Wednesday, November 19, 2014

TOP 20 UNDER $20 of 2014!!!

It's that time of the year—the mercury drops, the holiday season approaches, the days get shorter… and the Wine Minx posts her "Top 20 Under $20"! Like leaves falling from the tree and shiny-nosed Rudolph, my most popular blog is BACK.


Don't look so forlorn, Andrew—you're buying us wine!
You may recall that last year was a tricky one; I didn't even find 15 wines for the list, alas. But in 2014 I had a surfeit of lovely options to choose from… so there are actually 21 this year. Why not? My blog, my rules!

Yes, there are three rosé sparklers—because they are just THAT DARN GOOD. Chile, Portugal, and Spain had a solid showing (no surprise, they're great for value wines,) but we were nicely spread out all over the world with ten different countries represented, including Greece, Austria, and Morocco. Yep, Morocco. 

I would gladly drink a case of each of these, but will note some particular standouts with a "*" because they deserve it. Okay, enough o' my yakking, let's get to it!


SPARKLING:

2010 Luis Pato Vinho Espumante, Portugal: was served this at Oxheart restaurant when I was in Houston. Amazeballs! Tart and tangy but unusual and herby too. Let it warm up and open up. Delicious. Made from the Baga grape. ~$13.

*NV C. Greffe Vouvray Brut Excellence: nose of taffy and white flowers, orange peel, white chocolate. Pleasing mousse, rich in flavor, a bit of brioche to ground it, straddles the line beautifully between complex and easy-drinking. Well, well, well, what a find. ~$19.

NV Dürnberg Brut Sparkling Rosé, Austria: made from Zweigelt, with loads of fruit! Well-balanced, herby, excellent aperitif, good body and character. Supremely quaffable. An absolute party fave. ~$15.

*NV Louis Bouillot Rosé, Cremant de Bourgogne: light pink. Tasty strawberry and honeycrisp apple. Dry, good zingy mousse, nice balance, long finish, great to pair with pork or T'giving turkey! More, please. ~$16.


WHITE:

*2013 Caliterra Tributo, Leyda, Chile: 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Pale straw gold color, fresh nose of kiwi and gooseberry, lemon, papaya, lime curd. Well-balanced fruit and acidity, grass and fresh herbs on the (long) finish, minerality, kelp/seaweed, quaffable but complex. ~$15

*2012 Feudo Arancio Grillo, Sicily: I drank Grillo as I recently wandered all over Sicily, falling in love with its good weight and body, and lemony, herby character, with intriguing spicy white florals. Feudo Arancio makes a great one, yummmm. And only ~$9!

2012 Saracina Unoaked Chardonnay, Mendocino, CA- white peach, pear, lemon zest, fresh tarragon on nose. Big body, goosed by 4% Viognier in blend, not too high alcohol. In the mouth, tasty fruit and yellow flowers, solid acidity, and minerality on the finish. ~$17.

2012 Ouled Thaleb: white blend (60% Faranah, 40% Clairette) from… Morocco! Pale straw color, melon, grassy, light, spicy finish, lite acid, v. quaffable, minerality, pear, yellow flowers, orange blossom, yellow apple, melon, bit of mint, medium weight, pleasant finish. ~$14.

*2013 Esporão Monte Velho, Portugal: 40% Antão Vaz, 40% Roupeiro, 20% Perrum. Don't let those unusual grapes throw you. Very floral nose, a bit spicy, with white peach and melon. Über rich in the mouth! Luxe. Long finish, just enough acid to balance. Holy cow, love this. A ~$10 STUNNER.

2011 Astica Torrontes, Cuyo, Argentina: pale silvery-gold. Straw and white flowers, rich in the mouth, lemon zest, excellent acidity, long finish. Your next "house white," at only ~$6. 

2013 Quinta da Aveleda, Portugal: 80% Loureiro and 20% Alvarinho— maybe the best Vinho Verde I've ever tried. Not the usual "light and forgettable," it was super-tasty, with green melon, grapefruit, a good body, and steely minerality. Delicioso! ~$9.

ROSÉ:

2012 Domaine de la Sanguliere Rosé Juliette, Provence. Tried this when I was looking for rosés to suggest for a friend's restaurant. Extremely quaffable, loads of berry fruit but also herbs and minerality. Can't stop sipping this one! Don't think about it only for summer, either. ~$13.

RED:

*2011 Cuatro Pasos, Bierzo Spain: Mencía is the grape. A crowd-pleaser for sure. Spicy macerated berries, pepper, smoke, lots of herbs. Complex, with a well-balanced, lengthy finish. On second thought, forget the crowd, drink it all yourself. ~$10.

*2011 Saint George Aghiorghitiko, Nemea, Greece. Tons of floral perfume, rose, violets, bright and tangy in the mouth, cranberry, pomegranate, bit of earth and herbs. Medium-body wine in a light-body suit. Excellent. ~$14.

2013 Campo de Borja Los Dos, Spain: Grenache/Syrah blend. Medium ruby color, bright cherry nose! Bramble fruit. Bit of mushroom and herbs. Spicy in the mouth, with crunchy fruit that turns plush on the long, bright finish. Cheerful and a little sexy. A steal at ~$8.

*2012 MontGras Antu by Ninquén Syrah: Colchagua, Chile. Medium ruby, interesting nose of lilac, violets, pepper, blackberries, clove, licorice, and a bit of oak. Light but lingering spice. Less-ripe fruit on palate, but rich, long, integrated finish. Herbs, touch of vanilla and chocolate, juicy and lovely. (I drew a heart.) ~$12

2012 Underraga Pinot Noir, Maipo, Chile: ripe bramble fruit, blueberry, spice, clove, sweet pork sausage kinda thing, smoke, sage.V bright acidity, needs to be paired with food, yum! ~$11.

2013 Luzon Verde Monastrell - black fruits, plum, heady aromatics, bit of chocolate, not overly heavy-duty. Good acidity, tasty. A very solid offering at ~$10.

