shall stay until 2020, as per instructions given to me personally by their fabulous winemaker, Ray Einberger).  They will always hold a special place in my heart, as the very first wine I ever tasted - the wine which made me the woman I am today - was one of theirs. The 1998 Walter Clore Reserve Red is embedded permanently in my mind. But I'm not here to talk about that one. Instead, I'd like to tell you about two new additions to the Crest lineup this year: the H3 Pinot Gris, and the H3 Les Chevaux Red Blend.

If you know Crest, you've probably seen the H3 series before. The Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay came first, and each has received 90+ scores multiple vintages running. H3 stands for Horse Heaven Hills, the hottest vineyard site in Washington State and source of the ripest grapes with the lushest fruit flavors.

The H3 Pinot Gris certainly lives up to that standard. The nose is deceptively simple, suggesting honey with floral undertones. But the palate is surprisingly complex! For a mid-range white, there's a lot going on here. The palate leads off with the honeysuckle from the nose, and is then packed full of sunny cintrus: orange, lemon, grapefruit, lime! The gang's all here, with a hint of minerality on the finish, like a nice Alsace. I ahd it with goat cheese on crackers and it was heavenly.

Date: 6/29/2010

Wine: Columbia Crest H3 Pinot Gris
Grapes: 92 % Pinot Gris, 8% Pinot Blanc
Vintage: 2009
ABV: 13%
Origin: Horse Heaven Hills, Washington State
Color: pale straw
Nose: honey, honeysuckle
Palate: surprisingly complex! honeysuckle, citrus circus, lemon, hint of minerality
Price: $13

Les Chevaux is the new red blend in the H3 herd. "Chevaux" is French for - you guessed it - "horses." The nose of cherry brandy, vanilla, and clove is nothing short of seductive. The palate is built upon a framework of structured, spicy blackberry, with more brandy on the finish, licorice midpalate, and lovely vanilla tones from the oak, shaded by graphite and cedar. The intense flavor of this wine is seamlessly integrated with the balanced acid and firm but gentle tannins. Yet another triumph from the amazing team at Crest. Put this one in your face for sure!

Date: 6/29/2010
Wine: Columbia Crest H3 Les Chevaux Red Blend
Grapes: 34% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah, 8% Cabernet Franc, 8% Malbec
Vintage: 2008
ABV: 14.5%
Origin: Horse Heaven Hills, Washington State
Color: violet-red
Nose: cherry, vanilla, brandy, clove
Palate: structured blackberry with vanilla and brandy on the finish. Kinda Spanish. Licorice, graphite, and pepper, oh my! Oaky reds for the win.
Price: $13

Friday, July 2, 2010

(Don't) Hold Your Horses!

There is no question that 14 Hands is one of the most sought-after labels in the Washington wine industry today. Part of it s popularity is due to its rarity. 14 Hands, you see, is a restaurant-only brand. So people buy a glass, fall in love, and can never find it again.

But no more! In response to the massive pressure put on them by consumer demand over the past few years, 14 Hands has finally released two new blends, a white and a red called Hot To Trot, that are retail-only wines. That’s right, I said RETAIL only. Eat it, restaurants. Pun intended.

The nose on the white leads off with rich melon aromas and a lingering note of lemongrass. The palate is loaded with lots of luscious fruit up front. Juicy peach and apple become tropical honeydew and cantaloupe, which then give way to a grassy, herbal finish with a gentle wisp of palate-cleansing acidity.

This versatile wine, with its flavors of fruit and hay, is so much like a summer picnic itself, perhaps that’s’ why I think it the perfect choice for such outings. It would pair fabulously with such summer fare as grilled chicken, fresh seafood, and salads of all types – fruit, green, potato, or pasta.

Date: 6/29/2010
Wine: 14 Hands Hot To Trot White
Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Rousanne (percentages unknown)
Vintage: 2009
ABV: 13%
Origin: Columbia Valley, Washington State
Color: light gold
Nose: melon! Honeydew, cantaloupe, floral, lemongrass
Palate: light fruit up front with honey, but grassy, herbaceous finish. Gentle acid.
Price: $10

The Hot To Trot red blend is every bit as approachable as the white. With a nose of blackberry chutney, bourbon and tobacco, this wine smells for all the world like an old vine Zin. But surprisingly, there is no Zinfandel in the blend. The Syrah shows first on the palate, frontloaded with heavy spice. But it isn’t too peppery. More like cinnamon, cardamom, and clove, applied liberally to juicy blackcurrant. The Mourvedre comes through on the finish, with flavors equal parts fruit and game, like cherry-glazed roast beef.
This wine is so approachable, so lush and easy to enjoy (Menage a Trois lovers take note – this is right up your alley!), it would be a stellar choice for your backyard barbecues this summer. It would go great with everything from burgers to steaks to ribs – even pizza. Or nothing. Its great, and its only 10 bucks, so put it in your face and enjoy!
Date: 6/29/2010
Wine: 14 Hands Hot To Trot Red
Grapes: Syrah, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Mourvedre (percentages unknown)
Vintage: 2008
ABV: 13.5%
Origin: Columbia Valley, Washington State
Color: ruby with violet highlights
Nose: spicy blackberry jam, bourbon, tobacco. Zin???
Palate: lots of spice! Peppery cinnamon, blackcurrant over cherry-glazed roast beef
Price: $10

