Not everyone is blessed with a room big enough for a true wine cellar. Please do not let that stop you. Most wine cellars are in the 8 x 10 and up range…but we have been noticing for the past couple of years clients asking us to think outside of the box and come up with other rooms (like a closet, bathroom, dining room, or even a master bedroom…just kidding on the master bedroom)
One such space was for a client in Scotch Plains, NJ…this client had a basement which already had a pool table and television area…that left us with two options: 1. mechanical room 2. a closet. We chose the closet (4 x 8) because it gave the client a great area for the cooling system to vent and for the condensate (the mechanical room)to discharge.
Once we started the demolition we went right to work on the floor (ceramic tile) and the vapor barrier (because we added cooling) and insulation and electric.
After those steps were complete we began to re-rock (mold resist) to paint ready walls…at this point we were able to take final dims and begin building the mahogany wine racks for the new wine cellar. While the racks were being built we also had our painter prime and paint the room (olive).
The custom wine racks consisted of adjustable shelving for bulk storage, high reveal display rows, diamond bins and of course our muralist creating a wonderful backdrop for the custom arch. We then installed a mahogany glass door so that the outside living space would have a complete view inside the wine cellar.
We are now in the process of converting that space into a tasting room…stay tuned.
Cahors 2005, Le Combal, Cosse Maisonneuve Big Cahors, authentic and made for the hunter-gatherer in you, with black licorice and meat. There is some animal that is “pheasanting” in the bottle, covered in rose petals and mint. Big, burly tannins. This a wine for the true Cahors lover. Bring on the cassoulet! Biodynamic.
The primary focus of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival is the Grand Tasting Village – located directly on the sands of South Beach. The village is split into two sections; the bow contained the seminar tents, sponsor tents, and this year a Wines of Spain display, whereas the stern consisted of two large tasting tents. In previous years we had spent the large proportion of our time in the tasting section; this year we decided to actually attend a few seminars and browse the sponsor tents.
We loitered in the Delta Airlines tent for awhile where they not only served excellent wines (Don David Torrontos), but we learned that the airline uses an elaborate system to select wines for their BusinessElite® customers. In house sommelier, Andrea Robinson, accumulates over 80 wines that met a strict criteria of outstanding flavor, brand recognition, diversity and destination connection, as well as ease of serving in flight. She then tasted the wines at 30,000 feet; apparently the structure of wines can change at high altitudes. Ms. Robinson then selects a final array of wines from those that passed the “flight” test. She will also hold “wine culture” seminars for flight attendants that will “enhance the personalized service they provide to Delta customers.” We may have to consider Delta for our next international travel. Back to the festival, on Saturday we saw Ingrid Hoffmann strolling the sands without the standard entourage that usually swarms around a Food Network personality. She cheerfully greeted attendees posing for snapshots all the while reminding people the time for her seminar. She became an instant favorite – no pretentiousness – she could have been just another party goer. But after watching a few seminars, our favorite Food network personalities were easily the Neelys. As with Ms. Hoffmann, they also fit naturally into the environment and had a playful relationship. Plus they were preparing mac and cheese keeping it simple. The Wines of Spain was a somewhat obvious choice for a special tent, not only from Miami’s Spanish background but also because of the rising status of their wines. There were over two dozen vendors, so too many wines to taste in one setting. Thus we stuck to cava and the sherry – being poured directly from the barrel. We are neophytes regarding sherry so this was a nice education, learning about the Solera process in the Cardenal Mendoza as well as the history of the product. But of course, throughout the day the tasting tents were a constant magnet and eventually we succumbed. The South Beach festival has the largest assortment of spirits of its kind so this year we planned to keep to that genre. We eventually tasted a few wines that caught our attention, but in general we stuck to the vodka, gin, brandy, cachaca, and rum. And was there rum. Many of our favorites that we have discussed previously were on hand (Vizcaya, Diplomatico, and Ron Barcelo); but within a few yards of the first tent we struck gold. Gold as in the Ron Zacapa Centonario (23 years) – perhaps the best rum ever produced (At least in our estimation). And according to Robert Pallone, the resident Rum Ambassador “it’s won so many tasting competitions that it’s actually been retired.” This rum is made from the juices from the first press of sugar cane, like a rhum agricole, and distilled in the high mountains of Guatemala of Quetzaltenango. The rum is aged white oak casks using the “solera” method the same method as sherry. Basically the angels share lost through evaporation is replaced with rum that was casked the following year. We also tried a couple new rums that are worth naming: Ron Atlantico, Angostura and Ron Botran. There was also a Thai rum, the Mekhong, named after that country’s national river. “The amber colored liquid is the result of a unique combination of an age-old distillation process followed by the artful blending of this quality spirit with a unique (and secret) recipe of indigenous herbs and spices that brings out its classic taste.” The spices provide enough variety to make this an interesting drink neat – but they advertise it more as a mixer. These last rums were nice, but after drinking Ron Zacapa, Vizcaya, Diplomatico, and Ron Barcelo; there was no more room at the top. Sorry. The newest novelty and perhaps the most popular vendor was the LIQ Frozen Cocktails. Yes frozen strawberry daiquiris and margaritas on a Popsicle stick – made with real rum and tequila. Our first question was “How do you get the alcohol to freeze”? Well, they employ a proprietary system that somehow freezes alcohol. The pops are 100% pure ingredients, the strawberry daiquiri includes real strawberries that melt with the Popsicle. And tasty. The company has even planned how to get the product into retail outlets that normally don’t have freezers. They provide their own. This is one product that fits with south Florida – if they only sold it on the beach. We also re-tasted several spirits that we discovered at last year’s New York City Food & Wine Festival. The Castries Peanut Rum tasted as good in South Beach as well as it did in New York. The same holds with the Whitley Neill Gin. One of our favorite creme liquors, Amarula – made from the African Marula fruit was also on hand. Whiskeys were represented by Evan Williams bourbon and Glenrothes scotch. There were several new products we liked. Our favorite vodka was the Polish Sobieski Vodka – named after King Jan III Sobieski. The brand was launched by Imperial Brands only two years ago and is already the world’s #7 best selling international vodka. In its first year the vodka was awarded a Gold Medal and the “Best Buy” award by the Beverage Testing Institute (BTI), and