Saturday, December 29, 2007

French Value

As it happens I picked up this steal of a wine on-line at At $8 I didn't think I could go wrong. Well, it was better than I expected. So good that I immediately jumped on-line this evening to order another case. The 2005 Sainte Léocadie Les Clauses from Minervois is truly an experience. Not a huge big heavy wine but one that is so intriguing and interesting. It just teases you and makes you question why you are here on this planet. It has a nice medium dark color that is bright and cheerful. When I brought this glass to my nose I was immediately impaled by tight aromas of peppercorn. Not black peppercorn but white and pink ones. There were also some very interesting vegetable notes on the nose. It had a nice mouthfeel that improved with some air. It was not too heavy but not really light either. It was just right. On the palate I tasted parsnips and red beets mingling with some menthol, raspberries and black cherries. It had the tiniest bit of smoke. Unusual and interesting for such an inexpensive French wine. It married superbly with some garlic beef I cooked tonight.

Friday, December 28, 2007


Well, compared to the Silver Oak cab I had the other night, this really pales in comparison. But it only cost me $12. At that price point I would say it is not bad but I probably won't be buying this one again. It has a few good qualities but a lot of things that really leave me lacking. It had a pretty good color - not as deep as one would like from a California cab. Someone described this as smelling like cherry cola and I agree. OK on the nose though with some fresh and fruity cherries but a little bit one dimensional and artificial. Nice initial fruit attack on the palate but diminishes very quickly. Subtle red fruits on the end but finishes alcoholic and dry. Ok for the price. There is something a little off on the end in the back of my palate that reminds me of motor oil and wood. That being said there is some tannin structure that may carry this through a few years. I'd like to taste it in 2-3 years but I would not be expecting much.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The cab - Silver Oak

We spent Christmas dinner at our dear friends' home and the evening couldn't have been better. Great company and terrific wine. One of the wines we had that evening was the 2003 Silver Oak Alexander Valley cabernet sauvignon. This is the most recently released vintage from Silver Oak coming out to the public only in August. It's young and will definitely stand the test of time. I would love to jump forward in time 10-15 years and taste this side by side. Anyway, on to the tasting. This wine had a deep purple color of a young wine. The aromas were so very intriguing. On my first sniff I got hit with chocolate covered cherries. Not your typical ones though. These cherries were coated with dark sensuous chocolate. The next thing that hit me was the smell of toasted coconut. You know those coconut macaroons? It smelled just like those when they come out of the oven. On the palate this was like drinking satin. Big mouth feel and an explosion of flavor. Soft satiny raspberries and cherries with pepper and spice mingling with that dark chocolate and the slightest hints of leather. This was an enjoyable wine and is sure to have a long and interesting life.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


This evening I'm heading across the ocean to the dark continent. I have this one bottle of 2005 Simonsig chenin blanc left from a case I purchased last year. This hails from South Africa and was a good value at something like $9 per bottle when I bought it. It has aged quite a bit from what I remember it being. The color has darkened to this lovely golden color where before it was lighter with hints of greenness. On the nose it displays a lot of fruit with pears, lemon, honey and a hint of grass. This one is heavy on the palate with a very nice mouth feel. You get hit right up front with pears, sultanas and honey. The finish lingers to develop an interesting, if not a bit strange, complex vegetative experience in the back of the throat. These second tier flavors make for an interesting experience. The acids are nicely balanced. I would give this one about an 86 if I were to rate it.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Drinking with Gary

If you haven't seen Gary Vaynerchuk on his internet wine tv show you are missing out on an experience. He's funny, entertaining, and most importantly he knows his wine. He has been talking about the '05 Bordeaux vintage for a while now and he offered a secret xmas pack of four wines to taste along at home on Christmas eve. I jumped at the pack as I need to learn more about French wines. It was great to taste these and compare my experience with Gary as he tasted them on the show. Here's my stream of consciousness as I was tasting them.

Chateau de Callac 2006 Blanc (Graves) ($15.99)

Hints of lemons and bananas on the nose mixed with some grass. A bit of nail polish remover that dissipated after a while. Creamy smooth on the palate. A refined wine. Long finish. Delicious flavors of buttery lemon and pineapple. The nicely balanced acidity is not too sharp but definitely can stand up to food. This is fantastic and is one of the most interesting white wines I've had in a very long time.

