Life is better on the corner, the place where great wines meet reasonable prices!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Here's to Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams: Happy New Years Everyone!

"Burgundy makes you think of silly things, Bordeaux makes you talk of them and Champagne makes you do them." ~ Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Wine of the Week: 2008 Parusso Armando Barolo DOCG, Piedmont, Italy

“I believe in science and data but the first truth to which we must answer when making wine is pleasure- the truth of our senses.” Alison Crowe

Here in this bottle lies a wine which will delight the senses, it will make your heart sing with joy and one which could easily join just about any item on the dinner menu without raising so much as an eyebrow, to those sipping on its very luxurious long lasting flavors and that folks is gospel [the truth]. 

Many folks new to the wine scene are a bit timid when it comes to Barolo. After all Nebbiolo produces a wine, that often are not in the entry level category [if you know what I mean]. Typically when very young, they are tight and tannic and difficult to wrap your tongue around. I tend to think of it as a bit of a beast, and often when it comes Barolo is not for the feint of heart or the palate.
{Traditionally} "The juice that Barolo produces is highly tannic and acidic, able to cause mouths to pucker, tongues to purple and teeth to stain." 
There is much to like about this young 2008 Parusso you see pictured above; especially for those who're fans of uber approachable styles of wine which take very little understanding to enjoy. It’s very modern and a style that many would label as an international style; meaning loads of low hanging fruit, polished tannins, and generous use of toasty oak. 

While the oak hides some of the ornate perfumed characteristics of Nebbiolo, this is still a very tasty wine. For me it’s like drinking an ice cold corona from seven eleven on a very hot, blistering summer day, a true guilty pleasure. I would have preferred that this wine had only been labeled as a "Nebbiolo" instead and they had not used Barolo on the label. But that's just me. 

Just know that his Barolo is not going to be your traditional Barolo experience and you should not use it bellwether for the traditional style of Barolo you could encounter later. Instead you should expect a [the 2008 Parusso pictured above] wine that I'd call a very modern style, and yes it’s a bit flashy. Soon as you pop the cork this puppy is ready to rock, with no fuss, no muss [read that zero decanting needed] just 750 ml of drinking pleasure waiting to rock your palate. 

I'm scoring it 89 points, it's a pleasure to drink and pairs easily with food. It sells for about $40 or more most places, but I scored mine for just south of $30, as I can often sniff out a grape wine bargain. Until next time folks please remember life is short, so continue to sip long and prosper cheers! 

Monday, December 16, 2013

(Shell)-Fishing For Great Whites

I love white Burgundy but, when it comes to the range of terroirs and producers, I frequently feel like I have barely scratched the surface.  More than this, the prices for Premier Cru and Grand Cru can often be a real obstacle to dipping one's toe in the waters without the fear of losing a limb. Driven by that combined feeling of naiveté and frugality,  I went fishing for some affordable Great Whites to taste.  So, I lined up two village wines from Olivier Leflaive (samples kindly provided by Southern Wines).  I have to say, I was truly looking forward to these wines.

In anticipation, I had encouraged (begged) my wife to prepare some wonderful steamed mussels and baguette. So while I opened the wine and allowed it to breathe, the kitchen was progressively bathed in the glorious smell of mussels, shallots, diced tomatoes and warm, fresh-baked baguette.

I pulled the corks on the Leflaive 2010 Meursault ($45 USD) and the 2011 Puligny-Montrachet ($60 USD).  Although Meursault can produce some of the richest and fullest whites in Burgundy, they are frequently delicate when they are young. I was intrigued by what I would encounter.

Leflaive 2010 Meursault  - Initially the Meursault appeared delicate but it was also a little too cold for my palate.  I know some like their whites to feel like they just stepped off a King Crab boat on the Bering Sea but I like mine a little less palate-shocking (60F).  When I returned to the glass, 20 minutes later, the aromatics had emerged. Lime and lemon zest (and pith) rolled over hints of white flowers, chalk and fern leaf. It almost reminded me of spring, despite the impending snow-storm outside.

The mouth feel was soft and round, and served as a great contrast to the wonderfully enthusiastic front of palate attack of bright acidity.   It was clean and bright, showing citrus, bitter apple pit, white peach, apricot, buttered toast and perhaps a little spice.  As it warmed up (and again on the second day) the palate was softer still, and showed progressively greater evidence of the buttered toast element. Think of it a little like the interplay of clarified butter and fresh lemon squeezed over freshly steamed Maine lobster. And now I’m hungry all over again. I fear weight loss is not in my future. In the land of ratings, the Leflaive 2010 Meursault definitely warrants an 89+ point score and should be readily found from any good Sommelier on the corner (fine wine store).  

