Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Paul Mas Estate, Languedoc-Roussillon

Continuing the series of "Wines Beau Was Sent A Long Time Ago", this time I am exploring a producer in the Languedoc-Roussillon area of France. Long a place associated with cheap, mediocre bulk wine, there have been rumblings over the past few years that a serious uptick in quality is taking place. Granted, there has also been a concerted push by the trade group(s) and producers of the region to showcase their wines on the world stage.

Earlier this year (a familiar refrain, no?) I was sent three wines from "rural luxury" wine company Domaines Paul Mas to taste and comment on. Time, as it seems to do, slipped away and while I fully intended to open and write about these wines for summer, now the Holiday Season is upon us. I was sent three wines from the Paul Mas Estate line, which appears to be their mid to high(ish) priced label.

Despite the lateness of the year, upon tasting these wines I found them to be very suitable for the cool/cold weather and am excited at the thought of how they could pair with your Holiday feasts.

2011 Paul Mas Estate Picpoul de Pinet Coteaux du Languedoc: Opens with lemons and oranges, grass, and hints of butter. Great acidity on the palate, which helps tame the ripeness, and provides a very food-friendly angle to this wine. I really enjoyed how interesting the wine was as it gradually warmed up, showing fleshier tropical and stone fruit flavors. $11 on the East Coast. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

2011 Paul Mas Estate Chardonnay Saint Hilare Coteaux du Languedoc: Ripe notes of apple and lemon curd, rendered butter, and tart lime juice. I was struck at how balanced the aromas were. Good acidity, creating a beautifully cleansing effect on the palate. It highlights citrus and apple notes galore. Each sip left me with a smile, and the finish was nice and crisp, readying my palate for another bite. $13 nationally. Recommended.

2011 Paul Mas Estate GSM Coteau du Languedoc: My first thought was that smells like a GSM, which is a good thing. Licorice, blackberries, blueberries, and a pleasing meaty nature. The bouquet had me intrigued but unfortunately I just wasn't as excited about the palate. It's a bit soft and ripe, and could maybe use more acidity. I'm not sure if it's a function of this wine's youth or not, but this seems incomplete. That said, if you like soft, ripe, easy drinking red blends, I think will make you happy, especially at the price. $14 on the East Coast.

The two whites showed the best for me on the day I tasted them, and on the second day. They had lots of nice primary fruit, plenty of acidity, and are priced to compete. The red just wasn't that great, and I feel there are better options around the price point. One would be the 2011/2012 St. Cosme Cotes du Rhone, an incredible deal at around $15. Still, the GSM is a wine that will appeal to many palates and the crowd-pleasing style will certainly be a hit at any parties you bring a bottle to. Those whites though, they deserve some serious consideration as you plan your holiday meals.

The Paul Mas website isn't very good, but I was able to find out that this producer makes a lot of different wines from sources all over the Languedoc-Roussillon area of France. I think their packaging and message are very good and the wines are certainly of reasonable quality. Seeing the Languedoc-Roussillon area start to climb out of the shadows and more into the mainstream as a source for quality is exciting, I hope we all continue to get exposure to the wines.

These wines were media samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

24 Knots Pinot Noir from Monterey County

Yes, just a single wine in this blog entry. I was sent this sample bottle from 24 Knots winery out of Greenfield, California.

The story behind the name goes like this: During the summer, winds come off of Monterey Bay and down the Salinas Valley at speeds of up to 24 knots. At that speed, they provide an essential cooling effect for the vines, allowing acids to stay higher while the sun still helps ripen the grapes. From what I understand, all the grapes come from Viento Vineyard, which of course is in Monterey County.

Ok, this is not going to be a long blog. One wine to taste and the desire to keep my notes concise and readable.

On opening this pinot has a funky aroma, so I tried to give it some time to blow off. While I don't think it did entirely blow off, after an hour I was able to smell things other than funk. I like the raspberry/strawberry scent, and it had an interesting pine thing going on too, along with typically-pinot aromas of baking spice. I think if the funky sulfurous aroma hadn't lain atop everything else like a wet beach towel, this could have been a really fun wine.

So I tried closing the screwcap and giving it the Dirty Sommelier, aka "shaking the ever living s&#@ out of the bottle", for about 30 seconds.

In an attempt to re-approach the wine, I retrieved a new, clean wine glass and poured another few ounces. Drat! The same thing! This time I went in for a taste, to see just how much the funk obscured. Ripe berries, wood smoke, peppery spices, and funk. It permeated everything and was nigh on impossible to ignore.

If the 24 Knots Pinot Noir didn't have the funk, it would be a damn good bottle of wine. It's pretty inexpensive too, something like $15 a bottle. So in conclusion, if you like your pinot noir on the funky side, I think you'll dig this. If you prefer clean, bright berry fruit, maybe pass on this one. I tend to prefer the latter, so I can't recommend this to you.

Of note, the winery sent two bottles and I tasted the second bottle about two months later, it exhibited basically the same characteristics. Both bottles were tasted over the course of about three days.

These wines were media samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Jacob's Creek Cabernet, Shiraz, and Pinot Noir

A quickie. I was sent some samples of Jacob's Creek wines to taste earlier this year and finally got around to opening during our hot summer here in Oregon. Without too much fluff, here are the tasting notes and my impressions on each of the three wines I was sent.

2010 Jacob's Creek Reserve Pinot Noir Adelaide Hills: I wasn't a big fan of this one, but some might enjoy it. Smells a bit like eucalyptus mixed with cherry cough drops. Some dusty earth manifests too, but it's definitely muted. The pinot character clearly shines through in this, with bright cherries and cranberries, mixing with herbaceous flavors. As the evening progressed, I re-tasted this several more times and it seemed to just fall apart. The cough syrup notes take over and it becomes disjointed on the palate. Pinot Noir is  hard to do on the cheap though. Buyer beware. 13.6% abv. $10 nationally.

2010 Jacob's Creek Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Coonawarra: Smells dusty, dry, like the Outback. Notes of jalapeño pepper, green herb, dusty trail, and some red fruit. Drying on the palate, and rather soft for a young cabernet. Tart red fruits tend to dominate, but they're somewhat simple. I think this needs a cheeseburger to truly shine. After tasting this several more times through the evening, I concluded that it's a wine on the cusp of being tasty and fun, but it just doesn't get there. At the price point, you can find better.  13.9% abv. $10 nationally.

2010 Jacob's Creek Reserve Shiraz Barossa: Smokey, Barossa-y, spicy shiraz. I like this, especially for the price. It's got a really solid balance between ripe fruit - think plums and black cherry - and drying, astringent tannin. Definitely a wine to have with big foods like barbecued ribs. Easy to find nationally, well made, and very much a wine to drink year-round. Recommended. 14.1% abv. $10 nationally.

