February 18th, 2013 by Phil
Valentine’s Day is certainly a holiday you just can’t miss. Whether you were avoiding the flashes of pink and red hearts or embracing the day with plans of a romantic evening, our simple answer is that there is a wine to accompany whatever your day entailed. This in mind, last week’s tasting featured six wines connected by the holiday at hand, whether stating a label fit for lovers or having a lovey-dovey reference in its name, or simply fitting into what we think of drinking for this celebration. Now, we understand Valentine’s only happens once a year, but these wines will be there for any romantic celebration and give cause to plan one if you missed out last week. The tasters certainly enjoyed their pre-Valentine’s plans with a night of tasting wines to inspire love…of all sorts.
Besitos 2010 Moscato, Valencia ($9.95)
When one thinks of Moscato it is often the sweet, low alcohol sparkler from Italy, however this wine is a bit unique for its type. Besitos (or, little kisses) is a tad bit drier for the style at 11% alcohol, offering a slightly drier, yet still a bit sweet Moscato. This wine tastes simply of peaches and citrus with a slight effervescence to bring some life to the fruity flavors. Crisp, refreshing and sweet enough to inspire actual besitos, this wine is perfect to start or end your next romantic affair.
The Furst NV Blanc de Blancs Cremant de Alsace ($21.95)
Hailing from north-eastern France, Alsace is a primarily white-wine producing region nestled between the Vosges Mountains and the Rhine river, essentially isolated from its home and the neighboring Germany. Produced in the method Champenoise, this 100% Pinot Blanc evokes bright apple flavors with a crisp tenure and vibrant acidity yet retains a slightly rich palate without the yeasty flavors of Champagne. The style is a bit unique for the region, but is a perfect accompaniment to any celebration, whether for a dinner party or a lover’s feast. Quantities are extremely limited for this wine, and people are quickly discovering just how good this sparkler is – a new favorite we are sad to see go!
Gruet NV Brut Rose, New Mexico ($19.95)
Born and raised in Champagne, Gilbert Gruet was once a producer of Champagne until a visit to the American southwest inspired a relocation. Producing wines from some of the highest elevation vineyards in the US, Gruet crafts the classic Champagne varietals Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier in to some of the best valued sparkling wines around. With bright strawberry fruits and a yeasty backbone, this wine has a creamy palate from two years of lees aging, and has enough acidity to keep it refreshing. Creamier than the Furst, this wine is the perfect pink for the Valentine’s holiday for those seeking a more sensual style of sparkling wine.
Terra Valentine 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($29.95)
This one is all in the name. Terra Valentine is a small producer located in Napa’s Spring Mountain District where they produce higher-end wines. This offering is their entry level wine sourced from valley floor fruit, yet still showing the excellent skill of the winemakers. Juicy, fruity and smooth, this Cabernet is full of cherry and black currant fruit, with a hint of brown spice and a lusher palate and little grip, creating a juicier wine perfect for an evening where smooth and lush are ideal. The label shows two hearts connected by arrow, reassuring us this wine is appropriate for Valentines. Tasters were split on this wine, though it’s time in our shop has shown its emergence as a new favorite among our customers.
Some Young Punks 2009 “Lust Collides” Mataro, McLaren Vale
What’s a Mataro you might ask? An alias. Mataro is best known as Mourvedre found primarily in France, and Monastrell in Spain, providing a unique character to blends or varietal bottlings. Known for dark fruit, a bit of tannin and a wild, savage character, this biodynamically produced, 100% Mataro from southern Australia shows just how expressive this grape can be when treated right. Spending 14 months in French oak, we find an incredibly aromatic nose full of floral notes, a meaty, savage note and spice, all perfectly integrated and providing quite the stunning aroma. On the palate, this wine shows smooth and well-structured, with dark purple fruits, a long finish, and a well-balanced acidity. This wine is certainly one of a kind, and for any wine geek or appreciative palate, this wine is simply captivating. The provocative, yet classy, label is a bit sexy, showing when marketing and great winemaking unite, art is made. Quantities here are limited, and only a few bottles are left in the shop.
