Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Domaine Krieger Sparkling Wine

If you're not drinking this sparking wine yet, you should be. Domaine Krieger Brut from Kramer Vineyards. 100% Chardonnay, bottle-fermented and aged sur lee for 12-18 months. The label suggests that the wine will hold up another 24 months, I will go out on a limb and suggest 2-4 years is easily attainable. Your reward? Increased complexity and some more subtle nuanced flavors coming to play in the sandbox.

Granny Smith apple, yeasty fresh bread aromas, and crisp acidity all balanced out exceedingly well. 100% chardonnay shows on the palate as a focus on the apple and pear whilst giving the acidic kick needed to keep this a real Brut. At $24 a bottle you'd be silly not to give the Domaine Krieger a try. A-, STRONG BUY. Perfect for a cool, foggy evening accompanied by a charcuterie plate, on the Oregon coast.

Beau Carufel

Westvleteren 12, Hopworks, Great Divide Beers Get Tasted

On Friday the 13th, my friend Walker and I got together again to taste awesome beers. A few weeks prior, we had our first tasting of some great craft brews so I have a feeling this is going to become a regular occurrence. Anyways, Walker is on a quest to taste the top 100 beers as rated by beeradvocate.com, and I am more than happy to help out with that. Their #1 beer,the Westvleteren 12, is something that can only be purchased at the brewery in Belgium, or bought for a huge markup here in the United States. Luckily for us, Walker found some on ebay for $40, shipped. In a 12 ounce bottle. So he and split the bill, and the beer. I got six ounces for my $20, or roughly the cost of a premium glass of wine at a very nice restaurant.

Left to right: Great Divide, DOA, Westvleteren 12

While all of this was taking place, I received some samples of various kinds of jerkies and thought that pairing them with beer would be a ton of fun. Of course, my buddy had no objection either. The kind people at House of Jerky sent me a sampler pack of their styles and I'll be featuring each one in a blog post coming soon. You will want to read that one!

Hopworks Urban Brewery - "DOA" Deluxe Organic Ale

6.9% abv
Cloudy pale amber color. Light to medium amber with nice depth.

Aroma: Very faint aromas of grain and the barest hint of something tropical, like dried mango slices fresh out of the bag. Somethign akin to a roasted malt comes through as it warms up more. Faint aromas of citrus oil, specifically orange.

Palate: Soft, light, and delicate for an ale. Pleasant mouthfeel, the flavors are all muted though. Very malty and bretty on the finish. Nice bit of something pepper-ish too, keeps the malt from being too sweet. Not quite what I expected, not in a bad way though.

Rating: B. Good beer! Almost "there".

Jerky pairing: Teriyaki turkey jerky.

Westvleteren 12 - Belgian Quadruple Ale

10.2% abv
Dark brown, opaque. Hardly any head and no bubbles.

Aroma: Smells stunning. Raisins, brandy soaked pastry, candied prunes. Very complex, each flavor is impeccably balanced. Alcohol aromas but in a great way, doesn't overpower at all. It's like unwrapping the foil from a holiday, booze soaked cake and inhaling it. In this cake, rasins and candied prunes galore. Lots of spice like cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander or cardamom?...

Palate: The taste brings the same complexity, all sorts of flavors bouncing around and still incredibly well balanced. The finish lasts about one minute, incredibly long for a beer. All ripe, sweet black fruit, raisins, molasses, what a sensational set of flavors. Completely un beer-like. Absolutely wonderful, beyond impressed and well worth the $20 I spent for 6 ounces.

Rating: A+. Yes. Stunning

Jerky Pairing: Black pepper venison, or teriyaki turkey jerky.

Great Divide Brewing Co. - Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout

9.5% abv.
Black as motor oil in my pint glass, opaque and deep.
Aroma: Smells like dark roasted malts and grains. Baking chocolate, hints of spice, coffee. Complex but entirely straightforward. Aromas of fresh roasted hazelnuts, almonds, and walnuts. Faint whiff of a super ripe blackberry. Awesome.

Palate: A monster, full of: dark chocolate, toasted nuts, and fresh roasted coffee. Wonderfully complex, each flavor balances the other so none dominate. Very, very well crafted beer. Black tar flavor adds a very nice restraining factor to the ripeness. Again the emphasis seems on balance rather than power. The acidity on the finish is another foil to the sweet flavors and is much appreciated.

Rating: A-. Extremely good beer.

Jerky Pairing: Black Pepper Buffalo Jerky or Natural Style Beef Jerky.

Two bloggers hard at work!

Walker has posted a couple of reviews on his blog, the Westvleteren 12 and the Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti, they're well worth a read as he does a better job than I do in describing the beers we tasted. In a week or two we'll do another tasting, hopefully with a bunch of beers I bring back from Portland.

Two pours of Westvletern 12

Stay tuned, I have a full feature on the various jerkies I was sent coming up along with a new project from Don Sebastiani. Also I'll be tasting through some New Zealand wines next week, crisp whites to get you in a summer mood.

Beau Carufel

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Barbecue Wine Showdown: Tannat vs. Cabernet Sauvignon

This is a head to head showdown of $10 red wines! One, hailing from Juanico Estate's Pueblo del Sol in Uruguay and the other from the great state of confusion California. Raise your hand if you have ever had a wine from Uruguay before? I see five people raising their hands. Yikes! Now raise your hand if you've ever had the varietal tannat before, regardless of where the wine was from. And that makes 12 people in total, so we've established (entirely unscientifically) that most wine drinkers have never had wine from Uruguay and/or the varietal tannat.

