Dec. 2010-Up the Calif Coast
DECEMBER 2010 – CALIFORNIA TASTING
With this trip up the coast of California, WineandBeerTasting.com is introducing its rating system. Scores are based on the 100-point system, initially introduced by Robert Parker in his Wine Advocate newsletter more than three decades ago, and now widely used by other leading wine publications like Wine Spectator and International Wine Cellar. Most wines scored here will be fall in the 80 to 100 point range, indicating wines that range anywhere between decent with no real flaws to all-time classics. On the latter end of the spectrum, we are not ones to liberally use three-digit scores at every available opportunity. Those scores, we feel, should be reserved for the elite few – wines that transcend time and represent the very pinnacle of this art form. Wines like the 1945 Mouton, 1989 Haut Brion, 1985 Sassicaia or the 2001 Yquem may be considered the vinous equivalent of the Mona Lisa, Michelangelo David, or Shakespeare’s Hamlet, in that there is little to no room for improvement. Therefore, we feel that bestowing a perfect or a near-perfect score on a wine, especially if it is still unformed and in barrel, should be done with great caution and with serious consideration of how the wine will ultimately measure up to all-time great examples within its peer group.
In general, we evaluate wine based on the following parameters: color, aromatic complexity, purity and intensity of fruit, length of finish, refinement of tannins, and overall balance. Each wine’s note is followed by a numerical score, which represents, in our best opinion, what the wine will drink like at its peak. A (+) designation behind some of the ratings suggests that the wine possesses considerable upside, and at maturity may merit an even higher rating. Also a score with a bracket, as in:  means that it is a tentative score and the wine was not very accessible, but would seem to score around a 90. In rare instances, a wine may not be scored at all. This scenario may arise if the wine is completely closed aromatically or we feel that our sample may not be truly representative of the wine for some reason. The highlighted name designates the paragraph that discusses that specific wine.
Keep the following two basic distinctions in mind:
2007 California Reds- Both in Napa and Central Coast were powerful, with big fruit and an accompanying good acidity, balanced, and generally ageable. Some select Central Coast wines showed a slightly roasted character and were slightly out of balance. Overall, though, the vintage was a smashing success all the way from Santa Barbara to Napa and Sonoma. Wines from most properties are very easy to drink now, yet will generally benefit from a few years in the cellar.
2008 California Reds- These wines varied dramatically all over the state. In the Central Coast, the vintage clearly appears inferior to 2007, as few Rhone-style blends exhibited pure, fruit-driven personalities. Most of the 2008’s were quite a bit more tannic and in general more reserved than the 2007’s were at the same time last year. The best examples will clearly benefit from a few years in the cellar, but they will never be confused with the flamboyant and extroverted 2007’s.
In Napa, some of the properties made better wines in 2008 than in 2007. Like in the Central Coast, the 2007’s are generally more approachable and fruity, while the 2008’s display more of a cool vintage character as well as more obvious tannin. In select properties, the 2008’s appear to have more stuffing and aging potential, and in time will likely eclipse their 2007 counterparts. Some 2008’s are also more aromatically complex, and more thought-provoking, cerebral wines with less flash than the 2007’s but with greater overall interest.
Dec. 2nd, 2010
The first stop of the day was at Jonata Winery in Buellton. An impressively scaled operation, Jonata strives to be much more than a conventional winery. Aside from the dozens of acres of grapes planted in many varietals, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, and Syrah, Jonata also has considerable acreage devoted to olives, from which they intend to produce an estate-bottled olive oil. As if that were not enough, smaller projects devoted to cheese making as well as beer brewing are underway as well!
The winery, located in a rather non-descript building right off State Route 101 in Santa Ynez valley, is chock-full of barrels housing primarily the 2009 and 2010 vintages. On this visit, however, we tasted several bottled 2007’s in addition to a good number of barrel samples of the promising 2009 vintage. Matt Dees, the personable and energetic winemaker has been crafting powerful Bordeaux- and Rhone-style blends for the last several years.
The first wine sampled was the Pairing, a second label recently introduced as a more affordable introduction to Jonata’s wines. The 2007 Pairing consists of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. A dark, Cabernet-dominated concoction, the Pairing is dominated by notes of cassis and licorice as well as some smoky oak. Already approachable, this wine represents a great value at its $25 price point. Although technically a second wine, the Pairing contains enough structure and extract to drink well for a decade, and may even improve with a couple of years in the cellar. WB 89.
The 2007 Fenix, a Merlot-based wine aged in 75% new oak, is one powerful youngster. Very dark in color, the Fenix boasts a nose of dark plum, cassis, chocolate and subtle oak. On the palate, a plum, cassis and a subtle iron-like note lead the way to a big blast of tannin that coats everything in sight. This serious, brooding Merlot begs at least a few years of bottle age in order for the components to become better integrated. WB93.
The 2007 Todos is an intriguing wine – a blend of 44% Syrah, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon and a host of other grapes (>5), including Viognier! Dark ruby-colored, the wine is dominated by its Syrah component aromatically. Beef blood, bacon fat and smoky olive can all be found here. The wine finishes with a 20+ second cascade of dark fruit, a peppery component and round tannin. At the $50 price point, this bottling could be considered a good value, at least when compared to its much more expensive siblings. WB92.
As good as the 2007 Todos is, it is towered over by its big brother, the 2007 Sangre, a 98% Syrah/2% Viognier blend. Here, the aromatics are more powerful, while the Viognier adds intriguing floral note that is not evident in the Todos. Bacon fat, smoke and violets dominate the soaring nose, and the mid palate is marked by strong minerality and a powerful acidic backbone. At 60+ seconds, the finish is distinguished by fine-grained tannin that refuses to let go. This very darkly colored Syrah recalls some of the ripe vintage Hermitage wines of the Northern Rhone, yet has a personality that is all of its own. There is no doubt that it will last for at least two decades or longer. WB95.
Jumping to the barrel samples, one of the more interesting wines year in year out is the Cabernet Franc named Alma. Perennially one of California’s best Cabernet Francs, the 2009 Alma does not disappoint. Dark red in color (but not as dark as the 2007 Sangre), the nose is redolent with freshly picked flowers and red cherries. Complex notes of cassis, licorice and minerality dominate the palate and don’t let go for a long time. Even at such a young age, this is clearly a star in the making! WB 93-95.
The 2009 Desafio, Jonata’s flagship Bordeaux blend, had a tough act to follow, coming on the heels of the brilliant Alma. Dark purple in color, the Desafio was slightly reduced on the nose. Once past the reductive note, cassis, licorice and dark plum component were in evidence. A linear, full-bodied mid-palate lead to a 30+ second finish. A very solid offering here that is likely to be excellent given the solid track record of this wine ever since its debut vintage of 2004. WB 92-94+.
A big Viognier component (7%) gives the 2009 Sangre a violet/lavender-like lift– some might say an effeminate touch. Lighter in color than the 2007, the 2009 barrel sample is meaty, beefy and minerally on the palate. Time will tell whether it will reach the great heights of the 2007, but there is little doubt that this will be a serious, uncompromising Syrah of considerable breed and nobility. WB 93-95+.
The 2009 La Tierra, a predominantly Sangiovese bottling, is darker in color than just about any other Sangiovese that I have ever tasted. Classically-styled Brunello this is not! Once past the dark color, the wine is marked by very strong acidity, a bit shocking given its hot-climate birthplace. Strong tannin and acid really clamp down on the finish. No real reference point here, so it is difficult to tell what will become of this down the road. [WB 90]
The 2009 Stolpman Sauvignon Blanc was aged in 10% new oak. Lemon rind, tangerine and slight herbaciousness (but no grassiness) define the aromatics. A strong acidity, coupled with a citrus component, medium- to light-body cascade to a relatively short finish that vanishes in a few seconds. A pleasant enough, clean Sauvignon Blanc which will make for a decent quaffer on a hot summer day. WB86.
A 100% Roussanne cuvee, the 2008 L’Avion spends 20 months in 100% new French oak, primarily in 130-gallon puncheons. Copious kiwi and lychee flavors, a full body, high glycerin and good acidity characterize this white Rhone-styled wine that is nicely balanced and could be an interesting ringer in a flight of high quality Roussanne/Marsanne-based wines from the southern Rhone. WB91.
The 2007 Sangiovese Estate was aged in new oak for a total of 30 months. Light ruby red, cranberry, cherry notes and a strong acidic backbone are the hallmarks of this wine. Balanced, layered mid-palate leads to a 20+ second finish. A bright, deftly vinified beverage that would give many Brunellos a run for their money. WB 91.
Santa Ynez-grown fruit go into the 2008 Estate Grenache. Aromatics of dried cranberry, fig and plum give way to a crunchy fruit-filled palate that lingers for a good while. Tastes like a colder vintage Chateauneuf-du-Pape grown in the Central Coast. WB 90.
Although co-fermented with Viognier, the 2008 Syrah Originals is a meaty, bacon fat-laden wine in which a subdued component can only be discerned with vigorous swirling. Medium- to full-bodied, with good fruit density, the Originals ends with a big tannic punch that lingers for 20+ seconds on the palate. WB90+
A flagship Syrah, the 2008 Hilltops is dark red in color. The Viognier component provides considerable aromatic lift to the otherwise dark plum and smoky meat aromatics. Considerable tannin in the finish will demand a few years in the cellar. A serious Syrah, but perhaps not as true to varietal here as at other properties visited on this trip. WB 92.
Paul Lato Wines
Perhaps the biggest revelation on this whirlwind journey through the Central Coast was the incredibly high quality of the wines of Santa Maria-based Paul Lato. Lato, a former sommelier, produces some of the more compelling examples of California pinot noir that I have sampled to date. Impeccable balance and purity set apart these wines from their west coast brethren. Alas, with only <25 barrels of juice per vintage, these elixirs are difficult to come by. All of the following notes are from barrel samples, while being so, they are more finely balanced and approachable than most other wines once already bottled.
