Thursday, May 31, 2007

2003 Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo: it's almost summer!

You may have heard of the Feudi di San Gregorio estate. It is widely regarded as one of Italy's most progressive wineries. Established in 1986 in Irpinia, a wine region in Campania, not far from Mount Vesuvio, it is now renowned for its modern style wines from indigenous ancient varietals such as Fiano di Avellino, Falanghina, Greco di Tufo, and Aglianico.

Legend has it that Greco di Tufo was brought to Italy by the first Greek settlers. It is one of Campania's oldest varieties as attested by the discovery of a fresco at Pompeii with the following inscription: “You are truly cold, Bytis, made of ice, if last night not even Greco wine could warm you up.”

The 2003 Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo has a bright golden color and a discreet honeyed nose with herbaceous aromas. On the palate, it is dry, fresh, and well balanced with a light finish. It's a fine summer white but if I remember well, the Feudi di San Gregorio Fiano di Avellino seemed to me more aromatic and complex. I also had the opportunity to taste the Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina and in my opinion, it's as good as the Greco di Tufo, although slightly cheaper, therefore a better value.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Tonight, let's have a glass of 2003 Seven Hills Ciel du Cheval Red Mountain

I generally enjoy the red wines from Washington State. I like their distinctive style, rich although well balanced, and often less jammy and less alcoholic than their Californian counterparts.

So tonight, I am tasting the 2003 Seven Hills Ciel du Cheval Red Mountain. The Ciel du Cheval Vineyard is one of the most renowned vineyards of the Northwest. It is located east of the Cascade mountain range, in the Red Mountain AVA, Washington's smallest appellation. The place has an arid and hot desert climate with significant diurnal temperature variation. The soil is high in calcium, thus very alkaline, which makes it hard for the plants to extract nutrients and therefore keeps vigor down. Red Bordeaux and Rhone varieties are particularly well adapted to these growing conditions. The name Ciel du Cheval means Horse Heaven, a tribute to the nearby Horse Heaven Hills.

The wine is a blend of Merlot for softness, Cabernet Sauvignon for power and structure, and Cabernet Franc with a dash of Petit Verdot for aromatics. The color is dark red-purple. The nose is spicy and a touch heady. The palate is dense, mouthfilling with some good acidity. It is a promising young wine but this horse in heaven may need a few more years to be tamed! If you cannot wait, try it with a juicy ribeye steak.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

WBW #33: the 2004 Clot de L'Oum Compagnie des Papillons, a superb value wine from the Midi

Mid-priced wines from the Midi is the theme of the 33nd edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday, hosted this month by Marcus aka Doktor Weingolb.

So tonight, I can tell you that I am pretty happy with my selection for this month's WBW: the 2004 Clot de L'Oum Compagnie des Papillons, a delicious Côtes du Roussillon-Villages, not a cheap wine but still a wine at reasonable price: $18.99. Thanks Marcus for this great theme!

Clot de L'Oum, which means hollow of the elm in Catalan, is a project that started in 1995 with the purchase by Eric Monné and his wife Leia of a few hectares of vines in the Côtes du Roussillon-Villages appellation, north of Perpignan. Today, the domain has 15 hectares in production on high altitude terroirs of schist, granite and gneiss. Eric Monné has adopted modern and non-interventionist viticultural practices: the vineyard is certified organic, native yeast is used during fermentation, and the wine is aged in neutral oak and bottled unfiltered.

The Compagnie des Papillons (The Company of Butterflies) is Clot de L'Oum's regular cuvée. On the bright green label, you can read the winery's motto, one line of fine poetry: Un soir petit grain d'or, un soir de pleine lune et de grand vent... (One evening small grain of gold, one evening of full moon and high wind...). A blend of old vine Grenache and Carignan, the wines shows a dark purple color and a peppery nose of sweet fruit. The palate has juicy flavors of ripe black cherries on the palate and a good balance between tannins and acidity, followed by a lingering spicy finish.

