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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Why Wine-Points Matter and are Here to Stay

Hopping out of the drivers seat of the wine-wagon and into the fire. Time to take a dive into one of most the hotly debated subjects around the wine-cooler these days, the topic of wine scores or points. Nothing in the wine world kicks up more dust among normally very civil and easy-going cork-dorks than a conversation about points and wine scores. This subject really gets a lot folks to pop their corks, depending on which side of the argument you fall into.

Many winemakers and winery owners are flat out against points [scores] and vehemently so. This is not to say that I'm not sympathetic to their point of view, because I am. But they are in a small yet vociferous minority, that really has no chance of turning the Titanic around. This same group makes no bones about it and will even tell a group of bloggers about their animus towards points and or even medals. I think the gentlemen that spoke to our group last summer on Red Mountain was unhappy [miffed even] that I reviewed his wine, gave it a good score, made a purchase of said wine and had it shipped home [god, the nerve I have].

Many of my fellow wine-bloggers and  wine-enthusiast friends are in the anti-points camp [the cool-kids club] and perhaps will be very unhappy that I voiced an opinion which contradicts [bummer] their point of view on the issue of wine supposedly being subjective or the fact that points being neither bad nor good and are here to stay.

This blog is no stranger to controversy, as this blog is also a proponent of "natural" cork for "age-worthy [mostly red] wine and screw-caps for early quaffers. But I will save the conversation for another day, folks may already hot under-the-collar [I can hear the collective boos and hisses] about the subject at hand. If you find you're one of those folks who believe that wine like art is subjective, stick around there is plenty to discuss and think about on this multi-layered topic.

Point Shoppers: Honestly do you think the 100 point scale is going away anytime soon? Umm, I don't think so and there's no trend indicating that is going to happen. In fact the trend is quite the opposite and points on wine are becoming the everyday equivalent of a buy-me-now sign, fastened to case stacks across the country. It's time to face the facts folks, many wine-consumers are point shoppers, collectively as a people Americans rate everything from cars to coffee, most of those scores are close to the mark. For many though the crux of the issue in the point-game is what lies behind the scores. That of course is money, it's all about the money and it always will be, remember what Cuba Gooding Jr said in the movie Jerry Maguire, "show me the money!!" and in another interesting quote from the movie he says, "We live in a cynical world. A cynical world and we work in a business of tough competitors." So go big or go home is the take away here, the average wine-shopper has been conditioned to live or die by points.

The average wine-swirling, sipping and slurping consumer doesn't want to be bothered with thinking about the wine they are drinking. The average wine-shopper today just wants it quick and easy, no fuss, no muss like microwave popcorn. Just take a look around your average wine and spirits shop, you will see point signs everywhere [like red flag warnings on the beach] and on everything that has been reviewed. The retailers want these types of wine in their inventory and consumers want these types of wine in their glasses. Is this wrong or bad perhaps, but this where the conversation veers into subjective-ville.

Points Forever: For all you folks that despise points and think they are detrimental to the wine industry [which in some ways it may be] sorry but even one of giants of your cause, Mr. Hodgson freely admitted to WSJ reporter, that despite my studies [exposing discrepancies in the 100 point scale], he is still betting that, like the French, American consumers won't be easily converted to the idea that wine experts are fallible." And Mr. Joshua Greene, editor and publisher of Wine and Spirits, told WSJ reporter Mr. Mlodinow, "Even though ratings of individual wines are meaning less, people think they are useful." So you can clamor and make all the noise you want to about how unfair it's, that wine is subjective and that points don't matter, but apparently they do to the great unwashed masses.

Cherry Pickers: Here in the states we are a nation of cherry pickers, look at what I-Tunes has done to the music business. Folks want and seek out what is popular and will leave the rest in the dust. Whether this is bad or good is irrelevant. This is not a trend that is going to change, it will only deepen and become more common.

Phone Shoppers: This category of wine-shopper is the new emerging trend and you wine retailers and wineries better get out in front of this as much as possible, because phone shopper are point shoppers. Folks are scanning your bar-codes looking for descriptions, prices and points. I see these folks increasingly more and more, shopping with their phones and making a buying decision based on what they read on their screens. You may just wanna start incorporating those QR codes into your labels. I've got one on my blogs sidebar, time to get with it and stay up with new trends or get left behind. Today's tech-savvy shopper is really demanding more from their shopping experiences and are taking the Internet [a powerful point shopping tool] with them as they shop. So sorry to say like size, points do matter.

Know your Reviewer: This is good advice for anyone, consider the source of your information before you make a buying decision. Most of the time a RP high score will mean, that you are getting a wine that is more fruit forward or bit-overoaked in the Chardonnay department, generating that fat mouthfeel. While a WS score will often offer a wine that is more rustic and austere, even though the score is high [see example below]. Since points are not going away, you may want to get to know your reviewers point of view on wine much better. That way you reduce  the risk of getting a dud. Whether those reviewers work for a major publication or write a blog like this one.

Double Edged Sword: For the wineries and retailers who readily embrace the 100 point scale, sometimes a score can be your best friend or your worst enemy. "A wine can be broken, made, and, then broken again with only a two or three digit number. It is an addiction that needs to be feed.  Get the points, get the review, and get the adoration."~ Taylor Cram. It can be a vicious cycle of great scores, swamping you with more business than you can handle one year and mediocre to near flat-lining the next. A score of 89, which by itself is a still a good score, but to many it's the kiss of death. As a consumer who counts on points, they can burn you if you don't completely read the tasting note attached to the score sheet and understand to POV of the reviewer.

Other Voices: This topic is hot, hot, hot right now, so if want to read the thoughts of Blake Gray, a self-described "Seminar Bad Guy" who reportedly is Running with the Devil: Supporting the 100 Point Scale. Check out his take on the issue, another refreshing contrarian view point on the subject, sure to ruffle a few more feathers. As he's takes on each and every argument against the 100 point scales and as he says, "squashes them like bugs".

All that Glitters is Not Gold: I've learned this lesson on more than one occasion myself, just because a wine has a high-score does not always mean you are going to like it. This is why it's so important to also read the tasting note attached to that score. See this is where many folks will think oh-Mr. Cuvee, you have contradicted yourself. Hey, not so fast, because what I find in my own wine-shopping experiences is that the score on the printed sheet is for different vintage year than what is printed on the Wine-Speculator endorsement sign. This is something I began looking at much more closely, relatively quickly after I started drinking wine some eight years ago.

Here's another example, the 2008 Tenuta Sette Ponti "Crognolo" that was given 92 points WS and had this to say in the tasting note "Very silky and fine, with currant and berry on the nose and palate. Full-bodied, with a wonderful mouth-feel. Clean, fresh and direct and best after 2011. The thing I missed in the tasting note was this, direct and best after 2011, when it should have said best after 2016. Sometimes the reviewer just gets it wrong, because this wine is a very-dry, tannic beast, that will need plenty of time to lay-down in the cellar, not a wine for early quaffing.

Point Manipulation: This issue is one that is a big bugaboos among many wine-insiders. The claim is this, that many folks trafficking in the production of high-end Pinot Noir all over the New World are spiking their juice with Syrah or some other varietal, without that fact being disclosed on the label. Then the comparison to OW pinot is made and it's an unfair comparison because OW Red Burgundy legally does not have any room to add anything other than 100% Pinot Noir. As I've noted before, many wine-consumers frankly don't care too much about this issue and just want to get their pinot fix.

