Thursday, September 30, 2010

Wine Review Wednesday (on Thursday): Two Great 2006 Napa Cabs

[Note: I’m posting Wine Review Wednesday a day late this week, as we spent all day yesterday filming the videos for the launch of tomorrow. And remember, if you’re in the area, to stop by Wine Chateau Piscataway for the launch party from 5:00 - 10:00...]


I recently had the chance to taste the 2006 vintage from two perennial stars of the Napa Valley, and fell in love with both of them. My tasting notes are below.

Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2006, Napa Valley

Classic Napa richness is balanced out here by an amazing amount of potential still being held in reserve: I wanted to keep on going back to the glass and smelling it again--it’s simply intriguing. Deep aromas of crushed purple berry fruit, black and red currants, cream, seared steak, subtle cedar, and Honduran cigar tobacco mingle with minor notes of sappy black cherries and something that reminded me of braised short ribs. There’s lots of sweet, very ripe fruit on the palate, though the tannins, still quite young, should allow even more to shine through once they loosen their grip with some age. Fascinating flavors of chai, cream, black tea, currants, blackberries, spiced blueberry compote, and licorice dance with intimations of thyme and sage. This is still young and needs time to relax into itself, but once it does, it will attain even more complexity and deliciousness. Give it a couple of years in the cellar, and then drink it through 2025. This is lush, pulsing with life, and utterly elegant for all its power.

Rubicon Estate Cabernet Sauvignon “Cask” 2006, Rutherford

A nose of crushed purple berry fruit, fresh plum, mint, a touch of licorice, bonfire, cedar, graphite, and a background note of chamomile tea define this expressive cabernet. Its palate shows both its youth and its agability, with sweet berry, black currant, macerated blackberry and black raspberry fruit, oolong tea, and a driving sense of power. The so-called Rutherford dust is on full display here, as well as fabulous balancing acidity and a finish that leans in the direction of licorice and mint. And despite the fact that this is still holding back a bit, it’s drinking beautifully as is, and will continue to improve and evolve for at least 10+ years. Fabulous.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What Robert Parker Drinks, Two Food-Friendly Wines, and a Massive Party on Friday

A couple of quick food-and-wine notes on a Tuesday...

This past weekend, none other than Robert Parker himself took a road trip to Philadelphia and dined at the city’s spectacular Bibou, a French BYOB that locals have known for a long time is one of the best restaurants not just in the city, but in the entire region and beyond. You can always tell the quality of a BYO by the bottles dotting tables around the room: If guests respect the food enough, they’ll dig deep into their cellars and pop the corks on the good stuff. And at Bibou, there’s always a jaw-dropping selection of great wines being enjoyed and--often--shared among complete strangers. Parker, as is to be expected, drank pretty well that night; he also loved the meal, referring to the food as “as great a bistro fare as one can imagine.” The list of bottles (there were others in addition to these) from his table is below. It’s a pretty amazing selection. Wouldn’t you be disappointed if Robert Parker drank poorly?

Marcassin estate chardonnay 2000
Leeuwin Estate 2004 chardonnay
Guigal 1990 white Hermitage
Dagueneau 2006 Silex
Beaux Freres 1994
Haut Brion 1982
Vina Tondonia 1976
Catena Alta 1997 Malbec
Rostaing 1991 Cote Rotie La Landonne
Guigal 1991 La Landonne
Guigal 1985 and 1988 La Mouline
Guigal 1989 La Landonne

And last night, at the press unveiling for a number of new, fantastic seasonal dishes at The Fountain Restaurant at The Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia (also one of the top restaurants in the region...and beyond), I was yet again reminded of the versatility of pinot gris and a good syrah. The white, from highly regarded producer Trimbach, worked as well alongside the seared tuna with a walnut puree, juniper oil, and a light-as-air pumpkin souffle as it did with a heady potato leak soup with duck confit pierogi and foie gras butter. And the syrah, a 2005 from Carneros standout Truchard, sang with heartier preparations of veal porterhouse and a grilled venison saddle in a cabernet sauce. Even at the best restaurants, great wine pairings don’t have to cost a fortune.

Finally, a reminder: This Friday is the blowout launch party of at Wine Chateau Piscataway. The party will feature everything from Sassicaia, Oreno, Duckhorn, Cakebread and other top wines to single malt Scotches, beers from all over the world, a former White House chef, live entertainment, and great food. Get there early! (It runs from 5:00 - 10:00.)

