Tuesday, September 29, 2009

There's a Band-Aid in My Cabernet

The highlight of my month, WSET Tasting Club! Cabernet Sauvignon was the grape of the month. And with 9 people in attendance, we tasted, discussed, and gained a bit of understanding regarding the differences between the cabernets of different regions. Our Cabs were from Chile, Italy, France, Argentina, South Africa, California, and Australia.

As usual we did a blind tasting and tried to 'guess' where is wine was from based on the key flavors. This time was much harder for me as far as what wine was what because I don't have much experience with a wide variety of cabernets. So I was also excited because I would get the opportunity to taste cabs from different regions and pick up on the nuances in flavors and colors of the wine that give a clue to their region of origin. Was SUPER excited for the South African one since I'm really into wines from South Africa right now. Don't ask me why...

My excitement unfortunately was blown away when we went to taste wine #6 and it smelled a bit rubbery. We thought it may just need a bit of time in the glass. After tasting and evaluating 3 more wines we came back to good ole wine #6. Now it wasn't just rubbery, it was medicinal. The tasting notes read "Deep red / purple colour. Intense aromas of spicy black fruits, liquorice and tar. Bold and mouthfillling with bramble fruits, damson and black cherry, savoury tannins and an aromatic finish. Chunky, uncompromising style." It was compromised all right! One person said it smelled of Bactine...I smelled nothing but Band-Aids. Everyone agreed and proceeded to pour that wine out. Even worse for me because it was the wine I brought :-(

Now wines #5 and #7 were the winners for the best of the night, but I think #7 might have snuck in there because it was just much better than what we had had before, LOL!

Wine #5 Decero 2006 (Argentina)
Medium - high intensity with ripe red fruit aromas of red cherry and raspberry. Very jammy on the palate with a peppery finish. This wine is perfect to drink now.

Wine #7
Babarossa, Il Doso (Italy)
Deep ruby in color, the cab has a soft texture with spicy cherry and raspberry notes on the nose. It's medium tannins and oaky licorice taste make this a great wine for everyday drinking. Wouldn't necessarily grab a big steak for this one but red meat would go well with its mouthwatering finish.

After going through the 8 wines (the corked one doesn't count) I may not be able to tell an Australian cab from a Chilean cab but I can definitely tell the color and flavor differences between Old World (France, Italy) and New World (everywhere else). It was best explained by a member that Old World cabernets smell more of lean fruit like cassis and blackberry while New World's smell of lush fruit like plum. I'll have to keep that one in my memory bank.

Love the Loire

I had the great honor of spending the afternoon at yet another trade tasting. This one was for Loire Valley Wines at the Westin Grand Hotel. The Loire Valley is geographically in the middle of France and gets its name because it sits along the Loire River. Loire Valley wines are several different grape varieties with the most well-known being Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Melon de Bourgogne and Cabernet Franc. But you wouldn't know that by looking at the bottles, most of them just specify the Loire Valley appellation.

Quick sidebar: Herein lies the problem most people have with French wine. If you aren't familiar with the appellations of this region, seeing Sancerre of the bottle will tell you nothing. Now through Google, or my blog :-), you would know that white wines from Sancerre are Sauvignon Blanc, reds are Pinot Noir. The French are getting a little better with that and some are starting to list the appellation and the grape on the labels. Merci!

Ok, back to the Loire Valley. It's the 3rd largest wine region in France and the largest white wine region. There are 65 appellations which display every style of wine from white to red, still to sparkling, dry to sweet. I think the most diverse styles and flavors of French wine come from the Loire Valley. This could be the case because vineyards in the Loire Valley grow alongside the river and covers about 630 miles which provides several varieties of soil and climates for the grapes to develop. The 65 appellations are divided in 5 regions: Nantes, Anjou, Saumur, Touraine, and Centre.

Now that we've gotten some basics and geography out of the way, we can get down to business...the wines! I must say that I haven't tasted my way through the Loire Valley because of the vast differences in the appellations and with some of the smaller ones, I didn't know exactly what was in my bottle. I love Vouvray and Savennieres which are 100% Chenin Blanc and I know that Sancerre, Pouilly Fume, and Touraine are Sauvignon Blanc. But with the reds, which I'm drinking more of now because of the chill in the air, I was a bit lost. So I did what I always say is the best way to learn about wine...I tasted them!

