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

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Tribute to a Hero: Kyle Van De Giesen

Editor’s Note: I am taking the week off from writing about wine, because sometimes there are far more important things.

It is funny how certain events in life cause you to deeply reflect on the past, present and future. Typically, we go to work and when we get there, we think about getting out and going home to see our families or go out with friends. Well, that is what one man was thinking about doing just a couple days ago.

His day probably started just like every other day, maybe with a morning run or something else exceedingly normal. He was probably thinking about the following week when he would be reunited with his family. Seemingly normal stuff. That is until he would power-up his Cobra helicopter and those moments of normalcy were gone. This is somewhat fitting for someone who in my mind and memories was not in the least bit normal.

Kyle Van De Giesen was not normal in the sense that he had a certain aura about him that most people do not possess. He was the calm and collected figure who so easily managed a huddle during a two-minute drill or could go up to a troubled kicker who had just missed a field goal and somehow get through to them to relax, this is only a game. Relax, this is only a game led him to leave behind the sport he loved to pursue the dream he had always imagined. It was his composure, leadership, sense of the moment and self-belief that Kyle walked with during the days that I knew him at Saint Anselm College.

It was these aforementioned characteristics that allowed Kyle to fly choppers into areas of the world that very closely resemble Hell and look back at his day as normal. According to his family and friends, his life’s dream was to be a military helicopter pilot. It is not often that one gets to live out one’s dreams. For this, we must consider Kyle lucky. Unfortunately for this brave Marine, that dream and any semblance of normalcy ended. Captain Kyle Van De Giesen was killed just days ago when his helicopter crashed in Afghanistan.

To Kyle’s credit, he leaves behind a list of friends and loved ones befitting a hero. Unfortunately, this tragedy's other victims are his loving wife, daughter and soon-to-be-born son. This loss to them is something that I have imagined myself and cried relentlessly over, yet I know that is but a modicum of what they feel. No one can diminish that. But let us not forget what Kyle has come to mean to all of us. He embodied the selfless, courageous and loving hero that we all wish we could be. The kind of man who would go to places like Iraq and Afghanistan to fight a war in order to keep safe his family and friends back home. For that reason, although he is no longer with us in the flesh, Kyle Van De Giesen will hold a place of utmost nobility in our hearts and minds.

Relax, this is only a game. At the time, it seemed like such a simple concept, you missed a field goal, get over it, you will have another opportunity to redeem yourself. However, when you think about that comment in hindsight, it puts everything into perspective. I sit here tonight wondering if Kyle ever thought about what he said that day against Dartmouth. If he did, I bet he had a good laugh. What a silly thing to get distraught over.

We will all miss you Kyle, you were a great friend and teammate to many. Your legacy will live on as only a true hero’s legacy can.

Updated 10/30: Remembering Kyle Van De Giesen (YouTube)


Monday, October 26, 2009

Understanding Wine Ratings

Lately, my thoughts have drifted towards wine ratings and how exceedingly arbitrary they are. With that being said, they do serve one function, by assigning a number to a wine, there is a delineation created between levels of quality. To the average consumer, this helps to indicate what is good, great, or crap. In my opinion, that is where the benefits end.

Since I originally wrote this piece, Dr. Vino (aka Tyler Coleman) referenced a column written by Jonah Lehrer (a contributor for Wired magazine). The topic of this column referred to a tasting of 2007 Bordeaux wines by the renowned Robert Parker. For those who are not aware of who Robert Parker is, let me explain. Simply put, he is the most influential wine critic in the world.

Lehrer quoted Dr. Vino in his piece, stating:

A final issue is about points and the nature of blind tasting, a capricious undertaking is there ever was one. Although Parker did not rate the wines yesterday, his top wine of the evening (Le Gay) was the lowest rated in the line-up from his most recent published reviews... For all the precision that a point score implies, it is not dynamic, changing with the wines as they change in the bottle, nor does it capture performance from one tasting to the next.

This posed a serious issue that I addressed when i first started writing A Wine Odyssey. In that piece, I said it is exceptionally important to know yourself and what you like. It also addressed some of the issues that presented themselves when assessing a rating.

The following is from an earlier post entitled What exactly do wine ratings mean? From back in July:

First off, there is the analysis of the wine. When the taster is assigning a rating, it is based off 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, 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 are sometimes some suspect ratings issued. Just remember, the wine community is a tight group that you do not want to find yourself on the outside of, especially if you are a publication that relies on their access.

