Sunday, April 29, 2007

More Mailed Mayhem

I jump on mailing lists after only the slightest provocation; case in point, Copain Wine Cellars. Years back its owner, Wells Guthrie, was featured in WS for starting his own shop in Santa Rosa with purchased grapes and borrowed equipment. Turns out that Wells, who looks like he just graduated from high school, was the tasting coordinator at WS in San Francisco, for a while then moved to the Rhone and hung out with JL Chave. After returning to the USA, he signed on as a vineyard and cellar rat at Turley, where I expect he was carded every afternoon.

At any rate, I jumped on the list after reading the story, expecting great things, and bought Copain's wines like crazy, Syrah, Pinot, Zin, the boxes stacked up. His Honor RP gave Wells some high scores fairly early on in Copain's life so traffic was brisk and it seemed as though Copain was offering wines every month. While I liked the wines from Copain and found them to be fairly priced, I became a Copain-ed out, noticing a sameness of style bordering on heavy extraction on all of its reds. I don't think I ordered any reds over the past two years. But last year an offering of Rousanne came over the transom and, being into white Rhones, I thought try a couple of bottles. Intending on ordering 3 I somehow hit 9 and that's what I received. Drag. I tried one bottle soon after receipt, thought it was OK then forgot about the rest. Since I was moving wines into my new cellar room, more on that point some other time, I spotted the Rousanne and popped a cork. Turns out this is a serious wine. So I just opened another bottle and will review it live, right here in front of the computer. Check out the picture!

The wine is the Copain 2004 Rousanne, James Berry, Paso Robles. It checks in at 14.9% alcohol (not sure of the decimal as it is in tiny print that is impossible to read) and I bought it from the mailing list for about $30 a bottle. Not much info from the website on this wine, and I think this was Copain's first effort with this grape. I'm drinking it at about 63 degrees F which really changes the nature of the juice; I've found that Rhone white lose a bit of structure and flavor elements if too cold.

Tasting notes: Straw/gold in the glass, pears and plumeria on the nose, honey suckle, white peach and Bartlett pears mid-palate, lichi finish, long and syrupy. Very floral and fragrant, textured and refined, good mouth feel. A lovely glass of wine. Now I think I don't have enough! Definitely a keeper. Consistent notes over two tastings/slurping during the last two weeks.

Rating: Excellent.

Cheers, Barrld

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Loving Languedoc

In celebration of wine blogger Wednesday's quest for Languedoc and Roussillon wines under $30, I scanned the virtual shelves of WineEx and found 3 bottles of wines from Rene Rostaing, who I vaguely knew from his cult status in Cote Rotie--I've not had any of his "La La" reds yet but do have a couple of bottles from 1999 and 2000 waiting for the right moment to enjoy. The wine in question is the 2003 Rene Rostaing Dom. Puech Chard Coteaux du Langeudoc, which cost $27 a bottle and checks in at 13% alcohol. The wine is apparently 80% Syrah, 10% Grenache and 10% Mourvedre, but I could not confirm that with any certainty. I drank two of the three bottles I picked up over the past few weeks, with consistent tasting notes from both.

Tasting Notes: dark red in the glass, blueberry bark nose, gravel, herbs of Provence and some black fruit dominate mid-palate, with slightly harsh tannins and a touch of effervescence that blows off after a few minutes. Fairly balanced though unrefined with no finish to speak of. This wine is rustic, with various sharp edges, and seems unfinished, as though a key step in the final vinification process is missing. Perhaps the grapes are too young from this vineyard to make a more complete, complex wine. I could drink this Languedoc now and then and be reasonably satisfied but know that I can find better Syrah blends for $27 or less out there.

Rating: Good.

Cheers, Barrld

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Pinot in the Fog

As Laube notes in his blog of 4/25, the search for Pinot terroir is booming and die hard Napa owners are picking off Sonoma Coast properties as fast as they can sign their loan documents. Jason Pahlmeyer bought a 70 acre ranch for $500K in '99 but would probably have to pay 10 times that today, given the startling success of Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (see Kosta Browne for an example) and the shrinking availability of accessible land.

