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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Crushed Rocks
Karen MacNeil, a welcome new contributor to, has posed a straight forward question on her forum to one of wine's most loosely defined terms. The question being, what is minerality? One of the issues in deciphering wine criticism, or winespeak in general, is the nature of its subjectivity and ambiguous vocabulary. While the lexicon of terms, such as minerality, are used interchangibly amongst geeks and gurus alike, you are likely to get a different definition for each element from each writer. Perhaps all wine authors of any capacity owe it to their viewing audience to define just what they mean when writing these wacky words?
Least I can do is weigh in my personal impressions when it comes to minerality. As other terminologies come to the forefront, I'll happily disclose just what I mean by whatever winespeak that may be.
  • Minerality is a bit of a catch all definition that can encompass just about any particular mineral. Salt and iron quickly come to mind as trace minerals we note in wines that manifest themselves in either: fleur de sel, beef's blood or a metallic note. I personally don't broadly don't define a wine as 'minerally' if it is a primal, blood infused beast, but it technically would make sense to a degree.
  • To me, minerality is most profoundly defined as a textural nuance. The phrase 'it feels like you are licking a limestone' ie: in Chablis, is a perfectly apt description to appreciate minerality in an extreme form. Whites like Old World Chardonnay, Dry Riesling and Loire Chenin Blanc make this tangible sense of 'crushed rock' easy to note, where tannic reds that possess this attribute are tougher to gauge (because their other complex textures may obscure underlining mineral definition). I do find it a touch odd that some will note that they 'smell minerals,' but when thinking of hot stones, there is certainly a steamy rock/smoky slate element that I can relate to.
  • Thin skinned grapes tend to manifest minerality in a much more transparent fashion. Whether or not this is solely due to the size of their skins is up for debate, but reds like Gamay, Grenache and Pinot Noir (assuming they aren't heavily oaked or massive palate busters) pick up mineral nuances w/ much more clarity than denser varieties. Whites, particularly the leaner and more lightly wooded variety, make it even easier for the taster to perceive the man, the myth, the minerality...
  • Acidity and minerality certainly seem to be correlated, as fatter, more robust fruit tends to suppress mineral notes.
  • Salinity, to me, seems to be highly correlated to site (much like minerality, as it is quite often attributed to limestone soils). Muscadet, for example, is loaded w/ sea salt notes and is proximal to the nearby breezes of the Atlantic. Melon de Bourgogne, the grape used for Muscadet wines, may pick up the salty notes more readily due to its thin skins. On a side note, there has been quite a bit of controversy as to whether or not maritime based Scotches are more likely to pick up sea salt notes due to their oceanic proximity....

For more tales of mineral fact and fiction, tune into EBob and welcome Karen to the board.

Irrational Exuberance

What I like about Zinfandel happens to be the title of this stream of consciousness, its irrational exuberance (perhaps because it reflects my personal traits). It makes complete sense to me that it has been adopted and embraced by Americans, irrespective of its actual origins. It all begins w/ the white zin butcher-job & all its rampant commercial success and stretches out to California’s oldest vines that produce some of the most ‘embarrassingly high quality’ wines. The range of Zinfandels we tasted through showed how dazzlingly complex they can be in their brash, make no apologies approach. They don’t care if they get all up in your grill, stain your shirt and get you free-falling, inverted drunk. To me, the last thing a Zinfandel wants to be is subtle, subdued or elegant and if that’s what you are or what you are looking for, it will steam-roll you out of its way like an angry New Yorker trying to cram into the 7 train at rush hour. The interesting element to the hostile New Yorker image, as us locals know, is the flipside to their aggressive and frank façade. There is honesty and integrity underneath the foreboding picture of hypertension and 5 o’clock shadow that gives the New Yorker its third dimension, and I’ve always seen Zinfandel along those similar lines.

I expected a snide remark or two by my referring to a 17 percent alcohol beast as balanced, but to me, the best of these wines are far more than heft and force & arguably have more depth and dimension than the majority of Californian wines (perhaps due to the age & maturity of the plant material…perhaps because I’m comparing them to the banality of Californian Merlot ;)?). When these wines hit it right, they not only concealed their alcohol, they packed all their layers into a thrilling focus that brought their expressions to a new level. I thought there were a few classic examples of their type, as well as a couple big time disappointments, hence the scores. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that I liked them more than Michel or Asher so my scores should have reflected that. While the ’05 Turley was a very good wine (and I figured Asher’s Nebbiolo acidity loving palate would find a home w/ it), I don’t think that is the character that Californian Zinfandel does best. Personally, I look for citrus toned, bright fruits in different places because I believe other varietals ‘shine brighter’ in that regard.

One thing that does ring true is that all wines have a particular time and place. While Zin’s versatility doesn’t exactly rival that of a Riesling, I personally don’t pigeon-hole this wine as ‘the barbeque floozy,’ seeing that I consider the top examples to be world class and, in their own right, very serious wines. Not for everyone, yet compelling expressions nonetheless. Zinfandel doesn’t care if it’s perceived as a noble variety anyway!

I am very glad that this thread seems to have re-energized this dark horse variety a bit & I have no shame in appreciating all its shameless beauties! Line-ups such as these show me there is enough range in style (the structured, backward Chase, a polished Carlisle & outrageously flamboyant Martinelli) for me to incorporate this grape into my wine-drinking life at a greater degree & that the producers who champion this grape merit perhaps more credit than they already receive.

I suppose a bit of American pride makes me selfishly happy that our adopted grape variety can impress me to this degree….and my thanks go out to all the fine Californian vintners that have helped Zinfandel realize its heights & continue to push the envelope of quality in all its varied, compelling expressions.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Zinfandel, it's Outrageously Delicious!

Welcome to the wild world of Zinfandel folks, and what better way to tame its wooly exuberance than w/ slabs of pulled pork, roast pig rear end and spicy layers of fat infused spare ribs?! Daisy May’s BBQ provided perhaps the least pretentious, ‘everyman’ vista for an offline and seemed to fit the heralded, yet underappreciated line-up of old vine Zinfandels like a glove. The selected bottlings ranged from 3 year infants to ‘old bones’ w/ a decade plus under their belts, and the majority of the wines showed just the complexity and zealous flavors I had hoped for. An interesting topic spawned between me and Asher Rubinstein as to how these wines achieve such depth and nuance…is it the variety or the maturity of the plant material? He clearly thought the latter and if, in fact that is the case and Californians can stay the course, (meaning they don’t uproot their vines for the latest grape fad & keep phylloxera at bay w/ sound rootstock) things may begin to get very interesting for the Rhone Rangers over the next few decades as their vineyards reach adulthood.

As a side note, while I’ve been unsuccessful in noting much Chateauneuf character in Californian Grenache, these old vine Zinfandels are loaded w/ savory elements, heady liqueur-like intensity of fruit and yes, garrigue. While clearly separate entities, if Southern Rhone fans haven’t given Californian Zins a second look yet, I suggest they do as they seem to share a similar spirit that Chateauneuf palates (such as my own) can identify with.