It’s counterpart on this occasion, the 2011 Puligny-Montrachet - kicked things up another notch or two. The high quality of Chardonnay produced truly there reflects a rarity of nature not unlike winning the lottery. A viticulturists Powerball or sorts, driven by climate, soil and the topographical context (limestone soils, climate, drainage, altitude, aspect).  Vines grow on elevated slopes that orient them to catch the best of the available sunshine while simultaneously forcing them the reach their roots deep into the soil in search of water.

Right out of the blocks, the aromatics of the the Puligny were much more prominent than in the Meursault, creamier and accompanied by great spice (hazelnut, almond). The nose was wrapped up in an intriguing and very lovely world of lemon zest, pear and almost smoky, stone dust/chalky minerality. Given the choice, THIS is the aromatic cloud I want to walk through when I enter the department store (or open a Chardonnay) and not the viscous, musky overly perfumed mutton dressed as Corton. 

The palate displayed a lovely complexity, with spiced poached pears, meyer lemon and apricot. There was a little more vanillin evident here than in the Meursault but it was well balanced. The mouth feel was smooth, like suede, though not so soft that it seems flabby. It retained a taut and energetic feel.  It was mouthwatering, clean and cleansing but the acidity and less overtly aggressive than the Meursault, and helped drive a long finish with a focused fruit core. 

Both wines performed wonderfully well with the mussels, and would equally support that outstanding lobster I mentioned at the start.  However, I won’t wait until my next lobster meal to buy some more of these, especially when there are plenty of fresh mussels waiting to by devoured with fresh baguette.  If you pick up a bottle or two, I trust you will find something similarly fun and delicious to enjoy with them.  If not, drop me a note and I will share my wife’s recipe for mussels.

In my book, the Puligny garners a little extra love (90-92 points). The structure, focus and complexity just edged out that of the Meursault, despite the additional cost. Both, however, do pass the "would I buy more?" test. These are beautifully constructed food wines, and well worth exploration with your favorite seafood. Go catch your own Great White. Happy fishing!


Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Nice Chianti Without The Liver Or Fava Beans

Sorry, I could not resist the Hannibal reference. Anyway, let me set the scene. It's Sunday evening and the normal scramble had begun. My wife and I were frantically running around the kitchen looking for things with which we can make a substantial evening meal, whilst establishing what laundry needs to be attended to and whose homework needs to be finished.  The usual madness, I reassure myself, that occurs in the home of every other parent.
I found some meatballs, some pieces of roast chicken breast, a jar of pasta sauce, some herbs, garlic and spaghetti. Sounds like a meal, right? I fired up the oven and dash downstairs to pull a bottle from the cellar.  I had been looking for an excuse to try the new vintage from Marchesi dè Frescobaldi Castello di Nipozzano Nipozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva (2009), having been reminded of it in Montreal last month when I enjoyed the 2006.

Castello di Nipozzano as depicted on the Marchesi de Frescobaldi web site

Winemaking at Castello di Nipozzano dates back to 1864. The region lies east of Florence in the revered territory of Chianti Rufina, overlooking the valley through which flows the River Arno. Better still, it is blessed by a distinctive microclimate that, married with the soil and altitude, provide ideal growing conditions for elegant and long lived wines.  But I digress...!

I pulled the cork on the 2009 Nipozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva and left it to breathe for an hour while I began to prepare dinner and check homework.

I don't know about you but I love the first sniff, that first impression.  On this occasion, as with many Italian wines, it made my mouth water.  It's bad enough that by now the kitchen now smelled wonderfully of meat, tomato and garlic that were not yet ready to eat but now my eyes, nose and brain were ganging up on my stomach to say "FEED ME"!

While I waited, the wine would have to suffice. In the glass it beamed with a delightful deep purple hue, edged by a translucent rim.  The nose revealed herbs, summer flowers, leather, black cherry, blackberry and licorice. The palate grabbed me from the first sip. It's like the energizer bunny decided had arrived in my mouth with great fists full of black cherry plum skins, licorice, leather and earth, and pummeled my tongue like that darned little drum.  The fruit was vibrant and pure, showing nice focus and depth on mid-palate and dogged persistence. This bunny kept on going with a layered finish that added a little spice and smoke to the occasion.  

Once the food hit the table, the Nipozzano found its true comfort zone. As energetic as a kitten entertained by a laser pointer, this Chianti possessed an ample core of fruit, acidity and earthy tannin to complement even the most rustic of homemade pasta and tomato sauce dishes.  A little freshly ground black pepper and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and all was right with the world, my grumbling stomach and my bickering children.

It never ceases to amaze me how the simple combination of good wine, food and family restore a sense of balance to my weeworld.