If you bat .300 or greater during a baseball career, you're pretty much guaranteed a Hall of Fame selection. Jacob's Creek did just that with these three wines. The shiraz is clearly the superior wine of the bunch and worth your consideration. I can't put my recommendation on the other two though, because while they may be inexpensive and easy to find, they're simply not wines I want you to drink.

These wines were samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Monday, September 2, 2013

My First Night in Bordeaux, Chateau de Bel

Once the crew was suitably refreshed and rejuvenated, we piled back into the Mercedes van and sped off in the lazy afternoon light to Chateau de Bel, another old house located right on the banks of the river. We were met by Anne and Olivier Cazenave, owners of the Chateau. Also, we met Aurelie Dainieras of Chateau Penin. If those Chateaux sound familiar, it's because I've written about their wines before, from Planet Bordeaux virtual tastings.

The tidal bore races up the river, but not in this shot!
More snacks, both sweet and savory, and wine were had on a little dock perched upon the river. Olivier and I discussed surfing the tidal bore as it raced upriver each evening. One day I will return to Bordeaux and do just that. If they let me back in, that is.

Anyways. The dinner was prepped and served inside the house, so we all made our way inside, through doorways that seemed to have been designed for shorter people than modern-sized humans. That really gives you a sense the age of a place.

During the conversation, amid the laughter and smiles, the skies were beginning a slow churn. Eventually this would culminate in a blustery storm overnight. I'm getting ahead of myself though. We return to the house, at night, crowded into a dimly let room full of warmth and the smell of food. Bloggers and vignerons sitting side by side, discussing food and wine. The setting should sound just about perfect because it was. I recall a little of the food, it was beef, salad, and bread. The wines were red, white, and pink. Everything was delicious.

Suddenly my French started improving and my glass seemed to empty itself. Coincidence? Looking back, here's to hoping I didn't make too much of an ass of myself.

Various accounts of the French as arrogant and intolerant jerks seem to mainly stem from people who don't make an attempt at speaking the language. I felt our hosts were delighted that I even tried, and while my accent was solid, my lack of vocabulary was a glaring issue, at least in my mind.

One particularly memorable bottle was Oliviers non-vintage cabernet franc. He blends a few years together and if I recall, sells it around Bordeaux. Unfortunately we do not see it here in the United States. It was an incredibly good bottle of wine. This wine paired quite beautifully with the steaks we were enjoying.

Fast forward back out to that Mercedes van and the trip to our hotel for the night. By now the wind was whipping around like crazy, and every so often a few seconds of rain would beat down from the skies. We tired, jet-lagged bloggers quickly retrieved room keys and retired for what was hoped would be a cozy, restful night. I'm proud of myself for hydrating before bed, as the wakeup call came around 7am. Something about these blogger trips and early mornings. I don't get it!

Beau Carufel

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Two Riojas from Bodegas Franco-Espanolas

These were certainly some of the most unique samples I've been sent in the past year. I've always loved wines from Rioja and think the region has gotten a bad rap over the years. Sure, the wines can get distinctly "New World", with uber-ripe fruit and heavy doses of Americna oak, but there are always gems at great price points if you look hard. As always, I recommend chatting up your local wine shop owner. Chances are they've tasted through the available Riojas and can steer you in the right direction.

2011 Bodegas Franco-Espanolas Royal Viura: A 100% viura is rare..unless you're in Rioja! This one has beautiful aromas of melon, subtle tropical fruits, and a zingy lemon-curd thing going on. I was really groovin' on the bouquet. Tasting it brought a smile to my face. So much crackling acidity mixed with ripe citrus and apple. Really an excellent example of viura. I swear this needs jamon iberico or some tomatoes rubbed on fresh bread. The finish lasts a while, with a minerally/saline note carrying it to the end. Highly recommend. 12% abv. $10 SRP.

2004 Bodegas Franco-Espanolas Rioja Gran Reserva: A blend of 80% tempranillo, 10% garnacha, 5% mazuelo, 5% graciano. Opens with aromas of sun-dried tomato, barnyard, red cherry, and baking spices. There's definitely some oak in play but it integrates well. Smooth entry on the attack, with dried fruit and coconut flavors coming through, before it dries out with sundried tomato and tobacco. As it opens up, more barnyard and allspice notes come out, so drink it quickly! A nice, solid, drinkable Rioja for a very reasonable price. Firm tannins beg for some grilled meat. 13.5% abv. $20 SRP.

Who says you have to spend a bundle to get quality wines from Rioja? Both of these are perfectly serviceable, weeknight-type wines that you can be happy about serving to friends and family. I would suggest keeping an eye on vintages for the white Riojas though, because you want to buy the freshest you can. Viura can oxidize a bit and turn boring if it's not fresh.

These wines were samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Austria's Answer To Summer: Gruner Veltliner

Austria is another country known for cool, refreshing whites. From Gruner Veltliner to Riesling, the whites are renowned for bracing acidity, fresh flavors, and food-friendly natures. That first sentence alone should tell you I'm pretty excited about the country and wines they produce.

I was sent two samples from producer Laurenz V, both Gruner Veltiners, both under screwcap. The test was to see how these wines stacked up compared to other awesome summer whites from Alsace and Vinho Verde.

Let's quickly trace the history of this producer. Laurenz V (pronounced Laurenz Five) stands for five generations of the Laurenz Moser wine family. As of now, there are sixteen generations of history from this producer, according to my press materials. WOW. Also of note is the fact that Laurenz V. only produces Gruner Veltliner.

2010 Laurenz V. Charming Gruner Veltliner Kamptal: Gorgeous nose of orchard fruit, limestone, and lemon juice. Jazzy acid across the palate with flavors of citrus and stone fruit exploding all over the place. Very complex and layered, with minerality coming through across the finish, drying everything out and readying your palate for the next sip. Highly recommended. $29.99 SRP. 13.0% abv.

2011 Laurenz und Sophie Singing Gruner Veltliner: Smokey flint and citrus open, with a ripe, sweet pear/apple aroma taking over. Similarly fruity and friendly on the palate, with ample ripeness yet less acidity than the Charming. This is perhaps less complex but in terms of sheer enjoyment and hedonistic goodness, maybe a better wine. Highly recommended. $15.99 SRP. 12.0% abv.

Hard to deny that these are two outstanding wines. The layers and complexity of the Charming bottling are impressive and surprising to me. On the other hand, the Singing is so fun and inviting, it may need the Charming name! I was impressed with the quality of these wines, and while $29.99 isn't cheap, a quick wine-searcher.com query showed prices between $17.99 and $25.99.

