Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit.
Robert Mondavi

Friday, July 31, 2009

Who says Paris doesn’t produce good wine?!

Ok, Paris is a horrible place to produce wine, but a terrific place to experience it!

A couple years back (wow time flies), Christine and I went on our honeymoon to Paris. We were really looking forward to the unique wine experiences that lay ahead. We had two really terrific experiences surrounding wine. We had a chance to take a quick trip outside of Paris to the Champagne Region (only an hour and a half drive). While there we had a chance to tour the property of the famed Moët & Chandon, as well as Chateau de Castellane in Epernay. Both were tasty (we got to drink bubbles) and informative. An equally informative and pleasant wine experience took place on Day One, in Paris!

Our Parisian Honeymoon began with a wine tasting. We thought we would take the opportunity to get to know Paris and walk to our destination (it looked like only six inches on the map so how far could it be?!). We walked from the Arc de Triomphe to the extreme opposite side of old Paris. Let’s just say that the blisters were a constant reminder that better planning would have been helpful! Regardless, we made it to our destination and quite frankly, it was awesome!

Oliver Magny runs Ô Chateau, which at the time was run out of his loft. It was such a cool, hip place and offered a very relaxing atmosphere to begin your journey across Frances different wine regions. Christine and I ended up doing the "Grand 7" tasting. Think of the Tour de France, traveling all around but instead of riding a bike you are drinking wine, without leaving the room. We tasted wines from the Champagne, Loire Valley, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Languedoc, the Rhône Valley, and Alsace regions. It was a cool progression that showed the diversity of France’s wines. The whole time Olivier's passion and knowledge for wine came through in such an inspiring and easy to understand way (the best way to describe Olivier is to think of Jamie Oliver, but for wine and without a lisp). Also, if I remember correctly, this is the moment marking the transition for Christine from fruity whites towards the reds! That would make Olivier my hero!

The reasons I wanted to write about Ô Chateau is that if you ever go to Paris, you better include this experience in your trip. It is a great way to jump-start your Parisian vacation, while truly enjoying some nice wines and company. The second reason is to recommend that you remain open to the expertise and enthusiasm of professionals in the wine world. Be it your local wine shop owner or the tasting-room person in any Napa winery, we all love to share our wine knowledge. If you have questions, please never hesitate to ask! To us, there is nothing better.

** Note** Ô Chateau is now located under the historic and beautiful Parisian Hotel Particulier. The tasting room is the 300 year old cellar that served as the personal cellar of King Louis XV’s sommelier!

For more info on Ô Chateau please visit their website (

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Poll Winner: Pinot Noir!

Pinot Noir - 6
Sauvignon Blanc & Riesling - 4 each
Other (better not be White Zinfandel) - 2

So you guys picked a red varietal for your favorite summer wine?!

I am just kidding! I love Pinot Noir anytime of year, and besides Zinfandel it is my favorite summer red. Since Pinot was the poll winner, I will be devoting this entry to two recommendations from this varietal. One entry level, one moderately expensive and both of which can be found easily at your local liquor store (if you are in NH) and are popular enough to find if you live elsewhere.

2006, Domaine Drouhin, Willamette Valley, Oregon - $44
Domaine Drouhin has a very illustrious background. It is the product of the expansion of French wine houses into the “New World”. Maison Joseph Drouhin of Beaune, France sought to pursue this avenue and in 1987 purchased 225-acres of what was then a Christmas-tree farm.

The 2006 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir is one of my favorite wines. The nose is a beautiful rich cherry that is mirrored on the palate along with a hint of spice. The tannins are noticeable; however they are well integrated and even a somewhat delicate. This is a very thoughtful wine that is confident in structure and complexity, very much a classic Burgundy-styled Pinot Noir.

As always, I disagree with the Wine Spectator rating. I feel they are tight-wads in some instances, but then again as I explained in an earlier post, it is only one person’s opinion. WS gave them a 90 for the 2006 vintage and I almost feel slighted for them! This wine is very comfortably a 92 and I think this will only get better with time. Wine & Spirits gave the DD a 93. I think this illustrates that ratings are highly personal!

