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Sunday, December 27, 2009

The 2005 Le Cigare Volant: The Flying Saucer

Today's review will revolve around the wonderful if somewhat eclectic Bonny Doon Vineyard found in the wonderfully beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains AVA in northern California, just a little south of Napa and Sonoma. While I had a chance to visit this area first hand in 2007, my opportunity to visit Bonny Doon slipped from our (that's my wife and I) itinerary and I missed seeing the vineyards for myself. That said, Mr. Randall Grahm was gracious enough to send me a couple samples to peruse at my leisure, with an invitation to visit next time I'm in the area.

Many folks have a quizzical look upon their face when I talk about the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, first they are thinking where the bleep is that and second what is a AVA? Now no one has ever had the courage to ask me, "what are you, some kind of cork-dork" ? I would answer with an enthusiastic nod of agreement and say, "well you could go even further and characterize me as a wine geek, guilty as charged." Purple teeth and purple fingers at times depending on the situation, but I'll save that conversation for another time. It was funny when I mentioned Bonny Doon to someone once, they thought I was speaking of a movie, entitled "Dune".

Ah yes the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA is located just south of San Jose, California. This huge appellation holds over 350000 acres. According to "Vinogusto" it is astonishing, given the hardships (in particular the onset huge fires in 2009) of viticulture in the Santa Cruz Mountains, this appellation hosts some of North America's elite wineries with the likes of Ridge, David Bruce and Bonny Doon and I am a big fan of Byington and Testarossa as well.

So now that you have an idea of where I am talking about in regards to where this wine is from, now it's is time to bring into to focus the subject of this review the Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2005. Literally translated, "Le Cigare Volant" which is French for "The Flying Cigar" or euphemistically speaking, the flying saucer! Sci-Fi fans take note, this is a first-contact wine.

Swirl: After letting this bottle settle into to its new surroundings (Chez Eyer Wine Vault) for a month or two, I finally cracked open the stelvin closure and poured myself a glass just hour before dinner for its first evaluation. In the glass a near opaque garnet colored core, giving way to cerise colored rim. Like ZZ Top has sung, she's got legs and she know how to use them, get the picture?

SniffY-Sniff: Into the glass goes my huge half Irish nose and exploding on my god-given sensory apparatus aromas of tasty brier, black cherry and undefinable gamy note.

Slurp: After giving the wine in my glass another good swirl, it's finally time to imbibe. On the palate, is an impressive concentration, with chewy plum, currant, nice minerality, licorice and tarry notes. Although listed as a California wine, it's is made in an terroir-driven old world style and does not require any long term cellaring, since it is drinking amazingly now. But it does have the stuffing to stand up to another five years in your own wine-vault!

Varietal Composition: The Bonny Doon Vineyard 2005 Le Cigare Volant is a blend, a Cuvée if you will, from fruit sourced at a variety of long-term growers in the Central Coast and Santa Cruz Mountains. This vintage is a blend of Grenache (50%), Mourvèdre (24%), Syrah (22%), Carignane (3%), and Cinsault (1%). This wine is bottled unfiltered and has a stelvin closure.

His Book: He also sent a copy of his "new" book,
BEEN DOON SO LONG A RANDALL GRAHM VINTHOLOGY which I am enjoying immensely and will have the review of the book separately from the wine. His style of prose is both humorous and captivating, a great read thus far, stay tuned for the book review.

Alcohol and Ageing: The wines alcohol percentage weighed in at a mere 13.5% and the different wines which make up this delightful blend were aged separately no doubt and blended together before bottling. The aging process; 18 mos, 1/2 in puncheon, 1/2 in wooden upright, significant batonage.

With/without Food: This wine was a great quaff just by itself, a sure crowd-pleaser with an appropriate amount of decanting and just a wonderful wine for pairing with many different food combinations. Keep in mind this can't be said of all wines and is a high compliment to the wine maker and the growers of these grapes, well done!

Full Disclosure: Mr. Grahm (winemaker) sent a request to have this wine reviewed by the Cuvée Corner Wine Blog and I was most flattered and delighted to have the opportunity.

Where to Purchase and Price: Wine can be purchased directly from the Bonny Doon Vineyard website. This wine can also purchased online and or in their respective brick n mortar locations Woodland Hills Wine Co., Wine.com and Wine House. The prices range from $26.99 to $29.99 depending on where you shop.

My Recommendation: Drink now and drink often, this is a great wine to stock up on, but as there was a little over 1100 cases produced it's going to go fast. So run don't walk, place your order today. The 2005 Le Cigare Volant is as smooth as Jeret "Speedy" Peterson is on his skis as he catapults himself 60 feet in the air. Oh wait you don't know who that is?

Well in the coming year you're going to find out as the 2010 Winter Olympic Games are about to get started I want to wish "Speedy" and Team USA good luck! I think all of us as Americans would like to say with one voice go TEAM USA! I like this quote from Steve Fisher who Jeret Peterson quotes while he recounts his own life, "People are put on this earth to make mistakes and learn from them. Life is one big classroom." Well said, it reminds me of challenges and triumphs of Randall Grahm, but with this wine he definitely has a triumph! Until next time cheers everyone!

Other voices: "The 2005 Cigare Volant (50% Grenache and the rest Mourvedre, Syrah, Carignan, and Cinsault) exhibits peppery, earthy, black currant and black cherry fruit, and medium body. This spicy, hedonistic vin de plaisir should be enjoyed over the next 2-3 years. Purchasers should treat it like a French Cotes du Rhone."Given 89 points by the Wine Advocate

Gabe's View had this to say, "If somehow you’ve never had this classic California offering from Randall Grahm, this vintage is a great place to start. If I could only use one word to describe this wine, that word would be character. Le Cigare Volant 2005 is loaded with it."

Friday, December 18, 2009

Calling all Zinners, the Leonesse 2006 Vineyard Selection Galway Vineyard Zinfandel

Since the first time I encountered this wine back in February of this year I've imbibed on this wonderful at least three or four times since then and it is just perfect every time, without fail. No decanting necessary, just pour and enjoy.

In speaking to my wife about this wine over dinner, I explained that this was perhaps in my estimation this Zinfandel is the most Zin-tastic one that I've encountered this year. Now before you dismiss that statement, consider how much Zinfandel that has passed over this palate and into my gullet and many others which I've swirled, sniffed, and sipped. I've tasted many, many Zinfandel's over the years from some of the "best" producers from the likes of Lodi, Dry Creek Valley and Sonoma. So with that said I hereby pronounce that this is the very "best" Zinfandel of the year!

This Zinfandel is from the wonderful folks at Leonesse Cellars in the Temecula Valley or as the name Leonesse means the"Village of Dreams". They are really making some very good wines and in the case of the their 2006 Vineyard Selection Zinfandel, Galway Vineyard it is not just good it's meet the criteria to be called great. The tasting room is very large, but comfortable and nicely appointed. The view from the tasting is very nice, I would say it's probably the best view in the valley.

During the tasting earlier in the year, I came across a few wines I really liked, with them coming from the Vineyard Selections and Signature Selections, which have higher prices points. But the one I want to review once more with a refocused review is the Leonesse Cellars, VS 2006 Zinfandel, Galway Vineyard.

First Swirl: In the glass this wine displays as a clear, medium ruby-garnet color standing in the glass, (lacking some extraction normally found many Zinfandels) which is not a bad thing either, I believe in their effort to make a less super-ripe and jammy wine, that knocks you over the head, instead they produced a wine that's nothing short of finesse!

