Sunday, July 29, 2007

Avalon - Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa Valley – 2005 - $12.99

One day on a walk home from work I stopped in a small local grocer looking for a cheap bottle of white wine to cook with. I knew they had (and still do by the way) a decent selection of wines so I would probably find what I need. I found what I needed up front near the register (a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc for $3.99) but as I usually do when I go anywhere that has wine, a compulsion inside me draws me to peruse the aisles for any under-priced gems or rare bottles. One in particular I found to be one of my best buys in a while and want to share it with you. That bottle was the Avalon Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2005 vintage and it only cost me $12.99

“Unlike wines from the Culinary Industrial Complex, Avalon wines are original and uncut. Our wines reflect the true essence of Cabernet Sauvignon without pretense, hang-ups or apathy.”

So says the quote from the website extolling the virtues of Avalon Winery. He is the long short of this winery. The business man behind the wine, Derek Benham, started the Blackstone label (famous for their Merlot) right when Merlot hit its stride in the 90’s here in the US. He later sold it 7 vintages into its genesis. The winemaker, Alex Cose, was a banker for six years and must have made a killing or burned out as he left the banking business behind to seek out his dream to make wine. After a few small jobs at some reputable wineries he landed at Joseph Phelps and later the eponymous Peter Michael, quite possibly one the best wineries in California. The website ( references many quotes from legendary writers and musicians, as well as to comparing the wine industry and their wines to the entertainment industry (mostly movies and music).

The wine was consumed over two days. The first day we did not decant and upon first taste I deemed it was unnecessary as it had superseded my expectations. It had the hallmark full flavored California fruit, nicely fine grained tannins and ample acidity to balance out the fruit. Classic aromas of cassis, cherry and oak rose from the glass. The palate was fresh cherries and cocoa with an herbal note on the back and the finish. Clean and pure, the wine finished off with those supple tannins and acidity. The second day the wine was even better. It added a few more layers of complexity. Blackberry and plum now mixed with the cherry, oak and herbal aromas and flavors. The cocoa turned into dark, rich chocolate. Sadly we only had about a glass and a half left. Most wines in this price category turn bad after a day being opened. I used no gas to preserve the wine. Just a bottle stopper (clamp style) and the refrigerator! Simply amazing!

Were not done yet! The fruit is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon (I would guess about 85-95%) from Rutherford and Oakville (excellent sub-appellations in the Napa Valley – Hello! Paul Hobbs, Schrader, Provenance, Plumpjack, Cakebread, BV, Mondavi Reserve, Opus One, Silver Oak, Rudd, Screaming Eagle are Oakville/Rutherford sourced Cabernet) ) with the addition of a minute portion of Syrah. This is great considering most people cut their Cabernet with Merlot. You just don’t find many wines of this pedigree and quality for under $20, let alone under $15! I will be buying a case VERY soon! There is also a “California Cabernet” and I will be trying to source some over the next few weeks and will blog it if it turns out to be as good a deal as the Napa Valley bottling. This will be my house red for the foreseeable future!


Monday, July 16, 2007

Graff Hardegg - Veltlinsky - Gruner Veltliner 2005 $9.99 - 11.99

In a first for my wine blog, today's wine is a Gruner Veltliner. Fresh on the scene here in the US, "Gruner" hails from the great country of Austria (one of the countries my family hails from). Not exactly the place that people think of when they are thinking wine, Gruners were brought about in the US marketplace by the demand for certain types of wines to pair with the Asian fusion culinary explosion in the last 10 years. Fresh and clean, these wines deliver varietal distinction with their hallmark white pepper notes, spicy mouth feel, and refreshing acidity. If you took a Sauvignon Blanc, removed the grassy and gooseberry notes and swapped them for white pepper and spice, you have Gruner Veltliner. If you ask me though, a proper Gruner has too much white pepper and in most cases is too spicy for spicy Asian cuisine. To me a Chenin Blanc, Riesling Kabinett, or a Gew├╝rztraminer are ideal with Thai, Chinese, and Japanese (CB especially with sushi) cuisine. I think minimally enhanced seafood (some butter, some garlic) and raw oysters are best with a Gruner.

If you are seriously thinking of getting into these wines, they have a very accessible price point. The most expensive in recent vintages are only about $75 from what the recent wine shop I visited had for sale (Crush Wine & Spirits – NYC), with many great bottles priced around $20. Wachau seems to be to Austria and Gruner what Napa is like to California Cabernet. Try other, less known regions to the marketplace and buyers such as such as Kremstal and Kamptal for ideal varietal character and great price points. Some say the soils in the latter two make for better Gruners, that’s up to you to decide for yourself.

Today's meal was a spinach salad with zebra tomatoes and my own balsamic vinaigrette, broccolini in olive oil and roasted garlic, and pork tenderloin marinated in olive oil, garlic and herbs. Not exactly what I would pair with a Gruner, or anything else specific, but the pairing worked well because of the refreshing acidity natural to a well made Gruner Veltliner. Now on to the wine!

