Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Greetings from Austria!

I've been on the road in the absolutely beautiful springtime Austria, and, as with last time I visited, have found myself utterly impressed by the quality, range, and expressiveness of the wines here. And as always, wine-region travel is one of the best ways to see some of the most beautiful parts of the planet. To that end, though I'll be posting more extensive tasting notes and impressions later this week, after I return, I wanted to post this photo of one of my "offices" this week. It was taken yesterday morning, at our tasting of wines from the very impressive Leithaberg DAC. And yes, the tasting table is in the middle of the slope among the vines. Great way to start the day!
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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tasting Notes, and Heading to Austria

Before we get to the wine reviews today, I wanted to remind readers to check in over the next several days: I’m heading to Austria for a trip sponsored by the Austrian Wine Marketing Board, and will be touring and tasting in a number of the country’s most exciting regions, with a focus on Burgenland and Carnuntum. This trip constitutes a part-two of sorts to the one I attended in 2009, and, if the first one is any guide, I expect it to be a seriously eye-opening--and palate-tingling!--experience. Stay tuned for news, tasting notes, photos, videos, and more from one of the most exciting wine-producing countries in Europe.

In the meantime, while I finish packing my bags and gearing up for the jet-lag, take a look at the tasting notes for wines I’ve enjoyed recently, and which I definitely recommend you give a try.

Dow Vale do Bomfim 2008, Douro

Lots of primary cherry fruit and cherry-creme on the nose, limned by licorice, chocolate, and spice. Really jumps from the glass and possesses a bit more punch than expected: I like it a lot for that. On the palate, that cherry and spice follow through, with the spice picking up some real speed and character along the way and lingering through the finish. Surprisingly complex given the wildly affordable price point, and the quality of vineyards, as always, comes through. Drink now - 3 years.

Ruffino Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie “Lumina” 2010

A notably sweet pear and citrus nose, with hints of orange, orange blossom, and something that reminds me a bit of bubble gum, define the nose. Interesting, unexpected, and pleasant. On the palate, it shows similar sweeter fruit, with a perfumed twist to the mandarin-orange oil. A hint of honeysuckle emerges on the finish, which is crisp and mouthwatering and tinged with a sense of minerality. Drink now, preferably with a plate of sliced ham, a scattering of olives, and a hard cheese.

Kutch Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Coast

A gorgeously translucent garnet color presages a nose of utter classicism: Cherries and sous bois just after a rain and a touch, a flutter, of cola, though this isn’t sweet so much as it manifests its savorier notes. There’s also creaminess and a touch of brown spice to the nose. I could smell this for a long time and be perfectly happy. On the palate, it’s an amazing pleasure to drink, and owes more, perhaps, to Burgundy than it does to its Sonoma Coast brethren. It’s a food wine at heart, and plays up its beautiful mushroom and sous bois notes here with elegance and restraint: A California pinot for francophiles. With air, hints of tiny fraises de bois, spearmint, and maybe even some chamomile peek through, lending the wine balance and an alluring sense of complexity. This is, in the very best sense of it, a thoroughly grown-up wine, confident enough to eschew flash and find its footing, instead, in far more restrained, seamless, and classic notes. Excellent now, but will be even better in 3 - 4 years, and continue to improve until around 2020. Delicious, mouthwatering, and screaming for food.

Kutch Pinot Noir 2009 “McDougall Ranch,” Sonoma Coast

On the nose, this wine is practically vibrating with intensity, which is incredible given the detail and nimbleness of the aromas: There’s nothing plodding here at all. Like some sort of California Echezeaux equivalent, it’s singing with high-toned cherry and spice, a hint of licorice, sage, and violets. The oak, which still needs to be absorbed more fully, lends it all a nice vanilla and brown-spice character, and the 40% stem inclusion adds an almost birch-like note. On the palate, its youth becomes readily apparent: This is still fairly tightly wound, with a serious tannin structure kept fresh with well-calibrated acidity, but it’s clear that this is a wine for the cellar. There’s some sous bois in here, as well as pronounced spice and ripe black and red cherry, a touch of dried garrigue spice, and a seam of appealing minerality. It’s all quite mouth-watering despite the youthful tannins, and the cedar- and sandalwood-tinged finish drives along for a solid 45 seconds. Best from 5 - 14 years. This is going to be excellent. It already is.

Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay 2009, Carneros - Napa Valley

A very subtle nose of creamed fig and pear, as well as something a bit floral, quietly come from the glass: This is a confident, grown-up chardonnay, content to express itself without relying on too much flash. With air, the wood comes out a touch; this will integrate nicely with some more time in the cellar. There’s really pretty sweet fruit on the palate--ripe green apples, fresh figs, white peach--all punched up with fresh acidity and honey blossom, and carried on a texture that manages to gingerly coat the tongue while at the same time remaining lithe. Fascinating juxtaposition, and fabulous to drink. It’s all still tightly would, however, and will be best from 2 - 8 years.

