Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Good Shit Part 2- United States
~Two wines you HAVE to get on~
Matthews Cellars 2003 Claret, Columbia Valley, WA
Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot (and a pinch of Petit Verdot). Deep garnet color, medium plus intensity with an almost-opaque center moving to a thin white miniscus. Medium plus viscosity and light staining. Clean nose with plenty of alcohol, menthol, eucalyptus, fresh fruit (cherry, strawberry, blackberry) anise, French and American oak and black pepper spice. The palate is dry and meaty with the fruit much jammier on the palate than in the nose. Alcohol is high, tannin hign, some dusty herbs (lavendar, rosemary) slightly garrigue-ish, cherries, blackberries and raspberries. The American and French oak show well on the medium plus finish. The wine has medium plus acid and medium balance. This is a nice effort from Matthews. The winery also produces a fantastic Sauvignon Blanc and a higher-end red blend that sells for about $20 more than this one but it utterly life-changing.

X Winery 2003 Petite Sirah, Paso Robles, CA
Completely opaque through the center moving to deep garnet and a thin white miniscus. Viscosity is high, intensity is medium plus and there is a light staining on the glass. The nose is clean with a definite 'fines herbs' quality. There is a brief hit of eucalyptus followed by lots of fresh and cooked blackberry, cranberry, boysenberry and huckleberry. There is a touch of terroir half-way through the nose with notes of milk chocolate, a bit of cake spice and an evident use of American oak (sweet vanilla). The alcohol is definitely evident in the nose. The palate is loaded with chewy fresh fruit reflective of the nose but more emphasized and rich. The tannins are medium plus buffered by medium acid, the balance is medium plus. Furthermore, the fruit is so lively and eloquent that it seems almost effervescent. The finish is long and smooth. This is perhaps the best petite-sirah I have ever tasted.
The Good Shit- Italy
~4 wines you need to try but haven't~
2005 Cantina Santa Maddalena Pinot Grigio, Alto-Adige, Italy
WOW! This is Pinot Grigio with BALLS. When I first opened it in the morning it had the nose and feel of Sauv Blanc but quickly turned to PG after warming a bit. Great notes of lemon, lime, minerals and flowers. The palate was great with nice acidity and no discernible use of wood.

1999 Stanko Radikon 'Radikon', Oslavje-Collio, Italy
Holy shit! This is SERIOUS juice. Deep gold color, almost amber with white miniscus, star bright reflection, medium plus viscosity and high intensity. The nose is clean, slightly (but purposefully) oxidized, lots of honeysuckle, cooked peach, caramelized apple, roasted nuts, dried figs and maple syrup in the nose. The palate is dry with sweeter and more pronounced fruits like apricot, valencia orange, tropical pineapple, lots of mango, slight wood tannin and an evident use of French oak on the palate. Balance is medium plus, length medium plus altogether it's a beautiful wine. This wine is composed of Chardonnay, Ribolla Gialla, Vermentino and Sauvignon all barrel-aged and fermented without topping up. The result is a wine of remarkable complexity that will still age beautifully.

2002 Kante Rosso 'Refosco', Friuli-Venezia-Giulia IGT, Italy
Bright, almost neon-purple color, medium viscosity, white miniscus, light staining on the glass and medium intensity. The nose is clean, very reminiscent of Syrah but with a slightly hollow edge to it. Great notes of black pepper spice accompany anise, game and leather along with a high-toned minerality and fresh strawberry. The tannins are medium, acid is medium plus, balance is medium and overall length is medium. This is a nice wine but nothing to write home about.

