Saturday, January 30, 2016

Pre-Madeira Trip Tasting: Blandy's 10-Year

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Well, I’m headed off to Madeira tomorrow. I’m more than a bit stoked for this trip — this volcanic island jutting out of the Atlantic has been on my bucket list for years. I’ll be there for a week, tasting wine, touring vineyards, taking in the views and taking lots of notes.

When I get back, I'll have a series of posts exploring this storied island and its eponymous wines.

In the meantime, and to get things kicked off, I recently tasted through four Madeiras from renowned producer Blandy's. I previously tasted through Blandy’s 5-Year Madeiras, and I took the excuse of being snowed in by Winter Storm Jonas to taste through the 10-year wines from this producer.

All of these wines are aged 10 years in old American oak. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. They all retail for about $35 for a 500ml bottle.

N.V. Blandy's Madeira Sercial 10 Years Old - Portugal, Madeira
Medium gold color. Smells of orange peel, apricot, shaved ginger, almond and a mix of floral and slight herbal notes. Full and rich on the palate, but like a good Sercial the acid cleans it all up and keeps the wine fresh despite the richness. Flavors of baked apple and orange peel, topped with raw almond, ginger, dried white flowers, sea salt. Bold but so refreshing. I love Sercials for the way the bright crunchy aspects are integrated well with the richer flavors. (90 pts.)
Light orange-caramel color. Some bright aromas of orange peel and lemon zinger tea mixed with elements of raw almond, olive oil, honey and caramel candies. Full but juicy on the palate with a bit of tanginess, light sweetness but the wine stays fresh. Orange marmalade, honeyed lemon tea, almond, olive oil, dried flowers – this has a lot of really intriguing flavors. Rich but nicely balanced – what I look for in Verdelho. (90 pts.)

N.V. Blandy's Madeira Bual 10 Years Old - Portugal, Madeira
Light brown/dark orange color. Richer aromas of quince paste, dried apricot, honey, toasted almonds and clove. Rich texture, plenty of sweetness but that’s balanced (at least somewhat) by a bitof acidity. Nutty and honeyed flavor profile with flavors of apricot jam, dried mango, along with toasted almond, white tea, candied pecans, some spicy clove elements. I love the sweet richness, but the wine doesn’t feel overwhelming. A sweet wine that finishes fresh. (89 pts.)

N.V. Blandy's Madeira Malmsey 10 Years Old - Portugal, Madeira
That classic copper brown color. Aromas of dates, fig paste, spiced pumpkin pie, caramel, honey, and a floral note lifting from the richness. Mouth-filling and unctuous on the palate but there’s a hint of freshness. Flavors of dates and figs blend with orange marmalade, molasses, honeycomb, pecan pie, clove and rich nougat. Rich but complex and ultimately damned enjoyable without being too heavy.
(90 pts.)

Friday, January 29, 2016

More California Pinot Noir, Please!

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

California Pinot Noir needs no introduction, so, let’s get down to business. 

Since my last report on California Pinot Noir, I've tasted a bunch of good stuff. A lot of these wines hail from 2013, a warm and dry vintage that seems to have produced some concentrated but smooth Pinots all over. Some age-worthy 2012s found their way into this tasting, and I’m looking for good things in 2014 as well.

The wines were all received as trade samples and tasted single-blind, except for the first two rosés, which were tasted sighted.

2012 Riverbench Vineyard & Winery Cork Jumper Rosé Blanc de Noirs - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $45
Very pale copper color. Aromas of rich cherries, tart white cherries and raspberry tea mixed with a smoky mineral and talc note, also some mushroom and musk perfume — this has a lot going on for it. Gorgeous texture on the palate with fine bubbles, such refreshing acid. White cherries, wild strawberries, some red currant tea, interesting savory elements (mushroom, black tea, tobacco) mix in with classic biscuit and yeasty notes, some raw almond and crushed nutshells. Deep and complex, this could do some fun things in four or five years. Unique in its non-fruit complexity. 100% Pinot Noir. Tasted sighted. (91 points)

2014 La Voix Pinot Noir Rosé "She's Crafty" - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $30
Bright strawberry candy colored. Floral and peppery notes add to the rich strawberry, white cherry and red apple aromas. Medium-plus-bodied, bright acid, a rich and velvety presence on the palate. Tangy red and white cherries, raspberry, strawberry, watermelon, the fruit is rich but shows some crunchiness. Notes of pepper and nutshell add complexity. This is not a light-bodied, zesty rose, this is a heartier version with some punch, but it maintains an attractive sense of freshness. Well-done stuff. Who said rosé was just a summer thing? I’d drink this any winter day. Tasted sighted. (88 points)

SRP: $45
Juicy ruby color. Bright and vibrant aromas of juicy black cherries, raspberries, sweet strawberries, along with an attractive mix of richer elements (toast, mocha) and bright notes (rose petals, rhubarb, white pepper). Rich texture, velvety tannins, moderate acid, a forward, chewy wine. Juicy black cherries, raspberries and strawberry jam, laced with rich cola, coffee and sweet toffee notes, but also white pepper, rhubarb, tobacco and mint. Long, creamy finish. A rich wine but lots of fun, it sports significant complexity. Drink-me-now style, but perhaps it would be worth holding onto for a few years. Aged 12 months in 10% new French oak. (88 points)