was ranked the #1 premium vodka and #2 overall in a random blind-tasting of 108 vodkas, the largest review of vodkas in its history, that included extravagantly priced super-premium brands. The last sentence is important because a bottle retails for approximately $11. What a bargain. We also learned about cognacs from the House of Hines – particularly that cognac shouldn’t have the harsh bite that we normally experience in the states. In fact, many of cognac brands are specifically made in this style and targeted to certain communities. Not Hines. Their brandy has been produced in the Cognac region for over 250 years and meet the strenuous legal requirements in order to bear the name, Cognac. Its smooth finish was enough of a raw to keep us coming back. We did sample a few wines. The first set of wines we tasted were from the Finger Lakes’ Heron Hill Vineyards. We had to support east coast wineries. They were pouring two nice Riesling styles a dry and semi-dry. Can’t go wrong with that. The other set of wines we tasted were from the Greek and Cyprus alliance booth. How could we pass on wines made from regions with centuries of wine making experience. We learned that the oldest named wine in the world, the Commandaria, has been produced in Cyprus since 1,000 B.C. Today there are 15 indigenous grape varieties found on the island. We started with the Greek wines and loved the Assyrtiko – a white wine grape indigenous to the island of Santorini. There were also two exceptional reds. The Megapanos Namea made from the Agiorgitiko grape, but named after Nemea region of the Peloponnese and the Pavlou Winery Xynomavro, produced in northern Greece. Moving two the Cyprus wines, they actually had a version of the ancient Commandaria, the St. Nicholas from Etkos Winery. This dessert wine is made from the ancient Mavro and Xynisteri grapes that are spread out to dry in the sun, then pressed. The juice is collected and fermented in old, very large wooden barrels. The result is a sherry like substance with caramel flavors without the fortification. A nice dessert wine. Its companion is the Centurion – made in the same style just aged longer (at least 30 years). This is a potent wine, once again not fortified but with a deeper richer dark raisin \fig flavor. The downside – $130. Our budget favors the Commandaria ($20); but our tastes the Centurion. The food served in the tasting tents was also outstanding. Each day, the Puerto Rico booth prepared outstanding dishes. We also enjoyed grabbing a Agua Luca cachaca and pairing with guacamole from Rosa Mexicana. The most entertaining chef was Eric Grutka from Jensen Beach’s Ian’s Tropical Grill, who used a hand held propane tank to sear pork bellies. There was plenty of other food that made this an overwhelming success. Representatives of the Washington D.C. Food & Wine Expo should take notes – the SOBE Wine & Food Festival is a real Food & Wine event.
This past Sunday, we held another blind tasting at Corcoran Vineyards in Loudoun County. If you recall, the last time we tasted some tasty Cabernet Franc wines, a popular varietal here in Virginia. This time, we pitted several Virginia Viognier wines against Viognier wines from other wine producing regions, including the exquisite and exotic grape variety’s homeland in the Northern Rhone, Condrieu.
Bottles dressed in the best brown bags money could buy!
Many Viognier enthusiasts believe the famous appellation of Condrieu (which includes Chateau Grillet), where Viognier is the only grape grown, to be one of the few, if not only, place in the world to capture the true essence of Viognier. Enter Dennis Horton, of Horton Vineyards, who popularized Viognier in Virginia with his outstanding 1994 vintage, which was considered the best Viognier example nationally. This wine put a spotlight on Virginia, and many local wineries followed suite and began planting and bottling Viognier shortly after. Today, Viognier varietal wines can be found in a number of Virginia tasting rooms, and many in the industry, as well as local consumers believe this to be the grape variety that could one day put Virginia on the global wine map.
Tasters Evaluating the Wines
Back to the tasting; evaluating these wines was a great cast of palates, ranging from a local sommelier, to Virginia winemakers, winery owners, wine shop owners, and wine enthusiasts like myself. One common bond amongst this tasting group was that they all have an appreciation and enthusiasm for Virginia wine, and are well seasoned in tasting Virginia Viognier. Enough of my rambling – check out the rankings (and some of the notes) and enjoy the pictures below. (Scores based on UC Davis 20 point scoring system)
Honey Moon Strikes Again!
1. 2007 Honey Moon Viognier (California) Price: $5.99 Score 16.75 Lighting strikes twice with Honey Moon. The 2005 won my last blind tasting of Viognier wines. This is a basic, entry level Viognier that is pretty consistent from vintage to vintage. This wine has something the European and Virginian styles did not. While many of the Viognier wines we tasted offered citrus and stone fruit character, the California example teetered on citrus/stone fruit with tropical notes and honeysuckle undertones. It was also a lush and rich example and had a smidgen of sweetness. Great bang for the buck, for sure. Everyone enjoyed this wine and it can only be found at your local Trader Joe’s.
2. 2007 Seven Hills Viognier (Washington St.) Price: $19.99 Score 15.25 This was an elegant example of Viognier, which walked the tightrope on many levels, never falling off or slipping in. It was a wine of delicacy and poise, yet rich, with good fruit character, moderate acidity, complexity, seamless oak integration, and a nice long lingering finish. Great QPR for a refined example of Viognier. This wine can be found at Unwined in Alexandria – check with Vanessa, who recommended this tasty wine.
3) 2007 Horton Vineyards Viognier (Virginia) Price: $16.99 Score 14.25 This wine is sleek, racy, clean, and dominated by a stone fruit nose and flavor profile. Easy drinking in style, and an excellent quaffer, this wine dances on the palate and everyone thought that it was ripe for spring time sipping.
Lori Swirls, Rick Sniffs, Gary Sips…
4) 2007 Veritas Vineyards Viognier (Virginia) Price: $20.00 Score13.75 Nice and delicious example – very clean, with a fresh fruit character, good balance and mouth feel.
5) 2008 Barrel Oak Reserve Viognier (Virginia) Price: $23.00 Score 13.50 This wine is done in a traditional European style with a medium floral and toasty nose, good fruit flavors and classic varietal character, framed in toasty oak and spice nuances. Barrel Oak delivers a nice Rhone style Viognier here, check out their website for release dates.
6) 2007 Sunset Hills Vineyards (Virginia) Price: $26.00 Score 13.00 This is a refined example with a floral and perfumed nose heighten by soft vanilla and toasty oak notes and a nice lingering finish.
7) 2006 Vidal Fleury Blanc (Cotes du Rhone) Price: $12.99 Score 12.75 A few tasters found this Southern Rhone example to be out of varietal character, but it came across as an interesting and complex wine that had a lot of other desirable things going to give it a satisfactory score.
8) 2007 Corcoran Vineyards (Virginia) Price: $24.00 Score 12.50 This wine had a lot going – easy drinking in style, distinct varietal character, good flavor and aroma profile, moderate acidity, fresh fruit, very clean, but was tagged by a few tasters as being hot. Unfortunately, this wine is about sold out so you may have trouble confirming that for yourself.
