Archive for November, 2012

Tasting Recap: California Zin

Saturday, November 17th, 2012

Zinfandel is by nature a flamboyant wine, loved for its bold, dark fruits, high-octane nature, and juicy, low-tannin richness. What is often misunderstood is the potential this grape has to produce wines that fit outside this generic perception. On the vine, Zinfandel produces uneven bunches, and can be a bit tough to vinify, yet when produced with great care and solid winemaking, Zin can be something quite special. This past week tasters sampled five California bottlings and one from Puglia Italy for a bit of contrast. With a varietal tasting it can be difficult to represent every region or style of winemaking the varietal is known for, but we do our best to offer a fair representation of what can be both typical and unique to a grape. We first poured a Primitivo (Italy) as an Old World option before jumping into a baseline $10 option and slowly moving up in quality and price all the while featuring four main regions of California Zinfandel production. From an expected bombastic, hedonistic selection to a surprisingly herbal / funkier selection and everything in between, these Zins showcased just how wide a range of wines the grape has to offer.

Layer Cake 2010 Primitivo, Puglia Italy

Sourced from the Manduria region of Puglia, this wine was created to reflect exactly what a Primitivo should be. This region is incredibly hot, though geographically allows for a greater maritime influence as it is such a thin peninsula (the heel of the boot, if you will). Coastal breezes help to preserve acidity and retain a more food-friendly, old world alcohol of just 13.5%. Incredible considering most wines from this region are minimum 14%, yet it still offers ripe purple fruits, a sense of mineral and a nice brambly character to add complexity. Primitivo is a classic pair for meaty dishes with robust flavors, and the structure of this wine allows for greater versatility as the low alcohol supports a little heat to the dish, and will easily please drinkers both new and old world alike. A tasting favorite.

Double Decker 2010 Zinfandel, California

The Double Decker line is a second label for Wente Vineyards, using sourced fruit to create value-driven wines of stellar quality. When searching for these $10 wines, we don’t necessarily look for complexity, but rather a sense of typicity to the grape and where it is being produced. This wine delivers on both accounts. Black fruits jump from the nose with hints of vanilla and spice to offer a touch of depth as a creamy palate full of dark fruits creates an easy drinking Zinfandel. This producer uses a blend of French, American and Eastern European oak to soften the mouthfeel and support a lusher palate, a nice addition to a wine at this price. This is a wine that despite the vintage, strives to be consistent from year to year, and the flexibility of sourced fruit allows perfectly for this. An incredible value for the price.

Foxglove 2009 Zinfandel, Paso Robles

This was perhaps the most polarizing wine of the tasting as it defied most of the perceptions tasters had of this varietal and region. Paso Robles traditionally produces wines that are weightier, robust and higher alcohol, though this is the odd man out. With a feral, herbal nose and slightly brighter acidity, dark red and purple fruits all the while retaining a soft palate with hints of vanilla to balance out a little funk, this wine was an incredible juxtaposition to the wines to come, This winery utilizes oak staves in a stainless fermentation and aging to bring elements of oak without the oxidative quality of a full barrel. Obvious attention to detail and clever wine making have created this tasty Zinfandel that may not please all Zin drinkers, but will certainly wow those who think Zin is always a sugary fruit bomb. This is a Zin that offers a refreshing portrayal of this grape for those that don’t generally consider Zin a favorite grape.

Ridge 2010 Lytton Springs, Dry Creek Valley

Ridge is one of California’s most highly regarded Zin producers, with winemaker Paul Draper creating some of Zinfandels most elegant and renowned expressions. When it comes to a sense of place, Ridge has got it made, and for the past thirty some years, Lytton Springs and their Geyserville bottlings have shown how even with New World fruit, you can have a sense of terroir and longevity to wine. This is a blend of primarily Zinfandel, with Petite Sirah, Carignane and Mataro (Mourvedre) to flesh it out, and brings figs and dark black fruit, notes of fresh herbs and earthy minerality together in the most elegant and complex wine of the tasting. This bottle is quite young, though showed extremely well at the tastings but also showed just how well it can age for years to come. This wine is in limited allocation, so if you have enjoyed Ridge wines before or this will be your first, we suggest picking some up soon as it won’t be around in the shop much longer.

