Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Let's Call it Pinot-oin

OK so I drink a lot of Pinot, I admit it, PN is a drug and I'm a Pinot junkie, she has me wrapped around her finger like groupies to a starlet (think Scarlet Johansen). How can you avoid falling for the juiciness, gobs of fruit, zinging acidity, velvety texture and [easy boy easy]. Look King Cab has its place, big brute barging into the fray demanding attention with its over the top extractions and muscularity. Don't leave out Chard-onia, bringing the world malo, vanilla and cream. Of course, I'm a Rhone-ista too, and draw wood on that region's expression of earth and fruit. But Pinot is always after my heart, or veins or liver, however you want to characterize her clutches. I'm talking Pinot here, from California and maybe Oregon in a pinch, lovely west coast juice, rife with cherries, minerals, fog and the sea. How can any wine lover resist?
So Laube does his little Pinot fest around the Super Bowl and he throws out a dozen beauties to try. How can an honest wine head like me with a day job keep up and afford to track down so many raptures? One at a time, I guess.
Anyway, the Roessler Cellars from Anderson Valley caught my eye and, thereafter, my credit card. It didn't take long to see that here was a mother lode for my Pinot fix. Wells Guthrie, from Copain (mailing list!) consulting with a newbie focused on single vineyards Pinots? They hooked a flounder, just had to reel me in and gaff me.
So I order a 6 pack of the 2004 Roessler Cellars Anderson Valley Savoy Pinot Noir, which clocks in at 14.5% alcohol from the website for $45 a bottle. Ruby red in the glass, the wine opens with a nose of blackberry and saddle leather, followed by a muscular mix of dark fruit taking over the mid-palate. Currants and earth, with mouthfuls of juicy fruit following every sip (or, in my case, every slurp/chug). A structured and refined offering, the Savoy has a smooth, redolent finish. A crowd pleaser that will appeal to the snobs and enthusiasts alike. For me the 2004 could use another year in the bottle to reach full bloom and integration of fruit and acidity.
Rating: Excellent, very tasty.
Cheers, Barrld

Monday, February 26, 2007

Rhone Ranger in White

I'm not sure about the organic wine thing. While it seems self evident that something organic is better for me, I'm not eating grapes here but drinking wine. All things being equal I will always opt for a quality over marketing ploys or similar gimmicks. When organics and quality wine merge, well that's a no brainer.

This brings me to Bonterra Vineyards in Ukiah up in Mendocino County heading north in California. Bonterra states its commitment to organic grape farming and gives a fairly detailed rendition of what that entails. The winery is one of the few that has the certified organic farming seal of approval there for all to see on its website. I recall having one of its reds before, which I'm sure I consumed without offense, but I landed at Bonterra searching for whites, esp. Rhone varietals after Eric Asimow of the NYT mentioned the winery and its white Rhones in one of his blogs a couple of months back.

The wine is the Bonterra Vineyards 2004 Rhone Varietal Blend, Mendocino. The wine clocks in at 14.4% alcohol and is 58% Marsanne, 28% Rousanne and 14% Viognier (who comes up with these numbers??). I bought three bottles off the website at $20 per though I suspect that larger volumes afford some discounts.

Citrus and white flowers on the nose, min and honeysuckle mid-palate. Juicy and viscous. Lychee and cherry blossoms on the finish. Refreshing and well made. Who knows how this would taste if it wasn't organic.

Rating: Very good, quaffable.