2014 Inconceivable Wines Pinot Noir “The Fog Prince” - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $25
Light ruby color. Smells of sweet raspberries and strawberry jam, some rose petals and red licorice. Full-bodied with chewy tannins, some moderate acid, a rich but juicy appeal. Black cherries, strawberry jam, the fruit is doused with some cedar, cola, red licorice and dusty earth notes. Bold and a bit jammy, but stays fresh and has enough non-fruit elements that it works out quite well for my palate. Ready to go but you could hold onto this for a year or three. Aged 10 months in new and old French oak. (87 points)

2013 Riverbench Vineyard & Winery Pinot Noir Estate Clone 115 - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $46
Light rose color. Nose of tart red cherries, strawberries, mixed in with tobacco, menthol, rhubarb and white pepper. Medium-to-full bodied, actually quite rich and forward but balanced by refreshing acid and a dusty tannic structure. Tart red apples, strawberries and raspberries, the fruit is plenty ripe but crunchy around the edges. Refreshing and spicy with plenty of rhubarb, tobacco, white pepper, underlying limestone, mineral but richer notes of clove, birch bark and coffee as well. Plenty of structure but elegant and pleasurable at the same time. This Pinot is firing. Sees 60% new French oak but orchestrated well into the overall package. (91 points)

2012 La Voix Pinot Noir “Reflektor” Machado Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $95
Vibrant ruby color. Smells like sweet raspberries, strawberry jam and juicy black cherries, along with roses, cola, root beer candies but also some spicy tobacco and fallen leaves. Full-bodied, a surprising acidic presence weaves it all together, some good grip to the tannins. Darker fruits here (black cherry, crunchy plums, some sweet blueberry and strawberry jam) but also notes of violets, sarsaparilla, coffee grounds, cedar shavings and mint. A more forward style, full of jammy fruit, but plenty of other elements to appreciate, and it stays lively and playful. I’d like to revisit this in a few more years because it seems a bit compact and hesitant. (91 points)

2013 La Voix Pinot Noir “Satisfaction” Kessler-Haak Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $75
Light rose color. Bright and vibrant aromas, like wild strawberries and tart red cherries, this wine also has saucy, floral and earthy aspects that are seriously complex. A full-bodied wine, velvety but full tannins, the wine has a chewy presence but that’s balanced by this underlying freshness from the acidity. Tart red and dark berry fruits abound, but they're backed up by plenty of sweet flowers, perfume, sweet green herbs, along with richer notes of cola, cedar and clove. Lovely stuff, juicy but restrained. Complexity lies within, waiting for a few years in the cellar. (92 points)

2013 La Pitchoune Pinot Noir English Hill Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
Deep ruby color. Aromas of ripe, juicy black cherries, raspberries, tart strawberries, also some notes of pine sap, tobacco, white pepper, a spicy-herbal kick. Bright approach on the palate with tart raspberries, cherries and red plums, dusty tannins, plenty of structure, a bright acidic backbone that keeps the wine lively and tart. Notes of bay leaf, tobacco, white pepper, mixed in with richer elements of chocolate-covered cherries and cola. Deep underlying sense of earth and minerals. A beauty of a Pinot Noir that should improve for the next three to five years. Aged 11 months in 25% new French oak. (93 points)

2013 La Pitchoune Pinot Noir Holder Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
Medium ruby colored. Aromas of jammy raspberries, tart summer plums and red currants, along with some earth and rosemary elements. Medium+ bodied, a velvety appeal with moderate acid, the balance is quite a thing. Tart plums mix with wild raspberries and richer strawberry jam flavors, and I get secondary notes of pine sap, green coffee, black tea. Velvety, smooth but stylish, rounded out with some earthy and saucy aspects that will surely evolve with time. 13.8% alcohol, aged 11 months in 25% new French oak. (92 points)

There are a lot of really solid Pinots coming out of Russian River in the 2013 vitage.
2013 J Vineyards & Winery Pinot Noir Nicole's Vineyard Russian River Valley - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $65
Gorgeous ruby color. Vibrant aromatics, we’re talking cherries, raspberries, juicy strawberries, along with lively rose petals, rich earth and some interesting spice components (white pepper, clove?), the whole package is complex. A full-bodied wine with good tannic structure but the acid is refreshing and the wine slides along smoothly. Red plums, raspberry jam, juicy cherries, the fruit is matched with complex notes of roasted chestnut and toasted biscuits savory aspects (mushroom, fallen leaves?), and some baking spices (clove, cinnamon?). A gorgeous, silky finish. This is my favorite Pinot I’ve tasted from J. Aged 13 months in 30% new French oak. (93 points)

2013 J Vineyards & Winery Pinot Noir Russian River Valley - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $40
Medium ruby color. Elegant aromas of cool red cherries, crisp red apples, juicy-tart strawberries, notes of rose hips, rhubarb, eucalyptus and clove. A fleshy and juicy wine, tart acid provides tang and nerve, velvety tannins for structure and a creamy-rich mouthfeel. The fruit is pure, ripe and crunchy (red currant, strawberry, red apple, raspberry). Bright and floral with waves of rhubarb, white pepper, violets, light roast coffee and eucalyptus, a wide array of non-fruit flavors. A deep sense of rose petals, sage and clay soil pervades this wine, adding nuance and complexity. Less intense than the 2013 Bow Tie, but for my palate I appreciate the tart, cooler approach. Aged 9 months in 30% new French oak. (90 points)

2013 J Vineyards & Winery Pinot Noir Bow Tie Vineyard Russian River Valley - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $65
Light ruby color. The aromas are expressive, attractive and plentiful: raspberries, wild strawberries, rhubarb, cola, sweet caramel, clove and cherry wood. A rich and velvety wine on the palate, fleshy tannins and moderate acid, the raspberry, red cherry and strawberry jam flavors are ripe but show a bit of tartness around the edge. Notes of fire pit, roasted nuts, caramel, rose potpourri and cedar. This is a bold and full Pinot but shows a good amount of nuance, too. 14.6% alcohol, aged 13 months in 30% new French oak. (90 points)