Argyros Assyrtiko 2009, Santorini

Really appealing almond-apricot nose, with a high-toned citrus component. The perfume is subtle, but present nonetheless, and lends this wine’s aromatics a real sense of depth. There’s a touch of white flowers, too. On the palate, this white is crisp and mineral: It tastes of the sharp sun slanting off the Mediterranean and, with its lemon and mineral notes, begs for seafood, especially something oily like sardines. The finish shows a bit of that slightly underripe--and very appealing--apricot, too. A dangerously gulpable wine, and a great go-to for summertime fish preparations.

Spirit of the Week: Brugal Ron Añejo, Dominican Republic

For all the focus on single-malt Scotch, small-batch Bourbon, artisanally distilled gin and the like, rum still suffers from a bit of an identity crisis among far too many consumers. This, perhaps, is a result of the highly successful marketing of a handful of mammoth brands whose focus on the lifestyle aspects of the spirit eclipse and often overwhelm discussion of the rum itself. This is unfortunate, because good rum has the potential to be one of the most enjoyable, evocative spirits around.

I recently was sent a sample pack of Brugal Ron Añejo, a blend of 2- to 5-year-aged rum the color of a beautiful whiskey. From the moment you pour it into your glass, it becomes apparent that this is a rum that, while well-suited to high-end cocktails, is also fantastic to sip on its own. Aromas of coconut, chocolate, and dried tropical fruit drift from the glass and perfume the air around it. When you swirl and really focus on the rum, a spine of aromatic brown spice and vanilla emerges, lending it a sense of aromatic structure and throwing the sweeter tones of the nose into sharper relief. On the palate, tongue-coating but never viscous, there is a savory caramel and coconut character, as well as something that reminds me of a not-sweet root beer, that are flat-out irresistible. On the finish, there is a hint of saltiness that works in gorgeous opposition to the sweeter tones of the nose. It lingers on pleasantly, gradually growing more subtle until it finally recedes into a delicious memory. Excellent rum, and a spectacular value.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Twitter Tasting: Wente Vineyards

Just a reminder to check out the TasteLive Twitter Tasting this evening with Wente Vineyards, including Karl Wente, at 5:00pm Pacific, 8:00pm Eastern. We'll be tasting a number of wines, including bottlings of Tamas and Murrieta's Well, and I expect this to be an exceptionally interesting, educational experience. Click right here to sign up.
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Steven Spurrier, The Wine Media Guild, and Ravenswood

On June 13th, Steven Spurrier will be inducted into the Wine Media Guild’s Hall of Fame, Decanter.com reported. I’ve been a member of Guild for several years now, and currently serve as membership chair, and it’s an honor to be able to include Mr. Spurrier in a group of colleagues who have been inducted in the past, including Jancis Robinson, Michael Broadbent, and many more professionals who have changed the way we all drink and consider wine.

The ceremony itself will take place during a gala dinner at New York’s Four Seasons, an event I’ll be reporting on in the days following it. If it’s anything like last year, the tasting notes I post here could range from wines that are merely great all the way to the kind of legendary bottlings that most of us have only read about before.

Also, click over to John Mariani’s Virtual Gourmet. I have a piece in the current issue on the fantastic single-vineyard zinfandels of Ravenswood. If you’ve never tasted them before, I can’t recommend them highly enough: They have the potential to change what you think American’s great grape is capable of.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Pinot Noir Discussion

I've been tasting some great California pinots lately, and will be posting my tasting notes on them next week. So the timing was perfect when I came across this excellent discussion on GrapeRadio.com with two seriously up-and-coming winemakers from Burgundy, the French home of the great grape: Alexandrine Roy and Thomas Bouley. Click here for the full interview; there's a lot of information in there, so make sure you have something to sip while you're taking notes!
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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Drinking with the Devil

It’s not quite drinking with the devil, as the old rock and roll tune has it, but it’s close. Yesterday, Morell & Co. Fine Wine Auctions sold through every one of the lots that were up for sale in an auction of the wine and booze of Beelzebub himself, Bernie Madoff.

“All 59 lots, ranging from fine Bordeaux to the types of small bottles often found in hotel minibars, found buyers, with 54 selling above the highest estimated pre-auction price,” reported The Daily Mail today. “The winning bids exceeded the roughly $15,000 to $21,000 the auction...had been expected to raise.” Proceeds from it will go to the victims of Madoff’s massive Ponzi scheme.

As for the bottles themselves--well, aside from a few trophy lots and individual wines, let’s just say that Madoff didn’t spend his (not-so-hard-earned) money on the kind of things most wine lovers would. Sure, there was the case of Mouton-Rothschild 1996, as well as some other big-name bottles, but there were also airline-sized shots of spirits that some poor sap paid $300 for. (I repeat: $300 for mini bottles!)