Go Austria!! A worthy challenge to Alsace and Vinho Verde, and further proof that cool, crisp whites are the perfect summer wines.

Thanks to Folio for sending the samples!

Beau Carufel

Friday, August 9, 2013

Pueblo Del Sol Tannat

This is another producer whose wines I've reviewed before. Last time I had the Pueblo del Sol was a few years ago and it was just the tannat, this time I have the rosé as well to taste. Also, last time I tasted it head to head versus an inexpensive California Cabernet in my Barbecue Showdown blog. This time it was tucked into a flight of mixed reds and whites and tasted multiple times over the course of several hours.

Pueblo del Sol is produced by Juanico winery of Uruguay. Down there, tannat is king! Here in the United States we don't have a lot of exposure to the grape, which has origins in southern France's Madiran region. Some people in California make one, as do a few in Oregon.

2011 Pueblo del Sol Tannat Rosé: Red cherry, albeit subtle, is the first thing I thought of. Bear in mind I don't have a lot of experience with Uruguayan tannat, especially in rosé form. Also, notes of melon. On the palate it's a bit sweet and a bit tart, nicely balanced. Be sure to serve this very cold so as to highlight the acidity though. By the way, it pairs well with a mozzarella, pesto, tomato, prosciutto, salami panini. Just saying. Recommended. $10 SRP. 13.% abv.

2010 Pueblo del Sol Tannat: Pours a dark, dark purple in the glass. Smells like purple fruit, think plums and cocoa dust. Nice minerally thing, like crushed up gravel. Juicy as all hell on the palate, with ripe plum and blackberry, tar, and well-integrated wood flavors. This is a delightful, fun, unique wine that should be enjoyed with food. I'd love one of those Argentine steaks and a big glass of Pueblo del Sol Tannat. $11 SRP. 12.5% abv. Highly Recommended.

These two wines qualify as QPR winners, and I'd suggest buying several bottles of each to have throughout the summer. They're versatile, food-friendly, and very wallet-friendly.

Thanks to the fine folks at TasteVino Selections for sending me more tannat samples! It's always fun to step away from the traditional grapes and explore something more unique.

These wines were media samples.

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Paul Dolan Vineyards Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc

I've written about Paul Dolan Vineyards many times over the course of my blogging career. The wines are almost always excellent values while tasting freakin delicious! Certainly you could do a lot worse at their modest price points.

I confess though, that these wines have sat in the sample rack for damn near one year. It's my own fault so I feel bad. A big apology to Fineman PR for not getting to these sooner!

These wines are from Mendocino County, north of the more well-known Napa and Sonoma areas. Mendocino boasts conditions that are right for several different kinds of grapes, from pinot noir and syrah to sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio. As far as I know, all of their vineyards are either organic or biodynamic, and they even produce certified biodynamic wines. No small feat in this age of fertilizers and chemicals.

2011 Paul Dolan Sauvignon Blanc Potter Valley: I picked up a lot of citrus and melon notes right away, all nicely balanced and in tune with each other. Lively acidity carries the citrus notes across the palate while the summer melon flavor helps give some body. All in all, a clean, simple sauvignon blanc that would pair beautifully with fish and chicken in the summer. $17.99 SRP. 13.5% abv.

2010 Paul Dolan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County: Lots of herbs, soil, wood, and cassis aromas. While this smells young, it also has impressive complexity for a $25 California Cabernet. I like the firm, drying tannin and how it balances the ripe blueberry/blackberry flavors. More of the dusty soil flavors come through too, as well as a bittersweet chocolate thing. Needs time to open up but once it does, I think this will be a QPR winner. $25.99 SRP. 14.5% abv.

I think the Cabernet is my preferred wine of the two, it's showing more complexity and depth, and it's got such a similar flavor profile to the Paul Dolan wines I've tasted in the past. This is one you might want to consider stocking up on, as it will continue to drink well for the next ten years or so.

These wines were samples for review.

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Alsatian Whites, The Perfect Summer Wines?

It's hot. Frankly, it's damn hot here in Oregon. Daytime highs are in the high 80's to low 90's. The weather is exhausting, and to rejuvenate my spirits, I turn to white wines. Not just any white wines either, in heat like this you need to drink white wines with high acidity and immense food friendliness.

Enter the white wines of Alsace. In this brief, I will explore examples of gewürztraminer and riesling that were sent as samples over the past few months.

(img src: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Alsace_topo.png)
First though, let's discuss Alsace the place. We travel to France's far eastern border, tucked up against Germany. Historically this region has been part of a millennium-long tug-of-war between the two dominant powers on the Continent. Also historically, Alsace has made stunningly good wines, especially whites.

Focusing on those whites for our purposes, Alsace is known for riesling, gewürztraminer, and pinot gris. Also grown are sylvaner, chasselas, muscat, auxerrois, pinot blanc, chardonnay, and even savagnin. Unlike places such as Oregon or California, the Alsatian vignerons often blend their wines together, in the hopes of making a better finished wine.

Wine geeks might have noticed something by now, these whites are all grapes that do well in cooler climates. They thrive during warm days and cool nights, which allow naturally high levels of acidity. Most vineyards run along a narrow north-south strip of land that forms the lower part of the Vosges mountain range, at between 175-420 meters in height. There isn't a whole lot of rainfall either, and the soils are well drained, allowing good concentration of flavor and moderate amounts of vine stress.

With that brief primer on Alsace complete, let's taste the wines!

2011 Domaine Ostertag Riesling Vignoble d'E: Pretty aromas of citrus, oranges and tangerines. Stone fruit too, pear, perfumed floral tones. Very pretty. Very dry and crisp on the palate with ripe pear and citrus notes. The acidity was very nicely integrated, which helped showcase some delightful mineral/sandy loam component. Overall I liked this wine a lot, and highly recommend it. $25.

2011 Meyer-Fonne Riesling Reserve: A little muted on the nose, but shows nice sea air and fresh lemon. Subtle green apple but it seems to come and go with each sniff. On the palate I love this wine, it's textural because of the acid but packs a lot of flavor into a lean, mean frame. Absolutely outstanding wine, highly recommended. $20.

2010 Trimbach Riesling: Softer than the previous two wines, especially on the nose. Almost nothing going on. Shows a riper side of Alsace, with notes of petrol also manifesting after a vigorous swirl. The quality is evident on the palate though, with racy acidity framing apple and pear, stone fruit, and white flowers. $18.

