#Wines4JapanSFI apologize for the lack of updates as of late but as mentioned I have been busy and focused elsewhere. No place more so that on this #Wines4JapanSF charity tasting that I am helping to organize. I’ve been partnering with Jason Mancebo of $20 Dollar Wine Blog on winery outreach and have come up with a fantastic list of folks that are pouring and even more that are contributing items to the silent auction that will be held as part of the event. But before getting to those first a little more about the event…

The event is taking place in downtown San Francisco (at the Commonwealth Club) next Friday May 20th from 5:30-8. Tickets are available for $20 via ticketfly. A steal of a deal given the quality of the wineries that will be on hand and your contributing to the Japanese earthquake relief efforts to boot. All proceeds from the event will go directly to the Give2Asia. We have room for 400 of our closest friends at the event and I could certainly use your help in spreading the word. For those local I would love to see you there. It would be great to put a face to some of these names it seems I have known for so long…

Now let’s talk about who will be there….

    Cornerstone Cellars Cornerstone Cellars specializes in Napa Valley Cabernet. That said they have expanded to a second label, Stepping Stone, and a second location, Willamette Valley. All share one goal: to make compelling, exciting wines that speak clearly of the vineyard, variety and vintage from which they are born. Long on my radar I’ve yet to experience their wines and am excited to give them a try! Better yet I can’t wait to bid on one of the magnums of 2004 Howell Mountain Cabernet they are donating for the silent auction.
    Hirsch Vineyards Hirsch Vineyards is a winery that has burst onto my scene as of late. They are located on the Sonoma Coast and focus on making site-specific and varietally-true estate pinot noirs and chardonnay. I’ve been eagerly looking for a chance to try their wines and am hoping they’ll be on hand as our change in date has created a challenge for them. Either way they’ll still be participating as they were generous enough to donate a private tasting and tour of the winery and vineyards to the silent auction.
    Von Holt Wines Von Holt Wines is a new kid on the block specializing in single vineyard Pinot Noir and Syrah from the cool climate regions of the Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley. With John Fones as winemaker and Ed Kurtzman advising I’m expecting good things and look forward to discovering their wines.
    Old World Winery I was lucky enough to sample the wines of Old World Winery as part of a recent Taste Live event and I came away quite impressed. Old World Winery is a project of located on the site where Williams-Selyem was created and was founded by Darek Trowbridge who’s lineage leads through the Martinelli family. You can hear more about Darek’s wine making style in his interview for the soon to be relased documentary Wines from Here. I’m certainly looking forward to giving his wines another try and am sure you will enjoy doing so as well!
    Clos Saron Gideon Beinstock is the man behind Clos Saron and has long been involved with Renaissance Winery of which I have both been long wanting to try! Gideon is known as a careful and thoughtful and winemaker who keeps alcohol levels low and new oak at a minimum. For those interested Gideon is also featured in Wines from Here. I recommend giving it a watch but even more so coming to the event to give his wines a try. I know I can’t wait!
    Michel Schlumberger Let’s begin with the fact that my wife is Swiss. You see Michel Schlumberger was founded by a native of Switzerland with whom my father-in-law is acquainted. Luckily for me their wine is one of the few he buys regularly that I truly enjoy. I’ve lamented the beauty of their Pinot Gris on many occasions. I’ve been meaning to taste their whole lineup (I hear it is a stunning to visit) but have yet to have the opportunity. I still need to visit but in the mean time I’m excited they’ll be doing us the honor of joining us in San Francisco!
    James David Cellars David Cole may have been one of the very first acquaintances I made when joining twitter a few years back. Despite our exchanges I have still yet to try the wines of his James David Cellars which I have heard so many good things about. Given that I was thrilled when they reached out to participate in the event and look forward to my first taste of their offerings.
    Ravenswood Winery Everyone knows Ravenswood Winery or at least they think they do. Many know their widely available, reliable, value priced ZInfandel but fewer know (until recently I was guilty) that Ravenswood is the home of Joel Peterson who was recently inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame. He founded the winery in 1976 with $4,000 and no vineyards and today is known as the Godfather of Zin. They are perhaps best known by those in the know for their fine single vineyard designated Zinfandels and also produce a number of other varietals. I for one am keen to experience the lesser known side of Ravenswood.
    De Novo Wines “De Novo” in Latin means beginning anew. When I came across De Novo Wines they were certainly “a new” to me as I ‘m guessing they are to many of you. Founded in 2003 they’ve forged connections with vineyard owners specializing in Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel. Looking forward to getting acquainted.
    Hannah Nicole Vineyards Hannah Nicole Vineyards is another winery that I am being introduced to via this event. Located in Contra Costa County with Mount Diablo looming in the distance they first planted Bordeaux varietals before later adding their counterparts from the Rhone. Originally planned as an apple orchard they began making wine in 2002 and have continued to grow ever since. In 2009 they opened a new winery and tasting room and they continue to release a wide range of styles and grapes. Wonder which one will be my favorite! We will find out soon enough…
    Vinos Unico I’ve been singing the praises of Vinos Unico ever since I first sampled through their wines at the #Port4lio tasting in 2010. Not only do Luis and team import some terrific wines (at great prices) from Spain and Portugal but they produce quality vino like the Urbanite Cellars Redart in their spare time. With the latest releases of Vinho Verde’s in I can’t wait to give them a try and load up on a case or two for the summer.
    Blue Danube WineBlue Danube Wine is also part of the #Port4lio tasting I mentioned above and I likewise discovered their lovely and eclectic portfolio of wines. Frank and team introduced to me to a plethora of new and interesting varietals from throughout Central and Eastern Europe. The majority may have heard of Gruner Veltliner but go a step further and you can discover Plavic Mali, Irsai Oliver and more. You’re sure to try something new and likely to find something you want to explore further. If you’ve yet to experience some of these wines you are surely in for a treat!
    Return to Terroir Return to Terroir is yet again another member of the esteemed #Port4lio club and one who’s winesI know the least about. That said I’ve heard great things from many. Raphael and team scour France to find compelling wines at reasonable prices and I am looking forward to learning more about their portfolio. Hopefully there will be some Jura on hand as I missed an epic tasting event last week (as I was moving) at the Punchdown that I very much wanted to attend. My instinct tells me I’m sure to find some new favorites amongst their offerings and I look forward to exploring whatever they have on hand.
    Tanaro River Imports Tanaro River Imports is a new friend who thankfully reached out to participate in the event. Tanaro River Imports is focused on importing wines from the Old World and specifically focuses on the Alsace in France and Piedmonte and Tuscany in Italy. While we won’t be lucky enough to spend time with George and his team they will be sending the 2006 Beck-Hartweg Pinot Gris Gran Cru Frankstein, 2007 Bosco Agostino Barbera and 2007 Bindi-Sergardi Chianti Classico. There are even some rumors that some Barolo may slip its way in to the shipment. Either way guessing we’ll have good wines on hand!
    Cheese Plus And last but certainly not least Cheese Plus because what is good wine without good cheese. Ray and his team will be joining to share samples of their many cheeses and if you are nice enough they may even offer to share some knowledge on pairing their offerings with the different wines on hand. This is certainly a place where I have lots to learn. Again as the rumor mill has it I hear they make a mean fondue. Something tells me this is going to be a popular table. And for those that aren’t already aware Cheese Plus can hook you up with some seriously good wines to go with the cheese of your choice. Just stop in and ask for Greg. You’ll be glad you did.

