Wednesday, December 30, 2009

George de Latour Reserve 1997

The final wine at the Christmas dinner was a Beaulieu George de Latour Private Reserve from the heralded 1997 vintage in Napa.

Big wine that out of the bottle almost reminded me of an Australian Shiraz.  With a little breathing time the blackberry and dark cherry fruit began to emerge.  Full bodied wine with a big mouth feel to it, good gripping tannins, but a touch low in acid.    After half an hour the earthy component to the wine began to emerge and it became a a much better wine.

The fruit was there, and it was fully ripe.  Underneath the fruit was that earthiness and the tannin from the oak, and the tannin seem to go on forever with this wine.  No doubt the wine needed more time to breathe. This was a very good wine, but not my favorite George de Latour.

All three wines wines with the dinner were good and would have been wonderful on their own, but three bottles always means there will be comparison.  For this dinner the Mazzocco came out on top, followed by the Caymus and the Beaulieu.

Now it's on to New Year's weekend and there are some corks pleading to come out of some bottles.

Monday, December 28, 2009

2001 Mazzocco Matrix

It was a close call, but the best wine with the Christmas prime rib was the 2001 Mazzocco Matrix.

This wine was not as heavy or extracted as the Caymus discussed below.  It had a wonderful nose that not only showed some ripe fruit but had an earthy and herbal quality to it.  The wine was 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Malbec and 17% Merlot.  New oak was also apparent in the nose.

The taste and body was lighter and not as 'in your face' as the Caymus, but still one could pick out cassis and blackberries.  The oak and its tannin were a factor here and this was evident on the side of the tongue.  The acid was great and the tannins were there at the finish. That finish was drier and less sweet than the Caymus and that played nicely off the fat in the prime rib.  This wine cleared and refreshed the palate between bites of meat without leaving a sweet taste in the mouth.

As a stand alone wine it was lighter, but this wasn't about a wine being the raison d'etre for the evening, it was about a wine that was best with the food.  We didn't sit down to drink a bottle of wine, we sat down to eat Christmas dinner and wash it down with a good wine.  That's why this wine shone brightest of the three.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Caymus Special Selection, 2001

The cork came out of the bottle and the room was full of rich fruit, dark, ripe and luscious.  There was an underlying scent of earth and tobacco.

The taste was more than full, it was almost viscous.  There were currants, blackberries and cassis all forward and filling the mouth with the sweet taste of ripe fruit at its peak.  The tannin was well integrated  and not drying at all.  On the finish there was a suggestion of tobacco smoke and length that just kept going.  Opulent is the only way to describe this wine.

With the standing rib roast the wine seemed almost too ripe and came close to being overbearing and cloying.  I would have preferred more acid and a less sweet finish, but these are small matters.  As a stand alone bottle of wine it would be hard to beat, but as a dinner companion it left a few things out of the mix.

I remembered my first taste of a Caymus Special Selection, a just released 1981, that came more than a few years ago.  I stopped by the winery on a visit to Napa and the late Charlie Wagner asked if I wanted to taste some wine.  We walked into the converted chicken coop and he poured a couple of vintages of the estate wine and then said, "try this one."  At that point in time it was the best California wine I ever had.  I was surprised that the cost was only $30 and remarked that I had just been to Stag's Leap the previous day and they were charging an astounding $50 for Cask 23, their reserve wine. 

Charlie Wagner remarked, "Any one who charges you that much for a bottle of wine is just on an ego trip."  I wish that were still true.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Perfectly Said

Two of the professional wine critics whose opinion I value the most are John Brecher and Dorothy Gaiter who write the Tastings column for the Wall Street Journal.

In their latest and sadly their last column (which you can read by clicking here) they review the best wines they tasted this year.  Preceding that list is a discussion on what makes a wine great, and it contained the following....

By allowing other people to ridicule any wine you like or criticize the way you enjoy it, or by allowing others to decide for you what is and is not a fine wine, you are genuinely missing the point of wine, which is this: Your enjoyment of any wine is an extension of yourself, your emotions, your experiences and your circumstances when you drink it. A truly fine wine is like a truly fine poem: It's not just about what the poet thought or felt when he or she wrote it, but what you thought or felt when you read it. Different people will experience the same exact wine differently, and vive la différence.
Wonderful point of view!

I wish them all the best now that their column is ending. This is like losing old and valued freinds.

