Thursday, December 31, 2009

Roasted Rack of Lamb w/Balsamic Demi-Glace

Sometimes making a really elegant dinner entrée is really pretty simple and easy. I first had this at a local restaurant and then perfected my imitation of it over time in my kitchen at home. This delicious rack of lamb recipe doesn’t take a lot of work and will really impress your guests. It also doesn’t hurt that it pairs really nicely with some great red wines! My favorite for this recipe is a nice Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but it would also go well with other Rhone reds, a Bordeaux, or a well balanced Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux style blend from California or Washington. Here’s what you will need:

· 4 racks of lamb Frenched (all fat cleaned off bones and fat trimmed from the meat itself). Your butcher will do this for you.
· 3 tbs. olive oil
· Sea or Kosher salt
· Fresh ground pepper
· 3 oz of demi-glace base (I’m a fan of Demi-Glace Gold but any good French style demi-glace base will do, or if you want to really work hard and be authentic you can make your own).
· 2 tbs. balsamic vinegar
· 1 tbs. honey
· 1 tsp. sugar
· 4 oz. of Chevre cheese crumbled

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large shallow saucepan add 3 oz of demi-glace base and 2 cups of water and stir together over medium heat until the demi-glace completely blends into the water. Once blended, add balsamic vinegar, honey, and sugar to your base and cook over medium heat for about 15 to 20 minutes until the sauce thickens. This step can be done up to a day ahead and you can cover and refrigerate it and reheat when necessary.

Put a light coating of kosher salt and fresh ground pepper on all the racks of lamb. Spread oil evenly throughout a large stove-top safe roasting pan and brown the lamb over medium high heat on two burners of your stovetop until its browned all around – about 3 to 4 minutes per side (if you don’t have a good roasting pan for browning, you can brown the lamb in a large skillet and transfer to a roasting pan). Once the lamb is browned, transfer the lamb in the roasting pan to the oven and cook for 10 to 12 minutes. Check with a meat thermometer that your internal temperature is between 120 and 125 degrees for medium rare. Transfer the meat to a platter and tent with foil and let it rest for 10 minutes. Slice the racks and top with Chevre crumbles and demi-glace and serve. Serves 8.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Top Wines of 2009

After reading Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast Top 100 list (did Wine Enthusiast really pick Cambria Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006 as wine of the year – I’m still thinking this is a misprint), I find that I sometimes agree with them but just as often wonder what the heck they are thinking. In the spirit of year end lists, here’s a stab at my top 10 wines of the year as well as my top 5 value wines.

The criteria for my list is pretty simple. For the top 10 wines, it is simply the 10 wines that I drank this year that I feel are the best values in any price category except for the $15 and under range. For the top 5 value wines, I am limiting it to wines that retail for $15 and under. In both cases, I am only including wines that I enjoyed at least a full glass of with food. I am excluding a number of outstanding wines that I only tried at various tasting events where I had small samples in rapid fire succession with many other wines. Although I’m confident some of these would have made my list, I need to draw the line somewhere on my criteria, and I’m a firm believer that wine is best enjoyed with food. So here goes...let me know if you agree or if you think I’m just plain crazy with any of these picks. All of these wines except for the Catena Alta Malbec also have full reviews on A Couple of Wines.

A Couple of Wines Top 10 Wines of the Year:

10. Domaine Michel & Joanna Ecard Savigny-Les-Beaune Premier Cru "Les Gravains" 2006

This is a bit of a sleeper pick, but I find this Burgundy to be delicious – one of my favorite Pinot Noirs.

9. Johnson Family Chardonnay 2008 Sonoma Coast

This very nice Chardonnay almost qualifies for my Top 5 Value wines since it retails for just a tiny bit over the $15 threshold.

8. Girard Artistry 2006 Napa Valley

Simply put this is an excellent Napa Cab/Bordeaux Style blend that retails for under $40. ‘Nuff said.

7. Vincent Dureuil-Janthial Rully “La Martelle” 2007

A great White Burgundy that retails in the low $20s, this wine’s long, outstanding finish sets it apart from any other Chardonnay I’ve tasted in this price range.

6. Castello del Terriccio Tassinaia 2005 IGT Toscana

I first tried this wine at a tasting where it was sandwiched between a Casanova di Neri Tenuta Nuova Brunello di Montalcino 2004 and a Sassicaia 2006, and it very much held its own. For a fifth of the price of the Sassicaia, it is a steal. When I opened a bottle with some lamb chops it was even better.

5. Chateau de St. Cosme Gigondas 2006

An absolutely delicious and powerful Southern Rhone that is just going to better in the coming years.

4. Catena Alta Malbec 2005

I never thought that Malbec could get this good. This wine is ripe and opulent without going over the edge into raisin territory. This is the only wine on my list that doesn’t have a full review associated with it, but I’ve got a bottle in my cellar that I’ll be pulling out sometime soon. Stay tuned.

3. Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino 2004

Wow – what a finish! This wine just keep giving. Everything before the incredibly long and delicious finish is also just about perfect. I have a few more bottles in the cellar, and it’s going to be hard to let this age as long as I should.

2. Domaine de Ferrand Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2007

If I could fast forward time, this would probably be #1 on my list, but it definitely needs at least a year in the cellar, preferably more. The Domaine de Ferrand 2007 is a stunning example of classic Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

1. Etude Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Napa Valley

Etude has got it all. Big Napa fruit, silky tannins, and perfect French oak treatment are all in wonderful balance. In a list that is dominated by imports, Etude is a reminder of just how great Napa Cabernets can be.

Top 5 Value Wines of the Year:

5. Catena Chardonnay 2007

It seems crazy that my standout value from Argentina is anything other than a Malbec, but there are so many good Malbec values out there, that it was hard to pick one out for inclusion on the list. This Chardonnay from Catena is well balanced and food friendly for a great price.

4. Camille Cayran Gemellus Rasteau 2006

My cellar is quickly filling up with great Southern Rhone wines, but this Rasteau really stand out in the $15 and under category from the Rhone Valley. Great berry flavors with nice balance.

3. Chateua d’Oupia Minervois 2007

France has so many famous wine regions that we tend to forget about all the other. This red from Minervois in the Langeudoc has a dark, brooding flavor profile and I love it.

2. Mas Donis Barrica Cellar de Capcanes Old Vines Montsant 2005

I am constantly amazed at the quality of Spanish Garnacha in this price range, and at $11.99 a bottle, you can’t beat the quality you get with the 2005 Mas Donis. An outstanding wine for the price!

1. Bodegas Real Sabor Toro 2006

Is this really under $10? I know it is, and I still keep asking myself if something this good can be this inexpensive. It needs a lot of time to decant, but when it starts to open up, nothing in the under $10 category even comes close to the quality and complexity you get in this great Spanish Toro.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Januik Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2006

A few months ago I had the opportunity to visit the Januik Winery in Woodinville, WA. This week my sister-in-law visited the winery and inspired me to open a bottle of Januik Cabernet. Januik is owned by winemaker Mike Januik, who's got a rather impressive resume. Mike, who is a UC Davis grad, was the head winemaker for 10 years at Chateau St. Michelle, which is literally right around the corner from Januik. In 1999 Mike left that rather enviable position to go out on his own and start Januik, and I for one am glad that he did it. He is making some very nice wines, which are quietly getting some critical acclaim. He has made more than a dozen wines that have made Wine Spectator's Top 100 list, and Wine Enthusiast has named him as one of the world's ten "Masters of Merlot." Today, however, my topic is his very good base level Cabernet.

The Januik Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2006 is sourced from some of the top vineyards in the Columbia Valley including Champoux, Klipsun, Ciel du Cheval, and Weinbau. It is made from 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc that is aged in primarily new French oak. In your glass you get a deep reddish-purple color. The bouquet brings aromas of blackberry and cassis with a hint of vanilla and cedar. In your mouth you get a very pure expression of what you just smelled on the bouquet. Blackberry and cassis are front and center with a little bit of vanilla in a supporting role. The wine is fruit driven without being over extracted. Smooth, pleasant tannins provide some backbone, and the finish on this wine is not overwhelming but very nice and sneaky long.

Overall this is a very nice Cabernet that is a great expression of Columbia Valley terroir and the Washington style. Retailing in the $25 t0 $30 range, I find this to be a very nice value that drinks just as well as a lot of $50 Napa Cabs. This would pair very well with any grilled red meats.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Domaine de Ferrand Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2007

There has been a lot of talk about the 2007 vintage in the Southern Rhone, and so often when that happens the talk is just that – talk. From what I have tasted so far of the 2007 Rhones, these wines are not just talking the talk. They are good. In fact, they are very good.

Although I have tasted quite a few other Southern Rhones, The Domaine de Ferrand 2007 Chateauneuf-du-Pape (CDP) is the first of the 2007 CDPs that I have tasted. Domaine de Ferrand is a small estate with just 5 ½ hectares (about 13 acres) planted primarily with Grenache, a lot of it old vines. Winemaker Philippe Bravy has quickly established a reputation as a rising star of the Rhone, who has a strong interest in preserving the traditional Chateauneuf-du-Pape style. He is a big believer in limiting yields in his organically farmed vineyard. His wines have big, ripe fruit, but they also a lot more to them.