Some Young Punks 2009 “Fierce Allure” Cabernet Sauvignon, McLaren Vale
Harvested from the same vineyard block as the Mataro above, this Cabernet defies all expectations with a low alcohol of 13.5%, medium body and nuance one wouldn’t expect of such a hot climate. Restrained, yet still fruity and complex, this Cab is a great value given its pedigree. Black currants and black raspberries with a bit of tobacco and earth, a lush smooth palate and old world acidity make this wine truly remarkable. Also donning a sexy label, this time with a white tiger replacing the bull, this wine is perfect for a Valentine’s holiday or any time you seek truly delicious wine. This was a tasting favorite and only a handful of bottles remain – though they may not last very long!!
February 18th, 2013 by Phil
Within the famously undulating hills of the Tuscan countryside one will find a vast landscape dedicated to the grapevine. Producing about 33,000,000 cases of wine annually, the wines of Tuscany are some of the most recognized and appreciated wines in all of Italy. From Chianti in the north to Montalcino in the south and Bolgheri on the coast, wine drinkers have certainly sampled the simplest to the most complex of wines. The main grape for the region (ultimately accounting for 10% of all vines in all of Italy) is Sangiovese, a varietal known for its red and black cherry fruit and a dusty earthiness, as well as its ability to produce long-lived, world-class wines. Taster’s opinions differed on the favorites of the evening, quite rightly, and a broad array of Tuscany’s offerings was introduced to new palates. We, of course, recommend trying one out yourself!
Melini 2011 Borghi d’Elsa Chianti ($9.95)
Cappanelle 2007 Chianti Classico Riserva ($29.95)
We began the tasting with a side-by-side comparison of two qualities of Chianti – the best way to examine exactly what contributes to a wine’s quality, and the processes of how this occurs. A baseline $10 Chianti paired with a more aged and smaller-production Chianti Classico Riserva. The Melini 2011 Borghi d’Elsa Chianti offers a solid wine at an everyday price – juicy, earthy with cherry fruit and an incredible drinkability. The Cappanelle was certainly a step up, as the nose alone showed a deeper concentration of fruit and minerality, clearly showing the pedigree of the wine. On the palate we find far less fresh cherry fruit, though ripe, taking on more of a dried quality. As this wine has aged, the fruit has mellowed out and integrated allowing non-fruit notes to surface. The fruit is darker, and the earthiness and dustiness well-integrated. These are both wines more traditional in style, so those seeking a fruitier style certainly have other options in the shop. All tasters agreed the Melini was a great value, and the quality comparison was enlightening, showing how not all Chianti is created equally.
Querciabella 2009 “Mongrana” Maremma Toscana IGT ($19.95)
The term Super-Tuscan came about in the 1960s and implies the use of non-traditional varietals in the creation of a Tuscan wine. By utilizing the French varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and or / Syrah, some of the most prized wines in recent decades have been created. The Querciabella Mongrana falls into this category, produced in the fairly recent designation of Maremma, a thin strip of the Tuscan coastline. This wine is comprised of 50% Sangiovese, with equal portions of Cab Sauv and Merlot filling the rest. The Cabernet brings darker fruit and tannins, Sangiovese offers high acidity and dustiness, and the Merlot smooths out the blend while supporting the red fruit of Sangiovese. This wine is clearly old world in style, but certainly has a bit of fruit to balance the earthiness. A tasting favorite.
La Palazzetta 2010 Rosso di Montalcino ($21.95)
Just south of Chianti we come across the region of Montalcino, a regions broken in two distinct climates and terroirs by vast forests. To the north, the limestone soils produce wines with structure and longevity, while the clay based soils of the south west prove to create wines of greater elegance. The big wine of the region is Brunello di Montalcino, and as the style requires extensive aging, cashflow is a concern. The more youthful style of Rosso di Montalcino allows producers to keep the winery fiscally stable, and is a wine created of fruit destined for Brunello, therefore creating an often excellent wine at affordable prices. This La Palazzetta Rosso has a nice bright cherry fruit, bright acidity and a light, but smooth palate showing just how great a value this wine is. We are currently pouring this wine at the bar in Shorewood – stop in and give a taste!