Gentlemen, start your engines!

1997 Turley Old Vines Zinfandel
While it may have had a bit more weight and vibrancy a year or two back, I thought this was quite a formidable showing for Turley’s Old Vines at age 11. A firework display of aromas shoot notions of Indian spices, dried meat, cedar, bright cherries and fig cage through the nostrils w/ great appeal and verve. Crisp and zesty in the palate, with medium weight and a nice mineral undercurrent keeping the wine’s sharp focus at the forefront. While I’d drink it sooner rather than later, I do not consider this effort to be a tired one; still outstanding at 90 points.

1999 Ridge Lytton Springs
A wonderful counterpoint to the Turley as this vintage of Ridge was entirely too young. Not only much darker and deeper ruby in color, the wine was tighter, hotter and much more disjointed in the mouth, hinting at dry rub spice, bing cherry and an assortment of other red berries. An elegant wine that is constructed for the long haul (or massive aeration), I wouldn’t peg this vintage for prime drinking until another 3, solid years are under its belt, 88+ points.

1999 Selby, Sonoma Old Vines
Selby who? The under-card of the first 3 battles was also the showiest. A flirtatious and exotic bouquet of crushed lilacs, fresh thyme and hearty plum sauce catalyzes some big time excitement in the mouth. A luxuriously sweet, symmetrical mouth-feel pumps out jammy blackberries in a juicy and lip-smacking style that tickled the Zinfandel chord in most of our hearts. Should drink beautifully over the next few years, but why wait? 92 points

2001 Easton Shenendoah Valley
Well, I’m not going to butcher Jorge’s wine gratuitously, considering he’s already apologized to us all over email (and made it clear that the wine is, in fact, a Zinfandel). This is a winery and appellation that I’d never heard of, and for good reason, as this was all tease w/o the please. While an esoteric array of marzipan, garrigue, dusty maple wood and sweet tobacco bring my senses alive aromatically, the palate is void of fruit and plagued by a hollow mid-palate. The texture is coarse, angular and unyielding, which is thoroughly disappointing considering the wine’s prowess in the bouquet. Dump bucket parade, 76 points.

2003 Turley Dogtown
Yeehaw cowboy, the wild west’s first in the series of worthy sheriffs began firing away its six shooter of a nose out like Gary Cooper at High Noon. The scents are dazzling, intense and brimming w/ raspberry reduction, sage, mocha, caramel coated blackberries, freshly ground coffee and rich loam notes. In the mouth, this Zinfandel is a hedonistic thrill ride full of high levels of glycerine, succulent fruit and a heady, intense finish. This thoroughbread is just about ready to stretch her legs on a gorgeous evolutionary ride, 94+ points.

2003 Chase Hayne Vineyard
Apparently the Chase family owns this storied, grand cru parcel of old vine Zinfandel land and it boggles my mind that they don’t receive the press that they appear to deserve (if this wine is any indication on their quality as producers). Perhaps the most backward and broodingly fashioned Zin that we tasted this evening, this ’03 has the structure of a Pauillac and the aromas of a young Barolo. Sweet hints of crushed rose petals, tar, strawberry preserve and nutmeg spices morph like a chameleon on each scent, revealing further complexity. While the wine is extremely tannic in the mouth, the big bones are shrouded in blockbuster depth, scintillating length and drop dead gorgeous acidity. If there were ever a textbook Zin for the cellar, this would be it, 95+ points.

2004 Turley Hayne Vineyard
While admittedly from a younger vintage, we thought it would be interesting to compare different interpretations of the Hayne Vineyard in side by side fashion. The Turley touch is more immediately attractive and loaded w/ a more savory, spicy mouth feel of dry aged beef, sandalwood, crème de cassis, spicecake and brandy soaked figs. Wonderfully dense, plump and authoritatively powerful to the finish, this Turley is a touch too youthful to reveal its entire spectrum of flavor but is already pleasurable. It’s tough to argue w/ this type of reference point for the varietal, 96 points.

2004 Carlisle Rossi
The prettiest wine of the bunch was the Carlisle, but perhaps pretty to a varietal fault (as I’d be hard pressed to peg this blindly as a Zinfandel). Reminiscent of a higher end Malbec from Argentina, w/ gorgeous notes of violet, boysenberry confiture and graphite scents that soar from the glass. Tantalizingly plush and as polished as a glass sculpture, allowing its purple fruits to glide along to the kiss of sweet tannin on the fish. Likely to perform a bit better in the near term, I’d drink this over the next 3-4 years, 92 points.

Outpost Howell Mountain 2004
This producer is certainly not short on fans, and deservedly so, as this wine showcased one of the most compelling marriages of flamboyance and rusticity that I’ve experienced in this varietal. Loaded w/ crème de cassis, pepper, blue fruits and brick dust notes that are firmly grounded in a rock solid, tannic structure that will need a bit of time to resolve & kick this Zin into hyper-drive. A compelling confluence of Old World austerity w/ New World hyperbole, 93 points.

2005 Elyse Korte Ranch Vineyard
A wine that could be the victim of its own eccentricity is certainly the Elyse Korte, while striking in its nose of cherry cola syrup, raspberry reduction and sweet ganache, the palate looses some steam w/ an odd, bitter persimmon note that most of us found off-putting. Rambunctious and a touch superficial in the ’05 vintage, I don’t imagine this wine ever really commanding its persona in a compelling way, 82 points.

2005 Wooden Head, Guido Venturi Vineyard
Another producer and vineyard site that I had zero familiarity w/, except this expression produced much more solid results than the last experiment from Easton. Classic Zin aromas of black tea, wildberry, huckleberry sauce, smoky brioche and graphite are sweet on the entry, w/ lovely poise and a rounded structure. While t finshes a touch short, it is exceptionally solid in just about every other respect and is a tough customer to criticize, 90+ points.

2005 Turley Rattlesnake
Acid fans, welcome to your dojo, you’ve certainly hit gold w/ the ’05 Turleys! This could perhaps be the most high-toned, exceptionally bright Zin I’ve ever tasted. The nose is crammed w/ citrus blossom, pomegranate, dried cranberry sauce, briar and damp earth. It hits the palate w/ brisk minerality in follows through to the finish w/ linear direction and fresh cut. To my palate, this needs a bit more weight, density and more primal character to speak Turley, but its style is sure to find fans (as is its balance and restraint), 88+ points.

