Tuesday, November 29, 2011

You Could Win Tapena Wine!!

Raise your hand if you'd like to win some free wine. Perhaps that's a rhetorical question, because I don't know anyone who doesn't want free wine, especially good wine. With some help from the Tapeña group, I'm running a contest on this little corner of the internet. The winner of the contest will get a Tapeña party pack consisting of wine (duh!), a Spanish cookbook, corkscrew, those neat fridge magnets with words on them, and some other special goodies.

Now onto the legalese: By entering into this competition you are verifying that you're 21 years of age or older. You also verify that you're living in the 48 contiguous states.

Here's what I want to see from you:
1. Post a comment about Spanish wines and a favorite pairing to go with Spanish wines. That will get you one entry.
2. Post a recipe for tapas that is holiday-party themed, that'll get you two entries! Note: The recipe must be relatively simple and original, please don't cut/paste from a food magazine directly to this blog!
3. Submit a picture, via email, of some tapas you've cooked up, along with the recipe for me to post here. That will get you three entries. I'll then post the picture(s) and recipe(s) after I pick the winner.

Three ways to win, and on December 10th I will pick a winner using random.org and the corresponding entries I receive. All entries must be in by midnight Pacific time on December 9th.

To spread this competition to as many people as possible, anyone referring other wine lovers to this blog competition gets a bonus entry. The person referred must include the name of who referred them to this page in their entry.

I'm making this competition as easy as I can, yet still trying to retain a sense of fun and exploration for us all. I spent a week in Spain this past September and fell in love with the concept of tapas and the Spanish way of going from tapas bar to tapas bar, having a plate of tapas and a glass of wine at each. Call it a sophisticated twist on the British/American tradition of a pub crawl.

Some background will perhaps help to put this competition in the proper light. Tapeña group, the brainchild of the Ferrer house (they of Freixenet cavas), is a way of putting $10 Spanish wine onto American tables. The thing is, a lot of $10 Spanish wine is plonk, with too much oak and other manipulation that covers up what the grapes really are. Not so with the Tapeña wines, which come in four varieties; tempranillo, grenache, verdejo, and a rosado (rosé). All the grapes come from the middle of Spain, in the Tierra de Castilla region.

To learn more about the Tapeña wines, here are some helpful links:
The Website: http://tapenawines.com
Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/tapenawines
Twitter: @tapenawine
Tapeña Blog: http://blog.tapenawines.com
Tapeña Rewards program. Details online at: http://www.tapenarewards.com

I hope you'll join in this fun competition and be inspired but what other people create, as well as create a tapas recipe of your own. It's all in fun and you could very well win a few bottles of wine and a cool cookbook, to say the least. That and the bragging rights that go with winning such a highly prestigious competition..

Let the games begin!

These wines were sent as samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving Pinot Noir

In lieu of a "Drink _______ on Thanksgiving" type of post, I'm going to suggest a few wines that you, gentle reader, may or may not want to seek out on that last-minute shopping trip. I certainly won't tell you what to drink because we all have different taste preferences. Thanksgiving is usually about gut busting quantities of food crammed down our feeding holes, followed by intensely lethargic periods spent watching Americans beat the crap out of each other on TV, while wearing pads of course. Why add to the stress of preparing a mammoth feast by worrying about which wine to pair with what food?

For this post, I'll highlight some pinot noir's that are easy to find and quite good, as well as being reasonably priced. First though, my view on why pinot noir is a nice pairing with turkey and the assorted side dishes we gorge ourselves on each November. With the plethora of dishes weighing down the table, finding a perfect catch-all wine is impossible. For simplicity's, I suggest a high acid wine, specifically a high acid red wine like pinot noir.

There you have it, my suggestion for this year's Thanksgiving. I like to go with red wines because they have a bit of muscle behind them, and when paired with some acid, can still retain a lightness that won't contribute to weighing down your stomach like that pecan pie will. And by the way, I love pie. There are other options, I've seen bloggers recommend everything from Barolo to Zinfandel. If those are more your style, go with them and enjoy!

Here are three pinot noir selections that might interest you, at price points under $40, from three regions around the world that produce consistently excellent wine. They were all sent as samples for me to review. The imported wines are brought in by WJ Deutsch & Sons.