As the only white in the 2009 stable, the 2009 Sierra Madre Chardonnay is light gold in color. Packed with prominent citrus fruit on the nose and palate, this Chardonnay is quite minerally in the mid-palate, with some unresolved oak lurking in the background. With powerful mineral- and melon-infused finish of at least 20 seconds, this concoction would benefit from 2-3 years of bottle age. Clearly in a Burgundian style here, like a top flight Puligny premier cru from the likes of Sauzet or Henri Boillot. WB93-95.
The 2009 Pinot Noir Solomon Hills Vineyard Suerte sees 100% new oak during élevage. Rich ruby red in color, with a deep red cherry and an exotic floral note, the wine is equally beautiful on the palate, with liquid cashmere-like texture that is a testament to superior winemaking skill. Surprisingly fresh in the mouth yet richly fruited, this is far from your typical full-throttle fruit bomb that passes as pinot noir in some parts of the state. WB 93-95+.
A new bottling, the 2009 Zotovich Vineyard Pinot Noir Sea Biscuit hails from the Santa Rita Hills. Like the Suerte before it, the thing that stands out the most is the incredible silkiness and balance here. Displaying ripe cherry, raspberry and intriguing eucalyptus aromatics, this nectar seamlessly cascades across the palate with layer after layer of red fruit flavors. A remarkably beautiful wine! WB94-96+.
For the first time, Paul Lato was able source some Pinot Noir grapes from the Hilliard Bruce vineyard in Santa Rita Hills for his own use (he serves as a consulting winemakers for Hilliard Bruce Vineyards). Light on its feet, the 2009 Hilliard Bruce Vineyard Pinot Noir displays the same refined seamlessness that is found in spades in the Suerte and Sea Biscuit. Medium red in color, the wine is marked by cherry cola and potpourri notes. On the palate, it is nearly weightless, but is packed with red raspberries, cherries and a hint of plums. A proverbial “iron fist in a velvet glove”! WB 93-95+.
By contrast, the 2009 Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir is much darker in color. Aromatically, dark cherry, plum, black raspberry and a hint of smoke can all be found here. The serious theme carries through on the palate, where a whiplash of acidity and some earth undertones prevent the sweet dark fruit from taking over. For all of its power, this wine has the same magical refinement as the Suerte, Sea Biscuit and Hilliard Bruce. A more serious, if not necessarily better, counterpart to some of the more red-fruited pinots in this portfolio. WB93-95+.
Also dark in color, the 2009 Fiddlestix exhibits aromatics of cherry coke, black raspberry and spices. On the palate, flavors of black cherry preserves, iron, minerals and smoke are impressively powerful and complex, yet one can sense that the overall product is a bit more rugged and slightly less polished than the other Pinot Noirs on display here. By the exalted standards of this operation, this is more Pommard than Vosne-Romanee. WB 91-93+.
In addition to the Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs, Paul Lato also produces Syrahs of distinction. The 2009 Bien Nacido Syrah Hillside is co-fermented with 5% Viognier. Spice, bacon fat and floral notes lead to a deep, meaty palate crammed with dark plum, tapenade, and some pepper. While bigger in body than the Pinot Noirs, the Bien Nacido Hillside Syrah possesses the same level of refinement and balance that are found throughout the Pinot Noir lineup. There is nothing warm climate about this Syrah – in fact, I think it would make for a great ringer in a lineup of top-notch Côte-Roties from a ripe vintage. A sample from a second barrel was equally impressive. WB 94-96+.
Finally, the 2009 Larner was aromatically closed, making it more difficult to assess. Like the Bien Nacido Hillside, the Larner sports a glass-staining dark purple color. Full-bodied and meaty, with hints of black olive, it does not seem to be as floral as the Bien Nacido Hillside. Judgment reserved.
Dec. 3rd, 2010
2008 Version White (58% Roussanne, 42% Grenache Blanc) is a pleasant Northern Rhone-style white. Medium- to full-bodied, with notes of pineapple and peach and a slightly waxy quality that lead to a medium finish with good acidity. WB87.
2008 HMR Vineyard Pinot Noir is light ruby red in color. Aged in 30% new oak barrels, the wine is medium- to light-bodied, with red cherry and currant flavors, bracing, crisp acidity. By no means overpowering, this Pinot should be consumed over the next few years. WB88.
The 2007 Pinot Noir Reserve is considerably darker in color than the HMR Vineyard bottling, with a crimson hue prevalent. Medium-bodied, with deep cherry, tart raspberry and exotic spice flavors that lead to a tannin-dominated finish that really clamps down on the mouth. This really needs a few years of bottle age to shed away some of the tannin cloak. WB 89+.
Dark red in color, the 2007 Syrah Anna’s Estate is filled with smoky beef, bacon fat and black olive aromas. In the mouth, this powerful syrah is full-bodied and tannic. Big, slightly gritty tannins make their presence known on the 20+ second finish. This could use a bit of refinement, or at the very least a 2-3 hour aeration. WB 89.
A bit four-square is the 2007 Viking Reserve Cabernet. A bit closed on the nose, some vigorous swirling reveals hints of cassis, red cherry and plum. Medium bodied, the wine lingers on the palate for more than 30 seconds. It could use a bit complexity, although it might just be in an awkward stage at the moment. [WB90]
The 2006 The Don is a Port-Like wine that carries lots of sweetness throughout, but very little acidity. These sorts of wines always confound me, so I will reserve judgment.
An interesting mix consisting of 68% Muscat and 32% Viognier, the 2007 Dessert Wine offers up aromas of strawberry, kiwi, and passion fruit. Compote-like sweetness on the palate is coupled with low acidity, which makes it difficult to drink more than a few sips. WB85.
Our visit to Tablas Creek reinforced my image of the winery as a Napa wannabe. From the rather ostentatious tasting room to the general attitude encountered among the people working at the winery and tasting room, there was much bustle and self-important attitude (how many times can one mention that one of their wines is on the Wine Spectator top 100 list?) evident throughout. That’s a shame, really, because the wines are quite good, and some still represent excellent value relative to their release prices.
We started the tasting with the 2009 Cotes du Tablas Blanc. A second label of sorts to their Esprit Blanc, the Cotes du Tablas Blanc is a blend of 45% Viognier, 28% Roussanne, 20% Marsanne and 7% Grenache Blanc. Subdued aromas of lemon, quince, and flowers on the nose lead to a strong acidic profile in the mouth, with bitter pits, lemon rind and overt oaky element that detracts from the wine’s balance. This is meant to be drunk on the young side. WB 87.
A big step up was the 2009 Esprit Blanc. Aromas of quince, pear and ginger lead to a medium- to full-bodied white with a slightly waxy texture and a 20+ second finish. Unlike the Cotes du Tablas version, the oak here is perfectly integrated and as a result, the wine is much more harmonious. WB 90.
Yet another notch better is the 2007 Esprit Blanc. A blend of 68% Roussanne, 22% Grenache and 10% Picpoul, it exhibits aromas predominantly consisting of citrus fruit and pears. On the palate, the full-bodied, slightly waxy, tangerine-dominated palate leads to a long clean finish with no discernable oak notes. This one will age effortlessly, but is already drinking very well. WB 92.
An interesting counterpoint to the 2007 Esprit Blanc is the 2009 Bergeron, a 100% Roussanne Cuvee that can only be obtained at the winery. This wine has the sheer thickness of Arnold Schwarzenegger – but is rather clumsy in other respects. Pungent aromas of beeswax and flowers lead to a viscous, glycerol mid-palate that is honeyed yet bitter at the same time. The rather abrupt finish is refreshing, but one cannot help but ask as to why not try to go for a touch more grace here at the expense of the big muscle. WB 89.
The final white we tasted was a 100% Chardonnay called the 2009 Antithesis. Aged in mostly old oak, the wine was closed aromatically when we tasted it. Medium-bodied, citrusy, with bracing acidity, this Chardonnay resembles a good quality Puligny at the Villages level. A good effort that can be drank now. WB 88.
The first red we sampled, the 2008 Cotes du Tablas Creek, had a pleasant note of red cherries, cranberries and pomegranate. Medium-bodied, with delicate red cherry flavors on the palate, the wine culminates with a 15-second finish and light tannin. A pleasant wine meant for current consumption. WB88.
As expected, the 2008 Esprit is a much more serious red than the Cotes above. Considerably darker in color, the wine unfurls raspberry, cherry aromatics as well as an intriguing spice note. Bigger on the palate as well, with some earthy overtones, finishing with big, dusty tannins that coat most of the gums. It is a serious Rhone-style blend that will probably improve after 2-3 years of cellar aging. WB92+.
Earth dominates the 2006 Esprit, both on the palate and on the nose. Medium red in color, with musky, earthy notes interspersed with red raspberries, meat and herbs, the wine continues to hold on with a long lingering finish that is characterized by its round tannins. A very successful bottling, but won’t make anyone forget about the ethereal 2007 version. WB91.
The 2007 Syrah, which contains a dollop of Grenache, is a dark-colored, modern-styled beverage. Dark cherries, plums, and a faint olive note are the hallmarks of this wine. Medium- to full-bodied, this dark-fruited Syrah ends with massive tannins that demand at least several years’ worth of bottle age. The only shortcoming on this is that tell-tale Syrah aromas appear to be in short order here. WB 92.
There is no doubting that the 2008 Mouvedre is true to its terroir. Filled with dark fruits, slightly spicy and gamey, this beverage steamrolls through the mouth and leaves a huge tannic track in its place. Really cries out for a few years in bottle. WB 89+.
Unlike the 2008 Mouvedre, I did not find the 2008 Tannat all that exciting. Blended with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, it is fairly tight, with copious plum and animal notes present throughout. It would need several years to let down its guard. A bit thin in the mouth, it drops off at the end like a boulder at the edge of a precipice. At this point, the wine is of academic interest only. But, I give kudos to the winemaker for trying to wrestle with this varietal. Judgment reserved.
The 2006 Vin de Paille, a blend of Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc and Viognier, is an alluring wine. Pretty notes of honey, ginger, and flowers lead to palate saturated in marmalade and candied citrus slices. Best part is that there is a generous amount of acidity on the finish, so that the wine never becomes cloying or tiring. Delicious! WB 92.
