Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A wee bit of internet wine-biz hilarity ensues..and a mini-review

If you're using the internet and love wine, I highly recommend this for an utterly hilarious parody of what happens in the twitter-verse. Thanks to Tom Wark (@tomcwark) for tweeting about it originally via his site. Take the time to read his other entries, you'll learn a lot!

2003 Conde de Valdemar Reserva Rioja

To be fair, I love Spanish wines. But...some of my first ever experiences came from drinking such stunners as Vega Sicilia Unico. Talk about setting the bar high, I still remember the depth and complexity, how it also had that one special quality to it that made me pause. Something that great wines have, which defines why they're great. I struggle to define or quantify what that essence was, yet I still recall the effect on me.

With that out of the way, I went into tasting this wine with a sense of excitement. It's relatively cheap, $14.99 at Trader Joe's, at least at the West Coast stores. I smelled darker notes immediately. Mocha, leather, a certain tarry quality, dried blueberries and a dusty/earthy scent. Kind of like a patch of bare ground that was rained on last week and is still a touch moist..But not earthy like a Rhone Valley wine or smelling of manure like a rustic (or really good) Rhone wine.

How does it taste? A bit more delicate than I expected, but it was a 2003 so perhaps that explains it. There was a soft bit of blueberry and blackberry, oak, round tannins, leather and a pleasant herbal flavor there. A bit of chunkiness disappointed me, previous readers know I'm all about seamless flavor transitions and am also big on flavor integration. I believe this wine was at it's peak or just past it, so it might have been disassembling by the time I got to it. The non-fruit flavors almost dominated the fruit notes, furthering that feeling of an off-peak wine.

There was a definite silky quality to the finish, which I did enjoy, a very nice tapering effect. I felt that at one point this might have been a bit more powerful but with age came an accessibility. On consecutive nights I paired it with home made pizza and beef stir-fry. Since the pizza had veggies as toppings, the wine held up just fine. With the stir-fry though, it was a bit overwhelmed and felt out of balance. There was too much going on, the food needed to be softer, quieter, but not necessarily more elegant.

Overall, a really nice bottle of wine. You might note that nothing wowed me, it seemed a bit past it's prime but had a wonderful finish and definitely an elegant quality which also appealed to me. My verdict: C+/B-, right now I'm leaning towards the C+.

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

2006 Juan Gil Jumilla Monastrell...brawny, sexy, juicy wine.

Big red wine alert! Spicy, ripe blackberry preserves with a dense core of blueberry. Notes of tar, wood, vanilla and star anise on the nose. On the palate, tannins surround your palate, building a cocoon of earth, ripe berries, and soft oak nuances that flow seamlessly into an elegant finish. This is an intense wine with a lot to offer, it's best decanted for an hour or two, to let everything integrate properly. You can literally feel all the flavor elements embrace your entire tongue, like water poured over a flat board, gently washing over each side equally. Right as it ends, while the wine elegantly tapers off into nothingness, you'll find soft notes of dark chocolate and graphite. I always find this an interesting expression of the Monastrell/Mourvedre grape.

Suffice it to say I'm impressed so far, but I figured you'd get that from the previous paragraph right? Now when you factor in the price, between $11-14 you will get a sure winner. Absolutely an A in my somewhat un-scientific grading system. I've enjoyed the Juan Gil wines, from all price ranges, for the past six years and am still really pleased with this one as a daily drinker. It's got a superb quality:price (QPR) and is pretty easy to find in a good wine store. On the back of the bottle I see it's imported by The Henry Wine group out here in California. My recommendation: If you see this wine on the shelf, buy it. Enjoy it with big, bold foods. I'm already dreaming of pairing my next bottle with something off the grill, perhaps grilled, soy-marinated veggie/steak kebabs. We shall see!

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lobster Ravioli and 2007 Acacia Carneros Chardonnay, will it work?

 I don't drink a lot of California Chardonnay. There, I've gotten that out in the open. I felt it best to insert that disclaimer so that anyone reading this would realize a couple of things. First, I may not be the best at describing Chardonnays from California (or any wine for that matter). Second, since I don't drink many of them yet I do drink a lot of wine, maybe I have an inherent bias against our subject for this blog.

