Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Saga of the Never Ending Search for Value Pinot Noir....from anywhere!  

I rarely post a story about a wine I do not like on The Wine Forum.  However, I feel that I end up here most of the time when researching a value Pinot Noir.  I get the feeling that many of you readers out there end up here as well when value hunting, especially for a Pinot Noir.  Many of us wine geeks are on a never ending search for anything of value or new, even Pinot Noir for under $15 or $20.   There are gems we discover all the time, and for sure they are out there, but none are as elusive as the fickle Pinot Noir.

This past week I thought I found one from Carneros of all places, for $10.99.  Now, of course one has to be leery at this price, so I did my research and it turns out this was a recession special and super slashed from the $15-20 range.  This has all the right pieces to make it a great value.  A reputable Pinot Noir winemaker and fruit from the Carneros region which happens to be one of the best sources for Pinot Noir fruit in California.   

Recession Specials

I have had some great $17-25 wines; but are those really values if that is there regular price?  I think not as your average wine drinker is probably spending in these tough recessionary times $10-15 or less.  Recent surveys have revealed that wine purchases overall are up, but only in wines under $15.  The current over $40 bottle of wine market is getting crushed and only getting worse for the 2004-2006 wines.  Exceptional vintages from California 2007, Rhone 2007, Bordeaux 2008 and 2009, and Burgundy 2009 are coming to market and attracting all of the new money away from the current wines in the supply chain considered mediocre vintages.  Keep an eye out for great deals on premium 2004-2006 wines from some of the best regions in the world.  I have heard many, many people state the opinion they are waiting on spending and going "all in" for Napa Valley Cabernet in 2007 and Bordeaux 2009.  I also happen to be one of those people.  

Sad to say this wine did not deliver and I would not recommend it.  My tasting notes are immediately below.  For Pinot Noir, I have nothing to recommend at this price point, but there are plenty of Italian reds, Malbec and Cabernet that deliver much more for your money at this price.

Tasting Notes:  

Not bad for $11, but very out of balance. There was some true Pinot flavor peeking out of the aromas and flavors but overall it was very disjointed. Great entry, decent mid palate, but between the mid-palate and the finish the wine spiked in acidity in a bad way, then finished fruity and then flat. Just not a seamless product.

Color: Purple red, with brick edges (brick is not a good sign for a 4 year old wine)

Nose & Palate: Strawberry, damp earth, straw-hay like aromas and flavors initiate the start to this wine, some cherry comes into the fray on the palate. The mid-palate starts to climb, and then it all goes bad...the flavors disappear, the acidity abruptly spikes and the finish comes in with some fruit, but it's rather flat and dull. That acidity spike was tempered with some food (salmon), but I do not recommend this wine. The search for value Pinot continues!

If anyone has some great recommendations for fellow readers for Pinot Noir values please post in the comments guys!  This is a forum after all!


Sunday, February 21, 2010

BUYER BEWARE - Smoke Taint in Wine - WARNING

I wanted to give everyone a heads up on the next wave of 2008 wines coming out of Northern California, particularly Pinot Noir.  If you are not a wine geek or in the wine business you probably do not know this but much of the Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast, minimal parts of the Russian River and most of Anderson Valley in Mendocino County in 2008 contain obvious amounts of "smoke taint".  Many vineyards were in the path of some serious fires and the smoke from those fires engulfed vineyards in some cases for 10 days.  Right now the 2007 Bordeaux varietals are entering the market and are outstanding so buy away on 2007.  Napa has had its best year in 2007 since 1997 for Cabernet Sauvignon based wines.  2007 was great for Pinot Noir, but most of those were released last year and the new wave of Pinot Noir this year are the 2008s and may be in big trouble.