2011 Domaine Weinbach Riesling Cuvee Theo: This threw me for a curve, it was showing something akin to oak at first. On the other hand, it showed lots of green apple, tropical fruit, and notes of pear. It's very complex and textural on the palate, with lots of acidity but a richness from either malo-lactic or oak. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the wine and would love to pair it with food. Recommended. $28.

2010 Domaine Bechtold Gewurztraminer Silberberg: Crazy aromas of lychee fruit and spices, just WOW. Explodes out of the glass. A great mix of sweet fruit flavors and minerality. A great note of ginger comes through on the finish. One of the most food friendly wines I have tasted in 2013. Highly recommended. $23.

2010 Domaine Bott Geyl Gewurztraminer Les Elements: Like smelling lychees soaking in a ginger infusion. Throw in some river rock and golden apple too, the bouquet is very nice. On the palate it's a bit softer than the Bechtold, and I do wish it had more acidity. The sweetness can get a bit cloying especially on the mid palate. Luckily it cleans up on the finish, with a burst of baking spices. Absolutely lovely. $20.

I think it's fair to say that I really enjoyed each of these wines. The original question was whether these are the perfect summer wines. We paired each wine with various sushi rolls, some crab, others krab, shrimp, and spicy tuna. The wines, all of them, paired exceptionally well with each different roll. I can only conclude that these are just about the perfect wines for hot summer evenings and fresh sushi rolls.

The pricing on these wines had me surprised (in a good way) too, because the wines drink like they are more expensive. At around $28, the Weinbach was the priciest, yet I found it available in the mid-20's around the country.

Alsace is a region we should pay more attention to, especially when looking for QPR winners. Please also excuse the horrid quality of the pictures, my iPhone 4 isn't doing the job anymore.

These wines were samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The American Wine Consumer Coalition

Press Release
NEW ORGANIZATION GIVES VOICE TO INTERESTS OF WINE CONSUMERS —American Wine Consumer Coalition arises from the frustration of consumer Interests being ignored by lawmakers and alcohol industry—

(Washington, DC)—Given the lack of representation of wine consumers, it should be no surprise that when states revise their laws concerning access to wine, beer and spirits, consumers are left out of the conversation. Meanwhile, new laws and regulations represent the interests of the alcohol beverage trade, not the consumers. Today, with the founding of the American Wine Consumer Coalition (AWCC), wine consumers are given a voice. The AWCC website is located at: http://www.wineconsumers.org

The American Wine Consumer Coalition is a non-profit 501c4 organization dedicated to representing the interests of the nation’s wine consumers in state houses, on the federal level, and with state alcohol regulatory commissions—all institutions where consumers have never before had representation nor a voice in deliberations concerning consumer access to wine. Additionally, the AWCC provides its members with a variety of benefits to aid them in their wine appreciation and education, from discounts on wine education, wine journals and wine accessories to access to wine events across the country.

“In 2011 Congress held hearings on a bill (HR 1161) that, if passed, would have fundamentally and negatively impacted consumer access to wine, yet not a single consumer was invited to testify before Congress,” notes AWCC President David White. “While this was not the first nor the last time those most impacted by these kinds of deliberations were shut out of the conversation, this is when it became clear to a number of wine consumers across the country that their voice is ignored, and that something needed to change.”

Today, numerous states block consumer access to wine and the ability of consumers to enjoy a simple bottle as a result of a variety of archaic and protectionist laws that serve special interests, but not the basic interests of wine consumers:

• 11 states still ban their residents from having wine shipped to them from out of state wineries.
• 36 States still ban their residents from having wine shipped to them from out of state retailers
• 17 States still ban its residents from buying wine in grocery stores
• 4 states ban the purchase of wine on Sundays
• 2 States control the sale of wine, rather than allowing its residents to buy their wine in a free and open marketplace
• 15 states ban their residents from bringing a bottle from home into a restaurant.

Among the issues that are high on the AWCC’s agenda are legal consumer access to wine via direct shipment, grocery store wine sales and privatization efforts that take the government out of the business of selling wine and putting it into the hands of the much more responsive free market. “Lawmakers, the alcohol trade and the media are not accustomed to hearing from the consumer when issues of access to wine are discussed,” said White. “That needs to change. It’s simply irresponsible and unfair to continue down the road of ignoring wine consumer interests and looking out only for those members of the industry who have long gamed the system in their favor.”

Wine Consumers across the country can learn more about the American Wine Consumer Coalition at its website: http://www.wineconsumers.org. An annual membership brings with it the knowledge that a real voice for wine consumers is being supported as well as a number of benefits that will aide wine lovers in their wine appreciation. Annual consumer membership is $35.00.
I posted this because it's something I feel strongly about. We as law-abiding wine lovers need to have our voices heard and this group gives that voice some volume.

Beau Carufel

Monday, June 10, 2013

Selected Chianti Classico Wines

Chianti wines suffer from an image problem here in the United States. The consumer perception of low quality, fueled by an ocean of cheap Chianti in reed-wrapped bottles has hurt sales. Within Chianti the need was recognized to educate consumers in order to change their perception. Millions of bottles of the cheap stuff still make it here, but there's another side to the region, a more serious side. *cue serious music*

Without getting too deep into Italian wine law, it's important to note that there exist several regions within Chianti, and the one we are discussing here, Chianti Classico, is one of the most significant. Within Chianti Classico lie the historical boundaries of the region, as originally laid out in the mid 1800's.

Right now, there are several grape varieties allowed in the production of Chianti (and Classico) wines. Sangiovese is the dominant, as you probably already knew. In fact, it only recently became legal to produce a Chianti with 100% Sangiovese. Since 1996, the blend for Chianti and Chianti Classico has been 75-100% Sangiovese, up to 10% Canaiolo, and up to 20% of any other approved red grape variety such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Syrah. White grapes are currently banned for use in Chianti wines.

Touching on the aging and alcohol regulations for a moment, Chianti Classico must have a minimum alcohol level of at least 12% with a minimum of 7 months aging in oak, while Chianti Classico's labeled Riserva must be aged at least 27 months at the winery, with a minimum alcohol level of at least 12.5%.

Ironically the quality control issue reared its head with regard to the samples of Chianti Classico I received. Out of maybe 9 bottles, two were badly corked, two had serious Brettanomyces contamination, and one smelled of nail polish remover. Those of course did not get reviewed, but it's clear still more work is needed in the cellars.

2008 Volpaia "Coltassala" Chianti Classico: Warm oak tones dominate the nose at first, overshadowing more subtle aromas of red fruit, herbs, and red earth. On the palate, medium acid and soft tannin work nicely with tart red cherry and plum skin, dried herb, and a finish of smokey game meat. The acidity really shows through on the finish too, where it creates a nice drying effect, readying the palate for another bite of food. *Highly Recommended* 13.5% abv. $50.