I was recently sent this sample of 2009 Pueblo del Sol tannat from the fine people at TasteVino Selections, who reached out and asked if I was interested. Being the wine geek that I am, of course I said yes, send it over! After resting in my wine fridge for about a month, I was all ready to give it a sniff, swirl, and sip. First though, let's get some background on this relatively obscure grape.

The "national grape" of Uruguay, tannat was brought there in 1870, where it thrived but mostly in the domestic market. There are about 20,000 acres under vine within Uruguay, featuring 270 wineries. This example is from a winery founded in 1830, Juanico Estate. Since 1979, the Deicas family has owned and operated the estate, and is a pioneer in sustainable viticultural practices there.

With that brief bit of info behind us, let's now explore the wine. Pueblo del Sol's tannat is a nice dark red/purple that lightens out towards the edges of the glass. It gave the impression of a dense, flavorful glass of wine, yet is only at 12.5% alcohol. I was interested to learn that this tannat is unoaked, but I couldn't find out if the winemaker used steel tanks or cement casks.

My first whiffs brought back memories of 2009 Beaujolais, with the linear streak of gravel racing up out of my glass. There's more though, some nice plum, blackberry, and desert scrub. The aromas blend together nicely, but you must let this wine open up for a while, something I've noticed in all the tannat's I've ever had.

Tasting the wine immediately brought a smile to my face because this is a wine geek's wine. Very nice structurally, with big, beefy tannins providing a framework for ripe sweet black cherry. More of that minerality comes through along with a dollop of acidity to counter the sweet black fruits. The finish is a bit abrupt, leading me to believe the Pueblo del Sol is going to be better when accompanied by food that is richly flavored and maybe even on the earthy side.

In my opinion, this is a rockin' $10 bottle of wine, one well worthy to add to your summer collection. My only knock would be the abrupt finish, which left me a bit sad and wishing for more. Still, this is a B and a BUY recommendation, especially at that price. You can buy directly from the TasteVino website or from K&L Wine Merchants up in the Bay Area.

From Uruguay, I moved back to California and the grape which catapulted this state to it's (rightful) place among the world's elite wine regions. You may recall I reviewed the 2009 Big House Unchained chardonnay, now I am sampling out the 2009 The Usual Suspect cabernet sauvignon. This cabernet comes in at $10 suggested retail, and 13.5% alcohol. The tech sheet says 30,000 cases were produced in 750ml and 3L formats combined. Since the bottle says "California", the grapes are from all over the state, not any specific appellation.

As an aside, I am positively thrilled to be tasting two lower-alcohol red wines today, and indeed most of the low-alcohol wines I've tasted over the past few months could easily hold their own against wines with higher alcohol content.

Back on topic, there is 10% grenache in here and the winemaker, Georgetta Dane, states that she went for a big, bombastically fruity style. She calls the heavily oaked iterations of cabernet "stodgy"..I tend to agree. The 2009 The Usual Suspect smacks you in the face with a ladle of ripe, jammy red fruit. It's like sniffing a freshly made mixed-berry preserve. Beyond that, the barest hints of green herb and bell pepper peek around the monolithic fruit aromas. Somewhere, a faint aroma of black pepper cries out to be noticed but it's like searching for a tic tac in a glacier.

That massive fruit, while very fresh, carries through to the palate as well. There are just enough tannins though to restrain things before they get crazy. Like that older guy in your fraternity who'd hide the whippets before the freshman got into them at the annual pledge party. Or something...

Anyways! So with the tannins restraining the fruit, I can enjoy this wine for what it is, a summertime barbecue red to whip out when your buddies come over to grill. They'll enjoy it, their girlfriends and wives will too. The Usual Suspect is far from suspect, as far as cabernet sauvignon is concerned. A B- and a BUY recommendation from me. At a suggested retail of $10 and an actual retail closer to $7, it's a nice wine to have on hand as we get into warmer weather.

The head to head battle was close, in the end I might take the Pueblo del Sol over The Usual Suspect simply because it's a more geek-oriented wine. I think they're both well made, good tasting wines. However, if I knew my friends were coming over, I'd also buy a couple of bottles of The Usual Suspect so that they'd have something else to choose from.

These wines were sent as media samples for review.

Beau Carufel

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Merlot Day and 2008 Cana's Feast Columbia Valley Merlot

Sometimes the quirks of being a wine blogger can't help but make me chuckle. I was sent a pitch for the "First Annual Merlot Day" earlier this month from Kobrand, St. Francis Winery (the client) is the sponsoring winery. This follows the theme of "varietal days" that have been popping up over the past year so I jumped on board and posted about it on my blog. Unfortunately, I wasn't offered any samples of St. Francis merlot to taste today, but the always-wonderful Tamara at Cana's Feast saw a tweet about my participation and sent me a bottle of their 2008 Columbia Valley merlot to try. Apparently a group of bloggers did get the St. Francis merlot, maybe one day I'll make it to the cool kid's club!

