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 cellartracker.com 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