2013 FEL Pinot Noir Savoy Vineyard - California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $70
Electric ruby color. The cherry, strawberry and red currant aromas are peppered with notes of tobacco, bay leaf, tree bark and notes of mushroom — the aromas shift and evolve in the glass. A rich presence on the palate with medium-fine tannins, moderate acid, the fruit is velvety and rich (black cherry, strawberry, raspberry jam), accented by a nice mix of coffee, clove, tobacco barn, mushroom and sarsaparilla. Lovely rich texture but some sturdy backbone and maintains a fresh edge. Pretty now but I’d like to crack open a bottle in two or three years. 14.4% alcohol, this wine was aged 15 months in 60% new French oak. (91 points)

2014 William Hill Winery Pinot Noir - California, Central Coast
SRP: $18
Vibrant cherry color. Nose of sweet red cherries, sweet roses, ripe and juicy rasphberries with notes of cola and dusty soil. A rich and velvety appeal on the palate but some dusty tannic structure, medium-low acid. Juicy black cherries, raspberries and dark plums, the fruit is rich and a bit candied, tossed with toasted with oak, caramel, red licorice and espresso. A ripe and slightly candied style, but it’s still very attractive, smooth and appealing. From Santa Lucia Highlands and Edna Valley. (86 points)

2013 La Follette Pinot Noir North Coast - California, North Coast
SRP: $20
Medium ruby color. Smells of wild raspberries and cherries, some tartness but sweetness mixed in with notes of roses, cola and fallen leaves. Medium-bodied, medium acid, softer tannins than many of the others but enough to give it a light-silky texture. Juicy raspberry and strawberry fruit mixes with a sense of wet earth, fallen leaves and coffee grounds. Some sweet cola and roses as well. Juicy, fun, not too complex but quite tasty with some unique earthy aspects. (86 points)   

MacMurray's entry-level Pinot is a lot of fun,
but they make some serious juice as well.
2013 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir Central Coast California, Central Coast
SRP: $23

Light ruby color. Nose of bright red cherries, wild strawberries, raspberry jam, subtle tobacco, rose petals and tilled soil as well. Juicy and full on the palate, full of red berries, cherries and raspberry jam. Some dusty tannic structure, medium acid. An interesting mix of bay leaf, caramel and rhubarb pie. A bit simple perhaps, but put together well and very pleasant. Almost all the fruit comes from Olson Ranch in Santa Lucia Highlands. (86 points)

SRP: $12
Bright ruby color. Weak aromatics, with sour cherries, rosewater and strawberry jam. Strange wine on the palate, the tannins are soft but bitter at the same time, and the acid is out of whack. Sour cherries, strawberry jam, the fruit tastes a bit baked. Notes of oak chips and heavily roasted coffee. Just not very good at all. Mostly Clarksburg fruit with 40% from Monterey. (NR)

SRP: $10

Light ruby colored. Smells of sweet cherries, raspberries, some wild green herbs and dusty earth. Tart on the palate with almost no tannins but some tasty raspberry jam flavors and some tart, Thanksgiving dinner cranberry sauce going on as well. Notes of cola, coffee and a spicy, herbal note that reminds me of baby’s breath. Slight earthiness on the finish. Simple, easy-drinking, I was actually surprised this was only $10 retail, as it drinks as well as a lot of Pinots in the $20 range. Actually includes some Grenache, Gewurztraminer and “10% select red varieties” – hmm. Whatever tricks they’re pulling to make a $10 Pinot not only drinkable but decent, they’re working. (84 points)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Few Suggestions for Wine PR & Marketing Pros

Hello wine sales and public relations professionals!

As a group, you are very cordial, helpful and responsive people. You’re very knowledgeable of your portfolios, and just as good at conveying that knowledge to others in the wine industry and the general wine-consuming public. 

Your job isn’t easy: trying to convince people such as myself that a single bottle among the throng of options is delicious, unique and worthy of contemplation. And it’s hard convincing Random Joe McWineConsumer to shell out money for said bottle.

I wouldn’t claim to know how to do your job. I’ve sold wine before, but I’m much better at consuming it. You know your clients, your audience and your sales targets.

But as someone who attends lots of trade tastings, visits a lot of wineries, chats with a lot of wine sales folks, and receives wine samples and promotional materials on a regular basis — I’ve come across a few oddities. A few misused tools. Just like making a fine wine, the little details go a long way.

Here are a few thoughts offered up for general consideration.

Be more efficient when shipping wine

Last year I received a large two-bottle box with double-thick Styrofoam. Inside was one bottle of wine. The next week, I received another over-sized box with one bottle — from the same damn winery! This waste of money, resources and energy makes absolutely no sense to me. Why wouldn’t you ship your wines together, in one box, as opposed to a bottle-by-bottle piecemeal approach? I’m more than likely not going to taste the first wine before receiving the second wine anyway, so why not ship all current releases at once?

Speaking of Styrofoam: It’s terrible. It takes up way too much space, it breaks down into crumbly pieces that cause litter and (worst of all) it goes straight to the landfill. I’m receiving more and more wines padded with recyclable cardboard, which is an excellent trend. I’m not sure of the cost differential, but I’d love to see more and more recyclable shipping containers.

