Saturday, November 28, 2009

Barrel Tasting, Kinkead Ridge and La Vigna

Today was barrel tasting day at some of the wineries in this area so that meant some driving and sipping. And since the samples were small there was little worry of overindulgence.

Between the two wineries we visited (Kinkead Ridge and La Vigna) we tasted five barrel samples from the 2008 vintage, and three red wines from the bottled 2007 vintage and two whites from the bottled 2008 vintage. The results were quite interesting for the red wines and consistent at both wineries. The 2007 wines are big, full flavored, young and delicious. The 2008 wines have many of the same characteristics but seem to add a dimension of elegance to that mix. Both are very, very good vintages in this area. Sadly, the 2009 vintage is very poor - the price one pays in this area.

At Kinkead Ridge we tasted, in order, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. The Syrah was the most closed of the wines, the Cab Franc the most open and instantly appealing, the Petit Verdot the darkest and most flavorful, but the Cabernet Sauvignon was my favorite. Flavor, body, acid, tannin, oak were all first class. Time to put away some $ between now and September of 2010 when the bottled wines will be released.

This past September I purchased a mixed case of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc from the 2007 vintage, and it was good to taste those wines again to see how they were developing. I have yet to open any of mine. I was more than pleased with the progress the two wines showed in the bottle. Again, the Cabernet Sauvignon was my favorite.

From Ripley, Ohio we headed downriver and inland a short way to visit La Vigna, holding their first ever barrel tasting. No one in Ohio has a prettier setting for a vineyard, a gentle slope overlooking some hills in the distance. Sadly, my camera was not part of the equipment on this day.

La Vigna makes only two wines, Proprietary Red Wine and Proprietary White Wine. We started with the barrel sample of the 2008 red wine. This wine was wound really tight out of the barrel and it took some seriously swirling to open up. There was fruit and spice, a healthy dose of oak, good acid, and in the end a flavorful finish and burst of fruit that I liked. This wine also got my interest because of a change in oak that I want to watch develop. The 2007 Red (their first vintage) used Kentucky white oak with French ends while the 2008 is aging partly in white oak from Minnesota, again with French ends. The grain on the Minnesota oak is tighter. An interesting experiment that needs some time, but if the barrel sample is correct it's an experiment that's working.

As at Kinkead Ridge the 2007 bottled wine was brawnier, a stand up wine with a lengthy finish. Once again, I found a little more elegance and balance in the 2008 version. The wines is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. There were only 24 cases made in the 2007 vintage.

We also tasted the bottled 2008 white wine, a wine that is 100% Petit Manseng, As much as I hate sweet pineapple in overbearing Chardonnay wines, I liked the pineapple in this wine. It was tart and refreshing as opposed to sweet and syrupy and it was the result of the grape and not the overuse of oak. There was also some spice in this wine, a bare hint of cloves. This was a full bodied wine and had a mouthfeel like a Condrieu to me. 64 cases were made of this wine.

The wine budget will take another hit come release of La Vigna's 2008 Proprietary Red.

Friday, November 27, 2009

White Thanksgiving

There were two Thanksgiving dinners yesterday, one early in the day with wines and one later in the day with water. The wine accompanied dinner was obviously my favorite of the two.

By pre-agreement there were only white wines at the dinner and all three were good but very different. Each made it's own mark and the day proved an interesting experiment.

The menu, of course, was turkey and we found profound differences in the wines as it related to the bird.

The three wines were a 2007 Handley Gerwurztraminer from Medocino county in California, a 2007 Leitz Rudesheimer Klosterlay Kabinett from the Rheingau, and a 2008 Huber Gruner Veltliner from Austria.

The Handley had the Gerwurz funk going on in spades; musky taste, cloves, cardamon, etc. After several samples we decided it was best with the dark meat of the turkey. The extra body in the wine paired well with the slight gaminess in the dark meat. It tended to overpower the white meat from the turkey breast.

