Monday, February 28, 2011

Bordeaux Superieur, Hosted Tonight By Costes du Chateau Feret-Lambert

Planet Bordeaux strikes again! In my ongoing exploration of some not-so-incredibly-expensive wines made in the appellations of Bordeaux and Bordeaux-Superieur, tonight's choice is a 2006 Costes Du Chateau Feret-Lambert. This is a reasonably priced merlot/cabernet sauvignon blend from Chateau Costes.

For this and for most "Old World" wines, I deviate from my usual routine of opening a bottle about an hour before tasting, opting instead to open the wine about two hours prior to tasting. In my opinion, that extra hour can help immensely in letting the wine unfold, allowing me to perhaps sense some more subtle nuances that might be present.

So with this ritual complete, I was left sitting at my kitchen table with a glass of wine in hand and my laptop staring me in the face. Why not take a few sniffs, I reasoned. Oh wait the color! I wanted to mention that the color is very dark for a Bordeaux, it reminded me of young California merlot or even some of those classy Mendocino County zinfandels. Not the overbearing fruit bomb types, but the ones which express a sense of place, you know, terroir! Gotta love the fancy wine lingo..

Aromas can be tricky, as anyone who has smelled anything then tried to write about it will tell you. Right. My first few whiffs showed raspberries, red earth, hints of cedar, baking spices and a tickle of white pepper. The way the bouquet seemed to rush up out of the glass was impressive, and a testament to the complexity of the wine, relatively speaking. During the sniffy-sniff session (alliteration!) my mind was telling me the 2006 Feret-Lambert was probably about $20 a bottle, maybe a touch more. It wasn't until later that I found the "real" price by checking up on and the always-handy tech sheets that Balzac sent along with the samples.

Finally I get to taste the wine, as if the seemingly infinite swirls and sniffs were to suffice! Not so, a wine must be tasted to be fully explored. Grippy tannin, sour cherry, bittersweet chocolate and a kick of pepper right as the last traces of flavor leave your palate. While the flavors join together in a somewhat rustic manner, I did enjoy the complexity. That or perhaps I've been drinking some utter plonk from Bordeaux lately. No, this is more complex than the price would indicate, bringing a smile to my face.

The vintage is 2006, which seems to be heralded as a good year but is overshadowed by the critically-loved 2005 vintage. Five years is still a young wine for a Bordeaux, I'd love to taste this wine after five more years have passed, to see if it has improved at all. Right now though, this is a very food-friendly example of merlot-based Bordeaux. That finish, oh so French! It seems to gently fade away, like the last strains of music after the old vacuum tube radio is turned off.

My critics hat back on, I can easily recommend the 2006 Costes du Chateau Feret-Lambert with a BUY recommendation and a B-. Given that the wine can be found for about $15 at, I think that's a steal. The folks at Planet Bordeaux have done well to feature this wine as an expression of something fun and accessible from the region. If you're a big fan of French wines, I recommend picking up a bottle or two to share at a dinner party, help your fellow wine loving friends learn a bit about Bordeaux Superieur.

This wine was provided as a media sample by Balzac Communications for Planet Bordeaux.

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Back (again) to JAQK, I AM Drinking this $!%&'ing Merlot!

The market for premium merlot doesn't seem to be a big one, but there are some amazing examples available. Names like Selene, Leonetti, and Whitehall Lane remind us that Miles was dreadfully wrong to write off merlot. On the other hand, if you've had the supermarket-plonk merlot, it's hard to find fault in his proclamation.

Wine lovers should forever remain open-minded, especially with it comes to their tasting habits. While you or I may not like a particular varietal in one instance, perhaps trying that same varietal again but from a different producer or region will yield a differnet result. So then, the example I present is with merlot, a much-maligned grape, yet one that is found in some of the greatest wines in the world from Bordeaux to California and back.

I tasted another offering from JAQK Cellars after having previously tasted a syrah and a cabernet sauvignon from them in January. This is their Bone Dance Merlot, continuing the theme of gaming related labels. The name refers to a pair of dice bouncing across a table, since dice were traditionally made of bone. I'd urge you to check out the links to those previous reviews to get a sense of the quality that JAQK Cellars is attaining.

Here again I am making a conscious effort to look at hte color of the Bone Dance and compare it to other merlots I have had. There's a wall of purple in the center of my glass, opaque and solid looking. As I look towards the edges though, the wine's color lightens towards a nearly violet hue.

I waited patiently for an hour before smelling and tasting, to try to maintain some kind of systemic consistency to my reviews. The first two things I smelled were vanilla and blueberries, like a blueberry cream tarte fresh out of the oven. Both were strong, what I would call the primary aromas. Secondary aromas, those that I can discern but are more nuanced would be hints of chocolate and black currant. There is a bit of alcoholic heat that distracts, which to me is somewhat disappointing. Still the JAQK Bone Dance has a positively luxurious nose, one that showcases a lot of what can make merlot a superb wine.

The flavors surprised me, as did the structure. I was able to taste the vanilla oak and some mixed berry jam quite easily. Hiding in there were a more dark chocolate flavor and some firm tannins. Texturally the tannins weaved a nice tapestry throughout the wine, even lending some body to the finish. Unfortunately, the finish was a bit abrupt for me, I wished for something with more carry-through. Interestingly I detected a bit of a raspberry puree note right as the wine tapered off, like the kind of puree you'd get on top of a dark chocolate dessert. This pleased me, being an avowed fan of raspberries.