At first most thought all was fine.  The fruit came in smelling and tasting "smoke free".  The problem was that the taint did not appear physically until after fermentation of the wine from juice.  Research later found that the smoke taint is initially absorbed into the vine's system through the leaves, not the roots or the grape itself as many has suspected.  The worst possible time for smoke to be absorbed in a grape vine is during verasion since that is when the berries expand the most and take in the most nutrients from the vine's leaves (sunlight) and roots (water & nutrients).  Ash from the fires on the grape clusters does not affect the quality of the grapes either.  These fires occurred in July, at the end of or in the middle of verasion for many vines.  At the point of picking, sorting and crushing, the only way one can know if there is smoke taint in the grape is to run a laboratory test to check for a few of the trace compounds that cause smoke taint.

This happened in Australia two years ago and wreaked havoc on those wines.  Australia was the first modern experimentation on how to get the smoke taint out of wine.  However, from my research I feel that the wine glut in Australia caused most of the "smoke taint" problem to go by the wayside as everyone from the government to growers say there is too much wine already in Australia.  I have read recently the government is asking grape growers to uproot vines as there is just too much wine and not enough demand from customers.  The glut is damaging the image of Australian wine.  I guess the train of thought there was who needs more wine, let alone smoke tainted wine?  In the end they were not able to find an adequate solution and many just declassified the worst stuff and sold it off on the bulk market.  The best results came from reverse osmosis, but that also takes out other components inherent in wine and ultimately change more than what the process is intended to do.  It is also thought that varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot are less susceptible to smoke taint than Pinot Noir, which is a vacuum for the terroir it resides in.  Sangiovese is thought to be very susceptible to smoke taint as well, but not much of that is grown in the regions most effected by forest fire smoke, let alone in all of California.

In Sonoma no one is for sure what to expect, but early results seem to point in a few directions so do your research and be careful.  Some experimentation has made the smoke problem worse or entirely stripped the wine of not only the smoke, but the fruit and other delicate nuances hard filtering can strip from a wine.  The professional verdict is still out as many critics have yet to release significant tasting notes for any of the 2008 California Pinot Noir wines from Northern California.  Robert Parker's Wine Advocate will release its scores this week on the most recent wines of Sonoma County, which will include many 2008 Pinot Noir.  It is thought many of the better names in the business will declassify the worst of the tainted wines and sell them off to the bulk wine market for sale as innocuous $7-10 bottles.  Be careful, a new label in 2008 at a rock bottom price may not be the best thing to reach for.  If you must, buy one and see how you like it and if the coast is clear of smoke taint, back up the truck.

Last Friday I was at a wine bar and saw a 2008 Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast.  Since the smoke taint issue was such a big story of late I had to try it for myself.  I asked to try the Hirsch Vineyards "Bohans-Dillon" 2008 Pinot Noir.  From the first whiff, it smelled like a BBQ pit in the middle of a July heat wave.  Obnoxious aromas of smoke and burnt cedar wafted from the glass with what little fruit was left in the wine.  The palate was a little better, not as offensive as the bbq-bouquet!

This is just a warning.  Not all Pinot Noir from California in 2008 is tainted with flavors and aromas of smoke.  DO YOUR RESEARCH before you buy any Pinot Noir from 2008 from Northern California, especially Mendocino and the Sonoma Coast.  Unless you like your wine to overtly smell like smoke, wood and barbecue, this is a vintage to pass on or at the most be extremely selective.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Wine News & Updates, 2007 Robert Foley Griffin, Wine Notes of Interest

Recently I have been preoccupied with enhancing The Wine Forum from a simple blog to a real website with more features for you to learn and experience more about wine.  I am not tech-savvy so it's been a work in progress just to understand what I can reasonably do and who to work with in achieving this goal.  I have a layout and idea of what I want it to look like, but no theme yet to work out of Wordpress.  I even bought a url from Go Daddy.   I just finished drawing up a prototype of the main page, now all I need is a logo.  For the logo I am trying to go simple, yet powerful: utilitarian.  Ideally the logo would be easy to recognize and work easily in the website or marketing materials.  The log could be the symbol of the wine enterprise I am ultimately planning to assemble to provide my later years of life with enjoyment and of course employment.  That is a big work in progress however.  For now I am just a student, collector, drinker, teacher and consultant....oh and for the time being also a web designer.   