9) 2004 Condrieu Yves Gangloff (Condrieu) Price: $75.99 Score 11.75 Although many tasters found this wine to be complex and rather interesting, it was also tagged by a few as being hot, and by a few as being sweet (barrel sweetness disguised as residual). This is a heady wine, not for the soft at heart, which had a good floral and toasty character about it. This is no fruit forward easy drinker. Many Virginia Viognier wine lovers are not used to the famed white wines of Condrieu, which may come off as more masculine and opulent than accustomed to. Not a bad wine, but the price for most could not be justified.
10) 2006 Cooper Vineyards Viognier (Virginia) Price: $25.00 Score 11.50 Everyone though this was a great picnic or deck wine with good up front fruit – loads of it. This wine was tagged as having all the fun up front and lacking in the middle and finish.
11) 2007 Domaine de Coussergues (Languedoc) Price: $9.99 Score 11.50 Tagged as a simple quaffing wine with soft flavors and good acidity with a medium tropical / stone fruit nose.
12) 2008 Tarara Winery Viognier (Virginia) Price: $30.00 Score 10.5 I believe the Tarara wine would have and should have shown much better, but this was a barrel sample and was visually marred by cloudiness; the visuals transferred to the taste for some, but several agreed that it displayed nice fruit and toasty flavors with hints of graham cracker crust and coking spice. When finished, filtered and bottled, this will be a wine to seek out. But, do not expect a fruit forward easy drinking wine, this is made in more of the classic Condrieu style.
13) 2008 Las Perdices (Argentina) Price: $11.99 Score 10.00 Deck wine at best. This wine was tagged with having a soft nose and higher than average acidity; strange for an overall low acidity grape.
14) 2007 Yalumba Viognier (Australia) Price: $9.99 Score 6.00 This wine came in last place in my last blind tasting of Viognier wines also. It comes across as having too much winemaker manipulation to fix inconsistencies or flaws in a troubled wine. It does not taste like a Viognier, or a wine you would want to drink for that matter (just our 2 cents)
By the way, friends…see the last Viognier tasting results here:
Vin de Pays de Tégéa 2005, Cabernet/Merlot, Domaine Tselepos A bouquet of the sweetest, floral and prettiest part of the plum, cherry and cassis, with a touch of spinach-type greens in the background. The rest of the fruit is waiting for you in the glass, gathering intensity and flesh as you work your way through the bottle, and all held together by finely grained, spicy tannins. Nothing overtly complex here, just an exemplary, unique and honest interpretation of two well-known grapes, and made by a man who seems to want to show what his land can offer. Sure, it’s yet another cab-merlot blend, however that’s the only mundane thing about it.
Vin de Pays D’Epanomi 2007, Domaine Gerovassiliou Creamy lemon lime on the nose, focussed mineral notes, with a muscat type floral kick. The acidity keeps it fresh on the attack but this has a remarkable richness and length to it. The grape is assyrtiko with a small percentage of malagousia. I drank this over two days and on the second day it got more exotic, and even a spicey note. Buy 6 and try and keep a few until summer.
On a recent trip to Napa we ate at the Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America. The restaurant features professional and student chefs in a setting that allows you to view the kitchen from your table. Focus is placed on seasonal and local ingredients, which causes the menu to change from […]
Bierzo 2005, Pittacum This is either a powerful wine that drinks delicate, or the other way around. Whatever it is, it is mineral, there are olives, a hearty earthy component, and lots of delicious fruit. There is definitely some good tannin, but I don’t think quite enough for a big steak. I guess pleasant is the best way to describe the wine, maybe even fun to drink, but you could serve it at an important business meeting. I really like the mencia grape, but it confuses me.
Bierzo 2004, Crianza , Mencia, Tilenus Light but not at all wimpy. Underneath that fruity exterior, it has a bit of a mean streak, if something so easy drinking can possibly be mean. Dark, mineral laden plums and black cherries, dipped in rose water is about as close as I can describe this. Sure, there are some decent tannins, but they have evolved, giving the wine just enough structure to keep the fruit going for a little bit longer. It’s different, very good, and really fun to drink.
The Artisan and Vine wine bar in Battersea is a pleasant place to while away a Sunday evening. A sling shot from my London pad it’s amazing I hadn’t discovered the Artisan and Vine before. Not only are there 120+ high quality wines on the list, (several by the glass) but they’re also big friends to English winegrowers stocking some very good fizz, whites and even passable reds. The best thing about the Artisan and Vine is that you aren’t going to wake up the next morning with a tongue like a badgers wotnots or a thick head because the Artisan and Vine specialise in natural wines. Dropping all those sulphites and dodgy yeasts that go into so many wines not only means you can taste more without the hangover but these well made wines are also easy drinking with a great deal of smoothness.
Situated between Clapham and Wandsworth the bar wasn’t exactly jumping on a chilly March evening, there’s plenty of seating as well as passionate and knowledgeable staff. This is a brilliant place to come and try the best of natural wines in an informal environment. What you must not miss, especially if you’re English, are the English wines. This weekend I spent some time in Brighton and noticed many of the bars were also stocking English whites and fizz. English wines are everywhere at the moment and us Brits should really be drinking the best of them.
The Artisan and Vine is also very fairly priced. You will not find your 300-500% mark up on wines here. A very modest mark up per bottle is added and if you decide you like a wine or want to try some of the other natural wines on offer you can buy bottles to take home some 30% cheaper than the prices on the wine list. I took full advantage of this purchasing a Frog Leaps Zinfandel. As if all this wasn’t reason enough to take a trip to Battersea the food here is also first class providing great accompaniments to wine. Winner winner chicken dinner. Get yourself down there for a glass of top drawer natural Rioja, they even stock the Ostertag wine I reviewed last week. G’wan. Treat yourself.
SARAH NEWTON IN WINE DRINKING SHOCKER. READ ALL ABOUT IT. BELOW.