Wasted space and a warm "cold" pack? This makes no damn sense to me.
Don’t ship wine in the summer heat

Why, oh, why do wineries and marketers ship wine during the sweltering heat? I review a lot of wines for the daily blog Terroirist, and on the site we explicitly tell people not to send wine during the dog days of summer. But some insist on wasting time, money, resources and energy to ship wines in the middle of the brutal Mid-Atlantic heat and humidity.

I’ve received way too many leaky bottles of cooked wine. These bottles of wine come from all over the country and they end up going straight down the drain. As a wine-lover, it’s frustrating to think about how much time, money and energy went into making that wine, only to have it cooked and destroyed in transit.

Some shippers think they have found a solution to heat damage: including a frozen cold pack with the wine. I’m not sure what nonsense these companies are telling you, but cold packs are worse than useless. I’ve received lots of packages stuffed with cold packs and every single one of them, without exception, was hot upon delivery. When I’m traveling across the city for a summer wine tasting, I use a cold pack in my wine tote. But this process doesn’t work when shipping wine across the country. The only thing a cold pack does is add to the shipping costs and waste. Please just wait until the heat drops to ensure the wine arrives in good condition.

Tell me about the vintage

In press materials, I appreciate honesty when describing the vintage. Not every vintage is “great.” But very good (even great) wine can be made in difficult vintages. And, of course, whether certain vintage conditions translate into a “great” wine is subjective. (I frequently love wines from cooler, rainier vintages where the grapes struggled to ripen.)

Hail happens. Heat waves happen (more and more frequently). Here on the East Coast, tropical storm remnants can dump tons of rain on vineyards at the worst possible time. But these challenges give a wine its character. They’re what make vertical tastings so much fun for us wine nerds. It sucks to see pictures of hail or storm damage, but when studious vineyard work and attentive winemaking turn a difficult vintage into a delicious and unique wine, this is a cause for celebration.

When were the grapes harvested? How does this line up with the prior vintage or the trend of recent vintages? How much rainfall did the vineyard see and where does that number fall on a spectrum? What steps are the vineyard crew taking to deal with drought, climate change, etc.? These are the types of things I want to hear about the vintage. Piling adjectives and superlatives on top of each other doesn’t help anyone understand the nature of a particular vintage.

This is quite possibly the best opening line of a wine PR letter I've ever received. Quoting insanely talented guitarists is always a good idea. 

Tone down the food pairing talk 

Way too much ink is spilled on wine labels offering up lame suggestions for food pairing. I have often quipped with casual wine-consuming friends that a wine with the word “pasta” on the back label should be avoided. The crummier the wine, it seems, the more exhaustive the list of foods to pair with said wine.  

Lots of press materials and tech sheets contain too many food pairing suggestions. But for the love of Bacchus, please stop saying a wine pairs well with “ethnic food.” Seriously, what the fuck is “ethnic food” anyway? Anything with flavor? Anything that doesn’t come in single-serving plastic containers? And don’t tell me your wine pairs well with chicken dishes, either. A wine could pair well with pretty much any food if you describe that food in the vaguest way possible.

I find it interesting when wine PR materials include a suggested recipe to accompany the wine. This shows some forethought, and at least suggests the person who wrote down the recipe has tried it with the wine in question. I’ve actually tried quite a few of these recipes, and even added some of my favorites to my personal collection.

But when it comes to suggesting food pairings, can we keep it simple? I want to know one thing and one thing only: What does the winemaker eat with this wine? I don’t want to know about some hypothetical pairing that exists only on paper, and I don’t need a chart with cutesy pictures of shrimp and turkey legs. I want to know what the winemaker actually consumes when he/she sits down and pours a glass of this particular wine.

During tastings, many times the winemaker will say something like: “Oh, man, I just had the 2011 with a lemon-rosemary grilled chicken, and the herbal components in both the wine and food really started to sing together.” Or: “This new vintage needs a few years to come around, but a friend and I just tasted the 2005, which is really silky right now and it was beautiful with some slow-cooked lamb shoulder. But if you’re drinking the current vintage now, a peppered T-bone is the way to go.”

This is golden information that only the winemaker possesses. Why not share it with the rest of us?

Well, that's all I have. 

Thanks for reading and thanks for being awesome. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

15 Vintages of Cos d'Estournel

It’s not often I get to taste 15 vintages of the same wine. Actually  wait a minute  I’ve never tasted 15 vintages of the same wine at one time. Six or eight, sure, but never have I so thoroughly immersed myself into a specific producer’s wine.

Well, what a great producer to focus on with such intensity. Cos d’Estournel is an iconic Bordeaux house, located in the Left Bank appellation of St. Estèphe. The estate dates back to 1811, and was classified as a second growth in the 1855 Bordeaux classification. The wine is usually about 75% Cabernet with Merlot rounding out the blend, and the occasional shot of Petite Verdot and/or Cabernet Franc. The wine is cherished by collectors for its long cellaring potential and appreciated by wine lovers for its rich fruit and unique spice components. As such, they’re also damned expensive. I’ll leave the full summary of this heralded estate to Bordeaux guru Panos Kakaviatos, who recently profiled this St. Estèphe property on his blog, Wine Chronicles: Changes afoot at Château Cos d’Estournel.

Panos organized this stunning tasting for a bunch of DC area winos. I had an absolute blast chatting with friends old and new, not to mention Cos director Aymeric de Gironde, who was a fount of information and a really solid dude. For a man who oversees Cos d’Estournel and worked as a manager at Krug, he’s an unassuming and humble guy. 