International Style: Then you have the argument within the same context of point manipulation and that is the international style. Many accuse these wines of being manipulated to one garner praise from their willing accomplices in the wine-media and two produce a wines in an approachable style that tend to be full, rich, jammy, silky. The argument against this trend goes something like this; "By drinking commercially acceptable, commercial-tasting cabernet-merlot-chardonnay, wine drinkers will gain little insight into traditional styles." and those styles will eventually disappear forever [sigh]. ~ Beek Man Wine  While that's a possibility, I've seen the alternative where many wineries that make big money on the so-called International Style, plant small amount of the obscure grape varieties.

So sorry folks, I don't subscribe to the notion that giving wines a score is necessarily bad. Scores and points are just tool and just because some folks misuse this tool, it doesn't mean we completely have to get rid of the 100 point scale. I welcome your thoughts and impressions, good bad or indifferent. Until next time sip long and prosper, cheers!

Cognac: The Spirit and the Place

Time to hop into the wine-wagon once more, buckle-up and get ready for another fun trip, this time our travels will take us "across the pond" over to the wonderful region of France, called Cognac. Like Champagne is not only bubbly, Cognac is not only a spirit it's a wonderful place in France known for producing one of the finest spirits in the world. Cognac; it's a city, a color, a digestif, a state of mind. Richard C Hacker

Let's face it, when it comes to the vine and wine-making, the French stand alone and their spirit of record Cognac is always a "top-shelf choice". No other country has the breadth of history, nor can they beat France in terms of its quality or the sheer volume of diversity in the types and styles of wine. France is the template and the standard bearer in the wine-making world. I know some may want to argue this point, feel free to do so, but don't miss out on this wonderful introduction to possibly adding Cognac to your bars line-up.

While many of its regions like, Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne are the most obvious and well known, for producing rare and highly sought-after wines, nearly as expensive as the rising price of gold. Places like Cognac can be overlooked by the casual drive-by wine & spirits drinker, so forget about the uber-expensive diamond crusted bottles you've seen on TV or in print. Today's Cognac is much more than just a pretty bottle, more than a lush spirit to be sipped after dining out at your favorite restaurant, oh-no it's much more my friends it's a experience waiting to happen for prince and pauper alike.

If you step out of the wine-wagon for just a moment to take a look around France's wine-strewn landscape there are just as many obscurities as there are outstanding values to be had from little known appellations throughout the country and this is one of those gems I will being sharing with you today. In this review of Cognac the spirit and the place, you'll discover some fun facts and wonderful pairing suggestions. Even though I predominantly write a "wine-review" blog, it's not much of a stretch to include a guided-tour of this wondrously palate-pleasing and spirit-lifting libation.

Mix it up: Maybe you got a bottle of Cognac as a gift and you're thinking "I really don't want to drink it neat, I'd like to mix it up" so what's the answer? In today's techno-savvy world comes the familiar refrain "there's an app for that" and the folks at the Cognac Summit would love to help you "mix it up", with their IPhone app. This app provides the everyday cork-dork or lounge lizard with some of the most contemporary recipes and has also mixed in some of the "classics" to help you mix it up in style. Their mixed Cognac recipes are drawn from critically-acclaimed sources spanning two centuries. Sounds like a great app, I'd give it a swirl.

Not your father's Cognac: "While the making and traditions of Cognac are a passion for many, steeped [not like your morning tea] in time honored traditions." So the commercial goes, frankly folks it's time to say good-bye to its stodgy old-guy image. Today's Cognac is shedding its snobby smoking-jacket image [think Captain Nemo] as a country-club spirit, tossing aside the idea that it's only a rich-man's [evil-capitalists] drink. Oddly enough it's finding itself mentioned in rap-songs and being mixed in a new wave of innovative cocktails by mixologists [aka bartenders] coast to coast [hello Sidecars].

Sweet Side of Cognac: Who doesn't like the sweet-side of life? Even in Cognac, there's a sweet-side, it sheds its cloak of woody, floral aromas and flavors by inviting Poire Williams Pears to the party. This is a much different Cognac than anything you may have encountered before. One of the great things about this sweet-cognac is that it's easy to spot on the shelf, as it comes in a pear shaped bottle. This style of cognac is infused with about 20lbs [on average] of Poire Williams pears per 750ml bottle. I have had the chance to sample other well known cognacs, which were more austere and on the rustic-side of the equation, but Belle De Brillet, Poire Williams Cognac eases the beginner into discovering Cognac, a nice step-up from Port.

Cognac Today: The cognac region of France, is just some 4 and a half hours southwest of Paris.The region consists of six cru appellations, contained in an small area of some 185,000 acres. Cognac is produced from the regions distinctive, chalky limestone soils, which translate wonderfully in each sip.

Top-Crus in order of quality are Grand Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois Bon Bois and Bois Ordinares and as with table wines each region is designated on the bottle's label.

The grapes are still traditionally harvested in October, where they under-go two distinct distillations. From December to March the casual observer can see the delicate traditional operation of Distillation Charentaise [2 times] in the Traditional Charentais Pot Still made from pure copper in a ritual unchanged since the 17th century.

1st Distillation: The first "chauffe" which lasts between 8 and 10 hours produces a cloudy liquid is called brouillis [slightly cloudy liquid] and during the 2nd distillation a master-distiller separates alcohol vapors, where the clear spirit emerges from the brouillis.

2nd Distillation: When it's complete the white-wine, [which the French call "eau de vie" water of life] is transferred to oak casks made of 100 year old Sap and Heartwood trees, where it will stay for 2 years. This old-wood is what transforms this clear liquid into wondrous amber/golden yellow color we have come to know and love. Of course if it's allowed to more time to barrel-age, [unlike table wine, Cognac does not age in the bottle] you'll see a lot more amber than gold.

Blending: After the cognac is summoned from its slumber, the master-blender will determine the blend and bottle a "consumer-ready" cognac with a minimum ABV of 40%. Each Cognac blend will comprise 100 or more different lots of eau de vie [water of life]. Now this is where an important distinction lies in this process I've described above, in order for Cognac to be labeled "Cognac" that process must be completed by the end of March or it will be labeled a brandy [a poor mans cognac], it's important to note that "while all cognac is brandy, not all brandy is cognac."

The Grapes: Many folks wonder if Cognac is a wine or spirit, the answer really is yes, it is both. Unlike many other spirits Cognac is actually made from grapes. Yes, grapes many of which the casual wine-drinker are typically unfamiliar with, but they are still part of the vitis-vinifera [the wine bearing grape] family. The grapes of Cognac are not your everyday household names, nope it's the likes of Ugni Blanc [no not the ugly-grape] as this is the most widely planted and the other two minor players known as Folle Banche and Colombard.

Cognac Code: Like a page from the movie "Code Talkers" you need to know what all the letters on the label stand for or you'll just be stumbling around scratching your head. 

So here are the decipher codes; VS, stands for Very Special a cognac which is stored for at least two years.VSOP stands for Very Special Old Pale, these cognacs are stored for at least four years in barrel before being bottled. 

XO stands for Extra Old, the cognacs in this category are stored for at least six years, but typically the average is around twenty years. Finally you have, Napoleon which is suppose to be equal to the XO quality, aged at least six years before release. The more aging a cognac receives, mean you will likely encounter a much higher price.