A dark brooding purple in the glass. The nose is a delight. Whilst still being recognisable Tempranillo you are not bombarded with oak instead fresh aromas of dark fruits, chocolate and spices with the vanilla playing fourth fiddle. On the palate the wine is very tannic but not overly dry and chewy, favourable tannins create the structure within a raisined fruity and luscious mouth feel. When talking about the finish on these wines you are reminded that these are natural wines without the throat stripping finish, this wine had a mid length to the finish. 91 Points+
BiddendenOrtega 2006 – BUY – €8 (English)
A light straw colour the wine was offering some interesting mineral notes. On the palate the wine has very good acidity and a pleasant sweetness. Apple fruits but very basic, mid bodied, off dry. Not a complex or particularly interesting wine but really easy drinking and just tasty. Super aperitif wine. No world beater, it is what it is and I enjoyed it. 83 Points
Dark ruby red, a gorgeous colour followed by a pretty nose of cherry and plums. The promise is short lived as on the palate the wine is light bodied, insipid and lacking in fruit and overly acidic, unbalanced wine that started so well but tastes really quite average. 79 Points
AA Cos RamiBianco 2006 – BUY – €11.50 (Italian)
Dark golden straw colour in the glass. A highly aromatic blend of 50/50 Inzolia and Grecanico with notes of creamy pineapple and melons. Great acidity on the palate the wine is so on point here that you would not be guessing such a warm terroir as Sicily. Gentle and rounded on the palate, mid bodied with a seductive finish. Well made. 89 Points
Joining me on my night at the Artisan and Vine was fellow wine blogger, The Wine Sleuth. I presume she will blog these up and have a completely different take on all these wines! We shall see. We also tried a Loire CheninBlanc that threw me, Denise describing it as “voluptuous” with my take on the wine being “flabby”. They sound very similar but our meanings were very different.
Open That Bottle Night (OTBN) is an annual event put forth by the Wall Street Journal wine writers John Brecher and Dorothy Gaither. The idea was to create at least one night per year that would provide everyone free license to open up that bottle of wine you’ve been saving for a special occasion. They had received too many letters from readers in the past who had waited too long to open such a bottle, only to see it go sour, or worse, who had not lived long enough to enjoy the bottle. So they conceived of this annual rite; in the columnists’ words:
Open That Bottle Night, a celebration of wine, friends and memories during which all of us finally pull the cork on that bottle and enjoy the aromas, tastes, tears and laughter that always spill forth. Open That Bottle Night… takes place on the last Saturday of every February — around the time we all need a break… You know that bottle of wine you’ve been keeping around for that special occasion that never arrives or because the wine is always going to be better tomorrow?
We think this is a great idea and we’ve been celebrating this event for years. We have each person bring that special bottle – doesn’t need to be old or super-swank, just special — and a dish to pair with the wine. Over a few emails, we manage to piece together a decent menu ahead of time and we’re ready to go.
In the end, there’s always great wine to drink and usually one or two interesting wines that spark conversation. This year was no exception. Here’s the lineup of wines, complete with food pairings:
2007 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Wentzel Vineyard, Anderson Valley
Neal’s Yard Keen’s Raw milk cheddar, Istara Ossau Iraty (sheep), Graindorge Pont L’eveque
Acme Bakery Sweet Baguette
Appetizer (by Richard):
2004 Donnhoff Spatlese Riesling, Nahe, Germany
Yogurt, cumin & tumeric-marinated grilled prawns
2006 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley
Handmade ravioli stuffed with braised pork (by Justin and Deborah)
Winter salad of celery, escarole, frisee, arugula & toasted walnuts
Every wine was incredible and the food was amazing. Our Pinot Noir is drinking really well right now, with a nice combination of earth and fruit on the nose, and went particularly well with the Neal’s Yard cheddar. The Donnhoff Riesling was the perfect pairing for a grilled prawn dish that had Asian spices, a hint of heat from paprika and a splash of acid from squeezed lemon. The off-dry German white was luscious with loads of peach and tropical fruit flavors.
Justin and Deborah ponder the merits of German vs. Alsatian Rieslings
We excitedly returned to Pinot Noir, though, with the entree and the 06 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir. It was a rare, and for some of us our first, opportunity to enjoy a bottle of Williams-Selyem. The raviolis were large, hand-wrapped with a tender and savory braised-pork filling. This earthy dish paired well with the Williams-Selyem, which exhibited notes of cherry, strawberry and currants. We contributed the vegetables, with a crunchy celery salad that was a nice foil for the pasta, and a richer cabernet-glazed carrot dish that was meant to usher in the final red wine of the evening, the Cornalin.
The Cornalin seemed to spark the most interest due to its relative obscurity. Cornalin is a Swiss grape from the Valais region and can be quite tannic. This was a 2001 vintage in a 500ml bottle, so Brian thought that this year it would be ready. We received it from our good friend Dave, who lives in Lausanne, Switzerland, when he came to California for our wedding in 2002. He brought that along with a Petit Arvine (white) as a gift. The collective commentary on the Cornalin included “peppery,” “a bit rustic,” “black cherry with hints of cough medicine,” and “has some grip.” Jennifer thought it had herbal characteristics. This was probably the one point of the evening where we all stuck our noses into the glass a little further and peered at the color and body a little more philosophically.
The hard-to-find Swiss Cornalin: "peppery, rustic, black cherry, with a little grip"
Outside of a few wine-geek moments, the best part of the evening was — and always is — the good friends and conversation. In addition to the stories behind the wines and entrees, there was the usual discourse on neighborhood gossip, recent travels and the latest music downloads. In fact, one of our table topics was about wine and music, in part because Jennifer spent much of the week immersed in conversations about music during the Noise Pop festival in San Francisco. In particular, at one show Wente Winery was promoting their new Discover the Wine, Discover the Music series in which their winemaker is pairing musical artists with Wente wines. We discussed whether or not we felt there was a consistent connection between wine and music. Most felt that wine didn’t necessarily make them think of a song or musician, but agreed that an emotional response to the wine might call to mind thoughts of artists that elicit similar emotions.
Surprisingly, there was not much focus on the dour economy. It was a nice break from the gloomy headlines (and gray skies) and we all feel fortunate to at least be gainfully employed, let alone have a nice bottle of wine to share. We wound the evening down over a beautiful Jackson-Triggs icewine and peach pie…a comforting finish to a wonderful night.
The best part of the evening – great friends and stimulating conversation
I vividly remember the first Château Pradeaux I tasted. This mourvèdre-based red from the region of Bandol in France’s Provence had the distinct odour of a horse-filled barn. When I served the wine to a friend, he looked up, smiling, and pronounced his judgement: “This smells like s–t.”
But he drank his glass, as did I, and once the initial shock wore off, we both kept going back for more. We even planned a Bandol party, replete with steaks, shiitake mushrooms and lots of smelly blue cheese. Call it “sado-aroma-masochism.” While for some people wines such as my bottle of Pradeaux may be considered “aromatically challenged,” these aromas have become a quality in a wine that I appreciate more and more. But what makes a wine, made with grapes, smell like a saddle, or a mushroom, or a horse-filled barn? People, meet Brett
This is not an easy question to answer; even experts are not clear as to how these odours find their way into a wine. Some say it’s the way the wine was vinified, others say it’s because of vineyard sites, others will talk about temperature and ripeness. But we will focus this discussion on the most controversial suspect – a wild yeast nicknamed Brett.