Chateau de Lavagnac 2005 ($8.99)

Young, fresh fruity raspberry and cherry nose. Bright purple color. Fresh fruit right up front of cranberries and raspberries. Medium bodied. Nice tannins that ends with wood on the back palate. Fruit up front then wood on the end. Not bad for $9. Hint of earthiness on the roof of my mouth in the mid palate. I wish the fruit lingered a bit longer before the wood took over, but it is a very nice complex wine for the price.

Chateau Moulin de Lavaud Pomerol 2005 ($18.99)

Bright red color, not too deep. Cherries meet strawberries on the nose. Soft tannins, elegant, medium bodied, vegetable and sour cherries. Some wood and flowers on the end. Finishes with a spicy wood flavor.

Chateau de Callac 2005 ($15.99)

Dark purple red color. BIG nose of red plums, strawberry, red raspberries and licorice. Cherries, roses, red fruits, strawberries, strong tannins, soft acid. Medium bodied. Ends with tannic wood.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Have your cake and drink it too

Let them drink cake is about right. I want to talk about this wine I had last night. A great effort from the Barossa Valley of Australia. This is a 2006 Shiraz appropriately labeled Layer Cake. It is produced by Pure Love Wines in Tanunda. I paid about 12 bucks for ir. I want to share what is written on the back label as I think it sets the stage for how I will describe my experience with the cake.
My old grandfather made and enjoyed wine for 80 years. He told me the soil in which the vines lived were a layer cake. He said the wine, if properly made, was like a great layer cake, fruit, mocha and chocolate, hits of spice and rich, always rich. 'Never pass up a layer cake', he would say. I have always loved those words. ~A. Orlando
This description is absolutely accurate. The color layer: This wine had a deep rich almost black color. A great indicator of things to come. The aroma layer: The nose is attacked by layers of fruit and earth. Notes of black plums and black cherries overlayed on top of leather and musty soil permeated the nose. The rather high 14.9% alcohol was apparent on the nose and the tongue when the bottle was first opened, but after being decanted for an hour or two it diminished and became harmonious with the wine. The taste layer: How do you describe the heavy weight and lusciousness that this wine delivers on the palate. This wine HAS to breathe for a while before it expresses its true layers. When first opened it tasted out of balance with various flavors darting in and out but not supporting each other. After being decanted for some time the palate is first attacked by a heavy fruit of blackberries and plums mixed with hints of cherries and the slightest touch of raspberries. This was mingling with rich, earthy cocoa and leather. After airing this all came into resonance to provide a rich and satiny experience. A long finish this 'fruit bomb' was not the typical heavy, fakey, fruity Australian shiraz that we all know and tolerate. This one really appealed to my palate after it was tamed a bit. Next time I'll let it decant for at least six hours.

Another very pleasing wine I had last evening was a zinfandel from Mendocino county in California. The 2003 Edmeades had a very high alcohol 15% alcohol level but it was not out of balance at all. I actually think the alcohol helped to tame the big fruit and kept it in check. The nose was full of raspberries, chocolate and black pepper. On the palate the red fruits danced in the mouth probably waltzing around with the alcohol. The chocolate notes were present but not obtrusive. The only negative thing for me was the smoky flavors that stood out a bit too much. This is undoubtedly due to the toasted oak. I am not a big fan of the smoky oak. I found it overall a nice and enjoyable wine that I would definitely drink again.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Wine from Michigan

You do know that every state in the United States now has some commercial wine production. Last June I happened to be traveling along I-94 in southwest Michigan and I came upon some wine outlets just off the freeway. We stopped first at a St. Julian wine outlet. The wines were as expected - thin, sweet and unappealing. But right next to them was another winery outlet from an outfit called the Round Barn Winery. These folks from Baroda, MI do know their stuff. Now, I think some of the finest white wines in the country come from the Leelenau Penninsula of upper lower Michigan. But, red wines from Michigan? I actually found some palatable red wines from this place. They have a Merlot that is not too shabby at all. On the lower end is their "Vineyard Red". I was eating a maple cheddar burger tonight and this wine went very nicely. It's not a serious wine by any means but with a nice crisp acidity and a good cherry fruit this matched great with a cheeseburger.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Let's go to Portugal

The first thing I think of when someone mentions Portugal is, of course, ports. I do love ports. But they also produce some very nice wines. I've had a bottle of Quinta da Bacalhôa 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon in my cellar for a while and I thought it was high time that I gave it a taste. This wine is from the Terras do Sado region which is located in the southern third of the state just north of Lisbon. I can't remember having tasted this wine before so this was a new one for me this evening.

