Tuesday, December 23, 2008

2005 Bodegas Castaño Yecla Solanera Viñas Viejas

Type- Red
Producer- Bodegas Castaño
Variety- Monastrell (60%), Cabernet Sauvignon (20%) and Tintorera (15%)
Designation- Solanera Viñas Viejas
Country- Spain
Region- Murcia
Appellation- Yecla
Price $9.99

The Little Wooden Guy is quite enamored of this good wine at a great price.

Night One

The nose on Night One starts with bright red fruit, cherries mostly, with a slight watermelon background. There is also a secondary smell of burnt rubber.

There is greater complexity on the palate. The fruit is still red, but cherries are joined by tart cranberries and wild strawberries. Dusty leather tannins and some smokey meat join the attack. There are several flavors dancing around here, including coffee, cocoa, violets and licorice. Almond skins and cherry pits add a touch of bitterness on the finish. This is a very interesting wine, and an amazing QPR. I can hardly wait to see what happens over night and what it has to offer on Night Two.

Night Two

On Night Two, minerality leaps out of the glass with the first sniff. After than, cherries and a very clear strong smell of fresh-ground nutmeg follow the stones.

The palate is mostly red fruit, tiny translucent wild cherries and strawberries, some cranberries and yes, some watermelon still lurking in the background. There is some minerality and the charred well-done end of a nice prime rib. Tannins are still fine and dusty. The mid-palate again adds a few fleeting flavors, cocoa, flowers and fennel. The finish is sweet and a touch bitter, like fruit, maple and cherry pits all together.

This is good wine, amazingly deep and complex for under $10.

2005 Rolf Binder/Veritas Halliwell

Type Red
Producer Rolf Binder/Veritas
Variety 60% Shiraz 40% Grenache
Designation Halliwell
Country Australia
Region South Australia
SubRegion Barossa
Appellation Barossa Valley
Price $19.49

The Little Wooden Guy signals "TOUCHDOWN!" This is startlingly good stuff for the dollar. Heck, it's just good stuff.

Night One

The color is very dark, turning to purple-tinged scarlet at the edges.

The nose starts with a bit of barnyard must and earthiness, probably from the grenache. It also has plenty of fruit, starting with creamy blueberries, plus the dusty, fruity smell of a bag of dried strawberries. There is also a touch of fennel.

The palate is deep and rich, with a very smooth full mouth feel. Blueberries and blackberries in cream, plus a hint of licorice, open the attack. Some tart red fruit shows up on the mid-palate. Toward the finish, add vanilla and pepper. The finish is long. This is very nice, well balanced with fruit and sweet silky tannins.

Night Two

The nose of Night Two is still fruity, but darker than on Night One, adding blackberries and elderberries to the creamy blueberries. The pepper shows up earlier on Night Two, on the attack rather than toward the finish. The fennel is still there.

The attack is very prickly peppery plus loads of black fruit, especially blackberry and elderberry. Vanilla, ample and espresso glow on the mid-palate. Tannins are very smooth and sweet. Finish is long.

This is very good. When you factor in a price under $20, it is terrific. Grenache tempers the jammy fruitiness of Barossa Valley shiraz.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Twitter Taste Live- The 89 Project

This review is just of Night Two from the weekend's Twitter Taste Live, sponsored by The 89 Project. For Night One with all the Wine Twitters, watch the video, courtesy of 1 Wide Dude:



The Wooden Guys had a good time, but the consensus was that the Rivola was not in the same league as the rest of the wines.

2007 Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Domaine Sainte Claire Vieilles Vignes

Type White
Producer Jean-Marc Brocard
Variety Chardonnay
Designation Vieilles Vignes
Vineyard Domaine Sainte Claire
Country France
Region Burgundy
SubRegion Chablis
Appellation Chablis

Night Two

The nose has tart apple, lime, and some minerality. From Night One to Night Two this lost a lot of fruit on the palate. It is tart and stony. There is some apple there, but it is the tart and green. Butter makes an appearance at the very end of the mid-palate and echoes lightly on the finish.

2005 Abadia Retuerta Vino de la Tierra Castilla y León Rívola

Type Red
Producer Abadia Retuerta
Variety Tempranillo Blend
Designation Rívola
Vineyard n/a
Country Spain
Region Castilla y León
SubRegion Sardon de Duero
Appellation Vino de la Tierra Castilla y León

Night Two

Oak-city on roller skates. Oh wait a second, there's a single teaspoon of blackcurrant jelly there. Unfortunately, it was crushed when the lighting struck and felled the oak tree. The lighting gave it that toasty smell.

Okay, let's take a sip, shall we? Blackberries, lots of blackberries, some cedar, and lots of vanilla. It devolves into a brown sugar/vanilla mess. The finish is short and sudden.

Honestly, I have no idea how anybody ever rated this 89.

2006 Clos La Coutale Cahors

Type Red
Producer Clos La Coutale
Variety Malbec Blend
Designation n/a
Vineyard n/a
Country France
Region Southwest France
SubRegion n/a
Appellation Cahors

Night Two

The nose has nutty, meaty smells underlying some dark fruit. Hiding behind it is a small hint of cherry, probably from the little bit of Merlot blended in. On the palate, black fruit dominates, but there is a lot more there. There is a meaty flavor like a crisp end-piece of prime rib, beefy and smoky. There is also a bit of vegetal taste, tobacco, like whole leaves hanging in a cigar shop on Calle Ocho. Tannins and acid are well balanced and pronounced, suggesting some more cellar time might be possible. Tannins are not quite smooth. "Dusty" would be a better description.

2006 Kilikanoon Shiraz The Lackey

Type Red
Producer Kilikanoon
Variety Shiraz
Designation The Lackey
Vineyard n/a
Country Australia
Region South Australia

Night Two

Bright red fruit, plums, spices, pepper and a touch of cedar all are on the nose. The palate has dark fruit, pepper, and some meatiness. At first, it was reminiscent of bacon, but a better comparison is actually Bresaola, Italian dried beef. It has the same nutty cured dried meaty flavor, especially at the back side-edges of the tongue. Tannins are smooth and sweet. Finish is long. This is nice, quite nice.

TerraNoble Gran Reserva Carmenere 2007

Type Red
Producer TerraNoble
Variety Carménère
Designation Gran Reserva
Country Chile
Region Central Valley
SubRegion Maule Valley
Price $16.99 in Indianapolis

The Big Wooden Guy liked this Chilean charmer. We only took notes on Night One, since it was one of the Thanksgiving wines, and it did not last through to Night Two.

The nose was startling in its clear, unmistakable coffee smell, like fresh espresso. That was followed by some blackberries. Coffee was prevalent on the palate, too, with dark chocolate and blackberries. Tannins were very slightly dusty, but not obtrusive. This was a very enjoyable rich wine, a good food wine, and a great QPR.

Friday, December 12, 2008

2004 Escafeld Petit Verdot

Type- Red
Producer- Escafeld
Variety- Petit Verdot
Country- USA
Region- California
SubRegion- Central Coast
Appellation- San Antonio Valley

The Wooden Guys applaud a lovely bottle of wine. The only regret is that they don't have more. Fortunately, the Little Wooden Guy gets his allowance soon and is going to buy more.

Night One

The color is deep maroon, not quite opaque. The nose is absolutely delicious, with dark chocolate/espresso mocha, and plump juicy blackberries and blueberries. The mouth feel is silky. Tannins are sweet and very smooth, but firm, indicating plenty of cellar life is still in the bottle. Chocolate, coffee, and gobs of fruit, just big splatting juicy gobs of fruit, open the palate. Not, mind you, oak and vanilla over-worked fruit, but pure believable fruit. Some red fruit, some tart cherries and maybe half a raspberry, appear in the mid-palate. A hint of vanilla rounds out the fruit on the finish, but never overpowers. The finish is long.

This is good stuff. I can't promise there will be much left for Night Two, but I will try.

Night Two

There is still some mocha, but the nose is lighter on Night Two. It also adds some hazelnut. Lovely. It is still very silky, tannins are sweet, smooth and firm. Mocha, black fruit and blue fruit, plus the hazelnut from the nose on the mid-palate, are later joined by some maple syrup, but not overpowering, balanced. Finish is sweet and long.

This is good. I am going to buy more.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

2006 Humanitas Sauvignon Blanc

Type- White
Producer- Humanitas
Variety- Sauvignon Blanc
Country- USA
Region- California
SubRegion- Central Coast
Appellation- Monterey County

Night One

This is very light pale yellow, perfectly clear, like a yellow diamond.

The nose has some very classic Sauvignon Blanc smells, particularly cut grass and sweet pink grapefuit. It also has some tropical fruits, perhaps mango and pineapple. The palate is a little fat, lacking the acidity I like and expect from this varietal. The grapefruit on the palate is white, not pink, and pineapple is still there. However, it is softened, in my own opinion just a little too much, by some banana. There are many palates that would find this absolutely delightful, and I can not say this is a poor wine, only that it is not a great wine for me. It might be a bit too warm to show at its best- straight from the 56 degree cellar, where whites often shine (the refrigerator is far too cold, closing everything down). I will try it a bit cooler on Night Two.

