Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sardinia Red: Monica di Sardegna

Today my quest to learn more about Italian wine has brought me to the island of Sardinia. I'm haphazardly skipping around Italy as I find new wines or grapes. I chose Sardinia because I was at Corti Brothers this weekend looking for a local wine when a found a red and white wine from Sardinia.

To learn about Sardinia, I pulled out my favorite reference on Italian wine: Vino Italiano. Sardinia appears to be a scary place to visit because it is so remote from the Italian mainland. It requires an eight hour ferry ride to reach the island and many fugitives and kidnappers take advantage of this isolation. The authors felt the food and wine was worth the trip.

The Monica grape is grown primarily in Sardinia, and more specifically in the southern half of the island around the city of Cagliari. Wines from Monica are supposed to be light wines with the flavor of cherry. The designation Monica di Cagliari means that the wine is 100% Monica and comes from the southern DOC. The designation Monica di Sardegna, however, means that the grapes could come from anywhere on the island and only 85% of the wine needs to be Monica. The remainder can be a blend of Carignano (aka Carignan) and Bovale (a red grape of Spanish origin.)

The Monica I had was a "di Sardegna" using 90% Monica. It wasn't a "light" wine and the presence of the Carignano may be the reason. This grape is high in tannins, acidity and bitterness. Even at less than 10% it brought up the tannins and complexity of the wine. I'll have to try a wine made from 100% Monica to get a comparison. The taste of the wine reminded me of a cross between Merlot and Nero d'Avola, which I recently reviewed. I got a hint of cherry as I drank the wine and the tannin level made it go well with the Tri-tip steak I drank it with.

I think I would enjoy this wine with a spicy spaghetti dish, or anywhere I'd drink a Merlot or Chianti. The wine is different enough to be a nice change of pace. At $13 it's an affordable option too. I'll have to find an unblended example of Monica to get an educated opinion on the Monica grape. I'd also like to taste the wine side-by-side with a Merlot and a Chianti. I recently tried a side-by-side tasting with a wine that reminded me of Syrah. It was cool to be able to contrast the two wines, to help me see why I thought the first wine was like a Syrah and to see how the two differed. Either from an educational stand point or just for drinking enjoyment, I'd like to get another Monica soon. (If anyone has tried both styles, please leave a comment to tell me what you thought of the difference. Thanks! )

Tasting Notes:

2005 Argiolas Perdera Monica de Serdegna (13.5% alcohol)

Color: Dark red

Nose: Cherry

Taste: Cherry with medium tannins

Finish: The tannins lingered slightly with a sour cherry taste, sometimes I got a hint of raisin, but this was very faint.

( Click on the bottle to see the winemakers notes. )

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Change of Pace: Côtes de Provence Rosé

I've been drinking quite a few Italian wines in February as I've been reading through the first selection of the Wine Book Club, Vino Italiano, so I thought I'd drink something different last night. We were having "Swiss-Cheese chicken" (breaded chicken baked with swiss cheese on top), rice and zucchini so we chose something light: 2006 Domaine Fontanyl Côtes de Provence Rosé.

According to, half of the rosé wine made in France comes from Provence and 80% of the wine made in Provence is rosé. This area of France is on the French Riviera coverings an area from the cities of Marseille to Nice (Click on the map to the left for a bigger map of the region. Used by permission from Wikipedia, created by Marmelad.)

This area of France has a Mediterranean climate, characterized by hot, dry summers, mild winters, little snow, and lots of sun. The soils vary across the region. The main grapes grown in the Côtes de Provence are Carignan, Cinsaut, Grenache and Mourvedre; typical Rhone varietals. Rosé wines made out of grapes grown here are dry and full of fruit flavors.

