Thursday, December 31, 2009

Petite Sirah - Day 2

Continuing my quest for Petite Sirah's on the East Coast, I have tasted three more provided by the generous members of PS I Love You.

We alternate every Christmas between the US with my family and Switzerland with my wife's family. This year, we stayed in the States. But as a tradition in Switzerland, we served up a fondue chinoise along with 4 different home-made sauces to my brother's family. The day before, my wife prepared the stock which the thinly sliced meats would ultimately be cooked in by each family member in the fondue pots. With pork, beef and chicken on the menu and sauces ranging from a mild basic sauce to garlic to curry, I thought a nice Petite Sirah would be the call, especially since I just received numerous bottles to try.

2007 Line 39 by Cecchetti Racke - Roy and Rachel Cecchetti started the Cecchetti Wine Compay in 2007 and earlier this year merged with Racke USA. Prior to this venture, Roy had co-founded the Cecchetti Sebastiani Cellars in 1985 with his brother-in-law Don Sebastiani. The name of this wine, Line 39, refers to the latitude of Lake County where the grapes for this wine were picked. This wine started with a great bouquet of fresh juicy red berries with a small amount of oak. On the palate, the flavors were more jammy blackberry, blueberry and black cherry with some oak and tobacco. This medium to full bodied wine with a 14.5% alcohol content had great structure along with rich acidity, a long finish and relatively smooth tannins. Be sure to decant this Petite Sirah for 30+ minutes before serving. This was a big hit. Roy Cecchetti is also a Director of PS I Love You. For $10, this is a steal.  A Must Buy!!
Follow-up: We just had a second bottle of the Line 39 with a homemade pasta and this bottle was as good, if not better than, the first bottle. This is a great Petite Sirah.

Over the holidays we shared two other bottles with guests.

La Storia 2004 by Trentadue Winery - Winemaking in the Trentadue family goes back several generations. The 2004 is the second vintage bottled under the La Storia label and is a blend of 90% Petite Sirah and 10% Syrah. The wine was made by Miro Tcholakov who joined Trentadue in 1999. Miro was born and raised in Bulgaria in a winemaking family and has now gone on to win many awards for his excellent wines. The La Storia Petite Sirah came from the Alexander Valley Appellation. This dark garnet colord wine has nice aromas of blueberries, blackberries and plums along with some toasted oak and coffee. The flavors from this full bodied wine were black fruits along with some cedar, white pepper and oak. It was aged for 16 months in 20% new European and French oak barrels and the remainder in 2-3 year old mixed American and European oak. The tannins were slightly firm and the alcohol is slightly high at 15%. The Wine Advocate rated this 88 Points. I would agree with this rating. Although it drinks well now, this will be a good wine to hold for another 5 years. Again, be sure to decant this wine prior to serving. Overall, the consensus was very nice wine. The La Storia 2004 retails for about $15.


Pedroncelli 2006 -This Dry Creek Valley winery is a family owned and operated winery that dates back 1927 when John Pedroncelli Sr bought a small vineyard and winery. In 1963, John's two son's Jim and John Jr. purchased the property from their father. The third generation joined the family business in the early 1990's and are now heading the charge. The petitie sirah vines were first planted on the property in the early 1900's. The 2006 Petite Sirah is a dark purple wine that is a blend of 89% Petite Sirah and 11% Cabernet Franc. This wine was aged for 12 months in American and French oak barrels, one quarter new oak with the balance in seasoned oak barrels. The aromas are rich in black fruit along with the earthy tones from the region and a slight herbal note. The flavors were full of fresh black fruits along with some spicy cocoa, vanilla and the earthiness from the terroir. The Cabernet Franc was very visible, but also really tasty. There was nice complexity with pretty round tannins. The alcohol was only 13.9% which was just perfect for this wine. The finish was a little short but overall a nice wine. We came back the next day and tasted it again and it had evolved even more. As with the others, this is a young Petite Sirah that needs to be decanted for at least a half-hour or more if you have the time. Better yet, stick it in the cellar for a few more years and then pop the cork. The Pedroncelli 2006 Petite Sirah retails for about $15. Give this one a try.

Stay tuned for more of my/our Petite Sirah tastings.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Petite Sirah - Day 1

Petite Sirah is a wine that is hard to come by on the east coast. Several retailers told me recently that they won't stock this because people don't know this type of wine and when they are looking for a "big" CA wine, they go straight to Cabernets. I suggested maybe doing a tasting of several so that this great varietal will get the recognition it deserves. Although the berries are "petite", the wines are not. I have previously posted the incredible Girard Petite Sirah and the Vina Robles Petite Sirah. With the help of some great PS I Love You members, I have had the opportunity to try some others with more in the cellar to taste. Last week while hanging out by the fireplace at the family ski house, I broke out the following CA Petite Sirahs to share with family and friends. These are great wines for grilled meats, beef stews, and chili.


Parducci 2007 - This family (Thornhill and Dolan) owned and operated winery from Mendocino County are not only striving to produce nice wines but is committed to sustainable wine growing practices. In fact, Parducci is the first carbon neutral winery in the US. The 2007 vintage was just bottled in November 2009, after being aged for 22 months in American Oak and in Redwood tanks. This ruby red Petite Sirah started with a relatively tight nose with some cherry and blackberry. The dark fruits followed through on the palate along with a small amount of pepper. It was a medium bodied wine with smooth tannins, but lacked the structure I was expecting. The acidity was low and the flavors on the mid palate and back end were short. Additionally, it had a slight bitter aftertaste. It was tasted again the next day and it was a little better. The overall consensus was fair. I have a second bottle that will be tried at a later date to compare and then post again. The 2007 Parducci Petite Sirah retails for $11.
This past weekend we opened the second bottle of the 2007 Parducci and it unfortunately followed suit with the first bottle. This is a pass.

Concannon Conservancy 2007 - The Concannon winery was started by James Concannon, an Irish immigrant, in 1883. Although the winery was sold to The Wine Group, Jim Concannon has been at the winery for more than 50 years now and his son John is now learning the business. Concannon Winery was also the first in the US to plant Petite Sirah grapes in 1961 and the first vintage was bottled in 1964. The Conservancy winegrowers place their land into a conservation trust that preserves it against development forever. The 2007 Conservancy petite Sirah is a blend of 97% Petite Sirah and 3% Petite Verdot. This inky colored full bodied wine started with rich aromas of cherries, pepper and some smokey oak. The intense flavors were more plums and blueberries along with some chocolate, black pepper and oak. It was aged in both French and American oak. The acidity was relatively high and the finish was long. However, the tannins were quite chewy. It too was just released in the fall, so hopefully the complexity of this wine will come together over time. The overall consensus was to put this away for at least 5 more years and then try it again. The 2007 Concannon Conservancy Petite Sirah retails for $15.

Glen Ellen 2007 - This recently released Petite Sirah is also produced by Concannon Vineyards in Livermore, although the grapes for this wine come from both the Central Coast region and the North Valley region of CA. This was the complete opposite of the Concannon Petite Sirah as it lacked the complexity and structure found in the Concannon. It was medium bodied with plum and black cherry aromas and flavors along with some tobacco and a hint of spices. The acidity was similar but the finish was lacking. The tannins were soft. In fact, it was more like drinking juice. The overall consensus was fair. I have a second bottle that will be tried at a later date. Any changes will be posted. The 2007 Glen Ellen Petite Sirah retails for $10.

I will be posting the Day 2 tastings soon. Lots of Petite Sirah postings to go. Check back soon.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

HAPPY HOLIDAYS

I want to wish everyone a very happy holiday and a healthy and prosperous New Year. Safe travels for all of you heading out to visit family and friends over the holidays. Remember, wine gets better with age, so take your time and get there safely.

Cheers!!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Vina Robles Winery - Paso Robles, CA

I would like to personally thank Vina Robles Winery for their generous contribution to a charity event. I have previously posted in the blog my high praises for their Petite Sirah. Additionally, their Suendero (Cabernet and Petite Verdot blend) recently beat out over 1,850 other wines from 14 countries for the grand championship at a Houston competition. Ok, maybe I am biased since I am married to a wonderful Swiss girl and the Owner and Winemaker are both Swiss, but these are very good wines. Give them a try. I don't think you will be disappointed.

Prost!!!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Carpineto Dogajolo 2007

The Carpineto Winery is special to us as the Chianti Classico Riserva was the first bottle of wine my wife and I shared together nearly 15 years ago on one of our first dates. I don't remember what vintage it was as my attention was more on her than the wine, but it was a really nice wine. We had many more bottles of it while dating. We even made this a stop on our first trip to Tuscany 7 years ago. Needless to say, we left with a nice bottle to share at the hotel.