I guess the folks at Joseph Phelps Vineyards also picked up some Sonoma Coast property a while back, because the inaugural vintage of the 2004 Fogdog Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast was released about a year ago. Here's the site link with a lot of info about the wine:

I understand that Craig Williams, formerly the head winemaker at Phelps, is in charge of the fogdog project and I have to put in a good word for Craig. My friend Jeff and I were the Christie's California Only tasting in June 2000, along with my two sisters, who joined me at the auction the next day. The tasting was followed by a wine maker's dinner at Spago. Every table had a noted winemaker and Craig hosted our group, which was made up of 6 folks who had just blown through 70 or so fine California wines at the tasting and, in a word, were toasted (OK so we forgot to spit). Craig and his wife Robin (sp?) were sober and thought we were terribly witty and charming, or so it appeared. At any rate, they were wonderful dinner companions, the food terrific and between courses we took bottles from one table to swap with another. Armed with various Phelps gems that I wrestled from Craig, I coaxed some Pinot out of Bob Cabral, some Merlot from a bottle w/o label from Dan Duckhorn and some secret Cab from Paul Draper, among countless other first class California winemakers. It was an unforgettable evening that was never to be repeated and I consider myself lucky to have attended. We still tell stories about the dinner, though most of them make fun of me purloining Craig's wine and stumbling from table to table, drunk as a skunk. All true, though my wife drove me home.

Back to the wine--according to the label, a "fogdog" is a"bright and clear spot that appears in the fog" that inundates the northern California coast line. Cool! The wine checks in at 13.8% alcohol, is unfined and unfiltered and looks to have spent about 15 months in new and used French oak. According to the link above, the grapes were source from three Sonoma County vineyards in Freestone, California: Freestone Vineyard (70%); Quarter Moon Vineyard (26%); and Ferguson Vineyard (4%), though I don't know how much of this wine was made. I bought it online for about $35 a bottle.
Tasting notes--Clear garnet in the glass, with a bit of effervescence. Not overly aromatic, though a bit of lead and other metallic notes on the nose. Juicy red and black cherries compete mid-palate, with tart currant flavors and notes of wet earth and moss. Very delicate, almost fragile in the mouth, with a long, balanced finished boasting tastes of a mixed berry fruit compote. Fine first offering though I suspect that, as these vines age, this combination will produce a more robust and developed wine. I can't imagine that the 2004 fogdog will get any better with age so pop those corks soon.
Rating--Very good, quaffable.
Cheers, Barrld

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Mailing List Mania

Some might say, with a double dose of envy, that my position on a number of prime mailing lists is very fortunate for me and my cellar. The reality is far more complicated: to keep an allocation in place you have to buy a lot of wine, mostly at full retail. My cellar used to be full of Flowers until I stopped buying it when Greg LaFollette left (though my Dad and sister still take their fill of the biennial offerings) and now I have more Pride Mountain wines than any other. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing bad about Pride's offerings but they are expensive (all the reserves are over $100 per bottle and the regular lots are in the $50+ range). When will I have the chance to drink the 6 bottles of the 2004 reserve cab I just bought, esp. given that I have all the reserve cabs back to 1997?? I could sell them but that's just not me, I don't buy wine to make money. Then add on Kosta Browne, Peter Michael, Rhys, among too many others (no Harlan or Screaming Eagle, which is just fine) and I end up with a clogged up cellar. Don't order and off the list you go, thus the dilemma and concomitant traffic jam.

Which brings me to today's wine, from Rochioli, a Sonoma/Russian River Valley winery that I lusted for over many years. For the longest time I only could buy its Sauvignon Blanc, which I did with abandon. Then, a drop or two of Chardonnay; double down I said. Estate Pinot followed, then a year or so ago the gold rush, vineyard designated Pinots and Chards. Time to go large, esp. when I now have a secret partner to help me cover the costs. My allocations have increased accordingly and I have more than a couple of bottles of fine whites and reds from Rochioli, which I can share with the neighborhood guzzlers, esp. the estate wines.

