Friday, March 27, 2009

The alcoholic level, it was too high.

Three posts in one day! Well that’s because Shiraz is still alive, and no more so than when extolling the virtues of Aussie wine, especially South Australian wine. Here is a little tidbit from The Australian online.

"The alcoholic level, it was too high." This comment on South Australian wine is dropped into the conversation by Spaniard Emiliano Matesanz in listing the things he found odd on moving to Adelaide at the end of 2006.

He quickly adds: "But once you start to understand and taste the different types of wine you have here, it is beautiful."

Beautiful, just beautiful. What else is there to say?

Drinking with SHIRAZ on Saturday – Red Burgundy Feb 21 2009

As I have noted before there is nothing more confusing in the world of wine than Burgundy. The only really simple fact is that the reds are made from Pinot Noir. That is unless they are from the Beaujolais region in which case they are made from Gamay. Yes, Beaujolais is considered part of Burgundy; I told you it is confusing.

Lost as I may be in terms of understanding the appellation system in Burgundy that does not stop me from tasting the wines. Although I am often hesitant in buying them for the simple reason of, again, confusion. Confusion with what is written on the labels of the bottles. At these Saturday tastings I always go up to the wine bar after I have tasted and scored the wines to record their alcohol content. The reason for doing this is almost unconscious and it has its explanation in being a Shiraz lover. It’s a macho thing, I have to prove to myself that it is Shiraz that carries the big numbers. In any case with Burgundy, it doesn’t matter if its red or white, what is written on the label is often much more than what is written on the tasting sheet. Now it may be that the person writing up the wine list is just trying to save space. But all the head nodding, going back and forth from the wine labels to the tasting sheet, makes me look like my head is on a spring. And that is just not kind especially to someone who was told as a 15 year old that it would be a good idea if he did drop French and take up Agriculture!

What do I expect from red Burgundy? Well there should be power mixed with grace. Don’t confuse tannins with power; the power should come from the fruit (if a young wine). The mouthfeel should be silky, slippery, gliding over the tongue. And the flavors will have an Old World earthiness mingling with aromas of strawberry and cherry. There should be acidity and it should enhance the lightness of the wine on the palate. Lightness, grace and power, they seem a contradiction but when I taste a really good Burgundy all three are there, swirling and dancing around each other.

First Wine
Light cherry red with pink edge. Strawberry, Cola, a little cherry and brambles. Nice acidity, adequate length. Well structured even if quite a simple wine.
Score: 2, 2, 3.5, 9.5=17.0/20, 85/100.
Drink: 2012-2016.
Wine: 2007 Bourgogne Hautes-Cotes-de-Beaune, Domaine Arnoux Pere et Fils (Côte de Beaune)
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 12.5%
Price: $17.99USD

Second Wine
Light cherry red with pink edge. Quite muted with suggestions of cherry and orange peel struggling up from the wine. A slightly sour acidity is the dominant feature and its not helped by the lack of depth to the middle palate.
Score: 2, 2, 3.4, 9.4=16.8/20, 84/100.
Drink: 2013-2017.
Wine: 2006 Bourgogne Rouge, Domaine Bachey-Legros (Côte de Beaune)
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 13%
Price: $18.99USD

Third Wine
Light cherry red with pink edge. Aromas of graphite and a hint of truffles dominate over a touch of cherry. A well structured lighter wine with juicy acidity and good carry of Pinot Noir flavors across the palate. A pleasant wine.
Score: 2, 2, 3.7, 9.8=17.5/20, 87/100.
Drink: 2012-2018.
Wine: 2006 Mercurey Premier Cru, Clos de Montaigus, Domaine Patrick Size (Côte Chalonnaise)
Closure: Cork
Price: $25.99USD

Fourth Wine
Light cherry red with pink edge. A little sulphur with forest floor and cherry notes. Quite fragrant but this does fade. Medium weight with good structure and balance and an appealing finish. A more pronounced presence on the palate that the previous wines.
Score: 2, 2, 4.0, 10.0=18.0/20, 90/100.
Drink: 2011-2018.
Wine: 2006 Santenay Premier Cru Clos Rousseau, Domaine Bachey-Legros (Côte de Beaune)
Closure: Cork
Price: $31.99USD

Fifth Wine
Bright cherry red with pink edge. There is more power to this wine and its enhanced by notes of musk, brambles and cherry. A wine of excellent balance and structure. The acidity is quite pronounced but it adds real zip to the wine and marries well with the fine finish.
Score: 2, 2, 3.9, 10.2=18.1/20, 91/100.
Drink: 2013-2020.
Wine: 2006 Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge, Plantes Momieres, Domaine Bachey-Legros (Côte de Beaune)
Closure: Cork
Price: $31.99USD