1. 2009 The Crossings Awatere Valley Pinot Noir Marlborough - This Kiwi beauty comes in at under $20 and only 13.0% alcohol by volume. There are notes of cola, baking spices, dried cherry, and cranberry on the nose along with just a hint of white pepper. I tasted ripe red fruit, a hint of cedar, more of that white pepper, and some nicely integrated mushroom flavors. The finish is clean and precise, leaving your palate ready for the next bite of food. I liked the acidity because it kept the wine light and easy to drink, yet the mix of cherry, pepper, and cedar made for some interesting flavors within my glass. I think it would hold up well under the onslaught of turkey and stuffing.

2. 2010 Llai Llai Pinot Noir Bio Bio Valley - Hailing from Chile, we get another low alcohol (13.5%) pinot noir. At a suggested price of $12.99, this was the least expensive of the pinot selections I was sent to taste through. Noticeably riper nose, with aromas of black earth, sun dried tomato, red cherry preserves, oak, and a touch of rhubarb. Compared to the Crossings, the Llai Llai is a softer, fruitier pinot. I tasted raspberry and cherry notes, some oak, a touch of spice, and a nicely integrated tannin. Everything was well integrated, unfortunately the finish was a little too short and abrupt. That said, the pinot still retained a light mouthfeel and I wouldn't minding having it with sweet potatoes or stuffing with bacon.

3. 2009 Sonoma Coast Vineyard Pinot Noir Freestone Hills - Hailing from the Sonoma Coast AVA, this is the most expensive pinot noir in the lineup with a suggested retail of $40. Unfortunately it's also the booziest, coming in at 14.3% abv. Aromatically I think I liked this the most, as it was expressing more intensity across the bouquet than the previous wines.  There was a lovely strawberry jam component that wove through the aromatic palette, along with red licorice, dusty earth, and some cola notes. All together very pleasant though I did get a touch of heat right at the back of my throat. Wild strawberry and raspberry along with black cherry come through on the palate, the acid does a great job of restraining those fruit flavors though, which in turn leads to a nice peppery finish. Some oak does show but it's minimal and overall this wine is very nicely balanced.

These three pinot noirs are all of good quality and fairly priced, I'd be happy with each of them at Thanksgiving. Check your local wine shop or wine-searcher.com for listing of who might carry the labels in your neighborhood. Lastly, remember that Thanksgiving shouldn't be a time of year to stress out about wine pairings. I figure that since you already have enough on your plate (bad pun alert!), the wine should help ease that stress.

One final note for those of you who prefer white wines to red wines, my personal preference is a riesling, like the 2010 Weingut Ackermann or 2010 Cornerstone Napa bottlings. If you're more adventurous, try to find a riesling from the Finger Lakes region of New York or a fine New Zealand label like Mt. Beautiful or True & Daring.

Don't forget sparkling wine either, be it a Prosecco, Champagne, Cava, or Sekt. Open whatever you want and enjoy it with your friends, family, and guests. Yes, that includes your Mother in Law...

Happy Thanksgiving!

These wines were press samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

2010 Weingut Ackermann Riesling

I'll be the first to admit that I don't know a lot about riesling. The grape has always been somewhat of a mystery to me, as one of the many wines that I thoroughly enjoy, yet not showing up on my radar enough to warrant frequent purchases. In the case of German examples, all too often I (and many others) are confused by the myriad words on each label, all seemingly full of "eich", "ich", "zelt" and "wein". Wait, that last one is pretty easy to figure out..Let's move on!

I'm fortunate to have two good friends, Dan and Chas of Wine is Serious Business, who happen to love riesling. These two willingly take a riesling luddite and coax me into exploring the grape more often. Tonight, after filming a show about Port, Dan graciously offered to open the following wine, a 2010 Weingut Ackermann Zeltinger Himmelreigh Mosel riesling. The first two words are the producer, Weingut Ackermann.  They're small, and most people who know of them are the serious riesling-heads.

Luckily an importer called Teutonic Wine Company decided to bring in some of the Ackermann wines, benefiting people like Dan and by extension, me. If you're a riesling fanatic, or just a fan of unique, hard to find German wines, check out Teutonic Wine Co. and see what they do. Dan speaks highly of them and I have tons of respect for the little guys, bringing in the under-the-radar wines that frankly, we should all be seeking out.

Zeltinger Himmelreich is the name of the vineyard, and it's located in the Mosel region of Germany. Even with my limited knowledge, I recognize the Mosel as being one of the greatest places on the planet to grow riesling grapes. Clearly I have a lot of reading to do, but then again, what else is new? Quick aside: the more you learn about wine, the more you realize you don't know and might never learn. 

