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Monday, February 21, 2011

The Rosé Rumble: My Top Ten Rosé Wines

Time to hop back in the wine-wagon and head back for another wine-soaked adventure, this time our trip will take us to the lair of the San DiegoWine Mafia. A wild-eyed group of wine blog writers, with varying degrees of preferences, who like myself love to explore strange new wines and take our palates where no wino has been before. I'll just say this about the group, you would be wise not to come between us and our vino, or you just may end with a lovely pair of cement-slippers while taking a dip in the fermentation vat. Just saying.

Our group has explored many different varietals to date and this time we decided upon giving Rosé wines a spin, even though when it was first brought up, it was scoffed at a bit. We sampled just over twelve wines and three of them were bubblies. Since there  was NOT enough wines in this grouping to come up with a complete top-ten list, I've decided to add a few other selections from other tastings, where I've run across some very tasty Rosé wines, that will help round out this fun, fresh top ten list.

A Rosé by any other Name: I know a lot of folks sneer at Rosé wines and some just flat out dismiss them out of hand, because it has suffered from a bit of an identity-crisis. It has sadly been mistaken for the sickly sweet blush style of wines many folks find on drug-store shelves, called white-zin or white-merlot. Thus causing some folks to not even give them a swirl, possibly it's because true rosé wines in the US have been erroneously tied to blush wines and thus have been marginalized to near the point of extinction [they do appear to be on the come-back track]. I think it's good to remember that although every blush is a wine, not every rose colored wine is a true Rosé.

Adult Beverages: What is the first thing you think of when you here the name rosé wine? I know many folks think of White Merlot or White Zin, which is the sweet, blush styles of wine.  Blush-wines are not regarded by many as a true rosé wine, many folks believe "blush" wines like white-zin resemble more of an adult koolaid, than a real wine. I know, I know some folks just luv "sweet-wines" and still look at these wines lovingly through rose-colored glasses [ha]. If that is the kind of wine you want to drink okay please feel free to quaff away, but you just may want to take the leap to the real-deal and dial it up a notch.

True Rosé Wine: In my opinion a true rosé is often off-dry to dry in nature and will often display vibrant fresh fruit flavors, which tend to lean toward the strawberry and raspberry or even watermelon side of the fruit spectrum. What you can expect in a true rosé is a nice dry, tangy and crisp wine which is not the same as a blush, those wines tend to be sweeter, their only true similarity is in the color. One thing for certain is that a properly made rosé will always have depth of flavor and fruit characteristics, even if it has a touch [not a heaping spoonful] of RS [residual sugar].

Food Pairing Champ: They also tend be very versatile food pairing champions, lending themselves to pair easily with many different food types. Rosé wines also tend to be low in alcohol, making it the perfect wine for taking on an afternoon picnic. Some recommendation; hot or cold [perfect leftover] chicken, pasta, pork, cold soups, omelets or even a quiche, and other lighter picnic-foods like charcuterie and fresh cheeses.

As for me I love a good rosé in the right circumstance and when paired with the right foods this wine can be down right sublime. It is a great summer time wine, to sip on around the pool or as an appetizer type wine while BBQ'g on the deck or out on the patio. So without any further ado, I now bring you my top ten list of favorite rosé wines, enjoy.

1.Valdo Prosecco NV Brut Rosé [Italy]: Salmon colored, fruity, distinctive fragrance, reminiscent of the flowers, apricots and a fresh basket of strawberries. On the palate, slim and friendly, with a lasting structure and a slightly sweet aftertaste, produced from the Nerello Mascalese grape. I scored this wine 90 points and it sells for about $17 at Wine Chateau.

2. Envie d'été 2009 Château Garrineau Rosé [France]: A very tasty rosé composed of Cabernet sauvignon 50 %, Merlot 50 %. On the nose you'll find elegant aromas and flavors of cherries and strawberries, wrapped in floral overtones. A wonderful wine that says it's summertime in Bordeaux. I scored this wine 88 points and it sells for about $15 USD, though I couldn't find a place that sells this wine here in the US.

3. Pine Ridge 2009 Encantado Rosé [Stags Leap]: This rosé was crafted using the saigneé, [to bleed off] a technique where juice is extracted from the must. This true-rosé is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with small amounts of Tannat, Merlot and Malbec and like the name Encantado, this wine made for an enchanting afternoon of slurping and swirling. This wine was just brimming with the fresh red-fruits flavors of - strawberry, raspberry and a hint of citrus. Too bad this wine did not make the tasting, my recent trip to Napa Valley found this bottle sitting under a umbrella covered picnic table on the wonderful grounds of Pine Ridge, while the wife and I enjoyed this wonderful example of what I would call a true-rosé.  I scored this wine 92 points on the CCWB point scale. It sells for about $20 most places and you can buy through the PR page here. 