San Filippo 2007 Brunello di Montalcino ($43.95)
Casanova di Neri 2006 “Tenuta Nuova” Brunello di Montalcino ($89.95)
Showing two Brunellos comparatively shows their differences, yes, but also just how good this wine is. Brunello requires 48 months total aging, two years of which must be in cask. This extensive process creates a high pricepoint, often intimidating consumers, though the price is right for such a world-class wine. The San Filippo, at a more introductory price, shows a fantastic wine full of deep rich dried black cherry fruit with notes of earth and dust balanced by a little grip and integrated acidity. This wine was quickly a favorite as the price a bit lower for the style, yet the quality stayed high. Casanova di Neri is known for being a flashier producer, and as the fruit for this wine is sourced from the southern portions of Montalcino (the winery is located in the northern), the ripe lush fruits show through as the warmer climate allows for more development of fruit. This wine brings a bigger fruit profile with a slight bit less acidity and a richer palate – a more modern style of Brunello though classically layered with earth and spice. The Neri is twice the price, but has the ability to cellar a bit longer than the Filippo, and shows the exceptional winemaking of Giacomo Neri. No matter your style, these wines are both superb examples of the region and are certain to please.
January 21st, 2013 by Phil
Chile is a land of soaring Andes mountains, a mild Mediterranean climate and fine wines and it is here that Viña Errázuriz has been producing high quality Chilean wines for more than 130 years. Don Maximiano Errázuriz founded Viña Errázuriz in 1870 in the Valle de Aconcagua, 65 miles north of the capital city, Santiago. Recognizing that this valley, with its cool, rainy winters, hot, dry summers and moist Pacific Ocean breezes, was ideal for growing grapes, Don Maximiano sent for the finest clones from France and transformed this barren land into a world-class vineyard. Today, the tradition of quality lives on with Don Maximiano’s descendant, Eduardo Chadwick, the fifth generation of his family to be involved in the wine business. This past week’s tasting featured Nicolas Lopez, brand manager for Errazuriz, guiding tasters through seven of their wines, from a crisp, single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc to a powerhouse red blend and a few other stops along the way. We always enjoy having winery representative in the shop to offer our customers a more in-depth and enlightening experience – and without that pesky airfare! As the evening was a smashing success and there were quite a few bottles taken home by our guests, we recommend giving one a go!
Errázuriz 2011 Sauvignon Blanc “Single Vineyard”
Chile isn’t known for its Sauvignon Blanc, but this brings great value to the quality bottlings available. This single vineyard offering shows beautiful notes of grapefruit and green pepper, a rounded yet bright acidity and a creamier palate from a few months of lees aging. Harvested from their Manzanar vineyard, just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean, this cooler climate reminds us of a more classic old world take on Sauvignon Blanc, though Chile’s hot, sunny days bring a riper fruit profile to the mix. The final product is a balanced wine with the ability to please all Sauvignon Blanc fans alike.
Errázuriz 2011 Chardonnay “Estate”
Errázuriz 2010 Chardonnay “Wild Ferment”
Chardonnay is a fairly malleable grape, and the next two wines sampled showed just how varied this varietal van be vinified. Both the Estate and the Wild Ferment chardonnay show great characteristics of the region and varietal, but at different price points varied qualities are expected. The Estate Chardonnay sees a quarter fermented in oak, no malolactic fermentation and brings a fresher, brighter profile. Bright orchard fruits, a more vibrant acidity and a crisper profile combine to create an easy-drinking, crowd-pleasing Chardonnay. The “Wild Ferment” Chardonnay is a homage to a more hand-off style of winemaking, using whole cluster fermentation with natural yeasts. About half the wine undergoes malolactic fermentation, rounding the acidity and softening the palate, ages 10 months in French oak, only 4% of which is new, bringing very subtle spice notes to a hint of butter amongst lemon and lighter fruit. For the price, we prefer the Wild Ferment, but tasters took home a fair bit of the Estate Chardonnay as well – reinforcing our belief that there is a style of Chardonnay for everyone!
