Archive for March, 2009

Tempranillo tasting notes

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

I love Tempranillo – it’s an exceptionally versatile grape with a great range of flavors. Similar to Pinot Noir, another favorite, it’s very mutable with many different clones, and thus can be made in a variety of styles, ranging from lighter, almost Pinot-ish examples to full-bodied, high-alcohol, oaked examples closer to Cabernet Sauvignon. Additionally, producers in Spain can range from ultra-traditional winemaking styles (American oak, oxidative treatment, long barrel and bottle aging) to modern (more extraction, new French oak, fresher and cleaner style), adding further variety to the mix. The wines at a recent tasting showcased the full range – all delicious, all different.

Protocolo 2006 Tierra de Castilla ($7.95): A killer wine for under $10. Unoaked, so fresh, clean, and juicy, with fresh strawberry and cherry flavors, and a hint of Tempranillo’s classic leatheriness. This wine is routinely one of the most popular in the shop, and with good reason. Not incredibly complex, but tastes far more expensive than it is.

Puelles 2001 Rioja Reserva ($24.95): A big step up in quality (and a decent jump in price, so it should be). Reservas by law have to age at least one year in barrel and two in bottle, though most do more of each. This was a very well-made example of a traditional style, with more dried fruit and leather characteristics, yet still clean and with vibrant acidity. What I like about Puelles (a pretty tiny producer) is that their Reservas tastes like what Reservas should and their Crianzas (which we also carry; they spend less time in oak, current vintage is 2004) taste like Crianzas – too many Reservas taste like Crianzas that just spend longer in barrel, while this has the fruit to support it.

Paisajes 2004 “V” Rioja ($34.95): A modern-style Rioja, so a nice contrast to the Puelles. In 1998, Finca Allende, a highly regarded winery in Rioja, and Vila Viniteca, a fine wine shop in Barcelona, formed a partnership in La Rioja called ‘Paisajes y Viñedos’ (Landscapes & Vineyards), selecting each year different vineyards belonging to different owners and paying above-market prices to ensure the best grapes. Originally, the regional laws forbid printing the town, the vineyard or origin name on the label, so the winery gave each vineyard-designate wine a number to identify each type of ‘Paisajes’ (The laws have now changed; vineyard designates are allowed). The Paisajes V is from the Valsalado vineyard, a blend of 40% Tempranillo, 40% Garnacha, 10% Graciano, and 10% Mazuelo. Dark fruit, fairly full bodied, lively on the palate, much fruitier than the Puelles (because of the abundance of Grenache) yet still has that old-world chactacter of minerality and elegance. Personally my favorite wine of the night.

Emilio Moro 2005 Ribera del Duero ($29.95): A close second for my wine of the night. 100% Tempranillo, from the warmer Riberal del Duero region. Richer than Riojas; like a more concentrated version, with cherry, spice, earthiness, leather, still with that good acidity and brightness. Traditional producer, yet like the Puelles very clean and well made. (If I sound too positive about all the wines I write about for the tastings, it’s because I select them quite rigorously in advance so that we only feature wines that we believe are great examples for the region/varietal/style). 14.5% alcohol, but you wouldn’t know it by tasting. Impeccable balance, will drink well for several more years.

Numanthia Termes 2006 Toro: ($28.95): The modern counterpart to the Moro: Lush, fruit-forward, high-alcohol (15%; the maximum allowed by Toro law), new French oak. This 100% Tempranillo is a very cool wine. The Termes is Numanthia’s entry level wine – they also make a killer Numanthia (only two cases came into the state; we got one of them – old ungrafted vines, miniscule yields of 1.16 tons/acre; massive wine, smooth now, exceptionally ageworthy) and a ridiculously expensive Termanthia. The Termes is 30-year-old ungrafted vines, very low yields. Big dark fruit, lots of spicy oak; if you like Cab, you’ll love this. Slightly disjointed now in my opinion, but will integrate in 6-8 months and be delicious over the next 8 years. The winery was recently bought by LVMH (luxury conglomerate Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy), so we’ll see what happens.

Tasting recap – white wine quality notes

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

For this tasting, we focused on the differences in qualty in white wines. We picked three varietals, two wines of each varietal served blind and in pairs; one of each was significantly more expensive (and thus theoretically higher quality). This was a fun tasting, and everyone enjoyed the blind aspect of it. Most people had a lot of difficulty picking the more expensive wine, which was interesting (and educational; once they knew what to look for and what the elements of a quality wine are, it got a lot easier).