The Leitz was delicate, smelled of lime zest and wet slate and was a great match with the breast meat, but was overpowered somewhat by the darker meat. The acid was super on this wine.

The Gruner didn't really match with the turkey at all, but it really perked up with the side dishes of green beans, corn, bread stuffing. Amazingly it matched very well with a cranberry and orange salad.

Three good wines, good food and good friends.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Washington Hills Riesling

There's lots of talk lately about good Rieslings coming out of Washington State. It's a rarity to find a good one coming out of California, but Washington and Oregon show promise - along with New York, Ohio and Michigan.

There was a somewhat spicy chicken breast the other night so I unscrewed the top on a Washington Hills 2008 Riesling. The nose smelled sweet and perfumey, not really a good thing in my book. There was sweet apple and a little pineapple in the nose along with perfume. The taste was more pineapple and kiwi. The acid was a little low in this wine and the residual sugar was a little high. It had been sitting on a shelf next to a "Late Harvest" Riesling from the same winery and I opted for what I thought would be the drier of the two.

It probably was drier than the late harvest version, but this wine was more a cross between a German Spatelese and an Auslese. It really didn't go well with the chicken breast.

Last night I drank the second half of this bottle but the meal was different. There were two chicken egg rolls and a bowl of spring onion soup. The wine was somewhat better with the egg rolls than the chicken breast, but when the fiery hot Chinese mustard was added to the mix it finally found its pairing. The mustard was sinus clearing, but the residual sugar in this wine cooled that somewhat.

Not the best American Riesling I've had by a long shot, but it was finally good with the mustard.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Late last winter I bought a mixed case of 2006 Chianti Classicos. They were squirreled away for the summer and mostly forgotten save for an extra bottle of Fattoria di Felsina that I found mismarked at a wine shop. That wine was very good.

Last night I opted to try the 2006 Querciabella. There was some veal scallopini and pasta, a salad and some crusty bread for picking up the sauce. The sauce on the veal was full flavored and tart, thanks to some lemon juice and zest added at the end of cooking.

The minute this wine hit the glass my nose told me it was a winner. It gushed of sweet, medium dark cherries, a little spice, some wonderful clean earth and a wee bit of smoke. Every one of those flavors was there in the taste, and there was nothing shy about the depth of those flavors. The fruit was exceptional. The wine had that wonderful, sharp Chianti acid and enough tannin to refresh the mouth between sips.

It married with the veal like they had known each other for years. The wine picked up the veal, and the veal did a lot to bring out the fruit in the wine. It's not possible to ask for much more from a Chianti Classico, other than to ask for another bottle. This is the standard to which the other 2006 Chiantis must measure up. Just an excellent wine.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

2005 Chateau Gloria and 1999 Oroppas

It was a sunny but cool yesterday and the college football scores were all correct from my point of view. To celebrate a friend fired up his grill and pulled out his corkscrew for a late afternoon dinner.

There was a method to his madness as the 2005 Chateau Gloria from St. Julien is on sale at one of the local outlets and he was trying to determine whether to buy a few extra bottles to put away. We volunteered to help with the experiment.

We snacked for awhile on some duck pate with orange peel and pistachios and a Sweet Grass Dairy ripened cow's milk cheese from Georgia. There was also some crusty bread and Olio Nuovo discussed below. We decanted Gloria for a little more than hour, pouring an small initial amount into the glasses just to sniff and taste. Fruity in the nose with hints of some wood. The taste was still closed so we left the wine alone.

Dinner was a small saddle of lamb and baked sweet potatoes so there wasn't much work to do.

When the meal was ready we poured the wine. Definitely medium weight cherries and some clean earth in the nose. The wine tasted of dark cherries, some red currants and earth. The acid was great and the tannins were moderate and soft. There was a very good mouth feel to this wine. It was smooth and balanced. It wasn't an overly big wine, but Gloria never is. The wine has a couple of years before it hits its peak. I liked the earthy finish on this wine.