2005 Martinelli, Giuseppe and Luisa
Whoever devised the serving order was absolutely genius in juxtaposing the ’05 Rattlesnake and ’05 Martinelli as they are exact opposites in just about every stylistic fashion! An absolutely outrageous effort from Martinelli, resembling the essence of dry Port, w/ kirsch liqueur, dark chocolate cake, blackberry sauce and brandy soaked figs leading the way in this wine’s mammoth constitution. Terrific concentration and gorgeously silky in its texture, this is as massive and delicious wine can get. This is such an extreme expression that absolutely challenges the senses to maintain a sense of clarity before complete overload. If there were ever a New World wine that could challenge Alban for the ability to hold one’s titanic alcohol content, Martinelli is it, 95 points!
Now, in spite of its balance, this is a completely sinful and perhaps impractical product, but so is chocolate cake! Wowza what a way to end an evening!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

On the lookout....cotes du ven....who?

Philippe Gimel is producing some exciting Ventoux wines that have already achieved mini-cult status amongst New York City sommeliers and retailers alike (the ’04 Red was just highlighted on Gary Vaynerchuk’s latest Wine Library TV videoblog). At 20 dollars and change, he’s producing some of the pricier wines in the region, but is already easily exceeding the quality that his relatively ambitious price tags suggest. For those on the lookout for a new region, producer or simply an intriguing change of pace that delivers value, the wines of Saint Jean du Barroux deserve to be on your radar screen.

Saint Jean du Barroux’s wines are unfined and imported by none other than Eric Solomon.

Saint Jean du Barroux Cotes du Ventoux White Whine, 2005
I believe this is the first vintage of white wine that Philippe Gimel has released and is an esoteric blend of 34% Grenache Blanc, 33% Bourboulenc and 33% Clairette (with the exception of Grenache Blanc, this white is composed of all blending grapes!). Cropped at 25 hl/hectare in stony, Provence soils, this white is aged for one year in 2/3rds barrel, w/ the rest in tank. This green/gold hued wine is full of green tea, persimmon, dried honey, orange zest and hot stone notes that permeate the senses a la dry Chenin Blanc. The entry is exceptionally bright and mineral driven but the body rounds out nicely to give the palate great equilibrium. As the wine sits in the glass, white currants and a meatier profile begins emerge (almost more suggestive of a red wine texture). Fans of Savennieres (and aged Riesling perhaps) should enjoy this idiosyncratic Rhone white and I’d love to see how this ages. Philippe suggests decanting his white for 3 hours and I imagine this wine will only become more sauvage in time, 89+ points.

Saint Jean du Barroux L’Oligocene, 2004
The red from Gimel is made from 75% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 5% Carignan and 5% Cinsault and pushes a heady 15% alcohol content. The yields for the red are even smaller (20 hl/hectare) than the white and the grapes are hand picked, 100 percent de-stemmed and aged 23 months in tank and neutral barrels. This deep ruby/purple colored red is full of licorice, smoky slate, dark cherries, liqueur soaked garrigue, bacon grease and forest floor notes. A rich and tannic entry lead to a fat, silky palate of pure raspberry fruit that lets the fine, juicy beam of minerality sail in (must be due to the stony soils). This is a substantial, finely endowed effort that should evolve effortlessly (it gained in depth, concentration and intensity in the glass) and provide pleasure over the next 10 years, 92+ points.

Do not take these wines lightly! Either of which should prove to be a fascinating blind ‘ringer’ in just about any tasting, as the white is sure to baffle and the red is dressed to impress. More information about this operation can be found at: Click Me

Friday, March 21, 2008

Structure or Sex Appeal?

One could certainly read some pretty devilish things into my title, but the true wine geek undoubtedly understands exactly what I mean. Consider it a head to head match, as a structuralist would argue their true love has the substance and depth to last a lifetime, and those that fall to the easy temptation of quick seduction are only setting themselves up for vacant satisfaction, coupled w/ a king-sized hangover. Perhaps, in that argument there is merit. The structure packed wine can give varying degrees of pleasure as it evolves and fill a cellar with possibilities that a one dimensional hedonistic bottle could never match. The one night stand, consisting of barbequed spare ribs and lavishly rich layers of pulled pork can find an easy companion in the slutty, superficial fruit bombs that scream just as loudly, reaching some sort of facile harmony. This of course, is a black and white argument that doesn’t nearly reach the depths of what type of contest this really is. This match involves competitors that offer both structure and sex appeal, in different proportion. What if the wine was sexy, yet structured? When tasted alongside a wine w/ a serious constitution that also had some tempting succulence to boot, is there an objectively better wine?

Hypothetical situations are always enhanced by specific examples, so allow me to indulge you w/ three previous juxtapositions that suit this question to a t.

Two particular contests speak to a broader, vintage comparison between 2000 and 2001 Chateauneuf du Pape. The contestants; Domaine du Pegau and Clos des Papes, personify each of these vintages beautifully and produced equally exquisite, yet distinct wines in both years. Both 2000’s offer up precocious, up front fruit in tantalizingly and effusive fashion. These are the type of velvet laced hookers that simply boast their attractiveness to your palate, almost overwhelming the senses in sheer satisfaction. Although their structure has never shut down their flesh, they are by no means feeble. I wouldn’t predict these to be the longest of agers, but I also wouldn’t imagine they are in any danger of falling apart over the next decade. On the contrary, their sibling 2001’s are tangibly muscular, more tightly knit and are still somewhat cloaked in a brawny sheath of tannin. Underneath their bodybuilder physiques they are crammed w/ depth, nuance and gorgeously rich fruit that demands patience to be truly enjoyed. Now, these ’01 wines are certain to make old bones (especially for Chateauneuf standards), but may never provide the sheer thrills that their elder competitors are currently providing.

Just to prove that I’m not entirely Rhone centric, I think a Bordeaux example is in order. The back to back blockbusters from Pichon Lalande in 1995 and 1996 are as appropriate as any for this exercise. The 1996 is an oozing sexpot of a claret, almost more Right Bank in that regard as it seems too energetic and explosive to resemble its aristocratic Pauillac pedigree. Sinfully drinking beautifully now, but again, the iron clad foundation (which is almost undetectable) should prove to carry this wine well past its adolescent period. When paired next to the aromatically closed 1995, you have to wonder if the years were transposed in bottle as this vintage seems entirely younger. While rich & exceptionally deep in the palate, w/ layers and layers of pure fruit, there is a much more reserved and severe quality to this wine than the ’96. The edge in focus and ageability firmly lie w/ the ’95, but does that make it the better wine?

Time for some introspection:

The answers to these questions caused me to do some soul searching. Since we attach so many human traits to wines (and also extrapolate a winemaker’s personality to their own wines), why not look in the mirror a bit more deeply when considering our personal preferences? Personally, I scored the sexier wines (2000 Chateauneufs as well as the 1996 Pichon Lalande) a point or two higher than their sturdier counterparts, but I gave the more structured wines the magical plus symbol, hedging my bets for their future development. Why did I evaluate these wines as such? Well, the easy response is that ‘it’s my personal preference, I dig sexier wines a bit more,’ as I think the wines are nearly equals vis a vis their quality. That being said, if I were to parlay this into a life situation towards ‘my taste’ in women, I might have come up w/ a different conclusion. I chose my wife w/ structure first, sex appeal second (not that she is lacking at all in that department, of course). I view a relationship (in the hopes of achieving marriage) w/ evolution as the primary determinant, as physical gratification tends to fall into a more fickle category. In wine, broadly speaking, I believe life’s too short to wait for one wine’s promise when another wine of comparable quality is already delivering (and perhaps, delivering at a more pleasurable apex). The faithful plus sign is what makes the other wine perhaps a bit more fascinating, but not necessarily more enjoyable.