1998 Roagna 'Paje' Barbaresco, Piedmont, Italy
Medium garnet color with an orange-hued miniscus, high viscosity, medium plus intensity and light staining. The nose is serious Nebbiolo, lots of roses, smoke, leather, tar and game. The palate is juicy and delicious, with more than a note of aged and still age-worthy Barbaresco character. Tannins are medium, acid is medium plus, balance is right on, length is long and elegant. This is an amazing wine, one built to keep going from an amazing year for Northern Italy. While tough to find, if you do, buy it. This is a wine that will change your perspective on Italy.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Tasting Notes: the Good Shit part 1- United States
Wow! The office has really hit it hard lately and we've been trying some outrageous juice. I'm not going to give much in the way of preamble because there is some good stuff to cover:
-Caravina 'Seavey Vineyard' 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa, CA
Deep garnet color, major cab nose; cedar, menthol, eucalyptus, medicinal alcohol, clove, currant, strawberry. The palate reflected the nose adding bitter chocolate, tart cherry and cranberry. The tannins were starting to refine to a finer grain, acid medium, alcohol high. Rated 90 pts by Robert Parker. And in his words, 'No ordinary "second" wine.' For that is what this wine is, the second-label of Seavey Vineyards.
-Mount Eden 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mtns, CA
Serious juice! Still unbelievably young and almost unyieldingly tight in character. The nose has lots of potential, dark fruit, spice and alcohol. The palate has nice notes of chocolate, leather, black pepper and cherries. The tannins are high and the acid is medium plus, a sick little wine in a few years.
-Elyse 2003 Le Corbeau 'Hudson Vineyard' Carneros, Napa, CA:
A blend of 90% Grenache, 10% Syrah. Very floral nose (violets and roses) along with dark cherry, cassis, leather and menthol. Being from the slightly warmer Napa side of Los Carneros this 10 year-old vineyard produces some wonderful grenache. The Syrah is from the Rutherford Vineyard. The nose is amazingly floral with great notes of violet, roses and even lilac. Great herbal notes, deep cherry and blackberry and fresh strawberry follow. The palate is beautifully dry, wonderfully well-balanced and reflects the nose. I couldn't be happier with this wine, it has a great Rhone character to it and has nice spicy elements on both the nose and palate. A definite winner from Elyse.
-Elyse 2004 Howell Mountain Zinfandel, Howell Mtn, Napa, CA:
Holy shit! Honestly, I have never been completely won over by Zin, unless of course it's expensive. Zin you really do get what you pay for, and the expensive stuff really does make it worth the money; Turley-Hayne, Elyse, Ridge, Spencer Rowleson, Hendry, Chateau Potelle, Green & Red and Joel Gott all come to mind. Those folks are masters of Zinfandel and under their watchful eye it can be truly transformed. Elyse makes some of the most masterful Zins in Napa. As we learned in the last entry, Lodi (and most of CA) is where Zin goes to die, but Elyse rises to the occassion and produces an amazing bottle. The 2004 Howell Mountain, in the words of Wine & Spirits, is almost worth it, "just for the scent." And they couldn't be more right. At first the nose isn't much, but with time it starts to take off. I'm sure decanted it would be sweet but instead I just poured it into one of my fatty Bottega del Vino glasses and let it sit. The nose is dense with briary blackberry, raspberry, over-ripe strawberry, anise, chocolate and brilliant menthol. The palate is tres zin in character; full-throttle alcohol, chewy tannins, medium acid and outrageous fruit. This zin finished long and thorough, not leaving a thing to be desired.
Next time, we'll explore how the French and Italians do it up right...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Tasting Notes September 6, 2006
Ah, new wines. Lately I've been getting some winners. Though some is just complete crap. So here's what I have for new stuff.
-Castillo Perelada 2002 Finca Malaveina, Emporda Costa Brava, Spain:
Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache in that order make up this wine. It is nicely put-together, builds great fruit with integrated tannins and low acidity. A great wine from a region not widely seen in the US.
-Castillo Perelada 2000 Gran Claustro, Emporda Costa Brava, Spain:
Add some carignan to the Finca Malaveina, leave it in barrel longer and you've got one SERIOUS bottle of Spanish juice. The flavors are haunting and showing perfect drinkability. Though the wine is at it's peak, I would still give it another year of life at least.
-Torre Oria, Rose Demi-Sec, Utiel Requena, Spain:
Persistent mousse, thick mouthfeel and perceptible sweetness. This was a nice entry for Spain into the niche-y world of semi-sweet sparklers. However, I'm not convinced by this one. Stick to dry Cava, the Italians already gave us Moscato d'Asti.
-Campus Oaks 2003 Old Vines Zinfandel, Lodi, CA:
Slightly stewed in character with plum, strawberry, cherry and chocolate. The alcohol was tres outlandish and the fruit simple and straight-forward. The nose gave this wine lots to recommend it and Campus Oaks usually produces some severe Zin however the palate stopped short after a blast of ripe fruit and medium tannins. Which brings us to a problem:
LODI...Where wine went to die!
Perhaps I'm being a bit over-dramatic with that statement. But really, the only appellation of California hotter than Lodi really is Calistoga in Napa, which is now it's own AVA. Zin of course loves heat, however, unless carefully handled it quickly reaches prodigious, nigh on ridiculous amounts of alcohol. Take for example Turley. The 2004 Zin has something like 16.7% alcohol! Holy-shit! In the US any wine over 17% alcohol is considered fortified. My point here is, Lodi may be a desirable zip code for the production of Zin, but it must be handled by true masters, which of course we shall read about shortly...