4. V. Sattui's 2009 Gamay Rouge [Napa]: This rosé is one of my all time favorites. I purchased this wine by the case more than once and their tried and true recipe never fails to impress. This wine would be perfect with spicy Thai food or even BBQ'd ribs, it is does have a bit of RS,  just enough acidity to carry the fruit. This wine see extended contact with the grape skins, which produces a ruby colored core. The flavor profile provides the palate with stunning strawberry, a touch of cherry and some gentle spices. This wine sells in the neighborhood of $18 and can be purchased at the winery. I scored this wine 89 points. [Not a true rosé]

5. Charity Case Rosé 2008: This is a vibrant Rosé with dominating flavors of raspberries and toasty-strawberries, there is a kick of spice on the finish. I suspect but cannot confirm that most likely three grape varietals were blended to make this Rosé, Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault. This donated wine is handmade by a group of dedicated winemakers to ensure a sustainable future for charities serving children and families in and around Napa County. This wine sells for $13 a bottle and I scored it 92 points. It goes great with a spinach quiche.

6. Penman Springs 2008 Estate "Two Roses"[Paso Robles]: This is a rosé cut from the Syrah grape. I remember this wine had the most "funky" nose. Some incoherant barn-yard aromas, was my first impression. After a few more swirls some toasty cranberry and strawberrie aromas, which carried through to some wonderful dried red fruit flavors, just a bit of white pepper and refreshing crisp finish. I initally thought this was Grenache, but later learned it was Syrah. I scored this wine 91 points and it sell for $15 through the website.

7. Mushal 2009 Merlot Rosè Dry Creek Valley [Sonoma Country]: The color of this wine resembled a water-colored San Diego sunset, kind-of a light salmon and cotton candy mix. The nose got some of the cotton-candy on it and had that faux smell. I thought for a minute I was at the Del Mar fair, choking down a cone filled with the fluffy iconic pink stuff. This wine is definitly quiche ready, incase you were wondering. On the palate, this wine has a lot of strawberry and water-melon flavors, further reminders of the fair, the finish is crisp and refreshing, a real crowd pleaser. I scored this wine 91 points and it sell through the wineries website for $20 and 15% of that price from each bottle goes to The Elizabeth Taylor Aids Foundation or Breast Cancer.

8. Banfi 2009 Rosa Regale Brachetto [Italy]: In the glass it has the appearance of drinking a dark ruby soda pop, a frothy little number full of  raspberry colored foam, giving a very festive feel in the glass. You'll find hints of rose petals, where raspberry and strawberry nuances abound. Baskets of wild strawberry fruit gushing forth floating on a cloud of effervescent goodness which is not totally dissimilar to Moscato in sweetness. Rosa Regale is produced by Vigne Regali in Strevi, Piedmont. I scored this wine 90 points. You can now purchase this wine at your local Costco for $14.99 each. It has an amazingly low ABV of just 7%. A great wine for romantic occasions, and a perfect pairing partner with spicy foods. [Not a true rosé]

9.Rol Valentin Rosé 2009, St-Emilion [France]: Another nose full of bright fresh baskets of strawberry, water-melon and ripe raspberry fruit that carries through to the palate, some dried spice notes and a boat-load of crisp acidity to balance the big, up-in-your-face fruit. This beauty sells for $8 most places and I gave it 91 points. A stunner of great value [QPR], overflowing with flavor, hold for the summer BBQ season that will be upon us before you know it, you won't be dissappointed.

10. Royal Cuvée Vintage 2002: Okay so it's not a true rosé but close enough. In the flute you that this cuvee's Pinot Noir led blend casts a slight rosé color leaning toward the orange/pink salmon side of the equation. On the nose dried cherries, over a fresh baked brioche. After taking my first sip, fat ample bubbles and creamy mousse composed of strawberries, smeared on fresh baked buttermilk biscuits, leading to a long sumptuous finish. I've had this wine several times and I've never been disappointed. It sells for in the $14 to $24 price range most places. I scored this wine 93 points and highly recommend it. It's a QPR champ!

Okay folks that's the list, I hope one of these wines will be filling your glass soon. Summer will be here before we know it and you will definitely not want to be on the outside looking in, when it comes to securing some of these wonderful rosés for your upcoming warm weather activities. Until next time sip long and prosper.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Running with the Kingdom of Navarra, Spain

Well folks time to climb on in, as we take another spin in the wine wagon and head for uncharted territory, far across the pond to the Iberian Peninsula. But only uncharted in terms of my knowledge of the wines from the Kingdom of Navarra and its brand recognition.

I will have to say, that my face drew a blank expression when I looked at the box of samples that I received from the Kingdom of Navarra. Even though I consider myself a student of the vine, I was caught off guard my the name of this place. But when I did a little research, I found out that this relatively unknown area in Spain is home to the famous running of the bulls in Pamplona, to which I said ole'!

In case you didn't know already, we have reached our destination, so jump out of the wine-wagon and join me on a trip back through time to a place call the Kingdom of Navarra in the country of Spain, an ancient and independent kingdom. The kingdom of Navarre was one of the Christian kingdoms to emerge in northern Spain, in fact Navarra has been at the crossroads of history for more than 1000 years. But today in the wine world it's known as the "kingdom of pink" because of the many Rosado or rosé wines they produce from the abundant Granacha grape. If you would like know more of the history of Navarra feel free to click here.

Where is it? Navarra is just east of Rioja, not far southwest of Bordeaux, with links to French winemakers going back more than 800 years, when French monasteries planted cuttings from their home across the mountains. You'll find the KON on the foothills of the Pyrenees, benefiting from the cooling influences, are at Navarra's northern edge, while on the southern end of the kingdom it has eight villages in the governmental region, which are part of the Rioja wine region [nothing to frown about].