Sticker Shock: Many of you see that fancy bottle and you may instantly think oh-my this won't be in my price range. Folks honesty I've seen some bottles with this description, “handcrafted crystal, dipped in 24-karat yellow gold and sterling platinum and decorated with 6,500 certified brilliant cut diamonds" on a bottle of Henri IV Dubognon selling for a cool two-million each. I know you're thinking c'mon really? Perhaps a bit on the ostentatious side of the equation, but you don't have to pay a kings-ransom to get your hands on some some very-good Cognac.

Affordable Cognac: Want to dip your foot in the pool without having to take a dive? Here are a few picks that are sure to make your palate and wallet happy. Prunier V.S. - one of my top picks, most intriguing flavor [IMHO], with little to no burn, very affordable and approachable, great with a nice Monte Cristo number four [under $40].

Martell V.S. - Here you have complex, hits ya with a warm-you-up feeling like brandy, the tastes says "I'm worth the money."  To me it definitely represents the 'replacement' to cheap brandy [around $50]. 

Courvoisier V.S. - Much more on the austere side of the equation, invoking floral and woody flavors and aromas [under $50]. 

There is also the Belle De Brillet, Poire Williams Au Cognac, with just a touch of sweetness, still complex, approachable and very inviting [under $50]. 

And of course the most common Cognac, under $50 Hennessey's is great for mixing.

Know before you Go: Just as reminder many wine stores will not carry Cognac simply because they don't have the license necessary to sell spirits, good to know before you go. Even if your favorite wine and spirits retailer has it stock, it is most likely not an item that will have a lot of depth in their inventory.

Cognac and Coffee: Who knew this would be a great match, but folks I'm here to tell you that they really are wonderful partners under the right circumstance and mixed appropriately. I discovered this combination, when I ran out of my favorite Irish Whiskey, normally, a fun a favorite-mixer for me on the weekends, but I had run out. So what to do? Head over to the pantry, score what did I find, a bottle of Remy that was left over from a party. So, I decided to blend the two and wow baby, game-on. It was fantastic, since then I've added [invited] a scoop of cocoa to the mix and bang, spot-on and may just have you saying Bonjour Paris yourself. I highly recommend giving it a go.

Pairing Cognac and Cigars: This is one of my favorite pairings and of course not in the traditional sense, thinking about the word pairing [matching food and wine]. That said, Cigars and Cognac are as old a combination as Napoleon and Josephine. Which begs the question; which cigar and which Cognac? According to Cigar Aficionado, "A light panetela would be as inappropriate with 30-year-old XO Cognac as a Muscadet is with a saddle of venison." well said and I would have to say I completely agree with the sentiment, thus choosing correctly is paramount to maximizing your experience.

Other Voices: Max Cointreau, chairman of Cognac Pierre Frapin had this comment on the subject of pairing cigars and Cognac, "There are a range of Cognacs for cigars, such as a lighter VSOP with milder cigars, but any Grande Champagne Cognac can be good with a cigar". Similarly, master blender Jean-Marc Olivier recommends Courvoisier Napoleon as an excellent choice for all cigars.

I tend to agree with both of those recommendations, but in my experience there are many Cognac's which makes for a "spot-on" companion to a majority of cigars, but my favorite is the Monte Cristo number four. Just like the wine treasures you take the time to collect, great cigars need a place to call home, stored properly and a well made Cigar Humidors will definitely you get you there.

Recommendations: This is a fantastic libation to have around the house at all times, since it's something you will be sipping over a period of months and not days. It makes for a great after dinner drink to sit back and enjoy with friends and some cigars or just to sip on its own. Makes for a wonderful any-time quaff, neat, chilled or on the rocks and can easily be stored in the pantry without worrying about spoilage for months on end. The next time you see Cognac on the menu of your favorite eatery or on the shelf at your local wine and spirits store, hopefully you can now give this wonderful libation a-swirl with a bit more confidence. So until next time sip-long and prosper, cheers!


Monday, March 28, 2011

Smoking Hot and Full Bodied: 2004 Valderiz Ribera del Duero

Well folks I hope you loved that last trip with Malbec-Man as much as I did and spending some time in Argentina. But it's time to go, time to hop back into the wine-wagon and take a spin across the pond, back to the Iberian Peninsula to a wonderful place in Spain, called Ribera del Duero.

Time to hop out, as we've reached our destination. A wonderful hot place in the summer, nearly in the heart of Spain, sandwiched between Madrid in the South and the Rioja region in the North and the Duero River flowing through its midsection.[see map]. Many believe that the wine-making here goes back over 2,000 years in the Ribera del Duero, as some enterprising young geologists sites as evidence, the find of 66-meter mosaic of Bacchus, "the god of wine" that was unearthed in relatively recent dig at Baños de Valdearados, good enough for me.

Many like to think of this region as the Napa Valley of Spain. Because like the wines of Napa, the vino you find being bottled in Ribera del Duero is smoking hot and full bodied.While many who encounter these wines for the first time may think "wow", this vino is big and powerful, they also offer something very familiar to the California palate, fruit-forward. Many folks [snobs] liken the wines of this region to an international style of sorts, but my impression is that these wines don't belong to the enormous category of the homogenized, as some critics would have you believe.

These wines offer something many Napa reds typically don't and that's sultry-bit of smoke. You may be thinking "smoke" why would I want that? Well think of it this way, when you encounter a whiff of smoke-goodness from the neighbors BBQ and you're thinking, "damn that smells so good", it gets your taste buds tingling. This is the essence that has been captured in the wines of Ribera del Duero, the fume [not a mouth on the tail-pipe experience] is well integrated, with an abundance of seducing ripe dark/red fruit flavors and aromas.

The wines of Ribera del Duero are a sharp contrast to the wines of say the Rioja region. Because what you will typically find in Rioja are red wines [Tempranillo], which are less about ripe fruit and more about acidity, minerality on the dry-rustic side of the equation, conveying the image of a dirty-sexy wine, that will require mondo amounts of decanting to fully be appreciated. Wines from the RDD are produced from Tempranillo or as it's known locally Tinto Fino, which arguably is the most famous of Spain's native grapes, a vibrant, aromatic varietal, capable of delivering a lot of bang for the buck on the flavor scale. Tempranillo is the work-horse grape of the well-known Spanish wine-regions of Rioja and Ribera del Duero.

On the other side of the coin, the wines from Ribera del Dueros are winetastic from the first splash to the last drop and show what tempranillo is capable of in the right hands. The perfect accompaniment to the summer grilling season, as these wines are dripping with abundant fruit-forward flavors [not over-whelming]  and aromas and far-less about heavy-handed acidity and dry-dusty tannins that make your teeth feel like you have attached cotton-balls. The wines of Ribera Del Dueros are rich and welcoming, will gain further complexity and sophistication from a few years in the cellar, while delivering real quality quaffing for pennies on the dollar in sharp contrast to a many Napa Cab.

Time for the review, in today's wine spot-light is the 2004 Valderiz Ribera del Duero, a wine I picked up at Costco for the screaming low price of $25, the QPR is through the roof and won't last once this review hits the publish button [as this wine sells for $38 most other places]. This wine deserves, no actually requires my "run, don't walk" buy recommendation.