This in addition to silent auction items contributed by Freeman Vineyard & Winery, La Clarine Farm, Stomping Girl Wines, Hahn Family Wines, Navarro Vineyards, K & L Wines and more. For all you wineries out there listening we still have some room to pour and would gladly accept more items for the silent auctions. Shoot me a note or leave a comment below if interested.

As for the rest of you get your tickets now and please help spread the word! Anything you can do to help would be greatly appreciated and in support of a worthy cause. Hope to see a bunch of you there.


2010: The Year in Review from A to Z

2010: The Year in Review from A to Z

I know I’ve been gone for a while. Apologies as life has been a bit hectic between my day job, buying a house, organizing a charity event (more on #Wines4JapanSF to come) and trying to launch a side business. I also know that 2010 is squarely in the rear view mirror for most. Q1 is over, 2010 tax season is behind us and most (me) are already behind on their New Year’s resolutions. That said given yesterday was the four year “birthday” of Jason’s Wine Blog I was feeling a bit retrospective and decided a sequel to the 2009 recap was in order. So first a quick nod once again to Tommy Oldre for the idea and then without further ado let’s get to it…

A is for an old flame; the Alsace. I’ve expressed my love here and here but have yet to dive in further. Changing that is one of my goals for 2011 and started with this 2009 Meyer-Fonne Riesling Reserve which was a certain winner. Also stay tuned as I plan (and already have been) exploring Assyrtiko (A seer’ tee ko) as well!

B is for… well it was tough to decide between Blue Danube Wines and Bonny Doon Vineyard. Blue Danube has introduced me to a plethora new and interesting varietals in the wines of eastern Europe. Where as Bonny Doon has rocked my palate with many fine and better yet value oriented wines (the Grenache is my favorite to date). I ultimately decided that since Randall Grahm and I both attended the Port4lio Tasting and agreed that the Patricius Yellow Muscat was the wine of the day that I would call it a tie. And Randall makes a nice Muscat of his own to boot…

C is for Cellar Tracker. This was the year I had finally made my leap from a little, personal system I used to becoming an active user of CellarTracker and I love it. I’ve posted over 200 notes in my first year onboard and have enjoyed reading others thoughts on wines I have stashed in my cellar. If you haven’t joined I highly recommend it! And if you do be sure to “friend” me so I can see what you are drinking…

D is for December. December 2010 to be exact. A season of festivities and I certainly celebrated by drinking some fine wines. Many of which I’ve yet to chronicle here. Two of my favorites were the Broadside Cabernet and Pierre Gonon Vin de Pays de l’Ardeche. Both were discovered via Jon Bonne’s No Stress Holiday Guide. Look for more on the palate matcher series I intend to delve into this year. In short the more I spend $12+ per bottle the more I am keeping score on who is steering me in the right direction for my palate. +2 for Jon and more to come.

E is for my evolving palate. It’s been five plus years since I’ve started seriously tracking my tasting notes and it is interesting to see how my perspective has changed over that time. Certainly in my earlier days I was much more a fan of rich, opulent wines like this 2004 Rosenblum “Heritage Clone” San Francisco Bay Petite Sirah which I still have two plus cases of in my cellar to more restrained offerings. I’m not sticking a branch into the beehive around balanced wines as it is just my take and I still enjoy a “bigger” wine on occasion. I’ll be interested to see how my palate continues to evolve in the next five years to come. Still so much to learn and try…

F is for Fronton. Fronton? Say what? Fronton is the the local wine of Toulouse and Negrette is the primary varietal these wines are composed of. And while I really enjoyed the Domaine Le Roc Classique this is more an ode to all of the other discoveries out there that are awaiting me. If I can find something like this from just outside France’s fourth largest city it speaks volumes to the amount of exploring I have left to do.

G is for Grüner Veltliner. I had my first deep dive into this native Austrian varietal at the aforementioned (see “B”) Port4lio tasting where I learned a great deal. I always appreciate the snappy, refreshing minerality they deliver and look forward to the differing complexities (floral notes, smoky, spice, etc.) that each brings to bear. My favorite of the year? The Graf Hardegg which made it to the final four of my summer wine extravaganza (75+ wines) last year. With warmer weather upon us I look forward to picking up my studies where I left off.

