Sunday, July 26, 2009

Blind Tasting and Wine Dinner (of the Year?)

What makes a great wine dinner besides great wine and food? Great company, no need to drive, and lots of great wine and food! Maybe even awesome wines? Certainly! A few weeks back a friend and his wife generously decided it was time to raid the cellar and pop the corks of some of his best bottles he had collected over the years. Oh, and also make us a delicious dinner to boot! The theme for the tasting after dinner was generically “blind” for the four rock star red wines. We did not do a varietal or vintage specific tasting, so the wines varied greatly in hues of red, aroma and palate. Here is the list of wines:

Starter and Dinner Wines

NV Segura Viudas Cava Brut Reserva Heredad, Catalonia, Spain
NV Bollinger, Champagne, France
2000 Chapoutier Ermitage Blanc, Rhone, France
1997 Sassicaia, Tenuta San Guido, Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy
2004 Dry Creek Vineyards Late Harvest Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County

Blind Wines

1999 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cask 23, Stag’s Leap District, Napa Valley
1999 St. Clement Oroppas, St. Helena, Napa Valley
1994 Chateaux Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac, Bordeaux
2004 Begali Amarone, Veneto, Italy
2005 Chateau De Reignac, Bordeaux Superieur, France

Dinner Menu

1st Course:
* Goat Cheese and Spicy Apricot remoulade w/ NV Bollinger Champagne

2nd Course:
* Zucchini Pancakes w/ 2000 Chapoutier Ermitage Blanc

3rd Course:
* Italian Sausage Cassoulet w/ 1997 Sassicaia

4th Course:
* Chocolate brownie and ice cream w/ DCV 2004 Late Harvest Zinfandel

The tasting showdown was between all guests and we had a taste-off bracket that faced off two people head to head similar to a March Madness bracket pool. I faced off against my wife Lisa in the final and I prevailed nailing the SLWC Cask 23 and the Amarone. While she had picked those as opposites, I guess I am rubbing off on her as she made it to the finals, pretty impressive!

Dinner was exceptional and the wine pairings fit each dish perfectly. The 1996 Bollinger Champagne was a great match with the goat cheese and pepper apricot jam crostini. The Chapoutier white was by far one of the most unique and exceptional whites I have ever had, I had never tasted anything like it at this level. The Zucchini pancake was a great idea to pair with the wine. The sausage cassoulet was phenomenal; I had seconds it was so good. In fact the only thing better that night was the wine paired with it: the legendary Sassicaia from the exceptional 1997 vintage. Sassicaia is a wine produced by Tenuta San Guido in the Bolgheri region of Tuscany and was the first of what are called “Super Tuscan” wines. Super Tuscan wines are a blend of the locally grown Sangiovese grape that makes up a high majority of Chianti and Brunello, and Bordeaux varieties typically but not limited to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The last wine with dinner was an outstanding late harvest Zinfandel desert wine made from grapes that are left on the vine longer so they accumulate more sugar and are attributable to the wine’s sweetness.

Here are the tasting notes on the night’s top wines:

1997 Sassicaia, Tenuta San Guido, Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy
(85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc)

Color: Beautiful deep red and garnet edges, still retaining a youthful hue

Nose: Wonderful aromas of black and red fruits, just a touch of the oak comes through, outstanding purity.

Palate: Full bodied and stunningly smooth, the greatest “Super Tuscan” wine I have ever had. Up front you immediately notice the rich, yet supple palate entry of the red and black fruits. Mid-palate it kept expanding and ended with a nice and long clean, smooth flavorful finish. Supple tannins and acidity also linger on the finish.

1994 Chateaux Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac, Bordeaux, France

Color: On its way to maturity, the once deep hued red colors are just starting to lighten. Lighter red edges and a garnet center, classic claret.

Nose: Off the bat you can tell it’s a red Bordeaux. Hallmark smoky oak and crushed fall leaves; spicy cassis and currants mingle with the earthy aromas.

Palate: Lighter red and dark fruits mingle with the earth and some cigar/cedar flavors. Medium to full bodied. Good oak integration, fine tannins and juicy acidity finish off this classy First Growth Bordeaux.

1999 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cask 23, Stag’s Leap District, Napa Valley

Color: Deep ruby red edges, dark red core.

Nose: Herbal sage aromas blend nicely with black cherry and roasted coffee, some anise and cedar.

Palate: Full bodied, ripe flavors of black cherry, currants, and plums. Some herbal notes and espresso bean in the background - the flavors were coming in spades. This was wine #2 in popularity and I have been a big fan of this wine for years. Unfortunately, this is the last year I believe this wine was at its usually exceptional high quality. The last few vintages have been deemed inferior by critics as being older in style and commonly faulted with “bret” or “cork taint”, two common taints to a wine from man’s interaction in the wine making process. I have noticed a difference in quality, but I think this is mostly due to the fact that over the last 7 years or so the estate vineyards have gone through replanting. Some also say that they resisted the ultra-ripe levels of grape picking to stay with a traditional Bordeaux claret style, and not chase high wine critic scores. Though this 1999 wine is drinking astoundingly well right now so if you have any pop one open, you won’t be disappointed! A long finish and supple tannins rounded out this seamless wine.

2004 Begali Amarone, Veneto, Italy

Color: Almost black, practically brooding.

