Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Decanting - The Answer for Hidden Terroir!

In a recent piece over on Appellation America Dan Berger wrote the following

“one of the key factors in all great wine - evidence of the terroir - is easily obliterated early in a wine’s life, and the only way to access it is to decant the wine and allow air to work its magic.”

OK Dan, I’ll bite. Before you arrived at this enlightened moment of wine truth just how many wines did you find that revealed their terroir following decanting? And by that I mean performing a triangulation test with one bottle decanted for a few hours compared to a freshly opened bottle?

I have no doubt that Berger is correct in saying that some wines can exhibit sulfur (and other) odors soon after a cork is pulled or a screwcap ceremoniously removed in the Helm manner. And these odors can mask the depth and complexity of the wine. But for exposure to air to reveal hidden terroir is bunkum. Just like any other aspect of wine lore aeration produces effects that can be entirely subjective. If you don’t believe me get a couple of bottles of one wine and a few friends together and do your own triangulation test.

What is a triangulation test? In essence it is a test to see if a taster can distinguish between two wines (or as I have used in decanting experiments here on SHIRAZ - decanted versus non-decanted wine). Two glasses receive one wine and a third the other wine. It is the task of the taster to identify which glasses contain which wine. And because two glasses have the same wine it shouldn’t be all that hard, right Dan!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

An Inauguration Wine

A new beginning. An about-face from ineptitude, secrecy, embarrassment, and hopefully no more mind numbing mistakes. What wine do you select to celebrate such a moment in history? I doubt that I have ever thought so long and hard about any wine selection. Should I pick something old, something expensive, perhaps elegant, unflustered, or maybe big and bold, something foreign or American? I became a US citizen in October 2008 but I am allowed to retain my Australian citizenship, so perhaps something from Australia. I searched my cellar row by row until I picked up a bottle of Jim Barry McRae Wood Clare Valley Shiraz, turned it over and read the blurb, and I knew I had my wine.

Miranda cried tears of joy on Inauguration Day and her tears still come easily whenever President Obama appears on the TV. I’m not immune to moments of emotion myself. We live in more than just interesting times, these are generational times, times that will turn into page turning history. And history flows over recent events like the sweet icing on a great and wonderful cake because on the day before President Obama’s inauguration the nation celebrated one individual whose speeches do move me to tears, do so now just typing his name. We will never know the joy with which Martin Luther King Jr would have greeted the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States had he been allowed to live. He would have been just a few days over 80 years old. His assassination on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee took all future joy away from him and from a nation. But an assassin’s bullet cannot shatter a dream, even time could not shatter the dream. The dream has now been carried on Dr King’s shoulders all the way to the White House. A day after he is celebrated a nation celebrated Dr King’s dream.

Why pick the Jim Barry McRae Wood Shiraz as my Inauguration wine? Quite simply the parallels of history. There is no other wine that I have that fits so well. Just like the election of President Obama the seeds for the McRae Wood were planted by a pioneer and visionary in the 1960’s and now the fruits of that labor can be celebrated. It is more than just a suitable wine because as is written on the bottle an inspired choice was made in the birth of this wine, just as Dr King’s dream inspired a nation to rise up and put hope and change above fear and secrecy.

In some respects it may seem trite to compare a winemaker’s accomplishments to that of Dr. King but in truth we all, at least I hope we all, strive to achieve greatness in our own way. Perhaps more poignant is the fact that so many can share in the success of that greatness. The 2003 Jim Barry McRae Wood Shiraz is one of those wines which tasted on any other day might have just been extremely good, but on the night of January 20th it was superb. Deeply colored, richly flavored and powerful, its vibrant acidity made it soar over its supporting firm powdery tannins to a lengthy finish. It’s a wine that has promise. It could last a few years. Its drinking window could be 8 years, easy!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

San Diego Restaurant Week - Part Two

Miranda decided that we would bookend San Diego Restaurant Week and so our second restaurant visit came on the last day of the week long event, Friday January 16th, at Mille Fleur. This is a restaurant we had wanted to sample for some time because it has been described in glowing terms from coast to coast. So we braved the traffic disaster that is described as the 5/805 merge and then wound our way via Del Mar Heights Road, Via De La Valle, Via De Santa Fe to Paseo Delicias. It you are thinking that is a bit of trek to find food you are correct but it beats traveling further north on the I-5 during the evening rush hour. Mille Fleur is in Rancho Santa Fe, a rather exclusive enclave of San Diego County where homes fetch multiples of seven figures. In fact the median price of a home rose 2.3% in 2008 to $2,430,000! So when there is a chance to mingle with the rich and famous over a 3-course meal for $40 its simply not polite to say no!

