Tuesday, January 29, 2008

French Whites - Hit or Miss

This past weekend I opened up a couple bottles of French white wine. I thought they would pair well with a dinner I was making and I was right. While it's true that I much prefer red wines to white I have been trying to expand my palate to include interesting and unusual wines. I am getting tired of the usual California white wines. Never been a CA chardonnay drinker. I enjoy New Zealand sauvignon blanc now and then, but even that is getting old now. I want to find more refined, more complex, less sweet and less acidic whites to go with food.

I love Alsatian rieslings. Mostly for the fact that they pack unbelievably complex flavor in a nice dry white wine. I much prefer this style to sweeter style whites. The best one I can find locally is produced by Arthur Metz and comes under the label of Cuvée Anne-Laure. I have had previous vintages and found them full of interesting flowers and fruit. This was the first 2006 that I have tried. It was certainly different than previous vintages in that the floral notes were less apparent (though there) and honey predominated on the nose and on the palate. I could detect aromas of melons and, believe it or not, juicyfruit gum along with the honey. It wasn't sweet at all which I liked very much. I served this with some ham wrapped melon balls and it paired very nicely. I would say I was a little disappointed in the way the honey overpowered and I think I prefer the 2005 over the 2006. Never the less it is a solid effort from Asace.

Ah, Chateauneuf du Pape! I adore Rhone wines. I had a bottle of the 2003 Eric Texier Chateauneuf du Pape blanc about a year ago and I have very fond memories of it. A gorgeous dry fruity Rhone white that was extremely food friendly. When I made a chicken and cheese soufflé on Sunday this is the wine I had in mind. Unfortunately my expectations fell short when I found the bottle was flawed. I had a feeling when I pulled the cork that it would not be ideal. The cork was brittle and you could tell that the wine had seeped all the way to the end. Not a good sign. The bottle wasn't ruined but it was certainly off. It had a slightly floral nose with eucalyptus aromas. I could also smell ethyl acetate indicating that there was something amiss. The wine did have some very nice flavors of pears and dried apricots that were unfortunately covered up by a bitter off taste that I would compare to a saccharin aftertaste. So, this one was a miss. I know this is usually a solid solid white wine and will definitely seek it out again.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

From CA to Australia

I've got three wines to talk about tonight. The first is from Australia. Everyone has heard of Yellow Tail. I find their mainstream wines to be rather boring and one dimensional. However, if you pay just a couple bucks more you get something actually worth drinking. Their "reserve" line of wines tend to be a significant step up from their regular fare. I like their reserve shiraz the best I would say. The 2006 had a gorgeous deep dark color. On the nose I got a complex mixture of vanilla and spice mingling with blackberries and coffee. There were nice big dark fruit flavors and cocoa on the palate and the wine had solid tannins. The only flaw I detected was that the alcohol was out of balance a bit. You did notice the hotness of the ethanol. Other than that for it's 12 buck price point it is not a bad wine at all.

I also got a taste of California recently. The first is a cabernet sauvignon from Napa valley. This is also a step up from their average "California" cabernet. I had the 2004 vintage last evening. It had nice plum and cherry aromas that carried through on the palate. There were chocolate flavors mingling with the fruit. The chocolate mostly came out on the mid palate. The finish was a little bit short but it was certainly a solid cab for $12.

This evening I made a wonderful garlic, ginger, soy, mirin glazed fish for dinner. I was looking for a crisp fruit sauvignon blanc to go with it. I was first thinking of one from New Zealand but I stumbled across a bottle fo the 2005 Kenwood from Sonoma county. This one paired very nicely with the steelhead trout tonight. It had a very pleasant nose of pears and grapefruit. It tasted of green apples and citrus. It had a nice silky texture and a reasonably long finish. There were also very nice grass and herbal components that married with dinner. It had a crisp enough acidity to cut through the fish. Overall I've had 3 for 3 this weekend.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A couple for the weekend

I just acquired a case of the 2005 High Trellis cabernet sauvignon from d'Arenberg and I had to pop a bottle open this evening. I liked it! It was one of those Australian fruit bombs that didn't taste fake. It was not cloyingly sweet. It had structure and complication and interesting flavors. It also had a deep deep red color that I can only describe as blood with a bit of a purple hue. See the picture below. It had fantastic color.