Since that is now out of the way, I can mention that I've lately become fascinated with two varietals, specifically examples from California. Those two would in fact be Syrah and Chardonnay, and Chard just happens to win out in the first to make it onto my small corner of the internet wine table.

2007 Acacia Chardonnay Carneros
I paired this wine with Lobster Ravioli from Trader Joe's, simply because I was hungry and it was dinner time. However, I did taste and write down some notes beforehand, which will be integrated into the review. It was in the fridge for about an hour before I opened it, then sat in glass for ten minutes warming up to a more acceptable temperature.

On the nose I was able to discern American oak, pear, apple and a hint of pineapple. There did seem to be a sweet floral note perhaps honeysuckle but that was very faint, just a wisp through the nostrils. Quick aside but is there an un-sexier word than "nostril" in the English language? Please post if you know of one but that word to me is just absolutely not sexy or elegant in the slightest. Come on, there's no grace to it, no evocative imagery going through your head. Just one of the two openings to your nose.

Back on topic and I do apologize for that somewhat crude little rant. When I first tasted this wine, sans food, I noted a very nice acidic spine that held together flavors of pineapple, popcorn butter, apple and pear. At this point I was supremely happy because I had expected a giant butterball of a Chardonnay, as so many California examples are made. There was a great sense of balance, like each flavor would run its course across your palate then be replaced by another equally interesting taste. What kept the wine taut and composed was that acidity I mentioned, it prevented any one flavor from dominating. More on that later though.

With the ravioli, I drizzled some Extra Virgin Olive Oil (because I want those virgins to be extra!) and a bit of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. At this point I was pretty hungry and decided that my need for food overcame my need for finding hints of nutty cheese in the wine. With the ravioli the acidity was receding, replaced by that velvety mouthfeel that can only scream "malolactic treatement!" at you from inside the glass. However!! Just wait, before I go ripping on malo'd up Chardonnays, it actually worked. The dry cheese and slightly peppery olive oil were complemented by the buttery wine. Don't get me wrong, the acid was present and again doing something nice on the finish. It's just that when you paired all the flavors of the food with the wine, things changed.

What I noticed on the palate while eating the ravioli were a significantly more velvety mouthfeel. Pear and butterscotch, a slight dance of pineapple juice across the mid-palate and on the finish, before that acidity took over, some vanilla. If I had to guess (and this is a huge shot in the dark) I'd say this wine saw maybe 12-14 months in a combination of new and old American oak or new American oak and French oak barrels.

Needless to say, the pairing worked a little bit beyond my expectations. I was unhappy with the 14.4% alcohol levels though, I didn't think it needed that high to accomplish the mission of being a very drinkable, food friendly Chardonnay. You'll see the Acacia sell for between 12$ and 17$, at the 12$ level it gets a very solid B from me. Higher up in price and I'd down grade this to a C+.

Beau Carufel

Friday, March 12, 2010

After reading this, I got to thinking..That's never good!

Brevity aside, I read this article by Eric Asmiov today which made me wonder about a few things. I'm not sure if Mr. Asmiov meant to bring up such questions but in any event I wanted to write a little about what often confuses me in this wonderful world (of wine). His article discusses the importance that consumers place upon the color of a red wine, going on to say that darker wines are perceived as being better, of higher quality. Within the article, he refutes this notion with some examples of red wines that may not have darker colors but still have high amounts of flavor and intensity.

What got me thinking was the notion that winemakers admit to making their wines darker in response to consumer preferences. I'll stop short of calling them sellouts, because they aren't doing anything egregious. The practical or economic side of the business says that you need to sell the wines you make so that you can afford to make more wines. Therefore if the consumer wants unnaturally dark reds, they'll get them. Sure I was bummed to read about that, even if Mr. Asmiov first talked to winemakers about this five years ago, but I try to understand from their point of view what's going on.

More to the point, how did the perception of darker = better quality/more flavor arise and is there anything that can be done to get the word out that this isn't the case? How do you change the inertia of such a large group of consumers? The first thing that popped into my head was that it would truly require a concerted effort by a majority of wine people. Something coordinated across the various industry areas that would inform and assist consumers in moving past the erroneous notion. Delving into that a bit deeper, I feel it would also have to be an effort with a positive message, not one that would alienate wine drinkers by making them feel like they were being lectured to.