The garnet color had slight tinges of red bricks on the edges. When I first opened the bottled the nose was very vegetative with the slightest hints of black fruits and plums mingling with cigar wrappers and wet earth. The first thing that hit me on the tongue was this sensation of salty roasted mushrooms and alcohol. It was earthy and musty with a crisp biting acid. There was a strange woody flavor on the finish at the back of the throat. I could not detect fruit at first but a bitter kale greens flavor predominated initially. It sounds strange but at first taste the wine wasn't great. However, after some time in the glass it opened up very nicely. Sour cherries started appearing and the funkiness began to diminish. After being opened a few hours it was definitely enjoyable. It was a little light in the mouth but had hints of cocoa mingled with those sour cherries and just enough of the pleasant vegetables to make for a very interesting and unusual flavor. It had what I can only describe as that European dirt on the finish which I tend to enjoy. Not a big wine for sure but one that would be quite food friendly with the acid. I think this might actually pair very well with roasted chicken or mild cut of beef.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

South of the equator on a winter's evening

Winter has hit us with a vengeance. Last evening the temperature was plunging down to about -15 °F (-26 °C). So I reached for some wines from south of the equator - namely Chile. Wines from South America are really coming into their own these days. I first opened a 2002 merlot from Dallas Conté. They are located in the Rapel Valley in the middle of the country near the town of Rancagua. This had a nice deep color with aromas of sour black cherries, leather and blackberries. On the tongue hints of herbs and pepper mingled with the black fruits. The fruit hung on for quite a while ending in a leathery mocha finish. After opening up for an hour in the decanter it became more complex. Good firm tannins but smooth and drinkable now. An interesting and solid merlot.

I next opened a 2003 Yelcho Carménère Riserva. This comes from the Maipo Valley which is located to the north of the Rapel Valley. I've been a fan of Yelcho since I found it on sale for less than $10 last year. I've been keeping this bottle to see how it developed. The color was INKY INKY INKY. Dark and INKY. Did I say it was INKY? Amazing color. It had the most unusual nose that was earthy and musty with hints of fruit. Coffee and leather came through as well. It had a big full body with lots of earthy red and black fruits. A slight tobacco meets dirt meegs black pepper came through. Cassis and lots of back end blackberries carried it through . Tinges of vanilla, dark chocolate and mocha. It also had, strangely, flavors of charcoal on the finish but in a good way. A big unusual wine from Chile. I still like it.

By the way, like my decanters? They are simply 1 liter florence flasks made for chemistry. They make great little decanters for a bottle of wine.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Wine Whirlwind

Our local wine shop has free wine tastings about once a month. There are usually 50-70 bottles of wine open for tasting setup around the store. It's a nice event and really draws a big crowd. They offer wines at all different price ranges for tasting so you can have the opportunity to taste some things that you might not go and plunk down the money for without knowing it. Last night featured a lot of very reasonably priced wines from all over the world. I tasted quite a few and here's a whirlwind of impressions that I got from many of them.

How about we start with some white wines. Prices are the sale prices for the evening.

2005 PKNT Chardonnay $6.97 - vodka nose, light, pleasant, clean.
2005 Napa Ridge Sauvignon Blanc $10.97 - Grapefruit strong on the nose. Smack you in the face grapefruit flavor then it just disappears.
2005 Napa Ridge Chardonnay $10.97 - Pears, alspice and nutmeg on the nose and the flavor. Hints of oreo cookie creme filling on the back end hitting the roof of my mouth.
2005 Konu Baru Sauvignon Blank $9.97 - simple nose with clean simple taste. Not very distinctive. A little light. Did I say clean?
2003 Marcelina Chardonnay $17.97 - Classic chardonnay nose with oak and buttery apricots. Hints of green apple and peaches on the flavor. A nicely structured chardonnay.

I certainly tried many more reds than I did whites. And I forgot to write down the vintage on some of them.