2008 Riserva di Fizzano Chianti Classico Riserva: The nose has a lot less oak than the preceding wine, but replaces that with a dominant confection/cherry and dry leather thing. Some VA is present too, but it's not distracting and adds a rustic air to the palette of aromas. Flavors of red soil, tart cranberry, dried herbs and spices, and oak barrel all meld together to create a pleasingly complex, dry Chianti. This has a lot of structure and is just a baby, but has also some great potential. 14.5% abv. $30. *Recommended*

2010 Felsina "Berardenga" Chianti Classico: Oak and soft black cherry notes jumped out at me right away. I also picked up red Jolly Rancher and pepper notes. This, just by the smell, seemed like a very young wine. It's dry and soft on the palate, with plenty of tannin that partially obscures tart red fruit, peppery spice, cinnamon, and soil flavors. I suspect this is a wine to either decant now or just wait a few years on. Great acidity should hold everything together for several more years. 13.5% abv. $18.

2008 La Porta di Vertine Chianti Classico Riserva: Shows some brett in the form of smoked meat and band-aid, also some dark fruit - think black cherry and plum. Out of the four I opened, this had the most black fruit compared to the redder orientation of the previous wines. It's also got some considerable oak influence from the mocha notes I picked out too. Nice drying tannin but a curious lack of acidity left me somewhat confused. There isn't much on the palate beyond bitter grape stem and more mocha notes. Somewhat disappointing. 14.5% abv. $50.

The above wines are not cheap, save for the Felsina, which is very reasonably priced for the quality. The more I thought about these wines, the more I concluded that they are not QPR winners by any means, but that a couple of them were quite good and the 2008 Volpaia was excellent. Still, as a wine lover and someone who spends a significant portion of his income on wine, I still cannot say I would buy Chianti Classico over a Brunello di Montalcino or Barbaresco. On the other hand, if you are smitten with Italian wines, these could be very reasonable prices to get wines which are, according to the law, higher in quality.

These wines were media samples.

Beau Carufel

Thursday, May 2, 2013

2010 Attems Pinot Grigio Venezia Giulia

I think I have had this sample for something like a year. How sad! I should first apologize to the poor PR person who sent it to me. Also, the current vintage is probably 2011, or even 2012.

But what I have is the 2010 Attems Pinot Grigio so that's what we will look at. Pinot Gris in France (and Oregon) is Pinot Grigio in Italy. Some producers in Washington and California call it either one of those, but that's beside the point. Most of the time this grape is kind of boring. It's simple, showing citrus and grassy notes alongside stone fruit. Since so much Pinot Grigio is made in large quantities, finding one that's texturally and intellectually compelling can be difficult.

That is, until you plant it in the right place. I would argue that the Collio region of Italy is one of those places. Collio is tucked in far upper eastern corner of Italy, sitting within the province of Friuli Venezia Giulia . Sitting about 430 feet high on a marl and sandstone ancient seabed, the Pinot Grigio grown there can turn into something different, something almost exciting. Given a touch of oak and no malolactic treatment, the wines take on a sense of depth and complexity that satisfies to no end.

I like this wine. After sitting in the bottle for two years, it's developed a pretty mix of lemon pith, asian pear, and tropical fruit aromas. A faint whiff of sea air begins to show as the wine warms up. About 15 percent of the 2010 vintage sat in new French oak for two months. The rest saw four months in stainless steel tanks followed by one month in the bottle.

Tasting the 2010 Attems reminds me of the richness of an Asian pear and a Golden Delicious apple mixed with the tart acidity of green grapes and limes. The finish is gentle and lingering, ending with a hint of oak. About 12.5% abv keeps it classy.

An Oregon skin-contact gris is in the background.

Pair this with roast chicken, cold pasta salads, even pork-and-citrus dishes. Do not serve too cold either, or it will mask some of the more subtle flavors, like hay and minerally rocks.

Suggested retail of $19, but a real world price closer to $13 puts this closer to quaffing-wine territory. I couldn't find the total production for 2010 but I imagine it's a fair amount, well into the tens of thousands of cases. The United States importer is Folio Fine Wine Partners, so Attems should be easy to find in the marketplace.

This was a sample for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Catching My Breath In Bordeaux

The recuperative properties of a glass of white Bordeaux and the sun are amazing. Upon arriving at Chateau Sainte Barbe, I embraced the simple act of sitting outside and gazing at the river.  As if in a trance, I was able to lounge on the front steps of an 18th century chateau and absorb every moment of existence. This was, of course, accompanied by a glass of wine. I felt there was a certain poetry to it all.

Antoine took Jameson and me on a quick walk through the vineyards, a chance to see where his wines come from. The limestone and clay crunched underfoot and the vines were weighed down by clusters of nearly-ripe grapes. He explained that he would be harvesting very soon, perhaps the week after we left. I wanted to stay and help.

Mike and Joe were on their way so there wasn't much to do at the house, except fuss with the WiFi, as it seemed to dislike all the American devices attempting to connect. A bowl of tiny white shrimp materialized on the counter top in front of us. Lucy correctly assumed we were hungry. Jameson and I dove in, devouring the tiny, crunchy morsels. Again, accompanied by a glass of wine. Or was it glasses? White and rosé ruled the warm, humid afternoon.

Attempts at serious conversation were kept to a minimum, mostly a meet-and-greet atmosphere over those languid hours. To feel completely immersed in France, I did want a cigarette at times, but with the foreknowledge of multiple wines to be tasted later that evening, I abstained.

A Mercedes van crunching its way along the driveway announced Mike and Joe had arrived, hands shaken and smiles all around. We met Jana too, finally. We already met her husband Luc at the Chateau upon our arrival. Two people I am now proud to call my friends.

Small pastries, conversation, and Bordeaux flowed within that sanctuary. We learned about each other, or got reacquainted in some cases. Joe and I discussed blogging and audiences, I wish I had a recording of what we said. This time, spent in the kitchen of an old Chateau, was the calmest of the entire trip. Each subsequent day brought a fast-paced series of visits to wineries and vineyards, the city of Bordeaux, the coast, and several other cool spots.

More to follow...

Beau Carufel

Monday, March 18, 2013

Selected Samples From The World Of Wine

Here are some of the wines I've been tasting lately, in no particular order. I don't usually do ratings, so instead of grades, you'll simply see a "recommended" or "not recommended" at the end of each tasting note. I try to link each wine title to the producer, importer, or distributor to make it easy to find locally, but if you have any trouble please don't hesitate to contact me. Enjoy!