Last night we opened a bottle of the 2007 Dogajolo which is a "Super-Tuscan" blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose on this dark red wine was a little pungent with old dried cherries and dried plums with some stale coffee. The taste was not much better as the oakiness and tobacco overpowered the fruit. The tannins were relatively smooth with some mild acidity. I think this wine might develop with a few more years of aging, but I still probably wouldn't buy it again. After having the Chianti Classico Riserva, the Brunello di Montalcino and the Farnito all from Carpineto, the Dogajolo would be last on my list. But be sure to give Carpineto wines a try. The 2007 Dogajolo retails for about $10.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Quattromani Merlot del Ticino DOC

When you think of Switzerland, your first thought is probably of the magnificent Alps and skiing and not of palm trees. Mine too. However, there are plenty of palm trees in southern Switzerland in the canton of Ticino. To get to Ticino from the north you pass through the Alps via the St. Gotthard Tunnel, which is the longest tunnel in the world at 15.3 miles. This was a little uneasy feeling till we came out again. But when you do come out, you are in a region that is more tropical with palm trees and flowers that generally bloom year-round. It has even been called the Swiss Riviera. This small southern Canton is actually surrounded by Italy on the west, south and part of the eastern side. As could be expected from its northern Italian surroundings, Ticino has 2,500 acres of vineyards, of which nearly 85% are planted with merlot grapes. This beautiful setting overlooking Lake Maggiore is where we had one of our favorite Swiss wines, the Quattromani Merlot del Ticino. Quattromani means "four hands" which best describes the four wine makers (Claudio Tamborini, Feliciano Gialdi, Angelo Delea and Guido Brivio) who produced this outstanding wine. This medium-bodied, deep garnet colored wine is 100% merlot that has been blended from merlot grapes from each of these wine makers vineyards. It has wonderful aromas of dried cherries, plum and pepper with a hint of roses. On the palate, you will also pick up blackberry and mild oak along with the cherries, plum and pepper. The acidity is well balanced along with smooth tannins and a wonderful long finish. This wine will cellar well for 5-10 years. The Quattromani Merlot del Ticino will pair nicely with a carpaccio appetizer or white meats such as the traditional Swiss sausages (Bratwurst) and Swiss cheeses (Appenzeller, Emmentaler, and Gruyere).

This merlot will hold its own to any merlot in the world. The Ticino merlots have won many international wine competitions. Unfortunatly 40% of the wines from this area stay within the Canton, 55% get shipped throughout Switzerland and only 5% get exported thoughout Europe and to the US. THIS IS A MUST BUY IF YOU CAN FIND IT. It retails in Switzerland for about 55 Swiss Francs ($55).

Don't mistake this for the Italian Quattro Mani Montepulciano d'Abruzzo that retails for about $10-$11.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sierra De Viento Tempranillo and Garnacha

Last week, I was invited to a tasting of two wines produced by Bodegas San Valero, a cooperative located in north-east Spain in the province of Zaragoza. This cooperative was established in 1944 with 60 vine growers from the Carinena region. Today, there are over 700 members with over 3,500 hectares (8,650 acres) of vineyards.

The first wine we tasted was the 2008 Sierra de Viento Tempranillo. The grapes for this 100% tempranillo wine have made picked from 20-25 year old vines. This unoaked wine has a crimson color with an intense aroma of fresh red fruit and some floral notes. On the palate, it was fruitier than most other tempranillo's that I have tasted. In fact, it was too much. Although the flavors lasted for a while, the back end was a sour cherry flavor that didn't entice me to drink more.

Next up was the 2007 Sierra de Viento Garnacha Old Vine which was produced from grapes harvested from 30+ year old vines. This garnet colord wine was fermented in new French oak barriques for 3 months and then transferred to American oak barriques for 5 months. Following this, it is aged in the bottle for an additional 12 to 15 months. This was an interesting wine. Upon the inital opening and pouring, it had a big oak and vanilla aroma. But, within 5 to 10 minutes, this vanilla aroma mellowed and I started picking up more dried fruits, some toast and tobacco. The flavors were more blackberry and currant along with some oakiness. The Garnacha had mild acidity, but did have some chewy tannins.

Overall, neither of these wines were that impressive. As of now, the cooperative has not chosen an importer or distributor for these wines. When they do finally hit the US shelves, they will likely retail for $10-$11. Even with these prices, I think they will be difficult to sell.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Robert Gilliard Fendant Sion Les Murettes 2008 & 2006

Last night we attended a school function for our oldest son.  They were serving the traditional Swiss raclette (melted cheese and potatoes) paired with the Robert Gilliard Fendant Les Murettes 2008.  This family run winery dating back to 1885 is located in the Valais region of southwest Switzerland, near the borders of Italy and France.  This is the largest wine growing region in Switzerland.  It is made from the Fendant grape, which is also known as Chasselas.  This is a nice straw yellow wine with flowery aromas along with some soft citrus.  On the palate, it has a crisp flavor of white peach, pear, apple and an abundance of minerality from the slate and rock in the region.   If you don't believe that terroir has any impact on wine, try a bottle of Fendant.  It has a very unique flavor.  There is a crisp acidity and long lasting flavors to this dry wine.   When we returned home, I opened the 2006 and quickly noticed the dull and flat flavors in this vintage.  The 2008 was 12% alcohol and the 2006 was 11.8%.   This is a wine to drink and not put in the cellar.  It will not get better with age.  The Gilliard Fendant is aged in stainless steel and is unoaked.   We always have some on hand for our raclette and fondue dinners at home.  It can also be enjoyed as an aperitif.  It retails for about $25.  The Dole from Robert Gilliard is very nice too, but that will be a separate post.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Domaine Du Bagnol Cassis 2005

This deep golden colored wine comes from the Provence region of southern France, about 15 miles south of Marseilles. Cassis was historically an old fishing village along the French Riviera with some of the highest and most picturesque cliffs in all of France. Today, there are a handful of small wineries in Cassis, although not many of the wines actually get imported to the US. The 17.5 acre Domaine Du Bagnol winery, which dates back to 1867, was purchased by Jean-Louis Genovesi several years ago and is popular for their Cassis Blanc and Rose wines. The 2005 is a blend of Marsanne, Clairette and Ugni Blanc. We opened a bottle tonight before going out to dinner and we were disappointed. It has a relatively light nose of pear but the aromas of grass and nuts overpowered the fruit. On the palate, it was quite flat with some apricot and honey flavors along with the nuttiness and a little spice. The rocky-limestone terrain was also picked up in the flavor. I would have thought the alcohol content would have been higher than the 12.5% based on the blend, as Ugni Blanc and Clairette are usually higher than this and are typically used in Brandys and Cognacs. The acidity was high though and almost had a burning sensation. This Cassis must be kept very cold. Based on our tastes and, more importantly, the $30 price tag we would not purchase this again. If you have it stored, I would serve it with a Meditteranean fish or maybe a lentil soup.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

White X 2008

While I was preparing the Thanksgiving feast for the family, I opened a bottle of the White X from the X Winery in CA. Yes, those are the actual names. The X Winery was started in 2000 by Reed Renaudin who at the time was an MBA student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Although he was relatively young in age, his background and education was well seasoned having worked for some of the top names in Sonoma and Napa including Gallo and Heitz as well as Cape Clairault Wines in Australia. In addition to X Winery, Reed also started Amicus Winery.

The White X is a blend of 57% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Muscat Blanc, 19% Chardonnay and 4% Roussanne sourced from 5 vineyards throughout the North Coast region. This crisp white wine had a great nose of citrus, white peach, pear and a little nuttiness. The palate was led by some nice exotic fruits along with apricots and green apples, as well as a hint of minerality.  The Sauvignon Blanc and the Muscat Blanc are stainless steel fermented while the Chardonnay and Roussanne are barrel fermented. There is nice acidity with a long finish.  Overall, from the initial aromas to the long lasting flavors, this is a really nice wine with lots of complexity.

Only 580 cases of this wine were produced. Not only is the bottle memorable for the big X, but the X is actually silk screened onto the bottle in place of paper labels. If you can spot the X, be sure to pick some up. This is a serious wine with a simple name. It can be enjoyed on its own or paired with many entrees from simple meats and cheeses to spicy entrees. It retails for $14. Great Buy!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Girard Sauvignon Blanc 2008

Yet another wonderful wine from Girard. I have posted several other Girard wines and for the most part have been very good wines. This Sauvignon Blanc has the fruity nose expected in this varietal including aromas of pineapple, green apples and citrus, yet not as overpowering as some of the New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. The palate is smooth with lots of apricot, lemon and grapefruit along with a touch of pepper on the back. This is a nice crisp wine that has great acidity and a nice long finish. If you are looking for a dry wine, this is it. We served this with Halibut topped with a lemon and caper sauce served with braised fennel. Was a great match. Robert Parker's Wine Advocate rated this 90 points and the Wine Spectator rated it 89 points. For our tastes, we would be slightly higher than 90. Named one of Robert Parker's "Fifty Super Domestic Wine Values." Great wine that retails for about $18. You just can't go wrong with a Girard wine.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Fenicio Alicante 2008