Before we get to the wines, I have some great news I'd like to share.   Recently friends of mine put me up for auction to raise money for a good cause.  I agreed to do a wine tasting for a group of people to raise money for the Manhattan School for Children.   It turns out the folks at MSC took it to the next level, they teamed me up with a professional cook and we will be creating a wine and food pairing for a party of 8.  The bidding was fierce and the item was able to raise a nice sum of money for the great kids and faculty at MSC.  I will be repeating this same donation for another friend of mine and their children's school the Park Avenue Synagogue.  Auctions are such a great idea to raise money for the schools and I am so happy that I am able to make a difference in children's lives.  

I have not been attending any wine events besides the wine bar stop last week at Vintry so I only have some notes to share with you at this time and a great value wine from one of my favorite winemakers Bob Foley of Robert Foley Vineyards.  The Wine Forum will be getting an upgrade this year, but in the meantime we will all have to make due with this site.  

Tasting Notes  

2007 Robert Foley Griffin - about $30
Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District
43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Petite Sirah, 22% Merlot

The Griffin is made by Robert Foley, or simply Bob as he is known by his many loyal fans and many peers in the wine business.   For me this is my first serious Bordeaux varietal bottle of 2007 Napa Valley wine.  It is a little young to drink this now, but I have plenty of these on their sides so I do not feel bad opening one of these on the early side.  If you too can't hold back the temptation, decant for maybe 30 minutes or pour slowly from the bottle.  

I tasted through all of Bob's 2007 wines this past December when we were in Napa on a quick weekend getaway.  I bought a few wines of all that he makes except the Petite Sirah, and went deep on the Griffin.   After tasting the 2007 Foley Merlot the first thing I uttered to complete agreement with the Foley people showing and pouring for us was "Man Bob is so damn good with Merlot!"  The Griffin as no slouch and at $32 list from the winery a great deal as you get a lot in the bottle at this price.   It is the all around is the all around value out if the Foley portfolio.  

This style of wine is all the rage right now, mixing Zinfandel or in this case Petite Sirah with Cabernet and Merlot.  The Prisoner comes to mind as a popular wine in this category, though I think this one is a little more to my taste as Bob makes the Cabernet and Merlot the focus of the wine.  As I mentioned earlier, Bob makes a great Merlot.  So good I would dare say he also probably makes in my opinion the best Merlot year in and year out for his winery Robert Foley Vineyards, as well as in the past for Pride and currently Hourglass and Switchback Ridge, two blockbuster "cult" wines.  

Rock sold wine for the money.  Great QPR from Napa. Youthful, needs time but with air this is drinking great right now.
Color: Dark, seductive rich hues of red and purples flashes
Nose: Some vanilla, blackberry and flowers, and some mocha powder
Palate: Medium to full bodied. Creme de cassis, blackberry, black cherry, tea, and tobacco create a complex palate, while fresh acidity and semi-firm tannins balance the wine nicely.  Secondary flavors of cake batter and spice appear later.  Awesome stuff!

2001 Del Dotto Cabernet Sauvignon Connoisseurs' Missouri American Oak 27 Month - $ not available
Napa Valley, Rutherford

A little woody for my taste these days, but not bad overall and still hanging in there. If it were only the normal 18-22 months of oak for a Cabernet Varietal, this would probably show a little better as the fruit is hanging in there still, even with 27 months on wood!
Color: Purple with some red, ruby edges.
Nose: Big nose of fruit and oak you can smell a few paces away...great wine to sniff and analyze
Palate: Blackberry, cherry and spicy currants. Some cedar and acid finish the wine...finish tapers off a little and is dampened by the oak.

2008 Herman Story Tomboy - about $30
California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
84% Viognier, 7% Marsanne, 7% Roussane

Awesome, Russell From's best white Rhone yet.
Color: Dark, orange gold and deep.
Nose: Lychee and sweet flowers, spice and minerality.
Palate: Orange blossom, lychee, citrus oil, flowers and a great mineral streak. I love white Rhones because they always have that EXTRA texture...oily and sometimes waxy, this has both with great overall balance. Well done!

