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.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

2005 Espelt “Sauló”, Empordà

Espelt is a young Spanish winery that was founded in 2000 on a family property in Vilajuïga in northeastern Catalonia, led by the eldest daughter Anna Espelt who studied oenology in the US. The vast majority of their vineyards are located inside two natural parks in the area, producing wines from mostly local varietals. This winery produces a wide range of wines, including red, white, rose, sweet and caves. Their best red is the Comabruna, a blend made from estate grown Syrah, Carinyena and Marselan. Quinze Roures is the winery best white made from a blend of white garnatxa and macabeo.

Unfortunately, Espelt’s wines see a very limited distribution in the North America. Lucky for us,
Eric Solomon does import Espelt’s entry level red, the Espelt Sauló into this country. It is a blend of 60% Garnacha and 40% Carineña. This wine comes from the Empordà region that lies just south of the French border on the Mediterranean coast. The soil there is mainly decomposed granite soils (locally known as Sauló) that force vines to struggle for nutrients.

ABV: 13%. Price paid: $11.

Tasting Notes:

Color: dark ruby.

Nose: Aroma of dried cherry, a whiff of alcohol and a hint of oak.

Palate: Supple fruit, consistent cherry flavor with notes of plum. Decent structure with grainy tannins. Round and soft mouth feel.

Body: Medium.

Finish: Short with notes of cherry. Drying tannins is still slightly harsh.

The Espelt Sauló comes with a synthetic rubber cork. It is a straight forward wine that goes really well with wide range of casual dishes. Although this wine is meant for immediate consumption, all the components 'may' come together better if we give this wine a year or two in the bottle. However, with all the lush fruits and the easy drinking style, who can wait?

Monday, September 17, 2007

2005 Balkan Hills Muscat

The Muscat grape is the world’s oldest known grape variety. Over 200 different varieties and derivatives to the Muscat family exist today. These grapes are planted around the world in every continent. The color of the grapes can range from white to almost black in color. They are eaten as table grapes, sun-dried as raisins and processed to make unique wines.

The unique thing about Muscat is that it is the only grape that produces wine that tends gives its particular flavor to its wine no matter where it's planted. To put it another way, it's a vine that doesn't reflect its terroir. White Muscat wines have a signature floral and slightly orangey aroma. When make into fortified wines, they have rich noses of dried fruit, raisin and orange. It is also made into a unique brandy popular in Peru called Pisco. To the Americans, the most well known (and heavily marketed) Muscat wine is probably Asti Spumante, a sugary Italian sparkling white wine.

So it is Sunday night and a light dinner affair of salad and
pineapple fried rice is served. The wine pairing is this bottle of 2005 Balkan Hills Muscat made by LVK-Vinprom AD Targovishte winery from grapes grown in the northeast region of Bulgaria adjacent to the Black Sea. The grape varietal planted in this region is most likely Muscat Ottonel.

Price paid: $8.50. ABV: 13% .

Tasting notes:

Color: Pale yellow with a greenish hue.

Nose: Pleasant aroma of wild flower and honeysuckle. Slight hints of minerality. The floral aroma fades a bit as wine warms.

Palate: Refreshing and crisp. Very focused floral notes accompanied by lemony flavor. Hints of honey is also noted. However, the acidity can be a tad higher.

Body: Medium.

Finish: Medium but clean. Lingering notes of lemon and honey.


For the price from Bulgarian Master Vintners, this wine is worth every penny. (Shipping from this merchant is a very reasonable $1.50 per bottle at the time of writing). This Muscat should perform well when paired with light seafood dishes or with spicy food. It is a nice alternative to the 'usual' wines such as Chardonnay or Riesling.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

2005 Talus Collection Pinot Noir, California – a wine for pretzels?

This bottle of 2005 Talus Collection Pinot Noir, which retails between $5-$8, is produced by Canandaigua Wine Company of Constellation Wines U.S., which is part of Constellation Wines, an operating division of Constellation Brands, Inc.

