Monday, November 30, 2009

Visiting Walla Walla AVA

I just returned from a visit to Walla Walla AVA in the southeast corner of Washington. I have some family there so I have sampled Walla Walla wines before, e.g., L'Ecole 41, Cougar Crest, etc. But I wanted to visit some new tasting rooms. I ended up visiting Northstar (pictured above), Va Piano and Amavi Cellars. (I went by some others but they were closed, one of which was K Vintners--I was told by some locals that Charles Smith marches to the beat of his own drum, which in this case meant "doesn't hold conventional hours for public tastings.") Walla Walla is approximately the same latitude as Bordeaux as 2007, which explains that three out of the four most common grapes grown (by planted area) are Bordeaux varietals:
  • 41% Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 26% Merlot
  • 16% Syrah
  • 4% Cabernet Franc

Some white grapes are grown, e.g., Chardonnary, Viognier, Riesling; and some growers in Walla Walla are starting to break out of the Bordeaux paradigm and are planting other red varietals. But red grapes dominate this AVA.

During my visit to the three tasting rooms I tasted three whites--a Sauvingnon Blanc blend, a Viognier blend and a late harvest Semillon. I found the white blends to be average; the late harvest Semillon was better, but still doesn't compare to a $25 half bottle of Sauternes. The rest of the reds were almost all blends; except for one 100% Syrah at Northstar. Without exception I found the reds to be very well made. None of the wines showed the slightest hint of being off balanced; all had a seamless transition from the attack to the finish. All were incredibly polished. In general they were fruity; and all received some amount of oak treatment--some more than others, but even for someone with old-world preferences like me none of the wines had an offensive amount of oak. To me these wines tasted like they were made by very skilled people with state of the art technology. Although I personally prefer something from the south of France to these reds, I can see why people would enjoy these wines. They're seductive. I look forward to going back soon to visit more wineries... oh yeah, and family too!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Revisiting the Reliability of Wine Ratings

I really don't think that people should over-think wine, but occasionally I temporarily stop enjoying wines to think about it. Lately I've been thinking about wine ratings--their reliability, etc.--in light of some ink that has recently been spilled (esp. see here and here). On the one hand, wine ratings are important—they are clearly a desiderata of producers, once a year the major print publications and even minor businesses herald their Top 10 or Top 100 wines and we readers consume them. On the other hand, almost everyone would acknowledge that our impressions of a wine can vary significantly from time to time because of a cluster of internal (e.g., palate fatigue, mood, etc.) and external (e.g., bottle variation, etc.) conditions. Note that in most domains a difference is statistically significant if there is a ≥ 5% change; but on the 100 point Parker scale, wines are automatically attributed 50 points, so the 100 point scale is really a 50 point scale. This means that statistically significant variation on the 100 point scale is ≥ 2.5. I doubt that there are many—if any—people who would doubt that their ratings of the same wine never vary ≥ 2.5 on different occasions. Once consumers (fully) realize that variation between 0 to 2.5 isn’t significant on the 100 point scale, consumers will place less importance in a rating, especially a rating just below the boundary of a multiple of 10, e.g., 89, and a rating just above the boundary of the next multiple of 10, e.g., 90. A wine that scored 90 on one occasion will almost certainly receive a different score on another occasion for one reason or another. I would argue that many consumers have fully realized this. But many critics have not acknowledge this either because they mistakenly believe that their tasting and evaluation abilities are so precise that they would never attribute a score ≥ 2.5 to the same wine on separate occasions; or they mistakenly believe that their professional stature would suffer if they publicly acknowledge this.

In light of typical variation in a wine rating on the 100 point scale, purchasing wines on the basis of a single rating, even of a professional critic (no one shall be named), is… well, irrational. So what should consumers use to guide our purchases? I have two suggestions—neither of which are infallible, but are more reliable than using a single score from a professional critic. First, you can stick with ratings and use the average from multiple ratings provided by professionals, non-professionals or some combination thereof. How many ratings are sufficient, you ask? It’s unclear, but 6 or 7 is a standard range of series to eliminate bias. One popular source for ratings that automatically calculates an average (as well as the median) is
CellarTracker! (If you want to a more reliable average rating, you can drop the high and low score, etc.) Second, you can forego ratings altogether and use good old-fashioned word of mouth. That is, find a trustworthy friend who reliably recommends wines that you enjoy. My friend is a clerk at my local wine shop; and her recommendations are reliable even in the face of contrary evidence, e.g., a $10 price tag, etc. One might argue that the scores and tasting notes of a single professional wine critic can be as reliable as the recommendations of your trustworthy friend. But I would argue that because I have more access to my trustworthy friend at the local wine shop, and therefore access to more information, her recommendations are more reliable than those of the professional critic to whom I have no personal acess.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Rocland Estate Tasting 11/12/09

Picture from:

Last night’s tasting at the Wine Warehouse featured twelve wines from Rocland Estate Rocland is a large facility in the Barossa Valley (map) that has the crushing capacity of 7000 tons annually. In addition to producing their own wines they offer custom wine making services to private clients who, for example, can elect to use their own winemaker or have one provided by Rocland. Their estate bottlings have been well-received by big American critics from Wine Spectator to Parker. Of the twelve wines featured, there were four whites, and (unsurprisingly) six of the remaining seven reds contained some amount of Shiraz. All wines featured at the tasting except one were sub-$20 (the one other was $25). I found almost all of the wines to be well made & in the mid- to upper-80s scoring range, making them good values. And all reds seemed to be medium-bodied, have a relatively smooth mouth-feel, opaque dark brick red color and have a nose of mild mushroom/earth & clay/saline (think playdough); there was slight variation in flavors (see below). Although I didn’t find that any wines clearly stood out as significantly better than any other, below is a good sample from the tasting. (All prices shown are only for the Wine Warehouse. And, yes, the names are gimmicky.)