The Domaine Fontanyl was a nice rosé to me. I was a little leary when I first sniffed the wine because it smell just like a white Zinfandel. I don't like sweet wines at all, so I was pleased that this rosé was very dry (it reminded me of a rosé I had last year that was made out of Malbec that had no hint of sweetness.) I couldn't really detect much fruit other than cherry on the nose or when I the tasted the wine (I'm beginning to wonder if cherry is the only fruit I can detect!) The tannins were very light in my mouth, but lingered with a sour cherry flavor after I swallowed. I didn't feel any heat ftom the 13% alcohol level. The wine went well with chicken.

At $11 I'll have to look for this wine to enjoy as a sipper for warm summer evenings. I can't wait to get back to exploring Italy, but this rosé was a pleasant break.

Tasting Notes:

2006 Domaine Fontanyl Côtes de Provence Rosé

Color: Light rose

Aroma: Almost like white Zinfandel, cherry

Taste: Dry! Cherry and light, light tannins

Finish: Light but lingering tannins with sour cherry

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Wine Book Club #1: Vino Italiano

When I was growing up in the 1960's, one of my favorite shows was "The Wild Wild West"! James West and his trusty side-kick Artemus Gordon would fight old West criminals for an hour my TV screen. My favorite part of the show was right before a commercial break when the scene would get smaller and smaller and become one of the pictures that made up the show's graphic, similar to the one on the left. It was fun to remember what scene each picture was from.

Vino Italiano by Joseph Batianich & David Lynch uses a similar technique at the beginning of each chapter (though I may be the only one who sees it.) The authors relate a story about a trip to the particular Italian region. For example, eating a meal with an Italian class that is learning English and sharing all the curse words they've learned with the authors, or shooting cannons into clouds over a Piedmont vineyard to ward off hail stones, or finding the best gelato shop in Sicily. Each of these little vignettes gives me a mental picture to hang the region on; a mnemonic devices to aid this highly graphic oriented reader.

This book has been invaluable to me as I am learning about Italian wine. I could find out most of the information in the book on the web, but I wouldn't know how to put it all together. The authors cover each region in a way that appeals to me. They cover the soil, the grapes, the wines and even the foods of each area. Each region is broken up into Sparkling Wines, White Wines, Red Wines, and Sweet Wines. This format not only helps to compare and contrast each region, but it makes it easy to skim through the book if you're looking to find information on, say, the red wines of Sardonia.

The end of each chapter is both education and delicious. There are chapter summaries that show the regions production, grapes and wines. There is then a list of top producers of the wines. What I like best about these lists is that I have actually been able to find the wines listed as good examples of the wines. In other references, the wines are either not in any local store or Internet source or they are WAY too expensive for me. The final entry in each chapter is a recipe for a dish from each region and a wine to pair it with. I may be coming back to these sections if I ever learn how to cook.

I've only made it through half the book, but even after I finish reading each chapter I'm sure I won't be finished with this excellent reference. I don't feel like I have to read the book from first chapter to the next, as each section stands on it's own. As I have bought a new wine from a different Italian region, I've read that chapter in the book. This has been a great read. Thanks, Wine Book Club, for suggesting such a great book for our first selection. I can't wait to find out what picture develops for the Tuscany region!

( It's uncanny how much the maps in the book look like WineCountry IT's maps. Does anyone know if there is a relationship between the authors and the website? )

