Wednesday, March 30, 2011

2008 Chateau Pey La Tour, More Goodness from Planet Bordeaux

I've tasted almost all the samples that Planet Bordeaux sent out to me in February, as my scores indicate, they sent out winners. Charlie Sheen would be proud. The latest Bordeaux I sampled was the 2008 Chateau Pey La Tour, an entry-level from the lowest classification of Bordeaux wines. Recall that Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur are geographically the same, however to have the "Superieur" added, the wine must meet higher requirements than a basic Bordeaux.

As far as vintages go, the 2008 has not gotten huge press of say the 2005's or 2009's. Considered a tougher, more hands-on growing season, 2008's are starting to show up on your retailer's shelves. As is typical, the lower tier wines are first to market, followed over the course of the next 18 months by the progressively higher-cru Chateaux. Wine Spectator wrote a free report on the 2008 growing season, click here to read through it.

The 2008 Pey La Tour is 77% merlot, 14% cabernet sauvignon, 8% cabernet franc and 1% petite verdot. Out of this cuvee, the cabernet franc shows up in spades on the bouquet and the merlot dominates the palate. Bright berries, pepper and nice dark earth are all nicely integrated and waft out of the glass enticingly. Lots of powdered chocolate, earth and a fun mixed-berry preserve flavor combine nicely. I also got some plum and a touch of oak. The finish goes on impressively considering the wine's price.

Best to open and decant or use a Vinturi on this wine, I think I've recommended that for all the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur I've reviewed so far. After a few hours of open time, the flavors mingle nicely, begging to be shared with a meal. French wines are almost always great for food, the 2008 Pey La Tour is no exception and I had a great meal of bacon-wrapped bratwurst, fingerling potatoes and sauteed spinach with the wine.

Another winner from Planet Bordeaux, and a winetastic value, to quote my friend Bill from Cuvee Corner. Around $13 per bottle and apparently widely distributed throughout the United States, Chateau Pey La Tour's little gem is well worth the price. I gave this a B and a BUY recommendation.

Some upcoming blogs will be featuring two wonderful wines from Soave, and coming up on April 2nd, a dessert wine tasting! That's got me all giddy inside, a lot of great people sent me some awesome samples to try with a variety of desserts. Stay tuned!

This wine was received as a press sample from Planet Bordeaux via Balzac.

Beau Carufel

Monday, March 28, 2011

TasteLive with Planet Bordeaux and the San Diego Wine Mafia

Planet Bordeaux sent me a bunch of wine late last month, which I've been sampling over the past few weeks. All the wines to date have been good to very good with none being over $20 a bottle. The next stage in their campaign was a virtual wine tasting using the TasteLive website, which took place this month. A group of bloggers were sent samples from the Bordeaux Superieur appellation along with instructions on how to participate. The San Diego Wine Mafia enthusiastically took part in the tasting, held as usual at our Secret Lair.

Tastelive allows the participants to tweet under one hash tag and see the tweets of a designated moderator all on one screen. When doing a live, online tasting, this is a convenient to interact with everyone while avoiding the clutter and disarray that a normal Twitter stream can usually bring. I was glad to be able to follow along with our session leader, Mike Wangbickler, and also see what my fellow bloggers were tasting in these exciting wines.

Here's what Joe aka Suburban Wino blogged about after the tasting, it's a good read. My friend Ed Thralls over at Wine Tonite also did a good writeup on the event, click here to check it out. And of course, my buddy Keith aka BrainWines posted up his succinct yet infinitely readable blog here, recapping what we tasted together that night.

So without rambling on further, here are my tasting notes from the Planet Bordeaux Tastelive event of March 18th. All the wines were tasty, some more so than others, to me at least. I had a great time tweeting and tasting with my fellow bloggers and of course, my friends the San Diego Wine Mafia.

2006 Chateau La Gatte La Butte Bordeaux Superieur - 100% merlot. Smells like gravel mixed with crushed spice element as well. Classically tannic Bordeaux but brighter reds than I expected. Still tight after being open for three hours. Red currant and mineral texture on the palate but you gotta work for them. B- $14 SRP

2008 Chateau de Lugagnac Bordeaux Superieur - 50% merlot noir, 50% cabernet sauvignon. Nose like mixed berries and dark, rich earth. good complexity, vibrant flavors are very inviting. Soft, lush and positively hedonistic for a Bordeaux. Nothing out of place here at all. Ripeness and silky tannins with a touch of herb that prevents it from being too fruity. B $16 SRP

2008 Chateau de Terrefort-Quancard - 64% merlot, 36% cabernet sauvignon. Neat nose because I really have to tease out flavors, everything is more nuanced, nothing's screaming at you right out of the glass. Spices and red Mike 'n Ike are hiding a bit of wet cement funk. Great wine on the palate, full of silky tannins and ripe sour cherry flavors. Really enjoying it. B $14 SRP

2007 Chateau de Parenchere Cuvee Raphael Bordeaux Superieur - 60% cabernet sauvignon, 40% merlot. Beautiful color, like red satin sheets gently waving in a breeze. Smells like forest floor and berry preserves sitting in a baseball glove. Very cool! Smooth and richly textured. Earth, red currants, blackberry fruit leathers, and cedar. Wonderful!! A- $15 SRP

2008 Chateau Penin Tradition - 90% merlot, 5% cabernet sauvignon, 5% cabernet franc. Spices and cherry like you'd expect, good depth, smokey even? Not much going on though, it's still super closed off to me. Second taste gives earthy notes like mushrooms mixed around with baking spice. There is some potential here though, after hours in a decanter. Then again, why decant a $14 bottle of wine? Contradictory elements in my mind, at least. B- $14 SRP

Each wine was well chosen and collectively they showed a nice range of styles from Bordeaux. These are all wines that are food friendly, fun ways to explore perhaps the most famous wine region on earth. Luckily (for me) all these wines are available in California but I would suggest using Wine-Searcher to seek out the stores that might be selling them in your respective areas. That or order online, you can always put together a mixed case. I like that Planet Bordeaux clearly has their act together from a consumer standpoint, showcasing some delicious wines that are not at all expensive.