Its real name is Brettanomyces. The single-celled fungus is found in old barrels, in the chais where they make the wine, and, in some regions, on the grapes themselves. While it is not clearly understood how it enters the wine, or whether the odours found in a wine are even a result of high levels of Brett, the smell is very particular. It’s perhaps best described as a sweaty saddle, or even a horse; if you get a whiff of this in your wine, there is a good chance that you have some Brett in there.
While this may sound a bit gross, there is a debate as to whether or not this yeast in fact spoils a wine. Many people actually appreciate small levels of this aroma in their wines, and some of the most sought-after and reputable wines in the world are known for their “Brettiness.” These include many expensive Bordeaux, Burgundies, Côtes du Rhône, Bandols and Riojas.
I recently toured an Internet tasting board where an older vintage of a famous Châteauneuf du Pape, made by Beaucastel, was reviewed. I was amazed by the difference of opinions on the wine. For some, it was the model of complexity and elegance, while for others, the more animalistic nature of the bouquet was a turnoff. The people on this board seemed to be serious wine collectors, so this is not simply a case of more educated palettes vs. the uninitiated.
Another case in point: Last week I was at a tasting of the latest wines to hit the shelves of your local SAQ, and at my table were a number of local wine critics. One of the wines, a Spanish blend of tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon from Vallformosa, became the subject of some discussion (you can read my review in this week’s suggestions). The first bottle was decidedly stinky, and we asked for a second bottle to be opened, which was pretty much like the first. While a couple of the tasters had that “yuck” look on their faces, I wrote “nice and stinky” in my notes. “Must be old barrels,” remarked Jean Aubry from Le Devoir (and he was right). Jean and I just shrugged our shoulders at one another. I assume he liked the wine as well, but I’ll let him cast his own judgment. Brett likes the heat
There are a number of theories as to why Brett decides to show itself in certain wines, and sometimes just in certain vintages. What is known is that it’s found more often in red wines than whites, and often in wines that have relatively low acidity. This usually means riper grapes, so it is not surprising that it is usually associated with hotter grape-growing regions.
It is also possible that certain grapes are more prone to Brett infection than others. Mourvèdre, which is the most planted grape in Bandol and is also a primary component in Beaucastel, is often associated with these aromas. Tempranillo, the main grape of Rioja, also can show saddle-type aromas. I have also tasted a number of merlot-based wines that have made me wonder whether there was Brett present.
One of the comments I have heard of the 2005 Bordeaux vintage, a year that was extremely warm, is that the merlot-based wines have shown a certain amount of Brettiness. In her appraisal of the vintage, wine writer Jancis Robinson wrote, “With acidity levels notably low, especially in many of the riper merlots, the Brettanomyces yeast was another threat. On quite a number of wines I smelled a telltale trace of sweaty animal hide.”
This theory was backed up by Bordeaux winemaker Jean-Pierre Amoreau of Château le Puy. I have tasted a number of his wines, and the ’03 was decidedly gamey. Amoreau told me that when his merlot grapes became over-ripe, a different yeast strain came into play. While he wouldn’t use the word Brett, I am assuming that is what he meant.
Marc Perrin refused to acknowledge that his Beaucastel owes its aromatics to Brett infection, saying that it is the “terroir.” There is an association of Brett infection with poor sanitary practices in winemaking facilities. While this may be true in certain cases, especially in older cellars with lots of old barrels, there is another possible reason for why many more wines don’t have these odours.
One thing that Château le Puy and Beaucastel have in common is organic farming practices in the fields and a commitment to using fewer sulphites in their winemaking. Because the Brett yeast thrives only when there are sugars and other “nutrients” left over in the wine after it is vinified, winemakers who choose to add less sulphur, which is used to kill any remaining organisms in the wine, risk creating a Brett-friendly environment.
Aside from sulphur additions, many winemakers practice a technique called sterile filtration, which also eliminates any micro-organisms still alive in the wine. One of those organisms is Brett. The problem with this is that many winemakers believe it strips a wine of its nuance.
The end result is that if a winemaker strives for a more “natural” wine, he or she must be willing to live with the possibility of Brett. This leads to the question: Is Brett a natural part of wine or is its presence a defect, like too much oxygen (oxidized) or high levels of TCA (cork taint)?
The answer is, well, it depends. For those winemakers and consumers who want their wine to taste of fruit and oak, and only that, Brett is an uninvited guest. However, there are probably as many who believe it adds complexity and in small doses can make a wine better.
A Californian winemaker once told me that if he could harness and control Brett, he would love to have small amounts in some of his wines. But in the end, the risk of having it run uncontrolled was too much, and therefore he chooses to eliminate it totally.
Everyone has a different idea of which things in one’s life one does alone and which must be done with others. Sometimes it seems to me that the variations and possibilities are as broad and manifold as the different types of likes and aversions in enjoying food. So, as it happens, just as I like every foodstuff on the planet except dill and bananas (as a fairly newfound convert to previously disliked Comté cheese and vin jaune; merci Philippe!), I am someone who prefers to go to the movies alone. I am someone who would rather enter a restaurant after someone else. I don’t like to talk on the phone.
But what about drinking wine? Is the experience perceptually different when the wine is shared as opposed to when it’s drunk in contemplative solitude?
So much is made of the difference between drinking wine in situ – with a meal, with other wine lovers – and sipping and spitting at a tasting. Different wines prevail; enjoyment factors and levels are tweaked, skewed and become unrecognizable from one platform to the other.
But what of the human context? If I open, say, a 2000 Rousseau Chambertin* for my own self in the privacy of my own living room with nice stemware and some food I’ve prepared with care, am I missing out on something?
My thought, my gut reaction, is: yes. Being able to share impressions and enthusiasms with someone or a group of friends is very important to the experience of wine drinking. Something is lost when there is no echo, no quick glance, no shared smile, no nod.
So my new stance will be, if ever I should find myself eating alone and wanting a glass to pair with the meal, to choose something novel; to make it a learning experience. But not to try for enthrallment, for emotion.
It’s good to scale back, sometimes.
Now, to head out to a big wine-geek dinner. Thank god there are others of us out there!
*The cool thing about hypotheticals is that you can go as high-end as you want. And the 2000 Rousseau Chambertin is a damn lovely wine.