*2012 Sobon Hillside Zinfandel, CA: smoky, peppery, black cherry, blackberry nose. Punch of bright berry fruit and ripe plum, lip-smakingly tasty, simmers into long, balanced, soft finish. Super ripe fruit but nice balancing pepper and minerality. ~$12.

2012 Avignonesi Rosso di Montepulciano: cedar, cherry liqueur, bit of licorice, sage. Tasty and well supported by balanced tannins, herby and woody notes emerge over the finish.  Great representation of Italian flair for only ~$18.

DESSERT:

NV Taylor's First Estate Reserve Port, Portugal: the youngest of their offerings and arguably the most approachable. Intense fresh fruit, luscious, quite "wine-like," as its higher alcohol is tempered by the brightness of the fruit. Wow. ~$17.

#          #          #

Well, Wineaux, there you have it. 21 stunning wines under $20. Plenty of variety to get you through Turkey Day, the holidays, AND the New Year, without breaking the bank! Try some, let me know what you liked, or if you have your own 2014 <$20 faves.

Cheers!





Monday, October 27, 2014

A WHIRLWIND OF GREATNESS
(It Was a Sprint, Not a Marathon.)

Wineaux: if you had the crème de la crème of the best wines in the world laid out in front of you, and a mere two and a half hours to taste as many as you could, you might look like a refugee from "Supermarket Shopper" (or whatever that crazy program was) too. I had a map—notated in two highlighters AND a pen—and a plan of action, and woe to the lackadaisical taster who got in my way.

This was at a recent Grand Tasting evening at the Wine Spectator's New York Wine Experience. In the past, I'd been able to attend the whole weekend's worth of programming; the amazing seminars, the luncheons, and BOTH evenings of Grand Tastings with an extra hour each… and I still never made it to every wine.

This time, I could only be there for a fraction of the enormous event—I mean, they have over 250 Wine Spectator Award-winning wineries pouring at this session alone—but I had on comfy shoes and a lot of determination.

For better or worse, here's what I got to sample, with the quickest-notes-in-the-world—starred entries were particular standouts:

(And apologies to the winemakers who I was abrupt with, the fellow tasters I elbowed through, and the friends I ran into with a "Hi, no time to talk, let's touch base soon, make sure you go to XYZ's table, byeeeee.")

BUBBLY:

NV Bollinger Brut Champagne Special Cuvée: soapstone, bright mousse, ripe lemon, very nice! ~$50

NV Henriot Brut Rosé Champagne: rich fruit, compact and complex—just gorgeous. ~$55

NV Krug Brut Champagne Grand Cuvee: (full disclosure—this was my first stop, I beelined to the Krug table!) warm and toasty, rich, always lovely. ~$135

* 2006 Perrier-Jouët Champagne Belle Epoque: brioche, florals, stunning, rich, toasty mousse, nutty. ~$135

WHITE:

2012 Far Niente Chardonnay: ripe yellow flowers, bruised apple nose. Very dense, lovely in mouth, taffy, melon, spicy finish. Nice! ~$45

2007 Hugel Gewürztraminer Vendage Tardive: floral, litchi, rich, very subtle. Doesn't seem as sweet as the 100g/l residual sugar would imply. ~$50

* 2011 Kistler Chardonnay Trenton Roadhouse: poured out of magnum. Spot-on nose, baking spices, rich fruit, super tasty, with light and lifting acidity. ~$140 (bt)

2011 Kongsgaard Chardonnay: subtle floral nose, compact and savory on finish, yellow apple, great balance. ~$110

* 2011 J.J. Prüm Riesling Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese: beautiful florals, o my gosh, amazing, creamsicle (!), orangey, spicy and interesting. ~$30

2007 Trimbach Riesling Frédéric Emile: petrol, white flowers, pear, white peach, steely, clean, minerally. Always a fave. ~$63


BORDEAUX:

2009 Ch. Angélus: dusty cocoa powder, really dense and rich, licorice, earth, graphite, yum. ~$350

2009 Ch. Cheval Blanc: soft red fruits, tangy and dense, bright, elegant, smoke. ~$1500

* 2007 Ch. Haut Brion: VERRRRY earthy, licorice, violet, elegant though SO dense, blackberry, cassis, black cherry, bit of leather and tobacco. ~$475

* 2001 Ch. Lafite Rothschild: tarragon, SAGE—heady nose, tangy, drinking very well, purple fruits and flowers (I'm really enjoying the '01s I've had of late—maybe not a standout vintage for Bordeaux, but they're pretty tasty!) ~$750

2010 Ch. Lynch-Bages: spice, blueberry pie, still obviously very young and dense but actually nice balance. Intense black fruits, excellent potential. ~$180

2007 Ch. La Mission Haut-Brion: earthy, bit savory, dried herbs, approachable now, not too big, florals lighten it up. ~$380

2008 Ch. Mouton Rothschild: loads of terroir, very smooth, elegant, cassis, balanced. ~$600

2007 Ch. Palmer: cedar closet, spice and earth, luxurious in the mouth, subtle but present structure. ~$240

2004 Ch. Pichon-Longueville, Ctsse. de Lalande: Asian spice, earth, red jammy fruit, kind of soft finish but nice structure, drinking very well now. ~$140


BURGUNDY:

* 2006 Bouchard Clos Vougeot: liquid earth, potpourri perfume, plush fruit in mouth. Amazing. ~$160

2011 Drouhin Chambolle-Musigny: light macerated berries, earthiness on finish. ~$65

2012 Faiveley Gevrey-Chambertin Les Cazetiers: love the earthy terroir, round and rich fruit, not knockout finish but warm and long. ~$125

2010 Jadot Nuits-St.-Georges Les Boudots: lots of floral perfume, intertwined elements, compact and rich, very structured. ~$85

* 2010 Latour Corton Grancey: RASPBERRY! (Dried and candied.) So yummy. Elegant, floral, excellent balance, yum! ~$120