This wine is a blend of different vineyards in Austria by the winemaker Graff Hardegg. Veltlinsky is considered Hardegg’s value wine and interesting enough is bottled in a Bordeaux style bottle and not the traditional Riesling style (long, cone shaped and skinny). The wine is straw yellow in color. Aromas of flowers and blossoms dominate a nose also containing spicy granny smith apple notes. On the palate, the acidity and peppery spiciness abound. Fresh citrus fruits round out the palate. The finish is white pepper, lime and that fresh acidity. This is a great all around wine perfect with food! Grab a dozen oysters, some mignonette, and drink up!

NON WHITE DRINKERS: If you "don't drink white", please know that wine is about what tastes good and pairs well with food. Not what color wine is and what people think of you when you have a certain color wine in your glass. If you care about that, do you really have any preferences of your own? I love cabs, merlot, pinot and syrah like any other wine geek, but not really in the summer when its 95 degrees and I am looking for something refreshing. By all means drink what you like. Heck, I have red with a lot of foods like fish that normally people would say only white wine will do on a 100 degree day. It happens, but not many times.
Please keep an open mind!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

"Think Pink": Rose from Provence, Domaine Tempier

Rose wines are hotter than ever this year. I know, I know, every year you hear it but it never seems to actually be that prevalent. Not this year! I have been to quite a few wine shops around the NYC area and have noticed "pink" displays in the windows and at the ends of many shops' aisles highlighting this great style of wine from so many different areas. The most popular and world renowned Rose is from France. The benchmark for roses, are those from Provence. Spain, Italy, the US, South America and Australia are prominent pink purveyors as well.

Now, let’s just make one thing clear - "traditional" Rose wine is NOT SWEET. New world version may have a little more upfront fruit, but they lack any residual sugar that makes any wine sweet. Old world Provencal Rose is bone dry with floral, herbal and fruit aromas, framed by refreshing acidity. A good Rose has qualities of both a red and white wine. It will have body and texture like a red and the bracing and refreshing acidity of a white wine. Flavors are wide ranging from both sides of the wine color spectrum, red and white, as well as flavors found only in a rose.

This is NOT white zinfandel, the adult "Kool-Aid" concocted by the folks at Sutter Home which gets its sweetness from the residual sugar in the wine. Residual sugar is the leftover sugar not fermented during the process of making the wine and not removed - yes that's right, they don't ferment it fully. One more thing, it also has less alcohol for what that's worth as less sugar is converted to alcohol. There is nothing wrong with saying you once had it; many have had it as a bridge to wine from beer and spirits. So long as you eventually learned about the rest of the world of wine, its ok, not everyone can start out with Mouton Rothschild! Let’s face it, Americans are raised on sweet sugary sodas, juices, and milk with dinner from birth. It’s only natural as you move away from that as a young adult you are inclined to be more familiar with a sweeter wine, it’s more palatable and bridges the soda to wine a lot easier. Maybe that's the reason for the explosion in super-ripe wines in this country as wine consumption is at an all time high? Enough of that for now, that will take a whole other blog to go through. Onto the feature winery and wines.

Domaine Tempier ( located in Bandol (AOC), which is in Provence between Marseilles and Toulon on the Mediterranean, is the modern day benchmark for premium rose wine. Bandol has made wine for centuries, but started to really hit its stride in the mid-20th century when pioneers like Lucien Peyraud championed Mourvedre wines. Lucien married Lucie Tempier and together in 1940 took over at Domaine Tempier and made it into the modern version we know today. Most wines at this estate are made of the grape Mourvedre. In fact red wines with the name Bandol on the label by law must contain 50% Mourvedre in the blend. Therefore, all of the rouge or red wines from this estate and others in Bandol are more than half Mourvedre, with Cinsault, Syrah and Grenache some of the remaining components. The more Mourvedre, the better the Bandol wine is thought to be. The amazing thing about the Mourvedre grape is it is unique from any other red grape in that it has a natural compound that resists oxidation. Tempier wines can age for 50 plus years, some well over 100 years. It’s not uncommon to have a 30 year old Tempier Rose and the wine is in a perfect stage of growth, many times much livelier than one would think a rose of this age would be.

Domain Tempier Rose 2005 $32

Pink and copper in color. Creamy and spicy aromas abound in the wines bouquet. Surprisingly lighter acidity than I would have thought. Rounder and creamier with cherry and fig flavors. The fig was at first odd as I was not expecting it and never had tasted anything like that. It took a while to pin that flavor down, but man it was worth it. The mouth feel was viscous and complex; you knew you had a wine of structure and flavor. The finish was supple and smooth, with refreshing red fruits, spice and a little honey/waxy feel from that fig. The wine is a blend of Mourvedre, Grenache, Cinsault and Carignane.

Domain Tempier Rose 2006 $32

Deeper in pink with a copper hue, the 2006 was just as excellent. The acidity was a little more prevalent, but nothing you would notice without thinking about it - quite refreshing. The nose was creamy but had more red fruit like strawberry and a touch of spice. Red fruits like cherry and strawberry filled the mouth. The finish was a little flashier than the 2005 with spice and red fruits. Also a blend of Mourvedre, Grenache, Cinsault and Carignane.

Pick up a rose this summer and you won't regret it! Many Rose can be had for $10-15!

"Think Pink!"

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