Sixth Wine
Bright cherry red with pink edge. Definite Pinot Noir characters of strawberry and cherry intermingles with a little dusty oak and anise. The prominent acidity covers the palate and curls the tongue but its supported by excellent flavors and good length. Too young at present. Will definitely improve.
Score: 2, 2, 4.1, 9.6=17.7/20, 89/100.
Drink: 2014-2020+
Wine: 2006 Gevrey-Chambertin, Les Seuvrées, Domaine Castagnier (Côte de Nuits)
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 13%
Price: $44.99USD

Seventh Wine
Light Cherry red with pink edge. Sulphur/graphite over faint lychee, mushroom and spices. Medium weight with excellent mouthfeel. Better concentration than the previous wines even though the acidity is again dominant. Excellent length. Will need time to show its true character but it pushes all the right buttons.
Score: 2, 2, 4.1, 10.2=18.3/20, 92/100.
Drink: 2013-2019.
Wine: 2006 Aloxe-Corton Les Caillettes, Domaine Henri Delagrange (Côte de Beaune)
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 13%
Price: $38.99USD

Eighth Wine
Vibrant cherry red with pink edge; looks to be very young. Much riper and forward than the rest with mulberry, raspberry, oak and sweet tea – seems New World. Medium weight with excellent flavor carry, bright acidity and very firm tannins on the finish; even the alcohol pokes out. Will needs loads of time to soften.
Score: 2, 2, 3.7, 10.0=17.7/20, 88/100
Wine: 2006 Chambolle-Musigny, Les Bussières, Domaine Olivier Jouan (Côte de Nuits)
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 13%
Price: $38.99USD

Ninth Wine
A deeper cherry red with a red/pink edge; darkest wine of the group. Quite confected with anise and mulberry. Soft and velvety on entry with excellent flavor carry across the palate, finishing with firm tannins. Shows considerable concentration and power. Has the potential to really improve over the next 5-10 years.
Score: 2, 2, 3.5, 10.3=17.8/20, 89/100.
Drink: 2015-2025.
Wine: 2006 Morey-Saint-Denis Premier Cru, Les Ruchots, Domaine Olivier Jouan (Côte de Nuits)
Closure: Cork
Price: $44.99USD

From under the Wine Bar

The Burgundy tastings at Vintage Wines are $10 affairs and sometimes there are a few special wines under the bar. I just happened to walk up to the bar to see if I could fill out the identities of the wines from the labels when the store owner began to pour out two additional wines, and he gave me a taste. Both were Grand Cru wines; the 2006 Charmes Chambertin, Vieilles Vignes, Domaine Oliver Jouan (Côte de Nuits), and the 2006 Clos Saint Denis, Domaine Castagnier (Côte de Nuits). I received only a small pour, not really enough to sit with and write notes on, but both wines were what red Burgundy is all about. Velvety soft with wonderful spicy, floral, earthy aromas that caress the palate with the sensation that it has been enveloped with the most wonderful of liquids. Wines you could luxuriate in.

As a contrast to this sampling of red Burgundy I asked for a taste of the one California Pinot Noir on the Wine Bar. It was the 2007 Siduri Pinot Noir from the Santa Rita Hills region. Santa Rita Hills is a cool-climate viticultural region within the Santa Ynez Valley, and is known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Siduri was dark cherry red in color with a reddish pink edge. Initially it smelled of pepper, plum, ripe cherry, and glue (incomplete malo? EDIT: As winemaker Adam Lee of Siduri Wines notes in his comment below the wine did indeed finish mallactic fermentation.) with a toasted note developing with time; nothing at all like my impression of Pinot Noir. On the palate it was medium to full bodied with excellent flavor carry, juicy acidity, soft, ripe tannins and an attractive spicy note on the lengthy finish. It was very drinkable. It just was not Pinot Noir (EDIT: Just for clarification. I am not asserting that the wine was not made from the Pinot Noir grape. As winemaker Adam Lee has noted this wine was made from "100% clone 115 Pinot Noir, with 15 barrels coming from the Clos Pepe Vineyard and 6 coming from the Cargasacchi Vineyard.") Score: 2, 2, 3.2, 9.9=17.1/20, 85/100.

For more on Burgundy go here. For more on the Burgundies tasted go here.

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On Wine Fools

Picture the scene. A wine tasting of high end Old World wines, let’s say Burgundies. The room is bustling with all manner of wine drinkers, all with different levels of experience from the professional to the newly minted wine drinker. Most are gathered around the pourers, glasses thrust forward for their share of amber liquid.