CNBC.com quoted Ray Isle, Executive Wine Editor of Food and Wine Magazine, as saying about the collection: “‘It doesn’t strike me as a cellar of a guy who cared much about wine...The collection is so random. It’s a lot of individual bottles, the sign of a guy who received a lot of bottles of wine as a gift.’”

The moral of the story? Billions of dollars don’t necessarily make you a great wine collector, just a rich one. And, in the case of Madoff, a jailed one. I’ll toast to that...with a mini-bottle of booze from his now-sold collection.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

It's Here!

After months of planning and construction and anticipation, today marks the beginning of a new era in how you buy wine. The massive, beautiful, 14,000 square foot Wine Chateau Metuchen is open for business, and you won't believe what you find there, from new technology to luxurious touches that only could come from the team at Wine Chateau. Make sure to stop by and check out what we've all been waiting for!
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Monday, May 16, 2011

Weekend Reading for a Monday

Here in the east, it's a rainy, drab Monday--perfect for catching up on any wine reading you missed this weekend. Here, then, are a few articles of note to get you through the day, and perhaps inspire what bottle you pop open this evening after work.

Decanter.com is reporting that Michel Chapoutier, highly regarded Rhone Valley winemaker, "is looking for land to make wine in England." This comes on the heels of a number of awards and accolades that the English wine industry has garnered lately, and seems to be another step along its road to international recognition and respect.

John Mariani, in this week's edition of The Virtual Gourmet, has a fascinating article on the benefits of large-format wine bottles, which are always a treat to open, and make any occasion a bit more remarkable than it otherwise would have been.

Then there are two articles I wrote that ran recently--one on the connection between wine and the people who are responsible for its creation, from Affluent Magazine, and another on a particularly memorable food and wine pairing I recently enjoyed, which ran on FoodRepublic.com.

And, finally, something a bit different than what we normally cover here--a great article on pairing sake with food, in the new issue of Sommelier Journal.
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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Gerard Bertrand, the South of France, and Per Se

Yesterday, I had the very good fortune to attend a magnificent wine tasting and lunch, featuring the gorgeous wines of Gérard Bertrand, at New York’s Per Se. As always when I post a brief accounting of a tasting here, I’ll point out that more in-depth coverage will be posted or linked up here in the coming weeks. However, despite the brevity, I thought it was important to cover it here today.

As far as the wines, this was the second tasting and lunch I’ve attended in the past month or so featuring the absolutely stellar ones of southern France--the previous one focusing on Roussillon, and this one on the bottlings produced by Gérard Bertrand from a number of appellations in the south.

And while each of the 10 wines we enjoyed with lunch was unique, expressive of different terroirs and grape varieties, they all shared one very important characteristic in common: They were, each of them, exceptionally food-friendly. The Viognier Réserve Spéciale 2010, for all the classicism of its nose, sang with a vivd acidity that is far too often missing from this typically tricky grape variety. It brought out the sweetness in the halibut, whereas the biodynamic Cigalus White 2009, on the other hand, highlighted the fish’s more savory aspects. Its warm-souled notes of vanilla, lemon cream, and nutmeg were amazing compliments to the San Marzano tomato marmalade accompanying the fish.

Then there was the Corbières 2009, a classic grenache-syrah-mourvedre blend that was vivid with peppercorns, purple berry fruit, and a touch of game--perfect with the ribeye, as was the more subtle Pic St.-Loup “Grand Terroir” 2009. And you’d have a hard time finding a better pairing for the perfectly caramelized king trumpet mushroom than the Château L’Hospitalet Réserve Rouge 2009, its own perfume of warm plums and peppercorn adding remarkable depth to an already dizzyingly delicious dish.

The trio of wines we sipped alongside the cheese course each picked up a different component of the plating. From the concentrated black raspberries and slicing acidity of “La Forge” 2008, to the dustier tannins and red plums of “La Viola” 2007, to the mouth-coating, sappier fruit of L’Hospitalitas 2008, these were almost dangerous in the flat-out drinkability and enjoyment they provided.

Finally, a wine that I’m not embarrassed to say I dreamed about last night: The “Legend Vintage” Maury 1929, a stunner of a wine bursting with figs, dried apricots, tobacco and minerals, as well as an unexpected note of savory caramel. M. Bertrand called this wine “the soul of the Roussillon area,” and I couldn’t agree more. It was mature and profound, of course, but also amazingly bright, a wine that still has time left.

I just wish I ate and drank this well everyday.

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Monday, May 9, 2011

Vinho Verde!