For a suggested retail of $25, the Bone Dance doesn't blow you out of the water but it is very well put together. Texturally interesting wine, great tannin and some wonderful aromatics. A couple of things, the alcoholic tickle on the nose and the too-abrupt finish left me wishing this wine lived up to its potential though. Still, you could do a lot worse, especially at the price point. The 2007 JAQK Cellars Bone Dance Merlot shows how good merlot can be and is a well-priced wine. I thought for a while and ended up giving the wine a B. For you points-lovers, I would give this an 84 points. Not bad wine at all, perhaps just needs some more time in bottle.

This was a media sample from the winery.

Beau Carufel

Monday, February 21, 2011

Round Two of: Know Your Target Audience 101, feat. Gin!

In a recent I skewered both The Door, a slick-looking PR firm and Rachel Ray's magazine. You, gentle reader, might ask why, so click here to find out. Now in this latest entry I look at another press release that I received on the same day as the previous gem about how Rachel Ray can make you a wine expert overnight.

The kind folks at Anderson Group, located in sunny Los Angeles, sent me a slick looking email inviting me to a release party for "Martin Miller's Gin". I know absolutely nothing about Martin Miller or his gin, however I am a huge gin fan, especially of premium brands such as Hendrick's.

Hi Beau,
We would love to invite you to join the ultra gregarious leading gin maker/hotel owner/entrepreneur Martin Miller and his world famous ultra premium Martin Miller’s Gin for a relaxing cocktail mixer at the Miami’s Raleigh Hotel to kick off the South Beach Wine & Food Festival.
·         What: A relaxing mixer to meet Martin Miller himself.  Complimentary Martin
Miller’s Gin cocktails will be served and mixologists will be on hand to answer
any brand questions.
·         Where: Poolside at the Raleigh Hotel
1775 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, FL
·         When: Wednesday, February 23rd from 2-4pm
·         RSVP: To be on the list, you must RSVP at (email removed)

Born of “Love, Obsession and some degree of Madness,” Martin Miller’s Gin is made of juniper from Tuscany and India, Cassia bark from China, angelica from France and florentine from Florence, which is delicately blended with pure Icelandic spring water, to create a marriage of rare softness, clarity of taste and appearance. 

As the trailblazer of the Gin Renaissance, Martin Miller set out to save premium gins.  In a time when premium vodkas were dominating the market and gins were only made for Gin & Tonics, Martin set out to restore the seduction and romance of premium gins.  The eccentric, quixotic gypsy began jotting down ideas on a napkin and decided to make a gin that was made with not only the best ingredients but distilled by using only the most traditional methods. 
Among many awards, Martin Miller’s Gin has taken home two out of three possible gold medals in the blind-tasting 10th Anniversary Strength gins by the International Spirits Challenge, and is undoubtedly one of the most popular premium gins of our time. 
If you have any questions about the event, you can reach me via email at (email removed) or by phone at (phone number removed)
(name removed)
“Gin: The Dutch invented it.  The English Refined it. And the Yanks glamorized it.  NOW MARTIN MILLER HAS PERFECTED IT.”


 That's a nice looking press release, complete with cool pictures and some very specific information. Upon closer inspection a few things show up that can only lead to questions from me. Here are questions I thought of as I read through the press release. They illustrate my point, which is to KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.

1. In what capacity am I being invited? Private citizen? Blogger? Journalist?

2. What is expected of me should I attend? A series of articles on Martin Miller's Gin? A single post recap of the event? Twitter and Facebook use to promote the brand?

3. The Anderson Group is in Los Angeles, just up the freeway from me. Think about that for a second. Why then, am I being invited to South Beach, Miami, with no specification on how to actually get there? Did the person sending this email not do any background research? I counted at least five ways to figure out where I am located, all taking about two minutes. Less than that if you are smarter than a spatula.

4. Why is this particular mailing list that I'm on not broken down into better categories than "bloggers who write about booze and live on planet earth"?? My blog is almost entirely about wine, I've never reviewed a spirit before and while I do want that to change, I present that as evidence that this mailing list is way over-generalized.

As in my last PR-critical blog post, I'll say that I don't have any public relations or marketing experience, I studied finance and economics in college. I do have a little common sense though, and I am a blogger who is truly passionate about my subject. After all, I am doing this for free. For those reasons I feel like I can offer some advice to PR firms.

A. Please, know who your audience is, compile some background on whom you're targeting as brand ambassadors. Take the extra time to build a better database and your portfolio of brands will have their respective messages heard by the right people.

B. Like I said before, I absolutely love gin and would love to get a sample of Martin Miller's Gin. That is something of value to me and my readers. Inviting me to some schmoozy release party on the other side of the United States will not allow me to share anything positive about this brand with my readers. I am not asking to be flown out to Miami, just that PR firms look at who they're communicating with.

