Archive for the ‘Wine Tasting Notes’ Category

Holiday Sparklers Tasting Recap

Monday, December 7th, 2009

We had a great sparkling wine tasting last Tuesday, covering just about everything but Champagne (that tasting is next week). Crowded but not overly so – really nice energy, and the wines showed very well.

We started off with Deinhard’s Riesling “Lila” Sekt from Germany. Sekt is the German term for sparkling wine, but interestingly, 90% of Sekt doesn’t originate in Germany – producers buy bulk still wine from Italy and put it through secondary tank fermentation. Thus, 90% of sekt is crap, to put it bluntly. The Deinhard is part of the 10% that is not. Made from grapes grown in Mosel and the MIttelrhein, it’s dry, fairly subtle but with lovely white flowers and tropical fruit flavors of Riesling. Clean and crisp, a nice way to start.

Next was Montsarra’s Cava from Spain – textbook Cava, with lemon notes and Cava’s classic earthiness (which comes from the indigenous Xarel-lo grape). More complex than most Cavas, with more yeastiness than you generally get and with a richer mouthfeel.

Third was Szigeti’s Gruner Veltliner from Austria. My personal favorite (partly because I just like saying Ziggedy); you don’t see sparkling Gruner around very much at all, but if this wine is any indication, I’d love to see more. Gruner is one of the few varietals that carries its flavor through the secondary fermentation process – it still tastes like Gruner, but sparkling. This is a very savory wine, with flavors of peppercorn, pink grapefruit, and dried herbs. It’d be phenomenal with food, I think, but delicious and distinctive on its own.

Next up was Cave de Producteurs Vouvray Brut. 100% Chenin Blanc, as are all Vouvrays. Like Gruner, Chenin retains its varietal characteristcs in sparkling form – ripe apple, honey, a bit of nuttiness, and the grape’s distinctive lanolin character. Some sweetness on this wine, but the acidity counterbalanced it nicely.

Moving to California, we sampled J’s Cuvee 20 from the Russian River Valley. This was the most Champagne-like of the group, both because of the varietal blend (about half and have Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with a dash of Pinot Meunier) and the extended time on lees (3 years). As such, it had the yeasty brioche-y character you get out of Champagne, with a lush, rich mouthfeel.

Last up was the Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rose. 100% Pinot Noir from the Alsace region of France; this was a close runner-up for my favorite of the night. Beautiful red cherry and strawberry fruit, full-bodied on the palate, crisp, dry, and with great finish.

All in all, not a dog in the bunch. A wide range of styles, so hopefully educational for people, and every wine had about the same number of people who said it was their favorite, which is great – it’s boring if everyone prefers the same wine.

Blind Tasting Challenge Recap – White Wines

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

Last week’s tasting was a little different than usual – instead of focusing on a particular varietal or region, we did a little blind challenge of white wines throughout the world. There were 5 wines, each a single varietal, from 5 different countries; the challenge was to correctly identify the country (or varietal) for each wine. I only picked wines that were widely grown and representative of their country and showed good varietal typicity. To make it a little easier, I gave a list of 6 countries that the wines could possibly come from along a list of what varietals typically came from those countries. The choices were Spain, United States, Argentina, France, Germany, and Italy.

Wine 1: Crios de Susana Balbo 2009 Torrontes, Argentina: If you’re familiar with Torrontes, this was one of the easier ones, as Torrontes is a very distinctive grape – aromatic and floral, with a bit of stone fruits, lots of white flowers, and an almost perfumy mouthfeel. The 2009 Crios just got released, and it’s delicious – as usual, a standard-bearer for the varietal. If the varietal’s Torrentes, then it had to be Argentina (Torrontes is not grown much elsewhere – a small amount is in Spain, but too little for the parameters of this tasting.)

Wine 2: Newton 2007 Chardonnay, Napa/Sonoma, United States: Not as easy as it sounded – this wine has much more acidity than most California Chardonnays (which is why I like it), so that threw a few people off. Still, the richness, ripeness and relatively high alcohol content screams New World (i.e., anything but Europe). By default, that was the US or Argentina. Classic Chardonnay characteristics of malolactic fermentation (giving a creamy, buttery texture); some spicy oak; and pear/lemon curd / apple flavors. Most people got this one.