1. Chocolate Box White ’08 (100% Sauv Blanc): Med-Big bodied SB, balanced, tart citrus fruit. $13 TWG: 86

2. Duck Duck Goose White ’08 (100% Chardonnay): Tropical notes, balanced. $11. TWG: 85.

3. Ass Kisser Red Blend ’07 (40% Petite Verdot, 29% Shiraz, 29% Grenache, 2% Mataro): Mushroom, clay nose. Dark prune, medium bodied, balanced. $9. TWG: 84. Interesting blend worth a try for $9.

4. Kilroy Was Here Shiraz ’07 (100% Shiraz): Mushroom, clay nose. Dark prune, medium bodied, balanced. Similar to 3 (above) but more focused, more tannins. $19. TWG: 87.

5. Kilroy Was Here Cabernet Sauv ’07 (100% Cab Sauv): Mushroom, clay nose. Dark prune, balanced. Similar to 3 & 4 (above) but leaner and longer finish. $19. TWG: 89.

6. Chocolate Box GSM Red Blend ’07 (Grenache, Shiraz, Mouvedre): same nose as the other reds but with the addition of 5 spice. Dark prune, balanced, medium bodied.
7. Kilroy Was Here Sparkling Shiraz '07 (100% Shiraz): not too bitter/dry, not too sweet. Nice. $20. TWG: 87
Leave a comment: let me know what you think of Rocland wines.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Recession Syrah

During this recession people are eating out less often and drinking more value wines. I'm no different. So when I was browsing the selection at my local merchant the staff brought a French Syrah to my attention priced at $9.99. (Based on Wine-Searcher here this wine is at least twice the price anywhere else.) My first reaction was: how good can it be for $10? Then I also remembered that my (tiny) cellar is Syrah-heavy right now. But when the staff described it to me it sounded like my kind of wine: Syrah from the Languedoc, shows garrigue, etc. Although I was skeptical, I decided to give it a try. I was pleasantly surprised. Here are my notes:
2005 Chateau Maris Minervois La Touge (France, Languedoc, Syrah)
Nose: candied black cherry, black currant.
Taste: black cherry, garrigue, black currant.
Overall: medium bodied, balanced, great right out of the bottle--no decanting necessary. Would definitely pair well with roasted fall vegetables, pot roast, etc.
Rating: 90
This is a Syrah that I'd enjoy anytime--recession or not.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Unusual Grape Tasting

Regardless of how wonderful they are and how much variation there can be in wines made from them them, inevitably people get tired of wines make from common grapes, e.g., Chardonnary, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, etc. If you're like me you like variety in life and wine which is why I was thrilled to see that the Wine Warehouse was hosting a tasting whose theme was unusual grapes. Yes, unusual is relative from person to person but it was nice to see people tasting who, for example, had never heard of a Bonarda. The tasting featured no blends. There were 12 wines made of the following grapes: Verdejo, Torrontes, Garanega, Aliante Bouchet (Grenache hybrid), Pinotage, Mencia,
Gruner Veltliner, Godello, Prieto Picudo, Gamay, Bonarda and Petit Verdot.

Those that I thought were the best are:
1. Crios by Susana Balbo 2008 (100% Torrontes; Mendoza, Argentina) $14. Fruity, floral, light, crisp, steely finish. This is a nice everyday white that has the same body as, and is a great alternative to, Sauvingnon Blanc or Pinot Grigio. 87/100

2. Huber "Hugo" 2008 (Gruner Veltliner; Austria) $13. Lime, honeydew, minerals. Also a good everyday light white. 86/100

3. Bodegas Godeval 2007 (Godello; Galacia, Spain) $15. Excellent balance, good acid, seamlessly transition from beginning to end. 91/100 - my favorite wine of the night. (Label pictured above)

4. Pardevalles Gamonal 2006 (Prieto Picudo; Tierra de Leon, Spain) $15. Dark bitter cocoa, black cherry.

5. Pirramimma 2003 (Petit Verdot; McLaren Vale, Austrailia) $17. Medium bodied red, red & black fruit but not fruity.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Local Italian Tasting

Well, I've been waiting a long time for this...the Italian tasting. Since some Italian wines typically start at $40, I was happy to sample some of these at the Italian tasting at the Wine Warehouse. The tasting featured 13 Italian wines--two were whites and the rest were reds. These days there are so many wines that are made using modern methods that are best when drunk alone but this tasting really showed that Italian wines are some of the best in the world at balancing fruit, acidity and tannin. And for this reason they are some of the most food-friendly wines in the world--all of the wines below will pair well with food, e.g., dry cheese, grilled meats simply prepared, charcuterie, or Italian food (of course). All of the wines tasted were either light- or medium-bodied. The flavor profile trend for the reds was dark cherry (sometimes cough syrup-like...not in a bad way), honeycomb, cinnamon and almond paste. Although almost all of the wines were well-made, none of them really stood out as significantly superior than any of the others. The wines mentioned below are the best values (FYI: all prices are sale prices at the Wine Warehouse):

1. Jermann Vinnae IGT 2007 (90% Ribolla, 5% Tocai, 5% Riesling) $25. Medium, smooth mouth-feel, pear, nut & a hint of sweet, roasted marshmallow. Try for a change of pace from the traditional Italian whites. 91/100
2. Falseco Montiano IGT 2003 (100% Merlot) $30. Light-medium bodied, stikes a great balance between fruit (cherry), acidity and tannins. Long finish. 91/100.
3. Orlando Abrigo Nebbiolo 2005 (100% Nebbiolo) Cherry cough syrup, bittersweet chocolate, honeycomb. Well-balanced, well-integrated elements. 91/100
4. La Meridiana "Vitis" Barbera d'Asti 2006 $14 Anise, clear cherry cough syrup, bittersweet chocolate. 86/100
5. Coppo Brachetto d'Acqui 2006 Red sparkling dessert wine with caramel, dark cherry and nut. Paired perfectly with dark chocolate. Interesting alternative to the common dessert wine. 91/100

The tasting also featured the following wines that were very good or excellent but in my opinion not significantly better than the 90-pointers above and so were not worth the money. But if you have the money and love Italian reds, by all means go ahead and pick up a bottle:

Feel free to leave a Italian wine-related comment....

