Archive for December, 2012

Tasting Recap – Champagne

Monday, December 24th, 2012

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.

Tasting Recap: Sparkling Wines other than Champagne

Monday, December 24th, 2012

Simply stated, we love sparkling wine. Whether the finest of Champagnes, a crisp, lemony Cava or a slightly more gulpable Prosecco we rather enjoy our bubbles in wine. The high acidity and carbonation are perfect pairs for food pairing from scallops to steak and a glass of sparkling is most appropriate for any celebration. In the shop we try to expose our customers to these often incredible values and we always feature these finds at the bar in efforts to create a bubble culture here in Milwaukee, but a tasting is certainly the best way to learn and enjoy these wines – and we sure did. Our recent tasting featured six sparkling wines from outside the borders of the famed Champagne from elsewhere in France, Spain, Italy and California. The wines all showed incredibly well and participants picked up lots of (in some cases, all of!) our stock – finding themselves with a new arsenal of bubbles in their homes. There was no clear favorite of the tasting but read on and pick one up for the holiday that sounds your style.

Libretto NV Prosecco, Italy ($8.95)

Following tradition, we began this tasting with a light spritz sampling sparkling from Prosecco, produced in the cool climate and limestone soils of north east Italy. Though a wide spectrum of quality wine is produced, there can be solid Prosecco and we think this find is stellar. The Libretto is a classic Prosecco normally retailing at about $14 and because the current label is being switched we got a great deal. Now at $8.95 a bottle, this traditional sparkling is the perfect way to kick off any gathering. Easy drinking with a hint of sweet, the Libretto shows soft lemon notes and foamy, frothy bubbles all perfectly refreshing. This is a great one for gifting as nobody complains about receiving a bottle of tasty bubbles.

Poema NV Cava Spain ($13.95)

A great Cava is something to be appreciated both for its quality as much as for its value and the Poema performs as expected. Comprised solely from the traditional blend of Xarel-lo, Macabeo and Paralleda and aged on its lees for a year creating a lightly toasted backbone, this is a great new find for the shop and bar. The Paralleda brings a nice fresh lemon aroma to some fine beading in the glass creating a perfect little moment. An ideal sparkler for appetizers and hors d’oeuvres.

J “Cuvee 20″, Russian River Valley California ($26.95)

Constructed with a Champenoise formula of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with three years on its lees, the “Cuvee 20″ offers bright lemon and orchard fruit on the nose with a subtle brioche on the creamy palate. The sugar here is just over the Brut level, but this is far from sweet. Crisp and refreshing with a bit of texture and a great balance of fruit and toast, this wine is quality California sparkling. A perfect gift when you’re not sure what to get as the wine will please anybody and the packaging is flashy, yet classy.

Chateau des Vaults NV Brut Sauvage, Cremant de Loire France ($24.95, unfortunately, this item is temporarily unavailable)

Chenin Blanc is naturally high in acidity and when a fantastic producer employs the style of Brut Sauvage (aka Brut Nature or Brut Zero) they do not add any dosage (sweetened wine often added just before bottling), the  pure flavors of the grape and that bright acidity take center stage. Chenin Blanc also offers a lanolin-like texture creating a rich palate for that acidity to show itself with flavors of dry honey, figs and dried apples. The producer goes back several generations in Savannieres and this sparkling shows incredible character. This wine was a favorite of the evening, and as we love featuring wines that are from small scale producers, that does increase their rarity. We took everything the distributor had in stock and tasting attendees cleaned us out, but this should be available again early next year,

Ca’ del Bosco NV “Cuvee Prestige” Brut, Franciacorta Italy ($36.95)

From North-central Italy comes one of sparkling wine’s best values with Franciacorta. Italy’s answer to Champagne, Franciacorta refelects the best of the traditional method with incredibly meticulous wine-making and the setting of its near-forest home. Chardonnay is the base here, with a smaller percentage of Pinot Nero and a touch of Pinot Bianco sourced from over a hundred different parcels, all fermented separately into the ultimate base blend destined for bubbles. The wine sees just over two years on its lees creating a wonderfully creamy palate vivid with fresh orchard fruit, lemon and hints of toastiness. The finish is incredibly persistent reminding the taster of the quality of this bottle. Ca’ del Bosco is known as a pioneer in Franciacorta and remains it’s most famed producer. Tasters see exactly why.

Gratien & Mayer NV Brut Rose, Saumur France ($20.95, unfortunately, this item is temporarily unavailable)

What would a sparkling tasting be without a rose? We could have poured many styles of sparkling rose for this option, but we had our hands on something truly unique that we had to pour. This is a producer we don’t often see and we were glad to come across it as it is a beautiful example of sparkling Cabernet Franc. With pronounced notes of a graphite minerality, raspberries and violets, this wine shows a classic old world take on winemaking as it features non-fruit flavors with bright acidity and the want for food. Still a bit creamy and a touch drying on the palate, this wine shows the influence of red grapes to the process of sparkling wine and just how diverse bubbles can be. Unfortunately, we also sold through our stock on this item, but it may be back in the near future for you to try.