Then again, I get Cana's Feast merlot to taste, so I sure as hell am not complaining! They're one of my favorite producers in Oregon and I previously reviewed the Cana's Feast Sangiovese Grosso last year. The 2008 merlot uses fruit sourced entirely from the Tapteil Vineyard the Red Mountain appellation of eastern Washington. Since only one vineyard contributes the fruit, it comes as no surprise that 172 cases were produced. 172 is miniscule compared to a lot of wines I've reviewed on this blog. For perspective, I recently reviewed a wine that had 30,000 cases made.

The vital stats are:
- 172 cases produced
- 100% Tapteil Vineyard on Red Mountain
- 15.0% alcohol (!!!!)
- 24 months in oak barrels
- $29 winery price

Nice color in my glass, but at the risk of sounding generic, I am looking at red wine. Deep, luxurious ruby which I like but also see a lot. I'll admit though that after seeing the 15.0% alcohol on the label, I was a bit bummed out and reminded that my alcohol opinions definitely favor the "old school" line of thinking.

I like the aromas, there's definitely a strong oak influence that is warm and inviting instead of being too much like vanilla-soaked sawdust. Holding the oak in check is a wonderful earth/dark chocolate mix, a touch of something herbal, and black summer berries. I do get a bit of tickle from the alcohol but it isn't very noticeable compared to other merlots I have tasted.

The balance is superb, with a flash of acidity shoring up the finish and making me think this merlot would be awesome with a big, medium rare, gourmet-cheese topped burger. With bacon on top. Lots of muscular tannins speak to the aging potential of the Cana's Feast merlot, while the dark fruits integrate well with that earthy/mineral streak and bittersweet chocolate flavors that come into play on the mid-palate. A singularly complex example of merlot that I am told showcases both the terroir of Red Mountain and the skill of winemaker Patrick Taylor.

On a whim, and because I was hungry, I decided to give the Cana's Feast merlot a shot with some jerkies I was recently sent. The awesome Janie at House of Jerky sent me a big assortment of jerkies they make, ranging from wild boar to buffalo, venison, turkey, and beef. There were various styles too from teriyaki to hot/sweet, and all-natural. Since I am an admittedly huge fan of jerky, this was like opening up a box of manna from heaven.

My favorites? The all-natural beef jerky, black pepper wild boar jerky, and teriyaki turkey jerky flat out rocked it. Each of them brought flavors that were a nice complement to the robust merlot and if you're a jerky fan like I am, you need to check out House of Jerky. Taking a sip of wine after the jerkies allowed the fruit flavors in the wine to manifest more clearly, showing up as ripe, vibrant red and black fruit. It was fascinating.

For me, the first annual "Merlot Day" was a lot of fun, I got to tweet back and forth with some wine friends, taste a superb merlot from Cana's Feast, overindulge in jerky from House of Jerky, and write this blog post up. I scored the Cana's Feast an A-, with a BUY recommendation. I think for the price, it's hard to find merlot this good, this balanced, and this ageworthy. Check out the Cana's Feast website to buy the wine, or email them to see who might carry it in your neighborhood.

The food and wine were sent to me as press samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Taking Some Mystery Out Of Dessert Wines:Part 2

Here's the second post in my dessert-wine blog featurette. In the first post, I explained what my friends and I were tasting as well as went over the dessert wines themselves. Here, you'll find the tasting notes and suggested food pairings. I've included the suggested retail price as well as bottle size so you can make your own comparisons. Let's get to the wines!

The dessert wine lineup, sans Sauterenes

It's a rough life being a wine blogger

While you are gazing at those two pictures, I'm feverishly trying to arrange this next blog entry the right way. In the previous page, I had listed the dessert wines that Keith, Bill, and myself tasted on April 23rd. Now I get to talk about them as well as suggest pairings should you decide to seek them out.

1. 2009 Kracher Cuvee Auslese - Alluring nose featuring river stone, nectarine, and stone fruit. Everything was so light but also complex, I kept smelling the glass just to get more aromas. When tasted, I found a light, sweetly acidic wine with orange pith, nectarine, dried apricot all bound by a pleasing acidity that kept each fruit flavor restrained. This contributed to the balanced, palate friendly nature of the wine. An absolute gem of a dessert wine that paired extremely well with the panna cotta, as well as sugar cookies. A-. $13-$18. 375 ml.

2. 2009 Kracher Cuvee Eiswein - This is a dollop of sweet peach juice and fresh cream! Beautiful aromas of fresh apricot and a touch of tropical fruit, a nice touch of minerality giving context to the fruits. Utterly divine on the palate, with fleshy peach backing a burst of mango and more of those delicious apricots. The mouthfeel was so ripe and rich that it felt almost creamy. We all loved this wine with the fruit tarte and also the wonderful Brazilian Mousse de Maracuja. A-. $32-38. 375 ml.

3. 2009 Kracher Beerenauslese Zweigelt - Shimmered like a glass full of rubies in the sunlight, I was enthralled by the color. Aromatically complex with notes of candied flower petals, wild strawberries and some wet rock thrown in. Surprisingly light with the nearly perfect backing of acidity against some awesome flavors like cherry and candied plums. There was even something like baking spices on the finish, which certainly kept me guessing. Simply stunning for me. I think this paired amazingly well with the chocolates from Honest Chocolates, as well as the tarte Bill brought.  B+ . $24. 375 ml.

