06 March 2008

cascina luisin maggiur nebbiolo 2001

Arguably the best way to drink wine made from one of the greatest grapes, Nebbiolo, is to find a few fine but affordable bottles from the Langhe region in Italy. Nebbiolo comes in many forms from Barolos and Barberescos to Gattinara. Barolos are notoriously hard to get your hands on for less than $50 but the rare couple I've tried left me wishing I had something approaching real money. But then you find yourself driving around Suffern, NY looking for a hand-crafted toy store, and since you are lost already, pull in (opposite said missing toy store) to a wine shop to kill time and maybe ask directions. I walked out with my recent best value wines including a $10 bottle that is the best $10 wine I've ever had and a couple great bottles for $20, this one included.

With blackberry, chocolate, and walnut on the palette you can already imagine the juicy brilliant acid mouth feel. Even throwing loads of sediment in the first pour, this Nebbiolo managed to remain light and smooth. I simply LOVE this wine. I'm headed back to find a couple more bottles just as soon as I can rationalize a drive across the Hudson river. This wine makes you beg for food to go with it. I'm still salivating. Ok look, I can't say enough about this bottle, just find a bottle, buy it, drink it, love it.

28 February 2008

termes tinta de toro 2005

This is a wine from famed Jorge Ordonez (Numanthia) made from ungrafted thirty year-old Tinta de Toro (otherwise known as Tempranillo) grapes. This region of space somehow managed to avoid being hit by the great phylloxera wine plague, most likely because of the inhospitable sandy soils. I tried this as an experiment with a lower value wine from Numanthia. I can't say I fell in love. The taste, as you might expect from a region in Spain that is still catching up with modern winemaking, was, yes, a little different. The tannins were pronounced and bone dry. From the deep purple black licorice juice color and the significant tannins I'd say these grapes has some hefty time with their skins. The fruit was plummy with dark chocolate and black raspberry notes. I always like trying something new but this is one I'll won't return to soon. Even though this is not ever going to be a favorite wine of mine, it is certainly good for a surprise at a wine tasting party.

20 February 2008

la spinona barbaresco 2000

Color: Sedimented red leather, thinner at the edges

Nose: Hints of old leather and prunes

Taste: Toasted pear, service berry, prune, very dry but still managed to be bright. The tannins were pleasant and 30 minutes of an open bottle helped the flavors open up considerably. This is a mellow wine which translates to very drinkable. Having no real punch makes this wine decidedly not California in style. In fact, it is so subtle that my wife and I had to carefully toss back and forth flavor profiles until we got it right. This wine does not bowl you over with any one aspect except its smoothness and subtlety. The age on it is graceful. It's certainly a wine to drinks with friends and conversation, but not a conversation wine. You might not even remember this wine when the bottle is finished, but you'll remember that the wine was good enough and the price was right.

Price: $20

Alcohol: 13.5%

25 January 2008

the belgians: kwak and tripel karmeliet

The Belgians: I have been into good beer for a long while now but haven't shared any of my favorites in this space simply because I am lax enough as it is posting the wine reviews. And yet, I've found so many good beers in the last year or two that I've got to start mentioning them. There's no mistaking my passion for wine, but recently I've begun scouring every bodega, grocery store, and gourmet deli in search of a new, as yet untried, bottle of Belgian Beer. Arguable the best beer in the world, these beers are the closest to wine that beer gets.

The other night I opened a bottle of Tripel Karmeliet (three grains) that Keely said approached Champagne (though for a real Champagne/Beer approximation, I'll probably have to find a bottle of Deus). With a beautiful amber color, a nose of apricot and nutmeg, and a bubbly, hoppy light body, I was in beer heaven. The bubbles never stopped streaming up from the bottom. The creamy head eventually led Keely and I to agree that this was a beer milkshake. So far, one of my favorites.

The Kwak was completely different. A more brown styled beer, where the peach and cinnamon flavors made for a pleasant smooth taste. It was a little sweet and very rich. Good, but not my favorite.

Both of these beers come from the same Bosteels Brewery but the styles are far from similar. Bosteels has been making beer for over 200 years and 7 generations. That's one of the things I love about the Belgian beers, they have such great history.

Depending on whether they are single, double, or tripled distilled (like many trappist ales: the monks like the alcohol, oh yeah), the alcohol content can really range. Both of these bottles came in around 8% alcohol, but they make them up in the teens, which is the same percentage as wine. One reason I started drinking the Belgians, beyond their gorgeous flavors (and bottles), is that Keely drinks far less wine now that she is pregnant and that means I do to. It's hard to finish a bottle alone and I'm picky about leaving a bottle open for days, even with my nitrous spray. Belgian beer to the rescue. Lower alcohol means I can finish a 750ml bottle alone over the course of dinner and an evening. My winter nights seem to get better and better the more Belgians I sample.