Mille Fleur
I love polished wood and this place has plenty. The service is also polished, although Miranda was convinced that out waiter/sommelier was out of the French castle scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I actually thought he looked like Manuel of Fawlty Towers but he was far from disorganized or confused, although he may have been a little Spanish. We settled on a mix of French and Spanish. Whether he was Basque or not he was attentive and expert in opening the bottle of 2006 Lagier Meredith Syrah (Mt Veeder, California) that I have extracted from the cellar for our meal.

Each of the three courses had three choices or you could, for quite a reasonable price, select from six additional courses. We stayed with the fixed menu. I started with the Assorted mushroom and truffle risotto, which came with arugula pesto, watercress and pea tendrils and then had the Trio of Colorado Lamb:leg,chop and sausage with flageolets beans and savoy cabbage as my main course. Miranda started with the Leek and potato soup with smoked salmon, asparagus confetti, horseradish and dill followed by the Black pepper "onglet" hanger steak accompanied by gruyere spaetzle, and caramelised onions. We both had the Warm apple-brioche pudding with currants, cinnamun, rhum sauce, ice cream for dessert.

The food was something special, especially my main meal. I’m originally Australian which means that I rarely go further down the menu than Rack of Lamb. The reason is that the meat is often sourced from either Australian or New Zealand and I’m at home with that. But the Colorado lamb was mouthwatering and perfect with Lagier Meredith Syrah which was more typical of the elegant style of Aussie Shiraz than the full blooded styles that cross the Pacific to USA wine shops.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Drinking with SHIRAZ on Saturday - Half Bottles

This is the first of a new series of (hopefully not irregular) posts in which I will take you to my favorite wine shop for some wine tasting. I have been gladly burdening my credit card at Vintage Wines in San Diego for over 20 years simply because they provide great value, service and knowledge. And they also put on some great wine tasting events. The most regular is their Saturday tasting which, if you have the stamina, has three parts. For those looking for wine bargains, seemingly more and more winos these days, there is the $2 Tasting which consists of between 4-6 wines of $15 or less/bottle. Next is the $5 Tasting which consists of 6 wines selected around a theme such as a region, variety, or wine style. Finally there is the Wine Bar which consists of 12 wines (usually 6 white and 6 red including at least one dessert style) which is changed every Friday afternoon.

My Saturday visit to Vintage Wines always includes the $5 Tasting and a selection from the Wine Bar. I try to do the $5 tasting single blind, that is I know what the theme is but not the wines. This is not done to display the depth and breadth of my wine knowledge to anyone else who might also be in the tasting room, but rather to reinforce to myself the total lack of ability I have at identifying wine. The truly sad thing is that I continue to taste blind every time I go to Vintage Wines.

Half Bottle Tasting (January 10, 2009)
The world is in an economic tailspin. There are daily headlines of woe everywhere. Its enough to drive a person to drink. But can you afford to? And would all that alcohol consumption be good for you anyway? If you are looking for ways to cut your wine consumption to satisfy either economic or health concerns or both, then I have the answer for you. Half bottles are the way to go.

There is an argument that the wine in half bottles ages faster than the much more conventional 750 ml bottle. Careful readers might have noticed that I used the word age rather than mature; if you don’t know what I mean by that compare Bridget Bardot in her 30’s with her appearance now; in her 30’s she was mature, now she is aged.. Aging, so the argument goes, is accelerated in half bottles because the neck and ullage are similar between 375 and 750 ml bottles and so there is potentially more oxygen per milliliter of wine in the half bottle and thus oxidation occurs at a faster rate. Of course all this depends entirely upon whether air or an inert gas (such as nitrogen) has been pumped on top of the wine during bottling and also on the amount of air the cork allows to ingress into the bottle during its life in the cellar. If you are worried about premature aging in half bottles the best bet, as always, is to go with bottles that have a screwcap.