Also, I must apologize for taking so much time to put this review together, I'd originally intended to have it up by the 23rd. Other bloggers were much more "on it" than I, but in the future I promise to do a better job.

All these wines were press samples presented by Balzac acting for Planet Bordeaux.

Beau Carufel

Friday, March 25, 2011

Paul Dolan Vineyards Brings It With Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc!

Last year I was first introduced to Paul Dolan Vineyards during a live tasting event. The tasting was all red wines and featured Mr. Dolan via webcam talking about his vineyard philosophy and history. I had a wonderful time and took away a newfound respect for organic farming and his passion for biodynamic methods. Click here to check out that writeup.

Fast forward to earlier this month, I received samples of his 2009 chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. After giving them a bit of time to rest, I was anxious to taste each one, just needed the opportunity to arise. Last week, it did! I pulled each wine out of my fridge an hour before I tasted them, so they did have a slight chill but nothing like the pinot grigio at your aunt's place that's been in the fridge since last July.

2009 Paul Dolan Mendocino County ChardonnayPale straw hued wine with great clarity. Focused flavors of papaya, coconut, vanilla and green apple. Minimal oak influence adds a nice dimension to the mid palate. Great interaction between the hints of oak and the tropical fruit, creating a surprisingly complex layered effect. I suspect that has to do with the fact that out of the entire batch, 91% of the juice was aged in stainless steel and the remaining 9% in American oak.Well balanced with a cleansing acidity on the finish that makes it a good food-wine. Pair this with turkey burgers, marinated fish, citrus glazed chicken breast. A superb effort. B+ and a STRONG BUY recommendation. $18 SRP. 5,235 cases produced. 13.5% abv.

2009 Paul Dolan Mendocino County Sauvignon Blanc - Pale yellow with a green tint, looks very inviting. Smells like Meyer lemons and subtle kiwi, grass and pineapple. I like the lack of an overly sweet fruit component, which is often my knock on other California sauvignon blancs. Despite it's light body, there is a fleshy texture, a good depth especially for this varietal. The 09 Paul Dolan walks the tightrope between having body but avoiding any cloying sweetness or residual sugar. I was impressed and at an $18 suggested retail, figure this wine hits its price point squarely. Try it with fish tacos or chicken quesadillas. B and a BUY recommendation.

In addition to his reds, Paul Dolan does some rockin' whites too. Both of these wines are delicious and impressive for different reasons. The chardonnay hits way above it's price point, comparing favorably to low-to-no oak wines at $30 a bottle. It's a structural and textural home run. On the other hand, the sauvignon blanc isn't a price-killer but it's got some great flavors that veer away from the typical California model. Pick up a bottle of each and see what you think, I bet you non-chardonnay lovers will enjoy the chardonnay and of course, the sauvignon blanc appeals to many wine lovers out there.

These wines were received as press samples.

Beau Carufel

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Highlights from the Family Winemakers San Diego Tasting, March 13th.

On March 13th the Family Winemakers of California organization held their third annual San Diego tasting. This year there were around 200 wineries participating, a great showing at a cool venue. The Del Mar Fairgrounds have a lot of large, open buildings that work well when setting up loads of tables. The aisles were very wide and I didn't feel too crowded at any point. This year around 2000 people attended, including both the press and the general public. Because I am such an accomplished blogger and general all-around badass, I chose to attend the press tasting and ended up staying through the general public tasting. No seriously.

With so many wineries participating, tasting through everything is impossible. Granted, that didn't stop some people from trying, or so it seemed. Before going, I printed out the list of wineries and highlighted the ones I knew I wanted to check out. Unfortunately, once I arrived, it was just too cumbersome to keep pulling out the list so I had to rely on memory. Obviously this is not an optimal solution and made me want an iPad so that I could basically keep it out at all times and have the list right there ready to be read and checked off. That and I really want an iPad.

My San Diego Wine Mafia amigo Bill aka Cuvee_Corner and I drove out there, where we met our fellow mafioso BrainWines and WineHarlots. My friend Scott over at The Vino File was there and posted his highlights here, well worth the read. I also ran into some old friends from the wine business, from my days at San Diego Wine Company. That was a welcome treat and a great way to start off the tasting.

I tasted close to 50 wines and by the end of the day I even tweeted that I knew I was experiencing palate fatigue because everything was tasting like a Rhone blend. Below are some of my favorites of the tasting. I've tried to include as much information as possible so you can explore the wineries and producers if you're interested. As I've said before, it's vitally important that we support the smaller wineries in this state and this was a great opportunity to put faces next to wine glasses.

2005 Corison Kronos Cabernet Sauvignon - Oozing elegance and class, this is built for the long haul. I loved the cassis, plum and tobacco notes. Lots of structure that carries through to a nearly explosive finish of earth and plum. You get the sense that this is what Napa cabernet used to taste like, 25 years ago. A-/A $125 SRP.

