Thursday, December 18, 2014

Klingon Blood: Star Trek Wine Is Actually Pretty Good

Ah, wine label gimmicks. 

I recently praised some wine labels as visual art, and now this comes along. Klingon Blood wine!

I have to confess, I’m not a Trekkie, I don’t speak Klingon and I can’t remember watching any of the various Star Trek incarnations. So, I guess I’m not the target audience.

Even though I occasionally buy wine based on the label, the juice inside is what counts. And this stuff is actually pretty good. 

2012 Star Trek Klingon Bloodwine
California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
A bright magenta color. Bursting with ripe fruits on the nose (blackberries, blueberries, plums and raisins), some sweet lavender, vanilla and mocha. 

On the palate, medium tannins, actually some moderate acid, this wine has a juicy and chewy feel to it, but at 13% alcohol it’s not overwhelming. Lots of blackberry, roasted figs, blueberry pie, dashed with earth, coffee, some black pepper. I get some mocha and red licorice, along with dusty-peppery elements on the finish.

I wasn’t expecting much, but I’m surprised by the structure and complexity of this wine. A unique blend of 37% Malbec, 37% Syrah and 26% Petit Verdot.

Paso Robles is known for producing burly, teeth-staining reds, but this one takes a more subtle approach. I could see pairing this wine with a lot of hearty winter fare, but its light enough to drink with barbecue or roast chicken and veggies.

Gimmick wines frequently contain yummy but uninteresting juice. This one made me stop and think, just a little bit. Fancy that.

The wine is
available now for $20 from Vinport, and may soon make the trek to a retailer near you. I'm not saying you should go and buy this, but I've spent $20 on far less exciting wines. 

Of course, we love wine because it brings us together with others. So, if you're a Star Trek fan, and your Star Trek friends enjoy wine, you should purchase this wine immediately.

Hey, when is the Star Wars Darth Maul-bec coming out?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Olive-Driven: 10 Years On, Cayuse Syrah Slays

Cayuse Syrahs never cease to amaze me. These two 2004s are still doing wonders.
A lot of wine lovers, myself included, use the term “mineral-driven” to describe certain wines. I find many a lot of Mosel Riesling, Chablis and Champagne to be driven by a sense mineral intensity. Well, to be consistent, aged Cayuse Syrahs should be called olive-driven.

So much olive. And I absolutely love it.

Of course, these wines have more than olives going for them. Tons of berry fruit, lots of earthy and herbal tones, notes of cured meats. The wines are popular (and expensive) for a reason: they’re gorgeous Syrahs, some of my favorite in the New World.

I tasted these two beauties alongside a slew of amazing wines and good friends
during a recent end-of-the-year wine bash. We gathered at one of DC’s most delicious and wine-friendly restaurants, Ripple in Cleveland Park, to catch up, eat and imbibe.

Both of these Syrahs come from the rock-laden soils of Walla Walla, which straddles parts of Oregon and Washington. They both come from the same vintage, 2004, a hot growing season with a long, cool fall that led to small berries and concentrated wines.

Christophe Baron, the Champagne expat winemaker and genius behind Cayuse, started his Walla Walla Syrah run with the Cailloux Vineyard, which was planted in 1997. The En Chamberlin Vineyard, also home to Cayuse’s Widowmaker Cabernet, was planted in 2000. It was fascinating to taste these
two vineyard-designate wines side-by-side a decade after the juice was pressed.

Cayuse Syrahs aren’t easy to find, and they’re not cheap, but lovers of Syrah (and olives) will not regret seeking them out.

2004 Cayuse Syrah Cailloux Vineyard
More than a year since my last tasting, and this one is still kicking. I get beef jerky, tons of green and black olives, as well as pickled beet and soy on the nose, not to mention the blueberry and bright cherry fruit. The blueberry, blackberry and wild cherry fruit is juicy and creamy, but the non-fruit flavors steal the show: green olives galore, smoked meat, crispy pork belly, roasted peppers... did I mention olives? Still showing dusty tannic structure and the acid helps tame the velvety mouthfeel a bit. Just a gorgeous wine. (94 points)

2004 Cayuse Syrah En Chamberlin Vineyard
Deeper and darker on the nose than the 2004 Cailloux tasted side by side. More plum cake, baked berry pie, more black olives. I also get a meat and seaweed note. Plummy and rich with blueberries, almost cough syrup-like presence, but it’s actually very pleasant and precise at the same time – somehow. So many complex flavors to unpack: fall leaves, bacon fat, teriyaki jerky, black and Greek olives, also some dried rose potpourri and lavender notes. A feast for the senses and a beautiful accompaniment to the slow cooked lamb shoulder. (95 points)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tasty and Inexpensive Wines From New Zealand

I don’t pay nearly enough attention to New Zealand wines. I’m only one person, and wine has many worlds in which to lose oneself. But I need to lose myself in New Zealand more often.