Wine 3: Johann Peter Mertes 2005 Riesling Spatlese Halbtrocken, Mosel Germany:Probably the easiest of the bunch. Drier than most German Rieslings (halbtrocken means “half-dry”) – I didn’t want to make it too easy – but still noticeably sweeter than the rest. High acid, no oak, and a floral / petrol / tropical fruit confirms Riesling; low alcohol and sweetness level points to Germany. Almost everyone identified this correctly.

Wine 4: Thomas & Fils 2007 Sancerre “La Crele”, France: This was a challange, and the wine didn’t show loads of overt fruit (which was a clue in itself). High acid, very minerally, great structure. Lots of wet pebble flavors, and some underlying white grapefruit that grew over time. A complex wine, and very representative of Sancerre. Acidity + citrus leads you toward Sauvignon Blanc, wet-pebble minerality points to France.

Wine 5: Marco Felluga 2007 Pinot Grigio “Mongris”, Collio Italy: In my mind the hardest of the five, because Italian Pinot Grigio is generally less defined than most other varietal/regions. Again, though, that’s a clue. This wine has more texture and structure than most Italian Pinot Grigios, with great phenolics, flavors of golden raisins, and underlying fall spices. Those characteristics are hallmarks of Pinot Grigio,; this wine had more concentration and structure than most. A few people got this one.

Overall, everyone had a great time; no one got all five right, but Tim Hansen came the closest with four. I’m looking forward to how the red blind challenge goes in a couple of weeks.

Grenache Tasting Recap

Friday, September 4th, 2009

A great Grenache tasting on August 25 – well-attended, and the wine showed both excellent varietal character and also how different the wines can be around the world. Grenache is the thrid-most planted red varietal in the world (behind Cab. Sauv. & Merlot); it’s known for bright red berry fruit, good acidity, and a full body without a lot of tannins. It accumulates sugar easily but needs a long warm growing season to ripen fully, so the wines are always on the higher side for alcohol content.

Bodegas Borsao 2008 Monte Oton, Campo de Borja: This is my favorite under-$10 red that we sell; it’s a phenomenal value, and delivers a lot of wine for the money. Unoaked, so retains the pure essence of Grenache’s juicy berry fruit, with some underlying minerality to add complexity. A crowd-pleaser, and an unbeatable everyday or party wine.

Unti 2006 Grenache, Dry Creek Valley: This wine disappointed me a bit at the tasting; I’ve loved Unti’s Grenache in the past but found this to be initially a bit woody and closed in. I recently had the 2004 from our personal cellar and that was phenomenal, so thinking the wine might be a bit young I saved a bit for the next day. Voila, it opened up beautifully with a day of air. Complex, layered, balanced. A great one for the cellar for a couple of years. (Or else with few hours of decanting.)

Betts & Scholl 2006 The O.G. Grenache, Barossa Valley: Lush and jammy, with big fruit and some smooth vanilla and oak to match. More interesting than most Aussie Shiraz’s because Grenache’s naturally high acidity balances out the richness. Unabashedly New World, very well made for the style. This was a big hit at the tasting.

Montirius 2007 Cotes du Rhone: At about $18, vies with the Borsao for the best value at the tasting. 2007 was a phenomenal year for the Southern Rhone, and this wine showed why. The Montirius is a blend of 73% Grenache, 20% Syrah, and 7% Mourvedre – a fairly common blend in the Southern Rhone (some producers also use Cinsault) – and the additional varietals give darker fruit, some spiciness, and a bit of tannic structure. This wine had the scrubby garrigue that the Southern Rhone wines are known for, but exquisite fruit and great balance. Long and layered; an approachable style for those unfamiliar with French wines but still true to type.

Domaine de Marcoux 2005 Chateauneuf du Pape: Easily the best wine of the tasting (of course, it’s the most expensive!). 2005 was another classic Rhone vintage, and this wine has the stuffing to easily age well for another decade. 80% Grenache, with 15% Syrah and 5% Cinsault/Mourvedre, with an average vine age of 50 years. Incredibly rich and full, wtih red and black fruits, licorice, a bit of smokiness, minerality, and herbs. Great acid / tannin structure, opened up nicely as the tasting went on. A great way to end.

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.