2007, Benton-Lane, Willamette Valley, Oregon - $22
Benton-Lane produces some very nice Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. In fact, their Pinot Gris has been a revelation. However I will be focusing on their lower-end (price, not quality) Pinot Noir.

The 2007 Benton-Lane Pinot Noir is a very tasty and crisp wine. It is not as complex or elegant as the Domaine Drouhin or its’ big brother, Benton-Lane First Class, but it is not nearly as expensive either. This should not detour you in the slightest. This is meant to be consumed in the near future and is extremely tasty and very well-suited for food.

This wine exudes some very nice strawberry and cherry on the nose. On the palate I found the aromas were reversed. I picked up mainly fresh cherry with some strawberry thrown in for good measure. The balance and finish on this wine are very nice and leave you wanting more!

I was unable to find any published ratings for the 2007 Benton-Lane, but I would put this in the 88 range. This is a very good wine with its nice fruit, balance and crispness keeping it towards the higher end of the 80s.

I hope you have a chance to enjoy one, if not both of these wines. That’s the whole reason why I these things!!!


Monday, July 27, 2009

Terrific wines for the Summer

The summer is made for picnics, hikes, and barbeques. The summer is also made for two very special wine varietals, Zinfandel* and Sauvignon Blanc. It is amazing how two such amazingly opposite wines can both embody the same season so precisely. Zinfandels are bold, oaked and full-bodied red gems. Sauvignon Blancs are citrusy, light and crisp whites. What they do have in common, is that they both perfectly pair with summer fare.

Zinfandels and the grill are best friends. They seriously should go everywhere together. Pair a beautiful California Zinfandel with barbeque chicken and ribs or a grilled steak and you will not be disappointed. I also find them (as well as Sauvignon Blanc) exceptionally pleasant to sip on their own, but food really brings out the best in them. The Zinfandel we will be reviewing today is the 2006 Ridge Vineyards Geyserville, Sonoma, California.

Sauvignon Blancs, with their delicate characteristics pair very well with seafood (grilled or boiled, especially shrimp. When I think of Sauv Blanc I think of a fresh spinach salad with grilled shrimp and a light vinaigrette or lemon juice to dress it (OK, my mouth is watering). When picking a Sauvignon Blanc, the 2008s from Marlborough, New Zealand were amazing. Of those, the one we will be reviewing today is the 2008 Nobilo Icon.

2006, Ridge Vineyards Geyserville, Zinfandel, Sonoma, California - $35
Ridge Vineyards of California consistently produces some of my top choice Zinfandel's. For the past three vintages, Geyserville Vineyard, in Sonoma County has been my favorite of the Ridge vineyards. The 2006 is a wonderful meaty wine, with lush, dark berries taking over the aroma. On the palate you may find that raspberry and pepper dominate. A very appealing wine that is a perfect accompaniment with heavier grilled foods (beef, pork, vegetables and meaty fish).

Wine Spectator gave this a 90, but I believe it is a solid 91. 90 is just a little too marginal for me, this is an outstanding wine (Wine & Spirits agreed, scoring it a 92).

2008, Nobilo Icon, Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand - $15
When I first came about this wine, I was doing some research at the local liquor store. I decided that it was a nice day for a refreshing Sauvignon Blanc, so I picked it up. It was kind of like finding a Benjamin in your jeans pocket! My favorite Sauv Blanc!

Upon first pour, the grapefruit aromas intoxicate and refresh you instantly. On the palate you pick up the grapefruit as well. After the grapefruit you get a hint of lemon zest along with slight minerality. Not to mention that the acidity is perfect! You put these components together and you have one terrific wine.

Wine Spectator scored this a whopping 92, but that is not even enough for me. When you factor in the aroma, brilliant visual appearance, terrific structure and complexity, and finally the palate, you have a wine that is safely a 94 for me. Not quite a classic, but very close!

