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.