The wine is really delicious, try it with a rustic Catalan Chickpea Stew.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Santa Barbara tasting at Crushpad

Crushpad, which has just moved to a new, bigger place on 3rd Street in San Francisco, is now hosting a series of wine tasting events every other Thursday. The tasting kick-off event happened last Thursday with 6 wines from Santa Barbara County.

Who has not heard of Santa Barbara wine country? Remember, it's that Pinot Noir place where it is forbidden to talk about Merlot! Actually, Santa Barbara is much more than just Pinot Noir country. With three main appellations, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley, and Santa Rita Hills, and many microclimates, Santa Barbara produces a wide range of wines from cool climate varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as from Rhone varieties including Syrah, Grenache, and Viognier.

Here are the wines that we tasted that evening:

• 2006 Ojai Sauvignon Blanc Westerly Vineyard Santa Barbara County: from The Ojai Vineyard, a winery renowned for its Syrah, Rhone Varietals, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from premium vineyards on California's Central Coast. Ojai buys its grapes by the acre rather than by the ton and therefore, pushes for low yield crops in order to produce wines of high intensity. My notes: pale yellow color, vivid aromas of grapefruit and pineapple on the nose. On the palate, full-bodied, fat, and crisp with some bitterness on the finish. The wine was far too intense for me, my preference being a lighter, fresher style of Sauvignon Blanc.

• 2005 Babcock Chardonnay Rita's Earth Cuvee Santa Rita Hills: from Babcock Winery, a small winery in the Santa Rita Hills featuring estate-grown fruit as well as grapes from local vineyards. The Rita's Earth cuvee is a blend of Estate Chardonnay with fruit from the Sanford & Benedict vineyard and Gainey's Evans Ranch vineyard. My notes: medium golden color, attractive nose of ripe stone fruit. On the palate, seemed high in alcohol (14.5%), long finish.

• 2005 Barrel 27 Viognier Santa Barbara County: from Barrel 27 Wine Company, the creation of two winemakers committed to producing premium Rhone varietal wines at fair prices, and according to their website, for hardworking people. Their Viognier is made with fruit from the Bien Nacido and Camp 4 Vineyards. My notes: pale yellow color, aromatic floral nose of orange blossom, full-bodied palate with tropical fruit flavors, high alcohol content (15%). Overall, the wine had too much extraction for me, I prefer more freshness and finesse.

• 2005 Belle Glos Pinot Noir Clark & Telephone Vineyard Santa Maria Valley: from Belle Glos Wines, a Pinot Noir producer founded by Napa winemaker Chuck Wagner of Caymus Vineyards, favoring low yields and intense flavors. My notes: deep garnet color, candied fruit nose, full-bodied palate, herbaceous flavors on the finish. Quite a rich style of Pinot.

• 2005 San Sakana Syrah White Hawk Vineyard Santa Barbara County: from San Sakana Cellars, a boutique winery founded by Bettina Briz, her husband Peter, and her best friend Leslie. San Sakana means three fish in Japanese and is a reference to the three founders. San Sakana is currently hosted by Crushpad where the wine is made. The White Hawk Vineyard Syrah was vinified using 25% whole cluster to include some stems in the extraction, and was aged in 100% neutral French oak. My notes: dark purple color, nose of sweet berries with peppery notes. On the palate, full-bodied, rich and seductive, definitively my favorite wine of the evening.