Navarra's unusual past and diverse topography has made it an attraction for "off the beaten path" travelers and food and wine winotics like myself [perhaps this summer for me]. The old Kingdom of Navarra has preserved its royal nobility in rich tradition of food and wine and makes a great place for the wandering wino to visit today.

Identity Crisis: In the KON they have the "famous" running of the bulls event going on every year in Pamplona with an abundance of media focus on thise area, nearly the whole world looking at them and yet it does not appear to have any tie-in to this relatively unknown wine region. It does appear that they were missing the boat or the opportunity to capitalize on a highly publicized event, especially in the light of the fact that the KON does not have the same name recognition as Rioja. 

In recounting a story on the"Kingdom of Pink" by the GMR it was speculated that perhaps this identity crisis was fueled by "individual agendas in their past, the internal politics of Navarra's grape growers and wineries held separate associations and no one producer would trust the other." These facts may have held back the wines and this region from the success they could have achieved if they had only worked together and possibly could have avoided their identity crisis. 

According to the Gray Market Report, "frankly, any time you have grape growers following their own agenda of high yield and safe early harvest, without getting winemakers input, a mixed signal is being unknowingly sent to the consumer" that "houston we have a problem". Which I take to mean, it won't be easy to achieve wines of substance on a consistent basis and build a reputation to attract the attention of the wine media and the wine swirling public. So what has changed? They have decided to work together to rebuild that lost identity with a renewed sense of vision for the future, while remembering their past.

Vision Renewed: While in the past they admittedly had problems wanting to work together to build an identity, to build brand awareness if you will, that identity crisis they were suffering from, now has a new focus and new goals. That new goal, that new focus is to promote, educate people about the deliciously fruity wines of Navarra, Spain and introduce you to a world thirsty for superbly made wines of reasonable prices. They would invite you to like them on their FB fan page, to do so click here or get to know them better through their website.

The Grapes: Navarra has grown grapes since the times of the Roman and it's their ideal location between Rioja and Bordeaux which has encouraged growers and producers alike to combine the best of the old and new worlds in a quest for quality wines. The Navarra Denominacion de Origen [Do] allows for up to 14 different grape varities, with Tempranillo and Grenacha [used for the popular Rosado] leading the way.

Full Disclosure: I was sent three different wines [samples] for the review process, that I believe gave great representation of the kind of wines most folks would likely encounter if you were grab one off the shelf from your local wine shop. So with out any further ado I introduce you to the wines of Navarra.
Bodegas Ochoa, Rosado 100% Garnacha 2009: This wine is 100% Grenacha, it's fruity on the nose; but a bit austere on the palate. To me, it would be a great wine to quaff on a hot-dry day in San Diego. It was dry, but refreshing at the same time, on the palate I found a basket of wild strawberries and raspberries character much more giving on the nose, not as much carry through to the palate. I scored this wine 85 points and it has a SRP of $9 most places.
Bodega Otazu Crianza 2006: This wine is a blend of 35% Tempranillo, 35% Merlot and 30% Cab. Sauv.  In the glass you'll find a deep, black ruby core. On the nose an apparent use of new oak, toasty, leathery aroma with ripe black fruit notes. On the palate I found this wine to be soft, rich, complex compote of lovely ripe [but not jammy] red fruit flavors, beautifully balanced acidity, a discernible terroir minerality and firm tannins, with a definite tip of the cap to Saint-Émilion stylistically. I scored this wine 89 points and its SRP is $15.

Bodegas Chivite, Expresión Tempranillo 2007: This wine is 100% Tempranillo. In the glass a deeply plummy-black core. On the nose pleasant oak and toasted strawberry aromas. I decanted this wine for a full hour before dinner and sampled it with food, the wine displayed a delicious balance of plum, dark-cherry, and a touch of chocolate. Soft cabernet-like tannins, with some complexity and a nice finish. I tried the wine once more the next day and it seemed to come out its austere, shy stage giving more flavors and structure. A well made wine that is drinking good now, but a few more years of bottle age will help soften some of those rough edges. I scored this wine 89 points and it sells for an SRP of $40. At least 2 hours of decanting is recommended for maximum enjoyment.

My Recommendations: Seeing, how my thirst for knowledge of new and exciting wines and wine regions is never really quenched, tasting through these examples of wine from the Kingdom of Navarra was a real hoot. That said, you would be wise to seek these wines out yourself and give them a swirl. Until next time everyone sip long and prosper, cheers!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Santa Lucia Highlands Tasting Report: Top Ten Pinot Noirs

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Well it's time to hop back into the wine wagon once more and take a spin over to what's becoming another "hot-spot" for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This place is called the Santa Lucia Highlands, a place you should be already very familiar with and if you're not then you should put it on your list of great wine destinations to discover. It is situated nearly smack-dab in the middle of the state of California, on the shelf [Highlands] of the Santa Lucia Range, just south of Monterey and just to the east of Big Sur, and Highway 101 runs along its Eastern border and benefits from the cooling effects of the winds blowing from the Monterey Bay. To learn more please click here.