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Restaurant Week 2006: Boston
Finally, we're back from vacation! I'm sorry it's been so long since I've posted, though it's not like that many people actually read this blog. My girlfriend and I had a wonderful vacation and I'm pleased with the results. While in Boston we had the opportunity to dine at two restaurants featured in Restaurant Week. Unfortunately due to monetary restrictions we had to cancel our reservation at Restaurant L, which is unfortunate because that was what I was truly looking forward to. Of course this is not Giuseppe Wong, but I felt it necessary to change the pace a bit. The breakdown:
Executive chef Jody Adams is known for her elegantly updated New England style fare with a great reliance on classical technique and focus on fresh local ingredients. From everything I heard this is a great restaurant, what I found however was less than striking on our night. Understandably, restaurant week sucks ass for any cook, cranking out the same 3 courses hundreds of times for idiots who think they know food. However, all three of my dishes seemed like a major fuck-you. The service was flawless for our meal, the waiters effortlessly marked flatware, served wine and quickly and efficiently cleared and crumbed the table.

~Heirloom Tomato salad with butter lettuces and 3 ricottas
Holy salt Batman! I understand the desire of some chefs to salt tomatoes that seem bland or under-ripe, but these were positively cured with salt. One was actually starting to break down into watery nothingness. The lettuce was nice and crisp. There was no dressing to speak of to tie the elements together and as far as 3 kinds of ricotta, well...I could only taste one. This dish was in the beginning of conception, about 4 steps shy of greatness both in flavor and presentation.

~Roast brined pork loin, crisp fresh bacon, punchy spring greens and vinaigrette agrodolce
This dish started nicely, the presentation wasn't half bad and the pork was gorgeous. But once I got started eating it became less impressive. The greens were half-cooked, half-fresh and included a fat leaf of butter lettuce that seemed to have been put there as a joke. I love fresh bacon, but this had been grilled, why? I realize the fun of putting different textures and preparations of meat on the same plate but this was ill-planned and poorly executed. The grilling burnt the bacon and did nothing for the overall feel and flavor of the dish. Perhaps some braised pork-belly would have served better. There was no agrodolce that I could tell unless they meant for the broken balsamic vinaigrette to serve in that capacity. But the lowest point of the dish was the errant black olive/pearl onion 'relish' that had found its way onto the plate, it was inedibly seasoned and ruined every flavor already there. This was a dish with questionable origins for me, I wonder if a line cook was given the responsibility for this dish and over-thought it. Either that or the chef was just in a hurry and wanted to keep cost low, either way it was not terribly impressive.

~Chocolate espresso torta with blueberries and orange cream
The dessert was the closest thing to what it was actually supposed to be of any dish on my tasting. I could taste espresso and the chocolate. The blueberries were the highlight of the dish and were fantastically ripe. The whipped cream did not taste of any orange, which is a downer. Overall it was a nice dessert, but nothing that changed my world.

Upstairs on the Square
This adorable Cambridge restaurant is run by chef Steven Brand. I enjoyed the atmosphere and the service was excellent. Aesthetically the interior from afar was French Colonial, with pink and gold trim on the walls giving it the feel of a worn-in Parisian brasserie. Chef Brand is an alum of Jean-Georges and other NYC restaurants, which gave me high hopes that were almost fulfilled. The thing that struck me most about the restaurant in a negative way were the plates. I would have been OK with the chipped and overly-scratched plates had they been serving brasserie food. But Upstairs was trying to serve elegant up-scale food and the plates did not match the food or the price.

~Chilled Andalusian gazpacho
Wow. This was a great start, though almost excessively tangy from a load of what I believe was sorrel. The soup was pureed in true Andalusian style and had a pronounced cucumber-cool. It was nicely seasoned and overall a well-executed dish.