In summary, the 2009 Nipozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva is an elegant wine with great energy, and old world charm but eminently approachable in its youth. What is even better to me is the fact that it's built for food!  It's also built with some cellaring potential and age gracefully over the incoming 3-5 years.  As I said at the start, I recently tasted the 2006, and it was drinking wonderfully well.  The 2009 is beautifully perfumed with a great core of fruit and dusty tannin, and at around $26 USD this is definitely a steal. As the night rolled on – proved itself to be a great companion to the meatballs and spaghetti. 

For those who like a score - it comfortably makes the 88-90 point range. For those who don't like keeping score, think of it this way.  

Was the wine worth the money?  Yes! 
Was is a great complement to dinner? Undoubtedly, yes!
Am I at all disappointed that I bought it or opened it tonight? No!
Would I buy it again? Yes

Now - I will have to leave you all so I may enjoy the rest of the bottle in the company of my beautiful wife.  Cin Cin!


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Travel Tuesday: Wine Travel Uncorked

“Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts.”  Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

Ah yes the perils of travel, why is that "getting there" often seems to be the most difficult part of the journey? For some there’s the fear of Turbulence? The plane shaking like a can sardines in the hands of a hungry shopper, no worries I don't need the provided air-sickness bag. Go ahead, shake, rattle and roll for me, that is no problem.

But then there are the dreaded delays [flashing on screens overhead] which are irritating [and happen all too often] but survivable. Hell, I don't even worry too much about sitting next to a “chatty-Kathy” that’s what noise canceling headphones are for.

I’m not the frequent flyer type by any stretch of the imagination, so there is one thing I fear the most when traveling; it happens when I’m waiting at the baggage carousel, gulp. Everyone else is picking up their bags and heading off to their final destination, while I keep watching the luggage carousel go round and round. There is no worse feeling in the world, when you’re the last one waiting when the carousel shuts down [sigh].

This is when I have my moment of panic in which I think, “Ugh, oh-no..…I've bet on red and the roulette wheel ball of travel lands on black. Ugh, no they’ve lost my bag, damit. That is when I realize the cheap T-shirt my wife [aka. Mrs. Cuvee] told me not to wear feels so much more valuable and comfortable than it did a few hours ago. Then it hits you, I have absolutely no idea how my sizes are measured in Italy, oh-boy this going to be interesting

You know how folks sometimes like to say, "you have to take the "rough" with the smooth"? Well that had been my personal experience when I arrived in Italy back in 2009, and man let me tell you, it does suck! I flew into Rome in the latter part of a frigid January to find out that my luggage did not accompany me on the trip. So for nearly three days, I was without a change of clothes, which means you have to become real creative. I then came to find out, that since no one works on Sundays, it would take a full extra day to get my luggage to me, sheese thanks. 

So while yes I was in beautiful Rome, the eternal city, and all set for another blogger trip with a fine cadre of wine writers, grape-folks who I had only known by reputation at the time. My expectations for a fresh change of clothes sadly got side-ways real quick. Okay, okay I know enough of my wine-ing right? It's time for the fun stuff, the review of another wine chock full of soul and substance.

Nonetheless, I'm still very happy to have attended the International Wine Tourism Conference & Workshop in Umbria, Italy back in 2011. It was an amazing experience and fantastic opportunity to sample the great wines of Umbria and meet all the fantastic folks behind the labels. Everyone I met whether winemakers and/or producers what really stood out was just how passionate about they all were about experiencing life, they have a [don't miss this] "a deep rich history that ties together the present, giving a vision for the future".
So all you Tuscany wine fans, do yourself a great big favor and check into Umbria, there are many grape wine finds just waiting to be uncorked. They have an abundant selection of food oriented wines that dance on your palate, while playing nicely with the food on the table, wines that are very compelling. I had been here now a total of three days when I realized that not every wine works, but the ones that do, they hit every cylinder, especially for you "slow-foods" fans and adherents.

So for the first wine in the "Umbrian" review spotlight will be the 2009 Barberani 2009 Rosso, a wine which sells most places [yes, even here in the states] for about $12 Euros. This wine is a delicious blend of three grapes; including Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and rounded out by a bit of Merlot. In the glass a nice ruby-red color. On the nose you'll find a delicate bouquet, a wine destined to make your lunch time much brighter. 

Its nicely balanced persistence of ripe cherry, dark plum, wrapped in a nice piece of fresh leather, just makes your food sing. I found this wine to have a silky mouth feel, although a bit dry, soft on a nearly bitter finish eroded by the accompaniment of a nice baguette and a few slices of prosciutto. Wow, what a nice body and a clean character, not a rough edge in sight. 