Even more unusual is the 2006 Sacre Rouge, a 100% Mourvedre (yes, Mourvedre!) dessert wine. Orange-red in color, it exhibits complex notes of figs and plum compote. The sweetness is prevalent on the palate, and an unusual gamey component adds to the interest here. Could use a touch more acidity. Interesting wine here, but not for everyone. Again mostly of academic interest, but sometimes experimental uses of uncommon varietals can be rewarding. WB88.
Let me preface this review with an explanation of the Tolo Cellars barrel aging techniques. Most of their wines are aged in neutral barrels, with most wines spending anywhere from 3 to 9 years in barrel prior to bottling. As one would expect with such an unusual barrel aging regimen, the resulting wines exhibit considerable aged and oxidative characteristics that may be appealing to some. Fruit bombs these are not! Chardonnay II, a non-vintage blend of fruit from the 2006 and 2007 vintages, is pale yellow in color, and has strong butterscotch and oxidative aromas. I could not get past either, so judgment reserved!
By comparison, the 2006 Pinot Noir is much better. Translucent red in color, this gently extracted wine displays notes of red raspberry, cherry and eucalyptus. Light- to medium-bodied, delicate flavors of cherry and tart cranberry lead to an acidic finish with little tannin to speak of. Lacks the polish exhibited by many of the Pinots that we tasted on this trip. Drink now. WB85.
The 2006 Aria, a blend consisting of 55% Syrah, 27% Grenache and 18% Counoise, was ruby red in color. Marked by a light cherry note and some spice, this tasted much older than the vintage indicates. Medium bodied, with light tannin on the rather abrupt and acidic finish, this is ready to go. WB85.
The 2006 Syrah displayed aromatics of black cherries, beef and some funk. Like the Aria, this wine was medium-bodied and is gently extracted with a bright, acidic profile and clear crimson color. This really could use a bit more mid-palate punch, at it is a bit light for a Syrah. This too should be consumed on the early side. WB 88.
A varietal that I am normally not very fond of, the 2007 Zinfandel delivers an olfactory shock with notes of cherry cola, campfire smoke and raspberry. Once past the ostentatious nose, the wine is medium bodied, filled with red cherry, cranberry and slight spice on the back end. With no traces of alcohol that are so common with this varietal in general and in this region in particular, the wine ends rather abruptly on the palate. Not exactly your run-of-the-mill Zin here. WB 88.
Recently bottled, the 2001 Assini (60% Sangiovese and 40% Zinfandel) spent nearly nine years in barrel prior to bottling in the fall of2010! Much darker in color than the preceding wines, with cola, spice and underbrush notes, this medium-bodied wine carries dark fig flavors and a leathery component into a tannin-filled finish. This will hold for a while. Could not be more different than the other wines from this winery. WB 89.
A 100% Sangiovese-based dessert wine, the 2006 Riza is a port-styled wine. Sweet, slightly stewed nose of black cherry and herbs leads to a raspberry liquor-like mid palate that could use a bit more acidity. Interesting for academic reasons only. WB 84.
The 2007 Mouvedre has some redcurrant and cranberry fruit buried behind a kinky nose dominated by pepper, olive and smoke. A bit tannic on the fairly short finish. WB 86.
Dark ruby in color, the 2007 Pinot Noir has a red fruit-dominated nose with some reduction stink that is not very pleasant. On the palate, the wine displays excessive sweetness and not enough acidity. A poster child for overdone CA Pinot Noir. WB 81.
Better is the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark purple in color, this Cabernet is at present dominated by cassis and Asian spices. Very fruit-forward in style with a medium finish, this can be drunk now or cellared over the short term. WB87.
The 2007 Syrah has a soaring nose with beef, olives, and camphor. The palate, however, does not quite live up to the aromatics, with a rather four-square dark plum fruit component that leads to an unexpectedly short finish. WB 88.
Darker in color still is the 2007 Petite Syrah, which in this instance is blended with 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. With a meaty, savory and slightly smoky nose, the wine leads to a very fruity mid palate that culminates with a 15 second finish with some tannin. Could be drunk now but probably better in 2-3 years. WB89.
Dec. 4th, 2010
There is no doubt in my mind that the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc is the finest CA Sauvignon Blanc that I’ve tasted in the past few years. Melon and white flowers on the nose, this medium- to full-bodied(!) Sauvignon Blanc is crammed with honeydew melon, pear and a touch of orange zest. Impeccably balanced, with none of the herbaceous and grassy aromas that typically characterize Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire of New Zealand, this wine will actually benefit from several years of cellaring. Shows absolutely no traces of oak. WB94.
The 2007 Syrah, of which there is only 50 cases’ worth, is dark purple in color. Aromatically exhibiting bacon fat, black olives and rosemary aromas of moderate intensity, the wine is remarkably polished and light on its feet for such a big Syrah. On the palate, dark cherry, herbs and minerals are dominant, with a seamless texture that effortlessly transitions into a long finish with substantial, but polished tannins. I wouldn’t touch this for several years. WB 92+.
The flagship 2007 Obsidian, a Cabernet Sauvignon blend, is deep purple in color. Aromatically, one could easily discern black raspberries, mocha, flowers, and lead pencil on the effusive nose. Big and powerful in the mouth, with cassis, plums, underbrush and considerable minerality coexisting harmoniously. For a wine packing such a big punch, it is remarkably svelte. Finishes very long (45+ seconds), with enormous tannins. Unlike the 2006 Obsidian, which could be drunk on release, this one is for the cellar. But in the long term, the 2007 Obsidian will probably eclipse its more approachable older brother. WB 94+.
The 2008 Grenache (250 cases) is translucent red in color. Powerful aromas of Provencal herbs that lead to a medium-bodied wine crammed with strawberry, cranberry and violets. Very good balance, acidity and tannin, and no animal notes what-so-ever. A real crowd pleaser. WB 92.
Rich purple in color, the 2008 Outpost Zinfandel (1000 cases) is characterized by notes of blueberries, incense and figs. Medium- to full-bodied on the palate, with notable smoothness, the wine effortlessly carries a rich blue fruit mid-palate to a lingering finish filled with fine-grained tannins. A young, but very good Zinfandel! WB 91.
The 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is dark ruby red in color. Soaring cassis note interspersed with a slight leafy character that adds to the complexity here. Silky on the palate with liqueur-like sweetness. Really fans out on the finish, where the big tannins and serious structure make themselves apparent. A very nice wine with considerable polish. WB92.
Next, we moved onto the 2007 Outpost True Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. A blend of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc, the 2007 True Cabernet struck up dark cherry, raspberry and some smoky notes. Beautiful cassis fruit and liqueur-like elements seamlessly transition into a long and fruit-filled finish. Drinking well already, this will age effortlessly. A spectacular Cabernet that is polished to the max, this is a wine to seek out! WB 96.
In comparison with the rock star 2007, the 2008 True Cabernet comes across much less focused. Subdued nose of black raspberries, plums, flowers and a hint of herbs, with a spicy nature characterize this serious and masculine wine. Potentially more complex than the 2007, it is dense and filled with dark berries, with a distinctly cool climate character to the fruit, and with none of the liqueur-like sweetness that is the hallmark of the 2007 bottling. This very serious wine will benefit from a few years’ rest in the cellar, and only suffers in comparison with its more extroverted older brother. Only time will tell if it will catch up, or even surpass the 2007. WB92-94+.
The 2008 Petite Syrah is an impenetrable inky purple in color. Very sweet boysenberry and dark cherry compote flavors are in evidence throughout. In spite of its massive size, the wine shares the same polish that makes the Cabernets here such standouts. Enormous tannins on the finish beg for at least 3-4 years of undisturbed cellaring. Fans of Napa Petit Syrah should be all over this. WB 93.
The 2007 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon has tons of dark fruit, smoke and spices on the nose. On the palate, this wine has a full body, is minerally with a good amount of tannin poking through the fruit. For all of its concentration, it is still missing a bit of refinement compared to some of the elite Howell Mountain Cabs. WB 92.
A step up in quality is the 2007 Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon. Inky purple in color, this very dense wine boasts lots of cassis, spice, and underlying minerality. It is also longer and slightly fresher than its 2007 Howell Mountain brother. Long finish with serious tannins here – needs to be aged for a minimum of 5-7 years. WB93+.
2009 Rose (63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot) is a very nice mid-summer day’s drink. With considerable stuffing, good acidity and beautiful strawberry and red cherry flavors, this aromatic rose is one of the best Rose’s that I’ve tasted out of Napa Valley. A serious Rose. WB 89.
2003 State Lane Vineyard Proprietary Red (90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot) is the first wine produced from Kapcsandy’s State Lane Vineyard after replanting. Already displaying some evolved aromas of sweet tobacco, a touch of leather, red raspberries and flowers, this medium-bodied wine is ready to drink, but will continue to evolve over the next 5-10 years. WB90.
The 2006 Estate Cuvee State Lane Vineyard (48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 48% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc) is a noticeable step up in intensity and quality. It has a dark ruby red in color, with smoke, black cherry and plum on the nose. The deep, concentrated mid-palate is loaded with cassis that is deftly balanced by just the right amount of acidity. Not too dissimilar to a ripe vintage classified Margaux. In a word – fabulous! WB93.
A second wine of sorts, the 2007 Endre is 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 48% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot. A very approachable Bordeaux blend, the 2007 Endre is actually mostly (85%) press wine. Dark raspberries and plums can be found all over the place here, and the wine has a very opulent feel to it, especially for a second label. Drink now. WB92.
The 2007 Estate Cuvee State Lane Vineyard (46% Cabernet, 46% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot) is very dark in color, especially compared to the Endre. A bewitching nose of red raspberry, aromatic herbs and sweet earth leads to a full-bodied, cassis- and licorice-infused nectar that has remarkable polish on the palate. The serious tannins arrive quite late. This is even better than the 2006. Fabulous! WB 95.