C. Be specific about you want and expect! I'll relate a little side story; back in late January the Social Media Manager for Kobrand contacted me about some wine samples for Valentine's Day posts and listed a bunch that all looked wonderful, so I requested several. I apparently requested too many because I got a follow-up basically asking me to pick one or two. So I did pick two that I thought would be fun to write about, and never heard back from the guy. That's borderline rude but also illustrates how important it is to BE SPECIFIC about what you want from us and are willing to do for us. The best wine/industry PR/Marketing companies (Folsom, Balzac, Boss Dog, Brand Action Team, etc) all ask if you are interested in what they're offering while being specific about what they are willing to send. Smart move and that's why they're among my favorites in my short time as a blogger.

Thank you for taking the time to read all the way through this, I realize it's a bit longer than my typical wine reviews. As always, I appreciate any and all comments, discussions, and feedback. I am not out to humiliate anyone necessarily, nor should anything I say be taken as a personal attack.

Beau Carufel

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Surprise In a Glass, 2006 Waterstone Cabernet

You might be thinking "great, like the world needs another $25 Napa Valley cabernet"..There is no fault in such sentiment, because the market is awash with wines around this price. Unfortunately, a lot of those wines have quality issues, leaving the drinker disappointed. The flip side is that the economic downturn has reduced prices on wine (and grapes) allowing the wine drinker more choice at his or her desired price level.

Critics are gushing over the 2007 vintage up in Napa and Sonoma, well Bob Parker and Jim Laube are at least. Wines from that vintage don't seem to have much trouble moving, especially when the (sadly ignorant) consumer sees a 92 point Parker or Wine Speculator Spectator score. This is all relative to price and market segment, of course. Don't want any anal retentive readers frothing at the mouth just yet! A compelling argument against the "points are dead!!!!" crowd not withstanding.

A few weeks back I was sent a sample of 2006 Waterstone Cabernet Sauvignon, from Napa Valley. This isn't pure cabernet though, with 17% merlot and 4% cabernet franc rounding out the blend. While the alcohol varies from 14.5%-14.9% depending on whether you look at the bottle or the website, that's still too high in my opinion. My now-familiar refrain about lower alcohol levels is old hat, yet I will gladly continue to shout it from the rooftops.

(img via:

Great cabernet color in my glass, very dark ruby that gets a touch pale at the outer edges. There isn't anything crazy or unique about the color, which might as well be taken as a good sign. That said, I've resolved to get better at examining color since red wines seem to me to be varying shades of purple or garnet/ruby, without much variation. Then again, such a generic color profile might be more indicative of the wines I've been drinking lately.

With that little evaluation out of the way I can focus on what this 2006 cabernet smells like. Lots of cedar, earth, sweet berries and some hints of baking chocolate slathered onto an oak plank. I like the complexity and effect of a few primary scents that tend to dominate, yet are in fact restrained by the secondary aromas.

A taste brings a rollicking good time with big tannins making the entrance, paving the way for herbs, cassis, a plummy vanilla note, and oak. Nice finish too, doesn't last too long and is only marred by some alcoholic heat that tickles the back of my throat. The 2006 Waterstone is one of the more food-friendly cabernets that I have tasted lately. Wonderful body across the entire range of flavors, I honestly believe the only knock against this wine is that alcoholic finish.

At a suggested retail of $26, the 2006 Waterstone is not bad at all and drinks a lot better than some $50+ cabs I have tasted in the past year. When I searched around on google, I was able to find this wine for less than $20, which makes it a real keeper. I'd like to pick up another bottle and taste it against some other Napa cabernets like the 2007 Franciscan, 2007 Chateau St. Jean, and 2007 JAQK Cellars. Seeing how a slightly-under-the-radar wine like this would do is the kind of thing that gets wine geeks all tingly. I give this wine a B and a BUY recommendation. Deliciously tasty juice at a very affordable price. I wish these guys much success down the road. Decant or open three hours before serving to let that alcohol blow off and then enjoy!

This wine was a media sample.

Beau Carufel

Friday, February 18, 2011

Rachel Ray Can Make You a Wine Expert!!! No, Seriously!

I've been blogging since November 2009, a short period of time compared to other bloggers in the wine world. Within about six months of starting my blog, I was receiving some wine samples and emails from PR firms started trickling in. Those of you who are veteran public relations or marketing types are undoubtedly familiar with pitches and press releases. While the vast majority have zero bearing on my little wine blog, some do come along that capture my attention. Of those, there are press releases that capture my attention for good things, like Joel Peterson being elected to the Vintners Hall of Fame. Still others capture my attention for all the wrong reasons.

Yesterday I received a press release from The Door, a firm that handles such clients as Rachel Ray, Audra Rox, Spike Mendelsohn and the rock group Train. The Door promotes itself as an "idea house", all well and good I suppose, but sending out the following press release was a terrible idea and has no place in a house. Or anywhere for that matter.