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Washington Grape Theft

Earlier this year, we reported on an attempted blackmailing at Burgundy's famed Romanee-Conti vineyard. And while that ultimately failed crime seemed motivated purely by money, a recent report of a successful grape theft in Washington is far murkier in its motives.

"Somebody," according to, "pulled up to a Benton County vineyard within the last week and ripped off a ton of grapes. And not just any old grapes. They were Bushvine Mourvedre, grown on the bush, not strung out on trellises like most other grapes. That might be pretty common in some parts of France, but not in the Red Mountain appellation area of Eastern Washington or anywhere else in the state for that matter."

Right now, then, the big question is this: Who had the knowledge and know-how to target Washington's Grand Reve Vintners, and what do they plan to do with their one-ton haul? They can't really vinify and bottle it, since that would ostensibly give away their identity. And selling it isn't really an option either, as bush-vine mourvedre is rare enough in Washington that any potential purchaser of the fruit would likely know where it came from.

Look for this story to take more unexpected twists and turns as it develops. In the meantime, I've posted the television report from NWCN, the North West Cable News network, below.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Jamaican Jerk and Wine

Just a quick word on an unexpectedly wonderful food and wine pairing. Last night, Wine Chateau hosted a Jamaican jerk wing and meat patty wine tasting in the Piscataway store. Now, this is the sort of food that, if you've never enjoyed it alongside wine before, you might assume would be far better with a beer. And while a beer would absolutely work with it, we explored an entirely new world of flavor and texture last night, and came up with some truly remarkable combinations.

The jerk wings sang alongside the Voga sparkling pinot grigio, whose gently sweet ripe peach flavors highlighted the more floral aspects of the jerk spices. The beef patties were otherworldly with the Vignali Roccamora "Carlo Alfano" nero d'avola - merlot blend from Sicily. And the vegetable patties, already fantastic on their own, flat-out danced when enjoyed with the Ca' de Rocchie merlot, which itself took on an unexpectedly exotic character in the context of the food.

The moral? This weekend, no matter what you're eating, try a new, unusual combination of food and wine. You never know when you'll find your next favorite one.
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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Wine Review Wednesday

The three wines we’re featuring this week for Wine Review Wednesday may, on the surface, seem to have little in common: A gruner veltliner from Austria, a pinot gris from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and a South African pinotage.

Despite their obvious differences, however, they share several very important things with one another: They’re beautifully made, wonderfully expressive, and utterly perfect this time of year.

No matter what style a wine is made in, or where it’s from or what grape varieties went into its composition, that’s pretty much all you could ever ask for.

Domane Wachau Gruner Veltliner Federspiel Terrassen 2009

Ripe and generous on the nose, with hints of mineral-inflected apricot, peach, and a subtle grassiness that eventually turns to pine forest and mint with some air. The palate shows minerals and sweet fruit, including mandarin orange, lemon verbena, bright, singing acidity, and a peppercorn-spiced finish that carries on for a full 30 seconds. Very deep and powerful despite its youth and subtlety, and unexpectedly captivating this early on in its evolution. Great now, with lots of potential in reserve.

Forefront (by Pine Ridge Vineyards) Pinot Gris 2009

This is exactly what I love about Oregon pinot gris: An exceptionally fresh nose with gorgeous aromas of lemon, a bit of lime, a pronounced minerality, and smokiness providing added depth. There’s also chalk, gravel, lemon oil, and white-blossomed flowers hovering around the edges adding even more complexity to it. The palate possesses a beautiful, tongue-coating texture that lends a real sense of weight, but the acid keeps it all nimble. Flavors of honeysuckle, apple, pear, white pepper, and minerals turn to something more membrillo-like on the finish. Perfectly balanced, and a steal at the price.

Val de Vie Pinotage "Barista" 2009

The nose here exhibits varietally accurate scorched earth and hints of rubber, but there is a sweetness brought by the oak, a chocolate character that is absolutely intriguing. It reminds me of some sort of smoked cherries and plums enrobed in a beautiful chocolate. All those flavors follow through to the palate with more of a focus on the fruit, and despite their depth, the texture of the wine remains surprisingly lithe. Cafe viennoise, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cherry-pie filling linger through to the remarkably consistent finish. This is not only a delicious wine, but a great example of how thoroughly exciting South African pinotage is these days. I’d be the happiest guy in the world to be able to enjoy this alongside a grilled steak with a balsamic glaze.