The 2007 Domaine de Ferrand Chateauneuf-du-Pape has a deep red-purple color. The bouquet is absolutely wonderful. This is a wine I could smell for hours. Aromas of cassis and black plum fruit are joined by Herbes de Provence and a really pleasant scent of sautéed beef. In your mouth, you get more cassis and plum as well as some very dark black cherry. The mouthfeel is incredibly rich and opulent without being too heavy. Tasted after three hours in decanter, the tannins were silky and gorgeous. All of this led up to a finish that was mouthwatering, very long, and delicious.

This wine has it all. It’s got big fruit, classic Rhone garrigue, rich but elegant mouthfeel, and an incredible finish. This is one of the best wines I’ve had this year, and it should only get better with time in the cellar. Retailing for $50 and up, the Domaine de Ferrand Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2007 is worth every penny. If you can find it, buy some for now and definitely buy some to lay down for a few years.

I enjoyed this with grilled venison with a blackberry port demi-glace, and it was a perfect pairing. It would also work nicely with a rack of lamb.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Chateau de Saint Cosme Gigondas 2006

With the outstanding 2007 Rhone vintage being released recently, you can expect to see a lot of reviews from me in the coming months from this wonderful region in Southern France. For today, though, we are looking at a red from the Southern Rhone from the 2006 vintage, the 2006 Chateau de Saint Cosme Gigondas 2006.

Although it can no longer be considered a well kept secret, Gigondas is one of a few appellations in the Southern Rhone that are turning out some outstanding wines, but that are not as well known as the much more famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation. Other appellations in this group include Vacqueyras and Rasteau. In all cases these villages are in pretty close proximity to the famed Chateauneuf-du-Pape region and are making some excellent wines.

Gigondas, which became its own appellation in 1971, is located a mere 10 miles to the southwest of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Gigondas wines are predominantly made from Grenache, and the most common blending varietals are Syrah and Mourvedre. The wines are typically bold and muscular and have quite a bit of stylistic similarity to Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

The Chateua de Saint Cosme Gigondas 2006 has an intense purple color in your glass. This blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Cinsault has a bouquet that is dominated by cassis and also brings notes of blackberry, a floral element, and just a hint of raw meat. In your mouth you get a wonderful full body with mixed black fruit flavors. I get quite a bit of black cherry on the palate that I didn’t necessarily pick up on the bouquet as well as some cassis and blackberry. The tannins and very nice acidity give this wine some serious backbone, and the finish is sneaky long.

I decanted the wine for an hour before drinking it, and I have to say that after an hour in decanter it was still pretty tight. It was when I poured my second glass after about two hours in decanter that this Gigondas really started to shine. With some serious decanting, this wine is drinking well now, but with the structure this wine has I suspect it will be drinking much better after a couple more years or even much longer in the cellar.

Retailing for about $35, this wine is an outstanding value. It drinks as well as many Chateauneuf-du-Papes that are almost twice the price. From a pairing standpoint, this would be perfect with a rack of lamb or grilled game.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Domaine La Montagnette Cotes Du Rhone Villages 2007

I love wines from the Rhone Valley. I’m putting that right out there at the beginning of this post. I especially love wines from the Southern Rhone. Whether it’s Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Rasteau, or just a Cotes du Rhone, I love the red wines from this part of the world. So when I started hearing all the hype about the 2007 vintage in the Southern Rhone being one of the best ever, I was pretty excited to say the least. I have already started to acquire some 2007 Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but those should not see anyplace other than my cellar for the next couple years (although personal history tells me that some of these might get out a little early). So I’m focused now on trying some of the more basic Cotes du Rhones from the 2007 vintage.

The first wine I have tried from 2007 is the Domaine La Montagnette Cotes Du Rhone 2007. Made from 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah, and the remainder Mourvedre and Carignane, it’s a nice entry level Cotes Du Rhone. Purple red in color it brings aromas of mixed berried and plum as well as some floral elements. On the palate, the wine is medium bodied with extremely mild tannins, which leaves me wanting a little more. It does, however, have some very nice acidity, which provides some structure. Flavor wise, you get more of the mixed berry and plum with some spice and a hint of sour cherry on the finish.

Overall, this is a nice, everyday red which provides very good value for a wine in the $12-14 range. As far as pairing go, this would pair very nicely with an herb rubbed, roasted chicken or braised chicken legs. It’s also a nice choice when you just want to sit back and enjoy a glass of inexpensive, easy drinking red wine. More to come soon on the 2007 Southern Rhone but for now this is a nice one to pick up for the everyday rotation.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bodegas Renacer Punto Final Clasico Malbec 2008

It’s time for yet another great value from Argentina. This region is producing some very nice wines these days and the beauty of it for me is that many of these wines carry very affordable price tags. Leading the way for value in Argentina is the Malbec varietal, which has become the country’s flagship grape for good reason. Malbec in Argentina is a classic example of terroir on a macro scale. Malbec vines simply produce unique results when grown in the Mendoza region of Argentina. If you compare Malbec from Bordeaux or Cahors in France with Malbec from Argentina, you’d be hard pressed to believe that it’s the same grape. The terroir of the Mendoza region makes that much of a difference, and the really unique thing about this is that it is not only a couple vineyards or a small region but a rather extensive and large region that produces these unique and very good results.

The Bodegas Renacer Punto Final Clasico Malbec 2008 is a great example of the quality that you can get from Malbec in Mendoza for only about $12 a bottle. I should note that althought they call this "Clasico," you won't find that word anywhere on the bottle. It simply says Punto Final Malbec 2008. Made from primarily old vine (50 years) Malbec by winemakers Alberto Antonini and Hector Durigutti (Durigutti also has his own winery that makes a good value Malbec – see the review here ), the wine is made from hand picked and hand sorted grapes from the Perdriel zone in Mendoza.

In your glass you get intense purple color, and the bouquet brings aromas of blackberries laced with notes of mocha. On the palate the wine brings black fruit and lots of it right up front. You also get a hint of chocolate as well as a nice earthy element on the finish. Mild tannins that are just a little dusty provide some nice balance to the fruit, and the finish has decent length for a wine in this price range.

Overall, this wine is an outstanding value at a price of about $12. It is a budget friendly, everyday red that gives you outstanding bang for your wine buck. Bodegas Renacer Punto Final Malbec 2008 would pair perfectly with a grilled strip steak with mushrooms or a flank steak with an authentic chimichurri sauce.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Louis Martini Lot No. 1 Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Louis Martini’s Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the best values in Cabernet Sauvignon just about every year. For a price around $13, this wine gives you consistently good quality at a great price. For me, it’s part of my regular rotation of value wines. For my friend Dan, who has shared many a fine bottle of wine with me, it is the ultimate value Cab. So when I had the opportunity to visit the Louis Martini Winery and pick up one of their reserve wines, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to buy a bottle of their Lot 1 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon to share with Dan.

The Louis Martini Lot No. 1 Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 is sourced from the best fruit that Martini has access to from multiple AVAs in Napa Valley. The wine has a beautiful deep purple color in your glass. The bouquet gives you blackberry and black cherry with notes of blueberry. I will note that this was after 3 hours in decanter, and when first poured and for the first couple hours, the fruit aromas were somewhat masked by alcohol. In your mouth, you get a wonderful, rich mouthfeel with sweet cherry and blackberry fruit dominating the palate. The very nice tannins were firm without being overpowering. The finish was decent and had OK length, but I have to say that for the $120 price tag, the finish left me wanting more.

Overall, the Louis Martini Lot No. 1 Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 was a very nice Cabernet with delicious, fruit forward flavors with nice tannins to give it some backbone. Unfortunately, I think the $120 price tag just isn’t worth it. When you’re shelling out that much of your hard-earned money, you want everything to be just about perfect, and this wine starts off strong but just doesn’t deliver as much as I’d like on the finish. Although there is no doubt that this is a much better wine than the Louis Martini Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, the $13 Sonoma County offering is a much better value.

From a pairing standpoint, this would go very nicely with a prime filet mignon or a Blue Stilton cheese.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fossacolle Rosso di Montalcino 2007

The more I drink wines from Montalcino in Tuscany, the more I like them. This is not a bad thing save for the fact that most of these wines are Brunello di Montalcinos that often retail for $75 and up. Fortunately not all Sangiovese based wines from this region are expensive Brunellos, and every so often you can find a Rosso that is a great wine and a great value. The Fossacolle Rosso di Montalcino 2007 is just such a value.

Fossacolle is a very small producer in the village of Tavernelle in the south of Montalcino. There were only 500 cases of the 2007 Rosso produced, and their entire estate is only about 10 acres. Family owned and operated by Sergio Marchetti and his family, Fossacolle is a very young winery by Italian standards. Their first Sangiovese vines were planted in 1984, and they started producing Rossos shortly after that with their first Brunello vintage to come in 1997. Althought they don't have the hundreds of years of history that so many Italian producers have, their results show no lack of experience.