This Mosel riesling pours a pale greenish-straw color into my Riedel. It's very pale and clear, no little bits floating about within the glass. The green is less pronounced towards the edges, where it becomes absolutely colorless and crystal clear.

I was able to detect notes of pineapple, lime juice, green apple, and a pleasing dose of limestone minerality on the nose. Not necessarily complex, but the Weingut Ackermann is very pleasing and enjoyable just to sniff. I noticed that as the wine warmed up a bit, some subtle hints of apricot also emerged, further enhancing the bouquet.

If you thought riesling was sweet, this one will change your mind, as well as blow it. It's wonderfully acidic, curling your lips back into a "riesling smile" as the acid dances along the edges of your tongue. Sweet apricots galore, pineapple, a laser beam of wet rock, and even a dash of peach nectar are all jumping around my palate. This isn't the most complex white wine or riesling I've had, but it's absolutely a smile-inducing drink. I love the finish in particular, the way each flavor seems to fold in on itself until you're left with a nice crisp ending to the taste. It lingers too! Easily a 20 second tail on this Ackermann bottling.

What then should I pair this with? I'd suggest almost anything, as the high acid here creates a clean flavor profile that will cleanse your palate of any vestiges of the last bite you ate. Me, I'd love to pair this with a citrus-marinated chicken breast, spicy Asian cuisine, or teriyaki glazed shrimp fresh off the grill.

The cost, according to Dan, was about $15. To me, that's a QPR-beater, more of a QPR-destroyer. If I paid $25 for this I'd be happy. That acid I referred to creates a wonderfully textured wine, one that you can sip for hours. At 9% alcohol, it shows just what can be done with white wines. No need for 15% sauvignon blanc crap here, this has every ounce the flavor and intrigue, if not more. I cannot recommend trying this wine enough, it's a B+ and a STRONG BUY, perhaps one of the best values I have tasted this entire year. As I noted, the Teutonic Wine Company imports this gem, produced by Weingut Ackermann. I believe it's worth stocking up on three or six bottles, to drink over the next few months whenever you want a clean, pure white wine with no pretension whatsoever.

This wine was shared with me by my friend Dan, I did not pay for it.

Beau Carufel

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Scourge of Wine Bloggers

I've been thinking about this for a while now, my frustration growing at times, receding at other times. In the hopes of creating dialogue, I'm posting my feelings openly and honestly for everyone (all nine of you) to read.

Should wine bloggers be nice?

Yes, by all means we collectively should be nice to people, and of course, about the wines we review. However, should we be nice at the expense of our integrity as bloggers and responsibility to accurately report/blog about the wines we're drinking? The answer to that is a resounding NO. There's a line to be drawn between being polite, gracious, and nice, and being a jerk, insulting, and rude. Staying within the accepted societal norms of behavior is easy, unless you're the WAWineMan guy, but that's a "special" case.

With that out of the way...

If I'm sent a bottle of wine by a winery, PR group, or trade group with the understanding that I'll review it, whomever sent the wine must understand that I'll review that (and every) wine according to my tastes and based off of my own experiences. In other words, my life experience plus my accumulated wine training. Expanding that concept, wine bloggers shouldn't be expected to sugarcoat their reviews, and disliking some wines is a good thing, even if you got it for free. When you write about a wine you don't like, any smart PR agency or other wine-related group will read the review and understand that perhaps you aren't the best person to review a certain style or type in the future. Readers too will benefit by gaining a sense of where your palate lies in relation to theirs.

This all stems from me being sent a lot of inexpensive, budget-oriented wine to sample. In what context do I place those wines? Confession: I place them near the bottom, qualitatively, of my wine-consciousness because they are not as good as the more expensive wines I've been fortunate to taste in my career. Without any pretension, that is a fact. There are occasional exceptions which never fail to bring joy and a smile (and a positive review), but generally, wines that are inexpensive are also of lower quality and "score" lower on my (and other's) scale.

How do I convey that fact to my readers without coming across as a snob? 

I strive to balance the positives and negatives of every wine while remaining careful not to endorse something that I myself wouldn't drink. In my firm opinion, readers can see through the bullshit, especially from Wine Bloggers. What's required is a deft grammatical touch, correct phraseology, and being nice. I've spoken before of accepting all wine drinkers from the neophyte to the gurus. Inclusiveness is obviously vital to expanding the reach and influence of the wine blogging community.

 Though I always take self-appointed "wine gurus" (or divas, gods, goddesses, etc) with a grain of salt...