Errázuriz 2010 Carmenere “Estate”
Errázuriz 2010 Carmenere “Single Vineyard”
Simply stated, Carmenere is Chile’s grape. Historically a blending grape in Bordeaux, Carmenere has taken deep root in Chile and has formed a great identity for the country and the ability to produce pure varietal bottlings. Black fruits, dried herb notes, and a savage quality all give this grape a wildly unique character. The next two pours again showed what a classic, everyday Carmenere represents next to a single vineyard Carmenere with a bit more polish. The Estate Carmenere sees a blend of oak (French and American) both new and re-used offering flavors of vanilla, spice and coconut to support the dark fruits and weedy green flavors this Carmenere offers. With a step up to their Single Vineyard Carmenere, we see more French oak utilized (80%, the remainder American) 33% of which is new – allowing the wine to extract more brown spices. Aging 12 months in this oak tames the Carmenere’s feral qualities and brings a more international palate, though one could never mistake this wine for any other grape. Dark black fruits, a bit of earth and spice amongst faint herbal notes with a touch of umami on the palate and a smoother, lush palate create a truly fantastic Carmenere that well over-delivers for its price. We have carried this wine in the shop for years and tasting it again reinforced why it’s a staple on our shelves.
Errazuriz 2009 Syrah “Single Vineyard”
Syrah is certainly a world-class grape, producing classic wines of the northern Rhone and the modern Shiraz of Australia. Chile isn’t the first place we think of for Syrah, but this bottle forces us to question why. With a dark and brooding profile of dark black fruits, cocoa powder and a touch of pepper amidst spices from a year in French oak, this Syrah is a winner. Syrah is thicker skinned, bearing more tannins and pigments and the winemakers use this to their advantage to create a wine rich purple in color with tannins tamed by the oak, however still containing a subtle grip creating complexity. For those who prefer an old world Syrah, this may be fruitier and lusher than desired, and for Shiraz drinkers this is a step away, as well, however this style of Syrah is far more accessible than understood. Never had a Chilean Syrah? This is the one to try first.
Errazuriz 2007 “Kai”
This was the big boy for the night, representing the higher-end wines that Errázuriz produces. For those who enjoy their heavily oaked wines with lots of fruit and lower acidity this is the one. A blend of primarily Carmenere with touches of Syrah and Petit Verdot sees 20 months aging in just about 100% new French oak bringing great depth and complexity to this wine. After aeration and decanting, this wine blossomed into a powerhouse wine full of intense purple and black fruits, faint notes of roasted peppers with a little earth and brown spices galore. There is serious structure to this wine allowing it to age for several years or, with a good decant, the ability to drink a little sooner. A great way to end the tasting.
January 14th, 2013 by Phil
Hailing from Piedmont in northwestern Italy, the Nebbiolo varietal has been producing some of the world’s greatest wines for centuries. Growing well only in the specific soils and climate of this sub-Alpine region, this naturally highly tannic and acidic grape has the means to produce wines that will dazzle consumers and age for decades, though it can take some getting used to. Nebbiolo’s flavor profiles generally include notes of tar, roses, cherries and cocoa all balanced with a great sense of place – and yes, tar is indeed a good thing. This past week’s tasting focused on six expressions of Nebbiolo sampled in three sets of pairs to greater understand the contrast of producer and region as well as Nebbiolo’s transparent nature when it comes to terroir. We began with two accessible options (both on the palate and wallet) and progressed to a gorgeous Barbaresco and three mighty Baroli – including a true apples to apples comparison of the same wine from two consecutive vintages – an incredibly enlightening experience no taster could forget. We personally love Nebbiolo so this is always one of our favorite tastings, and last week’s attendees certainly agreed. Never had Nebbiolo? Stop into either location and pick up a bottle to indulge in – you may find yourself as enamored with this grape as we are!
Guidobono 2011 Nebbiolo, Langhe ($15.95)
Andrea Oberto 2010 Nebbiolo, Langhe ($24.95)
As world class wine often requires more effort (lower yields, longer aging time, etc.) in the vineyards and winery, producers of these wines need a little bit of cash flow while these high-quality gems are coming to in their cellars. The result of this are pocket-friendly wines fashioned in a style ready for more youthful consumption – often sourced from high-quality fruit with the same love and care that goes into the higher-end labels. This first pair showed two entry-level Nebbiolos – the Guidobono, sourced from just south of Barolo, and the Oberto which is all high-quality Barolo fruit declassified to keep separation from Oberto’s higher end bottlings. With the Guidobono we find a nice ripe cherry fruit with a hint of cocoa and that delicious tar with a slightly rounder acidity and smoother more polished tannins. Seeing just a few months of barrel aging softens the palate and combined with the predominance of fruit makes this wine a perfect way to sample Nebbiolo as it has a modern edge that new world wine drinkers will appreciate. This isn’t one to cellar but to drink now (and often!)
