Monday, March 29, 2010

Super Value Duo from California
2006 Zaca Mesa Syrah
2007 75 Wine Co. "The Sum"

Hello fellow wine readers and drinkers!  I have for you today two wines from California that I stumbled upon with the help of two of the leading wine publications in the industry today.  I had to try them for myself to see if the hype matched the stuff in the bottle before I was to publish them here on The Wine Forum.  The first wine is made by The 75 Wine Co. and called "The Sum".  This wine is made in an "affordable" style I am seeing more and more these days by blending Zinfandel with Syrah and Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon (think "The Prisoner").  The second wine was an exceptional expression of the Syrah grape from the Santa Ynez Valley, on the Central Coast of California.  

I was excited to try "The Sum" as it had received a nice review from the Wine Advocate of 90 points.  I also have found from the same producer the 75 Cabernet Sauvignon from Lake County a decent value so I had decent expectations for this wine.  I gave it an 89, but was thinking 86-87 the whole way, but thought more to the general wine drinking public that would find this more exciting than I and for the price merits a little better score than my initial assessment.  It was clearly a California made wine as you could taste the sunshine on the ripe and rich fruit, as well as the Petite Sirah (10%) that gave it more California flair.  The core is Cabernet Sauvignon at 75% of the blend and the remaining 15% Syrah.  All of the fruit is from Red Hills in Lake County, north of the Napa Valley and an up an coming wine region offering nicely priced wines with good quality.

The second wine, and more exciting to me, was from the Central Coast of California in the Santa Ynez Valley from the pioneer winery in that region: Zaca Mesa.  Zaca Mesa was founded in 1972 and first planted in 1973, eventually deciding on Rhone varietals as the optimal grapes to plan in their vineyard properties way back in the 1970's.   Many great wine-makers have worked the vines and wine making facility at Zaca Mesa including those of Ojai and Au Bon Climat.    The Zaca Mesa 2006 Syrah is made from 100% estate grown fruit from their original vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley.  You would think it has to be good, and cheap, as they have tended the vines and held the property for so long in American wine years.  Very fresh and natural flavors and aromas were apparent in this wine, and at this price made it even more exciting.  This has to be the value of the year and the best QPR I have had to date this year.

Tasting Notes

2006 Zaca Mesa Syrah
California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
100% Syrah

Color:  Purple red core with red edges
Nose & Palate: Spicy, peppery and fleshy. Currants and raspberry, some plum and meaty flavors. More medium bodied to full bodied. Not a fruit and oak bomb (like I was expecting). Very fresh, and racy style. Well done, I'd say blind this was new world, but from a cool climate and price in the mid- $30's. A definite re-buy of multiple bottles.

2007 75 Wine Co. "The Sum"
California, North Coast, Red Hills Lake County
75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Syrah, 10% Petite Sirah
I have seen a lot of this style of wine ala the Prisoner, Griffin, etc lately.  Not a bad thing per se, good concentration and stuffing for the money, good QPR.

Color: Red with some intense purple tinges
Nose & Palate:  Mixed bag of blueberry, blackberry and huckleberry. Savory and herbal spices combine with the lush fruit for a nice experience. Very in your face, yet restrained to not go too far as the wine retains acidity and supple tannins.
Good, easy, impressive drink...not a thinkers wine per se, but delicious and sure to please the masses.  Great price too at around $20!

Cheers and Enjoy,

P.S.  I have finished my tasting of Pinot Noir from New Zealand and will have an extensive blog with recommendations in all price categories and excelling Pinot Noir growing regions, especially those under $20, with a few over $20 and one insane steal at under $10.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tuesday Night's Wine Selection?
Champagne of course!
Perfectly paired with: Chile Pepper Striped Bass
(healthy to boot)

To think, on a Tuesday night we opened some Champagne for no reason and lightning did not strike us! Champagne in our society is a celebratory beverage. Many of us only have it 2, maybe 3 times a year and its always because of a special occasion. Why does it have to be that way? Well, it doesn't and I am here to tell you that! If I have to wait for another New Year's Eve, birthday, or anniversary to drink some bubbly I'd go nuts so we try to have a bottle on a random night once or twice a year. We also have quite a bit of it at Thanksgiving and Christmas, Walter Evick is the family Champagne bandit at Christmas time!

We typically buy our year's stock of bottles between Thanksgiving and the later December holidays when tastings are frequent and the savings quite nice. We tend to go for grower Champagnes, not the big name Champagnes that are all the buzz with rappers and others with too much money to know or care what to spend their money wisely on. (Though Cristal is some good stuff). Big Champagne houses are fine, especially for vintage cuvees, but do not offer the complexity and individuality a grower Champagne consistently offers for the same price. I consider the grower styles something more "home made".