RHÔNE:

2001 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape: green pepper, vegitation, kind of awkward nose, but comes together in mouth, still tight and a long way to go. ~$100

2011 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chappelle: warm, red fruits, spicy and rich, very nice. ~$150

2010 Ch. de Saint-Cosme Gigondas: floral, still very young, red fruits, spicy, kind of at the "terrible twos" I'd say. ~$60

* 2012 Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau: oooooh, wow, sexy red fruit, LOVELY nose. Good red fruit in mouth, formidable but elegant. ~$75

CALIFORNIA:

2011 Araujo Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard: uber-spicy, mesquite, hickory, very woodsy. Seems Bordeaux-ian, lots of earth elements, subtle fruit, very interesting, pedigreed. ~$495

2011 Beaulieu Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve: dense black and red fruit, cedar, lovely in the mouth, spicy, brassy yet approachable. ~$100

1989 Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve: perfume! Nice red and black fruit, holding up SO well, still lots of structure. Wow. ~$80

2010 BOND Quella: soft nose of blueberry pie. Tangy, rich, purple and blue fruits, not too overblown, beautiful. ~$425

* 2012 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon 40th Anniversary (not Special Selection): such an amazing nose, lavender, ANISE!, so unusual, chocolate bar, spearmint, amazingly special. ~$55

* 2010 Dominus: cassis, blueberry, blackberry liqueur, DENSE, opulent, lush, wow. ~$230

* 2010 Harlan Estate: Cocoa powder, licorice, violets, blue fruits—sexy nose. O. M. G… dense, rich, multi-faceted, big but balanced. Woooow. ~$850

1997 Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon Martha's Vineyard: earthy nose, but lovely fruit and herbs on palate. Good integration, nice length, soft finish. Holding up gorgeously. ~$195

2010 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir RRV Georganne: warm and inviting, verrrrry spicy, red fruit, yum, nice balance. ~$80

2011 Peter Michael Cabernet Sauvignon "Au Paradis": high-toned red fruit, dusty earth, really gorgeous in mouth, integrated components, fruit, earth, herbs, violet… ~$200

2011 Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon To Kalon Reserve: cedar, earth, really fantastic, blueberry, elegant, violets, so lovely. ~$135

2011 Phelps Insignia: berry salad, velvety, luxe, herbs, chocolate, earth, solid and very nice! ~$180

* 2009 Revana Cabernet Sauvignon: dense, luxe, blue and black fruits, cherry, blackberry, really amazing. Elegant, spice, warm and rich, very nice—love it. Good structure too. ~$140

1994 Ridge Monte Bello: Earthy, luxe, dense nose, wet leaves, this is a 1994?!?! Still bright. A special wine. ~$230

WASHINGTON: 

2010 Cayuse Syrah Bionic Frog: really interesting, meaty, spice (I wrote "really interesting" AGAIN,) ignore cutesy label, something very cool going on! ~$250

* 2008 Charles Smith—K Vintners Syrah Morrison Lane: (they'd left by the time I arrived at the table, but I shook the last few drips out of the last bottle standing on the table!) Pepper, perfume, violets yessss, melted milk chocolate, lavender, YES. Wish I'd had more. ~$50

ITALY:

2008 Barbi Brunello di Montalcino: smoky, spicy, pleasant fruit in mouth. ~$50

2007 Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Greppo: spicy, kind of light, but nice red fruit and spice. ~$190

2010 Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato: Anise, red fruit, elegant and sexy, nice structure, still a long ways to go. ~$110

* 2011 Gaja Sori San Lorenzo: red cherry pie, elegant, luxe - rich, supple red fruits. SO LOVELY. want more!! (Helps that I was chatting in Italian with Angelo Gaja himself.) ~$425

2011 Giacosa Barolo Falletto: tart ripe fruit on the somewhat closed nose, but lovely in the mouth; earthy, fruity, very elegant, "feminine, but a little slutty :-)" ~$170

* 2006 Masseto: earthy/dusty, really yummy, florals, spicy black and blue fruit, excellent integration—YES. $~800

2006 Ornellaia: bit earthy, spicy red fruit, rich. ~$190

2009 Planeta Syrah Maroccoli: great ripe nose, lots of fruit, so super tasty, nice example of Sra in Sicily. ~$37

2007 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino Vigna Paganelli Riserva: very nice and spicy, rich, velvety, good spice/red fruit balance. ~$85

* 2010 Sassicaia: very perfumey nose. Wow—really dense, purple florals, tasty, bit spicy, nice balance. Excellent. ~$160

SPAIN:

* 2004 CVNE Rioja Imperial Gran Reserva: very earthy and spicy, tomato sauce. Dense, lots of tannins, loads of earth and integrated red fruit. ~$130

2002 R. López de Heredia Rioja Viña Tondonia Reserva: subtle nose, spices, red fruit, very nice, leafy, has a way to go. ~$40

2010 Muga Rioja Aro: soft, light and spicy nose. Very quaffable, still lots of structure. ~$175

2006 El Nido Jumilla: lavender, ripe red fruit at the nose's finish, super jammy, dense, great packed fruit. ~$135

2004 Vega Sicilia Unico Gran Reserva: meaty, warm, nice balance, rich, earthy, minerally. ~$370

AUSTRALIA:

2012 Mollydooker Carnival of Love Shiraz: blue fruits on the nose, dense, spicy, rich and lovely, red cherry liqueur, integrated. ~$70

2011 Penfolds RWT Shiraz: red fruit, BBQ (heat, coals,) spicy and dense red fruit, yum, bit of a bruiser but I like it :-) ~$145

* 2012 Two Hands Shiraz Bella's Garden: cherry liqueur, jammy red and black fruits, it's a monster! Just awesome, smooth and rich, very nice. ~$58

LEBANON:

2007 Ch. Musar: really amazing nose (maybe my favorite Musar I've ever tasted,) clay, earthy, such specific terroir, spicy. ~$30

DESSERT:

* 2009 Ch. D'Yquem: perfume, honey, florals (could inhale this nose for days,) bit of botrytis, candied orange peel, ginger—luscious. ~$850

~          ~          ~          ~          ~

Okay, now that I see the above all laid out before me, I admit that I did a PRETTY DECENT job! But there were a few that eluded me, as they were all poured out when I got to their tables. To share my woe, I missed:

2007 Tignanello, 2010 Gaja Ca'Marcanda, 2009 Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill, 2004 Dom Perignon, 2010 Paul Hobbs Beckstoffer Las Piedras, 1996 Ch. Margaux, 2005 Murrieta Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva, 2011 Opus One, 2012 Pahlmeyer, 2010 Plumpjack, 2008 Roederer Rosé Champagne, 2010 Shafer Hillside Select, and NV Taittinger Prélude Champagne.
(Frowny-face.)