The only real problem with half bottles is that there are too few wines that come in this size. Their scarcity has made them hard to find in both wines shops and restaurants although this seems to be slowly changing. For those interested in finding a good supply of half bottles look no further than the end of this post. For those who want to know what your local wine shop might have on their shelves in half bottle format read on.

Vintage Wines has a fairly small but quite diverse range of half bottles and it was immediately obvious from the contents of the six glasses that José put in front of me that the half bottle tasting was going to cover a good range of the wine styles they had available, including one that should have been more familiar than it turned out to be.

First Wine
Clearly a bubbly. Lightest straw in color with a faint hint of honey brown. Attractive doughy/yeasty nose, that turned to a more baked bread aroma with air. Bottom notes of beeswax and marmalade. Light weight with a nice fizz on the tongue. Very refreshing with the flavors carrying well onto the palate and providing good length to the finish.
Score: 2, 2, 3.6, 9.8=17.4/20, 87/100.
Drink: Now
Wine: Non-vintage Gosset Brut Excellence, Champagne, France
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: NA
Price: $18.99USD

Second Wine
Straw gold in color with a clear edge. Quite nutty with a toasted oak note and a little beeswax and truffles and a hint of musk. Developed the aroma of orange dominant marmalade with time. Full bodied, oily, nice flavor carry, supported by juicy acidity and attractive length. A well structured Chardonnay, might even be from Burgundy.
Score: 2, 2, 4.0, 10.0=18.0/20, 90/100.
Drink: Now-2010.
Wine: 2004 Steele Chardonnay, Steele Cuvee, California.
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 13.5%
Price: $7.99

Third Wine
Light cherry red with a pink edge. Ah, Pinot Noir. Top notes of cherry and strawberry with bottom notes of dry earth and spices; not California. The rich red fruit aromas are enhanced by a little air. Soft and supple entry with a very silky carry across the palate to a lengthy finish supported by firming tannins. A nice little wine that should improve over the next few years.
Score: 2, 2, 4.0, 10.2=18.2/20, 91/100.
Drink: Now-2012.
Wine: 2006 Domain Drouhin Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 14.1%
Price: $19.49USD

Fourth Wine
Deep, dark cherry red with red edge. Dusty oak, a little banana skin with a middle note of cassis and a hint of blackberry. This is very young Cabernet but its quite appealing. Medium to full bodied in weight it has bright acidity that melds well with the fine but gritty tannins. It’s a nicely structured wine that needs time to throw off its excesses.
Score:2, 2, 4.1, 10.1=18.2/20, 91/100.
Drink: 2010-2016.
Wine: 2004 Rubicon Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Cask, Rutherford, California.
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 14.2%
Price: $19.99USD

Fifth Wine
Deep, dense, cherry red with red edge. Very closed with a hint of smoked meats and a little smoked oak and a bottom gluey note hinting at incomplete malo. Livens up with a little air. Full bodied with firm, aggressive tannins, clean acidity and nice length. Not sure what this is! This will also need some time to show its character.
Score:2, 2, 3.8, 9.8=17.8/20, 89/100.
Drink: 2010-2018.
Wine: 2004 Ehlers Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California.
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 14.7%

Sixth Wine
Golden yellow with a clear edge. A mélange of spices, raisins, apricot, and butterscotch. Full bodied, viscous and luscious tending towards being a little cloying due to the lack of crispness on the finish. It’s a nice wine, its just not all that it could be.
Score: 2, 2, 4.2, 9.6, 17.8/20, 89/100.
Drink: Now 2020.
Wine: 2004 Nittnaus Gruner Veltliner Eiswein, Austria
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 9.5%
Price: $17.97