The 2008 Endre is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (51%), Merlot (25%), Cabernet Franc (16%) and Petit Verdot (8%). A dark, brooding nose of smoke, red and black raspberries jumps from the glass. On the palate, plums, earth, smoke and serious minerality are all in abundance. Not liqueur-like at all, with a long 25+ second finish. This second wine is good enough to compete with many so-called first labels in Napa and elsewhere. WB 92.
As good as the 2008 Endre is, it does not measure up to the 2008 Estate Cuvee State Lane Vineyard (68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot). Beautiful aromas of black raspberry, plum, flowers and bay leaf soar from the glass. A big, round mid-palate is full of cassis and carries the impeccable balance into a long, broad finish. On the same level as the 2007, and possibly even better. WB 96.
The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, blended in this case with 8% Merlot and 1% Cabernet Franc, displays aromatics of cassis, licorice and plum that are uncompromising in their intensity. A bit monolithic at present on the palate, the wine is crammed with beautiful dark fruit and minerals. Very round tannins reach everywhere on the long finish. This is at the same level as or perhaps a hair below the 2008 Estate in overall quality. I suspect that this will be much better in 5 years’ time. WB94+.
The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon contains 5% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot, is an impenetrable inky purple, nearly black in color. Licorice, blackberries, lead pencil and violets comprise the highly aromatic nose. On the palate, cassis and minerality dominate the taste buds. The texture here is ethereal, and a near perfect balance and weightlessness that can only be found in very few cabernets in the world. It finishes explosively with round, very fine tannins that linger on the palate for longer than a minute. Wow! WB 96+.
If liberally thrown superlatives bother you, and then please feel free to skip over the loose verbiage referencing the following wine. I am talking about the 2008 Roberta’s Reserve, a predominantly Merlot-based wine that also contains a small percentage of Cabernet Franc (4%) that left me nearly speechless. With a highly aromatic nose of lavender, plums, red raspberry, coffee and smoke, this utterly seamless wine packs a serious wallop on the olfactory senses and salivary glands. Red raspberry preserves, mocha, orange peel and deep minerality are accompanied by a near weightless sensation on the palate, leaving this taster to shake his head in disbelief as if the flavors somehow magically materialized on the palate. Really fans out on the very long, kaleidoscopic finish that just won’t quit. This is, without a doubt, the best US Merlot that I’ve tasted, and would make for a great ringer against top vintages of Pomerol superstars such as Trotanoy, La Conseillante, and L’Evangile etc. My favorite wine of the trip. WB 98.
EMH Black Cat
Coming from a small (<1 acre) vineyard in St. Helena near the Silverado Trail, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon is the star of the stable. Already accessible, it boasts cassis, currants, and licorice on the palate. Medium- to full-bodied, this wine shows judicious extraction and a complete absence of over-ripe elements that are all too common in Napa Valley floor cabernets. Long finish with plenty of blackberries and some fine grained tannins. This is enjoyable now, but will get better in a few years. WB93.
The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon is probably a tiny notch below the 2007 in overall quality, which is saying something! Purple in color, it tastes like a cooler climate version of the 2007. Richly-fruited and well-balanced, this wine still has some oak and tannin to integrate, and really needs to be cellared for a few years. WB 92.
Our sample of the 2009 Black Cat was much more similar to the 2007 than the 2008. Very dark red in color, the wine had an expansive nose of black cherries, black raspberries and aromatic herbs. Lots of fruit on the palate, and little to no detectable oak makes the wine drinkable already, even though it has yet to be bottled. One of the few times it was sampled in barrel. Excellent! WB92-93+.
Dec. 5th, 2010
A de-facto second wine, the 2008 de la Guerra Chardonnay primarily consists of juice from young vines grown in the Hyde vineyard in Carneros. Aromatically, the wine displays tangerine, lemon, and a hint of white flowers. Medium-bodied on the palate, with a distinctly orange and pear profile, it transitions to a 15-second finish marked by serious acidity and lingering minerality. While it does not have the power of the Estate Chardonnay, it is an enjoyable drink nonetheless. WB 88.
The 2005 Estate Chardonnay, on the other hand, is anything but lacking in power. Aromas of citrus, nut oil, and traces of pineapple and oak are at once more powerful and defined than the preceding wine. Medium- to full-bodied, with orange, quinine and a very powerful stony sensation on the palate is accompanied with bracing acidity. The long finish continues the sensation of liquefied granite and is accompanied by a youthful bitterness that is normally absent in New World Chardonnay, but is found in some of the better examples from Corton-Charlemagne and Chablis. A bit disjointed now, this could really improve in a few years’ time. WB 91+.
Tasted last year from barrel, the 2007 Syrah continues on its positive evolutionary trajectory. Notes of bacon fat, underbrush, Provencal spices are all in evidence. Musky black cherries, tapenade and hints of gaminess characterize that medium-bodied palate. Even at this early stage, the wine is impeccably balanced and without a sharp edge in sight. While approachable now, this too will benefit from a few years in the cellar. WB 93+.
There are only 125 cases of the deep purple-hued 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. Aromas of black raspberries, cassis, violets and bay leaf on the nose give the impression of a cool-climate year. Medium-bodied, with cassis, plums and striking minerality on the palate, this is hardly your typical Napa Cabernet. Cool, deep dark fruit with slightly green undertones continue to linger on the palate for more than 20 seconds, and are accompanied by a whiplash of serious tannin that grip like a vice. If the fruit outlive the tannin, this could be even better than it is showing at the moment. WB 92.
This winery was a real revelation on our Napa trip last year, and their flagship wine, the Era, was one of the wines of the trip. Whereas last year we felt that some of the lesser wines were just so-so, the tasting this year demonstrated to us that the winery has been ratcheting up the quality as of late. This is one of the few wineries where the 2008’s may outperform the 2007’s.
First up was the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc (clone 1155). This cuvee sees 20% new oak, but it is completely soaked up by the fruit. Aromatically, this is easily identifiable as a Sauvignon Blanc due to the tell-tale grassy aromas. In addition, one could discern pink grapefruit, lemon, and flowers in this medium- to full-bodied wine that is quite fruity, but not at all sweet. WB 91.
The 2009 Unoaked Chardonnay exhibits aromas of lemon and white flowers. On the palate, this Chardonnay is medium-bodied and tastes like a liquefied Granny Smith apple mixed with crushed stone. Laser-like acidity, the absence of any discernable tropical fruit and a long, harmonious finish fool the taster into believing that this is like a high quality 1er Cru Puligny or a minerally Meursault-Perrieres. WB 93.
In comparison with the Burgundy-style 2009 Unoaked Chardonnay, the 2008 Unfiltered Chardonnay comes across as full-blown California. Slightly oaky, with copious tropical fruit on the palate and nose, and a hint of butter, this wine makes no pretenses as to its place of birth. High viscosity is accompanied with surprising acidity, which prevents the wine from being cloying. A good wine for those who like the style. WB 92.
The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon contains a small amount of Merlot (8%) in the mix. Beautiful nose of cassis, violets and plums. Lively on the palate, with a pure red fruit character. Fans out on the long finish with round tannins and a lingering note of cassis. Very good! WB92.
Switching gears to the 2007 Proprietary Red (50% Merlot, 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 7% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot). Soaring aromatics of cassis, coffee, and lavender, play off a minerally mid-palate with red raspberry, plum, and licorice. It finishes with big tannins that beg for bottle age. But there is no doubting the high quality here. WB 93.
Even more exciting is the 2008 Proprietary Red. Although a bit shy at present, the beautiful nose can be coaxed to reveal flowers, aromatic spices and pencil lead. It is beautiful on the palate with deep black cherry, raspberry and while having a minerally streak that won’t quit. A very long finish with very fine tannins makes this a very approachable yet cellar-worthy Cabernet. A buy! WB 94.
The 2008 Era (52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot), tasted from barrel, is a behemoth of a wine. Inky purple in color, with sensational aromatics of blueberries, violets, lavender, and incense, this is not for the shy of heart! Liqueur-like in density on the palate, with licorice, blueberries and ripe plums harmoniously co-existing with structural components and acidity in an unabashedly full-bodied yet refined package. It finishes for 50+ seconds with huge tannins and lingering sweetness. This is pure Napa decadence. Wow! WB 94-96.
As hard as it is to imagine, the 2008 To-Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon may be even better than the Era! Outrageously intense nose of violets, raspberries and lead pencil jumps from the glass. Incredibly complex, with a rich mouth feel and flavors that seamlessly transition from cassis to earth, from leather to smoke, all underpinned by gentle minerality. The amazingly long finish lasts for at least 60 seconds, throughout which gentle tannins caress the palate. A runner-up for wine of the trip! WB 96.
The 2008 Late Harvest wine is a blend of 55% Sauvignon Blanc and 45% Semillon. Apricot, honey and peach show themselves on the nose. Fruit compote, nectarine and beeswax can readily be found on the palate. It finishes long and sweet, with just enough acidity to keep the wine from becoming cloying. 170g/L residual sugar. WB 92.
A dead ringer for a high-quality Sauternes, the 2006 Late Harvest Reserve is 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Semillon. Strong botrytis displays itself on the nose, while candied oranges, peaches and apricots on the very sweet mid-palate. There is just enough acidity to keep things in check. A very nice effort. WB 93.
The 2008 Sbragia Chardonnay was aged for 9 months in 100% new French oak barrels. Pineapple, tropical fruit and some oak on the nose. Really comes off as California style, with obvious buttery overtones on the palate. Medium finish with considerable toast. Fans of California-style Chardonnay would love this. WB 91.
Aging gracefully is the 2003 Howell Mountain Merlot, (from a Magnum) which in this vintage is blended with a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon (7%). Silky-smooth on the entry, with dark fruit overtones, including cassis, plum and flower notes. Pretty well balanced, and while drinkable now, will hold for a while. Just lacks a little oomph to be truly memorable. Perhaps it is a bit past its prime. WB 90.