Night Two

The nose on Night Two is sweeter than on Night One. There is still some cut grass and pink grapefruit. There is something else, too, though, some sweet nougat. The palate is a little better balanced than on Night One. It is still soft, but not fat. The grapefruit on Night Two seems more pink than white, pineapple adds sweetness and banana stays more in the background. I suspect the improvement comes as much from a cooler temperature (about 45 minutes out of the refrigerator) as the extra night. Whatever the reason, this is better tonight than last night.

Monday, December 8, 2008

2005 Viña Santa Rita Carménère 120

Type- Red
Producer- Viña Santa Rita
Variety- Carménère
Designation- 120
Country- Chile
Region- Central Valley
Appellation- Rapel Valley
Price- $5.99

If the Little Wooden Guy is running away you should too.

It's Wine Blogging Wednesday again, and WBW#52 comes from Cheap Wine Ratings, and the subject is Value Reds from Chile. Is this a "value red"? Well, it's $5.99, but it also isn't worth $5.99, or $4.99, or $3.99, or even $0.99. Value? Perhaps not.

Night One

The nose has some chocolate, some Slim Jim, loads of green- tomato leaves and green bell pepper. Smoked meat, blackberries and green flavors of arugula and tobacco leaves. Not much of a mid-palate. Finish is short.

After an hour or two more fruit is evident on the nose, mostly blueberry and some blackberry.

Night Two

The nose has green peppers, creosote and cherries. The palate, well, let's just say "not good."

2005 Jean-Pierre Robinot (L'Opera des Vins) Coteaux du Loir Vin de Table Francais Concerto D'Oniss

Type- Red
Producer- Jean-Pierre Robinot (L'Opera des Vins)
Variety- Pineau d'Aunis
Designation- Vin de Table Francais Concerto D'Oniss
Country- France
Region- Loire Valley
SubRegion- Upper Loire
Appellation- Coteaux du Loir

The Little Wooden Guy likes it. This wine is bright, fresh and fruity, not over-oaked and overpowering.

Night One

The color is a light translucent ruby red. The palate is very fruity, cherry pits, pomegranate, and some lavender. On the palate, the mouth feel was a bit thin. Flavor was very fruity and juicy, cherries, pomegranate, and some allspice. It is very bright and acidic, fresh and fruity.

Night Two

The nose was a little deeper on Night Two, with tobacco leaf added to the cherry pits, pomegranate and lavender from Night One. Mouth feel was a lot more full, glycerin more apparent. The palate was close to Night One, but a bit deeper, pomegranate, cranberry, and some earthy mushrooms, adding cola on the mid-plate. It was still very bright and acidic.

This is a very interesting wine, light and fruity but with layers and depth.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Quick tasting, lots of wine

I went to a wine tasting last night at one of my local wine stores, Vine & Table. It was a customer tasting, not a critic tasting, so there wasn't any spitting. That meant I had to choose pretty carefully among the 50 or so wines, to pick the ones I wanted to try. Here's the line-up, with some quick notes. Note, please, that I did not realize the tasting list did not include vintage until I started writing this entry. Just about everything was most recent available.

Casa Lapostolle Cabernet Sauvignon "Alexandre"

Type- Red
Producer- Casa Lapostolle
Variety- Cabernet Sauvignon
Designation- Cuvée Alexandre
Vineyard- Apalta Vineyard
Country- Chile
Region- Central Valley
SubRegion- Rapel Valley
Appellation- Colchagua Valley
Price $17.99

There was plenty of black fruit on the nose, plum and black currant. Black currant drove the palate, but there was also some brush and green pepper. Tannins were smooth, balance was pretty good. This was a fair, and fairly priced, Cabernet.

Allegrini Palazzo della Torre

Type- Red
Producer- Allegrini
Variety- 70% Corvina Veronese, 25% Rondinella and 5% Sangiovese
Designation- Palazzo della Torre
Country- Italy
Region- Veneto
Appellation- Veronese IGT
Price- $22.99

The nose opened with blackberry, followed immediately by a stunning amount of coffee and chocolate, mocha heaven. On the palate it was very smooth a creamy, offering up blackberry, a bare echo of the chocolate on the nose, and some licorice on the mid-palate. Finish was mid-length. The palate did not meet the nose' promise, but at $22.99, it was still good. There is one other advantage, as well. If you are trying to join the Wine Century Club, it has two grapes you don't normally run across.

Louis Jadot Pommard 2005

Type- Red
Producer- Louis Jadot
Variety- Pinot Noir
Country- France
Region- Burgundy
SubRegion- Côte de Beaune
Appellation- Pommard
Price $51.99

This is very young, and it showed. The nose was closed, barely giving up hints of cherry pit, strawberry and mushroom. It was a bit more tart on the palate, showing cranberry and raspberry, along with a little earthiness. It did not have tremendous depth or much of a mid-palate. I know the '05 Burgundies are outrageously priced, and $52 is low on the scale, but that is still a lot of money for a wine of this quality.

Louis Jadot Pommard 2006

Type- Red
Producer- Louis Jadot
Variety- Pinot Noir
Country- France
Region- Burgundy
SubRegion- Côte de Beaune
Appellation- Pommard
Price $65.99

This was completely closed down. The nose was simply absent. There was a bit of red berry and pepper on the nose, but not much. I realize the '05s commanded high prices, but a price INCREASE for the '06 is just not justifiable.

Elyse "Morisoli" Cabernet Sauvignon

Type- Red
Producer- Elyse
Variety- Cabernet Sauvignon
Vineyard- Morisoli Vineyard
Country- USA
Region- California
SubRegion- Napa Valley
Appellation- Napa Valley
Price- $79.99

The nose on this wine was like a straight right from George Foreman- it came straight at you and caught you right between the eyes. It was huge, with buckets of plum and elderberry and a powerful smell of meat and soy sauce. Yes, soy sauce. It was equally big on the palate, bringing blackcurrant and redcurrant, some smoke, a very smooth full mouth feel, and firm but surprisingly well-integrated tannins. It was sweet, adding the brown sugar and vanilla I note in so many California Cabs, but in this case those flavors did not take over and elbow out the fruit, they just merely joined alongside it. The finish was mid-length, a bit of a surprise.

Page Wine Cellars Proprietary Red

Type- Red
Producer- Page Wine Cellars
Variety- Red Bordeaux Blend
Designation- Proprietary Blend
Country- USA
Region- California
SubRegion- Napa Valley
Appellation- Napa Valley
Price- $56.99

The nose was jammy and spicy, with red fruit, pepper and cedar. The palate was interesting, offering up a taste I never before found in a Bordeaux blend. It started with cherry, followed very quickly by A&W root beer and cream, almost a root beer float. The midpalate brought vanila and cedar. Finish was long and smooth.

Four Graces Pinot Noir

Type- Red
Producer- The Four Graces
Variety- Pinot Noir
Country- USA
Region- Oregon
SubRegion- Willamette Valley
Appellation- Willamette Valley
Price- $26.99

The best way to describe the nose was dried strawberries, that fruity musty sweet smell. The palate was very typical mid-price Oregon pinot, cherries and black tea, plus a bit of pepper and allspice.

I Giusti & Zanza Nemorino Rosso Toscana IGT

Type- Red
Producer- I Giusti & Zanza
Variety- Syrah Blend
Designation- Nemorino Rosso
Country- Italy
Region- Tuscany
Appellation- Toscana IGT
Price- $19.99

The nose had loads of pepper and black fruit. The palate was odd, though, with a clashing mix of nuts, canteloupe and blueberries.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

2006 Shirvington Shiraz

Type- Red
Producer- Shirvington
Variety- Shiraz
Country- Australia
Region- South Australia
SubRegion- Fleurieu
Appellation- McLaren Vale

The color is maroon, bright and clear. This wine hits your nose with a wall of smells. It starts with sweet butter slathered on roasted nuts, sitting on a plate next to a vase full of day-old magnolias. That is followed by a complex melange of red fruit, cherries and strawberries, and black fruit, blueberries and mulberries. Mouth feel is very full and thick. The palate has the same sweet buttered roasted nuts, almost praline-sweet. That is followed by big jammy fruit, hearty jam with big chunks of strawberries, black cherries, and a few blueberries. Maple syrup and vanilla flow on the mid-palate. The finish is very sweet and very long.

Night Two

Again, the nose starts with buttery praline, the cherries and blueberries. The palate has the same pralines, loads of big black and red fruit, and browned butter to finish. The overall sense, and mouth feel, is smooth butter. The finish is not as long as Night One, but still fairly long.