Swirly-swish, Sniff and Slurp: Into the glass a beautiful nearly opaque purple/Burgundy colored core, a brush-stroke of brick on the rim. On first sniff, evocative aromas of sweet-smoke, pencil shavings, dried red fruits and black licorice. After the first splash down, more of the same from the nose, the red/dark fruit is a flourish of round, forward plummy sweet berries, licorice, a bit of leather, coupled with vanilla spices and just a dusting cocoa nuances. The finish is long and sumptuous. A real crowd pleaser, balanced and power and finesse.

The 2004 Valderiz spent 18 months in French and American oak, 60% new. While some may suggest further aging, why wait it's drinking "fab" right now and is priced for the weekly Wine-Wednesday quaff, so don't delay drink now and drink often.

What's the Score:  I gave this wine score of 92 points, it's a flat-out fantastic quaff. A real Spanish beauty you'll not only want to take out for a first date, but possibly one to take home to meet the parents. The QPR is quite good, makes for a wonderful mid-week quaff that's licensed to thrill.

Other Tasty Quaffs: Other wines you may find tantalizing as well are the Arzuaga Reserva or Valduero Reserva. You will find many of the Ribera del Duero 2004's and 05's are drinking rather fabulously right now. Another couple wines from this area that are immediately approachable on flavor and price [under $17] is the 2007 Creta Roble Ribera del Duero or the 2006 Emilio Moro give all of these wines a swirl and let me know what you think. 

Other Voices:  Mr.Robert Parker's Wine Advocate gave this wine a score of 93 points and had this to say about this wonderful juice. "It comes from a stony soil reminiscent of Chateauneuf du Pape. Purple-colored, it offers a superb bouquet of wood smoke, pencil lead, scorched earth, black cherry, and blackberry liqueur. Intense, complex, and opulent, it has layers of succulent black fruits and enough structure to evolve for 6-8 years in the cellar. Beautifully balanced and lengthy, it should drink well through 2030."

I wish I could have found much better video on the RBD, but the majority of them were not in English and the other videos I found were of pour quality or really didn't have any "real" bearing on the subject. At least Gary delivers some good alternative viewpoints on the subject and reviews a few differents wines from this region, but the video is a bit long, I recommend a little fast-fwd action and skip the last 2 minutes. That's is all for today folks, I hope you'll will joint me next time as we explore the Tuscan landscape once more. Until next time sip long and prosper, cheers!


Monday, March 21, 2011

Malbec-Man Saves the Day: Antigal Uno Malbec 2008

It's time once again to leave the comfy confines of California wine country, jump back into the wine-wagon and head down the coast from Carneros to a one of the most wonderful places in the world for growing, producing and bottling

It's a place that I would love to visit myself someday, see the place where great Malbec is made, talk with the winemakers, producers and anyone who has a hand in making the wines of Mendoza what they are today, which is winetastic.

With the US Market now drinking more wine than ever before, I personally I'm glad to see Malbec-Man save the day, by providing budget conscience, well made wines that have become real thirst-slakers. So yes in a manner of speaking Malbec-Man is here to save us all from high priced, under-whelming vino.

How you may ask, in the form of today's Malbecs from Mendoza. Overall these wines represent lively acidity, lovely wild red and dark berry flavors and aromas. In general there's also plenty of mouth-filling fruit ripeness, which is sure to please the "California" palate. On top that, it has a great quality-to-price-ratio. Thus causing me to conclude that for many of the wine-swirling and quaffing public, that Malbec-Man has indeed saved the day. Thank you Malbec-Man.

In today's review Malbec-Man can be seen sitting on a high-peak over looking Mendoza's Uco Valley, one of this regions highest elevations and height is a key element in what makes Argentine Malbec so special. It can be said that in many ways that grapes are like people whereYour attitude determines your altitude in life" so to the Malbec grapes of Bodega Antigal Winery  growing on the foothill slopes of the [altitude]Andes [3937 feet above seal level] exposed to the sun's greater ultra-violet effects, grows a thicker-skin [attitude] and with that produces far more aromatics and elegant tannins, more-so than their counters parts across the pond in Cahors, France.

So time to jump out of the wine-wagon, as we have arrived at our destination and let's visit oh so briefly with the wonderful folks of Antigal Winery and Estates, which has four vineyard locations in Mendoza. Their winery sits on grounds of what use to be 19th century wine-making operation, that was abandoned, but has found a new life with Antigal, which has furnished the old building with a state-of-the-art wine production facility which incorporates gravity-fed technology into the wine making process.

A system my wonderful friends Denner Vineyards employs in their excellent wine-making techniques in Paso Robles. A great place to visit and an even better winery to keep your eyes on the next time your shopping for vino. So without any further blathering on here, it's time for the review of the 2008 Antigal Uno Malbec . Which is a pretty easy wine to find on any shelf, as it has a fat-faux-brass number one attached to the front of the bottle.

Swirly, Sniffy-Sniff and Slurp: In the glass a dark [nearly opaque] shimmering ruby colored core, leaning toward purples hues. Sticking my fat half-Irish nose into the glass, nearly muted aromas of black berry, peppery spice, and a bit of earthiness. On the palate this wine shows both power and purity, with dark currant, fig and dark chocolate notes spiked with brighter blueberry and a slap of dark cherry tones. The medium-sized finish drips with dark red and black fruits, yet manages to stay fresh from the first pour to the last drop.

What's the Score: I gave this wine 89 points, I know this score can be the kiss of death, but  it didn't have enough wow factor to get a better grade. That said, perhaps with a little more time in the bottle it will smooth out some of those youthful edges. Like Madonna once sung in a scene from Evita, "dont' cry for me Argentina, this Malbec is just too young" oh-wait, that's not how it went? Ha, okay well this wine is still good and deserves a place in your empty wine glass.

Where to Buy and Price: If you would like to grab this wine in a retail location, you can stop into your local Trader Joe's who is selling it for $19. But of course I've seen it as low as $15 at a few online purveyors like K and D, which really drives up the QPR, but you will have to add in the cost of shipping to price per bottle.

Other Voices: This is the place where I let 'other' opinions attempt to influence you or perhaps to give my review a little more credibility [not that I think I really need it] but so be it. So The Amateur Gastronomer had this to say about the Uno Malbec, "The wine is elegant and well balanced, with a lush mouthfeel and a lingering spicy finish." I think this means that he liked it.

Full Disclosure: This wine was sent as a sample for the review process.

My Recommendation: A very good wine for the money, I would definitely grab a few to stash away in the pantry or your cellar until next year, when I believe it will be drinking rather fabulously. It you wait too long, you will miss the opportunity. That's it for today folks, stay tuned as next time our journey will take us back to the Iberian Peninsula to see a Spanish beauty. Until next time sip long and prosper, cheers everyone!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

For the Love of Pinot: Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir 2008

Wow I had a great time at the Family Winemakers of California tasting and discovered some really good juice that you shouldn't pass up. But now it's time to hop back into the wine-wagon once more and take a spin up the California coast to a wonderful place called the Napa Valley. One of the premier spots in all the world for producing world-class wines.

I was thinking it's high-time to get a little Carneros into my life and this is the perfect way to do that. So this time our road trip will take us to a wonderful placed called Domaine Carneros, which sits between Duhig Road and the Carneros Highway on Napa Valley's south-western border, closer to Sonoma and on the out-skirts of Napa's familiar highway twenty nine corridor.