Earthquake 2010 Zinfandel, Lodi

Lodi is one of California’s main regions for bulk wine production, as its hot and dry climate and fertile soil allow for quite large yields and consistent production. Yet, by keeping yields low and taking advantage of some of the older vines in the region, you can make a wine with a good bit of interest, and Michael David is one such producer. More well-known for his “7 Deadly Zins”, we vastly prefer his higher end Earthquake line. For this bombastic, concentrated and high alcohol style of Zin, this is a perfect and well-made libation. Inky black fruit, mocha and vanilla bean combine with a smooth but rich palate in this indulgent wine. With the brazen winter winds in the near distance, this is the wine for cold nights by the fire and to accompany rich, hearty roasts. (We also recommend his Petite Petit blend for.)

Turley 2010 Cedarman Vineyard Zinfandel, Howell Mountain

Famed winemaker Helen Turley may be a bit rough around the edges (and no longer with this winery) but her full-force style of winemaking perseveres in the winery’s lineup of small-production single-vineyard Zins. Sourced from the higher elevations of Napa’s Howell Mountain, this Zinfandel is akin to the hedonistic, massive, high alcohol style of Zin production, yet offers an incredible structure. Well-preserved acidity, use of smaller proportions of new oak and layers of purple and black fruit, brown spice and vanilla, and brambly, earthy foundations and a rich, yet balanced palate all unite in a fantastic and heralded offering. As this is a single-vineyard wine, we do find a great sense of place, yet still with Turley’s brooding and dense style. A perfect way to end the array of Zins sampled, and a crowd favorite. And as of this posting, only 3 bottles remain for the year (did we mention they’re small production?)

Tasting Recap: Red Wine Quality Comparison

Monday, November 12th, 2012

This past week’s tasting was a follow-up to our white wine quality comparison, offering six red wines as the base of analysis. With last week’s survey of reds, we explored two Burgundies, two Nebbiolos and two Bordeaux-style blends from California, served blind in pairs and featuring a significant price difference between the wines in each pair. Without knowing which wine was which, some tasters found they were far more interested in the wines with the lesser price, and also gained the insight as to why they would spend the extra money on the higher-priced bottle. Tasting wine is clearly a subjective matter, and though there are clear reasons for an increase in a wine’s price (new oak, time spent aging, etc) these tastings helped our tasters to reveal not only what they enjoy about wine, but offered a glimpse into the shop’s aspect of how and why we do what we do. A few wines proved to be crowd favorites, but all the wines showed well and found their way home with tasters.

Michel Picard 2009 Bourgogne rouge
Lucien Boillot 2009 Gevrey-Chambertin

This first pair of Pinot Noirs was a great reveal into how wines are designed either for youthful consumption or for years of aging before really showing well. Pinot Noir is certainly one of the best grapes ever vinified, and though it is extremely finicky to work with it is a very clear expression of not only the vineyard in which it was grown, but of the winemaker’s personal style, as well. Michel Picard produces a fair amount of wine, and their economies of scale along with their focus on high quality make them a top value producer. The grapes for this wine are sourced from Burgundy as a whole and is a refreshingly low-priced Pinot that absolutely delivers. The wine sees six months of aging in large, neutral oak, with subtle flavors of cherry and strawberry and a classic Burgundian forest floor and hint of mushroom. The balance of subtle fruits with earthy notes and a smooth, easy palate create an incredible value at just $14 a bottle. This wine was juxtaposed with the Boillot Gevrey-Chambertin, which goes for about 4 times the price of the Picard. Though both wines are from the same vintage, the Boillot is still a baby on its relative lifespan and showed fairly tight and closed in at the tastings. Also seeing oak, though for almost twice as long, the Boillot showed just how a wine can need years of cellaring to find itself. With a richer, more textured mouthfeel, a more ripe red fruit profile and even more layers of classic Burgundian funk, this wine was a new experience for most tasters. Want a Pinot to drink now? The Picard is your wine, but for that gift or bottle you want to hold for several years before consumption, the Boillot Gevrey-Chambertin is the answer.

