Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cupcake Chardonnay - Hedonists Rejoice!

What do you think of when you imagine a cupcake? Something sweet, rich, creamy? Maybe a bit of sprinkles on top, adding a textural dimension or additional flavor to the overall taste? I bet the association is a positive one, because it's hard not to like cupcakes. I'm rambling on because I figure this is about as close to a perfect marriage of label name and wine style as we're likely to see.

Cupcake Vineyards makes a bunch of wine. By "a bunch", I mean 14 different wines are listed for sale on their website. I was sent two to review, a Sauvignon Blanc and this Chardonnay (100,000 cases produced). Hopefully they send me some reds to review soon.

The 2009 Cupcake Vineyards Central Coast Chardonnay is textbook California. From it's pale-straw color in the glass to the buttery, apple and pear scented notes wafting out of the glass, this is the juice that put California Chardonnay on the map. While there has been the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) movement over the past five or six years, sales of this style continue to grow.

I freely admit to disliking overly oaky, buttered up Chardonnays, regardless of where they're from. I can see people rolling their eyes at this, because that's a trendy thing to say right now. Still, I'm sticking to my guns because I feel that those Chardonnays are not indicitative of terroir.

Back to the Cupcake, which embraces the traditional California style to the hilt. Rich and creamy as it washes across your palate. Given it's $14 SRP, I couldn't help but be impressed by the quality of the fruit used. I loved the pineapple and passion fruit dance as the wine finished, a good foil to the ripe buttery wallop of cream that smacks you in the face on your first sip. Still, if you don't like buttery chardonnay, this probably won't be for you. Loads of butter cream intertwined with oak all the way through, no way around that.

I like the quality, the fruit is well sourced and the winemaker knew what he was doing. I'll reiterate, this is textbook California Chardonnay that delivers above it's price point. A quick google search brought up prices from $7-$14, quite the range. Wine Spectator loved the 2009 Cupcake, giving it an 88 points. Me? Not quite that exuberant, but I'm no Jim Laube. I give this a B-, or 83 points for those more accustomed to numerical values. Above average quality, well made wine but for me at least, too much butter and oak. More information on the 2009 Cupcake Chardonnay is available here.

This wine was a sample for review purposes

Beau Carufel

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Parducci's 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon

Parducci is well known as both a pioneer and a leader among organic and sustainably farmed wines. They've led the way in becoming carbon neutral and have introduced numerous green methods into the winery setting. In short, an impressive commitment to sustainable agriculture. As admirable as that is though, the fundamental question I hear is this: is organic/sustainably farmed/biodynamic wine better than wine made by more traditional (sic) methods? I don't have an answer to that, ask me again after I've tasted and compared more wines. Just give me a few more years of tasting first!

What I do know is that the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon is good wine for the money. This was a press sample, but I couldn't find the 2007 on the Parducci website, just the 2006. Not that it's a big deal but I don't know if this was a pre-release or just a website error.

Pouring into the glass with a beautiful garnet color that gets deeper towards the center, the 2007 is 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, 3% Syrah, 3% Malbec and 1% Viognier. Nice aromas of earth, cured meats, smoke and a hint of spice. I feel this is more terroir oriented than the Cabernet I'm used to, which often times focuses on ripe fruit. Mendocino County, with it's cooler climate, usually doesn't reach the ripeness levels of some place like Napa or Sonoma and the resulting wines can express that.

After sitting open for an hour, I took a few sips and jotted my impressions down: "earthy, sticky tannins, a bit rustic, where's the fruit?". Another sip brought: "more of that forest floor/wood note, but almost like a forest fire, very interesting!"

I couldn't find a lot of fruit, mainly a faint black cherry note that was interwoven with a savory, almost soy/teriyaki flavor.

Note: I tasted this wine the next day and found all elements diminished, the forest fire note was more pronounced and the wine simply wasn't as good as the day before. The final rating does not reflect that second day's taste though.

