Sunday, December 30, 2007

Ending the year with an aged Bordeaux

Over the past year, I have been slowly working through a case of 1996 Château Lanessan. This Cru Bourgeois class Bordeaux from Haut-Médoc is produced by the Bouteiller family. The 1996 vintage is generally considered very successful for left bank wines, especially those from Médoc and Graves. All wines based in Cabernet Sauvignon are supposed to have excellent aging potential.

The grape varietals going into Château Lanessan is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Francs and 5% Petit Verdot. At age 11, this wine has shed most of its baby fat and the secondary aromas has come together nicely. In 2006, Janice Robinson commented here that the prime drinking window of 1996 Lanessan is around 2008 to 2018. I will definetely spread out the consumption of the rest of my holdings to see if it matches Ms. Robinson's prediction.

This is the 7th bottle I have consumed from the case, and it is the best tasting bottle so far. We drank it over a 3 day period without any decanting and the best showing is the second day, though I should point out that it still held up well on the 3rd day.
ABV: 12.5%, Price: $20

Tasting notes:

Nose: Very perfumed notes of leather, tobacco, plum and lead pencil.

Color: Dark garnet core and slighty dusty rim.

Palate: Very balanced mouth feel. Not a fruit bomb but still has lively flavor of red fruits. Nice secondary aromas of olive, earth, leather and oak round out the back of the palate. Tannins already quite soft but the acidity is still sufficient to keep things interesting.

Body: Medium, classic claret style.

Finish: The worst part of this wine is the finish. It is quite clipped (medium at best) even though there are notes of earth, leather and some fruit. At times, there is also streaks of bitterness observed.

The 96 Lanessan may be in the middle of its prime drinking window at the time of writing. Uneducated guess is that it will provide good drinking for the next 5 years with proper cellaring.

Monday, December 24, 2007

My Older Gigondas moment on Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve is a special time of the year. The stress of shopping is over and the last gift has been wrapped. It is time to sit back and relax to soak in that joyful holiday feeling. For this day, I decide to crack open a Gigondas that I have long waited to try. It is a 1995 Domaine Brusset Les Hauts De Montmirail.

Domaine Brusset was founded by André Brusset in 1947. He passed away in 1999 and is the Domaine is currently managed by his son Daniel, and his grand-son Laurent. This producer is also one of the largest land owner in Gigondas whose vineyards are nested behind the "Dentelles de Montmirail", the foothills to Mont Ventoux. Their Les Hauts De Montmirail is usually make up of 55% Grenache, 25% Mourvèdre, 20% Syrah and normally can be aged for over 10 years.

Tasting an old wine is always a treat. One one hand, you are always fearful that the wine maybe over the hill but one the other hand, there is always an excitement to see how much life is left in it. All in all, It is very much like making love to an older partner when you know the lustful youthfulness is long gone but what remains is the seduction and the tenderness.

This bottle of Montmirail is also special that when I bought it, its original label is damaged beyond recognition and is replaced by a hand written label from the Burgundy Wine Company. Although the staff reassured me that it has been kept in optimal storage condition, there is no guarantee that this bottle has not been mistreated over the years.

ABV: unknown, Price: $35

Tasting Notes:

Nose: Sweet dark fruits, vanilla and a touch of flower giving way to aroma of caramel and roasted meat. Still very muted when first opened and it actually takes over an hour in the glass to open up.

Color: Dark ruby core with a slightly brick color rim.

Palate: Seductive in its light touch. It was almost weightless yet mouth-filling with flavor of mostly riped cherry and a touch of earthiness. Very silky tannins and lively acidity. So very smooth and inviting.

Body: Full

Finish: Medium but somewhat nondescript compared to the nose and palate. Clean dark dark fruit is supported by light notes of earthiness.

This may not be the best Giogondas from the 95 vintage but it is drinking really well at age 12. It is still lively with no sign of decline. All the elements come together seamlessly creating a beautiful wine. At this point, this Gigondas actually tastes better than a lot of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the market. Sadly, this is my ONLY bottle.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Celebration of Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice is a day on the Northern hemisphere when the day is at its shortest and the night is at its longest. It is also a traditional Chinese festival dated back 2500 years ago. In historic China, it is a big deal to celebrate this winter festival. Government officials would organize celebrating activities and the common folks would rest on this very day. In the modern era, with the changing of lifestyles, this day has transformed into a family gathering very much like the American Thanksgiving when special food will be served.

In our household, we still make the traditional 'tang yuan', which is small dumpling ball made of glutinous rice flour in a rich broth made of meat, dried scallop and daikon radish. We also cook other savoury dishes like the one pictured for this occassion. It is abalone with dried shiitake mushroom braised in their own juices and served on a bed of broccoli.

To go with these yummy dishes, we decided to open a recent BrooklynGuy's recommendation: 2001 Domaine des Roches Neuves Saumur-Champigny Terres Chaudes. The bright acidity on this Loire Cab Franc works really well to offset the heavy flavors on the food.
ABV: 12.5%, Price: $16

Tasting notes:

Nose: Fairly fragrant nose. Aroma of dark fruit supported by cedar and vanilla in the background.