Monday, February 25, 2008

Open That Bottle Night: # 9

Apparently this has been going on for a few years and I'm just learning about it. It makes sense: I've only been into wine for 15 months now. When I found out about Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher's Open That Bottle Night from reading Farley's post in her Behind the Vines blog, I knew which bottle I would be opening. The two writers, who share a wine column in the Wall Street Journal, have designated the last Saturday in February as a day to open and drink a wine that you've been holding on to because it's too special to drink.
My bottle has been on hold for 6 months. I bought it on the last day I worked at a local BevMo store. I had read about this wine in The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil. She was writting about Rhone wine and described this one as a wine that made her understand how great wine can be. I had also been to a Rhone wine tasting the previous winter but none of us had brought a Northern Rhone. I really wanted to know what the Syrah grape would be like in a French wine. The wine cost almost $70 and that was the main reason I couldn't bring myself to drinking it.
So, after a little debate in my head, I decided to open the bottle and see if Gaiter and Brecher had a good idea or not: they do. Their event helped show that now is the time to enjoy wine. I'm not sure what kind of occasion would have come along to cause me to open that bottle, but it wasn't going to happen any time soon. The mystique of that bottle would have grown with each month I didn't open it. As it was, I was disappointed when I first tried the wine. My first reaction was, "I paid THAT much for this wine!?! Why isn't it making my tongue dance?"
I did enjoy the wine after I got over the first disappointment. I let the wine decant for an hour while supper was being cooked. When we drank the wine with our meal, it had opened up a little and reminded me of why I like the Syrah so much and gave me a deeper appreciation for Rhone wines. It was a sublte wine. It had the fruit flavors of cherry and what I can only call a Syrah. It had nice tannins that stayed on my tastes buds after I had swallowed. There was a sour cherry flavor that mixed with the tannins and it paired well with our meal. I definitely want to get more Syrahs like this, but I don't want to have to pay so much next time.
I think the best thing to learn from this little exercise is that wine is only grape juice. Really good tasting grape juice, but still, only fluid squeezed from Vitis vinifera. I don't know if I'll have a wine that qualifies for OTBN next year. Almost every bottle I purchase is gone before thirty days go by. Maybe someone will give me a great bottle as a birthday present. Otherwise, I'll just have to read everyone else's posts. If you have a bottle that's waiting for some special moment that never seems to get here, why not open it tonight? I'm sure you'll enjoy it and you'll make this evening a little more special.

The writer of the Avenue Vine wine blog did a great review for of this wine for Wine Blogging Wednesday #19. If you're interested in finding out more technical information about this wine, click here.

Tasting Notes:

2002 Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde de Guigal

Color: Medium red with pink edges

Nose: Cherry and band aids (there is often a rubber aroma when I smell Rhone wines!)

Taste: Sour cherries and gentle syrah flavors, not like a fruit-bomb, but just as enjoyable

Finish: Sour cherry and light tannins that go well with food.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Another Italian White: Soave

I finally got to try another Italian white wine: Soave. I bought a bottle of this last year, but traded it before I drank it for a Hungarian wine at a wine tasting. I've read several things about Soave that made me think this was going to be a hit or miss wine (it's developed a reputaion for being a mass produced table wine.) Reading through "Vino Italiano" gave me the impetus to get another bottle.

Soave is made in the Veneto region of North-Eastern Italy. (Click the map for a link to a much more detailed description of the Veneto. Map used by permission from Loris Scaglarini of WineCountry.IT. Thanks!) The famous city of Venice is located in the region, too, but the Soave zone is on the opposite side located close to Verona. This is a narrow band of hills that once were volcanos. The soil is mineral rich, but basically poor well drained soil that causes grape vine roots to have to tunnel deep to find nutrients.

Despite the great potiential for producing grapes full of flavor and balance, this region has the reputation for growing bland, mass produced wines. This is a result of growers maximizing harvests for production. The makers of the Soave I tried used to contribute their grapes to the bunches that went into the regions wines. The brothers who own Tamellini vineyards decided to produce a better wine from their own grapes. They hired a renown Italian wine maker and by 1998 started producing their own Soave. From reviews I read after I tried the wine, theirs is one of the better Soaves.

Soave's main grape is the Garganega grape (picture courtesy Hillary Stecbauer via Wikipedia.) When given the proper treatment Garganega can produce light wines with hints of wild flowers, lemon curd and nuts. Often the ratio in Soave is 70% Gargenega and 30% Trebbiano (aka, Ugni Blanc.) The Tamellini's wanted to make a Soave that showed off the Gargenega grape, so theirs is 100% Gargenega.