Cheers, Barrld

Friday, February 23, 2007

More Pinot Madness

So in reading Vinography, one of the best overall blogs on the web, I spot Alder's story about a wine writer turned winemaker. Stephen Yafa, a man of letters, took the plunge, engaging Greg La Follette of Flowers fame, now at his own place Tandem. I was one of the early birds at Flowers and enjoyed Greg's pioneering efforts in Sonoma, the Russian River and Sonoma Coast in the 1990s, way before anyone knew about global warming's effect on the ability to grow grapes right next to the Pacific Ocean and such. Anyway, I contacted Steve, got a six pack on order and waited. Waited some more. Then the light bulb went off and it was clear that I shouldn't sit by the pot hoping for it to boil, iykwim. So I pinged Steve, he tracked down the shipper who apparently had flaked. One way or another he dug that six pack out for me and sent it himself. Nice.
So the name has nothing to do with that stupid people mover for lazy asses who don't want to walk from here to there if it's farther away than the vending machine with Yo Ho's and Tortilla Chips, Ranch style. Rather, Steve refers to the real, unglamorous process of taking tons of grapes off of poky vines, laden with yellow jackets on steep slopes, sorting them meticulously, then turning the whole batch into something magical. Indeed, Steve has hit the jackpot and his debut vintage is a fantastic one. While his writing may be excellent, his winemaking is off to a classic start.
The Segue 2005 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County checks in at 14.2% alcohol. Only 50 cases were made of this beauty. The wine show a hearty red with traces of violet in the glass. Blackberry coffee on the nose. A mouthful of fruit, berries and cherries, greet the mid-palate. Juicy and vibrant, this wine sneaks up on you with its multitude of flavors and structure exploding in the mouth. Smooth with finesse yet a powerful finish. This is a little rattlesnake, which opens rather quietly then strikes with its array of flavors. Bravo for the inaugural offering. This wine will knock the socks off of the big boys from Sonoma when tasted blind.
Rating: Superb.
Cheers, Barrld
PS I purloined the picture from Alder's website as my d photo sucked.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Wines Out

I was snowboarding and traveling over the last couple of days making my blog logistically difficult and, with my four year old sitting on my lap at the two dinners where we had wine, it was very difficult to take notes. Here are some thoughts from memory (OK one is not from the snowboarding trip, but worthy of note):

Chateau Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape 2004: I splurged on Valentine's Day with the wife and ordered this beauty. I'm embarrassed to say that it was way out of my budget but I figured "once a year" and the restaurant didn't have the well priced 2003 Roger Sabon CdP any more . . . Tightly wound, pencil shavings and plums on the nose, cherries and earth mid-palate, medium bodied, ethereal, roses and earth, well structured. Lovely but too young to drink now and needs more bottle time. I have a few bottles of this somewhere and will dig one out to drink and review in about a year. Rating: Excellent, tasty.

Badia a Coltibuono, Chianti Classico Riserva 2001: There were 10 of us at Il Poggio, a fantastic Italian place in Snowmass Village, five adults and five kids. The well priced wine list has a number of fine Italian selection under $100 a bottle and some of the big guns from Tuscany as well. Though I greatly enjoy Sangiovese I don't drink Chianti too often b/c the quality varies so greatly and there is so much Chianti plonk out there. Plus the whole "classico" and "riserva" thing seems silly to me. I picked the Badia randomly from the wine list though I asked the owner/wine guy about it after he brought the bottle out but before he opened it and he said it was his favorite traditional Chianti on the list. It was $57 a bottle which is slightly more than a 2x markup to what's out there (I bought the last 6 bottles at WineEx for $24 each). The wine is 90% Sangiovese and 10% canaiolo (??), is certified organic and has 13.5% alcohol . . . Beautifully rich, black cherry red in the glass and opens with that distinct, dusty Tuscan soil, blackberry and stone on the mid-palate, lots of earth here, structured and balanced with a velvet hammer finish. Good with richer pasta and hearty, grilled seafood like lobster. The wife enjoyed it, thus my post trip purchase. Rating: Very good, quaffable.

Altesino Brunello di Montalcino 1998: This was our second wine at Il Poggio and it was $92 a bottle, again a bit more than 2x of current market. I originally ordered the 2001 Altesino but the owner/wine guy said he had one bottle left of the '98 and that it was drinking well; I suspected that the 2001 was a bit young too, even though the '01 was a superior year. So I took the plunge and accepted the '98, which turned out to be a favorite of one of my table mates (no not the 5 year old!). After the Badia, the Altesino seemed huge and robust to me, amazing given that the wines come from the same grape. The '98 is dark garnet in the glass and opens with a mellow nose of fruit and flowers. Black plums and mint mid-palate, refined and integrated tannins but with a bold, satisfying finish of dark fruit. Drinking beautifully now and I can't imagine any improvement over time. Rating: Very good, quaffable.