A small group of three stands apart, a wine neophyte, a Sommelier and a wine critic, each with his nose inserted deeply into his glass of Grand Cru Chambolle-Musigny. Screwing up his face and exhaling a snort through his nose the wine critic is first to offer an opinion “This is ghastly”. The neophyte, taken aback, casts his eyes to the floor but then summons the courage to say “No I disagree. Underneath that unusual odor there is a delicate floral aroma that I find appealing”. The Sommelier, smiling kindly, looks at the neophyte. “Yes, you are right. There is something there that is quite attractive. Well done, a floral note can be quite typical of a Chambolle-Musigny. But do you also detect the musty, wet newspaper odor as well? And when you taste the wine do you find it more than a little acidic, even metallic, and lacking fruit character?” “Well, yes” says the neophyte. “I smell and taste those things but I don’t know what they are. Do you know?”

“They are typical of 2,4,6-trichloroanisole or TCA. Its most often produced when fungi convert chlorophenol into chloroanisole. It can be a problem with a small percentage of corks which is why a wine smelling of TCA is said to be corked.” “Ah, so that is what a corked wine smells like” says the neophyte, burying his nose into his wine glass once again. “I have smelt that in a few wines, but I didn’t know what it was. Thank you for explaining it to me.”

Turning to the critic the Sommelier adds “What do you think about our new friend. He has quite a good sense of smell. With a little more knowledge on wine faults he will be an asset to our tasting group.” “No, he is a fool” scoffs the critic,”It doesn’t matter what he can smell. A corked wine is a corked wine”, and walks off to find others of similar persuasion. “Don’t mind him” says the Sommelier “He’s always been a wine snob”.

What prompted this little post? Just the opinion that if you are going to call a wine drinker a fool you probably are not a person that will draw a sympathetic audience when you want to talk (or write) about wine.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Seduced by a Label

This weekend we finished the second bottle of what hopefully is the worst wine I will drink this year. I was told that the label was by the guy who did the album cover for the Beatles Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and so I bought two bottles because Miranda is a BIG Beatles fan and so is her English pen-friend of 40+ years. It was thus a memento/gift without regard to the quality of the wine. But, of course, the label designer was not the guy who did Sgt Pepper's, so we decided to open one about a week ago. It’s a California Cabernet (85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Syrah, 2% Petit Syrah) but at about $12USD/btl you don’t expect much. And there wasn’t much, except for the wood splinters – and this is from someone who doesn’t mind a bit of oak. So why open the second bottle on the weekend? Lighting doesn’t strike the same wine twice, right? Yes it does. This stuff was so difficult to drink that Miranda tipped her’s down the sink, but I persevered over two nights. And this was purely as an academic exercise to see how much punishment my palate can stand. The answer? Not a lot. If you ever see any R Wines Red Label Cabernet Sauvignon don’t buy it, not even for the label. I think tonight I’ll pull out an over oaked, unbalanced 16% alcohol Shiraz just to appease the taste buds.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Drinking with SHIRAZ on Saturday – Pinot Noir Feb 7 2009

For many Pinot Noir is the wine from the movie Sideways. To others it is the grape of red Burgundy and it even finds its way into Champagne. As a grape variety Pinot Noir is apparently quite old and also prone to mutate, hence there are numerous clones of Pinot Noir. If you are a maker of Pinot Noir wines, especially in the New World, then one difficulty you face is selecting the clones or clones of Pinot Noir that best suit your location and wine making practices. If you are a true aficionado of Pinot Noir then your focus is on Burgundy, whose wines serve as a benchmark when you taste, should you so condescend, Pinot Noir from the rest of the world.

If you are me you don’t really worry greatly about the snob appeal or otherwise of an individual Pinot Noir wine, you just hope it tastes of the grape itself. In other words for me a Pinot Noir wine has to have varietal character. What is the varietal character of Pinot Noir? The wine must be light in color, much lighter than a Shiraz for example. The aromas should be of cherry and strawberry, and perhaps the forest floor and/or truffles. There may be violets, but there should not be stewed plum or any other flavor associated with overripe grapes. Why? Because a Pinot Noir wine should express a degree of delicacy; it is after all a delicate grape. The mouthfeel of the wine should be medium weight with vibrant acidity and fine tannins. Silky, velvety are descriptors that are often used for the fineness of the tannins. Pinot Noir is a very sensitive wine and its not uncommon to uncork a young wine and find that the edge has begun to turn orange/brown; I don’t trust such a wine to live for very long. Alternatively you can pull the cork on a 10-20 year old Pinot and it will look (and taste) almost as though it were bottled last week. Did I say its a pernickety grape!

The tasting of Pinot Noir at Vintage Wines of Feb 7th could have been of wines from anywhere except Burgundy (that tasting was on Feb 21). As it turned out all the wines were from the US.

