Wednesday, October 31, 2012

2005 Chateau Fontblanche: High Quality and Low Price

It's no secret that Bordeaux is home to many of the world's most expensive wines. The coveted "Grand Cru Classe" wines can cost over $1,000 a bottle. Though they receive most of the attention when it comes to Bordeaux wines, the "Classified Growths" make up a very small (10% or less) amount of the total production from the area. Just within the greater Bordeaux AOC, more wine is produced than from the entire state of California!

Bordeaux's "other side", that is, wines not made by Chateaux classified in the 1855 Official Wine Classification, is chock full of incredible values and hidden gems. The point of all my rambling is to point out yet another example of why you should be looking for Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur wines to put in your regular rotation.

Take the 2005 Chateau Fontblanche Bordeaux, imported here into Oregon by Mitchell Wines and available for around $15, assuming there's any left. I picked it up at The Friendly Vine, in Forest Grove, because I saw it was from an amazing vintage and priced very nicely.

Sometimes, one desires Bordeaux. Every human on earth gets cravings, mine show up for wine. One night it will be a Bordeaux, the next night I'm scouring my collection looking for an Oregon pinot blanc.

For around $15 this wine seriously over-delivers, as proof I present my note from
"Decanted for a couple of hours before tasting. A lot of dark cherry and cassis on the nose, along with some herb and soil aromas. Smells pretty good for a $12 bottle of wine. The palate is (to me) pure Bordeaux, with lots of tannin creating a structure for flavors of black cherry and blackberry, cassis, dried herb, and black pepper. There's a definite smoky, savory note too, and if it were a bit more developed I'd like this wine even more. There's a bit of volatile acidity here that can be distracting at times, but again, for $12 this is a very tasty Bordeaux. Drink within the next 2-4 years."

If I were still in the business of rating wines, I'd give this a B+ (87 points), as it drinks better than almost every domestic wine in the same price point that I can remember having.

One of the things I love about Bordeaux wines, be they from the right or left bank of the, is that they can have this amazing sense of soul. If you do some digging, it's easy to find wines like this, where the quality level is excellent for the price, and the wine is actually interesting.

I offer this advice to those of you just starting to explore Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur: look in the $9-19 price range and seek out wines made primarily with merlot, as they'll be more accessible right now. This 2005 Chateau Fontblanche was 80% merlot with equal parts cabernet sauvignon and malbec making up the difference. Also, don't be afraid of Bordeaux wines with some age on them! Often times even the merlot-based wines are tannic beasts when young, but with time the tannins mellow and the flavors integrate into a delicious palette of flavors.

Stay tuned for more observations on Bordeaux and the wines of Bordeaux, inspired by my September trip to the region as a guest of Planet Bordeaux.

Were I to see this wine for sale again somewhere, I'd stock up. It's that good.

Beau Carufel

Monday, October 29, 2012

#CabernetDay 2012, Graffigna, Jacob's Creek, and Owen Roe Come to Dinner

This past August, wine lovers around the world celebrated "Cabernet Day", as if one of the world's most popular grapes needed any more attention. It doesn't, but any excuse to drink cabernet-based wines is welcome. Up here in pinot noir country, I rarely get my hands on cabernet, though I've noticed an increasing thirst (see what I did there?) for cabs (to use wine-geek shorthand) of late. Perhaps my palate is getting burned out on pinot noir?

Rambling aside, Rick Bakas of..well..many things wine and food, started this two years ago to promote cabernet and cabernet-growing regions. Each year has seen the "buzz" grow, as well as more important metrics like the number of participants. I noticed tweets and Facebook posts coming from around the world as wine stores and wineries hosted special events, wine lovers hosted parties, and regular ol' wine geeks like me popped bottles of cabernet.

Participants communicated via Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, using the hashtag #CabernetDay. Of note, many people used the more traditional "face to face" method of communication. No, these weren't wine hipsters bent on being ironic, but wine lovers who realize the importance of sharing wine in person.

Like many bloggers, I was sent bottles as samples, with the hope that I would open and tweet about what I was having (and of course, use the #CabernetDay hashtag). Being a somewhat nice guy, I played along. It didn't hurt that the two samples I received were pretty tasty, or that the special bottle Becky and I opened was a stunning Washington cabernet from Owen Roe.

2009 Jacob's Creek Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Coonawarra: A nicely priced Australian Cabernet Sauvignon. Jacob's Creek makes a lot of wine, so this one is easy to find. Priced between $7 and $13, I found this to be a nice value for the money, especially at the lower end. The bouquet was full of ripe red and black berry fruit, eucalyptus, and leather. Once tasted, I found notes of the aforementioned fruit, along with oak, mocha, menthol, and dusty soil. It was very pleasant and the complexity surprised me for the price.