Morgan Twelve Clones Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands 2005: This was the third wine I ordered from a list at Village Steakhouse, another wonderful restaurant in Snowmass. The other two were MIA; who knew? With just six of us, and only 3 drinkers, it was our only bottle of the night and did itself justice. I paid $52 for the bottle, which is listed on the Morgan website at $30 and can be found elsewhere in the mid-$20s. A good value for quaffing though it's a notch below the better pinots coming out of SLH and elsewhere in CA, esp. in 2005. My friend John swooned over the "veritable fruit explosion with each mouthful. It engorged the senses with ecstasy and enlightenment [his words]," most of which I missed, probably b/c I'm fed up with all efforts to enlighten from both sides of the aisle. Plus I drink a lot more than he does, I have never found wine to be erogenous and pinot is, well you know . . . Garnet in the glass, quite clear given it's unfined and unfiltered. Nose of cherries with a hint of sage, juicy mid-palate with a mouthful of red fruit. Well made and balanced, given the quantity out there, with thousands of cases made. Modest but pleasant finish. It went well with my ostrich, which was an odd dish for me but worth trying once. Rating: Very good, quaffable.

Cheers, Barrld

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Southern Oregon Meets Spain

I do like John and Dorothy's regular column on wines in the Wall Street Journal. While some critics have labeled their commentary as pedestrian (aka the Rachel Rays of the wine world) .I entirely disagree and believe that, given the breadth of WSJ readership, John and Dorothy have had a significant and materially positive impact of wine consumption in the US. Their approach and analysis de-mystifies wine, while celebrating its delights. They make finding and enjoying a variety of wines much easier for novices and guzzlers alike. Just b/c they don't discuss the threat of brett, TCA and cork taint, and their flavor profiling uses real words and tastes (Parker once noted a "tincture of iodine" in one of his tasting notes--what?? Tanzer gets lost in his forest of superlatives) don't short change their taste buds either, as both John and Dorothy have sensitive, sophisticated palates. My hat goes off to them.

Which brings me to the reason for the reference; they often have an "unusual wine" section in their weekly report. Sometime last year they reported that a winery in the Southern Oregon appellation (where?) was making enjoyable Spanish and Italian varietals. Intrigued, I gave the winery a call and as is my ilk ordered a case of its varietals from the 2003 vintage. I found Abacela's wines, the Dolcetto, Malbec and Albarino I tried, to be good to very good, relatively straightforward, but nice expressions of fruit. The Abacela 2003 Estate Tempranillo, Southern Oregon, however, is a distinct wine by any measure and is worth tracking down as it is excellent. I think I paid around $28 a bottle with the case discount. It checks in at a modest 13.7% alcohol.

Tasting Notes: Nutmeg on the nose, with cedar and cinnamon, chocolate and dark fruit mid-palate, chewy and dense, complex array of anise, dark fruits and rich flavors, firm blackberry finish. From any other appellation, one could say that this wine is a fine expression of its terroir but, not to knock the wine in the least, what represents an expression of the vineyards of Southern Oregon?? The simple answer might be the Abacela Estate Tempranillo.

Rating: Excellent, tasty.

Cheers, Barrld

PS The Abacela website( posts a late January 2007 article for Matt Kramer (of WS fame) in the Oregonian in which Matt profoundly praises the 2004 Estate Tempranillo so I guess Abacela has things going for it. Good for the founders they deserve applause for going against conventional wisdom and planting interesting varietals in unique locations then bringing high quality affordable wines to the market. Bravo!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Challenging White Rhone

So I've had maybe two true white Rhones in my time, the Condrieu that I referred to in an earlier blog that the wife passed on and that I thought tasted of burnt oranges and some other non-memorable wine. The solution? Buy some white Rhones! So when the Flickinger teaser flashed across my email screen I bit, sending Tom an order for an assortment of Rhone Blanc. As is typical, I jammed them in a corner of the cluttered wine room and promptly forgot about trying one. Finally I dug a bottle out and stood it up a couple of days for the test.

