Saturday, May 22, 2010

California Chardonnay..One You Need to Try..

I admit not liking most of the Chardonnay that California produces. For my tastes, the wine too often relies on heavy oak treatment and too much malolactic fermentation. The result is a rich, velvety, buttery wine that coats your palate, feeling thick and fleshy. This style has enormous appeal to many wine drinkers, but I've never been a fan.

Some critics, experts and bloggers argue this is an expression of California's terrior or "signature style". They do have a point, however there are some truly remarkable California Chardonnays available that achieve the balance and harmonious nature I believe represent the best Chardonnays in the world. You know, like those from France! Not that I'm biased or anything...All joking aside, I always remain open to trying California Chardonnay, seeking out ones that match my palate.

This latest Chardonnay, the 2007 Cleavage Creek Reserve, represents deliciousness (a word? who cares!) and an impressive QPR (Quality to Price Ratio). You probably have heard of Cleavage Creek Winery because of their mission and the quality juice they're putting out. Donating ten percent of the gross sales to breast cancer charities is going to produce tangible results, I admire and salute Budge Brown for his efforts. Hopefully after reading this blog you take the time to look at the website and support their mission.

2007 Cleavage Creek Reserve Chardonnay Tracy Hills

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The wine was within a few degrees of room temperature when I opened and poured it with the first taste coming about 20 minutes later. In the glass, I noted a gorgeous straw color, reminiscent of a Montrachet.

Whiffs of pineapple, a hint of perfume, vanilla oak, clover honey and a dash of butter, all of them balanced, flowing from one to the next. The thick, lush seam of pineapple with it's sweet but acidic scent bursts through before tapering off, allowing the oak and honey time to make themselves known before they too recede. I felt happy, relieved that I wasn't smelling an oak bomb.

Eagerly anticipating my first sip, I had my pen at the ready to jot down some impressions. I'm not trying to be authoritative, preferring to give you my impressions while recognizing inherent differences in everyone's palates. That disclaimer aside, I tasted passion fruit, pineapple, the barest caress of oak, and much to my delight, a gorgeous vein of acidity streaking across the mid-palate, contrasted by a creamy texture that held the acidity at bay. This wine tasted as if that acid was designed to wrap the Chardonnay into a neat package but the creamy texture was designed to remind me of which varietal I was drinking.

The creamy, buttery flavor was a great contrast to the citrus acidity, creating something that you could enjoy alone or with food. I was reminded of eating a fruit salad with mango, passion fruit, lots of pineapple and some lemon zest thrown in, then taking a quick whiff out of a bottle of vanilla while you ate the salad. Sitting next to you was a classy lady wearing a classy perfume that occasionally flitted under your nose. That sensory experience is this wine to me.

Despite spending ten months in oak, despite being a California Chardonnay and despite my bias, I absolutely enjoyed the 2007 Reserve Chardonnay. It's an easy A and a very strong BUY recommendation. For $15 this Cleavage Creek is a bargain, delivering far above that price point and featuring a flavor profile that will appeal to all kinds of Chardonnay drinkers. For those interested, @CleavageCreek is their Twitter account.

This wine was provided as a sample from Cleavage Creek Winery.

Beau Carufel


Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Secret Red..For a Worthy Cause

One of the biggest things I admire about the wine industry is their support for any number of good causes. There are so many to choose from, but that doesn't seem to matter to vintners, winery owners, wine drinkers and everyone in between who happily give their time, money and wine in an effort to do some good in this world.

I'm writing this evening about Cleavage Creek. They're not a big household name, rather a small label making a handful of wines. In 2005, a man named Budge Brown lost his wife of 48 years, Arlene, to breast cancer. Out of that tragedy, he took action, bought the Cleavage Creek label and started producing wine. His first release coming in 2007 with subsequent releases in 2008 and October 2009. His mission is to support ongoing breast cancer research and build awareness while making great wines. A full ten percent of the gross (not net) sales are donated to fund research and treatment of the disease. Each bottle features a picture of a breast cancer survivor on the label and the website features their stories for you to read.

Recently, the good folks at Cleavage Creek sent me some samples to evaluate, which is what I'll be writing about over the next few blogs. The first wine I tasted was the 2007 Secret Red. The blend is..well, it's secret. I'll be making a stab at it later on. Of note, the always entertaining Gary Vaynerchuk just featured Budge on his show, here's a link to the video. Worth a watch!