H is for Haiti. For those that don’t remember Haiti was struck by a major earthquake in January of last year. As part of this the wine community banded together to help support the relief efforts. The Wines for Haiti auction held on Palate Press was chief amongst these efforts. With the tragedy in Japan fresh on all of our minds I look forward to banding together as a community to once again support those in need. For those in the bay area stay tuned as we are in the midst of organizing a “Wines for Japan” tasting event.

I is for Israel and the wines of the Middle East. Not the first place that springs to mind when you think of wine but certainly somewhere the history runs deep. My first wine from Israel was the Golan Heights Cabernet Sauvignon which showed very well and encouraged me to explore further. And don’t even get me started on Lebanon. Learning the ins and outs (if there are any) of Chateau Musar is certainly on my agenda.

J is for Jadot, as in Louis Jadot who is just one of the producers mentioned in the best piece of wine writing I’ve likely ever read. If you haven’t yet stop reading now and click on over to Keith Levenberg’s Cellar-Book. That said be forewarned I have been on a relentless search for each (see Assyrtiko mention above) and every one of these wines. Wallet be damned. As for the Jadot I’ve yet to try it but I’m almost certain I‘ll love it. Stay tuned!

K is for K&L Wines. Those in the San Francisco area (and more recently LA) will surely recognize the name of one of my favorite retailers. Their email newsletters are well worth the subscription (if you can handle the temptation) and their selection is outstanding across all price points. My favorites range from the 2001 Château Larmande ($40) to QPR gems like the Urbanite Cellars Redart, Skouras White and Domaine Guillemarine Picpoul-de-Pinet. I’m looking forward to new discoveries in 2011!

L is for La Clarine Farm. 2010 was the year my interest piqued in “natural” wine. While the definition is widely debated I fall on the side of what’s in the bottle and I can tell you that I have yet to be disappointed. La Clarine delivers in spades with their Grenache Blanc and Syrah both interesting to the last drop and leaving you longing for the next bottle (need to get some of that Home Vineyard Red Blend). If interested in learning more about La Clarine Farms check out this interview with Hank Beckmeyer which was filmed as part of a documentary on natural wines in California called Wine from Here. Click on through to check the trailer. Great wine geek stuff!

M is once again for Mendocino and Navarro Vineyards. As mentioned last year I’m a big fan of this winery where I have been a club member for nearly a decade. I also mentioned I drink these wines far more than I review them which is a shame. In 2011 I’ll try and right that. Perhaps by tapping into a few of the verticals I’ve been building…

N is for the NPA or the Natural Process Alliance. For those that don’t remember their Sauvignon Blanc (my most consumed wine of 2010) was the winner of my Summer Stash series taking top honors amongst 50+ wines. I’ve since enjoyed their Red Hawk and Pinot Gris and love that their offerings can only be described as fun in a bottle. That is unless you give them nicknames of their own. Some of my faves are “sunshine”, “summer”, “the weekend”…

O is for older; as in older wines. I last lamented my lack of a wine sugar daddy (still accepting applications…) when talking Bordeaux earlier this year. Sadly my chances to try aged wine are few and far between. Last year I had a chance to taste the wines of Vina Valoria that spanned four decades; ’68 (my oldest), ’73, ’92, ’05, which was a unique experience. This year I recently had a 1994 Château Les Ormes de Pez. As for the rest of the year I’m hoping Musar (mentioned in “I” above) and Lopez de Heredia work their way onto my agenda (and into my cellar).

P is for palates and perspectives. This is building on my early note (see letter “D”) that the “the more I spend $12+ per bottle the more I am keeping score on who is steering me in the right direction for my palate.” My thought for 2011 is do dig deeper than the scores here. It is great that Parker gives a wine 90 points but what does my palate say. Likewise for you out there. I may love a wine you disdain or vice versa. To me this is part of the beauty of wine. That said I can’t help but try to apply a little bit of science to it ;)

Q is for QPR. I already mentioned some of my favorites from K&L Wines (see “K”) but I would be amiss not to share my a gem or two from a year of hunting the wines aisles of Trader Joe’s. My favorite of 2010? The Clos LaChance Merlot. The Picket Fence Pinot Noir was another favorite, though more polarizing, pick.

R is for Ridge Vineyards. Another case of enjoying the wines much more often than reviewing them. That said the Ridge Lytton Springs and York Creek Zinfandels are the only bottles I regularly spend $25+ per bottle on. This year I was lucky enough to join in for the 2nd version of their Wine Bloggers Tasting event. Hope I can make another one this year but either way looking forward to enjoying as many of their wines as I possibly can in 2011…

S is for the undiscovered Sherry. I have a lot of discovering to do in the realm of fortified wine and I intend to get it underway in 2011. No worries as I long ago identified my Obi Wan Kenobi in the Passionate Foodie, aka @RichardPF. My first Sherry? The Lustau Dry Amontillado “Los Arcos”. The first few nights I had this open it took some getting used to but after that I really enjoyed the bright orange rind, salty almond toast and a touch of carmel on the slightly sweet but dry finish. Looking forward to whatever my jedi master recommends next.

T is for Third Thirsty Thursday’s which is what I have preliminarily named my tasting club. I’ve long had a few friends who I’ve learned and tasted with but as we all have growing families it is time to formalize these events. First one May 19th. We also need to get a #SFWineMob up and running…

U is for Unique. Those that have been following along know that I am always on the lookout for a new experience and I’ll certainly have my eye open for any and all opportunities to explore further in 2011. Part of why I love wine so much is that there is always a new varietal or area to explore. For starters I have a trip planned later this summer to Switzerland which should offer plenty of discoveries. Excited to see what the year ahead will bring and already looking forward to your recommendations.