I have had no other Soaves to compare with, but the brothers did a great job. I couldn't detect any specific aromas, just the smell of a Chardonnay or even a beer! The flavors were more like a Chardonnay mixed with a Viognier, but I couldn't detect individual fruit flavors. There is a definite hop flavor, which is probably why I thought this wine smelled like a beer. This discription doesn't do the wine justice, because the flavor is nice: distinct from a Chardonnay, not like a beer at all. Maybe it's the minerality that makes it stand out from a Chardonnay. There was no oak (the tech sheet from the winery states that the wine is "100% stainless steel fermented and aged.) I'm not sure what food this wine would go with, but it's interesting that the tech sheet says it is the best wine to have with asparagus. Come to think of it, this wine would go great with a lot of Chiniese food dishes, especially asparagus beef.

Like I said earlier, this is my first Soave. I'm glad I got to try one that was 100% Gargenega and such a pleasant wine. It reminds me a lot of the Gavi wines I had several weeks ago. Next time we have Chinese food take out at my house, I'm going to try this wine. Let me know if you've had any Soave and what foods you like to drink it with. (Gargenega makes grape #47 in quest to join the Century Club!)

Tasting Notes:

Color: Golden yellow

Aroma: Chardonnay, beer

Taste: Chardonnay / Viognier cross, hops, a suggestion of nuts. Medium mouthfeel.

Finish: Slight tannins with almond like flavors and bitterness, but in a good way.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Empty Bottle

I think I've discovered a way to tell whether a bottle of wine is good or not. I'm going to call it "the Empty Bottle" test (wood cut used by permission from Bergen's Sculpture Studio.) This isn't a scientific or even objective test of a wine's characteristics, just a highly subjective test that seems to work at my house.

This test involves the two wine drinkers in my household: my wife and me. My wife is not a wine geek by any measure. To her, wine smells like wine and she's not interested in discerning any other aroma. In fact, wine is for drinking not sniffing! For me, wine smells like wine, but I'm trying to learn to discern the components that make up that aroma. I'm getting to where I can pick out different wines by smelling but picking up distinct aromas is a stretch still.

My wife has a much more discerning palate than I do. She is a great cook and has been able to duplicate other people's recipes by tasting them once. To me, she is a culinary chemist, able to know how to season a meal by experience and taste. She is especially sensitive to bitter flavors. I am her culinary opposite. I can grill a steak and cook pancakes, and that's about it. My favorite thing to do with a meal is to mix it all together so that I get all the flavors of the meat, vegetables and potatoes/rice in one bite! I wonder if I've ruined my taste buds by the amount of pepper I've used.

My wife is not influenced by either the technical or historical aspects of a wine. Wine is for drinking, not a source of learning. I, however, could be influenced to like a wine because the grape can only be found in some far off corner of the world or because of a story about how the wine played a part in an obscure battle fought hundreds of years ago.

I relate all this because the two of us approach wine in a totally different way. Yet we both enjoy wine and if a bottle is really good, then it will be empty in one meal. I'll have a glass before supper is ready: sniffing, swirling, tasting and taking notes. We'll both have a glass or two with the meal. And if it's a really good wine, we'll finish it up after our meal as we sit and watch TV or read or whatever our evening activity is. A bottle that is empty on the same night it is open is how I know that a wine is great.

There have been a couple of these bottles at my house. Some have been Chardonnays, several have been Syrahs. I like when we find a bottle that passes the "Empty Bottle" test. It means we've shared a wine we both think is great, even if she just wants to drink it and I want to write about it!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

What's the Difference?

Last Friday over at West Coast Wine Country Adventures, Amy wrote a cool post on peppery Syrahs and cool weather climates. (Click the link above for her great post.)

I wondered if growing a Syrah in the same conditions you grow a Zinfandel would also produce a peppery Syrah. After all, Zinfandels are known for peppery flavors. A few weeks back I reported on the Klinker Brick Lodi Zinfandel. I wondered if their Farrah Syrah would be peppery so I picked up a bottle. This bottle of wine was peppery like the Zinfandel, in fact it was almost just like the Zinfandel in every way; it didn't seem like a Syrah at all.