This dark red, medium-bodied wine comes from the Alicante region in south eastern Spain along the Meditteranean Sea. Alicante is a region as well as a grape, although this wine is made from 100% Tempranillo, the same grape used to make wonderful Riojas. The winemaker described this un-oaked wine as earthy with some licorice flavors. Unfortunately, I picked up more old plum and leather with an unusual spice on the backend. The tannins were fairly mild and the finish was short. Overall, we were both disappointed with this wine. As the the wine opened, it actually got worse instead of better. I would pass on this next time. It retails for $11.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Zantho Zweigelt 2007

Last night we made a chicken tikka masala for dinner. The big question was what would you pair with this dish? My first thought would be a white such as a Gewurztraminer, a Viognier or maybe a Torrontes. Then we discussed reds. Would a bigger bodied Syrah be too much with the creaminess or perhaps a medium-bodied Rioja or similar style wine be better. Then the idea of a Rose crossed my mind. After surveying our stock of wines, a medium-bodied Zantho Zweigelt from Andau, Austria was chosen. Zantho was started in 2001 by Joseph Umathum and Wolfgang Peck. You will always recognize the Zantho label by the lizard, which can be found in this region. This ruby-red wine starts with an aroma of juicy red berries, mainly strawberries, cherries and raspberries along with some smokiness. The berries followed through on the palate with some clove and pepper on the back end. The tannins were light as was the acidity. Overall, this is a decent Zweigelt. Although some Zweigelts are drinkable at a young age, I would put this one away for another 1-2 years. The fruity flavors actually complimented the creaminess and spices (turmeric and garam masala) from the dish well. As with the Heinrich Zweigelt, this bottle had a glass stopper. The Zantho Zweigelt retails for $14.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Santa Ana Torrontes Reserve 2007

I previously posted the Malbec from Santa Ana and how good it was. When I saw this Torrontes, I had to give it a try. The Bodegas Santa Ana has been producing wines since 1891 in Mendoza Argentina. The 2007 Torrontes Reserve has a greenish gold hue and is made from 100% Torrontes grapes. It has a nice floral aroma of flowers and citrus, along with some pear and oak. I also thought it had a little too much alcohol coming through on the nose. On the palate, it had the apricot and white peach usually found in Torrontes wines. Additionally, there was some pear and red apple (not tart). Again, there was some mild oakiness along with a rubbing alcohol taste on the back end. I was a little turned off by the alcohol aroma and flavor. My wife liked it a little better than I did. This is not a highly acidic wine but is relatively dry. I would stick to the Luigi Bosca La Linda Torrontes (see prvious post) over the Santa Ana. The Santa Ana Torrontes Reserve 2007 retails for $10.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cantos Rodados Verdejo 2008

Spain just keeps putting out fantastic wines. Cantos Rodados, which means river stones (see label) in English, is made from 25 year old Verdejo vines that are grown on the banks of the Duero River in Northern Spain. This is a dry and cool area where the stones actually heat up during the day and then disperse the heat at night to the vines when the air temperatures have dropped. Wine drinkers sometimes confuse this pale yellow medium-bodied wine to Sauvignon Blanc. It has similar tropical fruit aromas, but is more flowery. The tropical fruit follows on to the palate with some lemon and peach flavors along some herbs. This is a wine that you really pick up the chalky, dusty flavors from the terroir. The true Spanish qualities are brought out in this Verdejo. The acidity was relatively high but was well covered with the tropical flavors. This is a great wine to serve with medium flavored cheeses, fish, seafood and some white meats. It would go really well with a vegetable side dish of asparagus, brussel sprouts or kale. You could serve it with a salad but would need to be careful that the salad dressing acidity and the wine acidity don't combat one another. For $10, this is a real bargain.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Umberto Cesari Sangiovese Riserva 2006

Last night was Italian night. The only thing missing was sitting in Italy overlooking the vineyards. My wife made her incredible lasagna (no ricotta cheese!!!) that is actually better than you will find in a restaurant. She lived and worked in Italy for two years and picked up the Italian cooking. Additionally, we had a wild baby arugla salad with our Felsina Raggiolo olive oil dressing that we picked up in Tuscany at the Felsina winery. This was paired with the Umberto Cesari Sangiovese Riserva 2006 from the Cesari family winery located in Emilia-Romagna in Northern Italy. This garnet-colored wine made of a blend of Sangiovese (85%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (15%). It has a nice medium-body that has wonderful cherry aromas along with some spring flowers. The sweetness from the cherries was combined with some black currant and some dusty/earthy Tuscan flavors. The wine was aged for 24 months in Slovenian oak which was integrated well. This Riserva was a little higher in acidity but was well balanced. The tannins were soft even with the Cabernet blend. This is a rather dry wine but had an enjoyable finish. With great food, nice wine and a wonderful family, it just doesn't get any better. I can't wait for our next Italian night. The Umberto Ceasri Sangiovese Riserva 2006 retails for about $19. Give this a try. This is a young Sangiovese that should age well, if you can hold off for a few years.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Marques de Caceres Rioja Crianza 2005

I previously posted the 2003 Crianza and was hoping for similar results. Although it was the same blend (85% Tempranillo and 15% Granacha Tinta and Graciano), it unfortunately didn't live up to the 2003. It had some subtle black and red berry aromas but on the palate the berries were not very exciting. It was very light bodied with some cherry and cranberry flavors. Although it was aged in both French and American oak, there was little oakiness to be smelled or tasted. The body and spiciness found in the 2003 did not exist in the 2005. The finish was very limited and left a bitter after-taste. The tannins were soft. We were both down on the 2005. There are much better Rioja's on the market.   Wine Spectator rated this 87.  This is a very generous rating.  The 2005 Crianza retails for about $14.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Tierra De Luna Torrontes - Chardonnay 2008

My wife picked up this wine this past weekend to serve with a tray of appetizers. It was INCREDIBLE. This wine comes from Bodega Lurton in Mendoza Argentina. Twin brothers Francois and Jacques Lurton came to Mendoza in 1992 after having worked with their father and other wine and Champagne producers. Their father is renowned Bordeaux maker Andre Lurton. In 1996, they purchased their first plot of land and started growing vines. This particular 2008 wine is a blend of 80% Torrontes and 20% Chardonnay. If tasted blindly, you would probably not pick up on the Chardonnay. In fact I thought it reminded me of a Viognier and my wife thought Chenin Blanc. The coloring is almost as clear as water but the nose had incredible aromas of peaches and apricots along with some oranges and citrus. There were wonderful floral notes on top. The palate was full of fruits and mineral tastes from the terroir. Tierra de Luna, which translates into Land of the Moon, is a rocky region in the foothills of the Andes Mountains with almost volcanic looking ground. This is one of the nicest white wines we have had this year. And for $7, it is a STEAL!!!! It certainly does well with appetizers but the next time you serve a spicy dish, open a bottle of the Tierra de Luna Torrontes - Chardonnay 2008. For my next pot of chili, this will be the wine of choice.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Jacob's Creek

Recently, we were asked by a PR firm to taste and rate 3 red wines and 3 white wines from the South Australian winery Jacob's Creek. Previously, I posted a story about another South Australian winery, Henry's Drive, that incorporated the region's history into the winery's name and into the name of each wine produced. Well, Jacob's Creek has it's own fascinating history. In 1837, a Bavarian immigrant by the name of Johann Gramp arrived in South Australia after 4 months at sea and travelling nearly 12,000 miles. In 1847, he purchased land and planted his first vines which came from cuttings from Germany and in 1850 made his first wine. This was the very first commercial winery in the Barossa Valley. The small winery where he made his first wine still exists today at a site known as the Jacob's Creek Heritage Vineyard. The current day Jacob's Creek winery planted its first vines in 1973 and produced it's first vintage in 1976.

We started with the 2007 Reserve Pinot Noir. This ruby red colored wine started off with a tight nose with a small amount of cherries peeking through. Had I tasted this blindly, I would have thought it was strawberry Kool-Aid. It was very light with a sweetness of strawberries and some cherries. There was no structure to the body and had no signs of any tannins or oak from the aging process. I don't think any additional aging will save this wine. We were both very disappointed in this Reserve. It cannot compete with the Oregon or California Pinot Noirs. The 2007 Reserve Pinot Noir retails for $14.

Next, we tasted the 2008 Pinot Grigio. This light to medium bodied straw yellow wine started with fresh aromas of green apples, pear, honey (I eat every day!) and some citrus. On the palate, the fruit flavors of pear and lemon were crisp and refreshing. It is a semi-dry wine with not alot of acidity but well balanced for a nice finish. The 2008 Pinot Grigio was an enjoyable wine and would be a good choice if you are looking to pair with seafood, light cheeses, even some white meats. You might want to try this for Thanksgiving with the turkey. The 2008 Pinot Grigio is a great value wine that retails for $8. This was one of our favorites from this 6 bottle tasting. I am generally not a Pinot Grigio fan but this is a must try.

Third, we tasted the 2007 Reserve Chardonnay. This bright golden colored wine opened with overbearing nutty oak and buttery aromas. There was some lemon trying to escape. Reminded me of a butter cream cookie. On the palate, it was dry with gentle sweetness of melon, peach and a hint of pineapple. However, there was no finish to it and it left a bad after taste. Again, we were disappointed with this Chardonnay. For $14, we would pass on this next time.

