Sunday, September 19, 2010

Grooooooovy Grooner! Gruner Veltliner to the Spelling Police...

Gruner Veltliner continues to make inroads in the domestic market as an alternative to Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. It's the number one white grape in Austria and is also grown in small quantities in Oregon and California. I don't mean to suggest Gruner is better or worse as the aforementioned varietals though. What Gruner can do is provide a wonderfully refreshing, food-friendly, sometimes complex white wine to explore.

The wine drinking public is growing more and more aware of Gruner. Some of the best examples can have a complexity and texture that rivals the top Sancerre's and Oregon Pinot Gris'. Trouble is, Gruner Veltliner can be hard to find in the United States. A lack of consumer awareness contributes to the relative scarcity of the wine. As it turns out, a lot of people also have trouble pronouncing the name, which is understandable since it's got all sorts of funny dots and letter-pairings.

Enter winemaker Meinhard Forstreiter and his creation: "Grooner". Imported by Monika Caha and retailing for between $12 and $15, this example of Gruner Veltliner is designed to introduce wine drinkers to the grape.

2009 "Grooner" Gruner Veltliner Kremstal, Austria

Originating in the Kremstal region of Austria, which is in the northern part of the country, Grooner clocks in at a modest 12% alcohol by volume. According to the critics and industry commentators, 2009 was a very good vintage, quality-wise. A somewhat uneven growing season was saved by a last bit of great fall weather to properly ripen the grapes in most regions. Luckily for me (and you), this included the Kremstal region.

Interestingly, the Austrian wine industry has a theory that vintages in the "9's", 2009, 1999, 1979, etc..Are usually absolutely amazing. This first came about in 1959 and has continued to this day. They have scores and wine-drinker consensus backing them up in this theory as well, so there's probably something to it.

Now, how was the 2009 Grooner? In a word, delicious.

I'm a sucker for high-acid white wines, always have been and always will be. With that not-so-subtle disclaimer out of the way, I tasted this wine without knowing the price. After finding out the price, I was surprised, in a good way.

Right off the bat, I liked the pale-greenish hue and impressive clarity. I could immediately tell this was a type of wine I didn't have too often. My first few sniffs revealed freshly sliced green apple, a whiff of perfumed lemongrass, and even some gooseberries. That kind of nose to me immediately signals a dry, crisp white wine.

At nearly room temperature, the acidity was very lively across my palate. I could feel a washing effect all the way back through the finish. That carried flavors of grapefruit peel, hints of herbs and green apples, lime juice and wet rocks across the back palate. I felt that perhaps the finish was a bit quick, but this seemed to work with the Grooner.

All told, I was impressed with the accessibility of this wine along with the well integrated flavors. That acidity easily won me over and I'd love to try this wine with sushi, tempura vegetables and even grilled crustaceans. I highly recommend the Grooner, giving it a B+. Wonderfully expressive flavors carried through by crisp acid make the wine perfect for hot weather, food, and most importantly, perfect for you to start to explore Gruner Veltliner.

This wine was provided as a sample.

For more information, please visit

Beau Carufel

Friday, September 10, 2010

San Diego Syrah Smackdown! Feat. San Diego Wine Mafia.

It was time once more for a San Diego Wine Mafia tasting event! While some within the SDWM may not approve of that name, I don't care. It's my blog and I can use it as I please. Enough of us thought it was a brilliant name and that's what counts. Democracy baby!

Anyways, after the last event, we all had to sober up and pick a new theme. One of us, perhaps Bill aka Cuvee_Corner or Keith aka BrainWines, suggested Syrah. Expanding on this theme, it was agreed that we should do a head to head blind tasting of Paso Robles AVA Syrah versus Red Mountain (in Washington) AVA Syrah.

And so, the emails went out to wineries in those regions. A lot of wineries actually, and even I got into the act. As a newbie blogger, I was hesitant to ask for samples. That being said, I got precisely ZERO replies from the wineries I sent emails to. Yes, it's ridiculous that no one even took the time to say a polite "No thanks" to me.