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Earlier this year, the wine world lost one of its greatest, most influential pioneers: Alfredo Currado, the patriarch of famed Piedmont producer Vietti. His passing was marked all over the wine world, as his contributions to the Piedmontese wine industry in particular, and to Italian wine in general, were as significant as anybody's in the last 50 years.

I recently had the chance to speak with his son and new head of the firm, Luca Currado, as well as taste a number of currently available bottlings, for a story I wrote for John Mariani's Virtual Gourmet that ran this past weekend. Though Mr. Currado is gone, his legacy lives on both in the wines that bear his family's name and in the Piedmont region itself, which would be a very different place were it not for his vision and determination.
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Monday, September 20, 2010

A Wine Book for Children

I returned from Spain this past weekend, and now, having finally caught up on my sleep and fending off the worst effects of jet-lag, I've begun the process of collating my photos, videos, and tasting notes, and will be posting them here throughout the coming weeks and months.

Today, however, I'd like to discuss France, where a recent report on notes that, last week, a French-language book called Vignes et Vins: Un Monde a Decouvrir (Vines and Wines: A World to Discover) was published to a fair amount of fanfare--both good and bad.

It aims, according to the report, to explain "the cycle of vine-growing and the cultural role that wine plays in France, and tells the story of wine from the Romans to the present day."

So far, there hasn't been too much in the way of protesting, but keep your eyes open: This is exactly the kind of book that should set the anti-alcohol crusaders off on their typical tizzies, and may well lead to the sort of national discussion that France seems to have been headed toward for a long time. Should be very interesting to follow.

In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed on this side of the Atlantic, too: "The publisher..." according to, "is also considering an English translation."
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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sherry: Shifting the Paradigm

Sometimes, when you visit a great producer, you have the chance to taste a wine that you’d otherwise never come across. And while it’s frustrating to know that the delicious wine in your glass is generally unattainable outside the confines of where you find yourself sipping it, there’s a great deal to be gained in terms of understanding the potential of the wines of that particular region and producer.

Yesterday morning, for example, I had the chance to taste the Moscatel Ambrosia from Bodega Sanchez Romate, a Sherry that, though it’s made in minute quantities, changed what I thought I knew about the range of flavors in the world of Sherry...and, for that matter, in the world of wine.

This one flat-out sang with aromas and flavors of everything from garam masala to cumin, coriander, chile peppers, and blueberry pie filling. And though that combination may sound unusual, this was a stunning wine, spicy and fruity and wildly expressive, and a spectacular example of how exciting Sherry can be...and is.

Sometimes, you just have to leave your comfort zone to find a wine that completely changes what you thought you knew.
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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sherry and Food Pairing

One of the best parts of traveling to a wine region you’ve never visited before is having the opportunity to taste the wines in the context in which they’ve always been enjoyed: With the local foods.

But while I knew that I’d gain an appreciation for Sherry in all its many styles, I didn’t expect to be as blown away as I have been by its astounding facility at the table.

From the simplest seafood to the spiciest dishes to the ingredients that bully most other wines into submission (artichokes, asparagus, etc.), Sherry makes easy work of seemingly everything. Every meal here, in fact, has been accompanied by Finos, Manzanillas, Amontillados, Olorosos, and more, and has provided an amazing in situ demonstration of how much I’ve been missing by not pairing more meals with Sherry.

The photo above is from the lunch we had yesterday at Bodegas Osborne, and included Iberico ham, lomo, green olives, fried potatoes, marcona almonds, and pâté, and from the Manzanilla to the Amontillado to the spectacular Oloroso, every Sherry worked brilliantly with at least two--and often more--of the dishes.

I’ll report back if we find a dish that Sherry can’t handle, but I’m not holding my breath: Like Champagne, it’s a flat-out winner with food. Which has made for spectacular eating and drinking this week.
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Monday, September 13, 2010

First Day in Jerez

Yesterday was my first day in Spain for the weeklong tasting tour of Jerez, sponsored by the Sherry Council, that I wrote about last week. And, as expected, it has been full of eye-opening, palate-awakening moments that have, even just 24 hours into the trip, changed my perception of Sherry itself and the ways in which it can--and brilliantly does--enhance a meal.