I’ve managed to acquire bottles of 1961 and 1982 Brane Cantenac. I already have a 2003 bottle, so I am planning a Blackjack Vertical (you know, because the vintages are 21 years apart :)) in the very near future.The average age of the vines in the Brane Cantenac vineyard is 35 years, its strange to think that the vine that helped produce the 1982 vintage may also have contributed to the 2003
California Whites! We’ve got it all here folks. The Bonny Doon Big House White 2004 was popped and poured (well, unscrewed and poured) last night and just for once I reckon I’m in too late. That is the Bonny Doon Big House White 2004 is teetering on, and in my opinion has fallen off, its drinking curve into “past it”.
There’s only one thing worse than drinking wine too early and that’s drinking wine too late and whilst this wine was just a tenner and not like opening a Margaux on the turn I still felt mildly wounded, especially as I’d bought it the previous week. Whatchagonnado?
So whilst I’m going to give my opinion on this bottle and, of course, tell you to pass do remember that this is just a note on the 2004 vintage, this particular year, and the Big House 2007 may well be drinking beautifully.
Bonny Doon are a big name in California. Up in the Santa Cruz mountains Bonny Doon produce a big range of wines but no longer this one. In 2006 Bonny Doon sold the Big House brand to The Wine Group LLC so if you are looking to buy the new vintages of Big House Red or White or want further information you need to be here and not here. Bonny Doon are famous for popularising Rhone grape varietals in California and have done a pretty good job with both red and white wines at fair prices including the Syrah I wrote about a few weeks ago as well as experimenting with Nebbiolo (there’s the link!).
I’d be very interested to see if the Piedmont adventures work quite so well as the Rhone forays for Bonny Doon. I’ve only experienced one Californian Nebbiolo and that was from Palmina who actually do a pretty good job considering the reluctance of Nebbiolo to travel. If you’ve tried Nebbiolo outside of the Piedmont lets hear about it.
As for the Big House White, this is a 13.5% ABV blended white with Viognier, CheninBlanc and French Colombard grapes. No idea what the percentage of each grape is sadly, the label doesn’t feel compelled to reveal that information.
Bonny DoonBig House White 2004 – PASS – €12
A mid straw yellow colour with good intensity. Can not state enough how hugely aromatic this wine is with peach blossom, honeysuckle, lychee and orange peel. A lot going on with this nose. On the palate the initial attack continues with a floral note but the transition to the midpalate starts a bizarre descent in quality. The wine becomes obviously flabby and off balance with poor acidity and the finish is lacking in all flavour and turns green. In the end you’re left with a cheap vodka taste. 81 Points
So once again, the wine seems old, unless this is how it rolls with the Big House White and if so it serves as another deterrent to stay on the right side of the law. In the interest of fairness I’ll have to buy a more recent vintage and amend the bottom of the page.
I would normally reject drinking a crisp white wine in late February with the temperature below 35 degrees consistently. Crisp whites, such as this Sauvignon Blanc I recently tasted, are normally reserved for those warm summer days and nights. My CellarTracker drinkability report (more to come on this) was telling me I was way behind consuming this during its peak so I had to give it whirl.
I am not a HUGE SB fan, I have to be in the mood for it, but I do enjoy those SB's with nice acidity, some good minerality and a strong grapefruit nose and flavor profile.
Cloudy Bay takes its name from the bay at the eastern extremity of the Wairau Valley, which was named Cloudy Bay by Captain Cook on his voyage to New Zealand in 1770. The vineyard and winery was established in 1985 by Cape Mentelle Vineyards in Western Australia, and is today part of Estates & Wines.
The winery and vineyards are situated in the Wairau Valley in Marlborough at the northern end of New Zealand’s South Island. This is a unique wine region in that is blessed with a cool, maritime climate and gets more sunshine than any other place in New Zealand. Cloudy Bay has estate vineyards located at prime sites within the Wairau Valley, and long-term supply agreements with five Wairau Valley growers. The main varieties grown are sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and pinot noir with lesser quantities of gewurztraminer, Riesling, and pinot gris.
Cloudy Bay Vineyards was one of the first in New Zealand to really commit to an environmentally friendly vineyard management scheme. They are a founding member of the New Zealand Integrated Winegrape Production Scheme which was established to to develop a program for sustainable vineyard management.
If you don't know, New Zealand is quickly become a hot producer of wine to the US wine consumer. Oenophiles have long known about the terroir of NZ and have enjoyed wines from this part of the world for quite a while. For those new to wine or less serious (crazy) about wune you can find some really great deals on NZ Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir at your local wine retailer or higher end grocer. I would be so bold as to say that New Zealand wine is in that phase Australian wine was in just before every wine from Australia became "sexy" to US wine drinkers. If it hasn't already happened really.
Anyway, here is my tasting note.
2007 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc – New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough (tasted 2/23/2009) This is a very good, not outstanding SB. In the glass it was a pale yellow with some nice greenish tinting to it. Really lovely to look at. Light floral aromas meshed with lemon zest, gooseberry and wet grass on the nose. The flavor profile revealed bright citrus, grapefruit for sure, some minerality and the SB cliche of wet stones. This wine has nice balance with a very crisp acidity which makes it very refreshing. Really well integrated with a light mouth feel the finish was medium in length with more lemon, grapefruit and gooseberry. I really like this wine – very good. 50+5+12+15+5=87 (87 pts.)Posted from CellarTracker
Overall it is a pretty decent little SB. It is a bit pricy to call it a great wine for the price and I would tell you that the Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc of the same vintage is as good or better for about $10 cheaper. That said, if you like this style of SB it is worth a go, especially as the warmer months approach. They are approaching right?
After a delicious dinner at the C-and-O restaurant in Charlottesville and a good night’s rest, we were up bright and early and ready for round two on the Monticello Wine Trail. Just minutes from Charlottesville, in Albermarle County, past beautiful country scenery along twisting roads, sits Blenheim Vineyards. I have been told by friends more familiar than I with the winery, that this is one “rocking” place. I wonder if that has anything to do with that Matthews fellow, huh?
Well, the Matthews fellow, for the two or three who do not know, is Dave Matthews of the Dave Matthews Band. He is the proud owner of Blenheim Vineyards. Blenheim Vineyards just recently opened its doors to the public for regular tastings. Up until now, interested parties were serviced by appointment only. This bit of news should bode well for Virginia wine lovers this spring and summer.
Beautiful Views from the Tasting Room
Since this was my first visit, I was more than eager to check out this “rocking” place and sample their wines. Stepping into the tasting room, the exterior belies the tasteful mixture of spaciousness, style, and grace found on the inside. The environmentally sound, timber framed tasting room exudes rural elegance and comfort, boasting large picture windows, sky lights that supply an abundance of natural lighting, picturesque views from every chair and table in the room, and a glass paneled floor where guests can see the wine making facility on the first floor. Rock star quality, indeed!