2003 Corison Napa Cabernet Sauvignon - This wine wowed me for two reasons. First, it's gorgeous structure. Black fruits deftly balancing firm tannins and quintessential Napa dusty notes sing to your senses. The other reason was the aging potential I feel the 03 Corison has. I would love to taste this in 15 years and see how it's evolved, and I am not really one to want to wait that long for a wine! A- $N/A

2007 Zotovich Cellars Santa Rita Pinot Noir - Bacon wrapped sour cherries shod in Victoria's Secret silk underwear. Only 300 cases were made, and at $40 it drinks exactly like it should. I really got into the cloves and spices, they worked so well with the acidity to keep the pinot vibrant and popping. A- $40 srp

2008 Zotovich Cellars Estate Syrah - Quite possibly one of the best wines of the tasting for me. This is a big one, lots of blueberry jam, cedar, spices and that awesome grapey syrah flavor. Fine grained tannins lent structure and a superb vein of crushed white and black pepper tempered the explosive blueberry flavors. A $42 SRP

2007 Trione Chardonnay - One of the better California chardonnays I've had this year. Plenty of vanilla oak and buttered popcorn from the oak barrels nad 100% malolactic treatment. However, zesty lemon, fuji apple and passion fruit balance those out. Winemaker Scot Covington did a good job creating a chardonnay which balances a rich entry with a pleasing, food friendly finish. A- $30 SRP

2006 Trione Cabernet Sauvinon Single Block - After spending two years in oak, this cabernet hits you like a steel gauntlet in a velvet glove. Gorgeous notes of herb and baking chocolate, a core of black currant and cherry. Firm, strong tannins speak to the power of the wine and it's ability to age. A superb effort that will reward anyone with the patience to cellar it for 10 or more years. A $64 SRP

2009 Saxon Brown Etre Chardonnay - Words like smooth, lively, lush, crisp, and yummy might seem to be somewhat contradictory. Not so in this wine, one of the most balanced and most interesting chardonnays I tasted. Priced fairly at $30, I would gladly take this over more expensive chardonnays from all over this state. A- SRP

2007 Saxon Brown Parmelee Hill Owl Box Syrah - Talk about a mix of flavors rolled into a 750 ml wine bottle! It's like a plate of warm roasted nuts, dry bitter cheese and black cherry preserves staring you in the face. Great pepper and spice reminded me of a well stocked pantry while the tannins held it all together. I used the word harmony in my tasting notes, especially in reference to the finish. Goes on and on..and on..and on! A. $38 SRP and one of the best values at the tasting. Buy many bottles!

2008 Saxon Brown Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir - Imagine teriyaki beef jerky and ripe sour cherries dusted with spices from your grandmothers spice rack. The acidity here is terrific, allowing the flavors their due while also preserving a food friendly angle. Absolutley loved it! A- $48 SRP

2007 Mauritson Buck Pasture Rockpile Vineyard - A Bordeaux style blend from Mauritson, with 60% cabernet sauvignon, 20% petite verdor, 10%$ cabernet franc, 10% malbec. My tasting notes: "blended well, loads of dark chocolate and a mix of nice ripe berries that lurk in the background. Will get much better with time but is a great steak wine right now" B+ $50 SRP

2009 Marilyn Remark VMR - Viognier, marsanne and roussanne blended together like a white Cotes du Rhone. Kiwi fruit, fresh cut straw jumped out on the nose. Lemongrass lurks in the background, enhancing the fresh scent. Wonderfully complex with all three varietals making themselves known. I was also very impressed with the balance. A- $28 SRP

20008 Marilyn Remark Petite Sirah - Reminds me of blackberry liquer, it's so rich and sweet smelling. I tasted some great tannins that while strong, were well integrated and didn't distract from the ripe fruit and baking chocolate. There was a hint of something herbal I found, which added a great unexpected dimension to the wine. A- $28 SRP

2006 Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon - I think this wine has plenty of accolades already, but it's just so good! I wish I'd tasted it with a medium rare New York strip because that's what it begs for. Juicy acidity and big bold tannins share the sandbox with cassis, blueberry, herbs and dry earth notes. Sublime and will only get better with age. A- $75 SRP

2005 Cru Vin Dogs "Best In Show" Cabernet Sauvignon - A series of wines I'd never heard of, but these wonderful people donate a minimum of 10% of all online sales to dog charities. That rocks and as a dog lover, I had to taste through their wines. This one stood out to me and I urge you to check out the story behind this particular wine, click here to go to their website. The wine was superb, with violets, earth and black fruit on the nose. Definitely a "big" cabernet too, lots of tannic structure and spices, even hints of dark chocolate and plums. Will be great in another five years or so, but it's damned good now. A- $75 SRP

If you've made it this far, thank you for taking the time to read through my recap. I wrote a bit more than usual because I tasted so many wonderful wines. Part of me regrets not being able to include all the wines I tasted through the day but these were truly exceptional wines that I felt you should hear about. Like I mentioned before, I'm all about supporting the small wineries and the San Diego Family Winemakers of California tasting allowed me to do just that. I had a wonderful time and am already looking forward to next year. If you have any questions about the wines I tried, please don't hesitate to send me an email.

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Montecillo 2007 Crianza Delivers

I love Spanish wines. Priorat, Ribera del Duero, Navarra, Jumilla and Rioja all make sublime bottled art. Tonight, after a long day at work, I didn't want to have to work for my wine. I had no desire to seek out subtle nuances, explore the edges of my perception or any of that crap. I wanted, I needed a delicious bottle of wine to go with a simple but filling meal. Pork sausages on mini baguettes, some deli mustard. A mixed green salad with a light vinaigrette and dried cranberries on top. I kept it simple, stupid.

2007 Montecillo Crianza came to my rescue. Gorgeous red ruby in my glass. Smells like spices, vanilla and dusty earth. Nothing too esoteric, everything satisfying. It requires no effort to discern the quality that Maria Martinez puts into the Montecillo brand. A few sips, to test it of course, brings joy. Sour cherry, smoky wood mixing with some firm tannins and dust. Splendid! What a pairing too, the rich pork, spicy mustard, and powerful wine fit together, complement each other. Holy shit this is wonderful wine and "only" 13.5% alcohol too!