Every Day with Rachael Ray Magazine Tells Us How
Always wanted to be an expert in wine tasting or picking out the best bottle but feel intimidated?  The March issue of Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine shows how to in five simple steps. They break down what to look for, ignore, what the shape of the bottle means and more.  Enter the next dinner party or prepare a wine paired meal with confidence!
What To Look For To Become An Overnight Wine Expert
Alcohol level
·       The percentage will tip you off to how heavy the wine will feel in your mouth--12% or 13% is ideal for a full bodied feel.
·       Spotting this on the label or “old vines” means that the grapevines are decades old with fewer grapes produced resulting in a stronger flavored wine. 
Flavor Clues
·       The back of the label is full of hints to the wine’s taste and a peek into the type of wine. Descriptors like vanilla, smoke and nutmeg indicate a woodier taste. Words like zesty, racy, tangy suggest a fresher, brighter style
·       Fancy Artwork. Beautiful pictures of vineyards or estates come across as a serious bottle of wine-but the wines might not live up to the imagery. 
Phantom Grapes
·       If you don’t see recognizable terms such as “merlot” or “chardonnay” that doesn’t mean the wine isn’t one.  Wines from Europe are often labeled by origin rather than type.
·       Shape Matters! Bottle shapes hold specific wine styles.  Tall and narrow bottles contain mostly crisp wines such as a sparkling white. Slope shouldered bottles are typical to subtler wines such as pinot noir, chardonnay, or syrah and high shouldered bottles hold heavier reds and lighter whites such as a sauvignon blanc

That is the unedited press release that I got from The Door. I feel like it should be a lesson in "Know Your Target Audience 101".

1. Why would you send this to WINE bloggers? Every blogger whom I discussed this press release with was either snorting with derision or howling with laughter. Wine bloggers are passionate about wine, or else they would not invest time and energy into blogging, basically for free, about something as complex as wine. Some bloggers I spoke to felt that being sent this was tantamount to a slap in the face, because by creating "overnight wine experts", Every Day With Rachel Ray (and by extension, The Door) is eliminating a large part of what wine bloggers love to do.

2. This "article" is going to appear in the March issue of Every Day With Rachel Ray. That was confirmed when a fellow blogger emailed the girl who sent all of us this press release. Therefore, this article was most likely written between three and six months ago, leaving ample time to make edits and solicit feedback from the very bloggers whom The Door was sending this press release to.

3. Beyond being so utterly full of worthless, idiotic information (the article itself), I am shocked to see the word "expert" tossed around so casually these days. If this article was written by a wine expert, that is even worse. The casual wine drinking 30-40 year old woman will read this article and since it comes from lifestyle mogul Rachel Ray, think that it's gospel. As a result, that 30-40 year old woman will make poor wine buying choices. As if subscribing to that magazine wasn't enough of a bad choice.

There are more things I could rail on about regarding this press release, hopefully you will take the time to comment on whether you agree or disagree with my statements. If you're a PR or marketing person, please take note, this is not how you approach bloggers with a pitch. I have no idea how respected The Door is within the industry, but this is a big swing-and-miss for them. Still, perhaps the redeeming benefit is the amount of Twitter chatter this press release generated. Again, for all the wrong reasons.

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Rosé of Bordeaux as Spring Approaches

Since spring is approaching for a lot of, seriously, it is!

Ok let's start over and cut to the chase, I happen to LOVE rosé wines and have written about a few of them in blogs past. On February 5th, I took part in the Rosé Rumble with my fellow San Diego Wine Mafioso where we uncorked 12 pink wines and blind tasted them. The results of that tasting are coming soon, I promise.

This blog though is devoted to a wonderfully tart, refreshing rosé from Bordeaux that I had the pleasure of sampling recently. Almost all, if not all of the French rosé that I have tasted in the past is usually from Tavel, along the Rhone river. Those rosé's tend to be predominantly grenache with cinsault and syrah also being mixed in. Of note, Tavel is the sole AOC in France to produce only rosé wine. I've also had some examples from Provence and Languedoc, they've been very pleasing. What I'm trying to say is that this is new ground for me and I have high hopes for the rosé wines of the region.

Some background on why I am reviewing a rosé from Bordeaux, there is a new campaign called Planet Bordeaux aimed at increasing awareness of the wines of Bordeaux beyond those classified growths that seem to command outrageous prices and are out of reach for all but a small group of wine collectors. The fine people behind the Planet Bordeaux campaign sent me some wines from all over the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérier regions. Four of those were red, one was white and one was this lovely rosé you'll read about momentarily.

Over the coming weeks I will be devoting multiple posts to exploring this array of wines partly because I believe this is a great way to expand your palate and partly because I happen to be a big fan of Bordeaux in general. One of the themes of the Planet Bordeaux campaign is that it's fun to explore the appellations, blends and color of Bordeaux. They're calling them the ABC's.

So let's get started with the 2009 Chateau La Freynelle Bordeaux Rosé!

(img copyright Beau Carufel 2010)

Note the label, seemingly designed with the American consumer in mind. The producer is easy to read, the region is clear and presented right below. There's even a sentence telling you what varietal and type of wine this is. "Rosé de Cabernet Sauvignon", stated right under the producer. Little touches such as this will go a long way towards making wines from Bordeaux more accessible to the casual wine drinker.

One of the most interesting things about tasting all those rosé wines with the San Diego Wine Mafia the other day was noting the wide variation of color, from light pinkish-orange all the way to bright ruby. The 2009 La Freynelle is one of the darker examples of rosé I've come across and I admit to being afraid the flavors would be too strong for my palate. Still, it's hard to argue with how pretty the color is when it's sitting in your glass out in the sunlight.