Finally, if the tasting is not done blindly,which means without seeing the bottles and labels from which the wine is poured, this may have a significant impact. If a professional taster views the label prior to 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.

These points are illustrated very clearly in the above example of Robert Parker's blind tasting of the 2007 Bordeaux vs. his published ratings which were not done blindly.

So, what should you take away from all this nonsense? I feel the most important thing you can do is be yourself. It is important to have wine ratings to help navigate through the vast world of wines. I would not, however, take these ratings as word of God. Know your palate, know what you like and build off of that. If you are trying to decide is a certain bottle is going to be as good as advertised, I would recommend you use Cork'd or Cellar Tracker. Both of which offer a collection of ratings and tasting notes from people who have actually tried these wines. The scores are then pooled to give, in my opinion, a far more accurate rating.

100 Point Scale & Meanings:
100-95: A classic, truly great wine
94-90: An outstanding wine that is superior in character and style
89-85: A very good wine with a few special qualities
84-80: A good wine
79-75: A very mediocre, but drinkable wine that may possess a few flaws
74-50: A wine that is not recommended for consumption

Thursday, October 22, 2009

4 to Spit, 4 to Sip

It’s not often that I find wines that I truly cannot stomach, but once in a while it happens. In this list I will also recommend an alternative for each. Again this is only in my opinion, but if I can help save you from wasting calories and money I will!

2005, Ridge Vineyards Santa Cruz Mountains, Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Coast, California - $40

Vibrant ruby colored. The nose was very restrictive and never really opened up. Palate reflects the traditional blackberry, cherry, and other dark fruits. Tannins are still a bit intense. Hopefully with age it will improve, but I doubt it will impact it that much. This is a very average wine at best. Very disappointing for a winery of this stature.

ES – 82 WS – 85

Alternative to Ridge Santa Cruz: Justin, Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, California - $25

2005, Joseph Faiveley Bourgogne, Pinot Noir, Burgundy, France - $20

To sight this was a very translucent and unspectacular. The nose had a slight amount of red berry and spice, but also exhibited the smell of a plastic grocery bag. The palate was similar to a cherry jolly rancher, but was very short lived. It was very thin and watery, with a drying sensation towards the end.

ES – 81 WS – 84

Alternative to Faiveley: Joseph Drouhin Laforet, Pinot Noir, Burgundy, France - $18

2007, Fleur de California, Pinot Noir, Central Coast, California - $15

Like the Faiveley, light and unspectacular. Cherry and berries on the nose and palate, but not much else. It had a very boring and short palate.

ES – 80 WS – 82

Alternative to Fleur: Greg Norman Estates, Pinot Noir, Santa Barbera, California - $15

2007, Evodia, Old Vine Garnacha, Calatayud, Spain - $10 (as mentioned in an earlier post)

The pigment is a beautiful dark purple/almost black, but that is where the exuberance ended. The nose of this wine was very disjointed with hints of wet stone/cinder block and an unusual cherry dominating with the traditional influence of spice and black pepper certainly evident. The palate took on sour cherry, spice, and oak. Contrary to other reviews that I read after, I found there to be some sharpness to this wine. This seems to be a polarizing wine.

ES – 84 WA - 88

Alternative to Evodia: Chateau Pesquie Quintessence, Côtes du Ventoux, Rhône, France - $19

All wines named in this post are available at the NH Liquor store off of Exit 6 (behind the Nashua Mall)


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wine list can speak volumes about an eatery

As published in the 10/21 edition of the Nashua Telegraph (click link to view Telegraph version).

A restaurant’s wine list says a lot about who the people running it are, what their aspirations are and what they think about you. This is very evident in locations that you will visit across the country. From Applebee’s, to The Cheesecake Factory, to Mario Batali’s Del Posto, you will find very different, yet appropriate, wine experiences that fit the atmosphere, cuisine and crowd that typically dine at these establishments.

I bring up Batali’s Del Posto because a good friend of mine recently dined there while taking a long weekend in New York City. Once he returned, he had a few questions for me regarding his wine experience at Del Posto.