It took me a little longer than I thought it would to write this article, seeing that the day after this tasting I some how developed a "bad" cold that kept me on the couch and away from my keyboard. I'm feeling much better now and will hopefully begin to drink wine again soon. I hope everyone had a splendidly wonderful Valentine's day with his or her significant other and by the way guys I hope you didn't blow it by showing up with ordinary yellow fizzy champagne, instead you hopefully chilled a nice bottle of wha could be called Love Potion Number Nine.

I was invited to attend this event a couple weeks ago, as always I was thrilled to have an opportunity to sample the wines from this winetastic region, meet the producers in person and rub shoulders with other like-minded professionals. Even though other wines were offered at the event, today I am going to focus in on the Pinot Noir and give you my top-ten list of favorites I uncovered. So without any further ado, here is my latest Top Ten Pinot Report from the Santa Lucia Highlands Appellation.

1. Belle Glos Las Alturas Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008:  All you would expect and more from a NW PN, which is a single-vineyard wine, that made say wow. Folks, this was out of this world good juice. Great depth of flavor and structure. Tremendously complex, offering a potpourri of lush flavors and aromas just waiting to be discovered after it's released from it's waxy covered cork closure. Raspberries, dusty baking spices, and bacon-fat round out the flavor profiles. A lush mouth-feel and long plush finish that will have you coming back for more, time and again. This wine has a SRP of $44, but have seen it selling for $34. I scored this wine 94 points and give this wine my "run don't walk" buy recommendation. If you blink you just may miss the opportunity to get your hands on this wine.

Hahn Family Wines: They were pouring two PN at the event and I liked them both, however I really prefered the least expensive one much better. If you find yourself in the Monterey Peninsula or just passing through Highway 101, their tasting room offers a nice view of the Salinas Valley and the surrounding mountains in the heart of the Santa Lucia Highlands.

2. Hahn SLH Estate Pinot Noir 2009: Deep rhubarb color filling out the core, abundant aromas of baking spices and strawberries spread over near burnt toast. A great foodie type wine [decant first] with a long finish. The SRP is $35 and is sold direct to the consumer through their website, however it appears that only the 2007 is available at the moment. I scored this wine a solid 90 points. Well made, great flavor for a reasonable price, that will most like sell somewhere just south of the SRP. Could be ordered potentially through BevMo.

3. 2007 Lucienne Lone Oak Pinot: Is a big boy, with big-boy price tag to go along with it. You will find this wine pure, soft but oh so appealing. It's rich, displaying a raspberry puree and smoking sandalwood. Mingling together with the finely ground tannins, balanced on a beam of bright acidity. This wine has a SRP of $45 and is available through the their website. I scored this wine 90 points. It is well made and no discernible technical flaws were present. A great wine to drink now and would buy a few to store away in the cellar.

4. The 2007 "Doctors" Vineyard Pinot Noir: I thought it was still a bit young, but it really showed quite a bit of promise. You will find a rich, plump wine that is medium bodied, expressing black plum, bacon and some silky Indian spices, splashed with sandal wood flavors and aromas. A silky finish, a wine that will pair nicely with many foods types. It has a SRP of $45 and I gave it a score of 92 points. Not my everyday quaff, but one to bust out for special occasions.

5. Paraiso Vineyards: Does it again and makes me say wow, with their 2007 Pinot Noir, West Terrace, Santa Lucia Highlands. Knocked it out of the ball-park again with a terrific all around PN flavors and nuances. This wine is dressed to impress, bright acidity, upfront raspberry notes zing along the mid and back palate. Just enough earthiness to balance out the fruit forward attack. This wine has a retail price of $45 and is sold through the tasting room or online via their ecommerce page. I gave this wine a score of 91 points. I've said it before, but it bears repeating, that in opinion; this winery is firing on all cylinders at the moment, so gain if you're not familiar with these fine folks you are missing the boat.

6. Pey-Lucia Vineyards: Wow, [see made me say wow] this wine is really impressive and I was so glad I stopped by this table. The 2007 Pey-Lucia "Frisquet" Pinot Noir comes from their ideally situated site in the higher elevations of the Santa Lucia Highlands. With only 260 cases produced this wine has my "run don't walk" buy recommendation.  I found this wine tremendously complex, offering a full array of flavors. Cherries and raspberries lead the way over dusty spices, sweet vanilla and a splash of bacon fat, resting on the plush, silky finish. I scored this wine 94 points and it has a list price of $32 a BEST-BUY.

Other Voices: The Pinot Report had this to say; "silky texture; good structure and balance; long finish. Intense and nuanced at the same time, this Pinot just gets better and better in the glass" and scored this same wine 94 points.

7. Ray Franscioni Wines: They were of course pouring other SLH wines, but their 2007 Black Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir really caught my eye. I tasted this beauty among a bevy of other Pinot Noir's last week, it was a shining star in a sea of sameness. This wine offered refreshing acidity, a complex flavor of strawberry jams on well done toast and cherries in a lovely coat of sandalwood floating on the highly polished tannins, leading to a long deep finish. The price weighs in with $36 SRP and can be found directly from the wineries website. I gave this a score of 92 points.

Roar Wines: I was hoping this would be the first table to stop-by, but my partner in crime that day Wine Harlots thought it would be better if we just started in order and hit every table. But I prefer to cherry-pick and then move onto the unknowns. But I digress, so these are the folks with two lions on the label high-fiving each other, Garys Vineyard is co-owned by both Gary's (Gary Franscioni or Roar and Gary Pisoni of Pisoni Vineyards).