*Important Notice* I by no means was referring to White Zinfandel. Blah!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

That is just screwy!

Over the course of the past month I have been asked a single question more then any other, are corks or screw caps better? This has been a controversial issue in the wine world for some time now, but the fact is that it has been answered by practical matters time and time again.

The purists believe that using a cork is the only way to go. This is kind of like the baseball writers who hate the designated hitter in the American League; these people are horribly resistant to any change to tradition. The progressives want to evolve and improve upon lessons learned. They want what is best, even if it means going against traditional ways of doing things. Going back to baseball, who the heck wants to watch any pitcher take hacks at the plate (it is like watching a baby deer try to walk for the first time).

I must admit, my beliefs are a hybrid between the two. On the one hand, there is something very romantic about opening a bottle with a corkscrew or ah so. However, if you have ever had a bottle of corked wine, you will know why this argument even exists. It is estimated that 3%, and potentially as much as 7%, of all wines that use real corks are, in fact, corked! That is an extremely large number of bottles when it comes down to it. Corked wine occurs when wine comes in contact with a cork that is contaminated with TCA (2, 4, 6-Trichloroanisole). The most obvious sign of a corked wine is that it will take on the musty smell of wet cardboard or a damp basement, yuck! The other, less noticeable sign is if you are drinking a wine that you are familiar with and it does not have the normal characteristics (i.e.- freshness or berry forward taste), then it may be corked.

Note: If you happen to come across a bottle like this, immediately attempt to return it to the store where you made the purchase. Depending on their policy, they may exchange it for you!

Anyways, back to the debate!

The argument in favor of natural corks is one that is one part tradition and two parts proven practical analysis. The tradition part is obvious, but the research is equally credible. Well-crafted, traditionally bottled wines have an outstanding track record of maturing gracefully over decades (sometimes even centuries!). This aging is due to two sources, the oxygen trapped in the bottle between the liquid and cork, and the barely traceable amounts of oxygen that comes in through the cork. This oxygen allows a wine (usually a red) to soften, while at the same time develop in taste, sight, and smell. The results speak for themselves, but I do not recommend trying to age a bottle of Barefoot, shame on you for even considering it!

The argument for screw caps is that ANY air allowed into the bottle will ruin the wine. Although this is obviously an exaggeration (but not in all cases), there is a point to this. If you prefer the freshness of a young wine, then screw caps have been proven to keep a wine fresher for longer due to the fact that NO additional oxygen gets in. In a Wine Spectator article a few years back, a bottle of Penfold’s 389 was aged using a screw cap, a cork, and refrigerated. The results of the screw cap were consistent with the bottle that had been refrigerated for the same time (once below a certain temperature, the air in the bottle will have no effect on the wine). Interesting?!

Well my conclusion is as follows:
1) The classic Cabernets, Bordeaux, Burgundy Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, and Nebbiolo should never use screw caps. Simply put, it would tarnish the romantic appeal of even owning one!
2) Wines crafted to be light and fresh should certainly entertain the idea, even in medium to low end Burgundy reds (pretentious fools). It is working with Oregon Pinot, why can’t it work with Burgundy’s non-Classic Pinot Noirs as well?
3) When it comes down to it, it is a matter of preference. My biggest take away is DO NOT look at the screw cap as a sign of lesser quality, just a different way of doing the same thing!

Oh, don't even get me started on synthetic corks!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What exactly do wine ratings mean and are they accurate?

The 100 Point Scale
95-100 A classic truly great wine!
90-94 An outstanding wine that is superior in character and style.
85-89 A very good wine with a few special qualities.
80-84 A good, well-made wine.
75-79 A mediocre, but drinkable wine that may possess some minor flaws.
50-74 A wine that is not recommended for consumption (why waste your time and calories).

Try to remember this when you are walking down the aisle of your local grocery or liquor store and see one of those little signs placed below the different wines. Typically they will have a number falling into the 100 Point rating scale as well as a description. But who decides this rating and what is taken into consideration?