On a recent trip to New York, I went out for a truly fine dining experience. After being seated, I was greeted with a massive wine list. When I mean massive, I mean more than 2,500 selections. How does a restaurant build and maintain such a large list, and is it necessary?

This is certainly a legitimate way to look at the situation. A wine list of this magnitude can be overwhelming, to say the least. The answer to the first part of the question will be a bit wordy, so let me address the second part first.

Using my friend’s example, Del Posto is in the food and wine mecca of the U.S. Day in and day out, it goes up against culinary giants such as Daniel, Jean Georges, Le Cirque, Tribeca Grill and countless others. Competition is fierce, and there is a significant amount of prestige that is placed on an award-winning wine list and the service that is provided by their resident sommelier(s). Having truly classic wines available is an appropriate necessity when you are dining on a truly classic meal!

Del Posto, as mentioned before, is one of many restaurants owned by Batali. Besides being an extremely successful restaurateur, he is also a partner in Italian Wine Merchants, which is a high-end wine shop that has a selection of Italian gems unlike any other I have come across. It is this passion for bringing together the complete dining experience that sets restaurants and restaurateurs, like Batali, apart. It is also what allows the restaurant to charge a premium for the experience that it provides, while maintaining a waiting list as long as Madison Avenue! How does a restaurant build and maintain such a large list?

To build a wine list with the breadth and vision of Del Posto, locally based Left Bank at the Stonehedge Inn & Spa (owner Levent Bozkurt and son Taylan pictured right) in Tyngsborough, Mass., or any restaurant with a tremendous wine offering, takes a very structured approach. Once the structure is in place, knowledgeable people are needed to implement the list, along with an owner with exceptionally deep pockets.

Initially, the most important steps are to realistically assess your clientele, menu, storage space and budget. Not everyone can afford a bottle of a Bordeaux First-Growth, Chateau Petrus, Gaja Sori Tilden or Romano Dal Forno, especially when marked up to restaurant standards. This means that there must be a number of wines to bridge the gap between reasonably priced wines and the classics.

The job of creating any wine list typically falls either to the owner, a wine director, a consultant or, unfortunately in some cases, a distributor. Now, a list that is of notable quality will probably not be developed by distributors, so we will avoid speaking about them any further.

Depending on the size of a wine list, the owner, if truly knowledgeable, or a consultant can put into place something special that will convey to the patrons that their experience is of the utmost importance. This takes a massive amount of time and effort, so unless you plan on doing all of the leg work, hire someone to do it for you. A couple good examples of this are Unums and Michael Timothy’s in Nashua. They have modest wine lists compared to Del Posto, but lists that are well thought out and looked over by the owners.

A different example is Junipers at the Wildflower Inn in Lyndonville, Vt. The owners and management did not have the knowledge to put together a thoughtful and quality wine list. They decided to hire a consultant do so. (In full disclosure, I put together this list.) It was rewarding to see them embrace what a thoughtful wine list could do, not only for their patrons, but for their restaurant.

Creating and maintaining a list such as the one at Left Bank at Stonehedge, which offers 2,000 selections (112,000 bottles in inventory), or Del Posto, which offers 2,300 selections (39,000 bottles in inventory), takes a team effort. The organization is typically led by a wine director and generally includes personnel working beneath them (i.e., assistant director and sommeliers). The task is a daily exercise in taking inventory – thank goodness for computers – reordering, blind and regular tastings, negotiating, rotation, research, promotion, etc. It is a daunting task, but a task that is energetically undertaken, because wine professionals are exceptionally passionate about what they do.

Ultimately, a restaurateur’s goal is to create an experience that is positively unique and memorable. A strong wine list is essential in conveying the message of a restaurant to its patrons. If this is done effectively, the guests will leave happy and be more likely to return.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Autumn Wine Weekend: Wildflower Inn

When you think of a New England inn, you may think of wood burning stoves, comfortable plaid sofas and a quaint dining area inside of a home surrounded by a picturesque valley, dirt roads and rolling hills. That is exactly the experience that you get at the Wildflower Inn, located in Lyndonville, VT (about a 5 minute drive from Burke Mountain).

