December 24th, 2012 by Phil
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.
December 10th, 2012 by Phil
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.
December 3rd, 2012 by Phil
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.
November 17th, 2012 by Phil
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?)
November 12th, 2012 by Phil
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.