Appellation - Primary Varietal

Chinon - Cabernet Franc
earthy, dry, dark fruit flavors, may be aged in oak

Rose d'Anjou - Cabernet Franc/Grolleau
ripe red fruit, raspberry notes

Anjou Rouge - Cabernet Franc

earthy, fresh red fruits

Muscadet - Melon de Bourgogne
dry, crisp, apple, citrus, yeasty notes if aged on lees

Quarts de Chaume - Chenin Blanc (botrytised)
sweet, baked peaches, honey notes

With all the appellations of the Loire Valley, this tasting mainly just covered the 10 I listed above. Maybe this is because those are the ones that Americans already have a familiarity with and can appreciate their flavors. The French always say that their wines don't always do well with American palates, so maybe this tasting was a display of the French wines that Americans enjoy. Either way, I got a great map of the Loire Valley, an understanding of the primary varietals, and a tasting of some fantastic wines!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Wine By The Numbers

In a wine shop you always see little cards or advertisements for various wines stating, '83 pts by Robert Parker' or '96 pts by Wine Spectator'. But how does that really relate to your tastes and the type of wine that you buy? Some people use it as the gospel while I just use it as a guide to try a different producer for a grape or region that I already like. There are some people that come into wine shops with Wine Spectator in their hands, pointing to a specific wine. If the store didn't have that wine, that didn't want anything. There is no other area of our lives where consumers completely and totally take the advice of another. If we buy a car, or television, or diamond ring we would do a little research on our own, talk to some salespeople, try out a few different options or styles... Why not with wine?

At Great Gatherings in Annapolis, I had the pleasure of getting schooled on the whole rating system by The Wine Coach, Laurie Forster. She explained exactly how Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator taste the wines and assign values to certain aspects of the wine in order to come up with the final score out of 100. So instead of taking other peoples opinions, The Wine Coach let us taste 4 wines, assign them our own scores, and then compare them with the 'official' wine scores.

Wine #1 - Manciat Poncet Macon 2007
I started off with a bit of a bias on this one because I love white Burgundies. It scored fairly high for me on all categories except the aroma. There wasn't too much jumping out of the glass with this one, just hints of apple and lemon...typical from the Chardonnay grape of this region.

My final score - 96
Wine Spectator's score - 86

Wine #2 - Yalumba Valley Viognier 2007
Now this one has aroma! A perfumey, peach nose with hints of oak and spice. I doubt this will get much better with age so this one didn't score well in that category for me.

My final score - 93
Wine Spectator - 91
Robert Parker - 76 (Yikes!)

Wine #3 - Alamos Mendoza Seleccion Malbec 2008
Great aromas and flavors on the malbec. Loved the spicy vanilla on the long finish. There were pretty heavy tannins here and a bit of aging may smooth them out some. But I wouldn't hold this for longer than a few years.

My final score - 96
Robert Parker - 96

Wine #4 - Cline Ancient Vines Mourvedre 2007
Earthy aroma with dark fruits, but not a very strong aroma. The Mourvedre lost some points there. The flavors and finish were great with a 'juicy' mouthfeel of plums and blackberries with hints of sweet spice. This wine was made from old vines in California, which means they were at least 20 yrs old I believe. Trying to guess how well a wine will age is always a bit tricky and definitely gets better with practice, practice of tasting wines of different years. But I didn't think this one had that much age-ability, like you can drink it now or you could age it a bit.

My final score - 91
Wine Spectator - 88

Laurie Forster did a fantastic job with this seminar. And not only did she give us the opportunity get to taste some fine wines, we also got to rate the wines based on our own tastes. She really brought home the fact that only we can accurately know what we will and will not drink. The Malbec that Robert Parker scored as a 96 another person at the seminar scored it in the 70s. He gave the Viognier a 76 and Wine Spectator scored it at 91, even the wine 'experts' don't have the same opinions! So this just goes to show you that your tastebuds are your tastebuds and if you like the wine, it's a good wine.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Wine with a View

Standing in a loft on the 19th floor looking out across the Baltimore Harbor with a glass of 2007 Familia Zuccardi Bonarda Serie A. This was the scene at The Last Tango wine tasting with Wine Express Tastings hosted by Rita Blackwell. What a fantastic way to spend the evening. Guests walked around the Silo Point loft and were treated to a sparkling chardonnay, torrontes, and sauvignon blanc in the marble topped kitchen; then we adjourned to the upstairs loft area for the reds, bonarda, carmenere, malbec, and cabernet sauvignon.