The fourth of six wines we tasted was the 2006 Reserve Shiraz. This deep purple wine started off with a full black fruit aroma with some oakiness and spices. On the palate, this full-bodied wine was jammy with lots of plums, blackberries, and raisins along with some licorice and pepper. This opened up as the evening went on. The tannins were pretty smooth. It would pair nicely with the typical grilled meats, stews, or blue cheeses. I would also serve this with spicy Mexican (or New Mexico) foods or with some southern cajun dishes. A few more years of aging and this should really be nice. The 2006 Reserve Shiraz retails for $14.

Next to last was the 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. This garnet colored full-bodied wine was a bit overpowering of oak. There was some cassis, blackberry and cedar on the nose. The taste was full of black fruit as well as some chocolate and a hint of vegetables on the back. Once again, there was a little too much oak for my preference and the tannins were a bit chewy. It was aged with French and American oak for 18-20 months. You might want to cellar this reserve as well. We probably used more for cooking than drinking. You could pair this with a rich steak, BBQ sauces, goulash, and possibly some spicy Italian red sauces. This was aged for nearly two years before bottling. We would rate this in the low to maybe mid 80 point range. The 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon retails for $14.

And finally, the 2008 Reserve Riesling. This greenish-yellow Riesling was the other favorite in our house. The citrus and flowery aromas were perfectly balanced along with fresh citrus flavors following through on the palate. There was some minerality and a little green apple flavors to finish it off. It had good acidity with a wonderful finish. Not the sweet Rieslings you might think about for a dessert wine. It could pair with the usual suspects of a white wine but I would definitely pair this with Asian or Thai dishes. My wife makes a great Morrocan chili that I will pair this with next time. The 2008 Reserve Riesling retails for $14. Another must try. Since this posting, the 2008 was given a 90 point rating by Wine Spectator and also ranked #73 in the Top Wines of 2009.

Overall, there were some disappointments and some unexpected winners. These were our first bottles from Jacob's Creek and we will likely go back and try some older vintages to see how they have aged. The next time you are out buying wine and not sure what to try, pick up some Jacob's Creek. Would love to hear your feedback.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Silverado Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

We were introduced to this wine by our neighbors this past weekend. The Silverado Winery was started by Ron and Diane Miller in 1981 in the Stags Leap region of Napa, CA. The Bordeaux style blend for this Cabernet Sauvignon is 83% Cabernet, 8% Merlot, 3% Petite Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc, and all of the grapes for this wine were harvested from the family-owned estate vineyards. This dark purple wine has explosive aromas of jammy fruit including plum, cherry and currant followed by some hints of tobacco and smokey oak. On the palate, this full-bodied cabernet opens with wonderful black fruit flavors of blackberries and black cherries with some black tea and pepper in the middle and some licorice (just happened to have a Twizzler out of my sons Halloween bag) on the back. The oak was subtle and the tannins were rather soft for such a big and young Cabernet. The grapes were aged mostly in French oak (86%), along with American oak (14%), for 17 months. It is an extremely dry wine and has a nice long finish. We did not decant this, but I strongly recommend opening this wine an hour before serving. As the evening went open, it did open up to an enjoyable wine. I look forward to trying this wine again. However, I would probably cellar this wine for another 5 years if possible. This will pair nicely with your grilled steaks. The one drawback is that it retails for $46, which is too high for this wine compared to other top Cabernets. Give the Silverado Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 a try if you can find it cheaper. Robert Parker's Wine Advocate rated this 89 point and I would agree.
Cabernet Sauvignon on Foodista

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Naia Verdejo 2007

This is another very nice white wine produced by the Bodegas Naia in Rueda Spain. I previously posted the Las Brisas by Naia. This golden colored 100% Verdejo is made from some of the oldest non-grafted vines at 90+ years. The majority of the grapes come from 25+ year old vines. The Verdejo is an aromatic wine with plenty of apricot, lemon and peach aromas along with wonderful spring flowers. The palate is very crisp and refreshing with grapefruit, lime, green apple, lemon and some minerality from gravel located throughout the vineyard. There is nice acidity on the finish which will make this a wine to pair with many foods. There is always the shellfish and seafood but would also go well with sushi or California rolls. You could pair this with chicken, pork or even a salad. This is a $12 wine worth trying. Wine Enthusiast gave this an 88 point rating and I would agree.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chanteauvieux Dole Du Valais AOC 2007

My wife keeps asking when I am going to start posting the Swiss wines. Well, here is the first of many to come. For such a small country, Switzerland has produced some outstanding wines. Then again, nestled between Italy, France and Austria you would expect some great wines. Before someone corrects my geography, I have left Liechtenstein and Germany out of the mix even though they border Switzerland too. Sorry, but they don't compare to the other three countries for wines. Riesling fans will disgree with me. This medium bodied wine comes from the Canton of Valais which is located in the southwest corner of Switzerland along the borders of France and Italy. This is the largest wine producing Canton in Switzerland. The Chanteauvieux Dole is a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay, a grape well known in the Beaujolais region of nearby France. I do not know what the exact percentage of the blend is but it has nice fruity aromas of strawbrries from the Gamay and cherries expected in the Pinot Noir. I also thought there was an abundance of aromas of musty barnyard along with some oak. The fruitiness was present on the palate but was also sour. There was also some mushroom flavors and a hint of truffles. The tannins were very smooth and the finish was medium. You could pair this wine with ham, sausages, white meats and even cheeses. Better yet, serve it with a swiss meal of either cheese fondue or fondue chinoise. I struggled with this wine, but my wife really enjoyed it. After all the great Swiss wines I have had, this would rank in the lower level. Two drawbacks to Swiss wines are their high prices and they are difficult to find. There are not a lot of Swiss wines imported by the US unfortunately. They are extremely good wines.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Vina Robles Petite Sirah 2007

Here is another outstanding wine I had at the Distributor's Portfolio Tasting 2 weeks ago. As you know from previous posts, I am a BIG fan of the Girard Petite Sirah from CA. But this Vina Robles is also very good. As I mentioned to the Vina Robles representative pouring that day, this doesn't have that big "in your face" explosion that many CA Petite Sirah's have. It was very complex but structured more like a European wine. She then proceeded to tell me that the owner and winemaker are both Swiss. Hans Nef purchased the property in 1996 and bottled his first vintage in 1999. Winemaker Matthias Gubler likes to be called winegrower over winemaker as he feels great wines start in the vineyard. Mr. Gubler comes from a family of Pinot Noir growers in Switzerland where he got his first start. The 2007 Petite Sirah has a dark purple hue with lush aromas of blackberries, blueberries, cherries and a hint of herbs and spices. The flavors were more from the black fruits along with some plum, cedar and ending with white pepper. The grapes for this full-bodied wine come from 3 vineyards in the Paso Robles - San Luis Obispo region of CA. It was aged in French oak (45% new) for 16 months, so there is some oak in the nose and on the palate. The tannins were relatively smooth. This is a very good wine that I think will only get better over the next 5 years. Be sure to decant this wine before serving. It will pair well with grilled meats and sausages or blue cheeses. You may want to try it with Thanksgiving too. The 2007 Petite Sirah retails for $24-$26. Give this a try.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Chateau La Cardonne 2000

We have finally started to tap into the French section of the cellar. Saturday night my wife made another one of her exceptional swiss dinners of Pork Tenderloin Medallions with a honey and curry sauce along with a slice of apple on top. As her father always does in Switzerland, she broke out the Bordeaux. The Chateau La Cardonne is a Cru Bourgeois, a classification dating back to 1932 which was attempted to be revised in 2003 but vetoed by the French Government.   This wine is not only from the Medoc region , but also from the Appellation of Medoc. Typically, there is more Cabernet Sauvignon planted in this part of the appellation than Merlot, but the blend for the La Cardonne is 50% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc. The Medoc region is divided into two parts with the northern section called Medoc and the southern portion called Haut-Medoc. I will save the Bordeaux sub-region classifications and discussion for a separate post as it gets very confusing.

As you can see on the vintage chart (see sidebar), the 2000 Bordeaux's from Medoc had outstanding ratings. This wine followed those ratings, though not as high. This had a delicious bordeaux taste with the cabernet franc perfectly integrated. It was a smooth wine with nice rich aromas of red berries, chocolate and some molasses. The French oak was present but had aged well. The wine really opened up as dinner went on.  I recommend decanting this wine.  If you are looking for a nice entry-level Bordeaux at a very reasonable price, $22, then give this a try. The La Cardonne 2000 is ready to be opened. No need to cellar this longer. Wine Spectator gave this an 89 point rating. I would agree.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Huber Gruner Veltliner Hugo 2008

This past week while the boys were off school, we took a short trip to VT to my brother's ski / vacation  house in VT to enjoy the fall foliage and to hike.  On the way, we stopped at the Grafton Cheese Shoppe (Barn) in Brattleboro to pick up some cheese and wines.  The first night we had a bottle of the Huber Gruner Veltliner from Austria.  We have enjoyed other Gruners in the past and we were not disappointed in the Huber.  This light yellow colored wine had a wonderful citrus nose along with some apples and peaches.  The lemon and limes were dominant on the palate along with some grassiness.  It concluded with some acidic grapefruit on the back end.  For $10, this is a good buy.