Color: Dark ruby with tight purple rim.

Palate: Fully matured. Very balanced mouth feel. A bit thin by itself but really sings with rich food. Flavor of tart cherry and rhubarb, leather and cedar. No trace of any 'green pepper' notes associated with many other Cab Francs. Tannins is a already very integreated.

Body: Medium but very elegant at this point.

Finish: Mostly tart fruits, earth with a hint of black pepper. Not particularly long.

At age 6, this delicious wine is at its peak. The gorgeous fruit is still there but it seems to start fading already. Do not see this getting any better. Great juice to enjoy for the next 1-2 years.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

WBW #40: Petite Sirah

The theme of Wine Blogging Wednesday #40, as selected by Sanadora at Wannabewino, is petite sirah. WBW was started by Lenn Thompson of LennDevours.

Wines made from the petite sirah variety are usually bold, pleasant to drink, although not highly distinctive; and can age slowly and have long cellaring potential.

Today, petite sirah vines are mostly planted in warm wine regions. Most of the petite sirah vines grown in the U.S. can be found in California. Until recently, this variety has been considered as the same as Durif, a French variety created by one Dr. François Durif in the 1870s. No one seemed to be able to pin point the exact origin of this grape until 2003 when Dr. Carole P. Meredith, a renowned grape geneticist at U.C. Davis, used modern DNA fingerprinting techniques to identify that 9 out of 10 petite sirah vines found in U.S. are actually Durif and the rest are peloursin (a southern France indigenous variety). She also identified that Durif is a cross of peloursin and true syrah. “Peloursin is the mother and syrah is the father.”, she explained.

I have mentioned in a previous post that both my wife and I loved the petit sirah produced by Guenoc. For WBW 40, I went back to the same producer and drank a 1998 Guenoc Petite Sirah North Coast. This vintage shows 14.4% ABV and cost us $17 at full retail.

Tasting notes:

Nose: Dominated by oak and roasted meat upon initial sniff. After considerable breathing, aroma of plum with hints of herb show up nicely.

Color: Inky purple with very tight rims, no sign of fading.

Palate: Still youthful, this bottle shows up in a rather feminine style with rich and jammy black fruits(plum and blackberry). Note of black tea also detected. Not powerful but shows smooth mouthfeel with a great balance of fruits, acidity and tannins.

Body: Full.

Finish: Fairly long. Notes of plum, vanilla and black pepper.

This bottle is a good example in demonstrating how durable a petite sirah wine can be.

In addition to Guenoc North Coast not being considered a top-level petite sirah and the 1998 vintage is just so so as far as CA vintage goes, this particular bottle was bought from a retail store with less than optimal storing condition.

Under the aforementioned unfavorable conditions, a lot of wines would have fallen apart, but this particular bottle holds up well and sees no sign of fading after all these years. As a matter of fact, it is still in peak drinking condition when we drank it for WBW.

Petite Sirah needs food. It is actually too thick and jammy to sip on its own. Paring it with braised lamb belly, the food and wine matches really well.

Friday, December 7, 2007

A really useful holiday suggestion for every oenophile

Marcus' recent article on dryer-resistant decanter inspired me on writing about the following item. As you can see, in his article, Marcus described a dilemma of certain type drying stands not allowing proper draining of curvier decanters.

After some Googling, I found this product, Oenophilia Fusion 16-Glass Stemware Rack, available at Amazon for $33 with free shipping.

How cool is this dryer rack? For spending merely 33 bucks, not only you will now be able to dry a decanter properly, but also able to dry up to 16 normal size glasses at the same time. One more advantage of this rack over others is that the legs can be folded flat for easy storage.

(OK. OK. If you use the Riedel Sommelier or the “O” series glasses, then this rack won’t work for you. However, if you plan to use these types of glasses, then you are into another drinking league anyway)

So there you have it, please add this useful tool onto your holiday wish list.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

2006 Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto D'Acqui D.O.C.G.

Recently I had an opportunity to taste this unique Italian sparkling wine made from 100% Brachetto, a rare grape variety indigenous to southern Italy. Wine made from Brachetto is generally medium in body, lightly sparkling and can be slightly sweet to semi-sweet. These wines are usually fruity and floral with aromas that may include black raspberry, black cherry, notes of tar, clove and flowers such as violets or orchids.

By now, you may ask why these sparkling reds are so special? Let me tell you: the uniqueness about these wines is their alcohol content, which generally ranges from 5.5% to 7%. – A real wine with ABV of a beer!

Brachetto wines can very versatile. It can be drunk as aperitif (with mild cheese or salami) on a hot summer afternnon, as dinner wine (with turkey, mashed potato and stuffing), and as desert (matched with dark chocolate). Besides being yummy, is low alcohol content is especially appealing to those people with low or no alcohol tolerance.

Rosa Regale is produced by Vigne Regali from Strevi, Piedmont. It is owned by the U.S. importer
Banfi Vintners. All the grapes are harvested from the La Rosa single vineyard within the Acqui D.O.C.
By the way, D.O.C.G. (Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), a system similar to the A.O.C. in France means very little to us consumers except that the wine with such labeling must meet a certain yield level and some evaluation standards of a tasting committee prior to bottling. [Please correct me if I am wrong here.]