This is a great big buttery powerful wine. It is not a fruit-bomb, as the fruits are not overly jammy and sweet, and the butter-nut praline offers another level of flavors other than just jars of jelly. It is big enough, though, that it cold easily overpower most food, so choose carefully when looking for a good match.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Why I write negative reviews

There is just a bit of a brouhaha in the wining blogosphere about negative reviews. Some people write them, some don't. Should you? Yes. You should.

Why do people write wine review blogs? That is an interesting question, and it needs to broken down a bit.

First, why do people wine blog? There are as many reasons as there are bloggers, but they all come down to pretty much the same thing. They love wine, and today you blog what you love. It makes you feel a little closer, it gets you more involved, it makes you part of a community with the same interest, and it allows you to share your love with others. Of course, some people blog as part of a business, wineries, retailers, marketers, etc., but even they are doing something they love and joining a community of others that feel the same way.

Second, why do wine bloggers write wine review blogs? That's a slightly different story. There are lots of wine blogs out there that are not wine review blogs. Fermentation: The Daily Wine Blog does not review wine at all. It blogs the wine business, and particularly the conflict between wine lovers and wine distributors (along with lots of other interesting things). The Wine Connoisseur blogs the news about wine. Dr. Vino does some reviews, but blogs the wine industry in depth as well. Then there are the straight review blogs. Good Wine Under $20 focuses on wines at a reasonable price. Wannabe Wino reviews what she drinks, often from winery trips. There are so many out there I can't do justice to them all. What they all have in common, though, is that they love wine, and they share that love with you, the reader.

That is what we do for ourselves. What do we do for the reader? We provide, I hope, a service. When I look at statistics from my own site I find that more than half my views come from wine searches. People type "Villa Maria" or "Rockaway" into the little Google box, looking for reviews. What do they find? If they come to my blog, they find positive AND negative reviews. If they go to other blogs they might only find positive ones. Are we doing those consumers a service if we do not warn them away from garbage? In my opinion, no. So why do some people only write positive reviews? Good question. Let's ask them.

From the tremendous and well-respected Vinography, Is there any point to negative wine reviews?

1. There was so much mediocre wine out there in the world that lukewarm or negative reviews could easily take up the majority of my writing time.

2. Writing negative reviews is about as fun as completing the writing comprehension section of the SAT.

3. People mostly want to know which wines are great much more than they want to know which wines to avoid.


a. Many times, I don't necessarily know that the bottle I happen to be reviewing isn't simply just a bit off -- whether from a fault that I am not detecting or identifying or simply due to bottle variation of some sort or another.

b. A bad review is quite damaging, because it is often read as a condemnation of the winery itself (despite any care or attention put to the contrary by the author) even though the particular wine in question could be part of a portfolio of truly stellar wines.

c. Likewise, bad reviews are often read (and written by irresponsible critics) as being absolute and categorical judgements about a winery, when in fact they are mere evaluations of a specific wine in a specific vintage. That particular wine could have been great the year before, or it could get great the next year. But bad reviews hang around in the minds of consumers like skeletons in the closet, much longer than they should.

d. Bad reviews also hang around in the minds of winemakers and winery owners a lot longer than they should. Like it or not, anyone who seriously attempts to write consistently about wine in a critical fashion has a symbiotic (or as Jancis Robinson would put it, a parasitic) relationship with the wine industry. Bad reviews burn bridges in ways that make it difficult for the writer to ply their craft.

Are these good reasons? In my own opinion, not at all. I am not alone, either. The very first person to comment in response asked:

What if you substituted "a good review" in the points above (a,b,c, and d)-does your logic also follow through (in the opposite direction) on these wineries?


Now let's break that down a bit more, okay?

1. There was so much mediocre wine out there in the world that lukewarm or negative reviews could easily take up the majority of my writing time.

Really? Do you really drink that much bad wine? Why? I expect most bloggers are fairly discriminating about what they purchase. Do I get bad wine? Absolutely. But is it the norm? Nope. I generally don't buy something awful, and since I promise to write good AND bad reviews, people don't often send less than their best efforts.

2. Writing negative reviews is about as fun as completing the writing comprehension section of the SAT.

I respectfully disagree. In fact, I don't think I ever had more fun writing a review than when I channeled Dr. Suess and wrote a haiku for Deerfield Merlot Cuvee.

3. People mostly want to know which wines are great much more than they want to know which wines to avoid.

Upon what do you base this conclusion? I look at my statistics and find that people search bad wine as often as they search good wine.

a. Many times, I don't necessarily know that the bottle I happen to be reviewing isn't simply just a bit off -- whether from a fault that I am not detecting or identifying or simply due to bottle variation of some sort or another.

While this is true, it is equally true that the next sucker could end up with a bottle just as bad. Also, there is a huge difference between "this might be a bit flawed" or "it ain't great" and "oh man is this awful overworked over-alcoholed manufactured oak powdered crap."

b. A bad review is quite damaging, because it is often read as a condemnation of the winery itself (despite any care or attention put to the contrary by the author) even though the particular wine in question could be part of a portfolio of truly stellar wines.

Is a good review praising a winery itself, even if they have bad stuff in their portfolio? Also, isn't this best handled by the review? You don't just write "good" or "bad." You write a review, right?

c. Likewise, bad reviews are often read (and written by irresponsible critics) as being absolute and categorical judgements about a winery, when in fact they are mere evaluations of a specific wine in a specific vintage. That particular wine could have been great the year before, or it could get great the next year. But bad reviews hang around in the minds of consumers like skeletons in the closet, much longer than they should.

See (b), supra.

d. Bad reviews also hang around in the minds of winemakers and winery owners a lot longer than they should. Like it or not, anyone who seriously attempts to write consistently about wine in a critical fashion has a symbiotic (or as Jancis Robinson would put it, a parasitic) relationship with the wine industry. Bad reviews burn bridges in ways that make it difficult for the writer to ply their craft.

This is, by far, the worst reason not to write bad reviews. If you fear the wineries' reaction, then you are being bullied into the very parisitic relationship described by Robinson. If you accept that, even applaud it, then you have a credibility problem. Worse, if enough people do the same, then your credibility problem bleeds into the entire wine-writing blogosphere.

Other very well-known and well-respected wine bloggers also write only positive reviews, like Another Wine Blog:

Anyway, when a wine is reviewed on this site it is because we enjoyed it and we want to share that information with our readers. It is that simple. It does not make one bit of difference if a friend gave it to us as a gift, or if it came from one of our wine clubs, if it came from the grocery store, or if a wine industry person sent it to be reviewed, the review will be positive and it will be honest. Does anyone really want to hear about the Franzia that was served at some reception? Or the crap bottle the local wine megastore lackey conned me into buying because he is an idiot and ordered too much of it? I may write about the megastore or the lackey, but who cares about the bad wine? Besides, someone might like that wine. My palate is not omniscient, despite a drunken boast or two I may have made to the contrary.

Hey, wait a minute. I already know about the Franzia, but I sure want to know about the crap bottle before my own local wine megastore lackey cons me into buying the same thing. As for your palate, well, doesn't the same conversation go the same way for wine you like? Also, it is not just a matter your palate, unless all you write is "good" or "bad." If, on the other hand, you explain WHY you didn't like it- over-extracted, too hot, too sweet, out of character for the grape, etc., then people can judge for themselves whether to follow your recommendation.

Stop thinking about "wine review" for a minute and think about "review." A movie, two tickets, sodas and snacks, costs a fair chunk of change these days. Do you read movie reviews before you go? I do. Not just that, but I consider a poor review a favor. It is not just the reviewer's conclusion that matters, but the content as well. If a movie reviewer writes "this was not a good movie because it was poorly edited, jumped from unconnected scene to unconnected scene, and substituted gore and violence for a coherent story," I am going to take a pass. On the other hand, if it says "this was not a good movie because it had far too much gratuitous starlet nudity, but otherwise held together well," well, I'm going. Twice. See how that works? As wine writers, we WRITE, not merely opine.

Movies give us another more concrete lesson, too. Do you remember David Manning? He was a fictitious film critic created by Sony to create poster quotes. Sony ended up paying out $1.5M in settlement for that fraud. I am not equating positive-review-only bloggers with "David Manning." I do suggest, however, that positive-review-only blogs will hurt our credibility. People will start to wonder "is this another David Manning?"

Look again at your statistics. If a potential consumer Googles "Chateau Perfection" they will find it. But what if they Google "Chateau Plonque"? You know it's crap. You know it's Sahara meets Gigli, yet you leave them to discover that on their own.

Now add one more factor, free wine. Is there an added responsibility to write negative reviews if you are getting free samples? Or is that just cutting off your hand to spite your face, a guaranteed path to making the UPS guy a stranger, to a life of having to buy all your own wine? The answer, to me, is both. Yes, you risk missing out on freebies if the winemakers have a more "friendly" set of bloggers they can count on to laud the good stuff and bury the bad. At that point, though, you are a free PR arm of the winery. You might not be "David Manning," but are you getting too close? Are you at least Larry King, notorious as the softest interview in politics, instead of being Meet the Press?