The Fossacolle Rosso di Montalcino 2007 is a deep, intense red color in your glass. The bouquet brings cherry and plum fruit with notes of vanilla bean and herbs. In your mouth, dark cherry fruit dominates the flavor profile. The wine is medium-full in body with solid tannins and a very nice finish for a Rosso. This Rosso could very well put some lesser Brunellos to shame in a direct comparison.

At a price in the low to mid $20's, this wine is an outstanding value. A versatile food friendly wine, this can be enjoyed with aged Italian cheeses, grilled meats, or Italian veal dishes. Although it can be hard to find, it is well worth it if you can get a bottle.


Friday, November 6, 2009

My Visit to Woodinville, WA Wine Country

I’ve been a roll lately with opportunities to visit wineries while travelling for my real job. This week, I had a free afternoon while working in Seattle, and I took the opportunity to visit some wineries in Woodinville, WA. Woodinville wine country is a short 25 minute drive from downtown Seattle, and it is home to what I found to be some very good wineries. Woodinville is pretty unique among the wine regions I’ve visited in that there are a large number of wineries there, but hardly any grapes are grown in the Woodinville area. Almost all the grapes being crushed and made into wine in the area are grown well east of Woodinville in Eastern Washington’s Columbia Valley. There are multiple AVAs within the Columbia Valley which include Horse Heaven Hills, Red Mountain, and Yakima Valley. Many different varietals are being grown in these appellations although the most successful I found seem to be Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.

My first stop in Woodinville was the winery that stared it all here in 1976. Chateau St. Michelle was the first to build a winery and visitor’s facility in Woodinville, and they remain one of the biggest and most important winery in the area. They are a very large producer (well over 1,000,000 cases annually), who make wines ranging from inexpensive, simple wines to some very high quality, higher-end fine wines. There visitor’s facilities are large and expansive with multiple tasting rooms and grounds that include an amphitheater for outdoor concerts in the summer. I tasted a number of different reserve wines at Chateau St. Michelle, and although many of them were good, they were somewhat one dimensional. They had nice fruit forward flavors, but not much beyond that in the way of complexity, tannins, or overall structure and balance. One exception was their Cold Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2006. This was a very nice classic Cab with blackberry and cassis on the nose and the palate with a nice full bodied mouthfeel and silky tannins. It also brought a very nice finish that really set it apart from the other wines I tried at Chateau St. Michelle.

My second stop in Woodinville was the Januik Winery right around the corner from Chateau St. Michelle. Januik was started in 1999 by Mike Januik, who is the owner and winemaker. Mike is a UC Davis grad who spent a number of years at Chateau St. Michelle, and he left there as their head winemaker. After tasting Mike’s wines, I have to believe that his leaving had to be a pretty big blow to Château St. Michelle. His wines are very, very good. Diane, my outstanding host at Januik poured a number of wines for me to taste. The standout for me here was their Seven Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2006. This Cab, which had only 198 cases produced, has a very nice purple color with aromas of blackberry, cassis, and a hint of tobacco. The blackberry and cassis are joined by black plum on the palate, and the wine has smooth tannins with a nice, long finish. Their Klipsun Vineyard Merlot 2006 was also quite good. It was a fine reminder that when Merlot is done well, it can make really nice wine regardless of what Miles from the movie Sideways has to say about it.

My next stop was that hidden gem that I seem to find on every visit I make to wine country. I visited Matthews Estate not knowing anything about it other than the fact that the folks at both Chateau St. Michelle and Januik recommended it. The winery and small, cozy tasting room are in a small, unassuming building, and the winery and all the action going on there at this time of year were visible and audible from the tasting room. There is always an added level of excitement when you visit a winery that is actively making wine. My excellent host here for most of my visit was Jim Rubstello, who is one of the partners at Matthews. They are a small winery with annual production of about 3500 cases with plans to grow to about 5000 cases over the next couple years. Their winemaker, Aryn Morell, spent five years in Napa Valley working for a few wineries including Silver Oak before deciding to return to his native Washington to work for Matthews. The work he is doing here at Matthews Estate is excellent. I tasted four wines at Matthews, and all of them were, in a word, outstanding. Their 2006 Claret, which is their base level Bordeaux style blend, had a nice purple-red color with a complex nose of cherry, red currant, and a bit of earthiness. Pleasant acidity and smooth tannins brought balance and structure to the fantastic cherry fruit on the palate. Their 2005 Red Wine, which is their flagship Bordeaux blend, was an absolutely delicious wine. Aged in 75% new French oak, the 2005 Red Wine brought aromas of blackberry, cherry, and cassis with a bit of a subtle herbal element. The palate follows that up with deep black fruit flavors, solid tannins, and a fantastic finish with very nice length. I felt that this was a truly outstanding wine. Their 2007 Columbia Valley Syrah was also very good. It had a fantastic nose that combined black fruit with orange zest, some spice, and a mild, pleasant barnyard smell. The palate brought cherry and plum fruit with some very nice but mild black pepper and some raw meat. This was a very nice Syrah that was much closer in style to a Northern Rhone than to any New World Syrah or Shiraz.

The final stop on my trip was Alexandria Nicole Cellars. Most of the fruit for Alexandria Nicole Cellars wine is sourced from their estates Destiny Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. Julia and Kathie here were very good hosts who were gracious enough to pour wine for me when I arrived at exactly the time they normally close. Alexandria Nicole works with a number of different grapes ranging from Rhone varietals to Cabernet Sauvignon to Tempranillo. The standout wine for me here was their 2006 Destiny, which is a Bordeaux style blend consisting of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot, and 3% Malbec that was aged in French and American oak for 22 months. The nose brings aromas of blackberry, cassis, and a very nice herbal element. In your mouth, you get a medium-full bodied wine with deep, black fruit flavors and solid tannins that bring some structure. Overall it’s a very nice wine from a nice winery.

I have to say that I went into my visit to Woodinville with somewhat limited expectations. Many of the wineries I wanted to visit were not open on Mondays, which is the day I visited. Other than Chateau St, Michelle, I did not know much about the wineries that were open on Mondays, but I was very pleasantly surprised. The wineries I visited and the wines I tasted were very good and in some cases outstanding. If you’re in the Seattle area, a side trip up to Woodinville is well worth the trip.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Catena Chardonnay 2007

Argentina never ceases to amaze me when it comes to wine. The results that they get with Malbec at high elevations have been phenomenal for quite some time now, and now I’m starting to see some interesting things happen with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah in higher elevation vineyards. What I never expected was to see Chardonnay grown at elevations as high as 5000’ with good results. I guess that I should never underestimate Argentina and in particular I should never underestimate the winemakers at Bodega Catena Zapata.

Starting in 1902 when Nicola Catena came to Argentina from Italy, the Catena family has been making wines in Argentina for over a century now. For most of that time, they were making bulk wine for domestic consumption in Argentina, and for many of those years they struggled to survive as a winery. In the 1980’s Nicola’s grandson, Nicolas spent time as a visiting professor at UC Berkeley with many visits to nearby Napa Valley. In Napa, he was surprised to see that there were places in the New World that had the kind of terroir to make truly great wines. He returned to Argentina as an inspired man who immediately sold off their bulk wine business to focus on making great wine in the foothills of the Andes, and in my humble opinion he has had outstanding success with Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.

This offering from Catena is a Chardonnay that is grown in two different high altitude vineyards in the Mendoza region. The Lujan de Cuyo vineyard is at an elevation of 3100’ and the Tupungato vineyard is all the way up at 5000’. I did not have high expectation for Chardonnay grown at these high altitudes, but perhaps I just had the wrong attitude. This Chardonnay is very impressive.

Pale straw in color, the Catena Chardonnay 2007 brings aromas of apple and a little pear along with some subtle oak. In your mouth you also get apple and pear, but in this case it is the pear that dominates. In addition to the pear and apple, you also get a hint of peach on the palate. I love the fruit flavors in this wine. The oak is very well done without being overdone, and the wine has a medium-full bodied mouthfeel with very nice acidity and a great finish. Overall, this is a very nicely structured Chardonnay. It has a little something for everyone to like. Fruit, oak, body, acidity, and a nice finish all work beautifully together

With a retail price of $14.99, the Catena Chardonnay 2007 is a steal. At this price you’ll be hard pressed to find a better Chardonnay. This is a food friendly and versatile wine that you can enjoy with fish, shellfish, or chicken. We had it with sautéed chicken breasts in a parsley tarragon gremolata and they paired together beautifully. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Johnson Family Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2006

After having tried and really enjoyed the Johnson Family Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, I had very high hopes that there Cabernet Sauvignon would be another great find at a very reasonable price. Johnson Family is not actually a winery, but as I understand it, a negociant type business of David Bowler Wine, although they seem to be keeping this information as quiet as possible.