The nose is pure rosé, a melange of ripe strawberries, tart currants, fresh flowers and melon. I felt like this rosé has a personality that is fun, accessible and very friendly. In fact I was mentally ticking off a list of my friends who would enjoy the La Freynelle. Chalk up some points for being a crowd pleaser.

Bright acidity, clean strawberry and hints of sour cherry, rose petal and a bit of fleshy honeydew melon combine to make a savory, mouthwatering wine. Bravo, especially for a suggest retail price of $14. I like the QPR (quality to price ratio) a lot. Each sip finishes with this tingly acidity that makes me want my next sip or bite of food. While the honeydew note does impart a touch of sweet flesh in the form of a thicker mouthfeel. right across the mid-palate, that seems to fit in after the procession of lighter fruits and florals that open the wine's taste.

I don't know how widely distributed the 2009 Chateau La Freynelle is, my hope of course being that it's available everywhere. A google search turned up few leads, so if this wine is truly hard to find, the Planet Bordeaux people are doing a bit of a disservice. However, the silver lining is that I have been informed that this is a style of wine typical to the rosé made in Bordeaux, so another example with the same grape would perhaps yield a similar flavor profile. Then again it could be totally different. I rated this wine a B and a BUY recommendation, especially if you're starting to experience warmer weather or want to change it up in your snow-bound city.

This wine was provided as a media sample by Balzac Communications for Planet Bordeaux.

Beau Carufel

Friday, February 11, 2011

Gruner Veltliner and Szechuan Beef with Broccoli, Try Again!

On the beginning of the Chinese Lunar New Year I was talking to a friend of mine when the subject of Asian food and wine pairings came up. While common knowledge tells us that pairing a riesling or even gewurtraminer with spicy dishes such as Thai cuisine can work, what about using a gruner veltliner?

Fast forward a few days when lo and behold, my doorstep has a box containing some wine, one of which happens to be a gruner veltliner from the Osterreich region of Austria. Per my usual routine, this gruner rested for a little while before I opened it to taste and share with you. Frequent readers may recall my fondness for this varietal, as highlighted in a couple of previous posts. Please feel free to click here and here to see them.

2009 Weingut Christ Gruner Veltliner Bruch

As I marveled at the color, a delicate greenish straw color, I figured the pairing of Spicy Szechuan Beef and Broccoli along with lime rice might utterly destroy the gruner. Why did I capitalize that entree title? Well, that's the name on the bag that came from my local Trader Joe's.

Time for a few whiffs of the 2009 Weingut Christ, where fragrant lime juice and lemongrass seem to appear first. Upon another sniff, tart green apple and wet rock bounce around in my nostrils. The barest hint of spice and fresh lychee are present too. Hopefully it's apparent that I am loving the complexity of the nose so far.

Now I get to taste the wine, my favorite part! Right away I get traditional gruner flavors: citrus, fresh herb, wet rock and green apples. Overall I think the nose is more complex than the taste, but here's the rub. Two things ran though my head, first that the wine was too cold to be tasting and second, that the wine hadn't settled enough after being shipped.

Here's the situation: while I was tasting the gruner, I couldn't get enough life, vivacity, crispness or whatever word you use to describe an acidic white that should have some "pop". The flavors seemed muted and dissipated far too quickly for my liking. Since I'm reasonably certain of my method for evaluating white wines, I suspect that I may not have allowed the 2009 Weingut Christ to rest long enough..But that seems a bit far-fetched too. Perhaps my palate was just having a bit of an off day.

I wrote these tasting notes quickly though, before I cooked up the Szechaun beef and broccoli. The spices in that dish unfortunately blew the gruner out of the water. About the only thing that the gruner brought to the table was enough acidity to partially was my palate clean of the sweet/sour flavors in the food. Now that I'm reflecting a bit, I realize that there simply wasn't the opposite flavor of sour present, which for our purposes is sweet. That's why a wine with a bit more residual sugar would have fared better.

As of now, at about 6:30pm, I'm going to put this stuff away and seal it with my vacu-vin till tomorrow. Don't worry, I will put the wine back in the fridge and before I re-taste, it'll be allowed about 30 minutes to gently come up a few degrees.

Picking up where I left off last night, I once again poured a glass of the 2009 Weingut Christ Gruner Veltliner and allowed it to slowly warm up a bit. For the first time since I started writing about wine, a taste and review entry is spanning two days. Comparing my notes from last night to what I am experiencing tonight, the bouquet is close though I would suggest that the lychee that was faint last night has come on strong though, overtaking the subtle spices and nearly drowning them out.

Comparing the mouth-feel and flavors of last night to what I taste tonight reveals some changes. The beautiful acidity is still present, I love how it builds a wall in my mouth while slowly moving backwards across my tongue and brushing my cheeks. Here I get much more spice than before, but still lovely green apple and herbal notes. Hints of residual sugar peek out through a fleshier mid-palate than before. Imagine the pulp of a lychee fruit mixed with a spritz of pineapple juice. The finish tends towards abruptness, but given the high acidity, we can't be too surprised by that.

Day two brought about a better wine than day one, no question in my mind. Had you asked for a rating after yesterday, I'd have given this wine a C and suggested you pass on it. Tonight though, the wine shows much more character and varietal honesty. I marked it up a letter grade, to a B- and encourage you to BUY a bottle. I searched the internet and found a lot of places selling this for about $12, which isn't bad at all. It does lack a bit of complexity compared to more expensive gruner veltliner but that nose is something from a more expesnive bottle. 12.5% alcohol also earns a positive nod. Check out the 2009 Weingut Christ Gruner Veltliner Bruch and see what you think.