Now, about those Wine Bloggers...

Wine bloggers are under an obligation, which more and more of us seem to forget or dismiss, to write about what we're sent. So then, why do wine bloggers forget that obligation or dismiss it? That's easy; the main reason is that they don't want to cut of the flow of free wine. I'll be polite and refrain from naming any names, but when you gush over every single wine you're sent, without fail, in every public forum you can get into, something is wrong.

The word disingenuous comes to mind when I think of these bloggers, and quite a few of them are very "famous" in the insular wine blogging community. When I read their reviews, I grimace and understand why people like WAWineMan and the HoseMaster of Wine love to insult and demean wine bloggers. Perhaps those two have a point. If ever a small group within a large group harmed the collective image, those disingenuous bloggers are it.

Another point must be made: what is often forgotten is that someone took the time to reach out and send us a product that was made (by someone else) and is now on store shelves. Refraining from writing about that wine is basically ripping off the producer and entity that sent you the free bottle. By accepting samples we accept the mantle or responsibility to write honestly about those samples, not ignore the ones we don't like or gush about every single free bottle that ends up in our kitchen.

Backtracking just a bit to the consumers, i.e. our target audience..

Consumers want an accurate, non-sugar-coated wine review to assist them in their buying decisions. The only way to get more wine lovers to read wine blogs is to gain their trust while encouraging them to keep expanding their drinking boundaries. Bringing an element of personal evaluation into your review is critical, so long as you can do so without the rancor or rudeness of a cad. By showing a human side, one that likes some wines and dislikes others, without pretension, the average Googler will read your blog and might actually take away something useful.

My point is that every wine deserves a fair chance, and going back to what I wrote before, I personally do give every single wine I taste a fair shake before taking notes and writing up the review. After that fair shake, all bets are off, and that's how it should be, right? MY blog reflects the sum of MY wine experience. Is that unreasonable, or should we all strive for a similar philosophy?

Wine bloggers already have a bit of a bad reputation, and generally speaking, it might just be deserved.

Beau Carufel

Friday, November 11, 2011

Tudal Wine Group: Tractor Shed Red & Honker Blanc

This feature is about two wines from Tudal Family Winery, a producer I hadn't heard of, let alone tasted, ever. I was sent two samples, their entry level red blend and their sauvignon blanc. The red blend "Tractor Shed Red", is priced at $12 and the "Honker Blanc" is at a suggested retail of $14. From there, the price goes up (and so does the quality, we hope) for the Vineyard Series and Signature Series. Sadly, I was not sent those wines to taste.

Unfortunately, the Tudal website is pretty useless, not giving current pricing or even current releases. A quick check on cellartracker.com shows that the higher end bottlings are generally considered to be excellent, and the two bottles I was sent are considered to be good to very good. My tasting notes will follow, below the fold.

According to the backs of the bottles, the Tudal family has four generations of winemaking experience and have been making the Tractor Shed Red since 1997. These wines are made in St. Helena, at the actual Tudal winery..I think..It may have been branded as the Cerruti Cellars winery though, owned by the Tudal Group.Again, the website is rather useless so I was left to do research on my own.

Also on the back of the bottle are the words "Cellared & Bottled by Cerruti Cellars", so apparently this kitchen-sink of a red blend is produced under a different legal entity, from grapes that the Tudal family grows. The Honker Blanc has the same verbiage. More reading of the back label tells us that the "Tractor Shed Red" is an "Artful blending of noble Bordeaux and Italian-style varietals from each California harvest...". Unfortunately when I read that, I immediately conjure images of a $4 red blend from Trader Joe's. In other words, something that is utter crap.

(img src:http://cerruticellars.com/)

2010 Honker Blanc - 100% sauvignon blanc grown in Napa Valley. 13.8% abv, yes it's high but this is also Napa Valley. Aromatically pleasant, sweet melon, citrus, maybe a touch of apple. Where the Honker Blanc gets really sensational is across the palate. Vibrant acid, full of lime and lemon, green apple, a touch of sweet kiwi, and a hint of green jalapeno play extremely well together. Suffice it to say, I like finding wines at this QPR, especially with Napa Valley on the label. I didn't detect any alcoholic heat or out of balance flavors. Suggested pairings include citrus-glazed seabass, scallops and linguine, or pre-party nibbles. Well worth the $14. B, BUY recommendation. Bravo!