My family and I have been in need of a getaway for a few months now. The rigors of work and finding a new job have taken its toll and we needed a nice weekend to simply relax. This place provided the backdrop to do just that. The five of us (Christine’s parents joined us) stayed in the Grand Meadow suite which is honestly more like a house than just a room. The living area proved to be the central focus and where we spent the majority of the time while indoors. The comfy sofas proved to be the perfect place to kick up your feet, while enjoying the views and sipping on some wine. As well as the perfect spot for the quote of the weekend by Jerry (my father-in-law), “your mama wears combat boots, mine wears diapers.” Great times!

Besides the trip to Cabot creamery and a few terrific meals at Junipers, the on-site restaurant, the apple cider pressing added another unique and enjoyable experience to our list.

And then there were the wines!

During our dinner at Junipers, I wanted us to experience a very nice wine that I had selected for the list. I went with a bottle of 2003 Bell Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa. It was chosen because I felt that it would be a terrific accompaniment with all of our meals. It exhibited mature currants and cantaloupe rind on the nose and boisterous currants and strawberry on the palate with some mellow earth towards the middle. The finished lingered on and on with this very nicely aging wine. A true highlight.

Throughout the course of the weekend we had a couple other interesting wines that both provided surprising results.

The first wine we had during the weekend was a 2007 Nine Stones Shiraz from Barossa, Australia. This wine was a terrific surprise exhibiting some nicely complex strawberry, blackberry and spice along with some fresh herbs. The body was not as robust as some Barossa Shiraz, but in this case it was welcomed as this wine seemed to have a bit more finesse and with a mid-teen price point you can’t go wrong. Look for this one of the list at Junipers soon.

The other wine we had was a bottle of 1997 Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon that I brought from home (procured through Although a product of a fantastic vintage (the overall 1997 Cabernet vintage was rated 99 by Wine Spectator), there was something a little off, possibly improper storage earlier in its life. Regardless it was still pleasant, exhibiting a rusty meniscus and plum core. The palate was a bit moist, almost dank and somewhat reminded me of blackberry cobbler. The palate was primarily wet earth and currant with some smoked meat at the end, which was quite nice.

Overall, the experience up there was memorable and the in-laws were very impressed and even discussed having a family reunion up there. Hopefully that will come to fruition, because I love to share the Wildflower Inn with whomever I care about!

Fair Disclosure: Erol Senel is the Wine Director at Junipers at the Wildflower Inn, but all meals and wine were paid for out of pocket and I would not lead you astray!


Friday, October 16, 2009

Broadbent: victim of a tarnished industry?

Editor’s Note: For those of you who follow wine and wine industry news, this may be old news; however for those of you who are growing in interest for this fascinating field, this is interesting stuff and something that has electrified wine publications, message boards and blogs everywhere.

The figure of Michael Broadbent has long represented the studious, thorough and expert voice of one of wine’s most prestigious auction houses, Christie’s. He has accumulated achievement awards so numerous that it would become laborious to list them all and he still represents a figure in the wine world worth respecting. With all this said, his reputation and unwillingness to face the true problem has tarnished this great giant of wine.

The main issue has been around since fine wine began to garner any sort of premium. There will always be certain elements looking to make a quick buck, or in this case fortune, off counterfeiting wine. The riveting book The Billionaires Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace primarily focuses on the story of Hardy Rodenstock (real name Meinhard Görke), a man with a knack for procuring suspicious yet exceptionally rare bottles, including the renowned Jefferson Bottles. These bottles were then sold at auction to numerous bidders, including Bill Koch, whose suits and story were the driving factor in this text.

One of the victims in all of this is in fact Michael Broadbent. I am not passing judgment as to whether he had a knowing role in moving these mysterious/fake wines. Personally, I do not see why he would; everything I have ever read about him leads me to believe he is an honest and passionate connoisseur of wine. With that being said, he was in charge of Christie’s fine wine department and in some ways failed to do his job in protecting the bidders.

This is where my true problem with the legend Broadbent exists. Ever since the book has been released, he has been fighting to clear his name of any sort of guilt. The fact that he cannot dispute however, is that he was in charge of Christie’s wine house and was a close friend (or at the least a close aquaintance) to the mysterious Rodenstock. Why he doesn’t simply admit that he got caught up in the excitement and it may have skewed his judgment is beyond me. The same should be said of Acker, Merrall & Condit in the case (click here for the PDF, I would suggest reading this it is juicy!) regarding Rudy Kurianwan. This lack of acceptance truly bothers me and the way he and his son are going about badgering anyone who has an opinion on the issue is infantile.