It was also tough to skip so many tables "on purpose" (I didn't make it to any Ports at all!) but such was the nature of the beast. Next year, I hope to be back for the entire event, so I don't have to be the Tasmanian Devil of sipping and spitting. But looking back, I think you'll agree I made the most of my brief time at the Wine Spectator NY Wine Experience Grand Tasting this year.

Cheers!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A CHATEAU TALBOT RETROSPECTIVE

What do you get the Wineau who has everything? That's easy: more wine!

For my birthday this year, that axiom equated to attending a Château Talbot dinner at Le Perigord in New York City. It was an amazing opportunity to sample eleven different vintages of the respected Quatrième Cru, located in St.-Julien.  (The continued quality of which, some think, is cause enough to re-examine the 1885 Classification of Bordeaux, but that's a debate for another time.) My dear friend and fellow Wineau Carol came along to celebrate with me.

Talbot dinner menu
The engaging and witty proprietor of Ch. Talbot, Jean-Paul Bignon, was on hand to chat with us through the tasting and dinner. His enthusiastic pronouncements and evident love of and respect for his wine made for a fantastic presentation. The food was quite good too, if massively portioned!

(All of the wines were excellent, but to mark the ones that stood out for me: √ = very good, * = outstanding.)

We began with the 2011 Ch. Talbot Caillou Blanc, a blend of 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Semillon. Nose of candied melon and very ripe tropical fruit. Nice weight, good acidity, bright, lengthy finish, notes of grapefruit and ripe pineapple. This is from probably the oldest white vineyard in the Médoc. (While reds dominate in Bordeaux, more people are planting and making white wines, also outside of typical vineyard areas.) ~$38

On to the reds! The typical blend of these wines is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot, although that can vary under different vintage circumstances.

2010 Ch. Talbot: deep red and black fruits on the nose, earthy, meaty, brick dust. Very full-bodied, strong tannins and acidity (still a baby!) Deep red fruits, earth and wood. Might want to get some of this for later! ~$70

2008 Ch. Talbot: cedar, woodsy, savory nose. Very full-bodied. Elegant black fruits but somewhat one-dimensional and muted. (I possibly had some soap in my glass, affecting the wine's expression; Carol's was brighter, with much more red fruit character.) ~$70

* 2006 Ch. Talbot: bright violet nose! Excellent notes of licorice, wet earth, blue fruits, with silky tannins... really lovely. ~$70

Using an Anglo-Saxon name for a Chateau is unusual in France. The eponymous Monsieur Talbot was an English general who came through the Bordeaux area in 1450 and stayed, until he was killed in battle. I think the battle was about wine—the English weren't getting the good French juice, so Talbot headed down to fix that—but since I was actually consuming all of the wine at this event, my notes are a little uneven (not surprising!)

2005 Ch. Talbot: a powerful vintage. Loads of cedar and spice box on the nose! Herbs, dense cassis and blackberry liqueur. However, my first glass was corked, and my second glass seemed flat, while Carol's had bright red fruits… oh well, must simply try this one again. ~$80

* 2001 Ch. Talbot: From a less-successful vintage, this was a pleasant surprise! Very interesting, subtle, intriguing nose. Bramble fruit, herbs, white pepper, elegant. Lots of red fruit in the mouth. Asian spices. Drinking very well now—just so yummy! (My notes say, "get some!!" If I can find some; many of those tricky vintages get consumed right away.) ~$70

√ 2000 Ch. Talbot: herby, cedar nose. Big red fruit at first, transitions into black fruits through the finish. Herby elements, dusty tannins. Excellent. Still can age for a long time. ~$110

M. Bignon is the mayor of his small town. In response to a teasing question, he replied, "Elected! There is no bribery!" However, he went on to say that Chateau Talbot is drunk at all of the village's holiday celebrations. So I'm clearly not the only one who would vote him back into office...

1998 Ch. Talbot: "The kind of vintage that's good to drink now," says M. Bignon. Light rose petal and (you guessed it,) cedar. Florals, subtle, pretty lovely. ~$85

1989 Ch. Talbot: M. Bignon: "A subtle vintage, again. You must be attentive; you have to taste very carefully, and if you do, you will love it." Very merde-y barnyard, herby, earthy terroir. Subtle tannins, florals, very nice. ~$100

* 1986 Ch. Talbot: wet leaves, perfume, cocoa powder, mushroom. My notes say, literally, "Oh mah gawd! Amazing!" Just lovely. Elegant development of secondary aromas. M. Bignon: "I hope you will be flabbergasted by it." My notes: "I am flabbergasted." ~$180

After another sumptuous course and knockout wine, I made a note of someone saying, "It's not a dinner… it's an orgy." But I have no idea who the speaker was! Carol? M. Bignon? Me?