The wine is the 2001 Domaine de Vieux Telegraphe, Chateauneuf du Pape, "La Crau" Blanc, 14% alcohol. Other bloggers find Vieux Telegraphe (dr. vino and the winedoctor, for example) to be a high quality below the radar producer of CdP but I haven't tried enough of VT to have an opinion, one way or another. I do know that the "La Crau" designation is window, er label, dressing as all the wines with the VT label say "La Crau." It took a bit of research to discover that a host of different grapes go into this wine, grenache blanc and rousanne, which I know well, and clairette and bourboulenc, which I've never heard of and can not even pronounce. These later two are ancient Mediterranean varietals that are mostly used for blending now, apparently due to various flaws and unpleasant tendencies when produced on a stand alone basis.

Tasting Notes: Apricot and jasmine on the nose, syrupy orange blossoms mid-palate, honey and pears with a bit of petrol on the finish. Rich and mouthwatering, but rather perplexing; intriguing flavors that are difficult to categorize and seem to go in different directions. All in all very enjoyable.

Rating: Excellent, tasty.

Cheers, Barrld

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Tasty Brunello

Italian wines remain an enigma to me, mostly due to space constraints. With no room in my cellar to add representative multiple vintage samples of Brunellos, Barolos, Chiantis, Amarones and the like, I have only dabbled in the wines of Italy and probably have no more than 2 or 3 cases of the stuff (that crack inventory control system I use, aka my memory, is always on top of this sort of thing), with a couple of bottles of this and a few of that. Given this dabbling it's hard to establish any tasting benchmarks or favorite producers, though the 2001 Elio Grasso Barolo that I had with the guzzlers on this past New Year's Eve is on the top of a very short list. I've also had some wines that just don't do it for me. For example, as sacrilegious as it may be to the Italiophiles out there, I really don't like the various Antinori Tignanellos that I've had (3 or 4 different vintages), which I find overly rustic and rough hewn, with harsh tannins pummeling the wine's fruit into submission (just tried the 99 again last night and, while drinkable, I can't get past it's rough edges to really like this wine). At the same time I really want to figure out the many wines from Tuscany, Piedmont and elsewhere on the boot, knowing full well that there have been a number of fantastic Italian vintages over the past dozen or so years and that many quality Italian wines trade at relative bargain prices. The flames of that desire, however modest, were fanned when, at a business dinner for 8 at Valentino's in Santa Monica, I handed control over our wines to the wine steward, who brought out a 1998 Siepi, 1990 Pira, 1995 Costanti and a 1983 Masi; thank God it was someone else's credit card!

So I get one of those email ticklers about some bargain Brunellos and I fight the double click reflex, knowing how much of a sucker for alleged bargains that I am. After ignoring the email for a day or two I finally look, see that there are a couple 1999 Brunellos for sale at K&L Wines, up in the bay area (it just opened a shop in Hollywood too, a place I need to avoid like Vegas). I buy wines from all over (duh!) and find K&L to often have the best prices, a good monthly newsletter and educated down to earth sales folks. I believe K&L when it advertises a sale price and I picked up three bottles of a couple of '99s, though I can't tell you exactly how many b/c I forgot where I stuck them in the cellar. Fortunately I came across one the other day, to my surprise, and popped the cork. The wine was a 1999 Brunello di Montalcino Vendemmia Tenuta Caparzo. I've seen this wine listed well over $50 a bottle, but I paid $30 at K&L and feel smart for making the exchange.