You may not have heard of Constellation Brands, but this company makes commonly known wines brands including Big House Red, Alice White, Covey Run, Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi. These wines can usually be found in neighborhood wine shops or dive bars.

It is a random Friday night and we just want to open a bottle of wine as sipping beverage, so the cork of this bottle is popped. We don’t have any high expectation for this generic pinot, but I am quite surprised to say that it actually contains all the basic components of a Pinot Noir. Also, it is actually a quaffable wine, no worse than any 2 (or 3) buck chuck that you can pick up from Trader Joe.

From the producer's fact sheet, 2005 Talus Collection Pinot Noir consists of 75.7% PinotNoir, 6.6% Petite Syrah, 4.9% Syrah, 4.2% Valdigue, 3.3% Sangiovese, and 5.3% miscellaneous blenders. ABV: 13 %

Tasting notes:

Color: Light ruby.

Nose: Light oak, bing cherry (although a bit artificial) and very faint notes of baking spice.

Palate: Very soft. Mid palate is quite hollow delivering bing cherry and light oak flavors. Decent peppery kick at the end but alcohol is also very high toned. Tannins virtually does not exist.

Body: Light and watery.

Finish: Short. Spicy, oaky and slightly bitter.

I rarely post tasting notes for under-par wines, but this is definitely one of them. As varietally correct as this wine can be, this wine is one dimensional. The bottom line is that it just has a 'cheap feel' written all over it.

According to Talus Wine’s website, this wine is served on all domestic flights of Delta Airlines. Quote from Talus: “Talus Collection Pinot Noir is assertive yet smooth, with a mixture of black and red fruits and a subtle touch of earthiness. (It's a must with pretzels.)”

So there you have it: There is indeed a Pinot Noir that pair well with pretzels!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

WBW #37 : indigenous grape varieties

The theme for WBW 37, hosted by Dr. Vino, is indigenous grape varieties. Selection of an off-beat grape variety and comparison of wines from its ancestral home AND a new home is also highly encouraged.

Tannat, depicted by as a wolf man, shall be used as the grape varietal for this WBW discussion. This grape is native to the Madiran AOC in southwestern France where the wines Midiran and Armagnac are produced. In the 19th century, tannat found a new home in South America when wine growers imported this grape to their countries. Today, tannat has flourished in Uruguay and become its ‘noble’ grape.

Although well known for their fierce tannins, tannat wines can provide exceptional value for consumers due to their relative low costs and abilities to age; especially those made by good producers in good years. As for this WBW theme, we shall compare two wines, one from Midiran, France and the other from Colonia, Uruguay.

From France: 2001 Château de Perron

Wine Spectator claimed Château de Perron as one of top valued wines of 2005 and gave it a score of 90 points. It is a blend of 65% Tannat, 20% Cabernet Franc and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. However, the sad story about Château de Perron is that 2001 is the last vintage. The owner sold his vineyard after a divorce and the new owner chose not to continue it's production. This wine is now extremely difficult to find on the retail market.
ABV: 12.5%. Price paid: $12

Color: Dark purple.

Nose: Initial burst of ripe berry, meat and leather. With air, slight hint of tobacco is also noticed.

Palate: Consistent notes of ripe berry, leather and oak. Tannins initially overpower the fruit even after 6 years in the bottle. It keeps on gaining weight and depth with air and tannins eventually smooth out after 30 minutes or so in the glass.

Body: Medium.

Finish: Medium with grainy and dry tannins. Strong notes of black tea.

From Uruguay: 2000 Los Cerros De San Juan Cuna de Piedra Oak Reserve

Los Cerros de San Juan Wine & Cellar S.A just celebrated its 150 years of wine making in 2005. According to the producer’s website, this 100% tannat wine, Cuna de Piedra is first produced in 1994 to celebrate its 140 years anniversary. This wine is made from mature grapes harvested from 50 and 100 year old vineyards. The company also makes another wine from 100% tannat, Maderos de San Juan Tannat, from younger vines. However, like a lot of wines from Uruguay, the availability for either one of them in U.S. is quite limited.
ABV: 13%. Price paid: $15

Color: Dark ruby approaching purple.