First Sniff: this wine exudes an effortless plethora of ripe berry aromas, with a slight smokey sage aroma in the background. Even after the wine is gone from my glass, I'm still nosing it to absorb ever last molecule of aromas that I can take in. This wine had me at first sniff.


First Sip: Blackberry, and whole plum flavors wash across the palate in a large wave of nuanced fruit and the carry through of a long, white pepper, and with lean blackberry on a crisp, but well focused finish.

Composition: 100% Zinfandel, , 2006 Galway Vineyards, aged 19 months in French and American Barriques aged in 55% French oak and 45 % American oak and is 100% estate picked fruit, according to Billy Bower, Vineyard Manager. The alcohol is 15.3 % and some of you may think oh boy big "fruit-bomb", but I'm telling you it's nothing like that. Instead you have a "layer-cake" of rich, ripe nuanced fruit so telling of what Zinfandel should be.


Other wines of note: Their 2004 Cinsaut Dessert Wine (Ruby Port Style) and 2006 Vineyard Selection Syrah, Vista Del Monte and their 2006 Merlot from the Los Caballos Vineyard all three of this wines are in a word, yum!

Wine Maker Notes: According to the wine-maker this wine, "offers intense aromas of blackberry, cinnamon and cedar. Layers of ripe blackberry and black licorice along with a soft, supple tannins, lead into a velvet like finish." Aged for 19 months in small French and American oak barrels


About the owners: According to Kathy Sullivan of Wine Trail Traveler, "As a dream of the owners, the winery was appropriately named Leonesse. In Scottish leonesse means “the village of dreams.” The two couples who own and operate Leonesse Cellars, Gary and Lana Winder with Mike and Lisa Rennie, began their dreams of owning a winery in the late 1990’s. The winery opened in 2003 and the first vintage was a Cabernet Sauvignon in 2002. Today the winery produces 30,000 cases. Tim Kramer, winemaker, prides himself on the quality of his red wines. They built the large, elegant tasting room in 2006. The restaurant opened in 2007 and is open on a seasonal basis. In 2009, the restaurant will reopen in May.


Bottom Line: A very focused, balanced and quaff-able wine sure to please any palate or guest who may drop by for dinner. What I would call a casual food friendly wine; best paired with just about any food group which may interest you.
A good value $27.00 each for wine club members, but at $36.00 for the non-member price this wine is not a QPR winner one may hope it could be. But that said it's in my opinion that this wine is worth becoming a member to get this wine at the discounted price. So if they have any of this wonderful wine left over, I would definitely get a case or two.


Building upon what I said before the focus of Leonesse Cellars and their attention to quality vs. quantity in their wine making practices are what's missing from some of the other wineries I visited in Temecula. If you are ever in the Temecula Valley wine tasting make sure you go by for a visit and be sure to tell them the Cuvée Corner Wine Blog sent ya! Until next time, Cheers everyone!

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Foodie Guide to Pairing Wine & Cheese

Whether you are hosting a soiree or a casual get-together this holiday, your mission is to provide your guests with warm hospitality, lively conversation and a delectable spread of food and drink. Whether the menu is complicated or simple it better be delicious. Serving a sumptuous gourmet cheese course is perfect as a starter or centerpiece of the meal. Not only is the preparation simple (no cooking!) but more importantly, your guests will enjoy discovering and savoring new favorites. As a wine lover and as a host you want to impress with the right pairings but the overwhelming selections of wine and cheese can make your head spin. Relax. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to choosing the right combinations of cheese and wine. Just keep in mind a few simple considerations.

A cheese course is about observing and enjoying contrasting and complementary flavors. For a fool-proof gourmet cheese course, select 3 – 5 cheeses that vary in texture and flavor. Add some crusty bread, fresh or dried fruit, olives and nuts and voila!

Remember, wines are meant to cleanse the palate, wash away the tongue-coating richness of the cheese and prepare your mouth for the next delicious bite. It’s important that your selections don’t overwhelm the cheese and vice versa. Essentially, you’ll want to match wine and cheese of the same intensity level. Just remember “like for like”.

Take a look at the gourmet cheese categories and wine recommendations below for guidance. You’ll see how easy it is to serve an elegant wine and cheese course. For best results, just add friends and family.

Fresh – These cheeses are not aged and usually are white and light in flavor, smooth and sometimes tangy. Try chevre (goat cheese), feta and smoked mozzarella.

Beverage Pairings – Acidic white wines stand up to the tang and milky flavors of fresh cheese. Try a Viognier or a lightly oaked Chardonnay with French goat cheese, Boutari (a white Greek wine produced on the island of Santorini) with Greek Feta and Pinot Grigio with mozzarella.

Bloomy – Encased in a whitish, edible rind, bloomy gourmet cheeses are often velvety, gooey with a mild flavor. Add Brie, Camembert or Pierre-Robert to the cheese board for a decadent treat.

Beverage Pairings – Seek out a carbonated beverage to refresh the mouth from the rich and creamy flavors. Traditionally, bloomy cheeses are served with French Champagne but also try Cava from Spain and Prosecco from Italy. Another good suggestion would be for a oak-aged Chardonnay from California or Chile which have aromas of vanilla, smoke, toast that will complement the buttery notes in the cheese.

Washed Rind – During the aging process, washed-rind cheeses are usually bathed in a brine or washed with liquor such as wine, beer or a spirits. It’s this brining process that gives the cheese an aromatic quality. Almost all have orange or reddish hued rinds. Not mild and not sharp, washed rind cheeses are full-flavored. Give Taleggio, Drunken Goat, and Epoisses a taste.

Beverage Pairings – The fruity and tannic flavors of red wines work well with the stronger flavors of washed rind cheeses. Try Italian reds such as Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino with Taleggio, a Spanish Rioja with the Drunken Goat and a Cabernet Sauvignon with Epoisses.

Semisoft – These supple cheeses are rich, creamy with stronger flavors. Fontina is herbal and nutty while Morbier offers sweetness with greater pungency.

Beverage Pairings - Sample these with light and fruity reds such as a Pinot Noir or fruity whites such as Sancerre.

Firm – Typically, firm cheeses are still pliable and packed with flavor. The best are a bit crumbly and aged for robust, nutty goodness. Cheddar, Gouda and Gruyere are crowd pleasers.


Beverage Pairings - A pint of English ale is the traditional beverage of choice for Cheddar but a Sauvignon Blanc is complex enough to complement. Gouda is great with a Syrah/Shiraz and drink Beaujolais with Gruyere.

Hard – Hard cheeses are dry, crumbly and aged for intensity. Piave, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Aged Comte boast salty, caramelized, nutty flavors.

Beverage Pairings – You’ll find hearty wines can hold their own against these cheeses. Try a Barbera or Chianti with the Piave and Parmigiano and Merlot with the Comte.

Blue – The bluish-green veins give blue cheese its punch. Listed from strong to strongest in pungency are creamy Gorgonzola, nutty Stilton and salty Roquefort.

Beverage Pairings – Intense gourmet cheeses like blues can be tamed with sweet dessert wines, liqueurs and even a fruity beer. Port and sherry are traditional blue libations. For a unique treat, try a raspberry flavored beer like Belgian Lambic (look for Lindeman’s Framboise). All can be savored while lingering over dessert.

About Sara Kahn: Even though her passion for gourmet cheese was undying, Sara Kahn found shopping for it to be overwhelming, time consuming and confusing. She established The Cheese Ambassador to offer a simple way to select and serve the world’s finest cheeses. By providing the perfect combination of exquisite cheese along with a comprehensive cheese course guide, enjoying gourmet cheese is now a deliciously enriching experience.