Tasting Notes: Garnet in the glass, black cherry and wet earth on the nose, notes of crushed roses, violets and bitter chocolate mid-palate, blackberry and currants. Finish of tar and black fruit. Dusty and a bit rustic. Powerful tannins with lots of life here--I may have opened it too soon.

Rating: Tasty.

Cheers, Barrld
PS James Suckling bugs the shit out of me; I sometimes read his blog posts at the WS and know that he's forgotten more about wine then I will ever know but he such an over the top braggart, smug and obsequious I just felt the need to say something. Read his Valentine's Day post--completely unnecessary and obnoxious. Plus, I think he's gone native in Italy, and has an overly gilded view of its wines--look at his WS insider report from 2/7 to confirm my speculation.

Monday, February 12, 2007

An Old Zin Friend Soldiers On

My friend Jeff got me an invite to the Napa Valley Wine Auction in June of 1999 so we hooked up at the Oakland Airport and drove up to Napa for the event. I wasn't really prepared for the glamor of it all, which became a bit much, and the big charity auction was ridiculously expensive, with many lots going out at over $100,000 per, of course we purchased nothing. It used to be that on the Friday evening of the function everyone dressed to the nines and gathered under a big tent on the Meadowood lawn for a formal sitdown affair prepared by a celebrity chef (I think it was Alice Waters that night) followed by music and dancing. The tables all had wine but the highlight of the evening was the march of the big bottles, with winemakers and winery representatives entering the hall with magnums of wine, one for each table. Jeff and I were randomly seated with the assistance winemaker from Groth and a couple that introduced themselves as the Caldwells, a tall attractive blond who was much younger than her 50 something husband. Oliver Caldwell, the hubbie, was visibly perturbed b/c he was supposed to be the wine guy at our table, and he had a magnum of zinfandel from his winery in Napa. Jeff and I didn't care though, more wine for us. The guy from Groth broke out a mag of the Groth 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, which needed some more time to soften its harsh tannins, I remember it tasting a bit like liquid blackberry chalk. Oliver lighted up when his 1996 Caldwell Aida Zinfandel was the clear winner at the table, so much so that he pulled out (from God knows where) a regular-sized bottle of his 1996 Caldwell Petit Sirah, which was inky and wonderful. Karen Caldwell turned out to be an engaging young woman, with an attractively low cut formal dress on (read nice cleavage) who loved to dance so dance we did.

Having had more than my share of vino, I then proceeded to procure the partially filled magnums from surrounding tables, stealing them over to ours for an impromptu wine tasting amongst the tuxedo crowd. Soon we had 20 odd folks standing around our table enjoying the my "collection" which now included Diamond Creek, Opus, Mondavi, Chimney Rock (1996 cab, elegant, lovely) and about a dozen others. Oliver Caldwell took his bottle of Petit Sirah off to meet some friends but left the Zin and his wife behind and both were well appreciated by the crowd. Let's be clear, no lewd conduct of any kind occurred just good clean socializing and guzzling, surrounding by lovely, decked out (tipsy) women. Great celebration.

Anyway, Karen told me to call her after I got back to SoCal, if I wanted to get some wine from her (nothing more). I picked up cases of the Caldwell Zin (around $30 a bottle) and Petit Sirah (around $40 a bottle) from 1996 for me and Jeff and we were quite happy with the quality of the Caldwell juice. Later I picked up the Zin and PS from the 1997 vintage too, which was a half step below the 1996 on both fronts, but still terrific. I ran into Karen Caldwell briefly at the 2001 Napa Auction (my second and last visit to that event), this time with the wife in tow, and Karen was as engaging as every, albeit 5 months pregnant. As I understand it the Caldwells got into a name dispute with another winemaker named John Caldwell and I lost track of Karen and Oliver and their wines.

So I opened a bottle of the 1996 Oliver Caldwell Cellars Aida Vineyards Napa Valley Zinfandel the other night, hoping that age hadn't caught up with this old favorite. At 14.8% alcohol it seemed light compared to the portlike fruit bombs that pass themselves off as Zin these days. The bottle sure did bring back some fond memories too.