V is for Vinos Unico and Vinho Verde. No one was better to me in 2010 than Luis Moya and Vinos Unico. From Port4lio to Redart (see “K”) to Vina Valoria (see “O”) they delighted again and again. While the ’98 (along with a red and sparkling version of) Vinho Verde I sampled at their tasting dinner was incredibly unique I most enjoyed many warm summer afternoons on the patio with the 2009 Trajarinho Vinho Verde which is a steal at $9 and the 2009 Muralhas de Monaco Vinho Verde. Word on the street is that the 2010 Vinho Verde has arrived and is now available. Time for me to stock up!

W is still for my son William (and daughter Cecilia). As previously mentioned I’d like to build them a little cellar of birth wines and have stashed away a few for each. Assyrtiko, Riesling, Lopez de Heredia, Chateau Musar and Renaissance Winery are all on my shopping list. If you have any reasonable, affordable additions (~$40) do let me know…

X is another repeat for Xinomavro. Blame it on Keith Levenberg (see “J”) but I must taste the Domaine Karydas this year. But first I’ll start with the 2000 Hatzimichalis Xinomavro which I mentioned last year of which I was recently able to acquire another bottle of from Wine Chateau (along with a few others). With my friend Markus Stolz as a guide I look forward to discovering some terrific wines (at affordable prices).

Y is once again for You! I know I disappear from time to time and am less than diligent about responding to comments and apologize for both. I just want you all to know how much I appreciate sharing this journey with you. I’ve learned much, been turned on to some great wines, the Kanonkop Kadette comes to mine, and appreciated all the dialogue (even dissenting opinions) over the years. Thanks again and look forward to more of the same in 2011.

Z is for Zaca Mesa. First of interest after reading Steve Heimoff take on the Grenache I set out to track that one down. Alas all K&L Wines had on hand was the Syrah so I grabbed that and boy was I glad I did. Within that post I lamented not finding the Grenache which a friend was kind enough to gift me (along with a Viognier). Couple that with the extra bottles of Syrah I picked up and I look forward to spending more time with the wines of Zaca Mesa in 2011.

So there you have it! Have you had any of these? If so, would love to hear your thoughts. If not, let me know what wines have moved you over the last few years. I certainly love to try and track them down…

Me & Bordeaux: Tasting the 2008 Vintage

2011 Union des Grands Crus tasting

In Part 1 of this post I lamented that I was still a palate in training when it came to Bordeaux. To that end, as mentioned, I was thrilled to receive an invite to the Union des Grands Crus tasting that was recently held here in San Francisco to celebrate the 2008 vintage. Let me count the ways. First off I’ve never had a chance to try so many Bordeaux’s. There were a 103 tables set up. Reports were that there were 95 producers represented who poured 108 wines (including some Sauternes and a few whites). Now I’ve attended many tastings but none with this focus. Think about it. 100+ wines from the same region and the same vintage. I couldn’t imagine a better learning opportunity. Another reason this piqued my interest is that 2008 is my daughter’s birth year which means I’ll be looking to build her at least a little cellar of wines from this vintage. And lastly, given my limited knowledge I didn’t know more than a handful of these Chateau’s or their price points. Given how unbiased this left me I was almost anticipating running home to compare prices on my favorites…

Me & Bordeaux: Tasting the 2008 Vintage

Now let’s get back to the event at hand. As mentioned above this is not a small intimate event. This was serious business for most in attendance. Very little chit chat, just pour sip spit and move on. To some extent I started to reflect on traveling and got to thinking this was more like sightseeing than actually experiencing something but I’ll speak to that a bit more later. As well as to the fact that I have some learning to do on how to best leverage these tastings. One lesson I did learn is that you should certainly show up on time. I arrived quite late to this event and didn’t get to taste but 40 or so of the wines. So what did I think?

Again these are the general impressions of someone not well steeped in Bordeaux so you want to take them with a grain of salt. That said, all in all I thought the vintage was of the softer, thinner side and I am guessing not as ageworthy as many. These wines, if not ready to drink now, will likely be ready in short form compared to those from more esteemed vintages. Hopefully the prices will reflect that. K&L shared one such example in a recent newsletter with Calon-Ségur, St-Estèphe with the 2009 going for $110 a bottle and the 2008 a mere $60. Given that my guess is that this would be a vintage best suited for mining some gems for the long term and drinking in the short term. St-Julien seemed to show the best followed by St-Emilion, Pauillac and Pomerol.

2008 Gruaud-Larose, St-Julien

Now after tasting 40+ wines I like to retry my top picks and see if they still stand out. Most of the time they do. With that in mind here were my Top 10 picks from this event:

Interesting! Some cursory checking showed the wines at this event spanned a price range of $22 to $80. Given that my Top 10 were comprised of four on the lower end, three in the middle and three towards the top of the spectrum. Interested in hearing what others had to say? Check out these takes:

  • 2011 UGC Bordeaux Tasting: 2008 Vintage by Richard Jennings – for those that don’t know Richard is one of the most prolific tasters I know and I highly respect his knowledge, palate and opinion. Furthermore he manages to take notes on nearly every wine he tries. His favorite red of the tasting was the “very distinctive” Gruaud Larose, which he rated 93+ pts. Glad I caught that one as well ;)
  • Thoughts on the 2008 Bordeaux Reds by Fred Swan – Fred does most of his writing over at NorCalWine.com but took a day off to spend some time with the French. He thought the St. Julien and Pauillac wines showed the best and amongst his favorites were the Chateau Gruaud Larose, Chateau Lagrange and Chateau Leoville Poyferre.
  • 2008 Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, Chicago by David Honig – For those that don’t know David he is the publisher of Palate Press, the Online Wine Magazine, and offered rather extensive notes across all the regions recommending 10+ wines.
  • 2008 Bordeaux Vintage Tasting by Adam Japko – Adam, who writes over on WineZag.com, is relatively new to me but garners the respect of many of my friends and thus has mine. His favorites were the Troplong Mondot, Leoville Barton and Pichon Lalande. He also list 15 more of his top picks.
  • Thoughts on tasting Bordeaux by Steve Heimoff – Guessing most know Steve for his work with the Wine Enthusiast but he also manages to find some time for blogging. He shares some passing thoughts on the wines (he was a fan of the Lynch-Bages as well as some perspective on the tasting.