Parducci made a solid Cabernet Sauvignon that showcases some things you won't normally find in an example from California. For a suggested retail price of $10.99, the wine delivers a good experience, if somewhat unremarkable. Above average wine, but just barely so. The fact that it's atypical of a lot of Cabernet puts it at a B- (83 points). Pairing is a bit tricky but the tried and true combo of red meat and Cabernet Sauvignon would be your best bet.

This wine was received as a press sample with the intent to review

Beau Carufel

Friday, November 26, 2010

Bodega de Sarria Senorio de Sarria Vinedo no. 5...A Rosé By Any Other Name.

I'll give you a moment to try to pronounce the long yet somehow romantic sounding name of this Rosé.

Good attempt, I fared much worse. Navarra, in Spain, has been growing grapes for over two thousand years by some estimates. The Romans started many bodegas in the region, tucked up against the Pyrenees mountain range. Research has determined that Navarra was one of the first areas to grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay. Often overshadowed by the likes of Rioja, Priorat and even Jumilla, of late there has been a concerted push to get wines from Navarra into this country and onto the tables of wine lovers.

Up until the early 1980's, Navarra produced a lot of Rosé, and to this day it still accounts for a good percentage of the wine exported. However, over the past 30 years, the region has seen an evolution away from bulk wines, towards higher quality reds and whites. That isn't to say that rosé wines are disappearing, which is a good thing!

I love rosé, a lot. Especially during the summer, when you don't want a white wine for whatever reason, a glass of rosé can hit the spot like no other wine can. The acidity combined with the depth of flavor that red grapes have wins me over time and time again. Some of my favorite Rosé wines are from Bandol and lately California has gotten into the act, making some dry yet textured  and complex examples.

Therefore, with a certain element of excitement, I opened up the 2009 Bodega de Sarria to taste. Granted, an ambient temperature of 63 degrees usually calls for something more stout, I was happy to taste this rosé and see how it compared to my favorites.

Darker than I'm used to, inching close to a pale Pinot Noir. That is explained by the fact that this it's 100% old vine Grenache. Still, the color isn't a turn-off, just an interesting element to consider. Ripe berries on the nose, evocative of summer strawberries freshly picked. Less of that delicate, haunting perfume note that always draws me into a good rosé.

On the palate, the summer strawberries came out, bringing ripe fruit and acidity. Hints of raspberry, bits and pieces of something vaguely metallic and that's it. Bodega de Sarria's wine finished quickly, almost vanishing entirely after a few seconds. There wasn't much in the way of other flavors for me, none of that classic Provençal elegance or the lively, carefree attitude of a California Rosé.

Then again there was nothing wrong with the wine at all, it just didn't grab me and beg to be sipped again and again. I felt no gentle kiss upon my soul, a sensation experienced when you drink a great wine you love, one that perhaps even seduces you. Was I expecting too much? Perhaps it's unwise to romanticize a $15 rosé, I accept that. What then, was this wine missing? In a word, personality.Technically correct, well packaged rosé that lacks personality. C+ from me, I wish the price point were closer to $9. For more information on the wines of Navarra, Spain, please visit http://www.winesofnavarra.com/.

This wine was received as a sample for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

2007 Donna Laura Bramosia Chianti Classico

Thank God that Chianti no longer conjures up visions of straw-wrapped bottles and cheap Italian food. The region has undergone something of a renaissance over the past 15 years or so. I predict that within a few years, wines from the Chianti DOCG will become even more popular, especially amongst wine hipsters. All it takes is one or two clever advertising and marketing campaigns! All cynicism aside, it's great to see such an historic wine region gaining in popularity. Click here for a good explanation of Chianti and it's sub-regions.

I was sent this bottle of 2007 Donna Laura Bramosia as a sample, from http://www.winechateau.com. I browsed their site for a few minutes and urge you to do so as well, there are some excellent deals if you take the time to look around.