The Grafton Cheese Shoppe was started in Grafton Village, VT in 1892 but have since opened the Brattlboro production and retail store.  Here, you can watch them make the cheddar cheeses along with sampling about 10 of the 80 cheeses they sell.  They have about 100 different wines for sale that can be paired with the cheese and other specialty foods.  You can also visit the farm animals at the barn.  We were greeted by a peacock when we got out of the car.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bodegas Palacio Glorioso Reserva 2003

Another wine I tasted at the Distributor's Portfolio Tasting last week was a Rioja Reserve by Bodegas Palacio. I tried four of the wines from this Spanish winery and the one that stood out was the Glorioso Reserva 2003. This Rioja is made from 100% tempranillo grapes and has been aged in new French oak barrels for 24 months. This bright red Rioja starts off with aromas of currants, cherries, and raspberries along with some vanilla and oak. The oak is well balanced with the juicy red fruit flavors. I also picked up on some tobacco and a little herbal note on the back. It had a really enjoyable finish with smooth tannins. This wine is in its prime and should be drunk now. This would of course go well with white meats, but is perfect for traditional Spanish dishes like tapas or pringas or Mexican enchiladas or burritos. For $17, this is a good buy.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2008

Are you looking for an outstanding US Sauvignon Blanc? I have found it. While at a distributor's portfolio tasting the other day, I stopped at the Long Meadow Ranch table. Long Meadow Ranch is an organic farmed vineyard located in Rutherford, CA. Chris Hall, the son of founder and owner Ted Hall, was pouring for the event. Ted was a self starter who made his first wine in a garage in 1971, along with two college classmates. In 1989, the Hall family purchased the ranch and as they say the rest is history. They produce three reds including Sangiovese and Cabernets, along with this one white. Suprisingly, this is their only white wine and only the fourth vintage of Sauvignon Blanc. Overall, they are a small operation with only about 5,000 total cases of reds and whites produced each year. In addition to their wines, they also sell olive oils, fruits, vegetables, eggs and beef all from the Hall's farm.

This refreshing un-oaked wine had immense aromas of exotic fruits, flowers and some spices followed by smooth fruity flavors of kiwi, apples, grapefruit, and citrus.  In a blind taste, you would not pick the US as home to this wine. A very well balanced wine for Summer that would pair well with fish, shell fish or a nice soft cheese.  Could also be sipped on the patio. The Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2008 retails for $18.  Update: the 2009 vintage received a 91 point rating from Wine Enthusiast.

Midolini Rosacroce Uvaggio Bianco 2007

This northern Italian white wine is a blend of 40% Sauvignon Blanc, 40% Tocai Friulano and 30% Chardonnay. As of January 1, 2008, the name Tocai was to be banned by the EU from all labels of wines exportd from the Friuli region in north east Italy. Now the Italians just call it Friulano. The Hungarians argued that the Italian Tocai name was too confusing to their Tocaji. The Tocai Friulano is an aromatic white wine compared to the sweeter Tocaji dessert wine. How can you confuse the two?

For the 2007 Rosacroce, the Sauvignon Blanc and the Tocai were both aged in stainless steel tanks and the Chardonnay was aged for 8 months in French oak barriques. This golden colored wine is a fuller bodied white that has plenty of peach, pineapple, and floral aromas. On the palate, there was some nice pear, apples and citrus coming thru along with some minerality from the terroir. Although higher in acidity, it is well balanced leaving a nice long finish. This could pair well with appetizers or a salad. Better yet, next time you are looking for a wine to serve with Asian or Thai foods, give this a try. We both enjoyed it, although the $29 price tag was high.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Koyle and Terrapura

This past week I had the priviledge of having dinner with winemaker Cristobal Undurraga of the Koyle wines from Santiago, Chile. Cristobal's enthusiasm and love of not only his wines but of the wine industry cannot be matched. The famed Undurraga family has been making wines for six generations dating back to 1885 with their first imports to the US in 1903. Cristobal has learned the business from some of the best around the world having worked at Franciscan Winery in Napa, CA; Rosemont Wines in Barossa Valley, Australia; Chateau Margaux in Bordeaux, France and Vina Kaiken in Mendoza, Argentina. He then returned to Chile to join his father, two brothers and sister to start the Koyle wine label in 2006. The Koyle name came from Cristobal's love of a purple flowering vine that dates back to the Indians. These once endangered vines still grow on the family property.

We began the dinner with four wines from the Terrapura label made by his brother Alfonso. The first wine served with appetizers was the Terrapura Sauvignon Blanc 2009 which is a single-vineyard wine that has an intense aroma of tropical fruit. The flavors follow on to the palate along with some citrus and nice acidity. This does not have the crispness and exotic flavors as a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc but a wonderfully structured Sauvignon Blanc. This is a must buy! This retails for $11.

Next up was the Terrapura Chardonnay 2008. This 100% Chardonnay has a light yellow color with aromas of apples, pears and slight hints of tropical fruits. Alfonso says there is also a mandarin orange aroma but I did not pick this up. The soft Chardonnay flavors were complimented with some amber honey. This wine is aged in steel tanks for four months with innerstaves of French oak. This will pair well with appetizers as well, or a mild white fish. The 2008 Chardonnay retails for $11.

Those were the only whites we tasted. The Koyle label also has a Sauvignon Blanc, but it has not been shipped to the US as of now. The first red for the evening was the Terrapura Merlot 2008. This had a nice cherry and mulberry aroma, along with some spices and pepper. On the palate, the fruits were well balanced with soft tannins and a medium finish. Like the Chardonnay, this is aged in steel tanks for four months with innerstaves of French and American oak. For the $11 price tag, this a nice Merlot.

The next wine may not be known to alot of people. The Terrapura Carmenere 2008 is a red wine made from 100% Carmenere grapes. This grape was originally grown in the Bordeaux region of France until it was almost wiped out by disease in the mid 1860's. There has been long speculation as to the grape as a possible clone but in 1998 it was officially recognized by the Chilean Department of Agriculture as a seperate distinct variety. As with the Terrapura Merlot, this wine is aged in steel tanks for four months with innerstaves of French and American oak. The Carmenere has a very deep red color and starts off with an abundance of green bell pepper aromas along with some strawberries and spicy peppers. The flavors remind me somewhat of a Cabernet Franc with the more vegetable and herbal notes along with fresh red berries.  The tannis were smooth and mellow. You could pair this with an entree of pasta or would go well with a pork loin. The Carmenere retails for $11. Give it a try.

The final four wines are from the Koyle label. Presently, Cristobal grows seven different varieties of grapes, but hopes to expand to 14 and then eventually to 21. The main vines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Malbec and Syrah. They also grow a small amount of Tempranillo, Petit Verdot and Mouvèdre that they use for blending.

The Koyle Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 was one of my favorites. This dark ruby colored wine is a blend of 88% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12% Carmenere that came from two regions in Chile - Maipo and Colchagua Valley. There was a wonderful blackberry and blueberry aroma along with tobacco and coffee. The Carmenere added some spiciness to the taste. 60% of the wine is aged in French oak for 12 months and the remaining 40% is aged in stainless steel tanks to preserve the aroma and taste of the grape varietals. They recommend decanting this wine for at least 30 minutes before serving and also feel that this will cellar well for another 5 years. Only 4,000 cases of the Cabernet Sauvignon were produced and it retails for $17. A must buy.

The Koyle Syrah 2007 was the first vintage of this wine and is a blend of 87% Syrah and 13% Carmenere. It is dark violet in color with creamy, intense cassis and graphite notes, along with some chocolate and toasty oak on the nose and palate. The tannins were a little chewy on this vintage but should evolve nicely over the next 5-10 years. This is slightly less acidic than the Cabernet. Be sure to decant the Syrah at least 30 minutes prior to serving, but 60 minutes is better if you have the time. Again, only 4,000 cases were produced. The 2007 Syrah retails for $17.

Another favorite of mine was the Koyle Royale Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, which is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Malbec and 6% Carmenere. The Cabernet grapes are harvested from vines planted in the early 20th century. This dark ruby Cabernet has a complex aroma of black currants, blackberry, violet and black tea. The black fruits continue onto the palate along with some spiciness from the Carmenere, followed by a nice long lingering finish. Following fermentation, the wine was aged in French oak barrels for 18 months. The barrels included 20% new oak, 20% 1 year used, 20% 2 years used and 40% 3+ years. Again, be sure to decant this wine. The 2007 Royale Cabernet, which retails for $26, will cellar nicely for the next 10 years. Another must buy.