I needed this tonight, I needed this to work. Montecillo's Crianza is suggested at $12, but I bet you can find it cheaper. What a bargain at $12, a steal at $8-10 according to Why haven't you tried this wine yet? A- from me and a STRONG BUY recommendation. Rioja rules across price points. Tempranillo can only get this good in Spain. If you think California can make tempranillo this good, send me a bottle to taste. Check out what my buddy BrainWines has to say about the 2007 Montecillo Crianza.

This was a media sample from Folsom.

Beau Carufel

Friday, March 18, 2011

Why Yes, There is Syrah in Your Pinot!

Do winemakers put syrah in their pinot noir? Two answers, either yes or no, but that doesn't show the lively debate within the wine community about this phenomenon. I think I first got a glimpse of pinot with syrah in it about five years ago, when I was tasting through some Sea Smoke wines. They were unlike anything I'd ever had before and reminded me of the lush fruit a merlot can sometimes have. Sure there was spice and some acidity but the wines just seemed to go in a different direction than previous pinots I'd tasted. In that same year I tasted some Radio Coteau wines and was told on no uncertain terms that the winemaker did indeed add syrah.

Fast forward through about five years of palate development and wine education and I present to you a picture of a wine tech sheet sent to me by someone whom I trust implicitly. They acquired this and while we discussed the merits of pinot from California versus Burgundy, offered to share evidence that at least some people are messing with pinot. I've never tasted Three Knights before, it's a wine that Trader Joe's sells and is probably one of their "made up" labels where they buy fruit or juice from big name producers for pennies on the dollar. Still, at least the winemaker for this stuff is adding syrah and God knows what else.

I think a legitimate question is "who cares what grapes are in the wine as long as the law is followed?" In this, I do agree - to an extent. The "but" is when a person drinks something like the Three Knights and thinks that is what pinot noir tastes like, without knowing the other ingredients. Not having tasted the Three Knights, I can't say if it's what I'd consider a true expression of pinot or not, but most likely it isn't, given my experience with pinot at that price point.

Wine labels should list what grapes are in the wine, among other things. I've always felt that way, not because I want to give away winery blending secrets, rather because I want to know what I am drinking. In a perfect world I suppose the laws would specify that the grape grower be named on the wine labels too but I suspect companies like Bronco Wine Co. and maybe even Cameron Hughes would not approve. And really, do we want to read the back of a Charles Shaw label and see that 99% of the grapes come from the Interstate 5 corridor? 

The evidence is clear, there is at least one pinot noir in California that has syrah in it. Well, if you could Radio Coteau, there are two. One cheap, one expensive. My bet is there are many more that have at least a small ( under 5%) amount of syrah in them, others probably jack it up to 15% to get that riper, richer mouthfeel.

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Bit of a Rarity, 2006 Foris Cabernet Sauvignon From Oregon!

I love veering off the beaten path on my wine journey. Exploring new varietals and regions excites wine geeks like nothing else. Except sex. Duh. Being able to explore a familiar varietal from an unfamiliar region makes a lot of sense. If you, the wine geek, have already tasted a lot of cabernet sauvignon from all over the world, your palate has something like a baseline for the grape. I've been fortunate to taste cabernet from a lot of countries and regions, when I bought this 2006 Foris Cabernet from Oregon though, it was perhaps the first time I've ever had an example from one of my favorite wine regions in the world.

A few months back, Foris Winery partnered with Deals From the Vines, a Facebook-based flash sales group to offer some of their wines at ridiculously good prices. I selected their cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and pinot noir and ordered six bottles. So far I've only had the pinot and cabernet sauvignon and both have surpassed my expectations.

Foris sources their cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and merlot from the Bear Creek Valley, which lies to the east of their estate and vineyards. The appellation is called Rogue Valley and overall is considered a great place to plant Alsatian varieties like riesling and gewurztraminer as well as pinot noir chardonnay. After they picked their cabernet sauvignon back on October 7, 2006, it spent 20 months in French oak barrels then another two years in bottle before being released.

Stop and think back, what were you doing in October of 2006? Someone was up in the vineyards of Bear Creek Valley picking cabernet grapes that would eventually end up in my glass right now. In October of 2006 I was finishing up my Finance degree at San Diego State and working in a wine retail store. I had a little experience with Oregon wines and no knowledge whatsoever of Foris, Rogue Valley or Deals From The Vines. Just four and a half years ago, I was utterly oblivious to the liquid I gaze at now.

Some of the nitty-gritty details; 13.8% alcohol, unfined and unfiltered, and the grapes were harvested at 23.4 brix.

Colored like a young claret, a beautiful ruby that I can see through. The color seems to invite me to explore more, drawing me in like a moth to a flame. Wine lovers know the allure of the ruby liquid, how it is tantalizing, full of promise and even a bit dangerous.

I like how I smell wood bark and dark chocolate, neither of which are too strong. There's also some kind of savory note, like smelling an empty bag of beef jerky. Try as I might, I can get just brief hints of berry fruits, nothing at all like so many California cabernets. The Foris is very nicely balanced, its like each scent fits together with the rest, a jigsaw puzzle in your nose.

Foris states in their cabernet tech sheet that they aim for a Claret style here. To me that means a more restrained, tannin-oriented cabernet. Claret is an English name for red wine from Bordeaux and stylistically they differ from California cabernets by having more nuanced structure and lighter weight on the palate. It is entirely possible though to make Bordeaux wines similar to California cabernets and vice versa. I'm merely making a generalization to illustrate a point.