Now, the wine! Great red brick color in the glass, I could see right through it. Definitely a welcome change from some of the darker reds I've been tasting lately. The Bramosia's nose was overflowing with earth, herbs and cocoa powder. A twinge of green, vegetal character showed up briefly, so did ripe but sour cherries. I think the term "rustic" is an apt descriptor, and I like what's going on so far.

After an hour of open time, I thought the flavors were very nicely integrated. Those sour cherries came out in force, great acidity, dusty earth and some soft, round tannins. Donna Laura's wine finished with a spicy taper, most agreeable. I think this is a superb wine to pair with pizza (as I dial up Leucadia Pizza for delivery) but also with most any hearty Italian fare. I'd be interested to pair some other dishes with this too, perhaps even something like cedar-plank salmon.

I haven't reviewed many Italian wines of late, hopefully that's going to change though. The 2007 Donna Laura Bramosia was wonderfully balanced and is a reminder that the Italians have been making wine for a long time and are very good at it. I found this Chianti Classico online for about $15, winechateau.com had it for $13.97, discounted from $29.99. At about $14, it's a great deal and one I'd be more than happy to purchase. Solid B and a BUY recommendation. You can buy this wine directly from WineChateau.com by clicking here. That link takes you directly to their site where you can even get free shipping!

This wine was received as a sample from http://www.winechateau.com for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Beaujolais Day! 2010!

Happy Beaujolais Day!  

The third Thursday of each November has become known as "Beaujolais Day", a day when wine lovers of the world celebrate with a glass (or bottle) of Beaujolais Nouveau.

What then, is Beaujolais Nouveau and why should we join together to celebrate it? Two questions that many people unfamiliar with this celebratory day will ask. I suspect most of the general public is aware of Beaujolais Nouveau day as I am aware of the proper way to perform open-heart surgery. You/They/Them might see the flashy PR materials and press articles then dismiss them as something wine geeks do to pass the time. But wait, there's more!

A bit of history and world geography then. Beaujolais is a region within an appellation within a country. France would be the country, Burgundy would be the appellation. Within that is the Beaujolais region/sub-appellation, and here we can find some truly amazing wines. We also find Beaujolais Nouveau, which is the first wine released from each year's vintage. Originally the Nouveau was cheap, quaffable juice that was hauled down from Burgundy to Lyon as something to drink dock-side or at home as a way to commemorate another year's harvest.

Often it fermented the entire length of the journey and was consumed as a "young" wine. These days, by law, the only grape that can be used is Gamay Noir, and a fermentation technique called Carbonic Maceration must be employed. That means very little, if any pressing of the grapes, rather, carbon dioxide is pumped into sealed vessels to begin fermentation within the grape itself. This results in lower tannins and alcohol along with a youthful, it not well suited for aging, style of wine.

In the 1970's, Georges DuBoeuf began to market the festive side of Beaujolais Nouveau, introducing it across Paris, then to the United States. The them this year is that of a circus, or cirque en Francais. Around the country, wine lovers are partying it up with many bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau (often provided for free). It's a relatively good marketing campaign, though research has shown consumption of Nouveau dropping for the past several years.

Where does this leave us then? I could make fun of Beaujolais Day, like many bloggers do. I could whine about it on Twitter or Facebook. What's the point though? I keep repeating my belief that wine brings people together and can be such a great way to connect or reconnect. To me, a day like today is wonderful because it enables us to get together and talk about something unique. How often do we drink Gamay? Probably more often than we get a chance to taste a wine made by Carbonic Maceration! This alone can stir up some fun conversation.

The wine itself is simplistic, young, racy, acidic and very rustic. In the samples I was sent, I detected notes of banana and bubblegum, hints of earth and kirsch, along with sour cherry. Pretty basic stuff but this isn't a wine to age. Remember, the whole point of Beaujolais Nouveau Day is to celebrate the first wine of the year's harvest. 2010 has potential to be a very good or perhaps even great year, Beaujolais Nouveau might help start that conversation along.