This wine can easily handle a large variety of food, but some grilled or spit-roasted red meats, like fresh Umbrian boar, marinara sauce spilled over some fresh made pasta. I highly recommend this wine for everyday drinking and award it 88 points. What are you waiting for, grab yourself some of the Umbrian experience to see what I'm talking about, until next time sip long and prosper cheers!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Top 10 Thanksgiving Holiday Wine Picks

"Personally, I love Thanksgiving traditions: watching football, making pumpkin pie, and saying the magic phrase that sends your aunt storming out of the dining room to sit in her car." ~ Stephen Colbert

Ah yes, another wonderful year nearly ready, to be neatly tucked away in the can and stored away for posterity. But every year at this time we [folks who live in the states] collectively sigh or I mean take time-out to give a "thanks" for our collective blessings.

Do you know a curmudgeon, perhaps there's one in your family? A cranky Uncle or Aunt who's tired of giving a crap? They're easily spotted by their "keep off my lawn" demeanor and defensive remarks to strangers. They resent holidays, like the one right around the corner and for many it has become all too clichéd, to take it seriously any longer. After All there's football on TV, pumpkin pies, roasted, fried and barbecued turkeys, the ugly sweater contest and homes so hot you it's easy to be overcome with what some call the "meat" sweats, and there are the crazy family members, you're glad you only have to see once a year. 

Man, do I totally get that attitude. But [here it comes] I think many of those "grumps" just may need a couple glasses of decent vino or other "holiday cheer" to help them get over their anti-holiday feelings. So this year when you gather with your families or choose to serve others, use it to embrace them and thank each one of them for being a part of your life, just this once [whether you mean it or not is another story]. I’m now stepping away from the soap box and returning you to your normally scheduled holiday wine review.

Every year at this time, I give my Top 10 Thanksgiving Holiday Wine "picks" and this year is no exception. I know my post is a bit "danger" close for those wanting to stock up for the holiday, but chalk-up these recommendations for the procrastinators [last minute wine-buys] in the audience who've been waiting to read about ten tasty wine selections to brighten up their holiday menus this week. Yes, most of them, if not all will be a red wines [my favorite] but I do have at least one almost white-wine to recommend this time around as well. 

1. 2011 Pinot Gris Orange: from Beauregard Vineyards [Santa Cruz Mountains[ orange is the new black. This is a standout wine, for it's unique approach to Pinot Gris, its unique aromas and flavors. This was the first time, I've had the opportunity to sample a wine like this, frankly I had no idea what to expect. But that said, I really did like where it took me tho. Read more.

2. 2009 "Cum Laude"Castello Banfi, Montalcino: Okay folks the moment you've all been waiting for, the tasting notes: In the glass, you'll find a beaming crimson core inviting the first splash across the gums. The aromas attempting to escape from the glass are more like bunglers attempting to escape the loony-bin, none-the-less you still get vibrant black/blue-berry compote wrapped around some cedar and a faint whiff of wet-earth. Read more.

3. 2011 Brancott Estate Pinot Noir: Now that said, once I got the bottle opened via a quick flick-of-the-wrist, poured a few ounces, I immediately noticed the bright [but very lightly colored] cherry, raspberry core. On the nose a light perfume of crisp summer fruits, strawberries, cherries and cranberries dancing around, black-tea and rich earth. Taking out my deluxe tasting straw from a recent boxed-wine, I sampled this delightful Pinot Noir. Read more.

4. 2010 Hawks View Washington Cabernet-Sauvignon: The grapes were harvested from the Double Canyon vineyard found just across the Oregon border, [see above] an 88 acre site located in Alderdale, Washington.It's quite an amazing vineyard site, one which falls within the Horse Heaven Hills American Viticulture Area [AVA]. 

I hear the vine rows are two miles longs and hang precariously above the Columbia Gorge. This wines pairing ability is epic; it really will wow any Thanksgiving guest you may have. Read more.

5. 2010 Ettore Germano "Langhe" Nebbiolo: The wine you see pictured above was a superb representative of what a wine with soul should be. From the first drop to the last splash, it over delivered in finesse and flavor. The color you can see in the glass is amazing, the nose a virtual potpourri of dried red/dark fruits, herbs and leather. 

After the first slurp, you'll find this wine to be very generous, slapping your palate with vibrant red-currants, strawberry, licorice, and dried-violets. It has a SRP of $23 and in my estimation well worth the price of admission [Drink this one while carving the turkey]. Read more. 

