Wednesday, May 30, 2007

2005 Henry's Drive Shiraz Dead Letter Office

Price - $22-30 (the average is about $25)

Day 1 – Dark and brooding black in color framed in deep red – not much purple here. Aromas of dark ripe berries, sweet oak, and mint jump from the glass. In the mouth the wine fans out with layers of dark chocolate, blackberry, oak and mint. Unctuous and concentrated with a solid tannic base, the wine soars with flavor and texture. The finish is bold and sure; fruit, tannin and that Aussie accessibility make for a wonderful experience

Day 2 – Just as dark and red, raspberry and blackberry, subtle notes of cocoa, oak and mint (still!) make up the nose. More complex flavors develop after a day of blackberry and raspberry, tobacco, spicy oak, dark chocolate and mint. The tannin still remains and is even a little more obvious (good sign) as well as more acidity as the fruit from Day 1 has relaxed in its expression. A wonderful, more precise finish evolves on day 2.

Blend - The 2005 Dead Letter is a blend of 98% Shiraz and 2% cabernet sauvignon.

Food - Perfect with lamb chops, ribs or even a filet mignon, though I had it with lamb on night 2 and it was excellent. I am sure some mint and reduced sugar to the marinade or as a sauce would make the pair that much better given the mint notes in the wine.

The Dead Letter Shiraz is made by the folks at Henry’s Drive, makers of full throttle Shiraz and cabernet from Padthaway and McClaren Vale. The Dead Letter is relatively new as the 2005 is only the second vintage of this wine. I have had a few vintages of the reserve and the regular HD Shiraz and they have always been excellent wines that have impressed me each time. Depth, concentration and 100% Aussie define this wine.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

2001 Mount Eden Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Estate

The 2001 Mount Eden Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains ($25-30) shows Bordeaux like aromas of smoky oak, cassis and lead pencil. On the palate the oak structure and tannins surround a core of cherry and cassis fruits with a hint of sage and a dollop of vanilla. The excellent tannin structure is supple and refined. Long finish of smoky fruit and toasty oak. Well made and one of the better Cabernets from a consistent producer from California. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, and 3% Cabernet Franc.

I first had Mount Eden about 7 years ago when I lived in San Francisco. Immediately I was struck by what a great wine this was for such a weak vintage (1998). I visited the Santa Cruz Mountain Wineries last spring but never made it to Mount Eden because they were not open on the weekends to visitors. I did however make it to the renowned Ridge Vineyard run by the legendary Paul Draper and to Bonny Doon Vineyard, known for their eclectic artwork on the labels as well as the founding father of the Rhone Rangers Randall Grahm.

Mount Eden Vineyards is located on a 2,000-foot peak in the Santa Cruz Mountain Range about 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean in Saratoga, California. Founded in 1942 by Martin Ray, Mount Eden was one of the first wineries to focus on small lots of single varietal Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon at a time when most of California was making jug wines. Martin ray was a pioneer in the likes of AndrĂ© Tchelistcheff (Beaulieu Vineyards or “BV”) and John Daniel Jr. (Inglenook, Coppola and now Rubicon Estate). Mount Eden claims their “…lineage of estate bottled Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is the longest in California”.

Since 1981 Jeffrey Patterson has guided the winemaking and grape growing at Mount Eden. His emphasis is on wine growing rather than winemaking. He lets the grapes make the wine and tries not to intervene.

The Chardonnay and Cabernet are well distributed. The Pinot Noir may take a little effort to hunt down.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Delectus Petite Sirah Spring Mountain 2002 - $40-50

Dark, rich and extracted, the Delectus Petite Sirah is a big wine. The color is almost black with purple at the edges. The nose reveals blackberry fruit, smoky aromas, and slight coffee notes. The mouth feel is surprisingly lighter than expected because of its almost black appearance; though make no mistake it is still plenty endowed with tannin and rich flavor. Blackberry, plum, loads of dark chocolate, and some coffee flavors standout and are framed by the firm tannins. Finish is a bit tannic, but that’s a petite sirah!