Wine Friendly Cheeses: Brie, Cambozola, Camembert, Roquefort, Port-Salut, Fondue Cheese, Frulano and for more suggestion please stop by The Cheese Ambassador.

Written by guest contributor Sara Kahn, Founder of The Cheese Ambassador.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Rhone Ranger, the 2007 Olson Ogden Unti Syrah

Some call it Shiraz and others call it Syrah, but whatever you call it this is the Syrah you don't won't to miss out on! This is massive wine from the folks at Olson Ogden. if you are not familiar with Olson Ogden, this review represents a good opportunity to get acquainted.

Some times you wonder what's in a name, and in thinking about the label I wondered about how they came up with the name. In taking a peek at their website it appears Tim Olson has been a winemaker in Northern California for more than 21 years joined forces with John Ogden who manages the marketing, sales and business operations for Olson Ogden Wines and together they are Olson Ogden Wines.

Perhaps you are wondering what is their philosophy and approach to making wine? Well they state it this way; "Our primary goal is to produce balanced, complex and tasty wines that express the terroir and vintage from which they come. In order to make the best wines, we believe it must start with the best ingredients. And that starts in the vineyard. We prefer hillsides to valley floor, organic farming to agro-chemical approaches and we feel the most important variable in the equation is the attitude of the grower and their commitment to excellence. " In my view it is Mission accomplished!

Regarding the labels themselves I was surprised to see that each label is exactly the same size and shape with the same artwork. The only difference is the individual vineyard or AVA designation name on each bottle. There is no wine description or vineyard information on the back label. But since it appears most of the relevant info about these wines can be found online it does not pose much of a problem, since most folks carry a PC in their pocket disguised as phone. The only concern I would be worried about is if I was working in a tasting room with nearly identical labels that I may end up giving someone the wrong wine. But from a cost aspect and the laborious labeling requirements this makes perfect sense and in the end is a positive thing for the consumer.

Why is this wine being tagged as a Rhone Ranger? While I was drinking this wine I think I could hear Hermitage calling? Okay really I just thought it was a catchy title, but I think it's important to point out where Syrah got its start. So if you're old pro in the wine world feel free to skip over this brief history and if you're new to wine please click on the links I have provided to give yourself a little more detail. Now according to the French Wine Guide, "The "Coteaux (slope) de l'Hermitage" dominates the small town of Tain l'Hermitage in the Rhône Valley. The first plantations date from the 10th century but it is under Louis the XIV that l'Hermitage obtains its credential letters... Hermitage was the favorite cru of the Tsar court in Russia.The red wines of Hermitage are generous and well balanced, strong aromas and a complete bouquet. Wines from Hermitage, France - Rhone tolerate aging very well and become smooth and mellow when they mature. So to it is with the Olson Ogden Unti Vineyards this wine has the stuffing to age and mature into even better wine than the one I sampled for this review, so I have dubbed this wine a "Rhone Ranger".

The Wine: 2007 Olson Ogden Wines Unti Vineyard Syrah

First Swirl: Here is a wine that's opaque in color with thick legs that cling to the sides of the glass long after swirling the wine. In the glass this wine appears as ripe, fleshy with generous colored blackberry core, giving way to the cerise colored rim.

First Sniff: Just after pouring this wine and putting my nose to it there was a explosive perfumed bouquet which lept from the glass full of raspberry, blueberry, spice-cake, potpourri and anise, with a subtle mocha undertone. I thought to myself, wow this going to be awesome right from the moment cork popped to the very last drop, this wine was everything a Syrah should be and more. The nose knows!

First Sip: On the palate, where chewy cherry-cola and licorice qualities are complicated by notes of violet pastille and black cardamom. Large-scaled, fat and spicy, with strong finishing grip and supple tannins which linger on and on. In other words, this is a phat-wine with no pretense! A drink now and drink often rating of 93 points! If you can wait and cellar there will be an appreciable difference as this was just released this past summer.

Vineyards and Varietal Composition: These grapes were sourced from the Untis vineyard in the Dry Creek AVA of Sonoma. The Unti's began using bio-dynamic vineyard practices in 2004 and as a result has seen a shift in the wines personality! I would say it's this wine has a pretty sunny disposition. As far as I can tell this 100% Syrah.

Full Disclosure: In the interest of full-disclosure, this wine represents one of five samples sent to the Cuvée Corner Wine Blog for a review.

Alcohol and Ageing: This wine weighed in at 14.5% alcohol and glided effortlessly on my palate with no appreciable hotness. This wine was aged in 70% New French Oak 17 Months.

Where to Purchase and Price: This wine retails in most markets for about $38.00 and can be found in a few restaurants here in San Diego and a few select wine stores of which I could not find one that had a current selection. But of course this wine can be purchased directly from their website by clicking here Olson Ogden Wines which is located in in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County. Just a note to those considering making a trek over to see them, they do not have a tasting room.

Other voices: On March 31, 2007 Wine Spectator gave the 2004 Olson Ogden Wines Unti Vineyard Syrah rated 93 points by Wine Spectator. Want More Info? Connoisseur's Wine Guide gave the 2006 Olson Ogden Wines Unti Vineyard Syrah given 91 points and 2 puffs by Connoisseur's Wine Guide. Need More Info? Do you see a trend? My palate says a hearty Amen to that question.

Enjoy the video below by their wine maker commenting on the best way to taste wine!



My Recommendation: This is a lot of wine for the price. At this price point it's not in my everyday drinker category, but it's is a wine of exceptional depth and flavor. Immediately approachable right out of the bottle. The quality of this wine makes it a QPR winner in my book, because wines of this caliber normally will retail for well over $50 in most cases. So do your self a favor and give them a call or just order some online. They do have some discounts on buying variety packs with free shipping, which is a huge discount as shipping can cost as much as $30-$40 bones depending on many factors. But this is a wine not to be missed and you will be very happy to have some of this wine in your cellar. Until next time, stay thirsty my friends!

Stay Tuned: Their 2007 Olson Ogden Wines Russian River Pinot Noir is the next review in the pipeline and deserves it's own in depth profile.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Taste of Tuscany: 2004 Brancaia Ilatraia

The romance of travel is very alluring and a trip to Tuscany is at top of most folk’s to-do list these days, and who can blame them, the home of the romance language, is also home to some of the best food, art, and wines that have come together over many centuries, to wow even the most jaded of tourist.

Every time I visit Italy; I come away with a new sense of awe and wonder about the people and the depth of their history which in many ways just reaches out to you, pulls you in. It’s that awe, which brings me to this story about one of my many trips to Tuscany. This adventure involved a great restaurant and a wonderful bottle of wine.

This story started at a small, but obviously upscale restaurant located just on the out-skirts of Castellini in Chianti. This place is a gem in a sea of sameness. The wine service at Locanda di Pietracupa [San Donato in Poggio (FI) Via Madonna di Pietracupa] was a bit on the unusual side; as the waiter came to the table to show us the wine, then turned to the table behind us to uncork the bottle and then sniffed the cork. He then returned to pour the glass, for my evaluation, to see if I agreed with his assessment he derived from the cork, nodding in approval, he poured us both a glass. Taking my first slurp from the glass, wow, I knew Mrs. Cuvee and I were in for a treat; as the wine was in a word, spectacular. The service was first rate, the menu was well planned and the food was extraordinary and their wine list was "top-notch", many wines there caught my eye.