ABV: 7%, Price: $18

Tasting notes:

Color: Dark ruby and slightly opaque.

Nose: Intense aroma of red berries and rose petals.

Palate: Fairly grapy. Flavor is of raspberry, cranberry with maybe strawberry. Fairly crisp, tannins is there is not obstructive. Semi sweet and not much complexity.

Body: Medium, light fizzy (as bubbly than a normal prosecco)

Finish: Slightly bitter with flavor of red berries, fairly short

Friday, November 30, 2007

A cool idea for a slow sipper

A wine cellar is great for storing uopened wines at the correct temperature and humidity. Chilling an opened bottle, either by using a bucket of ice, a fancy gadget with a temperature monitor, or the plain old fridge all works well. What about the wine in your glass then? How would you keep it within the correct temperature range for drinking?

It is great to start your glass at the correct drinking temperature and finish it within 5 degree Fahrenheit so that the 'correct' aroma and texture can be experienced. However, what if you drink wine outdoor in the summer; or sip a glass that lasts for two hours?

This dilemma troubled me during the past Thanksgiving holiday when I wanted to sip 1 glass of Pinot and Rioja each during a 3 hour dinner. By the time I tasted the last drop in the glass, the wines become so warm that they actually tasted horrible.

So today I performed a quick search and found these plastic reusable ice cubes. Seems like it can be useful in chilling down the wine in the glass once it start to turn warm.

These look like a great idea for holiday parties too. Put one of this flashing cube in your favorite beverage, you will have an instant sparkler.

If this is a crazy idea, please let me know how I can safely and economically keep a glass of wine cool for more than 15 minutes without constantly reaching for that bottle in the fridge.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Wines we drank on Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! One of the few days in the year that we are not counting calories. Good food, good company and a day off, what else can we ask for? Well, on this day, to complete a perfect meal, some folks insists on drinking American; some folks insist on perfect food and wine paring and the other simply want delicious beverages to go with that turkey and the side dishes.

In our household, a lot of alcoholic beverages were served on thanksgiving day including beer, wine and even cocktails. With all the alcohol consumed throughout the day, it is essential to keep the alcoholic content in-check so our guests can get home safely. So, in the wine department, we decided to drink the following wine, all with ABV no higher than 13%:

2003 Marqués de Gelida Cava Brut Exclusive
1996 R. Lopez de Heredia Rioja Viña Gravonia

1997 Trimbach Pinot Noir "Réserve Personnelle"

2003 Marqués de Gelida Cava Cava Brut Exclusive
ABV: 11.5%, Price: $12
Packaged in an unique and interesting plastic yellow label that wraps the entire bottle, this cava is a blend of 35% Macabeo, 30% Xarello, 20% Parallada, 15% Chardonnay. It is produced by El Cep, S.A and is aged for 3 and half years before release. It is simple yet pleasing to the palate which makes a perfect inexpensive sparkling wine to serve as aperitif.

Color: Pale straw
Nose: Mostly green apple and lemon, with a light touch of yeast.
Palate: Very crisp and fairly dry. With air, it becomes quite creamy and eventually yields a touch of sweetness. Flavor mostly refines to apple and citrus.
Body: Light. The bubbles are fairly large and slow.
Finish: Clean, long and inviting for the next sip.

1996 R. Lopez de Heredia Rioja Viña Gravonia
ABV: 12%, Price: $23
This traditionally made Rioja is made from 100% Viura. It is the 'youngest' wine currently released from the winery (released after 10 years of aging in oak cask and then the bottle). Although not particularly powerful, this wine possesses both elegance and freshness. In the few hours we drank the wine, it slowly opened up more and more. Fascinating stuff and a true beauty at this price range. Great match with the pumpkin soup we served.

Color: Deep yellow
Nose: Pear, roasted hazelnut and a touch of coconut.
Palate: Very dry with flavors of lemon and orange peel, showing a touch of muskiness (probably from oxidization in the aging process) and smoked wood. As hours went by, the flavor of citrus changed to preserved Chinese Ume.
Body: Medium to full.
Finish: Long with notes of honey and citrus and nuts.

1997 Trimbach Pinot Noir "Réserve Personnelle"
ABV: 13%, Price: $19
F.E. Trimbach is more famous for their whites but they do make a small amount of Pinot Noir. In good vintages such as 1997, they also make a "Réserve Personnelle" using ultra ripe grapes resulting in a more concentrated Pinot. If you are used to Pinot Noir from California, Oregon or even Burgundy, this flinty and lighter style pinot may not be your liking. However, this wine does exhibit the true character of thegrape with expression of the Alsatian terrior. At age 10, the "Réserve Personnelle" is surprisingly youthful and fresh.