Penfold's Rawsons Merlot $5.97 - Hings of tequila on the nose. Not bad, good balance with some cassis flavor. A bit on the light side.
Penfold's Rawsons Shiraz/Cabernet $5.97 - musty nose with black fruits. Good tannin structure and blackberry flavors. Pretty well balanced. A great buy at 6 bucks.
Penfold's Rawsons Cabernet $5.97 - Musty herbal nose. Light body and a little blah. 
2006 Layer Cake 100% Shiraz - big wine, needs to open up some but has nice flavors of chocolate, blackberries and raspberries. A little bit short on the finish, but it was quite tight when I tasted it.
Black Box Paso Robles Cabernet $18.97 (3L) - Definite sour cherries with a jolly rancher smell. Light finish but pretty good fruit. Not bad for a box.
2005 Wolf Blass Merlot $8.97 - Light musty dusty nose with similar flavor profiles. Ok but not great.
2004 Wolf Blass Shiraz $8.97 - Diesel fuel nose. Not very balanced. Harsh on the back of the throat.
2005 Wolf Blass Shiraz/Cabernet $8.97 - Big fruit nose, sharp alcohol on the back of the throat. Flavors of cassis and red berries. Much better than the Shiraz.
2005 Wolf Blass Cabernet $8.97 - musty sweat socks meets basil on the nose. Big fruit on the tongue with slight herbal oregano notes. Black cherry comes through.
Kono Baru Shiraz $9.97 - light color. Alcoholic on the palate with a light finish. Nice flavors of chocolate and raspberries on the fron tend.
Kono Baru Cabernet $9.97 - Penzoil service station smell. Some fruit, nice taste, light on the end.
2005 Mia's Playground Cabernet $8.97 - Big red jammy fruit nose. Red raspberries and blackberries on the palate. A slightly strange aftertaste but not really unpleasant. Hard to describe. A good solid wine but not a serious cab.
2005 Geyser Peak Cabernet $12.97 - Nose filled with cranberry aromas. Soft fruit on the palate. Mid palate and finish is very disappointing. Nothing there but dry wood. 
Redwood Creek Pinot Noir $5.97 - light color and light in flavor. But some resonating red fruits with toasty oak. The oak almost covers it up though.
Redwood Creek Cabernet $5.97 - very blackberry.
2004 Marcelina Cabernet $23.97 - Vanilla, oak, cherries and cassis on the nose. Very nicely balanced with red fruits and hints of vegetables and mushrooms.
Beringer Napa Pinot Noir $20.97 - Definitely toasted oak on the nose. Light but complex fruit. Hard to describe. A pretty good pinot.
2005 Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet $21.97 - Chocolate and cherries on the nose but you can't taste this on the palate. Hardly any fruit. Earthy and tannic.
2005 Chateau Souverain Merlot $16.97 - Sour cherries, blackberry jam. Balanced and very nicely structured. Still good tannins that will let this one age. Maybe give it a few years.
2004 Chateau Souverain Cabernet $17.97 - Nose is very interesting with cherries and something that reminds me of the dentist - fluoride? tooth polish? Nice fruit and strong tannins. Another one to age for a while.

I also tasted a couple of sweeter ones.

Luccio Moscato d'Asti $10.97 - nose full of tangerines and apricots. Definitely a stone fruit taste. Sweet and balanced.  A nice effort for 11 bucks.
Nachtgold Eiswein $16.97 (375 mL) - Apricots with a bit of petroleum on the nose. Very apricot on the flavor. Not too complex. Sweet but not cloying. Good acid.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Had a Ball

Saturday evening we spent a lovely evening at the annual Symphony Ball. It was a great night of music, food, wine and dancing. This is a wine blog, so let's focus on the wine. The dinner included two bottles of wine, a white and a red. The white offering was a 2005 Kathy's Cuvee Rosenblum Viognier. This wine took me by surprise. I was expecting an herbal blah one dimensional viognier from California. This has a wonderful polynesian nose and exotic flavor. Full of tropical fruits, bananas, pineapples, mingling with a strong floral essence. Complex and big, this wine is one of the most unusual I've had in a while. It was almost creamy on the tongue and had mango hints and honey. I think there were even some stone fruits in this one with subtle apricot and nectarines on the nose. Definitely one I'll be picking up. I can't believe how unique this wine is. I think it's about 15 bucks and well worth the price.