The final wine of the night was the Koyle Royale Syrah 2007, which is a blend of 85% Syrah, 11% Malbec and 4% Carmenere. This bright purple full-bodied wine SHOCKED me with a big aroma of grilled meats. Once I got beyond this, there was some cherry and mulberry aromas along with some herbs and a little chocolate. In addition to the blackberry flavors from the Syrah, the Malbec and Carmenere added some plum and peppery flavors. As with the Royale Cabernet, this wine was also aged in French oak barrels for 18 months. This is a very complex wine that should age well.   This Syrah retails for $26.00

Overall, I had a tremendous evening listening to Cristobal's excitement and knowledge of his wines and the wine business and tasting the above noted wines. You really can't go wrong with any of the wines from the Unduragga family. The Chilean wines are still at the lower end of the price scale and have some outstanding buys. If I ever get a chance to visit Chile, Cristobal Undurraga and Koyle Wines will be the first stop on my trip.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Maculan Pino & Toi 2008

This Italian white wine produced by the Maculan family in the foothills of the Dolomite Mountains in the Veneto region of Italy is slightly outside the box. It is a blend of 60% Tocai, 25% Pinot Bianco and 15% Pinot Grigio. I was a little disappointed by this wine. The intial pale yellow, almost white, hue made me think of a flavored water instead of wine. The nose was so tight that at this point I was ready to dump it. There was some aromas of grass, apples and baking yeast. Not a good combination. However,the flavors were slightly more expressive on the palate, although a mild taste. There were pears and apples with some floral notes followed by a bitterness that left a bad after-taste. A very short finish on this wine. We sipped this without food, and maybe that was a mistake. As with many whites, it would pair with appetizers or with fish and shell fish. Maybe a grilled veal bratwurst would work also. I would not serve this with white meats though. Then again, we both agreed that next time we would pass on this wine. The 2008 Maculan Pino & Toi retails for $13.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Luigi Bosca Pinot Noir Reserve 2006

As mentioned in an earlier posting, the Luigi Bosca wines by the Arizu family have been around for a long time, encompassing a large portfolio from the Luigi Bosca wines, the La Linda wines, and the Selectos Familia Arizu wines. The 2006 Pinot Noir Reserve is a medium-bodied wine that has smokey cherries, raspberries and currants on the nose along with some floral notes. The flavors included strawberries, raspberries, cinnamon and chocolate. It also had a slight minty taste on the back. It is relatively dry and the tannins are firm. This reserve was aged 6-8 months in French oak barrels and the oak was well integrated. Pair this with some light foods, pasta or mild cheeses. Jay Miller from the Wine Advocate rated this 89 points and the Michael Schachner from Wine Enthusiast gave it an 87. We would agree with the lower rating. It just doesn't match up to the Californian and Oregon Pinots. The 2006 Reserve retails for $16-$18. This will not be added to the "must buy" list.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bodega Vistalba Corte C 2005

The Bodega Vistalba winery is located in the foothills of the Andes Mountains in the Mendoza region of Argentina. The family owned and operated state of the art winery was built in 2002, although the Pulenta family estate has been growing vines since the late 1940's. The Vistalba Corte wines have a bare-bones label and probably one of the most basic names you will find - there is the Corte A, Corte B and Corte C. No fancy names or grape varietals on the label. These names refer to the amount of Malbec found in each blend starting with 40% in the Corte A, 57% in Corte B and 85% in Corte C. The additional blend for the Corte C is 15% Merlot. Upon pouring the first glass, I was shocked by the deep dark purple color. Any hesitation I may have had went away as soon as I got my first sniff of the lush cherries, blackberries and raspberries as well as some cassis and bark. The berries followed through on the palate along with some soft vanilla and oak tones and round tannins. 20% of the wine was aged in French oak for 12 months before bottling. This medium bodied Malbec would be the perfect match for many dishes including grilled flank or skirt steaks, pork tenderloins with a sauce, osso buco, lamb shanks or even a hearty pasta dish. The simplicity of the label and name is followed by a complex yet well balanced and great tasting wine. A great buy for $12.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Clemen Vinho Verde Reserva 2008

A few weekends ago, we invited several couples and their children over for some playtime for all the kids and wines for the parents. While the wood was burning down in the fireplace to the desired red embers for grilling, we opened up a new wine from Portugal's Quinta das Touquinheiras Winery called Clemen. The region where these grapes are grown is located in the northwestern portion of the country along the Atlantic Ocean where the humidity is high and there is plenty of rainfall. It is a really fresh summer wine made from a blend of 50% Trajadura and 50% Alvarinho grapes. The Alvarinho grapes is more commonly known as the albarino grape in Spanish wines. This golden colored wine starts off with amazing aromas of apricots and peaches from the Alvarinho with some floral and mineral aromas from the terroir. On the palate, the fresh fruits continued along with some lemon and honey dew. A wonderful acidity and dryness to this wine makes for a great pairing with shellfish or fish. We served it with hors d'oeuvres of several types of soft cheeses, a French baguette, sliced pears and grapes and a tea-rose petal preserve. Are you looking for a nice white wine outside your normal list, give this one a try. Doug, from our local Wine Wise store, recommended this and I have to say Good Job!! I can probably count on one hand the number of Portuguese wines I have tasted and it was probably the first for our guests but everyone really enjoyed this wine. The Clemen retails for about $10.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Henry's Drive Vignerons

Last week I was invited to a dinner with Kim Longbottom and Renae Hirsch from the Henry's Drive winery in Padthaway, Australia. If you are as unfamiliar with this region of Australia as I am, Padthaway is part of the Limestone Coast in the southeastern corner of Australia. Kim and her late husband Mark became the owners and operators of Henry's Drive Winery, although the property has been in the Longbottom family for 3 generations. They planted their first vines in 1992 and released their first vintage in 1996. Renae Hirsch has been the master wine maker for the past two years. Although she has followed in the footsteps of Sarah and Sparky Marquis (Molly Dooker wines) and Chris Ringland, Renae has impressed me with her own blends in the most recent vintages.

Henry's Drive has an interesting history that the Longbottom's have preserved with their winery. Back in the 19th century, the only mode of transportation was by horse-drawn coach. The coach service was owned by Mr. Henry John Hill and he drove the coach thru the exact property where Mark and Kim built their vineyard and winery. The coach routes back then were known as drives, thus the name Henry's Drive.

The history from this area and postal theme has also been carried over to the names of each of their wines: Parson's Flat for the early settlers of Padthaway; Henry's Drive for the coach operator; Dead Letter's Office for the postal workers who opened undeliverable mail; Pillar Box for the red mailboxes that first appeared in the 1850's when the first postage stamp was introduced by neighboring South Wales; Trial of John Montford who robbed the mail coach a few miles from Padthaway making off with 75 Australian pounds (approx $131); Morse Code for the first wireless communication system; and the Postmistress which is a topic for discussion while drinking their wines. Additionally, the labels for these wines match the names perfectly.

We started with the Postmistress Blanc de Blanc - this 2009 sparkling wine is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes sourced from a single family vineyard in Padthaway. This is a really nice wine to serve by itself or with an aperitif of scallops and oysters. A plate of fresh fruit/berries would be nice too but be careful that the sweetness from each don't turn into a battle. For a fraction of the price of Champagne, this sparkling wine is a great buy at $20. I generally don't like sparkling wines but this one changed my mind.

Next up was the Morse Code 2009 Chardonnay - this vintage is made from 100% chardonnay grapes also sourced from the Estate's Padthaway vineyards. This wine has nice fruit forward tastes of lemon and melon along with toasted spice and subtle oakiness. I'm a big fan of Brie and other creamy cheeses which would go well with this Chardonnay. Another good buy at $9.00. It will be released in the US by year end.

That was the extent of the white wines. Now we come to the big reds.

The entry level red was the Morse Code 2008 Shiraz made from 100% Shiraz grapes which had a nice red fruit flavor along with some spices and mint. The majority of this wine was unoaked which allowed the fruit to come forward. A nice introduction wine that retails for $9.

Probably the most recognized Henry's Drive wine would be the Pillar Box Red. The 2008 is a blend of 66% Shiraz, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 9% Merlot which is dense and juicy with flavors of blackcurrant and cherries along with dried thyme and some oak. This is an easy drinking wine that retails for $12.

The 2007 Pillar Box Reserve Shiraz is a dark inky colored wine with intense blackcurrant and plum flavors along with some graphite, cedar and spices. The tannins were firm yet smooth. The Pillar Box Reserve Shiraz retails for $20.

My favorite was the 2007 Dead Letter Office Shiraz which is made from 100% Shiraz grapes from two wine regions - Padthaway and McLaren Vale. This Shiraz had a great nose of red fruits, red licorice and vanilla. The palate starts with lots of McLaren Vale berry and red currant fruits with some spicy notes while the Padthaway character comes thru on the mid-palate with spearmint and lavender. Throughout dinner, I kept tasting this wine and it continud to get better each time. This retails for $28, but is better than many wines that are priced higher than this.