6. 2011 Bruliam Gap's Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir: Get in the gap, even in tough vintages like 2011, it's still entirely possible to make fantastic wines, but with an entirely different expression than what you may be use to in the warmer years. A "different-expression" is what you'll find in this Bruliam 2011 Gap's Crown Pinot Noir, an elegant, but at the same time powerful expression of Pinot Noir. I'm giving this wine 93 points, it's an outstanding representation of the quality this vineyard has to offer. Read more. 

7. 2010 Domaine Jean-Marc Morey, Chassagne-Montrachet: This wine was very light in color, more like a light cranberry/strawberry. The nose jumped from the glass right away, fresh summer strawberries, raspberry puree, rich-earth, dried-florals and even a whiff of rhubarb. I didn't want to take my nose away even to grab my first slurp, but I resisted, dove right in and wow everything I experience in the nose exploded across my palate like a broad-side from a pirate-ship of old. Read more.  
"This is the wine you drink once all the guest have departed and it's just you, the dog and the leftovers." 
8. 2009 Marsannay, Les Longeroies, Vieilles Vignes Red Burgundy: This bottle while not expensive, a mere $27 was no slouch in the delicious category. A wine boasting of the rich, ripe fruit [but not flabby] many of wines of this vintage experienced, a wonderfully terroir-driven wine, that while very exuberant in style, it had a nice counter balance of acidity driving the wine home. I scored this wine 90 points, it's highly recommended. Read more.

"What's in a name, that which we call a rose? By any other name would smell as sweet" ~ Shakespeare

9. 2011 Marsannay Rose from Bruno Clair: This wine pictured above, is a serious wine perfect for the plucking, ready to be uncorked for an amazing Thanksgiving dinner. But it does not take itself too serious when it comes to fun food and wine pairing opportunities. This wine shows plenty of intensity and generosity on the palate, it will wow you great depth and balance. Baskets of mouth-watering, ripe summer strawberries, rich with minerality, earthiness, await the thirsty vino-sapien with each sip, slurp and maybe even the eventual gulp. Read more.

10. Sandeman's Founders Reserve Porto: It's time to bust out the Pumpkin pies and other desserts. So what wine do you serve? Well my go to is simple, but plush and will help put Aunt Mildred who has been droning on and on endlessly about her cat, out like the proverbial light. Wondering if it's worth the effort? For one, it's easily found and two it won't run you more than $20, but it will put a smile on everyone's face. It's plush on the palate, a gob-smack of freshly picked red cherries, dark [very ripe] plums, bakers chocolate and, rich earth which sails gracefully across across your palate, leaving you with a long finish.

Select Opportunities For Early Drinking And Great Values Amongst 2011 S. Rhone Wines

Beautifully constructed wines from Alain Jaume et fils provide great value in an awkward (2011) vintage.
I’ve been giving some thought to what wine I might taste for my first post since officially joining Bill on Cuvée Corner.   Should it be an elite Californian Cabernet or a value play from Spain? Should I look for something that personifies the incredible efforts of Aussie winemakers to reinvent their wine culture and their brand, or should it highlight the investments being made by old world winemakers in South American wine-making?

These are some of the many topics I want to touch upon but for the first few notes, I want to explore some of what the Southern Rhone Valley has to offer from a vintage that truly kept vineyards on their toes throughout the growing season (2011).

By all accounts a series of less than predictable/desirable events, including somewhat unseasonal temperatures and poorly timed rains served to increase the stress and workload of vineyard management.  A warm spring brought early bud break and robust flowering that promised great production and potentially early harvest. The hot spring was however, followed by a cool June and July, retarding the anticipated harvest. Worse still were the heavy rains that soaked vineyards in August and prompted additional steps to keep yields and concentrations in check.  September thankfully provided relief with warmer weather that facilitated late-season ripening.  Although some were challenged by rot, those vintners who had luck on their side and got their timing right were rewarded, and now it is our turn!

For the astute and the fortunate, the spoils of a busy growing season are proving to be elegant and pliant wines that offer great early drinking.  In fact the 2011 vintage looks like the perfect follow up to the ripe, extracted 2009 and the more elegant, sinewy 2010, both of which, though outstanding, will necessitate some additional bottle age to realize their full potential.  By contrast, although they are undoubtedly less extracted, many of the 2011s are wonderfully and gently structured and retain more than enough acidity to provide great accompaniment to food.

In this, first of two pieces, I want to introduce you to a vintner whose wines have enchanted me from my first taste in 2009 (2007 Clos Sixte, Lirac). The portfolio is packed with beautifully constructed wines and incredible values produced under two labels - Alain Jaume et fils and Domaine Grand Veneur. The former is home to their négociant productions and the latter, home to their estate wines.