What is the bottom line to all this? The blogosphere is still new, and the wine blogosphere newer still. We are still feeling out our place in the world. In my own very personal opinion, writing only positive reviews might score you a few more free bottles, but your free bottles might cost my credibility. It might also do a disservice to the next consumer with the bad luck to run into that wine megastore lackey.

One commenter in a related thread observed that my reasoning means I have to review every sample I receive. He's right. I do. See my wine review policy at the top of the right hand colum. I don't do it on anybody's schedule, but I do it. Do you?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Round-Up

N.V. Mumm Napa Pinot Noir Blanc de Noirs

Type- Rosé - Sparkling
Producer- Mumm Napa
Variety- Pinot Noir
Designation- Blanc de Noirs
Country- USA
Region- California
SubRegion- Napa Valley
Appellation- Napa Valley
Price- $15.99

My family has one of the best Thanksgiving traditions ever. Mimosa! I needed something bubbly to add to the OJ, and this was the cheapest bottle in the cellar. It was actually too good for mimosa, but you've got to do what you've got to do.

The color was a pale salmon pink, tinting slightly toward orange. It had a steady stream of small bubbles. There was a lot of fruit on the nose, strawberry, banana, and a hint, a tiny hint, of lemon zest. Minerality, not fruit, drove the attack, plus a little bit of lime. Some banana and white grapefruit appeared on the mid-palate, with mineral and lemon juice on the finish. It was tart, bright, acidic and clean.

2005 Redline Pinot Noir Cedar Lane Vineyard

Type- Red
Producer- Redline
Variety- Pinot Noir
Vineyard- Cedar Lane Vineyard
Country- USA
Region- California
SubRegion- Central Coast
Appellation- Arroyo Seco
From- WineQ
Price- $19.99

This wine went pretty quickly and I did not get much in the way of notes. It went well with the meal. in general, it was pretty good. it had a bit of earth and some depth, something I look for to distinguish a drinkable under-$30 pinot from its more common cherry-cola-and-black-tea brethren. I will definitely revisit this, so stay tuned.

2006 Georges Dubœuf Pouilly-Fuissé

Type- White
Producer- Georges Dubœuf
Variety- Chardonnay
Country- France
Region- Burgundy
SubRegion- Mâconnais
Appellation- Pouilly-Fuissé

Night One
Soft tropical fruit led the nose of this wine, banana, pineapple, along with a bit of light toast. On the palate it was thick and oily, tasting of banana, pineapple, and green apple. White pepper appeared on the mid-palate. It had a long, slightly dusty finish.

Night Two

The nose the next day was softer and a little spicier, more like banana bread than bananas, plus pineapple and a bit of nutmeg. The palate was much more citrusy than the nose, with spice and acidity. Lemon, lime, and gingersnaps, softened on the mid-palate to expose underlying pineapple. The finish was short, dropping suddenly.

2005 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Clifford Bay Reserve

Type- White
Producer- Villa Maria
Variety- Sauvignon Blanc
Designation- Clifford Bay Reserve
Country- New Zealand
Region- South Island
SubRegion- Marlborough
Appellation- Marlborough

Night One

What the heck is that smell? This one got passed around the table and everybody said the same thing, "wait a minute, I know it, ...wait a minute, ... no, I can't place it." Then I broke out the good glass and it was obvious. Asparagus. There was also some ginger snap and vanilla custard. There were also ginger snaps and vanilla custard on the palate, moving to lemon meringue on the mid-palate. Underlying all of it was the green taste of asparagus. It was also surprisingly fat for a Sauv. Blanc, particularly from New Zealand.

Night Two

The asparagus smell was much stronger, overpowering any fruit. It smelled like asparagus and slightly rancid butter. On the palate, well, it was just a disaster. Imagine, if you must, boiling asparagus in pineapple juice until it all dissolves. Strain it and drink it. Or don't. I'm sure not drinking any more of this crap.

2001 Dow Porto Late Bottled Vintage

Type- Red - Fortified
Producer- Dow
Variety- Port Blend
Designation- Late Bottled Vintage
Country- Portugal
Region- Douro
Appellation Porto

The nose wasn't giving up a lot, but if you worked at it you could get some licorice. The palate was just loaded with raisins and prunes, plus a bit of blueberry syrup. The finish simply collapsed.

Chocolate Stout and Raspberry Lambic Float

You will never want a root beer float again. Float some vanilla ice cream in 2 parts chocolate stout to 1 part raspberry lambic. Once a little of the ice cream melts, taking away a bit of the beer bite and adding creaminess, well, it is a grown-up ice cream float. Everybody who tries it is always stunned. I would not hesitate to serve this as a fun finish to an upscale barbecue on a hot summer's day.


The Wooden Guys are still recovering. We will all report back details later.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Wooden Guys on Thanksgiving wine

Here is their two-step process for picking out that perfect Thanksgiving wine. Ready? Make sure you have a pen and some paper to write all this down. Okay, here goes.



Monday, November 24, 2008

Sonoma Vineyards Syrah 2007

Type- Red
Producer- Sonoma Vineyards
Variety- Syrah
Country- USA
Region- California
SubRegion- Sonoma County
Appellation- Sonoma County
Alcohol- 13.8%
Price- approx. $20.00

"Ta-Dah!" The Little Wooden Guy thinks he's found a good wine at a great price.

I received this as a free sample from Sonoma Vineyards. This is their first release of Syrah and it will have a suggested retail price of $15. According to the information sent with the wine, the fruit comes from the Russian River Valley and Alexander Valley.

Night One

Color was deep inky purple, going to bright shiny ruby at the edges.

The nose is a pleasure, a meat and jam-filled treat. Bunches of black fruit are softened with some bloody meat, along with cinnamon and black pepper. It is the kind of wine you can just smell for the longest time, forgetting for a while you are supposed to drink the stuff.

Blackberries, barely sweet real ones, not jam, and black pepper are clearly delineated flavors on the initial attack. Sometimes you struggle to discern one taste from the next, or to distinguish different kinds of black fruit. This is not one of those times. No, this is like blackberries dusted with black pepper just popping in your mouth. The mid-palate turned slightly toward red fruit, tart unsweetened cranberries. An hour later some chocolate joined the red fruit. The finish was mid-length. Fine smooth tannins are a little mouth-drying, but not puckering like a young cabernet, offering plenty of structure.

Night Two

After a night under the screw-cap top alcohol seems to have concentrated. The nose was hot for about an hour after re-opening. Once that blew off black fruit led the nose, along with some chocolate.

Plums and some blueberries, plus loads of milk chocolate, open the attack. This seems to have sweetened considerably over night. Some vanilla appeared on the mid-palate, an obvious result of eight months in French and American oak, but it was balanced, not over-powering. The finish fell off rather quickly.

This is a very good QPR (quality to price ratio) wine. It gives some classic Syrah tastes, particularly the black pepper and smooth tannins. For a mere $15 this is a nice bottle.

Humanitas Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles 2006

Type- Red
Producer- Humanitas
Variety- Cabernet Sauvignon
Country- USA
Region- California
SubRegion- Central Coast
Appellation- Paso Robles
Alcohol- 13.8%

I received this as a free sample from Humanitas Wines, as part of Twitter Taste Live.

Night One

Toast and hazelnuts open the nose. Black fruit appears once you get all the way into the glass, along with some vanilla.

On the palate, the fruit is very jammy up front, full of plums and blackberries. That is followed almost immediately with chocolate, a lot of chocolate. Tannins are fine and dusty. It sweetens significantly on the mid-palate. It turns to brown sugar and vanilla, clear evidence of a lot of oak. Is it too much oak? Let's give it a second night before we decide.

Night Two

The nose changed completely from Night One to Night Two. Now it showed blackcurrant, eucalyptus and a little cinnamon.

The palate was different too. There was still plenty of dark fruit, blackberry, plum skins, and a little blueberry. The chocolate was still there, too, milk chocolate. Tannins were very fine and added leather to the mid-length finish.

This was a nice bottle of wine. It was not, on Night Two, overpoweringly sweet and sugary. With significant decanting, or even better some years in the cellar, this promises to be a nice wine.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

2004 La Rochelle Pinot Noir

Type- Red
Producer- La Rochelle
Variety- Pinot Noir
Country- USA
Region- California
SubRegion- Central Coast
Appellation- Monterey
From WineQ
Approx. $20

The Wooden Guys had no interest in the clearly flawed bottle. The farm animals from Webkinz, on the other hand, felt right at home amidst the brett.

Night One

Major funk blew out of the bottle upon opening. After an hour or two it seemed to settle down, but not disappear. Beneath it there were some great flavors, enough to think an unflawed bottle might be good. Black cherries, cranberries, smoked meat and some tomato all made for a very interesting, if not a tad heavy, palate. Tannins were smooth, acidity bright. Unfortunately ...

