Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Solving the first and second questions requires math. Most Bordeaux wines are shipped to you 2-3 years before they start drinking well. There are exceptions, but as a general rule this is true. And, most continue to improve for years after that, so you may not want to drink all your 2003 Bordeaux the moment it hits its stride around 2008. Indeed, part of the fun is NOT doing that but tracking how the wines continue to develop and change. So, in my calculations, I knew I wanted to buy 6 bottles of Bordeaux a year (3 x red, 3 x white) , and because I didn't want to drink them too young the holes would slowly begin to emerge in about 3 years only to be refilled. This led me to believe that with a storage space sufficient to hold three 12-bottle boxes of wine, I was set.
Now you will see lots of folks out there who say you need to buy at least 6 bottles of every wine to fully track their development, or even 12 bottles of every wine. Professor Bainbridge thinks that any cellar smaller than 250 bottles is useless based on the idea you would drink a bottle of aged Bordeaux a week--but I don't have that kind of space or that kind of money. Do you? Why should we miss out on ALL the fun? Why not have a little fun? So you need to know that I am in some ways going against expert opinion here, but this is working for me and is manageable both in terms of cost and in terms of space.
Now you have to find a space that will hold 36 bottles--eventually. As this excellent article by Prof. Bainbridge explains, there are two cellaring options: active cellaring (in a refrigerated unit) or passive cellaring (in a cool, dark space). I don't have room anywhere for a refrigerated wine cellar except the garage--and only a few models are capable of keeping their cool under those conditions, so I opted for passive cellaring. I use a combination of a closet and some windowseats. Prof. Bainbridge suggests that you can hold wine for up to five years in warmer temperatures than you would for longer periods, but I would try to find a place that stays around 60 degrees if at all possible. You would be surprised at how cold your northern cabinets and interior closets can be. Don't believe me, or want to be sure? Buy a digital weather station and stick it in your spot for a few weeks and track the temp. Remember, too, to check it in the summer and the winter, because you don't want daily temperature fluctuations greater than 10 degrees in your chosen space. Of course, if you are buying for an investment, then you are on the wrong site. Deal with professionals who can store your wine impeccably and certify its provenance, like the folks at Vinfolio.
You want to try to find a spot now that will hold at least 36 bottles, even if you are only going to put 6 bottles into it because it will save you hassles later on. And, you can use the extra space to store some of your other wine. You want to find the coolest, darkest place in your house that doesn't freeze (basements in the northeast, for example, might not be such a good idea, so check first) For many of us, this will be on the north side of the house in a cabinet, cupboard, or closet. Some people swear by unused fireplaces since the stone is an insulator. Here's one of my two storage areas, complete with vacuum, dog carrier, old lamp, and two x-boxes from the Wine Enthusiast now completely stuffed with wine. You want to avoid spaces next to fridges, heating ducts, and other things that vibrate and/or give off heat. One of the best overviews of cellaring--the whys and wherefores--is in an article by Jim LaMar on the Professional Friends of Wine site. It is good-humored, informative, and absolutely correct.
Facing the storage issues is the last hurdle you need to cross before you start buying, so next week I'll start talking buying strategies beginning with finding a good merchant who handles Bordeaux futures and pre-arrivals.
Monday, January 29, 2007
The NV Dover Canyon Renegade Red ($10.99, Colorado Wine Company; $10 direct from Dover Canyon) is a delicious example of a zinfandel-based blend with excellent QPR. It's made from a combination of zinfandel, sangiovese, barbera, and syrah, which gives it a distinctively Italian sensibility. This is a domestic red blend that gets it right, and that is priced right, too!
Jammy raspberry and blackberry aromas are accompanied by whiffs of black pepper and cinnamon. Tastes of rich red fruits, spice, cedar, and pepper follow, with hints of blueberry and roasted meats as you swallow. There's not much of a lingering aftertaste, but who cares! This wine is so approachable and easy to drink you don't need a lingering finish to get you to take another sip. At this price, I would definitely buy more and its softness, medium body, and low tannins would make it a great wine for a party since it is one of those reds that doesn't require food to be at its best.
Dover Canyon is a deliberately small winery in the Paso Robles AVA. Winemaker Dan Panico and his partner, Mary Baker, supervise the making and marketing of these wines and their careful management of the grapes and the winemaking is evident in this bottling. Mary also keeps a wonderful blog that gives those who drink their wine an insight into the place, people, and pets of Dover Canyon. Visit their site, explore their wines, and see if you can't get some Renegade Red for your next pizza, pasta, or movie fest.
Saturday, January 27, 2007
You want Moscato d'Asti--even if you don't realize it. Sweet, softly sparkling, and low alcohol (usually 7-8%) Moscato d'Asti can turn any day into a little bit of a celebration and provide you with the perfect excuse to sit and think things over at the end of the day. Even better, Moscatos (those from Asti and those made in an Asti style) are often great bargains. The problem is that some of them are terrible--sickly sweet rather than soft and aromatic as they should be.
The 2005 Bonny Doon Moscato d'Asti "Il Giocoliere" ($15, straight from Bonny Doon) is a wonderful example of how good this wine can be. When you first open it and pour, it is unbelievably frothy, but once you taste it the bubbles are soft and minor players in the wine. Of much greater significance are the aromas--peach, orange blossom, spring flowers, jasmine. It's a whole garden right in your glass. Flavors of peach, honey, and melon follow. This is less a wine to have with dessert than it is a wine to have for dessert. But if you must have something, think simple: a peach, some sliced apples, or an almond biscotti.
Though this wine is marketed under the Bonny Doon label, it is made from Piedmonte grapes by the Cavellero brothers in a little village called Vesime. More expensive than some wines of this type, its lovely balance and complexity ensures that it is still a wine with very good QPR.
Friday, January 26, 2007
If you've never had a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, you should try one. And if you like them, be sure to check out the 2005 Te Kairanga Sauvignon Blanc ($12.99, Costco). This is a classy Sauvignon Blanc from Martinborough in the Wairarapa region that is pale straw in color with clear and distinct aromas of passionfruit and lime. These aromas give way to flavors of white grapefruit and more lime. It is very bright and citrusy with a long, tart aftertaste. Ideally, this wine would have some grassy notes to balance out the citrus. A bit one-dimensional--although delicious for someone who likes citrusy wines like me--it represents very good QPR. It's available throughout the US, and should be relatively easy for you to find.
A wine with this abundance of citrus can be a little harder to pair with food than Sauvignon Blancs with a perfect balance between fruity and green, herbal notes. We found a good pairing for this wine with seared tuna, spicy slaw and some of the Barefoot Contessa's Szechuan peanut noodles. It would be equally good with other fish dishes, and with lemon and garlic roasted chicken.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
Thanks for the heads up, Ryan. And if you haven't checked out the great information that Ryan and Ben have drawn together at the CalWineries blog, make sure to give their site a look.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
I've developed something of a serious Syrah addiction over the past few months as I find that the prices are very reasonable, the quality is high, the taste is delicious, and they are easy to pair with a wide variety of foods. Just a few days ago I posted a review of a Chilean Syrah (and a great mac and cheese recipe from John at Brim to the Dregs, in case you missed it!), so I'll have to hit the cellar and stores again to find another likely contender.
Full details, with Tim's guidelines and instructions for how to get your information to him before the roundup, can be reached by clicking on the highlighted text. Don't have a blog? No problem, you can just email Tim your tasting note and he'll post them in the roundup. After a few months of intriguing and challenging WBWs, it's a nice to have a change of pace and return to a simple varietal assignment. See you all back here on February 7, if not before.
Bordeaux wines are blended wines that are made from cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc (if red), and sauvignon blanc and semillon (if white). But there is often a huge difference between California and other New World expressions of these varietals, and those from the Old World. Though the varietals are familiar to us, they behave very differently when they are planted in different soils--distinctions that are known as terroir. When I was starting out I found Andrea Immer's (now Andrea Immer Robinson's) Great Wine Made Simple absolutely indispensable when trying to understand how these and other grapes behaved in different regions. Much of the information below is drawn from her "flavor maps." If you don't have this book on your wine reference shelf, you really should! And you can also check out Gary Vaynerchuk's discussion of this topic over at Wine Library TV.
After years of reading and tasting, I now think of these Old World/New World varietal flavor differences like a Venn-diagram, with a core of common flavors, flanked by expressions that come from terroir. Here's one of mine, with very low production values (I never could color in the lines). But you get the point. Below is a slightly more polished chart of Old World and New World characteristics for the varietals used in Bordeaux wines, with the common characteristics for each made bold.
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Plum, vanilla- oak, roasted coffee, wet gravel, cocoa powder, pen ink
Blackcurrant, cassis, wet leaves, wet gravel, spice, vanilla, mocha, pencil lead
Grassy, herbaceous, vanilla
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Jammy plum, blackberry, blueberry; prominent oak
Jammy blackberry, blackcurrant, cassis; sweet and spicy oak; mint or eucalyptus
Citrus, melon, peach, vanilla
So think hard about whether you would like the Old World expressions of these varietal flavors BEFORE you start madly buying Bordeaux. And, be sure that you eat the kind of hearty fare that will support the red wines, and enjoy sipping dessert wines, too.
Monday, January 22, 2007
While cooking, I popped the cork on a 2003 Montes Alpha Syrah Apalta Vineyard ($15.99, Beverages and More). I bought it last spring, but this wine is still available at retailers according to WineZap--and in a few cases it actually costs less than I paid for it, too! This was an outstanding Chilean syrah from the New World made in an Old World, French style. It had a deep ruby color and powerful aromas of black pepper, currants, and a touch of fresh green bell pepper. With each sip you tasted blackfruits (blackberry, blackcurrant), more pepper, and a bit of chewy, meaty flavor that was reminiscent of a Rhone red such as Chateauneuf du Pape. These flavors persisted with lingering peppery, spicy, and clove flavors. There was a lot of complexity in this wine given the price, and I found myself wishing that I had bought more last spring.
Words cannot fully express the wonderfulness of the Mac and Cheese that accompanied this wine. After making a simple white sauce (I made mine with milk rather than 1/2 and 1/2) , you add Dijon mustard, a pinch of nutmeg, a pinch of cayenne, and half of the cubed cheese. This melts into the sauce, making it thick and flavorful. Combining cooked pasta (I used cavatappi) and the remaining chunks of cheese with the sauce produces the gooey-est, yummy-est Mac and Cheese I've ever had. Topped with some panko bread crumbs and popped in the oven, it made the perfect comfort food main dish I was looking for. We paired it with a tossed green salad and (of course) the syrah, which was a perfect counterpoint to the cheese, nutmeg, and Dijon mustard flavors in the Mac and Cheese.
Montes Alpha have released a 2004 version of this wine, and from the notes on CellarTracker it seems to be drinking as well as the 2003. If you are looking for a complex, interesting red wine to pair with your winter foods, the Montes Alpha Syrah would be an excellent QPR choice.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
Chronicle Wine Cellar recently acquired some 1998 and 2000 Burgundies, including a range of wines produced by Vincent Girardin, a well-known winemaker, for the European market under the Baron de la Charriere label. Quoting Alan Meadows of Burghound: "Some of these wines are also sold through European Cellars under the Baron de la Charriere label and they are identical to those sold under the Vineyard Brands label, Vincent Girardin." (Since 2003, all Girardin wines have been exclusively labeled Girardin.) As a relative Burgundian newbie, I'm trusting the experts on this one, and feel like I've been able to get some wine produced by an excellent winemaker for a reasonable cost.
To stick to the Good Wines Under $20 brief, I purchased red Burgundies from several appellations (map from Terroir-France), all made by Girardin, all from the 2000 vintage, all sold under the Baron de la Charriere label, and all under $30. It seemed like a good plan to limit the variables in an attempt to figure out appellations on this round, and worry about vintages and producers later.
The wines I added to my cellar are:
2000 Baron de la Charrière Corton-Renardes ($24.95)
2000 Baron de la Charrière Nuits St. Georges Les Damodes 1er Cru ($22.95)
2000 Baron de la Charrière Volnay Les Santenots ($19.95)
2000 Baron de la Charrière Vosne-Romanee Les Suchots 1er Cru ($29.95)
I bought a few bottles of the Volnay and the Corton-Renardes, and am looking forward to tasting them in the upcoming weeks. When I went to Chronicle Wine Cellar at the end of the week, there were still quite a few bottles of the Baron de la Charriere wines left, so if you're in the LA area and are on the lookout for some excellent values from Burgundy, you may want to head over there to see what's on offer.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
I am really looking forward to reading this month's roundup, since there are so many skeptics (good thing) and because my informal check on posts yesterday indicated that people were talking about intensity of flavors, mineral notes, and herbs in many of their posts.
A big thanks to Jack and Joanne for their efforts, and to all the bloggers who contributed to this month's event. No word yet on WBW #30, but when it's up I'll be sure to post a copy of it here.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Nominations close on January 18, so click over now and participate in this first-ever award solely for wine bloggers.
There are lots of resources online to help you understand what biodynamic farming is, and I'm not going to repeat all of that information here. Suffice it to say, if you were plunked down in Europe anytime before 1800 you would be witnessing biodynamic farming. For centuries, wine-makers were using just these methods--right down to the cycle of the moon and stirring compost in one direction. Who knows if science will be able to detect any difference among wines made biodynamically, and those made other methods?
So what do my very unscientific tastebuds tell me about biodynamic wines? I turned to the 2004 Bonny Doon Pigato Ca' del Solo ($20, straight from the Bonny Doon website) to find out. This wine was initially released to the DEWN wine club, but like many DEWN wines it was later released to the general public via internet.
In early 2004, Randall Grahm decided to turn his Ca' del Solo vineyard over to organic and biodynamic farming methods. Formerly the vineyard associated with the Big House Wines, Grahm sold that label in summer 2006 to give himself more time to devote to smaller production, biodynamically produced wines. As best as I can figure out, this wine was made from the first grapes grown biodynamically on the property, and they are just about to wind up the three- year process needed to earn Demeter certification.
The 2004 Bonny Doon Pigato Ca' del Solo was a very good QPR wine with intense mineral flavors. After unscrewing the closure and pouring myself a glass of wine that was such pale straw it was almost translucent, I was able to smell spring flowers and herbs. On the palate, light citrus flavors were accompanied by delicious herbal touches and a deep, profound minerality. As I drank, I was sometimes convinced that I tasted a light saline tang. This was my first pigato, the native grape of Liguria given a porcine name because of its spotted skin. As a result, I can't judge it against other pigatos, but here's what I know for sure: this wine tasted of place, of salt and minerals, and grass. It had the strong mark of somewhereness and terroir that Grahm wants to achieve from his biodynamic switch. It was refreshingly mineral-forward (as opposed to fruit-forward). I just loved it, and would definitely buy more.
With the wine we had the Barefoot Contessa's tomato-based fish stew and it was an amazing pairing. I subbed a pound of scallops for the mussels, and a pound of cod for the bass and halibut, and it was still delicious, with its rich stock made of tomatoes, fish stock (mine from a lobster stock base), and lots of white wine kissed with saffron. The Bonny Doon pigato is made to go with fish--grilled, baked, sauteed, in risotto, or prepared scampi style--with its mineral and herbal flavors.
Now that I've tasted the first fruits from Bonny Doon's switch to biodynamics, I am looking forward to comparing it with later vintages as they are released. But it seems that biodynamic viticulture is going to produce some great wines over at Ca' del Solo.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
...drinking wine and other alcoholic beverages was deemed unconstitutional. On January 16, 1919, Americans throughout the nation ratified the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution. A year later, on January 16, 1920, the amendment went into effect, putting an end to centuries of a flourishing wine culture here in the States. (Find this and other Prohibition images at The Authentic History Center)
Grapes that had been growing for decades--America's truly Old Vines--and had produced monumental wines in the 19th century were ripped out and replanted with juice grapes, or died through enforced neglect. Americans turned to hard liquor, and the young and beautiful of the Jazz Age thumbed their nose at the law with their bathtub gin and speakeasies.
To the dismay of dedicated Temperance advocates, Prohibition did not work. At last, sanity returned. The 21st Amendment, restoring the right of US citizens to drink their wine, beer, and hooch, was ratified on December 5, 1933.
So tonight pop a cork, flip a cap, or unscrew your favorite bottle and toast to the fact that sanity did return and we are able once more to have a glass of wine with dinner (at least in most places in the US). Even better, click over to Free the Grapes and try to get rid of the crazy distribution laws that are the legacy of Prohibition and still place restrictive barriers on inter-state wine sales in many parts of the nation.
I emphasize the word community because this has turned out to be so much more than just a wine tracking tool for me. 26,636 users of CellarTracker have left 230,010 free wine reviews on this site for your perusal. I learn an enormous amount from my fellow CellarTrackers. I don't know who olivethegreat is, but I know we have sympatico wine tastes. Who is VinoMe? S/he is my go-to person for tracking my baby Bordeaux collection and its development. And I've yet to meet annsalisbury, but she shops at the same wine stores I do so I know I will bump into her one day.
The CellarTracker site operates as free shareware, but Eric is adding new features all the time available only to subscribers (like automatic cellar evaluations and links to Steve Tanzer's International Wine Cellar scores). How much do subscriptions cost? Eric suggests $30 if you have less than 500 bottles in your cellar--talk about excellent QPR, given the sheer number of reviews being added every single day.
Keeping tasting notes for the wine you drink is the #1 best way to learn about your taste preferences. I know you can do this with notebooks, label removers, and ink but if you're reading this (face it) you're a bit of a techno nerd anyway so why not put everything on CellarTracker? And, it has great features such as average cost per bottle ( mine was $13.29/bottle average for the past year), purchases over time (February oddly enough seems to be the month I buy wine!), consumption by region (US still winning but France coming on strong), and consumption by varietal (I drink LOTS of sauvignon blanc, apparently). There is lots more on offer (like printing out restaurant-style winelists to stun your dinner guests...), and after a little intuitive exploring you will soon have the system down pat.
I know there are lots of other systems out there for tracking your wine, both online and off, but this is mine. Registration is free so take a look and enter some bottles from your collection, or some tasting notes. I predict that within a few hours you, too, will be a subscriber!
Meanwhile, leave a comment and share how you keep track of your wine.
Monday, January 15, 2007
The 2003 Campion Pinot Noir Edna Valley ($15.95, Chronicle Wine Cellar) represented very good QPR. It was cherry red in color, with faint earthy aromas. Sips of the wine revealed cherries combined with earth, herbs, and a slightly mushroomy flavor. As time passed, more mushroom and earth flavors convinced me that this was a pinot noir with terroir, and less a pinot that emphasized fruit. This wine could have been more intense up front, but it was very complex and interesting as you held the flavors in your mouth after each sip, and remembered the slightly silky texture that kept it all interesting. We had it over two days, preserving it with one of those little cans of inert gas, and it continued to develop and the fruit and earthy flavors became more integrated. For this reason, I think this pinot noir is still at the beginning of its life and could last for a few years in a cool, dark place.
As if proving the value of terroir, this 2003 Edna Valley contrasted in interesting ways with the 2004 Campion Central Coast that I had at Colorado Wine Company last week. It was a year younger, made with fruit from Edna Valley and other areas within that appellation, and had the addition of pinot gris. Still, it was remarkable how much more fruity it was, with not nearly the complexity and earthiness than the wine made exclusively with Edna Valley fruit.
Campion is a name to watch, and was named one of the up-and-coming California wineries by Dan Berger in Tom Stevenson's Wine Report 2007. I'd love to tell you more about how the wine was made, but the Campion site hasn't been updated recently, so there was no more detailed information available on this wine. I did find a few bottles on line from merchants on both coasts through Wine-Searcher at a higher price, but be careful you're getting the Edna Valley since Campion releases several pinots from different appellations.
The ideal meal to go with any Pinot Noir with fulsome terroir--the Campion or someone else's--is Jamie Oliver's simple mushroom pasta dish. Made with silky pappardelle noodles, combined with a simple sautee of mixed mushrooms, garlic, dried chilis, parsley, and butter, it is the perfect match with any earthy pinot that you might have in your closet.
Saturday, January 13, 2007
Since I started blogging in October over 9000 of you have dropped by my little corner of the blogosphere. Hundreds of you actually subscribe to my feed. And I have been touched again and again by the generosity of my fellow bloggers and readers.
Thanks to all of you, I feel that I am part of an expanding world of expertise and enthusiasm for wine that takes my breath away. Whether it's my "blogging twin" Neil (the Brooklynguy who started around the same time as I did and his love of Burgundy), or Tom Wark at Fermentation (who mentioned my blog one day when I was starting out), or the Big 3 (Alder, Beau, and Tim) who show us all what the blogging world is capable of every day, or Joel over at Vivi's Wine Journal (who posted about SNAP and started up a little social networking tool that I happen to love called Wine Life Today), or Sonadora (that refreshingly honest and enthusiastic Wannabe Wino in search of education or inspiration), or winemakers like El Jefe at Twisted Oak and Elsbeth at Escafeld (who actually make the stuff I love to drink and write about), or John at Brim to the Dregs (who brings his wry Southern passion to every post), or Jerry at Winewaves (who can just bring me up short with his wonderful photos and reviews), I learn so much and enjoy wine so much more thanks to all your efforts. Just take a look at my sidebar for all the blogs I read regularly.
Remember the old days, when you used to sit down with your copy of a wine magazine and wish you had somebody to talk to about wine? Take a look at us now! Some say Wine 2.0 is coming. I think it's already here.
So if you're new to the world of wine blogs, don't stop here. Click over to another site and check it out, too, using some of the links. And if you're a blogger, remember to pay it forward. By responding to your fellow bloggers and their posts, and promoting their good stories, you make the blogosphere a better place for us all. (vintage image available from the Charles Michael Gallery)
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Today's wine comes from the 'Mort’s Block' vineyard located in the Watervale region of the Clare Valley, where the grapes suck up nutrients from soils that include a limestone layer. Maybe this accounts from the lovely lime and mineral flavors in this excellent QPR wine. The 2004 Kilikanoon Riesling Mort' s Block ($11.95, Chronicle Wine Cellar) is a zesty example of a dry riesling. Don't be alarmed if you smell a whiff of rubber or petrol at first--this blows off pretty quickly and can actually be a characteristic of riesling wines. Once you pour it, you will see a pale straw color and the petrol will begin to be replaced by hints of lime blossom and a clean, gravelly smell. On your palate you will have the clean, piercing taste of lime accompanied with lots of minerality. Perhaps if I'd had it earlier in its lifespan the fruit would have been more pronounced, but I loved it just the way it is drinking now. (I know, the label says 2003 but I really drank the 2004!) What a refreshing, steely wine.
We had this wine with Rachael Ray's Country Captain Chicken, a tomato and chicken dish made with curry and golden raisins, but its pronounced lime-ness would make it an excellent match with any food that you normally have margaritas with--such as fish tacos with guacamole.
Riesling is so versatile and easy to pair with food, given its low alcohol and fresh flavors, that it deserves to be more fashionable than it is. Be a trend setter: pick up a dry riesling and give it a taste. My guess is it will soon become your go-to wine for spicy foods, Indian food, and light, flavorful meals.
Since I do not have a bank account the size of Bordeaux, nor a trophy wine mentality, nor unlimited storage (and I suspect you don't either), it was important to me to actually have some of this famous wine before I took the plunge. I did so several years ago, and my first serious exposure to Bordeaux was magical in every way. I loved buying the wine, planning a meal around the wine, and of course drinking the wine.
It was the fall of 2000, and the wine in question was a 1985 Chateau Leoville-Las-Cases. I was living in London at the time, and was three years into my serious engagement with wine. While in the City, my wine shop of choice was the venerable institution Berry Bros. and Rudd. Established in 1698 by Widow Bourne just up the street from St. James' Palace, they've been selling wine there ever since.
After buying a few cases of wine and getting to know their unbelievably knowledgeable staff, I decided to buy a bottle of Bordeaux to take home for the holidays and have with a traditional English holiday meal with close friends. I went to the shop, opened the ancient wooden door, stepped down into the store alongside the ramp that was used to roll barrels from the street back in the day, and sat down at the desk with a wine merchant outfitted in a morning coat.
One thing to know about Berry Brothers then: there was no wine in sight. Now they've put a few bottles out but when I went they were still old school.
Feeling slightly disoriented as usual at not being able to browse the labels and stumble around in relative solitude and ignorance, I instead talked to him about what I liked in a red wine, when I was going to serve it, and with what.
My wine merchant disappeared down a twisting set of stairs into the cellars beneath the shop and reappeared with the 1985 Ch. Leoville-Las-Cases (and a bottle of inexpensive Riesling Kabinett that I've long since forgotten but which blunted the shock of what I had done when I sat down in my flat that evening). I paid around $125 for it when the taxes were levied and the exchange rates were figured out. It was and is the most expensive bottle of wine I have ever purchased. Not a single bottle of Bordeaux I've bought since was more than $30, but I'm glad I started with this one.
The bottle was packed up in a carrier for me to take on board the plane (pre-2001) with me in early December for serving late in the third week. (You can still get this wine from Berry Brothers, for around $236.00 plus shipping). Both of us arrived safely in San Francisco, and the wine was stowed in cool dark place for the next 3 weeks.
When the night of the dinner came, I realized I had no idea whether to decant this wine, or how early to open the wine. I signed on to a Wine Spectator forum, described my dilemma and got excellent advice (decant, yes; only about 30 mins before you sat down to eat). After glasses of champagne, we sat down to prime rib, Yorkshire pudding, roasted potatoes--all the makings of a traditional English holiday meal. I poured the wine, and everybody's noses went straight into the glasses. Flowery, spicy, berry, and leafy aromas made us all eager to take our first sips. And what sips they were, with every note of the aromas echoed in the flavors--and then some. People ate the food, but all anyone talked about was the wine. I continued to open up and develop throughout the meal.
Harry Potter for grownups. Magic. Alchemy.
Before you consider buying Bordeaux futures and devoting some precious storage space to these wines, it's crucial that you have some Bordeaux and discover whether you find it magical, too. If at all possible, look for some aged Bordeaux that is ready to drink. K&L has some excellent wines that are ready to drink now that are under $100, and one of their recent blog posts highlighted several Bordeaux from 1996 to 2003 that are available for under $35 (and three of them are ready to drink now). Still, drinking Bordeaux you haven't aged yourself is usually an expensive proposition, and merchants seldom hold on to lots of the lower priced Bordeaux wines, so you might prefer to look in your area for Bordeaux tastings instead. Here in LA, for instance, there are several Bordeaux events in the upcoming weeks, and Local Wine Events has lists of events all over the world on its site so even if you're not in LA you can find something that will better acquaint you with the wines of these regions. I'd hoped to make it to the UGC Bordeaux Tasting sponsored by Wally's and LearnAboutWine.com on January 20, but I have a conflict so no report from that event this year--at least not from me!
Next week: Bordeaux Step 2 will focus on the varietals used in most Bordeaux blends, and the differences between Old World and New World styles of wine.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
In addition to Randall Graham's article from Wine Online that Jack and Joanne link to on their site, check out the talk he gave at UC Davis in spring 2006. Graham is, for those who don't know, head honcho at Bonny Doon. Reproduced with his permission by the good folks over at Appellation America, Graham explained in his "The Phenomenology of Terroir: A Meditation" why he turned his famous Ca' del Solo vineyard over to organic and biodynamic viticulture in 2004. Expect all the trademark Graham quirkiness, with some very interesting insights into why we might be seeing more biodynamic wines from major producers like Bonny Doon in the future.
Important note: Fans of the old Ca' del Solo Big House Red should know that Big House is no longer owned by Graham, and the "Ca' del Solo" designation didn't appear on all Big House wines made between 2004 and 2006 by Bonny Doon. So if you've got a bottle of Ca' del Solo Big House kicking around, it isn't necessarily a biodynamic wine, nor is a bottle of "Big House" made after 2004.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Made in the Utiel Requena DOC of Valencia, a region distinguished by very cold winter temperatures, followed by hot summers., all the grapes in this wine were sourced from 25+-year-old vines that are farmed organically. Bright garnet in color, the wine delivers a lot of flavor for the price, with the cab providing some extra acidity to balance out the typical fatness of the tempranillo. (fatness here being winespeak for low-acid wines, not big or alcoholic wines) At last, a red blend that makes sense! Hurray!
Even with the blending, I was able to discern the aromas of herbs and berries characteristic of Tempranillo. These aromas were echoed in the flavors, along with some black currant notes from the Cabernet. Like all wines labeled "crianza," the Tarantas Tempranillo-Cabernet was aged for at least 6 months, in this case in new American oak, so that contributed aroma and flavor notes of sweet wood. The whole package was wrapped up in a pleasant, slightly silky texture. It represents very good QPR, and as it was featured in the Whole Foods Top Holiday Wines List it should be widely available through those stores.
I'm still a neophyte with Spanish wine and food pairings, so I played it safe with a grilled steak accompanied by chimichurri sauce and a huge, deconstructed Caesar salad with torn romaine, parmesan crisps, shaved parmesan, lots of cracked pepper, and dressing just drizzled on top. The herbs in the sauce really accentuated the herbal flavors of the Tempranillo, while the grilled steak was an ideal partner to both of the red varietals in this blend. I suspect that the wine would be equally good with food that had an acidic tomato component.
Monday, January 08, 2007
Clicking on the buttons below will take you directly to the nomination page for that category on Tom's site. Please take note of the conditions (in most cases, blogs must have posted at least 52 posts in 2006 to be eligible), and the category descriptions. You may nominate up to three blogs in any category, and a selection committee will go through them and determine finalists in each category. Sadly, Tom's own excellent blog is out of the running since he's taken himself out of the competition.
Nominations close on January 18, 2007. So give it a think, click over and leave your nominations, and chill some champagne in anticipation of the results. And of course, thank you for your consideration!
And kudos to Tom for doing such an amazing job organizing, promoting, and running the awards.
Sunday, January 07, 2007
This wine store and tasting has a hip atmosphere. After browsing the bookcases shelved with wine, and the vertical hanging racks I went into the uber-cool tasting room with its modern furniture and candles. Everyone at the tasting was young, gorgeous, and dressed in black; I failed on all three counts. There were pairs and groups, and it was clearly a popular neighborhood spot, relaxed and comfortable. I was served an intriguing mix of wines from Oregon, Spain, the Central Coast of California, and Napa. The pourer was extremely knowledgeable and friendly. Bring a designated driver, too, because the pours are very generous and the wines are so excellent you won't want to spit.
Here's what was on offer:
2005 A to Z Pinot Gris ($12.99): This is a collaborative effort of four producers intent on making low cost wines. Aromas of peach and pear led to a creamy, lush, and round flavor palate that was soft and easy to drink. Very good QPR.
2004 Muga Rioja ($13.99): This white Rioja tripped up a lot of tasters like me who were expecting a red wine! Made of Viura and Malvasia grapes, this tart and refreshing white would be a hit with those who love French sauvignon blancs. The wine had aromas of grass, herbs, and Granny Smith apples, and these aromas were echoed on the palate. I've never had one of these wines before, but I liked it and felt that its price was in line with sauvignon blancs that had very good QPR.
2004 Campion Pinot Noir Central Coast ($18.99): The winemaker, Larry Brooks, is a big believer in the power of terroir. Here, he co-fermented Edna Valley Pinot Noir with 7-8% Pinot Gris. It was a rich, ruby red with flowery aromatics and a juicy cherry and strawberry set of flavors that finished with just a touch of mushroom. If you like your pinots fruity, this would represent good QPR.
2004 Sandoval Cabernet Sauvignon ($12.99): This wine has excellent QPR. Rich garnet in color, with lush aromas of dark chocolate, berries, and a tinge of pepper it drinks smooth, rich and round with a note of vanilla and earth at the very end. All the flavors that you expect from the aromas are there in abundance. What a wine, and all at a relatively low 13.5% alc/vol. This proves that you can make an intense cabernet without letting the alcohol levels creep up into the clouds.
Armed with an informative tasting sheet and a need to buy both the Muga Rioja and the Sandoval cab, I went back for a more leisurely browse and was struck by how excellent the wine selection is. If you find large wine stores overwhelming and/or you have eclectic tastes, Colorado Wine is for you. The bottle count is small, but there are surprising bottles on nearly every shelf. Mexican Nebbiolo? Got it. Portuguese wine? Yep. A whole section of Oregon wines? That, too. It was hard to remain under control, but in the end I limited myself to picking up my very first Connecticut wine (the NV Sharpe Hill Vineyard Ballet of Angels, $10.99), a second Spanish white kindly recommended by Sonadora over at Wannabe Wino who is helping me out with my New Year's resolution to drink more wines from Spain (2005 Nora Albarino, $13.99), and a honey of a sangiovese (1998 Vigna Benefizio Morellino di Scansano, $14.99). I also found a bottle of NV Dover Canyon Renegade Red ($10.99), and I was thrilled to find this after reading their blog for months!
Shopping at Colorado Wine Company will definitely keep you from falling into a wine rut! And their tastings mean that you can sample before you buy. A great experience, and one that I look forward to repeating (with better shoes and a little more attention to my wardrobe).
Friday, January 05, 2007
The 2005 Elk Cove Vineyards Pinot Gris from the Willamette Valley ($12.99, Beverages and More) doesn't exhibit all the varietal characteristics of a classic pinot gris, but its relatively low price point compared to many other Pinot Gris wines in the market means that this is still a wine with very good QPR. Light straw color, it has a sweet peach (rather than the more typical citrus and pear) aroma coupled with mild floral scents. Flavors of peaches and cream follow on your palate, with a hint of toasted almond at the end. Lush and delicious, this wine invites you back to the glass again and again for more.
Because this wine was softer, rounder, and richer than most Pinot Gris, I felt it would be best with foods that you might have with gewurztraminer, such as spicier fare and shellfish. We had this with one of our favorite Rachael Ray recipes: Thai Chicken Pizza. This wine would also be excellent with other spicy foods, be they Thai, Indian, Chinese, or Creole.
Thursday, January 04, 2007
Morning, folks! Tim over at Winecast has looked into his wine glass--er, crystal ball--and come up with a fascinating list of what he thinks will happen in the world of wine in 2007. It's good news for bloggers, tempranillo and riesling lovers, low-alcohol fans, South African wine, and people who like web 2.0. What do you think is going to happen in the next year? I personally think Tim is right on the money with his predictions. Perhaps we need to start calling him Carnac??
What's Wine Life Today? It's a wine news aggregator and feed service dedicated to bringing you the most up-to-date information that readers of blogs like you find interesting. I have nothing to do with this site, but I visit it regularly.
What's the problem? Very few bloggers are currently using this service. Regular posters include Tom Wark at Fermentation, El Jefe from El Bloggo Torcido, Winehiker, Elsbeth at Escafeld Vineyards, and yours truly.
And it's really very simple to use. Under every post here at Good Wine Under $20, for example, you will see the option to "Toast This!" Clicking on that link will put a link to the post in the Newsroom at Wine Life Today. As others find the story and toast it, too, the story moves from the Newsroom to the Front Page. These updates happen automatically as stories receive votes.
Do you regularly read a blog that doesn't have "Toast It" links, but think a post is great? Simply copy the URL into this form, adding a brief description when prompted you to do so along with the title, and click submit. If you are trying to submit a story that is already in the Newsroom or on the Front Page, it will tell you, so that you can toast it and add votes, rather than duplicating the post. If you've been frustrated by aggregators and social bookmarking sites that are just too diverse to help you find what you are really looking for, I urge you to start reading, toasting, and contributing stories today. You can even subscribe to Newsroom and Front Page feeds if you are a news junkie.
And if you're a blogger, what are you waiting for? Click over to their Blogger Tools and download the code to put a "Toast It!" link on all your posts automatically and help us all to find the content that we are looking for. I submit every story I write here simply by waiting until it appears on my blog, then clicking the Toast It! button to submit the story. You can also automatically post stories via feed (no adverts, though). And unlike some aggregators, only the description and title appear. To read the story, people have to click over to your site so there's no lost traffic and greater opportunities for readers to get hooked on the useful information you provide.
Remember: if you want the freshest news head for the Newsroom. If you want the most popular content, the stories that your fellow bloggers and readers are enjoying, head to the Front Page. See you at Wine Life Today.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
See, you're not on the wrong blog.
Over the next few weeks, I'm going to share my new adventure into the world of Bordeaux futures, pre-arrivals, ordering, and cellaring. I'm almost a complete newbie--I've had a few Bordeaux wines and did not cellar them myself--so I'm hoping for lots of feedback, suggestions, and commentary from readers and bloggers who know more than I do! And from those like me who are new to this, I hope you will post questions and reactions to these stories, too. This will give us all a way to get through the short winter days and the long winter evenings.
Throughout the posts, I will be linking up to some of the fabulous resources on the web provided by fellow bloggers, podcasters, and other wine writers. I don't think I would have taken the plunge into Bordeaux without this online community.
I'd like to prove this winter that you don't have to be a millionaire, have a 250+ bottle refrigerated wine cellar, or know everything about Bordeaux in order to have fun, learn something, and drink some pretty enjoyable wine. Indeed, I want to demonstrate that those of us in the mostly under $20 crowd can and should be buying Bordeaux futures because it makes sound financial sense. And then there's the wine!! But you do have to go into it with your eyes open.
Here are the questions I think it's important to ask yourself before you get into the business of buying dozens of bottles of Bordeaux:
1. Have you ever had a Bordeaux or another cool weather example of a cabernet sauvignon or merlot? Did you like it?
2. Do you like wines that exhibit the classic varietal characteristics of cabernet sauvignon and merlot? How about sauvignon blanc and semillon? I mean, do you really like the varietal characteristics of these wines?
3. Do you have a place to store 36 bottles (3 cases) of wine for the next 5-10 years that is dark and has a stable cool temperature between 55 and 60 F?
4. Do you have or are you willing to develop a relationship with a trusted and reputable wine dealer knowledgeable about Bordeaux?
5. Do you enjoy geography?
6. Do you like research?
7. Are you patient?
If you answered "no" to any of these questions, you probably aren't ready yet to start buying Bordeaux futures. That doesn't mean you can't buy Bordeaux, drink it, and enjoy it--but you may not want to make the investment of time and resources needed to start buying with an eye to what you will be drinking in 2012.
If you answered "yes" to all of these questions, then you are ready to buy Bordeaux. I'm going to take each question in turn, and talk about the wines, varietals, storage requirements, shopping, shipping, appellations, investigation, and waiting that go into enjoying the world of Bordeaux wines.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
The 2005 Domaine Jean-Marc Burgaud Régnié Vallières (Chronicle Wine Cellar, $12.95) is an elegant wine made from grapes harvested from 40-year-old gamay vines. After harvest, the grapes underwent both the traditional carbonic maceration process common in the Beaujolais, as well as 6 additional months of aging. Its color is a true ruby, and there are the pronounced varietal aromas of bing cherry and raspberries characteristic of gamay. These aromas are echoed in the flavors, along with a bit of carmelized brown sugar. I think that this wine is age-worthy, as it has a dusty grip of tannins and may well continue to develop and improve over the next 1-2 years.
Gamay wines like those from the Beaujolais are extremely easy to match with food, even hard to pair foods like ham. Gamay wines are a perfect, fruity foil for its pink saltiness. I love ham in sandwiches and in other things more than on its own, and so for dinner tonight we had Nigella Lawson's Pasta with Ham, Peas, and Cream. This makes excellent use of holiday leftovers you may have tucked in the freezer, or you can buy a small ham and cut it into chunks. It was wonderful with the Burgaud wine, with its fruity, fresh acidity.
Beaujolais wines are usually very good QPR and this wine is no exception. It is simple, fruity, and engaging, and not rustic or rough. If you haven't had a cru beaujolais lately, this is certainly one to note down and try. You may not be able to find precisely this wine at a retailer near you, but Wine-Searcher does have a few other bottlings from this producer, in case you would like to seek one out.