The text following is accredited to the popular wine blog DrVino (aka Tyler Colman)

In July, Michael Broadbent brought legal action against Random House, the publisher of The Billionaire’s Vinegar: The Mystery Of The World’s Most Expensive Bottle Of Wine. News of the settlement broke on, which called it a “victory” for Broadbent.

Author Benjamin Wallace has just sent this public statement to

This statement is authorized for publication in the U.S. only:

It is unfortunate that Michael Broadbent has chosen to blame the messenger, and doubly so that he is blaming the messenger for something the messenger is not actually saying. I have never felt that Mr. Broadbent acted in bad faith, and contrary to his claims, I maintain that The Billionaire’s Vinegar does not suggest that he did. In any case, while I believe that my book speaks for itself, I do want to point out a few things: I was never personally sued by Mr. Broadbent, and I am not a party to the settlement or apology negotiated by him with Random House. Because of the U.K.’s notoriously plaintiff-friendly libel laws and conditional fee system, the company made a business decision to settle with Mr. Broadbent in order to contain its legal costs and exposure in the U.K. Since the claim was always confined to the book’s availability in the U.K., the settlement does not prevent the book from being published anywhere else or require that a single word be changed. So, while Random House has agreed not to distribute the book in the U.K., the book remains available in the United States, where the libel laws provide greater protection for freedom of speech and where British libel judgments are almost never enforceable, thanks to the First Amendment.

Mr. Broadbent should not be blaming Ben Wallace, but rather his inability to realize that the gentleman, who no one knew anything about or how he got the rare bottles, had taken advantage of him and countless others.

Broadbent’s job was to make sure that the wines provenance was accounted for and had cleared his criteria to be auctioned. Provenance in THE most important aspect of aged wine and unless a potential seller is willing to offer detailed information regarding the origins of a wine (prior storage, how obtained, verification, etc.), transactions with that person should cease immediately and information regarding said person should be circulated to other auction houses. We are not talking about $60 bottles but rather thousands and tens of thousands of dollars worth of wine!

The real problem that this book brings to light is that the wine houses need to learn how to say "NO" more often. A very reliable and widely respected source told me that he has to say no to numerous bottles of suspicious wine being offered which origins sound suspect. Until there is a form of extreme due diligence and caution that is executed by every auctioneer and auction house, there will continue to be more and more counterfeit artists making money off of those who truly love wine. Unfortunately, in this case, Michael Broadbent has been painted the goat. Be it fair or not, only he knows, but the fact remains that auction houses of the world must look past the potential big fees to be made and say no to these questionable wines.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

When wine loses its soul

There are a lot of similarities between wine and man. Wine emerges from the miracles of nature in much the same way that man emerges from the womb. Starting out as buds breaking from the vine, they slowly emerge as grapes that are eventually harvested after many months of cultivation. Once harvested the grapes turn to juice and is then watched over precariously by its parents, the winemakers. Eventually, the juice emerges as wine, but that is not where the journey ends.

As with kids, wine needs to be watched over during those formative years to make sure it is shielded from unwanted elements (i.e. – sunlight, extreme temperatures, too little or too much humidity, etc.). Sometimes a wine will fall astray or doesn't have the natural make-up and leaves us prematurely. Sometimes wines will receive the love and care that they need and deserve to continue to flourish well beyond their siblings and cousins.

I am not sure why I thought about wine like this, but once this concept entered my brain, it made a lot of sense. Yesterday I was reviewing some tasting notes from a wine dinner that a group of us had back in the spring. We partook in a vertical of Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from 1994-1999. As I reviewed my notes and relived the experience, my recollections led me to the fact that we partook in wines that more likely than not had left us prematurely. There were a couple that held their own, most notably the ’95 and the ’98, but the others had left us long before.

So what is it like when a wine loses its soul?

The wine is still wine, it still exudes berries, spice, leather and a number of different terms meant to relate to practical sensory reference points, but there is something missing. Galileo said it best “wine is sunlight held together by water” and in this case, sunlight is the soul of the wine. It eventually leaves and takes a bit of the class and excitement along with it. The soul of the wine is what I feel many wine collectors/connoisseurs miss.