Night Two

The funk had funk of its own. It was just overpowering. There was plenty of barnyard and a distinct smell of moldy cherries. Two hours later a lot of the funk was gone, but not all. The nose smelled surprisingly of burnt toast spread with strawberry jam. There was dark cerry, watermelon, nutmeg, vanilla and tarragon, in that order, from attack to finish.

There is a lot of promise beneath the obvious flaw in this particular bottle. If I had an opportunity, I would give it a second try.

Just out of the bottle

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

2004 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve

Type- Red
Producer- Rodney Strong
Variety- Cabernet Sauvignon
Designation- Reserve
Country- USA
Region- California
SubRegion- Sonoma County
Appellation- Sonoma County
Alcohol- 14.3%

The Wooden Guys tried this Rodney Strong Reserve the night after they had Rodney Strong's new Rockaway single vineyard release. The comparison was interesting. I suspect the Reserve from '04 grew up to be Rockaway the next year, at twice the price.

Night One

The first obvious thing to note about the bottle is its size and weight. It is unusually heavy and has very thick neck. The bottle, empty, weighed in at 871 grams, about halfway between a normal bottle and the Rockaway mega-bottle. The cork is natural, and of normal size and length, shorter than the one in the Rockaway.

The nose is a little hot (not a surprise at 14.3% REPORTED alcohol, which allows up to 15.3% alcohol) and a little closed. There is some blackcurrant and vanilla. It should open a lot more overnight.

The palate offers very sweet dark fruit and sweet smooth tannins. The fruit is blackcurrant, very ripe blackberry and just a hint of black cherry. Cedar and vanilla show up on the mid-palate. The finish is sweet and long, tannins smooth but leathery.

The tannins provide a good backbone and the nose was closed. I would not be surprised to see big changes on Night Two.

Night Two

The nose and palate are similar to the Rockaway, though not quite so complex. The nose had plenty of dark fruit, blackcurant and plums. there was also some spicy cedar and vanilla.

On the palate, just like the Rockaway, it opened with black fruit, moved toward very sweet brown sugar and vanilla on the mid-palate, ending with clying borwn sugar sweetness. Tannins were smooth and sweet.

Like the Rockaway before it, I expect this will improve as the fruit and wood settle down a bit. Still, it is very sweet and oaky, lacking in terroir and complexity. this is a very personal point of view from somebody who prefers more classic Bordeaux to modern heavily worked Cali Cabs.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Vintage- 2005
Type- Red
Producer- Rodney Strong
Variety- 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Malbec, 4% Petite Verdot
Vineyard- Rockaway
Country- USA
Region- California
SubRegion- Sonoma County
Appellation- Alexander Valley
Alcohol 15.4%

The Big Wooden Guy's first impression of this wine has to do with the weight of the bottle. It weighs a ton. Well, actually, it weighs 2 pounds, 3.8 ounces (1.015 kilograms), EMPTY! For comparison, the bottle for 1998 Sociando Mallet weighs 1 pound 4.7 ounces (0.58 kilograms). Add that it was sent to me (for free, a sample, full disclosure here) in Styrofoam packing, and this thing is a carbon footprint nightmare. There is a paper label on the back containing all the legally required information. The front, though, lacks a label. Instead it is simply embossed "ROCKAWAY," with an embossed vineyard running all the way around the bottle. Everything about the bottle says "TAKE ME SERIOUSLY!"

Night One

The color is very deep dark garnet almost all the way to the edge, where it finally gives way to about an 1/8" of bright ruby.

The nose is rich and jammy, filled with dark fruit. It is mostly blackcurrant and plum, with some blackberries and eucalyptus at the back end of a big sniff. After an hour of so open a fleeting glimpse of espresso played hide-and-seek amid the fruit.

This was just as dark on the palate, very jammy and sweet. Blackcurrants and mulberry, along with some meaty smokiness opened the attack. Cedar and vanilla made their first appearance on the mid-palate, which quickly evolved to vanilla and brown sugar on toast. The sugar is cloying, the finish long but too sweet, all brown sugar and maple syrup.

Five hours it changed some. Tannins started to appear as the jammy fruit settled down a bit. There was more blackberry, less mulberry and blackcurrant, with a strong smooth leathery tannin backbone. There was a quick vegetal hint in the mid-palate. The finish, though, is still dominated by vanilla, brown sugar and maple.

Night Two

The nose seems to have settled down quite a lot. There is still plenty of fruit but it is balanced by some earth. There is also some licorice and a bit of mixed eucalyptus and menthol.

The wine settled down a great deal on the palate, too. There are still plenty of big flavors, blackberries and plums, but Night Two brings more nuance and more layers. The attack has blackberries and plums, plus licorice and a little spice. The mid-palate is greatly expanded, bringing unsweetened chocolate, cherries, and toasted almond skins. Tannins are smooth and fine, but pronounced. There is plenty of backbone to this, enough to give a few years, at the least, in the cellar.

This is a great big modern wine, very ripe and fruity, very powerful. It is not really my personal style. I prefer a bit more subtlety. That said, this has the potential to be good after several years in the cellar to settle down and integrate. $80 is a good chunk of change to spend on potential. Unfortunately, that is actually below the going rate for similar California Cabs.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bokisch Vineyards Graciano 2005

Type: Red
Producer: Bokisch Vineyards
Variety: Graciano
Country USA
Region California
SubRegion Central Valley
Appellation Lodi
Alc. 14.5%
$25.99 from WineQ

The Little Wooden Guy appreciates wines made to drink fresh, rather than cellar.

Night One

A rich earthy smell first out of the bottle changes slowly to more fruit and spice after an hour or so in the glass. Red cherries and wild strawberries, asian spices and a touch of vanilla all overlay faint earth and mild mushrooms.

Curiously, red fruit on the nose turns to darker fruit on the palate, blackberries and blackcurrants along with unsweetened cranberries. The darker fruit fades on the mid-palate as a bit of underlying earth joins the tart, even slightly bitter, cranberries. It all leads to a mid-length richly tannic finish.

Very nice on Night One. Will it get better, or fall off, tomorrow?

Night Two

Fruits are darker and softer on Night Two. The cherries have gone from bright Bing cherries to riper black cherries. The tart strawberries are gone, replaced by sweet blueberries and mulberries. The spice is mostly gone, too. The vanilla still lingers.

Most of the balance is gone, leaving a vanilla-loaded wooden fruit bomb, adding cloying brown sugar in the mid-palate and an overall sense of over-worked sweetness.

This was a very nice bottle of wine on Night One, and a big disappointment on Night Two. Does that mean it's bad? No, not at all. It means it is a good bottle of wine made to drink fresh, not to decant for hours or cellar for years.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Wine Blogging Wednesday #51- Bodegas Hidalgo Manzanilla La Gitana N.V.

Today's post is brought to you by Wine Blogging Wednesday, hosted this month by 1 Wine Dude, who is not only a great wine blogger, but also the only one who tops "2 Days per Bottle" in link lists. The topic this month? Baked goods:

"Baked Goods" - wines that are deliberately heated, or Madeirized. According to the way-cool wine glossary at RedWineBuzz.com, Madeirized wines describes the "intentional oxidation of grapes in an estufa (hothouses used for this purpose in Madeira, where these wines are made). The resulting wines (typically whites) are sweet and caramelized in taste."

These wines often also have nutty aromas, a honey-like mouthfeel, and distinctive bronzed color. Yumminess! Examples include (of course) Madeira, but also wines in other parts of the world such as Australia's Rutherglen Tokays.

Now, Lenn and I do realize that these wines are not always easy to come by, so we're also allowing sweet Fortified wines into WBW 51(WineDude), which should provide enough options for everyone to contribute.

Bodegas Hidalgo Manzanilla La Gitana N.V.

Vintage N.V. Label 1 of 4
Type White - Fortified
Producer Bodegas Hidalgo
Variety Palomino Fino
Designation Manzanilla La Gitana
Country Spain
Region Andalucía
Appellation Manzanilla de Sanlúcar de Barrameda
500 ml
$11.95 from Chambers Street Wines

Night One

The color is a very light bright yellow straw.

The nose on this is bright and delightful, fresh apple peel, nuts, and the frothy salty tops of waves on an Atlantic beach. On the palate it is very crisp and tight. The taste on the initial attack is very fresh tart apples dipped in kosher salt, followed by lightly toasted salted almonds. The finish lingers for a long time.

Night Two

The nose has not changed from Night One to Night Two. On the palate it is just as salty, with less fruit and some liquid smoke and toasted nuts. This is incredibly flavorful, but the flavors are unusual in a wine, even a fortified wine. Salt is really the predominant flavor, so if you are not a greek olive and feta fan don't bother. The finish is different, fruity with apples as an aftertaste.

I don't really love this wine. I am, however, quite fascinated by it.