There's already too much pontification in the wine industry, from holier-than-thou critics to arrogant winemakers and I really sense consumers are starting to feel that more and more. Perhaps that explains, at least partly, the trends towards wine drinkers getting their information from new, non-traditional sources. Ones that might be construed as less biased and less committed to the old ways.  Stepping down off my soapbox, such an effort could work, I firmly believe it. I suspect it's just such a massive undertaking in organizing everyone and ensuring the message was the right one that no one's willing to give it a shot.

From here, as you'll see, I started thinking beyond one particular issue and my brain felt like it was kicking into a higher gear. Let me apologize and inform you that I did not intend to write such a long blog about this but once the ideas and questions (well mainly questions) started coming out, I couldn't stop them. As you'll see, I think the broader reach of my thoughts still resonates within the wine business specifically. Ok, time to get back on topic.

But why stop there, what can be done about other erroneous consumer ideas? I mean let's face it, sometimes the customer is wrong. Americans have such a weird idea of customer service, all in the name to separate people from their dollars, but it is what it is and fundamentally will not change. How the message or education is modulated therefore must be precise. Maybe that's why top advertising and marketing executives make so much money, they know how to be that precise. Speculation gets me nowhere though, it sure doesn't pay the bills!

I'm trying to distill my main point into something somewhat clear and concise. I think it expands on what Mr. Asimov first brought up though, the notion that consumers, who do drive the market, can be wrong or at least misinformed. Basically it boils down to this: What, if anything, can be done to dispel misperceptions that exist in wine buyers? Further, if something can be done, will it actually be done and will it work? Are we limited to a glacial rate of change and if yes, how does that impact the dynamics of the industry? I told you it was a bad idea when I got to thinking!

Beau Carufel

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I did it, finally..I applied for a scholarship!

Although I've known about the Wine Bloggers Conference, up in Walla Walla this year, (weird name!) and have known about their scholarship opportunities for us burgeoning bloggers, I hadn't applied until today. Why? I didn't think I should! I've got all of 22 entries and eight followers of this blog, hardly numbers worth mentioning. But what starts as a trickle may turn into a torrent and that's what I hope for. Being able to attend this Conference would be so amazing for me, it could change how I write, what I write about, maybe even where I write about it! Think of the implications, for they are vast! (said with not a hint of sarcasm)

While I might be suffering from delusions of grandeur (and most likely I am), in all seriousness I'm writing this mainly to get my thoughts onto the screen. I'm straight up nervous about submitting my application, this is something I really think benefits all bloggers and will hugely help people who are just starting out writing about wine. What I mean to say is that there are tons of better qualified people who've been applying for the limited funding available, just to get the chance to take some real knowledge away from the event. It's going to be pretty epic, the even that will stick inside our brains for years to come.

The skills, tips, secrets and wine will make indelible impressions upon the newbie-bloggers out there. This is part of why I'm so incredibly stoked on this event. For me, if I get a scholarship, it's a way to channel my passion for wine into something more tangible. You know, like a JOB in the wine business? (Seriously I want one..) Words are critical in how we get the message out, how we get people to build within themselves then excitement we feel. While there does rage a debate on whether the blogosphere will yield any positive results for wineries in terms of bottles sold, I'm firmly of the belief that it will. It's simple, my generation (Generation X/Y, since I'm borderline) will increasingly turn to more "casual" reviewers, ones they do not perceive to be out to make an name or buck for themselves. Call it a new form of social equity if you will, but the perception is that we bloggers are trying to give back.

That phrase hits the nail on the head, because really, we as bloggers are trying to give back something from which we've derived so much. That is to say, we feel that our experience has been so rewarding and enlightening that paying it forward is the right thing to do. We recognize the new world order, where people google things instead of using the Yellow Pages. We also recognize that content is king, and putting out quality content gets you noticed by your friends, their friends, their friends friends. See where I'm going with this? To bring it home, bloggers are going to be a big part of the wine world (and the rest of the world too) and therefore we need events like the Wine Blogger's Conference to stimulate us, enlighten us and encourage us to keep making contributions to something we're obviously so passionate about!