Better is the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve. Violet, super-ripe raspberry, and liqueur aromatics give way to smooth, plummy, licorice-infused flavors on the palate. It finishes with, big, dusty tannins. This really needs lots of time, preferably at least five years. But there is no denying that the quality is there. WB 92.
While it is too early to tell, I would venture a guess that the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve will eventually reach greater heights than its 2005 brother. A dark, brooding nose is presently dominated by blackcurrants and a hint of lavender. On the palate, this is a serious, dark, brooding wine filled with licorice, minerals and spices. Serious tannin exists on the long finish. This is already excellent, but should really be cellared for a few years to allow for harmonious coalescence of the vinous components. WB 92+.
Deep ruby-red, the 2007 Chabot Cabernet is lighter in color than the preceding Private Reserve Cabernets. Dominated by black raspberries, plums, and licorice, this wine is very fruit forward, displaying all it’s got in the first few seconds. A perfume-like nose that falls off rapidly thereafter, with a rather tannin-infused clipped finish that is a touch less refined in comparison to the flagship Private Reserves. WB 89.
The 2007 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is dominated by blueberry and raspberry liqueur aromas. Medium-bodied, with black cherry and underbrush on the palate, the wine finishes with dusty tannins and a lingering note of spice. A solid Cabernet, yet one might expect more Howell Mountain fruit. WB 90.
Unfortunately, the 2002 Port was very difficult to evaluate. Overtly alcoholic on the nose and cloying in the mouth, this is not my cup of tea. Perhaps additional aging time or a cooler serving temperature will ameliorate the wine. WB 87.
A Sauternes-style wine, the 2006 Nightingale is a blend of 70% Semillon and 30% Sauvignon Blanc. Heavy on the apricot and spiced pears on the nose, the wine is dense on the palate, with fruit cocktail, mango, and marmalade flavors coming through. The problem is that there isn’t enough acidity to buffer all of the considerable sweetness on the palate. As a result, the wine just isn’t as refreshing as it ought to be when compared to dessert wines from colder regions like the Loire. WB 86.
UPCOMING EVENTS OF INTEREST Pinot Days Southern California (www.pinotdays.com) will return to Barker Hangar for its second year on January 15, 2011 and will feature
Serious wines and serious fun: Over 90 wineries will pour more than 300 wines and the winemakers will share their stories.
Although the wines are highly acclaimed and sophisticated, Pinot Days is not a wine-word slinging, ascot-wearing wine tasting event; rather, It’s decidedly fun. The winemakers are inviting and animated. (No doubt some of them, having spent the early hours amid the grapes, will show up with a little vineyard dirt on their jeans.) The high quality and wide diversity of these wines, coupled with the passion and accessibility of the producers, make Pinot Days a very unique, invigorating wine tasting experience that will make an ardent Pinotphile of you if you are not one already. So step into your casual So Cal style and join us for a wonderful day of exquisite, hand-crafted wines and absolutely enchanting pinot people. Last year’s inaugural event was a sell out; the Los Angeles crowd fell for pinot and its
producers, and we anticipate an even greater showing this year. For tickets, go to www.pinotdays.com.
Also, the most comprehensive tasting of the new releases from Bordeaux will be at the Barker Hanger in Santa Monica, CA on January 22, 2011
Union des Grands Crus Bordeaux Tasting
Date: Saturday January 22nd, 2011
Location: The Barker Hanger
3021 Airport Avenue #203,
For tickets, go to:
MEET THE WORLD’S GREATEST WINEMAKERS AND CHATEAUX OWNERS
BE AMONG THE FIRST TO TASTE THE 2008 BORDEAUX!
Wally’s has the honor once again of welcoming over 100 of Bordeaux’s greatest Chateaux owners and winemakers to Los Angeles for the incomparable Union des Grands Crus tasting. The growing popularity of this unique event has prompted us to stage this year’s edition at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, which will allow you ample room to navigate your way through the hundreds of wines being poured. This tasting is an unrivaled opportunity for you to explore the very best Bordeaux has to offer at a fraction
of the cost of a single bottle of Grand Cru!
Current list of participating Chateaux
Château de Chantegrive, Château Bouscaut, Château Carbonnieux
Domaine de Chevalier, Domaine de Chevalier,Château de Fieuzal
Château Haut – Bailly, Château Haut – Bergey, Château Larrivet – Haut – Brion
Château Latour – Martillac, Château Malartic – Lagravière, Château Olivier
Châteaux Pape Clément et La Tour Carnet, Château Smith Haut-Lafitte
Château Smith Haut-Lafitte, Château Angélus, Château Beau – Séjour Bécot
Châteaux Canon et Rauzan – Ségla, Château Canon – La – Gaffelière
Château Figeac, Clos Fourtet et Château Poujeaux, Château Franc – Mayne
Château Franc – Mayne, Château Grand – Mayne, Château La Couspaude
Château La Dominique, Château La Gaffelière
Châteaux Berliquet, Larcis Ducasse et Pavie – Macquin
Châteaux Larcis Ducasse, Château Larmande
Château Troplong Mondot, Châteaux Batailley, Lynch – Moussas et Trottevieille
Château Beauregard, Château Clinet, Château Gazin
Château La Cabanne, Château La Conseillante, Château Clarke
Château Fourcas Hosten, Châteaux Chasse – Spleen et de Camensac
Château Poujeaux, Châteaux Beaumont et Beychevelle
Château Cantemerle, Château Citran
Château La Lagune, Châteaux La Tour Carnet et Pape Clément
Château Greysac, Château La Tour de By
Château Brane-Cantenac, Château Dauzac
Châteaux Giscours et du Tertre, Château Durfort Vivens
Château Kirwan, Château Labegorce
Château Lascombes, Château Malescot Saint-Exupéry
Château Malescot Saint-Exupéry, Château Marquis de Terme
Château Prieuré – Lichine, Châteaux Canon et Rauzan – Segla
Château Branaire – Ducru, Château Gruaud Larose
Château Lagrange, Châteaux Langoa Barton et Léoville Barton
Château Léoville Poyferré, Château Saint – Pierre
Château Talbot, Château Clerc Milon
Château d’Armailhac, Châteaux de Rayne Vigneau et Grand – Puy – Ducasse
Châteaux Ferrière et Haut – Bages Libéral, Châteaux Lynch – Bages et Ormes de Pez
Château Pichon – Longueville,
Châteaux Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande et de Pez
Château Cos Labory, Château Lafon – Rochet
Château Phélan Ségur, Château Climens
Château Coutet, Château Coutet, Château Coutet
Château de Fargues, Châteaux de Rayne Vigneau et Grand – Puy – Ducasse
Château Doisy – Daëne, Château Guiraud
Château La Tour Blanche, Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey
Château Sigalas – Rabaud, Château Suduiraut
AGING WINES, WHY BOTHER?
Ageability is a complicated and sometimes controversial notion that some wines taste better after some time spent in a cool and dark cellar. Proponents of ageability argue that age-worthy wines develop exquisite aromas and mellower, smoother textures after a few years in bottle. Some collectors go to extreme lengths in pursuit of these elusive characteristics, frequently aging wines from acclaimed vintages for years, and sometimes decades, hoping that the wines acquire some of these ethereal characteristics that make mature wines so alluring.
So, what makes a wine ageable? This is a hotly debated topic in wine circles. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer, and no one-size-fits-all formula that can be used to determine whether a wine will benefit from aging. However, long-lived wines do share some common characteristics. First, the ageable wines frequently have lots of fruit or dry extract in industry parlance. Whether the wine is sweet or dry, cellarable wines need to have lots of dry extract in order to age years or even decades. Freshly bottled wines are typically very fruity; yet long-term cellaring causes wines to steadily lose fruit. Wine enthusiasts and collectors who cellar bottles understand that what mature wines lose in youthful exuberance, they gain in texture, seamlessness and complexity.
Second, ageable wines have typically high acidity and/or tannin. Sound acidity is of special importance for the aging of white wines, as they are normally devoid of tannin that is present in some of the more robust red grape varietals. Dry red wines primarily based on cabernet, merlot, syrah and (to a lesser extent) pinot noir typically contain a good amount of tannin, which helps in graceful aging of those varietals. The mechanism by which tannin and acid aid in aging is poorly understood, yet those two components are often a good predictor of age-worthiness of wine.
Finally, sulfate level is important, especially in dry white wine, as it acts as an antioxidant. Oxidation of wine is typically detrimental to wine, and prolonged oxidation turns wine into vinegar. Sulfates remove any free oxygen in wine and retard or prevent oxidation from taking place. Wines low in sulfates should not be aged for any extended period of time, as the risk of oxidation is too great. Some wines have so much sulfur added to them by winemakers that upon opening they may reek of rotten eggs! One way to combat elevated sulfur levels in young wine is to either oxygenate it by decanting, or to immerse a small copper fragment (or a clean penny!) for a few seconds. The latter binds up much of the dissolved sulfur, thereby allowing the fruit to shine through.
Some of the most ageable wine in the world is produced in and around Bordeaux, France. This fascinating and historical wine-making region is explored in greater detail below..
SHOULD YOU EVALUATE WINE AND BEER WITH FOOD OR WITHOUT?
guest writer…Les Short
Is it important to taste wine with food, or vice versa? No, but note this, our pallet is enhanced by multiple flavors. With that being said, when pairing different flavors (an assortment of cheeses, for instance), with a particular varietal (syrah), both the cheese and the wine seam to take on a difference flavor, nose for the wine, and more distinct flavors for the cheese.
Wine on it’s own, when comparing type to type (cabs to cabs, etc), you get an appreciation for region, climate, residual, tannins, and so forth. The same can be said for cheese, such as different cheddars, the sharpness, the aging, and texture.
All great chefs seem to be of one mind, finding what works well together by marrying foods and wines to be in harmony with each other, not to cause conflict and disorder.
Remember to find your way through your nose and your stomach, always smell and taste, and enjoy.
Until next time.
One Foodie aka Les Short
We all have differences of opinion, I as a taster, disagree with Mr. Short. When I am trying to evaluate a specific beverage, I prefer to evaluate without the influences of extraneous flavors. By introducing different outside flavors, obviously you can judge their compatibility and interaction with their paired foods, but it is hard to dissect the food from wine since they can play off each other and interact with each other.