(img src:http://cerruticellars.com/)

2009 Tractor Shed Red - Now to the red blend, coming in at 14.2% abv. The Cerruti Cellars website reveals that the 2009 Tractor Shed Red is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Sangiovese, and Zinfandel. Like I said, kitchen sink. I couldn't detect any heat on the nose, which was full of very ripe red fruit and some peppery spice. I suspect this saw some oak chip treatment, but it's not offensive by any means. There's a pleasant ripeness at play, which makes the Tractor Shed Red very easy to drink. It's not syrupy sweet, and the tannin are enough to balance out the wine nicely, especially on the finish. What stuck out was how this drank like a $25 red blend when it cost a lot less than that. A solid effort, easy to drink, and let's face it, cheap. This delivers above the $12 price point and is a wine to have around when you just want a pizza in the middle of the week. B- and a BUY recommendation.

Two good wines at good prices, worth seeking out. You can go to the Cerruti Cellars website and find out who carries them in your geographical area.

These wines were media samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Quivira Zinfandel, 2009, Dry Creek Valley

Sent as a sample some months ago, this Quivira zinfandel ends up being one of the first wines reviewed since I moved up here to Portland, Oregon. The rest of the samples are done resting after the two day, 1,050 mile journey from San Diego, so you can expect to see the pace of reviews pick up a bit as we get into the holidays.

Zinfandel has always been a favored grape for me, it was perhaps the first red wine I tasted, 20 years ago at my family's dining table. For that reason, while others disparage zin, I love and drink it with gusto. During the course of my blog I've tasted multiple excellent bottles, including zinfandel from Shannon Ridge, and from Paul Dolan Vineyards.

So let's talk about this 2009 Quivira Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel. It's not an alcohol monster, coming in at a currently-normal 14.8%. It's got a beautiful purple color, turning garnet towards the outer edges. I can see through it, save for the center where it's inky purple.

The Quivira is aromatically quite nice, with notes of candied raspberry, plum, black pepper, and just the barest hint of earth. None of that mixed-berry jam you can get out of Paso Robles zin, the Quivira wears it's ripeness very, very nicely. Aside from some heat, it was hard to find fault with the bouquet.

If you like balanced zinfandel, this is it. In 2009, California experienced a very good growing season, some might say excellent. I feel that this good vintage, combined with good winemaking, led to a lot of balance even in varietals where it's easy to veer towards over-ripeness. This wine has a great peppery start, then a lush, ripe plum/blackberry flavor comes charging through. Behind that are some tannin, perhaps from the oak barrel, lending to a structurally sound finish.

To me, the 2009 Quivira zinfandel is a food-wine, one that I would happily pair with burgers, meatloaf, and especially some autumn stew with big chunks of meat in it. If you do like big, rich red wines with Thanksgiving, there's another pairing that could work out very nicely.

There you have it, a deliciously affordable zinfandel from a producer who clearly knows what they are doing. I rated this a B and STRONG BUY recommendation. Well worth seeking out at good wine shops and high end markets, especially for $20 or less.

This was a media sample for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Wente Named American Winery of the Year by Wine Enthusiast

This came down the PR wire the other day. Congratulations to Wente Family Estates, they've a long heritage behind them and should be very proud of this achievement. In my near-decade selling wine, Wente has consistently been a customer favorite.

Press Release Below:
Wente Family Estates Named American Winery of the Year
by Wine Enthusiast Magazine

"November 7, 2011 - Livermore, CA - Carolyn Wente, CEO and Fourth Generation Winegrower of America’s oldest continuously owned and operated winery, is pleased to announce that her family business has received the 2011 American Winery of the Year award from Wine Enthusiast magazine. Wente Family Estates is comprised of Wente Vineyards, Murrieta’s Well and Tamás Estates as well as entwine, a partnership between The Food Network and Wente Vineyards. Known as the Wine Star Awards for the last 11 years, the magazine honors international wine personalities who have had great influence on the world of wine.

Wente Family Estates joins an esteemed group of winners this year including Restaurateur of the Year Michael Mina, Winemaker of the Year Bob Cabral of Williams Selyem, and Georg & Maximilian Riedel as Generations of Innovation, among others. Upon learning of the news, CEO Carolyn Wente stated, “This is really such a wonderful acknowledgement and recognition for the five generations of my family who have remained committed to the wine business. We all love what we do and my two brothers Eric and Phil and my niece and nephew Christine and Karl are individually helping to build our company into a strong, relevant and quality driven winery in the 21st century. We have built on the foundation laid by my great grandfather, Carl Wente, who came to this country as an immigrant in the late 19th century, to the Livermore Valley in 1883.”