~Pork loin with haricots verts and smoked native red and yellow tomatoes
The entree was my second pork dish in two days of restaurant week. While it may seem a trifle boring it sounded more interesting to me than the vegetarian option. The dish featured unfortuately over-cooked pork, crunchy pinto beans and over-smoked tomatoes. The nice surprise were the baby carrots and haricot verts which were nicely cooked and tossed in a corn glace that added an excellent sweet/savory/umame character to the dish. The presentation was not bad at all, but the tomatoes were smoked and presented cold which really muted the flavor. The pinto beans were the biggest disappointment in the fact that they were crunchy, which is something I just cannot deal with. Though I must say that overall this pork was better than Rialto's.

~Chocolate panna cotta with vanilla sable and port-berry sauce
Dessert was the second-best dish of the lunch. The panna cotta was the correct texture, had great flavor and was just the right portion size for a lunch dessert. The sable was nice and crisp and done with a judicious amount of vanilla. The whipped-cream was over-whipped which was disappointing and the port-berry sauce had nothing to do with port that I could tell. Nice flavors here but no thought overall.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Tasting Notes for Wednesday July 26, 2006
~Chehalem 2003 3Vineyards Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, OR
The first red wine released in each vintage by the house of Chehalem, this pinot noir is a blend of three of Chehalem's vineyards (Ridgecrest, Stoller and Corral Creek). Traditionally fruit-forward and more approachable in its youth than other Chehalem pinot noirs, 3Vineyards is a great introduction to the excellent wine-making of Chehalem. Though it's no longer available in Colorado on the wholesale side, it is possible to find retail. The wine is dark ruby in color with moderate intensity and medium viscosity. The nose is dominated by sweet black fruits, bright red cherry, chocolate and a touch of anise. The palate has medium acid, bright raspberry and blackberry, smooth, slight tannins and a low plus to medium alcohol level though the alcohol shows the most on the finish.
~Girardet 2003 Barrel Select Pinot Noir, Umpqua Valley, OR
This is the second vintage of Girardet pinot noir that I have tasted and it is more drinkable than the already great 2002 vintage. While 2002 is a 96-point vintage and 2003 isn't quite as highly rated, the effort from Girardet is fantastic. The wine is a pure ruby color with a star-bright reflection, a wide miniscus and medium plus viscosity. The nose starts with light funk, fresh strawberry, dried cherry, stewed raspberries and even a little caramel. The alcohol is definitely notable on the nose, a result of the hot 2003 vintage in Oregon. The palate is light, fruity and ripe but still has balance. The acid is medium and tannins are ripe and manageable. Fruit on the palate is tart and still a little green but not at all unpleasant. Dried cherry, strawberry, anise and bitter cocoa dominate the palate.
~Ghislaine Barthod 2003 Chambolle-Musigny, Cote de Nuits, Burgundy, FR
For the first time, a Rosenthal Wine Merchants wine that hasn't lived up to expectations. From the HOT 2003 vintage in Burgundy it shouldn't be surprising how atypical this wine is. The color is such a dark (bordering on opaque) garnet that it could be easily mistaken for a cabernet or light syrah. The nose is all alcohol at first and only after about 15 minutes does the wine give up some cherry, cassis and raspberry. The palate is again so hot that it is almost impossible to taste the cherry, chocolate, strawberry, anise and cranberry that is there. The acid is medium plus, alcohol is high and the tannin is a bit stronger than medium. Maybe harvesting earlier to manage the alcohol would have made this wine a superb example rather than a slightly dissappointing specimen. Barthod makes wonderful wines and I believe this to be simply the luck of the draw on the '03 vintage.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

