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 © iStockphoto.com/Valentin 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?

1 comment:

Andrew Graham said...

A whole store devoted to half bottles - impressive.
I love halves - they are just the perfect size for an impromptu mid week tasting. Also helpful for 'try before you buy' on big ticket items.