Usually I can detect the Syrah part of a Northern Rhone blend or a meritage of Syrah and another red. The Farrah didn't have any of the Syrah flavor. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the fruit-bomb and would have loved it with a grilled rib-eye steak! It's just that it would have been nice if the wine had been different from the Zinfandel. Maybe if I tasted the two wines side by side I could have seen the difference.

I'll have to try some of the Syrahs that Amy and her readers talked about in the comments portion of her post. If you have a suggestion for a peppery Syrah, please let me know. Meanwhile, I'm going to have to pick up a rib-eye on the way home from work tonight to enjoy with my Zinfandel, I mean Syrah.

Tasting Notes:

2004 Klinker Brick "Farrah" Syrah

Color: Dark purple

Aroma: Zinfandel and green pepper

Taste: Pepper, Zinfandel fruit

Finish: Medium tannins that lingered with the fruit flavors. The alcohol level (15%) left a bite.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Can I Change My Answer?

In my blog post for Wine Blogging Wednesday I reviewed the 2005 Cusumano Nero d'Avola. I must have gotten a bad bottle, because all I could taste from that bottle was raisins. Over the weekend, I picked up a new bottle from a different store and tried it again.

The second bottle was much better. The overwhelming raisin flavor was gone! The wine did approach a raisin flavor the longer it sat in my glass and warmed, but it never got as strong as the first bottle and it never had a burnt flavor, either. The second bottle was a 2006 as opposed to a 2005. The original bottle had a plastic cork which was not tainted. The new bottle had a cool glass cork which I had read about last year, but never seen before. This new stopper works great and I'm tempted to save the bottle and cork to use it again.

I drank the Cusumano Nero d'Avola with home made spaghetti and meatballs. My wife makes a sauce from scratch using cloves, bay leaves and garlic. We usually drink a Merlot to compliment the tomatoe sauce. The Nero d'Avola was more bitter than a Merlot, but I liked the pairing. I'm glad I tried a second bottle to give both the grape and Cusumano a fair chance. If I ever encounter that "cooked raisin" flavor in a wine again, I'll know it's not the intended flavor and return the bottle. Another lesson learned!

I bought the bottle at a brand new store that opened recently in the Sacramento area: Total Wine. This store is even bigger than the BevMo stores I mostly frequent for my wine purchases. I really liked the layout of the store and the even larger selection of wines. The Italy and French sections are much bigger than the BevMo sections. I was able to find wines at the Total Wine store that I had read about but not been able to find before.

The staff seems more informed about wine, too. I saw many more workers on the floor and even though there were varying levels of expertise, they all seemed knowledgable about wine. I was able to talk for ten minutes about Scilian wines with the staff member who helped me pick up my second bottle of Cusuamano. I look forward to many visits to this new store. I hope they continue to keep their prices as low as their grand opening week.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc

It's cool when something lives up to great hype! I've heard New Zealand Sauvignon blancs praised by Gary Vanerchuk and others for a while as a great style. I finally tried one over the weekend and was very happy to find this style so agreeable.

Appropriately, my first New Zealand wine came from the countries largest wine producing region: the Marlborough (the little green lamma-head on the map of New Zealand shown to the left.) Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has played a big roll in establishing New Zeland as a great wine producting area.

The particular wine I tried was from Kim Crawford. When Kim Crawford was established in 1996, they didn't have their own vineyards yet. They sourced grapes from other growers and even made their wine at other people's facilities. They now have their own facilities where they grow grapes and press wine. This family business makes Sauvignon Blancs, Chardonnays, Rieslings and many other wines that are favored by the climate of the region.

When I first sniffed the Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, I was struck by the sharpness of the wine. It also reminded me of a Riesling more than a Sauvignon Blanc. It may be its acidity or its flavors, but the aroma was very pleasant. Sipping the wine, I found more of the crispness mixed with pineapple, grapefruit and a great minerality. This wine made me want to keep sipping it to taste the great mix of flavors and acidity. It went well with the home-made breaded chicken strips my wife had prepared for our evening meal.