Oh and did I mention they had 10 or so Sauternes on offer. A very nice way to finish a nice tasting. My favorites of the bunch were the 2008 Guiraud, Sauternes ($23/375ml) and the 2008 Suduiraut, Sauternes ($30/375ml). I thoroughly enjoyed this tasting event. It was perfectly organized, very enjoyable and extremely educational. Thanks to the folks at Unions des Grands Crus de Bordeaux for visiting and to the all those at Balzac Communications for the invitation. I most certainly look forward to attending in the years ahead!

*photos courtesy of Palate Press, RJonWine.com and Interest In Wine.

Me & Bordeaux: Part 1

Me & Bordeaux: Part 1

Ah Bordeaux! Where to begin… Bordeaux and I have been trying to reach an understanding now for what seems like forever. You see when I was new to wine I didn’t exactly feel welcome if fact I was intimidated. With the mystique of the 1st growths it always seemed to be the holy grail of the wine world. The exclusivity the prices demanded made me feel like an outsider looking in and wondering if I’d ever be part of the club.

So you try a few and to no one’s surprise you don’t get it straight away because Bordeaux is for the most part inaccessible to those just starting to learn about wine. How so? Should I count the ways? 1) Certainly by price. 2) These wines typically take years to shine which is problematic for those that didn’t start collecting ten years before they became enthusiastic about wine. And finally 3) The newbie palate struggles at best to enjoy future greatness now; especially when they can only afford to shell out $30 once. Of course this is all rendered moot if you are lucky enough to have a wine sugar daddy with a deep cellar to teach you the ropes (if you are out there listening I am a willing apprentice…).

Now over the years I’ve tried hard to gain an understanding. Obviously Trader Joe’s is not the place to be learning about Bordeaux. So I’ve purchased a fair number of wines that K&L Wines, a favorite retailer and Bordeaux mecca, spoke highly of in their newsletters. With some learnings I decided to try an older offering or two starting with the 1994 Les Ormes de Pez, St-Estèphe ($30). Around that time I had my first child who I wanted to build a cellar for. That pushed me to accelerate my efforts. Around the end of 2009 I had a memorable experience with the 2006 Cantemerle, Haut-Médoc ($30). I followed this up in early 2010 with tickets to Fête du Bordeaux , a K&L tasting dinner, where I sampled a handful of the 2007 vintages but more importantly a handful of aged offerings from 1975, 1990 and 2000. During the holidays I had my best experience yet with the 2001 Larmande, St-Emilion ($40) which I picked up for a dinner with friends. Smooth, elegant and balanced a fantastic bottle for sure.

So where does that leave me? I still feel like a novice here. While I know the difference geographically between left bank and right I certainly can’t speak to a bottle I’ve had from each of the major appellations. With that said you can imagine my pleasure when I received an invite to the recent Union des Grands Crus tasting that was recently held here in San Francisco to celebrate the 2008 vintage. A fantastic opportunity to learn more. I covered off on my findings there in part two of this post. In the meantime I have a few more Bordeaux’s of interest on hand. Another of the 1994 Les Ormes de Pez I recently picked up from K&L Wines. And a few I got from friends as special gifts over the years; the 1998 Chateau Figeac St. Emilon as well as the 1998 Cos d’Estournel, St-Estèphe. Other than that I am always open to suggestions though my budget may limit my ability to act on them… And if anyone out there is looking for an apprentice you know where to find me. Cheers!

Interested in reading more on Bordeaux? Check out my thoughts on the 2008 Vintage

2008 Liberte Cabernet Sauvignon

This is a guest post from Bob Dwyer of the The Wellesley Wine Press which, for those not familiar, covers “a consumer’s view on finding, enjoying, and sharing great wines at great prices” so as you can imagine we are often sharing tips! If you are interested in taking a look for yourself check out his value alerts or his latest hyper value finds.
2008 Liberte Cabernet SauvignonPrice: $9.99 @ Trader Joe’s in Framingham, MA

What They Said:

Per the bottle “With its elegant red huge and powerful palate this 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon delivers an exceptional bouquet of blackberries, autumnal leaves and baking spices followed by opulent flavors of clove and marzipan. Serve with stuffed poblano peppers, roasted beet salad or tortilla soup with pressed Cuban sandwiches. Decant 15 to 30 minutes.”

What Bob Thinks:

A surprisingly hefty bottle with a raised label for a $9.99 California Cab. When I mentioned to the wine helmsman at Trader Joe’s that the label reminded me of the Chariot Gypsy he pointed out 3 or 4 other wines that have a similar looking woman on the label (Novella Synergy for example).

Deep dark red/burgundy in color. Not quite opaque but nearly. On the nose I get black pepper, deep black fruit and a little vegetal component I’d associate with Chilean reds blind. The mouthfeel is quite smooth initially, but on the backend I catch a little heat from alcohol with nice savory aromas lingering on in the glass. All in all a flavorful Paso Robles red priced on par with the amount of enjoyment it delivered.