This was provided as a media sample.

Beau Carufel

Valentine's Day

February 14th, a day when sales of roses peak for the year. A day when millions of men and women collectively spend an obscene amount of money attempting to make someone other than themselves happy. Why is this arbitrary date so special? My guess, aside from the fact that Hallmark tells us it's special, is that the early Catholics found out that there's some kind of cool pagan festival around the end of winter and beginning of spring. Those smart Catholics hijacked this pagan festival and created an entire story about St. Valentine, to get those pesky pagans into their churches of course.

Fast forward hundreds of years to the present day, and Valentine's Day is a commercial extravaganza courtesy of our insatiable need to buy things. Flowers, jewelry, candy, Champagne and countless other objects are pitched to us (collectively) as the way to make your friend or romantic partner happy.

As a blogger, my inbox fills up with "helpful" press releases touting wine/food pairings, romantic cocktails, smartphone apps, sparkling wine brands and more. We've turned a pagan festival day into a money generating capitalist engine. Awesome!

Bloggers (including me) put out Valentine's Day posts that come at you from all angles, those who suggest romance oriented things (to buy), some who rail against the entire holiday, and others who basically copy/paste one of the aforementioned press releases in the hopes of curating favor with someone. I've read through a bunch of posts from the tame to the downright bitter. Just following along on Twitter shows people's feelings run the gamut of emotions.

Facebook will surely blow up on Valentine's Day too, with people bragging about what they got and others loudly proclaiming that they hate everything about the day. At the very least, it will be funny.
If I have any advice to offer, any at all, it's this: IF you plan to do something special, think outside the box for a change. Restaurants are going to jack their prices up for special menus, wine bottles with pretty hearts on them are probably going to contain shitty juice. Take some time and jot down unique ideas for your sweetheart, then execute the best, most appealing of those ideas for him or her. Should you decide to open a bottle of fermented grape juice, don't make a huge ceremony of it. Just enjoy the fact that you have a partner in crime right now. Chances are, you want to get laid this night, so don't over-do the drinking or food, don't stress too much. Concentrate on pleasuring the senses of someone else for a change, but without the distractions that surround us every day.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Beau Carufel

Thursday, February 10, 2011

2006 Tzora Vineyards Neve Ilan Single Vineyard Israel

A few weeks ago I tasted my first Israeli white wine, a superb un-oaked chardonnay from Pelter. You can find that review right here, and buy the wine right here. This time I opened a red from the Judean Hills, which is on the road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Israel is undergoing something of a wine renaissance, or a re-emergence if you prefer. Since 1984, the world has begun to take notice of quality wines coming from the Golan Heights area as well as the Judean Hills region. Luckily for us Americans, procuring wines from there is getting ever-easier thanks to some great importers and websites. I was able to get some examples of both red and white wine, beginning my exploration of the styles which Israel's unique terroir lends itself to. During my research on this wine, I found some good background information about the Judean Hills on a blog dedicated to Israeli wines. Click here to go check it out.

Featured in this latest blog is the 2006 Tzora Neve Ilan Single Vineyard from the Judean Hills. A blend of 70% cabernet sauvignon and 30% merlot, this echoes some of the best Bordeaux that I've tasted. Neve Ilan vineyard lies on the western slopes of the Jerusalem hills (same as the Judean hills), at about 2000 feet above sea level. Hot days, cool nights and persistent sunlight allow the vines to ripen at a steady, reliable pace. After harvest and vinification, the wine rests for 18 months in French oak barrels.

As I pour this beautifully light cloudy-garnet wine, I noticed that it softens towards the edges. For me, a clear indicator of the nearly five year age. Color is very important to a wine, something I've been reminded of recently and a resolution even, for me to pay more attention to in my blog. The 2006 Neve Ilan is beautiful, somewhere between a young, racy wine and one that's had time to mature in bottle.

My first sniff caused me to stop and ponder the scents emanating from the glass. This wine has a bouquet different from what most of us drink every day, even if we have similar blends of cabernet and merlot. I hit on  primary notes of damp, dark earth, herbs and cedar spice. Building the rest of the bouquet were sour cherries and black currants. The proportions felt right and the balance was remarkable, an indicator of high quality. Despite the two varietals being common, the nose of the 2006 Tzora clearly showed the effects of terroir.

Upon tasting the Neve Ilan, my palate descended into a world of earthy herbs, spices, a melange of crushed blackberries, currants and black cherries all swished around with a fine grained tannin sensation. If that descriptor makes you want to try the wine, good. I really think this is a well put-together wine and the finish, smooth and with a hint of oak, left me leaning back and smacking my lips with satisfaction.

For about $27, Tzora's offering easily compares to similarly priced Napa Valley and Chilean offerings. I recommend buying from Israeli Wine Direct, click this link to go directly to the Tzora page. A few shekels (or dollars) gets you a QPR-beater and a wine that will go great with lamb and beef dishes. While this might not be kosher, a cured meat and cheese plate would be superb with the Neve Ilan as well. Tzora did a wonderful job with this wine, I'm happy to grade it a B+ and a BUY recommendation. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

This wine was received with the intent to review.