New Wines
Wine Tasting notes for Friday July 21.
Every Friday (nearly enough) the Wine Merchants of Colorado get together to taste some wines and shoot the shit. Here's what we tasted this last Friday.
-Spruce Goose 2004 Pinot Gris- Willamette Valley, OR
A pretty, fruit-driven nose with significant citrus zest and high-toned minerality dominate the first impressions of this wine. A relatively thick palate of clean citrus, nearly Blau-Schieffer flintiness and stone fruits belie the fact that this wine packs a punch without a pile of alcohol on the palate. An enjoyable wine that while tasty is far from transcendant.
-Jardiniere 2004 Rose- Willamette Valley, OR
Some barrel-aged character of yeast and funk show well on the nose along with strawberry and cherry. The palate is warm and reflects the nose accurately with a touch of spritz. Again, while nicely put-together and easily drinkable this wine still needs something.
-Spruce Goose 2004 Pinot Noir- Willamette Valley, OR
A closed-up nose of strawberry, Bing cherry, raspberry and French oak leads into a great entry-level pinot. The mouth is dominated by high-alcohol, black-pepper spice and fresh berries with good acid. Not convinced.
-Spruce Goose 20002 Pinot Noir- Willamette Valley, OR
Slightly madeirized on the nose with lots of whiskey and vanilla from serious oak exposure. The palate is tart with green strawberry, cranberry and tart pie cherry. The tannins are low and acid is medium high. This wine is passing its prime rapidly.
-Calera 2002 Mount Harlan Cuvee Pinot Noir- Mount Harlan, CA
Yet another beautiful Pinot from Calera out of a great vintage for California Pinot Noir. The wine is a blend from four vineyards including three of their single-vineyard properties (Ryan, Mills, and SELLECK!). The nose shows well initially with notes of chocolate, Bing cherry, anise and alcohol burn. The palate is quite nice and ripe with excellent acid, tart cherry, strawberry, raspberry and burnt coffee. Wow.
-Madrigal 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon-Napa Valley, CA
A nose of pencil shavings, black fruit, bracken, menthol and alcohol burn bode well for this wine. Sweet black fruit, cranberry and stewed cherries go well with the medium acid, grippy tannins and major alcohol. This wine has great 2002 CA character but still needs time for the alcohol to mellow out behind the cork.
-Madrigal 2003 Sonnet #63-Napa Valley, CA
A blend of Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc, Petite Verdot, Merlot and Malbec. The nose is incredibly tight and young, after 40 minutes of time in glass the wine finally gave up menthol, cocoa and sweet berries, particularly over-ripe strawberry. The wine was so young as to be almost unapproachable even with nearly an hour in-glass. The tannins were almost un-yieldingly firm and the acid high. The palate was representative of the nose but impossibly young. Strong evidence of French and American oak on palate and nose.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it! Keep checking back, Tuesday is the Superior Brands tasting of about 20-30 German wines from all regions and all varieties...EXCITEMENT!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Bordeaux...The Ridiculous Frontier
As we all know, Bordeaux is the home of some of the most historically sought-after wines in the world. Names like Mouton-Rothschild, Petrus, Ausone, d'Yquem all conjure up images of a privileged lifestyle and of elegance, power and balance held in the near-black, high-shouldered bottles so common to the region. Just holding a bottle of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild feels good, the bottle is heavy, the glass thick, the label beautiful and perfect. Unfortunately though, few of us can afford a bottle of Premier Grand Cru Classe Bordeaux. But there are other regions where amazing wines can be found for Bordeaux reds outside of the generic Bordeaux Superior, Haut-Medoc or Mouton-Cadet swill. For red wines look to Bergerac, an area to the Southwest of Bordeaux on the Dordogne river. Made from the same grapes as Left Bank clarets with the addition of some local grapes like Fer and minus Petit Verdot these wines offer unique profiles in flavor and the same density, structure and balance as Medoc reds.

Look to Pecharment for reds of the Medoc Claret-ilk and to Rosette for sweet and dry whites in the styles of Sauternes and Margaux respectively. Perhaps the most distinct and exciting region is Monbazillac, the cost-effective solution to Sauternes. Houses like Chateau Monbazzilac offer sweet, syrupy dessert wines in the style of Sauternes. The only issue comes from the lack of cool moderation in the weather, leading to a distinct lack of acidity, the only problem with these otherwise amazing wines.

Looking for something off-the-beaten-path? Why not some Chenin Blanc from Bordeaux? Blaye is the home of Chenin Blanc in Bordeaux. Also called Gros Plant, Chenin Blanc is found mostly in the Loire Valley in Vouvray, Anjou and Gros Plant du Pays Nantais (a VDQS to the west of Sevre-et-Maine). Blaye produces the Gros Plant in sec, off-dry and sparkling styles.

But enough about that. I'm tired and this is getting boring...I'll post more later on about the idiosyncracies of Bordeaux.