UPDATE- a hat tip to Alex of Eating Leeds for the reminder, for Manzanilla is most definitely a food wine. I drank think with mixed salted nuts and dried fruit (almonds, pistachios, cherries, raisins). Even with the salted nuts this was too salty for my personal taste, but that is most definitely a personal palate observation, not a criticism of the wine itself.

2003 Simi Cabernet Sauvignon Landslide

Type: Red
Producer: Simi
Variety: Cabernet Sauvignon
Vineyard: Landslide
Country: USA
Region: California
SubRegion: Sonoma County
Appellation: Alexander Valley
14.1% alcohol
$26.99 Costco in Indianapolis, Indiana

The Little Wooden Guy is mixed on this one. On one hand, it's pretty much exactly what you would expect from a California Cab, even slightly interesting. On the other hand, at $26 a bottle, why bother?

Night One

Color was surprisingly light for Cabernet, bright ruby but slightly translucent.

The nose was a little hot (no surprise, with more than 14% alcohol. It was also bright and fruity, a mix of black and red fruits, cherries and plums, plus a little vanilla. It differed from most $30 California Cabernets by not having just loads and loads of prototypical blackcurrant.

The palate opens with cherries and blackberries. There is really no mid-palate. Acidity is bright and tannins are soft and leathery, like fine-cut suede. Finish is long.

Night Two

Now, after a night of rest, the nose disappoints, with bloated fruit and extravagant wood. The smell is all cherry pie filling, vanilla and cedar. The palate, too, is big and bloated, with pie filling, pie crust, brown sugar and cedar. There is no mid-palate at all.

This is a very commercial Cabernet, big fruit, big wood, big disappointment. It is a style that appeals to a lot of people (and grocery store buyers). I am just not the target audience.

2004 Couly-Dutheil Chinon La Baronnie Madeleine

Type: Red
Producer: Couly-Dutheil
Variety: Cabernet Franc
Designation: La Baronnie Madeleine
Country: France
Region: Loire Valley
SubRegion: Touraine
Appellation: Chinon

$13.99 at Costco, in Indianapolis, Indiana

The Big Wooden Guy isn't sure if he should drink it or smoke it.

Night One

The classic identifying odor of Cabernet Franc is tobacco leaf. If you can't place that in your library of odor memories, find the nearest Costco and buy a bottle of this wine. The fruit is either non-existent or merely shut down. What you get is wave after wave of tobacco leaf. Smelling this wine is like walking through the back room of a cigar shop on Calle Ocho in Miami or Ybor City near Tampa (and perhaps, when we finally get done with our useless and counter-productive decades-long idiocy with Cuba, Havana).

Tobacco dominates the palate as well as the nose. If you sip some in, breathe in some air, swirl it around and really try, you can find some red fruit, cranberries and red currants. There is even dark chocolate on the mid-palate. However, tobacco is the dominating feature. The finish is medium length, as is the mouth feel. Acids are bright. Tannins make a light backbone, not overpowering but clearly there and wanting more time to integrate.

Night Two

A night made some difference, but I fear not enough. Tobacco still leads the nose. It has added some eucalyptus and menthol, plus a hint of fennel. On the palate, too, tobacco keeps the lead,with the addition of black olives. Now though, the eucalyptus shows up on the mid-palate.

Acidity remains very bright, along with light tannins, offering a good backbone for additional maturity. Will fruit appear later? Perhaps. It is hard to tell if it is merely shut down or non-existent. This wine, though, provides a classroom demonstration of what "tobacco" means in Cab Franc, and for a mere $13 is worth buying two bottles- one for the lesson, and another to see what happens in 2012.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Twitter Taste Live for Charity

My friend, Lenn Thompson, of Lenndevours, will be hosting a Twitter Taste Live with Humanitas Wines and Twitter Moms on November 21, 2008. Click the logo for more information.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Chateau Haute-Bailly 2001

Grand Cru Classe' de Graves
$45.98 in Indianapolis, Indiana
12.5% alcohol by volume
imported by USA Wine Imports, New York, NY

This bottle of wine is a floral delight. On Night One it seems promise years of cellar growth to come, but we will know more about that on Night Two.

Night One

Purple flowers, lavendar and lilac, just float out of the glass, along with some dark plum and plum skins. On the palate the same flowers take center stage. There is fruit there, too, but it is hidden behind strong tannins that scream out for more years in the cellar. Plums, nee plum skins, are the primary fruit, but more will surely come out of hiding on Night Two. I hope you will join me to see if my prediction comes true.

Night Two

Floral aromas once again lead the nose on Night Two, but the additional time with some air brought out black fruit, more blackberry than blackcurrant, but both were there. The palate has more to offer than on Night One, but the overall impression is that this could use more time. Pencil lead, cassis, and tart plum skins are slowly wrapped in firm tannins as it moves from initial attack to mid-palate, where a hint of unsweetened chocolate makes a quick appearance. Acids and tannins are both pwoerful, but well-balanced. The finish is long.

This is good but still young. The sense of it is that it is just waking up now, just starting to come out of a closed phase. It might well be much better in as little as a year or two. There is plenty of backbone, acid and tannins, to give it time to grow and knit together.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Cruising the Caribbean and drinking wine

I took the wife and kidlets on a seven day cruise of the Western Caribbean last week. Lots of stops of T-shirts and shells, and endless buffet of mediocre food, great service and food that didn't match for dinner, and a genuinely boring wine list. But wait, I brought some of my own wine. Or at least, I tried. The ship was out of Miami. My mom lives in Miami. I sent her boyfriend a list of wines to buy and his wine ***SUPERSTORE*** did not have a single one out of a dozen or more. Rest assured, the wine guy said, here are some bottles that he'll LOOOOVE, if he liked those. Let's see how that worked out, shall we?

I suggested Chateau Branaire-Ducru 1999. They didn't have it. Their substitute?

Arthurs, Cotes de Castillon 2004

Grand vin de Bordeaux
13% alc

Night One

The nose was green, herbaceous & hot, hiding a tiny little bit of black fruit & blueberries. The overall smell was of unripe wine, stems & leaves. It did not improve on the palate, which was all green, stems & leaves. There was a little black fruit. Very dry leathery tannins overpowered everything else.

Night Two

Blackcurrants & blackberries lead the nose, which has far more fruit and less green on nt 2. It seems hot & makes me wonder about the alcohol level. The palate was less green, showing blackberry and a touch of sage, but it ends with very strong overpowering tannins that dry out the mouth and leave little but leather & plum skins.

I suggested Groom Shiraz 2004. They didn't have it. The substitute?

Thorn Clarke Terra-Barossa Shiraz 2006

This was pretty good stuff.

Night One

The nose was very powerful, but not merely a fruit bomb. It brought coffee & black pepper, and blackberries. The palate brought blackberries & pepper, some coffee, softening on the mid-palate to more mild plums & black cherries. It had a long finish & fine sweet tannins, slightly drying, promising plenty more life in the cellar.

Night Two

The nose was blackberries & black pepper, with some black cherry. The palate was blueberry & black cherry, and sweet tannins. The mid-palate evolved to vanilla, cedar & cream. It was very creamy & soft. Fruity but not a fruit bomb. It had a long tooth-coating finish. Very good.

I went to a wine tasting on board the ship. It was a special tasting set up for frequent cruisers (my mother cruises all the time an gave me her tickets). I was a bit surprised to see just how they low-balled the wine selection for their best customers. It was also very fast, lacking sufficient time to really explore the wines, or to take very good notes.

First up was Caliterras Sauvignon Blanc, '07

The color was very light, an almost clear gold. The nose brought lemon zest, pink grapefruit & ginger. The ginger was not overpowering but was very evident. As soon as I mentioned it everybody at the table nodded their heads, as if it was the smell they were trying to put their fingers on. The initial attack was grapefruit and grass. Th ginger from the nose showed up clearly on the mid-palate. The finish was medium length. The mouth feel was slightly oily, and the overall impression a little fat.

Second up was Stone Cellars Chardonnay, '07

The color was pale straw. The nose was pure caramel apple. The same apples and caramel showed up on attack, along with some lemon zest. The apple-taste changed a bit on the mid-palate, moving from fresh apples to baked apples, vanilla & brown sugar. The vanilla seemed to just get stronger and stronger throughout, the wood eventually taking over. The overall impression was very fat and woody.

Third up was, by far, the most interesting wine in the tasting, Footprint Syrah '07.

I have never smelled such obvious coffee-grounds in a bottle of wine. The coffee was just screamingly obvious, along with some black pepper and blackberry. Very interesting. The coffee was there on the attack, too, along with unsweetened chocolate, burned rubber & blackberries. The tasting was ripping right along, but this is worth a follow-up with some more time to explore.