Having said that, I am glad that both of those types of wines exist, as their diversity is what makes our enological environment so rich. Wine’s diversity can only be rivaled by that of our own, as humans, in expressing our subjective experiences to one another and learning from our similarities and differences of opinion. That, my friends, is what makes this competition a win-win.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Great California Syrah Taste-Off

I freely admit that Grenache is a true love of mine and I’ve chosen to adopt it as a California infant variety. The typical toddler pitfalls, spills and stumbles were all evident during last week’s gathering of the Golden State’s most renowned Grenache based wines. While my expectations for my beloved domestic Grenache are extremely high, the so called ‘terrible twos’ of infancy are an obligatory aspect of any emerging varietal’s evolution on new grounds.

Why am I waxing on about Grenache to introduce a Syrah tasting? Well, to put it bluntly, the top Syrahs of California put the peaks and valleys of Grenache in perspective. When tasting through these luscious, spicy, complex beauties that married an New World opulence w/ hints of the Old World sauvage elements (which give the grape its haunting, varietal hallmark) I realized that when it comes to Syrah, these producers really ‘get it.’ Of course this is my subjective determination, but the synthesis of the old w/ the new creates the perfect canopy for Californian winemakers to distinguish themselves on. I believe that archetype is what put Napa Valley on the map and I also believe that is what the up and coming producers are striving for w/ Grenache. When you taste ‘it’ from a leader like Alban, Colgin, Sine Qua Non, or Kongsarrd, you just know it, and you want to taste ‘it’ again, from more and more producers. For the purposes of this tasting, we’ll call it ‘the gateway Syrah drug,’ that I hope will pave the way for the dozens of Grenache gurus to follow.

Thank you Cheryl for bringing us together for a wonderful tasting and a double thank you goes out to your putting up w/ our sinfully gross behaviors. You put together a fantastic evening and it was a pleasure to meet you!

A novel beginning:

Au Bon Climat, Hildegard 1999
Robert Dentice has a great knack for bringing the best wines at offlines, and while this wasn’t the best, it was certainly the most esoteric. A blend of 55% Pinot Gris, 40% Pinot Blanc and 5% Aligote (an evil twin of Charbono?) is really hitting a lovely stride at age 9. The nose challenges the senses, spraying an array of roasted hazelnuts, pine, melon and dried pineapple through the air in an effusive fashion. The palate is smoky and round, but finishes w/ a bracing structure that echoes a lingering bitter almond note, 87 points.

The big boys turn to dance:

Shafer Relentless, 1999
My go-to steakhouse wine (as it has uncanny consistency from vintage to vintage and tends to be the least abused wine when it comes to gratuitous mark-ups) comes in the form of 80% Syrah and 20% Petite Sirah, and this ‘99 opened up beautifully in the glass. Initially shy, but evolved w/ air to showcase a nose of dried beef, dark chocolate, blackberries, cedar and pepper notes. The texture in the mouth began in a savory, chunky style, but transitioned to much more supple, perfumey flavors that sparked on the lively finish, 92 points.

Behrens & Hitchcock, Chien Lunatique 2002
Although we started out in solid fashion w/ a sturdy cuvee from Shafer, this idiosyncratic Syrah blend spiced the line-up w/ a controversial array of flavors that literally imploded all over the palate. Not for the faint hearted, this outrageous aromatic display included notions of marzipan, cocoa ganache, marischino cherry liqueur and the essence of pure vanilla extract which oozed from the glass as if it were the topping on a cake (I suggested we dollop some whipped cream on top, treating it like the sundae it was). The mouthfeel pumped out extracted, super-ripe fruit shot out of a 45 magnum in as plush and sweet a texture as anyone could imagine. Having said all that, fans of the El Nido Clio will adore this wine because it does reel all its flavors in a fairly honest package & for all its low acid extraversion, it is a balanced, delicious ‘wine product,’ 91 points.

Jonata, La Sangre de Jonata 2004
This 100 percent Syrah cuvee began gorgeously, in as suave and polished a fashion as any w/ sweet charcoal infused berry flavors that get your heart racing right out of the gates. In the mouth, the attack was extremely plush and generously fruity, but it lost quite a bit of its focus as alcohol and some biting tannin really unraveled towards the finish. I am not going to apologize for this wine, but it may actually have been a bit closed up & I doubt we saw her at her finest hour. A couple years in the cellar should help flesh out the wine nicely, 90+ points.

Kongsgaard Syrah, 2005
Not only have I jumped on the John Kongsgaard bandwagon over the past week, I’ve decided to launch a new campaign for him to run for office! Between this otherwordly Syrah and the Roussanne/Viognier blend I enjoyed this past Sunday (much less his delectable Chardonnays), I am well beyond wowed w/ his dynamic talents & exceptional fruit. This was perhaps the most complex synthesis of the Northern Rhone w/ Napa Valley that I’ve ever experienced. Blockbuster notes of iron, dry aged steak aux poivre, beef blood and cassis jam titillate the senses and are even more revealing in the wine’s massively structured mouthfeel that pumps out the beautifully deep, long flavors w/ monstrous intensity. This wine is a complete home-run and will only get better in the cellar (eh-hem, was brought to us by none other than Robert Dentice- I suggest you invite him to your next offline!) 98 points.

Colgin Estate Syrah, 2003
Let it be said that all the Cayuse haters out there that like Colgin Syrah are absolutely full of it! This is as Cayuse a profile as I’ve ever noted in California Syrah (and trust me, that is a GOOD thing) that is loaded to the gills w/ fried duck fat, tar, blackberry reduction sauce, pepper and graphite notes that permeate the senses in an irresistible, seductive fashion. The wine really dazzles in the mouth with its amped up sauvage profile that is exuberant, yet chiseled along a fine, muscular spine. The Bionic Frog of Napa Valley is really a sight to be seen as it hits just about all the pleasure points a Syrah lover could hope for, 96 points.

Dumol, Eddie’s Patch Syrah, 2003
This is definitely a case where the flight pairing hurt this wine a tad (it was served next to the Colgin) as it was certainly as expressive as the Colgin, but seemed a bit clumsier in comparison. The wine screams out its fig, melted asphalt, bittersweet chocolate and blueberry flavors from a loudspeaker, and is loaded w/ a huge mouthfeel, layered in sweet, tantalizing fruit. The ’03 Eddie’s Patch is an undoubtedly powerful, loaded effort that just seems to lack a bit of the poise and structure of the Colgin, 94 points.