Vino da Tavola: This term use to be the catch-all category for everyday wines until the super-Tuscan revolution hit Chianti and Maremma. The creation of I.G.T. was made necessary by the inadequacies of the D.O.C. regulations. As a result of the widespread revolt against by many famous and politically powerful wine producers the Super-Tuscan was born, following the old adage; when in doubt just follow the money.

Location, location, location: Brancaia, located in the Tuscan Maremma, is made up of two estates, Brancia and Poppi, which have been owned by Barbara and Martin Kronenberg-Widmer since 1981. The consulting oenologist Carlo Ferrini; oversees wine making at Brancaia, and they also own vineyards in the Chianti Classico and Morellino di Scansano zones.

The Wine: 2004 Brancaia Ilatraia Maremma Toscana IGT [Italy, Tuscany] and the blend; It's what they call a proprietary blend, meaning this wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (60%), Sangiovese (30%) and Petit Verdot (10%).

Wine Makers Note: The 2004 shows elegant Maremma warmth in its expression of sweet dark fruit, herb, tobacco and earthiness, with good length and excellent overall balance.

Aging: It spent 18 months in French oak and bottle-aged another 4 months before its release. This wine can be kept in the cellar or your wine storage unit until 2016, but you probably can't wait that long as this wine is drinking fantastically right now.

Price and ABV: You will find this wine sells in the $49 - $65 price range; again depending on where you shop. This wine weighed in at a mere 14.4% abv, I found it generously balanced in each and every slurp.

Swirl: The waiter put our freshly poured glasses on the table, grabbing the glass, tilting it ever so slightly to the side against the bright-white table cloth, revealed a deep, dark garnet core fading to a brick tinged rim.

Sniff: This wine had tremendously fragrant and complex nose: A veritable bramble bush of dark fruit aromas on the initial whiff that transitions into ripe plum, blackberry jam, burnt tar, and a fate whiff of cinnamon.

Slurp: While dining alfresco, we slowly, sipped on this lovely wine, abundant fruit, tar and rich Tuscan earth were eager to meet us. A nuanced mouth feel, comingling nicely with a tangy spiciness and sweet dark blackberry, spicy earth tones and round rich tannins. The finish was long and lasting, blending ever so nicely with our meal.

Other Voices: The Wine Advocate gave this wine a mere 88 points, which good, but I thought it deserved better, easily 92 points in my book. The folks at Wine Speculator gave this wine high marks, in fact this wine had made James Suckling's Recommended Wines from Tuscany list and gave the 2007 Brancaia Ilatraia Maremma, Toscana with a whopping 96 points. I became an instant fan of Brancaia after tasting the 2004 while dining on my trip to Italy. I had no idea that Mr. Suckling thought so highly of the 2007, until I wrote this review of the 2004. So now of course the whole wine world will be doing some trophy hunting on this bottle and driving the prices up.

Where to buy: You may still be able to find this wine at JJ Buckley where find this wine for $50 each. A great price, considering I paid about 56 euro’s for my 2004 at the restaurant, so do the math, this is a great deal, but you may want to hurry.

My Recommendation: I would grab some of the 2007 if you can and also some of the 2004 vintage which is still available. This is one of the best examples of Super Tuscan you are going to find under a $100 dollars anywhere. So if you want to see what all the fuss is about, just use the wine-searcher link on my page to right on your screen and type in the name, it will give the name of all the shops or online stores who stock this wine, along with the prices. So this is another of my "run don't walk" recommendations. Until next time sip long and prosper, Cheers!

Above the fog, Villa Hermosa 2005 Howell Mountain Cabernet

The beautiful and inspiring Howell Mountain Appellation located east of St. Helena in California's wonderful wine-making mecca called Napa Valley, is a wonderful place which is producing some fantastic Mountain fruit and the resulting 100% Cabernet Sauvignons are fantastic.

I've been to a few of the tastings at the marvelously appointed Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, where if you haven't been before it's a must for every adventurous oenophile on the days they have their tastings in the museum, not only can you taste some of the very best Cabernet Sauvignon being made in Napa, but as a bonus you can see one of best collection of vintage cars and some which were used in iconic movies. A two for one kind of event, now that's what I'm talking about.

While never having directly visited the wineries of this AVA myself, I've taken the time to learn that just above the fog in Napa Valley lies some of the best vineyards in Napa, one taste and you too will be convinced of what I'm trying to tell you. After meeting the folks from Villa Hermosa and tasting their wines, I've put it on my well worn and dog-eared map of "wine-destinations" which I must visit. What many would call their "bucket-list", and boy is my bucket is spilling over with must-see wine destinations like the over-flowing spit bucket Miles in the movie "Sideways" drinks during his meltdown at “Frass Canyon” [aka, Fess Parker] in the Los Olivos area.


Hopefully the next time I'm in the Napa area I want to make an effort to visit and meet the folks who call Howell Mountain home, like the wonderful owners of Villa Hermosa Cherie and Art Goulard who have crafted a brilliant representation of the Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.

Swirl: A beautiful deep garnet core, displaying freshness and fading to lighter colored rim.

Sniff: In the nose it exhibits ripe, vivid blackberry, wild plum and black cherry fruit, yet showing some maturity with mocha nuances.

Slurp or Sip: What I would call a complex, faint leathery notes in this full-bodied, intensely flavored, decadent display of dark fruits melding with lithe minerality, appropriate tannins and very persistent display of fruit and sense of place which is long and lingering.

Vineyards and Aging: A total of 21 months in 100% French Oak, with the vines grown in the rich, volcanic soil, on a south-facing hillside 2,000 feet above the Napa Valley.

Fruit: 100% Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon picked from three dfferent blocks and the alcohol is barely noticeable at 13.3 percent.


Wine Makers Notes: On the nose, this vintage has lush aromas of blackberry, blueberry, boysenberry preserves, and lilac with faint notes of juniper, white pepper, and truffle oil. The mouth opens with a warm velvety entry with lush berry and stone fruits. The full weight mid-palate leads to a lengthy, fruit finish.

Other voices: So okay, okay I know my opinion about this wine may not be enough to sway you to slap down nearly a Benjamin per bottle, so I will let someone with a little more credibility give her opinion to bolster what I've been trying to say, so this is what she had to say about Villa Hermosa and their wonderful Howell Mountain wine, ...new faces that aim for the gold ring and could be the next cult wine...— Mary Ann Worobiec, Wine Spectator Magazine

My Recommendation: This wine is very approachable now and will improve with age, since only 330 cases were produced, availability is limited and even though selling for $75.00 each a wine of this caliber won't last long. I was very impressed with the efforts. This is an excellent wine worthy of a 94 point score. So run, don't walk to their website to order yours today.


Monday, October 26, 2009

The 2007 River of Skulls, a WBC 09 Highlight!

While the review of the 2007 Calaveras County River of Skulls has been long over-due (I wrote these notes a little over 3 months ago), the timing of releasing this review could not be better. As we approach the forth coming Halloween weekend here in the states, what better wine to bring to the party than Twisted Oaks, River of Skulls. The fearsome skull face painted on the front the bottle is a warning to those who consume this wine, that they could become addicted to the allure of the wonderful aromas and flavors, waiting to be uncorked. This is one addiction I must admit I would be proud to have.

I first ran into Twisted Oak wines on a very hot in Calveras County, just a day before the 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference, there owner Jeff Stai, "El Jefe" was nice enough to give our group a tour of their immaculate wine-making facilities and the wine cave he had built into the side of a nearby hill. There we had a chance to sample many of their wines straight from the barrel. There winery dog proved he is also a wino at heart and licked the Tempranillo dripping from the end of the wine thief. This winery is what I would call squeaky clean, don't think I ever visited a better looking wine making facility than the one at Twisted Oak.

