Sunday, February 28, 2010

2004 Nalle Zinfandel for OTBN

The wine of choice for Open That Bottle Night was a 2004 Nalle Zinfandel from California's Dry Creek Valley.  Zinfandel is sort of like a long, lost love to me.  At one time I owned and drank quite a bit of it.  It was good and it was inexpensive and there was plenty of it.  Then some vintners began to take it more seriously and boosted the extract, the alcohol levels and tannin and oak to a point where it became a caricature of itself.  Oh, they also boosted the prices greatly since someone had to pay.  Dry Creek Valley seemed to be a hold out for a time.  Rafinelli and Quivira made wonderful Zins, but now even those wineries are pushing 15% alcohol and $30+.   

So, there was a pan seared rib steak and a baked potato with black truffle salt, butter and a little sour cream for dinner and the cork came out of the Nalle Zin, all 13.9% alcohol of it.

The color was medium and not inky dark, the nose was alive with red and black raspberries and a hint of clean, dry earth.   The taste was the berries again over a solid core of earth.  The body was medium and perky with acid and perfectly ripe fruit that never was allowed to over ripen.  The tannins were dry and they were knitted into the whole package in perfect proportion.  This is a wine that made me smile.  It flirted with elegance, but in the end it was just a happy wine that went great with the steak and potatoes.  The owners of every winery that produces Zinfandel should be required to sit down with a bottle of this wine and a steak and then rethink their heavy handed, syrupy concoctions that resemble port more than a table wine. 

My only complaint is the price.  At $35 this isn't a cheap, every day wine, but if you get to 'jonesing' for a zinfandel with a steak don't bother looking any farther than this one.  So, my long, lost love is back, but she's a much more expensive woman now.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Open that Bottle Night

Dreaming of blue skies and no snow.  Maybe some day the dream will come true.  Today is Saturday, February 27.  This is the last Saturday in February so that makes it Open that Bottle Night. 

Here's the rules once again, as formulated by John Brecher and Dorothy Gaiter formerly of The Wall Street Journal. 

Everyone has a bottle or two that they've put away for a special occasion.  Sometimes those special occasions never seem to come.  Well, tonight is that special occasion.  Enjoying the bottle is the entire reason for the event.  It doesn't have to be expensive and it doesn't even have to be very good as long as it triggers wonderful memories.  Memories could be of a person, a place, or an event or just about any thing. 

Last year I opened a bottle of cheap, fizzy  Lambrusco and we had a wonderful time reminiscing over how this crazy wine journey started.  It started with Lambrusco. 


Friday, February 26, 2010

NIce Try

The remaining two wines in the tasting both had problems.  One, a 2008 Mollydooker The Boxer from Australia was perhaps too young. It was fruit intense, sweet and almost syrupy.  It was 16% alcohol by volume, and with a hot finish tasted every bit of its ABV.  It never entered into anyone's discussions about best wines. 

The other wine, a 2005 Sequel from Long Shadows winery in Washington State's Columbia Valley was my personal choice for the biggest disappointment of the tasting.  It may have been the most interesting for all the wrong reasons.

This is not an inexpensive wine ($55) and the wine maker for this project is John Duvall who worked for a number of years making Penfold's Grange.  Long Shadows is getting a lot of recognition for their wines and one, Poets Leap Riesling is among my favorite U.S. Rieslings.

Everything about the Sequel seemed technically correct.  There was good fruit, but not too much.  The acid was correct, the tannins were in balance, and the alcohol level was about where I would expect at 14.7%.  The winery fact sheet (click here) suggests black cherries and dark chocolate.  I could detect this, but it wasn't strong.    My problem with this wine was that it came across as totally soulless.  There was no character to it to differentiate it from any other syrah, nothing to give it it's own identity.  It just stood there and said "I'm wine."  It wasn't bad, it wasn't good, it just 'was.'

This wine even had an advantage over the others in that the host for the tasting decanted the wine before the others arrived.  I tasted it just after it was opened and again two hours later and it never changed.  Perhaps the wine is in the proverbial dumb phase and will show some character in the future. I wouldn't be adverse to trying it once again in a couple of years.  On this day it just showed nothing.  Sad and disappointing.