Friday, August 14, 2009

Old Vines Tasting

Although many wines are labeled "old vines" (French: vieilles vignes), surprisingly there's no definition of "old vines". In some old wine growing regions 30-40 years is considered old, while in other regions 20 years may be considered old. Regardless of the definition of "old vines", over time vines begin to produce smaller grapes that in turn bear more concentrated flavors. Whatever meaning of "old vines" that a producer uses "old vines" is typically used in contrast to regular bottlings of the same wine from younger vines. Wines made from old vines usually have more concentrated flavors than regular bottlings, but because there are so many variables that apply to wine making the quality of old vine bottlings are not necessarily higher than regular bottlings.

The tasting featured 12 wines: 3 were white and the rest were red. Although the whites included Morey Montrachet and an Ostertag Sylvaner, I thought they were disjointed or just not good. Of the reds I thought only the following six ranged from very good to excellent and are therefore worth trying. All wines lived up to their labeling and showed good concentration of flavor. All are available locally at The Wine Warehouse, and all are marked down between 30%-50%.

1. Marietta Old Vine Red Blend Lot #49 ($15) Light-medium body, black cherry, balanced. 85-6/100
2. 2007 Cline Ancient Vine Zinfandel ($15) Medium bodied, blackberry & cassis notes, balanced, long dry finish. 87/100.
3. 2003 Bonny Doon Old Telegram ($20) Mouvedre (Spainish: Monastrell) Medium-big bodied, excellent integration of black fruit & tannins. 90-1/100
4. 2007 Atteca Old Vine Garnacha ($15) Youthful, ripe, tart black cherry & prune. (I'm surprised that this wine is still in stock--I bought some months ago!) 87-8/100 Very good value.
5. 2004 Cenit Old Vine Tempranillo ($27) Medium bodied w/ gripping tannins, dark black fruit, smoke, longest finish of the tasting; balanced; biggest wine of the night. 92-3/100. This wine is why you should go to tastings! For me this was the best wine of the night.
6. 2005 Abad dom Bueno Carracedo ($40) Earth, caramel & saline, red/black fruit, big, balanced; polished. 92/100

Share your experiences with old vine wines--comments are welcome!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Thoughts on the Beer & Wine Pairing Dinner at Cypress Restaurant

This Thursday (8/13) Cypress restaurant will be hosting a special event that will feature a five-course dinner and each course will be paired with one beer and and one wine. Doug Blackburn, who writes the beer blog for the Tallahassee Democrat, has written about the dinner and he gives beer the edge over wine. Its clear that one way to look at this is as a competition--a wine and beer throwdown! But there's also another is the menu* with my thoughts:

First course: Lobster and Chantrelle Fritters: Lemon Tartar Sauce, Green Onion Slaw, Smoked Paprika Lobster Oil.

I would not have chosen rosé to pair with this course. A full-bodied white high in acid (e.g., Chardonnay, Sancerre, Pouilly Fume, etc.) would seem to pair better with the richness of the lobster and the acidity of the lemon tartar sauce. But the rosé may surprise.

Second course: Fennel Seed Salami and Summer Truffle Flatbread with salted mozzarella, roasted tomatoes, local arugula and roasted garlic-oregano sauce.

St. Jeannet is a rare grape variety that is only grown in small amounts (roughly 500 cases/year) in a few places in the world. Some say it tends to resemble Sauvignon Blanc but has slightly more fruit. Although this is the sort of wine that I seek out because of its obscurity, it would be one of the last wines I would choose to pair with fennel salami and truffle flatbread. The better fit would be a dry Italian red with a fair amount of acidity (e.g., Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, etc.) to cut through the pork fat and stand up to the spice. Italian wines, probably more than any other wines in the world, are intentionally produced for drinking with food. Again, however, the acid in white wine will combine well with the salt in the salami and make for a flavor boost.

Third course: Panama Red Blackened Grouper Cheeks with corn rice cakes, sea island red gravy, bread and butter pickles.
Viognier is a low acid white wine, so it will decrease the heat in the blackening spice--acid in wine increases the heat in spice. So the Viognier should work well with this course.

Fourth course: Smoked Duck Stacker--stacked smoked duck on griddled cypress bread with Thomasville Tomme cheese, grilled vidalia onions, herbed duck fat mayonnaise and Michigan sour cherry relish.

First off, I just want to say that for me this is the course of the event--duck with duck fat mayonnaise? Wow! Second, regarding the wine chosen: perfect--I wouldn't change a thing. The salt and fat in the duck (and real duck fat mayonnaise) and the low tannins in French Burgundy mellow each other out. Result: wine & food harmony.

Final course: Fried Apple Pie with gorgonzola ice cream and almond-bacon brittle.

Let me just express "Wow (again)!" (I'm having a hard time continuing to stay on task after reading this dessert's description....) And again I think that Cypress nailed this wine pairing--the acid cuts through the fat and cream, the tiny bubbles (fizz, really) contribute to a wonderful mouthfeel with the fried pie, and the contrast of the sweetness will tame the salt in the ice cream and bacon, creating the wonderful salty/sweet contrast.

Of course all of this is from my armchair since I've haven't actually tasted any of these things. I think that the greatest virtue of this sort of culinary event is not that it will determine which spirited beverage pairs better with each course and is heralded as the winner, but that it allows people to experience the differences between what wine can do for food and what beer can do. Among other things, wine tends to contain more acid than beer; acid (like salt) is a flavor booster. Beer on the other hand contains hops which makes for unique flavor combinations and carbonation which lightens up the mouthfeel and even diminishes fats in heavy foods. Typically, however, people are going to favor what they already prefer--beer or wine--regardless of how well it pairs with the food; this is natural and there is nothing wrong this. Cypress is offering a great opportunity for beer and wine devotees to to discover the differences and similarities of what beer and wine can do with food.