If I were to offer a bottle of 2007 Rosenblum Petite Sirah and a bottle of 1986 Haut-Brion to anyone with a wine pulse, almost all would invariably select the 1986 Haut-Brion. Chances are that the Rosenblum is alive, vibrant, exceedingly pleasant and has many years ahead of it, while the Haut-Brion, unless stored with terrific provenance, is souless and hollow. It may have characteristics of oxidation, grainy and off sediment, possibly emit an odor of cat urine (for those who have read “A Cautionary Tale” you will know what I mean), or may exude the characteristic of being hollow. Yes, the Haut-Brion offers a sentimental and buzz-worthy experience (no pun intended), but probably little else. It is a lot like looking back at times with an old best friend and then realizing that they are no longer that person (nor are you), there is something missing that makes things awkward.

The soul, or sunlight, is in many ways the most important aspect of wine, as with people. There are ways that we can prolong the soul of a wine, but it takes the TLC that only a good parent can provide. Without it, wine, like a person, will lose its soul and be left a hollow shell, never living up to what could have been.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Wine of the Week: Mas Belles Eaux Les Coteaux

Languedoc wines are not all that well known to wine drinkers in the US. This is obviously a shame as many are very similar in structure and quality to wines from the Rhone Valley at a lesser price. Due to its location on the coast of the Mediterranean and at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains, the Languedoc benefits from hot, dry summers and relatively mild winters.

The vineyard of Mas Belles Eaux stretches over the hillsides of the southeast Languedoc. The vineyards of Mas Belles Eaux are planted solely with the traditional grape varieties of the Languedoc: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carignan. The Les Coteaux parcel is divided up exclusively of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre and are situated half-way up the hillside for optimum exposure to the sun.

2005, Mas Belles Eaux Les Coteaux, Languedoc, France - $18

Overall, this was a fun wine. The aromas of spice, oak and red berries led to a very nice and lively palate of raspberries, cherries and smoke. The body is medium to full-bodied and shows some nice complexity.

2005 was a terrific year all around in France and the Languedoc was no exception. Wine Spectator gave the ‘05 a 91 pt rating and although this was a fun wine, I would give it an 89. However, the price point on this wine is terrific and makes it a clear bargain!

This wine is available at the NH Liquor store off of Exit 6 (behind the Nashua Mall).


Friday, October 9, 2009

The Big 3-0!

Yesterday was a watershed moment in my life. Not only did I turn the big 3-0, but I also left my day job of over five years at Fidelity Investments. At this point I do not know which is more significant. Most people look at turning 30, 40, or 50 as major milestones and I hardly disagree with that. However, leaving Fidelity will likely be the far more significant event. As of right now, I don't know what direction I am going, but there is no doubt in my mind that it will be better than where I was (shouldn't be too hard).

Regardless, yesterday was my 30th birthday, so my wife and I decided to celebrate in style. We popped a bottle of Moët & Chandon Rosé Imperial early on and the crisp, lively and reinvigorating nature of red fruit exhibited by that Champagne felt like an appropriate awakening to a new chapter of my life.

Later in the evening we decided to go to Corks at the Bedford Village Inn (as a side note, they offer one of the most complete wine experiences I have partaken in). As always with places like that, the experience was memorable and noteworthy. After we took advantage of their terrific by the glass selection (Christine had a Spanish Flight and I chose a glass of Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc) we decided to indulge in a terrific bottle of California Syrah to pair with our peppered sirloin steaks.

2007, Pax Syrah Cuvee Christine, North Coast, California

What a delicious wine. The nose was of rich raspberry and a tremendous mix of pine needles and forest floor. The palate was alive with rich dark fruit and the aforementioned underbrush and presented a medium to slightly full body. The Cuvee Christine is a very classy and opulent wine in the style of the terrific wines of the Rhone Valley. Far bigger than I have grown accustomed to from California Syrah.

Robert Parker rated this in the 90-92 range and it certainly does fit his traditional preference for a robust wine. Personally I would put this a bit higher at 94 points as it certainly exhibited many terrific traits.

All together yesterday was a terrific day. Hopefully there will be plenty more where it came from!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Date Night: Unums

As published in the 10/7 edition of the Nashua Telegraph (click link to view Telegraph version).

Like most married couples with children, my wife and I have date nights that allow us to have time for each other without the rigors of bringing along the family. This past week, we decided to take our date night to Unums.