My second favorite was probably the 2007 Trial of John Montford Cabernet. For Cabernet fans, give this a try. The 90% Cabernet Sauvignon was blended with 10% Cabernet Franc. You are hit quickly by the heavy cherry flavors along with some toasted spices. However, the Cabernet Franc mellows out the Cabernet Sauvignon some and adds a little violet to the nose and dried herbs to the palate. This had some chewy tannins but a nice long finish. This wine should only get better with age. The John Montford retails for $30.

The last three wines were Shiraz or Shiraz blends - The Henry's Drive 2007 Shiraz, Henry's Drive 2007 Reserve Shiraz and the 2006 Parson's Flat Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon. These are rather complex wines with dark berry fruits, spices and chocolate. The tannins were a little chewy yet. They ranged in price from $35-$50, which I feel is a little high for these wines.

Each of these red wines tasted are still very young and need to be put away for a few more years. As with other Australian wines, these reds ranged from 14.5% to 16% alcohol content. The terroir is expressed nicely in each of the wines. Kim and Renae have some complex wines but overall very well balanced. These bigger full-bodied reds will all pair well with hearty dishes of grilled meats, stews and goulashes, and strong cheeses. With the exception of the Pillar Box Red (122,000 cases), all the others are small productions of less than 6,000 cases. The Henry's Drive wines are worth searching out. I look forward to following Renae's progression and Kim's history lesson. All of the Henry's Drive wines are imported by Quintessential Wines from CA (see sidebar).

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Crusher Viognier 2007

The Crusher is a new line of wines produced by the Don Sabastiani & Sons winery located in Sonoma, CA. However, the grapes were harvested from the Wilson Vineyards in Clarksburg (the Sacramento Delta). This is a relatively unknown wine region that keeps putting out good wines and should start getting more press. The fourth generation family-run winery was voted American Winery of the Year in 2005 by Wine Enthusiast Magazine and is probably best known for their Smoking Loon line of wines. This past Friday night we opened a bottle from the first release of The Crusher 2007 Viognier and was surprised by the plastic cork. Interesting!! The wine has a straw yellow color with floral aromas along with bananas, apricots and a touch of honey. On the palate, it is a medium bodied rather dry wine starting off with some sweet peaches followed by vanilla and ending with the bitterness of a granny smith apple, my oldest son's favorite apple. This must be paired with food as the alcohol content is 14.9%. Could pair with Asian inspired dishes, per the winemaker, or my favorite a French triple cream cheese. Overall, we both enjoyed this wine which retails for about $15.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pierre Boniface Vin de Savoie Apremont 2007

This is a refreshing white wine that I found at Gary's Wine & Marketplace in Wayne, NJ (see sidebar). The Savoie region of France is situated in the foothills of the French Alps, bordering southwest Switzerland and the northern Piedmont region of Italy. It is made from the Jacquere grape which is a late maturing grape that generally is low in sugars which keeps the wine drier. The Apremont has a low 11.5% alcohol content which is typical for wines with Jacquere grapes. The color is a pale yellow with some greenish tints. The nose is pretty tight but I was able to pick up some citrus aromas along with some garden flowers. On the palate, it was a little more expressive with citrus, green apples, and a hint of summer peaches and grapefruit. There was no evidence of any oak. This could be enjoyed by itself or with an aperitif. I will also pair this with my wife's original Swiss fondue. Retails for $10-$12. If you like Chardonnay, give this a try.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Villa Mt. Eden Grand Reserve Cabernet 2004

This is a winery that I visited a few years ago while in Napa. It is the sister winery of Conn Creek, which the 2004 Anthology was posted earlier. This 100% Cabernet is a medium to full bodied wine that started with some black and red fruit aromas. I also picked up on some chocolate along with a hint of the spice rack. Don't be startled by the oak on the nose as it is pretty well structured along with the plum and black fruit flavors. However, it had some relatively big tannins, so you might want to let this age a few more years. Be sure to decant this wine for at least an hour before drinking. A pretty good value wine that you can find for $14. Would go well with grilled meats or a stew.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

B.R. Cohn Cabernet 2006 Silver Label

While we are on the Rock & Roll theme, B.R. (Bruce) Cohn not only makes wines but has been the manager of the Doobie Brothers since 1969. He has two Cabernet Sauvignon labels, the silver label and the gold label. The 2006 silver label is made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes harvested from the Olive Hill Estate Vineyards and the North Coast Vineyards. The nose was interesting with fruity red berries, followed by a eucalyptus cough drop smell and some oakiness. On the palate, I first picked up some cranberry flavors followed by cherry, anise and some funky green bell pepper on the back. Additionally, there was some oak to this wine along with acidity and chewy tannins. Once again, for my palate, this is a decent wine but nothing convinced me to purchase more. The 2006 Silver Label retails for about $15, which is a good price for this wine. I would now like to try the gold label and compare the two.

Mick Fleetwood Private Cellar Cuvee 1998

1998 was a great year for Mick Fleetwood. First he is enshrined into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Fleetwood Mac and then he produced his first wine. This was just the beginning. To date he has released 17 wines. The Cuvee is a blend of 25% Cabernet Franc and 75% Merlot from the Westerly Vineyards in Santa Ynez, CA that was aged for 30 months in French oak and then another 18 months in the bottle. Cabernet Franc is generally blended with Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot in a Bordeaux style blend. This bright red, light to medium bodied wine opened with nice aromas of raspberry, plum, currants and some violets. It was a very easy drinking wine with red berry flavors followed by a hint of tobacco. Mick wanted a wine with light tannins, which he certainly has in this wine. It has a medium finish. For his first attempt, along with wine maker Mike Brown, it was a decent wine. I would like to try other wines from his Private Cellar label. You could pair this with a nice pork tenderloin or an appetizer tray of cheese.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Conundrum 2006

Conundrum is owned by the Wagner family of Caymus Vineyards in Napa, CA but stands on its own as a separate brand. The Conundrum is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier and Muscat Canelli. This golden colored wine begins with tropical aromas of fresh picked apricots, melons, kiwi and some guava. Along with the fruits, I picked up some bartlett pears in the flavor. There is nice acidity along with some residual sugar on the back that gives the sweetness. An easy drinking wine that can be sipped or served with appetizers. This is a little dryer and not as crisp as the New Zealand whites, but overall a good wine. This retails for $22, but should be priced in the mid teens. It gets the extra pricing because of its association with Caymus.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Allegrini Palazzo Della Torre 2005

Another interesting wine from the Allegrini winery is the Palazzo del Torre. This wine is a blend of 70% Corvina Veronese, 25% Rondinella and 5% Sangiovese. 70% of the grapes are vinified immediately after the harvest, the remaining 30% is air-dried (similar to the Amarone) until the end of December. At this point, the wine ferments again with the dried grapes. This dark ruby colored wine is medium to full bodied and starts of with an abundance of black currant aromas along with raisins and a hint of chocolate. The dark fruit flavors are combined with some dried cherries, black tea and spices. I was expecting more chocolate on the palate but there was not much there. The tannins were a little rough and could use some more aging. This is a nice wine, although for my tastes, I would pick the Amarone and the La Grola before the the Pallazzo Della Torre. It would pair nicely with a rack of ribs. The Pallazzo del Torre 2005 retails for about $25. Wine Spectator rated this wine 88 points and the Wine Advocate rated it 89 points. Worth the buy. I am on the lookout for the 2004 vintage.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Montecillo White Rioja 2006

A white Rioja? Curiosity got the best of me. This is a dry white wine that has some subtle pear and nut aromas along with a small amount of apple flavor and dandelions. For $5 I had to try it. Sometimes it is better to be curious and never know than find out the real deal. This is one of those times. Pass on this white Rioja.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Allegrini La Grola 2004

The Allegrini family wines date back to the 16th century in the Valpolicella region of northeast Italy. They have been best known for their Amarone wines. I still have one bottle of the 1999 Allegrini Amarone Classico left in the cellar from a case I bought a few years ago. A fantastic wine! This past weekend, we had a bottle of the La Grola 2004, which has some similarities as the Amarone. This big-bodied wine is a mix of 70% Corvina Veronese, 15% Rondinella, 10% Syrah and 5% Sangiovese. It has a complex aroma of crushed blackberries along with some plum from the syrah, some cherry from the the Sangiovese and a hint of chocolate. The flavors are bold, like the Amarone, with mixed berries, sweet red licorice, nice earthy Italian soil, raisins, figs and herbal spices. This was aged in French oak for 16 months and the oak is so well balanced along with nice round tannins. It ends with a nice long finish. You could hold this for another 5-10 years and it will be fantastic. This was rated 90 points by both Robert Parker and the Wine Spectator. It retails for $23 and is a steal at this price. The La Grola will pair well with most red meats, stews and goulashes. A must buy!!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Renzo Marinai Chianti Classico 2005

A few nights ago, we had a bottle of the Renzo Marinai Chianti Classico 2005 produced in Greve-in-Chianti, a small town outside of Radda. Greve, the unofficial capital of Chiati, is the host to the annual Chianti wine festival every September. Renzo Marinai is an organic farmer that farms olives and wheat, in addition to the grape vineyards. This is an easy drinking Chianti made of 92% Sangiovese grapes and 8% Canaiolo. It has a garnet color with the fresh aroma of red fruits, some vanilla and some dirt. The flavors are subtle red fruits along with the earthiness of Tuscan wines. This dry wine has some oakiness and some tannins that should ease up over the next few years. This was an interesting Chianti, and I would like to try the 2004 Chianti Classico. Would go well with chicken or pork. Retails for about $25.