Radio Coteau Las Colinas Syrah, Sonoma Coast 2005
Selected from a distinctively cooler site more known for its Pinot Noir, this vintage from Radio Coteau starts out exceptionally strong, full of bacon fat, wilted flowers, cedar and pepper notes in the nose that are strikingly expressive. Well, it was a good start folks, as this bit of foreplay leaves us austere and short on the palate, simply begging for more generosity and wondering where the finish went. I don’t know enough about this producer to say whether or not this will put on substantial weight in the future, but think there is enough material here to give it another go ‘round in two years, 88+ points.

Alban Reva 2005
This is so ludicrously black that it in fact has no rim. It is as impenetrable as the sky on a moonless night. Seriously endowed and full of imbedded intensity, hinting at charred meats, boysenberry, blackberry ganache, freshly paved road tar, violet and peppercorns that are hauntingly polished, poised and all in reserve. This young Syrah is a volcano waiting to erupt, becoming more and more expansive in the mouth as the wine evolves but always retaining a beautiful sense of tension and symmetry. Textured to the 9’s and begging for some time in the cellar to unwind its hidden potential, 97 points.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What is the most influential factor in a wine's flavor?

There are clusters of winemaking and viticultural factors that positively and negatively affect the taste of wine, but I can’t imagine a singular element that has a more profound affect on flavor than that of the grape variety itself. One can certainly argue that manipulative enological interference can mask varietal character, but disastrous situations aside, are there any vinous constituents that have more impact on wine’s flavor than that of the grape variety(s) selected?

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Great California Grenache Tasting

It’s been said by Steve Tanzer that Bordeaux ages on its tannin, Burgundy on its acid and Chateauneuf…its alcohol. Well when speaking Chateauneuf, one must talk Grenache, a grape not loaded w/ tannin and certainly not known for acidity, leaving its singular structural virtue firmly in the booze category. Well, while we didn’t taste Chateauneuf last night, but we definitely felt the affects of Grenache’s gregarious persona as there was nary a sober body to be found. If you ever want to put together an evening that is sure to bring even the highest of alcoholic tolerances to their knees, the great delicious, heady grape from the Southern Rhone seems to knock ‘em dead on just about every occasion.

All apologies for the digression, as the theme of the tasting was not ’15.5%+ alcoholic behemoths,’ it was great Californian Grenache, an entity that isn’t exactly on the pulse of high fashion in terms of varietal domestic recognition, but one that really revs up my juices for the Golden State. I find that the producers of Grenache that I’ve interacted w/ have a genuine sense of drive and passion for the grape that infectiously spreads across the region, inflicting pockets of growers with ‘Grenache fever.’ While Pinot Noir has gotten its due press and Hollywood fame for its finicky, high maintenance behaviors, Grenache may have a case for being the pickiest of all grape varieties to have achieved Californian success. When you couple its physiological vulnerabilities alongside an imbedded inferiority complex and you’ve got yourself a perfect storm to create, what I hope to be, the next best thing to come from west coast soils.

While still an infant in terms of experience as a Californian varietal wine, the strides that these young, energetic mavericks have made from vintage to vintage is evident in their wines. Discussions last night regarding early drinkability, aging curves and evolutionary potential amongst these wines was fascinating, albeit an evidence-less dialogue. As most producers that we sampled have just recently come onto the scene, they have generated excitement over a vintage or two, not via lengthy resumes and expansive track records. When you consider how successful these Rhone Ranger pioneers have been w/ Grenache over the period of a couple years, utilizing plant materials that are scarcely a baker’s dozen years old at best, I can only imagine how rich the potential is for this grape variety in California in the decades to come.

We began the evening w/ a couple aloof examples of rose, fashioned from Grenache grapes. They proved to offer up somewhat of an unconventional beginning to our alcohol soaked evening, but hey, conventional tastings are boring!

Gran Feudo Rose, Navarra 2007
What a fuzzy, hot and disjointed mess this was! Ambiguously scented and caustically textured, this awkward science project of a wine hit the dump bucket faster than you could say ‘bitch slap,’ 64 points.

Benziger Grenache Rose, Dragonsleaf Vineyard, 2007
Now there is no doubting the heavy concentration of Benziger haters at the table, but c’mon, a single vineyard rose from California is certainly novel enough to be palatable, right? Dubbed as a ‘step up from White Zinfandel,’ I actually found this to be quite a lively, Sauvignon Blanc-esque example of decent, quaffable rose. Tropical, citrus inflicted notes of passion fruit, freshly soaked herbs and spicy briar fill out the perfumey, somewhat fresh rose that is by no means seamless, but full of character, 82 points.

Now it’s time for the real juice…

Rudius Grenache, 2005
Jeff Ames did a commendable job on his inaugural vintage Syrah, and this Grenache is by no means playing second fiddle to its more illustrious partner in grape. A sweet, fragrant expression of fresh raspberry, strawberry preserve and peppered huckleberry fan out nicely on the palate to a sappy, licorice tinged mouthfeel that has all the poise and presence you’d hope for in this varietal. While the first bottle of Rudius Grenache that I tasted a couple weeks back exhibited a bit more of a savory note, it received the exact same score and demonstrated the same type of craftsmanship, 90 points.

Outpost, Howell Mountain Grenache, 2005
I tasted the ’04 w/ Ben Sherwin blind a few months back and have very similar impressions on their ’05, all talk and no action. Perhaps the best nose of the evening, as flirty and exotic an aroma one could hope for in any dry red wine, full of citrus hints manifested in orange peel, white pepper, chamomile tea and sweet cherry perfume that I could smell for days. Having said that, it is hollow and clipped on the palate as it lacks density and concentration, but still tends to woo me with its elegant character nonetheless, 86 points.

*As an aside, I believe Ben stands firm on his position believing it is simply too young, and he may very well be correct. It is tough for me to make that leap, as this was their 2nd or 3rd vintage and I simply don’t have enough data points to determine whether or not this wine will ever fill out. We will have to make an appointment in the future to revisit this issue. You’re my boy Sherwin!

McPrice Myers L’Ange Rouge Grenache, 2005
It is no secret that I have absolutely been floored by this wine time and time again, and this is undoubtedly an effort that I am willing to bet the ranch on. I will expand on my analysis when I get into the Sine Qua Non note, but for now I’ll just remind you all that this Grenache can still be found for less than 30 dollars and is what I believe to be the best deal in California. Deep, dark ruby shades pave the way for the massive, gushing performance of sweet kirsch liqueur, bittersweet cocoa and fruit cake notes that have an expansive, yet harnessed personality through the sappy finish. I absolutely love this ‘fruit bomb done perfectly’ and know that the best is yet to come as is there is just so much flesh covering some really fascinating elements, 95 points.