Enough with the armchair speculation--go taste the food and drink for yourself and enjoy wine and beer for what they are.

*Note: the wine and beer pairings were taken from Doug Blackburn's blog post.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Earth and Tannin Tasting

I believe that all of these wines except #6 were purchased locally, but most of them are no longer available. The wines are listed in the order drunk--I'll be honest: I did begin to experience palate fatigue somewhere after the 5th or 6th wine, which is reflected in lack of detail in my notes in the later wines. For me the wines that stood out and are worth seeking out are # s 7, 10 &15 (10 and 15 are pictured below). The notes for the wines are pictured above from left (#1) to right (#15):
1. 2004 Domain Gautier Fitou (Langudoc) Nose: cranberry & earth. Decent fruit still, perfectly balanced, soft tannings. Rating: 88-9.
2. 2001 Finca Villacreces Reserva (Ribiera del Duero) Nose: red/black fruit, carmel/vanilla. Medium body, dark fruit, anise, medium finish w/ menthol. Rating: 89.
3. 2004 Fontanafreddo Langhe Barbera Eremo (Piedmonte) Nose: cranberry/pomegranate, hint of vanilla. Light bodied, red fruit-iness, moderate tannins. Rating: 86.
4. 2004 Bertani Villa Valpollicella Classico Superiore Novare (Veneto) Nose: cranberry, cola. Very light color & body, brick red rim, medium-long finish. Rating: 88.5. 2002 Domaines Ott Chateau Romassan (Bandol) Nose: dark stewed fruit & earth/barnyard. Red fruit on the attack, smooth mouthfeel, black tea finish. Rating: 89-90.
6. 2006 Chateau Saint-Roche Chimeres (Cote du Roussillon) Nose: crushed red fruit w/ floral note. Red fruit and cola on the attack, medium tannins with medium finish. Rating: 89-90.
7. 2003 Clos de la Dioterie (Chinon) 100% Cab Franc. Nose: earth, herbs de Provance, nut, red fruit, cola. Begins w/ red fruit, then herbs and cola. Rating: 91. Most complex wine of the tasting.
8. 2002 Caparone Merlot (Paso Robles) Unfiltered. Nose & palate: herbs, earth w/ aged elements, smooth tannins. Bordeaux style Merlot. Rating: 90.
9. 2004 Chateau du Bousquet (Cotes du Bourg) Nose: little fruit remaining after being opened for more than a week. No rating.
10. 2004 Les Brunes (Vin de Pays D'Oc) Black/red fruit with focused, long black currant finish. Rating: 91. (Also pictured below, right) Favorite wine of the night #1.
11. 2005 Clos Troteligotte CQFD (Cahor) Malbec. Flaw--big disappointment :(
12. 2005 Huter Chaps Final Blend Merlot (Napa) Red/black fruit. Medium tannins & finish. Rating: 85.
13. 2006 Jean-Luc Colombo Les Bartavelles (Chateauneuf-du-Pape) Red fruit and earth on the nose. Red fruit & cola on the palate, medium-light body. Rating: 88-9.
14. 2001 Rodney Strong Symmetry (Alexander Valley) Nose: red/black fruit, cola, flowers. Still good tannins--this could be cellared 5-10 more years. Rating: 90.
15. 2004 Montes Carmenere Purple Angel (Colchagua Valley, Chile) Red/black fruit. Biggest wine of the night, but perfectly balanced. Long finish. Rating: 92. (Also pictured below, left) Favorite wine of the night #2.

Other wines (not pictured, above):
16. 2002 Hall Merlot (Napa) No notes. Rating: 89.

Thanks to everyone for sharing such great wines: Tricia, Leonard (for hosting also), Dwayne, Terry, Jessie, Vanessa, Sean & Andrea.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Some Wine at Bella Bella

I was fortunate enough to find time to stop into Bella Bella (BB) tonight. They've been open for 10 years and my last visit was probably close to 5 years ago. BB has improved in leaps and bounds since my last visit. While recent notable local Italian restaurants (Anthonys and Nino's) have closed, BB expanded by moving into the business next door, more than doubling their original size; they've redecorated creating an all new informal, unpretentious atmosphere; and they've added a good sized bar (pictured above) serving 53 wines by the bottle, 42 of which are available by the glass.

Note: for the rest of the summer Bella Bella has happy hour from 3-7 with 1/2 off any glass of wine and any draft beer!

I tried two wines:

N.V. Shooting Star (Jed Steele) Shiraz Black Bubbles (CA, North Coast, Lake County, Syrah) $7.50 per glass/$3.75 happy hour - Not much nose, but some blackberry syrup. Amazingly, almost no sweetness, light body and dry black tea finish. On the downside no real complexity. But enjoyable. Rating: 85.

2006 Aldo e Riccardo Seghesio Barbera D'Alba (Italy, Piedmont, Alba, Barbera D'Alba) $7 per glass/$3.50 happy hour - black fruit on the nose and the attack, medium-big mouthfeel, moderate-soft tannins, dry finish; balanced. Rating: 87.