Monday, June 28, 2010

Malbec Monopoly

 My last two posts were about some very affordable reds. Today I’d like to post about a couple wines a bit higher up in price. Good wine, after all, is all about balance … so too should a good wine blog be, don’t you think?

A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of tasting the Durigutti Malbec. My friends have been raving about this one for quite some time, so I was excited to finally have a chance at it. I also had a chance to try another Malbec I’ve been curious about recently, the Catena Malbec by Bodega Catena Zapata. They’re both over $12, and they’re both Argintenean Malbecs. And that isn’t all they have in common.

But first, a brief history of the Malbec grape for those of you that don’t know. And many of you might not, because it’s a grape that’s only recently started to gain popularity and become more readily available. Like so many of our staple varietals, Malbec was historically grown in France, particularly in Bordeaux and the surrounding regions. It was one of the six varietals allowed to be in red blends labelled “Bordeaux” (the other five being Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Carmenere – this last now being extinct in France yet thriving in Chile). But despite being often included in Bordeaux wines, Malbec seldom contributed to more than 5% of a final blend, often less. It was a supporting grape, but never a star.

Fast forward to the mid-1800s, when Malbec was first planted in Argentina. Fast way forward to the late 1900s when Argentine winemakers finally realized “Holy Moly, we can make some really fantastic wines with this stuff!” Fast way WAY forward to now, when Malbec is the most widely planted red grape in Argentina, and Argentinean Malbec is one of the fastest growing catagories in the wine industry.

I admit, I’m a fan. If you haven’t tried it yet, go out and get some Malbec! It comes big and structured, soft and plush, or anywhere in the middle. Talk to your wineseller to find one that suits your palate (and budget).

My first bottle was the Durigutti Malbec.  At $14.99 this is a mid-range Malbec, and I was kind of expecting a fruit bomb. When I smelled it, and perceived strong aromas of blackcurrant, plum, and strawberry on the nose, I was expecting that even more. I took a sip and got a lot more of that nice black currant on the front. Just as I was preparing myself to be swept by the velvety tannins down a cuddly river of blackberry jam – BAM! Something completely different happened. My tastebuds put a screeching halt to the fruit train and pulled a 180, switching gears over to a dark and winding road of strong espresso, deeply roasted cacao, and bracingly acidic kalamata olives. The tannins were no pushovers either, staunchly standing their ground in a finish that seemed to go on and on and on. Me likey.

Date: 6/19/2010
Wine: Durigutti Malbec
Grapes: Malbec
Vintage: 2008
ABV: 14%
Origin: Mendoza, Argentina
Color: ruby with violet highlights
Nose: black currant, plum, strawberry
Palate: blackcurrant, brambly blackberry, espresso, cacao, heavy olive on finish. Big tannins.
Price: $15

The next bottle I tried was the Catena Malbec by Bodega Catena Zapata. For $19.99, I was expecting rather a lot from this bad boy, especially since the price tag also advertised a 91-point rating from the illustrious Robert Parker. In the glass it was a very dark purple – a good sign. The nose was rather simple of black currant, and tart cherry. But I’ve smelled some deceptively simple noses from some big, earthy, Italian wines before – specifically Montepulcianos and Nero d’Avolas – so my high expectations remained undeterred. This was the right call, because the palate DELIVERED. This wine had very sleek, light tannins, spiralling down the mouth in a tight core of charcoal, tar, and olive, over a bed of red fruit. Honest to goodness TAR! That’s a quality I’m not sure I’ve ever perceived in anything except expensive Australian Shiraz, so way to go Bodega Catena Zapata. If you are a lover of Malbec, a lover of Shiraz, or even just a lover of good, earthy, red wine – you have positively GOT to put this in your face.

Date: 6/25/2010
Wine: Bodega Catena Zapata Catena Malbec
Grapes: Malbec
Vintage: 2007
ABV: 13.5%
Origin: Mendoza, Argentina
Color: deep purple
Nose: black currant, tart cherry
Palate: tar and olive, charcoal, red fruit in background
Price: $20

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Cheap reds for summer grillin'!

Let’s talk imports. I love domestic wines as much as the next gal, especially the killer stuff coming out of Washington State. But sometimes the best values come from imports. Both the wines in this entry are great values at $8 per bottle, though they each appeal to a different palate.

