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.