First Wine
Cherry red with a pink edge. Sweetly flavored with notes of strawberry, cherry and bubblegum. There is even a Cola note lurking with some smoke. Medium bodied with adequate flavor carry and fine tannins that become more compact on the finish. It has a pleasant and uncomplicated, if not charismatic, appeal.
Score: 2, 2, 3.4, 9.3=16.7/20, 84/100
Drink: Now to 2012
Wine: 2006 Saintsbury Vineyard, Carneros, California, USA; Clones: Pommard, Swan, 115, 667 and 777; 20% Lee Vineyards, 16% Toyon Farm, 6% Saintsbury Home, 15% Stanly Ranch, 7% RMS, 8% Brown Ranch, 5% Cerise, 6% Rodgers Creek. 17% misc.
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 13.5%
Price: $23.99USD

Second Wine
Cherry red in color with an attractive pink edge. More earthy with brambly fruit and a hint of musk and strawberry. Medium weight with acidity that catches the focus of the palate. Fine, ripe tannins carry an excellent finish, but again a rather simple, uncomplicated wine.
Score: 2, 2, 3.9, 9.5=17.4/20, 87/100
Drink: Drink now to 2015
Wine: 2007 Fritz Winery, Russian River Valley, California, USA;
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 13.9%
Price: $17.99USD

Third Wine
Cherry red with pink edge. A little closed with musk over a citrus note, some cherry and forest floor. A well balanced wine of medium weight with excellent flavor carry. Opens with some air to reveal more Pinot Noir character on its lengthy finish. A well made wine.
Score: 2, 2, 3.8, 10.1=17.9/20. 89/100
Drink: Now to 2017
Wine: 2006 Soter Winery, North Valley, Oregon, USA; North end of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 13.9%
Price: $31.99

Fourth Wine
Cherry red with pink edge. More Pinot Noir in character than the previous wines with forest floor and cherry over a toasted oak note and perhaps a touch of sulphur. Its fresh and lively in the mouth with nice flavors but the a slight sweetness detracts from the appeal. The tannins are soft, the acidity adequate and the finish has good length but its another uncomplicated wine.
Score: 2, 2, 3.9, 9.6=17.5/20, 87/100
Drink: Now to 2015
Wine: 2006 De Ponte “Clay Hill”, Dundee Hills, Oregon, USA;
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 14.2%
Price: $33.99USD

Fifth Wine
Deeper cherry red with a pink/red edge; deepest colored wine of the flight. A richer, riper style with plum, ripe cherry, a hint of Cola, varnish and dusty oak. Fuller on the palate the flavors carry extremely well and are supported by firm tannins and juicy, mouthwatering acidity. There is definite appeal here but its difficult to see any Pinot Noir character.
Score: 2, 2, 3.6, 9.6=17.2/20, 86/100
Drink: 2010 to who knows? The acidity and tannins could hold it for some time but its not likely to look like Pinot Noir.
Wine: 2005 Ampelos Cellars, “Lambda”, Santa Rita Hills, California, USA; the clonal composition is 61% clone 115, 5% 667 and 777, 3% 828 and 31% pommard.
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 14.5%
Price: $24.99USD

Sixth Wine
Cherry red tinged with orange brown and a orange brown edge; either older or oxidized. Another shy wine. There is richness lurking there but with a bottom note of ketchup mixed with spices and a touch of caramel (Oxidation?). In the mouth this is an extremely appealing wine with softness and suppleness lacking in the other wines. What flavors there are carry beautifully across the palate to a lengthy finish. A very nice wine.
Score: 2, 2, 3.9, 10.3=18.3/20, 92/100
Drink: Its hard to tell how long this wine will live if it has premature oxidation. I’d like to taste it again to see if there is any bottle variation. If sound it could live a good ten years or more.
Wine: 2006 Alcina Cellars, Raimondo Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, California, USA;
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 14.7%
Price: $27.99USD

The one thing I was hoping to see with these wines was one or two of the rich over-ripe Pinot Noir that populate wine shop shelves in the USA. Some of them can be quite extraordinary because of the palette of flavors they present even though they sacrifice varietal character. The 2005 Ampelos Cellars “Lambda” fits into the mold. I’m not a big fan of the style but there is no doubt that it has its advocates. What I would have liked to have seen in this tasting was a Mount Eden Pinot Noir. Even though the current vintages are made in a different style to those of past decades the Mount Eden, to me, represents excellent value for money in American Pinot Noir and those past vintages have aged wonderfully. From the wines tasted the Soter has to take the gong as the wine with the most potential to age and its consistently good as a previous tasting shows.

2006 Soter Pinot Noir, North Valley, Oregon, USA. $31.99USDCherry red with pink edge. Aromas in the bramble/earthy spectrum over a mélange of strawberry and cherry. Its attractive, and even has varietal character. Light-medium in weight with expressive and yet delicate flavors on the palate and an excellent, supple mouthfeel. A nice little wine, still young, might grow into something you would want to spend some time with. Score: 2, 2, 3.9, 10.2=18.1/20, 90/100. Tasted Jan 17, 2009

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