With that in mind, the Foris takes forever to open up, I put it through a Vinturi three times and it finally started unfolding. I'd say if you can, wait a few more years before opening any 2006 you might have. In all honesty this wine can go for 10+ years in the cellar. Right now though it's full of dark flavors like cocoa, cassis, leather and earth. The mouthfeel is wonderful, silky smooth but also firm and spicy. Words like classy, subtle, nuanced and Old World kept creeping into my brain. What a lovely wine!

The 2006 Foris Cabernet lists at $17 from the website. Utterly ridiculous if you ask me, because I'm hard pressed to think of a California example this good at the same price. Sure they are out there, and I hope to taste some soon but this is a well made, delicious wine at a superb price. Keeping price out of the grade, I give the 2006 Foris an A- and a STRONG BUY recommendation. Please do yourself a favor and pick up a few bottles. Some food pairings include meatloaf, lasagna, dry aged steak and pot roast. Foris hit a home run way back in 2006 when they picked and vinified this cabernet sauvignon. I'm glad I bought some but wish I'd bought more.

Beau Carufel

Monday, March 14, 2011

2008 Los Vascos Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Los Vascos is one of Chile's oldest wineries, and the (Lafite) Rothschild's of Bordeaux fame have been investing in the facility since 1988. They've modernized nearly every aspect of the winery from the equipment to the vines and even the bodega on the property. According to the website, accessible here, Los Vascos makes eight different wines, ranging from their high end "Le Dix" red blend to a rose. Interestingly enough, I couldn't find the Los Vascos Reserve Cabernet on the website, just a Grand Reserve and a regular cabernet bottling.

Dark purple color, paling slightly towards the outer edges. Very much what New World cabernet looks like. This shade of purple tells me the wine is young and probably full flavored. Usually, I mean.

Earthy, herbal nose with some green notes too. Not quite the dreaded green bell pepper that a lot of people find in Chilean red wines though. This is something else, like a partially dried bundle of herbs. Sweet blackberries lurking in the background as well as black cherry and a vanilla cassis scent also present. A slight touch of heat but it's nearly unnoticeable. While the description may sound interesting, I have to say that the bouquet was muted and seemed to lack a lively quality that I've had in other Chilean wine.

Nice spices on the front palate mixing well with some firm but generous tannins. Again the earthy components show strongest for me, the herbs also playing a part. Dark chocolate seems to hide any fruit, only occasionally did I get a taste of blackberry.  Interesting chalky flavor too and not much oak for me. I like the finish, it has a nicely tapering effect. Although there's some heat, the balance is reasonable considering the 14.0% abv.

Prices for the 2008 Los Vascos Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon range all across the map from about $20 to a listing of $10 on one website. It's imported by Pasternak, a very reputable company that brings in a lot of outstanding wines from all over the world. If only they'd send me samples to share with you!

I can't help but feel like this wine was rushed to market though, it feels unfinished and a bit disjointed. Perhaps another two or three years in bottle (impractical at the winery at this price point) would help tame the rough edges a bit. Still, the wine is on the market right now and therefore gets a C+ and a PASS recommendation. I feel like there are better options between $10 and $20 from Chile right now. My wine-friend Keith over at BrainWines tasted the 2006 and 2007, each of which he rated very favorably. If you see those, perhaps give them a try and avoid the 2008 for another two years.

This wine was a media sample.

Beau Carufel

Friday, March 11, 2011

JAQK Comes Back With Sauvignon Blanc, It's Charmed!

Another wine from JAQK Cellars, who've produced a cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and a merlot that I have loved (and reviewed) already. The bottle of chardonnay they sent me turned out to be corked unfortunately, so that will not be reviewed. I say that not to blame the wine maker or winery, merely to point out the single biggest problem with cork closures.

The 2008 JAQK "Charmed" Sauvignon Blanc though, was delightful and much appreciated by my dinner guests last week. Since I cooked a hearty chicken and tomato dish, I chose a red wine to pair with it but needed a white wine to appease my friends Karen and Sabina. This was sitting in my wine fridge and I had wanted a chance to open it since last month, the result was wonderful.

To go down a different path for a moment, I really admire the JAQK Cellars packaging. Their labels are great to look at and unconventional, yet remain easy to decipher. For the non-wine-geek, making sense of all the letters and numbers on a label is intimidating and may lead to choosing generic, bland wines. I'm not saying that a flashy label makes up for shitty juice though, just that a fun but legible way to tell consumers what's in the bottle remains something the wine industry needs to work on. Honestly, what the hell does a bounding kangaroo tell me about what's inside the bottle?

Getting back on track, I tasted the sauvignon blanc at about 58 degrees F and made my tasting notes, then chilled it for my two friends. I'll also explain my impressions after the wine spent 30 minutes in an ice bucket and I tasted it again.

Bright tropical fruit and citrus on the nose, the subtlest hints of perfume and a dash of oak too. Smooth and crisp, I hit on guava, nectarine and grapefruit flavors along with a tiny bit of vanilla manifesting as a richer, deeper note on the finish. I liked the balance struck between a fresh, vibrant style and a lusher, more fleshy style. According to the JAQK website, their 2008 Charmed spent six months in oak, sur lie. Lees are leftover (dead) yeast cells and bits of grape skins, seeds and stems that float around in the wine after fermentation. If you leave the wine unfined, the intent is to give it a fleshier mouth-feel and texture, generally speaking of course. In some cases, this is done with sauvignon blanc to balance out the varietal's naturally high acidity. There was no malo-lactic fermentation on the 2008 JAQK Charmed, meaning that there was no buttery or buttered popcorn flavor to be found, much to my delight. While I do enjoy some malo-lactic treatment, in my opinion it's far overused in California.

Tasted after being chilled for 30 minutes, the acidity was much more pronounced, in addition to a stronger citrus and guava note, the perfume though had disappeared. I was still able to make out a bit of oak on the finish but that wasn't distracting and enhanced the experience.