Guidobono 2010 Nebbiolo, Langhe
Fontanafredda 2007 Barolo

Nebbiolo is unique in its naturally high acidity and high tannic content, both of which contribute to a wine’s longevity. Barolo and Barbaresco are certainly the best expressions of this grape, and though it hasn’t quite taken root outside of its Piedmont home, Nebbiolo is one of the world’s most precious grapes. The Guidobono is an extremely appropriate intro to this grape, as it features a greater presence of cherry fruit with a bit of chocolate (think unsweetened), a hint of classic tarry notes and has seen just 8 months of barrel maturation in large, oak casks to soften those natural tannins. The acidity is still quite high, creating a juicier offering that is incredibly accessible. The Fontanafredda Barolo, on the other hand, is required to see two years in cask, in this case a year each in French barrique and traditional large Slavonian oak, and an additional three years of bottle aging. We certainly find a similar chocolate-covered cherry profile, in this case a bit more cocoa powder-like, with a heightened sense of tar and dried roses. The palate offers a give-and-take of flushes of acidity and semi-firm grip, showing how well this wine is structured. It was showing beautifully at both tastings, but as this is the current release for Barolo, will easily cellar for another decade. A winner for the night.

Lyeth 2010 “Fleur de Lyeth” blend, California
Orin Swift 2009 “Papillon”, Napa Valley

Often producers will create low-priced blends with the remaining fruit they have after bottling their single vineyard or reserve selections, and the value here is found in the high quality grapes and expertise used for these affordable bottles. The Fleur de Lyeth blend combines Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, in true Bordeaux fashion, into a smooth, slightly mineral, yet, fruit-dominated wine that drinks incredibly easy. The wine sees 12 months in a combination of both French and American oak, softening the Cabernet’s tannins and offering subtle notes of spice and vanilla to enhance a creamy palate. For the price, a clear winner of the tasting. The contrasting wine was Orin Swift’s “Papillon”, a blend of primarily Cabernet with the remainder fleshed out with the Bordeaux family varietals Merlot, Malbec, Cab Franc and a touch of Petite Verdot. Sixteen months in French oak blurs the edges of the Cabernet’s thick skins, supporting rich dark berry fruits, hints of cigar and just enough acidity to keep this wine in great balance. For those who enjoy this more extracted, robust style of winemaking, we have a few different wines in the shop with your name on them. Unfortunately, this wine has an extremely small allocation as very little is made, and tasters scooped up every last bottle. There are similar options in the shop, of course, so stop in and we’ll help find another bottle that fits the bill.

Tasting Recap: White Wine Quality Comparison

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

When assessing a wine’s quality there are several aspects to consider: intensity, concentration, complexity, balance, persistence, ageablity. Too often, however, price is a subconscious consideration as well – people often overrate an expensive wine or are predisposed to like it, while an inexpensive wine may suffer the opposite fate. For this tasting, we sampled pairs of Godello, Sancerre and Chardonnay, each pair representing two contrasting price points to compare the wine’s flavors, complexities and overall appreciation – and of course this tasting was performed blind. Wine tasting isn’t easy and can certainly be a bit intimidating, but have no fear, there was no judgment passed and tasters embraced the opportunity all with smiles. Great wine was consumed and tasters left knowing a bit more about what they tasted, and why they like what they like.