Petite Sirah, originally a French variety known as Durif, is just that, a small grape that makes a tannic wine because the juice to skin ratio is higher than most grapes. The more the juice has contact with the skins when fermenting, the more tannin the wine will develop. Petite Sirah IS NOT the same as Syrah. They are not related in any way. The vines for this vineyard were first planted in 1911 and are the oldest in the Napa Valley. Miniscule fruit is harvested from the vines, about .7 tons/acre. Harvest is not easy either as these vines are on steep cliffs and require special harvesting equipment and patience to pick.

Delectus is s small production winery I first heard of 2 years ago when reading about new wines in a Wine Spectator advance release publication previewing some upcoming scores to be published in the next month’s issue. I had decided to check them out on a visit to Napa and was welcomed and treated to lots of friendly smiles, excellent wines, and a large tasting planned. Gerhard Reisacher is not your typical California winemaker. He's an eighth-generation winemaker who grew up in a small wine village south of Vienna in Austria. We met Gerhard, his parents who were in for the crush that fall to assist and see their family, his wife and children and their loyal dogs.

We tasted the following that day:
2001, 2002 and then from tank the 2003 Petite Sirah.
2001 and 2002 Stanton Cabernet (Oakville)
2001 and 2002 Beckstoffer Merlot
2002 Syrah Mt. George (south of the SLD in Napa)

Delectus makes 2 premium bottlings: the Sacrashe (Rutherford) Cabernet Sauvignon (which is what caught my attention originally) and the Cuvee Julia named after the Reisacher’s daughter. The Cuvee Julia is the top of the line bottle from Delectus. I was a member of the Delectus Wine Club for over a year and a half and enjoyed all of the wines I have received. I highly recommend their wines and suggest their wine club if you like red wines, especially from California.

Seghesio "Old Vine" Zinfandel Sonoma County 2003 $30

Tonight with dinner Lisa and I opened a bottle of Seghesio “Old Vine” Zinfandel from the 2003 vintage ($26-35 – we paid $27). We had planned to have BBQ ribs and pulled pork for dinner and thought what better style wine than Zinfandel to go with dinner. Red Zinfandel (not the pink stuff) pairs well with BBQ foods because the acidity in the wine pairs well with the vinegar base in the marinade and sauces of BBQ food. The tannins match up with the meat and the spicy fruit matches perfectly with the overall heat and spiciness of the food.

The “Old Vine” was great right out of the bottle and did not need any decanting. The nose was full of licorice, cherry, spicy oak and a subtle hint of flowers (violets). On the palate the wine explodes with spicy blackberry, raspberry, and black cherry. The fruit mingles nicely with the oak from the barrels the wine was aged in before bottling, lending structure (tannin) and spiciness to the wine. Overall it was well balanced, albeit on a high level with vibrant acidity, noticeable tannins, and ample fruit. There is an abundance of alcohol at 15.2%, but surprisingly without the heat.

The Seghesio story starts when Edoardo moved to Sonoma from the Piedmont region of Italy in the late 1800’s. Rich in tradition, Edoardo took with him his heritage and knowledge of growing grapes and making wine to California. He started a family and settled in the Dry Creek Valley just west of Healdsburg. Four generations later, the Seghesio family still runs one of the most successful and longest running wineries in California. They make a variety of excellent and well received Red Zinfandels, as well as other Italian varietals such as Sangiovese (Chianti), Arneis, Barbera, and Pinot Grigio. A few times a year I will have the entry level Zinfandel, the Sonoma County bottling ($15-20) and is one of my favorite go to Zinfandels. The Cortina is another of their bottlings I have had and is also excellent. It’s great to know that of the 5 Red Zinfandels they make, they are all distinctly different.

The oldest of these “Old Vines” were planted in 1895 and together average 90 years in age. The Seghesio family owns many of the oldest vines in California. Old vines bear less fruit than your average 10-20 year old vine. But, with that age you get more complex and distinct fruit than the younger vines can produce. This is because all of the nutrients are focused to fewer grape bunches, thus concentrating the flavors and characteristics into those fewer grape bunches. Old vine Zinfandels are not too common but can be found with a little effort.


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