Tasting Recap – An Eclectic Holiday Sampler

Monday, December 10th, 2012

This past week’s tasting featured a variety of wines suitable for upcoming holiday celebrations. Whether white, red or rosé (we love bubbles, too!) the wines were certainly appreciated by those who dropped in for a few tastes. The holidays bring together all sorts of palates, so our selections were geared toward overall accessibility and food appropriate wines, whether for an intimate family gathering or a full-scale party. Ranging in price from the teens to a bit higher end, there was certainly something for everybody. We opened too many wines to recap them all, but here are a few highlights and crowd favorites:

Tollot-Beaut 2006 Bourgogne blanc ($18.95)

Known for a more modern, flashy style, the wines of Tollot-Beaut still hold true to their Burgundian home. This Chardonnay features a bit more new oak to balance out a bright acidity, lemon curd, spice and orchard fruit notes. The texture of this wine is fairly creamy, and as it is a bit aged it has integrated exceptionally well. With a vivid aroma jumping from the glass, this will please old or new world chardonnay drinkiers quite easily. This normally retails for a bit more, as well, making this one of the best values of the tasting.

Philippe Colin 2006 1er Cru “Morgeot” Chassagne-Montrachet ($49.95)

Also at a pretty stellar price, this wine is an absolute steal. To find 1er Cru Chassagne-Montrachet at this price makes us extremely excited, and we hope you take advantage! This wine isn’t as forward as the Tollot-Beaut, but demands a bit more patience as the layers of this wine reveal themselves with each sip. In a more classic Burgundian fashion, we find similar lemon curd and faint orchard fruit notes, less spice but far more mineral and complexity. The acidity and oak are very well integrated and the finish is persistent, taking its sweet time to fade until the next sip. This wine will certainly please any who drink it, and those who think it may not be their fancy may be surprised. One of our favorite additions to the shop.

Marquis Phillips 2008 “Holly’s Blend” Southeastern Australia ($9.95)

Primarily Verdelho (not Verdejo, to note) with a bit of Chardonnay, Riesling and Semillon, this blend is the ultimate winter white. A rich, creamy texture, and acidity that won’t quit and big flavors of stone fruit, dried honey and a bit of petrol. This wine is also 15%abv so a cold winter’s night beware, this is the perfect solution to finding warmth. Verdelho is a wrongfully under-appreciated varietal, so if you’ve never tried it this is your chance. Perhaps the best $10 white we have offered this year!!

Unti 2011 Rosé Dry Creek Valley ($23.95) Just because the forecast shows snow is no reason to forget about dry rosé – there are lots of winter whites to be consumed and rosé deserves it’s place in your home this season. The Unti Rosé is a blend of Grenache and Mourvèdre, offering red fruits, a slight meatiness from the Mourvèdre, and a touch of grip showing the wonderful structure of this wine. The higher acidity of rosé lends it self extremely well as a food pair, and the flavors of this wine will partner with just about anything in your holiday feast. We certainly love our dry rosé, but we are glad to keep sharing it with you for your celebrations this season.

Folk Machine 2011 “Westward Expansion” Pinot Noir, Potter Valley ($29.95)

Winemaker Kenny Likitprakong has emerged as one of California’s most sought-after winemakers, producing wines of an Old World style in some fairly obscure California regions. Whether from the Santa Cruz Mountains (try his Ghostwriter Pinot Noir at $30.95) or from Potter Valley in northern Mendocino, these wines are simply beautiful. Still showing ripe red fruits balanced by vivid acidity, a bit of forest floor and a hint of herbal notes, this is a gorgeous pinot noir. For those who are familiar with these wines, this is a newer production, also featuring three different labels of classic American industry. A simply delicious Pinot Noir.

Valdibella 2011 Nero d’Avola, Sicily ($22.95, 1.5L)

Incredibly smooth with dark red and purple fruits, just a hint of earth and a hint at a chocolate on the finish, this is perhaps the best party wine available. This magnum (two bottles worth) is just over $20 and should accompany you to every party or gathering this season. Nero d’Avola is an indigenous grape to Sicily, once forgotten and now on the rise and the Valdibella shows just how fantastic this grape can be. The acidity is a bit milder here and there is no grip to speak of lending itself to just about any palate it meets. For the price this wine way overdelivers and for the reaction of the other guests as you bring out the biggest bottle at the party, it is priceless. A perfect adornment to any holiday table or for a company party.