Bob’s Rating: 12th Bottle
Thanks again to Bob for sharing this post. Have any of you had this wine? If so we would love to hear what you think in the comments below…

Sampling South African wines from Cape Classics

tasting South African wines of Cape ClassicsLast year I had the chance to attend the Celebrate South Africa tasting and like many of these events do it whetted my appetite to explore these wines further. And that I did. My favorite of the lot was the Kanonkop Kadette and it just so happened that my post captured the attention of their importer; Cape Classics. They reached out to see if I might be interested in sampling some more wines for their portfolio and were kind enough to send a case of South African wines my way.

While you will find detailed notes for each below I’ll share some highlights before we dive in. These wines, an even mix of reds and whites, ranged from $10 to $22. Keep in mind that these are suggested retail prices and can likely be found at least a few bucks cheaper at your favorite wine store. Overall I preferred the whites to the reds and tasting this lineup reconfirmed my belief that South Africa is a great place to look for value. Specifically Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc where these wines consistently deliver a nice QPR. The Beyond Sauvignon Blanc and Kanu Chenin Blanc were my favorite from this lineup. Nonetheless of the 20 South African wines I tasted last year the Kanonkop Kadette remains my favorite. Before we jump in if you have any favorite South African wines of your own to share please drop me a comment below. I’d love to give them a try. Now onto the details. Happy Reading!

a flight of South African whites...

  • 2010 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé ($12) – (12.5%) – 100% Cabernet Sauvignon – This one is overly red instead of pink lowering my expectations straight off the bat which is too bad as I really want to like this wine. Word to the wise; don’t drink this one too cold. If the nose is muted give this one a nice hand warm until it starts to express itself. It will be a much more interesting wine that way. The nose shows nice floral and citrus fruit notes. The palate starts full and juicy showing strawberry flavors. From there acidity emerges that turns this one bone dry. The finish combines mineral (almost talc like) and white pepper components that ends on a crisp, slightly bitter note that makes it slightly less refreshing than it otherwise would have been.
  • 2009 Kanu Chenin Blanc ($10) – (12.5%) – 92% Chenin Blanc, 7% Viognier, 1% Sauvignon Blanc – Nice melon/citrus aromas on the nose. The palate is surprisingly smooth with floral notes upfront. Not the cutting acidity you sometimes see but instead a nice mineral, stony backbone that merges with cantaloupe and peach fruit flavors to deliver a crisp, refreshing finish (with hints of nuttiness). An easy drinker that at $10 is well worth the price of entry. Pair it with a flaky, white fish or a sunny fall day on the patio and I’m guessing you’ll be glad you did. An interesting side note on this one is that it comes from 32 year old vines. Rare you see that kind of age at this kind of price point.
  • 2010 Excelsior Chardonnay ($10) – (14%) If I had a kind of Chardonnay this might be it. Slightly candied on the nose the palate starts with tart lemon and loads of green apples. Nice acidity emerges to keep this one crisp and refreshing. The finish begins with a mineral component with just a hint of barrel creaminess and ends with a nice lemon custard flavor. Out of curiosity I checked and this was fermented in 75% stainless steel and 25% on French oak (aged I’m guessing). A nice, easy drinker here, don’t hesitate to grab one if this sounds like your kind of wine.

a flight of South African reds...

  • 2008 De Morgenzon Shiraz DMZ ($15) – (14.5%) 100% Syrah – The first vintage of this label shows warm cherry and spice on the nose. From there it starts rich on the palate where lively pepper notes intermingle with plum fruit flavors. A heavy barrel component; oak and vanilla, emerges towards the end of the mid-palate leading to a dry, dusty, tannic finish that lingers on pleasantly.
  • 2009 Indaba Merlot ($10) – (14.5%) – 96% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot – Barnyard, dark fruits and heat on the nose. The palate starts dry showing plum and dusty chocolate aromas before a heavy acidity emerges on the mid-palate. From there it turns dry and smoky with brambly fruit flavors mixing with a white pepper component on a slightly harsh finish. This one goes better with food than on its own. Given the prevalent acidity pairing it with a tomato based sauce may suit it well.
  • 2008 Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon ($10) – (14.5%) – 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Petit Verdot – Dry, brambly blackberry on the nose with loads of barnyard notes lurking beneath. The palate delivers bright cherries on top of a nice acidity with grippy tannins. The finish is tart with a dusty, earthy component that lingers on. While eminently drinkable at 14.5% this one runs hot and is certainly rough around the edges. That said I have heard wonderful things about this label and am likely to try it again sometime in the future.

more from South Africa...

    2009 Beyond Sauvignon Blanc ($12) – (13%) Nice, pure straw color in the glass with loads of gooseberry on the nose. This one starts clean and pure on the palate with a nice racy acidity and vibrant, bright lime fruit flavors. From there a firm, stony structure emerges and leads to a tangy minerality on a crisp, refreshing finish that lingers with tinges of white pepper while not being overpowering. This is a very well made wine that seems to garner accolades vintage after vintage (Tanzer was a fan of the ’09). On par with many of my favorites (Veramonte, Dashwood) and will be a wine I seek out in the future. At $10 you are likely to find this for it represents a very nice value.

  • 2009 Jam Jar Shiraz ($12) – This wine and I were not made to get along. If the words “Sweet Shiraz” raises your guard as much as they did mine be sure to steer clear of this one…
  • 2006 Mulderbosch Faithful Hound ($22) – (13.5%) 41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Petit Verdot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 9% Merlot, 4% Malbec – An earthy nose that shows some fruit along with a barn yard funk (this is not a bad thing) that never cleared off. This one has lot going on under the hood; green pepper, blackberry fruit, black licorice and spice. The mid-palate shows a mineral, graphite component that evens this one out before a load of creamy oak (42% new oak, 58% second fill) arrives. These merge with dry coffee, tobacco and black pepper flavors on an earthy finish that lingers with lightly puckering tannins. This one received 90 points from the Wine Spectator and is a good all around effort that is sure to keep your attention while in the glass. While a bit pricey at $22 it is an enjoyable offering that consistently garners high scores from vintage to vintage.

a flight of South African whites to close...