It was a good tasting and a good comparison of some wines.  Good wine, good food and good people.  It's what makes my world interesting.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Two That Just Missed

Two more wines received some consideration.  The 2007 Yangarra McLaren Vale Shiraz from Australia had a deep nose of sweet, dark cherries and plums.  The tannins were softer than expected, but the flavor was the dark cherry with some blueberries in the mix.  Good acid on the wine.  Nicely balanced wine and full flavored.  This one cried out for red meat from an outdoor grill.  14.5% alcohol.

Another wine popular with the group was the 2003 Black Bart Stagecoach Vineyard from Napa Valley.  This was the second oldest wine in the tasting, being edged out by six months by the Ulithorne.  The wine is made by Veraison Winery.    Very fruit forward and full flavored wine showing dark cherry fruit and fully ripe plums.  Highly extracted flavors.  The acid was a little low and there was a touch of heat and a little sweetness on the finish.  The wine was 15.4% alcohol. 

These two wines were actually quite similar in their extraction and flavor profiles.   I preferred the Yangarra because there was less alcohol and more acid. 

To be honest the Black Bart is not my style of wine.  Two tasters had this wine in third place and loved it.  There is just too much in the bottle for me  and after a couple of glasses with dinner I'm not sure I'd still be awake for dessert.  None the less it was well made, just a style I don't like.  To use a currently popular phrase...."This is the kind of thing you'd like if you liked this kind of thing." 

Two wines to go and they were the two least liked wines of the tasting.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Tight Battle for Bronze

With seven folks drinking and choosing the battle for the third best wine of the tasting was close, but it went to the 2006 Domaine Terlato & Chapoutier Shiraz-Viognier from Victoria, Australia. The wine gathered three votes for third place and two for second. 

This was the wine I took to the tasting primarily because nearly everyone assumed I would bring a French wine.  Instead I took this anti-Australian wine from Australia.  The wine is a joint venture between California and French interests and is very much unlike any Australian Shiraz the tasters had ever consumed.

The wine was an equal balance between fruit and earth.  The nose had a touch of brett, one of only two wines to display this aroma.  There was a very clean barnyard smell to the wine, earth and dry leather.  The taste was in no way over extracted or over ripe.  The tannins were strong and the acid was great.  It was very close to the St. Joseph in style.  It was wonderful with the lamb and the beef and wasn't far off on any of the other food options.    Well made wine and an operation to watch.  I liked this wine a lot.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Syrah Tasting, Part Two

There was little competition for the best wine in the tasting and when the discussions were over and the votes were in there was a solid choice for the second place wine - a silver medal.  Five tasters had this wine second and one had the wine in third.  Only one rated it lower.

The wine was a 2006 J L Chave Offerus from the St. Joseph region of the northern Rhone.  Lots of tart, red cherries and dry dusty earth in the nose.  There was a touch of brettanomyces in the nose as well.  In this case it added to the complexity and no one found it offensive.  This wine was a mouthful with sharp young tannins demanding attention.  There was a good balance between the tart red cherries and the earth.  Great acidity in this wine left the mouth refreshed.  As the day progressed the wine opened up more and more.  It was great with the food.

Really good wine that I had close to Ulithorne for first place.  There was a little more elegance to the Ulithorne but I loved the rustic flavors in this wine as well.

Pictured below is one of the appetizers on the table, rare roasted beef with a glaze of reduced balsamic vinegar and honey and Meyer lemons to add more acidity.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Great Syrah/Shiraz Showdown

One way to kill the winter blues in this snow covered area is to drink a lot of wine.  That was the case on Sunday afternoon as seven of us got together and each brought a bottle. The only rules were that it had to be mainly Syrah and some professional critic/publication had to have rated the wine at 90 points or better.  I hate the 100 point scale, but it's winter here and I was thirsty.

Of the seven bottles, four were from Australia, one from Napa Valley, one from Washington State and one from France.  Over the next few days I'll discuss my impression of each of them.

We decided not to rate the wines, but in the spirit of the currently in progress winter Olympics we each named a gold, silver and bronze medalist. When all was said and done one wine received 6.5 gold medals, clearly the favorite wine of the day.

