Archive for July, 2009

Thief Winos Victorious Again

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

We’re now 4-0 with a hard-fought 9-5 victory over the Wiff the Balls last night. Shorthanded as usual – only four players instead of the allowed 5 – but it didn’t matter. We started off slowly with some sloppy defense and were down 5-2 after 3. I hit a 2-out 3-run homer in the top of the 4th to tie it, a solo shot in the 5th to put us ahead, and Brian “Spaceman” Podolski hit a two-run blast in the 6th to give us some breathing room. They loaded the bases in the bottom of the 6th with two out and their best hitter up; he hit a long foul ball that if it was 3 feet to the right would have been a grand slam but thanks to the lack of any bleachers (don’t they realize the vast audience potential for these games?) I was able to track it down.  We’re just having way too much fun with this.

3-0 for the Thief Winos

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Another dominating victory last night for the Thief Winos, with a 10-2 victory over Wiff it Good.  Wind was blowing in again (so much that a free pitcher of beer was offered to any team that hit one out), but we still managed a balanced offense and stellar pitching, with a no-hitter through 3 innings.

We also gained our first sort-of sponsor – Lela Boutique gave us logoed beer koozies for us to hold our beverages as we played. Not sure how many new customers they’ll get from it, though…

Tandem Tasting Notes

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

Phenomenal tasting on Friday – the best winemaker tasting we’ve had so far. Greg LaFollette, owner/winemaker of Tandem Winery and one of California’s most renowned Pinot Noir / Chardonnay specialists (also makes very nice Zin, Gewurz, and more), made a special trip to Milwaukee just for us. He was in Chicago to meet with his distributor there and drove up to MKE just to do a Thief Wine tasting, then drove back right after the tasting for an early-morning flight on Saturday. How generous and cool is that!?!?! We got to know Greg well while we were in Sonoma, and are continually blown away by how caring, thoughtful, and giving he is; we’re incredibly lucky to have him as a friend.

Great turnout for the tasting, with about 45 people enjoying 7 delicous wines and conversation with Greg.

First wine was the 2005 Ritchie Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay, which we’re currently pouring by the glass. Greg’s one of the few California winemakers who can produce a big, full, rich style of wine that still retains elegance, balance and minerality. 14.9% alcohol, but doesn’t taste hot at all. Creamy, with lots of lees influence, ripe pear, golden delicious apple, lemon curd, and spicy oak undertones.

Next was a special winery-only treat that Greg brought in just for the tasting, the 2006 Manchester Ridge Chardonnay from tne Mendocino Ridge appellation. Very different from the Ritchie, being made primarily from the new Dijon 809 clone. This clone give a very floral component to the wine, with more tropical and pineapple notes. Exotic, with nice acidity to complement the fruit. Lighter on the palate initially than the Ritchie, but grows in intensity and with a long, long finish. Not distributed in WI, alas, since only 150 cases were made, but Greg offered to make sure I got some if I had interested customers. (Did I mention he’s really nice?)

Moving on to the reds, we started with another treat that’s not for sale (not only is it not distributed in WI, it’s also sold out at the winery, with a whopping 65 cases produced) that Greg brought just because it’d be fun to taste; the 2006 Van der Kamp Vineyard Sonoma Mountain Pinot Meunier. Pinot Meunier is widely grown in Champagne as a part of the blend there, but very little is planted elsewhere and you don’t often see it as a stand-alone varietal. The Van der Kamp Vineyard has the old Pinot Meunier in the country, originally planted in the early 1960s (and alas, just ripped out last year, a victim of phylloxera). It’s a fairly light-bodied grape, and flavorwise is like a spicier, more floral Pinot Noir. The Van der Kamp is a great example, with excellent concentration and intensity and lots of spicy red berry fruit.

Random fact: The grape got its name because the underside of its downy leaves can look as though they have been dusted with flour (Meunier is French for miller).

Next up was the Van der Kamp ‘06 Pinot Noir. Greg describes this as a very feral wine, and I can see why. Spicy, earthy, musky, mushroomy notes complement dark cherry fruit. Full for a Pinot, yet still elegant and balanced. A serious, structured, complex wine – very nice now; will benefit from a couple of years in the cellar.