I’ve enjoyed many a New Zealand Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and the national staple variety, Sauvignon Blanc. The latter of which is a hit with pretty much every casual wine drinker I know, and I usually spot at least one Kiwi Sauv Blanc per house party. They’re relatively inexpensive, tasty and almost always reliable. No wonder they’re all over the place.
This report features a range of wines from New Zealand, all of which were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

SRP: $15
Medium straw color. Fresh aromas of lemon zinger, grapefruit, white peach and some mineral notes. Crisp acid keeps this wine lively, but the creamy body gives it weight on the palate. Juicy white peach, lime and kiwi flavors mix with elements of mineral water, white pepper and lemon. Nice spiciness to this wine, but it doesn’t overwhelm the juicy fruit. Clean and tangy on the finish with a honey undertone. A wine that plays all the different positions very well, so to speak. (87 points)

2013 Kim Crawford Pinot Gris New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $15
Medium straw color. Aromas of white peach, green melon, kiwi and clean mountain streams, rocks, a hint of seaweed? Crisp, the acid tears across the palate, but there’s enough mixed melon, shaved lime and ripe apricot to balance it out. I love the white flowers, minerals and mountain stream notes. So clean and crisp, but a lot of depth as well. (89 point)

2013 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $15
Pale yellow. That classic shock of grapefruit, kiwi and lemongrass on the nose, a bit of sweet sage and green onion as well. Tangy acid, this wine is so fresh and clean. Green apple, kiwi and grapefruit taste ripe, yet the fruit tingles the palate. Moderate grass note, but also some fresh floral perfume and honeysuckle notes. A bit more nuanced and mild than a lot of Marlborough Sauv Blancs, and I like it. (88 points)

2014 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $15
Light yellow color. Nose of ruby red grapefruit, white peach, white flowers and notes of seaweed and green grass.  Clean and refreshing on the palate with crisp acid and a fleshy mouthfeel, the white peach fruit is juicy and drizzled with lime and grapefruit juice, accents by sea salt, green onion and honeysuckle. Bright and crisp onto the moderate-length finish, this begs for salads and sautéed veggie dishes. (86 points)

2014 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc Regional Collection New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $13
Light golden yellow color. Classic Marlborough nose of grapefruit, lemongrass, white peach, some green pepper. Palate is crisp and clean and bright, not a lot of weight or depth, but the lime and grapefruit mixes well with the white and green pepper notes. Hints of honeysuckle and  white peach linger on the finish. (85 points)

2014 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc Icon New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $22
Light gold color. Nose of guava, dried pineapple, grapefruit and white peach, hints of jalapeno pepper and sage. On the palate, this shows more creaminess and depth than the regional collection. Dry and clean with lime and grapefruit juice drizzled over papaya and guava, accented by white pepper and some wildflowers. A more complex example than the entry level with a fresh and mouthwatering approach. (87 points)

2013 Jackson Estate Sauvignon Blanc Stich New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $22
Light gold color. Strongly aromatic, with lime, guava and grapefruit, along with river rocks, nettles andd some white flowers. Tangy and clean with a vibrant personality. The white peach, lime and grapefruit flavors are refreshing and laced with notes of green onion, nettles, white flowers. Also shows some nice mineral components. Quite pretty. (87 points)

2013 Vavasour Pinot Noir Dashwood New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $17
Light cherry colored. Bright cranberry and wild strawberry fruit on the nose along with sage, bay leaf and fresh roses. Medium bodied fresh acid, a silky smooth mouthfeel. Clean, floral, bright, cranberries, cherries and strawberries. Zesty with red apple peel, floral, underlying earthy tones. Very bright and tangy with a drink-me-now, food-friendly personality. (86 points)

2012 Nobilo Pinot Noir Icon Marlborough New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $22
Vibrant ruby-cherry color. On the nose I get chilled black cherries, strawberries and raspberries, mixed in with cinnamon, pepper and sweet cocoa powder. Fresh and bright on the palate with medium to high acid, soft tannins and tangy fruit. I get raspberries, wild strawberries and red currants, dusted with some white pepper, soy sauce, cocoa powder, also some softer notes of coffee and cedar round out the finish, which is quite long and tangy. A brisk and lean style, but not a weak wine, this offers lots of food-pairing options, and I find it mouthwatering and delicious. Aged 10 months in 20% new French oak. (88 points)