First off, there is the analysis of the wine. When the taster is assigning a rating, it is based off of the quality of the appearance, aromas, taste, balance and complexity, among a few other considerations.

Second, each of these ratings and descriptions are based off of the tastings of typically ONE person who happens to be covering the wine region that the bottle you are considering falls under. These tasters work for any of a number of wine publications (i.e. Wine Spectator, Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, etc.). These wine experts who report are by no means amateurs. In fact, they have some of the most discerning palates in the world, they can tell the difference between mediocre and good as well as outstanding and truly great. However, in the end, everyone is going to have their own unique experience with wine.

Third, it is widely assumed that there is a certain amount of politics involved. I am not saying that tasters are going to overlook obvious flaws, but there sometimes some suspect ratings. Just remember that the wine community is tight group that you do not want to find yourself on the outside of if you are a publication or one of their correspondent tasters.

Finally, if the tasting is not done blindly, that is without seeing the bottles and labels from which it is poured, this may have a significant impact. If a professional taster views the label before tasting, they will know the winery, the vineyard it came from, the reputation, and the price range. These bits of information may lead to bias either for or against a certain producer/vineyard. For example, the next time I have a Duckhorn wine, my initial bias against it will have to be overcome before I can rate it accurately (refer to prior post). For this reason a good amount of the tastings for publications are done blind.

What should you take away from all this nonsense? I feel it is very important to have wine ratings, because they offer an indication as to the quality of different wines. I would not, however, take these ratings as word of God. Know yourself, know what you like and try to broaden your horizons. If you are trying to decide if a certain bottle is going to be as good as advertised, I would recommend using Cellar Tracker, which is a collection of ratings from various people who have owned, consumed and noted their tastings.

I figured that if I am going to be writing reviews and rating the wines I have tasted I should probably explain a little about the 100 Point wine rating scale and how the scores are assessed. I hope this helps!


Monday, July 20, 2009

A cautionary tale

When people decide to get into wine and start acquiring a few bottles to age for special occasion or simply collect, there are a few things that need to be kept in mind. Consistent temperature exposure (I keep mine in the range of 52-55 degrees), very little exposure to light, proper humidity levels (to prevent the cork from drying out), and exposure to very little vibration are the major things to keep under consideration when selecting a place to store your wine.

My cousin, who shall remain nameless, learned this lesson about proper wine storage the hard way. When Bob was a little younger and was new to wine collecting, he was actually quite astute with the wines he selected (I think my uncle may have had a positive influence on him in regards to this). He looked for the French Classics, some off-vintage First Growths from Bordeaux (a great way to experience the best of Bordeaux without breaking the bank) and some very interesting/well-respected California Cabs & Bordeaux Blends. The roster of his cellar is a beautiful thing. It is stocked with older vintages of Château Mouton-Rothschild, Château Latour, Château Haut-Brion, Château Margaux, Pichon-Longueville (both Lalande and Baron), Stag's Leap, and Chateau Montelena, just to name a few.

He amassed a very respectable collection and enjoyed some of these wines early on. However, quite a few of his bottles didn't fare as well over time. You see, they were stored in his apartment that typically got quite hot in the summer months (70+ degrees) that had a few windows that allowed direct sunlight to enter. That is two big mistakes that unless you are told, you won't really think about. Considering that this was in NE Ohio there was no shortage of humidity, so that was not an issue.

Why do I tell you all this?

For one, if you are beginning a collection or buying a few nice bottles for special occasions PLEASE do one of two things. Either keep them in your basement OR if you don't have a basement, consider purchasing a wine cooler (typically range from $100-500 depending on how many bottles it holds). There is no sense buying collectible or older bottles if you aren't going to store them correctly and let them go bad.

Second, I got to try one of these fallen classics. Let me tell you, it was interesting to say the least. When I was in Ohio in the Spring my cousin decided to let me try a bottle of 1986 Château Haut-Brion from Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux. This was one of my first experiences with a Bordeaux First-Growth and I am quite possibly scarred for life! I am just kidding, but I will surely never forget this.