Stone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon '06

Initially, the nose was interesting, even promising. There was the signature Cabernet blackcurrant, but that was not all. It also brought a surprising amount of mint. In fact, the mint was so clear I could identify it not just as mint, but specifically as wintergreen. There was also, alas, enough vanilla, or should I say VANILLA, to hint of oak to come. On the palate, too, there was promised, ultimately crushed by wood. Eucalyptus joined the blackcurrant and mint, but it all devolved quickly into vanilla and wood. This was a potentially pretty good wine absolutely crushed by efforts to make it mainstream and generic.

Finally, we had a reisling, Leonard Kreusch Reisling spatlese late harvest '07.

The nose was very sweet, offering not just pears, but the juice of canned pears. There were apples, too, along with the key lime from a key lime pie, rather than pure juice. Apples disappeared on the palate, leaving primarily pears plus a little key lime. We got hustled out to clear space for the first dinner seating so I can't say much more.

My overall impression was not overly enthusiastic. The wine list was a little thin. Mark-ups were not bad (about double, when they had a captive audience), but selections were pretty low-end with a few very high end "name" wines, like Opus 1 and Darioush. What it was really missing were the good wines in the middle.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sembro Tempranillo 2004

Ribera del Duoro
100% Tempranillo
13.5% Alcohol

Night One

The smell of this wine is absolutely delicious, brown sugar and tea, bing cherries and plums. If I weren't so anxious to drink it, I would eat it immediately. On the palate, this is a very interesting wine. It is medium bodied, balanced nicely between acid and tannins. The taste is almost pinot-like, but without the pinot arc, opening with black tea, cherries and brown sugar, moving to herbs and leather, before finishing with smooth leather and dry fruit.

I am betting this is going to be darned good on Night Two.

Night Two

The nose changed a lot overnight. Now it is a beefy mulberry with black olives and eucalyptus. The palate, too, matured tremendously. It blends black fruit, blackberries and plum skins, with red fruit, cranberries and tart cherries. The mid-palate has smoked meat, brown sugar and softer fruits, leading into a finish with very fine-grained mouth-drying tannins.

This is a very nice bottle of wine, worthy of another five year in the cellar.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

1998 Cascina Chicco Barbera d'Alba Bric Loira

Italy, Piedmont, Alba, Barbera d'Alba
14% Alc
$26.93 in Indianapolis (Cellar Tracker community avg- $36.97)

Night One

The moment I opened the bottle, pulling the unusually long cork, the room was filled with bright fruit smells, like walking through the berry aisle of a big fruit market.

The color is very deep red/black, with the edges just starting to turn brick red.

Surprisingly, twenty minutes after opening the fruit is not overpowering, even though it seemed to explode out of the bottle behind the cork. There is fruit, yes, but well-balanced, not overpowering. The initial scent is roasted chestnuts spread with unsweetened strawberry and blueberry jam. There is also a lot of toast and toasted wood.

The palate has loads of bright red fruit, tart cherries and a mix of sweet and sour strawberries. There are also notes of toast and nuts. Acids remain bright, even after ten years. Tannins are soft but noticeable. This wine is clearly ten years young, with years of cellar life remaining.

Night Two

The nose is fascinating, strawberries and sage, black cherries and a touch of vanilla. On the palate, though, is where the big changes from Night One are evident. It is dry, sweet, and tart, barely fresh cherries and strawberries covered with very dark, like 90% cocoa, chocolate. Tannins are a bit dusty, a little drying, counter-balanced by bright acids.

This was a good bottle of wine, one that improved significantly from Night One to Night Two, making me think a year or two in the cellar, perhaps more, will add balance and integration as well as additional depth.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Jeriko Estate Pinot Noir 2005

Certified Organic
14.3% alcohol
From WineQ

The Wooden Guys flat out loved this wine.

The nose of this wine, just after it was opened, had serious funk, barnyard funk. There was also a lot of chocolate and coffee. Imagine the smell if a goat ate nothing but coffee and cocoa beans and you will have some idea what I am talking about. Some people might find the smell that comes out of the wrong end of a barnyard animal a bit of a turn off, but believe me, it is often a promise of good things to come. As the funk settles it turns into burned butter and dark toast. After fifteen minutes in the glass there was still no sign of fruit on the nose, but a hint of hazelnut was just starting to peek through. After thirty minutes a strawberry, one small lonely strawberry, peeked through. Now it was time to taste it.

Okay, that is interesting. This will sound odd, but stick with me and try to imagine it- strawberry marmalade. Strawberries are there, but with the tartness and richness of marmalade, rather than the pure sweetness of jam or jelly. That was the first taste up front, on the attack, along with truffles and a touch of bacon fat. This showed the classic pinot noir arc, with a mild initial attack, then huge growth through the finish. Through the evening the wine continued to evolve, later showing a more typical California pinot taste profile, with cherry pits and strawberries, but also offering up earth and meat, depth and richness.

The tannins are obvious on the finish, drying but not leathery. The finish is long,very long, even continuing to grow and evolve after drinking. Long after the sip, half a minute or more, the first taste of licorice shows up and lingers.

The mouth feel is silky, even a little oily in the way it coats the mouth and tongue.

Night Two

The nose on Night Two is different from Night One. It was intriguing, opening with the sweet smell of Jolly Rancher watermelon candy, then ripe strawberries and cherry pits, plus river rocks and smoky sage. There was as much sweet fruit as you could ever desire, but all well balanced by mineral and smoky herbs, a full-bodied but balanced wine rather than an over-extracted fruit bomb.

The palate did not see as big a change from Night One to Night Two. What I described on Night One as "strawberry marmalade" might better be described on Night Two as a blend of strawberries and rhubarb pie, sweet, tart, and rich. The mid-palate added new layers to the flavor profile, rather than replacing it in waves of different flavors. It added limestone and a meaty flavor best described as the crispy salty end slice of a good prime rib.

Again, the pinot arc is there, flavors continuing to grow, even glow long after the last sip. Licorice and beef appear, for the first time, at least thirty second later and remain for minutes more.

This is really good wine, even great wine. I am going to buy a whole lot more of it. You should, too. Then invite me over and share yours with me.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hannah Nicole Vineyards Cabernet Saugivnon 2003

85% Cabernet Sauvignon
15% Merlot
Contra Costa County
13.9% alcohol

From the bottle notes:

All great wines start in the vineyard... with great grapes. At Hannah Nicole Vineyards our goal is to produce 100% of the grapes used for our wine in our Brentwood, California Vineyards. By controlling the growing process we are assured that our wine is made from grapes grown to the highest standards. Our vineyards are pruned to allow no more than four tons of grapes per acre.This help us create the intense flavors and color that you will find in all of our wines. The warm Delta days and cool nights help the grapes mature in perfect balance. Once the grapes are ready for harvest, we handpick all of our grapes so that only the best grapes are used for our wine.

Our 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon is deep in color and complex with intense flavors of plum, black cherry, licorice and anise. Heavy tannins combine with new French Oak in this classic Cabernet Sauvignon. Produced from 85% Cabernet Suavignon and 15% Merlot and aged for 24 months in 40% New French Oak. Great with Lamb, Beef or Chocolate!

Night One

The first impression of the nose is that it is a little green. There is a touch of black currant, enough to say 'there's cabernet sauvignon in there,' but it is certainly not "intense." On the palate, too, green was the primary impression. Maybe it needs more time. Let's give it a night to sleep and see what happens tomorrow.

Night Two

The first impression on the nose tells you that the additional time helped. The first impression was of bruised plums, bruised apples and caramel. Stick your nose all the down into the glass, close your eyes and inhale deeply and richer odors come through, smells of coffee, black fruit and raisins.

The palate was still a little green, but not like Night One. Blackcurrant and plum skins led the attack. There was a real mid-palate as the black fruit morphed to dark cherries, cherry stones and unsweetened chocolate. Tannins are dry and strong, and not yet well-knit with the fruit. Tannins and fruit fight with each other rather than complementing each other.

This was far richer the second night but was still green and out of balance. It will improve, in my opinion, with some cellar time, but will never be great, or even particularly good. It will be competent but not much more.

Pegovino Cotes du Rhone Villages 2005

Cotes du Rhone Villages Controlee
13.5% alcohol
$15.99 in Indianapolis, Indiana

The Little Wooden guy can take this one or leave it. For five bucks less it is okay, for five bucks more a definite failure. At this point, he's just going to save his wooden nickels until something better comes along.

Night One

The nose of this was sweet with strawberry preserves and strong minerality. There was also a slight hint of lightly chlorinated pool water.

On the attack there was dry fruit forward, cranapple juice cocktail and wet stones, with wild strawberries and then sea salt added in the midpalate. The mouth feel was slightly thin, the finish short. Mild acidity and a complete dearth of tannins bode poorly for any sort of cellar life. This is a "drink now" wine, a fresh, fruity, mineral glass for an Indian Summer afternoon.

Night Two

There was no Night Two, because some friends came over on Night One. Sorry folks.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

2003 Pico Maccario Barbera d'Asti Berro

Pico Maccario
Barbera d'Asti
Alc. 12.5%
$16.98 in Indianapolis

Night One

The nose of this wine is dark and sweet. Black cherries, licorice and molasses are balanced out by a whiff of varnish over freshly sanded oak. On the palate, red fruits and high acidity, plus a bit of oak, offer an adequate but generic Barbera.