Of course you need to know how it tasted. d'Arenberg is a favorite of mine. I like most of the wine they produce and this one was no exception. On the nose I smelled chocolate covered dark cherries an blackberries. There were wisps of black current and a hint of leather. On the palate you were immediately attacked by huge dark cherry flavors that mingled with leather, tobacco, wood and cocoa. The mid palate was exciting and the wine had a rich flavor that weighted heavily on the palate. Currant and mulberry flavors danced along on the lingering finish. There was an interesting note of cowhide that reminds me of chewing on a leather shoe lace on a pair of work boots. It was a big fruit bomb but nicely balanced. If I were to score it I'd say it was a 90 point wine.

We opened another bottle this evening from California. The 2004 Bogle Phantom. This is a meritage blend of 54% Petite Sirah, 43% old vine zinfandel and 3% old vine mourvedre. If you like petite syrah you'll like this wine. The zin gives it a spice that is very interesting. It displayed black currants, raisins and spice on the nose. On the palate it was big, jammy and spicy. It had a lush dried fruit component that reminded me of chocolate covered raisins, dried figs, currants and prunes. The chocolate really came out on the mid palate. One the end there were flavors of mocha, black dirt, vanilla, a tiny trace of cumin and coffee. A quite interesting wine. It developed more as it was allowed to breathe. Definitely worth the $17 I paid for it.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Verget Saint Veran Les Cras Caniculus

I was looking in my cellar for something that would go well with roasted chicken. So I pulled out this bottle of the 2003 Verget Les Cras Caniculus from the Saint Veran region of Burgundy. Another French delight for me. I am not really much of a chardonnay drinker. I think that is because my palate has been spoiled over the years by over oaked unbalanced California chardonnays. This, on the other hand, puts all of California to shame. It had a beautiful light golden color. On the nose it presented solid apple pie and pears with some hints of minerals sort of like stones. There was also just the tiniest hint of lightly toasted oak. The same was observed on the palate. It was supple and silky in texture and there was a very nice crescendo of tons of fruit that lingered for quite a long time. I detected just a tiny hint of cinnamon and nutmeg on the back of the roof of my mouth. It had a really nice balanced acidity. I think this is a great effort in a white wine. I definitely need to try more white burgundies. This paired brilliantly with a roasted chicken dinner.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

I am learning to love Bordeaux

You may have noticed that my posting has slowed down just a little bit lately. After the over excesses of the holidays I've had to cut down on my calories and alcohol. So, I've been saving the wine for the weekends. Earlier this week a case of 2005 Bordeaux arrived from Wine Library. I have been dying to taste this all week. I am beginning to really appreciate the old world style wines from Bordeaux and am learning a lot as I taste more and more.

The 2005 Chateau Clos du Moulin comes from the St. Estèphe commune at the northernmost part of Médoc. Wines from this region are typically tannic and slower maturing than other areas of Bordeaux. According to Robert Joseph (French Wines The essential guide to the wines and wine-growing regions of France, DK Publishing) when the classification of vineyards in Bordeaux was happening in 1855 the wines from this region were considered to be of lesser quality than other areas of Médoc. Thus, it was only awarded 5 crus classés. Forty vineyards were deemed to be crus bourgeois. I never realized that the classes were designated more than 150 years ago. See, I'm learning! I think a lot can change in 150 years and now I wonder how much stake to put in the vineyard classifications of France. I would welcome comments and discussion about this point. Anyway, I digress. St. Estèphe has a soil that is a mix of gravel and clay. This is a combination that can make Cabernet Sauvignon rather rough. Thus more merlot was planted in this area in the late 1980's and the wines have become softer and more supple than before.