My friends Karen and Sabina really enjoyed this wine, and used words like "bright", "dry", "fruity", and "really good!" to describe it. I asked them to guess the suggested retail price and both of them said "about $20". Since they aren't wine drinkers, I suspect they tried to game me since they know a bit about what I pay for wine. Then again the JAQK Charmed Sauvignon Blanc is listed at $19 but I've found it for a low as $13, which turns it into a QPR monster.

My friends and I enjoyed the wine, food, and conversation. They even tasted my red selections but found them to be "bitter", "strong", "rough"..Music to my wine-geek ears I suppose! Considering the JAQK offering, it's an easy B+ from me and if you see it, pick up a bottle or two. Some suggested pairings would be chicken and pasta, turkey burgers, pesto pizza and your loved ones.

This wine was a media sample.

Beau Carufel

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Champagne versus The World: Part IV..Champagne Brings Reinforcements!

Apparently more than 40 renowned chefs, sommeliers, and wine educators just sent an open letter to Congress, asking for the body to address mislabeling of wine bottles. Specifically, the labeling of American sparkling wine as Champagne, when it is not in fact Champagne. This somewhat contentious issue has been going on for five years now, since the U.S.-E.U. Wine Accords were signed in 2006. I know Congress has a reputation for dragging its feet, but that's rather amazing.

According to the Champagne Bureau, the region's trade group here in the States, 50% of sparkling wine sold in the United States is still mislabeled. The point of contention here is the use of Champagne on sparkling wine that isn't from the actual region of Champagne in France. In the brief press release that appeared in my inbox this morning, the Champagne Bureau also reported on other countries efforts to end mislabeling. Notably, Australia is going to phase out all mislabeled Champagne and Port by September 2011.

Why is the United States dragging its feet on this issue and perhaps more worrying, why is the wine industry in this country not voluntarily removing Champagne from its sparkling wines? I know a great many producers have ceased using the word, or never used it in the first place, but why does Korbel for example still insist on using it? Perhaps it's my cynical nature but the first word that flashed into my brain was "MONEY". The recognizable word carries certain connotations and those are great sales points for a sparkling wine.

A condition of the Wine Accords was the grandfather clause that allowed wineries who had been using Champagne on their labels for something like 20 years or more to continue using it. Wineries are hiding behind that clause five years later. I'll say right now: it's flat out unethical to use the word Champagne on a wine that isn't from Champagne.

Can you imagine the furor if all of a sudden, some cheap Italian or Languedoc wines start calling themselves "Napa Blend" or "Meritage"? In our litigious society, lawsuits would be filed faster than Charlie Sheen on a four day bender. Americans would cry foul, accusing European wine producers of playing off the good (great, even!) name of California wines in an effort to deceive customers and poison the world's water supply. Wait, I think I got my James Bond plot mixed up with my nefarious-mislabeled-wine plot.

Yet we have plenty of wineries here in the U.S. that continue to use Champagne, arguing that it's become synonymous in the consumer consciousness with sparkling wine. They're right, every day I get people asking for "Champagne" who then want something cheaper, i.e $5 versus the $20 that Champagnes start at. I think most consumers also know that real Champagne is French and if you tried to sell them something like "California Champagne", they would happily accept (because it's cheap, duh!) but might wonder how it's different than the French example.

Wine education is perhaps the key and the Champagne Bureau needs to understand that. I bet 99% of my friends and family have no clue who any of the over 40 wine professionals are that sent the letter to Congress. Yet out of all my wine drinking friends, I can easily state that more than 75% would love the opportunity to taste and compare Champagnes and other sparkling wines side by side, as well as learn more about why Champagne is unique. Therefore my question is this: how is the Champagne Bureau reaching out to local wine stores to encourage a consumer education campaign?

As for me, I'll buy sparkling wine and Champagne interchangeably depending on how much I want to spend at the moment. For my dollars, Cava from Spain is the supreme value sparkler and California delivers some outstanding sparkling wine at lower prices than Champagne producers charge. That might also be something the Champagne Bureau should look into...

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

2006 Chateau Lestrille Bordeaux Superieur - Superieur Indeed!

Another absolute gem from the people at Planet Bordeaux. This red blend is from Bordeaux Superieur, an appellation in the Bordeaux region of France. I know it may sound confusing but think of it this way, the geographic area of Bordeaux is the same as Bordeaux Superieur. The differences start with the age of the vines, and also includes the length of aging a wine receives and it's minimum alcohol content. Therefore it is safe to assume that if you see a label that says Bordeaux Superieur AOC, you're getting a more refined, ambitious wine. For a more detailed explanation, click here to visit the Bordeaux AOC website. Another good discussion of differences is found at the Planet-Bordeaux website.

(img copyright Beau Carufel 2011)

Great color, like a dark ruby with that quintessentially aged-wine look. Bordeaux can start dark, as evidenced in the Chateau Feret-Lambert that I tasted last week. The 2006 Chateau Lestrille on the other hand, has lost the almost purple color and moved towards something...searching for the word..classier! Merlot followed by cabernet sauvignon make up this blend, or at least that is what I was able to find out. There could of course be three other varietals mixed in.

I got whiffs of tobacco and leather, cassis and sweet black cherry. Ripe but restrained, lovely finish. Silky smooth tannins tell me this is drinking at its peak. Everything is so nicely integrated especially considering the price. Sure, this won't compare to a 2005 Chateau Leoville-Las Cases but let's be realistic. We're tasting inexpensive wines from Bordeaux that end up delivering in spades, more so than the typical $11 wine from California.