Monday, August 24, 2009

La Corte Salice Salentino 2006 & Solyss 2006

We recently tried two wines from the La Corte winery in Puglia Italy (the heel of the boot). The 2006 Salice Salentino and the 2006 Solyss. These wines, made by acclaimed winemaker Chris Ringland, both use the negroamaro grape as the predominant grape but are completely different. The Salentino, mixed with Malvasia, was a medium to full bodied wine with mixed berry (raspberry) aromas along with tobacco and a hint of chocolate. It has a nice sweet berry taste along with the Italian earthiness. The Solyss, made from 100% negroamaro grapes, was more of a fuller bodied wine with spicy blackberry aromas and plum and blueberry tastes. The Salentino was rated 91 points and I have to agree that it was the better wine. The Salentino retails for $11 and the Solyss retails for $16. The Salentino is a great value wine at this price, and would be a perfect fit for a plate of pasta with arrabiata sauce or a pizza with all the toppings.

Domaine De Fenouillet 2005

We had a bottle of the 2005 Cotes Du Ventoux from Domaine De Fenouillet recently and it received two thumbs down at our house. This French wine is a medium bodied Pinot Noir from the southeastern region of the Rhone that had a fresh berry nose but lacked taste and substance. Wouldn't even use it for cooking. Retails for about $10. PASS!!!!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Raymond Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2004

This is a winery with a lot of history. When Roy Raymond arrived in Napa in 1933, he worked at the famous Beringer Brothers winery. Then he married Martha Beringer in 1936. After the Beringer Family winery was sold in 1971, the Raymond family members started making wine under the Raymond name. I visited this winery in Napa with a good friend of mine, who happens to be one of the Raymond great-grandsons. The 2004 Raymond Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is a nice medium-bodied Cabernet made up of 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc and 1% Merlot. It was aged for 17 months in mostly French oak. It starts with a nice fruity aroma of spicy blackberry, cherry and pomegranate with a hint of chocolate. On the palate, there was more blueberry flavors along with blackberry, tobacco and some cracked black pepper at the end. It had a lengthy finish and soft tannins. There was some oak too but it was well integrated. This wine could pair nicely with ribs, a nice fillet or even burgers on the grill. We enjoyed this wine.  A 90 point rating was given by  Connoisseur's Guide and an 88 point rating was given by Wine Enthusiast. Put this wine away for a few more years and it will be even better.  Now I'm on the lookout for the 2005 vintage which received a 93 point rating.  This reserve retails for $28.

Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet 2006

The other night while entertaining friends, I opened a bottle of the Penfolds and let me say I was disappointed. It is a nice blend of 78% Shiraz and 22% Cabernet. However, the nose opened with some harsh alcohol aromas, along with grape jam and herb aromas. On the palate, I once again thought I was drinking a hard drink, even though it only has a 13.5% alcohol content. There was some smokiness and well structured oak but was completely overwhelmed with alcohol. The pomegranate on the back had a sour bite to it as well. I came back a few days later to try it again but unfortunately it did not get any better. Wine Advocate rated this a 91 but I think an 71 would have been more accurate. Don't buy into the big Australian name. This wine is not worth it. The Koonunga Hill retails for about $12.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Allende Rioja 2004

The other night we enjoyed a bottle of the Allende Rioja 2004 produced by Finca Allende from the village of Briones in Spain. Charles Metcalf calls this region the "undiscovered jewel of Rioja." The Rioja is made with 100% tempranillo grapes. Upon opening, the dark inky purple color was the first thing that caught my attention. Then a wonderful aroma of cherries, plums and floral notes along with some spices. However, the tastes were more red fruit with an abundance of strawberries and cranberries. There are subtle tannins and some acidity that is well integrated. The flavors never ended. Towards the end of the bottle, we realized this was an unfiltered wine. It does not state this on the label. There was a small amount of sediment but was certainly acceptable. They age this wine in both new and used french oak barrels for 13 months before bottling. The Wine Advocate rates it 92 points, Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast both rate it 90 points. I side with the Jay Miller and his 92. This is one of the best Rioja's I have drank. For $22, this is a must buy. At $27, it is still a buy. Very nice wine.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tinto Figuero 4 2006

The Tinto Figuero 4 wine was produced by Vinedos y Bodegas Garcia Figuero, a small family owned and operated winery that was started in 2001 in the Ribera del Duero region of Spain. The Tinto Figuero is made from 100% tempranillo grapes harvested from 10-20 year old vines and then aged in new oak barrels (85% American 15% French oak) for only 4 months, hence the 4. It has a nice dark red color with strawberry and cherry aromas but more of a blackberry taste. It had a relatively long finish to it with smooth tannins. My wife's sister and brother-in-law in Switzerland served this with a fondue chinoise (thinly sliced beef, pork and veal dipped into a hot broth to cook) and it was the perfect pairing. The Wine Advocate gave this wine an 88 point rating. I would agree with this rating. It retails for $20. According to Steve Kreps, Jr. from Quintessential Wines (see ad in side bar), the Tinto Figuero 15 is outstanding. If I can't find it locally, I will call Mr. Kreps and have it shipped. Give these wines a try.

Fattoria La Lecciaia Brunello Di Montalcino 2003

While I am on the Sangiovese track, here is an absolute steal at $30. This Brunello di Montalcino is made from 100% sangiovese grapes and starts with an amazing nose of raspberries, plums and cherries along with a touch of vanilla and tobacco. The jammy fruit is so well structured on the palate along with the earthiness that I need to taste in Tuscan wines that the tannins are generally forgotten. The wine is aged in oak barrels for 3 1/2 years before being bottled and won't be released for at least 5 years from harvesting. For this price, grab as much as you can. I will be adding more of the Fattoria La Lecciaia Brunello Di Montalcino 2003 to the cellar. Pairs nicely with grilled meats, pasta dishes or risotto. Wine Spectator and the Wine Advocate both gave this wine a 91 point rating.

Heinrich Zweigelt - Burgenland 2005

The Gernot Heinrich winery located in Gols, Austria produces one of my wife's favorite wines, the Zweigelt Burgenland. We were first introduced to this wine by her sister and brother-in-law, who is Austrian. We tried some other very nice wines from the Heinrich winery while staying at the incredible Schalber Wellness Hotel Serfaus.  The 2005, however, was the only vintage we could find in the States. This medium-bodied wine is made from 100% zweigelt grapes and has a dark purple hue. It starts with quite an impressive aroma of smokey cherries and plums, along with some black pepper and tobacco. On the palate, the fruit is forward and is followed by spiciness and some chewy tannins. The finish was not as long as I would have liked but still a very good wine. I am holding the remaining bottles for a few more years of aging. This is the only wine I know that has a glass stopper (cork). The 2005 Zweigelt retails for about $20. Give this wine a try.  And, if you ever want to take your wife/fiance/girlfriend on a romantic and pampering vacation, make the Schalber hotel your destination.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

C.G. Di Arie Syrah 2004

Another Amador County winery that has been producing some nice Zinfandels and Syrahs is the C.G. di Arie Winery. Overall, 2004 was a tough year for Amador County wines. However, one that managed to hold its own was the "Southern Exposure" Syrah. This medium to full bodied wine starts off with a blackberry and blueberry aroma followed by some pepper and then vanilla as you swirl it in the glass. Flavors are just as complex and intense with blackberry, cassis and plum on the initial taste, followed by some spices in the middle and ending with a hint of chocolate. There is some oak and round tannins with a very long finish. Decant this wine for 30 minutes. I would like to try other vintages of C.G. di Arie's Syrah, as well as his zinfandels. This would pair nicely with grilled meats, venison, stews or a goulash. The 2004 Syrah retails for $35-$40.

C.G. di Arie was founded by Chaim Gur-Arieh in 2000. He has an interesting background that leads to the wine busienss. Chaim was born in Istanbul, Turkey and immigrated to Israel during his teen years. After receiving his undergraduate degree in Israel, he enrolled at the University of Illinois where he received his masters and PhD in Food Sciences with a minor in chemical engineering. Upon graduation, he started working for Quaker Oats where his notoriety started when he developed the technology for Cap'n Crunch cereal. After a short stint at United Technology Center, he moved on to DelMonte Foods, where he developed numerous products including puddings-in-a-cup and shelf stable yogurts. At the age of 39, he and his wife purchased and developed the C.G. di Arie Winery. His last name, Gur-Arieh, means Lion's Cub in Hebrew. Thus the lions on the label holding an ancient wine press.