In a word this winery is,"winetastic" a made-up word perhaps, none-the-less Domaine Carneros is as picturesque as any winery could ever hope to be, the model is based on a traditional 18th Century French chateau, you could almost see Josephine and Napolean waving to you as you drive up vineyard lined road. This winery iconically says first-class all the way. A visit to Domaine Carneros and their partner Taittinger represents the iconic French Chateau experience I believe we all think of when we here the word winery, simulating what a trip to Bordeaux or Champagne may be like.

Domaine Carneros is better known for its Sparkling Wine program, where they have three traditional styles of sparkling wine, each wine is made in the traditional method often referred to as the "méthode champenoise". But seeing the potential for making a wonderful expression of red burgundy, they embarked on adding Pinot Noir to their line of sparkling wines in 1992. If you're thinking about a visit; they welcome guests in a variety of ways, please check their web page for all the details.

They have three Pinot Noirs in their line-up, but the one I'm reviewing today [featured in the picture above] is the 2008 Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir, Carneros, which was sent as a sample for the review process.

Time to take a closer look at this delish Carneros Pinot Noir via a tasting note. This wine will take a little coaxing to come out of its shell, as it's a bit reticent at first blush. But give it a bit of time in the decanter for at least an hour or so and that should do the trick nicely. In the glass you'll find a beautiful garnet colored core. After stuffing my fat half Irish nose into the glass, you get some Burgundian funk, kind of a forest floor aroma mixed together with cherries, rhubarbs and a splash of cola.  After the splash down, a nice vein of acidity running through this great entry level Pinot Noir, dry, silky, and light bodied, laying on a pillow of black berries, cola and ripe raspberries all wrapped around the plush finish. It's drinking pretty nicely right now, but by next year it will be even better.

Price and Where to Buy: Okay  folks you can do this a couple of ways, you could buy it in their tasting room or from their online store for $35 bones or you could gallop down to your local high-end Costco, where you can get this wonderful juice for somewhere just south of $25 and that my friends is freaking steal with serious QPR appeal. I gave this wine a score of 90 points, a really well made wine for everyday quaffing.

The other wine [sample] sent for the review process was their sparkling Brut Rosé also known as the Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé Cuvée de la Pompadour, quite a mouthful. A wonderfully toasty, salmon colored sparkling wine that would lighten up anyones Valentines day activities. A great bottle of wine to have on hand for any occasion, just stash one away in the pantry or even better have it chilling out in the refrigerator. Remember as Charles Dickens once said, "Champagne is one of the elegant extras in life."

Organic: This sparkling wine is made from certified-organic grapes. And on the vegan front, it may be a relief to know that their bubbly is a animal-free product. Some wines are "fined," or clarified, with animal products like egg white and sometimes isinglass the dried swim bladders of fish. While this is a common industry practice, Domaine Carneros believes it's important for folks to know that they only use clay-based vegan product for clarifying their bubbly.

Swirly, Sniff and Slurp: Okay as I mentioned earlier in the glass you'll find a Salmon, leaning toward cooper type color. It's a blend of 58% Pinot Noir, 42% Chardonnay filled with a yeasty, yet tangy flavors. Nicely complex flavors of vanilla cream and raspberry brioche, wonderful creamy mouth feel. The finish fell off a little at the end, but still has that champagne like elegance, a true Brut in every sense of the word. I gave this wine a score of 89 points.

Other Voices: Okay folks, this the place I allow others to chime in with their opinion. The folks over at the WE really liked this bubbly, much more than I did and had this to say. "Delicious. This is a full-bodied blush bubbly with instant appeal, from the coppery color to the long, spicy finish. Shows lush flavors of creamy raspberries and red cherries, brioche, vanilla and cinnamon spice, with a nutty sweetness. Elegant and complex. Drink now." Wine Enthusiast, 93 Points - June, 2009

Price and Where to Buy: You could purchase this wine through their website or the tasting room for $35 each or get it at your local Costco for somewhat south of the $30 and and other online sources for well under $25.

Well folks that was a great visit and I hope you will reach out and give some of their wines a swirl. If you find yourself in the area, this is a great place to stop for completing your own wine country experience. On our next trip, we'll hop back in the wine-wagon and head down south to Argentina, where I've got a wonderful Malbec waiting for a review. Until next time, sip long and prosper, cheers!

Friday, March 18, 2011

My Top Ten Highlights: Family Winemakers California Tasting 2011

I hope everyone had a great St. Patrick's day, I started my day off right with bowl of Lucky Charms and bottle of Jameson's Irish Whiskey. The 3rd annual San Diego Family Winemakers tasting has come and gone, but I wanted to let you know about some of the absolute gems that I found, winess [IMHO] not to be missed, wines that should a find a way into your cellar, pantry, decanter or an empty glass near you.

Because there was so many wineries and so little time my partners in crime and I known as the San Diego Wine Mafia focused in on just fifteen to twenty wineries to maximize the two hours we had before the general public descended upon us [oh that's all of you].

If you would like to know who my wine-mob buddies are please feel free to scroll to the bottom of article to find out. But now it's time to get on with the business of bringing to you a few reviews of what amounts to my personal high-light reel, so sit back, buckle-up and soak in all the grandeur of some winetastic juice that I've uncovered this year. It is my hope that you will give each and everyone of these wines a swirl, they are all flat-out great juice.

Mauritson Family Winery: I had a chance to visit their Dry Creek tasting room last year and the folks there are as approachable as the wines themselves. So this was my second opportunity to give their vino a swirl, but since I was running a bit short on time, I just dove into what I perceived as their big-guns, one word alone should catch your attention, Rockpile.

1. 2007 Buck Pasture Red Wine Buck Pasture [Rockpile Ridge] A wonderful blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petit Verdot, 10% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Franc. This is a deeply complex, big brooding monster, the flavors of red/dark fruits are in a word plush. The acidity carries the abundant fruit, nice touch of  pepper and earth. Decant before enjoying, I scored this wine 92 points, SRP $50 and another keeper for long term cellaring.

2. 2008 Petite Sirah Rockpile: This wine came from their Madrone Spring Vineyard. A deep, dense opaque core, plush flavors of red/dark fruits, licorice best described as an inky gob of goodness. A great wine for the cellar, but it is drinking pretty fabulously right now. Folk these wines are selling quickly, their Rockpile wines have my run, don't walk buy recommendation. Score on this wine 93 points, SRP $37.

3. 2008 Rockpile Ridge Zinfandel: If love to zin as much as the next guy or gal, then this would be a Zin NOT to miss out on. This wine is monster of gooey blackberry and raspberry goodness. Thick, rich and welcoming and unfortunately sold out. Bummer I know, but folks you have to act quick, when I highlight some of these gems to your attention, there more than just a few other eye-balls reading along with you, get the drift. Time waits for no man and neither does a great bottle of vino. It did sell for a SRP of $35 and I gave it 91 points.

Marilyn Remark Winery: Another wonderful winery from Monterey County. You know how some folks say their in the zone, well these folks are in the Rhone-Zone. I was so glad I stopped at this table, I had know idea who they were or what they were about, except for the fact that some Rhone varietals were lined up on their table and that was enough for me.

4. Arroyo Loma 2008 Syrah: Another inky gob of goodness, interesting nose of camphor, tobacco, vanilla and hunk of earthiness. A rich sumptuous wines with gobs of rich [but not over-ripe] fruit, dark licorice, earth, floating on well integrated tannins and bursting with a gamy note on the plush finish. I gave it a score of 93 points, SRP $36.