After spending about an hour open and being passed through my Vinturi, the Ch. Lestrille was loaded with darker flavors. Ever chewed on your baseball glove as a kid? Check! How about gnawing for a brief moment on a cinnamon stick because you thought it tasted as awesome as it smelled? There in spades! Have you been fortunate to taste freshly made plum jelly? There's that here too! Were you one of those kids who ate some bittersweet chocolate and hadn't developed a taste for it yet? I found a strong vein of that nearly-raw cocoa running right through this wine. Wonderfully complex with some silky but firm tannins creating the wine's backbone.

No flavor overwhelmed another, the balance was impressive considering you can find this wine for about $11 on the internet. 2006 was by most accounts a good year and with a bit of bottle age, I think the Chateau Lestrille shows how wines from Bordeaux start to mature. In its youth I can imagine a tannic monster loaded with clove, cinnamon and leather..And not much else. Now, flavors calm down, integrate, and balance out. Utterly delightful Bordeaux, one I give a B+ and a hearty BUY recommendation to. I'd suggest pairing with roast beef, glazed pork and/or ham, and cured meats like salami or sopressata. If you think of any fun, interesting pairings, be sure to post them in the comments section!

This wine was recieved as a sample from Planet Bordeaux via Balzac Communications

Beau Carufel

Monday, March 7, 2011

Mushal Winery and Their Merlot Rosé

At the beginning of February, I tweeted a feeler asking if any wineries who followed me were interested in sending samples for a rosé tasting the San Diego Wine Mafia was going to be doing. Happily for me, Sonia Sandu-Torre, the Director of Marketing at Mushal Winery & Vineyards responded offering to send some samples of their 2009 Mushal Merlot Rosé from the Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma.

The story behind the founding and evolution of Mushal is one that should be told. Their website does a far better job telling it than I ever could, so click here to learn more about the founder, Avtar Singh Sandhu and his vision. We're quite fortunate to have many small wineries and vineyards in California, and supporting them is the right thing to do, period. These self-proclaimed "little guys" are making wine not for a balance sheet or a business, but because wine enhances the human experience.

Sonia was generous enough to send me two bottles of Mushal's rosé, one of which was opened at the Rosé Rumble and tasted by the San Diego Wine Mafia. The other was opened about two weeks later and tasted by me alone. No blind or double-blind tasting here, but I had forgotten the suggested retail price as I made my tasting notes.

I noticed the color right away, a beautiful pink with hints of orange mixed in, veering a bit towards the lighter end of the rosé color spectrum. One day I want to try a very dark rosé and compare it to the lightest example I can find. I don't think one or the other will be sweeter based on color, but I want to see what flavors present themselves in each wine. Pardon my thoughts wandering away for a moment.

The nose reveals strawberries and raspberries with a hint of rhubarb. Some exotic florals feel like they are coming out as well. Mushal's rosé smells sweet too, not tart like some other examples I've had of late. One area of concern is a slight prickle of alcohol and when I checked the bottle, I was a bit saddened to find it's 14.4%. In my opinion that is about 2% too high and actually can defeat one of the purposes of a rosé. The French example I recently tasted came in around 12.5%, much more accessible on a hot summer (or spring) day. Alcohol can weigh down the feeling of a wine and I suspect it might do so with the Mushal.

Tasted at a temperature a few degrees below room temperature, as I do with nearly all my wines regardless of color. Sweet tasting right on the front palate, with acidity that came through quickly enough to keep me from cringing. Very good! Still, a touch rough around the edges and I think that comes from the high-ish alcohol. I tasted raspberry, melon, and fresh cut hay in this merlot rosé. There's a silky core of flavor that I find immensely appealing, it feels like each sip glides across your tongue. Unfortunately the pesky alcohol gremlin rears up on the finish, delivering too much heat for a rosé, for me at least.

Mushal's 2009 Merlot Rosé does remain light on the palate and is very refreshing. It won a gold medal at the 2011 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, high praise from some very practiced palates. If you chill this more, perhaps an hour in your refrigerator, the acidity will shine through without the encumbrance of the alcohol. I'd like to see Mushal's next rosé come in at a much lower alcohol level while still retaining this set of scents and flavors. As it stands, the 2009 Mushal Merlot Rosé gets a B and a BUY recommendation.

The sheer variety of foods you could pair with a merlot rosé makes the Mushal a wine you should keep in your collection. Plus, like I said before, I am a strong advocate of supporting the little guys, the boutique producers. Mushal is definitely one of those and out of every $20 bottle of rosé sold, 15% of that goes to The Elizabeth Taylor Aids Foundation. Just like Charity Case and Cleavage Creek, Mushal is giving back. For that, we need to support them. I look forward to bringing you their red Merlot bottling soon.

This was received as a media sample.

Beau Carufel

Friday, March 4, 2011

Birthday, Barolo, Beautiful! 2004 Colle Dei Venti

Last year I reviewed a Chianti Classico from and this year they were kind enough to send another wine my way. The 2004 Colle Dei Venti Barolo, from the Piedmont region of Italy. Tucked way up at the top of the "boot" and bordered on three sides by the Alps, a few grapes grow quite well in the hilly region.

Perhaps the most famous is nebbiolo, producing the wines of Barolo. The Barolo wines of Piedmont are considered to be some of Italy's best and I count them among my favorites as well. Traditionally they are very intense, tannic reds that need at least ten years before they're suitable to drink. Some stuffy old English critic once declared that a Barolo must be at least 30 years old before it's ready to be consumed. Having tried a few 30+ year old Barolo wines once, I can say that with that much age, they take on the complexity of a great Bordeaux.

(img copyright Beau Carufel 2011)

However! There is a new movement afoot, one to produce Barolos that do not require a prohibitively long time before being ready to drink. Given the following evidence, I suspect that is what the 2004 Colle Dei Venti is aiming for. First the color is not what I was expecting. Next, upon a few whiffs, the aromatics didn't seem to be typical of the Barolos I had enjoyed previously. Finally, I tasted some somewhat subtle differences between what I expected of this Barolo and what was present. None of those factors should be construed as good or bad, just my observations regarding this particular wine.