Today was a day of two ends of the Sherry spectrum, and included visits to both Harveys (one of the largest producers) and Tradicion (one of the smallest). I'll be posting my tasting notes and more details in the coming days, but for now I thought that a short video, shot at Harveys, would provide a nice sense of Jerez itself. Check it out below:

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Off to Spain on a Sherry-Tasting Expedition

Tomorrow evening, I'll be flying to Southern Spain for a tasting trip sponsored by the Sherry Council. A handful of us from around the United States will be touring and tasting throughout Jerez, visiting a wide range of Sherry producers, studying the different styles of Sherry, and learning about its technical details as well as experiencing its ability to pair with food.

Make sure to keep checking back here, as I will be blogging throughout my time in Spain: Just like last year's trips to Bordeaux, Champagne, and Eastern Austria, I'll be posting tasting notes, photos, videos, and more, sharing my impressions of a fascinating (and important) part of the wine world, and working to make this a learning experience for readers of this blog and customers of

So make sure to check back starting on Monday afternoon--it promises to be a fantastic, educational, and thoroughly delicious week.
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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Wine Review Wednesday (on Thursday): Chateau Tanunda Cabernet Sauvignon "Noble Baron" 2007

When you mention the Barossa Valley to most consumers, the first wines that come to mind are likely to be the rich, fruit-forward, higher-octane Shiraz that have made the region so beloved around the world. But as anyone who has explored the wines of this great region knows, the Barossa has much more to offer than the Shiraz it typically gets credit for.

Earlier in the year, at a tasting of Australian Cabernets held by the Wine Media Guild, I was both charmed and thoroughly impressed with the wines being poured, and fell head-over-heels in love with one in particular: The Chateau Tanunda Cabernet Sauvignon “Noble Baron.” I recently had a chance to re-taste the 2007 bottling, and was blown away all over again.

The nose starts off with concentrated aromas of licorice, dark cherries, grilled graphite and cedar, a touch of flowers, and the perfume of those old Sen Sen mints that I used to rely on at dances as a teenager. The palate, though, for all the concentration and richness of the nose, is beautifully light on its feet. It still boasts an impressive level of concentration, however, and flavors that range from red currant and brambly fruit all the way to chocolate-covered licorice, warm asphalt, oolong tea, sandalwood, a bit of clove, and a vague hint of eucalyptus. A long finish, impeccable balance, and superbly integrated tannins promise 12+ years of evolution in the bottle.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Big News from Wine Chateau!

For years, Wine Chateau has been synonymous with the widest selection of wine, at the best prices, anywhere online.

Now, we’re taking it even further.

On October 1, 2010, we will be launching, which will change the way wine lovers all over the world buy wine. From popular favorites to small-production gems, we will be offering one unprecedented deal every 24 hours at prices that will shock even the most jaded consumer.

To celebrate the launch, we will be throwing a blowout party on October 1st from 5pm - 10pm at our 10,000-square-foot flagship store in Piscataway, NJ. From live entertainment to hors d’oeuvres to some of the top wines in the world, this will be a party to remember--and to perfectly launch the future of buying wine online.

For more information, visit We look forward to seeing you on October 1st!

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Monday, September 6, 2010

Argentina in the News

Things just keep on getting better for Argentina. Consumers have fallen head-over-heals for the country’s great Malbecs, top winemakers and consultants are flocking there to leave their mark on one of the most exciting countries in the New World, and the prices for truly remarkable wines are staying amazingly reasonable.

This past week, more love was directed toward the wines of Argentina as the Quarterly Review of Wine named the Don Miguel Gascon Malbec 2009 the wine of the quarter, an honor that, according to the magazine, “appears irregularly in QRW because it's difficult to find a Best Buy.”

But this one earned it as a result of its “hint of violet... [and] engaging fruit that embellishes the wine with rich blackberry and plum. There's easy spice and oak, along with chocolate and mocha tones.”

“In short,” QRW concludes, “the wine has a lot to offer...”

Also this weekend, in the Virtual Gourmet John Mariani covers the 2008 Clos de los Siete, famed consultant Michel Rolland’s blend of Malbec, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot from high in the Mendoza region. Mariani praises its “soft and velvety texture (typical of merlot) together with the fruit intensity of the syrah, the mild tannins of the cabernet, and ballast and spice of the late-ripening petit verdot.”

You can drink and enjoy these wines anytime, but now that Labor Day has passed and autumn is just around the corner, rich, delicious reds like these are perfect.