The negociant label produces a wide array of quality wines from Cotes du Rhone (CDR), CDR Village, Lirac and Vacqueyras – all at exceptional QPR. Similarly Domaine Grand Veneur produces exceptional CDR Village and Chateauneuf du Pape (CDP) wines. In their CDPs, they appear systematically to find synergy in the marriage of a contemporary style of wines/winemaking (including aging in barrique) with the retention of the wines’ Rhone heritage and identity – freshness and purity of fruit and character that reflect their terroir.  

The Jaume philosophy is to respect and preserve the health of soil and vine through the implementation of organic practices (Grand Veneur and Clos Sixte Vineyards), in the pursuit of powerful and balanced wines with character and cellar potential. They believe every great wine should drink well young, and evolve to provide something more. 
S. Rhone appellations - pictured on the website of Alain Jaume Pere et fils

Alain and his sons manage to achieve this goal with astonishing regularity, but the fact that they achieve this goal at almost every price point may be the greatest surprise of all. If you have not yet experienced their wines, you are in for a real treat.  Few winemakers can maintain such elevated quality to price ratios across their portfolio – year after year. 

 So let me set this in context. The US importer Fran Kysela (Kysela Pere et fils; @Kysela) kindly provided the samples tasted in this report. They span three of the many terroirs in S Rhone from which Jaume produces (Lirac, Vacqueyras and Chateauneuf). All had been opened at least an hour prior to their delivery. I sat down to taste through everything and then, about 30 minutes later, dinner arrived.  I had ordered portabella mushroom pizza from Toss Pizza (Portabella mushroom, herbs, roasted red pepper, baby spinach and feta cheese) – some of the earthy notes that predominate in Rhone wines.

2011 Domaine du Clos de Sixte, Lirac Rouge (50% Grenache, 35% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre).  This was the first Alain Jaume’s wines that I ever tasted, and I fell in love instantly. Four vintages later, I still love it. Poured into the glass it showed bright bing cherry and red currants on the nose. It’s a medium bodied wine with a lively initial attack. The palate is flooded by red fruits and currants, and edged with mushroom and black tea. In mouth the experience lingers revealing white pepper, cinnamon, and finishing with wonderful nori-like minerality and stone-dust, earthy fruit tannin. 

Wow! - In prior vintages Sixte has required a more air-time or a little more bottle age before showing this breadth of complexity. If this was the entry point to a four wine and pizza night – it was going to Rock! Importantly, this is a beautiful, balanced and complex wine with the potential for further cellaring but no need for it. I will be enjoying the 2011s long before I break into my 2010s, and at under $23USD/btl – one can do so relatively guilt free!  This wine very comfortably makes the 90 point meridian with room to spare (+) and I may be tempted to push it higher just because I do not have to wait (90+ points).

 2011 Alain Jaume, Vacqueyras, Grande Garrigue (60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre, 10% Cinsault)This wine was new to me but it took no time at all for us to become fast friends. It pours deep ruby into the glass, releasing dark cherry, kirsch, black and red currant nose with spice and vanilla. The theme persists on the medium bodied palate with red and black fruits married with garrigue, provençal herbs, white pepper, clove and anise.  A focused stream of currant and cherry, linger with the pepper and herb in a long finished framed by fine-grained sweet tannin. At under $22USD/btl this is easily a 91+ points just edging out the Sixte on flavor profile and price.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape (CDP) 
Stepping up a notch in price, construction and elegance, it is not unreasonable to expect a little more from the vineyards around Avignon.  Alain Jaume makes an outstanding range of CDPs, some extending over the $100 retail mark we normally allow ourselves to review. So – I wanted to show you some real values in CDP looking at a retail price window of between $47USD and $65USD/btl.

2011 Grand Veneur, Châteauneuf-du-Pape (CDP) Rouge (70% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mouvèdre and others) – The color here is deeper and the wine less translucent. Poured and instantaneously the air above the glass is filled with the sweet perfume on fresh, raspberry sorbet and market fresh cherries. On the palate, the depth and complexity of flavors draws you in. Herbs, garrigue, clove, cinnamon meld with black and red fruits in a broad and palate-coating rush of sensory stimulation.  All the while it retains a great mid-palate core with a kick of kalamata olive and pepper on a significant finish. At under $50USD/btl – this is a steal.  It’s a serious CDP with no need to wait. Pleasure-driven but sufficiently restrained to preserve the appearance of propriety and class. I loved this and by now the pizza is begging to be devoured but there is one more CDP before I can fully relax into the wine with food. Again this is easily a 91+ point wine. It edges out the Grand Garrigue on flavor profile but for the price I see them as having the same quality:price ratio (QPR).