Koehler Santa Ynez Grenache, 2005
I am not exactly sure where Koehler sources their fruit (as McPrice and Herman Story utilize Larner and Colson Canyon) but Santa Ynez seems to be the hotspot for the grape in the Central Coast and this effort from ’05 was surprisingly savory, with loam, dry aged beef, black tea and plum sauce notes that have an allure and complexity that is unfortunately cut short by a detracting, unpleasant bitterness on the finish. I am not entirely familiar w/ this producer but I believe once they fine tune their fruit a bit more they’ll have a real winner on their hands, 87 points.

Booker Vineyard, the Ripper, 2005
This 90 percent Grenache and 10 percent Syrah blend is the first vintage from Booker and has already become sought after thanks to small production and flamboyant praise from Robert Parker. The winemaker is Eric Jensen, whom previously worked w/ Justin Smith at Saxum for 5 years, and I hate to say it, but if I had tasted this wine blind I would have pegged it as a Grenache made by Mollydooker. Now the board’s wrath for Sparky aside, I don’t necessarily consider that a bad thing, although it isn’t a great thing either. The colors are black as the sky on a moonless night and the intensity and concentration of fruit are absolutely staggering. There are shades of clotted cream, sweet vanilla bean, cassis pudding and fig cake notes that have all the calories and nutrition of a protein infused milk shake. With all its monstrous power, there is a lithe sensibility within the texture that prevents the wine from being ponderous, as well as reminding you that it isn’t a Syrah and is in fact a Grenache. Definitely not for everybody, but I admit, it did seduce me a bit, 91+ points.

Core, Saroyan Vineyard, 2005
Apparently this vineyard no longer exists, or at least, the Grenache aspect of the vineyard has been uprooted. Now that makes this note extremely bittersweet (especially if the vines were uprooted to plant lettuce patches, or worse, Merlot) as this was a true ringer for a baby Chateauneuf. Purity was at the forefront of this effort, with notions of shaved truffle, graphite, spicebox, kirsch liqueur and raspberry ganache leading the way to an elegant, yet deeply constituted palate that glided along a gorgeous mineral beam to the finish. Perhaps the lightest in color of all the Grenaches we tasted, but the one that stole all our hearts, bravo, 93+ points.

Herman Story Grenache, Larner Vineyard 2005
Not sure if it was darker than the Booker, but I am sure that was a more focused and channeled effort (at least at this stage of its life). While I am not a fan of barrel aging for Grenache, Russell From pulls it off as this wine is far from oaky, but has this beautiful toasted almond note that adds another dimension. Perhaps his success can be attributed to having muscular enough fruit to handle to wood load, as he seems to be able to pull off handling this grape ‘differently’ better than most. While the wine is loaded w/ tar, violet, blackberry reduction and cassis notes, there is a finesse that parallels the wine’s sinew that really sets it apart, 93 points.

Sine Qua Non, Lil’ E, 2003
Alright, Josh Leader is responsible for breaking my SQN cherry and I am eternally grateful! I know this type of tasting isn’t exactly Josh’s thing, but I was very glad he came and hope he had as much fun as I did. Anyhow, this is a texturally superlative wine, just about as plush, seamless and polished as any Grenache I’ve ever tasted, w/ a sensual beam of pure vanilla extract, raspberry and macerated cherries effortlessly gliding along to an effortless finish. Manfred handles his wines in a distinct fashion from the norm and there is no doubting his success, but I have to say that tasting the ’05 McPrice Myers whispers in my ear that he’s going to have some company at the top of the Rhone pedestal (besides John Alban, of course). This expression of SQN is drinking as well as you could hope for; but if you give the McPrice a couple more years and find that it hits this type of textural stride (while holding its alcohol), then we’ll have quite the interesting story to tell, 95 points.

PAX Dry Stack Vineyard, 2004
This Grenache is 100 percent whole cluster fermented on its native yeast and never racked before bottling, (god I love how ambitious and risk-taking these producers are!) and is aromatically loaded w/ a hypnotic perfume of melted licorice, blue flowers, anise, hickory wood and pure kirsch notes that are as seductive as any femme fatale I’ve encountered. Initially the attack is creamy and rich, but the midpalate shuts down like a jackhammer and tightens up on the finish which is cut and abrupt. There is so much potential in this effort, but it seems to me that at present, the wine just doesn’t close the deal, 90+ points?

Broc Cellars Dry Stack Vineyard, 2005
In a head to head vineyard battle, the Broc Cellars currently has the upper hand to the much more expensive PAX, as its violet, framboise, sappy cola and blackberry sauce notes have a seamless, multi-dimensional and impeccably textured progression from start to finish. As the wine sits in the glass, this beautiful notion of black forest cake appears and beautifully glides along a pure silky robe that I can still remember as I type these notes, 92+ points.

Leo Frokic’s blind ringer…

There was no doubting that this was a Grenache dominated blend, but it varied in its texture quite dramatically from the Californian versions. Quite spicy at first, w/ black currant and cassis notes dominating the nose but they turn tarry in the palate, where a bittersweet cocoa note pumps along powdery, graphite laced tannins. The structure of this wine is much more evident and it is by no means a fruit bomb, but could likely benefit from some short term cellaring, 91 points.

My guess was Monsant…I was close, it was actually an ’05 Priorat from Mas Perinet (I swore it was too restrained to be a Priorat!).

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Chateauneuf-du-pape : 13 grapes variety
Uploaded by olpascal

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A rollercoaster ride through the best of ’98 Chateauneuf du Pape

Executive Wine Seminars put together a staggering lineup of the top dogs from the heralded ’98 vintage to evaluate how they’ve taken to a decade of aging. As my title suggests, there were some mouth frothing highs and some knee in the nuts lows that transcend the cliché ‘peaks and valleys.’ While one expects a bit of the good old ‘up and down’ in tasting through flights of wine (especially when blinded), but the 90 degree inversion that occurred in the last two flights of the evening make the steep slopes of the Mosel look like the plains of Kansas.
A couple brief conclusions from the evening (all of which are frank, yet profoundly strike you in events such as these):
  • Tired but true, bottle variation is not a myth, especially in Chateauneuf du Pape. Whether it has to do w/ transit issues, a late vs. early release situation or simply a separate lot number, it is legit and can lead to significant consequences. Clos des Papes 2003 anyone?
  • One of the best deals in Chateauneuf is Vieux Donjon, w/ Charvin close behind. It truly is enjoyable to watch these humble producers slay hyper priced luxury cuvees in events such as these. Year in, year out they consistently make exquisite wines for fair prices w/ minimal fanfare or boisterous ego (no cults necessary).
  • Chapoutier rocks.