Christmas Wine - The Main Day

In retrospect a Christmas Day meal is sometimes overkill, but it never seems so at the beginning.  Yesterday was no exception.  There was great food, good friends and three great wines that each would have made the day special on its own.  The dinner was three large cuts of standing rib roast of beef, cooked to varying temperatures to satisfy a large crowd of fifteen people with diverse opinions on how well done beef should be.

There are four wines pictured above and three of them were opened and consumed, the fourth waiting for another day and another meal.    Two were opened before dinner to breathe a little while the beef roasted and appetizers were eaten.  Both were from the 2001 vintage in California.  From Napa there was a Caymus Special Selection and from Sonoma there was a Mazzocco Matrix.  After a quick sniff and sip those were put aside to await the beef.  When those two bottles were emptied during dinner the Beaulieu George Latour Reserve from Napa was opened.  The 1996 Robert Mondavi Reserve finished the day with the cork still in it, waiting another meal.

Each wine deserves it's own space and to keep postings short they will get their own page over the next couple of days.

The favorite wine of the evening was the Mazzocco Matrix, a meritage wine from Sonoma County.  It was nicely balanced between fruit extract and oak and it left a drier taste in the mouth on the finish, and that paired well with the richness of the beef. All three were great wines and two probably have longer lives ahead of them but on this evening I preferred the Mazzocco.

Pictured is one of the appetizer plates for the evening.  It's simply shrimp with two sauces, a standard tomato based cocktail sauce and a sauce of mayonnaise, reduced shrimp cooking liquid, lemon juice and blue cheese.   The early wine of the day was 2005 Grosset Watervale Riesling from the Clare Valley of Australia.  Wonderful stuff to sip with appetizers.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Bottles - Grosset Gaia 1998

The holidays began quite well, thank you. Christmas Eve dinner was a small affair here before we move on today and throughout the weekend to some family gatherings and parties.

After an appetizer of some large shrimp in the late afternoon we pan seared some thick lamb chops from free range Colorado lamb.  They were crusted with fresh rosemary, thyme and garlic all finely chopped.  There was a baked potato,popped open on the top and finished with sweet butter and black truffle salt, the smell alone enough to send my appetite into over drive.

From the cellar we pulled a bottle that was resting there for about eight years, a Grosset Gaia from the 1998 vintage in the Clare Valley of Australia.  The wine was 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc and 5% Malbec and checked in at 14% alcohol by volume.  The wine was decanted for about 40 minutes, though a sniff and sip were almost immediate.

The nose was about dark fruit, cassis and blackberries, with just a hint of some herbs.  The taste and the mouth feel were remarkable.  The wine was perfectly balanced with acid, fruit, and tannin and everything was together and singing some great harmony.  The fruit was softly there but not aggressive, the acid was the same.  The wood and grape tannins held everything together and were only noticeable on their own at the very end.  There was a small burst of fruit alongside the tannins and some cinnamon to clear the palate.

There's a word I rarely use when talking about Australian wines, but this wine qualifies.  The wine was "elegant."  While a little more fruit driven than a well aged Bordeaux, it was a more than worthy companion for those wines.   I'm certain that the eleven years of bottle age did this wine proud.  There was a fair amount of sediment clinging to the sides of the bottle so the wine had definitely changed since bottling.  Sadly, this was the last bottle of three of this wine that I purchased for $30 each.  One was consumed immediately and another about five years ago. This was by far the best of the three.

The photo is a stylized rendition of the real item.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

La Vieille Ferme Rouge

Here's the red version of La Vieille Ferme, this one a Cote du Ventoux from the 2007 vintage. The white discussed below was very good and even better on the second day, so yesterday it was time to try the red brother.

This is a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault. Medium color and weight and a somewhat closed nose, but still smelling of fruit and some light spice. Nice fruit flavor of strawberries and raspberries up front, decent acid but very little tannin made for a short finish. There was little depth to the wine, but then again this is a knock down wine for those times you just want a glass of wine and don't want to critique it. It succeeds on that level, but for the $9 price tag some other wines are more successful. In short - the white is better.

It was actually over powered by a pan seared skirt steak that was only minimally seasoned, but the second half of the bottle on day two was better with a chicken pot pie.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Calamari, Sherry & Flamingos

Great price yesterday on fresh calamari at the market so tonight we feasted. They were cut into rings and tentacles and tossed in flour seasoned with salt, pepper and smoked Spanish paprika. Then they were quickly deep fried so there was a slightly smokey and crunchy crust and tender, sweet meat on the inside. There was a spicy remoulade sauce for dipping, some good bread and a salad with dried cranberries marinated in sweet vermouth for a garnish. Great little meal.