We selected Unums because of their Wine Down Wednesday program. On Wednesdays, they open five different bottles of wine, which are normally only available by the bottle, and offer them by the glass. It is a nice way to try normally more expensive bottles without paying top dollar. They also offer a flight of these wines. Wine flights are becoming a more common, and welcomed, addition to restaurant wine experiences. A flight involves a few different wines that are served as a group in tasting portions (usually 2-3 ounce pours), to allow you to try a number of different types of wines without paying full glass prices.

We decided on a wine flight to accompany our array of appetizers. Unums has a continuously rotating menu, which allows co-owner and chef Constantine Brianas to show off his culinary repertoire. The dishes selected were the Unums Tart, Pork Medallions, and the Wild Mushroom and Spinach Gnocchi. Chef Brianas’ creations were a delicious accompaniment to our wines and his well-developed dishes, especially the Unums Tart, energized our taste buds.

The wines that were selected for the flight by co-owner and passionate wine lover, Stephen Williams, offered a delightful assortment of diverse varietals:

The Bodegas Agnusdei (Albariño), from the Rias Baixes region in northwest Spain, was a very light, crisp and smooth way to start off the tasting. For those not familiar with Albariño, it is somewhat similar to Pinot Grigio in taste. This wine had a very nice amount of pear and pineapple in the aroma and also on the palate. I give this refreshing wine an 88 point rating.

To continue our progress from light to heavy, we had the Villa Di Corlo Giaco (Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc/Merlot) from Italy, which offered a nice transition into the reds. The aroma of smoked cherry was mirrored on the palate, along with the typical dark berries imparted by the Cabernet/Merlot blending. The unique element in this wine was the subtle hint of eucalyptus (yes, the same leafy greens that koalas enjoy). Although the finish was somewhat short, this was a lovely wine. I rate this at 88 points as well, as it was a very good wine.

Staying in Italy, we partook in a Felsina Chianti Classico Riserva (Sangiovese) as the third tasting. It was a dry wine with blackberry on the palate and nose. Its tannins offered a little spike, which allowed it to stand up to the food we were eating. The Felsina was a very agreeable wine. I give this an 89 point rating.

The next wine was my favorite of the flight, a Michael & David Phillips Petite (Petite Sirah). Personally, I like my wines bold with a nice level of complexity. This Petite Sirah offered both characteristics. The aroma and taste shared notes of blackberry and currants. However, it was the familiar taste of cigar that made this wine memorable. Some slight peppery notes, which my wife accurately pointed out, rounded out this very good wine. It is deserving of a 90 point rating.

The final tasting in the flight was the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Artemis (Cabernet Sauvignon). This was a pleasant wine to drink and it offered a very good amount of well developed blackberry and currant. It had a nice medium to medium-heavy body. I would give this wine 87 points because it was one dimensional, yet essentially pleasant. I am a huge fan of Stag’s Leap’s slightly older vintages (2000 and earlier), but recently I feel they have fallen from great to good. Again, this is all personal preference and my wife certainly enjoyed this wine.

Overall, Unums provided a wonderful escape from reality for a few hours. Stephen and Walter, our waiter, were very gracious with their knowledge and caring conversation. I would highly recommend Unums for your date night and hope you share a similar experience.

Information about Unums
Location: 47 E. Pearl St, Nashua
Phone: 603.621.6500
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 5:00-Close

About Wine Ratings
95-100 Classic: A Phenomenal Wine!
90-94 Outstanding: A wine of excellent character and style
85-89 Very Good: A wine with some special qualities
83-84 Good: A solid well-made wine
< 83 Why bother?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

One to try one to avoid (part deux)

The dreary nature of this past weekend led me to partake in a couple bottles of wine. I selected a couple of random bottles to shake things up a little. Although they have the same grape in both of the wines, the conditions and blends make for two amazingly different experiences. The two wines we will be looking at today are from Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the Rhône region of France and Atea in the Calatayud region of Spain.

2007, Evodia, Old Vine Garnacha, Calatayud, Spain - $10

This was an interesting wine from the onset. Grenache (or Garnacha in Spain) is by nature a spicy, berry forward grape that as a stand alone is surprising and very good when well crafted. However, in my opinion, it can range greatly in quality, which is the case with the Evodia.