The tropical flavors combined with the minerality or acidity (I can't figure out which) makes this wine a great sipper. I want to try the Kim Crawfor un-oaked Chardonnay to see how that grape is influenced by the Southern Hemishere climate. If you've tried and enjoyed a different New Zealand SB, please let me know!

Tasting Notes:

Color: Light, pale yellow

Aroma: Pineapple and minerals

Taste: Pineapple, grapefruit, minerals

Finish: Very light finish, mostly fruit

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Wine Blogging Wednesday: 7 Words

This special Wine Blogging Wednesday has given us the difficutlt task of discribing a Italian red wine in seven words or less. For this exercise in linguisitc minimalism, I chose the 2005
Cusumano Nero d'Avola. I wanted to try this wine because of Dr Deb's recent challenge to try a
taste of Sicily in February. Plus, this wine adds a new grape to my count: #46.

Nero d'Alvola is considered a native of Sicily by some. People have tried planting Nero in other parts of Italy, but with little success. The grape is "thin-skinned and susceptible to rot, as well as a late-ripener." The long, hot, dry growing season of Sicily is ideal for this black skinned grape that requires twenty days longer to mature than other red grapes.

Many wineries in Sicily are blending the grape with Syrah, Merlot or Cabinet Sauvignon to produce some interesting wines, but the grape has been used on it's own to produce a wine that Sicily is known for. Some people compare the taste of Nero to Syrah because it's "rich with black fruits with firm tannins." Unfortunately, I didn't get that impression.

I don't know if the bottle I got was bad, or if it is just the normal flavor of a Nero, but here is my seven word description:

Two scoops of raisins in every swallow.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Montevina Terra d'Oro Zinfandel

Two weeks ago I had a Montevina Barbara that made me want to try their Zinfandel. I picked up a bottle of their Terra d'Oro ("Land of Gold") Zinfandel from a local grocery store over the weekend.

Terra d'Oro is Montevina's reserve line of wines, produced in smaller quantities in only certain years. The winery website says these wines "come form older, low-yielding vines, and spend longer time in barrel and bottle.” There was an interesting article in the Sacramento Bee last week about the use of the term "old vine." The author, Mike Dunne, reported that the term "old vine" may be losing its meaning. A survey of over 200 Zinfandel producers found that "a quarter of them said they use 'old vine' or some variation on their bottles of zinfandel because they are convinced the wines possess a distinctive flavor that can come only from older vines.
However, the term is showing up even on bottles of Merlot! Some argue that there is no difference in flavor from grapes produced by old vines as opposed to younger.

Montevina's Terra d'Oro may be doing its part to restore the meaning of "old vine." The wine had intense flavors without being a fruit bomb. When I wrote about the Klinker Brick Zinfandel, I warned that some wouldn't like it because of how fruit-forward it was. The Montevina delivers all the spiciness and pepper without excessive jamminess. I like both wine styles, but can appreciate the Montevina for a more subtle delivery of my favorite grape.

Tasting Notes:

Color: Dark red

Aroma: Spicy zinfandel nose, green pepper?

Taste: Intense zinfandel spiciness without any sweetness

Finish: Light

Monday, February 11, 2008

Chardonnay Monday: Meursault (Yum!)

Today's Chardonnay comes from Meursault ("Murr-so") in the Côte-de-Beaune in France's Burgundy region. One source I read said that some of the finest white wines in France come from Meursault. This Burgundian village produces almost enirely white wine, which means Chardonnay. These wines are described as both "full-bodied and acidic" resulting in a wine that is a real pleasure to taste and feel in your mouth.