Tasting Notes: Garnet in the glass, blueberry and graphite on the nose, medium body, smoky, refined and plums on the mid-palate, great mouthfeel, no sharp edged nor any herbal features. a smooth drinking old friend, good with a book or slice of cheddar.

Rating: Tasty.

Cheers, Barrld

Friday, February 9, 2007

Delicious and Confusing Rhone Red

Years ago I when I first started collecting wine auctions were viable sources of bargains for some really fine wines. I purchased all of my initial "top tier" wines at the Christies wine auctions in Beverly Hills and the Butterfields & Butterfields auctions in Hollywood (simulcast from San Francisco, which was kind of cool). From 1996-99 I picked up some early Staglin, Shafer Hillside Select, Diamond Creek, Ridge Montebello, Mouton Rothschild and others all at prices below their listed retail prices at the time. The "secret" about auction bargains is long extinct and auctions appear to be showcases for indulgence and excessive spending. I haven't been to one in years, though I did pick up a nice lot of 2000 Zind-Humbrecht Rangen Riesling on an absentee bid for a song a couple of years ago. Now that's good juice.

I don't know about others but I used to get an itchy paddle at the wine auctions if I hadn't won a bid on anything yet. Sometimes I would make unintended purchases of wines just to show that I meant business, that I wasn't just some auction voyeur. Most of the time these were good to very good buys, and a few were stinkers, though I never spent more that a couple of Ben Fs for any given impulse purchase. One of these drive "buys" was of the of the 1985 Chateau Fonsalette Reserve from Cotes du Rhone, a lovely, earthy red that turned out to be a great bargain (I paid around $23 a bottle for a case) and proved to be my first Rhone. Being a knowledge hound I read up on Fonsalette and discovered that it was actually made by Jacques Reynaud at Chateau Rayas, which is in CdP. Hmmm. Let's get this straight, a Cotes du Rhone--Fonsalette (now part of the Cotes du Rhone Villages appelation) vinified in CdP at a renowned CdP winemaker? Confusing, but it sure worked for me, esp. given the 3x or 4x differences in prices between the Fonsalette and the Rayas. Of course different grapes go into the different cuvees, at least theoretically, but the Rayas wine making operation was notoriously antiquated and Reynaud did whatever he pleased so I suspect that he occasionally spiced up the Fonsalette with a little bit of bang from the Rayas vineyards. I have no evidence of this whatsoever but who would this hurt in the long run?

So I'm at an auction after reading that Reynaud died in 1997 and that the 1996 vintage of the Rayas is his last one. To my surprise a case of the 1996 Fonsalette goes up for grabs and the bidding is modest my paddle raised and Sold! to bidder # 283. I think I paid about $35 a bottle, I know, not the big times but heh it's not like I'm Jon Kapon, Dr. Despai or one of those filthy rich Indonesian collectors. This turned out to be another good buy and, after selling a few bottles to my sister (at cost, if you must know) I've enjoyed this wine over the past few years with the guzzlers (who can't get enough of it) and by myself.

The other day I spotted a bottle in the deep recesses of my cellar the other day and said "what the fuck, try it again, Mr. You Think You Have a Good Rhone Palate Now Don't You?" The wine is a 1996 Chateau de Fonsalette Cotes du Rhone Reserve, which according to my research, is comprised of 50% Grenache, 35% Cinsault and 15% Syrah (though some say "Syrah" on the label), all sourced from Fonsalette's 10 ha vineyards (except for the mystery juice that Reynaud slipped in from Rayas!). The bottle says 14% alcohol which seems right. More confusing French declarations crisscross the label and the Chateau Rayas and CdP designations crowd the corners [see accompanying picture]. No wonder people can't figure out French labels.

Tasting Notes: Dark cherry red in the glass, chocolate and leather on the nose, Bing cherry and violets midpalate, rich, bold and velvety, loamy, long chewy finish with earth, blueberries and pepper. Balanced tannins, with quite a bit of life left here. A bit light/simple to make it a great Rhone but very nice.

