Sunday, September 18, 2011

Montes Alpha Syrah 2007

Terroir. It's that French word that no one really understands until they actually experience it for themselves. What does it mean? Loosely translated it means a sense of place. Flesh it out a little bit, and it refers to the idea that every wine that exhibits it comes from a specific and unique vineyard site that has its own special combination of soil, sunlight exposure, elevation, daytime and night time temperatures, and other factors that makes wine from that site different from any other wine in the world. Sounds a bit like an over-romanticized ideal or a marketing scheme doesn't it? Any one who is serious about wine and has experienced it will tell you pretty emphatically that it's not.

For those who don't believe in terroir, I would recommend going to your local wine shop and getting a Malbec from Cahors in France and then getting a similarly priced Malbec from Mendoza in Argentina. The same grape that was transplanted to Argentina from Cahors will produce wines that are quite different based primarily on the grapes being grown in a very different place. Once you can accept terroir on the grand scale of one wine region vs. another with the same grapes, it is a lot easier to start recognizing the nuances of terroir on a smaller scale.

Oh well, that's enough for my rant on terroir, lets get to the 2007 Montes Alpha Syrah. The wine comes from the Apalta Vineyard in the Colchagua Valley of Chile. It is 90% Syrah with 7% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Viognier that see a year of aging in French oak. The wine is deep purple-red in color and was tasted after 30 minutes in decanter. The complex nose is dominated by aromas of fresh earth, herbs, and pepper, but underneath that initial layer is some very nice but subtle black fruit aromas. In your mouth you get some black cherry fruit with some peppery spice that is rounded out by still somewhat firm and earthy tannins that should relax over the next few years. This is a Syrah that should drink well for many years to come, but it's drinking pretty well now if it's given some decanting.

Overall, this is a very nice Chilean Syrah that tastes like good Syrah should, but also just tastes a whole lot like Chile. It exhibits some excellent Chilean terroir, and would go very well with a flank steak with a red chimichurri or any grilled red meats. At a price of just under $20, it is money well spent.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Chateua Beaulieu Comtes de Tastes Bordeaux Superieur 2009

Bordeaux. It can mean so many things. To some it brings thoughts of wines that are unattainable for most. First growth Bordeaux are often hundreds if not thousands of dollars per bottle. Only industry insiders and the wealthy are really going to get a taste of most of these wines. Even second growth Bordeaux can be pretty darn expensive, but that doesn't mean that there aren't values to be found. In fact, the same argument could be made to a lesser degree about many other regions. Look at Napa - how many of us have actually tasted Screaming Eagle or Harlan Estate's best offerings? There are now probably hundreds of Cabs that cost more than $100 a bottle, and the same could be said for key regions in Italy and Spain. For some reason, though, either its just me or the wine world in general is obsessed with the high end of Bordeaux. Although we would love to get a taste of any vintage of Chateau Petrus, we don't have the thousands of dollars or the right well placed friends necessary to do it. So as things stand for us now, we're making it our mission to find bargains in Bordeaux. We may have to taste through a few bottles of bad wine to discover them, but discover them we will. We won't write about the bad ones, but we will be highlighting a number of Bordeaux bargains on A Couple of Wines over the next few months.

Today we are looking at a Bordeaux Superieur 2009 from Chateau Beaulieu Comtes de Tastes 2009, which comes from the the area of Salignac on the Right Bank. In your glass the wine is garnet red in color. Aromas of black cherry and blackberry fruit are there for your enjoyment along with some cola and fall leaves. On the palate, you are hit up front with black cherry fruit that dominates, but there is also some blackberry. After the fruit starts to fade, you get the fine tannins, which were very enjoyable after 45 minutes in decanter. The wine has a medium body with a very reasonable 13.7% alcohol. What really makes this wine interesting, though, is the finish which brings some mild but really nice earthy elements. Overall this is a very nice and well balanced wine for the $15 that we paid for it. I bought a few bottles of this, and it will be interesting to see how it develops over time. Given some time in decanter, though, this is a 2009 Bordeaux that you can drink now.

From a pairing standpoint, this would be great with traditional French fare such as Coq Au Vin or beef stew. It would also go very nicely with lamb or steak.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Chateau Croix-Mouton Jean-Philippe Janoueix Bordeaux Superieur 2009

For a guy who thinks of himself as pretty knowledgeable about wine and many wine regions across the world, I must confess that I still get overwhelmed when trying to find values from Bordeaux. I'm not sure why, but somehow I find the whole classification system and the many subregions within Bordeaux to be pretty confusing. The fact that by law they can hardly put any information on the label doesn't help matters either. Regardless, Bordeaux makes some incredible wines that can have rare combinations of power and finesse. They can bring beautiful fruit without all the weight that so many Cabernets and Merlots from other regions have. The earthy quality can be great, but in full disclosure I will confess that we don't love wines that get overwhelmingly earthy and especially don't like the wet animal smell that some Bordeaux wines exhibit.

The well known, classified growths are somewhat easier to figure out, but they cost a pretty penny. My goal over the next few months is to discover some really good Bordeaux values that can be had for under $20/bottle. This is the first in a series of Bordeaux under $20 reviews that I will be posting at least twice a month for the remainder of 2011.