4. 2008 Bodegas Ochoca Moscatel - Made from small berry muscat vines, this was my first time tasting a dessert wine from Navarra, Spain. The bouquet was explosive, like a sweet tropical fruit salad drizzled in white grape juice. A touch of acidity balanced the notes of passion fruit, pineapple, and mango. At first, it was somewhat difficult to wrap my head around what I smelled. The Ochoca moscatel was that good! I tasted golden apples, peaches, tropical fruit and more of the white grape juice all seamlessly blending together. My favorite wine of the night. Another stellar pairing with the chocolates and also the fruit tarte. A (95 points). $20. STRONG BUY. 375 ml.

5. 2003 Sigalas Vinsanto Santorini VQPRD -  The first vinsanto I had tasted in a while, blew my socks off. Insane smells of caramelized sugar and dried figs, even a hint of toasted nuts. At once interesting and alluring, I could put away a bottle of this myself, with no problem. The sweet nutty flavor carried through the palate, mixing with figs and a hint of burnt sugar. Pleasing acidity was there throughout, so the Sigalas vinsanto avoided getting into the saccharine-sweet territory that had me worried when I conceived the tasting earlier this year. Excellent, spicy finish and I was content to sip it on it's own, not needing any desserts. A-. $50. 500 ml.

6. 2009 Seven of Hearts Coupe's Cuvee - Sent down to me after the other dessert wines had arrived, this was the first time I had ever tried pinot noir made into a dessert wine. The aromatics were fascinating, with an earthy, almost barnyard aroma (in a good way!), notes of sweet cherry and even what I thought was a touch of menthol on the back end. When I tasted the Coupe's Cuvee I found a great flavor of cedar and red cherry along with great spices and a tangy acidity. The complexity surprised me, in the best of ways. Along with the complex flavors and aromas was the awesome color, I thought it looked like an electrified ruby sitting my glass. Paired with the Honest Chocolates, it shined. The flavors all melded together to create a sensational taste. B+ $21. BUY. 375ml.

7. 2003 Chateau Rieussec Sauterenes - 2003 was apparently a good year for Sauterenes, and the Chateau Rieussec is aging beautifully. Smells like botrytis laden grapes, hints of pine with a bit of acidic astringency. I tasted sweet cream, apricots, beautiful hints of caramel and hard candy almost like a Werthers. The way it effortlessly glides around in your mouth reminds you why Sauterenes are so highly prized. I loved the pairing with the panna cotta and on its own, needing no accompaniment save for a beautiful sunset. B+. $39. 375ml.

We got into Bill's tarte, hard.

Wrapping up a post like this is not easy for me, because I don't know if words can express my gratitude to those who participated. This was the first time I reached out en masse (so to speak) to try to put together a series of blog posts framed around one type of wine. In my opinion it worked out perfectly and I'd like to thank Catharine Seda, Constance Chamberlain, Byron and Dana Dooley, Keith, and Bill. They readily agreed to ship me samples of wine, bring tasty desserts, and reminded me to get my butt in gear with these posts. A thousand thank-you's, I am deeply appreciative of the support. Until next time!

Panna Cotta, so good!!

This tasting was a mix of wines sent as media samples and donations from a private cellar.

Beau Carufel

Taking Some Mystery Out of Dessert Wines

Dessert wines can make even an experienced wine connoisseur nervous. While most people know of dessert wines, there's something of an air of mystery to that category. Some of that air might be cultivated, as way of elevating this class of wine above others *coughCHAMPAGNEcough* but for the most part, dessert wines are a non-threatening, delicious, fun way to cap off a memorable meal. In February I had the brilliant idea to create a couple of blog posts detailing my experiences with dessert wines and that in turn would hopefully spur some dialogue and exploration on your end.

I reached out to some contacts in the wine industry and soon had a wonderful assembly of dessert wines to taste and write about.I was lucky enough to have samples from Austria, Greece, Spain, and Oregon sent to me for this tasting. A special thanks goes out to the Brand Action Team, Balzac Communications, and Seven of Hearts winery for generously sending me some amazing wines.

The next step was to figure out some food combinations, in an effort to make this more of a "real world" kind of test. Since I had invited my buddies Keith and Bill to participate, I figured why not put them to work procuring some tasty, sugar-laden goodies for us? They each contributed various pastries, chocolate bread, and a special Brazilian Mousse de Maracujá dessert while I contributed some panna cotta, one of my all time favorite desserts (and I brought the wines). Our plan was to try the wines with various desserts, both to mimic more casual dishes and also to throw desserts into the mix that you may have at an upscale restaurant.

On the next page (see the link at the bottom of this one) I'll go more into detail with tasting notes about each wine as well as the dessert pairings that I found to be very interesting and fun.

If you're with me so far, good. Some of you might be wondering what exactly a "dessert wine" is. Definitions vary around the world, as do names. The Aussies even call them "stickies", how quintessentially Australian! At their heart though, the vast majority of "dessert wine" is sweet in nature. This is often due to elevated sugar levels left over after primary fermentation has been completed, called "residual sugar". Two of the main reasons for those elevated sugar levels come from the way the grapes are grown and harvested.