2012 Goldwater Pinot Noir Wairau Valley New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough, Wairau Valley
SRP: $20
Light ruby color. Nose of bright cherries, raspberries and strawberries, matched with pickling spices, rhubarb and dried roses. Medium bodied with fine tannins and fresh acid. Black cherries, raspberries and red currant fruit, all bright and tangy. Love the notes of dusty soil, rhubarb, oregano and white pepper, a hint of cola and coffee on the finish. Not the deepest or most profound New Zealand Pinot, but it’s doing everything right and all the elements are in balance. (87 points)

2013 Kim Crawford Pinot Noir South Island New Zealand, South Island
SRP: $17
Bright red cherry colored. Lovely nose of mulled raspberries and juicy black cherries, along with rhubarb, fresh roses and hints of clove and peppercorns. A leaner, fresher, more reserved style with bright acid and soft tannins. This is all about crunchy red fruit (cherries, raspberries, McIntosh apple), mixed with notes of cinnamon, rhubarb, garlic pickle and bay leaf. Clean, refreshing, food-friendly but showing some complexity. Drink over the next year or two. (88 points)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Hearty Italian Reds for Winter

Amarone on a cold night - good call.
This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

I don’t spend nearly enough time with Italian wine, and every time I sit down to an Italian tasting, I think the same thing: Why don’t I buy and collect more Italian bottles? Sicily, Veneto, of course Tuscany, there are so many exciting wines and only one lifetime.

But now that it’s cold outside and dark by afternoon, and I find myself at home cooking a lot of hearty fall fare, vino rosso is a no-brainer.

This grab bag report focuses on a few interesting reds from Sicily, Tuscany and Veneto. All these wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2009 Donnafugata Contessa Entellina “Tancredi” - Italy, Sicily, Contessa Entellina
SRP: $45
Bold purple color. Big-time aromatic display: dark cherries, blueberries and blackberries, laced with smoke and cocoa powder and anise. Sturdy tannins and medium- acid, but the complexity is impressive. Bluberries and black cherries covered in pepper, cocoa powder, loamy soil and roasted chestnuts. Finishes with anise and a flavor that reminds me of an herbal liqueur. Very young, this needs a few years before it settles down. A blend of Cabernet, Nero d’Avola and Tannat. (90 points)

SRP: $89
Beautiful purple-ruby color. Black cherries, plums and blackberries on the nose, dusted with loamy soil, charcoal, grilled steak and cedar notes. Medium+ bodied with sturdy tannins, medium acid. The currant and blackberry fruit is concentrated buy not jammy, and it’s laced with lots of earth, charcoal, graphite, some balsamic glaze, chewing tobacco and sawdust notes. Cedar and mocha accents linger on the finish. Quite dry and tannic, but it smooths out a bit with some air. Aged in French oak for 14 months, then two years in bottle, this is a beautiful wine but it needs time, probably two years and will hold for many more. 13% alcohol, made from Nero d’Avola. (91 points)

2011 Avignonesi Rosso di Montepulciano - Italy, Tuscany, Montepulciano, Rosso di Montepulciano
SRP: $20
A kind of ruby-auburn color. Fresh and juicy on the nose (cranberry, raspberry, wild cherry) along with some tobacco, rose hips and pine resin complexities. Tangy acid and fine tannins provide a silky setting for the red cherry and raspberry fruit. I like the rhubarb, white pepper and rose hip notes, which add a pleasant amount of spiciness. Fresh, approachable, but enough structure. (87 points)

2011 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano - Italy, Tuscany, Montepulciano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
SRP: $30
Bright ruby colored. Lovely bright red berry fruit on the nose, laced with lavender, some sweet pipe tobacco and cedar. Fresh and vibrant on the palate, with medium tannins and acid. The strawberry and cherry fruit is tangy but round at the same time. I like the secondary flavors of roses, tobacco, cedar and charcoal. The oak adds some spice and coffee elements, but I don’t find them bothersome at all. Well-integrated, tasty stuff. (88 points)

2011 Ruffino Modus Toscana IGT - Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT
SRP: $26
A ruby-violet color. Spicy berries on the nose, with notes of cedar, violets and wet leaves. Fresh and juicy on the palate with chewy tannins. Fleshy black cherries mix with notes of cedar, wet leaves, tobacco and sweet spice. Crowd-pleasing stuff, a blend of 50% Sangiovese, 25% Cabernet and 25% Merlot. (87 points)