As the meal was ending the cork came out of the 1999 St. Clement Oroppas from the Saint Helena area of Napa Valley. This was a bigger wine with fuller fruit and a different flavor profile. Here there were dark currants, blackberries and plums. Though it was a bigger wine than the Gloria it wasn't over the top. There was good balance, good acid and tannins. A very good wine but it was more one dimensional than the Gloria. That dimension was fruit, and I preferred the Gloria because it mixed some earth in with the fruit.

I wouldn't turn down a bottle of either.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

2005 Mazzocco Petit Verdot

Brambly and prickly on the nose with medium dark fruit and some earth. Good medium dark fruit in the taste with a little bit of greeness which I liked. Not overly ripe and jammy and that was a big plus. Lots of tannin but they were well integrated and not coarse at all. Good acidity. Nice long finish and only 14.5% alcohol.

Dinner was a small beef tenderloin that was pan roasted. There was a pan sauce made while the meat was resting, wine, shallots, garlic, Dijon mustard, beef stock and butter. Good meal with the wine.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Domaine du Salvard 2008

Lots of new stuff on the shelf a couple weeks ago when I was at one of the local wine stores. Last night the cork came out of one of them.

The wine was a 2008 Domaine du Salvard, a Cheverny from the Loire region of France . The nose was alive with spring grasses and citrus peel, a very fresh smell. The citrus was predominant in the taste with some tart, green table grapes along for the ride. There was a bit of fresh orange juice mouth feel to this wine, but in taste it was mostly about grapefruit. The acidity was tremendous and there was good length to the finish. The wine reminded me most of a Sancerre, though the price was about $10 cheaper. What made the wine even more drinkable was the 12% alcohol. One could have an extra glass with dinner without falling asleep after.

There were some day boat scallops for dinner that were pan seared over high heat on one side and then basted with butter and pan drippings after being turned in the skillet to brown on the other side. Once they were barely done they were removed from the skillet and some lemon juice was added to make a bright, citrusy sauce. The wine and the scallops were nearly perfect together.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sausage and Shiraz

One quick dinner over the weekend that was really good. Those are breakfast sausage links that were browned in an iron skillet. Some thinly sliced garlic was added, along with some fresh chopped rosemary and a little water. In went some fresh table grapes and a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Everything cooked just until the grapes were cooked through and began to pop. There was some crusty bread and some rice to make a meal.

The wine was a 2004 Cascabel Shiraz from the Fleurieu peninsula of Australia. Somewhat understated for an Australian Shiraz. Good fruit flavors and depth without being overpowering. Lots of sweet fruit in the nose. Full bodied but actually showing some restraint. 14.5% alcohol. Nice drinking wine at this time and perfect with the meal.

Friday, November 13, 2009

2009 Olio Nuovo

In addition to wine one of the special pleasure of the fall arrived yesterday, a freshly pressed olive oil from the 2009 harvest. In this case it is from the California Olive Ranch Olio Nuovo and the olives were harvest just over a week ago.

It was cracked open last night. It's bright, vivid green, almost an electric green. There's lots of fruit in the nose, some tartness and a somewhat minty aroma. The taste is pure, fresh olive with a few added herbs, primarily rosemary. The pungency shows up in the mid-palate and the finishing bitterness and mild heat is there at the end.

The oil was poured into a small container and some crusty bread was dipped in it. Delicious. By the end of the weekend there will be some tossed with freshly made pasta. Good stuff.

As an added bonus, the first shipment of wine from Michel Schlumberger arrived today. I'm away until Sunday, but the weekend is going to end very well.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

California Odds and Ends

The photo at the left is downtown St. Helena in Napa Valley. The dog is waiting patiently while his owner is eating a late breakfast inside a small bakery (the morning buns were delicious). It's was nice to be in St. Helena after the summer tourist rush had ended.