8. 2009 ROAR Garys' PN: Too bad the lighting over the table was so bad, I was not able to discern the color of the wine at all. The nose was very expressive and enticing, with distinctive aromas of raspberries, ripe cherries, sweet baking spices and violets. The dominate flavor profile is earthy [typical Burgundian style], a silky palate of restrained fruit flavors integrated with toasty oak, finishing with hints of leather and earth. This wine sells for a SRP $50 and is available on a first come, first serve basis, so ya better hurry. I scored this wine 90 points.

9. 2009 ROAR SLH Pinot Noir: The nose is immediately appealing and seductive, baking spices, dried strawberries and rhubarb pie. Unfortunately those wonderful aromas were fleeting. The aromas gave way to more provencal herbs, blueberry and pomegranate flavors, that are revealed subtly. Still the wine is rich and expressive of its terrior [more Burgundian like], coating the palate with dark fruit, spice and fine tannins. This wine sells for a SRP of $40 and can be purchased online. I scored this wine 90 points.

Tondre Grapefields: Rounding out my top-ten is a placed called Tondre Grapefields, which was planted in 1997 on six and half acres in the heart of the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation and are no longer just selling their grapes to other great labels, they are building their own brand. This will be a wine to keep your eyes on in days, months and years to come. This was the last taste of the day, but was one of the best and they made me say wow!

10. “Tondre Grapefield” Pinot Noir 2008:  Wonderful varietal funk coming at me like a freight train, really luved the nose. This wine is quite good, brimming with natural acidity which keeps the wine honest, without the Syrah hat-trick. An unusual note of freshly crushed black pepper and waves of complex flavors, like strawberries, cherries mixed in with some sauteed mushrooms and a pinch of earthiness. This wine represents old world funk and new world freshness, well done. The finish is long and sumptuous. I scored this wine 93 points and it sells for a SRP of $40, which is available from their website or a number small wine shops listed on their website.

Bonus: Hope and Grace: Hope and Grace is a boutique winery producing just over 2200 cases, with a portfolio consisting of 5 wines. They were pouring their delightful SLH PN at this event. It was one of the wines to catch my attention, from a fine group of folks who still offers the wandering wino a complimentary [nearly unheard of] tasting of their new releases in their cozy tasting salon, that can be found in the town of Yountville.

Full Disclosure: I was invited to this event as a guest of the Santa Lucia Highlands Winery Association.

I tasted a lot of wine [over 60 different labels] this day and obviously not everyone made the cut. That said, this was just my top 10 Pinot Noirs, I found some very tasty Syrahs and Chard's as well, stay tuned. I would have mentioned Loring Wine Company in my top ten, but their wines would have crowded the field, as I couldn't find one Pinot Noir from Loring that I didn't like. They are making some FAB Pinot Noir and you should definitely grab some when you have the opportunity. Vintage Wines here in San Diego has some of their SLH PN for $24, a real steal.

There were many PN that I encountered, in which I thought the winemaker was trying way too hard, they seemed too focused on restraint as the signature profile. There was far more than proverbial, "tipping of the cap" to the classic Burgundian style in many of the wines I tasted that day, many were completely devoid of any notion of new world flavors and just teased with a heady nose.

Folks, if you want red Burgundy, geez it's out their in plenteous supply, albeit at much higher prices. But why, oh why is there a push to make every PN taste like Burgundy. I want NW PN to taste like NW PN and when I want a wine where the flavors are subtly revealed than I will choose French Red Burgundy. The wines I have listed above are in my opinion fantastic and some represent greater values then others, so shop wisely. The wines I've reviewed above, represent the highlight of my day in Costa Mesa and will rock your palate too. Until next time, sip long and prosper, cheers!

Friday, February 11, 2011

A New day in Chianti? The Brancaia Chianti Classico 2006

Do you love wines from the Tuscan region of Italy as much as I do? How about a great Chianti Classico? One made in a modern style, sure to please even the most sophisticated palate while not breaking the bank?

If you answered yes to any of those questions great, read on because this time my review will revolve around another great Tuscan wine. So join me as I jump into the wine-wagon,  as we are heading over to Tuscany's Chianti Classico region.

Forget that image you may have in your mind of the straw covered, jug-wines [great for holding candles] that Chianti use to be known for, instead today they are leaning toward a more approachable style that will impress you right away and give you that Chianti-Fix you may have been looking for and have not been able to find. And I believe doing it, without compromising the traditional hallmarks of a great Chianti.

Chianti Classico is one of my favorite places in the world and I actually had the pleasure [and some pain] of traveling to this great and historic wine making region in 2009. This is the second wine I've reviewed from Brancaia and if you not familiar with that review, I would recommend taking a look there first before you continue reading here, it's entitled "Putting the "Super" in Super Tuscan". It gives a lot more background on Brancaia, than I will be able to accomplish in this review today.

I know here I go again dipping into the pool of unadulterated honesty for which I may draw fire from a few folks for what I am about to allege. But here it goes; I believe truthfully that wines [which can be quite dry and tannic in their youth] from the Chianti region can be both exciting and frustrating at the same time, because there are as many duds, as there are wines of wonder and amazement [shock or awe?].