I was not able try this wine until we went to the WBC 09 and it was poured at a lighting-round tasting where each winemaker had about 15 minutes to pour their wine and quickly discuss its attributes with over 200 other bloggers in attendance. So the picture you see above was taken on our table while Jeff discussed the uniqueness of this wine and what I would call a very unusual, but certainly captivating label. Most of the time when you run into a skull on a bottle, it's an indication that poison is in the bottle. But in this case it's definitely not poison but a lovely elixir of hand crafted goodness just waiting to get into a glass near you.

Varietal Composition: Mourvèdre at 88% and Syrah balancing this wine at 12%. This wine is predominately Mourvèdre, a wine that does not suit every one's taste. Although the grape was widely planted in Spain (where it is known as Monastrell), it was generally held in dim regard, and it didn't command any more respect in either California or Australia and often goes by the name Mataro. But Mourvèdre has become a bit of a rising star as of late, if you love a good Southern Rhone wine than you know that the Mourvèdre grape is a huge source used in France's Southern Rhone valley, although it usually assigned a subsidiary role in Châteauneuf-du-Papes which tend to favor Grenache, but it is a primary ingredient in what many consider to be the finest Châteauneuf of all, Château de Beaucastel, need I say more? With Rhone-style wines becoming more fashionable, a growing number of New World producers are trying to turn Mourvèdre into a show horse and this where Twisted Oak comes into the picture, with a their own version called the 2007 Calaveras County River of Skulls

First Sniff: With the brevity of time to examine the nose of this wine, I found it displayed a classic nose of roasted meats, plums and spice and certain earthy elements.

First Swirl: After my glass was poured I allowed it to settle and tilted my glass toward the white table cloth to capture it's color which exhibited a dark ruby core and nearly transparent colored garnet rim.

First Sip: While I had to hurriedly sip my wine, spit than jot a few quick tasting notes about the River of Skulls which said, this wine features abundant quantities of blueberries and blackberries which co-mingle with some subtle gamy, smoky, earthy notes intermixed with hints of licorice leading to a long finessed finish.

Alcohol and Price: This wine sells for somewhere between $28 and $35 bones depending on where you shop and weighed in at 14.7% and was barrel aged 40% New French oak, 20% New American oak, 40% Neutral oak for certain amout of time. (couldn't find the info)

The Vineyards: According to Twisted Oak, "the grapes are sourced from Dalton and Angels Camp vineyard which is in the vicinity of the Calaveras River, AKA the River of Skulls. It is a beautiful vineyard out on Dogtown Road here in Calaveras and is planted with about 8 different varietals.

Other Voices: Bill Daley, Food and Wine Writer for the Chicago Tribune: Tobacco and earth noise. Some shroom? Good cherry notes nice acids like the fruit. Optimistic wine despite River of Skulls name and selling for $35. Wine Enthusiast gave this wine a score of 90 points.

My Recommendation: Since this beautiful wine exhibits stunning concentration, a lithe richness, and length I would definitely pick some up quickly, as they have only made a little over 900 hundred cases (correction, only 300 cases) so you better hurry. Jeff Stai and Twisted Oak in one fell swoop demonstrated that like the folks at Tablas Creek, they are also leading New World practitioners when it comes to producing exceptional wine from this tricky varietal. Until next time stay thirsty my friends!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Super Tuscan without a Super Price: Salvestrin Retaggio 2006

The Salvestrin Winery is what I would call a relatively new wine making venture on the vino horizon starting out in 1994 in historic St. Helena vineyards of Napa. But there is one thing which is not new for Salvestrin; producing grapes of distinction is nothing new and with having sold grapes to the likes of Freemark Abbey, Raymond, Rombauer, Robert Biale and Rutherford Hill, all who made award winning wines from Salvestrin fruit.You can see why they wanted to start their own label.

So now it was their turn, but building and maintaining a new label can be very difficult if not impossible, especially in the overcrowded and noisy Napa Valley. So with Rich Salvestrin having completed his degree in viticulture from Fresno State University in 1987 he decided to return to the family vineyard to help farm. But he also wanted to help expand the families grape growing business to include winemaking. So with the 1994 inaugural vintage of Salvestrin Cabernet Sauvignon they embarked on a new journey with their own label and in 2001 their estate winery was constructed amongst the family vines and today, three generations live on the 26 acre property. A true "familiy-run" business.

The Wine: The 2006 Salvestrin Retaggio: The name which translates in Italian for Legacy, a name that fits in with the tradition of fine winemaking coming from Salvestrin.

First Swirl: Displays an elegant ruby core, fleeing to the light cherry colored rim and copious legs coat the glass.

First Sniff: My senses are charged by aromas of ripe red cherry and blackberry fruit, licorice and subtle cocoa components.

First Sip: It's full of complex flavors, blackberry, plum, espresso, licorice, creamy vanilla accents and a touch of bittersweet chocolate. The taste is rich and smooth, the tannins firm yet supple, the finish is long and generous with food friendly weight.

Alcohol and Price: The wine weighed in at 14.8% alcohol and sells for $29 and $34 depending on where you shop.

Where to buy: The Salvestrin Winery Retaggio Napa Valley, 2006 for $29.95 La Maison Gourmet in Mission Viejo, Ca. This was the only place I could find selling this wine remotely close to the area. But you could easily find it online or purchase through the wineries web-site.

Composition: What's in the blend this well made hand-crafted Super Tuscan styled wine?45% Sangiovese, 35% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon & 5% Petite Sirah and this wine was barrel aged 18 months 75% French—25% American 25% New Oak.

Soil Type: Their estate vineyard is composed of two identifiable soil types, Cortina and Bale and ideally suited to wine grape production.

Wine Making Approach: According to Rich Salvestrin,"To maximize the flavor profile in our grapes, we attempt to balance sunlight, canopy, crop load and water on a given site and once the grapes are in the winery we take a minimalist approach with as little intervention as possible."

Other wines of note: 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Single Vineyard. 100% Estate.

My Recommendation: This wine makes pairing very simple, because of the supple tannins it makes a fine food companion and will pair nicely with just about most menus. A well made wine, drink now and often! I would score this wine 91 points, if I was in the wine scoring business, suffice it to say this is a excellent effort. This a wine to stock up on and a overall great value for the money. This is built to age a few more years if you can wait that long. But for the patient it will reward your palate.

Full Disclosure: Megan Gordon who I know from Facebook sent me a couple samples for review. One which I have not opened yet and the other is the Salvestrin Winery Retaggio 2006 I was very pleased from the very moment I opened this Super Tuscan inspired wine, the lingering smell of coming attractions!

QPR status: This is what I would call a budget Super Tuscan compared to some of it's peers in Tuscany. For example, the highly sought-after Ornellaia, will set you back a wallet emptying $100 for the 2000 vintage or even if you looked at Brancaia or the Promis this wine compares quite favorably. Now while this wine is only inspired by Super Tuscan styling, you can really get a sense of having a Super Tuscan without the super-price selling for $26.99 -$30.00 each it is a great value!

Other Voices: Excerpt from a happy customer via YELP "Salvestrin is the silver lining to the cloud of overtly-commercialized wineries in Napa. No standing around the tasting room bar being ignored like other wineries in the area. My brother, his wife and I turned into the driveway at Salvestrin and even though there were signs saying tastings by appointment only we were immediately greeted and invited into the tasting room. We stayed for about an hour and tasted all of their wines. The girl who runs the tasting room was awesome, very sociable and also told us a lot about the wines and the Salvestrin family. They have a great cab and their petit syrah is only available to their wine club because its so popular. Luckily we were able to get one of the few bottles left. They waive the tasting fee if you buy a bottle. If you're in Napa go visit Salvestrin." -Philip H.



Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Inaugural Release of the Cruz Andina Malbec 2006

Hey Malbec Fans I want to introduce you to the Cruz Andina 2006 Malbec. While this wine may be the new kid on the block, the vineyard where these grapes were sourced from comes from vines planted in 1948 well before I was born, so some sixty years old. This is their inaugural release of Cruz Andina, it is a project of Augustin Huneeus, who produces other QPR styled wines under the Veramonte label, wonderful wines from Chile and on the other end of the spectrum high-quality Napa Cabernet from Quintessa, in Napa Valley. Which I had a chance to visit this past summer at the Grand Tasting Event during the 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference. If you find yourself in Napa, Quintessa is a great place to stop, highly recommended!

While this may make them the new kids on the block in terms of producing Malbec from what has become the iconic home of Malbec, the Pulenta Family has been making wine in Mendoza, Argentina for generations and it's here that Agustin Huneeus had his interest fueled and realized a dream he and his father shared for making a wine on the other side of the Andes.

The Wine: 2006 Cruz Andina Malbec, as mentioned earlier is a blend which means it's not pure varietal.

Varietal Composition: The wine expresses Malbec’s exceptional concentration with a soft, supple texture at 85%. Cabernet Sauvignon at 10.5%, Merlot at 3% and Bonarda at 1.5% are blended for complexity, structure and delicate mouthfeel.

First Swirl: In the glass there's a beautiful shimmering nearly opaque core of garnet color, fleeing to the cerise colored rim.

First Sniff: After the wine had been decanted for about an hour or so, I poured the wine in my glass and gave it a couple of good swirls, it offered up superb aromas of toasty oak, violets, mineral, black currant, blueberry, and black cherry.

First Sip: Out onto my palate like a layered cake this wine hit me with gobs of ripe fruit, a plush texture, outstanding balance, and several years of aging potential (not that many buyers will be laying this down). This lengthy, plush effort over-delivers and then some!

Full Disclosure: This wine was a sample sent to the Cuvée Corner Wine Blog for review.

The Wine Maker: Álvaro Espinoza who had been working with them at Veramonte. According to WS, "Espinoza is one of Chile’s most talented winemakers (he also gets most of the credit for helping to sort out the Carmenère/Merlot mix up in Chile)" great credentials!

His Approach: In referring to their reasons for having him onboard for this new project it was stated, "Espinoza has a minimalist approach to winemaking and a sensibility for producing elegant wines" which means he's the perfect fit for the style of Malbec Quintessa desired to produce". When I read that statement, before I tasted the wine, I took an subjective step back and thought this going to be an old-world style of wine. After evaluating the wine, nothing could be further from the truth and my pre-formed opinion was instantly changed by the sheer caliber of this wine and apologies to Alvaro, but there's nothing minimalist about this wine, except perhaps the method of production, meaning bio-dynamics. In which case there is a minimalist style in the approach of farming techniques, which does not carry over to what goes into the bottle.

The Vineyards: While the Cruz Andina Malbec comes primarily from the Pulenta Vistalba vineyards in Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, whose vines are some of the oldest in Mendoza, planted in 1948, at about 3200 feet in the Lujan de Cuyo appellation. Other Malbec fruit was sourced from the Los Alamos area. This wine is a blend and grapes for the other players Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon come from the Los Alamos vineyard in Uco Valley, an appellation just south of Lujan de Cuyo 80 miles from the city of Mendoza. The Los Alamos vines are 25-years old and at an altitude of nearly 4,000 feet above sea level.

Aging and Release Date: This wonderful Malbec spent 16 months in 100% French oak, only 30% of it was new and was just released for sale September 2009. This means if I am doing my math correctly that this wine has been in the bottle for a little over 20 months. The 2006 Malbecs are drinking wonderfully right now!

Price and Alcohol: This wine sells for just under $20 and can be found at Holiday Wine Cellar in Escondido. By the way this was the only store in San Diego where I could find this label. The alcohol is 14.5% with no signs appreciable 'hotness'.

Climate and Soil: The area’s well-draining alluvial soils and constant breeze from the Andes moderates growth and provides intensity and concentration in the grapes.

Recommendation: Another QPR Winner! With only 900 cases made and selling for a paltry $20, it would behoove the savvy shopper to buy as much as they can afford. Once the word about this wine gets out and I've already seen a few other reviews on this wine, it's going to sell out very quickly. With nearly three years of separation between vintages, it will be a long wait for 2010, so run don't walk and grab yourself some these great values.

Other Voices: Robert Whitley of Whitley On Wine radio had this to say: Cruz 2006 'Andina' Malbec, Argentina ($19) — An absolutely stunning Argentine malbec for the money, Cruz Andina impresses visually first, with an inky purple hue as it splashes into the glass. The palate is voluptuous, showing layers of blueberry and blackberry fruit, licorice and spice with firm structure. This lip-smacking red seals the deal with a long, sensuous finish. Rating: 92.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Orin Swift’s Proprietary Blend The Prisoner, the stuff of Legend

Geez the stuff of legend? Really, you may have been asking yourself as you're reading this review. But according to many that is exactly is what this wine represents. Frankly, this is the first time I have ever been able to try this wine for myself and boy right out of the bottle, no decanting needed this wine is a game changer.

I have read about it many times and have always wanted to try, but no samples were fourth coming to this humble little wine reviewer from San Diego. I this purchased from the Wine Vault and Bistro here in San Diego, where I purchased the last two on the shelf for a about $32 each.

Now, you may have heard of this wine before or have seen it on the shelf yourself and wondered what is in the bottle as you won't find a description on the bottle, except one phrase "Red Wine", which is not very descriptive at all. I guess your just suppose to just know or pick up your cell and give them a call or look it up online.

With that said here's the 411 on what's in bottle, this wine is predominantly Zinfandel with a dash of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah blended in, and its composition varies year to year. If you are a huge fan of Zinfandel like me, than you'll want to get your hands on a few bottles of this wine. As it's right up there with the best California Zins which can cost twice as much. This means in my book, that this wine earns the coveted QPR award from the Cuvée Corner Wine Blog for being easy on the wallet and plush on the palate. What else could you ask for?

Many folks are also interested [or puzzled by] in the very different label artwork, which features a man in chains. The image is inspired by an original etching depicting a prisoner in chains Dave Phinney received as a gift from his mother and father (Orin and Swift) and thus you have Orin Swift Cellars Wines. This disclosure also highlights from where the name of the winery is derived. If you are interested Orin Swift also has four other labels and they are Mercury Head Veladora Papillon and Saldo. I will warn you right now, those other labels are quite pricey, so if you fall in love with the Prisoner and seek these other labels, remember you've been warned.

Swirly, Swirl: In the glass this features a lovely garnet colored core, segueing to a cerise toned rim.

Sniffity Sniff: On the nose you will find generous high-toned raspberry, blueberry and red cherry fruits, violet-floral, candied plums, creamy oak, and an overall sweet appeal, that really draws you in and is verified on the palate.

Slurp: Stated simply, this wine is plush and ripe, a decadent wine with excellent structure and great complexity and a deep consistent finish. A more precise note from the winemaker, "this wine has a creamy vanilla canvas, toffee and blue berry notes are scrawled over the mid-palate while the flavors shift toward sweet pomegranate and deep red fruits flavors", okay I agree. The finish is lingering and never less than silky, and the mouth watering acidity keeps the wines fruitiness from overstating itself.