Guy Larmandier and Benoit Lahaye are my favorites and we get a few of those each year and a few others that may impress our palates at tastings. The Larmandier is 100% Chardonnay, a Blanc de Blanc in nature but not in name as it does not state so on the label. The Benoit-Lahaye is mostly Pinot Noir (yes, that Sideways grape) and the rest Chardonnay, about an 80/20 blend. They make a great 1-2 punch and cover two different styles to match any occasion.

Tonight however we are having a bottle of wine from some good friends of ours, one of whom I am seeing tomorrow and immediately thought to open this wine. This is an extremely unique and special wine being that is made from the three permitted grape varieties allowed in Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, & the less often used Pinot Meunier. It even has a larger than normal proportion of Pinot Meunier at 45%, 35% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir.

Tasting Note:

N.V. Gaston Chiquet Champagne Tradition Brut Premier Cru 
(France, Champagne)

Color: Shimmering gold with green flecks, very nice
Nose: Mixed notes of biscuit, citrus, and slately minerals
Palate: Crisp and clean finish, the acid is razor sharp and clean. Crisp green apples, limes, lemon zest and some fresh brad notes fan nicely over the palate but finish a bit short.
Chile Pepper Striped Bass

A little salt sprinkled onto the fillets balances and enhances fiery flavors from the marinade. Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) has about one-fourth the sodium of dry breadcrumbs but offers the same satisfying crunch to sautéed fish.

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1 fillet and 1 lemon wedge)

- 1/4 cup finely chopped seeded Anaheim chile
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
- 5 teaspoons canola oil, divided
- 4 (6-ounce) striped bass fillets (about 1/2 inch thick)
- 2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
- 1/3 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
- 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 lemon wedges


1. Combine the first 3 ingredients and 2 teaspoons oil in a large zip-top plastic bag. Add fish to bag; seal and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

2. Remove fish from bag, discarding marinade. Brush chile off fish. Place egg whites in a shallow dish. Combine panko and rind in another shallow dish. Dip fish in egg white; dredge in panko mixture. Repeat procedure with remaining 3 fillets, egg white, and panko mixture. Sprinkle fillets evenly with salt.

3. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add fish to pan; sauté 3 minutes or until golden brown. Turn fish over; cook 4 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork or until desired degree of doneness. Serve with lemon wedges.

Nutritional Information

Calories: 230
Fat: 9.8g (sat 1.3g,mono 4.5g,poly 3g)
Protein: 29.8g
Carbohydrate: 3.8g
Fiber: 0.3g
Cholesterol: 131mg
Iron: 1.4mg
Sodium: 274mg
Calcium: 26mg

(Recipe thanks to Cooking Light)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Wines of Note - March 2010

Hello everyone, March is in full swing and after a nice week of weather we are again stuck with bad weather - perfect weather to write in!  This Wine Forum entry has no specific topic, but will focus on a few wines I have had the past few weeks that would be ideal for you to seek out.  A few of the pricier bottles would be ideal for a special occasion and the value priced wines are of course full of character for any occasion!

Lets start with the values coming from all parts of the world.  We'll start in Chile, where the recent devastating earthquake has caused havoc and left many producers in dire straights with broken equipment and lost inventories of older vintages.  Chile has a diverse set if micro-climates, allowing it to excel with a few different grape varietals.  Carmenere is the grape that Chile has decided to focus on, similar to Argentina and its famous Malbec.  Carmenere has yet to gain real traction globally so the verdict is still out, however success has been had with blending it into more popular Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon.  Today I have included a great Chardonnay from  Chile that is a pure expression of the grape.  This is the best Chardonnay I recall having for under $15 in a long time.  Also from South America, I have included a Cabernet and Malbec from the great Argentine winery Vina Cobos.  As many of you know by now I am a big fan of Paul Hobbs and he plays a great deal into making the wines of Vina Cobos.  

$14 - 2007 Errazuriz Chardonnay "Wild Ferment"
Chile, Aconcagua, Casablanca Valley

No butter bomb here!  Just pure Chardonnay with a hint of the oak aging.  The best Chardonnay under $15 today that I have encountered, ever.

Color:     A crisp gold with some green hues
Nose:     Apples, pears, limes, some honey, a touch of fresh vanilla.
Palate:   Well balanced, racy. The fruit, acid, and minimal barrel treatment are all seamlessly working together here to deliver a great value Chardonnay. Fresh apples and citrus glide over the palate with minerals and acidity cleaning up the finish.