The Chatuea Croix-Martin Jean-Phillipe Janoueix 2009 Bordeaux Superieur is made from 87% Merlot and 12% Cabernet Franc with 1 % Petit Verdot that is aged in 33% new French oak and the rest 1 year old oak. The wine was decanted for approximately 45 minutes before tasting. In your glass the wine is garnet red in color. The nose brings blackberries and black cherry with a nice, leathery element to it. On the palate the fruit is a little more subdued but absolutely delicious. The fruit you get up front is nicely balanced by the perfect acidity and fine tannins. The finish has some length to it and brings a subtle earthy element. For $15 a bottle this is one heck of a bottle of wine.

From a pairing standpoint, this is not over the top and has a medium body that makes it pretty flexible. It would work perfectly with Coq Au Vin or a nice stew, but would also go well with grilled red meats or an assortment of cheese.


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Novy 2007 Christensen Family Vineyard Russian River Valley Syrah

Back in July we wrote about our thoughts on Syrah vs. Shiraz and our finally coming to grips with the fact that we really prefer Syrah to Shiraz. Since then, I find myself drinking more and more of it, although I sure wish it was easier to find good values in stores. Recently I found a couple nice Syrah's from Novy Family Wines at one of my local retailers and decided to give them a shot.

Novy Family Wines, based in Santa Rosa, was born out of the same family as Siduri Wines. Where Siduri specializes in Pinot Noir, Novy started a second winery to work with other varietals, and they focus most of their efforts on Syrah. What's really interesting to me about Novy, is that the majority of their wines are from single vineyards. Their winemaking philosophy is a non-interventionist one that looks to produce wine that is unique to the vineyard from which it came. To me, this is what makes a great Syrah. The individual character and fine nuances of flavor that the terroir brings is what makes the wine special.

In your glass, the wine is purple-red in color. The bouquet has some complexity to it, and it brings aromas of black raspberry and black cherry fruit along with some pepper and earth. On the palate, you get more of the same black raspberry fruit, but the cherry element leans more towards a mix of black and sour cherries. You also get some pepper and spice as well. The tannins are mild and well integrated, and the acidity is just about perfect. Best of all, all of this goodness just lingers on your palate for quite some time in what is a fantastic finish.

We enjoyed this Syrah with some smoked baby back ribs, and it worked beautifully with the BBQ. It would also work very well with just about any grilled red meats or even pork. The acidity makes it food friendly enough to be really versatile. Overall, this is one heck of a bottle of wine with a price point of around $19, and I'm really looking forward to trying some more wines from Novy Family!


Thursday, September 1, 2011

El Chaparral de Vega Sindoa Navarra 2008

I may begin to sound like a broken record when I talk about this, but I continue to be amazed by just how many little known wine regions in Spain are producing great wines and amazing values. Slowly but surely, wines from Jumilla, Montsant, Toro, Ribera del Duero, Rias Baixas, Calatayud, and others are starting to find their way onto the shelves of American retailers. Thanks to one of my favorite NYC wine shops, Despana Vinos Y Mas, in Soho I am able to get a wide variety of wines from all these regions as well as some gems from many other Spanish regions. Today's subject is an old vine Garnacha from the Navarra region of North Central Spain. Navarra neighbors the much more well known region of Rioja, and Navarra's fame as a region so far has a lot more to do with bull fighting than it does wine. Pamplona, famous for the festival of San Fermin and the annual running of the bulls, is in the region, although it is just a few miles north of the official D.O. Navarra boundary.

Most of the grapes grown in Navarra are red varietals, and Garnacha and Tempranillo make up over three quarters of the plantings in the region. The D.O. also allows Graciano, Mazuelo, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon as well as a couple white varietals. Historically the region made a lot of rose wines or rosados as the Spanish call them, but in recent years they have moved away from high yield, not so great rosados to lower yield and high quality reds. Like Rioja to the west, Navarra not only has wines that are all Tempranillo or all Garnacha, but also many blends that have both or other blending grapes included. Soils in the region typically have gravel and chalky limestone, but there is a wide range of altitudes that produce very different results in different microclimates within the region.

Unfortunately Navarra wines are still pretty difficult to find, but the few that I have been able to source here in the US have all been quite good. Hopefully as more people discover these hidden gems, more importers and retailers will start bringing these wines to a wine shop near you. For now we will have to live with what we can find, like the outstanding El Chaparral de Vega Sindoa Navarra.

In your glass the wine is deep garnet red in color. It brings great blackberry and raspberry fruit on the nose along with some caramel and a subtle and pleasant earthiness. In your mouth the wine has much less weight than I expected based on the intense color and bouquet. The flavors include some delicious mixed red and black berries along with some sour cherry fruit. This is all balanced against a frame of smooth tannins, great acidity and pleasant minerality. This is a wine that is built for food. It has the tannins to stand up to grilled red meats, but a light enough weight and the right balance to go with a wide variety of food. It would work well with any Spanish tapas and is perfect for a 12 month or older aged Manchego cheese.

Overall this wine is a really food friendly red that is very versatile and can be had for about $15. Go get this one by the case! Its not easy to find this complete and well balanced a wine for this price.