Composition: The 2007 Prisoner blend is 50% Zinfandel, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Syrah, 9% Petite Sirah and a dash of Charbono and Grenache or should I say it appears they threw in the kitchen sink as well. Regarding Charbono, I have to admit that variety was new to me and I had to look it up.

The Vineyards: Grapes are sourced from Oakville in Napa, California

Price and ABV: This wine sells anywhere from $32 - $38 and weighs in at 15.2 %, which I worried about a bit initially, that it would be a little hot, but nothing could be further from the truth. Smooth barely describes the way this wine glides across your palate, a beam of seamless perfection from the first pour to the last drop.

My Recommendation: Run out and grab yourself a few of "The Prisoner" for yourself, you won't be dissappointed. It is a wonderfully well built wine that will age nicely for a few more years. A great wine to give as a gift to someone you know who's maybe afraid of "Red" wine, or that White-Zin drinker you know or just a great wine to have around for when you may want to impress friends or clients.

This wine sells in the thirty dollar price range which a great deal for the caliber of wine you are getting. What ever the case you will enjoy this wine immensely, but don't take too long as this wine sells out quickly. After tasting this and sharing with my wife, the only Prisoner being held is my palates affection for a wonderfully well built and delightful wine, until next time sip long and prosper, cheers everyone

Other Voices: According to the Wine Spectator: This wine offers both style and structure, with lively aromas of black raspberry, cracked pepper and mocha, with plush and layered flavors of wild berry, fresh sage and licorice. Ripe tannins sneak in on the finish. Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Charbono and Grenache. Drink now and drink oftern, the folks at WS scored it 92 pts.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Preview of Ivy Hotel's new Ultra Lounge and Wine Bar

Just a couple weeks ago I received an invitation to preview the new Ivy Ultra Lounge and Wine Bar located in the Ivy Hotel, which is one of San Diego's luxury hotels located in the heart of Downtown San Diego. Inside this 'new' wine bar you'll find row after row of Enomatic type machines made by Napa Technology where guests are able to explore 80 different world wide wines on the menu and at their leisure. There is no pressure, just grab yourself a glass and tell your server or bartender you'd like to purchase a Smartcard. This card which is very much like a pre-charged debit card allows you drop x-amount of dollars on the card and then you’re off to races. After your taste is poured directly into your glass, glance upward to the digital display and it will let you know your balance so there is no embarrassment when you try to pour yourself a taste and are informed that your request was denied. Oh, don't remove your glass to quickly as there is a small hiccup at the end the pour that you won't want to miss.

The Tasting Menu: Each guests will have an opportunity to enjoy wines ranging from high-end “cult” and boutique varietals to the tried-and-true (where I saw a few grocery store wines as well), without paying for steep bottle prices. This type of operation allows guests to explore the wines in three different formats, which are Taste (1.5 oz.), Half (4 oz.) and Full (6 oz.) glasses at the perfect temperature from Napa Technologies new high-tech, interactive enomatic wine machines found in the Ivy Hotel's new Ultra Lounge and Wine Bar.
How does it work: According to Napa Technology WineStation with its patent pending CleanPour ™ hygienic dispensing head technology, WineStation delivers the first time taste the wine maker intended, every time, for up to 60 days (using argon or nitrogen gas) and even lets you prepare, preserve and store your favorite wines when they are out of the unit.

The Jury is still out: Not completely convinced that the wine station or the Italian made Enomatic - Wine Serving Systems deliver as promised, "the first taste the wine maker intended every time". Making a comparison of a newly loaded wine (just uncorked) and the other wines which were in the machine for days, I still found the wine which just uncorked to be a fresher by comparison to the one held fresh by argon gas.

The wine list: Eighty different wines on the list range in price from $1.76 for a Taste of the 2007 Willamette Valley Riesling produced by Willamette Valley Vineyards (Oregon) to a full glass of the 2004 Opus One (Napa Valley) for $28.47. They also have a nice selection of Port available for you to explore. These high-tech Wine Stations are designed to keep each vintage at peak freshness, allowing you to create your own tasting experience with a touch of a button. A few of the highlights are; Opus One, Peter Michael “La Carriere” and Shafer “Hillside Select” and a few lowlights the Qupe entry level Syrah.

Price Comparison: Let's take the Opus One (Napa Valley) at $28.47 for a 6 oz. pour times 4.23 (which is 6 oz. divided by 25.4 oz.) and considering there are about 26 and two third ounces of wine in each 750ml bottle and you come out with $120.52 per bottle which is a fantastic price! The lowest price I could find online was $149.00 and the highest price was $189.00. Not sure how they are getting such a great price per bottle, but that is a great benefit for the those wanting to experience a high caliber wine, without the high caliber price tag.

The other side of the Coin: Ah yes the other side of the proverbial coin, do the math. If you take the other wine in this article, the 2007 Willamette Valley Riesling produced by Willamette Valley Vineyards (Oregon) which can be found online anywhere from $8.99 to $10.99 per 750ml bottle and if measured out for $1.76 for a 1.5 oz. pour, which divides into 25.4 ounces (750ml) and equates to 16.9 tastes and that bottle is now $29.74 ouch! So to get the most "bang" for the buck, it would behoove you to go for the full pour.

Enhancing the tasting experience: While you taste the various wines you are invited to munch on some of their lovely appetizers. The highlights that evening included a Prosciutto and Arugula Pizza, Chacuterie Plate, Blue Cheese Stuffed Dates Wrapped in Bacon with Grated Parmesan and Duck Rillets, which were all wonderful. The Executive Chef of the Ivy Hotel, Nathan Coulon created an interesting range of appetizers designed for wine-pairing and some of those wonderful treats were sampled that evening. Wine-friendly desserts include Strawberry Semi-fredo, Macerated Grilled Peaches and Belgian Chocolate Torte. Now while these appetizers are designed for pairing, it's not necessarily clear which item pairs with what, that guess is left up to you.
Wrapping Up: This is a great place to grab a glass of wine and relax with friends, as they have abundant seating from tables to comfy couches. They also have lovely restaurant to dine in and a place to go dancing if you feel like kicking your heels later. With at least 80 wines by the glass, it represents a good opportunity to try many different wines without the commitment of a whole bottle. If your downtown and would love to just grab a great glass of wine by the glass, I would highly recommend dropping by. Until next time cheers everyone!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Grape Expectations, The Montes Live Taste!

Check SpellingThe Montes Live tasting and Webinar, it was just a couple of weeks ago now and after going through my tasting notes and sorting out some of my other projects, I thought it was high time I got the write up done for Montes as they were kind enough to extend an invitation for me to sit on this very informative multi-media webinar.

The Napa Connection: Montes Winery who, as many of you know has been producing wines of distinction from Chile for many years now, has branched out and has established a few new labels. One is in Napa, with grapes being sourced from Coombsville, Yountville, Oak Knoll and the very well known Oakville area. The label for this project is in keeping with their "Angel" theme calling it Napa Angel and Napa Angel Aurelio's Selection which represent their 2006 realease. These wines were produced at the Artesa Winery in Carneros, with the help of a consultant a Mr. Larry Levin, who was formerly the winemaker of Franciscan Vineyards. Many wonder why with all the success in Chile, why would they want to come to Napa to make wine? Good question, Aurelio Montes Sr (Chief Wine Maker) explained their reasoning this way, "to create our own Napa wine has been a long cherished dream as Napa Valley is the wine jewel of the New World's Northern Hemisphere." Aurelio Sr, also describes Napa this way, "it's one of the cathedrals of winemaking" along side the likes of Burgundy, Bordeaux and Piedmont. Those are both interesting quotes representing his profound respect for other wine making regions in the world and one I can fully appreciate.