So again, I'll link up the Wine Bloggers Conference Scholarship website and also of course, the Wine Bloggers Scholarship website to get you to visit it. Please if you can, donate, or at least visit and comment. Please keep reading wine blogs, be they established writers like Tom Wark or people getting into it like Emma Criswell. It keeps us going, motivates us, and makes our lives better because of our passion for wine and mainly, because of your response to that passion.

Beau Carufel

Sunday, March 7, 2010

White Burgundy!!! (not Ron Burgundy!) Yea it's that awesome.

It was my birthday the other day....

Ok, you may stop clapping and wishing me the best for my 27th year.

Beyond that bout of silliness, the best thing about my 27th birthday was the opportunity to try a wine that I actually have a connection to. My dear old Dad (he's not that old, sorry Dad!) knows the proprietors of this fine little winery, having picked there in the late 70's and kept up his correspondence (go Dad!!!) with them throughout my life.

2006 Domaine A. et P. De Villaine Les Clous Cote Chalonnaise Bouzeron

In all honesty I should just give you the score, a solid A, straight away. Why? It's that delicious and that supremely satisfying. Really, it's everything I want in a Chardonnay, I don't know how else to put it but I'll do my best. Each sip was marvelous, and left me wanting the next sip and the next sip. I noticed bright green apple, delicate florals, soft butter notes, ripe pear, minerality, and acidity all beautifully integrated. It reminded me of how the word "seamless" can define a wine so exquisitely. All the flavors I tasted flowed into each other, they transitioned from one to another in ways we hope for every time we open a bottle. It's like watching a great double play in baseball, second to short to first. There's almost a poetry to it, but our secret is we know exactly how it should look, how it should feel. This is what made the wine absolutely sublime. It was chilled, that left the finish to taper off across your palate, a final gentle wisp of butter and apricots as you readied yourself for the next taste.

In short, I loved this wine, absolutely. If I could afford it, I'd buy a case or more and drink it every single time I wanted a Chardonnay to pair with my meals, or just because I felt like Chardonnay. Should you? My answer is yes, by all means. I think it retails for about $30 a bottle, I didn't pay for this but had I shelled out 30 bucks, I'd have been more than thrilled with it. It's worth every cent. Kermit Lynch imports this gorgeous wine, if you can't find it in your local store, I recommend contacting his company and asking them where to find it. If you're in the San Diego area, definitely check out The Wine Connection and make sure you talk to Marwan or David. I'm all about supporting our local wine shops and these guys were cool enough to donate this bottle. I want to say thank you to my Dad for sharing this with me, wines like this continue to stoke my passion for what we love to drink.

Beau Carufel

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Yea I'm trying a Merlot tonight..Bring it!

I'm not one to like Merlot usually. They come off as too flabby, soft, unsophisticated and more. Most of the time, that is. One of the coolest things about wine is trying examples that you haven't had before. That could mean a different varietal, vineyard, producer, region, anything. So tonight I got a bottle of Clos la Chance Merlot. It's a 2006, the "Hummingbird Series" (yes I think that sounds stupid) and it's from the "Central Coast" area..Which is a big area, seriously, get out a map and look.

Temper all those negative-sounding statements with the fact that it's $4.99 at your local Trader Joe's (if you live on the West Coast, in California, and your local store has some). Oh wait, google it and see that it's $14.99 online. This is getting interesting, because on one hand we've got a wine that has a fairly neutral pedigree and a dumb sounding association with flighty little birds, but on the other hand it's cheap! I haven't even smelled our Merlot yet either, does this portend great things or just another ho-hum wine?

2006 Clos La Chance Hummingbird Series Violet-Crowned Merlot Central Coast
(I'm serious, that's the label, it's ridiculous)

 Apologies for the horrid picture, I'm too lazy to get out the digital camera and all that. Next time, I swear.