The food from Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley was, as always, phenomenal, and paired wonderfully with the wines. If you don’t know about her awesome restaurant in DC’s Cleveland Park Neighborhood, you should really give Ripple a try. I’ve had more phenomenal wine dinners at this restaurant than I can count, and the food and service are always remarkable. Also, she’s currently kicking some ass on this season of Bravo’s Top Chef, and I’m rooting she wins the whole thing.

All the wines at this tasting were stored in the chateau’s cellars since release. A few bottles were corked, so some of the pours from particular vintages were a bit smaller. I really wish I could revisit all the wines individually, but it was exceptional to taste so many vintages in one go. All in all, a most memorable evening. My thoughts on the wines are detailed below.

Opening Champagne

N.V. Michel Reybier Champagne - France, Champagne
This is a new project named after Cos Chateau owner Michel Reybier. It’s a richer style with toasty bread, baked yellow apples, a bit of grip to it with notes of salted nuts and white flowers. (87 points)

Flight 1
This course was paired with lamb heart tartare made with pickled mustard seed, caper and sea salt. Aymeric de Gironde described these wines as belonging to the "same family of vintages," and the wines all do show a similarity in grip and power, the younger wines showing a bit more austerity. Beautiful wines, the three of them, but the 2006 and 2008 are so young, and the 2004 seems to be opening up a bit, but, still, it’s best days are ahead.

2008 Château Cos d'Estournel - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Estèphe
Smells of warm spices, concentrated dark fruit. Bold and rich with dense tannins but some velvety aspects sneak through. Rich earth, roasted nuts, cedar, cigar box and underlying spices layer the dark currant fruit. Very young (I’d love to retaste in 10 years), but yet shows an undeniably attractive essence and a surprisingly creamy finish. (93 points)

2006 Château Cos d'Estournel - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Estèphe
Very similar nose to the 2008 but a bit more earth and spice. Rich and opulent with firm, chewy tannins and light acid. Concentrated but some silkiness starting to appear. Lovely earth, eucalyptus and sweet spice accents to dark currant fruit. Promising, but still very young and primal. (93 points)

2004 Château Cos d'Estournel - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Estèphe
The most accessible and exciting wine in the bunch, this shows warm, deep currant aromas with cedar, pencil shavings and complex spice tones. Pure and vibrant on the palate, structured for sure but showing some freshness and precision. Black currant fruit doused with earth, tobacco, hints of mushroom coming out. Opens up with air, things are starting to get interesting here, and this will have so much more to show with more years in the cellar. (94 points)

Flight 2
This was paired with some spectacular glazed sweetbreads. For my palate, the 2005 was as close to perfect as I can imagine. I’ve never given a wine 99 or 100 points before (perhaps I will always be wary of doing so), but it deserves any superlative you could throw at it. The 2003 was also exceptional, and one well-known wine industry professional in the crowd maintained this wine was his favorite, not only of the tasting but his favorite Bordeaux, period. That’s the great thing about Cos: palates differ, but I think everyone had a favorite wine in this tasting that ranked way up there on their list of top wines from the region.

2005 Château Cos d'Estournel - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Estèphe
A textbook example of near-perfect Bordeaux, as far as I can tell. Concentrated but elegant aromas, rich black cherry and currant fruit, accented by gorgeous earth, incense, dried floral and complex spice tones. So elegant on the palate despite the firm structure. Seems perfectly balanced between acid, tannin and fruit. Black and hints of red currant, the fruit is so pure and precise, and backed up by curling waves of incense, cedar, fallen leaves, graphite, mocha and cardamom. Simply phenomenal, and I bet it’s just getting started. My wine of the night. A real treasure to taste. (98 points)

2003 Château Cos d'Estournel - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Estèphe
Darker aromas, richer, blacker fruit with hints strong aromas of clove, earth, vanilla. Full and rich with dark currant and jammy black cherries, a full and rich wine but boasting lots of non-fruit complexity: incense, eucalyptus, loam, coffee, charcoal, bitter chocolate. Stands out for its dark, richness, but it's a gorgeous wine. Rich but so sexy, this seems to be flashing all its goodness right now. (95 points)

2002 Château Cos d'Estournel - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Estèphe
Rich with dark plums and currants on the nose, along with earth, cedar, leather and pepper. Full but smooth, the smoothest wine so far in the tasting, still rich but accessible, even bright. Still plenty of solid tannic structure, some brightness from the acid, very pretty currant fruit doused in wet leaves, leather, tobacco. Silky, starting to show elegance. My least favorite vintage of the night, which is saying something, because this wine is beautiful. (91 points)

Flight 3
Paired with potato gnocci with a wild boar ragu sauce with rutabaga and apples.

2000 Château Cos d'Estournel - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Estèphe
The fruit here is so juicy and dreamy, black cherries and currants, laced with complex spice, herbs and cocoa powder notes. Full and still quite tannic but it glides across the palate and shows some freshness. Bold, chewy black cherries and currants, and I get a load of cedar, leaves, rich earth, cocoa powder, coffee, hints of toasted almond. Long, rich, wonderfully structured for the long haul but showing a lot of stuff tonight. Tasted from magnums. (95 points)

1996 Château Cos d'Estournel - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Estèphe
This wine shows a unique brightness, and I get some red fruit on the nose as well as roses, tobacco, roasted red pepper. Full but silky tannins, bright acid, the black currant fruit is mixed in with some red currants, juicy and delicious all around. Complex elements of roasted pepper, white pepper, mossy soil, wet leaves, bay leaf, oregano, wow, the complexity and length of flavors is stunning. So long and nuanced. Pure bliss of a wine, showing tremendously well but plenty of time left to go. (96 points)

1995 Château Cosd'Estournel - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Estèphe
Dark and juicy black currants on the nose, intertwined with cocoa, menthol, roasted chestnut and charcoal notes. Rich, plummy, saucy, but shows plenty of elegance as well. The fruit is slathered with spiced tea, menthol, fallen leaves, roasted pepper, and some toasted almond and cedar. Bold and still so structured but full of earthy complexity. At this point in the tasting, I wish I could spend all evening with this wine to really appreciate its nuance and evolution. (94 points)

Flight 4

Served with a stunning duck breast with foie gras grits and baby turnips. I was shocked by how much I loved the 1985. I wasn’t the only one, but there was a whole lot of love for the 82 (no surprise) and the 89. All were amazing, but for my palate, the 1985 stood out just a bit more than the heralded 82 vintage.