Although these wines didn't have much complexity, they were enjoyable and would likely improve when paired with the right food. If you go, some good, uncommon value wines on the Bella Bella list are below. All wines are best when paired with the right food.
1. Bex Riesling (Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer) $8 glass/$34 bottle
2. Schloss Vollrads Riesling Auslese (Germany, Rheingau) $9 glass/$38 bottle
3. Kim Crawford Sauvingnon Blanc (New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough) - I know, I know this isn't uncommon, but its enjoyable. $9 glass/$38 bottle
4. 2001 Carpineto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (Italy, Tuscany, Montepulciano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano) $12 glass/$48 bottle - Best Italin wine
5. Cesari Valpolicella Superiore Mara Vino di Ripasso (Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Valpolicella Superiorie) $7 glass/$29 bottle

UPDATE: went to dinner with friends on Saturday and tried the special shrimp ravioli in creamy pesto--rich...and good. Eveyone else was happy with their entrees. We order a bottle of the Cesari (#5, above). It evolved over time and showed hints of carmel/vanilla--a good food friendly wine. We'll be back.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Tasting at Chez Moi

The theme of the tasting was Summer Wine. Although it started out as such with Prosecco and a light Lodi Viogner, it evolved into something else as we opened a Ribera Sacra Mencia, a red Bordeaux and a Rhone Syrah. Note: this isn't a complaint! Although all of the wines were very good, I highly recommend seeking out the 2 wines of the night (below).

From left to right (above):
2006 Fleurie Cru Du Beaujolais DuBoeuf - good Cru Beaujolais similiar to the Moulin-A-Vent that I recently had. Rating: 88.
2007 La Spinetta Bricco Quaglia Moscato D'Asti - light, not too sweet, refreshing. Rating: 89
2005 Chateau Thebot Bordeaux - earth, fresh cut wet grass. Good everyday Bdx. Rating: 85.
2007 Loredona Viognier Lodi: tart citrus nose, light bodied. Very good. Rating: 88.
2006 Quina Do Alqueve - starts with an explosion of sweet tart, citrus and finishes dry. Light bodied. Most interesting wine of the night. Rating: 91.
NV Mionetto Prosecco di Valdobbiadene - light, focused with good body. Refreshing. Rating: 88.
2006 Fritz Haag Riesling Spatlese - this is my second time tasting this. Still amazing. Rating: 91.
2007 Albola Pino Grigio Friuli - citrus, medium-light bodied. Very good PG--would recommend for those who are looking for a non-stereotypical PG. Rating: 89.
2006 Philippe Faury Saint Joseph Rhone - Prominent warm damp hay on the nose. Good red fruit up front w/ medium bodied and tannins. Rating: 90.

Not pictured above:
2007 Enologia Temera Ribeira Sacra Alodio - Cranberry & Pomegranate up front, focused tannins on the midpalate and finishing with black tea. Wine of the night. Rating: 92.

Thanks to Tricia, Len, Lindsay, Justin, Kevin and Angie all of whom made the tasting wonderful!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bastille Day Burgundies

No doubt the wines of Burgundy (French: Bourgogne) are amazing with their elegance and a focus on terroir that is unmatched in the wine world. Indeed one of my so-called "Ah-Ha" wine moments was with a red Burgundy. But while slowly proceeding through the samples of these wines at the Bastille Day Burg Tasting at Wine Warehouse (WW), I couldn't help thinking how incredibly over-priced they are. I only buy a couple bottles of Burgundies (red or white) a year for special occasions, e.g., my wife's birthday (my wife loves red Burgundies). And although WW has some of them marked down by 50%, I would only consider one of the 12 wines featured at the tasting to be an excellent value (see below).

The French region of Burgundy has more AOCs (read: French certified geographic areas) than any other wine region of France (78 by my count), which makes the region one of the most difficult know, which makes it intimidating. Because there are so many AOCs after years of drinking wines from Burgundy, going to Burgundy tastings, etc., you probably still have only scratched the surface of all that Burgundy has to offer. With that out of the way, below are the best wines of the tasting....

All whites were 100% Chardonnay and had significant variation in character--some had Riesling-like elements, some had Sauvingnon-Blanc-like elements, etc.

1. 2004 Louis Carillon Puligny-Montrachet (Côte de Beaune, Puligny-Montrachet) [Retail $60, WW $30] Great expression of terroir on the nose, viscous body, balanced. Very good Chard. Rating: 89-90. Good Value
2. 2004 Domaine Francois et Antoine Jobard Mersault "En La Barre" (Côte de Beaune, Mersault) [Retail $60, WW $40] Nose: sweet caramel. Sweet caramel & saline up front & on the finish with dry, austere citrus on the mid-palate. Drink now--don't hold. Rating: 87-8
3. 2005 Gerbeaux Pouilly-Fuisse VV (Mâconnais, Pouilly-Fuisse) [Retail $50, WW $33] This one took some warming up to--most othes at the tasting didn't care for it. It didn't have much of a nose, but on the palate it had Sauvignon Blanc-like acidity & body with some petrol & chalk. Rating: 87.
All reds were 100% Pinot Noir and like the whites all varied significantly in character.
4. 2005 Phillipe Colin Satenay (Côte de Beaune, Satenay) [Retail $30, WW $22] Nose: pepper, cranberry and spice. On the palate light, elegant and finesse with steely tang with a black tea finish. Attractive wine. Rating: 91. Excellent Value
5. 2005 Vincent Girardin Pommard Premier Cru "Grand Epinots" (Côte de Beaune, Pommard) [Retail $80, WW $60] Nose of earth and red fruit. Medium-full bodied, red & black fruit. Longest finish of the tasting. Could stay in the cellar for a few more years. Rating: 90.
6. 2005 Phillipe Colin Maranges "Fussiere" (Côte de Beaune, Maranges) [Retail $35, WW $25] Brick red color, light bodied, elegant, medium-long finish. Rating: 88-9.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Noble Riesling Tasting

This week's tasting at the Wine Warehouse was one of the best in a long time. There were 12 Rieslings featured--6 were German, the other 6 were non-German. In every case the Germans were as good or better than the non-Germans. In fact, although I've always liked dry Rieslings, during the tasting I officially became a fan of Rieslings with sweetness. Numbers 1 & 2 were the standouts, and the others were very good. These all have some sweetness--typically, the Spatlese ("late harvest") wines are sweeter than the Kabinett. If you're looking for tasty German Rieslings, here they are:

1. Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Spatlese 2006 ($20) - honey, spice, viscous approaching Sauternes-like profile. Excellent. Rating: 93.
2. Von Hovel Oberemmler Hutte Kabinett 2006 ($17) Rating: 90.
3. Zilliken Ockfener Bockstein Kabinett 2006 ($14) - honey, petrol & floral elements. Rating: 89.
4. Bert Simon Serrig Wurzbert Spatlese 2005 ($15) Rating: 88.
5. Dr. F Weins-Prum Urziger Wurz Kabinett 2006 ($14) Rating: 88.