The beauty of cooking and preparing food is that it can be a collage of flavors which play off of and interact with the wine/beer that is consumed at that time; the combination broadens and adds complexity to the wine/beer and food experience. But when finding out what ingredients you are starting with, i.e. what the beverage tastes like on its own, and what the food tastes like on its own, you can then prepare a better marriage of flavor when later uniting them.
Thanks you Mr. Short for your submission.
We accept submissions, please contact Editor Peter Ronen firstname.lastname@example.org
A TOUR UP THE COAST:
In mid-November 2009, my friend and I visited a number of wineries in Central Coast, Napa and Sonoma. We began our trip with a stopover at the Rosenthal Vineyards in Malibu. We then made our way north to the Central Coast region, where we visited numerous wineries including Jonata, L’Aventure, Tolo, Foxen, and Tablas Creek. In Napa, we went to HDV, Alpha Omega, Merryvale, Montelena, Beringer, Arkenstone and EMH Black Cat. Finally, we made a brief sojourn into Sonoma, dropping in for a visit at Stonestreet and Matanzas Creek.
Here are some of the highlights. Starting with Malibu and going up the Coast:
Rosenthal. Hidden in a small tasting room about 15 miles from Santa Monica, near Malibu Seafood, Rosenthal Malibu wines quietly make interesting Cabs, Merlots, Bordeaux Blends, and several whites from their Estate Vineyards located high in the hillsides of the bucolic enclave of Malibu. Aside from recent vintages (2005-2007) which are very good, they are also pouring 00, 01, and 02 Merlots and Cabs for tastings in the tasting room. Those older vintages are just peaking, indicating that the younger vintages could really benefit from a few years of bottle age. Of the older vintages, the two standouts are the 2000 Merlot and the 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon. The former tastes like an older Merlot-based Bordeaux with very good complex flavors of plum and mocha. Well-developed secondary aromas of earth, smoke and tobacco are quite enticing. The wine is best appreciated about 30 minutes to 2 hrs after opening, and will likely last a few more years. But with such a seductive flavor profile, why wait? The 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon is also at peak, with black raspberry flavors gradually giving way to some soft tannin on the finish. Like the 2000 Merlot, the wine is at peak and is best enjoyed over the next few years. Best of all, neither wine costs an arm and a leg. Amazingly, the 2000 Merlot could be had for as little at $12/bottle with a six-pack purchase! With the 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon priced in the low 20’s and later vintage reds generally priced in the mid $30’s/bottle, Rosenthal wines represent a serious bargain. Where else can you get a 9-10 year old Cabernet or Merlot aged in quality French oak for less than the price of a dinner entrée? It is definitely worth a stop.
Jonata. We tasted through 20+ barrel samples of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc, Merlot and Syrah with winemaker Matt Dees. We tasted different lots of 2009 Pinot Noir from different vineyards that will presumably be blended together into one or two different wines. All of the 2009 Pinots, some of which were in wood for only a few weeks, have dark colors, very extracted, yet somehow still elegant — a far cry from the typical earthy Cote d’Or Burgundies, or even most CA Pinots that we’ve sampled over the years. As an experiment, they are doing some lots with whole cluster fermentation, which adds good structure to the wines. The final blend should be terrific if these barrel samples are indicative. This should be a broad-scaled Pinot with good acidity and complexity.
We also tasted 2007-2009 Syrah. All three have a dark purple color, nearly opaque. The 2009 was very primary and reduced, with great material and already tell-tale aromas of bacon fat and floral notes. Matt says the 2009 will be as good as or better than 2007 version. The 2008 Syrah was further along the development, with more serious tannins than the 2009, but slightly lower density. The 2007 Syrah was mind-bogglingly good. Like the 2009, but at this juncture a more complete wine. One of the top 2-3 Syrah I’ve tasted on this trip.
We also tasted the 07 and 08 Desafio, a Bordeaux blend. All these wines were very dark in color and possessed lots of stuffing, but I would give the edge to the 07 as the superior vintage here. Lots of typical blackberry fruit, good acidity, and exceptional fruit density and balance. It needs to be cellared for considerable time, as the tannins are strong on the finish.
The Cab Franc is my favorite wine of the lineup. We tasted the 08 and 07, and again I consider the 07 to be the better vintage. With exceptional floral aromas, blackberry and licorice-like fruit on the nose, incredible fruit density on the palate with a 45-second long finish. This is profound!
Also sampled a 2007 100% Petit Verdot. Honestly, I don’t know what to make of this bottling. The color is that of used motor oil — I couldn’t see through the bottom of the stem when it was filled with less than 1 ounce of wine! Anyway, this was a monster on the palate, very dense fruit, skull-numbing tannins yet no herbaciousness that one often associates with this varietal. I don’t think I could drink more than a glass of this at one sitting. While a monument to superior winemaking, it pushes the envelope so far out that one has to wonder what is the point behind this concoction…
L’Aventure. Met with Michael the GM (I forget his last name) for an hour, and with winemaker Stephan Asseo. This is a beautiful property, very picturesque and seemingly isolated even though it is only minutes by car from Paso Robles. We tasted through the entire 07 lineup plus a couple of older reds. Outside of a Roussanne/Viognier blend that I didn’t care for, the wines were uniformly fantastic! My favorite was the Estate Cuvee, a blend of Syrah, Cab and Petit Verdot. Dark in color, this is at present dominated by the Syrah and Petit Verdot aromas. Very high quality winemaking here — round tannins with a long finish and barely a trace of oak. I told Stephan that his earlier wines, especially the 03′s, were quite oaky on release, and I asked him if he had dialed down the oak. He said, no, but that the wines have much more fruit now as the vines are more mature (most were only planted 7-11 years ago!) and he has drastically decreased the amount of purchased fruit that he uses in his wine now as compared to a few years ago. I recall him mentioning that in the near future he will only use estate fruit for all of the wines. There is no doubt in my mind that this winery will be one of the reference points of what can be done with Rhone varietals in the Central Coast – the wines are that good. Oh, and they’re completely biodynamic as well…
Tablas Creek. This modern winery tucked into a quiet corner east of Paso Robles has been making wines of some renown for a quite a while. The Esprit de Beaucastel, a blend of predominantly Mouvedre, Grenache and Syrah is the star of the house. The 2007 vintage Esprit is the best one yet. Powerful aromatics of smoked herbs and blackberries give way to a very dense, fruity elixir that is a pleasure to taste. Approachable now, this will be better with a couple of years of bottle age. In comparison with the 2007, the 2006 Esprit comes off as a bit one dimensional and simple. The wine possesses adequate fruit density and good length on the palate, and could be consumed now. Frankly, a better value for the money is the 2007 Cotes de Tablas, a second label of sorts for the 2007 Esprit. Think of it as “Esprit-Lite”, and its high quality is a testament to the phenomenal materials that Mother Nature bestowed on the Central Coast region in 2007.
Tolo. On picturesque Adelaida Road, not far from Tablas Creek, is Tolo Cellars. The philosophy at this winery is extended aging in old barrels, in some cases as long as 7 years. The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah are of medium weight, varietally correct if a bit unexciting. Some herbaceous character is present, and in general the wines here are about as far removed from the prototypical super ripe Napa Cabernets as one can get. The 2001 Asini, which was aged >7 years in barrel, possesses aromas that have more in common with traditional Spanish Riojas from the likes of Lopez de Heredia than they do with either Zinfandel or Sangiovese, which constitute its main blend. Finally, a late harvest Sauvignon Blanc (2006) is quite good. Dried herbs on the nose, some grassiness and a strong note of petrol and cat pee is reminiscent of Scheurebe from the likes of Germany’s Muller-Catoir. On the palate, the wine is fruity and fresh, belying its considerable residual sugar. Fascinating and singular wine for sure. Then again, so are the others at this address that is anything but run of the mill!
HDV. We tasted with winemaker Stephane Vivier at the winery in Napa. They produce two Chardonnays, one being a young vine version called de la Guerre, and the Estate, which is from 22-30 year-old vines. For reds, they make a Bordeaux blend called Belle Cousine and a Syrah. All of the wines come from the Hyde vineyard, owned by Larry Hyde and Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanee Conti fame. Hence the HDV moniker…
We tasted bottled 08 de la Guerra, 07 Estate Chardonnay, 06 Syrah and 05 Belle Cousine. Afterwards we tasted barrel samples of 08 Estate Chardonnay, 07 Syrah, and 06 and 07 Belle Cousine. De la Guerra is a good Chardonnay in its own right, but pales in comparison with the Estate Chardonnay, especially the 07 version. The 07 Estate Chardonnay is fantastic, and to my palate reminiscent of a top-vintage Premier Cru Puligny-Montrachet from the likes of Henri Boillot or Domaine Leflaive. It has fantastic minerality, full body, and not a trace of wood, since Stephane hates new oak. And, best of all, not a hint of tropical fruit to be found anywhere, something all too common in California wines. The 08 Estate Chardonnay was slightly bigger, with noticeably less minerality and trace notes of pineapple — not my preferred flavor profile. An excellent wine in its own right, it only suffers in comparison to the fantastic 2007…
The HDV Syrah is a varietally correct example that is quite good in 06, and outstanding in 07. As in the Chardonnays, there is not a trace of oak on the nose or palate of the 07 Syrah, but rather berry and smoky aromas, and a nice long finish with considerable tannin. Nowhere near as extracted as the Jonata Syrah, but still excellent and will probably drink sooner. The 06 Syrah was similar to the 07, but a bit lighter in volume, color, and slightly less open on the nose.
I did not like the 05 Belle Cousine very much. I thought that it had rather strong tannins, and a strange, greenish note on the rather underwhelming nose. The wine maybe presently closed. The 06 Belle Cousine was much better. Clearly done in an elegant style, the wine displays good typicity, is medium-bodied and has a long finish with just a trace of oak, but considerable tannin that will require some bottle age to resolve. If this picks up a bit of weight upon aging then it will turn into something special.