This award comes at an auspicious time for the winery as 2012 will mark the 100th anniversary of Chardonnay coming to America. In 1912, Ernest Wente, son of founder Carl Wente, brought Chardonnay cuttings from Montpelier, France to California. His plantings and experimentation with the Chardonnay clone began a chapter in California wine history that continues today. Post Prohibition, Chardonnay plantings encompassed roughly 100 acres in California, and today nearly 100,000 acres are planted to Chardonnay and it is the top selling varietal in the country. Over 75% of the Chardonnay planted in California is derived from the Wente clone, making the Wente family integral in the development of wine culture for Americans.

As one of the top 30 wine companies in America several years running, Wente Family Estates has established itself as a unique company given that it is family-owned, and all of its fruit is estate grown and sustainably farmed. Due to the vision of CEO Carolyn Wente, the winery was also among the first to develop a wine country destination program when 25 years ago, Carolyn launched both an onsite fine dining restaurant, The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards, as well as the renowned Concerts at Wente Vineyards. In 1998, the winery opened the Course at Wente Vineyards on property, an 18-hole championship course designed by Greg Norman. Blazing a trail that many would follow, Wente Vineyards made wine country more than just a casual stop by a tasting room to an entire wine country experience.

In 2008, on the occasion of their 125th anniversary, the Culinary Institute of America inducted Wente Vineyards’ founder Carl Heinrich Wente into the “Vintners Hall of Fame” as a “Pioneer.” In 2010, the winery was named both Winery of the Year by the California Travel Industry Association and received the Lifetime Achievement award at the 2010 California State Fair. Several generations of sustainability efforts were also recognized when Wente Family Estates became among the first wineries to attain Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing status for its business and winemaking practices in 2010. Also in 2010, the Course at Wente Vineyards became a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary by the Audubon International Program, recognized for its commitment to provide a sanctuary for wildlife on the golf course property as part of its holistic sustainability mandate.

With the Winery of the Year Award, Wente Family Estates is recognized in good company in the Winery of the Year category with previous recipients J. Lohr, Trinchero Family Estates and Concannon. The winners will be announced in the December 15th issue of Wine Enthusiast and a private ceremony honoring the awardees will be held at the New York Public Library on January 30, 2012.

About Wente Vineyards
Founded in 1883, Wente Vineyards is the country's oldest continuously operated family-owned winery. Today, Wente Vineyards is led by the fourth and fifth generations of the Wente family. More than 128 years of committed stewardship to the land led to the development in the 1990s of Wente Vineyards’ Farming for the Future program, a system of sustainable viticultural practices designed to produce the best quality wines with the least environmental impact. This philosophy extends to all aspects of winery operations, where energy efficiency, waste reduction, recycling and social responsibility are all integral to the culture.

Located just east of San Francisco in the historic Livermore Valley, Wente Vineyards is recognized as one of California’s premier wine country destinations, featuring wine tasting, fine dining and championship golf. For more information, visit www.wentevineyards.com."


Congratulations again to Wente and the people there.

Beau Carufel

Friday, November 4, 2011

California Cabernet's from Chateau Felice, Krutz, Wente, and Rodney Strong.

About a month ago I took part in a tasting of four California cabernet sauvignons withTasteLive and group of fellow wine bloggers. I've been fortunate enough to participate in other TasteLive events, the format being that select bloggers around the country are sent samples to taste and talk about, live. TasteLive's website allows each blogger to log in and appends each tweet with hashtags relevant to the tasting.

For the wineries and PR groups, TasteLive represents a great way to spread each brand across a huge chunk of the wine-drinking, new media-using demographic. It's also a smart way to build background buzz about wines and/or regions that the PR groups are trying to build awareness for. For us bloggers, well, let's face it, we get free wine to taste and talk about..Things we already love doing to begin with.

The event last month was titled "Luscious Hedonisms", and was intended to showcase four different cabernet sauvignon growing regions in California. We were sent these bottles of wine a few weeks before the tasting, then on October 11, we all gathered at our respective homes and swirled, sniffed, and sipped our way through some expensive wine. I think some of us spit too, though I confess to not spitting a couple of the wines. The lowest priced bottling was around $49, the highest coming in close to $75. Those are, of course, suggested retail prices.