2003 Viña Almaviva S.A. Almaviva - $65-100
Chile, Central Valley, Maipo Valley, Puente Alto
Cabernet Sauvignon: 73%, Carmenère: 24%, Cabernet Franc: 3%

18 Months French Oak

Very complex, very young still. A delicious and fun, thought provoking wine. Almaviva was great from the pop of the cork, but even better and more complex 30 minutes later with some airtime.

Color: Dark maroon core, purple tinge to the red edges
Nose & Palate: Complex aromas of flowers, graphite, raspberry and currants, tobacco, and coffee bean. Black raspberry and currant fruit continue on, great minerality, some sweet cigar tobacco. Big, but balanced tannins and acidity with this cornucopia of aromas and flavors.  Wonderful wine!

2001 Whitehall Lane Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve - 
Leonardini Vineyard, St. Helena, Napa Valley
Morisoli Vineyard, Rutherford, Napa Valley

95% Cabernet Sauvignon,  5% Petite Verdot

Drinking superbly right now. Great fruit, tannins and acidity all in balance.  Recently I had a 2001 from a different producer recently and it was not doing well so I wanted to try another from a different producer.  2001 is doing just fine in this case.
Color: Deep red core with red edges.
Nose: Blackberry and bing cherry, a touch of toasty oak and pencil shavings
Palate: Solid from start to finish. Coffee, crushed summer cherries, some of those shavings and spice. Medium to full bodied, supple tannins excellent Napa Cabernet! Fresh long finish.Drank a 2001 Napa Cabernet from another very reputable producer last night that I expected big things, it could not touch this.


Saturday, February 06, 2010

Vintry Wine & Whiskey
57 Stone Street (Downtown)
New York, NY

     Yesterday after work I decided a Guinness would not cut it.  Who would not want to check out a bar that focus' on the two greatest forms of alcohol known to man: Wine & Whiskey?  Nestled on the usually over-crowded strip of bars and restaurants on Stone Street, the latest wine bar I was to visit stands out quietly from its sudsy, martini drenched neighbors.  Six years ago on the whole island of Manhattan there were maybe ten wine bars or so, seriously!  Annoyingly a few of those even called themselves bars but were more like restaurants than an actual wine bar.  Now, they are almost like Starbucks and around every corner.  Many tend to be average at best pouring average wines.  Though, through all of the clutter a dozen or so are here to stay as they satisfy not only the most demanding palates, but also the curious novice and everything in between with solid wine choices and superior customer service. Vintry Wine & Whiskey is one of those that delivers, and in spades I might add.

     Behind the yellow front door and velvet entry curtain to Vintry, lies a comfortably lit bar room with dark woods and metal fixtures: think steakhouse meets elegant cocktail bar.   Six or so high rectangular tables with stools intersect the wall on the left, opposite the bar and the kitchen.  These 6 person tasting tables are great, allowing a group of friends or new friends to share and talk about what they are drinking and plot their next pour.  The seating is comfortable leather cushioned ergonomic stools.   Recession or not, each table was full and the bar was crowded.  We were able to score half of one of the group tables in the back, right next to the wine vault.

     The list of wines available by the pour reaches to an astonishing 85 varied and well picked selections from around the world, with a focus on France.  California, Italy and Spain are well represented as well.  Vintry also has a deep cellar of wines available by the bottle that hold treasures such as an 1870 Chateau Lafite Rothschild magnum.  There are also pages, upon pages of Bourbons, Scotch, and anything else classified as  Whiskey.  If you can think of it, they probably have it.  Pappy Van Winkle 23 year old Bourbon?  Check.  Lagavulin 16 year old Scotch?  Check, and they also have the rare 15 year old Distiller's edition.  The Whiskey comes served in a small pitcher, empty tumbler, with "sides" such as perfectly clear and square rock hard ice and a small pitcher of ice.  Whiskey purists may not need such things, but I believe it is a nice touch and not surprising considering the excellent service I received and surveyed during my visit.  I did not have any of the food, but they definitely have some creative options to pair with the lengthy wine list. Our fabulous server, Jen, mentioned a few favorites like the lobster stuffed mushrooms, and I was close to ordering the marinated olives listed among 20 or so food options.