Color: Clear medium ruby.
Nose: Explosive aroma of riped cherry and brown sugar. Hint of moss (or fern) .
Palate: The tannins is totally resolved. Velvety texture supports a mouthful of red fruits. Flavor is mostly red cherry with hints of vanilla and mushroom. Very flinty. Very balanced.
Body: Medium.
Finish: Long and clean. Mostly cherry and black pepper with a hint of mushroom.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Pre-Thanksgiving sip: 2000 Les Calèches de Lanessan

The turkey is marinating nicely in the fridge and the prep work for most of the side dishes is completed. Oh, it will be an interesting but hectic day tomorrow.

But for now, as a pre-Thanksgiving sip, (or just to unwind before the big day), we decided to go French and open a bottle 2000 Les Calèches de Lanessan, the second wine of Château Lanessan.

Château Lanessan, owned by Domaines Bouteiller, has been producing this second label since 1999. Les Calèches de Lanessan is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Francs and 5% Petit-Verdot. It is aged for 18 months in 30-50% new French oak barrels before bottling.

This wine is made in an early accessible and easy-drinking style and meant to be consumed within seven years of the harvest. One interesting fact about Les Calèches de Lanessan is the label bears a different carriage for every vintage. For the 2000 vintage, the label is the “Le Tonneau” (or “The Barrel”).

ABV: 12.5%. Price: $11.

Tasting notes:

Color: Dark Garnet, almost purple.

Nose: Classic Bordeaux, cassis, toasty oak and a little bit of olive after 30 minutes of decanting.

Palate: Fairly fruit forward dominated by sour cherry and cassis with notes of pepper at the back palate. Very balanced but still a bit tannic.

Body: A little bit thin, medium weight at best.

Finish: Not very long. Notes of dark fruits, pepper and earth.

2000 is a great vintage for Bordeaux when wines from the lowest appellations to the best châteaus achieve good to excellent quality. Les Calèches de Lanessan demonstrated that even a second label from a Cru Bourgeois producer can be really good. Although not as concentrated as its big brother, Les Calèches de Lanessan is very well made and exhibits a good QPR value.

That said, for the highly touted 2005 vintage, Les Calèches de Lanessan should be a decent drink. As a future reference, the importer of the 2000 vintage is Regal Wine Imports, Inc in Marlton NJ.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

WBW #39: Sliver Burgundy

It is great to have Neil, aka the Brooklynguy, to host the 39th installment of Wine Blogging Wednesday originally started by Lenn. Neil is passionate about French wines and his favorite regions are Burgundy, Lorie and Champagne. The theme he proposed this time is ‘Silver-Burgundy’ where participants have to seek out wines from outside of the infamous Côte d'Or region. In fact, he only allows wine produced from the regions of Côte Chalonnaise and the Mâconnais to be discussed.

I am still climbing the steep and expansive learning curve of understanding wines from Burgundy, partly because of the unfavorable US/Euro exchange rate and partly due to the highly touted 2005 vintage where prices are unrealistic. Furthermore, wine prices from the lesser vintages such as the 2003 and 2004 have been inflated by at least 10 to 25% recently. In spite of these conditions, I found 2 lovely and affordable Burgundies to be shared in this WBW. Both of these wines are imported by VOS Selections.

2003 DomaineChofflet-Valdenaire, Givry, Chalonnaise
2005 Domaine Thomas Tradition, Saint-Véran, Mâconnais

2003 Chofflet-Valdenaire, Givry
ABV: 13%, Price: $22

Background information:
The Chofflet-Valdenaire estate, located in the hillside hamlet of Russily, has been in their family for over 100 years. Today, Jean Chofflet’s son-in-law Denis Valdenaire runs the 11-hectare domaine. Theestate’s Givry AOC comes from several vineyard parcels. The grapes are entirely hand-harvested and 100% destemmed. It is aged half in tank, half in two to three year casks for one year before bottling. They also produce two single vineyard cuvee being produced, Givry 1er Cru Clos de Choue and Givry 1er Cru Clos Jus.

Tasting Notes:

Color: Clear medium ruby. Tight rims.
Nose: Notes of ripe cherry. Initial funk, which my wife describes as rotten lettuce, that blows off after a while in the glass.
Palate: Juicy sour cherries giving way to notes of sage and earth.Slightly dusty tannins and lively acidity support the very balanced mouth feel. The fruit flavor is fairly focused.
Body: Light to medium.
Finish: Medium length with notes of cherry, dried herb, earth and black pepper.

2005 Domaine Thomas Tradition, Saint-Véran ABV: 13%, Price: $18

Background information:
Domaine Thomas was created in 1934 and now extends over 12 hectares on southwest facing slopes. They have been estate bottling the majority of the wine production since 1987, specializing in St-Veran. Lucien Thomas, owner and winemaker, produces his St-Veran from old-vines planted around a remarkable, single-block, south-southwest facing amphitheater vineyard. The St-Veran is made from 40-50 year old vines. Domaine Thomas also produces a St-Veran Vieilles Vignes made from a block of vines that are 70 years old. Neither of these 2 wines is treated with oak in order to preserve the terrior and the fullest expression of fruit.