* 1982 Ch. Talbot: Very merde-y! Red fruits, herbs, pungent. Lots of bright acidity still, anise, tarragon. Shows age well, but the fruit is still bright. ~$260

√ 1978 Ch. Talbot: wet earth, barnyard. Carol: "damp hay." Dried flowers, wet leaves, herbs. Super elegant. So lovely. Peppery, charcoal, tobacco. ~$85

A quick-and-dirty poll of our table's favorites had the majority (five) choosing the 1986. Two favored the 1982, with one each for the 2005, 1989, and 2001 (that was me; I obviously had many favorites, but the '01 was the one I wanted another bottle of immediately.)

Ch. Talbot doesn't make a dessert wine, but at the dinner they poured us a lovely 1986 Ch. Suduiraut Sauternes to pair with the dessert course. It was a medium-plus gold color, with florals, paraffin, and honeycomb on the nose. Violets, green apple, honey, marzipan. Carol, "ripe banana, vanilla pudding, cream puff." Light and bright for the vintage, good acidity, shortbread, baking spices, whiff of petrol, no obvious botrytis. ~$95

Carol and I absolutely rolled out of Le Perigord that evening, stuffed to the gills and sated by some truly amazing wines. Alas, somewhere on the cab ride home my cell phone went bye-bye, and with it, all of my painstakingly composed photos from the evening, including one of me and M. Bignon toasting my birthday. Thankfully, Carol had taken a few as well, which appear here—thanks, Carol!

If you are a lover of quality Bordeaux (and especially one at a relatively affordable price,) you can not go wrong with Chateau Talbot. It is also widely carried at the Total Wine & More chain stores, so is fairly readily available, even some of the slightly less-current vintages. But for the older vintages, you will have to seek out specialty wine stores or auctions to track one down. And believe me, it will be worth it.

Cheers!


Sunday, October 5, 2014

WINES OF CHILE—INVIGORATING!

Fact: Chile is a long and skinny country in South America that has cultivated wine since the Spanish Conquistadores arrived in the 1500s. Fact: Chile is one of the only places in the world where the devastating root louse Phylloxera failed to take purchase, so vines there are planted on their own roots. Fact: Carmenere in the vineyards there was long mistaken for Merlot, so it flourished in Chile while nearly becoming extinct elsewhere. 

All pretty substantial facts, where the world of wine is concerned, yes?

But also: Chile hasn't really been known for making quality wine until a few decades ago, so with relatively speedy advances in winemaking techniques and passed-along knowledge, there has been a kind of "secret" major growth in the Chilean wine industry. Wineaux, we can keep this secret no longer!
At a recent tasting of Chilean wines led by the always-engaging Fred Dexheimer, MS, and Hector Vergara, MS (South America's only Master Sommelier,) it became evident that the current generation of Chilean winemakers are infusing their industry with a fresh, invigorating breath. Experimentation and rule-breaking are the buzzwords, and the results are delicious. Not to mention, there are diverse styles of grapes—something for everyone—and the general price point is unbelievable for the quality. (Starred entries are particular favorites.)

*2013 Caliterra Tributo:100% Sauvignon Blanc from the coastal Leyda Valley. Pale straw gold color, fresh nose of kiwi and gooseberry, lemon-lime, papaya and lime curd. Well-balanced fruit and acidity, grass and fresh herbs emerge on the long finish, mid-palate minerality, a bit of kelp/seaweed, quaffable but complex. ~$15

2012 Casa Silva Sauvignon Gris: from over 100-year-old vines in Colchagua Valley, was thought to be Sauv. Blanc until 1998 when they discovered it was actually Sauv. Gris. Pale straw color, über-minerally, herbaceous, "hot" lemon, not overly acidic but it clings to the teeth, white pear and peach on the clean finish. ~$18

2011 Tamaya Chardonnay T Line Limited Release: Limari Valley. Pale gold, pineapple and cream, bit merde-y, warm apple pie. In the mouth, white florals, lime zest, chalky minerals, integrated use of oak. ~$15

2012 Clos des Fous Subsollum Pinot Noir: Aconcagua Coast/Pucalan/Traiguen Valley. The winemakers are four "crazy guys" who are seeking out unusual terrors and pushing boundaries. Fred said, "They don't care what anyone thinks about their wines," which I believe is often a good thing! And Hector opined, "It's a beautiful example of what's new in Chile. Wines with minerality—wines breaking barriers." Pale garnet/ruby. Underripe berries, very spicy, rose petal potpourri, stemmy bramble fruit nose. Very spicy in the mouth too! Tart cranberry, pepper/cinnamon, sour cherry, minerality, fairly tannic, decent acidity, very interesting. ~$22

*2009 Oveja Negra Carignan Single Vineyard: Maule Valley. Mostly Carignan though somewhat of a field blend, with Petit Verdot as a backbone. Medium ruby, warm, velvety nose of cherry liqueur. Elegant, fresh cherry/berry notes, warmth and integration on the finish, bit of licorice/bark, good acidity, integrated tannins. Very nice! ~$20

2011 De Martino Vigno Carignan: Maule Valley. In terms of experimentation, this winery is the first Chilean operation to buy large Austrian oak barrels, and they're working with concrete eggs and modern amphorae vessels as well. Medium ruby color. Pizza (!) nose—oregano, tomato, dough—and meaty with a high tone of perfume. Cherry jam, spice, earthy. The acidity lifts it up; I wasn't initially a fan, but this one grew on me and I kept returning to it. ~$35

*2012 MontGras Antu by Ninquén Syrah: Colchagua Valley. Medium ruby. Interesting nose of lilac, violets, pepper, blackberries, clove, licorice, and a bit of oak. Lightly spicy in the mouth, but it lingers. Less-ripe fruit on palate, but rich, long, integrated finish. Herby, juicy, touch of vanilla, touch of chocolate, very nice (I even drew a heart.) ~$12

2013 Viña Ventisquero Grey GCM: Colchagua/Apalta Valley. A bit of a takeoff on the GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) blends of the Rhône and Australia, this Grenache, Carignan, Mataro (aka Mourvedre) is a medium ruby, with a very clean and laser-like nose of red fruit, whiff of merde, and floral perfume. In the mouth, raspberry prevails, with cherry and savory notes of bay leaf, cinnamon, black pepper, and eucalyptus. Good acidity, soft but grippy tannins, this is really interesting. Fred calls these guys "thrill-seeking winemakers." ~$20