2008 Graffigna Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: An Argentine Cabernet with some age on it, now things are getting interesting. I was especially intriuged because I made the mistake of reading some previous reviews of this Cabernet Sauvignon before I got around to tasting it. Of those, Stephen Tanzer, whom I respect greatly, gave this an 88 points. To me, that's a fine score! After sitting open for several hours, I liked the black currant and cherry notes, leather, and wood smoke. It's a full-bodied wine, still drinking a bit young and unintegrated, but overall a fun, good quality cabernet. SRP $15.

2008 Owen Roe Cabernet Sauvignon 1973 Block Red Willow Vineyard: Becky brought this home to open, and we're glad we did! Here is my review from "Gorgeous wine. Absolutely gorgeous. The bouquet is full of anise, leather, mocha, and dusty mineral notes. On the palate it's rich and complex, showing plenty of black fruit, salted meat, and bittersweet chocolate flavors. Integrated tannin lends a supple structure, and a surprising amount of acidity helps keep the balance. I could see this wine improving for another10 years, easily. It needed a solid two hours in the decanter, but is now showing as one of the best domestic cabernets you can buy for under $100."

And there you have it, Cabernet Day 2012, as told from Forest Grove. Two fun, solid wines and one stunningly good expression of the grape.

The first two wines featured here were recived as media samples.

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Finger Lakes Wine: Red Tail Ridge Whites and Reds

After my last experience tasting wine from New York's Finger Lakes region, one which was a disaster, I was approached by my friend and fellow wine blogger Lenn Thompson. Lenn is one of the wine blogging world's heavyweights, as the editor of the New York Cork Report. He saw my piece on the Finger Lakes Virtual Tasting and asked me if I was interested in participating in another tasting at some point in the future.

Despite my bad experience with the previous Finger Lakes wines, I told him I was interested but promptly forgot about it. Life has been crazy since February..or better yet, since I moved here in October of last year. When Lenn did reach out to me with a firm date, asking if I wanted to do another virtual tasting with a single producer's wines, I readily agreed and looked forward to another round with wines from the Finger Lakes.

This time, we were tasting the wines from Red Tail Ridge, a 32 acre vineyard and winery located close to Seneca Lake. Founded in 2004, Red Tail Ridge makes a lineup of wines using both common and uncommon varieties. Since the Finger Lakes region is un-constrained by the dogmatic adherence to cabernet, syrah, and chardonnay that Napa Valley is, the wine growers love to plant unique and sometimes crazy grape species.

Unfortunately, the day of the virtual tasting came and I still had no wine! It didn't show up until later in the afternoon, an hour or two before the tasting start. This seems to happen frequently in virtual tastings, and while I won't single out Red Tail Ridge, I'll say that it's almost worthless to send out wine samples and not allow at least two weeks for the wine to settle. PR and marketing people should take note, get your acts together and if you're going to send out samples for virtual tastings, do so sooner rather than later.

2010 Red Tail Ridge Dry Riesling: Notes of ripe apricot, white flowers, and tropical fruits are all nicely integrated into a fun, aromatic bouquet. The palate brings vibrant acidity that showcases flavors of lemon, summer melon, and baking spices. As far as rieslings go, this is utterly delicious, and one of those wines that is flat-out fun to drink. Only 12% alcohol too, and best enjoyed with a nice chill on it.

2010 Red Tail Ridge Pinot Noir Estate Grown: Notes of shoe leather, shoe polish, cranberry, raw peppercorn, and green herbs make up the bouquet. Some slight burning sensations come out too, can't figure out if it's unbalanced alcohol or ethyl acetate. An intriguing bouquet that's worlds better than the first night it was opened. On the palate this is somewhat rustic, with prickly acidity all over the place, a savory note, and more of the cranberries mixing with cherries. Vaguely reminiscent of a pinot noir from Alto Adige, yet retaining it's own fickle texture. Hardly any tannin and an evaporative, quick finish that's all angles and green herb flavor. I get the distinct sense that this pinot noir is very uncomfortable right now, but will settle with age. 13.8% abv.

2009 Red Tail Ridge Blaufrankisch: Aromas of soil, tar, spices, and lots of red berry fruit rush up out of the glass. At first, the tar scent dominates before giving way to the red berries and spices. I liked this even more on the second day. It's a zingy wine with nice acidity but hardly any tannin. Still, that works becasue there's enough spice and red fruit mixed with a smokey, salted meat flavor to keep things interesting. The finish is medium length, retaining enough of that savory-meat quality to make your palate thirst for the next sip. 12% abv.