Rating: Tasty.

Cheers, Barrld

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Lovely Loire

A few years back the wife and I joined another couple at Bastide, one of the few 4 star restaurants in the LA area at the time, or ever for that matter. It's since changed chefs and styles then closed last year for a new name, chef and cuisine. At the time, Christophe Rolland was sommelier and oversaw a voluminous wine list comprised entirely of French wines. Anyway, the day before our dinner, Wine Spectator had reviewed some wines from the Loire Valley, including those of Didier Dagueneau, which received outstanding scores. Sure enough, there was a Dagueneau Silex (pronounced "see-lex") on the wine list for $90 (listed as the 2000, he brought out a bottle of 2001, the wine just reviewed!--I humbly pointed out the misprint to Christophe) and since it was a business dinner and this was a great value on a very pricey wine list I ordered it. Turned out to be an excellent choice that everyone at the table truly enjoyed (we also had a bottle of 1996 Chateau Palmer, which was lovely). Interestingly, I went back to Bastide about a month later and the Silex was still on the wine list, correctly listed as the 2001 and now $25 more per bottle.

Being curious as well as mostly ignorant about the wines from Loire, I did a bit of web searching and found out that Dagueneau is both a renowned producer from the Loire Valley and quite the wildman, aggressively reducing yields in his vineyards, not chaptizing, criticizing other producers and their below grade wines and generally following his own course in the wine world. Stories of Dagueneau literally brawling with hostile Loire-ians and critics abound, though given that he's a hirsute bear of a man I doubt that too many folks really want to mix it up with Didier. Perhaps the man and the myth separate from reality here. At any rate, I tracked down some of his Silex and Pur Sang (a different vineyard where horses turn the earth in fallow portions) at Fine & Rare Wines in London, my grey market contact. The dollar was doing OK against the pound sterling then too so I bought a case of each at good prices (below $40 a bottle overall) then waited forever to get it imported via refrigerated shipping containers.

When the wines finally arrived about a year later (seriously) I tried both and . . . was very disappointed. The wines were thin, herbaceous, reedy, very marginal. Bummer! So I waited and waited and waited; another bottle of the Silex that I opened last year was better but still couldn't touch the wine that I had at Bastide. I thought maybe the wines were cooked on the dock or some such thing and that I now had about 20 bottles of expensive cooking wine. Total drag.

Anyway, a few nights ago (undaunted) I opened a bottle of the Didier Dagueneau 2001 Silex, Pouilly Fume, Loire Valley, (which is now retailing for about $130 a bottle, yikes!) and hoped for the best. Thank God, the wine was lovely, showing surprising youth, complexity and balance. Phew! I'll have to try the Pur Sang soon and see if it has rallied as well.

Tasting Notes: Opening nose of white peach and asparagus, gooseberry and honeydew melon mid-palate, racy and plush at the same time, nice mineral edge compliments a complex array of citrus (mostly lime) and tropical flavors (pineapple). Amazingly balanced, long lingering finish. Many years of good drinking here.

Rating: Tasty (borderline superb, maybe the next bottle)

Cheers, Barrld

Monday, February 5, 2007

Cool California Syrah

California Syrah can be many things, bold, juicy, hot, chewy, muscular, austere, fruit forward, we've all seen the terminology in various reviews and assessments. Napa appears to be in Syrah heaven of late, with vintages from 1999-2003 all receiving oohs and aahs (along with many 90+ scores) from the pundits. Frankly I have a hard time distinguishing much finesse or structure amidst any of the alcoholic fruit bombs that pose as California Syrah, just as I honestly haven't been able to get my arms around Shiraz from down under, and find most of the Australian versions of this varietal nearly undrinkable after a half glass.