2011 Brancaia Tre Toscana IGT ­- Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT
SRP: $24
Nose of red currants, plum skin, tobacco and cedar, some violets. Loving the nose. Smooth and silky on the palate with velvety tannins and medium+ acid. Juicy red and black currants and cherries blend with notes of rosemary, tobacco and cedar. A forward and ripe wine, but it’s also very food friendly. 80% Sanviovese with Merlot and Cabernet mixed in. (87 points)

2011 Perticaia Montefalco Rosso - Italy, Umbria, Montefalco, Montefalco Rosso
SRP: $19
Clear light ruby color. On the nose I get blackberries and raspberries, some charcoal, green herbs and some bright red floral tones. Bright acid on the palate, some moderate and dusty tannins, a fresh and food-friendly approach. Bright raspberries and tart blueberries mix with rose petals, incense sticks, tobacco and radish elements. A tangy blend of 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino and 15% Colorino, this shows quite a bit of complexity and could probably improve over the next three years or so. (87 points)

2009 Rocca Sveva Ripasso della Valpolicella Superiore - Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Ripasso della Valpolicella Superiore
SRP: $22
Bright ruby color. Nose of cherries, plum sauce, violets, coffee, tobacco and anise. On the palate, good structure, fleshy but firm, with juicy red and black fruit. Accents of kirsch, coffee grounds, candied raspberry, earth and mocha. Some baking spice and vanilla on the finish. 75% Corvina, 25% Rondinella and 5% Molinara. Drinking well now but could improve. (87 points)

2008 Rocca Sveva Amarone della Valpolicella - Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Amarone della Valpolicella
SRP: $60
Rich purple color. Dark and plummy on the nose, smells to me like some sort of mix of kirsch, yogurt-covered raisins, fig cookies and vanilla. Full bodied, fresh acid and fine tannins combines in a chewy texture. Elements of vanilla and root beer accent the black cherry and saucy plum fruit. Notes of anise, sweet cola, cherry pits and roasted chestnut. Velvety, rich, yet fresh with a long finish. Very pretty stuff that would be worth cellaring for a few years. 70% Corvina, 25% Rondinella, 5% Molinara. (90 points)

2010 Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Costasera - Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
SRP: $63
Deep ruby color. High concentration on the nose, black cherry jam, blackberry pie, red currants, very earthy, dried flowers, incense, some anise cookies. On the palate, full-bodied with solid structure to the tannins but some freshness as well. Blackberries, red and black currants, add in some charcoal and graphite, balsamic glaze, roasted figs. Lots of complexity this wine takes a bold and high-octane approach, but so deep and full of life as well. One to bury for 15 years or so, if we’ll all still be around then. Aged 24 months in 40% new Slavonian oak. (91 points)

Monday, December 8, 2014

My Favorite Wine Labels of the Year

“I buy wine based on the label.”

Countless friends and acquaintances have confessed this to me over the years, although few would attach their names to the quote. When I hear this admission, I respond the same way: Of course you do. Everyone does.

There’s no need to apologize. Wine labels impact us, and we respond. This is a simple, honest acknowledgement of a concept we all understand: looks matter. In a world where everything is a commodity, it is crucial that commodities appeal to our visual senses.

There’s an academic paper in here for sure, something like: Aesthetics of the Wine Label – On the Convergence of Art, Agriculture and the Consumer Mind. There are studies and consumer trends and charts to be examined. But that’s what wine companies pay consultants for.

In the meantime, let’s break it down into digestible chunks.

Alcoholic products come in bottles. A bottle of wine presents itself to the consumer in a very direct and immediate way. You’re not just purchasing fermented grape juice from a particular time, place and producer. You’re purchasing a bottle of a wine — a product, a physical object you can grip in your hand.

You’re buying the shape of the bottle, the label, the cork and the foil. All of these elements are inseparable from the overall experience of smelling and tasting the wine. In other words, the physical object and the act of consuming its contents are interconnected.

I am not in any way suggesting you should buy a bottle of wine based solely on how attractive you find its label. You’d probably end up with some seriously forgettable wine. But, on the other hand, if a wine is well-made and speaks truthfully of its time and place, why not wrap the bottle in something visual interesting?

Just like language on a wine label can be poetry, images on a wine label can be visual art. All wineries use the label to communicate with consumers, but some take the artistic aspect seriously. Perhaps the best example is Chateau Mouton-Rothschild. Every year, this first-growth Bordeaux works with a different renowned artist to create a memorable label. Past vintages have boasted paintings from Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali and many more.