For more information, check out http://www.duboeufnouveau.com and @GeorgesDuBoeuf on Twitter.

These wines were received as press samples

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Who Makes Sangiovese in the Columbia Valley?! Cana's Feast!

What is Cana's Feast, you ask? A winery of course, one with a tasting room in the Willamette Valley, next to the Carlton Winemakers Studio. I say this because I literally spent five minute at Cana's Feast picking up this sample, then had to run back out to the van to continue the epic Willamette Century Club Extravaganza that I'd embarked upon earlier in the day.

Fast forward six weeks or so, when I (finally) decided to open this Sangiovese to see what it was all about. Most, in fact all the Sangiovese I'd previously tasted was from either Italy (duh) or California. Both regions can produce some wonderful wines, the Italians of course make Brunello di Montalcino, which may in fact be the greatest wine ever.

2007 Cana's Feast Sangiovese Grosso Columbia Valley

From the Ciel du Cheval vineyard in the Red Mountain AVA of Washington State, Cana's Feast winemaker Patrick Taylor created a well balanced Sangiovese that showcases a side of the varietal we rarely experience. Different, but in a good way, from Italian or California examples, I was pleased to taste something off the beaten track. There is so much good wine in the world, and there seems to be too little time to taste it all! 

The Sangiovese Grosso poured into my glass with a ruby hue and a center of red brick. Following my usual tasting process, I opened the wine an hour before tasting it and used my Wine Soiree to pour about 3 ounces into the tasting glass.

Ripe cherries, hints of smoke and earth, along with some toasty vanilla all rushed out at me. Compared to a Chianti, where I often taste the cherries but get sharper, more acidic notes, the Cana's Feast was veering in a different direction entirely.

What made this wine very, very good was it's mouthfeel. There was such great texture, I felt it washing across my tongue in wave after wave. Vibrant acidity introduced me to red cherries and hints of raspberry before giving way to some earthy, oaky flavors that added welcome complexity. Notes of herb and cedar seemed to weave in and out, almost between the other flavors. You get a sense this wine is expressing terroir the only way it can, by joyously shouting it at your palate!

The finish also got me excited, the way it tapered away without lingering for too long. Sometimes a wine's finish lasts so long that you're hesitant to take that next bite of food or that next sip. Not with the Cana's Feast Sangiovese, which finished quickly but elegantly.

Using Google, I found prices from $30 to $44 for the Sangiovese. The cheapest price seemed to be on the Cana's Feast website shopping cart, but that required some complex navigating for me at least. I give this wine a B+, it really impressed me and is a worthy addition to your cellar. A BUY recommendation and a suggestion of pairing it with something fun like grilled, marinated skirt steak or even some grilled portobello mushrooms.

You can follow Cana's Feast on twitter by clicking here. If you're up in Carlton, stop by and check out the winery, it's a Tuscan-inspired Villa where you can have lunch with dishes created to highlight the local produce and Cana's Feast wines. Next time I'm in Oregon, I'm going to stop in and get the full experience.

This wine was given to me as a press sample.

Beau Carufel

Friday, November 12, 2010

Making Sense of Turkey Day Wines

Gobble effin' Gobble.

Thanksgiving seems to put a normally sane, rational person into a state of mental (and often physical) paralysis. My belief is the logistics of this oh-so-American holiday have become overwhelming because as we're so wont to do in this society, Thanksgiving MUST be a GIANT CELEBRATION!!!!

I must respectfully call b.s. Perhaps not even respectfully so. Those of you who are reading this and are considered the "wine expert" or "wine guy/girl" in your circle of friends know all too well that around this time of year, the "what wine should I pair with Thanksgiving" question creeps back to life like a zombie in Shaun of the Dead.