The Chardonnay and I believe also the Pinot Noir were made by a very well known and well respected winemaker in Sonoma, and both are outstanding values. This 2006 Cabernet is rumored to be made by a very well known and well respected consulting winemaker for numerous Napa Valley wineries. The fruit comes from Coombsville which is just east of the city of Napa and south and east of most of the better known Napa Valley growing areas. Slightly cooler than most of the rest of Napa Valley, Coombsville is an area that is generating some buzz in the valley as they are working towards becoming an official AVA (American Viticultural Area). The slightly cooler temperatures allow for longer and slower ripening of the Cabernet grapes, and at least in theory that should yield great results.

Knowing what I know about Coombsville and how much I liked the other Johnson Family wines, I went into this tasting with pretty high expectations for the Cab. Unfortunately it did not live up to my somewhat lofty expectations. Don’t get me wrong, its not a bad wine or a horrible value, but in my mind it has some flaws and is simply a fair value at a price point of about $18.

In you glass the Johnson Family Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 brings intense, deep purple color. The nose brings some very nice fruit aromas of blackberry, cassis, and plum; however, the fruit does get a little lost in all the alcohol which was still overpowering on the nose after 2 hours of decanting. At 15.5% , the alcohol can be a bit overwhelming. I have to say that 15% seems to be the magic number for me when it comes to alcohol. I can enjoy wines right up to 15% alcohol, but as a general rule anything even a couple tenths of a percent over that is just too much for me. In your mouth the wine is fruit forward with blackberry and cassis flavors and a rich, full bodied mouthfeel. The tannins are pretty strong and a bit harsh (I’ll say again that I did decant this for two hours), and I’m a guy who really likes tannins. There is also a bit of a burnt oak taste on the finish which overwhelms the fruit. This in combination with the harsh tannins, leads me to believe that there was either too much new oak used in the aging of this wine, or the barrels were simply toasted too much. I should also note that my wife and tasting partner here at A Couple of Wines enjoyed the fruit flavors in this wine so much that she was not bothered by the strong tannins or what I considered to be too much oak.

From a pairing standpoint this wine was actually pretty good with a prime steak I had on the grill. All the marbling in the meat coated the taste buds enough to counter those strong tannins and allow the fruit to come through. When I had a glass on its own after dinner though, I found this wine to be over the top in tannins, oak, and alcohol.

If your looking for something that has the muscle to stand up to a prime steak in the under $20 category, this might fit the bill depending on your palate. Just know that you might get a lot more muscle, alcohol, and tannins than you hoped for. There is also a 2007 vintage which was just recently released. I'm very curious to see how that one turns out. I think the Coombsville fruit they used in 2006 has great potential if it sees less new oak.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Jessup Cellars Juel 2006 Napa Valley Red Wine

Recently I had the opportunity to make a second visit to the Jessup Cellars tasting room in Yountville to pick up some more of their very good wines. My main objective was to simply buy some of their Merlot, but while I was there I also picked up a few bottles of their Juel 2006, which is a Bordeaux style blend that I did not get an opportunity to taste on my first visit. This past weekend I had the right occasion to open this excellent wine and enjoy it.

Jessup Cellars is one of those many little known gems that are sprinkled throughout Napa Valley. Jessup was started by winemaker Mark Jessup in 1996, after a couple decades of experience making wine for other wineries. Mark is a Napa Valley native, who started in the cellar at Inglenook over 30 years ago. From there he went to work for Robert Mondavi Winery, where he worked closely with Tim Mondavi on their reserve wines as well as on the Opus One joint venture between Mondavi and Chateau Mouton Rothschild. Now he is putting that experience to work at Jessup with some very nice results. Their tasting room is a fantastic space not only to taste some fine wines, but also to see some outstanding artwork by Northern California artists. Grant and Sarah in the tasting room were wonderful hosts and very knowledgeable, and they were kind enough to accommodate me right at closing time. Unfortunately they do not distribute, and the only way to get their wines is in the tasting room or by joining their wine club.

The 2006 Juel is a wine made in the Bordeaux style, and in particular Jessup is going for something in the Right Bank style. Merlot is the predominant grape in this blend, but there are also significant amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Aged for 20 months in French oak barrels, the wine shows a very nice purple-red color in your glass. The nose brings wonderful aromas of black cherry, blackberry, and black raspberry, with much more of the same fruit flavors on the palate. Along with the fruit, you also get a hint of mocha and some mild earthiness on the nice, long finish. Firm tannins and a bit of pleasant acidity round out this very nice Bordeaux style blend. If Mark Jessup is truly looking to make wine in the French style, he has hit the mark with this offering.

The Juel 2006 was perfect with my grilled tenderloin with shallot demi-glace (recipe can be found here ), and it would complement just about any steak or grilled venison beautifully. Priced at $89, it’s not necessarily an outstanding value but certainly a good one. It’s a very good and very well structured wine. Cheers!

Friday, October 23, 2009

My Visit to the Santa Cruz Mountains Appelation

Recently on a visit to Northern California for my real job, I had the opportunity to visit some wineries and tasting rooms in the Santa Cruz Mountains Appellation. This area is unbelievably diverse in its microclimates. At one point in my drive to my first stop, the temperature changed 8 degrees over the course of 3 miles. As a result of the many diverse microclimates, there is a pretty wide variety of grapes being grown here, although the predominant varietals that winemakers are having success with seem to be Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The appellation itself covers over 350,000 acres and the vineyards range in elevation from 400 to 800 feet. Evenings tend to be foggy and cool with the sun burning off the fog every morning followed by higher temperatures. This allows the grapes to ripen effectively but slowly and results in a rather long growing season with a nice long hang time for the fruit. I should note that although all the wineries and tasting rooms I visited were in the Santa Cruz Mountains, not all of the fruit for every wine I tasted was from the appellation.

My first stop of the day was the only winery I was previously familiar with, which was Bonny Doon Vineyard. They have a very nice tasting room and restaurant right in the heart of Santa Cruz. Bonny Doon can best be described as a not so serious winery that makes some seriously good wines. Their leader, Randall Graham, a UC Davis grad, started Bonny Doon with the hope of making great Pinot Noir, but has since switched his focus to other grapes, most notably Rhone varietals. I tried a number of wines here including a Cinsault and an Albarino, which are pretty unusual for California, but the standouts here were definitely the Rhone style blends. The 2007 Le Cigare Blanc was a blend of 64% Rousanne and 36% Grenache Blanc. Pale in color, it had aromas of pear and melon with decent acidity, and it was a very good, refreshing wine. The 2004 Le Cigare Volant was a wonderful Southern Rhone style red with a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignane, and Cinsault. Aromas of cherry, sour cherry, licorice, and spice worked together to create a wonderful and complex bouquet. In your mouth you got more of the same flavors with an incredibly long finish. This was some very good stuff for only $30 a bottle!

My second stop of the day was Storrs Winery. Here, owners and winemakers Pamela and Steve Storrs are crafting a number of different wines in relatively small lots. Both Pamela and Steve are UC Davis grads with a wealth of knowledge, and Pamela focuses on the winemaking while Steve focuses on the vineyards. This sounds like a perfect marriage to me. Their annual production is about 10,000 cases, and all their vineyards are sustainably farmed. They are big believers that wine is made in the vineyard and that the winemaker just has to gently guide what nature and good farming provides. They are also big believers in the Santa Cruz Mountains as a great place to make Burgundian style Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

During my visit I tasted a number of different wines poured by the very friendly and knowledgeable CJ in the tasting room, but it was definitely the Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs that stood out here. Their 2007 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay was a very good example of the potential this area has for Chardonnay. Pale straw in color, it was aged in French oak for 10 months. The nose was crisp with apple and pineapple and some well done, subtle oak that did not overwhelm the fruit. On the palate you had a nice mouthfeel with great acidity and minerality. The long finish displayed flavors of apple and pear with a hint of citrus. This was a very well done Chardonnay.

The other standout at Storrs was the 2006 Le Manoir Pinot Noir. Medium red in color, it had a great bouquet of cherry and strawberry fruit. On your palate you got much of the same great fruit flavors which were really nicely balanced by a very pleasant acidity. A lengthy finish followed to complete the experience with this very elegant and delicious wine.

My final stop in the day was a little further north at Testarossa Winery in Los Gatos, where I was greeted by the outstanding hospitality and knowledge of Jeanne in the tasting room. All wineries have a story, but this one has a pretty interesting one. Testarossa is essentially a hobby gone out of control for owners Rob and Diana Jensen who started making wine in their home. They slowly outgrew that and a number of other facilities before finally stumbling across the old Jesuit Novitiate Winery in Los Gatos that is one of the oldest wineries in the country and one of very few that made wine right through Prohibition. They now lease that facility from the Jesuits and have their winery and tasting room located there. As a graduate of a Jesuit high school, this place had some added meaning for me. .