5. Rose de Saignee 2009: This is how you do it, too bad this rosé didn't make the line-up of the Rosé-Rumble it would have been a contender for the top-spot. A blend of Grenace and Syrah, beautiful salmon color in the glass and a peachy/strawberry perfume on the nose. I would call this wine a real summer "thirst-slaker". A basket full of freshly picked strawberries and fresh-cut watermelon on the palate. Drink now and drink often, 92 points and a SRP of $22.

6. VMR - White Rhone Blend 2009: A wonderfully different blend, of Viognier, Marsanne and Rousanne. A unique blend, great for summer time fare and wonderfully thirst quenching. Very clean, light golden core and crisp, just a taste of Meade and honey suckle with a waft of smokiness on the finish. This finish is long and invites you back again and again. Selling for a SRP of $28, I gave it a score of 90 points.

Saxon Brown Wines: This table was being mobbed the whole time I was there and after tasting through his entire line-up that day, I knew exactly why. Their winemaker and owner was bringing it and all my wine-mafia buddies were just digging the vibe that these wines were laying down. His wine show-case was in my mind the star of the day. I put a big shiny star on his table and I didn't who seen it, I gave Jeff a well deserved "thumbs-up" well done.

With a mission statement like this; "Winemaking must consume you, or your wines may not be worth consuming. -Jeff Gaffner, Winemaker, what else did you expect. This guy is putting Sonoma on the map over and over again. By the way, it's not just me saying, he has plenty of wine press already echoing my sentiments above. By the way he had more wines that I really love as well, but that will have to wait for another day.

7. 2008 Semillon, Casa Santinamaria: A classic field-blend of Semillon, Muscadelle du Bordelaise and Sauvignon blanc. This wine screams, summer time out-loud in a crowded mall. A ball of white peach's, figs and orange blossoms explode in a burst of flavor and mouth watering acidity bringing it all together. It sells for $25 and I scored this beauty 92 points, another thirst-slaker fo-sure. Run, don't walk!

8. 2008 Chardonnay, Durell Vineyard: Hello beautiful balance and skillfully integrated use of oak. This folks is textbook how you balance over-oaked California style of Chardonnay. This wine tip-toes the line between abuse and non-use of oak barrels and the 100% Mal. Beautiful light golden core, the nose said Chablis all the way. A bouquet of floral notes and aromatic fruit. On the palate you will appreciate the down right creaminess and density, resting lightly over crisp acidity. A nice layer of toasted nut, citrus and honey, flowing effortlessly toward the long finish. This wine sells for a bit more than I hoped it would, with a SRP of $48, I still scored it a 93 points.

9. 2007 Syrah, Parmelee-Hill, Owl Block: It's funny, because I wrote down "owl-box" but it was owl-block. In the glass a deep, dark ruby core bordering on opaque. In the nose odious amounts of odd smokey candied aromas, very sultry and alluring. Huge blackberry and blueberry fruit shiny and well ripened. All wrapped up in some notes of bacon-fat, mocha and a small blast of black pepper. The finish is plush and long lasting, Willy Wonka has got nothing on this finish, seriously good juice. This wine sells for SRP of $35 to $40, I gave it a score of 91 points.

10. 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley: This wine is one big-bad bamma-jamma. It's epic in size and scope, it drinking like a freight train of flavor, with no engineer, skidding out of control on my palate. This wine said one thing to me "game-on" folks this is how you do it. The nose just reaches out, grabs you and eventually pulls you into smoky and spicy rich dark fruit flavors.

This wine has see plenty of barrel time, three years to be precise in French Burgundy barrels[unbelievable] and another two in the bottle before release. I couldn't believe he was pouring this monster of hedonistic proportions. On the palate just an explosion of dusty, dense dark fruits and bacon-fat, sprinkled black pepper and leather. Damn winetastic juice, giving this wine 95 points worth of "wow" factor. It sells for a SRP of $70. This wine is drinking pretty fab now, but will continue to improve over the next few years. I would recommend at least an hour or more of decanting to maximize your enjoyment of this wine.

I pretty sure I've spoken of my wine mob-buddies before and possibly you're curious about who's in our group, if so please read on. The youngest of the group, who has a real affinity for old-world wines and better known by his twitter handle @UCBeau, then there's the one and only @LaJollaMom and @BrainWines the owner and keeper of the "lair, the newest member and absolute best singer in the group @thewinorhino and @WineHarlots "the virtue of vice" and last but certainly not least @Europa_KK. That is our motley-crew, please check out their respective blogs to enjoy some different 'takes' and read some of different view-points on the world of vino.This was a great event and if you didn't go this year, I would highly recommend making plans to go next year. Until next time, sip long and prosper cheers.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

For the love of Pinot: Byron Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley 2007

I hope you loved that visit to Spain as much as I did, but a wine-writers work is never done. So, it's time once again boys and girls to hop back into the wine-wagon and head to back to comfy confines of California wine country. This time we are heading to another Pinot Noir hotspot in what is known as the Santa Maria Valley, which sits on the eastern border of Santa Barbara County. 
Byron produces seven different Pinot Noirs, but the SMV is the first one I've had the pleasure of tasting. I've sampled both their 07 and their 08 vintages. I would have to say I give the edge to the 2007 for it's overall flavors and aromas. The aromas coming from both of theses wines is quite captivating and like me you will be sad, when the last drop has disappeared from the glass. I'm a huge Pinot Noir fan, I guess it's because I like the idea of being seduced by my vino and this wine will do just that.

Kicking some Sand: Now I know, many of you Pinot-heads out there are huge fans of wineries like Sea Smoke and RRV's Kosta Browne as I have been and are on their "allocation" lists. I was as well, but with their prices going sky high. I thought hmmm, it's time to reevaluate where and how much money I'm spending on vino [I mean Pinot Noir]. In these economically challenging times this only makes sense, it's time to start cutting the fat. So that means, I will be kicking both KB and SS to the proverbial curb this year, sorry because "daddy has found a new groove". The two producers which have impressed [wowed] me enough to make this leap of faith, are Byron in SBC and Paraiso in the SLH.

So, with that in mind and having run into some seriously [to borrow a youthful word] epic PN that does not require an allocation list, nor a the need for a second mortgage on my home. I would like to suggest that this Byron SMV Pinot Noir is on-par with those other more aloof and affluent producers and makes me think of a familiar sales pitch, "you can pay more, but you won't get more". So do you really want to pay more than you have to for a premium PN? No, I didn't think so, thus I introduce to this newly discovered [for me]wonderful producer of hedonistic New World Pinot Noir, Byron. 

I can get two cases of Byron or Paraiso for the price of one case of KB or SS. I can hear some you saying already, "uh, it's not an apples/oranges comparison". C'mon really, if I blind tasted you on these wines you could not tell the difference, you would love them all, but the subtle differences would not compel you to want to pay more than twice the price [this is not say that Byron does not have PN's in the price range, they do]. Most of their Pinot Noirs are still in what I call the "reasonable" range. With Byron and the other producer I recommended above, the only limit on your purchases from Bryon are the funds in your bank account, say good-bye to allocations.

But hey, if you want to pay more feel free, I'm sure those great producers will really appreciate your continued support and besides you look really cool sporting SS or KB to all your cork-dork friends around the wine bar. As for me, I'm going with an equal but much lower bidder, a place I can get real "bang" for the buck. Because unlike our leaders in Washington, I don't have a printing press, waiting to burn off a few pages of Benjamin's to overpay for something of the same quality I can get elsewhere for a lot less.