The second Pinot Noir was the 2006 Auction Block, so named because Greg creates this blend specifically to donate to charity auctions; unlike his other Pinots that are made from single vineyards, this wine is a blend of the best blocks from the best vineyards; it’s his top-of-the-line cuvee. Only five cases came into WI, and I snapped up two of them (with only a few bottles remaining). I’d had this wine about 6 months ago but not since then, and the evolution is impressive; it’s really starting to hit its stride now. Much lusher and more open than it was previously, and very Burgundian in its combination of fruit and spicy forest floor flavors. Great texture and mouthfeel, with strucutred tannins and acidity. Another candidate for a few years to reach full maturity.

The penultimate wine was the 2006 Peloton, a unique blend of 58% Pinot Noir, 30% Zinfandel, 2.5% Carignane, 2.5% Sangiovese, 2% Syrah, 2% Chardonnay, 2% Gewurztraminer, 1% Pinot Meunier. Got all that?!? This wine was a favorite of many; I don’t have it on the shelves yet, but I will. Surprisingly, the Zin doesn’t overwhelm the Pinot as I thought it might; the wine still has a lightness about it and bright cherry and strawberry fruit, with the midpalate juiced up by the Zin. Distinctive and delicious.

Finally was the 2005 Aldine Vineyard Zinfandel from Mendocino. Big, juicy, and jammy, with brambly red fruit, spicy pepper, and soft tannins. A crowd-pleasing way to end the night (Though Zinfandel’s about my least favorite varietal, while Pinot is my favorite, so I gave myself another helping of the Auction Block to end it.)

All in all, a great night – thanks Greg!

Bastille Day Tasting Recap

Friday, July 17th, 2009

Fun tasting yesterday – in celebration of Bastille Day, we picked a few favorite and interesting French wines. No common theme other than they were all from France and we like them. Great turnout, too, which made it more enjoyable (though hectic!). Two whites, two reds, and a rosé.

We started off with the 2008 Chateau Graville-Lacoste Graves blanc, a blend of 50% Semillon, 45% Sauv. Blanc, and 5 Muscadelle. This wine is drinking nicely now, but I think will round out and improve significantly with age. (Unfortunately, I found out yesterday afternoon that the distributor is sold out for the vintage and I can’t get any more – we sold everything that we had in stock last night. I do have another Graves coming in though; same price point and it’s a 2006, so is drinking well now.) Sauv. Blanc gives crispness and acidity, the Semillon gives a richer mouthfeel and some fig and lanolin flavors. RIght now the Sauv. Blanc was dominant, with the wine showing more of the minerality and crispness of the grape and not so much the roundness of Semillon. Great summer wine – you can’t go wrong with white Graves.

Novellum 2007 Chardonnay from the Cotes de Catolones was next. Cotes de Catalones is a Vin de Pays in the far south of France; warm climate, so riper fruit flavors. This wine is a custom cuvee for U.S. importer Eric Solomon – made for the U.S. market, it’s riper, fleshier, and more fruit-forward than most Chardonnays. It’s also aged on Viognier lees, which is a really interesting technique that gives the wine a distinct tangerine / orange-blossom quality. Very distinctive Chardonnay, and a killer value at $10.95. This was a huge hit among the tasters.

Tempier’s 2008 Rosé from Bandol was next. Not cheap at $38.95, but it’s the gold standard of rosé. We picked this wine to show just how complex rosé can be – even people who enjoy and appreciate good dry rosé often think of it as a simple wine, but it can be as nuanced and layered as any $40 red or white. The Tempier’s got a rare combination of both bright red and darker fruit, floral notes (I got a lot of violets), a bit of herbal characteristics, and great minerality. Unlike most rosés, I think this will actually get better over time; I think we’ll stick a couple of bottles in the cellar to try in a couple of years.