The top wines I tasted at Testarossa were both Pinot Noirs. The 2007 Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir was a beautiful light red color in your glass. The nose brought cherry and strawberry fruit with some great spice. On your palate the wine was fruit forward but it had some spice and nice acidity to balance things out. This wine belongs on the Thanksgiving table! The 2007 Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir which has not yet been released was also outstanding. It had an absolutely wonderful bouquet that was bursting with cherry and strawberry fruit. In your mouth it had a very nice, elegant structure with cherry, strawberry, and some sour cherry fruit and a very subtle element of spice. Although I think it will need a couple years to fully develop, this has the potential to be an outstanding Pinot.

Well that’s about it for my brief visit to the Santa Cruz Mountains. Not knowing much about the area or its wineries heading into my visit, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the wines that I found.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Johnson Family Chardonnay 2008 Sonoma Coast

These days it seems it’s really hard for me to find an everyday Chardonnay that I can get really excited about that isn’t ridiculously expensive. I will also admit that I can be a little fussy about what I want out of a Chardonnay. I like my Chardonnay to have a really nice balance of fruit, oak, and acid. If any one of these elements is missing or so strong that it overpowers the rest of the wine, I find myself a little disappointed.

Johnson Family is one of those wonderful second label value wines that are made by great wineries and winemakers when they have a glut of high quality grapes for their higher end label. Instead of making more of the main label and perhaps getting supply, demand, and price out of balance, they will bottle some wine under a second or phantom label. In this case the very secret winemaker is from Sonoma and is wel known for making many excellent Chardonnays that retail for $40 and up.

The Johnson Family Chardonnay 2008 from the Sonoma Coast is a Chardonnay that gives me everything I want in really nice balance. In your glass you get intense golden color, which did have me a little concerned at first that this was going to be an over rich, buttery to the point of being flabby Chard, but that was absolutely not the case. The nose brings very nice aromas of apple pie and some toasty oak that does not overwhelm the fruit. In your mouth you get more of the same with some pear mixed in with the apple and the oak. Again, the oak is more than subtle but less than overwhelming. The unknown winmaker really did an outstanding job with the barrel aging in French oak. The mouthfeel is rich, but it is beautifully balanced by some refreshing acidity. This is a very nicely structured Chardonnay.

This is a great, food friendly offering from Johnson Family that could go with a number of things. Nicely balanced Chardonnays like this go very well with poultry and seafood. I had this with a grilled, marinated chicken breast, and they worked quite well together. I’d like it even more with some pan seared scallops or a broiled lobster tail.

Priced at $17, it’s a very nice Chardonnay for the money. Probably the best I’ve found under $20. Cheers!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino 2004

Very often when you long to get a particular wine that is very hard to find, the results can be disappointing once you finally obtain a bottle and taste it. With the Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino 2004, that is absolutely not the case for me. This wine is one of the most sought after bottlings of the 2004 vintage of Brunellos, and it is hard to find for a very good reason, which is the fact that it is absolutely delicious!

Made from 100% Sangiovese, the Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino 20204 has a beautiful deep garnet red color in your glass. The bouquet is extremely pleasant and complex. You get black cherry, black raspberry, chocolate, and a wonderful herbal element which is dominated by sage. In your mouth you get black cherry, blackberry, cola, and a hint of herbs and licorice. The mouthfeel is rich and pleasant without being overwhelming in its weight. It does not feel at all like a wine that has 15% alcohol. The tannins are nice but could certainly use a few years to mellow, and the overall structure of this wine is fantastic. Where this wine really shines is in the finish. You get a great big lift on the finish that lasts and lasts. The Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino 2004 is the gift that just keeps giving. If you truly enjoy the finish for what it is, you could easily enjoy a glass of this wine for over an hour. The finish is that good and that long.

Overall this is a fantastic wine that is worth searching for if you are a collector or someone who enjoys great Italian wines. I’m going to break from my normal practice of listing a retail price since there are very few retailers out there who have this left and the price range is large, but if you can get find a bottle for under $100, it is well worth it! My only suggestion if you do find a bottle would be to buy it now and drink it a few years down the road when it starts to hit its prime.

This would pair very well with hard Italian cheeses or grilled meats. It would be perfect with game or a rack of lamb. Cheers!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Do Wine Scores on the 100 Point Scale Really Mean Anything?

I find myself falling into this trap all the time. I talk about a wine that I ’m really excited about and will reference a score that someone gave a wine when telling people about it. I even did this in some of my early blog posts. I might talk about the Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino 2004 and reference the fact that one publication gave it 97 points! See – I just did it again.

I’m here today to say that I don’t want to talk about scores anymore. More importantly I’d like someone to explain to me how the 100 point scoring system really works and what the scores mean. As an avid reader of a few wine publications and many wine websites and blogs, I’m finding that scores on the 100 point scale are becoming more and more meaningless to me. What we should be doing as wine consumers, drinkers, and collectors is paying more attention to the review itself instead of just a score.

Why do I have such a problem with the 100 point scoring system you might ask? Well there are a few reasons. Let’s start with the fact the idea of it being a 100 point scale is flawed. A 100 point scale inherently implies that 100 should be the best score, and that 0 or 1 should be the worst score. In reality, most reviewers give any bottle they can remove the cork or screw cap from 75 points right off the bat. In this instant, the 100 point scale has gone to what really is a 25 point scale. Giving a wine a 10 out of 25 sounds quite a bit different than giving it a 85 out of 100 doesn’t it? The truth is that reviewers using the 100 point system are grading on a serious curve. Just as important as this, is that the different publications using the 100 point scale don’t necessarily use it in the same way. 90 points from one reviewer is not necessarily the same as 90 points form another, and sometimes those two reviewers work for the same publication!

The second major issue I have with wine scoring is that scoring itself is a somewhat clinical and scientific process. Although there is quite a bit of science in the winemaking process, I would argue that winemaking is very much an art. I’m no art collector, but I don’t think any art reviewers would look at Van Gogh’s Starry Night and say, “I’ll rate that one a 98.” Instead they might talk about the beauty of the painting, the colors used, the unique brushstrokes, the feelings they get when they look at it, or the memories invoked.

To me, a bottle of wine is very much like this. Yes there needs to be some proper farming and techniques used in the vineyard and the winery, but beyond that a bottle of wine can be so much more. The winemaker’s style and choices might bring out flavors, body, acidity, tannins, and other elements that different drinkers might have very different feelings about. Certain bottles might also conjure up memories or feelings about the vineyard or winery itself, the place you first discovered it, or the person you shared it with. In my mind, to boil all this down to a score is a little bit cold and clinical.

What we as consumers really need to know about a wine is some of the more objective things. What aromas are present? What are the flavors and where and when do they hit you on your palate? Is there acidity and how much? What is the body like? Does the wine have tannins and what are those tannins like? What is the finish like? Did the reviewer feel that all of these elements worked well together? If you can get this information from a review and if you know and understand what you like, then you really don’t need a score on the 100 point scale for a wine. At best the score is only relevant to wines with very similar profiles reviewed by the same reviewer. For example if a particular wine drinker likes fruit forward, full bodied Australian Shiraz with some spice to it, then the same reviewer’s scores of two different wines that meet that profile might have some meaning; however, if you look at the score of one of those wines and compare it to a White Burgundy, a Rioja, or even a Syrah from the Northern Rhone, the scores are very often meaningless.

For those who think I have taken this too far, I should qualify that I am not completely against rating wines. It is simply people’s and to some extent the industry’s reliance on the score instead of the rest of the review that has me concerned. In my experience I get much more from the review than I do from the score. What do you think?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Gobelsburger Gruner Veltliner Kamptal 2008

Gruner Veltliner. It’s pronounced Grooner Velt-lee-ner. Go ahead and say it – it’s kind of fun. As the varietal is starting to gain popularity with consumers, even the normally reserved and conservative Austrian wineries are having some fun with the name Gruner Veltliner. The inevitable “Groovy” association is starting to take its place not only in reviews and descriptions, but also on some cartoonish labels. It’s not necessarily a bad thing when people have some fun and levity with wine, but Gruner Veltliner is a grape that wine lovers should take pretty seriously.

Gruner Veltliner is grown primarily in Austria, and it is believed to be native to the country. Grown primarily in Northeast Austria, very often on steep terraces along the Danube, Gruner is a unique and very food friendly varietal that has become a part of my everyday mix as of late. It is a wine that is unique in its ability to pair with many different foods as well as in its ability to pair with some tricky foods like asparagus, artichokes, and other vegetables.

The Gobelsburger Gruner Veltliner Kamptal 2008 from Schloss Gobelsburg is a very nice example of a good, everyday Gruner that has become one of my "go to" everyday whites. Pale gold in color, the bouquet brought lime and lemon with notes of peach and grapefruit. In your mouth, you get lemon and lime with Granny Smith apple flavors and just a touch of white pepper spice. The wine brings a wonderful crisp acidity and minerality that is extremely refreshing, but this is not just a hot, summer day wine. It is extremely food friendly. I should also note that although the finish was not exceptionally long, it did have a nice lift with crisp, refreshing citrus flavors lingering on your palate.