Alpha Omega. We tasted about 8 different wines here, which spanned the gamut from nearly horrid to fantastic. First up was the 08 Sauv blanc which was actually quite good for a Sauv Blanc in that it had some nice simple fruit on the palate good palate-cleansing acidity. More importantly it didn’t overpower me with grassy aromas that are so prevalent in Sauv Blancs from NZ and the Loire. Next we tasted the Chardonnay, which the tasting room employee said was nearly sold out. Over-oaked, with low acidity, buttery and chock-full of tropical fruit, this is the exact opposite of what I look for in a Chardonnay.
The reds were a different story. We tasted a handful of 2006 Merlots and Cabernets as well as the Proprietary Red. While the wines were sound, with price points of $55 – $80/bottle they do not represent compelling value to me. Most of the wines were medium-bodied with moderate length on the finish, with the Proprietary Red being the best.
We then tasted the Era, a Bordeaux blend that is Alpha Omega’s flagship wine. Boy, were we stunned at the difference! The 2006 Era was a great wine, medium to full-bodied, possessed a deep color, and soaring aromatics that were insanely floral, probably due to the substantial Cabernet Franc in the blend. It was perfectly balanced, had a long finish, and was surprisingly approachable. One could drink this today, or cellar it for a number of years.
As good as the 06 Era was, the just released 07 was even better! It had
more of everything — fruit/depth, complexity and seductive aromatics, and considerable but silky tannins. An outstanding bottle of wine, this magical concoction was one of two best wines that I tasted on this trip. There is no doubt in my mind that this is a star in the making. Wow!
Arkenstone. We drove up the serpentine roads of Howell Mountain early Sunday morning to meet with the owner of Arkenstone, Susan Krausz. We wound up tasting three wines: the 07 Sauvignon Blanc, the 06 Syrah, and the 06 Obsidian. This winery is spectacularly located on the upper slopes of Howell Mountain, with panoramic views of Napa Valley to Calistoga and beyond. If that weren’t enough, they just constructed what may be the largest man-made cave I have ever been to! Susan explained that there is no way that they can make $$$ on the wine, since they don’t anticipate having a production of greater than 1000 cases/year. So, she and her husband decided to build a custom crush/winemaking facility dug into the mountain. How cool is that? We’re talking a seemingly endless cave, roughly 35-40 feet tall, that is hundreds of feet in length, with at least two parallel shafts running along the main cave, all interconnected about every 50-100 feet. Words can’t do justice when explaining the enormity of this setup — you’d just have to see it for yourself. But, it is spectacular! Right now, they have about 6-7 clients making wine in there, and the place looks nearly deserted. I estimate that they could easily make 50,000 cases of wine/year in there, without overcrowding. Amazing…
Caves or no caves, ultimately it is about the wine. First up was the Sauvignon Blanc. Unlike other versions that we’ve tasted on this trip, the Sauvignon Blanc at Arkenstone was very full bodied, and in fact was very reminiscent of a top-notch white from the Pessac-Leognan region. Think Pape Clement Blanc or Smith-Haut-Lafitte Blanc. Except the wood is mostly integrated, so it could be drunk now, in contrast with those Bordeaux examples that need time for the toast to dissipate.
The Arkenstone Syrah is made in tiny quantities (~50 cases). It had a strong berry and floral nose with a hint of bacon fat that to me screams Syrah. Deep purple in color, it was slightly lighter in color than the 07 Jonata Syrah, but darker than the 07 HDV Syrah. Seamless on the palate, it has a wave after wave of dark berry fruit and not a trace of oak. There are some serious tannins on the finish, but it is great already!
The star of the tasting, and of the trip, was the 06 Obsidian, a proprietary Bordeaux blend that I believe is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon. A prominent lead pencil and black raspberry nose reminded me of a top vintage of Lafite-Rothschild or Ducru-Beaucaillou. On the palate, the wine is full-bodied, perfectly balanced, and seamless. A smidgeon of very high quality toast appears on the very long finish that lasts at least half a minute. Even more amazing is that this is the debut release, in what is considered a challenging and variable vintage! I was shocked at how good this was. For some idiotic reason, I didn’t ask Susan to sample the 07 barrels of Obsidian. Every other place we tasted at, we found the 07 blends to be superior to the 06. So, my guess that the 07 Obsidian will be other-worldly when released…
EMH Black Cat. We visited with Merrill Lindquist at her lovely home for nearly two hours. She was extremely hospitable and outgoing, which made the time fly by. She opened the 05, 06, and 07 Black Cat, a predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon blend from her tiny vineyard in Calistoga, an hour or so in advance of our arrival. The 05 Black Cat was reserved, almost austere, both on the palate and nose. In spite of my kind objections, Merrill proceeded to open another bottle of the 05, which was more aromatically open, but still was a bit hard to grasp. Maybe this bottling just needs to sleep for a while? At the opposite side of the spectrum was the 06 Black Cat. It was wide open, with a huge plum-like aroma that I would have guessed blind as Merlot, not Cabernet. Nevertheless, the wine tasted beautifully and the tannins, while on the finish, were never obtrusive. This could be drunk now and might improve with some short-term cellaring. A step up in intensity was the 07 Black Cat. This was more complex, age worthy and transparent, while the 06 was more exotic and hedonistic. My guess is that the 07 will really benefit from several years in the cellar, at which point it would eclipse the 05. I enjoyed both a great deal!
Foxen. On the way up the coast Foxen was an interesting stop over, while a bit off the beaten path, about half an hour off of the main highway (101N) it boasts not one but two tasting rooms. A rustic facility in what seems to be an old barn and a new, modern, well appointed facility just a few hundred feet down the road. With offerings in the $30-$60 category they offer more basic central coast pinots, and higher end ones such as the 06 Bien Nacido Vineyard, Block 8 with barnyard notes, med-full body, earthy tones in addition to nice fruit. Also notable is the 07 late harvest Chenin Blanc from the Ernesto Wickenden Vineyard which has great acidity to balance the 14% residual sugar, the acidity really cuts the sugar back.
Matanzas Creek offers another stop over point away from the Napa bustle with a notable Asian influence. Designed with care to minimize impact to the flora and natural landscape, the facility showcases a several wines in the more modest price ranges, $20-$50, which in Northern California keeps paces with a more economically oriented buyer. Of note is the 06 Jackson Park Merlot at $49.
Stonestreet. Again away from the hustle and bustle of the main thoroughfare of Napa, Stonestreet in Healdsburg offers elegance and immense variety in terms of whites and reds. Some are widely distributed to restaurants, while others are very small lot production of 100-500 cases. Also it is hard to find 2000, 2001, 2002 rocky volcanic soil offerings normally available at a tasting room. The Black Cougar Ridge Cab Sauvignon series is definitely available there. An eye opening vertical comparison tasting plus library wines available for purchase.
Independent Review of Tre Bicchieri, 2009: Last night, March 2, I went to an all- Italian wine tasting that took place at the Fairmont Hotel, in Santa Monica.
This was an unusual event, due the fact that the vast majority of the wines did not arrive until around 6:30 P.M., only a half hour before the event ended. That said, the wines that were poured had some great interest with regard to nose, single vineyard varietals, balance, and ability to age.
I was especially impressed with some of the wines being offered up from Sicily, which is all the more notable as I have always been more of a fan of Tuscan, Piedmontese and other wines from Italy’s more northern climes.
Northern climate wines tend to have more acidity and better balance of fruit to acidity, which typically make them more food friendly, and appetite-inducing. Sicilian grapes routinely endure very hot summertime temper-atures, which makes achiev-ing adequate acidity levels very challenging for the winemakers. Yet some of the Sicilians in today’s tasting were able to do just that and achieve good acidity with decent body and structure.
All in all, most wines were balanced on the palate and exhibited considerable terroir- driven complexity and minerality. I only have one main criticism of the Tre Bicchieri tasting format. The tasting emphasized the producer at the expense of varietal. It would have been far more educational to taste Barolos/Barberescos in one group, for example, rather than having to taste through entire lineups of producers that may include Dolcettos and even Chardonnays together with Nebbiolo-based varietals.
With that said, I will not be deterred from future Tre Bicchieri tastings I will walk around, get an overview of what is being featured, then get a plan of attack.
Until next time, uncork, pour, and drink with enjoyment and a smile.
The layout of the tasting room sometimes leaves much to be desired. One would prefer to have the same varietal from the same region side by side for comparison purposes; however, one needs to consider the staff requirement and other feasibility issues. So typically one producer would showcase all of his/her wines on the same table without splitting them up. If all Barberas were together, and all Barbarescos were together, yes it would be easier to compare but harder to organize, perhaps better for an educational setting not for a producer-by-producer setting.
Thank you again Mr. Short for your submission.
March 2, 2009-Gambero Rosso/Tre Bicchieri Wine Tasting held in Los Angeles
Although Gambero Rosso has been to Los Angeles before, this year was the first to showcase the Tre Bicchieri award winners. Tre Bicchieri in Italian means three glasses, or the highest award given. Of over 18,000 wines (from 2,250 wineries) reviewed, only 339 were bestowed the prestigious Tre Bicchieri award. Piedmont led the way with 71 winners, followed by Tuscany with 49, Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia with 31, Alto Adige with 26, Sicily with 17, Campania with 16, with the remaining balance coming from Lombardy, Marche, Abruzzo, Sardinia, Emilia Romagna, Trentino, Umbria, Puglia, Valle d’Aosta, Basilicata, Calabria, Lazio, Liguria and Molise in decending order.
For 2009 the some of the special awards are: Winery of the Year — Fattoria di Felsina;
Red of the Year — Barbaresco Asili Reserva ‘04 by Bruno Giacosa; White of the Year — Valle d’Aosta Chardonnay Cuvee Bois by Les Cretes;
Sparkling of the Year — Alto Adige Metodo Classico Hausmannhof Reserva ’97 by Haderburg; Sweet wine of the year — Moscato Passito ‘07 Bruno Giacosa
Unfortunately, this year’s event started off on a sour note. More than two-thirds of the wines were delayed en route to Los Angeles as a result of some poor organizational planning and uncooperative weather. When the wines did finally arrive – within the last half-hour of the event — many were left unopened in shipping boxes, undoubtedly to be sacrificed at the next stop of the Tre Bicchieri tour. That said, there were still 30+ wineries to taste, representing about 90 wines. These producers that brought their wine with them saved the day.