Tasting Notes:

Color: Light golden.
Nose: Expressive aroma of pear and lemon. Notes of stones.
Palate: Fairly concentrated. Ripe pear and lemon zest flavors supported by lively acidity and undertone of minerals.
Body: Medium.
Finish: Slight peppery and bitter notes that support a long citrus flavor. The finish is very clean.

While not particularly complex, both of these wines are very food friendly. They are straightforward wines for simple and homey dishes. The Chofflet-Valdenaire pairs very well with an earthy but light Cantonese dish of Steamed Chicken with tiger lily and fungus. On the other hand, the Domaine Thomas, being a unoaked Chardonnay, is a good match for the steamed black sea bass we prepared.

For folks who would like to know the recipe of Steamed Chicken with tiger lily and fungus, the recipe is as follows:

Half a dressed chicken (about 1.5 lbs)
4 Chinese dried mushrooms

1/2 oz. Dried tiger lily [honey suckle flower]
1oz. Cloud ear fungus
4 Red dates
1 Tbsp chopped ginger
1 Tbsp Chopped garlic

2 twigs of Cilantro (optional, for garnish)

1 Tbsp Light soy sauce

1/2 Tbsp Dark soy sauce
1 Tbsp Ginger wine [We use the Domaine Thomas instead]
1 1/2 tsp Cornstarch

A dash of Sesame oil

1 cup of Water

1/2 Tbsp Light soy sauce
1/2 Tbsp Oyster sauce

1 tsp Sugar
A dash of Sesame oil

Note: All the ingredients above are readily available in any Chinese grocery stores.

Chop chicken into pieces. Season and marinate for 1/2 to 1 hour. Soak and rinse mushrooms, tiger lily, fungus and dates. Quarter the dates and discard the pits if present. Tie each tiger lily with an overhand knot. Cut mushrooms into thin slices.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil, sauté garlic and ginger until fragrant. Stir-fry chicken until 60% done, add remaining ingredients and sauce. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes until done. Garnish with cilantro and serve hot.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Descendientes de José Palacios Pétallos, Bierzo

I initially learnt about the Mencía grape, an indigenous red variety of Northwestern Spain, by reading Eric Asmov’s Wines of the Times article ‘Bierzo, a New Taste of Spain’ last year. Unfortunately, there were so many other wines to be tasted and the effort of trying a wine composed of Mencía has been put off until now.

Browsing through the racks of Tinto Fino, a tiny but well organized wine shop in the East Village that specialized in Spanish wines earlier last month, I noticed one of the wines Eric mentioned, the Descendientes de José Palacios Pétallos, placed in the Castilla y León section, and I decided to pick one up and see what it taste like.

Doing some research via Google, I found out that Descendientes de José Palacios is a joint venture created in 1998 between Ricardo Perez and his uncle Alvaro Palacios who is of course famous for the "L’Ermita" and "Finca Dofi" from Priorat. The name of this project is created in honor of Alvaro’s father and Ricardo’s grandfather, José. The Palacios lineup contains four more expansive ($75-125), ‘cru- level’ cuvees: Las Lamas, Moncerbal, Fontelas and St. Martin and two lower-priced regional cuvees: Villa de Corullón (~$50) and Pétallos (~$20). The grapes of all these cuvees come from vineyards in Corullón and surrounding towns where the soils are composed of mostly schist over chalk. The age of the vines is generally between 40-90 years old.

ABV: 14%, Price paid: $21

Tasting Notes:

Color: Inky purple, tight rims.

Nose: Initially very tight only showing herbaceous notes (reminds me of a young Cab.Franc). After 15 minutes, aroma of plum and dried cherry pops out with hints of cooked meat.

Body: Medium to full. Very balanced.

Palate: Lush and extracted with bright dark fruit flavor. Quite thick and creamy (feels like melted milk chocolate). The wine is bit chewy and chalky with hints of oak. Smooth tannins balanced by adequate acidity. However, the fruit profile is not particularly focused and the wine show a little bit of heat at the back palate.

Finish: Medium at best. It is quite dry with notes of black pepper supporting the dark cherry flavor.

The Pétallos is a nice effort in exhibiting the characteristic of the Mencía grape. Being aged in 2-3 years old oak barrels, the wine is made in the new-world style but does not present itself as a fruit bomb or overly oaked. This is a middle-of-the road wine that is very pleasant to drink but will not 'wow' anybody. It is also a bit thick as a standalone sipper but pairs well with meat dishes or saucy food.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

2006 Colombelle Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne

It is now November, Thanksgiving is around the corner and we are all thinking about family gatherings, turkey, ham, roast beef, yam, stuffings and all the travel arrangements associated with this holiday. As a matter of fact, Dr. Debs has already announced her Thanksgiving wines for 2007 here, and it was a great list of selections indeed.

The weather is already getting a bit chilly in New York City and I know I should be thinking about fall wines. However, I am going to buck the trend and give the summer a last hurrah by introducing this wine, 2006 Colombelle Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne. As a matter of fact, I can say that this wine is actually something Dr. Debs should include in her Thanksgiving wine list.