Here are the wines:

2007 Chateau Felice La Craie American Celebration: From the Chalk Hill AVA, this is actually a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc. It's what we here would call a "Meritage", "we" and "here" being totally irrelevant of course. The Chateau Felice is tight upon pulling the cork, but soon reveals aromas of leather, plum, baking chocolate, and herbs. Out of the four wines, I feel it had the most tannic presence, but backed up the firm tannin with gorgeous flavors of cassis, black cherry, baseball glove, and a bit of dusty oak. I rated this wine a B+, it's very, very good and worthy of your cellar. Suggested retail: $50. Alcohol: 14.3%

2007 Krutz Cellars Stagecoach Cabernet Sauvignon: Ok, first off, why the hell would Krutz even want to send a bunch of bloggers a 95 point (W.E.) cabernet sauvignon? It's suggested retail is $75, so the score:price ratio is right (for once). This was by far the best wine of the tasting, and you can find it for $65 at good retailers. The bouquet is all Napa mountain fruit, brimming with cassis, black cherry, herb, dark earth, and hints of vanilla. Despite four years of age (two in bottle) this wine is still a bit tannic which only means it needs more time in your cellar to become even more delicious. Gorgeous plum and blueberry, vanilla cocoa, dry desert herb, and leather all balance out very nicely on the palate. Wonderfully integrated despite it's young age, the Krutz Stagecoach has many years left. I gave this wine an A and STRONG BUY for those who want a cabernet that reminds us why Napa Valley is one of the best places on earth to grow that varietal. 14.8% abv.

2008 Rodney Strong Alexander's Crown Cabernet Sauvignon: Another $75 srp California cabernet sauvignon, this time from Alexander Valley. Wine Spectator rated this a 93 points, so we have another highly rated wine given to a bunch of bloggers. And again, I am somewhat baffled. That said, I'm more than happy to taste and talk about wines with high scores. Unfortunately, I disagree with the 93 point rating, mine is closer to a B+, or 87/88 points. This smelled of ripe blueberries, sweet red cherry, and oak. After a few hours I was able to detect some bits of minerality but they were lost behind the over-extracted fruit flavors which themselves had to contend with massive amounts of vanilla oak. The palate left me feeling much the same, this wine feels big and tastes intense. More of the ripe berry fruit and a big dollop of vanilla oak are battling it out. I think with time this might mellow out and allow the intriguing mineral element to come play but for now, it's just not my thing. PASS recommendation, especially at $75. 15.5% alcohol. (wow!!)

2007 Wente "The Nth Degree" Cabernet Sauvignon: The last wine of the evening was from Wente, a producer I generally avoid because I've always found their wines to be heavily oaked and lacking structure. Their winery is located the same area they get their fruit from, the Livermore Valley AVA. The 2007 The Nth Degree was heavily oaked as usual, but luckily there was also some firm tannin that acted to restrain the vanilla and cocoa flavors of the oak barrels. Like the Rodney Strong, I smelled a lot of vanilla, cocoa powder, ripe berry fruit, and the barest hint of minerality. Across the palate, more of those extracted berry flavors and vanilla oak, framed by the tannin I mentioned before. Luckily the Wente cabernet is also balanced nicely, so those of you who enjoy a California cabernet sauvignon that is made in the style that California is now departing from need not despair! The suggested retail is $60, teetering on the edge of the "overpriced California wine" precipice. I feel the quality is high, but it's too extracted and still too oaked for my palate. B+ and a PASS from me. If you want this style, don't pay $60 a bottle, despite the obvious quality here. 14.3% alcohol.

Tasting four brawny California cabernet's is one thing, but tasting them in a realistic setting means that you need food to accompany the wines! Cabernet and steak go together like Beau and Burgundy, so it was time to cook up three pieces of tri-tip. Becky was in town helping me pack for my move to Oregon, and my buddy Justin came over because he likes free wine and to hang out. Here are some pictures of our meal:

Tri-tip steaks marinated with a spicy Cajun sauce for a few hours, then put into my cast iron skillet to broil in the oven. I could have gone with rib-eye or New York Strip but those are pricier options and these were the perfect size, one for each of us.

Some people wonder why steak or red meat pairs so well with tannic red wines, one of the reasons for this is that tannin binds well with proteins in red meat, creating a nice synergy of texture and flavor. Another reason, the actual taste of good beef, a "meaty" taste, pairs with flavors like herb, earth, and even spicy black fruit.