Glass Paneled Floor – Check the Wine Facility out below!
We were warmly greeted by Tasting Room Coordinator, Nora White, and Blenheim’s new winemaker, Kirsty Harmon. Kirsty has roots in Charlottesville, making wine in the area alongside notable winemaker Gabriele Rausse. Kirsty expanded her horizons and attended the famed UC Davis viticulture program earning an MS Degree. Kirsty has also worked in France and New Zealand before returning to the Commonwealth to produce small lots of quality hand-crafted wine from Blenheim Vineyards estate fruit.
Winemaker Kirsty Harmon
We kicked the tasting off with Nora, tasting through Blenheim’s array of red and white wines (vintages 03-06), which were made by previous winemaker Brad McCarthy. It made for a great tasting experience sitting in the attractive sun-filled tasting room taking in the spectacular Piedmont landscape as Nora guided us through each swirl, sniff, and sip. The wines from the previous winemaker currently offered are three styles of Chardonnay, two Cabernet Franc wines, a Merlot, Meritage blend, and a nice 2006 Petit Verdot.
Preparing to taste Blenheim wines…
There is a definite contrast in styles from old to new winemaker, as we moved downstairs to sample some of Kirsty’s developing wines from the 2008 harvest. Kirsty wines appeared more fruit oriented, more expressive, and the inky, chewy, concentrated Petit Verdot showed great promise. Kirsty also has a nice Cabernet Sauvignon in the barrel, which is a variety regarded as finicky and difficult here in Virginia, that is developing nicely, displaying good flavors and structure. A floral and perfumed Viognier, which should be bottled sometime soon, is a wine I can see guests enjoying this spring and summer while basking in the sun and enjoying the countryside.
Bring on the “Pours of Joy”
In closing, this is another winery on the Monticello wine trail I recommend you put on your wine radar. Blenheim Vineyards just opened its doors to the public, so hop in the car and enjoy the gorgeous country drive, and find a spot on the outdoor deck this spring or summer to savor the moment – and the wine! This winery has a lot of character and charm, and new winemaker Kirsty Harmon, should have some of her new wines bottled and ready to go by the time the seasonal warmth flows in. Bring a picnic basket and camera, and thank me later. You are going to love this place. When you visit Blenheim Vineyards be sure to tell the kind folks you read about them here on Dezel’s www.myvinespot.com wine blog. As always, Happy Sipping, friends!
Anyone who watches the Food Network knows that many hosts have advised time and again not to cook with wine you wouldn’t drink out of a glass. I thought that by now this was a well known fact. But to my astonishment, while talking to a friend about a spaghetti sauce recipe, they mentioned that […]
Felsina Chianti ClassicoRiservaRanciawas the wine picked out last night in an attempt to banish the bitter memories of that shocking Villa Caffagio effort from the weekend and reaffirm my faith in Chianti. I picked up the Villa Caffagio believing it would represent Italy well in the Tesco challenge only to see it come out as the worst value wine of the bunch. So it was down to the Felsina Chianti ClassicoRiserva 2005 to reinstall the good name of Chianti Classico and prove the value to be had in this DOCG.
Felsina is a legendary producer in Chianti with both fair prices and an excellent product line. Alive and kicking since the 12th century, its only in the last few decades that Felsina went from also ran Tuscan producer to the top name in Chianti. This radical transformation can be credited in part to top Italian oenologist Franco Bernabei whose wines rarely fall short of outstanding. Felsina produce the very best of contemporary Chianti Classico and are considered the reference point for quality in the area. Felsina are in the southern part of Chianti, closer to Brunello, the wines are both powerful and earthy.
Last night I tried the RiservaRancha, which in 2004 took an outstanding 95 point Parker score. The 2005 isn’t too shabby either; among the very best Chianti Classico wines of the vintage, possibly the best. At €23 it’s hard to think of what other #1 producer in any AC or DOC can match that kind of value, let alone a DOCG as famous as Chianti Classico. Even the 95 Point 2004 effort can still be found for under €30.
There has been a FattoriadiFelsina since the 12th century. The estate is skipping distance from Siena itself and a perfect estate to visit when touring Tuscany. Felsina produce a cheaper Chianti Classico bottling which is also outstanding but its with the RiservaRancia that the real quality of the wine making shines through. The grapes grow in albarese and galestro soils (shale, lime and clay) and undergo a temperature controlled fermentation before seeing 12-18 months in small barrels followed by 6 months of bottle age before release.
FattoriadiFelsina also produce a very good Cabernet Sauvignon, the Maestro Raro, a famous and lauded 100% SangioveseIGTFontalloro (which can rival the Rancia in terms of quality), a top Tuscan Vin Santo and a blended white I Sistri, a Chardonnay with a splash of SauvignonBlanc. All of Felsinas wines are fairly priced much to the chagrin of many other Tuscan producers.
A darker than normal deep ruby red. Takes a few moments to come alive on the nose but once it does the aromas are a beautiful, fresh and lively mix of sweet cherries, toasted oak and a floral component in the background. On the palate the wine is still heavily tannic. The initial attack is very impressive, fresh yet concentrated with lots of luscious dark fruits and once more with feeling for the cherries. Fruit continues through the mid palate to a long, earthy finish. A powerful, full bodied wine that still needs a few years to relax. 93 Points
This is the kind of wine you want to be filling your cellars with (or in my case, cupboards) for short to mid term drinking. I can see this going wonderfully well with all kind of Italian fayre, meats and cheeses as well as being perfect for drinking alone. I’m not sure I can point to many more Italian wines that are better value, age worthy and simply delicious as well as terroir expressive and a great accompaniment for a range of foods. Even if you’re not used to laying down the big bucks on wine, this will be the best £20 you spent on wine.
I don’t think there’s any need to continue this blog is there. We found it! *rings the bell* I’m off home.
Buy this wine. Tell me what you thought. If you’re already a convert, how much does this wine rock the casbah? When buying a wine, what is it you really want to see? Value for money? Fruit? High alcohol? (I know someone who buys wine based on the ABV!)
There’s no Tesco round my way and as I’m senza auto there is no way for me to get my mits on the hundreds of wines on sale at the UK’s number 1 supermarket (I could use their online service but I’m a real techno-phobe).
This weekend I went all the way up to the northern extremities of England to the fine town of Durham and spent about an hour perusing the wines of their double-deckerTesco in Belmont, Dragonville.