With the sweeping views of the harbor and the delicious wines...the whole atmosphere of it all makes me wonder what I enjoyed more, the ambiance or the wines! But being a wine lover, and after tasting that Bonarda with those ripe cranberry and blackberry flavors with the slightest hint of oak and the 2007 Andeluna Malbec Select again with hints of oak, vanilla and dark cherries...the wines were definitely the highlight of my night.

Walk Around Wine Tasting

This past week Rick's Wine & Gourmet hosted a walk around wine tasting with Tri-Cities Distribution. With 6 different tables and over 20 wines to try, I definitely had to pace myself. I started at Table 6, it was closest to the door and empty at the time. They had 2 French wines, a red and a white, and 2 sherries. The French white (2007 Sacha Lichine La Poule Blanche) was a crisp slightly earthy blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier. The blend of Chardonnay and Viognier really toned down the herbal, grassy quality of the Sauvignon Blanc so the wine had bright citrus notes with crisp acidity and a very floral aroma. The French red (2007 Sacha Lichine Le Coq Rouge) had a very complex red fruit flavor with a hint of earthiness from the French soils. This blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Grenache also exhibited hints of spice and pepper on the finish. Sherries are typically after dinner drinks and would definitely ruin my palate for the rest of the wines, I came back to these at the end. What table will I visit next?

The least amount of people were at Table 2, so that's where I went! Out of the 4 wines at this table, there were 2 with grapes I've never tasted before. So excited that I will be able to check off a few more grapes on my application for the Wine Century Club. Both wines were from Quinta do Alqueve in Portugal, the first, a 2008 that used the Fernao Pires grape and was aged in stainless steel. Citrus and tropical fruit aromas on the nose were followed by a zesty mineral character and pineapples. One of the best wines I had never heard of. Next up was there Tradicional a blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Periquita and Trincadeiro. The flavors on this were somewhere between a Burgundy and a Bordeaux. Very rich aromas of plum and blackberries appear on first swirl and blend with a subtle oak and earthiness on the palate. Very heavy mouthfeel like a a cab or merlot but the rich, ripe fruit flavors of a pinot. The best thing about them outside of the taste of course, they're both under $12!

Table 1 had an interesting red blend, 2006 Yard Dog Red. The blend of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot is I'm guessing Australia's answer to Bordeaux. Very dark, almost black in my glass, I didn't expect a lot at first glance. Intense aromas of black fruit and sweet spice. Ripe plum and blueberry flavors carry over to the palate and are balanced by a soft acidity and a good bit of alcohol. I would love to try this one with barbecue, and at $12 a bottle I will definitely try this again.

I'm now 10 wines into the tasting...luckily there were cheese and crackers or pate at every table. My tastebuds were definitely getting tired! But a true wine taster must forge ahead :-) My favorites from Table 3 were the 2007 Domaine Terlato & Chapoutier Shiraz/Viognier. I love this blend. The Viognier always lends a floral, perfumey aroma to the spicy, smoky Shiraz. This Australian style shines with flavors of blackberry and raspberry. Barbecue with sauce or a smoked brisket would be a great pairing for this blend. Still in Australia, I tasted the 2008 Two Hands Angel's Share Shiraz. On first sniff, this shows aromas of coffee and licorice. Not the greatest smells together, good thing the taste is different! The flavors of Coke, pepper, black cherry, and raspberry redeemed this wine from interesting aromas. I love the spicyness of this wine and it lingered on into the finish. You could actually store this wine and drink it in a few years.

The wine of note from Table 4 was the Zolo Torrontes, 2008. I may be a little biased though because I love Torrontes but the peach, honeysuckle and floral aromas get me every time. The tropical fruit flavors and slight acidity only make me want to buy the bottle. At under $10, this wine came home with me.

I'm officially pooped now and have also remembered that I still need to drive home after the tasting, on to the sweet wines! I know I will only have a sip or 2 of each of these.