Rafael Palacios 2011 “Sabrego” Godello, Valdeorras, Spain

Avanthia 2010 Godello, Valdeorras, Spain

Godello is a grape native to northwest Spain, and though inherently neutral, can be extremely expressive in the right hands. This pair was a great introduction into comparative tasting as the wines were produced in more contrasting manners. The Sabrego is a fresher, fruitier approach with bright honeydew melon and mineral notes, a vibrant acidity and a slightly textured palate from five months of lees aging in stainless steel. We’ve poured this by the glass at both locations and have seen incredible success, not only at the bar, but for the guests who return for more Godello to share with others. The Avanthia was quite the opposite with older vines, more time on lees, malolactic fermentation and generous oak maturation to bring a richer, creamier palate, brown spices and a more powerful, concentrated nose. On the palate the wine keeps somewhat light as the acidity is naturally high, which helps to accentuate and balance the heavier mouthfeel. Now the questions arises of the battle of quality, and as a more contrasting pair, this wine was certainly telling of taster’s affinity for oak, but also showed that even in lesser known regions, there can exist a spread of quality and prices.

Jospeh Mellot 2010 “Les Chatellenie” Sancerre

Ladoucette 2009 “Comte Lafonde” Sancerre

Sancerre is a classic, pebble-ridden region in the upper Loire Valley of France. Sauvignon Blanc is dominant here, and the cooler climate and minerally soils produce wines known for intense minerality, white grapefruit and often a smoky character. The Mellot sees cooler fermentation temperature to preserve the freshness of the fruit, accompanying grassy notes and a stone foundation. Bright acidity brings even more life to this wine and over all, tasters appreciated the youthful nature of this bottle. The Ladoucette was much more focused on non-fruit flavors, with grapefruit notes lingering amidst a much more concentrated palate, well-integrated acidity and simply stunning finish resembling the energizer bunny…just keeps on going. Minerality is key for this wine and this Sancerre is a classic portrayal of what this region has to offer, though the Mellot certainly shouldn’t be forgotten.

Chalone Vineyards 2010 Chardonnay, Monterey, California

Failla 2010 Keefer Ranch Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, California

Chardonnay is found in the world’s greatest white wines and is a chameleon of a grape, identifying with extremely varied production methods. Though California Chardonnay can be just as varied, the common identity is that of an excessively buttery and oaky one. This can be damn tasty when the winemaking is careful and clever, but can easily be abused. If you think you don’t like Chardonnay, we encourage you to keep trying to find exactly the style of Chardonnay you prefer. These two wines are great representations of this style, and for tasters was the hardest of the three pairs to assess. For the Chalone, a blend of stainless, old and new French oak is used as well as partial malolactic fermentation to create this creamy wine. Apple and pear fruit, brown spices, a full mouthfeel and hints of lemon all bond in this $15 selection. The Failla is a leap in price as it is much smaller production, the grapes sourced from the well-known Keefer Ranch, and use of both oak and concrete (giant concrete eggs, in fact!) to form layers and ageability. This wine is a great blend of both old and new world as it holds nuanced layers of lemon curd, pears, subtle spices and mineral with a well-preserved acidity and concentration. In time this wine will open up and integrate into a stellar bottle and with even a few minutes in the glass, tasters were shocked at how this wine evolved. With every sip offering a new flavor or balance, tasters understood complexity that much better. Tasters judged the Failla to clearly be the winner here, though a few bottles of the Chalone went out the door, as well.

Tasting Recap: Reds of the Southern Rhone

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

The Rhone Valley is one of France’s largest appellations, rivaled only by Bordeaux in the West and the neighboring Languedoc-Roussillon to the south.  Within the mass amounts of Cotes-du-Rhone wines produced there are more esteemed regions such as Gigondas and Chateauneuf-du-Pape to elevate this region’s status.  The wines here are generally dominated by Grenache, with Mourvedre and Syrah to fill out the blend. There are several other allowed varietals in the region, however these three are the holy trinity of a Rhone wine.  For last week’s tasting we surveyed six wines of the Southern Rhone exploring all levels of the classification system from base level Cotes-du-Rhone to the highly sought after Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  All six wines, though stylistically and technically different, shared several common themes, creating a line-up of wines that better showcase their individual geography yet hold true to regional typicity.  No two tasters completely agreed and though some wines certainly stood out, all of the wines showed extremely well.