NV Carnaval Moscato Brasil: A nose that's all muscat, with accompanying aromas of stale light beer. Peach blossom and tropical fruit dominate. It's plenty fizzy on the palate, as we would expect from the Charmat Method of sparkling. Flavors of Sweet Tart candy and citrus are all there is. 7.5% abv. $13 srp.

NV Carnaval Moscato Red: I wrote "smells like fizzy yellow soda..mountain dew and sprite mixed?". It tastes soapy, also with some flavors of red candy and a lot of sweetness. I bet this would sell like crazy. $13 srp. 7.5% abv.

2010 Tabali Pinot Noir Reserva Especial Limari Valley: Funky, but in a good way. Vigorious swirling helps the funk recede and allows aromas of red licorice, menthol, and earth to come out. It's a bit funky on the palate but I didn't mind because it adds a nice dimension to the otherwise straightforward flavors of red fruit and baking spices. The finish was appealing, medium length with a gentle taper. Firm tannin shows that this wine can stand up to some heartier fare. 13.5 abv. $20 srp. Recommended.

2009 Napa Cellars Stagecoach Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon: Aromas of wood, spices, ripe black berry fruit, and wood smoke are immediately apparent. This wine needs some time in a decanter or several more years in the cellar. On the palate there is plenty of acidity and tannin, framing flavors of cassis, plum, spices, and saddle leather. A very straightforward, delicious Napa Valley Cabernet. 13.8% abv. $48 srp.

2009 Bayo Oscuro Syrah Casablanca Valley: Opens with a reductive nose that blows off to show smoked meat, red fruit, damp soil, and mushroom aromas. After settling down in my glass, this syrah reveals red fruit and dusty soil mingling with peppery spice. The tannins are outstanding, integrated yet firm. I thoroughly enjoyed the mouthfeel and feel that this is just now starting to ascend to its peak. 14.5% abv. Highly Recommended. $29 srp.

2009 Chamisal Grenache Edna Valley: A bit odd on the nose, subtle hints of red wine vinegar, strawberries, red soil, and a somewhat jarring medicinal note. This grenache was much better tasting though, with plenty of bright, ripe fruit - think cherries and cranberries, bound up in a mix of white pepper and oak. Lots of firm tannin held the wine together while a vein of acidity lent freshness and lift. Needs air, I suggest decanting for an hour or two. $38 srp. 14.8% abv.

2010 Concannon "Crimson & Clover" Livermore Valley: Tons of ripe red fruit rush out of the glass, followed by aromas of American oak, mint, and campfire. What it may lack in complexity, this Concannon makes up for in juicy drinkability. It's soft and smooth on the palate, with  flavors of strawberry, licorice, and red cherry. Clean, and simple, and very reasonably priced. 50% Petite Sirah, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Syrah, and 10% Zinfandel. 13.7% abv. $18 srp.

2008 Somerston Wine Company Highflyer "Centerline" California: Another red blend from California, consisting of 81% Syrah, 12% Petite Sirah, 3% Zinfandel, and 4% Tempranillio. Baking chocolate, jammy black fruit, oak, and roasted meat aromas manifest quickly. There is a bit of heat from the 14.8% abv too. This is a big, hedonistic fruit bomb on the palate; jammy black fruit, tobacco, and peppery spice all show up in large quantities. Open a few hours before serving. $20 srp.

2010 Concannon Petite Sirah California: A straightforward nose of jammy cherries and blueberries, earth, and black pepper don't promise much beyond a fun, simple, barbecue red. This is big and soft, with more of that ripe, jammy fruit on the palate. Simple and easy drinking, I suggest opening this when you're all hanging out by a barbecue or fire pit. 13.8% abv. $11 srp. Recommended.

Stay tuned for the next samples list, (hopefully) coming soon!

These wines were received as samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Into Bordeaux

The airplane gently shuddered as it descended through the clouds, waking me from an hour of fitful sleep. In another few minutes I would be setting foot in Bordeaux, the most famous wine region on the planet. Ten hours behind, my body clock struggled to understand why the sunlight streaming through the windows was on the wrong side of the sky. A brief moment of disorientation passed quickly as my brain hit the fast-forward button, speeding through the airport back home in Portland, another, more cavernous one in Amsterdam, and the little twinjet delivering me into a small airport in southern France.

Twin bumps signaled the wheels meeting the tarmac, twin bumps in my chest betrayed my heart skipping a beat or two. My still-groggy brain had enough clarity to say "wow, I'm really here" before I scanned the cabin searching for the other members of the party I was going to spend the next five days with. We, the collective "we", disembarked into a warm and humid September midday. Two of our party, Michelle and Tracy, were in from San Francisco, Jameson from Seattle, and me from Portland. Joe was inbound from Philadelphia and our fearless leader, Mike, was on a later flight from San Francisco.

We were guests of Planet Bordeaux and Balzac Communications, we wine bloggers and wine professionals. For the next five days this little group would be exploring a slice of the Bordeaux region. We'd be eating, sleeping, drinking (of course!), and learning all we could. I suspect we all had some preconceived notions about this trip, what we'd see and do, what we'd drink and eat, and what we would come away with. You'll have to check with the others for their thoughts though.

Andre, a tres cool Dutchman, was to be our driver for the week. He picked us up from the airport and whisked us off to Chateau Sainte Barbe. This gorgeous 18th century Chateau would be a place to rest and refresh for a few hours. We had to still wait for Joe and Mike to arrive, then we'd get going to dinner at another local Chateau.

As our van pulled up the narrow, crushed limestone driveway to Chateau Sainte Barbe, my eyes tried to devour every element of the house and grounds. It was unlike anything I'd ever seen before, in person, but the immediacy of the moment fulfilled my visions of Bordelais Chateaux perfectly. Broken slate, glowing blue-gray in the light, marked paths around the front yard. Stone planters held a mixture of rose bushes and vibrant green bushes.

Inside, the house felt old, lived-in, and comfortable. There was no stuffy atmosphere, but to call it "classy yet casual" seems to debase the entirety of the elements. It was a home, a place to inhabit, not merely some monument to centuries past. Our hosts, Lucy and Antoine, showed us to our rooms, the men in one wing and the ladies in another. After an adventurous shower and much wiping of the floor, I felt refreshed enough to remain vertically oriented. Jameson too, but the ladies crashed for a few hours.

More to follow...

Beau Carufel

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Australian Riesling from Jacob's Creek and Chateau Tanunda

Riesling isn't the first thing you associate with Australia, to say nothing of wine from Australia. There is a surprising amount grown on that continent though. I had a few samples from some bigger producers sitting around and decided to open them all at once to do a mini exploration of the Barossa region. Three wines isn't enough to form a working knowledge of Aussie riesling but it's still important to pay attention to similarities across each wine.