Comments Welcome!

p.s. sorry if the images are fuzzy--click on the hyperlinks for the wines for clearer pics.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Clairet Rosé & A Local Tasting

In the spirit of Independence Day I expressed my independence qua wine drinker by drinking an atypical wine: a Clairet Bordeaux rosé. Clairet style wines are from Bordeaux and are either dark roses (see picture, above) or light reds. (This rosé is available at the Wine Warehouse for under $10.) My notes are below:

2008 Château de Parenchère Bordeaux Clairet (France, Bordeaux, Bordeaux Clairet; blend of Merlot, Cab Franc & Cab Sauvignon)

Nose: steel & minerals with lime zest, with bright red cherry & cranberry notes.
Taste: first the red fruit, then the steel. Medium mouth-feel for a rose.
Overall: Not a fruit-forward, sweet, new-world rose, therefore probably not immediately accessible to most people. But this wine definitely became more appealing after a few glasses and especially on day 2—it didn’t lose anything by day 2. Food friendly, e.g, BBQ, shrimp cocktail, etc.

Rating: 85

New Leaf Market Tasting (every Friday @ 5:30)

First off, you should know that the staff who work the wine tastings are very friendly and they offer “healthy” pours—be careful or you’ll be drunk by the end. The tasting crowd was friendly too.

Although the wines left weren’t spectacular, the top wine of the tasting was the 2005 Gravity Hills Syrah Base Camp (USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles). I also noticed that they carry the 2008 Muldurbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé (South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch). And for only $11 it’s a great value, so I picked one up—you should too!

Last, they also held a so-called “Parm cracking”—an 80 lb. wheel of Parmesan cheese that was aged for 2 years was cut open (pictured, below). They handed out free samples with warm olive oil bread—tasty!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Café Cabernet's Best Values

Not much is needed by way of intoduction: Café Cabernet has the largest selection of wine in Tallahassee (27 wines by the glass and 800+ bottles) and is a perennial winner of wine service awards. So before going I studied the wine list (all 25 pages) for a solid 2 hours so that you don't have to. Although Café Cabernet sells world class wines, the goal of my visit was to find the best value wines. Here are the best 5 "must try" wines for your next visit Café Cabernet that are around or below $30--in fact I would bet that these wines are good values wherever you find them: (Note: the first 3 numbers are Café Cabernet's unique wine tracking number)

1. (054) Chateau de la Dimerie Muscadet (Melon De Bourgogne, Loire France) $22
2. (180) Stags Leap Viogner (Viogner, Napa CA) $31
3. (181) Robert Sinskey Rose (Pinot Noir, Napa CA) $32
4. (256) Georges DuBoeuf Moulin-a-Vent (Gamay, Burgundy France) $25
5. (697) Cosentino "Cigar Zin" (Zinfandel, Central Valley, Lodi CA) $29

Let me know what you think after your visit.

Finally, there is much more to Café Cabernet than value wines: a good food menu (and chef), a large selection of Scotch and a retail wine store called "The Wine Cellar" to name a few. I will explore more of Café Cabernet in future posts.

And, 'yes', that's me in the clilmate controlled cellar at Café Cabernet, which is accessible through The Wine Cellar retail store. Check it out--there's nothing like it in Tallahassee.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

2 Summer Wines During a Heat Advisory

Well the highs have been 110+ degrees over the past two days here. Among other things, the instructions of local the heat advisory were to stay out of the sun and drink a lot of non-alcoholic beverages.... I played over an hour of tennis today (barely survived) and shared a couple wines last night. I liked the wines more than the tennis.

The first was the Benton Lane Pinot Gris from Willamette Valley, Oregon (pictured below). It showed gooseberry, ripe cantaloupe and flowers on the nose and palate. It started like a New Zealand Sauvingnon Blanc (NZSB) until the flowers appeared. And it had more body than a NZ SB. Although it wasn't as refreshing as Rondolino that I recently tried (my white wine of the moment), overall it was a better wine. Rating = 88. You can pick it up on sale at the Wine Warehouse for $18 and change.
The second wine was a bargain sparkler: La Marca Prosecco (NV) from Veneto Italy (pictured below). What was most impressive about this prosecco was its body and balance, which resembled a $30-$40 Champagne. Now it didn't have nearly the complexity of Champagne, but it overall it was a very good Prosecco. Rating = 87. This Prosecco can be found at Market Square Liquor (Timberlane) for the amazing price of $12.
Both of these are great summer wines and can be found up and down the east coast. If you live locally just remember to drink them safely indoors. Cheers!

Leave a comment

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Best of the Loire

The Wine Warehouse held a tasting featuring 12 wines either from France's Loire Valley or wines that were inspired by this region. Here are the best--pick some up and cool off!