With the calamari we poured a couple glasses of Barbadillo Manzanilla Sherry. It was pale in the glass with a nose of dried nuts and fruit and unmistakable salt spray. It danced on the tongue with the calamari, and really picked up the smoked paprika in the seasoned flour. Long dry finish that simply called for that second glass.

Once the dishes were cleared we poured a glass of Barbadillo's Olorosso Sherry, pictured here. Much darker and much fuller in the nose this wine just begged to be sipped. Toasted almonds and very dried fruit were predominant, and though the wine was fully dry it gave a hint of sweetness at the end. It was perfect as dessert with a few smoked almonds.

The full range of Barbadillo wines are on sale in the local market and they are true bargains at $12.

As Christmas nears there was a mysterious "Package From Pekin" that arrived in the mail containing strange gifts. Among those gifts was another flamingo Christmas ornament which seem to gravitate toward my location. The newest addition to the flock is the resting flamingo in the center of the the picture, posing with about half of total collection. And while we're covering additions to the household we should add that there is now a canine addition as well. There were "two dogs" when this blog started but one of them, Ellie, died suddenly in November of 2008. It took a year but her sister Doer is now here keeping Scott company when no one else is around. She's even getting into squirrel chasing.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Old Farm

So along with the new "house red" discussed below it appears there may be a new "house white" for every day drinking.

La Vieille Ferme (the old farm) Cotes du Luberon Blanc is on sale in this area for $6.99 a bottle. That was too good a bargain to pass up so after a slight chill the screw cap came off last night with some pan seared red snapper. Mineral nose with some hints of lime. Good, clean, fresh taste of white peaches and lime peel. Good acid and a suggestion of oiliness on the finish. The dry, sharp finish was great with the fish.

The wine is a blend of Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Ugni Blanc and Roussanne. The oily finish had to be the Roussanne, but I couldn't pick up this variety in the nose. Well made wine that is easily drinkable without damaging the budget.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Monte Antico 2006

I think we have a new house red.

I purchased a few bottles of Monte Antico 2006 Toscana last weekend and cracked one open last night. I've had several vintages of this wine and it has always been good, but for the $11 price this wine was a big step up from those other vintages.

There were tart cherries and plums and a little bit of Tuscan earth in the nose and that's exactly what you got in the taste. There was acid and fine, integrated tannin to balance everything out. We ate a small steak and a little pasta with the wine and it was even better with the food.

A little research showed that this wine is 75% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon from grapes grown in Tuscany. The same research revealed that it was on the Wine Spectator's list of the top 100 wines of 2009. Even the WS got this one right.

If you are looking for a delicious wine with some substance and character for a reasonable price you can stop your search.

Impressive wine for the price.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Pouilly-Fuisse & Termanthia

Last night was basically the opening night of the holiday season with friends, and it started in great fashion with one very, very good wine and one extraordinary wine. Dinner was primarily fresh crab cakes, that were mostly crab and only a little stuffing. They were seasoned, rolled in panko bread crumbs and sauteed in a skillet.

The wine is pictured above. It was a 2005 Verget Pouilly-Fuisse Terroirs de Vergisson. The wine was light gold with a nose of crisp melon, lemon, a hint of butter and light touch of oak. There was perfect acidity to this wine and that only heightened the lemon butter feeling in the mouth. The finish was long and pleasant. Everything was together with this wine and it was near perfect with the crab. Very good stuff.

After dinner a friend's cellar was raided for a red wine and up came a 2001 Bodega Numanthia Termes Toro Termanthia, a Spanish Tempranillo made from from some very old, ungrafted vines. This was a massive wine that was dark purple to the core. The nose was all about black fruit, coffee, earth and chocolate. The taste was very ripe dark fruits with fresh roasted, black coffee and chocolate overtones. The tannins were huge, but fit the wine perfectly. With this much stuffing to it I was expecting low acid, but the wine finished with more than enough acid. The finish seemed to go on for several minutes. Over the course of the evening the wine continued to open up with more fruit and more earth coming out. This was a rare treat that will be hard to match over the holidays.