In wines from Sauterenes and Barsac in Bordeaux, the sauvignon blanc and semillion grapes are allowed to succumb to "Noble Rot" caused by the botrytis bacterium. This rot concentrates the sugars in the grape by drying it, allowing for a sweeter wine to be made. Alternately, a method practiced in Canada, New Zealand, and Austria (among other places) produces what's called "ice wine" where the grapes are allowed to freeze on the vine, thereby concentrating their sugars so that when pressed, the resulting juice is lower in water and higher in sugar. There is no hard and fast rule about what method you have to use to produce sweet wines though.

During the tasting, we had wine from Sauternes as well as an ice wine (eiswein) from Austria. There were also several others; a muscatel from Navarra, an Auslese made from chardonnay and welschriesling (not regular riesling), a vin santo from Santorini, and a Beerenauslese made from the zweigelt grape. Obviously we were trying totally new varietals in the form of dessert wines, an awesome way to get acquainted with them.

My friends at Seven of Hearts in Oregon contributed a bottle of their dessert port, made from pinot noir grapes grown in a couple of vineyards in the Willamette Valley. Pinot noir, you ask? I asked too, and at the very least this is a fun experiment with the varietal. The Coupe's Cuvee was made in the traditional style, with some brandy being added at a certain point to arrest the fermentation and preserve some residual sugar. That's also how Port is made, one of my all-time favorite drinks!

Keith and Bill getting dessertified

Below is the list of dessert wines we tasted on April 23rd:

1. 2009 Kracher Cuvee Auslese
2. 2009 Kracher Cuvee Eiswein
3. 2009 Kracher Beerenauslese Zweigelt
4. 2008 Bodegas Ochoca Moscatel
5. 2003 Sigalas Vinsanto
6. 2009 Seven of Hearts Coupe's Cuvee
7. 2003 Chateau Rieussec Sauterenes

Mousse de Maracuja

Monday, May 16, 2011

Shannon Ridge Sauvignon Blanc, Another Summer Sipper

Late last month I was sent an assortment of white wine samples, one box containing riesling and sauvignon blanc arrived at my doorstep. This is the first of the bunch that I tasted, the 2009 Shannon Ridge Sauvignon Blanc "Ranch Collection" from the Lake County AVA. That appellation might not sound familiar, and for good reason. Lake County is not a big-name region like Napa or Sonoma, in fact, the most famous winery in the area might just be Guenoc, though Geyser Peak sources a ton of grapes from the area. The climate is cooler than Napa or Sonoma and there is less diurnal variation, which is the difference between the daytime high and nighttime low temperatures. This results in a different set of flavors than we'd get from grapes grown in other areas of the state. I'll explain below.

I should state that I usually do not enjoy California sauvignon blancs as much as say, French or South American examples. Even New Zealand occasionally gets it right in my book, when those sauvignon blancs aren't soaked in bitter acid.. California has always meant overly ripe, tropical fruit laden sauvignon blancs that fail to express any minerality whatsoever to me. They've been like drinking guava/pineapple nectar mixed with white grape juice. Yuck! Not at all what I like in a white wine unless we're talking something stunning like a Moscatel from Navarra..But stay tuned for that!

Shannon Ridge's 2009 Sauvignon Blanc does a lot to defy the conventions of this state's primary style of sauvignon blanc. The question is, of course, does it do enough? Does the Shannon Ridge justify it's $16 suggested retail price? Let's find out.

In the glass, this wine is nicely aromatic and in a word, exuberant. There are a few primary scents; ruby red grapefruit juice with some lemongrass as well. While a bit simple, these aromas are very fresh and enticing, and most importantly to me, not overly sweet. There's a hint of white peach and tropical fruit, adding just enough sweetness to enhance the bouquet while preventing a sugar catastrophe.

This Lake County sauvignon blanc has a good burst of acidity too, it's light and crisp while retaining some sense of minerality and fruity flavors. Unfortunately that minerality just doesn't go far enough for me, leaving the passion fruit and pineapple flavors unbalanced and somewhat clunky. The finish descends through layers of Bartlett pear and a touch of perfume before vanishing entirely. Not exactly what I expected but not necessarily something that hurts the wine. That out-of-balance feeling stays with me though, which isn't a good sign.

The Shannon Ridge Sauvignon Blanc is a solid wine that's priced just a bit too high for what you get. For me, the unbalanced palate detracted from what could have been a truly fine wine, one that would have showed a lot of non-California sauvignon blanc drinkers what this state can do. Now getting back to that price, the suggested retail is $16, but through the magic of Google I found the wine for closer to $10 at Beverages and More, making it much more reasonable. At the $10 price point, it is precisely what I expect in a sauvignon blanc. Still, I'd rather drink a Chateau St. Michelle or Geyser Peak sauvignon blanc because they consistently deliver beyond the price point. B- and a PASS recommendation at this point.

This wine was sent as a media sample for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Friday, May 13, 2011

Chile Redux: Santa Carolina Carmenere

Right around the time that the Wines of Chile blogger tasting was going on, I was sent some samples from Santa Carolina as well. Things got rather hectic and as a result, those Santa Carolina samples sat in my wine fridge for a while, resting until I could start working through each bottle.

The first wine I opened was the 2009 Santa Carolina Reserva Carmenere, from the Rapel Valley. Priced at right around $10, it's a great entry into both Chilean wines and the varietal carmenere. My own expereicnes with carmenere to this point consisted of tasting the offerings from Concha y Toro's Casillero del Diablo, some Chilean wines with carmenere in them, and random tastes through my near-decade in the business. Suffice it to say that carmenere is not a varietal I experience often. Some of you are probably familiar with the Santa Carolina brand though, as it has been around for a while, producing all manner of red and white wines. Why would they then send out samples to bloggers? The answer lies in the new direction the winery is going. Starting in the very recent past, the Santa Carolina has begun to embrace it's heritage and history as part of a "Chilean Heritage" campaign.