One other wine we drank that deserves some love here was a 2004 Rochioli Pinot Noir. Dark purple in the glass, the wine was loaded with flavors of cherries. The tannins were settling a little and the acid was sufficient. It was quite a mouthful of wine for a Pinot, probably because of the 14.5% alcohol. Still it matched nicely with a roasted chicken and bread salad served as the entree. It is nearly always a treat to drink a Rochioli wine and this one was no different.

One more dog photo below. The dogs in question here are Gizmo, a Papillon, and Sophie, a Gordon Setter puppy who has been in the country only a month from Britain. The two had just had a bath and were recovering in the sunshine on the deck. After all, the title of this blog is "Two Dogs...."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Michel Schlumberger Winery

This is a somewhat longer post than normal, so be forewarned. One of the highest points of the California trip was an impromptu visit to the Michel-Schlumberger Winery in Dry Creek Valley.

From reading their winery blog I had been interested in the winery, and having found only two of their wines in the local market I wanted to taste more. I very much liked their 2003 Maison Rouge and the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, both of which were discussed here last Spring.

We were heading north on West Dry Creek Road and passed A. Rafinelli winery and spotted Quivira Winery. I visited both of these wineries in the early 1990's and still think they make good wine, though the Rafinelli wines are getting a little high in alcohol. Winery Creek Road, which leads to M-S, was dead center between those two wineries. We made the left turn and drove the quarter mile to the winery, pictured above, and stopped unannounced.

We were greeted warmly, especially by Luke, the winery's 14 year old Tibetan Terrier who stayed with us for almost the entire visit. Sometimes it helps to smell a little bit like a dog and give good ear scratches and tail rubs.

The three of us tasted several wines. Let's not beat around the bush - I liked every wine I tasted. All were flavorful and balanced and had moderate alcohol levels. 90% of the wine I drink is with food and each of the wines tasted would be delicious with food.

The 2008 Pinot Blanc was tart and refreshing. It almost reminded me of a Vinho Verde from Portugal. It was well balanced and just cried out for a plate of calamari or a summer picnic.

The wine I was least looking forward to was the 2007 La Brume Chardonnay. Most California Chardonnays for the last ten years have been food disasters. They are big, buttery, oaky and high in alcohol - everything I don't like with food. The problem is that they sell in the market place. After the second sip of this wine I knew that the decision to visit here was correct. There was good fruit, sharp acid and only enough oak to make the wine interesting. There was a little bit of spice and a good core of Asian pear, sweet, crisp apple and it finished with a hint of minerality. Thank heaven there was no syrupy pineapple in this wine. It would be great with a pan seared chicken breast on a bed of butter braised leeks and pine nuts.

The 2006 Pinot Noir was also a pleasant surprise. It was medium weight with bright cherry flavors and a wonderful earthiness on the finish. Good wine.

There were two Cabernets up next, a 2001 Estate Cabernet and and the 2006 version of the same wine tasted side by side. The 2001 was fully mature and laid back with a bit of fresh mint on the finish that I particularly liked. The 2006 was young and tannic but had greater body. It had good dark cherry and blackberry flavors, wonderful acidity and a wonderful finish. The 2001 is for drinking now and the 2006 is for putting away for a couple of years.

The final wine was the 2004 Deux Terres Cabernet Sauvignon, the reserve wine. It was a definite step up into the special treat category. There was a lot of dark fruit in this wine, especially fully ripe black plums. There was spice and earth, particularly I thought I could pick out a hint of cloves. There was a slight smoky taste in the finish. This was a big wine, but it was incredibly balanced and food friendly.

By the end of this day I did something I have never done before, I signed up for their wine club. I've visited a lot of wineries in California and elsewhere over the years but this was the first one where I liked everything they poured. At most wineries I will find a wine or two that I like and several that aren't really my cup of tea. I always felt it was better to simply buy the few wines I liked in the local market and not bother with the ones I didn't care for. With the difficulty of finding their wines in this area it was time to make an exception.

As the visit ended Luke was kind enough to walk us back to the car and he got one more ear scratch before we headed farther north.