The third wine of the evening was a complete and total disaster. The wine was a 2000 Torbreck Descendant from Australia. Brettanomyces made this wine totally undrinkable. No amount of air time could make the "wet horse in an unclean barnyard" smell go away. Horrid stuff, but another glass of the Termanthia made up for this sad wine.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Seven Artisan Meritage

The weather stayed cold, but the sun was bright yesterday so the outdoor grill was calling. We answered that call with a dry aged strip steak, baked potato and carrots.

The wine was a Seven Artisans' 2006 Meritage from the Suisun Valley in northern California. This is the same winery that produced a wine I liked a lot last spring, 2005 Sly Dog Cabernet Sauvignon.

This wine is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot and Malbec. Straight from the bottle to the glass the nose was a little closed, but some swirling brought out cherries and raspberries and some other red fruits. The body was medium, as was the color in the wine.

The taste was straight forward, bright fruit with some good tannin and acid, but with the steak some darker fruit came out, blackberries primarily. The tannin and acid cleared the palate after a bite of steak and there was a touch of wood on the finish to complete the wine.

Overall this was a better wine with food than it was by itself. There wasn't quite enough depth for it to standby itself, but if you have a steak nearby it would be a good match. The wine checked in at 14.1% alcohol so there was no problem with a second glass with the meal. Surprisingly there were some fresh blackberries in the fridge so we sniffed then ate a couple of them and confirmed that the darker fruit coming out with the steak was blackberries.

Keeping Things Honest:

One thing I've noticed on other wine sites lately is a disclosure about the source of the wine being discussed. That's an idea that I like a lot. After reviewing the Sly Dog Cabernet Sauvignon referenced above, and buying four more bottles while it was available in the local area, the winery provided this wine. The review is honest and now the source of the wine is honest also.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sandrone Dolcetto 2005

This morning was 55 degrees and sunny, and by this evening it was cloudy, windy and 20 degrees. Wind gusts were up to 50 miles per hour. Winter is definitely here.

So that made it a red wine night and the wine of choice was a Luciano Sandrone Dolcetto D'Alba from the 2005 vintage. Deep, and dark in color the nose was plums and berries and fruit, with just a hint of vanilla and earth. The plums and berries were there in the taste and the body was big, soft and sweet. There were some nice tannins on the side of the tongue, good acid and a long finish. This wine had a more substance than most Dolcettos. It's hard to ask more from a Dolcetto.

Dinner was a one pot meal of riso pasta cooked like risotto, meaning all the rich starch stayed in the final dish. There was a pinch of saffron and some shallots in the mix. Near the end there was some diced chicken breast added and at the very last minute a large handful of chopped fresh spinach. The dish was finished with some grated cheese.

Throw in a small salad and a crusty roll and some good wine to wash everything down and it made for a good start to the evening. There were supposed to be guests coming in from South Carolina but road conditions and weather delayed them by four hours. The left overs will heat up nicely. They may even get a glass of wine if there is any left.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Marchesi di Barolo 2001

Cold, but sunny, yesterday and after a week of turkey leftovers it was time for some beef. We found a good sized chuck roast, browned it, added the pancetta, vegetables, etc. and it happily cooked for about three hours. It warmed the house with its aroma and did wonders for my appetite.

After the somewhat disappointing sparkler from earlier in the day (see below) it was time for some serious wine, and nothing is more serious than Barolo. When the beef went in the oven the cork came out of a bottle from the Marchesi di Barolo, 2001 vintage. A little went into the pot with the beef but a large portion went into a decanter. A small amount also found its way to my glass. Beautiful, classic Barolo color of medium garnet, but there was a very closed nose. With some swirling and a few minutes a little dry leather and some earth showed up. About an hour later there were roses and bright, tart cherries coming out of the glass. The wine in the decanter remained closed.

When the beef was nearly done we made some polenta, adding cheese and butter at the end and finally stirring in black truffle salt. Amazing smells filled the kitchen and even got Scott away from the window where he was anxiously watching for squirrels, particularly the one that had a near death experience with him earlier in the day.

Then it all came together; hot steamy beef, creamy polenta that smelled of truffles and a rich, red wine. The wine was still somewhat closed but still offered a nose of fruit on a base of earth and leather with a few of the roses kicking in. The taste was tart cherries and clean earth. The big Barolo tannins were present on the sides of the tongue, but they weren't harsh in any way. The acid was more than acceptable. The routine became a bite of beef, a dab of polenta and a sip of wine. It's a routine I would like to be more frequent. Very lengthy finish on the wine, ending dry with a suggestion of the cherries. This is a wine nearing its peak, but certainly one that has some years of life ahead of it. As with my comment below about not drinking enough sparkling wine, I can repeat that sentiment with Barolo.