What a weird and pitiful selection of wines! There must have been close to 1000 different wines on sale and to give them their dues, Tesco did try to make sure all countries/varietals were covered, even if it was just barely. If you like your Australian Shiraz you are in luck with over 30 different bottles to choose from. If you like the wines of Alsace, well, there are three, one Riesling, one Gewürztraminer and one Pinot Gris. Hmmmmmmm. Let’s be very clear, Tesco is no friend of the wine lover. The buying arm at Tesco is a joke as far as representing the wonderful and varied world of wine goes but does so much better when it comes to their own “selection”, that is wines that have been bottled for Tescos. Someone up in head office clearly cares about which wines get TESCO slapped on them, perhaps this is a deliberate ploy so you eventually ditch the Gallo and shop Tescos own brand and believe me, you really should.
This weekend I sampled 7 wines from Tesco and of these 7 I can recommend only two as decent QPR, and both these two are Tesco’s own label. In their own special ways they were all a disappointment but some were more upsetting than others, some were eye poppinglytannic and unbalanced, some were an affront to my nostrils and taste buds whereas others were better being only slightly offensive but at least cheap. Now of course, Tesco is a huge company and these are but 7 wines so I can’t call this a representative sample, there’s a chance I picked out the worse wines on sale as much as it’s possible that Tesco plain sucks. So here it goes, my Magnificent Seven from Tesco.
Tesco Finest Alsace Gewurztraminer – BUY – £6.99
A golden yellow in the glass with a rich and spicy nose, a touch of sweetness mimicking a cheap champagne with hints of apple. A mid-bodied, off dry wine with good fruit on the palate. A simple and straightforward Gewurztraminer but representative of the grape and the region. Really drinkable. 86 Points
Tim Adams The Aberfeldy 2005 – PASS – £25
The darkest of dark purples with an instantly aromatic nose; rich and opulent. Super oakey but fruit detectable including blackcurrants and blueberries. The initial attack was a bit tame but within 3 seconds you have a mouth filling and tannic fruit bomb with a long and pleasant finish. This wine is not to my personal tastes but clearly well made and will please the Aussie Shiraz fan. Over-extracted, oakey and too tannic to be enjoyed alone. This is a well made wine that should be enjoyed with food or left for a good few years to shed its puppy fat. 89 Points
Tesco Marques De CaranoGran Reserva 2001 – BUY – £8.99
A smouldering dark purple with an orange tint on the rim. Nose of cherries and raspberries. On the palate dry and puckering holding some good fruit too. Nice length on the finish, a pleasant wine, well balanced and very fruit forward. 88 Points
La GrandeClassiqueCorbieres 2006 – PASS – £9.99
Mid bodied, perfectly purple wine with a cherried nose putting me in mind of Ciliegiolo. A very fruity uncomplicated wine, a touch off balance and acidic but smooth. Watery and forgettable finish, uninspiring but not offensive. 85 Points
Camp deBorjaOld Vine Garnacha 2005 – PASS – £3.99
No light is getting through this deepest of purple wines. A ridiculously tight nose that eventually gives hints of blackberries and oak. Unpleasantly tannic on the palate, unbalanced and raisined, too intensely flavoured. Full bodied trash wine. 72 Points
LeitzRiesling Spatlese 2005 – PASS – £12
Cloying, teeth on cotton wool cloying wine. Golden in the glass, a mid bodied sweet wine that on the palate put me in mind of some kind of medicine both in texture and taste. Great for a cough, delicate with a lingering finish. 81 Points.
Villa CafaggioChianti Classico 2006 – PASS – £12
Dark ruby red in the glass with a typical and pleasing Chianti nose, all cherries, vanilla and a touch of spice. Then it all goes horribly wrong. Strikingly acidic, but firm tannins and generous mouth feel lacking in fruit at this stage, nothing much on the mid palate, disappearing on the finish. What happened? 84Points
Well, 1000 calories, £75 and a bleached red sink later it’s safe to say I’ll be sticking to Waitrose for my supermarket options. I do like Tesco’s Tiger bread though :D, please don’t ban me from your stores.
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Which supermarket do you rate for wine if any? Tried any of these wines? Fan of Tesco?
Typically I turn to France or Oregon for Pinot Noir. Both are well known for distinctly different products, old and new world styles respectively. When I’m in the mood for “dirt and mushrooms” I lean towards Burgundy. When I’m looking for an uncomplicated burst of fruity cherry and strawberry I look to the Pacific Northwest. Both places offering so many different options in regards to producer, vintage, et cetera, I rarely find myself checking out Pinot from other places.
The wines produced in California – Carneros and Monterey come to mind – have always struck as being a little to “hot” or out of balance in regards to high alcohol. This presumably is an effect of all that glorious sunshine which produces riper grapes with higher sugar that yeast gobble up and convert to alcohol. So of course when presented with a Chilean Pinot Noir at my local Whole Foods I immediately presumed the same would be true – it’s hot and sunny there, so it probably comes through in the wine as overpowering alcohol.
Well, as it were I fall prey to misconceived conclusions too sometimes – and I love being proven wrong. In hopes that this Pinot would do just that I took the bottle to the store’s counter-centric Osteria eatery, ordered some dinner, and started tasting.
Appearance: Clear and incredibly pale, with a ruby red hue. Imagine coloring something with a crayon or colored pencil very lightly.
Nose: Clean and youthful with subtle aromas including cherry, spice, strawberry, and earth. Spiced aromas include cinnamon, cayenne, and paprika. Neither aroma grouping was overwhelming or pronounced, but the light fragrance is very pleasing.
Palate: Dry, medium body wine with slightly less than moderate tannin, acidity, and intensity. Nothing, including the alcohol, was out of balance with the other parts. Flavors include soft oak, strawberry and cherry, tart fruit, and a touch of mushroom.
This wine presented both earthiness and fruit on the nose and palate – more interestingly though it also boasted a new level of spice that I’ve not experienced in other Pinot Noir. Aside from not pouncing on you with high alcohol this wine offers a unique complexity, adding to the stand-by characteristics of the grape.
The wine was also great with everything I had for dinner. Oven roasted seasonal vegetables, pan-seared salmon, and some hard cured Piave cheese from Italy were all very well paired. The roasted carrots, mushrooms, and zucchini complimented the wines earthy notes while the touch of fat from the salmon was great with the soft acidity. The cheese was particularly good, balancing tart flavor and aromas with a perfect level of fruit and acidity from the glass.
If you enjoy Pinot Noir, but find yourself stuck between France and Oregon, try and get your next bottle from California or Chile. Even New Zealand has made quite a reputation for their complex, savory Pinots! Ask your wine sales person about what characterizes different brands and vintages, and you should easily find one you enjoy.