Mas de Boislauzon 2009 Cotes-du-Rhone Villages

From a small-production brother and sister team, we find a simply delicious value.   Amidst the Rhone’s torrential winds and intensely sunny days this pair has created a wine that way over delivers for the price.  The Boislauzon brings extremely ripe red and purple fruits, a touch of the classic garrigue (scrubby underbrush) and is fleshed out with rich licorice notes to boot.  What we love most is that despite this wine’s ripeness, there is enough acidity to bring balance and structure creating a full-bodied and complex libation.

Domaine Cros de Romet 2009 Cotes du Rhones Villages Cairanne

Cairanne is one of the few villages in the southern Rhone that is a step up from just villages level Cotes-du-Rhone, allowing the name of a single village to append its name.  These wines are sourced from more specific regions creating a greater sense of identity and expression of terroir.  This wine is the only one produced by the winery and is a more traditional style, following the Boislauzon quite well.  Fruit is less of a factor here, and the stony and dried herbal notes create the dominant flavors.  Also a Grenache base, the nose holds earthy purple fruits with a palate full of rocks, garrigue and earth.  The elements of this wine are nowhere near as overt as the Boislauzon, but similar flavors and characteristics are found, reminding us of the great variety one can find in a single region.

Coudoulet de Beaucastel 2009 Cotes-du-Rhone

Though technically this wine falls into the lowest-level appellation of the Rhone Valley, it far exceeds the title.  Chateau de Beaucastel produces some of the world’s most reputable and expensive Chateauneuf-du-Pape and across the road (and outside the geographical limitations for Chateauneuf-du-Pape) we find their Coudoulet vineyards.  Case in point you have some fantastic winemakers, top of the line equipment and extremely similar growing conditions for a far less price.  This wine has less Grenache than the other wines sampled further accentuating the variations of this tasting’s selections.  It is one of the two to utilize oak (though primarily neutral, large casks) and has the ability to age incredibly well.  With greater meaty and peppery notes balanced by a well-preserved acidity and ripe fruit extraction, a bit of garrigue and earthy mineral add to its layers.  Drinks well now, will certainly cellar for the next several years.

Domaine la Garrigue 2010 Vacqueyras

The next three wines have all achieved full AOC status, allowing them to simply state the name of the region with any appendage of Cotes-du-Rhone.  Vacqueyras is traditionally known as the most rustic of these appellations, but over-generalizing is tough as the world of wine progresses.  In context of this tasting, it holds true, though knowing the producer and their style is best.  Domaine la Garrigue has produced a fair amount of wine for a few generations and this bottle, though young, shows it well.  Earthy, licoricey, full of dark fruits and with just a touch of grip, the garrigue alludes to a classic style of Rhone wine but holds a riper fruit component increasing accessibility.

Alain Jaume 2009 Gigondas

Gigondas holds many similarities to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but holds its identity well.  This wine was perhaps the most modern of the bunch featuring a flashier red fruit profile, richer texture and slightly higher alcohol.  Still holding on to acidity and a touch of earthiness, the Jaume is wonderfully balanced and showed a great contrast after the more traditional Vacqueyras.  We see a touch of oak here as well, but it is not for big spicy flavor, but to soften the tannins of the Syrah and create a lush mouthfeel.  Like a fruitier wine? Drink it now. Prefer mature? Give it a couple of years before imbibing.  Great for gifting and for the curious modern palate.

Feraud-Brunel 2010 Chateauneuf-du-Pape

When two well-known winemakers team up to create a wine together, the results are usually astounding.  No question here.  The winemakers of both Les Cailloux and Domaine de Pigau (both well-known and established wineries) created this negociant line to showcase an affordable level to this appellation’s wines.  They are both staunch traditionalists and the wine extols this immensely.  Featuring darker, almost brooding fruit, ashy minerality and dark licorice with fine-grained tannins just a little funk to remind us it is the Rhone, this is classic CdP.  The beautiful thing about high-end Grenache is the ability to drink well young, but when structured for it to age for decades.  This wine already plays into the secondary and tertiary notes wine evolves into, but will only improve with age.