Night Two

This wine changed as much overnight as anything the Wooden Guys and I have had here at 2 Days per Bottle.

The nose was lighter, far lighter, exhibiting cherries and strawberries up front, then a clear but momentary hit of sweet birch beer in the back of the sinuses at the end. There was a more full mouth feel on the palate, only moderate acidity and no discernible tannins. Flavors were mulberry and cherries, followed by a light dusting of pumpkin pie spices.

For $16.98 I do not expect to be awed, but I do hope for far more backbone and structure than I found in this bottle.

2005 Domaine du Vieux Chêne Cuvée Friande

Domaine du Vieux Chêne
Cuvée Friande
80% Grenache, 20% Syrah
Southern Rhone- Vin de Pays de Vaucluse
Alc. 13.5%
$9.98 in Indianapolis

Do you see where the Little Wooden Guy is pointing? At the price tag, that's right. At a mere $9.98, this is a steal.

Night One

The nose was terrific, and intriguing. Cherries were there, and obvious. But it took a few seconds to identify the other smell. I finally figured it out- hazelnuts, like Frangelica liquor. There was also a very light scent of vanilla, but not overpowering in the least.

The attack on the palate was very pleasant, cherries and raspberries, licorice and leather. There was not much of a midpalate and the finish falls off quickly. But for $9.98, pretty darned good.

Night Two

There was no Night Two. I opened this during the Vice Presidential debate. I drank it all and it still wasn't enough to dull the pain in my brain.

Jepson Estate Red 2003

Jepson Vineyards
Alc. 14.5%
from the California Wine Club
approx. $10
Red Rhone blend

The Little Wooden guy appreciates a good QPR as much as the next guy. Is this great? No. Is it far better than most $10 bottles? Abso-friggin-lutely.

Night One

At first this was disappointing. The nose was sour and boring. However, after about 20 minutes it started to really come around. The nose was mostly red- cherries, strawberries, and cranberry juice. There were also some blueberries, cedar, and a distinct (and very pleasant) lingering after-scent of roses.

Cranberries were more obvious on the palate, with cherries and blueberries. The same rose and cedar were there, too. Tannins were soft, acid mild. Mouth feel was a bit thin and there wasn't much of a mid-palate. The finish was short, too. Basically, this was a good up-front quaffer that fell off quickly- about what you would expect at this price point. What makes it better, though, is the lovely combination of scents and flavors on the initial attack. Those distinguish this wine from most other similarly priced California blends.

Night Two

I did not take detailed notes on Night Two. There was no reason to. Simply stated, this fell down on Night Two. It was just, well, boring.

Conclusion? This is a competent reasonably-priced effort that will neither rock your world nor offend your senses.

Sanford Pinot Noir

Sanford Pinot Noir
Santa Rita Hills
Alc. 14.5%
$32.99 in Indianapolis

The Little Wooden Guy liked this. Too much California pinot strives to be something else these days, over-extracted over-oaked pinot monsters, exactly, in the Little Wooden Guy's humble opinion, what the delicate and wondrous pinot noir grape has to offer.

From the bottlenotes:

Sanford blazed a trail in Santa Barbara County more than 25 year ago, planting some of the first Pinot Noir in the Sta. Rita Hills appellation. This Terlato Family winery has produced a string of award-winning estate-bottled wines ever since. The 2006 Pinot Noir demonstrates what makes Sanford wines sought the world over. It has the breeding, complexity, and style found in all the great wines of the world.

Night One

The nose on Night One was delicious. The Little Wooden Guy and I spent 20 minutes just enjoying the aromas wafting from the glass before taking our first sips. It offered rich black cherries and the slightly hay and musty smell of dried strawberries. The fruit was well-complemented by white pepper, asian spice, and anise. Then, at the very back of the sinuses, at the end of a long, lingering inhalation, just a little tickle at the back of your head, came a hint of smoke and candied orange peel.

On the palate the black cherries took the lead, followed by ripe strawberries. The texture was very soft,, creamy, and there was a taste of english black tea heavy with cream, as well as a hint of holiday spice. There was a definite midpalate, cream, earth, and increased tartness as the strawberries morphed into raspberries. Tannins were smooth and sweet, acid bright, and a strong vein of minerality was there throughout. The finish, I am sorry to say, was rather bitter, apple seeds and almond skins. The bitterness cut right through the creamy fruity sweetness, creating a sense of disappointment after such promise. The finish alone kept this good wine from being great.

Night Two

There was not much change from Night One to Night Two. It was, perhaps, a bit darker on the nose, with slightly reduced acid. The only other change was that the orange peel was a bit more prevalent. On the palate, too, little change. I had hoped the bitterness would subside but, alas, it did not. At least, not much.

Conclusion? This is good wine. The bitterness might work better, or be better masked, with food. That said the finish truly kept this from being something I could enthusiastically recommend at its price point.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

2005 Stevenot Cabernet Sauvignon

The Wooden Guy was impressed. This wine came from California Wine Club. Through the Club it was a mere $15.99, a great price for any Cali cab.

Night One

The nose was complex, showing blackcurrant, menthol and cedar. On the palate it was equally interesting, opening with blackcurrant and cigar box, yielding to a midpalate of cranbery and vanilla, before finishing sweet with brown sugar and vanilla. Tannins were drying, a bit harsh, but this is a very new cab. Wait to Night Two to judge this part of the wine.

Night Two

The nose is much rounder and softer now, offering much fuller odors. The blackcurrant still leads, followed by vanilla and a touch of nutmeg.

On the palate the mouth feel is far more full, the flavors darker and richer. Blackcurrants and joined by stwed plums, with a midpalate of cedar and blackberries, then vanilla and a sweet brown sugar finish. Tannins softened considerably, with only a memory of leather, rather than strong lingering leather, on the finish.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Michel-Schlumberger Merlot Dry Creek Valley 2004

First, absolutely HUGE credit to Schlumberger for a very simple reason- they sent me wine in recycled paper packaging, not styrofoam. Do you have any idea how completely INSANE it makes me to see wineries that claim to be "organic," or "biodynamic," or at least "concerned about the environment," only to get bottles of wine packed in something that will last a grazillion years in a landfill? They will also be moving to soy-based ink. Credit where credit is due. Thank you Schlumberger.

What can I tell you? The Wooden Guys are torn. Michel Schlumberger and Schlumberger winery were incredibly kind to send out four bottles for a Live Twitter Tasting. On the other hand, we just have to give honest reviews. The wooden guys did not love any of the Schlumberger wines. The most complete notes are on the Merlot, below. We also tried the Chardonnay (way too woody and buttery- the wooden guys were not amused), the Cabernet (EXTREMELY tannic on Night one, with a hint of a scent I never got on the nose of a wine before- Tabasco), and the Syrah (by far the best of the bunch, a good wine, not overblown or jammy, terroir forward and well balanced. It showed significant improvement from Night One to Night Two, and is recommended).

here are my notes from Twitter on the Syrah, and Cabernet:


Nice nose- not Aussie fruit bomb, more terroir-driven.

some blackberry under the tannins, lots of leather to finish. New wine in a new leather wine skin.

the syrah is just starting to open now (after about an hour).

The syrah is coming into its own. Open nose, cherries & blueberries, vanilla, and an earthy touch of mackeral (it works). ... Mackeral? Tiny fishy smell in the background- rich, not foul. like adding anchovy paste for richness, not flavor.

Cabernet Sauvignon

2 Days per Bottle here, so I started last night. Mulberry jam & tobacco leaves, then ... wait for it .. Tobasco! Just for a second or two. On the palate, verry tannic, even bitter, with blackcurrants and violets hiding beneath.

Now, on to the Merlot:

Estate Bottled Wine
14.3% alcohol
Dry Creek Valley

From the bottlenotes:

Michel-Schlumberger established a name for its superbly structured Merlot in th early 19902, and this rendition caries that banner with aplomb. Blended with Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Carmanere, this long, spicy Merlot has a nicely etched profile that gives its lush fruit unusual finesse. The grapes for this wine come from several select vineyard parcels that grow in our small pocket canyon in western Dry Creek Valley.

Night One

Deep black cherries, vanilla, and a hint of toasted almonds on the nose.

There is a lot of red fruit on the palate, cherries and raspberries. It gets a bit more tart on the midpalate, then blends smoothly into mild soft tannins. The finish comes up a little short, falling off quickly, leaving some dry leather on the cheeks from tannins.

Night Two

Red cherries and some cassis, and a touch of balsam make up the nose. On the palate, tart cherries up front with some chocolate appearing on the midpalate. Tannins are smooth. Mouth feel is a little thin. The fruit, once again, dies quickly, leaving leather and not much else for the finish.