Nose: Unlike anything I had ever had the privilege to smell: earthy, leathery, spicy and maybe some tar

Palate: Monster tannins and concentration, massive body and structure. Big, black and concentrated fruits. Low acidity, but big tannins, high alcohol, almost menthol in a good way. I found it stunningly different, albeit a little tough to finish next to these other wines.

1999 St. Clement Oroppas, St. Helena, Napa Valley
(Napa Bordeaux Blend)

Color: Pretty dark as well for a 1999 Napa Valley Cabernet, red edges and dark red core

Nose: Pretty cedar and bing cherry aromas, a touch of vanilla from the oak, very classic Napa Cabernet Sauvignon

Palate: Delicious, albeit not as complex as the other wines. Rich cherry and plum mix with cedar, sweet tobacco and some vanilla from the toasty oak. Full bodied and easy going this wine was a nice accompaniment to the other wines in the blind format.

Some Notes on the Blind Tasting

The rules were simple. We all knew what wines were in the decanters ahead of time, but when they were served we had no clue as to which wine was which as they had no names or labels on the decanters. The two California Cabernet Sauvignon wines were similar in some stages, but the sage and herbal notes are hallmark SLWC Cabernet Sauvignon traits and a great hint for the blind tasting. Another Cask 23 hint was the silky smooth tannins which are a trait of Cabernet based wines from the Stag’s Leap District’s volcanic, well draining soils. The California Cabernet similarities tripped up a few people in the tasting scenarios, but can be expected since they were the two closest in style. The coffee bean and oak in the Cask 23 almost made me think Bordeaux and the Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, but it seemed too young knowing the Mouton was 5 years older and would probably have those aromas and flavors in a more subdued manner. I changed my answer last minute to Cask 23 from Mouton. The Amarone was obvious and I knew that one immediately knowing I have not ever had much Amarone. Black as ink and animal in style, the Amarone was a beast. The Cask 23 was outstanding, rich, layered and complex. I think that the oak was within reason but maybe compared to the Sassicaia not as well integrated, but this is a minor thing for this group of tasters, more attuned to American wines with more oak. The Mouton seemed to be a little shy and a little under-gunned. I think paired up against some of its other brethren from Bordeaux the Mouton would have showed better. Not that is was inferior in any way, just different as it was much more subtle. Though, it could also be in a closed stage as the notes in Cellar Tracker from other tasters also seem to say the wine seems a bit shy of late.

This past week I attended a small Bordeaux tasting from the 2004 vintage. Stay tuned for notes on this great event

Blind tasting is difficult, but a very fun way to learn more about wine without having too many preconceived notions as to what a wine is or was. It’s also a great way for one to build confidence in their palate. Embarrassment is common as it is not an easy task, but with some humility can be great fun!

Thank you the Antles for a this great wine tasting event!



Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Barrel 27
Central Coast
"Right Hand Man"

“Power to the (Wine) People”

Something we can all agree with these days, I’ll start this blog out with this Barrel 27's “Mission Statement”:

“We work. We work hard to make good wine. You work. You work hard and need good wine. You might have money, but maybe you’re like us. We make Barrel 27 wines for people like us. If you work, and we mean work hard, and you need to drink good wine, and still make your mortgage payments, car payments, kid payments and pet payments, we’re here for you. Our goal is to make wine that works hard at helping hard working America relax for a minute, take a load off, and remove the nose from the grindstone for a while. We hope you enjoy them.”

I could not agree more for about $15. It’s a few shillings more than what your true bargain hunter may splurge on, but for $15 it would be hard to find something finer in the form of Syrah from California. I think it drinks more like a $20-30 bottle – don’t tell the winemakers please! It’s all there: vibrant in color, a nose that jumps from the glass and a taste and finish that keeps you coming back for more. The characteristics are telling me that this wine was made from some dudes who know what they are doing with the grapes. In fact it is.

“Right Hand Man” Syrah is what we would call a “second” wine from a primary winemaker or winery. Russell From and McPrice “Mac” Myers, who both make their own central Californiacoast wines under their own labels (Herman Story and McPrice Myers respectively), got together to create this generous offering of well priced Syrah from Central Coast grapes.

Also commonly found with the RHM Syrah, Barrel 27 also crafts at this time “Rock and a Hard Place” Grenache and “High on the Hog” white – a Rhone styled white blend of three primary grapes: Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne.

Color: Dark red and purple center, solid red edges

Nose: Violets, tar, cherry, some pepper and smoky oak

Palate: Powerful. Black cherry, black raspberry fruit and vanilla dominate, some tar and spice accent the powerful structure and explosion of fruit. Big fruit and a spicy oak finish, some meat, and firm but supple tannins trail on to the end. Drink now 2011.



Wednesday, July 01, 2009

$12 -Barrandica Vineyards
Estate Wine Selections 2005
Mendoza, Argentina

Color: Dark red center and red edges

Nose: Lots of blueberry and chocolate, some flowers and earth

Palate: Oodles of ripe blueberry fruit and chocolate cake, a touch of minerality add a sense of place. Supple tannins add backbone and enhance the full on finish.

Back up the TRUCK and load up! This is a great wine and a great value.

50% Merlot
40% Cabernet Sauvignon
10% Malbec

A possible year end project of mine is to create or publish a year end value picks"Toms 20 Under 20" pamphlet, this is a contender!



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