Here you see the tri-tip steaks fresh out of the oven, ready to be enjoyed with the different cabernet's. When I pair steak with wine, I tend towards reds with firmer tannin levels opposed to fruitier reds like merlot. Cabernet fits that bill perfectly - if you pick correctly. Forgive the rant, but too many California (Napa Valley in particular) cabernet's are so fruity and over-extracted that their flavors completely overwhelm any food you try to pair with them. As a result, I look for cabernet from Washington state, Mendocino and Lake Counties, the Sierra Foothills, and France. That said, the Krutz paired brilliantly, as did the Chateau Felice.

I have to confess, I reduced the mushrooms in the 2007 Krutz Cellars cabernet, which was so good that I knew it would ensure the mushrooms were awesome.

They were, and spooned onto the steaks created a delicious match of flavors. Again sticking with the more tannic reds of the tasting, Chateau Felice and Krutz, earth flavors found in mushrooms are complementary to those wines.

I wish I had the finished meal to show you, plated and all, but I don't. That's a major fail on my part, but I can leave you with this: the meal was damn good.

Cabernet Sauvignon is versatile, it can grow in many places on this planet and the finished wine can run the gamut from austere to overly sweet and tasting of vanilla sawdust. My tastes run towards the former, and lucky for me and those with palates like mine, there is a shift towards more restrained styles going on in California. Each wine we tasted was high quality, of that there is no doubt, unfortunately the latter two were simply over-made wines. They aimed for a flavor profile that is increasingly out of sync with today's wine drinker. Time will tell if in future vintages, Rodney Strong and Wente's top offerings begin to resemble those of producers like Krutz, Round Pond, and Elizabeth Spencer.

The TasteLive event itself was a lot of fun, even if I wasn't able to tweet as much as I'd hoped. Juggling hosting duties, taking notes, and interacting with people on Twitter and TasteLive was a daunting task, one that I need to work on. That said, I want to thank the TasteLive folks and the winery representatives for taking the time to get this all up and get us bloggers the wine, as well as sticking around to answer questions and give us good data on what we were drinking.

These wines were media samples for tasting purposes.

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bordeaux Vintners Run the New York Marathon

This came in over the PR wire the other day and caught my eye. I love how it's for a good cause, and for once, Bordeaux did put a smile on my face. Read below to see more details, and maybe some day a team from Napa, Sonoma, Washington, or even Oregon could do something similar to this...

Anyways, as a native New Yorker, the Marathon has always been something that's made me proud, both for it's worldwide appeal and sheer difficulty. I have immense respect for anyone who even attempts to finish one,  and running in New York City in November is no easy task.

"45,000 runners, 42.195 km (26.2 miles), 4 million spectators: the numbers are impressive. Amateurs and enthusiasts of all kinds from all over the world will be making their way to America on November 6th for the magical race that is the New York Marathon. Among them is an unusual team drawn from fifteen top Bordeaux wine estates. Baptised the Bordeaux Grands Crus Runners specially for the occasion, they represent more than twenty of the most famous names in wine, familiar all over the world. Some of the runners have already been training for over a year under the guidance of a coach who is also a renowned cardiologist, wearing out numerous pairs of shoes and covering hundreds of miles, come rain or shine.

A French TV crew has decided to follow them in their adventure, together with a journalist from a leading French newspaper, a marathon runner himself who will also be taking part in the race. But more than just a sporting challenge, the New York Marathon also offers a unique opportunity to represent the wine estates and their wines. Taking advantage of the spotlight turned on one of the world's most popular sporting events, all the participants will be offering their wines at tastings and dinners in Bordeaux and New York. As well as a challenge, the marathon is also and above all a human adventure just as important as promoting wines. Lysistrata, the women's rights charity of which Titouan Lamazou is the ambassador, has taken a particular interest in the competitors from Bordeaux. That is why the Bordeaux Grands Crus Runners have chosen not only to run but also to raise money, not least through an auction of wines, to defend the cause of women in the world and to help fight violence against them.

For more information about Lysistrata: www.lysistrata.org

The first New York City marathon took place in 1970, when 127 competitors ran several laps round Central Park. 40 years later, the annual event draws over 40,000 runners. The route has been redrawn to take in all the city's five districts: Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan. Over 300 million TV viewers around the world follow the live broadcast. The record of 2:07:43 was set by the Ethiopian Tesfaye Jifar in 2001."

Next year I'd love to see a group of young Napa vintners do this, especially if they also raised money for a charity.

Beau Carufel