That wine was the 2003 Ulithorne Frux Frugis from the McLaren Vale in Australia, a wine I was not familiar with.  For those not speaking Latin, Frux Frugis is 'fruit of the earth'.  The nose was medium dark fruit with a little earth and a little herbaceous quality.  With some extra nosing I finally decided there was almost a fresh sage aroma to the wine.  The taste was fully fruity with a good dose of dark cherries and blueberries.  The acid was high and the tannins were ripe and mature.  There was elegance to the wine and a physical maturity that wasn't present in the others.  It wasn't a youngster or a teenager, it had maturity to it and all the parts were together.  The finish was about smooth tannin and tart, dark cherries and the last little bit of acid to clear the palate.  Great length to the finish also.

There was a great deal of food hanging out on the table, from beef to lamb to seafood to cheeses, crackers, bread, bruscetta and more.  The beef and lamb were excellent with this wine.

I'd be very happy to drink this wine again.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Con Class Rueda 2008

Dinner last night was roasted loin of rabbit with some Spanish accents so I opened the 2008 vintage of Con Class Rueda.  The last vintage I drank was 2006 and this one was very similar.  There was a lemony and floral nose, good body and acid and a great lemon citrus flavor.  The finish was nice and tart.  The wine was 12.5% alcohol and still goes for only $11.

The rabbit loins were sprinkled with salt, pepper and fresh rosemary then quickly browned in a small skillet. The skillet was then popped into a hot oven for eight minutes.  While the loins rested I de-glazed the pan with some of the white wine and a wee bit of chicken stock, stirred in some Dijon mustard, the juice from half a Meyer lemon, a very tiny pinch of saffron and small dose of pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika).  When all that reduced we added about a quarter cup of heavy cream and some thyme.  When that reduced the loin was sliced and served with the sauce.  Carrots and shallots cooked in butter with tarragon completed the dish.

The wine and rabbit were a good pairing.  By changing the spicing one could take this dish several ways in regard to the wine matching.  There were two packages of rabbit loin at the market and only one was used last night.  The other is frozen and waiting.  Maybe a white Burgundy?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tablas Creek

During last weekend's excursions I came home with a wine that I had been searching for in the local market for a couple of years.  In this case it was a Tablas Creek wine, the 2007 Cotes de Tablas to be exact.  Tablas Creek is a joint venture between  the Perrin family of Chateau Beaucastel and Robert Haas of wine importer Vineyard Brands and is located in the Paso Robles area of California.   This particular wine is 50% Grenache, 25% Syrah and 25% Counoise, or a good approximation of a nice Cote du Rhone.

There was a small sirloin steak for dinner so it was a red wine night.

Medium red in the glass the wine had a purple cast to the edges.  The nose was grapey with a suggestion of berries and a hint of anise.  Grenache dominated the taste but the anise from the nose also came through.  The depth of flavor was good and very fruity, but the acid was a little low.  The wine finished with some tannin but the last impression was of sweetness and just a bit of a bite, not surprising at 14.8% alcohol.

I love the earthiness in a good Cote du Rhone, and that was lacking in this wine.   I love the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, hint of Brett in Beaucastel, but that was lacking here as well.

In short, this was a good, fruity wine with some depth of flavor.  At a sale price of $25.99 I can have all of this and more for $5 to $8 less in a good Cote du Rhone.   I applaud the effort and as the vineyard matures over the years I'll check back on this wine to see its progress.   Given its owners I'm sure it will improve.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

2007 Michel Schlumberger Chardonnay

More snow coming in tonight so I got together with friends this evening for a feast.  The local market managed to get a catch of fresh, king crab from the Barents sea off Norway. Several legs and knuckles came home with me.

There was a new shipment of wine from Michel Schlumberger last week, and it included the 2007 La Brume chardonnay.  I liked the previous vintage when I tasted it at the winery last October so the new vintage became the wine of the evening with dinner.

There were two parts to the meal.  First was halibut cheeks sauteed in olive oil and then finished with orange juice, garlic, fresh ginger, soy sauce and sesame oil which all reduced down in the skillet to a glaze.   Delicious.