As far as food pairing goes, this wine is very versatile. You could pair it with chicken, fish, or shellfish prepared a number of different ways, and it would also pair quite nicely with sushi and edamame. I had it recently with a honey mustard marinated and grilled chicken breast and it paired nicely with that. What really surprised me though and set this apart from other white wines, is how it paired with the green beans I had on the side. I can’t recall the last time I got excited about a wine and vegetable pairing, but both the wine and the green beans were made more enjoyable by having them together. That is what a great pairing is all about.

I picked this bottle up for just under $14, and it was worth every penny. So go ahead – say it. Gruner Veltliner. Now go ahead and get some Gobelsburger Gruner Veltliner and give it a try and enjoy it. Cheers!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Girard Artistry 2006 Napa Valley

Last month I had the good fortune to be able to visit some wineries and tasting room in Napa Valley while I was in the Bay Area for my real job. While there, I picked up some great wines from wineries I knew and discovered some wonderful places that were new to me. One of the places I discovered was Girard. Although they were new to me, Girard is by no means new. They have been making wines in Napa Valley for over 35 years. Winemaker Marco DiGiulio is a UC-Davis grad who learned more on the job at places like Pine Ridge and Atlas Peak, and if the 2006 Artistry is any indication, he sure does know what he is doing.

I should also mention before I get into the wine, that Girard has a very nice tasting room right in the heart of Yountville, and if you are ever in the area I would highly recommend stopping in to see them. I hope to stop back in and see Erin and Meg in the tasting room next month when I will be back in the area. I already wrote a little bit about this wine and winery in a post recounting my visit to Yountville this summer, but I recently had occasion to open a bottle and enjoy it with my wife and tasting partner.

Consisting of 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc, 13% Petite Verdot, 8% Malbec, and 7% Merlot with fruit sourced from Oakville, Yountville, and St. Helena, the Artistry 2006 is deep purple-red in color. The bouquet brings black cherry, cassis, and plum fruit with notes of leather and herbs. In your mouth you get a rich, full bodied mouthfeel and a fruit forward wine with black cherry, blackberry, and cassis. There is also a very subtle dark chocolate undertone and a touch of toasted walnut. The long and impressive finish is what sets this wine apart from other California Cabs and blends in the $30 to $50 price category. The finish builds like a wave that gains intensity as it slowly rolls into shore.

Overall, this is a very nice Bordeaux style blend that has more than a little complexity and some wonderful flavors. It is a very solid value at a price of about $40. I will caution that if you want to drink it now, you should definitely decant it for at least two hours. This is a wine that would also benefit from another year or two in the cellar. I know that I'm certainly going to pick up a few more bottles to test that belief.

From a pairing standpoint, I think this wine would be perfect for pot roast or a nice beef or lamb stew. Cheers!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Castello del Terriccio Tassinaia 2005 IGT Toscana

In recent weeks I have been reviewing a lot of inexpensive value wines in the $15 and under price category that give you great bang for your buck. A couple nights ago I had occasion to bring out something a little nicer from my cellar that was in a little bit higher price category. The Castello del Terriccio Tassinaia 2005 retails for about $45, which definitely takes it out of everyday value territory, but I'm here to tell you that for my money, this wine still delivers outstanding value.

The 2005 Tassinaia is made entirely with estate grown fruit at Castello del Terriccio in the northernmost part of the Tuscan Maremma just twenty short kilometers from Bolgheri. This is Super Tuscan territory where many of the best Italian blends are made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sangiovese. The 2005 Tassinaia is made from 34% Sangiovese, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 33% Merlot that are aged separately in French oak for 14 months and then blended and bottled. The winemaking process is guided by consulting oenologist Carlo Ferrini. Ferrini has become a bit of a celebrity winemaker, but he is very unique in his belief that he will only work with nearby Italian wineries where he can be an estate consultant as opposed to a flying winemaker who shows up once a year for a few days. All his clients are in driving range and he visits them often and spends as much time in the vineyard as he does in the winery. I have to say that I like his approach.

In your glass the 2005 Tassinaia gives you wonderful aromas of blackberry, cassis, and black cherry laced with bell pepper and herbs. On the palate you get more great black fruit flavors similar to the nose along with some plum. The wine has a very pleasant full body and beautifully soft tannins (note that this is after 3 hours in decanter). The finish is fantastic and long with some very subtle earthiness and herbs to go with the fruit. To sum it up in one simple word, this wine is delicious! It's hard to believe that this is actually a second label to Castello del Terriccio's Lupicaia.

As far as value goes, this is relative for everyone and what they are comfortable spending on wine, but I believe that at $45, the 2005 Tassiniaia gives you great value for your money. Its certainly not for everyday, but its well worth it when preparing a nice meal at home. I had this a few nights ago with rosemary scented lamb chops with a port wine mushroom reduction, and they were wonderful together. It would also be great with a nice steak or grilled venison. So go ahead and splurge for that special occasion at home, or bring a bottle of Tassinaia to your favorite restaurant that allows you to bring your own and pay a reasonable corkage fee. I don't think you'll be disappointed. Cheers!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Chateau d'Oupia Minervois 2007

French wines have been famous for centuries. Everybody is familiar with Champagne, and even most casual wine drinkers are familiar with Burgundy and the great blends of Bordeaux. Serious wine drinkers have long coveted Chateauneuf-du-Papes and Cote Roties as well as other great wines from the Rhone Valley. There are, however, many other wine regions in France and some of them are starting to turn out really nice quality wines in recent times. Some of the most interesting areas are in Provence and the Languedoc in the south of France near the Rhone Valley. Here you have some very nice wines being made in places like Bandol in Provence as well as Minervois on the western edge of the Languedoc. The Minervois AOC allows for multiple red grapes including Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan, and Cinsault as well as a few others.

The subject for today is the Chateau d'Oupia Minervois 2007. Made from 60% old vine Carignan, 30% Syrah, and 10% Grenache, it is a deep, intense purple in color. On the nose I get black raspberry and black cherry, a little chocolate, and a wonderful element of Herbes de Provence. In your mouth you get very focused and very dark berry flavors and black cherry. The wine is full bodied with decent structure, and it has a nice length to the finish that gives you even more dark fruit flavor, herbs, and a dark chocolate influence. I will caution that this wine has a very dark flavor profile. If your looking for bright, cheery fruit flavors, this is probably not the wine for you.

As far as value goes, the Chateua d'Oupia is a great one. Retailing in the $13-14 range, this delicious Minervois red is a very good value. I had this with a grilled pork tenderloin with a balsamic vinegar and rosemary marinade. The herbal element of the wine and the rosemary in the pork made for a perfect match. This could also be paired with other grilled meats especially if they have a nice rub or marinade with Herbes de Provence. Cheers!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Durigutti Malbec 2007 Mendoza

The values just keep coming from Argentina and their flagship Malbec grape. Durigutti is a family project started by brothers Pablo and Hector Durigutti who were both accomplished winemakers in their own right before joining together to form Durigutti. The two brothers have some stylistic differences, but where they agree strongly is in their belief that the wine is made in the vineyard more than in the winery. As a result they believe in minimal handling and intervention in the winemaking process.

In your glass you get intense purple color from the unfined and unfiltered Durigutti Malbec 2007, which is the winery's base level Malbec. The nose is filled with blackberry and cola aromas with more subtle notes of black raspberry. In your mouth you get a full bodied wine that has pleasant blackberry and other dark fruit flavors with a cola influence. The tannins are very mild and smooth. Also of note with this wine is a big lift that you get on the mid-palate, which is quite impressive, but it does leave you wanting a little more on the finish. I don't think you can call this a fault in a Malbec that retails for $12, but it sure is a little bit of a tease.

Overall the Durigutti Malbec is not overwhelming, but its a very solid value at a retail price in the $12 range. I drank this yesterday with a combination of strong and medium cheeses, and it worked quite well them. It could also pair well with barbecued pork and other casual grilling fare. This is a pleasant everyday red for everyday type food. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Grilled Tenderloin with Shallot Demi-Glace

I had this steak a few nights ago with a wonderful 2006 Mendel Malbec from Argentina. It would also pair very well with a nice Cabernet Sauvignon or even some Rhone Valley wines. The recipe is relatively easy to make, and the whole thing including prep work only takes about 35 minutes. It’s a really nice way to dress up your steak a little bit, and although my recipe calls for Filet Mignon, you could serve this sauce with just about any cut of steak. I’ve done it with strip steaks as well as whole tenderloins for larger gatherings.


2 lbs. of Filet Mignon – filets should be about 2” thick
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
4 shallots finely chopped
¾ cup red wine
2 Tbs. demi-glace base – like Demi-Glace Gold
¾ cup water
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
2 Tbs. flat leaf parsley – minced.