As a wine professional, I hear the comments all the time: Many people tend to assume that sommeliers, wine writers, consultants, and the like spend our days drinking $100 bottles of prestigious wine, sniffing and swirling and slurping well into the night. And while many of us certainly do have the chance to taste some remarkable bottlings, we often seek out surprisingly undemanding wines for personal consumption. In this regard, it's like chefs who love burgers and wings and fries when they're not searing up slices of foie gras and opening up oyster shells.

To this end, I heartily recommend Vinho Verde, Portugal's great, inexpensive, supremely refreshing wine that, now that the springtime's heat has arrived, is a perfect refresher on its own and delicious with the lighter foods of the season. Check out this primer, linked up right here, from The Wall Street Journal this weekend. It covers everything except the best pairing (in my opinion) you can have with it: Fresh grilled sardines with olive oil, preferably eaten outside at a cafe somewhere, just like they do in Portugal. I had a chance to experience this a few years ago, and have been longing to get back and do it again ever since.
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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Wine Review Wednesday (On Thursday): The Wines of Xavier Flouret

The wines of Xavier Flouret represent something new and altogether wonderful in the world of high-end wine. According to their web site, which lays it out more succinctly than I can, “Xavier Flouret Wines is a curated portfolio of high-quality, boutique wines from generations-old family vineyards around the world.” As such, and considered individually and as a collected whole, they represent both the unique vision of Mr. Flouret and his team, as well as a fascinating, individualistic view of what’s possible when small, dedicated producers around the globe put their minds and their efforts to crafting the best wines they can from the land and grapes they know so intimately.

I met both Mr. Flouret and his partner, Vincent Renault, at Italian Wine Week in New York this past January, and was impressed by how enthusiastic and determined they are to keep on finding these fantastic producers and bringing them to the market. Below are my tasting notes on three of their more recent releases--all of them, as expected, excellent.

Xavier Flouret Chenin Blanc “Fynbos” 2010, Produced and bottled by Mooiplaas Wine Estate, Stellenbosch, South Africa

The nose here is so evocative of honeycomb, peach, beeswax, and apricot--the complexity is fabulous, yet worn with a remarkable sense of lightness: No heavy-handedness here. With time, pineapple, lemon, lemon verbena, and toffee emerge too, as well as brown Southeast Asian spices. On the palate, it shows plenty of fresh and baked pear, quince, and a sense of lemon-blossom honey that also manifests itself in the texture. There’s so much depth here, so much nuance and concentration, all of it livened up perfectly by acidity that’s astoundingly balanced. Just a gorgeous chenin blanc, its hints of sweetness attenuated by a savory quality. Fabulous.

Xavier Flouret Quattro Canti IGT 2007, Produced and bottled by Fantascià, Sicily

There’s a notably warm, comforting nose here, with notes of fig paste, smoked plums, and chocolate-cherry caramels. On the palate, an intriguing balance between the velvety feel and the lighter body than that texture implies. It’s surprisingly complex, too, with flavors of dark cherry, more fig paste, tobacco, and, on the finish, an iron-like sense of minerality. Really well-made and complicated, with a beautiful interaction between two grape varieties that you don’t typically see together (nero d’Avola and cabernet franc). Lovely and exciting. Very well-integrated and rip tannins, solid structure, and sexy right now, though the cocoa-powder tannins on the finish, and nicely fresh acidity, promise a life of 5 - 7 more years.

Xavier Flouret uQamata 2007, Produced and bottled by Amani Vineyards, Stellenbosch, South Africa

What a nose on this wine: Sweet roasted green bell peppers that are perfectly ripe and expressive, chalk, sweet cigar tobacco leaf, and plenty of spice: Complex, integrated, and varied. Wow. On the palate, all of the notes of the nose come through with crystal clarity, and are joined by mouth-watering acidity, perfectly harmonious and sweet tannins, and flavors of cherries, wild raspberries, birch bark, licorice, and subtle minerality. The finish shows oolong tea and chamomile, and the grip here is unexpected and perfectly balanced, and makes this wine amazing right now and super-promising for another 5-7 years. Cabernet franc, merlot, malbec, petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Back from LA!

I'm back from Los Angeles, where Wine Chateau yet again poured and discussed wines for some of the brightest stars in entertainment--this time at the GBK celebrity gift lounge at the George Lopez Celebrity Golf Classic at the Riviera Country Club. Keep an eye out in the coming days--or next week at the latest--for photos from the event. Everyone from Jimmy Jam to Andy Garcia to Kevin Nealon to Cedric the Entertainer stopped by for a glass. And the best part is the cause: The event was held to benefit the Lopez Foundation, whose mission, according to its web site, "is to create positive, permanent change for underprivileged children and adults confronting challenges in education and health, as well as increasing community awareness about kidney disease and organ donation."

Not a bad way to spend a Monday!
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