  • 2009 Raats Chenin Blanc ($13) – (13.5%) 100% Chenin Blanc – Orange blossoms with nice tropical and stone fruit notes on the nose. Starts light & crisp on the palate with glimpses of white fruit before bright lemon rock flavors take over. A steely (this one sees no oak) minerality emerges which lasts (with the lemon) all the way through the finish where it lingers nicely. This one lacked the crispness I’ve come to expect of South African Chenin Blanc on the finish which makes this one much more food friendly though it is quite quaffable on its own as well. Feel free to pair it with fish, salad or a sunny day.
  • 2009 Indaba Chardonnay ($10) – (13%) nice orange blossoms and floral notes on the nose. The same plays through to the palate as well. Nice weight, crisp and acidic throughout. The finish has a pleasant citrus twang but still shows more oak than I like. Or am I imaging that? Overall this is a pleasing wine and at $8 it delivers more than fairly from a quality to price ratio perspective.
  • 2009 Rustenberg Chardonnay ($20) – (13.5%) 100% Chardonnay – Straight California Chardonnay on the nose (12 months in 40% new oak and 60% 2nd use). Lots of oak on the palate as well with baked apples and marzipan. On the mid-palate bright citrus flavors begin to poke through on the edges. From there a juicy acidity emerges and leads to a slightly toasty but short finish. I’m not a fan of Chardonnay’s made of this style but I know many are and they include the Wine Spectator who have scored the last four vintages of this offering at 90 points plus.

*as mentioned above these wines were received as press samples

2010: The Year in Blogging

Happy (belated) New Year to all! Those that have been sharing my wine journey with me over the years know that around this time I like to take a moment to step back and reflect. Ponder the year that has passed and what I learned, look towards the future with fresh eyes and jump into the year with a renewed focus. I generally take the month of January to go through this exercise. Early memories of 2010 include last year’s A to Z post , some great tasting events, a Top 10 list that wouldn’t update itself and most importantly seeing the community continue to grow and thrive here.

And on that note, I want to thank all of you! It has been an incredibly fun year. According to my friends over at Google some 120,000+ of you stopped by last year to read ~380,000 pages . Despite a hiatus (or two) 98 new posts were published and an amazing 1,134 comments were generated! An extra special thanks to my commenter in chief; the invaluable Angela. Likewise to joshiemac, JB, Danny, Don, Andy Rathbone, JerrryK and each and everyone of you that took the time to participate this year. I appreciate the time you all take to make this such an enjoyable experience and look forward to continuing the conversation throughout 2011.

And finally… Yip! Still a a sucker for a Top 10 list so I thought I’d share how you all voted with your clicks. With that I present the “Reader’s Choice” Top 10 List of Wines for 2010:

  1. 2007 Trentatre Rosso
  2. 2007 Rabbit Ridge Allure de Robles
  3. 2008 La Granja Tempranillo
  4. 2007 Chariot Gypsy
  5. 2008 Honey Moon Viognier
  6. 2008 Spiral Wines Cabernet Sauvignon
  7. 2007 Picket Fence Pinot Noir
  8. 2006 Chiusa Grande Tommolo Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo
  9. 2005 Epicuro Aglianico
  10. 2008 Sebastopol Hills Pinot Noir

Have you had any memorable moments here on the site in 2010? Have any thoughts on what we can do different in 2011? If so do tell in the comments below…

Next up: 2010: The Year in Wine…

Revisiting the Epicuro red wines

I remember when these wines burst onto the scene late 2007/early 2008 and how much I enjoyed them back then. I’ve certainly drank more than my fair share of these over the years but haven’t posted my thoughts in quite some time. Given I slotted the Aglianico into the 10th position of my Top 10 list and the 8th in the classics I thought it would be prudent to revisit the lineup. With that here we go….
Revisiting the Epicuro red wines

  • 2008 Epicuro Aglianico ($5) – (13.5%) Juicy blackberry and clove notes on the nose. The palate starts with lots of oak and big fruit completely lacking of acidity and/or balance. A jammy mid-palate serves tart blackberries and sage, herbal spice on a quick finish with harsh tannins. Such a shame it makes me wish I had more of the ’05 left. This serves as a textbook case study in the economics of Trader Joe’s wine. It generally follows these steps: 1) Source a new wine. 2) Wine sells well. 3) Ask winemaker to produce more quantity next year but price can’t change. 4) Next vintage is not as good as previous vintage. Snowball that by a few vintages and you have a sad story. Unless you are just looking for something to cook with (and steal a few sips from) I’d steer clear of this one…
  • 2008 Epicuro Nero d’Avola ($5) – (13%) Light fruit and wood on the nose. Juicy with soft, warm fruit on the palate, Despite being only 13% this one seems to be lacking the acidity I would like to see. A bit flabby all the way to the finish before grippy tannins appear in an attempt to rescue this one. While quaffable and fine for everyday “drinking” I would steer well clear if you are looking for a wine to spend some quality time with…
  • 2006 Epicuro Salice Salentino Riserva ($5) – (13%) 80% Negroamaro, 20% Malvasia Nera – Dark purple in the glass, ruby on the edges with dusty, warm fruit and barrel spice on the nose. The palate starts with a mouthful of sweet, juicy cherry and raspberry flavors shrouded in oak which is readily apparent throughout. Despite this shortcoming this wine is light bodied and well balanced with a firm acidic structure that makes it food friendly and a fine companion for cooking. The finish is of dry, tongue smacking tannins that lingers moderately. At this price there is little to complain about…