$17 - 2007 Viña Cobos Cabernet Sauvignon Felino
Argentina, Mendoza

Solid QPR (Quality-Price-Ratio). This is not the first time Felino Cabernet has made it into The Wine Forum and not likely to be the last!  One of my top go-to value wines that drinks like its twice the price, Felino is one of our house wines when we can find it.  Felino is a big step up in quality from your standard $10-12 "cab", with a minimal price upgrade.  Try some out and you will be running back to the store for more!  Last year the 2007 was my #2 wine value of the year.  The 2008 from what I hear is just as good.

Color:   Claret like red core with ruby edges
Nose:    Lush currants and cherry, some mocha and spice
Palate:  Ripe black cherry and blackberry mix with chocolate, cigar wrapper spice, some licorice and cassis - great complexity at this price. Medium to full bodied, clean and full finish of fruit, spice and oak.

$16 - 2007 J.L. Chave,  Côtes du Rhône “Mon Coeur”
France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Côtes du Rhône

Exceptional CdR (Cotes du Rhone).  Classic garrigue and Provencial typicity - this is tasty stuff!  Last year this wine was my #1 value of the year in 2009.  2007 was an exceptional year in the Southern Rhone and it really shows in this wine.  If you wanted to lay these down to age, these would be ideal to do so for 5 years or so.  

Color:   Darker to purple/red hues.
Nose:    Garrigue, peppercorns and spice, crushed berries, some lavender peeks out after a while.
Palate:  Meaty, pepper, spice and crushed black fruits, delicious!

Next up we have the special occasion, deluxe, pricey, over $20 wines.  Call them what you will, these wines deliver profound character, terroir and most of all palate gratification!  Great for any occasion, though in this economy maybe best reserved for a special occasion!

$35 - 2006 Viña Cobos Malbec "Bramare" - 94 Points
Argentina, Mendoza, Lujan de Cuyo

I actually scored this one with points its so good!  We has this with a skirt steak marinated in Chimichurri sauce and the pairing was perfect.  The Lujan de Cuyo was reviewed last year and this wine is developing nicely, I 'd score this a point or two above the last bottle we had and you can read the review here.

Color: Red rim, dark red core.  I like my Bordeaux varietals wines red and not purple!

Nose & Palate: Complexity reigns: Lush and concentrated aromas of blackberry, violets, earth, iron, mocha and toasty creme brulee move on to the palate and coating all corners of the mouth. Excellent texture, viscosity and concentration, truly the best Malbec under $50 I have ever had. Velvety smooth tannins and the right amount of acidity. Super-long finish from the bonanza of flavors and concentration.

I feel Paul's style of winemaking suits these wines really well.  His hand is a great match with the outstanding fruit they get out of their vineyards, weather from the Lujan de Coyo or the Vina Cobos Esate.

This is an immediate re-buy, even by the case at this price. The Bramare Lujan Malbec is a treasure that will last a good 8-10 years if you can hold out that long!

$50 - 2006 Justin Vineyard Isosceles
USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles

We had this over two days and I could not have been happier with this wine.  Rich, plush and oh so California in style, the Justin Isosceles is an extremely enjoyable, well made wine.  Justin Vineyards & Winery is a premiere, and large, producer from the Paso Robles region in Central California.  Across they board they make quality wines with their access to some of the best vineyards on the Central Coast of California.  The Isosceles is a blend of red grapes and is the flagship wine in the Justin portfolio. Here is the technical composition: 

86% Cabernet Sauvignon
9% Cabernet France
5% Merlot 

Color:    Deep red with velvety red edges, almost vibrant
Nose:    Creme de cassis, cherries, caramel
Palate:  Currants, cherry, ripe raspberry, and mocha mix with generous oak.  Smooth and supple tannins finish and loads of fruit complete the finish!

$30 - 2006 Jean-Michel Guillon Gevrey-Chambertin White Burgundy
France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Gevrey-Chambertin  

Unlike any Chardonnay I have every had.  Chardonnay rarely, if ever, is sourced from Gevrey-Chambertin (GC).  However, being from GC this is sort of what I expected for a White Burgundy from Gevrey-Chambertin.  Classy and crazy complex.  This baby white burg was way too young and should settle down in 2 years or so, shedding some baby fat and revealing more complexity.