1. Hautes Ouche Rose D'Anjou 2007 (Grolleau, Cabernet Franc, Gamay blend) $11 WW
Nose: fresh strawberry & melon.
Taste: same fruit as shown on the nose; light-medium body; balanced finish.
Comments: for the money this is the best wine in the line up--refreshing & perfect for summer.
Rating: 85
2. Hippolyte Reverdy Sancerre 2007 (100% Sauvignon Blanc) $22 WW
Nose: floral, honey & spice (resembling a Riesling), slight body odor component.
Taste: lemon peel, chalk, light body; balanced.
Comments: this wine is for those who love wines with complexity.
Rating: 86

3. Marcel Martin Cremant de Loire Brut NV (Champagne Blend) $16
Nose: muted nose; slight sugar/honey.
Taste: medium body; tight bubbles, dry steely finish.
Comments: this is an interesting change of pace for a sparkling wine and is perfect for the summer heat.
Rating: 85

4. Pearson Cabernet Franc 2004 (100% Cabernet Franc, Australia) $25 WW
Nose: red & black fruit, some gamey-ness.
Taste: red fruit on the attack, black tea & currant on the finish; balanced. Nice wine.
Comments: although summer isn't the best time for reds, this wine had the best of everything: balance, fruit and structure.
Rating: 90.

The Loire Valley is found in the heart of France and winds along the Loire River, France's longest river. The Loire is France's third largest wine region and the largest white wine region in France. Typically, Loire whites are know for being fresh, crisp and food friendly--perfect for summer.

Comments are encouraged!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Visit To Lee's Wine Bar

There’s a new wine bar in town…well, sort of. Lee’s Wine Bar is now open in the Lake Ella Plaza in the exact same location where DeVine Wines used to be. So what’s the difference between Lee’s and Devine Wines? In short, ownership. Whereas Lee Satterfield was part owner of DeVine Wines, he is now sole proprietor of Lee’s Wine Bar. The interior of Lee’s has been redesigned with a more modern and simplified character. (See photo of the newly designed bar, above right.)

Lee’s Wine Bar is open but technically its status is only a “soft” open—they still plan on finishing some decorating and tying up other loose ends. The grand opening is expected to take place sometime in the next few weeks. There is no food sold at this time but there are plans to do so after the grand opening. They also plan on launching their new website in the next few weeks. So although Lee’s hasn’t had its grand opening, it is stocked with a full list of wines that include a good variety of sparklers, whites, reds and ports. The wines that make up the list represent today’s most popular wine regions, e.g., Mendoza (Argentina), Jumilla (Spain), Columbia and Willamette Valleys (Washington state), Sonoma & Napa Valleys, as well as wines from countries such as Austrailia, South Africa, France and Italy. The stemware at Lee’s is some of the best in town. Another nice feature of Lee’s Wine Bar is that patrons can receive a taste of wines that they think they might like before purchasing a glass (or bottle). The staff are knowledgeable—I spotted a copy of the Wine Bible on the bar which is always a welcome sight for someone like me who wants to know about the wines (and grapes that make up the wines) that I’m drinking.

On to the wines.... I tried two whites (Hugo Huber Grüner Veltliner and Pacific Rim Dry Riesling) and four reds (Gougenheim Malbec, Carchelo blend, Barnard Griffin Merlot and The Four Graces Pinot Noir). All of the whites that I tasted are well-known value wines and were drinking well. I enjoyed the reds that I tasted more than the whites because they had had some complexity to them.
The reds that I tasted were all average to above average--the Four Graces was the best. But I also liked the Gougenheim, because it didn’t have the typical Malbec flavor profile, i.e., ripe fruit, caramel (read: oak), etc.; and the Carchelo, which showed black fruit with black tea element on a dry finish.

Compared to other wine bars in Tallahassee, Lee's has one of the better wine list
that shows that Lee pays attention to the current wines scene. And Tallahassee should be thankful for this. I think, however, that the wines by the glass are a little pricey. I know that this claim moves the discussion into the domain of business which is complicated and which I don't wish to enter here--this is just an observation from a consumer. One potential solution to this, however, is to sell half-glasses like some wine bars in bigger cities, e.g., San Francisco, etc. (Note: I am not aware of any wine bars or restaurants in Tallahassee sell half-glasses, but its time that some started.) Another observation that I realize is more idiosyncratic is that the list of wines in Lee’s is displayed on a large chalkboard that hangs on the wall showing the wine and producer. Presenting the wine list in this way gives the feel of an unpretentious wine bar, which is nice. And although I’ve seen wine bars outside of Tallahassee display its available wines in this manner, I like to know the region and grape varietal(s) of the wine when deciding what to drink. (Note: the staff did answer all of my questions about region and grape varietals that I had.) In Lee's defense, I understand the difficulties of maintaining a hardcopy of a wine list that can (and typically does) change daily. Regardless I will be returning again after the grand opening to try some new wines with food… that’ll be another post.

Leave a comment about anything found above or the following: have you gone to Lee’s? What did you think?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Rosé Rumble

On the one hand, summer in the south is a time for BBQ. And BBQ means big flavor which convention says requires bold red wines (think Zinfandel, etc.) for pairing. On the other hand, for me and most others the summer heat and humidity of the south make a big, warm (i.e., room temp) red wine just unpleasant drinking. Because of the summer weather people typically drink a chilled white wine. The problem with this summer custom is that white wine just doesn't stand up to the bold flavors of BBQ. So we’re faced with the following frustrating and seemingly inescapable dilemma: either we eat BBQ or drink white wine. Right? Wrong—drink rosé with summer BBQ! Many rosés have just enough body to stand up to BBQ and are served chilled so it isn't unpleasant to drink in the summer. (Note: there are light red wines that are more compatible with the summer heat. If you insist on drinking one of these light red wines in the summer heat, throw it in the refrigerator for a half-hour to give it a slight chill will make it easier to drink.) Therefore I've purchased two rosé wines that are available in local Tallahassee wine merchants for under $20. Each wine was purchased at different local merchants. One good thing about rosé is that typically it isn’t as expensive as red wine. (The most expensive rosé sold at the Wine Warehouse right now is only $13!) I’ve chosen French rosés (each coincidentally from Provence) because in my experience they tend to have complexity, i.e., showing a variety of aromas and flavors. Furthermore, the French have been making these wines for decades. So the stage is set for Battle Rosé!