The 1986 Château Haut-Brion had a very distinct aroma that was vaguely familiar. Due to the improper storage the aroma had altered somewhat and now smelled like cat urine! It was actually quite funny in a way (and completely sad in another). The very interesting thing was that this wine was NOT spoiled. My cousin and I were shocked. Once we got past the smell, we found that the palate still retained some faded dark cherry, earthy and leathery notes and was even a little pleasant. Albeit the smell was ghastly, the wine overall was not a complete loss! I am not sure I will experience anything quite like this again.

Now, my cousin learned from this experience and now has a nice set-up in his basement which has very good conditions for storing wine. Both he and his father are extremely gracious with thier wine and wine knowledge and have been a huge inspiration for me during my evolution in wine. My uncle has been somewhat of a mentor/counsel for the endeavor that I have undertaken as well.

Thanks you two!

I hope that you all can learn something from this cautionary tale, I know I did. Wine that smells like cat urine stinks!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

One to try and one to avoid like the plague

Over the course of the past year I began keeping tasting notes on some of great and awful wines that I have had. Consider this the first in a line of hopefully informative insights into what is good and what should apply for a government bailout.

Highly Recommended: 2005, Justin Vineyards Isosceles, Meritage, Paso Robles, California - $60-65

Justin Vineyards embodies what California represents in many ways. They are innovative, they are Earth-friendly, they are focused on healthy living, and they are quality wine. Justin is one of the cooler wine discoveries I have made. Currently they are going through the process of becoming certified biodynamic (using natural means to tend to the grapes on the vine). They definitely have the desire to take care of the Earth, but they also take care of their employees. They have an on-site gym and strongly encourage participation in athletic competitions and physical activity. Overall, I think this makes them very appealing as a company, but how is the wine?

The 2005 Justin Isosceles is my favorite wine of 2009 thus far! It is an amazingly complex blend, with aromas of ripe red currants and juicy dark berries that are mirrored on the palate. The palate begins with the hit of red current and then evolves into the dark berries. The berries get more and more complex and meaty as time goes on and creates a truly memorable finish.

Wine Spectator gave this bad boy a 92, but I think this is slightly lower then what it deserves. I score this a 94 verging on 95, and I am thinking there is possibly a 95 in there if cellared for another 2-5 years.

Avoid: 2004, Duckhorn, Merlot, Napa, California - $45-50

Duckhorn has a romanticized reputation like many fading Napa vineyards. Be leery if you see Duckhorn Merlot on a restaurant's wine list. It usually fetches around $100-120 (add $30-50 for Cabernet) and it is nowhere worth it! The people at Duckhorn need to go back to the drawing board, especially for a winery that prides itself on Merlot! Maybe some restructuring or new vine plantings are in order?

How bad was this wine?

The 2004 Duckhorn Merlot has probably been my least favorite moderately-expensive wine of 2009. It is not a horrible wine, but it is extremely mediocre. Now when you combine that with the price it becomes horrible! The nose is a little awkward. It has a very healthy dose of cigar, cedar and earth notes. The problem is, there is no berry anywhere to lift this up. Just strange. The palate is very thin with some berries developing over time, but unfortunately I didn't have all week to wait.

Wine Spectator gave this a 78 and I think that is actually pretty nice. I would have to give this a 76. A poor showing from a vineyard that does occasionally produce some pretty good, but over-priced, estate-grown Merlot and Cabernet.

Alternative: Since I ripped the Duckhorn Merlot, let me offer a couple to try in the same price range. A 2005 or 2006 Plumpjack Merlot from Napa (co-owned by San Fran Mayor Gavin Newsome) is a great alternative as is a mid-range St-Emilion (2005 if possible) like Chateau Pipeau.

Next time out, look past the names and try to find quality. If you are not sure, ask the waiter or wine steward, that's why they are there!