*2011 Odfjell Vineyards Orzada Malbec: Curico/Lontué Valley. Medium-plus ruby. Interesting nose! Liquid herbs, rosemary, sweet basil, with black cherry, violets, and smoke. Surprisingly lighter in mouth after such a powerful nose, with blueberries, spicy cigar leaf, iodine. Elegant with good tannins and lifted by acidity. Yum. ~$18

*2010 Concha y Toro Terrunyo Block 27 Carmenere: Cachaopal Valley. From one of the Chilean names you may recognize, the Carmenere from the "perfect storm" Peumo Vineyard has a medium-plus ruby color, and a nose of burnt cinnamon spices, graphite, coriander, and wood. In the mouth, plums, graphite and ashes, and very integrated tannins and subtle acidity make for a long, smooth finish. ~$38

One of my favorites was the *2011 Montes Purple Angel: Colchagua (Apalta/Marchigue) Valley. 92% Carmenere, 8% Petit Verdot. Opaque ruby color. Nose of mocha powder, lavender, ripe blue and black fruits. Incredibly dense in the mouth; cedar, "sweet" spices, fresh herbs, blackberry liqueur, bit of graphite/iodine. Very complex and lush, big but balanced, some acidity and sweet tannins. ~$75 (I was so hoping it was $12.99, but no dice!)

2010 Santa Rita Triple C: Maipo Valley. If you're looking for something "Evocative of Bordeaux with more fruit and spice," (says Fred,) look no further! 55% Cab Franc, 30% Cab Sauvignon, 15% Carmenere. Medium-plus garnet, nose of cranberry, bright green pepper, rose and violets, graphite, tobacco, cedar, tea leaves. In the mouth, fresh berry salad, very spicy, peppery, eucalyptus, cigar box, with subtle tannins. Certainly age-worthy. ~$43

*2010 Undurragua Altazor: Maipo Valley. From an "old" winery, this is a "new" wine; a Bordeaux-style blend, inspired by Vincente Huidobo, the author of the poem "Altazor." (80% Cab Sauvignon, 8% Carmenere, 8% Syrah, 4% Petit Verdot.) Medium-plus garnet. Harmonious nose of cherry liqueur, lots of lush, ripe red berries, cassis, smoke and spice, lots of cigar box, cedar, violets, cola, dried figs. Really elegantly woven together, dense and lush, very long, nuanced and harmonious (that is definitely the word for this wine,) finish. Velvety tannins. Oak not overly prominent, seamlessly integrated. Just WOW. I have to give it another star: * ~$70

With such diversity, it is really worth giving Chile the due it deserves. These wines were inspiring, and really spoke to the focused attention from their winemakers, especially where microclimates are concerned. And with so many quality wines under $20, you can afford to try a variety of Chilean wines yourselves. It's a no-brainer: when you need some invigoration, simply turn to Chile! Cheers.



Tuesday, September 2, 2014

SCHOLIUM PROJECT: BARREL TASTING 2014

Being a fan of the Scholium Project is a little like being in a quasi-exclusive club run by a mad scientist. I first heard of Abe Schoener and his outside-of-the-box winemaking in a 2013 article in the New York Times Magazine (read it here,) and was instantly intrigued. I got on the mailing list and tasted Scholium wines for myself four months later. Were these wines unconventional? Absolutely. Interesting? Yup. Fascinating, even? You bet.

I ordered a mixed case immediately, have added periodically to my Scholium stash, and believe me when I say it is a tough challenge to NOT open a new bottle every day, especially when fighting the fatigue of "oh, another Pinot, oh, another Chard, oh, another Cab."

Ferry view of lower Manhattan.
Members of the Scholium "fan club" will do almost anything to get a taste of what Abe has been working on, including trek out to Red Hook, Brooklyn, in a locale far—so very far—from public transportation. I myself took the Ikea ferry from lower Manhattan on a recent beautiful Sunday to participate in the latest "sneak peek" of Scholium Project wines.

The first wine was a 100% Verdelho 2013 Gemella Lost Slough Vineyard. There was only one barrel made (= 24 cases.) A lovely wine. Nose of soapstone, white flowers, a little merde-y, very perfumey aromatics. Spicy in the mouth with a lot of minerality and a long finish, yet not overly acidic. "This is made from grapes that have had the $h!t stomped out of them," said Abe. $45.

A bittersweet moment comes with the 2013 Glos McDowell Vineyards (Sauvignon Blanc.) This vintage was the final harvest from this parcel, unfortunately, as the owners of the land then ripped up the Sauv Blanc vines to plant more popular/profitable Cabernet Sauvignon. Fans of Glos quickly snapped up all of the individual bottles, regular and large-format. With a very pale gold color and a fresh, clean nose of green grass and lime zest, it showed loads of floral perfume with a little gooseberry, and a long charming, elegant finish. "It has the promise of nobility," said Abe, as he spoke bittersweetly about this last-ever bottling. $70

In case you haven't caught whiff of it, Abe's organization is somewhat akin to a pop-up shop. He doesn't own the vineyards he farms, and has a very small, hands-on production operation without a formal tasting room/sales area/oeno-tourism bent. The wines are not always labeled varietally, and there are layers of proprietary names, pulled from colleagues and/or ancient history. He gets fans from word-of-mouth; you have to find him. Production is very low, and loyal followers pounce on each new release, so one must act quickly. Occasionally he will offer single bottles, but usually the only way to ensure snagging these wines is to purchase a mixed-case offering via the website here.