Beaulieu Rutherford 2002

It was an absolutely beautiful day yesterday and since there was a sale on porterhouse steaks the grilling season continued. The steak was large enough for several folks with some left over for Scott.

The wine was a Beaulieu Vineyards Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon from the heart of the Napa Valley. Dark, mature red in the glass with a nose of dark cherries, cedar, cassis and a hint of chocolate. There was quite a bit of sediment clinging to the sides of the bottle as the first glass was poured. The dark cherries were prominent in the taste with some blackberries hiding underneath. Great acid and soft, mature tannins. This wine felt good and full in the mouth. The end was long with a little more fruit, some smoke, some tannin and a little bit of good, clean dirt to finish. The wine was 13.8% alcohol, proving again to me that Napa does not need to extract alcohol of 14.5% and above to make great wine. There was subtlety to this wine and it was delicious. The Beaulieu Rutherford remains the best value in Napa Cabernets to me. This wine was bought on sale for $19 several years ago. The current release is $28.

There were some potatoes finished in duck fat to go with the steak, and we picked the last tomatoes of the year to go in a small salad. The tomatoes were in a small, protected corner so the frosts had missed them, and they get morning sun. The vines just kept on producing and I kept on harvesting.

The three on the bottom of photo are ripening on the counter, but we managed five more for a total harvest of eight. The additional five were in last night's salad.

Today will be equally beautiful and that means one more day of grilling. With the days getting shorter and darkness coming before 6:00 PM I find we are eating a little earlier in the day.

Friday, November 6, 2009

1999 Penfold's Grange

It's always good to have friends who call and say, "I want to open a good bottle, what are you doing?" The answer in this case was, "I'm on my way."

The 1999 Penfold's Grange was the star of the evening. It was decanted for a little more than an hour. The color was inky dark, almost black. Initially the nose was totally closed but with some time in the decanter blueberries, blackberries, warm spice and damp earth peeked out. When dinner was nearly ready we poured the first glass from the decanter. One could smell the wine from a considerable distance and it literally filled the room with its aromas..

The taste was massively fruity up front with blueberries and cherries, fully ripe. It stayed that way through the mid palate with some earth and tannin kicking in along the sides of the tongue. The finish was sweet without being over the top and ended with some cedar and leather kicking in to match the fruit. Neither the acid nor the tannin stood out, but for a huge wine it still left the mouth refreshed and wanting more. Completely balanced and a total pleasure.

This was really a comparative tasting, and not designed around the wine. There were two cuts of lamb for dinner, a rib rack and a loin rack, and each was prepared simply and identically. It was interesting that even though the wine was magnificent with both, the extra gaminess of the rib rack made the wine jump a little more.

As an additional comparison there was a second wine, a 2003 Stag's Leap Artemis Cabernet from Napa Valley. This was a good wine in it's own right with dark cherries, cassis and earth, but it was certainly overshadowed. It was interesting that I actually preferred the Stag's Leap with the loin rather than the rib rack.

The bottom line, I've had some extremely good wines this year but I suspect that the search for my own "Wine of the Year" is probably over. This wine was a rare treat.

The photo was compliments of my friend and was taken with a cell phone camera. I was so excited about the wine I forgot to take my camera to document things.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Wines, Dinners and Coals to Newcastle

There were several good dinners consumed in California and more than several wines. Pictured above are two wines we drank with an unusual braised pork dinner. On the right is the 2005 Helios Cabernet Franc from Corison winery while on the left was a completely new wine to me, a
2004 Cartuxa, Evora, Tinto Colheita from Portugal.

The Helios was young and fresh with tart blueberries and some darker cherries in the taste. There was also a slight vegetable hint to it that I found appealing. Good acid, moderately low alcohol and young, green tannin balanced out a full fruit flavor. The Cartuxa was a darker wine in both color and taste, and also tasted a little riper. Definitely dark, sweet cherries and deep dark plums were prominent. The tannins were a little softer and it was a little lower in acid than the Helios, but the finish was long and flavorful. On my initial sip I felt it was going to finish a little sweet, but that didn't happen. Both were nice wines.