NV Red Tail Ridge Dornfelder: I'll admit, this wine confused me. When I pulled the cork, I thought I smelled something akin to hot plastic, like one of those hospital oxygen masks left in the sun. Weird! As the wine sat in my glass though, it began to show lots of plum and spice notes, along with black cherry and wood. Sipping this wine was like eating a bowl full of mixed, red berry fruit with little pieces of smoked meat thrown in. There was also a pleasant minerality that I found very compelling, especially on the second day. Another thing that impressed me about this Dornfelder was the long finish, easily lasting about 30 seconds. 12% abv.

For my palate, Red Tail Ridge is producing some of the best red wines in New York. Unfortunately, I have to say that I haven't had many reds from my home state yet. Still, the wines I tasted were compelling and although young, showed great promise. I liked the Dornfelder, a blend of the 2009 and 2010 vintages, for its uniqueness. The pinot noir shows that good pinot can in fact come from the Finger Lakes, and the Blaufrankisch was absolutely delicious. Of course, the Riesling was a fun, friendly wine too.

Since the wines arrived on the day of the Twitter Tasting, I refused to open and taste them, save for the Pinot Noir, and therefore missed out on some insights from the winery's representatives whom were on hand to answer questions. I also forgot to get a good picture of the Pinot Noir. Hindsight being what it is, I am glad I waited several months for the wines to settle out, because they would have been tough to drink on that warm April night.

Thanks to Lenn Thompson and the people at Red Tail Ridge for putting this together and showing me some delicious wines from the Finger Lakes of New York.

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Back From Bordeaux

I returned from Bordeaux on Friday, September 28th. Two days later, I started this article in the hopes of quickly putting together some thoughts from my trip. Unfortunately, the more I attempted to distill everything that happened into a concise account, the more a stray idea or remembered thought would intrude, filling valuable space in the story.

That said, I feel like I now have a better idea of what this post will be about. Prior to leaving, I posted a brief note, Bordeaux Bound, explaining some goals for this trip. I'm happy to report that the goals were fulfilled, and bringing the stories to you over the next several months is going to be a lot of fun. Right now however, I'd like to present some broader ideas that have germinated as a result of my time there.

Everywhere I looked in Bordeaux, there was and is history that stretches back hundreds, sometimes a thousand years. Simply assuming that the Grand Cru Classe producers have all the history is an error, for I visited and stayed at multiple Chateaux that were older than the United States. Growing wine grapes is Bordeaux, put simply. A thought occurred to me during the drive between wineries; that if the land wasn't right for grapes, no one would be growing them. For all the up and coming regions across the world and all the compelling wines from those regions, places like Bordeaux are where the inspiration originated.

Consider this: I heard multiple stories of sons and daughters returning to Bordeaux from careers across France just to pick up the familial tradition of winegrowing. Successful individuals (and their nuclear families) would leave places like Paris to return, living in the country, farming, and coaxing wine grapes from the land. Such is the people's connection to the land and their heritage.

Bordeaux wines, of the ones we tasted, all met a minimum baseline for quality. The quality of every wine was at the very least, acceptable for the price. This was encouraging, and while perhaps a nod to our curated list of places to visit, reassured me that the Bordelais do have their act together when it comes to quality control and proper winemaking technique.

To become a more important part of the American Wine Conversation, there must be a seismic change in how the wines are packaged. Good packaging can help tell a story, and in our image-obsessed culture, becomes as important as the story. As the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur producers learn this, then implement changes, their wines will do better in our market.

Sommeliers who proudly proclaim that they do not carry and Bordeaux wines are doing their guests and themselves a disservice. I tasted multiple wines that would do wonderfully well as glass-pours at high-quality steakhouses across America. Diners today are seeking and expect greater choices than ever when they look at a menu, there is no reason good quality Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur wines shouldn't be on wine lists across the country.

White Bordeaux wines offer a welcome respite for those weary of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Oregon Pinot Gris (blasphemy?!), and California god-knows-what. Producers of white Bordeaux had done the smart thing with prices too, keeping them in line with the aforementioned wines from other regions. Even after some oak-aging, many of the Bordeaux Blanc retained a freshness both aromatically and on the palate. They're worth seeking out!

Before I bore you further, I'll end this first-of-many Bordeaux posts with the idea that Bordeaux wines deserve a spot in our cellars and on our tables. Most of these wines are more than just a beverage, they're a communication medium, but you have to take a moment to listen.

This trip was sponsored by Planet Bordeaux and facilitated by Balzac Communications.

Beau Carufel