2011 Grand Veneur, Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge, Les Origines  (50% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 30% Mouvèdre) - Now we have stepped up into another league entirely!  Blackberry, red currants, black raspberry sorbet, maraschino cherries, crème de cassis flood the air. Every sniff brings a new experience. Provençal herbs, white pepper and mushrooms join the dance.  All are represented on a wonderfully focused palate, with hints of mocha, licorice and toasty vanilla bean. The spine is sinewy, muscular and pliant/supple, showing dusty, sweet fruit tannins that persist on a finish that seems to outlast my ability to delay taking another sip. Plush and polished with no hard edges, this is undoubtedly the star of the night and still comes in under $65USD. This has to garner 92-94 points, almost on shear harmony and synergy of the many component parts of the experience.  I gave the 2010 Les Origines 96 points but they are in the cellar to remain untouched for five years – just sayin’.

Now I can relax - Starting to tuck into the pizza, I know I have made the right choice tonight. 

Portabella mushroom, herbs, roasted red pepper, baby spinach and feta cheese - A great, herby, earthy, cheesy mouthful cut and complemented by the wonderful acidity, fruit and salinity of these wines. Each one serves as an excellent complement and food-friendly companion. I know these wines are more commonly enjoyed with more robust, hearty and red meat-driven meals but this works perfectly for a Friday night.

I hope that in the process of introducing you to, not one but four, beautiful wines available from a single great Rhone producer, I have convinced you that 2011 in S Rhone will allow phenomenal, guilt-reduced (if not guilt-free) sipping without the need for cellaring or extensive airtime.  In doing so, I am priming the pump for one of my next challenges, to introduce you to a few more 2011 CDPs with exceptional, early sipping potential that may still be bought without significant injury to your wallet.  This tasting certainly got me fired up to buy and taste some more from the 2011 Rhone vintage. I hope it prompts some exploration for you too. Just remember - pull the cork on a great wine and you will never Rhone alone!

Santé à tous

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Think you know Bordeaux Superieur?

"Talents are best nurtured in solitude. Character is best formed in the stormy billows of the world.” - Von Goethe

Mrs. Cuvee and I go to one USC Football game each year, it's quite far from the remote corner of San Diego we live in, and nonetheless we manage the trek to LA because we love the team. This year we had tickets for the Stanford game and had no idea what to really expect [we didn't even know it was homecoming]. Most of the early part of the season had been a bust [to say the least] under the [so called] leadership of Lane Kiffin and his father who's now running the defense for the Dallas Cowboys [how's that working out?]. 

An interim head coach was found internally, he's simply known to players, students and fans as Coach O. But Ed Orgeron, a simple D-line coach who had been with the team since 1998, had finally got his chance. We watched a few of the games he coached on TV, Mrs. Cuvee and I were both impressed with the new direction of the team and sense of pride this coach brought with him to the field. 

Once we arrived at the game, we tailgated a bit and we could already sense the buzz in the air. This was going to be a big game, one that would go down in the annals of sports history. If you're reading this and you're not a fan of team or of the sport feel free to look away for a moment or two. [Yes, I will eventually get back to discussing the reason you clicked over here.]

We arrived at our seats, purchased some freshly made kettle-corn sacked into a bag the size of small child [nope not kidding]. We had the unfortunate pleasure of being seated directly behind a very loud and proud Stanford fan, who seemed have every possible annoying utterance down to an artform. Who could forget his seemingly favorite phrase, whenever a USC player would get stuffed on a run play, "party in the back field, everyone is invited" haha, chuckle-chuckle. 

As fate would have it, Mrs Cuvee and I had the last chuckle at his expense watching him tuck his tail between his legs, head bowed low, shuffling out of the coliseum, ha-ha indeed.  

There was something tangible in the air, being at the game that simply could not be felt or even imagined had we only watched the game on TV. We went from sitting to being on our feet so often, I started to think, "Sheese, what are we were in church or at a football game" ha. The crowd was really into this game, the noise level clearly affected the ability of Stanford to call their plays and early on in the game we thought SC was going to crush them, but this was the number five team in the nation playing a non-ranked school. 

Stanford at halftime must have thought "We will not go quietly into the night, we will not vanish without a fight..." and they of course played like it [a real slugfest]. The second half, did not start out to well for USC, Stanford had figured out the Trojans game plan and it seemed as if the tide had turned against USC. But it was not to be their night; late in the second half a seemingly improbable interception [on third and goal to go] turned away what would have been a certain touchdown [The defense played lights out].

And then it was time for the offense to shine, way late in the fourth quarter the Trojans decides to go for it on 4th and 2 yards to go [the fans were urging the Coach to go for it]. An injured Marqise Lee tells the coach “I’ve got one more in me” and goes back in for one more play. 