Luckily, fellow SDWM members like Bill and Nanette of WineHarlots were able to exert their considerable influence and get us some samples for the event. Myself and Katie aka LaJollaMom, contributed wines we'd bought.

Here are some pictures from the event, courtesy of Keith. 

In these two pictures, the Paso Robles Syrahs were on the left, the Red Mountain/Washington Syrahs on the right. We had Keith's wife tag and bag the wines to keep things as impartial as possible. For us tasters, the only information we had was the varietal and region. We didn't specify a vintage so they were all over the map, from 2004 to 2008 if I recall.

Here are my tasting notes, starting with Washington's wines. They're labeled 1-5.

1. 2005 Skylite Cellars Columbia Valley Syrah
Meaty, savory, and earth notes on the nose. I also found cherries and bramble, which was a good contrast. Great minerality and spice on the palate. Firm tannins that echoed a good Rhone. I marveled at the balance and wish I had a case sitting there waiting to be drank. This is classy Syrah and one that I feel is terrior-expressive.

2. 2004 Terra Blanca Reserve Winemaker's Barrel Select Red Mountain Syrah
Delicate, aromatic nose with lots of red fruit. Equally light, almost delicate on the palate. Very quick finish too, I found myself wanting more. I think this Syrah would be very food-friendly and there was a great little hit of spices on the mid palate that had me wishing that continued throughout the wine.

3. 2004 Matthews Red Mountain Syrah
Very earthy, almost a barnyard quality, yum! Reminded me of some Northern Rhone wines I'd had. I also liked the spicy black cherry and cranberry notes. This one was soft on the front palate but balanced out with earth, baking spice and dark chocolate on the finish.

4. 2006 Desert Wine Winery Columbia Valley Syrah
Very bright, a friendly, happy wine. This could be a crowd-pleaser at a party. I smelled loads of candied fruits and hints of baking spices. On the palate, soft, jammy wine dominated by red cherries. If you like your Syrah fruit-forward, check this one out. I'd pair Desert Wind's Syrah with something fresh off the grill, like dry-rubbed pork ribs.

5. 2004 Terra Blanca Block 8 Red Mountain Syrah
Spicy, intense nose grabbed my attention. There was some heat which was a bit of a turn-off. I liked the dried berries, earth and an interesting note of something charred/savory. The tannins were at first almost overpowering but then I got a sense of how well they were integrated with this wine and I appreciated it.

Overall I enjoyed the Skylite Cellars and Matthews Syrahs the most. They were absolutely superb and show how amazing Washington Syrah can be. I hope you get the chance to taste these at some point.

Onwards to Paso Robles! I confess to not having a clearly defined idea of what Paso wines are about. Often, to me, they're overbearing, over-extracted, too loud and just plain too much. That being said, I was really happy to taste some examples from the region because they're obviously popular wines and tend to be well made.

A. 2007 J. Lohr South Ridge Paso Robles Syrah
I called this a "big, super-ripe" wine. Loads of jammy currant and red cherry, very soft and approachable. I'd call this highly extracted and then oaked up for a while. This is a wine I'd bring to a group of non-Syrah drinkers, to introduce them to the varietal and show how fruit can dominate a wine. If you're grilling a burger on a summer afternoon, J. Lhor's Syrah would go great with it.

B. 2006 Vina Robles Paso Robles Syrah
I loved the subtle, complex nose. It was more approachable for my palate however it retained that big, ripe fruit structure that Paso Robles is known for. I was exceedingly happy to find some tannins weaving their way through the blackberries, cherries, plum and vanilla notes. A good wine from a producer I hadn't tried before.

C. 2007 Tablas Creek Paso Robles Syrah
I wrote: "YUM! Elegant yet rich, would be superb but for the alcohol on the nose!" I don't like having to wait for alcohol to blow off and this had been open for almost an hour as I recall. Good structure that integrated tannins, earth (dust), dark chocolate, plums and even a hint of grape-y-ness. Interesting wine save for one small flaw.