Byron PN SMV 2007: I opened this one just the other night, paired against some seared Ahi and mushroom risotto, in a word winetastic. A huge plume of rich cherry, strawberry and plum aromas streaming from the the glass, accented by nuances of nutmeg, pepper, smoke, and a dusting of vanilla. The wine’s perfectly poised fruit to acid balance makes this wine incredibly food-friendly. My palate was struck by wave after wave of a rich cherry and raspberry pie filling, wrapped around the smokey vanilla-tinged wonderfully integrated oak, with a small dose of rich earthiness. The mouth feel is silky, the brilliant finish is long and sumptuous. This wine is drinking FAB, right now and will only get better over the next few years. A real stunner, I gave this wine 93 points and it sells for $18 most places or $26 through the tasting room. If you can still find this wine in any store, score as many as you can, a run don't walk recommendation.

Byron PN SMV 2008: I purchased a couple of these wines a few months ago, popped the cork on both and they were both outstanding. But in comparing my notes between the two, as I mentioned earlier I gave the edge to the 2007. Perhaps, it was the bottle time difference or maybe because 2007 as a vintage overall was pretty amazing. Either way, I still very much liked the 2008 and here is why; showing mineral infused cherry, sweet sandalwood, and a drop of cola flavors on the palate, impressive. It provides just enough acidity to carry the abundant fruit. In the glass it is shining brightly with a strawberry cola colored core. The nose is decadent and explodes with raspberries and cherries, and notes of baking spices. The texture of is firm and silky, the finish is long and very food friendly. I scored this wine 91 points and it sells anywhere from $18 to $25, depending on where you shop. I'm pretty sure Costco is carrying this wine on regular basis.

To make my point further has a wine sitting in their inventory right now that scored 96 points from WE and is an editors choice. What do you think the price is, $100, $65 or $50? Nope none of those, it sells for $34 in their online store. I've not tasted it myself, but if their SMV PN's are any indication of the quality of their 2008 Nielson Vineyard PN, I bet this wine is a knock-out punch of quality flavors and aromas. That is all I have for today, I hope you will give these wines a swirl and let me know what you think. Until next time, sip long and prosper, cheers!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The DO Toro Top Ten Tasting Report

Okay folks it's time to leave the comfortable environs of California wine country and head back across the pond to the Iberian peninsula once more. So hop on into the wine-wagon as the CCWB takes you on a spin over to the uncharted and relatively unknown wine region known as the Toro.

Spanish wine is on a serious up-tick these days, the quality is high and price is low, which makes the palate and the wallet very happy.
Toro was devastated by phylloxera in the late nineteenth century and it wasn't until really the late eighties that they started to get back on their feet collectively and they are becoming one of the Spain's rising stars, one to keep your eyes and empty glass on.

I was invited to this wonderful tasting in the none-the-other than Beverly Hills don't ya know. I could nearly hear the Charlie Sheen melt-down from the SLS Hotel after he got his ass fired, which by the way is right across from the famed Cedar Sinai Hospital [thankfully I didn't require their services].

Where's Toro: Good question, and one I should answers as it is always a good thing to know where one is going, before hopping into the anyones wine-wagon, let alone one driven by a cork-dork like me. According to the folks over at CataVino; "Toro is an exciting wine region found smack-dab in the heart of Castilla y Leon, in the province of Zamora and sits on the northwest boundary of the presently better known Rueda region". Toro sits on about 9000 acres, on Spain's central plateau, with the vines planted well above 2000 feet on average and perched on a cliff overlooking the Duero River, which becomes the Douro in Portugal just 90 klicks further to the west. See Map

The Grapes: Unlike the situation you have here in the states, where site selection is really the only determining factor in choice of what grapes to grow, in the Toro DO they have rules and allows only three main grapes. As you will see from my top ten list below, the Toro is very bullish on red wines, to which I say Ole! The three main grapes allowed in this region are the Tinto de Toro [which you will see expressed on the label] or commonly known as the Tempranillo [a local natural clone of Tempranilllo]. With the high-heat of summer ever upon the vines there, this grape has developed thicker skins – hence the deep colours and the high tannins in the wines. The second, is Grenacha or grenache as it is known here and the last is Cabernet Sauvigon. You will also find small amounts of Malvasia and Verdejo [which, when done right is winetastic] wonderfully refreshing white wines.

Wine Styles: Here in the Toro, you will find they have broken down their wines into six easy to understand styles. Young, refreshing white wines, Mavalsia or Verdeho and juicy Tinto de Toro and Granacha rosés.The next four are all variations on a theme of 100% Tinta de Toro, they have the young-red of which many don't see oak at all and just the smallest lactic taste, they will remind you of Beaujolais, without the faux candied flavors or aromas. The young oak-aged red, normally 3-4 months in barrel and 6 months in bottle before release. The Red Crianza, which means at least two years of aging and one of those years has to be in the barrel. The last is their "Reserva" which means three years of aging, with at the very least of one year in the barrel and the other two can be in tank or the bottle.

Alright folks, now that you know where Toro is and the types of grape to expect in the wines found there, it is time to get down to the reviews. But, there's one little sticking point, many [but not all] of the wines from the Toro are NOT available stateside, however if you happen to live in the EU, you are golden. They can ship to you any EU destinations no-problemo. So to all my wonderful readers in the EU, please feel free to give these folks a ring and get some of this delicious vino in your glass. Without any further blathering on and on, it's time to get down to the high-light reel, also known as my Toro Top-Ten Report.

1. Bodegas Cyan "La Calera" 2004: Instead of saving the best for the last, making you scroll all the way down to number ten, I'm going just flop out the "big-boy" in the room. This wine dominated the entire lineup. A monster of finesse and a crush of flavors. If they had just one wine to represent their region, this should be the wine they send into the ring, to slay even the most ardent critic.

Tasting Note: Deep garnet opaque core in the glass, it had the one of the oddest noses that I've ever encountered. But the first aroma, no joke coconut [native yeasts], stewed plums, floral and odd minerality. If I told you the nose was "pronounced", you'd say, "sorry that word barely describes the aroma-train coming out of the glass". Upon first splash down, damn plush-city. My first thought was wow, nice black morello cherry flavors [kirsch], mocha, picking up some vanilla tones from the 24 month oak treatment of half French and half American. A very modern style, running far and fast from its roots of restraint, to which I say, bravo. The finish is long and sumptuous, really hard to forget. The price is $29.99 USD and I gave it a score of 94. If I could have taken a case with me, I would have been so happy.

2. 2005 Quinta Quietud: Nothing quiet about this wine from the former owners of Château Cheval Blanc and some of the vines are up to 80 years old. This wine was my second favorite of the day. In the glass it was a huge, inky black, intense and concentrated wine. It spent to years in a combination of 70% French and 30% American and a total of 4 years in the bottle before release. The nose is nothing but Java Express, just blasting out of the glass. In the glass an opaque ruby core. After splash down [like a Jupiter Rocket] loads more of roasted coffee, potent , plush flavors of dark fruits, leather and dried herbs. The finish is just amazing, a gift that never quits giving. This wine sells for $35 USD and I gave it a score of 92 points. You maybe could get this wine from K&L or [who will not get link love]. Please do yourself a favor and DECANT 2 hours before enjoying.