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Tasting Folie a Deux New Releases

I was recently sent four new releases from Folie a Deux winery to taste and discuss. They're all 2008's though I am not sure if the Chardonnay was released earlier than the red wines. Some back-story might help put these wines into perspective so I will oblige. My personal experiences with the brand go back 20+ years to when my dad sold the brand down here in San Diego. More recently, I've sold the famous Menage a Trois by Folie a Deux in various wine retail stores that I've worked at. Even now at my current job, I get asked if my store sell it, which we do not.

The history of the winery itself goes back well over 20 years but more recently there seems to have been an uptick in the quality of the single-varietal wines, much to my delight. While their bread and better wine, the Menage a Trois, continues to account for most of the brand's sales, it is my hope that wine drinkers will start to make the relatively modest jump in price to these more structured, nuanced offerings.

2008 Folie a Deux Napa Valley Merlot - Wonderful garnet color in the glass, nice clarity throughout, pleasing depth. The nose smells like the color purple, grapes, toasty wood notes, but with heat that tickles the nose. I like the silky tannins and the way a beam of dark chocolate cuts through some ripe blackberries and cherries that sit on my palate. I could taste the oak, seven months in French and American barrels left their mark in a good way. Folie a Deux added some Cabernet Sauvignon to reinforce the tannins and add a bit of backbone, that was a good idea. The SRP is $18, I would be willing to bet you could find this for about $12 when it's released. Excellent example of a low-priced Merlot that delivers in spades. B+ and a strong BUY recommendation. 14.5% abv.

2008 Folie a Deux Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - Dark ruby that pales towards the edges, very nice depth in my glass. Sweet vanilla oak bursts from the glass along with candied cherries, blackberries and a hint of earth. Very traditional Napa flavor profile, at least on the nose. The wine spent 15 months in French and American oak barrels after undergoing 14 days of maceration. My first few sips of this wine left my palate overwhelmed with oak, but after an hour of being open, I found wonderful notes of earth, firm tannins and fresh ripe black cherry and raspberry. The Suggested Retail Price is $24, in my experience though you will be able to find the Folie a Deux Cabernet Sauvignon around $16-18, making it a much better deal. I'm a fan and give it a B and a BUY recommendation. 14.0% abv.

2008 Folie a Deux Napa Valley Chardonnay - For you California chardonnay lovers, this is a very traditional style. Oak-scented pineapple and passion fruit softened by a rich buttery aromas. I could smell the calling card of malo-lactic fermentation, a buttered popcorn richness.When tasted, smooth waves of tropical fruit finish off with a bit of surprising yet welcome acidity. Honeysuckle brings a bright floral component into play, acting as a foil to the buttery sensation that malo-lactic fermentation produces. Just six months in American Oak barrels allow the wine to retain a vibrant character while imparting enough weight to give a nice feeling of depth. Overall, a very straightforward, high quality chardonnay. For under $20, a wine comparable to such supermarket staples as La Crema and Kendall-Jackson, yet offering a bit more dimension. B- and a BUY recommendation for those who like this style of wine. 14.2% abv.

2008 Folie a Deux Amador County Zinfandel - Dangerously dark in the glass, in the way that only zinfandel can be. Plenty of tobacco and prunes on the nose, downright luxurious! Hints of smoke and dark chocolate announce that the Folie a Deux is firmly oriented towards the "dark and bold" part of the flavor spectrum. I've always had the impression that Amador County produces a different kind of zinfandel than Napa or Sonoma, in that the bold, ripe fruit flavors can be the support to earth, tobacco, mocha and tannic structure. Folie a Deux's 2008 Amador helps reinforce my belief. Great tannins frame a smokey, chocolate filled, utterly pleasing zinfandel experience. This too has a suggested retail of $18 but with some research you can find it for about $14 and that's totally worth the price. An easy B+ and BUY recommendation from yours truly. 14.5% abv.

These are flat-out good wines. Very good in fact, as evidenced by my scores. I'd happily drink any of the reds, especially the Amador County zinfandel, which was a superb wine for the price. There is nothing wrong with the chardonnay, I should clarify, but regular readers will note that it isn't my preferred style. Still, recognizing quality wine is something I take a lot of pride in and therefore can easily recommend this chardonnay. While not as available as their Menage a Trois, this foursome from Folie a Deux shows that the winery is serious about producing very good wine at very reasonable prices. Be on the lookout and pick up a bottle or two, better yet just buy all of these and impress your friends.

These wines were provided as media samples by the PR firm.

Beau Carufel

Friday, February 4, 2011

Back to JAQK With 22 Black Cabernet Sauvignon

In my previous blog post, I talked about JAQK Cellars, a relative newcomer to the California wine scene. With winemaker Craig MacLean producing some delicious wines, and a talented winery team, I think these guys and gals will be doing some great things in the near future. So tonight we have another tasty wine from JAQK Cellars, their 22 Black Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley.