First, some history. According to historical records, riesling was first planted way back in 1838 in the New South Wales territory. From then until the 90's, it was the most planted white variety. Chardonnay took it's place during that decade. Figures. These days we can find rieslings at almost every price point from Australia, and the grape is finding success in the Eden Valley area, where the cooler climate helps keep that ever-important acidity alive.

One of the themes that carried through each wine was how the citrus elements - lemon and lime - dominated the flavor palette. My experience with German and Pacific Northwest rieslings has mostly held the citrus elements as more integrated, contrasting against stone fruit richness. Not so in Barossa, where these three all showed strong citrus with only the barest hint of stone fruit flavor.

2010 Chateau Tanunda Grand Barossa Riesling: Lemons and limes on the nose, flint, and a bit of white flower. Pleasantly dry on the palate with plenty of acidity that highlights flavors of lemon and lime, stone fruit, and a tiny bit of minerality. While not complex, this is still a fun, refreshing white wine that would pair nicely with lighter fare. 11.5% abv. $11.99 srp.

2011 Jacob's Creek Dry Riesling South Australia: Very simple aromatically. Citrus and hints of stone fruit with not much else. Similarly basic on the palate with bracing acidity. I liked the purity of flavor and the clean finish, which was decently long even. There simply isn't a lot going on here and it shows, but for the price it's certainly of good quality. 11.4% abv. $7.99 srp.

2010 Jacob's Creek Reserve Dry Riesling Barossa: Opens with aromas of petrol, struck match, lemon, and lime. Secondary aromas of white flowers come through after the wine has been open for a bit. I like the mouthfeel, dry but not straining to be austere. Plenty of flavor in the form of stone fruit, lemon, and lime all come through. Out of the three, this is the most complex and pleasing. 12.5% abv. $12.99 srp.

I wasn't sure what to expect with these wines but they pleasantly surprised me. I'd happily drink the Jacob's Creek Reserve because it's so fun and zesty. I admire Jacob's Creek for keeping quality high despite producing a veritable ocean of wine. If you are looking for inexpensive yet reliable riesling that is just slightly off the beaten path, these might be for you. Consider them a good introduction to one of the many facets of the grape.

These wines were media samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Exploring California Pinot Noir

This year, 2013, one of my resolutions was to explore more California Pinot Noir. That's not to say I am unfamiliar with pinot from California, I was afforded many tastes during the nine years I worked in the wine industry there. Most of the "cult" wines graced my glass at one point or another, and I even was on the mailing list for Radio Coteau and Sea Smoke over a period of several years.

As is wont to happen though, my tastes changed (I prefer "evolved"). Right around 2008/2009 I started seeking more pinot noir from Burgundy and Oregon. The typical reasons manifest in my story too; becoming tired with over-ripe and overly alcoholic wines, seeking something new, craving more acidity and red fruit orientation.

Now, with the successive cooler vintages in California, I am anxious to see what is coming from my former home. I hear breathless praise of higher-acid wines with structure and balance coming out of the usual suspects, and the wine forums are buzzing with ever present comparisons to Burgundy and even Oregon. The years 2009, 2010, and 2011 have all gotten praise from various quarters, and after enough of that hype, I decided I wanted to see for myself what was going on. As a blogger, I am enjoying tasting through all these wines, good and bad, and trying to present them to you, reader. Of note to any PR or marketing folks who read this blog, I am continuing to accept California Pinot Noir even as I scale back acceptance of other wines.

Here are some recently tasted examples of pinot noir from California:

2009 La Follette Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir: Big, brawny nose of tar, smoke, plum/blackberry, and black tea. Some alcoholic heat too. On the palate, very ripe with blackberries and cherries galore, anise, dark chocolate, and sweet plum flesh. Some pepper tickles the edges of the palate, thankfully reducing the abundance of fruit present. The finish is unfortunately a hot mess, literally. Alcoholic heat that stings as it goes down. Unfortunate, because without that, this is a pinot I can see a lot of people really enjoying. Pairs best with big flavors, like steak! $40 SRP. 15.5% abv.

2009 Gary Farrell Russian River Valley Pinot Noir: Muted nose with hints of forest floor, black cherry, and anise notes as a secondary aroma. Some wet-barrel smell came out with swirling. On the palate it's very light-bodied and somewhat bland, the strongest note is the anise. Subtle flavors of dried red currant, cherry, and pleasing minerality do show up eventually though. Nice acidity, keeping the body light and fresh. An easy drinking pinot noir but lacking in character. $32 SRP. 14.2% abv.

2009 Sojourn Pinot Noir Gap's Crown Vineyard Sonoma Coast: Nice red fruit on the nose, with raspberry, strawberry, and spices all balancing each other well. A hint of wood but not bad, as it enhanced the bouquet. There's a juiciness to the bouquet that I found very appealing, as if this wine is bursting with life. On the palate it's definitely young and still sorting itself out. More cherries and strawberries come out, some firm tannin, but a lack of acidity was somewhat disappointing to me. I was hoping for a more textural pinot, this one is smooth and soft, very easy to drink, but a little on the simple side. Still, I have a few more bottles so I'll check in with this again at a later date. $48 SRP.

2009 Sojourn Pinot Noir Russian River Valley: Opens with an intense, raspberry-preserve aroma that carries through to the palate. Hints of pepper try in vain to make themselves known but ultimately get washed out by the raspberry jam. The purity of fruit was itself exceptional, but that was pretty much the only thing going on in this wine. Acidity tarted up the back end but it felt tacked-on, and wasn't at all integrated. No subtlety or nuance here, just pure, hedonistic fruit. $42 SRP.

2010 Siduri Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills: Shows some reduction on the nose but that blows off, revealing aromas of strawberry licorice, pepper, cherries, and spice. Very smooth on the palate with a fun, interesting savory note to temper the sweet red fruit. Flavors of cherry pie, baking spices, and bright red fruit. The finish is clean and tapers off gently. Overall this is a fun, delicious pinot noir from an excellent producer. $25 srp.

2011 Siduri Pinot Noir Sonoma County: Similarly showing a bit of reduction, which in this case blew off faster than in the Sta. Rita Hills bottling. Beyond that, plenty of deliciously tart red fruit, cherry Jolly Rancher, and a bit of wood. On the palate I found this somewhat plain but not lacking for sheer "yum" factor. Lots of flavors of ripe red fruit - think strawberry and raspberry - which themselves have great acidity. Beyond that though, there isn't much going on. $28 srp.