Today's wine is the Rochioli Estate 2003 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, grown produced and bottled at the winery. Other than the alcohol level, 14.7%, I don't have much data about this wine as Rochioli doesn't have a website, which is certainly OK by me. I lost the short data sheet that came with the offering too.

Tasting notes: Clear (must be fined) red cherry in the glass, earthy mushroom nose, very tightly wound at first, sharp and pleasantly tart with currants and pomegranates mid-palate and a loamy vibrant finish. The wine opens ups a touch but remains rather austere, a premiere cru Burgundy of sorts from a lesser village, juicy, with slate and sharp features, but missing a fruit backbone found in its better competitors.

Rating: Very good, quaffable.

Cheers, Barrld

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Wine Blog Wednesday #33

Takes us to the Midi, the Languedoc--Rousillon region by the third Wed of May. Check out the link

Best, Barrld

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Big, Balanced Syrah

Having been a participant (read buyer) of the Wine Cask futures program for many years, I think I started buying the wines back in 98 or 99, it really is fascinating to see how the Santa Barbara and related viticultural areas have thrived and risen to world class levels in just a relatively few years. Brewer Clifton, Sea Smoke, Kaena, Curran to name a few have all passed through the WC futures book, which went from a Xerox of 30 wineries to an internet and printed booklet of double that number. Frankly, on the quality value front, the wines offered are top notch and each year there are dozens of discoveries available to try.

Behind the scenes as far as organization and realization is Doug Margerum, who works (owns? not sure) the Wine Cask, a fantastic retail shop and companion restaurant just off of State Street in Santa Barbara. Doug has to speak for himself but I suspect that being around wine for so long, then organizing a number of small growers and producers in the first few futures program spurred him to say why not try my hand at things. I ignored some of his early offerings, thinking that he had a kind of insider's path to the book and that his juice may not be really worthy, but for his role as overseer and such. To Doug's credit, his wines were priced very reasonably; ultimately I bit and bought some of his Sauvignon Blanc, which came in numbered bottles, something I thought was very cool. Though a bit rustic and grassy the Margerum SB from the 2002 vintage was well received by the guzzlers, and was priced right at about $15 a bottle.

Anyway, two years ago in the spring of 2005 I bought some of Margerum's 2004 Syrah (I'm pretty sure it was in the low $20 range or I wouldn't have bought it), which I received about a month ago. I don't have a lot of details about the production of this wine, when picked, barrel usage, case production, etc. I will guess and say that it was a late Oct. 2004 harvest, fermented stainless, 30% new French oak, 30% new American oak and 40% neutral wood, with about 20 months in barrel and another 3 0r 4 in bottle before release with maybe 200 cased produced but I could be way off. Here's the wine for you to consider.

The Margerum 2004 Syrah Alondra de los Prados Vineyards, Santa Ynez Valley (bottle number 00217), checks in at a whopping 15.9% alcohol. I expected a hot or at least smoldering wine, given the tendency of highly alcoholic Syrah's to not integrate so well, esp. when young. Not so here, this is truly delicious, balanced wine that has more CdP characteristics than the typical boomer Syrah from the southern California regions. Doug obviously knows what he is doing, the wine shows a high level of craftsmanship and a quality that's hard to find at twice the price.

Tasting Notes: Purple in the glass, nose of blackberry compote/jam, rich caramel, cedar and chocolate notes mid-palate, rustic earth tones and some base spices like pepper and bay leaf, mouthcoathing, integrated and voluptuous flavors with a very long sweet dark fruit finish. Evident tannins suggest a long life here which, I suspect, will mellow over time making this a fuller fruit bouquet and add more complexity and flavor distinctions.

Rating; Excellent and a superb value.

Cheers, Barrld