The 2006 Napa Angel Aurelio's Selection: This wine represents their premium label and is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon with the fruit sourced from Oak Knoll and Yountville and retailing in the neighborhood of $90 with Michelangelo-like art on the label. Micro Review: I found this wine to be a deep dark well of ruby color, well structured, nice mouth feel and layered with rich red berry fruits and a hint of smoked tobacco, leading to a plush long finish. I would recommend some more to time in the bottle, for further benefit and total case production of just a little over 4000.This is not your everyday drinker but could be purchased for special occasions or as a gift to good friends or special clients.

The 2006 Napa Angel: This wine represents a more immediately approachable wine and is 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the fruit sourced from Coombsville and Oaknoll in Napa. The other 10% is Syrah from the Knights Valley in Sonoma. Retailing in the neighborhood of $50 and featuring a playful Cherubic face with wings. Micro Review: This wine also had a very deep dark ruby colored core, in the mouth layers of ripe red plums and cherry's, broad shoulder in structure, with subtle notes of cedar and roasted vanilla notes mingling ever so nicely on the long smooth finish. This could be a weekend wine that you open when you have friends over or just want to celebrate the end of a long week, with something from the BBQ. No need to rush out and find this wine with over 8000 cases being made, but a wine of this caliber won't last too long either, so do yourself a favor and grab a few soon.

The Argentinian Connection: So what led Montes to Argentina? Could it be perhaps the search for a new and improved excellent terroir sites outside the borders of Chile or is it perhaps the lure of the rising tide of Argentinian Malbec in the US, as reported by the The Wine Economist which stated, "In the same issue the results of the Nielsen company wine market survey for the period ending 2/7/2009 are reported and goes on further to report that "Argentinian table wine imports were up 40% by dollar value for most recent year." This compares to a 10 percent increase for Chile, one percent for Italy and a one percent decline for Australia in US markets. That being said, and I sure some of both were a factor in the decision making, Montes is committed to "preserving the true intent and expression of the terrior and climate" of Argentinian wines. Montes is producing three labels from Mendoza which are the Reserve Malbec and Ultra Malbec and a Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines reviewed for the webinar are the 2007 Kaiken Reserve Malbec and the 2007 Kaiken Ultra Malbec.

The 2007 Kaiken Ultra Malbec: This wine represents the 20 plus year old vines from the Uco Valley, just outside the city of Mendoza. Micro Review: In the glass there is lots of color - dark inky hues of purple dominate, then give way to shades of violet on the rim. The nose has a roasted, sweet coffee and caramel aroma mingled with bright fresh floral notes and ripe berry fruit. The 2007 Kaiken is a full-bodied Malbec just bursting with red and black fruit flavors, predominately cherry and blackberry, from the first splash to hit the palate to the well-honed finish it is just wonderful. The flavor profile is full of fruit - dark berries and plums, softly restrained with delicate tannins and enveloped in spicy cloves. This Malbec lovely and is perfect for year round consumption and can be found just under $20 most places which makes this wine easy on the wallet as well. Your food pairing options are really endless, as this wine offers many things to many people.

The 2007 Kaiken Reserve Malbec: This wine represents what I would call a QPR winner! It's a blend of 90% Malbec and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes were sourced from 15 year old vines in the first zone just outside Mendoza. Micro Review: In the glass you find a deep violet color, warm oak nuances and spice in the nose, with notes of ripe red fruit. In the mouth it displays a wonderful attack of fleshy tannins; while at the same time it's silky mouth feel, followed by a long caressing finish. Overall impression this wine represents a harmonious connection with the wood, which makes this wine a fine example of the Mendoza terroir. Kaiken Malbec - KAIKEN WINES can be found at many local retailers and this wine sells in what I call the bargain range, coming in around $10-14 dollars depending on where you shop. This is a wine to purchase by the case.

The Re-Discovery of Carménère: Often referred to as the long-lost grape, carmenère had all but disappeared from its original Bordeaux home in the late 1800s during the rise of phylloxera. In fact, it took another century after it was originally imported from Bordeaux before carmenère was rediscovered flourishing, albeit covertly, in Chile. It wasn’t until 1994 that French professor of Oenology Jean-Michel Boursiquot determined that some of the Merlot growing in Chile wasn’t Merlot at all but rather the long-thought-gone Carmenere. Four years later, the Chilean government officially recognized Carmenere as its own separate varietal and it’s been thriving ever since.

Carménère it used to be big, really big one of the six “noble” red grapes allowed in Bordeaux wines, which is no small feat. Okay Carmenere wasn’t quite as big as I've eluded to here and it didn’t command its own 100% varietal wines just yet, but it did hobnob with other famous grapes like Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot and it cozied up to Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon like peanut butter did to jelly. Carmenere has enjoyed quite a renaissance in Chile. Despite the fact that Cabernet is the most widely-planted grape in the country, Chile has become synonymous with Carmenere, as it is the only country that grows the grape in any volume of note, although you will find it other places, but not in signifcant quanities. Which brings us to third part of this "live" online tasting which included the 2006 Montes Purple Angel and the 2007 Montes Alpha Carménère, which is the first time and I had the great pleasure to be reviewing these two wines side by side.
Montes Purple Angel 2006: This wine is composed of 92% Carménère and 8% Petite Verdot from the Colchagua Valley. Half of the Carménère fruit and all the Petite Verdot was sourced from the La Finca De Apalta Estate, while the other half of the Carménère comes from the Montes Archangel Estate in Marchigue. After aging in new French Oak barrels for 18 months, it was bottled and laid down a year before release. Micro Review: In the glass it's dark as night in the bottle (the bottle itself weighs at least 2lbs) and glass, darting to a violet colored rim. In the nose you find, red currants and big hairy red raspberries with definite notes of Creme de Cassis in there as well mingling with scents of bittersweet chocolate. After the first sip, black currants, blackberries and pomegranate pulse upon the palate. The dark fruits dissolve and then evolve upon your palate into even darker flavors as the wine sits in your mouth: more semi-sweet chocolate, tobacco, fennel. The richness of Carmenere won’t and can't be denied, although there will be one notable thing missing from the profile, tannins. That’s the beauty of a well made Carmenere: you never know what you’re going to get, but you’re going to want to come back for more and more again and again. With a $59 dollar price tag it maybe an indulgence not often experienced, but definitely not ruled out!

The 2007 Montes Alpha Carménère: This 2007 is said to be one of the best in the last 25 years. It's has a slightly different profile than the Purple Angel, with a blend of 90% Carménère and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes sourced from the Archangel Estate located at the western end of the Colchagua Valley and only 11 miles inland. One of the best things about this wine is the very approachble price tag, weighing in at the $19-$23 price range which makes this wine another QPR winner. I even liked this wine better than its more expensive cousin, it could be that this wine had the highest residual sugar of any wine that day at 2.85 and total acidity of 3.42. Micro Review: In the glass this wine had a deep red core, nearly opacue and a violet colored rim. In the nose you could almost feel the black berries and spice notes tickling your nose, while on the palate, well integrated truffles, red fruit and tobacco skating upon a very soft and smooth finish. This is a winner and one to stock up on for sure, if you have never had one of this wines, do yourself a favor and get on down to your favorite wine shop and confidently ask for a Carménère, you may just get a blank stare. Until next time cheers everyone!

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