Hanna 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley ($16.95): Crisp, citrus, high acid, zingy, slightly grassy, good minerality, long finish. Very well made cool-climate CA Sauv Blanc, with lots of fruit. This was the hardest pair for people to get right because the Hanna is a very nice wine at a reasonable price

Rochioli 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley ($34.95): The big difference that should have tipped people off is the partial barrel fermentation and oak aging – it added a depth of spiciness and structure, while the aging on lees in small barrels gave the wine a creaminess and richness that the Hanna didn’t have. Still great acidity and typicity; this was a lovely wine. Twice as good as the Hanna? Not at all, but definitely an exponential level up.

Dreyer 2006 Chardonnay, Sonoma County ($12.50): Clean and smooth, with pear and apple flavors and just a hint of oak. Not complex, but well made and doesn’t taste cheap. A great everyday Chardonnay.

Planeta 2005 Chardonnay, Sicily ($41.95): A bizarre wine. The color was deep gold; it looked totally oxidized and over the hill. Nose was bananas foster, with ripe roasted banana, brown sugar, and vanilla; the wine seemed like it would be sweet. Very rich on the palate, yet the acidity was vibrant and the wine was dry. An over-the-top style, with lots of vanilla, spicy toasty oak,  and a creamy, rich mouthfeel. It got better with time, too – the next day the acidity was more noticeable and the wine was more integrated. Not over the hill at all, just weird. People were divided on this – some absolutely loved it, while others thought it didn’t taste like Chardonnay at all.

Yalumba 2007 Viognier, Eden Valley ($18.50) & Darioush 2007 Viognier, Napa Valley ($40.95): Also a hard pair for people. Both wines had great peach and apricot fruit, good richness, and good acidity (important for Viognier; it’s naturally a low-acid grape and done poorly it can taste cloying and soft). We pour the Yalumba by the glass; it’s a great Viognier for under $20. The Darioush was a level up, though, with much more oakand the concentration to handle it. The barrel fermentation and aging gave a depth, layers of flavors, and structure that put it a good bit above the Yalumba, Again, twice as good? No, but unfortunately wine pricing doesn’t work that way – incremental levels in quality come at an exponential increase in price.

Like the red tasting a week later, this was enjoyed by all; we’ll definitely do it again.

Tasting recap – red wine quality comparison

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

Overflow crowd for last Tuesday’s tasting – far and away the biggest yet, and we had to pull in seating from elsewhere in the market. We were a little overwhelmed and couldn’t provide the perfect level of service that we strive for, but everyone was patient and relaxed and loved the tasting. Three varietals, two wines of each varietal served blind and in pairs; one of each was significantly more expensive. I’d say only about 60% of people identified the wines correctly – my guess is that the less expensive wines were more fruit forward and meant to be drunk young – even though they were less complex, people went for the fruit.

Castle Rock 2007 Pinot Noir, Mendocino County ($12.95): Juicy, fruity, and great for the price. Varietally correct, with nice richness and concentration. If you like Pinot, you’ll like this wine.

Tandem 2006 “Auction Block” Pinot Noir, Sonoma County ($64.95): Tandem is owned and run by Greg LaFollette, former winemaker for Flowers. He specializes in wonderful small production single-vineyard Pinots and Chardonnays from throughout Sonoma County; “Auction Block” is a blend of the best lots from the best vineyards he works with. He originally made the blend to donate to charity auctions, but it proved so popular he started bottling it a few years ago. The ‘06 is on the more elegant, Burgundian side; low in alcohol (13.4%) but with a lot of depth, brown spice, and complexity. The fruit was still tight and the oak wasn’t yet integrated, but I think this will age beautifully – we had some left over and it opened up quite a bit the next day.

Leese-Fitch 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, California ($9.95): A great $10 Cab – dark fruit, good balance, long finish. Not complex, but doesn’t taste cheap. A big hit at the tasting.

Jordan 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley ($51.95): Classic Alexander Valley Cab by one of the modern pioneers there. A fair amount of oak, but it was smooth and integrated, and the wine could handle it. Nice fruit without being overextracted and overripe like so many high-end Cabs are – this was quite drinkable, yet rewarded savoring.