The braised pork was a shoulder that had been cubed and marinated in a dry rub for a couple of days, then braised in white wine, milk and tomatoes. It was very good and a surprising hit. The sauce cooked down and would make the most wonderful cream of tomato soup. I liked both wines with the pork but would give the nod to the Helios for the slightly higher acid.

Earlier in the week there was a rib eye roast that was seasoned simply and cooked in in a moderate oven. I always make it a habit to take a bottle of wine with me so this year for the first time I took an Ohio wine, Kinkead Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2004 vintage. Like the title of this piece says, taking an Ohio Cabernet to northern California is rather like carrying the coals to Newcastle to help the city burn a little more. It was a very good wine that is now at its peak. The tannins have matured and softened a little but the wine retained good acid and its currant flavors. Good match with the rib roast and not out of place in any way in some very good company.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

2006 Paul Jaboulet Parallele 45

The 2006 vintage of the Paul Jaboulet Parallele 45 Cote du Rhone is currently on sale in this area for $11 a bottle. Sunday night was about a good steak from the grill and a pyramid of curried couscous set on a bed of dandelion greens.

The wine is 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah. Lots of bright cherry cola flavors from the Grenache and a little bit of darker, crisper fruit from the Syrah made this a bargain at the price. Good acid, a wee bit of soft tannin and a nice pleasant finish paired well with the meat. The soft tannin and the 13% alcohol also meant it went well with the heat from the curry powder in the couscous. Good wine for the next couple of years.

Still working on more California notes.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Corison, Kronos Vineyard 2004

Let's start at the top. The intent on the recent California trip was to stay in Sonoma County, primarily the Dry Creek and Alexander valleys. Strange things always seem to happen, so on the first day we decided to go to Napa Valley for lunch. And if one is in Napa valley it isn't too difficult to find a winery.

We were eating in the south end of St. Helena and about 200 yards south of us was the Corison Winery.

Regular readers of this blog know my current dislike for the majority of Napa Valley Cabernet based wines. I consider them sweet, alcoholic, over extracted, too ripe, unbalanced and tiring to drink. No question that they are well made wines, but they simply overpower most food and are so alcoholic that one glass is enough to cause a buzz. It's not my style of wine.

There are exceptions and Corison is certainly one of them. There are three labels at the winery and the Corison label is only used on the two 100% Cabernet wines, the Napa Valley and the Kronos Vineyard. We tasted the 2006 Napa Valley and the 2004 Kronos Vineyard along with a Gerwerztraminer and a Cabernet Sauvignon rose' under the Corazon label and a Merlot and a Cabernet Franc under the Helios label. The best came at the end with the two Cabernet Sauvignons.

The 2006 Napa is a blend of several vineyards in Rutherford and St Helena. The wine was tight in the nose with hints of spice, dry leather and bright fruit. The taste was about dark cherries and ripe plums. The acid was high and refreshing. The tannins were young and prominent, but smooth and tight. The finish left one with fruit and a hint of chocolate. Very good wine.

The Kronos Vineyard 2004 was like a trip to the past when I loved Napa Cabernets. The wine was dark with a nose of cherries, spices, cedar and dark chocolate. All of that was there in the taste of the wine along with some blackberries and good, clean earth. Again, the acid was a delightful surprise. The tannins were plentiful but they were ripe and soft. This was a big tasting wine, but it was so balanced with acid and tannin that it just cried out for two years bottle age and a rib roast or some venison. It has been a long time since I had a Napa Cabernet that I enjoyed this much.

Both of these Cabernets were 13.8% alcohol by volume. They aren't inexpensive wines by any stretch of the imagination, but they are definitely delicious. For the record the Napa Valley wine is $70 at the winery and the Kronos is $125.

I'm not in the habit of paying over $100 a bottle for wine, but I made an exception for one bottle of this wine. It was a special treat and in a couple of years there will be a wonderful meal around this wine.