Sometime I'll find time to post on the Belgians sampled so far. But the list remains short as I've only found one place, Hercules deli in the West Village of NYC, that is a real beer coinnoseurs stop. Hercules will tell you that he brought the first Belgian beer to the U.S. He may be right. He's been selling specialty beers since before I was born. But I don't get to his little shop very often. So, I buy whatever Whole Foods brings in new from week to week, and check every other grocery I can, buying anything new. I haven't even tried enough to be picky. Right now it is anything new. So far I've tried La Chouffe, McChouffe, Corsondonk, Duvel, Delirium Tremens, Westmalle double and triple, and others I can't think of at the moment. I've got a stack more at home waiting for the right night and I'll update as soon as crack one open.

23 January 2008

michele chiarlo barbera d'asti 2005

Barbera d'Asti is produced in 118 communes in the province of Asti and in 50 in the province of Alessandria (part of the large Piedmont region of Italy). The wine is generally an intense ruby red when young, with a tendency to garnet with aging. It can be vinous and intense in odor and either dry or slightly sweet and full-bodied; with some minor aging, the flavor becomes fuller, more balanced and appealing.

Taste: This particular Barbera d'Asti was bright with superb acidity and relatively balanced fruit. Made from 100% Barbera, it showed a few rough edges, but still light tannins. It was a little closed but it's meant to be a young drinking wine (though many Piedmont wines are not). Piedmont wines like this Barbera d'Asti are so wonderful when fresh from a good maker. I just aerated it a bunch while tasting.

This is no small estate lot though. Michele Chiarlo produces 42,000 cases of this and for an excellent price. This is the best $10 bottle I've found in years. And with so many cases produced, you can find it, if not at your local wine shop, then online. I was pleasantly surprised overall. The flavor profile had some peppery notes with a predominance of tart unripe cherries. I also couldn't help noticing a Jolly Rancher grape flavor after the second glass. Oh well. After my first glass I took the rest over to our neighbors Mike and Rene to share the find. Now we have a light bodied inexpensive wine to stock up on.

Color: Ripe cherry juice

Nose: Fresh and lively, though no pronounced aromas.

Alcohol: 13%

Price: $10

Wine Spectator gave it 86 points and had this to say: "Plum skin and cherry aromas follow through to a medium-bodied palate, with good fruit and a citrus and strawberry aftertaste. Drink now."

20 January 2008

hendry zinfandel 2001

Hendry is a small estate that manages to produce quite a range of wines. However, the Block 28 Zinfandel is made from just over 4 acres, so you can imagine that this wine is not found everywhere. Only 1300 cases or so produced.

Taste: A peppery bite made itself noticed on the back of the palate though overall this wine is layered with red fruit, hints of strawberry and cherry. The tannins were round, with pronounced acidity. A little smoky and meaty with excellent legs. I expected it to taste more aged. In fact, I opened it because I wasn't sure if I had held on to this bottle too long. I've had it in my collection for nearly 5 years and I'm only beginning to have reliable wine storage. I originally bought it because my good friend Andrea fell in love with it and made me pick up a bottle. For some reason it made it's way towards the back of the wine cabinet. But this wine came through better than fine. It didn't taste as fresh as it might have a couple years earlier, but very pleasant and distinctive Zinfandel.

Robert Parker gave this vintage 90 points and had this to say when he tasted it in 2003: "Earthy aromatic profile includes a concoction of red and black fruits, animal fur, roasted herbs, and meat. The interesting, possibly controversial bouquet is followed by a big, deep, rich, full-bodied, seriously endowed Zinfandel that is loaded with glycerin, alcohol, and fruit. Drink it over the next 5-6 years. An outstanding wine of exceptional complexity and character."

Color: Full bodied burgundy red with just a bit of thinning on the edges, but no yellowing yet.

Nose: Subdued cherry notes and deep earth.

Alcohol: 15.1%

Price: $35

14 January 2008

dutton-goldfield syrah 2003

Color: Pomegranate, dense with good clarity

Nose: Blueberry, black raspberry and strong floral notes. Luscious but not overpowering.

Taste: This is a big, fruit forward Syrah. A strong blue flavor of blueberry with hints of raspberry, cinnamon, and tobacco. Very round supple tannins and pleasing acidity. A pleasant wine from this single vineyard Russian River Valley winery. Dutton-Goldfield only recently began harvesting Syrah from Cherry Ridge in 2000. This Syrah is aged in French oak for 19 months which works well for the structure and complexity of the wine.