The pigment is a beautiful dark purple/almost black, but that is where the exuberance ended. The nose of this wine was very disjointed with hints of wet stone/cinder block and an unusual cherry dominating with the traditional influence of spice and black pepper certainly evident. The palate took on sour cherry, spice, and oak. Contrary to other reviews that I read after, I found there to be some sharpness to this wine.

Overall, I give this wine 84 points, but I am not convinced that the 88 pts attributed to it by Wine Advocate and International Wine Cellar is justified. For $10 I guess you can give it a shot; however I would pass on it. It is very average and there are other wines in that range that I would look to first, but then again this is only my opinion.

2006, Domaine Roger Perrin, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Southern Rhône, France - $33

As is most Rhone wines, Grenache plays a primary role, however you will rarely find it as a stand alone. In this case, Grenache has been blended with Cinsault, Mourvédre, Syrah and a couple others to create this delicious wine. The Rhône has perfected the art of growing these grapes and mastering how to blend them. In many instances, you can find very inexpensive wines that taste of far higher quality. As far as Châteauneufs are concerned, the 2006 Roger Perrin is on the lower/middle side of cost. So how was it?

The hue shone of a very nice deep burgundy and the aroma poured forth straight from the bottle. The nose exhibited blackberry and spice, while the palate was alive with blackberry and cherry, with pepper and a little leather coming in later. Towards the end you could feel some of the heat that was kicked off by the alcohol. The berry finish was nice and long and the wine exuded a certain level of confidence and balance.

For a $33 Châteauneuf I was quite happy with this. It was by no means amazingly complex like its bigger siblings, but it was very pleasant and ready to drink now. I give this wine a 90 pt rating and would recommend it to anyone who asks.

Both of wine is available at the NH Liquor store off of Exit 6 (behind the Nashua Mall). If you have a chance to try them, let us know what you think!


Monday, October 5, 2009

Wine of the Week: Justin Cabernet Sauvignon

Justin Vineyards, as I said many times before, is a wonderful expression of what California represents. They are innovative, they are Earth-friendly, they are focused on healthy living, and they are quality wine.

Justin is one of the hipper 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 have at their core the principle of taking 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? I have featured their ’05 Isosceles in a couple past columns and included it in a recent wine dinner that I picked the wines for. Hence, their upper-tier wines are terrific, but how about their entry level offering?

2006, Justin Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, California - $25

The 2006 Justin is a lovely California Cab. It is a really deep purple and has a nose that shows of the typical dark berries and then evolves to include some spice and leather. The palate is a little less complex than the nose. Blackberry, currants and strawberry are the most perceptible flavors with a little spice. The body is in the medium-full range and the tannins are firm, yet not too overpowering.

Overall this is a really good wine and my wife absolutely loved it (she said it three separate times)! Wine Enthusiast rated this 90 pts and I am going to up them to a 91-92, because the nose was great and the palate had nice depth in the berries. This wine would pair nicely with food, especially


Friday, October 2, 2009

Cork'd: a cool place for anyone who enjoys wine

During my excursions into the world of wine, I have stumbled upon some good and horrid places to discuss and find information regarding different wines. Thanks to the hard work of the people at Cork’d (especially CEO Lindsay Ronga), wine lovers now have another fun and legitimate place to obtain information on wine prior to sinking a decent amount into a bottle.

A few weeks back my cousin sent me an email containing a link from TechCrunch of all places. It contained a piece written about the re-launch of the once popular, and then dormant, now bustling again Cork’d. The site was revived by king of the "sniffy sniff", Gary Vaynerchuk (Vay-ner-chuk), of Wine Library TV and Fox News fame. To me, Cork'd appears to be the lovechild of Facebook and Snooth, which is a good thing. Although Snooth is certainly the king in this arena for the time being, I feel that the leadership will have Cork'd nipping at their heels sooner rather than later.

The purpose of the site is to provide a moderated community for anyone who drinks wine. The content includes tasting notes, member profiles, grape info, featured wines and wineries, and so much more. It is also very well organized and the fact that profiles are attached to the ratings and comments is a welcomed feature as well. Due to this, members are accountable for what they say and how they act. This last point is a lot more significant than you may think.

So, if you like wine, you should definitely check Cork’d out and set up an account. It has proven to be a good reference and a cool way to interact with people that enjoy wine.