A local cooperative from Gasconge, Producteurs Plaimont, produces the Colombelle. This is a refreshing white wine composes of 70% Colombard and 30% Ugni Blanc. The grapes are harvested in early September. After de-stemming and a short maceration, the grapes are lightly pressed and fermented in stainless steel tanks before bottling.

Most folks like to associate wines made with Colombard and Ugni Blanc as lightweight summer sippers but they fail to recognize that these wines are actually handy year round. It is especially good for light seafood and poultry dishes. As a matter of fact, I shall crack open a bottle (yes, this wine sports a screw cap) to serve with the salad dish on my Thanksgiving table.

ABV: 11.5%, price: $7

Tasting notes:

Color: Pale golden.

Nose: Explosive notes of white flower and a peach and a touch of honey.

Body: Light but well balanced.

Palate: Crisp entry. Flavor of grapefruit, peach and under-ripe pineapple fill the mid-palate. Nice acidity.

Finish: Long notes of citrus supported by hints of herbs and spice. Fefreshing and palate cleansing.

For $7, this is an extremely high QPR wine. This wine is a nice alternative to the usual white varietals including Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. However, I would advise all of us to forego the exercise of analysing this wine and just enjoy. We did! Paired with grilled chicken, aspargus and wild rice. Awesome match.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Paul Jaboulet Aîné Parallel 45

Halloween evening, after we have gone Trick-o-Treat with our child, I was exhausted and just wanted to have a simple meal with a glass of simple wine. Alas! There is my half bottle of good o’ faithful Parallel 45 left over from the previous night waiting to be finished.

I have had this entry wine by Paul Jaboulet Aîné many times. Parallel 45 may not be the best Côtes du Rhône you can buy, but for the money, this wine delivers value year in and year out. Moreover, it is flexible, you can pair it with almost anything (even seafood such as fried fish fingers). For this night, I paired this bottle from the 2003 vintage with a roast beef sandwich on pumpernickel topped with caramelized onions. Perfect combination!

ABV: 13.5%, Price paid: $8

Tasting notes:

Color: Dark ruby.

Nose: Not a huge nose. Light scent of black fruit supported by hints of oak and earthiness.

Palate: Fairly straightforward with riped fruit, borderline grapy and notes of herbs (mostly licorice) and spice typically associated in a GSM wine. Really soft tannins.

Body: Lightweight (even in Côtes du Rhône sense).

Finish: Short and clean. Mostly black fruit and slightly pepperish.

Even with an entry level wine, decanting is a must. Parallel 45 benefits from half to one hour in the decanter before serving.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Wine lacking character

Dr. Debs discussed the identify theft of wines here highlighting the tastes of three wines not matching the characteristics of varietals indicated. Although the wines discussed in that post were all imperfect, at least they were enjoyable. However, what about wines ‘lacking character', wines that taste like a solution mixture of grape concentrate and flavor enhancers with alcohol injected that make you say ‘blah’? I am sure many of you have encountered such wines in the past.

This is precisely the case of the 2004 Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon. While it is a drinkable plonk, it is nowhere close to a Cabernet Sauvignon that can clearly identify its character in a blind tasting.

ABV: 14.5%; Price $7-$10 (readily available nationwide)

Tasting Notes:

Color: Dark garnet, almost blackish.

Nose: Initial smell of disinfectant from a hospital. Fruit is quite muted. As wine opens, aroma is dominated by raisin with notes of burnt tobacco.

Palate: Fairly one dimensional, dominated by extracted black currant flavor. Mild tannins emerged after 15 minutes in the glass. Very low acidity, not much structure and quite alcoholic.

Body: Medium to full, soft but quite creamy.

Finish: Short with black fruit as primary flavor.

I have tasted the Paddock Shiraz from the same producer and thought it has a good QPR value. At this price point, there are wines of much better quality and more precise varietal characteristics than the '04 Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon out there.

Many factors contribute to a wine's character. The grapes of this Cab is source from the Breede River Valley appellation (as in the Shiraz). Why does the Shiraz smell/taste better than the Cab? Is it due to the ripeness of the fruit... Is it because the Cab has higher residual sugar / lower acid content? (Shiraz: RS 2.6 g/l, Acid 5.9 g/l; Cab: RS 3.9. Acid 5.5 g/l)... Is it related to different winemaking techniques? Or is this wine plainly not up to par?

Who knows?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

WBW #38: Portuguese Table Wine with Caveats!

Lenn Thompson’s theme for Wine Blogging Wednesday 38 is Portuguese Table Wine. Our gracious host, Gabriella and Ryan at Catavino, has added a few restrictions to the game: no Port wines, no red wine from Douro, no Mateus and Lancers Rose, no Vinho Verde and no Madeira are allowed.

To play by the rules, two entry level Portuguese wines will be discussed for this WBW:
2003 Pedra do Urso from the Beira Interior region
2006 Monte das Ânforas from the Alentejano region

Wine 1: 2003 Pedra do Urso
Price paid: $3 (2006 sale at Astor but this is available in Portugal for €3)

The Beiras region is located in north-central Portugal around the highest mountain ranges of the country, Serra da Estrela. Pedra do Urso (literally means the rock of the bear) is also a popular rock climbing site near the town of Covilhã with boulders scattered all over a high plateau at over 2500 feet.