Nose: Primarily blueberry with wet leaf aroma. Hints of toasted oak; giving way to notes of cedar and tar.

Palate: Dark berry, leather, wood and hint of earthiness. Acidity is very lively. The structure is quite robust and the tannins does not overpower the fruit. Good mouth feel.

Body: Medium to full.

Finish: Medium with tart cherry and spicy notes. Hints of chocolate.

Neither Perron nor Cuna de Piedra is a sipping wine. By themselves, they are very rustic and not particularly enjoyable. Their true color shines through when matched with the proper food. We paired them with grilled rib steak and mushroom and both wines are just marvelous.

These two wines offer great QPR values. Although not elegant, they are big, powerful and further cellaring of 3-5 years may be required to fully integrate all the components. Cuna de Piedra is a more modern wine when compared to Château de Perron. At the time of writing, the Piedra is actually more approachable than the Perron.

Both wines are tested over a 3-day period (vacuum pumped and refrigerated). At the end of the test, Cuna de Piedra holds up really well keeping most of the elements together. The Perron, on the other hand, loses a lot of the fruit on the 3rd day while the tannins and the taste of wood become almost unbearable. One concern for Château de Perron for longer term cellaring is that eventually there may not be enough fruit to support the tannins. Ah, but for this, only time can tell!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

2002 Cardeal Dão Reserva

Caves Dom Teodosio S.A., a big wine bottling and producing company in Portugal, produces Cardeal Dao Reserva. This wine is made from 100% Touriga-Nacional from the Dão region. It is fermented in stainless steel vat. Bottling and subsequent bottle aging takes place in the company's Rio Maior facilities. This wine is released only after aging in the cask and bottle for a couple of years.
ABV: 13%, Price paid: $10

Tasting notes:

Color: Medium ruby.

Nose: Dark fruit (plum) initially. With air, faint floral aroma and notes of caramel appears.

Palate: Not very complex. Consistent delivery of luscious dried plum, hints of dried herb and wood. The acidity is lively with a slight touch of vegetation on the mid-palate together with heat at the back of the throat. Tannins is very integrated.

Body: Medium at best but very soft and smooth. Not much structure.

Finish: Medium with persistent fruit. Hints of earthiness.

Cardeal Reserva is a versatile every day wine. Given its characteristics of lively acidity, abudence of fruit and integrated tannis, it should compliment a wide variety of dishes.
This wine is consumed over a 3 day's period. The best showing is on day 2 when every element comes together nicely.
Also, it would be interesting to keep a couple of bottles around to see how it develops in the next 2-3 years.

Friday, September 7, 2007

2006 J&H Selbach Riesling Kabinett (Fish Label)

2006 Selbach Riesling Kabinett (Fish Label) is made with grapes from leased vineyards in the Mosel Saar Ruwer region for J. & H. SELBACH. In effect, it can be considered as a 2nd label or négociant line of the Selbach-Oster family. Johannes Selbach, the famed winemaker of Selbach-Oster, oversees the winemaking of all the wines of this label.

From the importer:
“This Kabinett comes from 15 kilometers around Zeltingen. A lot of it is Zeltingen, Bernkastel-Kues and Kinheim fruit, some Detzem, some Brauneberg.”

Tasting Notes:

Color: Clear, pale yellow.

Nose: Apple, honey and a whiff of wild flower.

Palate: Consistent notes with the nose; ripe apple and honey are the dominant flavors perked up by refreshing acidity and minerality.

Body: Medium.

Finish: Short to medium but persistent notes of honey and ; slight hint of minerals.

I have to admit that Riesling is not a wine I usually stock or a wine I particularly look out for. I only drink Riesling as a food-pairing wine with spicy cuisines such as Indian, Malaysian or Thai. As an entry-level Riesling, this Kabinett is very food friendly. However, I find young Rieslings, especially the entry-level semi-dry ones, are often rather one dimensional with overpowering sweetness and this 2006 Selbach is no exception.