That play just happened to be the nail in Stanford’s coffin that evening, but a shaky USC kicker had to make a long field goal attempt to be the hammer on that nail. It’s interesting to note, that same kicker who had missed a point after attempt earlier in the game, far before his pivotal moment on the field, fellow player Mr. Lee comes by, puts his arm on his shoulder and says, “I believe in you”. 

When the ball sailed through the uprights, the coliseum erupted and it was only a few tense moments after the last few seconds ticked off the clock, and the final victory was sealed that a good majority of the fans spilled out onto the field to celebrate.

In that moment I thought “there’s nothing like being there” in this great moment. Seeing USC upset Stanford reminds of an often overused motivational phrase, “that it is not the size of the dog in a fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog”. 

What is true in sports, also happens to be true in wine. Wine really? Yes, and it’s why I adapted that phrase to describe something I see in the wine world all the time, “It’s not the size of the price on that bottle that counts, it’s the size of the wine in the bottle which makes all the difference”. 

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams, live the life you imagine."- Thoreau

Just because you pay more, it doesn't all mean you'll will get more. Take the example of Lane Kiffin who I'm sure was paid exceedingly more than the current coach is making and we all know what the results of that decision were. 

This underdog status that Bordeaux Superieur seems to have in the wine world, from my recent experiences I think these wines need to be looked at in new light [discovery]. And being there seeing it for myself, meeting the great folks behind the labels and fancy Chateaus really did make all the difference. 

To be honest, I’ve never given those wines much thought myself and rarely went out my way to secure these wines for my own cellar. When I was asked earlier this year to take a week long journey into the heart of Bordeaux Superior I was intrigued by the opportunity and readily agreed. I've been back a few weeks now and I think about the adventures nearly everyday. 

I think many of you will most likely be surprised by some of the discoveries I've made, or perhaps you're just old jaded wine fossil who knows everything there is to know about wine. Either way, I hope you'll stick around for this fascinating adventure into the Bordeaux Superior and the great wine values just waiting for you. 

 "We delight in the beauty of a butterfly but rarely admit the changes it has gone thru to achieve that beauty." ~ Maya Angelou

One of the most amazing wine discoveries came the day our team visited Chateau Recougne, it was also one of the very best dining experiences I had while I was in France [mind blowing really]. Robert Parker at one time called Recougne the finest Bordeaux Superieur [personally I think it still is]. 

It is an estate that has produced wine for over 400 years, and its name is said to have come from King Henri IV in the early 17th century, in "recognition" of the quality of its wine. It would appear that even then, their wines were very well regarded not only for the quality, but for their inexpensive prices. So in drinking their wines it would be safe to say you can actually drink like a king.

Their vineyards [which surround the Chateau and the Crush Pad] were classified under the Fronsac Appellation back in the day, where Merlot is the majority planting taking up 75% of planted vineyard space. Merlot also happens to be the best suited to the terroir, which is then complemented by both Cabernet Sauvignon (15%) and Cabernet Franc (10%). 

As you can see from the picture above we tasted the 1966, and the 1999 as well as the 2010 [not pictured]. Folks, you may not believe but look closely they have not changed the label too much in all those years. They also have not changed the recipe for producing uber high quality wines that won't break the bank. These wines sell for $15 to $19 each most places. 

These wines are not suppose to age well if you listen to the so-called experts who purport to know all and see all in the wine world. But I'm here to tell you that they're dead wrong. The bottle from 1966, a 47 year old bottle had aged amazingly well, I was blown away by the depth and polish this wine was still displaying. While you can no longer purchase the 1966, it's a reminder to all guest of the great aging potential of their Bordeaux Superior.

The 1999 wow, it wanted to party like it was still 1999. This wine [decanted] still had nice body to it, and smoothly textured; a wine with light tannin and a long finish, tasting of dark plum, under brush, cassis, licorice, vanilla, and toasty oak in the background. Another amazing blast from their past, that I thought had to be from a much finer pedigreed background, but no a Bordeaux Superior drinking like Grand Cru Classe [no I'm not kidding]. 

Their 2010, uh I'd grab all you can and then grab some more because it's off the charts good [to great] and will only get better with some more bottle age. If you have a case or two socked away, you'll will thank me later because it's that amazing. 

Folks, if you've not encountered their wines before [and to be honest I've never had until that day] you owe to yourself to give their wines a swirl at your earliest convenience. These are wines of real substance, wines with a soul that definitely taste like the region they come from, there's no mega purple here, no fillers just solid well made wines that may not blow your mind, but they will having you believing you really are drinking like a king for a pauper's price [don't doubt me]. So until next folks remember life is too short to drink bad wine, so sip long and prosper cheers!

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