Professionals describe Barolos as lightly colored, almost ruby-like when young. When looking at the Colle Dei Venti, I must disagree. It's far closer to a cabernet from California or even a Cotes du Rhone. Dark and opaque, not at all ruby-like. Truth be told, I was hoping for a wine with a lighter color because lately all the wines I have seem to be somewhat monochromatic.

Despite a lackluster or less-than-awe-inspiring color, the Colle Dei Venti does display complex aromas of spice, sour cherry, tar and rose petal. Some scents are stronger than others but what they combine to create is a wonderful bouquet. Consider me impressed.

Today I decided to take a somewhat different approach to tasting and opened the Barolo about three hours before I tasted it, then poured it through a vinturi to maximize the aeration. The wine makes an impressive entrance, bursting with spices and tannic structure. It's got pepper and a savory, almost jerky-like note too. But oh those tannins, so strong and dominant. I can easily picture this wine being far less imposing in another five years, maybe even ten. At 14% alcohol, there's a bit of heat right on the finish that perhaps will disappear with age, all the more reason to drink aged Barolo I suppose.

All of the above taken into account left me with the singular thought that I really enjoyed the 2004 Colle Dei Venti Barolo. It's complex, big, brawny, and has potential. Sure it's rough right now but with some mushroom/truffle ravioli with shaved Parmesan on top, I bet this would be a knockout. The classic pairing of tannin and protein (think red wine and steak) would also be beautiful and an exercise in the yin and yang of food and wine. B+ from me, a BUY recommendation if you see it anywhere. looks to be sold out (for now?) but if this is any indication of the Barolos they procure, you need to check their site out.

This was received as a sample for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Thursday, March 3, 2011

2007 Alois Kracher Pinot Gris Illmitz Trocken -- Yes, Austrian Pinot Gris!

I had never tasted a pinot grigio from Austria before today. The majority of my experience lies with cheap Italian examples like D'Aquino or Mezzacorona. Those seem to be watery, almost tasteless wines without character or soul. On the other hand, I have had limited but very positive experiences with Oregon pinot gris and even some from California. Of note, if you ever see the 2009 Elk Cove Willamette Valley pinot gris out there, buy it. Superb stuff.

Back to Austria and pinot gris. From a country well known for Gruner Veltliner and Rieslings comes this wine. Truth be told, I am not sure what to think of it. The label says "Trocken", which on the sweetness scale means this is a dry wine with low (but still present) residual sugar. My palate though, notes a distinct sweet note, albeit brief, but so very noticeable. I don't mean for that sentence to sound negative, on the contrary this wine is making me think about how to describe it.

The name Kracher is perhaps the most famous in Austrian winemaking both for the tireless work Mr. Kracher did in advocating Austrian wines and the critical acclaim his wines received from critics like Robert Parker. After the "anti-freeze scandal" of 1985, where some Austrian winemakers were found to be adding diethylene glycol to bulk wines in an effort to enhance the sweetness everyone basically stopped importing wine from there.. This destroyed the reputation of Austrian wines and it took about 15 years to recover. Only in 2001 did the export levels surpass those of the pre-1985 scandal's.

(img via wikipedia with edits by Beau Carufel)

Please ignore my horrible MS Paint work, I wanted to give everyone a better idea of where this wine came from. Burgenland is a long, narrow state in Austria, on the border with Hungary. The 2007 Alois Kracher Pinot Gris Illmitz was harvested during October after what the Austrians called a "Winemakers Year", meaning that the vintners had a lot of challenges to overcome in the vineyards and wineries. Here's a Wine Spectator vintage summary to get a better idea of how the year went in Austria.

(img copyright Beau Carufel)

Pinot gris is almost always pale to the point of looking a bit like colored water. This is no exception, when held under light against a white background, the wine is clear at it's edges. I like that though, for me a refreshing change of pace from what I usually drink.

The nose is sweet smelling, with a tickle of acidity. No oak of course, the 2007 Kracher spent seven months in stainless steel. As I sat trying to pick out specific scents, the closest I could get was thinking about how warm the wine smells, like a kitchen were someone has the oven on and is baking something sweet. Maybe a fresh apple tart, the kind with a bit of cinnamon on top and a butter crust that is flaky and awesome. The apples notes remind me of the golden delicious variety. Another quick swirl and I found something akin to a bouquet of summer flowers. Based on the nose alone, if I were to suggest a personality type for the Kracher, it would be "cheery".

The taste, an initial sweetness quickly washed away by the acidity inherent to pinot grigio. I felt that the apple taste was stronger on the palate but with less of the supporting things like the butter crust and cinnamon. Instead, it tasted like apples and something like pineapple. Maybe even a touch of grapefruit that was there representing that acidity. I noticed at first, when the wine was really cold, it had a marsanne-like oily texture which disappeared as the temperature rose. For the curious, I tasted this at a few degrees below room temperature.

At a suggested retail price of $15, this is a tasty wine at a good price. A quick peek at has it listed for as low as $11 or so, making it a killer deal and a QPR winner. I highly recommend anyone who enjoys crisp white wines to buy a bottle or two. Do like I did, pair it with Mexican cuisine. I finished off the 2007 Alois Kracher Pinot Gris with some chicken tacos topped with salsa, what a delightful pairing! Originally I had planned to taste the Kracher with Asian food but that didn't work out so I was forced to improvise. An easy B+ and BUY recommendation, for me a cool, interesting introduction to Austrian pinot gris.

This wine was a press sample for review purposes.

Beau Carufel