1989 Château Cos d'Estournel - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Estèphe
Crazy how young this wine still is, yet its elegance is so attractive. Smells leafy and herbal with dark currants and stewing spices. Full and chewy, still so structured with a firm tannic backbone. Pure currant fruit is matched with complex earth, anise, charcoal, gravel, cedar, tobacco and coffee notes. Another beauty, but this one is built for many more years to come. (94 points)

1985 Château Cos d'Estournel - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Estèphe
This wine stands out for its bright, red-fruited approach. Smells tangy and herbal with bright red currants, red apple peel, violets, bay leaf, cigar smoke, floral perfume - an incredibly complex and elegant nose on this beauty. Bright and clean on the palate, with refined tannins and fresh acid. The red currant fruit is laced with rose hips, white pepper, cardamom, floral perfume, oregano and tobacco. Long, crisp finish, full of complexity. So bright and sexy, and showing wonderfully. Not the most heralded wine in the lot, but for my palate, the freshness on this wine is so damn attractive. (97 points)

1982 Château Cos d'Estournel - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Estèphe
Smells of complex red fruits and plenty of herbs, wet earth, tobacco, charcoal and roasted peppers. Smooth, vibrant, dusty, earthy, straight-up gorgeous on the palate. Dark fruits matched with a powerful mix of pepper, soy, cedar, scorched earth, roasted nuts, leaves, mushroom. The finish is like tasting the bottom of a well-stocked spice rack, full of so many complex and nuanced elements that are so fun to coax out and analyze. But it’s easy to simply sip this and become enveloped in the beauty of it all. Not my favorite wine of the night, but definitely a stunner. (96 points)

Flight 5

Served with aged gouda and date jam. These were all tiny babies, and I’d love to redo this flight in eight or ten years.

2012 Château Cos d'Estournel - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Estèphe
So concentrated, intense really, this needs a decade at least but it’s a thrilling wine at this age. Smells dense and packed with currants, almost like a barrel sample, with some roasted herbs and espresso. Full-throttle and brick-like tannic structure, intense concentration. But the fruit is pure and rich, and I get lots of vanilla, coffee, toasted almond , graphite and paved road notes. I’d love to see what happens to this wine over its long life. (93 points)

2010 Château Cos d'Estournel - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Estèphe
A bit "brighter" than the 2012 aromatically, but also intense and quite compact at this young age. Dense black cherries and currants on the nose along with coffee, roasted nuts and rich earth. Full and chewy with dense tannins but there’s also a vibrancy and cleanness to the wine that makes it incredibly attractive. Rich black cherries, currants, loaded with coffee, roasted nuts, gravel, cocoa, violets, pepper glaze. Long, full, incredibly long finish. Amazing aging potential here - it’s almost a shame tasting this so young, but it’s an awesome experience to taste this wine at this point in its lifespan. Ridiculously good. (97 points)

2009 Château Cos d'Estournel - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Estèphe
A rich, brooding nose of black currants, even some blueberry, along with roasted almond and scorched earth. Full, rich, opulent, densely tannic and chewy on the palate. Chewy blackberry and dark currant, the rich fruit is matched with complex elements of coffee, earth, gravel, exotic spice, incense, leather. Chewy but velvety, smoky but nuanced, teeth-staining but exciting. Needs so much time in the cellar, but it’s interesting to taste this beast so young. (94 points)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Gallo Signature Series - Serious Juice from a California Giant

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

If you stroll through your nearest grocery or liquor store and take a look at the inexpensive options, odds are you’re looking at a handful of Gallo brands. From Alamos Malbec to Carlo Rossi glass jugs to Rancho Zabaco Zinfandel, Gallo has the American palate covered. A 2011 study by Phillip H. Howard at Michigan State University found Gallo maintained an almost 23% share of the U.S. wine market.

Brothers Ernest and Julio Gallo founded the E. & J. Gallo Winery in 1933, pitching camp in Modesto, California, where the firm is still headquartered. The company’s tremendous success was built on providing consistent, inexpensive wines to fit specific niches in the American wine consumption puzzle.

Over the years, the company has expanded its approach to incorporate a wider range of the wine spectrum. Gallo of Sonoma offered American wine drinkers (my 21-year-old self included) an introduction to Sonoma wines at a very reasonable price. Other mid-level brands like Frei Brothers and Ghost Pines highlight different California regions and styles. And international labels in their portfolio, like Italy’s Brancaia and Australia’s Clarendon Hills, offer collectors much to appreciate. 

In the past few decades, Gallo has upped the ante in California. They acquired Napa’s Louis M. Martini winery and the
William Hill Estate winery, allowing them access to a wide variety of quality Napa fruit. With the purchase of Louis M. Martini, Gallo also obtained Sonoma’s heralded Monte Rosso Vineyard (which I visited in October). The company also bought Russian River Pinot purveyor MacMurray Ranch. Add in some Chardonnay from Edna Ranch in the Central Coast and Frei Ranch in Sonoma. Along with their acquisitions, Gallo still holds lots of family vineyard land in various spots. Basically, they’ve got quite a lot of supply options. 

