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.