Even among the [Denominazione di Orogine Controllata e Garantita] DOCG which designates a producer of Chianti Classico, where you should find the familiar Black Chicken on the neck of the bottle. According to Jancis Robinson, who notes that "Chianti is sometimes called the "Bordeaux of Italy", as the flexibility in the blending recipe for Chianti accounts for some of the variability in styles among Chiantis."  That is well said, because when I find a great producer of Chianti-Classico, I get very excited and it's from this wellspring of excitement that I tell you it's a "new-day" in Chianti Classico  thus it's with great pleasure I present to you once more, Brancaia.

You may be asking why did I entitle this review a new day in Chianti? That's a good question, the premise of this "new-day" I believe is the pushing of the envelope, seen by some as "nuvo" or un-traditional and while this may be true, it should not obscure the fact that Brancaia is producing some [nope I didn't appreciate them all] truly fantastic wines, which are true to the concept of terroir and in my mind many of their wines are a good example of what the region is capable of producing in the right hands.

To me this is what Brancaia certainly represents, as a new wave of producers in Chianti. Of whom I would like characterize as thinking outside the [straw-covered bottle] traditional parameters in Chianti Classico, by introducing Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to their Sangiovese dominated blends and the use of French Oak barrels [some Tuscan winemakers consider anyone using French oak to be a non-traditionalist]. 
Swirly-swirl:  After uncorking the bottle, [sorry Stelvin fans Chianti Classico only uses cork] and if you ask them about screw caps they just look at you like you must be from "outer-space". What you will find after you pour yourself a glass, is that this wine has a deep garnet colored core, fading to the cerise colored rim, a wonderfully vivid color swirling about in my glass.

Sniffy-Sniff: So I stuff my half-Irish nose into the glass and giving the wine a few good swirls, its aromatics open to reveal a super-elegant expression of fresh berries, and tobacco.

Slurped: The mouth feel reveals a sumptuous expression of coffee, dark fruits, medium in weight, with a nice offset between the fruit and herbal characteristics which makes the wine very appealing as a drink now and drink often type of wine. It has wonderfully integrated tannins and sufficient acid carries this unusually fruit-forward but elegant Chianti, that's just now hitting it's stride.

What's in it?: In this wine you find a wonderful blend of 85% Sangiovese and 15% Merlot.

Full Disclosure: So if you're wondering how I was able to get my hands on a bottle, well the fine folks at the Hess Collection who are the importers of this fine wine sent a sample for the review process. This is not my first time to the rodeo either when it comes to vino from Brancaia, whose wines will seduce you over and over with their elegant charms.

Price and Purchase: Okay ya bunch of wino-tics [trust me, this is a real word] grabbing some of this wine is going to be a little tougher than I thought, as it is not sitting on any shelf just waiting for you to come and get it. This Chianti is a bit on the expensive side as Chianti's go, not the QPR winner I hoped it would be, however, for the caliber of wine, it's still a good value for $29 to $32.

Brick & Mortar: For the folks in the San Diego market, I spoke with the San Diego Wine Company and with Vintage Wines Limited of San Diego who both said they would order it for you, but you would need to speak with them regarding the arrangements of acquiring this wine. For the LA crowd, you can pick up this vino at Tarzana Wine & Spirits or at Fine Wine House [but I would call first].

My Recommendation: Because of the situation this wine is in, it may mean splitting a case with a friend or a few friends, who love a Chianti Classico like you do or maybe you could talk your favorite wine store into acquiring a few cases as a wise move to accommodate their customers. Whatever you do, I want to highly recommend this modern style of Chianti Classico to you, please give it a swirl and let me know your thoughts, I don't believe you will be disappointed. Until next time sip long and prosper.

What's the Score: Hey point seekers here's my score if your interested: This wine scored 90 points on the CCWB's 100 point scale and the QPR is good, but not great. Another very well made wine worthy of a place in your cellar or at a Tuscan inspired dining experience near you.

Other Voices: In case you need another opinion about this wine that I've found most tasty, I give you Mr. James Suckling formerly with the WS [Wine Spectator] had this to say about the 2006 Brancaia Chianti Classico, "Shows plenty of crushed blackberry and cherry, with hints of flowers. Full-bodied, with a solid core of fruit and silky tannins that turn to vanilla and raspberry on the finish." and recommends to drink [I think it's peaking now] now through 2014 and gave this wine a score of 91pts.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Under the Sardinian Sun: 2006 Santa Maria la Palma, Cagnulari, Alghero

French wine - Get 50% off shipping when you buy 6 or more bottles with code "corner37"

Okay I'm back from the world of wine politics, who knew there would be such a place. But I guess most people have a political-animal lurking in the back of their sub-conscious minds just waiting to be be unleashed upon other unsuspecting souls, who are not really looking for a fight [but will kick a few snobs, when needed]. They just want to sip their wine, have dinner with friends and share their thoughts with a thirsty world via their respective blogs.

Enough of that though, it's time to jump in the wine-wagon once more, take a spin and head over to a wonderful island just off the coast of Italy. It is called Sardinia [Sardegna] and it's the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. The winery [Santa Maria la Palma] itself is located not too far from the port at Porto Torres near the northern end of the Sardinia. This Spanish transplant [Cagnulari] used to make this wine is grown in the Villa Assunta district, where the soil is chalk and said to be very beneficial to ensure perfect ripening, and like Malbec has found its ideal local in Argentina, the Cagnulari grape has found its ideal habitat in Alghero region.