Oberto, though often considered to be a modernist, certainly shows why you spend a few more bucks on a bottle expressing even more the potential for this varietal. Sourced from La Morra in northern Barolo, this wine sees six months in partially used barrique after a warmer fermentation creating richer and deeper flavors and showing a step up in structure. Secondary notes of mineral, tar and roses surface here with a darker cherry profile to balance. The palate is a bit more put together here with the acidity a touch brighter, bolder but more nuanced flavors and just enough grip to remind you that this bottle could cellar for a few years. Tasters were split on this pair overall, but both wines showed extremely well for their styles and we certainly wouldn’t refuse a glass of either.
Roccalini 2008 Barbaresco ($34.95)
Vietti 2008 “Castiglione” Barolo ($46.95)
With this pair we moved into the more specific regions of Barbaresco and Barolo and though only a few miles apart and sharing fairly similar laws, these wines are where Nebbiolo really shines. Roccalini is a small producer (about 600 cases annually) who creates just this Barbaresco and a Dolcetto. This 2008 bottling is an incredibly pretty wine reminding us of how Nebbiolo features bold flavors and textures yet remains fairly medium bodied. A heightened florality comes through here with a bright acidity to balance gentler tannins and a fairly lengthy finish. Delicate yet expressive, this wine showed extremely well and has cellaring potential, but its abundance of ripe fruit makes it accessible now.
For contrast, the Vietti holds true to an earthier, traditional Barolo. With more time in oak and tank, this wine shows how Barolo can be more assertive than Barbaresco. Vietti has been producing wines for just over a hundred years paving paths and opening doors along the way for this esteemed region. Their 2008 “Castiglione” brings more firm tannin, dried rose, a darker fruit and more tar than we’ve sampled at this point. The palate is more extracted yet still remains medium bodied, acidity is well-integrated and though the tannins are firm, in due time this wine will please those traditional palates that enjoy drinking more non-fruit flavors. A classic Barolo.
Luigi Einaudi 2007 & 2008 “Nei Cannubi” Barolo ($84.95 each)
Tasting these two wines side by side, tasters experienced just how much variation there can be between vintages and though the wines were only one year apart, boy was there variation! These wines were sourced form the Cannubi vineyard in central Barolo, considered to be one of the top crus of the region. Einaudi owns 6 acres in the cru, and the wines show the versatility and significance Barolo wines can offer from vintage to vintage. The 2007 extolled that vintage’s ease with a riper, lusher palate and more giving aromas and flavors and the 2008, with floral notes intermingled with red cherries, a rounder acidity and a lengthy, grippy but graceful finish. This wine drinks incredibly well young and will certainly age well, though perhaps not as extensively as a more classic vintage.
The 2008 growing season was not as easy to work with, proving to be much more traumatic in comparison. Consistent rains, varying weather patterns and hints of hail caused turbulence this season, however through adversity, peace was found with a sunny, warm fall. 2008 has proved to be a classic vintage for Barolo creating vibrant, refined wines. Structure is quite different here as the components for this wine demand more time to integrate, and we find more mineral, earth and a greater sense of terroir here. More tar, more earth, more grip, more acid, more length and finish – this wine is a baby and will cellar well for 10-15 years. (Running it through the Vinturi to aerate it worked wonders, though, the wine was opening up beautifully by the end of the evening.) For an apples to apples comparison, this pair showed just how different those apples can be, both unique, and both quite delicious.
December 24th, 2012 by Phil
Last week tasters enjoyed the sparkling wines of the world found outside the borders of the well-protected Champagne. We enjoy bubbles from all over, but the winemakers of Champagne certainly paved a golden path for others to follow creating the first real wine market and brands that have lasted for decades. The basis for this elaborate show is an incredibly cool climate for viticulture and limestone and clay-riddled vineyards, perfect for Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir to take deep root. A solution to this region’s faults was the blending of multiple vintages to ultimately create the perfect base wine for a secondary fermentation. Vintage Champagnes are from a single harvest and our lucky tasters sampled two vintage bottlings as well as four other delicious wines from a mix of well-known and more obscure producers. There were favorites to be had, but no taster would ever dare refuse a glass of the worlds most luxurious and sophisticated sparkling wines. All of these wines are good for the celebrations and the soul, and it’s only appropriate this holiday season to raise your glasses with some fine bubbles – cheers!