2006 JAQK Cellars 22 Black Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Great color, reminds me of a dark ruby and seems to whisper "watch how classy I will be". Smoke, aromas like a fresh baked berry pie and even a touch of earth weave impressive complexity for the olfactory sense. Up to this point, I am enjoying myself thoroughly while only using sight and smell. Occurrences such as this are rare and to be enjoyed, savored even. I'm reminded how a wine can subtly seduce us by enticing various senses, teasing them even. The first sip brings mouth-filling tannin, black currant, blueberry and oak that finishes a bit abruptly. So far that is my only gripe, I wish for a more elegant finish, one that matches the approach we get from 22 Black. My second sip discovers some hints of tobacco and leather, even a touch of black cherry but again with the too-short finish.

Since the JAQK 22 Black (I love typing that!) is 84% cabernet sauvignon, 14% merlot and 2% syrah, trying to pin down a specific flavor profile isn't something I'm trying to do while tasting this wine. While there are elements here of traditional Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon, the addition of merlot brings some riper fruit and the syrah perhaps adds depth through the mid-palate in the form of a tobacco and spice flavor.

Wine is personal to each of us though, and while I respect those who enjoy a quick exit by a wine, I wish for more. Still, the 2006 JAQK 22 Black is a delicious wine, one that I would love to buy and serve to my friends. For pairing, I think braised short ribs or a bone-in New York strip (medium rare please) would match up almost perfectly. This is a wonderful example of wine made by someone who knows what they are doing. B+ and a BUY recommendation. For $27, this costs exactly what it tastes like. If you, gentle reader, happen to see 22 Black for less than the suggested retail price, buy a bottle and let me know what you think.

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Bruliam Wines, Three Delicious Pinot Noirs

Thanks to Keith of the (in)famous San Diego Wine Mafia, I met Brian and Kerith Overstreet who are making some delicious Pinot Noir up in Sonoma. Here's the wrinkle: All profits generated by Bruliam Wines are going to charity. ALL. Impressive, I agree.

California is lucky to have people who are this dedicated to helping out those less fortunate. From the giant Napa Valley Wine Auction to the efforts of Budge Brown at Cleavage Creek and the wonderful folks at Charity Case Wines, we live in a state where people who love wine also love to give back. You can add Bruliam Wines to that list.

Back to the first time I met the Overstreets, we were all sitting around sipping Champagne. Talking to Brian and Kerith was a lot of fun, not the least because of my mild bubbly-buzz. More importantly though, I could see the love that they had for wine and for each other. Apparently they liked me enough to invite me to a release party for their 2009 Pinot Noirs and a sneak peak of their 2009 Rocky Ridge Zinfandel. If anyone who reads this blog lives in San Diego, you probably know where Laurel restaurant used to be, and that now it's called Cucina Urbana. I'd never been since Laurel closed down, but jumped at the chance to taste through the Bruliam lineup.

So let's look at the three pinot noir releases I sampled, as well as the barrel sample of their upcoming zinfandel that was also tasted at the release party.

2009 Hayley Vineyard Pinot Noir Anderson Valley - Elegant nose, hints of Burgundian fruit sans the earth undertones. Sour cherries, cranberry dominate, bringing mouthwatering acidity that carries through till the end. Baking spices were both aromatic and complementary to the fruit notes, and helped ease the transition into a cola and rhubarb finish. Notable flavor integration, B+ and a BUY recommendation. 14.2% abv. $52/btl

2009 Doctor's Vineyard Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands - A supremely beautiful nose of mushrooms and leather/tobacco, with hints of black cherry. Strawberry and raspberry flavors kept the wine light but deep which I find to be a hallmark of the best examples of pinot. Finishes with hints of toasted oak, blackberries, which were a welcome and delicious treat, and cocoa. I loved this wine's bright personality and accessible style. Don't let that fool you though because with a few more years in the cellar, the 2009 Doctor's Vineyard could turn into an incredibly elegant, polished pinot noir. A- and a STRONG BUY recommendation. 14.3% abv. $52/btl

2009 Split Rock Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast - Big, brawny Pinot! Ripe nose with cocoa, mixed berry preserves, rhubarb and spice. Big on the palate but held together by a savory, umami type flavor, hint of smokiness and perhaps a beef jerky-like richness. It was hard to decide if I liked the nose or taste better, so good! Great aging potential shown by the firm but smooth tannins, would love to taste this after a decade in the cellar. A- and STRONG BUY recommendation. 14.3% abv. $52/btl

                                                                     (all images via

2009 Rocky Ridge Block Zinfandel Rockpile Vineyard (Barrel Sample) - Ripe and luxurious, loads of blackberries, blueberries and plums. Intense herbal compontent complemented by savory peppered notes. Reminded me a bit of teriyaki beef jerky. The finish is equally loaded with jammy blackberry and firm tannin leading me to believe that a few more months in the barrels and some resting time in the bottles will give us an amazing zinfandel, one that I can't wait to try again. % abv N/A. $n/a.

All three Bruliam pinot noir examples were wonderful wines and while I recommend them based on technical merit alone, I can also say that the people behind the wine are wonderful too. I admire their passion and commitment to wine, family, and to helping make the world a better place. Look for their Rocky Ridge zinfandel to be released in three months or so and give that wine a try too. You'll be drinking well, supporting a unique small winery and helping out those less fortunate than we are.

Disclosure: I attended the Cucina Urbana event as a member of the press.

Beau Carufel