I found my bottle a local Sacramento store more known for its Italian wine selection, Corti Brothers. I was looking for a Friuli wine for last month's Wine Blogging Wednesday, but was not able to find one. Instead, I brought home this French wine that I had been wanting to try. It cost me $30 which is almost twice what I paid for the other Chardonnays I've featured on Chardonnay Monday, but it was worth it.

The maker is Charton et Trebuchet, a négociant who produces wine from grapes he buys from vineyards not his/her own. This bottle had aged for ten years, and I wonder how much that added to the flavors.

When I poured the wine and looked at it in the glass, it was like I had some liquid gold. The wine looked thick due to the attractive dark gold color. The nose was pleasant (but thanks to a cold I have) I wasn't able to smell too much. The flavors were very nice, but the mouth feel was almost like cream. I've had a Rombauer Chardonnay that cost about the same price and had a similar heavy mouth feel, but the Meursault was somehow more attractive. I don't know if it was the age or the style, but the flavors and mouthfeel combined very nicely. This is my favorite style of Chardonnay that I've tried so far.

I don't know how many more Mondays I continue featuring Chardonnays, but it's been enjoyable and educational to focus on one grape to see how many ways it can be made into wine. I'll have to try some other countries before I call it quits!

Tasting Notes:

Color: Deep gold

Aroma: Peach, light yeast

Taste: Cream, Medium to heavy mouth feel

Finish: Light tannins, maybe some oak

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Majority Rules: Merlot

Red blends are some of my favorite types of wine. The combination of grapes yields a flavor that is different than any of the grapes on their own is capable of producing. I really like it, though, when a blend produces a different flavor, but the attributes of one of the grapes is strong enough to recognize. This was the case with the 2001 Comtes de Tastes I drank last night.

This wine was produced by the Bordeaux winery Chateau Beaulieu. In the same way that an off-Broadway play can be easier to get into but just as enjoyable to watch, this "off-Bordeaux" producer makes a great Bordeaux that is just as good as a Bordeaux on either side of the bank, but easy to get into thanks to the lower price. Chateau Beaulie lies 10 miles North of St. Emillion.

I couldn't find the exact ratio, but this wine is made from Merlot, Cab Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The flavor of the Merlot is the dominant flavor, but it is transformeed by the presence of the other two grapes into an better wine. This wine goes very well with food. When I tried the wine before eating my dinner last night, it was dry, I could taste the fruit and the tannins were great. Drinking with the wine with food made the wine seem almost sweet. I had the wine with meatballs made out of hamburger, thyme and onion soup mix served over rice and green beans. There may be a better paring for this wine, but they went together well for me.

One more surpirse I got was blueberries. I don't know if blueberries is a normal component people normally detect in a Merlot or a Bordeaux, but I got the definite flavor of blueberries at times. That's a first for my palate! I can't wait to let the wine decant for an hour tonight before drinking it tonight. I hope it changes the flavors even more.

Tasting Notes:

Color: Deep cranberry red

Aroma: Cherry, yeast (is this possibly oak)

Taste: Cherry, blueberry, nice strong tannins

Finish: The tannins linger and seem to build, leaving a sour cherry flavor

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A New Grape: Oak?

By mistake I picked up a bottle of wine that I thought was a was a Sauvignon blanc from the Loire Valley in France. I had my first Loire wine last month, a Sancerre that I liked a lot. This bottle didn't say Sancerre, but it did say Loire Valley so I thought I'd be learning more about French SBs. I should have read the label better!

If I had, I would have seen that this was a Muscadet wine. Muscadet is made from the grape Melon de Bourgogne, a wine that used to grow in Burgundy but was kicked out in the 1600's! Currently grown in the mouth of the Loire Valley, the grape is resistant to cold and frost and has flourished in this maritime climate.

If I'd read the bottle better, I would have also noticed the words "sur lie" printed under the winery's name. Apparently, Muscadet, that has been produced and aged in accordance with strict guidelines, may be designated "Muscadet Sur Lie." This involves keeping the wine in the barrel (on the lees or sur lie) all winter, which "allows the wine's aromas to develop, and carbonic gas produced by this process imparts a liveliness on the palate." I did not experience this effect with my bottle of Muscadet!