Duval-Leroy 2006 “Cuvee Paris” NV Brut ($37.95)
Predominantly Chardonnay blended with a bit of Pinot Noir, this wine evokes what we all love about Champagne – crisp, yet, creamy with lemon and brioche notes and a more rounded acidity adding to a richer palate weight. This wine is sourced exclusively from the 2006 vintage, then seeing four years on its lees to bring that classic toasty Champagne flavor we love. The Cuvee Paris drinks just fine by itself, but would easily support lobster or creamy risotto or see another couple years in your cellar. Vintage bottles usually start at a higher price, so take advantage and snatch this one up as bottles are limited and finding homes fast!
Jean Laurent NV Brut Blanc de Noirs ($46.95)
Sourced from estate vineyards in the more southerly region of the Aube, the Jean Laurent shows just how different a wine can be even in a region as small as Champagne. 100% Pinot Noir aged on lees for three years to form a rich palate with notes of wild cherry, mango on the finish and a bit of yeast. Fruit aromatics predominate here along with a rich, full-bodied mouthfeel, though the wine is dry and fairly crisp. This family has produced wines for several generations and their practice is evident here; this is a textbook Blanc de Noirs.
Roland Champion NV Brut Rose ($53.95)
As only 250 cases were produced, there is only so much of this bottle in the shop so if you read what you like, act quick! We strive to represent the small production winery as often the values and quality are even greater than that of the well-known houses. Here we find just that – equal portions of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier structured with dollop of Chardonnay, four years on lees and a gorgeous salmony-orange hue bond to create this delicious bottle of bubbles. Rose is created in a few major ways, here by simply adding still red wine to your cuvee before fermentation. Now this allows for greater control of the winemaking process and the Champion family has shown this commitment since the early 1950’s. With a more floral and earthy nose than the Laurent, this wine stood out immediately. Faint red fruits with a toasty note and a finish that just won’t quit add to the complexity of this bottle and for those who desire a classic and well-crafted sparkling rose, this is the one.
Taittinger NV “Cuvee Francaise” Brut ($44.95)
Taittinger NV “Prelude” Brut ($89.95, not currently available)
Taittinger 2000 “Comtes de Champagne” Blanc de Blancs ($154.95)
Over time a producer develops a certain style and identity, here conveyed through a house style. Taittinger is well known for their high proportion of Chardonnay both in the wines and the vineyard, lending itself to wines destined for extra cellaring and prominent toast. The winery is family owned and grows about half of their fruit, sourcing the remainder from growers with long-term contracts. Here tasters experienced three Champagnes at three varying price points and at all levels of production. A house always has a lower-end bottling that is often the best value they produce. Here, we find a classic Brut, creamy yet slightly crisp, toasty and with hints of lemon. Easy, relaxed and at a perfect harmony, Taittinger Brut is a perfect stand-by. The bigger sibling, “Prelude” is a few rings up the ladder. Equal portions of Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, five years aging on lees and fruit sourced entirely from Grand cru vineyards unite in a truly remarkable bottle of bubbles. The “Prelude” had all of the qualities of the Brut, but with greater precision and an even greater balance. More structured with a rich, creamy palate and more bread and toast to be had, this wine was decadent and held a near-silky texture. (This sold out in a flash; we should be able to get more in early next year.)
Then came the Comtes. Chardonnay from Grand cru vineyards aged 10 years on lees is a work of art. This 2000 vintage bottling made the cut (as Comtes de Champagne is not produced every vintage) and though the wine showed extremely well this past week, could easily use five to ten years further evolving. The acidity is still vivid, the palate still a bit tight and the mousse persistent and silky, and only time will tell how much more exquisite this bottle will become. Though it is easy to swig back the bubbles, this Champagne is a thinker, and requires (and deserves!) your full attention. Tasters sampled how well-made each of these wines was and shows how a single producer can delight at every price-point. These wines are all perfect for the appropriate gathering and are sure to please just about anybody.