Charles Smith Wines 2007 “Boom Boom!” Syrah, Columbia Valley ($16.95): Very pretty, with lots of violets and raspberries on the nose, and dark smoky fruit on the palate. Though only an ‘07, this was drinking well already. Another crowd pleaser

Charles Smith Wines 2005 “Skull” Syrah, Columbia Valley ($99.95): The big difference between the two wines was richness, concentration, and power – both are from the cool Columbia Valley, but the Boom Boom! is 13.5% alcohol while the Skull achieved 15.5%. Very monolithic now, with massive fruit that’s somehow in balance, and layers of flavor and depth lurking underneath. This wine will be stunning in five years.

All in all, one of the more fun tastings we’ve done. I’ll repeat it at some point with old world wines.

Tuscan Reds tasting notes

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

Finally catching up on some tasting recaps…this one’s from the 1/27 tasting… we did a tasting of five Tuscan reds; I picked the wines to show how diverse the region can be, even though the main grape (Sangiovese) dominated four of the five wines. Good turnout, and the wines overall showed well (I was disappointed in one, but that was the favorite of a few people, which is the beauty and intrigue of wine (and art, literature, movies, etc.), how the same thing can elicit such different reactions. I love Italian wines – they haven’t by and large embraced international varietals, so they’ve got thousands of indigenous grapes grown nowhere else that have distinctive character and sense of place. Sangiovese is the poster child, being the most planted grape in Italy (by a wide margin), yet not successful anywhere else. Reasons for that are legion, but that should be another post (though knowing my output, it probably won’t happen).

The wines:

Renzo Masi 2004 Chianti Rufina Riserva: I thought this wine was stunning – I hadn’t had this vintage before the tasting and thought it was exactly what Chianti should be – minerally, dry, dusty, some integrated oak tannin, high acid, yet with juicy cherry fruit. Everything was balanced and integrated; just lovely. 2004 was a great year for Tuscany, and this is my value pick out of what we’ve got. Rufina is often undervalued – it’s a less-prestigious section of Chianti than Chianti Classico, but delivers great value. For me, the surprise of the night.

Fattoria Del Cerro 2006 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano: I had this wine a few months ago and thought it was great. del Cerro’s one of my two favorite VNdM producers (along with Avignonesi), but Tuesday it didn’t show particularly well after the Masi – softer, creamier, rounder, with less intensity. Not bad at all and something I’d certainly enjoy drinking, but with less definition than it had before. Some people loved it, though, so maybe the creaminess was a plus for them; to me, it seemed a distraction. Who knows, though; in a bit of time it might evolve further into something even better.

Agostina Pieri 2006 Rosso di Montalcino: Just lovely – great balance of fruit, acidity, and integrated oak. Modern style of Rosso – the winery’s only been around for less than 20 years – and so very clean, more fruit-forward than most, but with varietal character (dusty, cherry, good acidity, slight scorched earth) and true to type. This wine to me is everything Rosso should be; with the richness of fruit of Brunello but fresher and with less oak (and thus less complexity and depth, but accessible far sooner). A big hit with everyone at the tasting.

Castiglion del Bosco 2003 Brunello di Montalcino: It’s hard to find a Brunello I like for less than $40, but this fits the bill. By law, Brunello must age for a minimum of 2 years in barrel and 2 years in bottle, so the fruit needs to be concentrated and rich enough to stand up to that oak treatment and aging; the acidity also needs time to integrate with the fruit and wood. 2003 was a hot vintage throughout Europe, which I think will reduce the ageworthiness of this wine (probably at its peak in 3-5 years; normally good Brunello will peak at 15-20 years) but also makes it ready to drink sooner. It was a little tight initially, but really opened up during the tasting.  Good dark cherry fruit, scorched earth, spicy oak, rich long finish, lovely balance – a steal for the price.

Tenuta Guado al Tasso 2006 Il Bruciate, Bolgheri: We ended with a Super Tuscan from the Bolgheri region in western Tuscany near the ocean. The term Super Tuscan was coined after Sassicaia was created in the late 1960s – 100% Cabernet, at the time it could only be called Vino de Tavola (table wine) because it didn’t fit into the classification system. The government subsequently created the IGT designation for wines made using non-traditional varietals, but Bolgheri now has its own DOC as well. This wine is a blend of Cab / Merlot / Syrah; I hadn’t tasted it before the evening but was blown away by how structured it was. It needed significant decanting and aeration, and even then was still tight. Loads of fruit and minerality; a little bit backwards and reductive right now compared to what it will be, but still very tasty. Great value, too – it tasted like it cost way more than $28. Several people at the tasting bought this wine, and they’ll be richly rewarded if they put it in the cellar and forget about it for five years.