D. 2007 Mitchella Paso Robles Syrah
I wrote: "A nice nose, but just nice..somewhat muted" and that's my biggest issue with this wine. The flavors were so hard to discern for me. Perhaps 3-4 hours in a decanter would fix that though. What I did find was candied fruit and some nicely rounded tannins that carried through from beginning to end. A good wine, just didn't show that well on this day.

E. 2008 Herman Story Nuts 'n Bolts Paso Robles Syrah
My notes: " Grippy, structured, very very good! Ripe fruit balanced by the grippy tannins, finish is superb!" I called it California's answer to Northern Rhone Syrahs. Black cherries, spices, mocha, oak, and blackberries all showed through. Easily in the top three wines I tasted that afternoon.

So overall, ten wines were tasted. I picked the Skylite Cellars and the Herman Story as my top two picks. They were superb wines and both received ratings of A+ from me. I should note that the only place you can get the 2005 Skylite is by calling the winery and begging for them to sell you a bottle out of their library. You should. Seriously.

To sum it up, I had another awesome time with my San Diego Twitter Taste Live friends. What a great group of wine lovers to hang out with. I invited my buddy Justin along to experience a wine tasting and he came away impressed, even if he didn't understand half the stuff we were talking about.

Here's the before picture, where we all were just beginning to sip our wines. Look at everyone even taking notes! Granted, without those notes, I'd have been lost.

And here's the after-shot. Unfortunately Justin and I had to leave to attend a going-away part for one of our coworkers so we couldn't stick around for the after-party at Keith's place.

For your consideration, here are the websites of my fellow San Diego Wine Mafia friends:

Keith aka BrainWines
Bill aka Cuvee_Corner
Nanette aka WineHarlots
Katie aka LaJollaMom
Megan aka WineForBlondes

Next up, Pinot Noir versus Burgundy! I'm excited about this one as I am a huge huge huge fan of the varietal.

Beau Carufel

Thursday, September 9, 2010

My Cabernet Day Experience

A week ago, September 2nd, the world of wine drinkers enjoyed Cabernet Day. It was a wine tasting combined with social media, creating a virtual tasting experience. Don't get me wrong, many wineries participated too, hosting tastings at their facilities. Further, there were many events around the world where Cabernet lovers got together to taste many examples. My blog post, here, summed up what I planned to drink as well as gave a bit of background on what exactly was going to be happening.

Earlier this week, Josh over at posted a great recap of the event here. He was able to distill some stats regarding who tweeted, how many tweets there were, and other metrics. Suffice it to say that "#Cabernet Day" was a smashing success. Imagine 7,200 tweets from almost 1750 individuals, in one night, devoted to one subject.

You don't have to have a degree in Marketing to realize the impact, especially considering that the event cost all of $0 to promote via Twitter and Facebook. The massive turnout was a chance for wineries to build brand awareness as well as bloggers to promote themselves while interacting with more casual wine drinkers. Furthermore, the word of mouth promotion (free) generated by this event only increased the ROI for the wineries that participated.

Yea, I opened the 2005 Concha y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon. Was it stunning? Yes. Am I happy I opened it and was able to tweet with my fellow Cabernet Day participants? Yes.

Imagine a wine that tastes like rich, dark earth with a vein of minerality running through it.  Someone crushes some blackberries, ripe and sweet, along with a handful of black currants into that. Baking spices, dark chocolate and oak finished out the train of flavors that I experienced.

Then again, for $60 a bottle, this wine had better deliver an amazing sensory experience. I loved the Bordeaux-like structure, with beautiful tannins and even some acidity to build a framework where all the flavors could interact, building layer upon layer of tastes.

If I had a few bottles left, I'd let them age for three to six more years, just to see what would happen. I can imagine this gem becoming more elegant, refined and just plain classy.