After opening and letting the Santa Carolina carmenere breathe for an hour, I was ready to give it a thorough inspection. That's what wine bloggers are for, right? Carmenere is dark, very purple hued and opaque. At first glance, this reminded me of petite sirah or even zinfandel. For a long time, the carmenere was thought to be merlot and it wasn't "discovered" as merlot until 1994.

The first thing I noticed besides the color was that the wine had a potent, complex bouquet. I could smell specific aromas emanating from the glass despite it being a meter away from me. Lots of black pepper, earth, tar, and dried herbs jumped out at me. The Santa Carolina Carmenere bursts with aromatic intensity, and wafting up behind those primary aromas were hints of green pepper and blueberry preserves. In truth, I was surprised at how complex the nose was, I expected a more one-dimensional wine. Nothing like a pleasant surprise during a wine review, right?

A few sips in, I was impressed. Huge flavors of pepper, leather and a streak of minerality a mile long piled into my mouth. As I thought about what I was tasting, other flavors like mocha, bittersweet chocolate, and this rich, dense black fruit note put a smile on my face. The tannins here are very nicely integrated and silky smooth. To me, the Santa Carolina carmenere is ready to drink now but will also hold up for a few more years.

All told, a wonderful wine for $10 and something I'd gladly buy to have with grilled, charred meat. It is barbecue season after all! After poking around google, it's clear that the Santa Carolina Carmenere is available all over the country at places like Costco and your local grocery store. For further assistance finding the wine, Carolina Wine Brands USA is the place to check. My rating? Easily a B and a BUY recommendation. This is tasty wine and seems to be a wonderful expression of carmenere. I can't wait to try the rest of the Santa Carolina wines.

This was received as a media sample from Brand Action Team.

Beau Carufel

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Great Way To Save Your Wine For Another Night

While at the Family Winemakers of California tasting in March, I met Kristina Irion, the rep for Sabemos Beverages. The company she represents is the local distributor of WineSave, a six liter can of argon designed to act as a barrier between the air and your wine. The can is about the size of a 375ml bottle of wine so it'll fit most places that your wine bottles will. On the back of the box we're told the WineSave works for about 50 applications (up to 50 bottles of wine, then). I'd estimate that over the course of the trial period I've used it about 25 times. At this point it still feels full to me though I have no way of knowing the level of argon inside.

Vinotech, the company making the WineSave, says that the gas inside is 100% argon, a pure, colorless, odorless gas that is heavier than air so it sinks to the top of the wine and stays there until it's disturbed by something like pouring yourself a glass...Or being careless and sloshing the bottle around. The point is that once you squirt the gas into the bottle, be a bit gentle and store that bottle standing up.

What are my thoughts then? I really like using the winesave, and by my highly non-empirical trials, it works like a charm. I've tried the product on red wine, white wine, and everything in between. Granted, it's pointless to use on sparkling wine but does work on dessert wines. I found the directions easy to use and as long as I didn't tip or otherwise overly upset the bottle, they tasted the same on days 2 and 3 as they had on the first day. Call it a success, and a product that does deliver on its lofty claims.

Priced at $39.99, I would recommend this to people who do go through a lot of wine (like wine bloggers) and frequently wish to taste over the course of a few days. It's been very helpful to me and I do think I'll be buying another bottle once this is exhausted. Previously I had used a vacuum system and that's always provided mixed results because the wine never is truly in a vacuum. I'd recommend the WineSave, a good way to save your wines for the next night without worrying about oxidation or spoilage.

I received this can of WineSave as a press sample from Sabemos Beverages.

Beau Carufel

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Big House Unchained "Naked" Chardonnay

Big House Wines was spun off from Randall Grahm's Bonny Doon Vineyard back in 2006 after it started to get really, really big. Mr. Grahm decided to refocus on smaller production, boutique wines and let Big House Wines and Pacific Rim become separate entities. Big House was bought by The Wine Group, makers of such gems as Corbett Canyon and Franzia. Meanwhile, Pacific Rim operates as something of an independent subsidy of Bonny Doon Vineyard. Since then, Big House has become known for Big House White and Big House Red, usually wines that are cheap ($7) and made from many different varietals blended together.

While certainly not bad wines, there's also nothing particularly remarkable about the usual vintage of Big House White and Big House Red. I lump them into the category of "barbecue wines", or wines you'll buy multiple bottles of for your backyard barbecues because you don't want friends drinking your good stuff. Traditionally, Big House Wines avoided using more well known varietals like chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. This was because Randall Grahm went a different route and if you've tasted any of the Bonny Doon wines, you'll realize his route is one of excellence and awesomeness.

That changed though, at least with the 2009 vintage. Winemaker Georgetta Dane decided to create a chardonnay and a cabernet sauvignon. I'll talk about the chardonnay here and the cabernet in a blog post to follow.