Tasting Recap: Priorat & Environs

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

Though the wine production of Priorat dates back to the 12th century, it wasn’t until the past twenty-five years that this small region southwest of Barcelona achieved its worldwide renown. Its astronomical growth in such a short period of time linked with a dedication to quality wines has allowed this region to stake its claim amongst the world’s other greatest of wine regions. This past week tasters sampled six wines, delving further into the esteemed wines of Priorat, and of the surrounding region of Montsant. These wines are produced in an incredibly hot, arid, Mediterranean climate, with some of the steepest slate-covered slopes in the world, now terraced and laced with the traditional Grenache and Carignan, and the more recent additions of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. As with any region, there are modernists and traditionalists and this tasting was sampled in three sets of pairs, reflecting both of these styles accordingly. We began with two value-driven wines from Montsant, two entry-level Priorats and completed the tasting with a producer quality comparison. With the ripe fruits and generally higher alcohols these wines hold, Priorat and Montsant are perfect wines to explore for the domestic palate, though those who prefer a funkier or earthier profile won’t be left out either. Whether for gifting or for yourself, these wines are always a great buy – stop by and try one out!

Cellar Can Blau 2009 “Can Blau”, Montsant ($16.50)

Cellar Baronia 2010 “Flor de Englora” Garnaxta, Montsant ($14.95)

The horseshoe-shaped region of Montsant engulfs Priorat, and though the only major difference is the absence of Priorat’s llicorella slate, these wines are where incredible values can be found as this region is still up-and-coming. Great efforts to sway from traditional mass-produced co-op wines are in motion, and these two bottles are perfect representations of a more international, modern style and something a bit more traditional. The Can Blau is a blend of Mazuelo (Carignan), Syrah, and a bit of Grenache offering richer, ripe black fruits with licorice and subtle notes of spice from some oak aging. There is an almost juicy palate here, as the Grenache is just enough to lift the palate weight and keep some balance. Though there is a fair extraction here and a flashier overall feel, there is still structure and this wine drinks well solo, or accompanied by a beef or lamb roast. The Flor de Englora brings different components to the table. 100% Grenache sees only stainless steel, bringing a freshness to an incredibly ripe and meaty dark red fruit profile. Scorched earth, ash and just enough old-world funk bring added complexities to this wine, and creates a perfect old school Grenache. A hint of grip on the palate balances well-preserved acidity and lengthens the finish of this wine. No matter your personal style, both of these wines offer fair values – well over-delivering for the price.

Finca Tobella 2009 “Negre”, Priorat ($19.95)

Cellar Vall Llach 2008 “Embruix”, Priorat ($24.95)

As we move into Priorat, we step up in quality a few notches as the efforts for production here are much more laborious. High elevations of llicorella-covered steep slopes are a beautiful sight, but make for simply back-breaking work. Terracing is necessary, and wines are all hand-harvested. For the first pair from this region we chose two entry-level Priorats. Finca Tobella is a relatively young winery founded in 2003 by an ambitious husband and wife team, whose goals were to produce a more modern-style of Priorat. Instead of traditional base of Grenache or Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah are the main players with the former pair fleshing out the wine. While maintaining a fairly low alcohol of 13.5% there is a beautiful ripeness to these grapes, in that modern style. Only seeing 5 months in new French oak, this wine has hints of spice, with rich, lush black currant and blackberries on the palate, supported by an earthy minerality indicative of Priorat.

The second of the pair was the Vall Llach “Embruix” (Em-broosh), which is far more traditional with a 15% alcohol, higher proportion of Grenache and Carignan offering black fruits, a bit more grip, dark earthy licorice and hints of clove from extended aging in mostly neutral French oak. Rich, lush, and warming, this wine is a perfect accompaniment to a cold winter’s night. Great for drinking now or for a few years in the cellar.

Alvaro Palacios 2008 “Les Terrasses”, Priorat ($40.95)

Alvaro Palacios 2009 “Finca Dofi”, Priorat ($73.95)

Arguably Spain’s most acclaimed winemaker, Alvaro Palacios has stunned the world with his wines and quickly rose to one of the most sought-after in his profession. And we, like the rest of world, love his wines. Tasting this pair offered insight into a quality comparison of a single producer, and also the opportunity to see what one producer can create with the tools at hand. For his Les Terrasses, Palacios combines primarily estate fruit with some sourced fruit in a traditional formula but in a modern style. Primarily Carignan, balanced with Grenache and hints of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, this wine portrays the dark fruits, spice and earthy licorice of the Vall Llach just sampled, but with a bit more elegance and finesse. Silkier on the palate with richer fruit and well-integrated oak and enough acidity to balance out and keep structure, this wine is a clear candidate for a decant, or several years collecting dust.

The partner here was the Finca Dofi, from a single vineyard that was Palacios’ first vineyard purchase in Priorat. The grapes (primarily Grenache, with the remainder a combination of Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon) are biodynamically farmed and offer incredible concentration, nicely framed by aging in new French oak. Lush red and purple fruits, cinnamon and cloves, hints of vanilla and a well-crafted structure are found here, with the similar ability to be consumed youthfully, certainly with aeration, and also lay in your cellar for a decade, to start. The fruit, though dominant currently, will only integrate further, one day expressing more of the unique climate and terroir that we find in Priorat. With the holidays around, these are perfect wines for gifting as the wine will please just about anybody – all the tasters agreed they’d love these as a gift, and we, of course, have to agree.