     The wines are safely stored and displayed behind the bar in the Napa technology WineStation devices.  These are fancy, sleek and modern electronic wine dispensers used to preserve wines while they are served by the short pour or glass.  A few wine stores and wine bars have these and the Enomatic wine dispensers which first arrived on the scene 5 years ago from Italy.  I love these machines because they are usually only used to preserve great wines and show the care the establishment has in preserving their best wines.  Where else would you have a 1983 Chateau Latour First Growth Bordeaux lay idle as it is served by the 2 or 5 ounce pour?  Fret not, there are plenty more options priced much more reasonably on the list, such my #1 top ten value wines for 2009: the 2007 JL Chave "Mon Couer" Cotes du Rhone.  All of the wines available by the pour are also available in a full glass or by the bottle.

     The next time you are downtown in the Financial District and have a hankering for some whiskey or wine, make sure you keep Vintry in mind as they have a superior array of options for wine and whiskey, and deliver it with a superior high class experience.

Here are a few of the wines I had last night.

2007 J.L. Chave Mon Coeur, Cotes du Rhone
- Delivers the usual deliciousness and goodness in style.  Provencial herbs, black and red berries and little hint of that French country garrigue jump from the glass and coat the palate. Grenache & Syrah from a standout 2007 vintage.

2005 Gevrey-Chambertin, Vincent Girardin Vielles Veines, Burgundy (Pinot Noir)
- SEAMless, PURE, great acid, smidge of tannin, strawberry, a little sweet cranberry, super minerality and earth here. Terroir driven wine!  Front to back what great Red Burgundy is all about.

2004 Shrader Cellars "Experimental Lot" Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, CA
Big pinot noir cali nose, oak, sassafras, strawberry-rhubarb, good acid content on the finish considering the weighty attack up front.  Nice experiment, but a little disjointed as the mid-palate seems like it has a hole in it.  It gaps in-between the big fruit up front and the acid driven finish.  Not a bad first experiment from this expert in Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley.  Good terroir notes of that earthy, spicy, a touch feral Sonoma Coast.  Just needs to be better integrated.

2006 Orin Swift, Papillon, Bordeaux Blend

65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 4% Petite Verdot, 2% Malbec, 2% Cabernet Franc

From the maker of the famous "The Prisoner" blend.  Aromas of sweet oak, currants, blackberry.
Great texture, supple tannins and nice acidity, squeaky clean.  Nicely done finish of black cherry fruit.  What I would expect based on the Prisoner.

QUESTION:  What are some of your favorite wine bars in New York or where you live?  It would be great to share your knowledge and experience with fellow Wine Forum readers.


Monday, February 01, 2010

Williamsburg Winery - 2007 Adagio Release Party

Patsy’s Restaurant, NYC, 1/19/2010

Wine is alive and well and being made at an exceptional level on the east coast in the state of Virginia. The wines from Virginia have been making great strides of late, having recently been selected for White House State Dinners. At the head of the pack is the Williamsburg Winery and its eclectic mix of traditional and unique grapes and wines well suited to the terroir Virginia. In fact Virginia has a similar temperate zone to that of Bordeaux, France.

The gracious Duffeler family started the Williamsburg Winery almost 25 years ago, having started the operation in 1985 and releasing its first wine in 1988. I was lucky enough to sit with the Duffeler family that night and got to know them and the Williamsburg Winery. The Duffeler’s are a well traveled, well versed, friendly and warm family. Patrick and Patrick II welcomed us to their table and discussed the tough aspects and the glamorous side of owning and operating a winery. It’s not all beautiful scenery and drinking fine wines, a lot of work goes into the marketing and selling aspects. There are plenty of beautiful moments I am sure, but being a winery that is not from Napa in the United States is not an easy proposition. Making wine is a capital intense business with large overhead costs. Sales require a winery in this day of the ever smarter wine consumer, a will of iron to hit the road and pitch their product. Tonight not one wine, but two from the Williamsburg Winery, can be proud of itself to be able to contend with some of the best wines offered in the United States.