‘Nuff said. Bring on the bacon:

First flight, a stumble & a stench that brought the crowd to their feet:

Wine 1:
A jam packed porty mess that showed notes of oxidation and cooked fruit notes in the nose that were monstrous, yet utterly unyielding in the palate and could only demonstrate force w/o the flesh. As it turns out, Janasse Vieilles Vignes was not a right bottle, but neither was the other bottle that was poured. I can personally attest to this wine performing in outstanding fashion a couple months back and this example brought no recollection of that greatness back to my mind, NR.

Wine 2:
Much prettier in its perfume than the former, as kirsch, lilac and blue fruits emerge from the glass in pleasant, endearing fashion. The wine is opulent, tannic and chewy in the mouth, yet withdrawn and lacking in substance to sustain the finish as the wine dries out in a bit of a whimper. An experience I liken to biting into the skin of the cherry, without enjoying the sweet juices that normally follow. A rare agreement w/in the crowd, this Cailloux Cuvee Centenaire had seen better days (although wasn’t a bad drink), 89 points.

Wine 3:
Here lies the necessary slap in the face as the aromatics of number three remind me why this region charges up my batteries. A gorgeous vision of a wine, w/ oodles of black truffles, cedar, graphite, crème de cassis, raspberry ganache and forest floor notes that left a tactile, engrossing impression on me immediately. The mouthfeel is explosive and striking, with a gorgeous sense of vibrancy and multidimensional texture that renders me pleasured and clamoring for another sip. Who needs multiple cuvees? Vieux Donjon was indeed the bargain of the vintage, 98 points.

Wine 4:
The Moses of the flight parted the ruby red seas into a dichotomy of the stank-ophiles and the stank-ophobes. Immediately identifiable scents of reduction and brett envelope the nose w/ a sort of a gamey, sweaty leather strap sense of sauvage charm that endeared most, yet repulsed others. In spite of the controversial aromas, the wine is delectable in the palate, as round, layered and polished sensations of grilled herbs, spicy plum, tobacco and pepper almost soothe the senses. This is undoubtedly an unabated expression of Chateauneuf (which old school fans believed was not only the holy grail, but what the region ‘is supposed to be’), but Bois de Boursan Cuvee des Felix was also a wine of great purity ’98, 95 points.

Wine 5:
The first of the two more modernly constructed cuvees of the evening showed quite well at age ten. A lavish tapestry of crème de cassis, mocha, melted licorice and the essence of kirsch liqueur seduced me immediately through the nose, almost beckoning the taster to sip. In the mouth, the wine is dapper, with suave liqueur like fruit that glides along polished tannins and permeate through to the finish. This is the most suave, deepest Chateau La Nerthe ‘Cuvee des Cadettes’ that I’ve yet to experience, 96 points.

Flight 2, a vile and wretched root canal of an experience:

Wine 6:
Apparently there was a ‘good bottle’ of number 6, and my tasting experience w/ the good bottle was a fleeting one (Posner chugged and slurped away my opportunity at greatness) so all I was left w/ was the clumsily massive, disjointed mess of hot Amarone garbage that I might as well have used to degrease the engine of my car. It’s a shame too, as I’d imagine only the devilish of characters could allow a Pegau Da Capo to be cooked to this degree. Well hey, the body was nice, just wasn’t quite the ride I’d hoped for, NR.

Wine 7:
The best wine of the flight was Mr. Modern number two, but a bit less seamless in comparison to the Cadettes. Still quite toasty at this stage, with rich cedar, loam, black currant, spice box and blackberry sauce accompanying the warm barrique notes in a suave fashion, yet not one that is easily discernable as anything from the Southern Rhone. Typicity aside, this vintage of Mordoree’s Reine des Bois was extremely textured, layered and channeled its power as beautifully as one could hope for, 92+ points.

Wine 8:
The most boring, pedestrian wine of the evening wasn’t necessarily flawed, it just lacked any excitable characteristic I’d hope for in Chateauneuf. Aromatics evolved to reveal wild flowers, pine resin and fig as they unfolded in the palate to a moderately mouthfilling, jammy persona that turned a touch gritty and unpleasant towards the finish. Again, I’ve had this vintage of Beaucastel over 6 times and this is nothing like any of my prior experiences. A gentleman in the audience had mentioned his entire case showed just as these wines had. Perhaps it’s time for a ‘what’s your Beaucastel ’98 lot number’ thread, 84 points.

Wine 9:
Out of the two bottles, one was corked, and the other was worse. What truly frightens me is that the bottle I am about to comment on may have not been an off bottle. Had I closed my eyes, sniffed, swirled and spit, I would have come to the conclusion that I was drinking a Vin Santo, which, in its own right, wouldn’t have been a bad thing. The problem w/ that conclusion is that this was a DRY RED WINE from Chateauneuf! Classic Santo notes of toffee, caramel and syrup crusted coffee cake transition to a compact, steamy bath of awkward belligerence. For whatever reason, drinking this Marcoux Vieilles Vignes reminded me of a dream where I accidentally walked in on my parents having sex…thank goodness it was just a dream. Pass the biscotti please, 57 points.

The flight that saved the night…and then some:

Wine 10:
Welcome back to earth, how good it feels to be home! An absolutely gorgeous performance, laced w/ tobacco, pepper, tilled earth, sweet spice, strawberry pie, plum sauce and coffee notes that just won’t quit. In the mouth, the wine is beautifully on point, with plush layers of sumptuous fruit that pay homage to the purity and essence of Grenache. Usseglio’s Mon Aieul in top vintages is surely an experience that all Southern Rhone lovers need to experience on multiple occasions, 97 points.

Wine 11:
At first I was convinced this was the Capo, and then I teetered w/ the notion of it being the Mon Aieul. I came to the conclusion that I was a moron for trying to peg it (the answers revealed that the word soothsayer isn’t exactly a part of my resume either) and I just allowed my palate to soak up what I consider hedonistic Chateauneuf to be all about. There was an exotic tone to the scents, as they seemed to be at a higher pitch, showcasing a dazzling array of brandy soaked figs, raspberry glaze, iron, duck fat and subtle undertones of garrigue. The wine is outrageously concentrated and expansive in the mouth, almost plumping the palate out to complete rupture, but doing in a delicious, silky fashion that ramps up my pleasure points into overdrive. What a friggin’ awesome wine, and to think that I had pegged the Bonneau Celestins as one of the ‘unstable, porty messes’ from before! Mea culpa Henri, I won’t do it again, 100 points.

Wine 12:
Finally, a wine I have had on multiple occasions and can say my notes yesterday evening were as consistent as any. While initially subdued, as the wine sat in the glass it evolved to express such an array of wonderful, subtle complexity. Notes of lavender, caramel coated earth, gravel, grilled herbs, cherries and raspberry ganache became livelier and sappier with every next sip. Charvin really sets itself apart when it matures to reveal such pretty nuances, along its gorgeous beam of mineral character. Hitting that stride in a marathon can feel so good, 95 points.