The 2009 Big House Unchained Chardonnay is 100% chardonnay from vineyards all over California. It's harvested and then ferments in stainless steel, seeing no oak at all. The wine doesn't undergo malolactic fermentation either, so I don't expect to find any buttery or overly creamy elements. That's confirmed when I smell notes of apple and pear, lemon peel, and a touch of sweet cream.

Tasting at room temperature, to get a sense of how acidic the wine is, was a good idea (for once). The acidity is quite good, framing up really pleasant notes of pear and red apple along with just a touch of something like pineapple. I'm really appreciating the fact that no oak was used, as well as no malolactic fermentation. This is my style of chardonnay, more fruit driven than oak-influenced.

While the alcohol is 13.0%, I didn't detect much heat at all. Maybe a bit on the finish, where I've always been more sensitive to alcohol spikes, but still a good wine. Unfortunately I wish the finish had been longer, the Unchained chardonnay seemed to end rather abruptly in a bit of a disjointed mass of ripe pineapple and acid. Other than that though, I was happy with the aromatics and initial mouthfeel.

I can happily give this wine a B-/B and a BUY recommendation. For $10, it's a really good way to get a crisp sipping white at a wallet-friendly price. On a hot day this would pair superbly well with a Cesar salad or shrimp cocktail. Since Big House made about 30,000 cases, you can easily find this at your local grocery store or liquor store like Total Wine or Beverages and More.

This was a media sample for review purposes sent by Folsom and Associates.

Beau Carufel

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Continuing With Rosé Wines, Here Comes the Rhone!

While a bunch of my Twitter/blogger friends were up at the annual Hospice du Rhone celebration in Paso Robles these past few days, those of us who didn't/couldn't go had to make do with what was in our own cellars. Since the weather has been beautiful and only promises to get better over the next week, today seemed like a wonderful day to open another rosé. I chose the 2009 Chateau de Nages from the Costieres de Nimes appellation in the Rhone Valley.

The 2009 Chateau de Nages was made with 70% grenache and 30% syrah, a fairly standard blend and proportion for Rhone rosé wines. Sometimes you'll see a bit of cinsault and counoise tucked in there too. If you happen to be a big fan of rosé then by all means keep your eyes open for wines from Tavel or Bandol, as they're reputed to produce the best examples on the planet. I don't disagree..

First off I look at the color, it's like a piece of fresh salmon, absolutely gorgeous! Not light like a Silverbrite, but dark like Coho or King Salmon. Why, you ask, might I know about fish coloration? It's where I work that does this to me. Granted, it also drives me to drink..The workplace, not the fish coloration..

Anyways! On to the "sniffy-sniff" as Gary Vaynerchuk calls it. Nice bit of herb, red berries, river stone, grapefruit, and a hint of fresh melon. Before sipping the 09 Chateau de Nages, I predict it'll have some bright acidity and be very dry. Or am I projecting my desires onto this wine? You tell me!

Well I was right..sort of..Bright acidity pops right away, lip-smackin' good..The ripe strawberries and melon come along right behind that opening volley of acid, to give the wine a sense of depth and structure. I picked up a dollop of ruby red grapefruit too, so that balance of sweet and acid is there throughout the wine. This is very good, each flavor is blending together seamlessly for me. There's a sense of depth and weight here but it leaves so quickly that you retain the refreshing quality which makes rosé so alluring. At 13.5% alcohol, it sure isn't a lightweight for a rosé but that's hidden fairly nicely. You get a bit of heat through the finish but it's barely there. I would say that it prevents this wine from getting an A-, truth be told. On a warm, sunny day like today, this is something to enjoy while sitting on your patio reading or hanging out with your friends.

I gave 2009 Chateau de Nages a B+ and a STRONG BUY especially since it lists at under $15, but I bought it for $7 at San Diego Wine Company. Are you freakin' kidding me?! $6.99 to be precise, and it's worth every single penny. I'm going back to buy more bottles. You should too, especially if you live in San Diego.

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

St. Francis Winery Starts Merlot Day, May 19

I think that by now, most wine lovers are familiar with the rise and fall of the merlot grape. After the movie Sideways, merlot took a huge hit when people started switching to pinot noir. While the much-maligned varietal might deserve a bit of the criticism it received, namely that the wine lacked structure and soul, the fact remains that merlot is capable of producing world class wines. This "Merlot Day" is a cool way to rediscover the grape, or get acquainted with one of the most popular varietals in the world. I'd recommend the St. Francis merlot as a good place to start, also try Stag's LeapWhitehall Lane, or Flora Springs. If you're looking for more value-oriented merlot, Columbia Crest makes a superb example under their "Grand Estate" classification, as do Bogle and Blackstone.

Luckily, merlot can pair well with a wide variety of foods and one of my somewhat-secret pleasures is pairing merlot with a shrimp and pesto pizza. If you're into cheese pairings, try a bottle of Napa Valley merlot with Camembert and Gruyere cheeses. Alternately if you are sometimes into simple things like I am, do a bacon grilled cheese sandwich with some sharp cheddar and smokey gouda, toss in finely diced sun-dried tomatoes, on fresh sourdough, and down a glass of merlot with that. It's a quick but very delicious meal.

What's your favorite merlot? Did you (like me) shun merlot after seeing Sideways? Have any great merlot and food pairings for us?