The Party

The Adagio Launch Party was a great affair with many industry and media guests, such as the eponymous, and surprisingly exuberant Kevin Zraly. Mr. Zraly is best known for his wine education classes and best selling book “Windows on the World”. Mr. Zraly kicked things off with a monologue for the night full of zingers and one offs to keep the crowd rallied and fresh. Having read many of his past books and articles, I was surprised to hear him delivering a speech studded with jokes like a comedian. Make no joke about it, he knew his stuff, but the delivery was refreshing. It was a great treat and I look forward to meeting with him again soon as our paths cross in the wine biz. We enjoyed a 4 course dinner which Sal, the executive chef of Patsy’sNew York City, created to pair specifically with the Williamsburg Winery wines. in Patsy’s also happened to be Frank Sinatra’s favorite dinner spot back in the day and is adorned with pictures of stars from yesteryear. The food was spot on, top notch New York. I recommend anyone visiting to come by for a real taste of New York Italian food and a little bit of Rat Pack nostalgia.

Back to the Wine

Adagio, in Italian known as “ad agio” in English means 'at ease'. Adagio is also a musical term indicating the tempo of a composition that is meant to be slow and stately. It is from these philosophies that this wine is named in honor of Adagio’s extraordinary depth, elegance and grace.

The winery’s website describes the wine as follows:

“Balance is the focus of this Merlot, Petite Verdot, and Cabernet Franc blend. The fruit, oak, tannins and alcohol all come together delightfully. An initial hint of black cherries progresses into more mature dark fruits such as figs and dates. Mixed in with the fruit is a lovely note of fresh cocoa, along with a bit of soy and eucalyptus. Earthiness and minerality blend agreeably with the fruit. The tannins are firm but approachable and contribute to a wine that will age gracefully over many years.”

I agree with most of those sentiments and have a few of my own to add from that night’s festivities. But before we do that, I wanted to mention this was the best wine we had that night and recommend anyone that likes their wines big, but with a touch of elegance and European flair to place their orders. I had a few similarities with winemaker Matt Meyer’s notes.

Dark in color, purple black core with purple/red edges. Very complex nose of currants, plum sauce and black cherry, some earth and a touch of oak folds in adding further depth. These aromas flow down to the palate expressing extra notes of delicious mocha and chocolate, more black cherry and finishes with firm tannins. Decant for sure, at least an hour. This is made to last, 10-15 years easy. 40% Merlot, 40% Petit Verdot, 20% Cabernet Franc.

Wine #2: Trianon

“Trianon is our Virginia Cabernet Franc. Rich and full-bodied, with a superb balance of red berries and darker fruit of cherries, figs and blackberries. This wine will age gracefully for many years.”

The winery explains this one well, but I have a few other notes from my tasting. While to me the best Cabernet Francs from California often fall short, there are few that I enjoy and buy consistently. Trianon however makes a great compromise combining some of the best characteristics from Chinon (Loire Valley, France) and California. You get some of the pepper, earth and minerality like in a Chinon and from the new world you get lush, juicy red fruit and concentration. Bravo, well done! 75% Cabernet Franc, 25% mixed parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Merlot.

Matt Meyer is a talented and congenial wine maker. We discussed a few things the wine regions of Virginia have that make them unique. One of those being that Virginia's climate is similar to Europe, especially that of Bordeaux. I have driven through part of Virginia and have thought to myself that some of these regions, with just a little bit longer of a growing season than New York, could do well with growing grapes. The problem on our coast is the humid and hot nights. In California it is a drier climate, with much cooler nights which help develop and maintain a wine’s acidity. I also have to mention that the first great American wine connoisseur, Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd President of the United States, hailed from Virginia and made it his job to import the best wines from Europe to enjoy at Monticello, his historic mansion home now an oft visited museum. Jefferson also tried to grow grapes of his own to make his own Monticello wine but failed miserably. At least he tried, and today I am sure he would be proud sampling wines from such Virginia wineries like Williamsburg Winery.



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