Luckily there is available stock of the 2013 Dulcissima Camilla Farina Vineyards (barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc,) because I just loved it. My notes say, "Ooooh! nose" of bruised yellow apple, overripe melon and a whiff of sherry-like oxidation. Incredibly complex in the mouth, with ripe fruit, spice, a dried nuttiness, and a looooooong finish. It felt "hot" (high in alcohol) to me, but Abe said the alcohol was relatively low, and that its zingy acidity might be contributing to the presence in the mouth. "This wine is... well, still fermenting," says Abe, explaining that it may not taste the same after bottling! But it's definitely worth a gamble, in my opinion. $45

Rather intriguing was the 2012 Michael Faraday Michael Mara Vineyard 100% Chardonnay. Nose of honeysuckle, Asian spice and pear. Bit cheeky-oddball in the mouth with yellow apple and very spry acidity. Doesn't exhibit "traditional" CA Chard notes at all, and is also slightly tannic. $80

Another fave was the 2013 The Prince in His Caves, made from barrel-fermented whole-cluster fermented Sauvignon Blanc. The color was noticeably darker, a coppery-gold. Nose of ripe apricot, melon, gardenia (notes say, "all ripe & bruised!") Each sniff results in another layer of elements, like a bit of dusty earth, then orange marmalade, then ginger. Very dry/acidic and tannins are present. "This is the wine the Scholium Project is best known for," said Abe, noting they've made this since 2006. You Wineaux know I love "strange" wines, and this is an iconic weirdo-wine; the nose is atypical Sauv Blanc and the mouth experience is very different. I am hooked. $45

The nose of the 2013 FTPZ Kirschenmann Ranch (100% Old Vine Zinfandel) was intoxicating; high tone blueberry, violets, sweet licorice, grounded by a bit o' something funky and meaty. Black cherry liqueur in the mouth. High but appropriate acidity, nice and bright, spicy, lovely, long finish, dried leaf-y element. Whole-cluster fermentation (like The Prince above.) $50

I would probably never have correctly blind-tasted the 2013 Poloupous Antle Vineyard as old-vine Pinot Noir, but that's what it is! Violet, blackberry, bit of funk, bit of rosemary and herbs. It was kind of similar in style to the FTPZ, actually, although more tannic, smoother, and less bright fruit. I look forward to seeing how this evolves and integrates over time. The prominent tannins were what threw me, but Abe said, "That is a very tannic vineyard. And whole-cluster fermentation... I hope to be making 'Priorat' Pinot Noir!" $50

A perennial favorite is the 1MN and the 2013 1MN Bechtold Ranch was no exception. Named after the Malvaisa Nera grape, this is actually 100% Cinsault from a 140-year old vineyard. It had an amazing, super smooth nose of blackberry jam, cherry/berry fruit, and rose petals, and in the mouth added chocolate-covered cherries, pepper, spice box, with loads of perfume and integrated tannins. Just lovely. "This seems, to me, the acme of deliciousness," said Abe, and I had to agree. $50

I did peg correctly the grape of the 2012 Golgotha Reserve Hudson Vineyards. With a dense and rich nose of cherry pie, warm berry compote and spices, I wrote, "Syrah??" And when it was confirmed, I scrawled, "Yessss!!!!" Bright and macerated red fruits rounded out the palate, and yet it's so dense, I can't wait to see what it does over time. "This, for me, is the peak of luxury. I don't think it's the most noble wine, or delicious, but it has the best claim of opulence," said Abe. Abso-friggin-lutely. $180


Another check mark of liking went next to the 2012 Anastasis red; while almost completely Cabernet, there is some Merlot, Syrah, and Sangiovese in the blend. It had staggeringly bright fruit and perfume on a very sexy nose. Perhaps a bit of VA (whiff of nail polish remover) but worked with the major lush fruit on the palate, super smooth finish, and notes of cocoa powder and lavender. This wine originally fell victim to a stuck fermentation, but they were able to restart it, so it was named after the Greek word for "resurrection." $45

Interestingly, the most traditional "Napa Cab"-style in the Scholium Project is the above Golgotha Syrah—the 2012 Wolfskill Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is decidedly old-school. "We're trying to make Cabernet that is from a certain time and place," says Abe, meaning stylistically closer to 30-40 years ago than today. Intense anise jumped from the nose, along with rosemary, rose petal potpourri and violets. Bright, relatively light, red fruit, bit of cedar and spice box. Yummy. $120

Finally, we were treated to the 2010 Babylon Tenbrink Vineyards. 100% Petite Sirah, 3 years in barrel. Nose: "HUH...!" Asian spice liqueur, melted black licorice, a meatiness like a "blond" German sausage (what is the name for that?!) In the mouth, it was red licorice at the forefront, mace and coriander spices, with dried fruits. "Feels a bit passito?" I wrote, citing the Italian process of drying grapes before pressing. Once again, I was right; "I want this to be like a California Amarone," said Abe, and two tasters immediately chimed in with "It is!" and "That's what you got!" Crazy elements yet still superbly structured and quaffable. $80

Sunset from Red Hook Winery, BK
So, Wineaux, there you have it—the current Scholium release, "The Complete Summer Selection," which will be ready for delivery in October. I look forward to the wines I have coming, and hope to hear from you if you too are are a fan of the Scholium Project. And as always, I continue to support inventive and daring winemakers around the globe, so hurry back soon Abe, and bring more wines for us "crazy-man-wine-club" members to try!

Cheers.



(ADDENDUM: As I was working on this article, news filtered in about the earthquake in Napa—with many winemaker friends in the area, I reached out with concern. While all people I know are fine, one winemaker lost her total inventory save for what she could salvage from a few broken barrels. Another winery I know suffered catastrophic damage to its historic tasting room. Maybe it's not pouring ice water over your head, but please help support the cleanup and rebuilding of one of our nation's most iconic wine regions by drinking Napa wine, tweeting with #NapaStrong, and supporting these winemakers by buying more Napa wine, like Scholium.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

CHIANTI'S NEW TITLE: GRAN SELEZIONE

Did you know there is more Chianti Classico in the U.S. than there is in Italy? America is such an important market for Chianti Classico, they came here first to unveil their newest, highest designation of quality: GRAN SELEZIONE.