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I opened the 2007 Secret Red about one hour before tasting it and poured it into my red wine tasting glass (yes, I do have a glass just for tasting red and one for white) approximately 15 minutes prior to the first sip. In the glass it had a dark garnet color that lightened towards the edges.

On the nose I got whiffs of ripe blackberries, vanilla, oak, black cherries, and dried currants. This wine wasn't overly jammy but I'd still categorize it as a "big" one. To me, a "big" wine has intense flavors, be they on the nose or palate. That's as simply as I can put my personal definition of a big wine. In the Secret Red those flavors transitioned from one to another nicely, which to me is a mark of quality.

After seeing what I could pick up on the nose, I was excited to taste this wine and see if what I smelled carried over onto the palate. Sometimes it's the case, other times it is completely different. Sometimes that's good, sometimes it's bad but overall I think it's just something that we encounter when drinking wine.

Right away my tongue yelled "chocolate and berries!" at me. Imagine a ripe, fresh black cherry dipped in dark chocolate, now imagine a slice of really ripe plum with the same treatment. There you have the fruit elements to this wine. I've thought about which words I can use to accurately describe the 2007 Secret Red, one of them might be voluptuous. Cleavage Creek made a wine that flows across your tongue, caresses your mouth, but has a firmness to the finish that's indicative of a subtle structure, a framework to the wine. There's a flash of heat that dissipates quickly but most of you will notice it, I suspect an aerator or decanter might be the solution to that. Further flavors included oak and the barest hints of rich, dark earth.

What's in the 2007 Secret Red? I've guessed the following: Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Syrah, Zinfandel and Merlot. Maybe, just maybe some Syrah or Cabernet Franc instead of that Petite Syrah, but I really can't be too sure. In all probability I'm completely off but it was fun to attempt a guess.

I think this wine is a solid B, fully deserving of a  recommendation. It lists for $18 at Cleavage Creek's website and I feel that's a good price. For $18, you get a well made, big, juicy red blend and the opportunity to contribute to a truly worthwhile cause. I admire Budge Brown for going out and doing something meaningful after experiencing such a tragedy.

This wine was provided as a sample from Cleavage Creek.

Beau Carufel

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A quickie..2005 Indian Valley "Coral"

2005 Indian Valley Vineyards "Coral"


Image Source

I picked up this wine at San Diego Wine Company a while back for under $10 and I was told it's really tasty by my trusted friend Mark (See him if you go to the store!). Unfortunately, it became "lost" during my recent move, shuffled between random mixed cases of wine and my wine fridge, before I found the bottle sitting on a random wine rack looking rather forlorn.

Eager to try and possibly write about it, I opened this Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon blend up to have with some spicy meatballs and random grilled veggies. My idea was that the Cab Franc might be big enough to go along with very spicy meatballs (which is how I like them). The blend is 95% Cabernet France, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon and the wine is aged in a mix of  New American, French, and Hungarian oak barrels. According to the fact sheet I downloaded, the release date was in the Fall of 2009.

In the glass I noted a fairly dark garnet color, lightening up a bit towards the edges. My first whiff brought notes of ripe berries, vanilla, plums and cola. This definitely isn't the most complex wine I've ever smelled but at the price point, the aromas will get your attention. Of interest to me was how the berries, black and blue, were at first dominant but seamlessly gave way to the vanilla, anchored by a plummy sense of depth. I found the cola right at the end, as vanilla and ripe plums softened and dissipated. 

When tasted, there were some firm, grippy tannins and a dark core of blueberry and vanilla oak. Also I found hints of teryaki and a leathery vein running somewhere in the mid palate. The finish was quick and painless, as if the wine had made it's statement then quickly exited stage left. While a longer, drawn out finish might be desired sometimes, this time the finish seemed to fit. Indian Valley Vineyards made an unpretentious red blend that his the budget price point squarely. For what I paid (a few dollars less than MSRP), I was fine with drinking the "Coral" and enjoying my spicy meatballs. 

Would I buy this wine again? My answer is rather ambiguous but here it is: "Yea, sure, why not?". It may not blow you away, but for under $10, you get a solid B- and very tasty bottle for the wine drinker who enjoys big red wines with firm tannins and some interesting flavors. Indian Valley recommends a boar stew or venison, either of which would definitely be interesting. If I get it again, it'll be a summer burger wine, with my special burgers of course!

Beau Carufel