2011 Siduri Pinot Noir Russian River Valley: Very funky at first, showing cola and stem aromas mixed with black cherry and spices. Plenty of ripe fruit starts things on the palate but those flavors are quickly balanced out by some complex wood and spice notes, and an earthy black peppercorn flavor that I was thoroughly enjoying. Lots of funk shows on the palate too but not in a bad way, it fits into the complex nature of this wine. Delicious stuff for under $25 srp.

2011 Hahn Winery Nicky Hahn Pinot Noir California: Pours a beautifully vibrant ruby color in the glass, a testament to its youth. The nose is full of ripe, jammy cherry preserves, baking spice, some woodsy aromas, and a touch of earth. Cherry jam dominates the palate, providing a soft, rich mouthfeel. The baking spices come out to play a little bit on the finish, which in itself is nice if a bit short. 100% pinot noir, according to the data sheet I have. 14.5% abv. $14 retail.

2010 Garnet Vineyards Pinot Noir Carneros: Loads of raspberry and strawberry aromas followed by a bit of white pepper spices. I think there's a bit of funk here too, some nail-polish remover came out as the wine warmed up. I think this pinot is very varietally correct on the palate, with light red fruit, peppery spice, hints of earthy funk, and lots of acidity. The finish is medium length, tapering off nicely, however, the bottle was open about five hours before the finish got to be any reasonable length. It might need a bit of age or an hour in a decanter before it shows all its facets. 13.5% abv. $19 retail.

2009 High Flyer Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands: Immediately I noticed the alcohol on this wine, which seems to fight with intense red fruit aromas and spice. There's a bit of volatile acidity but to me it adds an interetsing facet. Plenty of spicy red cherry and raspberry on the palate, along with a healthy dose of oak. I liked the finish here, after about four hours, because it was so smooth and gentle. Overall, a solid bottle of pinot noir from a producer I've never tasted. $36 srp.

The Siduri wines were the most complete out of any on this list, which just goes to prove that price doesn't always matter. I will contend though that it does matter to some extent whenever you deal with a grape as finicky as pinot noir. Still, the rest of the wines showed themselves quite well at their price points. Admittedly I struggled a little bit with the Sojourn wines, given their critical acclaim, but I suspect I need to get used to that style and perhaps better understand the regions which they come from.

If the above list is any indication, 2013 will be a fun year for me as I continue to explore California Pinot Noir. Keep checking back through the months as I will keep posting whenever I get a nice sample size of wines to taste.

Many of these wines were samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Friday, January 18, 2013

Hawk and Horse Vineyards, a Lake County Producer

Every so often I'm sent samples that truly pique my curiosity  No grocery-store red blends or cheap California plonk, but real, small production wines from tiny producers in up and coming regions. Hawk and Horse Vineyards is one of those, hailing from the Red Hills AVA of Lake County. Currently there are 18 acres under vine with the majority being cabernet sauvignon planted in 2001. The property is situated on the rolling slopes of Lake County, at elevations ranging from 1,800 to 2,200 feet.

Hawk and Horse Vineyards has been Demeter Certified since 2008 and California Certified Organic (CCOF) since 2004. Both new and used French Oak barrels are used, and production hovers around 1,150 cases of cabernet sauvignon.

Confession: I was sent the 2007 Cabernet and 2006 Latigo a long time ago, but they became lost in the samples shuffle and move to Oregon. I dug them out for our July 4th celebrations (last year), figuring that the cabernet would pair well with Becky's ribs and the dessert wine would be a pleasing accompaniment to the fireworks. The cabernet did pair quite well with Becky's ribs, by the way.

Some months later, I was sent the 2008 Cabernet to taste, and decided to post up a review of all three wines at once, in order to better offer a view of this producer.

2007 Hawk and Horse Cabernet Sauvignon Red Hills: Smelling this makes me picture dry, hilly vineyards full of green-leafed vines stretching to the horizon. The day is cool but carries with it the scent of the land. Moutain herbs, black fruit, and soil all show themselves almost reluctantly on the bouquet. Unfortunately there's a touch of ethyl acetate at play too, manifesting as nail-polish. Once past that, I found this to be wound up very tightly on the palate. The firm, integrated tannin holds within it a beautiful savory blackberry and spice flavor. Roasted coffee mixes with cassis and dried rosemary in the background, bowing before the impressive tannic strength. I think this cabernet has 5-10 years before the tannin settles down. If you choose to drink now, a healthy session in a decanter will loosen the strings. SRP: $65. 14.1% abv.

2006 Hawk and Horse Latigo: This is the dessert wine - made with cabernet sauvignon grapes - that Hawk and Horse produces. According to the label, these are biodynamically farmed organic grapes. I'm not sure what that means though. The Latigo smells like oxidized cabernet sauvignon. Maybe a comparison would be Madeira from an old bottle you've had open for a few months. Don't let that turn you off though, because taken in context, this is an interesting wine. Roasted nuts, dried red cherry, and dark chocolate make up the expressive bouquet. I liked the intense mix of cherry, spices, and chocolate that compose the flavor palette. It's at once sweet yet balanced, and doesn't show any of the 16% alcohol. If you can get past the nose, you'll be doing just fine, and I suggest pairing this with an after-dinner cheese course. $45 srp (375ml).

2008 Hawk and Horse Cabernet Sauvignon Red Hills: Another big, tannic beast of a cabernet sauvignon. That's not a bad thing though, as this wine has a lot to offer if you give it time to settle. Plenty of dark fruit, dusty soil, baking chocolate, and oak make up the complex bouquet. The tannin is firm and drying across the palate, delivering a wave of bittersweet chocolate, dried herb, and ripe black fruit flavors. The most glaring fault was how hollow this wine felt on the mid-palate, but luckily that fills in when you have it with food. If you must drink now, several hours in a decanter will work wonders, as will a thick, medium rare cut of steak. $65 srp. 14.1% abv.

Hawk & Horse Vineyards produce a cabernet that I think you should try, if solely to understand what kind of cabernet is possible outside of Napa Valley. Then again, trying a wine solely for that reason strikes me as missing the point, especially the point of wines like this. They're wines of the land, baring their souls as rugged, strong wines from a distinctly rugged place.

The impressive structure and sheer age-worthiness of these wines excite me. They're a bit rustic around the edges to be sure, and I think could benefit from maybe a bit more intervention in the wine-making process, but there is also a sense of beauty to each wine. Both the 2007 and 2008 beg for more time in bottle, and if you grant them such time, you'll be rewarded.

Even the Latigo, that strange beast of a dessert wine, offers a peek into the Hawkins' philosophy of life and vitality. I can't help but be impressed with this.

These wines were samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel