Archive for June, 2010

Anything But Chardonnay

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

Yes, there is an “Anything But Chardonnay” club, dubbed “ABC”, that from what I gather is anti anything Chardonnay.  While I am not a club member, I have become mostly disenfranchised with Chardonnay.  Or at least Chardonnay NOT from Burgundy.  Chablis, the steely crisp Chardonnay from the Chablis region, or White Burgundy….YUM – Love it (or at least some of it)!  Yet much (but of course not all) of the other stuff – POSERS!

I’m no Francophile,  but I do believe that there is something magical about the wines of Burgundy.  Pinot Noir’s best expression seems to come from Burgundy.  Sure I’ve had some other charming Pinot Noir, but none has ever seemed as magical, complex, primal, balanced & long-lived as some of the Burgundy I’ve been fortunate to taste.

But I digress…

Getting back to Chardonnay, I attended a tasting of white wines last week.  We started the tasting with 5 Chardonnays – all made in Israel at different wineries.  The first two were “unoaked” Chardonnays.  I do enjoy a good crisp white, but these unoaked Chard’s underwhelmed.  The focus seemed more on the acidity (a vital component) than the fruit, and the resulting wines seemed bitter and unbalanced.  Two of the next 3 were oaked, but sadly the oak dominated and masked any fruit that may have been hiding underneath.  I did enjoy 1 of the 5 Chard’s.  It seemed to have the right balance between fruit, acid, oak & cream.

Now I mention cream, but no, there was no dairy product added.  In addition to the primary fermentation (that converts sugar into alcohol) in wine, there is a secondary fermentation known as “malolactic” fermentation that converts bitter “malic” acid into CREAMY “lactic” acid.  This is where the buttery or creamy flavors in Chardonnay come from.

I don’t want to get too carried away with the technical aspects here, but I do want to tie in to the ABC (anything but Chardonnay) club.  Chardonnay is made in cool climates (apples & peaches), moderate climates (honeydew & pears) and warm climates (pineapple & lichee).  It can be 100% oak aged, or it can be partially (33%, 50%, 66%, etc.) oak aged.  It can have a full malolactic, or a partial malolactic.  It can be bready as a result of “sur lie” – a process whereby the dead yeast cells are left in contact with the wine and stirred around to add complexity & yeast flavors.

There are so many ways Chardonnay can be made.  Personally I think the best examples originate in Burgundy.  Yet while I may not be a fan of lots of the Chardonnay out there, I am often surprised by a winemakers ability to make the right style Chardonnay for his fruit.

So if you have had a bad Chardonnay & have considered joining the ABC club, I implore you not to give up.  Keep an open mind, taste when you can, and when all else fails pick up a White Burgundy.

Happy Chardonnay Wine Tasting!


Resilient wine

Monday, June 21st, 2010

I’ve been suffering a bit of writers block of late.  Couple that with a busy work schedule, the NBA finals, and a desire for some serious changes to the site (blog) and you get almost 2 weeks of inactivity.  SORRY….

But I was inspired by something I read before the weekend.  I was reading Robin Garr’s 30 second Wine Advisor & his most recent piece about aged wines; “Older of Better“.

The piece talks a bit about how wines change as they age, with some improving (though I think that is subjective).  He also mentioned that most wines are meant to be consumed young.  And I would tend to agree, that most wine is in fact made with the intention that it be consumed within a few years of release.

I know people who prefer young wine to old wine.  Young wines have firm tannins and big fruit.  Whereas older wines can be more acidic and absent of fruit.

Prior to writing tonight’s post, I tasted two older wines over the weekend. Neither were of the 20+ years old category, generally reserved for top wines.  But both were from the 2000 vintage and neither was a reserve wine of sorts – so safe to assume it was not meant for long term aging.

The first, a Merlot from Israel, showed a remarkably youthful color.  Sadly it was corked – no pleasure to be derived here.

The second was a simple Bourgogne.  Whereas 1er Cru or Grand Cru Burgundy can age for MANY years, the more simple Bourgogne is one of those “intended for early consumption” wines.  So the 2000 being alive was in my mind a long shot.  Popped the cork for Dad and others this afternoon and sure enough it was BROWN – a sure sign that the wine is dead…right?  Well, it had some oxidative qualities, but a remarkably fresh acidity and some secondary characteristics of dried fruit, leather & mushrooms.  What can I say, I loved it!

This wine might  not be for everyone.  But the funky secondary characteristics are one of the most exciting things about aged wines.  Drinking a young wine is like checking out the babies in a maternity ward.  Sure they all look a bit different, but when it comes down to it, unless it is your baby they are just a bunch of diapered newborns.  Give that newborn 5, 10 even 20 years to age and now you’ve got character.

The “how to properly age wine” conversation is a completely different topic (which I think I’ve previously covered), but if you have an open mind to wines that are not fruit forward, and you have the opportunity to try an aged wine, or at least put one away for several years, try it.  You may have an aged wine epiphany!

Happy aged wine tasting!


Wine Tasting trick

Monday, June 7th, 2010

My palate-training journey is much like my exercise regimen.  At times it is fun.  Sometimes it seems like a chore.  I’m often humbled.  But the more I do it the better I get (or so I think).

I often tell the story of the well know winemaker I asked about the secret to wine tasting.  She smiled and said something along the lines of “sweetheart, there are few true shortcuts in life – you must taste, taste, taste…”.  Shucks!

I watch & listen as others taste.  And I’m happy to ask questions.  I don’t always follow the things I hear, but I have learned some valuable tips.

Today I’m here to tell you that it isn’t mad science – tasting wine can be rather simple…

…ok, maybe not simple.  But a really sweet woman (yes, I think women have better palates than men) I met while I was selling wine shared what I consider to be valuable advice.  She spoke of the importance of “the start & the end”.

I have heard lots of people speak of the “mid-palate”.  In its simplest form, wine has an “attack”, a “mid-palate” & a “finish”.

The attack is how the wine tastes in the front of your mouth when it first passes through your lips.  The mid-palate is how it feels as it is IN your mouth (whatever that means).  And the finish, AKA the aftertaste is how you feel about the wine one you have spat/swallowed.

When I asked the woman what she meant by “the start & finish” she spoke initially about the aromas of the wine.  Were they one-dimensional?  Where they common or simple aromas?  Or were these aromas unique, complex, and diverse?  Interestingly, she put less value on the all important (to some) “mid-palate”, skipping it over and instead concentrating on the finish.  Was it pleasant or bitter?  Was it hot (from high or out of balance alcohol)?  Was it short – a few seconds?  Or was it long – did it linger pleasantly for a minute or more?

It has been a few years since this mini wine tasting lesson but I still use this sage advice.  While I admittedly enjoy the mouth feel of an oaked wine, I have come to understand that any winemaker can age their wine in oak and give it that full bodied feel.  But only the best grapes can contribute to make a wine with pleasant, diverse  & interesting aromas (start) as well as a soft, long & pleasurably lingering finish (end).

Happy “start & end” wine tasting!


Wine Enthusiast – Toast of the Town (Ch. 3 – 2010)

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

For the third consecutive year I was fortunate enough last week (May 24) to attend the Wine Enthusiast “Toast of the Town” Food & Wine event at Lincoln Center’s Koch Theater (year 1 & year 2).

If there is anything negative I can say about this event it is that it is so damn predictable…predictably GOOD!!!

Seriously though I believe that this is the quintessential wine & food event.  There are other TOTT’s in major US cities such as Atlanta, LA, Chicago & Washington, DC.  I can only imagine that the others are also quite special.  Top restaurants send their chefs who prepare (sometimes actually cook over burner) small tastes of 1-3 items and distribute to the guests.  And while I was there for the wine, I heard many guests comment how the food was the best part of the evening for them.

But this is a WINE blog, not a food blog.  So I’ll keep things short, but I do want to mention a few standout wines.  Though there were probably several hundred (I’d guesstimate about 250) wines there, I only had a chance to samples about 60 wines (I counted 59 short tasting notes though I must have tasted something I neglected to make note of).

Before mentioning the noteworthy wines, I’d be remiss to ignore the flawed wines I found that night.  Now flawed wines happen.  Wines can be corked as much as 10% of the time (though the # is probably closer to 5%).  And other flaws do occur, especially when producers are showing older vintages (which wasn’t that common, but I did try an older vintage wine or two).  What surprised me most was the amount of flawed wines I discovered that the pourers had no idea were flawed.  I suppose they weren’t all majorly flawed and it is possible that some I thought were flawed were not.  But the fact that the pourers didn’t seem to have any clue about the wines I thought was pure laziness on their part.  Maybe I am taking this strong position as I was SHOCKED when a pourer concurred with my assessment of a wine as cork & proceeded to put the wine aside to be “later to the masses”. Again, maybe they were simply appeasing me, but with what these producers spend on marketing and to be at these events don’t you think they should make sure that they are showing their best???

OK, standout wines (in no particular order)…

I’ve tried the standard Marlborough Kim Crawford Sauv Blanc before, but here I had the opportunity to try the “Drylands” Sauv Blanc (herbaceous & tart) as well as the “Small Parcels Spitfire” Sauv Blanc which felt more old world in style – restrained minerals and dried grass rather than new world citrus & freshly cut green grass.

I tried a 2008 Fevre Champs Royaux (Chablis) at the Henriot table that was fresh, steely & crisp – all qualities I love about Chablis.  I remarked to the woman (KZ) that I previously did a Fevre tasting that I enjoyed but did not love and she informed me that there was a change of ownership and I might have tasted the wines from the previous owner (Fevre).  I was excited to hear that my palate was good enough to detect a change in style (with the change in ownership)…only to return home, read my post about the previous Fevre tasting and realize that I was WRONG.

Also at the Henriot table was a Champagne (NV Blanc Souverain Pur Chardonnay) that was bready/yeasty with a complex palate and decent mid-sized bubbles.

I had 3 wines at the Francis Ford Coppola table.  The “Director’s Cut”, a blend of Cab (54%), Zinfandel (34%) & Cab Franc (12%) was velvety soft & complex with an array of fruit.  The “Votre Sante” Pinot, a Cali Pinot (usually NOT my favorite) was light & restrained with a lively acidity.  And the famous “Rubicon Estate (2006) CASK Cab was still pretty tannic, LOADED with fruit, yet super soft on the palate and quite nice.

The Yalumba 2004 Signature Cab/Shiraz was one of my favorites of the night.  Deep, dark ruby colored wine, with cola, mocha, cherry coke & even chocolate aromas.  A fresh & fruity wine that was not heavy and finished long and pleasant.

From Evaton, I most enjoyed the Sogrape 2007 Callabriga Reserva Tinto that had a pronounced tar/cola nose and with soft tannins and a long finish.

I tried the Robert Mondavi 2006 Cab reserve that was pretty good but I probably did not give it a fair chance as it was a “Mondavi” wine.

The Ruffino 2004 Romitoria di Santedame had pronounced herb & cherry cola aromas (do we see a theme of what I enjoy here?) with a light & fresh palate and medium-long finish.

Louis Martini Monte Rosso Vineyard Cab (2005) was deep, dark & brooding, with black fruit, mocha-chocolate & a soft palate.

The Antinori 2005 Marchese Antinori Riserva was already throwing lots of sediment with its lovely red berry nose and LONG finish.

The Hogue Cellars 2006 Reserve Merlot had mocha chocolate & bitter orange peel wrapped around silky tannins and a pleasing long finish.

And among my last stops was PerryMoore Wines to taste their Cabs, the 2006 Beckstoffer To Kalon which was deep, rich, complex & extracted with blue fruit & silky tannins.  As well as their 2007 Stagecoach vineyard cab which had black fruit on the nose, a big, lush midpalate that transitioned to a eucalyptus/mint and a medium-long finish.

In all yet again a winner event.  And while unless you live in Washington, DC (event coming on June 11) you will have to wait until next year, I strongly recommend you keep an eye out as no matter whether you are a foodie or wino there is plenty at the Toast of the Town for you to enjoy!

Happy WE TOTT Wine Tasting!