Alcohol: 13.8%

Price: $35

12 January 2008

A little bit of white

Regardless of the distant time between posts, I still drink my share of wine. In this first post of the new year I simply want to highlight a few affordable imminently quafable whites.

Currently at the top of my list are New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs from Marlborough. I've yet to have one I didn't like. Which means that I usually don't bother paying more than $20. This one from WhiteHaven always hits the spot and comes in around $16. Typically this is that perfect summer drink. But I personally enjoy these whites year round. The WhiteHaven has characteristics green flavors of cut grass and crisp lemon tartness. I drink it very cold.

This summer I visited the small town of Santenay in the Bourgogne of France. I did bring back a number of Burgundies, even one Santenay, but this isn't one of them. I bought this bottle because the 2005 I brought back is not ready to drink yet. And, this bottle is more affordable, even though it is a Premier Cru. Very nice.

The next couple bottle are definitely ones I recommend more for summer drinking. Gewurztraminer and Gruner Vetliner are both very light bodied grapes. They make the kind of wine you want cold on a hot day. I remember opening these on some of the last hot days of early fall. You can find them at incredible affordable prices if you shop around.

This bottle of Gruner Veltliner just below is sometimes as cheap as $9 for a full liter instead of the standard 750ml bottle. Gruner is a great picnic wine. Light, crisp, and fun. I try to keep them around for summer parties. It's the kind of wine to open when you were considering a beer but want something a little lighter and refreshing. In my experience it often has a lower alcohol content as well.

This Gobelsburger is a little more expensive. If I remember correctly it runs in the $13-15 range and is also very tasty and light.

This last white is not as cheap as the rest but comes from a large Sonoma county winery, Chateau St. Jean. I visited this winery a number of years ago and was not overly impressed by all the wines. But a couple stood out. I bought a rare Sonoma Malbec that was very pleasant from the reserve tasting room. This Chardonnay was also decent but certainly in the California style. Full bodied and buttery smooth. Pleasant for sure.

11 December 2007

ch. sociando-mallet bordeaux 1993

The Sociando-Mallet vineyard and chateau sits right on the Gironde river, in St.-Seurin de Cadourne, basically just north of the well known town of St Estephe. The vineyard is planted on a gravel croupe that slopes from the estate. Bottled at the chateau in Haut-Medoc, this Bordeaux showed excellence from start to finish.

It's such a treat for me to drink an older bottle now and then. It's not often I drink a wine made before 2000 since my budget doesn't really accommodate older wine and my small collection is still relatively young. To keep it short, this is the best bottle of wine I've had in a long time, at least since I was tasting Burgundy from the barrel in France this summer (I will eventually get to that hefty post). This wine is made from 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Franc, all which get their time in French oak after maceration. It's then bottled unfiltered and unfined.

Color: Garnet with thin, browning edges. Beautiful.

Nose: Distinct exciting nose, earthy with mushrooms and moss over a bed of blueberry fruit.

Taste: The wine offers loads of character and is very approachable with low acidity. Rich with spicy but tasty fruit, the texture and round tannins are pleasurable from the front to the back of the palate. Very enjoyable with blueberry and red fruit abounding though the earthy notes are layered and pronounced. This is an excellent value for Bordeaux and drinking beautifully right now. I'm going to try to buy another bottle from Dodd's, my local store with good French selections, as soon as I can.

Alcohol: 12.5%

Price: I think I paid about $34 but you can find this at auctions for over $100. Maybe I ought to buy more than one from now on.

24 November 2007

schug heritage reserve pinot noir 2002

I first had a glass of Schug at a wine bar in the West Village called Turks and Frogs. I used to frequent this great spot run by two Turkish brothers who have done quite well for themselves with another location in Tribeca recently opened. They have a decent wine list, but this was a few years ago just after they opened the wine bar, formerly a Turkish antiques store. Then, Schug was the most expensive wine sold by the glass. I think I paid $12 for a glass once. Anyway, I obviously liked it because I visited the winery in Carneros to see what was the best wine they made. Turns out, at least for my taste, this bottle is the best they make. The Pinot Noir Reserve. I let it sit around for a couple years because in the end I was not impressed with the wines from Schug. I thought some age might help it. They are certainly nice, but not amazing. Given that I waited until this wine was 5 years old to drink it, you'd think there was a chance that it would have gone past it's prime. But it was like I remembered.

Color: Ruby red with a little age showing on the edges where it thinned out

Nose: Big fresh nose of ripe red fruit

Taste: The light body lacked density of flavor. Round tannins, light of course, with good acidity. The ripe cherry fruit was balanced with pepper and licorice. Not terribly complex. Overall, not a great value for the price point. I did enjoy the wine, but would have rather paid less.

Alcohol: 14%

Price: $35