NV Quinta de Honor Ruby Port - A great after dinner drink for sipping, this ruby colored port is medium bodied, smooth and smells and tastes of black cherries.
2008 Two Hands Brilliant Disguise Moscato - Smelling this wine was like walking through a peach orchard. Fresh, ripe peach flavors with a bubbly, sugar finish. This was a sparkling moscato. Not too bad, would definitely need a fruit tart or a creamy dessert to eat with this.
NV Manzanilla Romate Sherry - Made from the Palomino grape, manzanilla sherries are pretty typically very high in alcohol. This one is no exception. I've been told that I need to be at a sidewalk cafe in Spain in order to appreciate this style.
NV Amontillado Romate Sherry - I always pick this one correctly in a blind tasting because it has a strong almond finish. Hints of honey were also present.

A fantastic display of several different styles of wine, from different grapes and different regions. Rick's always does a fantastic job of offering good affordable wines and allowing customers to taste before they buy. Recommendations from your favorite wine merchant or magazine are great but at the end of the day, only you know what you like. Get out there and taste more wine!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

TGIF - Thank Goodness It's Fridays Creek!

A few weeks ago the weekend section of The Washington Post was dedicated to VA and MD wineries. So when I heard that Fridays Creek winery in southern MD was having an open house, I figure...why not try it! So this weekend I drove about 30 miles to Friday Creek's open house. When I first got there, I felt like I had crashed a Harley Davidson meeting. I was one of the few people that drove there in a car. But the vineyard itself is beautiful. There is a red barn out front with a stone fountain, surrounded by gorgeous landscaping. Heavenly Ribs & Chicken was serving food and there were vendors that sold jewelry out front as well. But I was there for the wine. I checked in and received a glass and 8 drink tickets.

I entered the tasting room, which was already quite packed, and found a corner of the bar to sit my glass down and get started. There were 19 wines on the list, but with only 8 tickets, I had to pick which 8 I wanted to taste or write about. So I decided to go with some of the less noted MD wine as a starting point.

First up, Gewurtztraminer. A very pleasant, dry white with a good spicy nose. Hints of peach and honey were noted on the palate. Short finish, the taste did not linger very long.

Patio White -- This was a Friday's Creek blend that is good for, as the name suggests, the patio. Semi-sweet with mostly grape aromas, there was also a strong scent of bubble gum on the nose. Not very much fruit at all. On the palate...nothing but Hubba Bubba. As far as a great chilled wine to sip on a patio, this one is perfect. I don't think this one would be easy to pair with foods.

Sauvignon Blanc -- Only people that were fans of Fridays Creek on Facebook knew that this wine even existed. Very citrusy on the nose, not the herbal and grass aromas that are typical of a sauv blanc. The citrus aromas led to a distinct grapefruit and lemon palate with a creamy finish.

Barbera -- Raisins in my glass. Aromas of smoked meat also wafted around leading to ripe black fruit flavors and a possibly a hint of apricot. Several months aging in oak gave this wine a great oak flavor with a good balance of fruit and tannins. My favorite of all that I tasted.

Old Vine Zinfandel
-- Jammy on the nose with taste of cocoa on the palate. Usually very rich and tannic, this zinfandel was surprisingly light. A bit off balance with the light taste and high alcohol, this wine revealed a smooth finish of vanilla.

Coxtown Red -- A very refreshing red with a slight fizz on it. I spoke with Tim, the Man when it came to Fridays Creek wine knowledge. He said that the Coxtown Red has a slight effervescence because they add a little extra sugar into the mix so the wine undergoes a 2nd fermentation in the bottle. From that you get extra fizz. It actually tasted like a sparkling grape juice that I used to drink before I was legal :-). Served well chilled, the bubbly red smelled as if someone had dropped grape jelly in a bit of dirt. This is one I'd like to sip on my patio.

Cerasa -- A fruit wine made from cherries, and it smelled like it. A strong red maraschino cherry aroma came from the glass of this medium pink colored wine. Very sweet, but light not syrupy. For those that like a sweet fruity wine, this is it.

That's 8 so I was all tapped out. The band was starting up so I sat down to hear them for a bit. A guy walked up to me noticing my empty glass and proceeded to hand me 6 more tickets! He said, "It's early, let's keep the party going." I couldn't agree with him more. Back to the tasting room I went! Of the 6 that I tasted, there were only 2 to note.

Chambourcin -- Nutty aromas on the front end followed by vanilla and black fruits on the palate. Good structure and balance between the rich fruits and high tannins with hints of minerals and tartness on the finish.