Tasting wine is always a learning experience. Only a week previously the Ehlers Estate Cabernet Sauvignon had been part of the Vintage Wines aborted “Hair of the Dog” tasting, AKA The Half Bottle Tasting. Yes, in two weeks I had been served 13 different half bottle wines and I couldn’t even recognize the one wine that had been served both times. But I have an excuse because the earlier tasting seemed from a completely different wine. In that first tasting The Ehlers was rich and ripe with blueberry and blackberry, spices, cherry and a trace of licorice. It was tightly wound but well balanced with upfront acidity and firm tannins. All in all nicely structured with excellent length but still too young at this time. Score: 2, 2, 4.2, 10.1=18.3/20, 92/100. Sounds like a completely different wine and that is what can happen when different bottles of the same wine are consumed. The wine at the second tasting with its smoked aromas looks a little like its aged prematurely perhaps due to poor storage or heat exposure. I have a couple more bottles in the cellar that, once opened, might tell us which is the real Ehlers. Stay tuned to these pages.

I guess you are wondering why the tasting on January 10th has been called the Half Bottle Tasting when it is really Part II. Well there is only enough time in this week to catch up with one tasting. But if anyone wants notes on the other 5 wines I have them.

Interested in trying a few half bottles, perhaps building a half bottle collection? The largest range that I know of is available at Half Wit Wines, an online wine shop that specializes in half-bottles. You can get anything from the 1999 Chateau Musar Rouge Bekaa Valley from Lebanon to a 1978 Chateau Margaux. Oh, and just as an FYI a split is not a half bottle (375ml), it’s a quarter bottle or 187ml. Don’t worry, I’ve made that mistake myself.

From the Wine Bar
As usual the Wine Bar was replete with offering from all over the wine world. I tasted the wines in bold and all were excellent to outstanding but I’m only going to talk about one.

White: 2006 Dechant Gruner Veltliner, Alte Reben, Austria, 2008 Matua Sauvignon Blanc, "Paretai", Marlborough, NZ, 2006 Matanzas Creek Chardonnay, Sonoma Valley, 2006 Conn Valley Chardonnay, Napa, 2005 Meursault les Narvaux, Vincent Girardin, 2004 Nittnaus Gruner Veltliner Eiswein, Austria.

Red: 2006 Morey-St. Denis la Riotte VV, Olivier Jouan, France, 2006 Nebbiolo delle Langhe, Prod. del Barbaresco, Italy, 2005 Ch. Lascombes, Margaux, France, 2003 Castello di Meleto "Rainero", IGT, Toscana, Italy, 2006 Conn Valley "Right Bank: Red Blend, Napa, 2006 R Winery Shiraz "Boarding Pass", Australia.

2006 Morey-St. Denis la Riotte VV, Olivier Jouan, Burgundy, France. $47.99
I like Pinot Noir, but then I like just about every wine grape. My problem is I don’t understand Burgundy, how the vineyards are laid out and named. All those small parcels of vines, all with seemingly endless names. How does one keep it all memorized and understandable? A great example is the Olivier Jouan Morey-St. Denis La Riotte. Morey-St-Denis is a village in the Cote de Nuits and Oliver Jouan has a total of about 20 acres but only 0.74 acres comprise his La Riotte vineyard; the map in this Burgundy Report on Morey-St. Denis gives you a great idea about how fragmented Burgundy vineyards can be. The Jouan La Riotte vineyard is rated as Premier Cru (1er Cru) and this 2006 is a wonderful little wine. Its cherry red in color with a pink edge and has a very distinctive nose of cherry and strawberry, spices and sweet geranium, and a bottom note of bathroom salts – the know, the ones the lady in your life uses to make herself smell beautiful! It’s a little shy on the palate with super-soft tannins and clean balanced acidity. Beautifully structured, this is really nice Burgundy. Score: 2, 2, 4.4, 10.4=18.8/20, 94/100.

Image © Casarsa: No this is not one of the gathered throng that drinks with SHIRAZ on Saturday, I just thought it might help to grab your attention. And I was right, wasn’t I?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

San Diego Restaurant Week

Now in its fifth year, the San Diego Restaurant Week (January 11-16, 2009), provides the opportunity to pick from 3-course menus from over 150 restaurants. Prices vary from $20, 30 or 40 per person; but there are a few restrictions such as “Beverage, tax and gratuity not included. No splitting or sharing.” Miranda and I have taken part in Restaurant Week for the last 3 or 4 years and its has always been a great opportunity to sample new and/or unusual restaurant fare in the San Diego area for very reasonable prices.