My grade, an easy A. If I can find any more bottles at the original price, I'll probably buy a few to hold onto for a while longer. I'd recommend this wine if 2005 was a special year for you, or if you have the means to drink a wine at this price point. I don't get to drink wines like this every day, or even every week, so it was a special thing for me and I'm very happy to have been able to share it with you.

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Do the Cabernet Sway..On Cabernet Day! September 2nd!

Tomorrow is a big day in the...wait..what do I call the point where the wine world meets social media? The wine virtual-space? The Wine-o-net? How about calling it the Wine-Social-Media-Place? Nah that's a horrible name. All of them suck, let's not kid ourselves.

Some readers will ask why I devoted a few sentences (and a considerable part of my brainpower) to trying to decide what to make of wine and social media; blended together like a good Bordeaux or Super Tuscan. Being the social media newbie that I am, this phenomenon (I'm still going to call it that) fascinates me because of it's reach and power to harness people from literally everywhere under one theme or idea.

I'm examining the upcoming "Cabernet Day" event and adding my thoughts. Tomorrow, September 2nd, wine lovers will open bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon around the world, then utilize Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc to discuss what they're drinking. Wine and social media, not exactly a new concept, certainly not an old concept either.

Cabernet Day, created by Rick Bakas at St. Supery, has moved beyond the digital realm and his own employer to feature many wineries around the country (and world) who will be hosting special events during the entire day. The specials and promotions include "Cabernet Packs" at reduced prices, special flights at their tasting bars and even catered events! At last count there are 41 different events, "Meetups", around the world. Impressive!

Down here in San Diego, I know my wine friends (San Diego Wine Mafia! #SDWM on Twitter) will be joining the fun. As I watch my friends (both real and online) on my Twitter stream, I can see the vast majority of Tweeps (Twitter Peeps) will be doing something or going somewhere to taste and talk Cabernet.

What will I be doing? Drinking Cabernet Sauvignon of course! I've chosen a 2005 Concha y Toro Don Melchor to drink tomorrow. It's been sitting in my cellar for about two years now, just patiently waiting to expose itself to the world. Umm..You have a dirty mind. That is all.

Why this wine? That's easy for me to answer, I tried it two years ago, loved it then and am excited to taste it again. While the Don Melchor is my last bottle of the 2005 vintage, the fact that I'll be able to sample and share it with people both virtually and live (hopefully) excites me to no end.

A bit of background from Wine Spectator Magazine: "This is still very tight, but the tannins that lead the way now are sleek and refined, and should easily meld into the huge core of roasted chestnut, black currant paste, warm fig and tar. Has a long coffee-and-loam-tinged finish. Best from 2009 through 2019." (06/08) - 96 points

Concha y Toro says: "Puente Alto Vineyard is located in the highest, coldest region of the Maipo Valley. Don Melchor is harvested from 114 Cabernet Sauvignon hectares within this larger vineyard. In this section, vines are 20 years old on average and yield fruit of extraordinary quality. Don Melchor is a blend-wine, made with selected grapes harvested from carefully drawn plots. The 2005 has a nose expressive and complex where chocolate, black cherry and ripe plum notes mingle in a pot of coffee and cassis. The palate features a dense, full-bodied wine whose fine, ripe tannins extend the concentration and lead into a big, long and juicy finish."

 I had originally decided on a backup bottle of 2004 D.R. Stephens Cabernet Sauvignon, but after discussions with my friend, who basically said "What the hell is wrong with you, save that stuff!", I'm leaning towards something from Washington or even a Bordeaux. I've got a bottle of 2003 Chateau Desmirail, which at 63% Cabernet Sauvignon does qualify for Cabernet Day. Plus, it's from Margaux and I do love Margaux wines. I just can't afford to buy them very often.

I'm predicting an overwhelming success for Cabernet Day, watching tweets and Facebook comments is going to be a lot of fun. More importantly, the sense of community this event will build serves to bring more people into the world of wine. That's precisely what we want right? A bigger community of people who enjoy wine and talking about the wines they're drinking.

You can catch me on Twitter here or on Facebook here.

Beau Carufel