From the press release: 
(image via http://www.stfranciswinery.com)

St. Francis Winery Celebrates First Annual
#Merlot Day Virtual Tasting

(April 27, 2011) – St. Francis Winery & Vineyards, a Sonoma County producer of hand-crafted fruit forward varietal wines, launches their first nationwide virtual tasting featuring Merlot on Thursday, May 19, 2011.  As the first Sonoma County winery to plant and produce Merlot, their virtual tasting will salute the varietal they pioneered since their first vintage in 1983.

Wine lovers across the country can participate in St. Francis Merlot Day by signing up, free of charge, at www.stfrancismerlotday.eventbrite.com and opening a bottle of their favorite Merlot. The 24 hour tasting starts at 12:01am with participants sharing tasting notes and images of their favorite Merlot on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #Merlot.  Even better, participate by visiting the winery and attending the KJZY radio station Happy Hour from 5:30 to 8:00pm and meet Winemaker Tom Mackey.  An exciting new app from CrushWire technology will be available on iPads allowing participants to share their experiences online directly from the tasting room.

St. Francis’ winemaker Tom Mackey, heralded by the press as the ‘Master of Merlot’, is excited to participate and share his love for the presently underappreciated Merlot varietal, “Twitter and Facebook are easy ways for fans to share opinions about wine. The best way to communicate the taste and quality is old fashioned word of mouth – even when it’s delivered virtually on a smart phone.”

About St. Francis Winery & Vineyards:
For over 35 years, St. Francis Winery in Sonoma has hand-crafted fruit forward, luscious and full-bodied wines from superior mountain and valley vineyards in Sonoma County’s best appellations.   While most renowned for its red varietals, including its Zinfandel (all old vines 60 - 110 years old), Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Francis also produces a noteworthy Chardonnay.  St. Francis Sonoma County wines are bursting with flavor and are recognized globally for outstanding quality and great value. Visit us at www.stfranciswinery.com            


Beau Carufel

Monday, May 2, 2011

Domaine de Cantemerle Bordeaux Superieur, Buy It.

At long last, I come to the end of the Planet Bordeaux series of wines. I've chronicled the wines in the following posts:
2008 Chateau Pey La Tour
2006 Chateau Lestrille
2006 Costes Du Chateau Feret-Lambert
2009 Chateau La Freynelle Bordeaux Rosé

This, the final post, covers perhaps the best of the bunch, a 2005 Domaine de Cantemerle Bordeaux Superieur. 2005 was considered a superb year, much like 2003, 2009, 2010..Get the picture? Usually when I hear that the vintage has been declared "vintage of the century" by the critics, I roll my eyes. After all, isn't there supposedly only one, not five or more in the span of 15 years? I know and am comfortable with the fact that I'll most likely never taste or own any of the First Growths from these years, so these proclamations have no real effect on me. What does matter to my palate is that Bordeaux taste like Bordeaux, not some trumped up, high alcohol, bastardized attempt at making wines that taste like they're grown off of Highway 29. Let Bordeaux wines be expressive of Bordeaux, call me a minimalist!

Anyways, ranting aside, I was happy to "discover" this bottle of Bordeaux in my stash, seemingly forgotten during the inevitable movement of bottles between the wine fridge and my mouth. I then decided to open it up and see if this 2005 lived up to the momentous declarations of Suckling and Parker.

Well, it sure comes close. This is not a 98 point Pomerol, and nor should it be. Rather, it's classified a Bordeaux Superier, which often means exceptional quality at unexceptional prices. If I had to make a guess at the price, I'd say around $20 or so. At the end of this blog I'll find out the real price then we can compare.

Let's take a look at what I have in my glass then. The Cantemerle is dark in my glass, darker than a lot of Bordeaux I've had before.  I'm reminded of a Cabernet from Napa Valley because the color veers towards purple instead of dark garnet. The wine is a blend of the five varietals allowed in Bordeaux. Merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot all in one bottle.

Right away I can smell the Bordeaux here, it comes across as a dusty, herbaceous note with a bit of funk. Glorious! Beautiful notes of tobacco, spice, cocoa, and cassis too. One of those wines that you want to keep smelling because each whiff is a discovery. The aromas are subtle, nothing screams up out of the glass to beat  at your nostrils with a rubber hose. In essence, the Cantemerle has class.

After suitable ooohing and aaahing, I'm ready to take some sips. The aromas match up well with the flavors I'm getting. Great drying tannins, some acidity on the finish and a very nice depth to the mid palate. I think the wine is hitting its stride right now and with a few hours in a decanter, will reward you with wonderful complexity and pleasing mouthfeel. In addition to the earth and herbs, there's a great vein of bittersweet chocolate and dried berry thing going on. This is why I love wine, the way flavors jump out and capture ones imagination!

What a great way to cap off the Planet Bordeaux series of wines, each one was wonderful and exceeded my expectations. They were all well made, very nicely priced, and a good foundation for someone looking to explore the Bordeaux region. After poking around a bit, I found the importer here in the United States, it's Lion Wines, so check them out and if you want this 2005, send them an email. I gave the 2005 Domaine de Cantemerle a B+ and a STRONG BUY recommendation. If you happen to see it online or at your favorite local wine shop, buy a couple of bottles. Oh and as far as the price goes, I found it on wine-searcher for about $19. So my prediction of $20 a bottle was almost dead on. I hope you're able to find this wine, it should be part of your collection.

This wine was sent as a sample for Planet Bordeaux via Balzac Communications.

Beau Carufel