Here are the wines:

1. 2008 Mas de Gourgonnier Rosé (Les Baux-de-Provence, Red Blend) Purchased at
Market Square Liquor Timberlane , $17 + tax (pictured left, above)
  • Color: Scarlet. Beautiful color.
  • Nose: Cranberries, orange peel. Nice nose.
  • Taste: Cranberry, blood orange; some alcohol shows up on the finish; full-bodied rosé.
  • Taste with BBQ: Pairs well with simple dry rub on the pork & chicken, and hides some of the alcohol on the finish.
2. 2007 Atmosphere Vin de Pays du Var (Provence, Provence blend) Available at the Wine Warehouse $12 + tax (pictured right, above)
  • Color: Pastel pink.
  • Nose: watermelon (evolving into pink grapefruit over time), steely.
  • Taste: Pink grapefruit; chalky; balanced; easy drinking.
  • Taste with BBQ: quenches the heat of the chili; refreshes the mouth.
The Gourgonnier is clearly the bigger rosé of the two. Just after opening, the Atmosphere is ready to drink and is refreshing. On day 1 the Atmosphere wins Battle Rosé.

UPDATE, Day 2:
The Gourgonnie
r has lost the alcohol on the finish and really developed into a clean, focused and seamless integration of strawberry, minerals and saline. One of the best ros
és I've ever had..... Wine is a moving target!

The Atmosphere has begun to fall apart just slightly, but is still drinkable.

In round 2 the winner is clearly the Gourgonnier.

Leave a comment: what’s your favorite local pink wine that you’ve had recently?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Around the World for Under $10

Tasting @ The Wine Warehouse

The wines featured were true to the tasting title—there was a white wine from Israel and a red from Greece along with selections from the traditional wine countries and regions. All of the wines featured in this tasting were average to above average. (See Robert Parker's 100 Point Scale here.) And I must admit that this did surprise me for 12 sub-$10 wines. Having said that, I don’t think that I would consider any of these wines as outstanding. (See Nor, I would argue, should one expect as much from a sub-$10 tasting. (Note: although I don’t believe that there is a necessary connection between price and quality, I think that there is a correlation. But this is for another post….) On to the wines…. My white of the night was the NZ SB (#5, below) because of its atypical NZ SB profile. My red of the night was a toss-up with no clear stand-out. Forced to pick, I’d choose the CA Pinot Noir (#8, below)…and typically I’m more of a red Burgundy fan but this one resembles a red Burgundy with its unambiguous terroir element.
The Whites
1. Aveleda Vinho Verde, N.V. (Minho, Portugal; Traditional VV blend of Loureiro-Trajadura-Arinto ) [WW $7.99]:
• Nose: muted with slight honeydew component.
• Taste: melon & citrus; decent viscosity & body for VV; balanced.
2. Barkan Classic 2007 (Dan, Israel; 100% unoaked Chardonnay) [WW $6.99]
• Nose: Floral & melon notes.
• Taste: melon & citrus; dry; good balance; steely (slightly bitter) finish.
3. Knappstein Hand-Picked 2006(Clare Valley, Australia; 100% Riesling) [WW $7.99]
• Nose: petrol, gooseberry & slight cat pee.
• Taste: gooseberry, no sweetness; viscous, round, medium bodied; some alcohol on the finish.
4. Lurton Pinot Gris 2009 (Valle de Uco, Argentina; 100% Pinot Gris) [WW $8.99]
• Nose: dominated by guava fruit. (If you enjoy guava, this is your wine.)
• Taste: guava; slightly sweet (but not late-harvest sweet); some heat (alcohol) shows up on the finish.
5. Selaks Sauvignon Blanc 2006 (Marlborough, Australia; 100% Sauvignon Blanc) [WW $9.99]
• Nose: warm rubber & passion fruit.
• Taste: mild passion fruit; smooth body. Atypical NZ SB—3 years old, lacking the gooseberry and razor-sharp acidity. Interesting change of pace.
The Reds
In general I found all of the reds to be light to medium bodied, lending themselves to summer drinkability (if you so choose to drink reds at the start of Tallahassee’s summer heat and humidity).
6. Boutari 2006 (Nemea, Greece; 100% Agiorgitiko) [WW $7.99]
• Nose: Black currant, black cherries & brown sugar.
• Taste: dark fruit, subtle leather element; smooth tannins; lightest of the reds.
7. Luiano Chianti Classico Rosso Toscanna 2007 (Tuscany, Italy; 100% Sangiovese) [WW $7.99]
• Nose: caramel & salt, cherry.
• Taste: cherry; light bodied; balanced; smooth finish.
8. Mark West California 2007 (Central Coast & Sonoma sources; 100% Pinot Noir) [WW $9.99]
• Nose: pronounced warm soil element & mild red fruit.
• Taste: red fruit; light; balanced; some leather on the finish.
9. Charamba Douro 2007 (Douro, Portugal; Traditional field-blend) [WW $6.99]
• Nose: soil, dark cherry.
• Taste: cherry & some orange zest on the attack; balanced; smooth finish.
10. St. Martin Garrigue Tradition 2006 (Coteaux du Languedoc, France; Syrah-Carignan blend) [WW $9.99]
• Nose: dark prune, barnyard, slight caramel & salt component.
• Taste: dark prune, slight leather component; balanced.
11. Emperador de Barros 2006 (Extremedura, Spain; 100% Tempranillo) [WW $7.99]
• Nose: dark red fruit, barnyard.
• Taste: dark cherry, licorice on the finish; balanced; smooth finish.
12. Gougenheim Cab 2007 (Mendoza, Argentina; 100% Cabernet Sauvignon) [WW $9.99]
• Nose: red fruit, sweet tart.
• Taste: red fruit; balanced; light for a cab; longest finish of the reds.
Comment on this!: What's your favorite local wine for $10 or less?