This was my first encounter with this wine ever and I must say I was really impressed by its overall finesse and restrained power. It's really funny that I ran into this wine while I was in China last year and it made just now recall that famous Beach Boy's song, "I get Around" because like them I get bugged driving up down the same old strip, I want to go where the wines are hip". But no joking after nearly a week in China I was seriously “jonesing” for a nice glass of wine, so the wife and I stepped into a [very empty] Italian restaurant in Beijing. They had a fantastic wine-list and as I recall it really had some depth, but the prices were a little steep, so a look the WBG menu, is where this wine caught my eye. I thought to myself, I've never heard of it before and since I love to try to new wines, I thought I might as well give it go. Both my wife and I enjoyed every sip of this fantastic wine.

The Grape: Most folks believe that this grape most likely came over from Spain during the Spanish domination of the island, the Cagnulari is a black grape, producing wines that are a deep ruby color. The wines made from this grape typically display an elegant structure and have an unmistakable aroma, it will remind you of French Mouvedre.

Swirly, Sniffity-Sniff, Slurp: As I mentioned earlier I selected this wine off the WBG menu, the core was like a dark massive ruby. In went my fat half-Irish nose, where I found wonderful aromas that were both intense and seductive, notes of liquorice swirling about, really delightful. On the palate, it's a superb combination of baked cherry fruit and black berry fruits and a slight gamey character making it very distinct. But an ever-so pleasant drinking wine with a long lush finish and a I found it to be a fab food-pairing partner. By the way this wine weighed in at a mere 13% ABV [which surprised me], a fact which would make many of my wine-geek [they know who they are] friends very happy, that a wine this low in ABV has so much flavor and finesse.

Purchase and Price: I could not find a local state-side importer, distributor or retailer that carried this wine, but I did find a place called London Wine Deliveries that could ship it to the US, they sell this wine for about $25 USD for a 750ml bottle.

What's the Score: Yum-tastic is the first thought that came to mind and yes that is a real word [don't question it] I gave this wine 90 points on the CCWB hundred point scale. If this wine had more state-side availability, I may have given it a higher score. But I do think it's definitely a wine worth acquiring. If you have never tried a wine like this, I would recommend that you put this one on your wine shopping list, a wine to be on the look for and personally I would give it a swirl once more if the opportunity presented itself.

No other voices this time, as I couldn't find any others. I've not seen a review of this wine anywhere else on the web. So this does appear to be the very first review of this wine. If you happen to be visiting the area, stop in for a visit, they appear very welcoming of guests. The tasting room appears to be very modern and from the pictures has a very Napa-ish [of course it's a real word] appeal. The wine production facilities are quite immense, on par with many larger wineries here in the US. That's it for now, folks sip long and prosper, cheers!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Fermented Thoughts: Can Wine Blogs be trusted?

Today, I am veering away from the slate of reviews sitting on my stack of stuff, here at the CCWB a place I like to refer to as Chez Vino.

I came across this article on a friends Facebook wall and I thought I needed to tackle this issue head on. So I'm just going to dive in and it's my hope that we can have a conversation about this apparently contrived issue. I don't even know why it was posed in the first place, other than to dredge up some controversy.

But that is fine, I don't mind getting hands dirty now and then or taking on some bilge-water study, that supposedly supports their theory. Am I just taking the bait, giving these folks some my precious content space? Perhaps, we will see. Let's dive in.

Just Saying: Remember often times "pseudo-science" is used to make political book. I think it is a great practice to question or consider the source of the information, to find out why and for what purpose it [said study] was gathered in the first place. So unlike others that have rushed in making snap-decisions and knee-jerk comments about a study, that they have not seen. Step back and take in some perspective would ya?

So c'mon, really? Are you going to take Johnny-Pimpleface's rock-solid wine advice over at the local juice-joint, who just started working there and cares [or knows] little about why wine and food can be so much more together than on their own, but whose real mission it's to get rid of that old vintage hanging around the wine shop, versus that of a dedicated wine blogger who has most likely tasted through thousands of different wines in a year and has nothing to gain except the fun of sharing, their thoughts? Does that make sense? That would like taking the advice of the kid filling an over-sized bucket of popcorn about the plot points of the movie you are about to watch versus some of the insightful movie reviews I find on a film blogs [but, omg how you trust them, they never went to film school]. Thus, the premise of this supposed study that questions the credibility of folks that write wine-blogs is highly questionable and completely unfair.

The Upshot: The study heartily implies that most folks would rather trust a wine store clerk over a wine blogger for recommendations on wine, thus wine blogs are irrelevant or at the worst dead. According to the study they site; Independent bloggers are one of the least trusted sources for wine information in the UK, USA and France, according to research published by the Wine Intelligence and reported by Harper's Wine and Spirits online Wine Magazine. This part just doesn't make any sense at all, if you just think about it for a moment. I mean the whole story is silly, most [95%] wine bloggers have ZERO to gain from making a recommendation on a certain wine, while the guy/gal at the local wine shops recommendation is at best suspect.