Next was a lemon pepper pasta loaded down with the king crab.  Shallots and tomatoes were sauteed in some olive oil, the knuckle meat was added along with some butter.  Just before the sliced leg meat went in I added a concentrated reduction of the crab shells and saffron.  The crab was warmed and spooned over the pasta.

The wine was a delight.  The nose hit one immediately with pink grapefruit and lemon and as the wine warmed a little in the glass there ws just a trace of pineapple.  There was some spice going on in the nose as well and seemed to be a light pinch of cardamon.  The taste was all about the grapefruit, reminding me of a fresh Indian River fruit from a grove in Vero Beach, Florida that arrives each January to make the winter bearable here in Ohio.  The flavor was bold, as was the depth.  There was some definite light earth in the mixture along with wonderful acidity.  The acidity and the crab were great together, but that earthiness and the saffron were even better with each other.  There was no heavy dose of oak to interfere and no residual butter taste to make me feel like I was eating buttered popcorn.  There was a good long finish that seemed to be turning toward the sweet side, but at the last minute the rest of the acid kicked in and that sweet taste never fully materialized. 

Even more surprising to me was that the acid in the wine matched up quite well with the Asian seasonings on the halibut cheeks.  That subtle hint of sweetness before the finish really matched well with the fresh ginger.

All in all the wine was very un-California.  It was not over the top in any way except being great with the food.  We saved one small glass for another person to try tomorrow, but this wine definitely looks like a re-order.  Good stuff.

As for the picture, that's the bottle sitting in a snow bank with the sunlight streaming through the glass.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

2006 Toscana Rosso

Still more cold weather here and more snow on the way.  At least today was sunny.  The sunshine gave me a break from "cabin fever" so I visited four different wine shops today.  That's always a sure fire cure for the winter doldrums.

Pictured here was was one of today's finds, a 2006 Mazzoni  Toscana Rosso that was on sale for $16.  The cork came out of this wine for dinner this evening.  Dinner was a braised pork shoulder with some Italian spicing, some steamed and then stir fried broccoli with pine nuts, garlic and Pecorino romano cheese and a small salad.

The wine is 72% Sangiovese and 28% Merlot.  The nose held all kinds of dry tart cherries thanks to the Sangiovese, but there were some darker berries underneath thanks to the Merlot.  The cherries were foremost in the taste and their was a good dose of Tuscan earth.  The Merlot seemed to kick in at the end and add a little depth to this wine.  Great acid and enough tannin to clear the palate finished off the wine.  Nicely balanced at 13% alcohol and a good buy at the sale price, though it might have been a stretch at the suggested price of $24. 

I'm still working on a little bit of the wine with a Cabot Cloth Bound Cheddar from Vermont.  Nice cheese.

Friday, February 12, 2010


Still recovering locally from the latest snow storm earlier in the week, though some sense of normalcy is returning.  Fourteen plus inches of snow on the ground, low temperatures and high winds make one yearn even more for spring.  Short of spray painting the snow green my options were limited to drinking a bottle of Vinho Verde with an impromptu paella rip off last night.

There was some left over saffron rice, a couple of chicken thighs, a few frozen shrimp and other assorted things in the fridge.  They were all combined and stir fried with some spring onions, olive oil, garlic etc and it made for a good meal.  The Vinho Verde (green wine) was dry and crisp and a good match.  It was also inexpensive.

At this moment the temperature is -4 degrees (-20 c) and the wind chill is -14 (-26 c).  There is a layer of ice fog at the moment and that is making things very slick and icy.  There will have to be a hearty red for dinner.

Monday, February 8, 2010

More Snow and Second Day Burgundy

The cardinal above and several of his friends hung out in a tree yesterday munching bird seed and keeping Scott and Doer occupied for hours.  There was eight inches of snow on the ground and the dogs had a great time uncovering sticks and toys.  Beginning this evening they are predicting four to six more inches of the white stuff, so whatever they unearthed yesterday will be covered again.

There was a small rack of lamb last night and some saffron rice to go along with it.  There was also the second half of the bottle of Chorey-Les-Beaune to deal with.  One should always have problems like this.  The bottle was vacuum sealed overnight and when dinner was ready the vacuum was released.