Chardonnay -- Aged for 6-8 months in medium toast American oak barrels, this wine shows great oak and toasty notes on the aroma and the palate, not overpowering but just enough to add an extra bit of flavor beyond the pear and apples in this wine. Yeasty flavors that are typical of Chardonnay were found on the finish.

Fridays Creek has a lot to offer as far as wines are concerned and they also feature artwork upstairs from the tasting room and in their barn. By the time I was ready to leave, the open house was in full swing with kids stomping grapes and adults dancing to the music of the bad. All in all a pretty good tasting and a great way to spend an afternoon not far from my backyard.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Rain or Shine?

I know that Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer, but did it have to end so abruptly?? It's been raining here one minute and the sun is shining the next. And the cold front came in the very next day! So with summer being over, kids back in school, but it's not really fall yet...what do I drink in the meantime between-time? I'm not ready to let go of the summer completely and pull out the big Cabernets and Zinfandels, but I also can't continue to drink sangria or the light crisp summer whites that I've grown accustomed to...

On the suggestion of my wine merchant, I went out on a limb to try something that I've never had before, something that I believe is between the seasons so to speak. I opened a bottle of Paul Lehrner Blaufränkisch. Blaufränkisch is widely planted around Austria and produces a dry, fruity red wine that is sort of like the baby to a Zinfandel and can be served slightly chilled. Receiving a 90 in Wine Spectator, I had great expectations for the Paul Lehrner. Very aromatic, this wine smelled very earthy with rich black fruits. The palate hits you with spice at first, then settles down to fruit flavors of blackberry and black cherries. Slight hints of oak follow on the smooth finish. Expectations exceeded.

With the spicyness in this wine, I believe it would go great with barbecue sauce (a fav of mine!) or smoked meats. I actually drank this as an aperitif because I'm watching my food intake for my fitness boot camp, my 'cheat' meal was on Labor Day :-). I did use some wine preserver for this one so I can try it with food this weekend. Nothing like a little wine and barbecue to hold onto the summer...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Darker the Berry, the Darker the Wine

Cahors is Back, Cahors is Black, Cahors is Malbec! That statement was on the cover of the promotional materials for wine tasting I attended yesterday at The Dupont Hotel. Cahors is one of the lesser known wine regions of France, but with the fine representation yesterday, that won't be the case for long.

Cahors, located in Southwest France, became an AOC in 1971 and is now making its move to center stage with the growing popularity of Malbec around the world. Cahors producers 19.5% of all the Malbec in the world...but the greater known Malbec regions in Argentina produce over 70%. Well, Cahors was doing Malbec long before Argentina. Malbec from Cahors is affectionately nicknamed "The Black Wine" due to its dark color in the glass. At present, Cahors wine must be made with at least 70% Malbec. It's often blended with Merlot to offer rounder, mellower characteristics or Tannat to reinforce the Malbec grape flavors and to allow for greater aging potential. Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon are prohibited in Cahors blends.

Typical flavors of French Malbec are violet, black currant, cherry, licorice, vanilla, menthol, and truffle. The Cahors wines of the tasting were divided into 3 categories which made it easier to know what you may like and how to pair it before you even took a sniff or sip. Tender & Fruity, Feisty & Powerful, and Intense & Complex. The Tender & Fruity is most suited to the American palate with the fresh fruit flavors of cherry and black currant and light tannins. These wines pair perfectly with poultry or grilled meat and can even be served as an aperitif. My personal favorites were the Feisty & Powerful ones. These wines showed much more complex fruit flavors, heavier tannins and great balance in the blend.

Wines of Note from the Tasting:

Chateau la Coustarelle Grande Cuvee Prestige -- aged for 1 year in French oak but didn't impart a strong oaky taste on the palate, smooth flavors of black fruits and violets were present

Chateau Pierre Le Grand -- fresh flavors of blackberry and woodsy notes on the palate with a slightly chalky finish. great balance of fruits and tannins.

Chateau de Chambert -- very earthy on the nose but black cherry and minerals on the palate. 25% of this wine was aged for 1 yr in French oak which softened the tannins a bit and lended to a round complex finish. definitely an example of a 'black wine' with its dark dark inky color in the glass.

Chateau Armandiere Diamant Rouge -- slight hint of oak on the nose but replaced by strong black fruit and mushroom flavors on the palate. pretty high tannins in this one but the black cherry flavors provided a great balance.