The Wine Intelligence study supposedly supports the idea that, "50% of wine consumers [they polled] trust the advice given over the counter by a wine merchant, compared to one in five who trust what independent bloggers have to say about a wine" Read More. So my question to you Mr and Mrs.Wine Shopper, why would you take the recommendation of some wine guy/gal in the wine store over that of a wine blogger? What would make you think that the recommendation given over the counter [think Bevmo] is more sincere or straight forward than the guy/gal behind the keyboard passionately writing their heart out for next to nothing in compensation?

This part of the report is some of the most discouraging information that I've read about the state of Wine Blogging in the US market. The report cites that, "the US, wine merchants are even more revered, with 80% of consumers surveyed saying they trust wine merchants." Read More That is an really interesting statistic especially in the light of the fact that 90% of the folks that represent my audience are from the US and that this wine-blog is in the Top 10% of all US websites. I know that does not dispute the claims of the Wine Intelligence study, but if wine-bloggers were so mis-trusted than why, oh why are there so many folks reading blogs like this one? Hmmm, I would love to know the answer to that question. In fact I see many folks in wine-shops these days, shopping using their phone, scanning the UPC to evaluate price and perhaps consulting a wine blog whose review was pulled up in a google search.

Here's what I think is going on; I mean anyone can cork-off and say this or that about wine-blogs and the folks who write those blogs and pretty much get away it. We don't have teams of lawyers, willing to fight the man [major wine pubs], who I suspect may have perhaps sponsored this so-called "study" in an effort to deflect the fact that many wine bloggers are starting to erode away their audiences and potentially taking some their advertising revenue. The use of flagrantly flimsy studies to make the point that wine-bloggers are irrelevant, this is what I call sour grapes.

Thrown Under the Bus: In writing this article today I came across another wine-blogs take on the issue, who took a decidedly different tact and approach, like completely agreeing with the gist of the study. Yep, one of our own has thrown the majority of us [other wine blogs] "under the bus" and backed up a few times just for good measure. Mr. Alder Yarrow over at Vinography gave credence to the Wine Intelligence study by saying this, "Most people are most certainly going to trust their local wine merchant, an established critic, or a sommelier in a restaurant more than a blogger. And frankly as a rule, they should. Why? Because a lot of wine bloggers don't really know what they're talking about." Thanks Alder! In the same breath I could easily say that many folks working in wine stores today, don't taste enough wine to really know what they are talking about to even begin making recommendations outside their own inventory and that is a fact.

Broad Brush: Far too many wine bloggers are summarily dismissed by a wave of the snobby hands of elitist as Scott Rosenberg writes in ‘say everything‘, a concise history of the blogging phenomena, “saying that ninety percent of blogs are crap‘ is way too close to implying that “ninety percent of people are crap.’ John Corcoran  commenting on the Mr. Rosenbergs findings had this to say;  It seems a tad disingenuous to address the tired and the vapid, and then to paint the whole on the failings of the few.

Credibility Gap?: According to article entitled Must-Read Wine Blogs Eric Arnold [] characterized Mike Steinberger [] thoughts about wine-blogs [Dr. Vino's specifically] regarding the relevancy of wine blogs "folks no longer need to turn to a magazine or newspaper authority they feel they must trust unquestioningly"  and "when it comes to influence, wine critics are now on a level playing field with the best bloggers."  Mr. Arnold's take on the subject of wine blogs and their creditability do seem to stand in stark contrast the thoughts of fellow wine blogger Mr. Yarrow statement about wine bloggers creditability. Based on the Must-Read Wine Blogs article you could surmise, that wine-blogs are NOT the untrusted sources of information they are made out to be in the Wine Intelligence study.

Wine Bloggers are Wine Writers: Tom Wark, As I've noted before, all wine bloggers are wine writers, but all wine writers are not wine bloggers. The distinction between "mainstream wine media" and wine bloggers is becoming nothing more than a distinction in the capability of the writer to gain an audience. I don't think there is anything substantially different in content, methodology or philosophy between those who write for blogs and those who write for wine magazines or newspapers. Tom Wark of Fermentation: The Daily Wine Blog

Summed Up: I think there are as many bad wine bloggers as there are wine shops folks that give bad advice, by saying this I not throwing them all under the proverbial bus, but I'm just stating the obvious that not everyone will meet or exceed the standards of  the consummate professional. I'm not sure why is there is so much loathing for folks that write wine blogs and I really don't know why folks who write blogs themselves feel compelled to broad brush all other bloggers as being  unprofessional. Those are questions for which I don't have any answers, just suspicions. That said, I have pretty much laid out my case about why I think the whole article [Wine drinkers trust merchants over bloggers] is nothing but a sham and in my opinion, the study is at best questionable [suspicions confirmed]. But I would love to hear what you think about the subject if you would like to contribute to the conversation.  Until next time sip long and prosper, cheers!

Survey Bias Admission: This post was written a few days after my original post on the topic, by the wonderful wine blogging [dynamic] duo over at Another Wine Blog who also decided it was time to take a closer look at the so-called "survey" that none of us are allowed to see, unless you want to cough-up some $2,150 USD.  Here's the headline title; Wine Intelligence admits Bias, Ulterior Motives in “Wine Blogger Distrust” Release. Read More.

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