Some of the strong earth had faded and the wine was more fruit forward.  From a 50/50 mixture of fruit and earth the wine progressed to maybe 60/40 fruit to earth.  It was very good the first day, but it was better the second day.

The meal and the last glass of Burgundy ended with a small cheese. My first experience with a La Tur from Italy was sublime.  An equal mixture of sheep, goat and cow's milk the cheese ripens from the outside in.  Sweet, salty, very earthy and very runny, it was superb with the last of the Burgundy.  Good stuff.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Inexpensive Burgundy

It was not only inexpensive, it was very good.  Not great or profound, but it was a good wine with a meal.

In this case the wine was a 2006 Chorey-Les-Beaune, Clos Margot from Domaine Jean Luc Dubois and checked in at $26.  Dinner was a pot roasted chicken with ginger, rosemary, bay leaf, lemon, onions, garlic and celery served over some home made egg noodles.  The broth alone was worth the price of admission.

I uncorked the wine about half an hour before the chicken came out of the oven and decanted half the bottle.  After about fifteen minutes some of it found its way into a glass.  The color was medium to pale but very representative of pinot noir that isn't over extracted.  The nose was black cherries and dark, rich, damp soil.  Neither the fruit nor the soil predominated, they just sat there complimenting each other.   The taste was much the same.  There was plenty of the tart, dark cherries, but there was just as much earth and soil.  Great acidity and soft, tannins balanced out the fruit.  The tannins kicked in at the end to dry the mouth.  The mouth feel was sweet, yet tart and dry.

It was a great foil for the chicken as the fruit complimented the taste and the acid cut through the richness of the chicken and the noodles.  The wine would be equally good with a beef and mushroom dish.

There was nothing earth shattering here, just a good honest wine at a fair price and at 13.5% alcohol one that didn't have me nodding off to sleep after a glass or two.

That whiteness behind the bottle in the picture is part of the eight inches of snow that arrived last night and this morning.  The skies are clear now and the temperatures are going down into single digits tonight.  More snow is on the way Monday night.

Friday, February 5, 2010

2008 Mauro Veglio Dolcetto D'Alba

There was a quick trip through the market last night to stock up on a few supplies.  Heavy snows are forecast for the next couple of days, and while there's certainly enough wine in the house I needed to get a few other things in before the snow was to begin.

One of the things that caught my eye was the 2008 vintage of Mauro Veglio's Dolcetto D'Alba.  Dinner was to be some pasta with grape tomatoes and pancetta so this wine cried out to me from its shelf as I passed by.

I like Dolcetto because it's easy to drink and is a wine that doesn't require heavy thought.  Usually a good food wine.  I very much liked the 2007 version of this wine (click here) so I listened to the sirens' song and brought the bottle home.

The wine was suitably dark in the glass and the nose was fruit, blueberries and strawberries mixed with a few cherries.  There was good flavor and that flavor was those same fruits leaning heavily toward the blueberry / strawberry end of the spectrum.  The acid was a little low, but that's just Dolcetto being Dolcetto.  The depth of flavor and the finish were a little short on this wine but for $13 it was still a good bottle to knock down with some pasta.  It did go down easy with the food and for $13 that's really all I was asking and all I expected.

For the record I still have one bottle of the 2007 vintage left so maybe there will be a side by side meal with two vintages of this wine in the near future.  My money will be on the 2007.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Doctor Is In

Surprising wine last night with some spicy sea scallops.

The wine was a 2008 Loosen Brothers, Dr. L, Riesling from the Mosel.  The nose was all about white peaches and lime poured over a piece of slate.   The lime and peaches were in full force in the taste, each being very up front.  The slate like minerality kicked in about half way through and lasted until the end.  There was tremendous acid to refresh the palate and a long, lively finish to clear the palate.  The wine was 8.5% alcohol but the acid was more than enough to make this wine taste drier and resemble an Australian Riesling.  That was the surprise about this wine; it tasted and felt much drier than it actually was.  Very good effort by the Doctor, and affordable at $11 a bottle.  Inexpensive Riesling doesn't get much better than this.