Color:    Classy gold with green flecks.
Nose:     Aromas of cut flowers, slate like minerality, fresh lemon and orange peel zest.
Palate:   Laser like acidity, great delineation of flavor, structure and complexity.  Medium bodied.  This was very tough to unfold the flavors of this superbly complex white Burg.  Up front this is giving lots of minerality and fresh sweet cut grass, not in a green way.  Citrus and some apple take the mid palate by storm, then ever so slightly turn more exotic on the finish with star fruit, with more zesty apple and pear.  Given a few more years, the fruits will set a little better and mellow.  Right now I am not loving it integration, but in 2 years or so this should be doing just fine.  Powerful, complex, rich and very age-worthy red wine (Pinot Noir)  is what the GC is known for so it is of no surprise this wine needs to decant, or better yet wait 2-3 years to drink optimally.

$100 - 2000 Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino Cerretalto
Italy, Tuscany, Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino

The Cerretalto was exceptional, powerful, showing great structure and concentration. This took about 1 to almost 2 hours to open optimally.  This is another wine I feel was opened a little too early and would show better with another 5 years or so of age. 
Brunello di Montalcino is one of the great wines of Italy.  After the Super Tuscan and Chianti Classico wines this is the most sought after wine from Tuscany.  To me I think it is the greatest wine from Tuscany for its originality and tradition (which has been questioned a lot lately by the authorities).  Always made from 100% Sangiovese Grosso grapes, and fermented in large oak staves and foudres, or in barriques like we see in modern wineries, the wines made from Sangiovese Grosso are long lived and expensive.  Most Brunello average $50-75 in price, but can be found if you search deep enough at $35-50.   The “Reserva” bottling can cost even more, from $65-300 depending on who the producer is.  The Cerretalto  is considered to be the “Reserva” from Casanova di Neri as the wine is only produced in the greatest of years where some production is so good it is reserved for separate bottling.  The Cerretalto spends 2 years in French oak barriques and 18 months in the bottle before it is released. 

Color:   Youthful dark core, ruby red edges
Nose:    Tarry flowers, tobacco, and dark fruits, cherries
Palate:  Great mouth feel, tannins prevalent but not overbearing. Chocolate appears on the palate with the cherry, tar and tobacco. A long finish of earth, cherry and leather. Nice acidity.

This could easily go another 10-15 years no problem, though I’d probably enjoy it more with only 10.

Well, that is all for now everyone.  Enjoy and keep an eye out for a special report on New Zealand Pinot Noir coming as soon as I can rip into those wines!


Wednesday, March 03, 2010

"Value" Cabernet Blend from Napa Valley

2007 StellaGrey Napa Valley Red Wine

For our first blog of March 2010 at The Wine Forum I decided to put a few words you never usually read (or hear) in the same sentence:  "Value", "Napa", "Cabernet".  The 2007 Stella Grey Napa Valley red wine has become a main stay in our purchases over the last year and will continue to be based on the 2007 example we have here.  This is our third bottle of this wine and the best one to date.  Rich, plush, with plenty of structure and acidity, this wine has great balance to please the most demanding new world palate, and age for a few years.  But at this price why bother laying it down?

The great wines of Napa valley seem to be surviving through the recession pretty well for the most part.  I am on many mailing lists and buy from many different producers in Napa and Sonoma each year.  This year has been a focus on 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and last year was primarily Pinot Noir from 2007.  I have seen and passed on many more lists this year for some really pricey stuff (Harlan), no doubt a result of the recession naturally pricing people out.  Others I could not pass up (Screaming Eagle, took 7 years!) and have made good use of these hard to come by allocations.  But overall I am buying from the same people that I have in the past (Paul Hobbs) and sampling from new ones (Keplinger) to see how their wines match up with my tastes.  I really appreciate the personal level that many wineries have always had (Herman Story) and continue to maintain with their customers.  This really sets the California vintners apart from the rest of the wine world.  If you are curious as to who is worth checking out in 2007, drop me a line and I can tell you what I am looking at in 2007.  Who is on my radar and who I have already secured bottles of?  A future blog is planned to answer these questions, but am trying to keep value the focus for now.

The Wine

More of a kitchen sink than I thought it to be, this wine is anchored by the main Bordeaux varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot:  48%Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 15% Syrah, 10% Petite Syrah, and the rest Malbec, Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc. 

The notes

Even better the 3rd time around.  This is showing better than the last 2 bottles we had.  A fun wine, that is ready to drink now but even better with 30 minutes of air.  What a value at $19! 

Color: Deep velvety red/purple core with brighter edges.

Nose: Mocha, black cherry, and some pencil lead.

Palate: Oodles of concentrated ripe cherries and chocolate continue to fan out on the palate. Some sage and cedar accent the primary flavors. The acid on this wine is great and refreshing. The tannins add further structure and depth to the wine's texture.



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