Red #1 was the 2005 Chateau de Valcombe Costieres de Nimes, a blend of 70% Syrah and 30% Grenache. Costieres de Nimes is just south of the Southern Rhone, but stylistically the wines are quite similar. We chose this wine because I think it’s a hugely underrated appellation; for $15.95 this wine has a lot going on; as interesting & structured as a Gigondas or Vacqueyras at a lot less $. Dark licorice, a bit of scorched earth, and some pepper from the Syrah, while the Grenache lightens it up a bit and gives some juicy red fruit on the palate. Long and chewy finish. Also a bit hit with the crowd.

The last wine was another 2005 (which was a phenomenal vintage across the board in France); the Chateau de Pressac St. Emilion Grand Cru. Still a baby, so I put it through the Vinturi and decanted it earlier in the afternoon to soften it up. 72% Merlot, with Cab Franc, Cab Sauv, and a touch of Malbec and Carmenere. Structured, with very dark fruit for a Merlot-dominated wine; I got a lot of black plum and black cherry. Full and creamy on the palate, with enough tannins to reward putting it away for another 5-6 years. Still very tasty right now, though.

For another perspective, check out Erica Van Heerden’s blog on the tasting here.

Orin Swift tasting recap

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

Belated comments on the Orin Swift tasting of a couple weeks back:

We had a great turnout, which I expected given the popularity of the brand – The Prisoner has a cult following, and Papillon’s not far behind. For those not familiar with Orin Swift, it’s a Napa Valley-based winery founded and run by Dave Phinney (there is no Orin Swift; the name comes from his father’s middle name and mother’s maiden name). It’s a relatively new winery (started in 2000) but quickly achieved recognition with The Prisoner, a full-throttle Zin-based blend.

First wine was the Veladora Sauvignon Blanc, a single-vineyard wine from the Tofanelli Vineyard just south of Napa. Nice thing about this wine is that all of the profits go toward migrant worker health care, so you can feel virtuous while you enjoy it. It’s a polarizing wine; some people love it and others don’t, but very few are ambivalent. Fairly lavishly oaked and with some lees contact, so it’s a much creamier, richer, and oakier Sauv. Blanc than most people are used to. It’s a bit over the top for my personal preference, but people who like oaky, buttery California Chards really enjoy it. Very well made for the style.

Next up was the 2007 Saldo, a Zinfandel sourced from top regions throughout California (primarily Sonoma, but also Napa, Mendocino, Amador, and Contra Costa counties), using fruit from more than 20 vineyards. This is the first vintage of this wine, and it’s gotten a great response. Like all Orin Swift wines, it’s big (15.5% alcohol) and lush, but with great Zin character. It was a hit; we sold a bunch of this wine. Only a few bottles left, and then it’s gone until the next vintage.

The 2007 Prisoner was the third wine; many attendees were already familiar with it since they’ve been buying it from me faithfully, but for those that weren’t it was a nice chance to see what the hype is about.  The blend on this one is 50% Zinfandel; 24% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14% Syrah; 9% Petite Sirah; 2% Charbono; and 1% Grenache – definitely a kitchen sink wine! More tannins than the Saldo thanks to the Cab and Syrah, but still with that ripe, juicy red and black berry fruit. I ran both this and the Papillon through the Vinturi aerator to open them up a bit, which really helps soften up the mouthfeel, but this will easily benefit from a couple of years in the cellar. I can see why this gets the high scores; it’s very well made for the style, with great intensity, concentration and balance. (Personally, though, give me a nice elegant Pinot Noir any day).

PapillonFinally was the Papillon, a Bordeax blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon; 27% Merlot; 4% Petite Verdot; 2% Malbec; 2% Cabernet Franc. Like all of his wines, the label is fantastic; the label artwork is a photo taken by photographer Greg Gorman, and the hands are vineyard owner Vince Tofanelli’s. This is my favorite out of the four wines – it’s big, yes, but had more structure and finesse than the previous wines. (Plus, I just like Cab better than Zin). Another candidate for medium-term cellaring, with a fair amount of tannins and tight fruit. It’s all there, though, and is already showing great complexity and layers of flavor.