Ok so we're tasting Merlot, let's keep that in mind and also remember I'm not a fan of it (usually!)
What do I smell right off the bat? Toasty oak and blackberries mixed with moist earth. Not bad, right? I think that's a good start since I'm not getting giant notes of overripe plum and black cherry. There's something like a cranberry note, or some kind of berry that's got acidity. You could maybe call it underripe blueberries too. I think there's a cocoa note too. I'll be honest, right now I'm getting whiffs of cardboard too. Not the wet, musty kind, but dry, wine-box cardboard. Damn it! Maybe a touch of heat too but it's not much at all.

Enough of me bashing yet praising the nose, because the point of this is to DRINK the wine. On my palate I definitely pick up notes of oak, dried black cherries, soft, almost elegant tannins. Maybe a bit of leather and this hint of spice that makes me think "Wow is there syrah in here?". It finishes fast, like a sprint, and doesn't leave much to linger and make you ponder life's mysteries. The one flavor that hit me there was dried blueberries, fresh out of the bag. Color me unimpressed.

Pleasant is my best word to describe this wine. It's got none of the complexity of Old World wine, none of that class, elegance and sophistication. But it's also got none of the balanced power of a superb New World wine. Ok I've bashed the wine a bit in this paragraph too, I'm not sorry though. This reinforces why I so rarely drink Merlot. It's just not enough for me, and just doesn't give me the sensory satisfaction of other wines. Maybe it's why I tend to shy away from California's Chardonnays.

I really want to like this wine, I'm trying here! I've gone through about a glass, I've paired it with some foods and taken more notes, and it's slipped back into that softer, boring style that just doesn't excite me. It's got no flaws, it's at a really cheap price point, and it's easy to drink. Solid C+ from me. Not gonna get anything better than that because it's slightly above average wine. I'll keep trying Merlots as they come along, and if you see this for $5.00, buy it cause it's not so bad. If you miss out, don't worry, better wines are coming along.

Beau Carufel

Monday, March 1, 2010

Since I love sushi, I should find a wine to pair with it. I might just have.

I'm a big fan of sushi, I'm not gonna lie. Usually I'll have a good sake and/or some Japanese beers, versus trying to pair it with wine. The main reason is that I don't usually see a good selection of wines at sushi restaurants. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining as usually I'm just fine with a cold bottle of Kirin or Sapporo. Cold Sake can also be wonderful with a couple of spicy rolls. Or hell, a combination of both can make the night memorable..or so I hear at least. When I was at Roppongi in downtown La Jolla on Friday night though, I saw this Pinot Blanc from Trimbach on the list and just had to try it out.

2006 Trimbach Pinot Blanc Alsace
Right away I smelled a couple of interesting flavors. What hit my nose was a cool mineral/grass note, like you wrapped a wet stone in freshly cut grass and took a big whiff. That caught my attention, because right after it was this really interesting stone-fruit and grapefruit scent that added a vibrant attitude to the wine, a "sass-factor" as I coined it. You could tell that it was made for something that would challenge it's flavor profile. I don't have a lot of experience with Alsatian wines much less Pinot Blanc, so I can't tell you if it was varietally honest, I can tell you though that it was tasty!

On the palate you got this big, stony acidity right up front which gave way to a fleshy but citric mid-palate feel. I'm serious, the acidity fairly exploded into your mouth but I want to make a distinction, it wasn't like this was an a-bomb of acid, just a pop that got my attention. With the spicy sushi rolls, the acidity helped clear those flavors off my palate while the fleshy almost apricot-like notes did a good job seeing me up for my next bite of the roll. While I think about it too, I want to say that I really think I tasted apple, like a Braeburn or something. It was crisp but still had a dash of sweetness, in other words just the kind I like. Really interesting the way the flavors unfolded, I literally felt the wine expand across my tounge, it was great!

Time for that fun rating, this one gets a solid A-. The pricing is good, the wine is good, the pairing worked and most importantly, I liked what I tasted. It wasn't stunning deal or an incredibly moving wine (those would get A or A+'s) but it was a wonderfully refreshing pairing that showed a lot of complexity and elegance with some good power behind the scenes. I really do recommend a bottle or two if you like this style of white wine. Thank you again for reading, hope to see some comments soon!

Beau Carufel