So there you have it. Disappointing but can’t say I didn’t expect it. My little rant within the Aglianico review rings true for many offerings that start out as great values at Trader Joe’s dating back all the way to Charles Shaw. That one will definitely be falling off both of my lists and the Salice Salentino could be a potential replacement. How about you? Have you had any of the Epicuro offerings as of late? If so I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below…

Tasting the wines of Montes Alpha

Now I said Montes Alpha like that was the name of the winery. It is not. Vina Montes makes wine under a variety of “Montes” labels including the Classic Series, Limited Selection, Folly, Cherub and more. The Alpha, as the name implies, is their top rated offering and certainly it’s most well known. Now I’ve been lucky enough to try many quality offerings from Chile and given that when these samples arrived I was anxious to give them a try. How did they stack up?

Montes Alpha Wines

  • 2008 Montes Alpha Syrah ($18) – (14.5%) Bit of green on the nose with dark fruit (black cherry) notes and briar spice. Initially creamy and juicy, and a bit sweet, with loads of blueberries on the palate but quickly met with nice acidity and tight, tart tannins. Barrel oak and spice lead the finish followed by tart cranberry flavors and tingly tannins that linger on. As it is drinking today I can’t quite get to the 90 points this one garnered from the Wine Spectator. That said with a few more years to integrate this one has the potential to punch well behind its weight…
  • 2008 Montes Alpha Carménère ($18) – (14.5%) 90% Carmenere, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon – Nice deep purple fruits, floral notes and spice on the nose. On the palate a superb structure is readily apparent on entry to the palate and lasts throughout. Warm, plush blueberry and plum flavors greet you on the palate. This one is a fruit forward but balanced offering as some acidity emerges before creamy barrel spices take over and lead to a smooth, effortless finish with black pepper and gentle tannins that lingers nicely. Certainly not your typical Carmenere (lacking the green pepper and smoky components I am so used to) but an enjoyable wine to say the least. Drinking very well right now and will certainly last for quite a few more years should you have the patience.
  • 2008 Montes Alpha Chardonnay ($18) – (14%) 100% Chardonnay – Pale gold in the glass the nose here started muted which is always a sign that the wine is too cold to move forward. Returning after giving it ten minutes to warm I found buttery notes with fruit; predominantly banana with muted lemon notes. The palate starts creamy from the get go and the white fruit flavors (pear and apple) are hard pressed to emerge through. A decent acidic structure does manage to maintain balance here until late in the mid-palate when it briefly spirals before subsiding to a creamy, vanilla finish that lingers with lemon notes and a tinge of floral spiciness. This is certainly made with a new world chardonnay palate in mind. If that is you (it’s not me) I would trust in the 88 points this one got from both the Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast rather than this review…
  • 2008 Kaiken Corte ($12) – (14.8%) 80% Malbec, 12% Bonarda, 8% Petite Verdot – Kaiken is the Argentine off shoot of the Montes Alpha team from Chile and this one in particular is a relatively new offering. Super dark purple in the glass with cherries and floral notes on the nose. The initial weight and mouth feel are quite nice. This one starts juicy then turns earthy and dry on the palate. The edges are hot and slightly harsh with some mineral, graphite notes emerging before a barrel driven finish of cedar and spice emerges. While a unique blend and drinkable there are many better offerings out there for the money.

These stacked up quite well! Even better they seem to be broadly available so your chances of finding these should be pretty good. You can start at your local Costco where these seem to be regularly stocked. I know I’ll be looking for the Carmenere next time I am there! How about you? Have you tried any of the Montes Alpha wines? Any other Chilean favorites to share?

*as indicated above these wines were indeed received as press samples

Razor’s Edge Wines

The Razor’s Edge (per their site) is “the thin line representing a perfect balance between extremes. It is here that our wines can be found, perfectly combining quality and value, complexity and approachability, power and elegance, regional character and purity of flavor. Razor’s Edge wines not only walk the line, they dance upon it.”

Now anyone that knows me is well aware that I would find that a compelling tale. However in this case I had some apprehension as I had tried one of their wines, the Shiraz, long ago and came away disappointed. Nonetheless with a mantra like that I couldn’t help but be eager to give them a try when I received these samples. How did they fare?
Razor's Edge Wines

  • 2009 Razor’s Edge Chardonnay ($12) – (12.5%) 100% Chardonnay – Lighter in color with floral and white citrus fruit on the nose. Juicy and vibrant on the palate with white apple, peach and nectarine flavors. The oak (15% new oak barriques) appears towards the middle and adds a creamy texture but is immediately balanced by a nice adicity which drives through to a clean and pleasant finish. A simple and enjoyable wine for any occasion.
  • 2008 Razor’s Edge Shiraz-Grenache ($12) – (14.5%) 75% Shiraz, 25% Grenache – Medium purple in color; violet on the edges. The nose shows sweet fruits, earth and spice. Starts big and jammy with luscious dark berry fruit on the palate. It remains soft and approachable as the fruit thins and is joined by a peppery, mineral component on the mid-palate. The finish remains fruity but brings in dry, leathery tannins with barrel driven creaminess that linger on nicely together. Nicely structured throughout. I think the Wine Enthusiast liked this one more than me as they named it the number 22 wine in their Top 100 Best Buys of 2010. That said I enjoyed it nonetheless.

So do these wines find the Razor’s Edge? My take is not quite. While both drink nicely and deliver fair value for the price neither make a lasting impression. That said if you have tried these wines I’d love to hear your thoughts. If not have any tips to share on wines that you thought found the “razor’s edge”

*as indicated above these wines were indeed received as press samples