On the ground level of the quality pyramid, there is "regular" Chianti, like the old-school straw-wrapped bottles. Then there is Chianti Classico, and next highest is Riserva, both of which must adhere to rising levels of regulations. This past January, the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico (the oldest Consorzio—group of wine producers—in Italy) enacted the new Gran Selezione category at the top of the quality pyramid. This designation is self-regulated, which caused me to raise an eyebrow, but the standards are similar to other regions' high levels—in this case: more aging time, regulated grape varietals (minimum of 80% Sangiovese, 100% is allowed, with international varieties acceptable in the blend,) and 13% minimum alcohol.

Italians are extremely proud of their winemaking history. But, as was expressed in the introductory speeches at the U.S. Premiere recently in New York, the proliferation of quality wine around the globe and the growth in "new" winemaking areas mean that regions even with a storied history like Chianti Classico have to keep up.

As I moved around the room tasting the freshly minted Gran Seleziones, I wasn't initially overwhelmed by the obviousness of the apparent elevated quality. Some wines suffered perhaps from their new power, needing more time in bottle to smooth out the edges. Others showed incredible promise on the nose, but fell short of expectation in the mouth. But some were very intriguing and highly satisfying wines.

2010 Castelli del Grevepesa Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Lamole (100% Sangiovese) had nice cherries and florals on the nose but was a bit acidic in the mouth, with a nice note of earth. ~$35. Their 2010 Grevepesa Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Castello di Bibbione—from a single estate—fared better, with a pleasant brightness, and softer finish of berries and a green stemminess. ~$35.

The 2009 Marchesi Antinori Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Badia a Passignano (100% Sangiovese) was very good, with a nose of earth, spice, and coffee, and a zingy mouthfeel with red fruits on the palate. ~$50.

I quite enjoyed the 2009 Casaloste Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Don Vincenzo (100% Sangiovese); great nose of cocoa powder, violets, and dried earth, with an excellent but not overbearing tannic structure. ~$45.

Maybe a "more typical" expression of CC was the 2011 Castello di Verrazzano Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Vigneto Querciolina - Sassello (100% Sangiovese) with its nose of earth and rose petals and savory notes in the mouth. Needs time. ~$60.

A favorite was the 2010 Castello Vicchiomaggio Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Vigna La Prima (100% Sangiovese) with an intoxicating aromatic nose full of purple flowers. Nice fruit expression, tea leaves, long finish, well-balanced, very structured, excellent character. ~$48.

I also was a fan of the 2010 Fontodi Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Vigna del Sorbo. (95% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.) Lovely perfumey nose of ripe cherry-berry fruit, smooth and velvety, bright fruit in the mouth, light but well-structured. ~$77

I'd give more time to the 2010 Il Molino di Grace Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Il Margone (100% Sangiovese)—it had an herby, merde-y nose, and it was very tannic—hopefully it will open up in the future. ~$45.

Another favorite was the 2010 Castello di Fonterutoli Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Castello Fonterutoli (92% Sangiovese, 8% Malvasia and Colorino.) With its cherries and tea leaves on the nose, it was pleasant and smooth yet still well-structured. Pretty quaffable; I'd say the best value of the day.  ~$30.

The 2010 Ruffino Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Riserva Ducale Oro (80% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) was a real powerhouse, surely boosted by that Cabernet in the blend. Lots of dried tea leaves, tart cherry, and tons of structure. ~$33.

I loved the nose of the 2009 Fèlsina Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Colonia. It showed dusty earth, florals, and blackberry. It was a little closed on the palate, with tea and herb notes, but showed potential; I wrote, "give it time/air/food??" ~$150

I was intrigued by the 2010 Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Colledilà (100% Sangiovese) with its prominent note of grape soda. Maybe an unusual descriptor, but apt! And it was balanced by rich lilac florals and light, fresh red fruit. ~$60.

The Ricasoli 2010 Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Castello di Brolio (80% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon) teemed with earth and minerals—another to hold on to for a while as the flavors develop. ~$45

The best way to describe the 2011 Tenuta San Vincenti Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione (85% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot) was "tricky," as the Merlot in the blend added softness and round fruits, but seemed to mask the inherent Sangiovese character. It was merde-y and earthy, deeply fruity, with bright acidity, and while it was not textbook Chianti Classico, I enjoyed it. ~$23.

Another interesting blend was the 2010 San Felice Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Il Grigio da San Felice (80% Sangiovese, 7% Abrusco, 5% [the nearly extinct] Pugnitello, 4% Malvasia Nera, 2% Ciligiolo, 2% Mazzese.) Barnyard, sweet earth, berry salad—lots of fruit, chewy and interesting, big and bold, smooth finish. Although the indigenous grapes again seemed to mute the traditional character of Sangiovese, I was continuously drawn back to this wine. ~$40.

Perhaps my ultimate wine of the day was the 2010 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Il Puro - Vigneto Casanova (100% Sangiovese). I wrote, "love love love the nose," with its opulent red and purple fruit. "Something very flirty here," a note of blueberry (unusual for Sangiovese,) bit of herbs, bit of earth, good acid, lots of structure, "yummmmmmy." ~$130

At the end of the day, I was left with some questions and not a lot of answers. Was this new designation merely an opportunity to justify incredibly high prices in some cases? I mean, really—is anyone actually going to pay over a hundred bucks for a bottle of Chianti? (I did not know price points at the time of the tasting, so I was disappointed to discover that my favorite wine was one of the most expensive, because I doubt I will ever get to try it again.)

Perhaps more importantly, is the quality level of Gran Selezione that much higher than mere "Riserva?" Wineaux, I honestly can't say. But at the end of the day, I suppose what matters most is that these producers are stretching out their techniques and styles in pursuit of even greater wines. And there are excellent offerings in the $30-50 range, making Gran Selezione wines accessible to consumers. Perhaps you should seek out some Gran Selezione Chianti Classico and see for yourself!

Cheers.