Lots of experts and "experts" will tell you all sorts of cool wines to pair with your Thanksgiving meal. Wine Hipsters, those smug denizens of New York City wine bars, trade tastings, and San Francisco restaurants will suggest off-beat, funky wines that you have no chance in hell of ever finding. Stuff from some random obscure producer in the Loire Valley that makes 2 barrels of amazing wine, of which somehow seven 3-packs make it to the States.

Even better, you can listen to the cacophony of voices espousing the "Natural Wine" way of life. Who doesn't want an un-sulfured 2010 Viognier/Pinot Blanc/Marsanne blend that's just come 2200 miles across America's highways while still fermenting? Yummy! Who needs racking and barrel aging when you have potholes and brake-checks?

My point is this: on Thanksgiving, simplify the wines you choose! Let's face it, is there any one, singular flavor you'll be assaulting your palate with on the Big Day? I doubt it, and therefore trying to pair a wine with each dish or opening that crazy/unique/rare bottle will get tiresome and frustrating. My advice is to pick three wines, and get multiple bottles of each one.

Here's my short-list:

1. Sparkling wine: This could be some delicious grower Champagne or some German Sekt, or even a cheap Cava. Of course, I personally prefer the dry flavors of a Brut Champagne but if YOU like sweet, go with sweet. Bubbles are the key, they'll keep your palate fresh while the alcohol will help you and your guests chill out a bit. Keep multiple bottles of whatever you pick on hand and serve it when guests start arriving, a nice mellow tone to start the night will lower your stress levels.

2. White wine: I'll get flack for this, Wine Hipsters will roll their eyes and bloggers will castigate me via Twitter, but I suggest a Fume Blanc/Pouilly-Fume or Riesling. Keep the white wine simple, chilled and accessible to all your guests. For the vast majority of people, the stress of wondering whether your special bottle of Norwegian Roussanne/Gewurztraminer will work with potatoes au gratin just isn't worth it. With the Fume Blanc or Pouilly-Fume, that nice kick of acidity that's been softened by a bit of oak will work with a lot of the veggie dishes and can stand up to some of the creamier sides. An off-dry Riesling will add some fun with it's sweet but light blend of flavors. If you cook a turkey that has herbs added, the pairing will work with that too.

3. Red wine: I can sense the sharpening of attack-talons now, the jeers are going to rain down..Or worse, this entry will get relegated to the "that guy's full of shit" blog heap. Pinot Noir or Zinfandel. Either of these will work beautifully provided they're well chosen. Since the average Thanksgiving guest cannot taste the difference between a $740 Grand Cru Burgundy and a $90 Willamette Valley Pinot, why even worry? Grab two or three bottles of something that costs about $40 a bottle and you'll be getting some delicious juice. For Zinfandel, try to avoid a jammy fruit-bomb from Paso Robles, instead check out some stuff from Mendocino or Sonoma Counties. $30-40 gets you a slam dunk Zin that stands up to the turkey, stuffing and sweet potatoes yet doesn't leave you feeling like you just inhaled mixed-berry jam from Smuckers.

The Thanksgiving that most of us...no the vast majority of us will celebrate will have a mix of wine fans and those who drink it because there's alcohol in it and everyone else is doing it. We who love to explore wine need to realize this and accept it. There are 364 other days in the year to explore new and interesting wines, so calm down with the Thanksgiving madness, take a deep breath, and just enjoy the way wine brings people together.

No turkeys or zombies were harmed in the making of this blog.

Beau Carufel

Thursday, November 11, 2010

One Year Later...

Almost exactly one year ago, I started this blog with a brief introductory post. I explained who I was and what I intended to do with my slice of the internet. One year, 70 blog entries later, and I'm still finding my voice. Apparently that can take a long time, according to some writers I've spoken to.

I've averaged a bit over one blog entry per week, which when compared to people like 1WineDude or Steve Heimoff, is basically nothing. More than once over the past year I've vowed to post more and in some instances I've been successful, doing two or three blogs in a week. Once again, I'm making that effort because as Josh Wade at DrinkNectar said in his anniversary post, creating a lot of (quality) content is a huge traffic driver.

Is this now the time to reflect on what I've experienced since November 2009? Bear with me for a few paragraphs, this is perhaps as much for my sake as anyone's. I will start with the 2010 Wine Bloggers Conference, what an amazing time. I think 2011 will be just as wonderful if not more so. My fellow bloggers don't need a recap of that, they already know how inspiring the event was. For me it was a shove towards better writing (and content), better marketing of my blog nad messasge, and a way to make some great new friends.

Oh and I got to drink some epic wines as well, I probably should mention that. As a result, I got my name on a barrel of 2010 Syrah from Skylite Cellars. Now that is truly cool!

I was also excited to start getting wine samples, after all who doesn't love getting free wine? Being able to write about what I was tasting, getting feedback and creating dialogue continue to remind me of how much fun blogging can be. On a slightly more serious tone, multiple times I saw the importance of full disclosure by those of us who blog. Ethically we must hold ourselves to the highest standards, period.

Blogs, be they wine or other subjects, are not static creations. They evolve over time and are a good indicator of the effort put in by the author or authors. If I had to grade my own blog, I'd give it a C+ because I've been wildly inconsistent but feel that I have a fundamentally good "voice" to add to the chatter. Clearly there's work to be done, improvements to be made, and better content to be had.

I'd like to recap a bit more though, because 2010 has been a truly remarkable year for me. With the formation of the San Diego Wine Mafia, I found a group of wine-o's/bloggers I could taste with. San Diego has a wine community, but it seems very tough to break into it if you're not in the business.

Being able to find a group of fellow wine geeks has made me a better writer and taster, no doubt about it.

Our little group has already inspired people to start their own Wine Mafias, as well as gained each of us citizen-bloggers a bit more publicity. Wineries, to their credit, are gradually starting to realize that for the small cost of shipping some samples to a group of enthusiastic, well lubricated bloggers, they'll gain a good amount of publicity.

More than that though, I've become friends with my group. They're all wonderful people who are passionate about a wide range of things. Our love of wine and our desire to share that singular passion unites us, further proving that wine is in fact a way to unite people across age, gender, culture and anything else.

This year I've also made some great trips up to Walla Walla, Napa, Sonoma, and the Willamette Valley. I've toured some of America's premiere growing regions, tasted some stunning wines and made some amazing friends. Once again I marvel at wine, how it unites us and enables us to share something, to find a connection and grab onto it.

The next year of my blog will hopefully find me visiting the Finger Lakes in New York, Virginia, and back to my usual spots. Granted, I'm not rich so that may be tough to accomplish in one year, but I'm optimistic. Chile, Argentina and South Africa all beckon, as does Europe and Australia/New Zealand. One day I'll visit them all, tasting my way through the wines of the world.

Finally, I'll state that I want to do more posts that explore my love of craft beer, spirits, and cigars. While they will never take away from my passion for wine, I feel each of these subjects are fascinating in their own right and would love to share them with you. If you stick with me through this next year, I suspect you'll be happy you did. Next November, another anniversary post will reflect back on whether I accomplished any of those goals I set out to and then explore what's next for me.

Beau Carufel

Friday, November 5, 2010

Live Tasting With Paul Dolan Wines, Biodynamic in the House!

Last Wednesday I took part in a live tasting with Paul Dolan of Paul Dolan Vineyards, my first semi-formal exposure to biodynamic wines. Paul Dolan Vineyards and Parducci Wine Cellars fall under the umbrella of the Mendocino Wine Company. Set up in 2004, the company has focused on organic and biodynamic farming and winemaking.

I was sent some samples of the Paul Dolan wines in cute little 50ml bottles, from a company called TastingRoom. The premise is that a full bottle is dispensed into the smaller bottles, in a controlled environment, to ensure there's no spoilage or taste changes. One of the benefits I can see is that for the cost of shipping (by weight) one or two 750ml bottles, you can send out more samples of more wine, allowing a more comprehensive tasting of a winery or winemaker's work.

The downside is that for me and others (yes you, @1WineDude), 50ml just isn't enough to properly taste a wine. Call us lushes or drunks but I and other wine bloggers like taking a large sip, swirling it around, spitting, then taking another one to confirm our impressions. Still, the concept rocks, I'm excited to sample more wines using this method.

Thanks to the awesomeness of the interwebs, anyone who signed up was able to see and interact with Mr. Dolan via Ustream, a site that allows users to interact with live video feeds while simultaneously porting their comments their Twitter or Facebook accounts.

Check out his Biodynamic 'stache! Pretty rockin', I must admit. Mr. Dolan exuded a calm, passionate confidence about his beliefs. Biodynamics is controversial and at least within the wine blogging community, is part of a contentious debate.

Personally, Biodynmaics speaks to the side of me that wants all things to live in harmony, a utopian vision of the earth as one giant, interconnected organism. On the other hand, the analytical side (the side that got me a Finance degree) wants some serious scientific study of the the claims made by Biodynamicists.
(img courtesy Joe Roberts @ http://www.1winedude.com)

So with that aside, the wines, all made with organically grown grapes save for the last one, are as follows:

2008 Mendocino County Sauvignon Blanc: I enjoyed the bright, citrus notes and accessibility of this wine. Wonderful on a hot summer day because of the great acidity but also felt a touch un-integrated, like some flavors were fighting to the surface. A good effort though and hits the price point nicely. B-. $18 SRP

2008 Mendocino County Chardonnay: You know me and most California Chardonnays. Generally they do not like my palate and vice versa. This one was well structured with some great acidity woven throughout the flavors of passion fruit and green apple. Still buttery and with hints of oak for those of you who dig that style. Nice balance, very well put together. I really enjoyed this wine, it's a QPR winner. B+. $18 SRP

2007 Mendocino County Pinot Noir: Hooray for Pinot! I think Paul Dolan did a good job crafting a more traditionally oriented Pinot with lots of sour cherry, spice and using oak as a supporting flavor. Hints of smoke and tobacco on the finish left me a bit curious though, not what I expected. B. SRP $30

2007 Zinfandel Mendocino County: My favorite wine of the night and one of the better Zinfandels I've had this year. I was absolutely impressed with the tannins and acidity that integrated so well with the dark berries and bakers chocolate. What an effort! I'm gonna buy some of this stuff and taste my friends on it, I bet they won't even know it's Zin! It also managed to kick the QPR in it's ass. A-, Strong BUY. $25 SRP.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County: Not bad..But just didn't quite grab my palate the way I'd hoped. I think though that with some time in bottle, this wine would be delicious. Good tannins, under-developed fruit, some smoke flavors but really interesting fresh-cut oak too. I did like the sense of place, the expression of terroir here, this ain't no Napa Cab, that's for sure. Dare to be different!  B-. $24 SRP.

2006 Deep Red Mendocino County: The evening's most expensive wine, and also the only  Biodynamic wine of the evening. A blend of 57% Syrah, 31% Petite Sirah and 12% Grenache. Big, dark and brooding. I liked this one a lot actually, it had character and complexity which made me sit up and take notice. Perhaps my second favorite wine of the night. Lots of spicy blackberries and black cherries, earth, tobacco, tar all showed up to the party. I'm going to give this wine a BUY rating and a B++/A-. It's the good stuff, $42 SRP

Of the above wines, you should buy the Zinfandel and the Chardonnay, and splurge for a bottle of the Deep Red. I was impressed with the quality of the wines as much as I was impressed with Mr. Dolan's clear, honest speech. I'd love to meet the man and talk more about organic farming and biodynamic farming. While it may be controversial, there's no doubt that this way of farming and winemaking produces wines of at least equal quality to those using more conventional methods.

These wines were sent as samples for review purposes

Beau Carufel

Thursday, November 4, 2010

My Own Barrel of Wine! Well...Kind of..

I'm a big fan of Skylite Cellars, obviously. I first got to know about the winery at the 2010 Wine Bloggers Conference, where I met Cheryl as well as the winemaker Robert Smasne and assistant winemaker Greg. Their 2005 Syrah was spectacular and remains one of the best wines I've had this year.

So the other day, there I am doing important things on Twitter when I get a message from @SkyliteCellars that my name is on a barrel of wine. How cool is that?!

There you have it folks, proof that I have in fact hit the big time. That's a barrel of what is sure to be awesome vino with my name on it. My fellow San Diego Wine Mafioso Keith (@BrainWines) also got his name on a barrel, he was equally stoked and we look forward to tasting these wines in the next few years. I will ask what's in the barrel and update this post once I find out.

Beau Carufel

Great Odin's Ravenswood! Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel!

I tasted a wine recently, the 2007 Ravenswood Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel, which did a lot to remind me of why I have always loved good Zinfandel. More on that later though. For those of you who know me in real life and have tasted with me before, you know I have a bit of an Old World bias. Just ask Bill and Keith, aka Cuvee_Corner and BrainWines respectively. Then again their palates often match mine so I think we're all wine-geniuses. I dare you to disagree!

If you've only ever had the Ravenswood Vintner's Blend Zinfandel, I strongly urge you to buy other wines that Joel Peterson makes for Ravenswood. I can't force you, loyal readers, but trust me on this, Ravenswood makes some great wine. I hope you'll heed my words.

First, some background. In 2007, Ravenswood chose to produce the following blend: 76% Zinfandel, 8% Petite Sirah, 8% Carignane, 8% Mixed Blacks. This blend can and does vary from year to year. For 18 months the 2007 Old Vine Zin rested in French Oak barrels, of which 30% were new oak. Coming in at 14.5% abv, this is what I would describe as a "normal" alcohol level for a modern day Zinfandel.

Opened and left on the counter for about an hour, I practiced the art of clock-watching while waiting to taste the wine. Often I'll try to cook a meal, read, watch TV, aimlessly browse the internet or Tweet with my friends while I wait for a wine to open up, briefly glancing at the glass as if willing the oxidative effects to happen faster.

Enough about me though, let's explore the Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel. Right away I was struck by the low amount of fruit on the nose. Big spices, hints of earth, toasted oak and vanilla all dominated. Around the fringes of those scents were blackberries and plums dancing around, barely discernible at times. I loved the deep purple color in the glass and was impressed with it's depth.

Of late, I've grown tired of jammy, over-extracted Zinfandels. I prefer those with spices, tannins, acidity and finally, dark fruit notes. In an upcoming blog I'll go over some wines from Paul Dolan that I tasted recently, with his Zinfandel being a highlight for me. I loved the grippy tannins and acidity that the Ravenswood had, it set the stage for the ripe berries and spices that carried through to the finish. Although I did expect more fruit, I was pleased that it wasn't a fruit bomb.

I really liked the 2007 Ravenswood Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel, the flavor profile was unexpected but pleasing. If I had a few more bottles, I'd age them for a few years to see what developed. Ideally, some of the acidity would back off, the tannins would soften and the fruit would remain at it's current level of intensity. We're talking some delicious juice if all of those elements came into play!

For anywhere between $10-$15, you get a wonderful bottle of wine and a great example of what Zinfandel can be in California.I give this a B rating (86 points) and a BUY recommendation. Pair it with something big, hearty, beefy even! I want to have a bowl of beef chili and a bottle of this Zin one night. Preferably when it's not 88 degrees outside like it is right now.

This wine was provided as a sample for review by myself.

Beau Carufel