With their
Signature Series, Gallo is sourcing fruit from some of its best spots to produce a range of classic varietal wines: Russian River Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, Dry Creek Zinfandel and Napa Cabernet. The wines are made by Gina Gallo, Julio’s granddaughter. The labels carry the Gallo name front and center and cost $33-$50. I think the company is hoping consumers will see past any outdated jug wine connotation and realize that Gallo produces some seriously good juice.    

I recently tasted through the lineup of Gallo Signature Series, which were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. 

2013 Gallo Family Vineyards Chardonnay Signature Series - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $33
Rich golden color. On the nose, I get nutshell, almonds, nougat, which adds texture to the yellow apple, apricot and honey-glazed pear notes. Rich texture, bold but balanced with some bright, clean acid. Flavors of baked yellow apples, apricot jam, juicy green and yellow pears, I also get notes of almond, peanut shell and nougat. The richness is balanced by notes of white flowers, chalk and sea breeze. Aged 12 months in new French and American oak. 14.8% alcohol, maloactic fermentation with lees stirring, the whole deal, so you need to embrace the richness. But it’s a balanced richness, with vivacity. From Laguna Ranch, Del Rio and Two Rock Vineyard. (90 points)

2013 Gallo Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Signature Series - California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands
SRP: $33
Juicy, deep ruby/light purple color. Aromas of dark cherries, juicy plums, some blueberries tossed in. A classic blend of cola, toast and peppery spice notes on the nose as well. Full-bodied and quite rich at 14.7%, but the moderate acid keeps the wine moving forward on the palate. Flavors of black cherries, fleshy but crunchy plums. The oak is generous, with toasted almond and mocha notes woven into the overall package, but the wine brings enough other elements to balance it out. I get tobacco, cola, dusty earth, roasted chestnut. A rich and plump wine, but well-done stuff, especially for the price. The fruit comes from Olson Ranch, (which also goes into some of Gallo’s MacMurray Ranch label Pinot). (89 points)

2013 Gallo Family Vineyards Zinfandel Signature Series - Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
SRP: $50
Deep purple color. Wow, the aromas of really popping with these deep, dark, juicy elements of blackberries, dark cherries, blueberries. I also get notes of rich dusty earth, cocoa powder, spicy tobacco, toasted coconut. Full-bodied and burly on the palate, some moderately fresh acid, but this is a concentrated wine with some significant grip to the tannins. Black and blue berry fruit, the fruit is quite concentrated but shows a crunchy edge, too. Elements of tobacco, mint, some leafy-loamy, sweet herbal notes. Rounded out with toasted coconut and roasted coffee. A frankly beautiful wine despite the richness. Gallo has access to some really high quality Zinfandel, and this is legit example of it. In my mind, a $50 Zinfandel has to be both a) immediately pleasurable b) showing potential to improve significantly with years in the cellar. This has both. I’d love to retaste in four or five years. The fruit comes from Chiotti, Fox Ranch, Frei Ranch, Monte Rosso and Stefani Vineyards. 15.5% alcohol, aged 9 months in French and American oak. (91 points)

2012 Gallo Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Signature Series - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $50
Rich purple color. Compact at first on the nose, this takes time to open up to show tart cranberries mixed with black currant and blackberry fruit, lots of concentration to the fruit but also some earth, pencil shavings and charcoal aromas as well. Full-bodied, tannins show strength but they’re also quite velvety and the wine has a rounded, robust feel to it. Black currants mix with some tart red berry notes. Rich earth, loamy, dusty with notes of sweet pipe tobacco, eucalyptus and roasted red pepper. Really interesting flavor profile on a well-structured wine. Worthy of some years in the cellar, but pleasant now in a robust way. 14.9% alcohol. 87% from William Hill Estate Vineyard, 13% from Monte Rosso in Sonoma. Includes 3% Petite Verdot. (90+ points)

Friday, January 15, 2016

Dry January? Nah, Wine & Healthy Lifestyle Pair Perfectly

It’s a New Year, and we’re all supposed to make some sort of resolution to change things. Eat healthier, get more exercise, etc., etc. — these declarations of intent generally require more self-restraint and less indulgence. 

But wine can (and in my opinion, should) be an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. In 2016, I plan to surf as much as I can (which is always my resolution), travel to new places, keep up with my workout regimen and drink more sparkling wine. 

The holidays are over, but why not keep the bubbles flowing into the new year? Champagne and Champagne-method sparkling wines from other regions are bright, crisp, complex and wonderfully for pairing with shellfish, fish, salads, all the things you're telling yourself you need to eat more of in 2016. 

Read the whole post on January
s installment of Snooths Wine Writers Round Up:

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Three Moderately Priced Bottles from Columbia Valley

As I detailed in a September 2015 report, Columbia Valley is a huge area with multiple sub-appellations. And winemakers throughout this region are sourcing large amounts of quality grapes to use for moderately priced but interesting wines.  Long Shadows, a side project of Washington powerhouse producer Chateau Ste. Michelle, produces a wide array of classic Columbia Valley wines. The high-end bottles are quite good, and pricey, but they also produce a more accessible range of wines called Nine Hats.  

Inconceivable is a label that sources wines from all over, Columbia Valley to California's Central Coast, even an
interesting Sicilian red blend

These three wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. 