The Marine Room
The Marine Room, on La Jolla Shores, was one of the first restaurants I visited when I came to San Diego in the early 1980’s, just after it had been restored following damage from the sea in 1982. Back then it was one of the places to be seen, usually at a Sunday brunch or having a drink and dancing to the piano in the evening. The food was always good but usually not great.

Its biggest claim to fame is that at high tide the water laps at the windows and at least twice has come through the windows and wrecked the place. But there are few better places in La Jolla to enjoy the ocean at night as the lights play on the waves breaking on the beach, and you sip on a cool beer or glass of wine. I had not dined at the Marine Room since the 1990’s and when walked in last Sunday night it was obvious that the place had changed little in that time. The sun had just set but there was enough light to see the very calm ocean throwing up some baby waves. You couldn’t say the same for the table we were given. Where were the lights? Romantic lighting is one thing, enough light to see the menu by is something else. Even so the place was packed, the staff busy and our orders were taken quickly and the wine we had brought opened. Bringing wine to the Marine Room has never been a problem but these days its a real treat as they began a program almost a year ago of not charging corkage if the wine is 5 or more years old. That is a very enlightened approach that should appeal to wine lovers.

For an appetizer I had the Berber Agrume Spiced Prawn Duet with Tancello Bulgur Tian, Ancho Chile Aioli, and Amaranth Pomegranate Reduction, and a main course of Peri Peri Spiced Maine Diver Scallops with Boniato Timbale, Vanilla Braised Leek, and Peppercress Lobster Corail Butter. Miranda and her mother both had the Royal Trumpet Mushroom Bisque with Pancetta, Verbena Fromage Blanc, and Truffle Oil for an appetizer and the Muscat Kalbi Glazed Mid Western Filet Mignon with Wasabi Chive Potato, Shiitake Butter, and Pickled Cipollini Plum XO Reduction as a main course. We all had the “Trilogy” for dessert which consisted of Kona Kahlua Espresso Torte, Macadamia Amarula Pot de Crème, and Honey Crystal Peach Sorbet.

The prawns were excellent. I cut off half-inch pieces layered each with some bulgar (a mix of wheats) and spread on some of the sauces. It was all gone too soon. The scallops were also extremely good. Very soft and paired well with the leek and sauces. The small piece of filet that I managed to beg from Miranda was mouthwateringly soft and complimented beautifully by the shiitake butter. Its a shame I don't like my meat medium-rare.

All this was consumed with a bottle of 2002 Dutschke Oscar Semmler Shiraz from the Barossa Valley. Approaching its 7th birthday this wine sings a beautiful line and length on the palate. The tannins are resolving beautifully against a backdrop of vibrant acidity, smoked, roasted meat notes and a hint of Christmas cake. There are three more bottles in the cellar and each deserves to live for at least five years more than its sibling.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

More Deals on Australian Wines

I’ve posted previously about the discounting of Aussie wine in the US, in main these close-outs are coming from one importer in particular – The Grateful Palate.

Last weekend I was offered a few more. How about Geoff Weaver Sauvignon Blanc for $3.99USD? This wine retails for about $24USD so $4 sounds pretty good! OK the catch is that its 2004. No one in their right mind would buy a 5 year old Sauvignon blanc? So I got a case. Well it is under screw cap which Geoff Weaver claims “helps retain the fruit intensity and freshness and guarantees the wine will age well.”

The proof is in the taste. This little cracker is a very light straw yellow with lemon, grapefruit and oddly a hint of kerosene and the faintest hint of reduction. The palate is light weight with refreshing acidity, nice balance and good length of flavor. A little herbaceous note comes up with some air. Easily 87 points. It won’t live forever but with Spring/Summer just around the corner I bet we can get through a dozen bottles with some enjoyment.