Salt steaks lightly with freshly ground sea salt on both sides and cover generously with coarsely ground pepper on all sides. Set aside and preheat grill to medium high heat. If using a gas grill with multiple zones, set one zone to high and the rest to medium.

Melt butter over medium heat and add shallots. Cook for about 10 minutes stirring frequently until they begin to caramelize a little bit. Add wine and simmer for 5 minutes and then stir in demi-glace base and water and simmer and stir for about 10 minutes until liquid is reduced by about half. Stir in parsley and your demi-glace is ready to go. This can be made a couple hours ahead and kept covered until you’re ready to heat it up once the steak is ready.

Shortly after adding the wine to the demi-glace, put your steaks on the hottest part of the grill and sear for one minute on each side. Transfer steaks to medium heat and cook for about 4 minutes more per side for medium rare (meat thermometer should read 130 degrees). When done transfer to a cutting board and tent in foil and let the meat rest for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes cut the steak into thin slices and spoon the demi-glace over the steaks and serve. Serves 4.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Camille Cayran Gemellus Rasteau 2006

I will start this one with full disclosure. The Rhone Valley has become one of my favorite places in the world for red wine, and I especially love the wines of the Southern Rhone. The Southern Rhone is filled with incredible but relatively expensive choices in some of the better know village level wines, the best known of which is Chatueauneuf du Pape. This village just sounds like a place that would have expensive wine doesn't it? Well, it certainly does have some expensive wines, but many of them are well worth the money and believe it or not some of them in the $50 to $100 price range compare very favorably to much more expensive wines from other parts of France and the rest of the world.

For this post though, we are looking at a wine from the nearby village of Rasteau. Rasteau is one of a couple village appelations that are close to but not as well known as Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Since it is not as well known, Rasteau can be a great source of high quality wine with great value for the money, and I am always on the lookout for great values for my cellar. Like Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rasteau will allow a number of different red wine grapes, but the predominant grape is typically Grenache with Syrah and Mourvedre being the most common blending grapes added to the mix.

The 2006 Camille Cayran Gemellus Rasteau is composed of 70% Grenache, 25% Syrah, and 5% Mourvedre. In your glass you get a beatiful deep ruby-purple color. The nose is filled with intense berry aromas that include blackberry, black rasberry, and blueberry as well as a touch of spice with an herbal element. In your mouth you get a medium-full bodied wine with wonderful berry fruit and a little bit of spice and some very pleasant and just a little bit dusty tannins. Very nice acidity rounds out the structure.

At a price point of about $15 this is a very nice, well balanced wine that drinks like it shoud be almost twice the price. I also wouldn't be surprised if this continued to improve if you laid it down for another year or two.

I had this last night with a sauteed chicken dish with a portobello mushroom and roasted red pepper sauce. Although this wine would be a little intense for many other chicken dishes, it worked beautifully with the portobello mushrooms and roasted peppers. It would also pair well with just about any grilled red meat or a nice beef stew or pot roast.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sebastiani Chardonnay Sonoma County 2006

More and more lately I'm finding that I "used to" be a fan of buttery, oaky California Chardonnays. Part of me believes that my preference has changed a little bit, but a bigger part of me believes that California producers went overboard in their pursuit of oak and richness in their Chardonnays. As a result, many of the Chardonnays that I was used to drinking moved to more and more oak and richer, more buttery styles. Thankfully, I think that some California producers are finally starting to recognize that its not all about oak and ridiculously full body. A good Chardonnay needs some acidity and structure to balance things out.

Well that sure is a long lead in and a whole lot of talk about oak before we get to this Sebastiani Chardonnay from Sonoma County. Aged sur lies in French and Hungarian oak for 9 months, this wine gives you enough oak to satisfy those who like oaky Chardonnays without being so much that it completely overwhelms everything else. In your glass, you see a wine with a nice light straw color. The nose is dominated by apple with notes of pear, grapefruit and butterscotch. The palate sees more apple and definitely has a vanilla oak influence on the finish, but it is far from over the top. The wine is medium-full in body and pretty good overall, although I would like to see a little more acidity, but that may be getting a little picky for a wine that retails for $11.

Overall, this wine is a very solid value for the $11 price tag. It is a nice everyday wine that will go well with an everyday meal like chicken on the grill.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Mendel Malbec 2006

Malbec from Argentina continues to be one of the best values at any price that you will find in red wine these days. Whether you are buying a $10 bottle that tastes like its $15 to $20 or a $50 bottle that tastes like it should be $100 there are great values to be had throughout Argentina and the beautiful Andes Mountains.

This offering from Mendel is no exception to this wonderful rule of great value for the price. Sourced from vines that are approaching 80 years old and grown high in the Andes in the Mendoza region, the wine is aged for 12 months in 40% new and 60% used French oak. With a wonderful, deep purple color in your glass, you get a complex bouquet from this wine. I pick up aromas of black cherry cola with some black plum and blueberry. There is also a subtle element of sweet toasted oak with a nutty nuance to it. In your mouth you get a rich, full bodied wine that is fruit forward with intense dark fruit flavor, but it doesn't stop there. This fruit is backed up with nice structure and a long finish with notes of mocha and spice.

Retailing in the $23 range, this is a really wonderful and complex wine for the price. If your more casual in your appreciation of wine and looking for something that's a step up in price that will not disappoint, this is a great choice. For more serious oenophiles, this is just a great expression of Argentinian mountain fruit for a very reasonable price that you want to have in your cellar.

I had this wine with a thin sliced grilled tenderloin with a shallot demi-glace. Absolutely delicious!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Wallace by Ben Glaetzer Barossa Valley Shiraz-Grenache 2007

I must confess that I have never been a huge fan of Australian wine. Nothing against the country or the terroir there, but the very problem is that most of the wine we see from Australia has no terroir. It is mass produced and over manipulated wine, and drinking the wine itself reveals nothing about where its from. Most of the big name (and just plain big) wineries are making wine in the laboratory rather than in the vineyard.

Every once in awhile in the wine industry, unfortunate events happen that end up causing something good in the end. In Australia I believe that the worldwide economic recession coupled with over production is doing exactly that. The big industrial farming/winemaking powerhouses are starting to have trouble selling all their production , and we're beginning to see a movement in Australia towards smaller wineries who are producing wine in the vineyard rather than in the chemistry lab.

Wallace by Ben Glaetzer is a great example of some of the good things happening with this change in market for Australian wines. This family owned winery focuses on small volume, high quality wines, and this Shiraz-Grenache certainly fits the mold. Made from 80% Shiraz and 20% Grenache, all the fruit is sourced from the Ebenezer sub-region of the norther Barossa Valley from very old vines (80 to 120 years old). The Shiraz is aged in 80% French and 20% American oak that is mostly 2 to 3 years old. The Grenache component sees no oak at all. Put it all together and you get a very good and very interesting wine.

In your glass you see a beautiful intense purple color. The nose has Bing cherry and plum aromas with a wonderful earthy undertone that is so rare to find in an Aussie Shiraz. The blend of intense fruit aromas with earthiness is very unique, and I think it works perfectly. On the palate you get more of the same cherry and plum flavors with the black pepper that you expect from a nice Shiraz. The earthiness still comes through, but it's much more subtle than on the nose. The mouthfeel is rich and full with smooth tannins. Overall this is a very unique wine that gives an unusual combination of New World fruit with Old World earthiness. If someone tried to sell this concept to me, I probably wouldn't buy it, but surprisingly I think it works great. At a price just under $20, this is a pretty solid value for your money.

From a pairing standpoint, this would go very well with grilled red meat - especially barbecue, so put some ribs on the barbie and try an Aussie wine that is unique and delicious.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Elizabeth Spencer Napa Valley Chardonnay 2006

One of the great things about visiting Napa Valley is discovering some of the small, lesser known gems that seem to be scattered throughout the valley. On a visit to Napa a couple years ago I discovered Elizabeth Spencer in Rutherford which is a great little winery that produces small lots of a number of different wines each year. Their winemaker, Matthew Rorick, is a purist who believes that his job is simply to express the character of the fruit he has to work with, and as a result he produces some very fine food friendly wines. Their wines do have limited distribution, but your best bet with these is probably to buy them online from the winery at

This 2006 Chardonnay is fermented on the lees in stainless steel barrels. It sees no oak at all, which is largely a result of Matthew Rorick's belief that the fruit is the focus. If you are a lover of heavily oaked California Chardonnays, then this is probably not the wine for you. My wife, who is a lover of new world Chardonnay was rather unimpressed by this wine due to the lack of oak. Medium-pale straw in color, this is a very nice looking wine in your glass. The nose brings pleasant aromas of apple and pineapple with a hint of citrus. On the palate you get green apple and pear with notes of lemon. The wine has wonderful acidity for a California Chardonnay, and is a little more Burgundian in style than Californian. The medium bodied mouthfeel of this wine makes it a very food friendly and versatile Chardonnay. It has very nice fruit, crisp acidity, and a nice medium bodied mouthfeel which results in great overall structure. It would go very well with a number of foods, but it would be perfect with some seared sea scallops or a broiled lobster tail.