Wine 13:
Well well, I thought the 11 was the Capo until I stuck my nose in this elixir and uttered ‘holy shit!’ No, not because of brett, but boy was this an utterly effusive, flamboyant and heady concoction for Bacchus or what?! An absolutely mammoth constitution of overt complexity that dazzles form all angles, as each earthy element was perfectly paired w/ decadent fruit, coated in just the right amount of a seemingly hypnotic spice. You could just sense the dense layers of this wine, ready to explode, so tightly assembled until they cascaded through the palate like an avalanche toppling from a mountain of baklava. Wines of this nature tend to defy traditional note taking and no amount of waxing is adequate as they beg the question, what can I say about this wine? While there were some complete duds and absolute gems this evening, Chapoutier’s Barbe Rac was a singular animal all its own, and it was perfect, 100 points.

*I had just tasted this wine a few months back w/ Jeff Leve and we both thought it was going to get better, but I had never imagined it would reach these particular heights. Hey, it could be bottle variation, but even if Chapoutier was only able to conjure this one magical bottle, it just further adds to his mystique and it is an experience that I won’t soon forget.

Monday, March 03, 2008

An Emerging Leader Expands

Vineyard acquisitions are music to my ears when the purchasing producer is one that I enjoy and admire. In this case, Craggy Range is producer that’s stockpiling some extra vines, and I couldn’t be happier to learn that the next few vintages will be blessed w/ more of this fine Kiwi producer’s juice on retail shelves. Although they are mostly known for their Sauvignon Blanc, Craggy Range Syrah and Pinot Noir (the later variety coming from the same 86 acre Te Muna Road vineyard that put their Sauvignon Blanc on the map) are both outstanding, singular expressions New Zealand fruit. While this producer has plenty of new projects in store for the future, their newly acquired parcels of Pinot Noir have peeked my interest the most. 2006 will be the inaugural vintage for the Calvert Vineyard Pinot Noir, a plot that is now ten years old and located in the Bannockburn region of Central Otago (the same region that producers Felton Road & Mt. Difficulty call home). The ’07 vintage will springboard two new Craggy Range vineyard designated Pinot Noirs as well, from the 67 acre Zebra Vineyard and 14 acre Sluicings Vineyard, located in Bendigo (where producer Quartz Reef is located) and Bannockburn, respectively. Bendigo is generally a bit more arid than that of Bannockburn and tends to have a greater diurnal temperature swing.

In 2008 Craggy Range is due to harvest from yet another new vineyard, Otago Station (located in Waitaki w/in the North Otago valley), which has an even cooler climate than Central Otago and is rich in limestone (eh-hem, Burgundy) soils. With their current tally of over 45,000 cases of vineyard designated wines (from 10 grape varieties) on the rise, their breadth of quality should be available in large enough quantities to satiate even the thirstiest of Kiwi advocates. Looking for a change of pace in the realm of cool climate varieties? Now is the time to get out there and explore, New Zealand style, from a producer that always seems to hit the bull’s eye.
* source materials are thanks to the Wine Spectator

Craggy Range, Te Muna Road Vineyard, Pinot Noir 2005
My first taste of Craggy Range Pinot came in a complex, beautifully approachable package from the low yielding 2005 vintage. A scintillating, exuberant nose, full of cracked pepper, hard spices, cardamom, dark cherries and black raspberries engulf the taster w/ the sweet and the spicy. The palate is full of fat pinot flavors, underpinned by peppered minerality and a satin coated texture that evokes each metaphor that put this temptress of a finicky grape on the map. While broad, it is quite grounded in pleasing restraint. Enjoy this silky goddess over the next 7 years, 94 points. With efforts like this (clocking in around 35 dollars, fairly priced around 80 smackers on the restaurant list) from New Zealand, can more outstanding pinot be far behind?

Craggy Range, Te Muna Road Vineyard, Pinot Noir 2006
Just a hair short of the level reached by their otherworldly ’05, the ’06 vintage from Craggy Range offers up yet another finely constructed effort that speckles through the senses in subtle waves of Pinot-goodness. Colors of transparent ruby shades swirl about, revealing some hefty legs and provocative scents of hearty plum, forest floor, dark cherries, anise, incense and sage. In the mouth, the wine is super-sappy and cuts a broad swath across the palate w/ gushing layers of fruit that are juicy and succulent to the finish. Immediately satisfying & exceptionally supple, but I imagine this youngster will stretch her legs a bit more in the cellar, 93+ points.

Craggy Range 2004, Le Sol Gimblett Gravels
I’ve been very impressed w/ this producer’s efforts, nearly across the varietal board, as they continue to push the envelope for quality driven New Zealand wines. Their 2004 pure Syrah is no different, exhibiting an intense perfume of violet, boysenberry, black pepper, toast, grilled meats and a mélange of other purple fruits. Plush and generous in the mouth, reminiscent of some of the finer Washington state Syrahs. Top notch juice, showing yet another glimpse of the endless possibilities that the New Zealand viticultural landscape offers quality oriented producers, 92 points.

Their Sauvignon Blanc is a year in, year out winner. Full of crushed stone, chive and electric citrus flavors that provide all the intensity you'd hope for in a Kiwi Sauvignon, underpinned by a fine mineral backbone. Although there's some fierce competition in this category, Craggy Range managed to separate themselves from the sea of grass and gooseberry and has now channeled quite a bit of their focus on fashioning the best Pinot Noir in New Zealand. I imagine the hand-picked plots will only augment the success for this master from Central Otago and I can't wait to wrap my palate around those new gems coming down the pipeline.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

A Sardinian Sale

Talk about a knockout value for those of the Rhone persuasion:

Argiolas Costera 2006
A deeply ruby colored Sardinian Cannonau (Grenache), along w/ Carignan and Bovale Sardo, is full of Vacqueyras-esque elements of bramble, dark plum sauce, dried strawberry preserve, pepper and graphite aromatics. The fleshy palate zips along a fine mineral beam & is enshrouded in a firm underlying structure. This is much heartier & denser than the modest price-point suggests & should prove to hit the spot for just about any weekday Rhone warrior. Welcome to a new alternative to Bistro wine, Italian style. This puppy blows away most any CDR in the respective price range and is staggeringly consistent from vintage to vintage, 89+ points.

Anyone that is familiar w/ cuvee from Perrin et Fils called ‘Les Christins’ should expect an equivalent performance from Costera. To be honest, the wines are so similar in value, quality and profile, it blows my mind that one is a Vacqueyras and the other is from Sardinia?!

Another fine value from Argiolas is their white Costamolino, a Vermentino from Sardinia that also over-delivers for its trivial tariff & is full of restrained tropical notions that pulse along a lithe, fresh profile. Recent vintages of this cuvee have been as easy a case purchase as any & should satiate a wide variety of adventurous palates. Between the breadth, consistency & value of producers such as Argiolas and Falesco, it makes me wonder why more of my smart money isn’t directed towards Italy?

Have to try the 'Perdera' cuvee next...