The wine—Italians are known for having the most diversified group of wines in the world. In Roman times, whenever there was a Roman Legion stationed in an Italian town, they planted grapes, and made wine. Italian towns are typically isolated from each other, due to geographic and elevation changes, so these single town plantings eventually took on their own characteristics, due to terroir, mutation, adaptation to climate conditions, and the like. According to some Italian wine experts, there are over 2000 identifiable different varietals in Italy. So far only several hundred have been scientifically catalogued.
With that in mind, the tasting was a success. Simply because of the variety and complexity of flavors that Italy has to offer. Some of the Tre Bicchieri wines came from Alto Adige, just south of the Austrian border. An example of a white would be the 2005 Sauvignon from Sanct Valentin part of the St. Michael- Eppan cong-lomerate, a white with rich body, good acidity, decent minerality showing unusual but engaging flavors of fig and elder blossom. It pays homage to the Austrian whites to the North, while engaging the local terroir adding to its complexity.
Even with only a few years in bottle there were some wines showing active barnyard noses, such as the Feudi di San Gregorio Campanaro, a young wine with a mature engaging nose.
Live acidity, delicate tannins, lush fruit, and reasonable price points of $30-70 USD per bottle make many of these Tre Bicchieri wines interesting alternatives to high priced Napa or Bordeaux wines.
To Decant or Not to Decant
That is the Question,
The purpose of decanting, for wines in the plateau of maturity, is to separate out the frequently bitter sediment away from the wine itself. That way, the wine can be more readily enjoyed without the accompanying bitter flavors and unsightly cloudi- ness. In some cases, the additional exposure to air (oxygen) caused by decanting is beneficial as well, as it can help some unpleasant aromas trapped by years of bottle aging to escape more quickly, thereby bringing to the forefront those ethereal scents that only mature wines possess.
Young wines also benefit from decanting, but for a different reason. Whereas the primary motivation to decant old (mature) wines is to remove the sediment, young wines frequently have little in the way of sediment but often have lots of tannin (reds) and sulfur (white). Tannins can make young reds taste very drying, and sometimes even astringent. Decanting of young, robust red wines helps oxygenate the wine, which frequently brings the fruit component to the foreground and helps relegate tannins to
the background. The result is, hopefully, a wine that while young is imminently more drinkable and enjoy-able.
Recent-vintage white wines may need to be decanted if, upon opening, there is a noticeable sulfur/ matchstick smell. These aromas are quite frequent in Chard- onnays and commonly also in German Rieslings, as many producers add sulfur as a “preservative” to wine to guard it from premature oxidation. In fact, practically any well-made young white stands to benefit from decanting, as the additional exposure to oxygen can help bring the fruit forward and reduce unpleasant aromas.
How Long to Decant?
For mature reds, decanting to remove sediment should be done immediately prior to consumption. While some older reds could benefit from a longer exposure to oxygen, it is better to err on the side of caution and decant no more than 30 minutes prior to consumption. Some old wines can fade away quickly, and it is always better to catch the wine while it is still alive and not oxidized.
For young reds, decanting times and strategies vary widely. For example, some very tannic Bordeaux and California Cabernets may need to be decanted as many as 24 hours in advance! Ordinarily, a 2 to 4-hour decanting time is sufficient for most well made reds from robust varietals such as Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, etc.
For young whites, a 30-minute to 1-hour decanting time is usually sufficient. There are some exceptions, notably highly sulfured Riesling or high acid Premier- or Grand Cru-level Chablis, that frequently require longer exposure to air, but most of the time an hour’s worth of air in a decanter is more than sufficient.
Until next time, uncork, “DECANT”, pour, and drink with enjoyment and a smile.
Thank you Mr. Short for your submission.
WHAT ARE DESSERT WINES?
Dessert wines, which constitute a relatively small percentage of the overall wine market, are generally white and somewhat thicker in density compared to the non-dessert variety. But what really makes dessert wines stand out in oceans of dry (non-sweet) bottlings is their considerable percentage of sugar, which can range from a low of a couple percent sugar all the way up to saturation, where a crystallized sugar precipitate may clearly be visible at the bottom of the bottle. These nectar-like versions of dessert wines may reach an overall sugar content of fifteen to twenty-five percent are relatively uncommon. Strong sweetness can also result from a previously medium sweet dessert wine…such as 10 to 12 percent sugar…which loses water due to evaporation, thereby causing the percentage of sugar to increase relative to remaining liquid. Percentage sugar is high in dessert wines for one of several reasons: (1) late harvest which results in riper fruit containing lots of sugar, (2) from botrytis which is also known as noble rot — a mold whose growth on grape skins results in water loss and increased sugar concentration, or (3) incomplete alcoholic fermentation that yields wines whose hallmark is clearly perceptible sweetness from unfermented residual sugar coupled with low alcohol.
Many of the world’s most cherished dessert wines are produced from botrytized grapes. Wines containing grapes affected by botrytis typically exhibit raisin-like flavors that range from barely detectable to incredibly strong. Production of these late-harvest wines is a difficult and risky process since the noble rot can quickly overwhelm grapes stripping them of flavors and rendering them useless for winemaking. Typically, grapes affected by noble rot need to be harvested on a cluster-to-cluster (and sometimes grape-by-grape) basis, frequently requiring multiple passages through the vineyard by harvesters. As a result, labor costs required to produce a quality botrytis-affected sweet wine are considerably higher than those for dry red or white wines. To control the infection (and to reduce costs), sometimes the noble rot is applied to the grapes after harvest, when grapes are stored on trays to dry.
Most dessert wines are best enjoyed slightly chilled in a petite wine glass (dessert wine glass) with fruit or pastry, perhaps some mild-flavored cheese, but perhaps even better alone in front of a warming fireplace with that special someone!
What makes a Bordeaux a Bordeaux?
Obviously its A. O. C. Accreditation for its official appellation/territorial designation but observationally its due to acidity, terroir, barrel management/ exposure, fruit/berry content, tannin, and storage conditions even cork material. To summarize each element’s contribution to the final product: acidity allows some things to evolve/change but it also slows some change…specifically higher amounts of acidity seem to slow maturation of wine, terroir can slow oxidization of wine by adding minerality or trace chemicals that stabilize or slow change, barrel management entails choice of wood- i.e. French oak vs. American oak. American oak and age of wood–yielding greater density of wood with older wood and with French oak (colder climate slower tighter growth)…. tighter wood grain seems to infuse wines with tannins that last longer in the battle against oxidization, the exposure of wine to barrels of different newness levels also adds tannin diversity and therefore to a variety of tannins the wine can feed upon while aging, fruit density–most Bordeaux have relatively high fruit (grape) density…which also gives substance for the wine/yeast to feed upon, tannin not only comes from barrel exposure it also comes from the seeds, skin, and pulp of the grape give the wine things to feed upon, storage conditions i.e. Temp and humidity influence the rate at which the yeast feeds on the wine.
REVIEW OF UGC 2009 LOS ANGELES EVENT
The 2009 Union des Grande Cru is held in several cities typically New York, Chicago, Dallas, and San Francisco or Los Angeles. (It usually alternates between LA and SF each year). However this year there were events in both, LA had a consumer tasting while SF had a trade tasting. This year the venerable 2005 Bordeaux were tasted alongside the soon to be released 2006. Wonderful juxtaposition. The powerful, concentrated, and dense 2005 vintage compared to the silky yet decently structured 2006 vintage. I believe the 2006 reds offer an earlier accessible vintage, which serves a very viable purpose because it gives the Bordeaux drinker an available vintage to drink while the 05 is maturing. Interestingly the 2005s are actually approachable now with some decanting time. Its difficult to say if the 04 or the 06 is a bigger vintage…probably the growing climate of 06 was closer to ideal. The density of 06 is probably a bit greater but chateux to chateaux variation should be considered since the 06 and 04 are similar. Both the 04 and 06 stand in allegiance and at attention to the 05. While the reds seemed more of a personal preference of accessibility of the 06 while ageability of 05 makes one ponder the aromas displayed by 20-40 years of proper aging, the sauternes seem to be more exciting and botrytis -like in 06 versions. Purchasing Bordeaux for your cellar begs the question of your potential consumption window. The 05′s can easily hold for 20 to 30 years quite possibly 40 or even more, not everyone is prepared to give in to that time commitment. In that case the smaller/less dense vintages start to become inviting due to their shorter time horizons.
WHY DO SOME BORDEAUX COST SO MUCH?
The cost of Bordeaux is a thought-provoking question in these economically unsettling times. Top Bordeaux meaning La Tour, Lafite-Rothschild, and Haut Brion which are in the $400-700 US dollar range per bottle are very consistently the best or among the best labels of any particular Bordeaux vintage. Price is always or almost always a product of demand in an efficient market. The wine market is not always efficient, since all products are not necessarily always presented to all buyers in the course of the wine’s lifetime.
However, the demand for these high-end labels exceeds demand currently and also in the past. The number of high-end clients, i.e. the number of millionaires who buy wine keeps growing even though times are tight. In this niche market, even though the price of admission is high, the buyer (with proper storage conditions) of the 2005 vintage for instance has up to 45 years to sell the investment or probably 25 years to drink (between age 20 and 45)….so a very long window to sell into a profitable market; Quite an amazing window for sale or consumption. Remarkably there still are many bottles of 2005 for retail sale and many of those are not at a high price premium. Interestingly enough, to validate the 2005 prices the 2006, which is not as memorable of a year, Bordeaux has prices set almost as high (within 25 percent) of 2005–A very interesting marketing technique.
We accept submissions, please contact Editor Peter Ronen