Another wine is the Burge Family “Renoux”, a Barossa blend of Cabernet (54%), Shiraz (32%), Merlot (14%). The sale price was $8.99USD for a wine that retails around $40-45USD. Being from the 2003 vintage there is nice bottle age on this and it shows in the orange/brown edge. Its earthy and spicy with the aroma of an old ink well in a wooden school desk thrown in to remind me of the days I learned to write with pen and ink. Its quite attractive in a feral kind of way. There is loads of juicy acidity, chewy tannins from all that Cab and great flavors on the palate and finish. Its got a few more years left. A good 90 point wine, so another excellent value quaffer.

The third wine is the 2002 McLean’s Farm Barossa Reserve Shiraz. The retail on this is around $30USD. A wine Halliday gave 94 points and a drinking window out to 2012 in his 2006 Companion. I paid $8.99USD. I’m currently sipping on it and still trying to figure it out. There is pretty prominent sulfur (dioxide maybe – burnt match) on it which seems to be going way; its under cork. Underneath that is some really nice spices, tobacco and damp earth. Its well balanced with fine tannins and clean acidity. But its still warming up from the cellar and so to seal from J P Donleavy its bouquet is shrinking back into the glass from the cold. Might have to buy a few more just to see if there is any bottle variation!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

What can you expect from SHIRAZ for 2009?

First, Happy New Year to one and all.

Now, what can you expect from SHIRAZ for 2009? Well hopefully more than the last couple of years! Through 2007 and 2008 the posts here at SHIRAZ have been pretty infrequent. That was due to a decision to stop posting material that was simply a rehash of what was appearing elsewhere on the web. What I wanted to do was put more of my own opinions and commentary on SHIRAZ. Unfortunately that type of posting takes considerably more time to put together than writing a few lines to accompany a link to a newsy piece on an online paper or webzine or tapping out a tasting note. Plus I do have a real job that occupies 9-10 hours five days a week. For instance for the first 6 months of this year I’m already committed to reviewing research grant applications for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), writing a lengthy scientific review for a peer reviewed journal, and writing two, maybe 3, research grants. And all that is in addition to directing the research in my own laboratory as well as writing research papers. Come to think of it, why am I even continuing to post on SHIRAZ? Well simply put I love wine and I like to write, in that order!

But changes have to be made because the traffic here at SHIRAZ has fallen dramatically in the last two years and if I keep going the way I have been then the only person reading this blog will be me. So I’m setting some goals, New Year resolutions if you like.

Wine Travel blogging and Newsletter: At the end of each year Miranda and I travel downunder to visit with relatives and to do something involving wine. I do blog on this but usually in a much abbreviated form. However I have lengthy notes and a mass of collected literature not only on where we visited and what we tasted but all manner of information on wine in Australia. So what will happen this year is that I will post in detail on our recent trip through six different wine regions and this will be compiled into a PDF document that can be down loaded, free of charge of course. I am also thinking of going back and compiling PDF documents on our visit to New Zealand in 2006, Mornington Peninsula in 2005 and the Barossa in 2004. Fortunately the last two should not require too much work as fairly complete coverage of them did appear on SHIRAZ. There is also material on a visit to the UK last year that could be put together. And there are plans to visit Napa/Sonoma/Russian River Valley later in the year which should provide good fodder for an informative piece.

Drinking with SHIRAZ on Saturday: When I can escape from the list of household activities that Miranda fires at me for the weekend I head over to Vintage Wines for some wine tasting. Some of this material used to appear on my other (no, not defunct) wine blog Tasting Notes. The Saturday tastings at Vintage are usually structured around a wine theme, region, variety, etc. and I hope to be able to expand on the weekly event to provide information, and opinion, on the topic of the week. I don’t plan on doing this every week although that would be the ideal.

Reviews of Wine Books, Movies, DVDs: I don’t know how many books I have on wine but there must be a dozen or more just on my bedside table. Plus there is an increasing number of DVDs appearing for movies on wine as well as educational DVDs. One example being a copy of Jancis Robinsons’ Wine Course that arrived earlier this week. Expect reviews on as many of these as I can get though.

Naturally there will continue to be posts on topics of interest to me with perhaps more focus on the academic/analytical aspects of wine appreciation. And then there are all those tasting note books that have yet to disgorge their contents into the Tasting Notes blog.

Of course all this depends on me being able to find the extra time to devote to completing these tasks. I also have to start exercising again as well! Ah the joy of resolutions for the New Year.