Adega Cooperativa da Covilhã is the coop that produces Pedra do Urso. Initially, sale of bulk wines is the company’s main business since its inception in 1954. Since the 70’s, it has moved into producing and bottling their own wines. Today, the coop has almost 1200 members with around 1500 hectares of vines, producing around 4 million bottles per year.

Pedra do Urso is a red blend using grapes such as Marufo, Periquita and Touriga Nacional among others. It is not filtered and bottled 12 months after harvest. ABV is 12.5%

Tasting notes:

Color: Light ruby.
Nose: Port like aroma upon opening. After 30 minutes, aroma of red fruit pops out with a metallic (iron) undertone. Hints of smoke with continuous presence of bret (in a good way).
Palate: Sour cherry and salty olive flavor, hints of leather supported by bright acidity and light tannins.
Body: Light but smooth.
Finish: Short with primary red cherry notes.

Wine 2: 2006 Monte das Ânforas Tinto
Price paid: $6 (at Astor)

Vinho Regional Alentejano is located in the south east of Portugal, near the border of Spain. It is often referred to as the ‘bread basket’ of Portugal. Fertile lands are reserved for wheat growing while poorer soil is used for olive tree, oak and vineyards. In contrast to the hilly Beiras with cool climates, Alentejano is mostly flat plains where the climate is much warmer.

Monte das Ânforas is an entry-level wine produced at Herdade das Ânforas, one of the four wineries owned by Bacalhôa Vinhos de Portugal S.A. According to notes from the producer:

“The vineyards are located in three regions that are very well suited to Alentejano wine production: Portalegre, Borba and Moura. … the grapes are picked and quickly transported in small trucks to our “Monte das Ânforas” cellar in Arraiolos, where each grape variety, from each vine, undergoes separate vinification in small tanks (10 T). Part of the wine is then aged in Portuguese oak casks before it is bottled.”

2006 Monte das Ânforas Tinto is a blend of 40% Aragonez, 30% Trincadeira, 10% Alfrocheiro.
ABV is 13.5%.

Tasting notes:

Dark ruby.
Nose: Cherry aroma in kool-aid style with a spearmint undertone, slightly alcoholic nose.
Palate: Soft and supple, fruit forward with flavors of high-toned cherry and raspberry jam, hints of rose petal. No noticeable tannins and very low acidity.
Body: Light but round.
Finish: Short and peppery with slightly bitter aftertaste. Fruit flavor is mostly cherry.

[Note] We finish this wine in 2 days. On the 2nd day, the flavor profile of Ânforas has actually changed to resemble a light Beaujolais with more intense cherry flavor and pronounced spiciness.

Interestingly, the website of Bacalhôa offers food pairing recommendation on most of their wines. For Monte das Ânforas Tinto, they suggest Grilled Octopus with potatoes. However, there is no food pairing suggestion for Pedra do Urso on the producer's website.

Pedra do Urso is much more traditional in style when compared to the Monte das Ânforas which has ‘in your face’ style fruit. Although both wines are drinking well now, Pedra do Urso can be cellared for 1-2 more years without seeing any significant decline. On the other hand, Monte das Ânforas has relatively low cellaring potential based on its lack of acidity.

In spite of their relatively monolithic flavor profiles and lack of character, there are far worse plonks from around the world at this price point. Are these 2 wines good? Not really! Are these 2 wines a true representaives of what Portuguese wine is about? Absolutely NOT! However, considering the price paid, both Pedra do Urso and Monte das Ânforas do provide good QPR values and fit the bill as simple 'Portuguese table wines'.

These wines DO complement a variety of food dishes of rich flavors due to their relatively low alcohol content. As an experiment, we took them to dinner with friends in a Chinese restaurant and ordered food such as chicken in scallion ginger sauce, sweet and sour pork chop, pan fried T-bone steak, stir fried vegetable with dried squid, casserole of eggplant cooked with salted fish and chicken. Both wine showed well in pairing with the above dishes.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

A wine tasting event with Jean-Philippe Marchand

Jean-Philippe Marchand from Doamine Marchand Frères was on hand last weekend at Astor to showcase three of their 2005 Burgundies.

The estate of Doamine Marchand Frères was founded in Morey-Saint-Denis in 1813. In 1983, the Marchand family also purchased a wine grower’s house in the heart of Gevrey-Chambertin which currently serves as a wine shop. Today, the Marchand properties include vineyards located in the villages of Charnbolle-Musigny, Morey-Saint-Denis, Gevrey-Chambertin.

Their wine portfolio includes 1er Crus such as Les Sentiers at Chambolle, le Clos des Ormes at Morey, les Combottes at Gevrey as well as Grand Crus including Clos de la Roche at Morey, Griottes Chambertin and Charmes Chambertin at Gevrey. The average age of the vines for all Cru level wines are 40-50 years old except the vines for Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru which are over the age of 60 years.

Besides producing wine under the family label of Doamine Marchand Frères using estate grapes, Jean-Philippe Marchand is a négociant making wine under his own name, using purchased grapes from other growers in the region.