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Friday, September 3, 2010

Bordeaux Harvest Begins, and What to Drink for Labor Day

It’s that time of year again: Harvest season. Just when you thought the pitch couldn’t get any more fevered regarding Bordeaux, the time has come to start picking grapes and speculating about the potential quality of the 2010 vintage.

The first estate to harvest, Chateau Carbonnieux, “is due to begin picking its Sauvignon Blanc grapes at the end of this week after a 'roller-coaster' season of highs and lows,” reports “A cold start to the growing season, and dry weather combined with cool nights in August, have meant that most vineyards are around a week behind schedule.”

It is, of course, too early to really assess the overall quality of the vintage, but that won’t stop the soothsayers (informed and otherwise) from weighing in. The best we can do as consumers is to follow the reports from the various chateaux, process them with several grains of salt, and wait patiently until the barrel tastings start rolling in next year. Until then, I’ll be reporting on developments at key chateaux right here, and doing the best I can to filter the good information from the purely speculative.

On a different note, this weekend marks the unofficial end of summer on this side of the Atlantic and, assuming you’re not in the path of Hurricane Earl, it promises to be a beautiful one throughout much of the country. And with all the barbecues and picnics planned, the big question is, as always, what bottle of wine to pick pick up and pop open.

I recently tasted the Conundrum 2008, which would be a perfect treat for the Labor Day weekend. It’s a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Canelli, Chardonnay, and Viognier, but, as always, the “exact composition” remains a mystery, as Conundrum’s web site says.

Whatever is in there, it’s delicious. A spicy, deeply floral nose of honeysuckle, orange blossom, lilac, and candied orange peel jumps from the glass, but those more perfumed notes are supported by exceptionally pretty apricot and grilled peach. The palate possesses a luscious glycerine texture, as well as a vaguely smoky toastiness that nods in the direction of Viognier. The mid-palate is sweet and ripe, the spice of the nose carrying through and finding a counterpart in hints of dried pineapple, waxy white peach, caramel, and vanilla. This is a wine bursting with pure California exuberance, and a sure-fire hit for the upcoming Labor Day festivities.

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wine Review Wednesday: Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte

Three months ago, way back in May, we kicked off the summer here by discussing appropriate bubblies for the Memorial Day weekend. Now that Labor Day is approaching, and with it the end of summer, I thought this would be a good time to bring things full circle and finish off the season with a bang. Or, rather, with a pop.

This is not a coincidence: Champagne, as I’ve noted here a thousand times before, is a wine for all seasons and for every occasion. And while most consumers still insist on reserving the festive pop of a Champagne cork for special, celebratory moments, great bubbly is one of the most versatile wines in the world, and should be considered in the same context as still wine in terms of when to open a bottle.

Which is to say, all the time.

From a food-pairing standpoint, few wines are more versatile than Champagne. The bubbles cut right through fat and oil, the nuttiness of a nicely aged bottle pairs perfectly with deep-fried foods, and the generally high acid allows Champagne to partner with virtually everything on the table throughout the year.

I recently had the chance to taste two bottlings from the always-excellent Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte, and though they exist at opposite ends of the sparkling spectrum from one another, they both possessed exactly the sort of qualities that make them optimal choices as we slide into the holiday weekend.

The Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Rosé smells like nothing so much as a perfect breakfast of toast with strawberry jam, a handful of red cherries and other red berry fruit, and a touch of cream. That berry fruit follows through to the palate, though here with an added note of pastry, in the guise of some sort of perfect berry cobbler. The texture is creamy, the finish practically vibrates in its brightness, the fruit is clear and well-defined, and there’s just the slightest complicating hint of underbrush on the finish. Great balance and a sense of exuberance make this bottle perfect for the holiday weekend.

The Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Blanc de Blancs 2004, on the other hand, is a Champagne cut from a different mold. Its nose of graham cracker, toasted Jewish apple cake and cheese cake, warm hazelnuts, and ripe seckel pears evoke a more autumnal feeling: Perfect, again, for this transitional time of year. Still, the palate shows classically bright blanc de blancs acidity and a marvelous structure, the fruit bursting with orange, fresh lime, green apple, and a nod in the direction of Creamsicle. It has a lot of time left to keep on evolving, but it’s drinking beautifully right now. The finish sings with lemon and mandarin orange peel, and the Chardonnay’s minerality and transparency are on full display throughout. I’d buy several to follow over the next 10+ years.

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