First, the MAN Vintners’ Shiraz from South Africa. Shiraz is a grape ordinarily associated with Australia these days, though it is native to France, where it is called Syrah. Australian Shiraz runs the gamut – from bold, structured, highly tannic wines to jammy, high-alcohol fruit-bombs. What makes the MAN Vintners’ 2008 Shiraz so unique is how it manages to be so fruit forward, with rich, berry flavors WITHOUT coming across as jammy or sweet. The acidity lifts the wine in the palate, giving it a light, pleasant texture. Soft hints of pipe tobacco and vanilla linger on the finish. The nose is delightful. This wine smells for all the world like blueberries and cream. It’s light, lovely flavors and easy-drinking texture makes MAN Vintners’ 2008 South African Shiraz a great choice for any occasion – to bring to a party or potluck, to serve with pasta, pizza, or barbecue. And if you’ve never tasted a shiraz before, this is a perfect place to start.

Date: 6/18/2010
Wine: MAN Vintners’ Shiraz
Grapes: Shiraz (final blend unknown)
Vintage: 2008
ABV: 14%
Origin: Coastal Region, South Africa
Color: ruby with faint violet highlights
Nose: soft vanilla-accented blueberries
Palate: smooth, rich, jammy forest berry with a touch of spice on finish

The next wine is as affordable as the MAN, but is at the opposite end of the wine spectrum. It’s the Tarima Monastrell. Where the MAN is light, Tarima is robust. Where MAN is vanilla-accented berry, Tarima is a pepper-punched plum. I don’t want to frighten you into thinking that Tarima Monastrell is inaccessible – far from it. But a bit of warning is necessary, because wines this big just aren’t for everyone.

Monastrell (called mourvedre everywhere but Spain) is not a grape known for pulling its punches. Varietal (100% pure) bottlings of this grape are uncommon outside of Spain, and even when you find ‘em … well, no one does it quite like the Spanish. Certainly not for $8.
Tarima’s 2009 Monastrell comes from Jumilla, a region of Spain where vineyards were destroyed by the phylloxera root louse as recently as 1989. However, the devastation ended up being a catalyst for the region to reinvent itself from one known for cheap, low-quality wine into one capable of producing artisan-quality bottles from native varietals – such as Monastrell. Ideally suited to the climate and terrain, many wine-makers replanted with this grape, and now, as the vines are becoming mature, the wines from Jumilla are getting better and better.
The Tarima is a fantastic example of what this grape is all about. The amount of flavor packed into this $8 bottle is almost criminal. Upon first sip, the palate is blanketed in mouth-coating tannins – the kind that are pleasantly rich and chewy, not bitter and overpowering. These strong tannins are simultaneously mellowed by two factors – the wine’s high acidty, giving it a clean finish, and its high alcohol content, giving it a silky smooth mouthfeel. In fact, for how big and bold this wine is, it’s amazing just HOW light it comes across on the palate. As for the flavor? Think of brandy-braised plums spiced liberally with rosemary and black pepper. A monstrous monastrell if ever there was one. With ribs, with steak, with bacon burgers … I am begging you to put this one in your face.

Date: 6/18/2010
Wine: Tarima Monastrell
Grapes: 100% Monastrell
Vintage: 2009
ABV: 15%
Origin: Jumilla, Spain
Color: bright ruby-violet
Nose: Spicy blackberry, clove, vanilla, tobacco. Heavy oak, hooray for Spain!
Palate: Fantastic mouth-coating tannins and great acid. Lots of red fruit. Bold, yet light. Pepper and brandy on the finish.

Tuttobene - it's all good!

With the current state of our economy, many wine lovers are seeking out bargain bottles – and I’m no exception. Recently I’ve stumbled on a couple little gems that are recession reds if ever I drank one.

The first one is Tuttobene. That’s Italian for “it’s all good,” and boy is it. It would be a decent pour at it’s regular price of $10. At the $6 I paid for it, it’s a screaming deal. Tuttobene is classified as a Toscana Rosso (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) .
IGT is the second twist in the labyrinth of Italian wine law. It has a few controls on it, which means it’s slightly better than the first classification (Vino de Tavula) which has practically none, other than it is required to be safe to drink. When you see IGT on an Italian wine label, you can be certain that the grapes came from the region named (in this case, Tuscany) and that the wine was made in something resembling the regional style. Some of the most common red grapes in Tuscany include sangiovese, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and canaiolo.

Tuttobene has a relatively simple, straightforward nose of plums and tart cherries. The palate is much the same, with medium weight, subtle acid and subtler tannins, and that lovely silky-soft mouthful that comes from the little unfiltered bits. Yes, this is an unfiltered wine, so don’t be alarmed if you see small deposits inside the bottle when it’s empty – which, with an easy-drinker like this will be all too soon. Pair it with light, homey fare like pizza, pastas, and grilled veggies. But most of all … put it in your face!