I can’t afford to drink Mouton, but I came across my share of memorable wine labels this year, bottles I consider artful. Like any piece of visual artwork, different people appreciate different images. So you may hate one or more of these, and that’s fine.

But these five labels jumped out at me. They intrigued me. They piqued my interest and made me wonder about the person behind the bottle. What more can you ask of a wine label? 

I love Old World wine labels, but all six of my favorites this year hail from California. (Pictures below the fold.)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

In 2012, Hourglass Cabernets are Kicking

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Napa producer Hourglass has been turning out some exciting Bordeaux reds for years now, but in 2012 they really nailed it.

I recently tasted through Hourglass’ 2012 Cabernets during a group video chat with Jeff Smith and winemaker Tony Biagi. 2012 was Tony’s first full vintage for Hourglass, although he finished up the 2010s and 2011s after taking over from renowned winemaker Bob Foley. Tony arrived at a great time, as 2012 provided a consistent growing season and resulted in wines that show balance and depth. Biagi and Jeff Smith compare 2012’s tempered growing season to the much heralded 2001 vintage.

Hourglass reds are sourced from two vineyards, the Estate and Blueline. In the late 60s, Jeff’s father bought what would become the Estate vineyard, a six-acre site two miles north of St. Helena. A big fan of Zinfandel, he began growing his own, a lot of which went into Caymus’ wines. After his father passed away, Jeff replanted to this vineyard to Cabernet in the early 90s, and Hourglass pressed its first Cab in 1997. The project got off to a great start, as the wine garnered critical acclaim and Hourglass shoved its way into the crowded lineup of premium Napa Cabernets.

Hourglass acquired the Blueline Vineyard in 2006, and the vineyard team replanted many of the blocks in 2007. The 22-acre vineyard (south of the town of Calistoga) is planted to all five Bordeaux varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Malbec. (The Blueline Cab Franc, Merlot and Malbec from 2012 are also very well done.)

Jeff said he aims for “structural integration” in his reds. “The Holy Grail of Napa Cabernet,” he said, is harnessing that ripe fruit without giving up freshness, acidity and minerality. He wants ripe fruit without the wines “losing their tensional edge.” These 2012s have plenty of tension, not to mention fruit and staying power. I found all of these wines to be much more expressive on day two.

2012 Hourglass HG III - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $50 
Nose of blackberry and black currant, a hint of red berries mixed in, rich but nuanced with notes of graphite, coffee beans, loam and tobacco leaf, underlying sweet cocoa and vanilla.  On the palate, the acid invites you in, the tannins provide structure and depth while the fruit is bright and juicy. Red and black cherries and currants, laced with cola, cedar and pencil shavings. Notes of loam, chestnut and cocoa powder. Lasting, cellar-worthy but approachable.  The inaugural vintage of this Merlot, Cabernet and Malbec blend. Essentially a second wine, Tony said the varietal make-up blend is going change every year. (90 points)

SRP $125
Complex nose of cool blackberry and red and black currants and plums, the core of fruit is so seductive and vibrant. Notes of vanilla coffee, sweet cocoa powder, crushed granite and pencil shavings along with some floral elements that need time to come out. Juicy currants offering depth and power, yet the acid offers refreshment. Chewy tannins, so delicious and inviting but clearly lasting. I love the accents of pencil shavings, chewing tobacco and graphite, black cherry and vanilla colas. Deeply mineral-driven, with floral accents, anise, sweet lavender and hints of black olive. 91% Cabernet and 9% Petite Verdot aged 21 months in new French oak. In the past, the wine was 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, but Petite Verdot is playing a larger role. It’s pure Napa with its depth and smoothness, but the tanginess is really attractive. Decant for a long time or bury for three to six years, will hold for much longer. (93 points)

2012 Hourglass Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley
SRP $165
Nose shows a deep core of black and red currants and plums, some fruit skins and jam as well. Granite, cocoa powder, milk chocolate, some sweet oregano, green olive and pipe tobacco, so complex and lovely stuff on the nose and it opens up a ton with air. Deep and complex with fine-grained but sturdy tannins and medium+ acid. Flavors of black cherries and black currants with notes of red fruits mixed in, it’s zesty and juicy but showing lots of depth. More graphite and pencil shavings here, along with granite and river rocks. I also get some dark roast coffee, cedar, hints of dark chocolate and root beer. Deep, complex but finishes clean and long. All Cabernet aged 22 months in new French oak. Takes a while to fully express itself, so decant now or cellar for a handful of years. (94 points)