The only flavor I got was oak. There was oak on the nose, while the wine was in my mouth and in the finish. I thought the wine would go well with some home made Chinese food that my wife and sister made for our Super Bowl meal, but the oak was just too much. I thought I was drinking an over oaked Chardonnay, but I couldn't tell because there wasn't really any fruit flavor. Only after the wine had warmed up over an hour in the glass did I detect some fruit. I hope I can find a better example of a Muscadet. The comparison will be interesting. (Anyone have a good recommendation?)

The bottle wasn't a total loss. I got to add a new grape to my count towards 100 different grapes (this was # 45 for me!) I got to learn the hard way that the Loire Valley is a big place and makes lots of different kinds of white wine. And I learned that if I'm not sure of what words are on the label, I can't just assume a location is only one grape. And finally, thanks to the oak flavor that is etched on my palate's memory, I'll know that Melon de Bourgogne is used to make a Muscadet.

Tasting Notes:

Color: Light golden yellow

Aroma: Oak

Taste: Oak (some slight citrus after an hour in the glass)

Finish: Oak

Friday, February 1, 2008

Klinker Brick Zinfandel from Lodi

Imagine you are a grape vine growing in a valley in Northern California. Your roots have been tunneling deep in the sandy loam for almost a century. Though you are no where near as tall as those wimpy Coastal redwoods who have it so easy when it comes to getting water, you are able to get all the water you need during the long, hot, dry summers. You love the heat! As the sun beats mercilessly on your green canopy, you carry the moisture and nutrients from the soil and parse them out to the small clusters of little berries that hide below. Your small fruit grows sweeter each day with an intesity born of toiling by surviving 100 plus degree days.

Yet there is a reprieve when the Delta breeze comes though as the sun begins to set. The cool fingers of this gentle wind slip through your branches and leaves. Your fruit rests. Soft tannins and balancing acidity are nutured in each berry. As the silver moon light dances off your leaves, it's as if the night is trying to impart its own character, not leting the sun alone have its influence on your fruit.

Lodi is not the only part of the world to have this play of hot days and pleasant evenings; it's a classic Mediterranean climate. But this area has become famous for its Zinfandels. One of my favorites is from the Klinker Brick Winery. Like other Lodi wineries, the folks at Klinker Brick have been growing grapes since the early 1900's. Even during prohibition, the vineyards of Lodi still produced grapes for making wine, though most were shipped to Canada or the East Coast for home made wine making, allowed by under the Volstead Act. In fact, demand for winegrapes actually increased during Prohibition in the Lodi area. Thousands of railcars left Lodi each harvest full of Zinfandels, Tokays, Alicante's, and many other winegrapes.

The Klinker Brick Zinfandel may be too much of a fruit-bomb for some wine lovers, but for my inexperienced palate it's a joy. I enjoy the subtler flavors of a drier wine like a Rhone or Bordeaux, but it's a real pleasure to taste the full bodied explosion of flavor when I drink this Zinfandel. There is a jammy, almost strawberry flavor, spicy pepper and something I can only describe as Zinfandel. Maybe when I've tasted more wine, I'll be able to disect the flavors I sense when I experince a Zinfadel, but right now it is a singular flavor.

I look forward to trying the "Old Ghost", or Old Vine, Klinker Brick, as well as their Syrah. I you're looking for a fruit-bomb of a Zinfandel, then a bottle Klinker Brick may be for you. You'll find out what the right amount of blazing sunlight and cooling breeze can accomplish from the soils of Lodi!

Tasting Notes:

Color: Dark ruby red

Aroma: Pepper, yeast, Zinfandel

Taste: Jammy strawberry, pepper, lots of fruit

Finish: Tannnis and spice

Click to Watch WLTV

The latest wine library TV

Changing the wine world.