Tasting notes:

2005 Maison Jean-Philippe Marchand Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits Chardonnay
Price: $21

Color: Light bright gold.
Nose: Closed initially. With air, it eventually shows lemon peel and mineral notes
Palate: Lemon, green apple and honey notes, fairly crispy and balanced.
Body: Medium and smooth.
Finish: Medium but very focused notes of citrus flavor.

2005 Maison Jean-Philippe Marchand Cevrey-Chambertin "Clos Prieur
Price: $35

Color: Light ruby.
Nose: Red fruits, brown sugar and smoke.
Palate: Very tight but balanced. Sour cherry dominates the flavor with underlayer notes of earth. Structure is firm. Fairly focused.
Body: Medium.
Finish: Medium-long but very clean. Tannins still grainy at this point.

2005 Doamine Marchand Frères Morey-St.-Denis 1er CruClos des Ormes
Price: $62

Color: Dark ruby.
Nose: Sweat oak, baking spice, coffee and wet earth overshadow the black fruit. Light aroma of rose pedal.
Palate: Extremely tight but still exhibits great balance. Dark cherry layered with herbs, oak and spices supported by velvety tannins. Good acidity and concentrated fruit.
Body: Full.
Finish: Very long. Most notes of cherry and spice (cinnamon?)

These 3 wines demonstrate the great quality of 2005 Burgundies in general. represents quality better than the average wines of their respective wine-class. Again, these wines

The Chardonnay is straightforward, crisp and pleasant. But for $21, it does not represent a great QPR wine. There are a lot of 2005 Bourgogne Blanc out there with similar price point.

The Clos Prieur is a great food wine. Balanced, structured and very focused. For $35, it is a good value compare to other basic Cevrey-Chambertin wines. Too bad at the tasting there is no opportunity to compare this one with the estate wine, Domaine Marchand Frères Gevrey-Chambertin “En Songe”, to see which one is better.

Clearly the Clos des Ormes is a big wine. It has great cellar potential. Although drinking well now with proper decanting, I bet in 10 years this will be a great drink after it sheds the baby fat. However, it is not cheap for $62 per pop.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

2000 Baron D’ Ardeuil Vieilles Vignes, Buzet

First, a little bit of background information on Buzet:

On the left bank of the Garonne River, there are 25 miles of east and north-east facing hillsides backing up to the Landes forest that makes up the Buzet appellation. The region is bordered to the west by the forest of Landes, and to the south by the Auvignon, Nerac and Calignac rivers. Twenty-seven communities make up the Buzet region.

First cultivated around the abbeys of Fonclaire, Buzet and St. Vincent, the area was expanded by the merchants of Agen who were thriving during this period by their association with the English. Unfortunately, their neighbours in Bordeaux obtained a protection decree from Eleanor of Aquitaine, "corking" all other wines and allowing only the Bordeaux producers the right to sell their wines to foreign buyers. It was not until 1776, when the law was abolished, that the Buzet wines could begin to compete with its better-known neighbour.

At the end of the 19th century Buzet wines went into severe decline, suffering the ravages of the dreaded phylloxera. The subsequent replanting of mediocre and hybrid grapes had disastrous consequences too, making the wine unacceptable as part of the Bordeaux trade. The final blow came in 1911, when it was decreed that only vineyards in the Gironde area could be used in the production of Bordeaux wines. This effectively outlawed Buzet. The return to favour and status has been slow but steady. In 1953 the region eventually gained VDQS status (Vineyard Data Quantification Society) and finally became an Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) in 1973.

The climate of Buzet closer resembles South-west France that is drier and hotter than that of Bordeaux which is cooler and damper. The main grape varietals are Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon for the reds; Muscadelle and Sémillon for the whites.

Now the wine:

2000 Baron D’ Ardeuil Vieilles Vignes is produced by the Buzet Vinegrowers Cooperative that oversees over 1700 hectares of vineyard. The grapes are sourced from vineyards in Gascon. It is a blend of 24% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Cabernet Franc. After fermentation, this wine is aged in 30% new oak barrels for 18 months before bottling.

ABV: 13%. Price: $11 (after 15% discount at Astor)

Tasting Notes:

Color: Dark Garnet.

Nose: Upon opening, oak and strong vegetable note (My wife says it smells like scallion). After 1 hour of decanting, stronger aroma of vanilla, cassis and dried cherry finally emerges.

Palate: Cassis, blueberry and dried red fruit flavors with faint hint of tobacco. Angular mouth feel with relatively harsh tannins. Still fairly alcoholic.

Body: Light to medium with minimum structure.

Finish: Rather short. Mostly dried red fruits, peppery and notes of drying tannins.

This wine may need 1-2 years to allow the alochol to mellow a bit further.

Sipping by itself, this wine is not a pleasant beverage. It screams for fatty or saucy food. I paired it with cold chicken wings and beef short ribs, the fat from meat does work wonder on this otherwise dry and straight forward wine.

In spite of all the shortcomings, 2000 Baron D’ Ardeuil still presents a decent QPR value as a everyday wine, especially at 11 bucks.