The server also plunked down a bottle of 2005 Joseph Phelps Innisfree Cabernet Sauvignon. Now I'm a big fan of Joseph Phelps. The Joseph Phelps Insignia was the Wine Spectator wine of the year for 2005 - a well-deserved accolade. The Innisfree cab is a fine wine at a pretty good price point. That being said I found this bottle to be a little disappointing. Not that it was bad, I just expected more. It had bright red fruits like cherry and raspberry along with a good tannin structure and hints of green vegetables. It was a little thin, though. I expected a bigger cab. It was also a little bit sour and the finish was not to long. In the end there was a slight bitterness that put it off a bit. Now, the bottle was just opened. Perhaps this one needed to be decanted for a few hours. I'll certainly give Innisfree another go sometime but prior vintages have been much more than this one.

I also brought a couple of bottles with me to the ball to share with my wife and friends. I've been meaning to try this Bordeaux for a while and tasting notes I've seen on it said to drink it by the end of 2009. This is a 1999 Benjamin de Beauregard from Pomerol. I would say I'm glad I opened it now because I think it was about at its prime. It has a deep ruby color with an earthy and fruity nose. You get a bit of that forest floor meets Bordeaux dirt on the nose that can be quite pleasant. The tannins were smooth and silky and the wine had a medium to full body. It resonated around in my mouth with ever changing flavors of first fruit then musty mushrooms all being carried along with a nice acid sourness that reminded me of sour cherries. This is more of a classic French style wine. It had that real quality of elegant aged fruit. Not the forward hit you in the face fresh fruit from wines made to be drunk the moment it hits the store shelves. I honestly don't remember where I picked this one up, but I've had it in the cellar for a while. I'm glad I was able to enjoy it in the company of good friends.

Last but not least is one of my favorite grapes and my wife's favorite wine. I opened up a bottle of the 2004 Rombauer Zinfandel. Rombauer is a neat little winery in Napa on top of a hill right off of Silverado Trail. They are well known for producing big bold reds of high quality. When I moved to Fargo in 1996 I brought a case of one of their best vintages, the 1994 zin. I finished off the last bottle a couple years ago. This wine is BIG! Did I say it was BIG? It's monstrous. It's almost a dessert wine, it has so much fruit. Although I don't think there's any significant residual sugar in it, it tastes sweet. It is one of those jammy jammy jammy red fruit raspberry cherry blackberry zins that fill your mouth with satin. I love the way if feels in my mouth. It can be too sweet for some foods, however. It went ok with our beef but it was even better with the tiramisu dessert! We recently had this wine at a wine and cheese pairing and it went beautifully with a blue cheese. This wine can stand up to that. The tannins in this one were soft and I suspect this will not last as long as my beloved 1994 vintage. It's pretty good drinking now.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Custodian

Welcome to my first post on my wine blog. This is an accompaniment to my food and cooking blog. Let's start with something from down under. Last evening I opened a bottle of d'Arenberg grenache. This is the 2001 Custodian and it was quite good after it had a chance to breathe. Usually grenache is too light and not complex enough to stand on its own and is usually used as a blending grape. However this grenache definitely stands up on its own two feet. d'Arenberg has been tending the grenache vines that provided this wine for 60-70 years and it shows in the wine. This vintage has been tenderly nurtured from grape to bottle beginning with a gentle 'Demoisy' crush. It was fermented in open fermenters and the cap treaded down by wader-clad feet. So says the label. It has spent twelve months in French and American oak.

I pulled this out of my cellar and popped the cork. My cellar right now is about 60 degrees so the wine felt a bit cold. I poured a glass and examined the color. It was a little thin when looking through the wine, though you can't tell from my picture above. It still had vibrant ruby red and slightly purple colors which shows it has not oxidized too much. A slight brickiness on the edges showed its age. As I smelled this wine cold I could detect whiffs of cherries and anise. The nose opened up later as the wine warmed and opened in my glass. On the palate this medium-bodied wine exuded cherry and blackberry flavors mingled with an earthiness that meandered around my mouth for a long finish. The tannins were smooth and balanced. It was optimal on my second glass about a half hour after I opened the bottle. Wine spectator says to drink this wine now through 2009. I would say drink it now. I'm not sure if it will last at this quality for another couple years.