As far as value goes, the $30 price tag is a little on the steep side, but when you compare it to White Burgundy rather than California Chardonnay, it is pretty much in line. If you join their wine club, you can get a 20% discount on all your orders, which brings the price down to $24. I wouldn't open this for any old meal, but if your having a tasty lobster tail or some succulent sea scallops then its well worth it for a pairing that will be perfect. Cheers!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Finca Luzon Altos de Luzon Jumilla 2005

Jumilla is one of those great up and coming regions in Spain that is filled with fantastic values. This offering from Finca Luzon, who was one of the quality pioneers in the region, is an outstanding example of what you get from Jumilla and the Monastrell (Mourvedre in France) grape. This grape, which was known for centuries as a bulk wine grape in Jumilla is now producing excellent quality red wines either on its own or blended with other red grapes.

Made with 50% Monastrell, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25% Tempranillo, the 2005 Altos de Luzon Jumilla is intense, dark purple in color. On the nose you get blackberry, blueberry jam, and plum with notes of cinnamon. In your mouth the wine is fruit forward with intense dark fruit flavors similar to the nose with a very subtle earthiness to it as well. The wine has decent acidity and some very nice tannins that provide some structure. The finish is delicious and long. This is what the new Jumilla is all about - intense fruit, some structure, and delicious. At a price of $15.99 it is also a very good value.

I had this wine with a big, juicy cheeseburger on the grill and it was a perfect pairing. It would also be very nice with barbecued ribs. Whatever you decide to have it with, make sure you give the wine sufficient time to decant. I recommend at least two hours in decanter or pour through a Vinturi wine aerator. Yes these things do work. Cheers!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Paul Jaboulet Aine Les Jalets Crozes Hermitage 2005

Over the last couple years I have become very enamored with wines from the Southern Rhone Valley in the South of France. The red wines from the Southern Rhone are primarily made with the Grenache grape with some Syrah or Mourvedre sometimes blended in. It is only recently that I have started to discover and really enjoy wines from the Northern Rhone. In the north it is the Syrah that becomes the star. Northern Rhone wines are typically made with either all Syrah or Syrah-based with some other grapes blended in.

This 2005 Crozes Hermitage from Paul Jaboulet Aine is a very nice example of what you can get with a good Northern Rhone red. In your glass the color is a very basic ruby red. The nose is subtle but quite nice with a complex bouquet. You get cherry and blackberry fruit with some smoke and spice and a subtle but welcome earthiness. In your mouth you get more of the same with great black cherry fruit flavors and some of the peppery spice you expect from a good Syrah. This is backed up with some good acidity and solid tannins to make for a very well structured wine.

This wine has the muscle to pair well with a nice steak, but it also has enough finesse to pair nicely with a number of different dishes. It would be perfect with a grilled leg of lamb.

As far as value goes, I love finding wines that taste more expensive than they are, and I wish this was the case with this one . This Crozes Hermitage is probably priced exactly right. It's about $22 and tastes just like a wine in that price range should. No great value here, but certainly fair value for the money.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Albert Bichot Bourgogne Vieilles Vignes Pinot Noir 2006

Unfortunately value and Pinot Noir are not often found in the same sentence. At its best, the Pinot Noir grape can yield wonderful results. When its not grown properly under the best conditions, the results can be disastrous. As a result, most of the great and even plain old good Pinot Noirs tend to be rather expensive. This effort from Albert Bichot is an exception to the rule. Its a very nice Pinot Noir that retails in the $15 range.

In your glass you get a pretty medium red color. The nose is filled with strawberry and sweet cherry aromas with a pleasant herbal undertone. In your mouth you get a very nice light-medium body with a little bit more to it than most California and Oregon Pinot Noirs. The fruit flavors are outstanding with great sweet cherry, sour cherry, and strawberry. Pleasant acidity and mild tannins provide balance and structure. Very nice for a price around $15.

This wine would make a great, not too expensive pairing for a Thanksgiving turkey. I might make some native Burgundians upset with this, but I love Burgundy with pizza. This wine is pretty flexible. It would also pair nicely with salmon, pork, or duck among other things.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Fossetti Rosso Toscano IGT 2007

It's not very often that I get truly excited about a bottle of wine that retails for $9.99. This Fossetti Rosso Toscano bottled by Mocali in Montalcino is one of those value wines that has me quite fired up. Mocali is better know for the famed Brunello di Montalcino, but this bargain Rosso made primarily with Sangiovese and some Canaiolo outperforms many Brunellos and Chiantis that cost much, much more.

Very dark purple in the glass, the nose is filled with aromas of intense cherry fruit with other dark berry aromas and some very subtle leather. The wine is fruit forward in style and very approachable at a young age. This is a 2007 Rosso that is absolutely ready to drink now. In your mouth you get the same intense cherry flavors and other dark berries that are so pleasant on the bouquet. The body is medium-full with rather mild acidity for a Sangiovese, and the tannins are very smooth. Aside from maybe wanting a little more acidity, this is already a very good wine; however, it is the long finish that really sets it apart from other value wines from Tuscany. This wine just keeps providing pleasure for your taste buds well after you swallow a sip.

As far as value for your money goes, this is about as good as it gets. At $9.99 a bottle, go out and buy a couple cases. This is an absolute steal.

I enjoyed this with some pasta and sausage with red sauce, but this would also pair very well with with grilled meats or a good aged Italian cheese.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Falesco Vitiano 2007 - Umbria

I have to say that I tasted the Falesco Vitiano 2007 with some rather high expectation for a bottle that retails for around $9. The very stingy critic Stephen Tanzer gave this wine a glowing review with a 91 point rating which is just about unheard of for something in this price range. After tasting it, I am not completely in agreement with Mr. Tanzer, but I do think that this wine is a decent value.

This Umbrian Rosso is made from 34% Sangiovese and 33% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. In your glass you get intensely dark purple color. The bouquet is dominated by blackberry and cassis with a little bit of leather to it. On the palate you get blackfruit flavors which are primarily cassis with some black cherry, and there is also some earthiness that I found to be just a little bit off . The Sangiovese did contribute some pleasant acidity to the blend. The other flaw I found with this wine was the tannins. They were too chalky and bitter for my taste. I'm a guy that generally likes strong tannins, but in this case they put the wine out of balance, especially on the finish. This Rosso had a finish with some nice length to it, but the chalky, almost astringent tannins overpowered the other flavors which were present but very subtle.

Overall, the Falesco Vitiano is still a good value when you consider the $9 price tag, but it is nowhere near the 91 point score that Stephen Tanzer gave it - probably more in the 85 to 87 range if I had to put a score to it. My recommendation is to really let this decant a long time, at least 3 hours, to let those tannins mellow out a little bit.

As far as food goes, this would pair best with aged Italian cheese like a Parmigiano Reggiano or a Pecorino.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Chateau Mourgues Du Gres Fleur d"Eglantine 2008

Rose wines are the Rodney Dangerfields of American wine tastes and knowledge - they just don't get any respect. In Europe, good roses are seen as fine wines just like reds and whites. In the US, many ignorant wine drinkers (and I don't mean this as a term of insult - they simply don't know better) turn their nose at roses and consider it to be a lesser category of wine. For this, we can thank Bob Trinchero, the man who started the whole concept of White Zinfandel in California.

Trinchero's Sutter Home Winery was trying to make a rose or blush wine in the early 1970's when he had a problem with fermentation one year. His grapes underwent an incomplete fermentation, and the resulting wine was left with quite a bit of sugar from the fruit that never converted into alcohol. His winemaker was ready to dump it all, but Trinchero decided to try bottling and selling it to an American public that for the most part did not drink wine and liked sweeter drinks. This move, which was an insult to good winemaking, worked out pretty well for Mr. Trinchero from a marketing and sales standpoint. Unfortunately for many wine consumers, it gave rose a bad name in the US market.

The truth is that most roses are not sweet, and there are many delicious dry rose wines that are perfect with certain foods and absolutely great when chilled on those hot summer days when red wines just feel a little too warm and heavy.

The Chateau Mourgues du Gres Fleur d'Eglantine 2008 is a great example of a nice, dry rose that makes for some perfect summer drinking. Made with Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah and Carignan that is only left in contact with its skins for a very short time, this wine is light salmon in color with a quite complex and enjoyable bouquet. You get aromas ranging from strawberry and raspberry to ripe nectarine and a citrus element with some grapefruit. In your mouth you get much of the same with a wonderful combination of fruit flavors balanced by a crisp acidity. The finish is dry and clean with a little bit of length to it. I like this wine all the time, but I love it on a hot summer day. At a price around $13, it is also a very good value. If you like roses, go give this one a try. You won't be disappointed. If your not familiar with good, dry roses, Chateau Mourgues du Gres Fleur d'Eglantine would be a great introduction to this often misunderstood and under appreciated category.

Enjoy this with grilled salmon or swordfish, or pair with a hot sunny day in your yard.