3.  2008 Bodegas Covitoro "Arco del Reloj": Boasting of 100 year old vines, this wine was aged for 14 months in a combination of French and American oak. Nosing this wine, really revealed nothing as there was no perceptible aromas present. Howeve in the glass is where this wine came alive, sporting a dark ruby core and nice legs, throwing its color like paint unto a blank canvas. After the first slurp, stewed plums, dark cherries and a sweet tobacco flavor, hanging over the minerality. The fruit is plush and coats the mouth nicely, followed by a long lush finish. This wine did not disappoint, I gave this wine 90 points. This wines need to be decanted, to be fully enjoyed. This wine sells for $7-8 Euros each and doesn't appear to be available stateside.

4. 2004 Bodegas Farina "Gran Dama de Toro": This wine was number eight in the line of wines we tasted during the seminar. This wine is a blend of 94% Tinto de Toro and 6% Granacha. This wine was barrel aged for 15 months in a mix of French and American oak and taken from "ungrafted" vines that have been around longer than I've been alive, 80-90 years old. In the glass a opaque ruby colored core. In the nose, lots of dark cherry, leather and tobacco. After the splash down, a cascade of brilliant flavors, plush berries, cherry, dried herbs, the tannins are a bit grippy. But overall, a wonderful creamy ripeness balancing the rich spice and licorice. I scored this wine a solid 90 points and it sells for $45 USD. They currently don't have an importer, so folks in the EU enjoy this wonderful wine. [Decant] It can be shipped to your door, without any difficulties.

5. 2007 Vina Zangarron Volvoreta "Probus": This wine is made a very fresh palate pleasing style, reminiscent of a young Beaujolais, spending just a five scant months in French oak. A wine from the Toro region with a more sensitive side, that will speak eloquently to folks who perhaps don't like the big-bruisers. This will quietly whisper in your ear, "I feel your pain". In the glass a beautiful purple-ish violet colored core, coating the sides nicely, showing off its legs. Immensely quaff able from the get-go, with little fuss or muss. A very pretty wine, with mostly muted floral aromas and a touch of red licorice. This is where it gets good, after a swish about in the mouth this wine unleashes a torrent of dark-red berry flavors and smooth tannins. Refined elegance, leading to the long mouth coating finish. I was sad to pour this one out. I scored this wine 90 points. It sell for $15-18 Euros. These wines can are imported here in the US, via Antalva Imports in L.A.

6. 2006 Liberalia Enologica "Cuatro":  Liberalia is a family owned vineyard located in the prestigious area of the Denominación de Origen Toro, in the province of Zamora, Spain. I tasted this wine a second time after the seminar and it still shone like a bright star in a dark winter sky. This wonderful wine spent just 12 months in French and American Oak. In the glass, a dark opaque core, kirsch, dried herbs and minerality in the nose. This wine was sporting some very nice glass staining legs. A great mouth feel, smooth and plush. A gob of dark and red fruits [plums] and wonderfully integrated tannins made this wine a true joy to drink. The finish was medium to long, dry and just a bit chewy. I scored this wine 90 points and it sells for nearly $6 Euros. A real go-getter, that will not disappoint.

7. 2006 Coral Duero Rompesedas: In the seminar, at first blush I thought it was good, but afterward in the general free-for-all tasting this wine elevated its game a bit in my mind. The prices quoted however were not the QPR champs I had hoped for and seem a bit pricier than the other Toro wines. This wines sell for $50 USD and their importer is Classic Wines. So boys and girls, it does appear you can get this wonderful wine here in the states, um what are you waiting for?

A quick tasting note: This wine was aged in new oak for 18 months. In the  glass, a leggy glass coating opaque purple/blue core, just an epic aromatic potpourri blast of, mineral, tar, espresso, violets, and blackberry. It's surprisingly elegant despite its obvious power and a bit of heat, still a wonderfully savory effort that should gracefully evolve for another few years. But it's drinking pretty fabulously right now.  I scored this wine 93 points, another go-getter that will not disappoint.

8. 2006 Rompesedas "Finca las Parvas": This wine is reminiscent of a quote from a certain Mr.Ben Franklin the hundred dollar man] many consider a American Renaissance man who had this to say about wine; "The discovery of a wine is of greater moment than the discovery of a constellation. The universe is too full of stars". I too discovered a great wine this day, one that will really impress you [as it did me] and make you want to seriously stock up big time. Although the"benjamin" price point will most likely scare away all, but those of us with a disposable income the size of Charlie Sheens ego

Grapes and Aging: This is a 100% Tinto de Toro which is sourced from a 5.5 acre"ungrafted" plot of over 100 year old vines and was aged for 22 months in 100% new French oak. Hmm, lots of one hundred numbers being thrown around about this wine.

Tasting Note: In the glass this wine is a giant of ruby opaqueness. Wonderful glass staining color in the legs. Beautiful fresh berry aromas swirling about, inviting sniff after sniff.  After the first slurp, big black cherry, plum, currant, dark chocolate and a nice smack of licorice. All perfectly balanced against the smoky, sweet oak, laying on a nice fresh canvas of tannin-acid integration and a wonderful rich earthy note. The finish is long and caressing. It's drinking wonderfully now and will continue to do so long into the future. A wonderful wine that I scored 94 points and is available state-side.

9. Bodegass Estancia Piedra "Vina Azul" 2009: This was the very first wine we tasted that day in the seminar setting. A wine that never seen oak, fermented and aged in stainless steel. In the glass a bright purple/blue colored core and again reminded me of a young Beaujolais. On the nose pronounced youthful aromas of red and dark berries are complicated by notes of candied licorice, and floral note. After the first long slurp, an abundance of raspberry and cherry flavors that give way to darker fruits in the middle palate and show very good clarity. Turns a bit grapey on the finish, leaving behind a floral pastille note. This is delicious now and is made to drink now and drink often. My score 87 points and it sells for $17 USD.

10. 2009 Liberalia Tres: Another youthful but ever so wonderful wine made for early quaffing and approachability. It is an elegant, tender wine that is really enjoyable young, to make the most of its charming aromas and abundant fruit flavors. A beautiful shimmering purple violet colored core, nicely staining glass. Right away an easy pleaser, with it smooth and generous mouth feel. Nice thread of minerality running through it, showing off attractive flavors of ripe cherry, blackberry and fig, followed by a tight, juicy finish.  I scored this wine 89 points and it sells for $4 Euros, this wine is a great buy.

Take Aways: There were several take aways, I jotted down during the seminar which I wanted to share with you regarding the DO Toro region. Most of the wines you find here will be in the 14-15% range. Because of the hotter and drier conditions it is really impossible to make a Toro wine with lower ABV. Most of the vines are head pruned, but a small amount are bush trained. The berry sizes are smaller, thus giving far more concentrations of flavors and although they all qualify to be labeled "organic" most folks can't afford the fees to required to obtain the "certification". Most of wines are made with a mix of American and French oak and are taking a stab at stainless steel aging to reign in those huge tannins and a majority of the wineries only use natural yeasts, which contribute to the wildly different flavors and aromas. This region is a sleeping giant, one you need to keep on eye on. Remember the Malbec from Argentina was in this stage at one point, I suspect Toro is next in line to cash in on this momentum. I hope you will give these wines a swirl yourself, until next time sip long and prosper, cheers!

One Euro = 1.3902 U.S. dollars
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