Red Car Wine Co. got my attention years ago with its debut wine in what would become Red Car's Trolley Series, in memory of the red cars on the Pacific Electric Railway than transvered over 1,100 miles of the city from 1901 to 1961. While eye catching labels are often inversely proportional to high quality, Red Car belies that stricture and offers interesting stories, artwork or both on all of its wines, while making some pretty good juice too. It now has a newsletter for its mailing list folks called the Red Car Almanac, which is quite creative, takes a lot of effort and is well appreciated. While I have a lot of Red Car wine (in relatively small quantities) I rarely took it to the guzzler parties and such because the wines, especially the Syrahs, can be very dense and a touch unapproachable out of the bottle. Now that my "collection" has aged and softened up a bit I think it's time to share the wealth.

So I opened a bottle of Red Car California Syrah, Red Wind 2004, which says 16% alcohol on the bottle but the website says 15%. The 100% Syrah grapes are sources from Napa, Somona, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties (not sure where the wine is made and how they kept the grapes from deteriorating during travels to the winery) and the wine uses 81% new French oak--I guess the other 19% is old French oak but the website doesn't say. The wine was barrel aged for 10 months and is unfined, unfiltered and is black purple in color.

Tasting Notes: Plums, black cherry and currants on the nose, complex and chewy mid-palate, with notes of black licorice and tar, a bit hot, smoky/charcoal, earthy, dark fruit finish with persistent tannins. Seems to have a good bit of life in it. While I could not finish off a bottle of it in one evening the wine seems to have shaken an early muddle and now well structured and achieving a bit more balance than when previously tasted.

Rating: Quaffable.

Cheers, Barrld

Friday, February 2, 2007

Gorgeous Chablis

That dreaded email tickler from retailers, like dripping water, persistent, impossible to blockout or ignore. Of course it's my own fault for subscribing and then clicking on the post in the first place. Where does the blame lie and who is hurt if you quickly order a couple bottles here or there of something that catches your eye (can you say case discount please?). Enough of that, I like Flickinger Wines outside of Chicago (though I can't say the name 5 times fast without tying my tongue in knots). My first order of wine from FW was three bottles each of 2001 Brunellos--somewhere I read a blog or review of the Italians then flashed to wine-searcher pro found that FW had the best prices, a few key strokes later ordered. I threw the six pack in the cellar, wondering that it felt kind of light. About a month later I got around to opening it and low and behold I'm one bottle short. I call the place, the owner calls back we chat I say this has never happened to me, he says it has never happened to him blah blah blah he sends me another bottle without question. So I buy this guy's wines, esp. since he sources great stuff from Rhone, Italy and Burgundy.

I've always like Chablis, its lean crisp style makes one forget the flabby, over oaked California Chardonnays that still dominate the lower portion of the market today. At times the lower priced wines from Chablis an be watery, almost tasteless, so I only go with premier and grand cru wines from legitimate makers. Even though technically part of Burgundy, Chablis has its own AOC and is far more affordable. With only seven grand cru vineyards, all sitting on slopes above the Serein River, the region is easier to bet your arms around and understand. When Flickinger sent out a tickler on some 2003 grand crus from Chablis priced in the mid $30 range, I took the plunge, knowing that 2003 was an extremely hot growing season and that the grapes and resultant wine from many regions ran the risk of being baked to death. So the other day after poking around in the cellar looking from something of interest I opened a bottle of Domain Christian Moreau Pere & Fils 2003 Chablis Grand Cru, Les Clos, Alc. 11-14% (what?? that's what is on the bottle, I swear.) Christian Moreau's family reclaimed it stake in the various Chablis grand crus in 2002 and the 2003 was the family's second vintage. The average age of the vines in Les Clos is 55 years (!), the soil rocky with clay. Hand harvested, gently table sorted, 65% stainless, 35% oak (only 10% of which is new oak).

Tasting Notes: Nose of apples and stone fruit, good balance, minerals and melon mid-palate, crisp, racy and refreshing. Vanilla notes in long finish. Very polished and crafted, great structure, with quite a few years of life left. Good food wine too, grilled some trout and the wine balanced out the flavors in the fish very nicely.

Rating: Tasty.

Cheers, Barrld