2014 Long Shadows Wineries Riesling Nine Hats - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $12
Light gold color. Boisterous aromas of white peaches, kiwi, lime juice, mixed in with some sweet yellow flowers and honey. Crisp acid and a bright personality on the palate. Juicy green apples and green melons with lime drizzled on top. The fruit is topped with what tastes like a dead ringer for crushed Sweet-Tart candies, these sweet chalky notes but they’re so tart and tangy. Orange peel and clover honey notes linger onto the finish. Crunchy, tart, so food friendly but easy to sip on its own. (87 points)

2013 Long Shadows Wineries Nine Hats - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $20
Light purple color. Smells like all sorts of jam (blueberry, blackberry, raspberry) some sweet vanilla, milk chocolate and roasted coffee. Full-bodied and rich presence on the palate, medium tannins and medium acid. Lots of dark fruit jams, mixed with vanilla cookies, coffee, cedar, some black tea and black licorice. The alcohol shows through a bit (14.9%), but it’s a fun, big, chewy red blend. 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Syrah, 22% Merlot and 5% Sangiovese. (86 points) 

2013 Inconceivable Wines Cabernet Sauvignon - Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $25
Light purple color. Nose of black currants, tart blackberries, mocha, cedar and violets. Medium-plus bodied with some moderate acid and lightly structured tannins. Framed by tart black fruit, accented with vanilla, mocha, some mint and tobacco notes. Smooth, silky, ready to go but not lightweight. 88% Cabernet with dashes of Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Cinsault, aged 22 months in half-new French and American oak. (87 points)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Wine Reviews: Delicious California Rhone Reds

This post was first published on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

This week's tasting report is short and sweet: 5 California Rhone wines that rock. If Claifornia Syrah and Grenache-based blends are your thing, $30 can get you a whole lot of deliciousness. Additionally, Shafer's Relentless Syrah is a teeth-staining ball of awesome that deserves the praise it gets. It's not cheap, but wow.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single-blind.

2012 Qupé Syrah - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $30
Deep-ruby color. Jammy black cherries on the nose along with a whole lot of black pepper, add in some smoke and beef broth. Medium-plus-bodied, dusty tannins, refreshing acid, adds up for a silky but fresh mouthfeel. Juicy yet tart fruit (black cherries, red and black currants). Lots of smoke, charcoal, graphite and black pepper. Mocha and cedar notes woven in well. Good to go, but I’d like to revisit this in three years to see more of these savory elements. Mostly Bien Nacido fruit with 25% from the Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard, the wine is aged 22 months in 25% new oak. (90 points)

2013 Anaba Turbine Red - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma ValleySRP $28
Bright ruby color. Nose: Juicy dark cherries, sweet raspberries, notes of cola, rhubarb pie and lavender as well, opens up quite nicely. Chewy yet velvety texture, solid tannic grip, moderate acid, it’s all working really well together. Black cherry, blueberry and raspberry jam fruit, the fruit is dark and rich but open as well. Notes of cola, black pepper, leather, grilled mushrooms and dark earth add lots of complexity. The coffee, cedar and vanilla notes are woven in well and don’t overpower the other elements. Could definitely use some time to unravel, but a very pretty wine. A blend of 42% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre and 28% Syrah, aged in 30% new French oak. (91 points)

2013 KITÁ Syrah Camp 4 Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
SRP $30
Juicy purple color. Rich blackberry, blueberry and boysenberry fruit, but the non-fruit complexities explode from the glass (black pepper, soy, charcoal pit, roasted nuts and coffee). Medium-to-full-bodied, moderate acid, a fleshy wine with a velvety approach. The blueberry, boysenberry and black currant fruit is fully ripe but maintains a tart, crunchy edge. Complex black pepper, mushroom, balsamic, roasted herbs, so much savory complexity. I also get notes of coffee, cedar, sarsaparilla. Long finish, this needs years to fully express itself, but so much going on here. 13.5% alcohol, all Syrah, aged 18 months in 30% new French oak. (91 points)

2013 KITÁ Spe'y Camp 4 Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez ValleySRP: $30
Medium intensity, bright ruby color. Aromas are gorgeous: black cherries, tart red currants, roses, violets, pepper, bay leaf, rhubarb, just a whole lot of aromas to unpack. Medium-full bodied with full but smooth tannins and a bright, refreshing acidic presence. THe fruit is pure and delicious (juicy black cherries, raspberries, crunchy plums and currants). Non-fruit complexity all over the place: cola, rhubarb, sarsaparilla, clay soil, pencil shavings, nuanced kisses of oak and coffee. Long and complex but leaves the palate refreshed. I'd love to taste again in three-to-five years. A beautiful blend of 58% Grenache, 21% Syrah and 21% Carignan, aged 18 months in 25% new French oak. (92 points)

2012 Shafer Relentless - California, Napa ValleySRP: $85
Almost pitch colored. A dense and brooding wine that will take a long time to coax out all the nuances, but I get a mix of roasted fig, juicy blueberries, tart black currants and plum skins, along with tar, violets, white pepper, rich earth, mocha and anise cookie, hints of savory spice. Massively full-bodied and so chewy on the palate, sturdy tannins but not abrasive, some moderate-low acid ties it together and keeps it from feeling too heavy. The blueberry, black cherry and black currant fruit is pure, tart and juicy with intense ripeness all at once. I get complex notes of pepper, soy, violets, mint, root beer, toasted oak, mocha. Such a long finish, a bit of heat is my only complaint. A dense brick of a wine, yet it’s complex and focused. Very young wine with a very long life ahead. Syrah with 11% Petite Sirah, aged 30 months in all new French oak. (93 points)