The 2005 Chateau Clos du Moulin is comprised of 40% merlot, 40% cabernet sauvignon and 20% cabernet franc and petit verdot. I found it to be a super interesting wine and one that a novice like I could guarantee will age nicely for at least the next 10 years. When I first opened the bottle the nose was a bit closed. After a few minutes and warming the glass with my hands I began to notice aromas of cherries and some spice, maybe anise. Interestingly I noted the tiniest hint of caramel on the nose. Drinking this was an experience, I tell you. At first I was attacked by alcohol. My first tasting of this right after opening made me think this was out of balance. The alcohol level is 13%, by the way. But the more I tasted it and the more it aired out and opened up, the more excited I got about this wine. It had quite firm tannins that probably exaggerated the alcohol at first. But I also tasted lots of long lingering fruits. They were a mix of black currant, blueberry and cherry. There was a distinct minerality on the palate as well mixing with an earthy moss flavor. Some spice perked up the flavor and just on the very back sides of my tongue I could detect what to me tasted like rollo candy. You know those candies with creamy caramel in the center covered in chocolate. It was definitely the caramel chocolate combination, not one or the other alone. It had a long finish and pleasant aftertaste. All in all this was a solid bottle of Bordeaux for under $20. If I were to drink it now I'd definitely decant it for at least a couple of hours. Better yet, leave this one in the cellar for a few years and I think you will be rewarded with a beautiful, balanced, and supple wine.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Getting Organized

For years I have just stacked my wine in the cellar without any organization at all. I only have about 200 bottles so it wasn't so bad. But it was bad enough that I had trouble finding things. Well, recently I put all of my inventory into the on-line cellartracker database. What a fantastic resource that is! I was able to download labels for my entire inventory which I formatted to my liking and printed out. I placed these labels onto bottle tags so everything is readable without having to remove the bottle from the rack. I have organized the wines into categories - some regions (France) and some by varietal. Each column in my wine rack is assigned a bin letter and the inventory has all the location data for every bottle. Now, when I drink a wine, I can just keep the wine tag so I can remember to consume it from my library. Finally getting organized!

Sunday, January 6, 2008


Let's go south of the equator again. I enjoyed this malbec from Argentina and I wanted to share my thoughts about it with you. The 2005 Silvertop Malbec can be found here in Fargo for about $10. For that price it is certainly a good value. This had a deep rich dark color. Aromas of bright red fruits greet you as you sniff it. It almost reminded me of cherry candy. In the mouth you experience dancing raspberry and cherry mingling with peat and a bit of tobacco. There were also hints of red plums. It was very fruity, almost juicy, but not in a sweet way. It was not that complex but certainly quafable.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

PNW Wine

The Columbia Crest Merlot has consistently made it onto Wine Spectator's top 100 wines. It is a steal of a deal at $12. The 2004 does not disappoint at all. This was a little harsh at first but was actually much better a day after opening. It had an earthy aroma with chocolate and black raspberry notes on the nose. It had a nice smooth mouth feel with a medium body. A really nice raspberry and red cherry hit you with a crescendo on the mid palate. The alcohol was tamed by being open for so long. It had subtle mocha notes as well. A pleasing wine that is a fine example of what is coming out of Washington these days.

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Winery and The Wines

I was so happy that The Winery in Fargo reopened. It is a nice cozy place with some great values on wines. They have an all new menu and wine list offering very affordable options. I was there on Wednesday evening and had the opportunity to taste some nice ones. We started with a Bogle Petit Syrah. This is usually a nice affordable quaf and it didn't disappoint us. There are two wines that I want to talk about though.

2005 Langmeil Three Gardens

The 2005 Three Gardens was an incredibly complex and interesting wine. When first poured it had a very interesting mossy nose with earthy sweat sock smells that mingled with black cherry and spice. The pungent socks diminished with a bit of air time. On the palate this was full and lush. Actually I would describe it as soft and creamy. It had flavors of roasted vegetables, corn silo dust and sour black cherries. It had a good tannin structure and a long finish. Secondary notes were full of complex interesting things like green hickory nut hulls and spice. An excellent wine that I will be looking for again.

2004 Franciscan Cabernet Sauvignon

We also opened a 2004 Franciscan. The bouquet was full of cloves, tart cherries, green peppers with a side of blueberries. Another interesting nose. When I put this in my mouth I immediately knew this was opened way before it's time. Can you say TANNIN MONSTER? So dry and puckering this one had more tannins in it than I can remember tasting before. It definitely needs a good five years in the bottle before it is drinkable. Aside from that it had flavors of chocolate covered cherries dusted with unsweetened cocoa and cassis. The finish was very dry and woody, undoubtedly due to the huge tannins. Because of that the alcohol felt quite hot. I think this will be a nice wine some day but that day is not now.