There's a small amount under vacuum left in the bottle and it will be fun to try it later today.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


There is a major shortcoming concerning wine in my life that I share with many others. I don't drink nearly enough sparkling wine. That has nothing to do with not liking sparklers, it's just that I rarely think of them. It's also due to the fact that except for the month of December most merchants put their sparklers in the corner, rather than displaying them in a more prominent location. It's the old "which came first - the chicken or the egg" conundrum. Are they in the corner because they don't sell other than at holidays or do they not sell except at holidays because they are in the corner.

Enough! They were displaying sparkling wines today and I brought one home and put a slight chill on it. The wine is Toso, a 100% Chardonnay sparkling wine from Argentina. It wasn't a wine I was a familiar with but an internet search said that it is Charmat process wine, not surprising since it cost only $10. Still, a $10 sparkler could be a good thing.

So how's it taste? I do like a slight chill on my sparkling wine and that kills a lot of the nose so unlike still wines I tend to drink first and sniff later. This wine tasted like a sharp lemon curd with just a hint of pineapple near the end. The after taste was pretty much confined to Granny Smith apples. The bubble action was acceptable and there was more than enough acidity. A few seconds after the finish there was a suggestion of residual sugar that I didn't care for and that taste lingered for some time. What was missing was the yeasty smell that I love in Champagne or other méthode champenoise sparklers, wines that have their secondary fermentation in the bottle instead of in bulk.

I left a little in the glass to come to room temperature and the warmer wine revealed a one dimensional nose of apples. For $10, this is a good wine and a decent buy, and it would be great for Champagne cocktails. It's also a wine I won't be drinking a lot of out of a flute.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Couple of Kinkead Ridge Wines

Since this past weekend was the southern Ohio barrel tasting it seemed only fair to do a preview and a postscript in the wine and food department. That's exactly what we did.

On Friday night we opened a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon and couldn't have been happier with the results. This wine is doing great in the bottle - and is doing better out of the bottle and in the glass. Great Cabernet structure with some forward fruit, good body, nice acid and tannins and oak that have integrated into the fruit. The nose was fruit, wood and tannin and smelled like Cabernet should smell. It was extremely food friendly with a pan seared pork chop and some riso pasta doused with 2009 pressed olive oil and some Pecorino Romano and black pepper and sprinkled with a little black truffle salt. Just the suggestion of the truffles being in the pasta brought out the earthiness in the wine. Very good wine that has to be at its peak, but not showing any signs of fading.

On Sunday we finally got around to fixing a turkey here at the house, having managed to eat at two other houses on Thanksgiving proper. We cooked the thirteen pound bird on the charcoal grill over indirect heat. It was a cool day and it took almost 3.5 hours but the results were great. There were a few oak chips scattered on the charcoal and that gave the brined bird a hint of smoke in the meat.

One of my favorite side dishes at Thanksgiving is one that I don't get unless I make it myself. So, there was a large pan of stuffing loaded with Chesapeake Bay oysters and some good oyster brine, fresh thyme, garlic, onions, celery, a little rosemary and small amount of red pepper flakes. It went into an aluminum pan and was baked on the grill with the turkey for the last hour.

There was one glass of the Cabernet left so we sampled some turkey with that and were more than pleased. The main wine was the second Kinkead Ridge wine of the weekend, the 2008 Viognier Roussanne. At the barrel tasting at the winery Nancy Bentley informed us that the Wine Enthusiast had rated the wine at 87 points. The review will be on the W.E. website in February. Good score and good progress in getting some national publications to look outside of California, Washington and New York.

The wine could still use some time in the bottle, but there was more than enough to like about it now. Fresh and young it tasted like a very good Rhone wine. The melon flavors were there along with some earthy spice, a little citrus and tart young grapes. It had the oily mouthfeel of a Condrieu. It was great with the turkey and with its notes of citrus peel it matched well with the oyster stuffing. The wine is 53% Viognier and 47% Roussanne.

The top photo is the Viognier grapes in the Kincaid vineyard in September of 2008, just before harvest.