• 2005 Ojai Syrah Santa Barbara County: another wine from the Ojai Vineyard. The Santa Barbara County Syrah is a blend of various fruit from the county with some Grenache (3%) and Mourvèdre (0.5%) to give an aromatic lift. My notes: deep purple color, quite shy on the nose but big on the palate, tannic, peppery with an herbal finish.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

The cuvée Manon of Clos Marie

Last February, I wrote about the excellent 2005 Pic Saint Loup Clos Marie l'Olivette. And then last week, I had the chance to taste the domain's white cuvée, the 2004 Clos Marie Cuvée Manon, a blend of several Southern France white varieties such as Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc, and Bourboulenc. Manon is a nickname for Marie and the name of the vigneron's daughter, but it is also the name of my niece and my daughter's middle name. Therefore, I was really happy to find this wine absolutely delicious. We drank it at lunch time on a warm, sunny day with a sweet and sour Persian chicken dish that one of my friends had prepared. The wine had a nice floral, honeyed nose with a creamy mouthfeel on the palate, some lively acidity and stone fruit aromas on the finish. Manon had a tough job dealing with the nuts and the acidity and sweetness of the pomegranate sauce, but I can tell you that she did extremely well.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Tasting the wines of Australia and New Zealand

Last March, our tasting club met again, this time to taste the wines of New Zealand and Australia.

Even if Australia is considered to be one of the main new world wine regions, vineyards were already well established in the 1820s in New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. In fact, some of the oldest vines in the world are now found in Australia, as they were able to escape the phylloxera epidemic that destroyed most of Europe's vineyards.

In New Zealand on the other hand, wine remained a marginal activity until the late 1970s, although the country's first vines were planted in Northland in 1819. New Zealand has now ten main wine growing regions stretching from latitudes 36°S (Northland) to 45°S (Central Otago), thus producing a wide array of wine styles.

Our group tasted seven wines, two whites, five reds, three from New Zealand, and four from Australia.

Our first white was the 2005 Grant Burge Pinot Gris Reserve from Eden Valley. Located in South Australia, Eden Valley is one of the country's coolest wine regions with a production dominated by Riesling, Chardonnay, and Shiraz. The wine is produced by Grant Burge Wines, a major wine company located in the Barossa Valley. Established in 1988, Grant Burge is now one of the top 10 privately owned wine companies in Australia. The wine had a subtle nose of citrus, a clean and generous palate with mineral notes and a fresh acidity on the finish. A light wine for a warm, summery evening.

Our second white was the 2006 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough. Marlborough is New Zealand's largest and best known winegrowing area. Sauvignon Blanc is Marlborough's most planted grape variety and the star of the region with Chardonnay in second place, followed by Pinot Noir and Riesling. The wine had an extremely attractive nose of grapefruit and cassis. The palate was crisp with vibrant fruit flavors, followed by a long aftertaste. The wine was definitively one of the group favorite wines.

Then we tasted the following reds:

• 2005 Felton Road Pinot Noir from Central Otago: Central Otago is the world's most southerly wine region. It has a continental climate with great extremes of daily and seasonal temperatures. Pinot Noir is the region's dominant grape variety followed by Chardonnay. The wine had a deep color and a fragrant nose of red berry. On the palate, it was rich in flavors with a spicy finish. This was a very nice wine that reminded me of a California Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley.

• 2002 Alpha Domus Hawke's Bay The Navigator: Hawke's Bay is the country's second largest wine region. Chardonnay is the most planted grape variety but late ripening red varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc are very also successful thanks to the area's long sunshine hours. The wine is a classic Bordeaux blend of Merlot (43%), Cabernet Sauvignon (36%), Cabernet Franc (11%) and Malbec (10%). It had a deep red color, a very Bordeaux-like nose with gamey and rose petal notes. The palate was less Bordeaux-like but still earthy with firm tannins and a rather long aftertaste.

• 2001 Leeuwin Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon Margaret River: Margaret River is a leading wine region located in Western Australia. Although it produces only three percent of total Australian grape production, it produces more than 20 percent of the country's premium wines. Cabernet Sauvignon dominates the production followed by Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chardonnay, and Shiraz. Leeuwin Estate is located in the South West of Western Australia, just north of Cape Leeuwin, Australia's most southwesterly point, and less than 6 km from the Indian Ocean. The Art Series are the estate's premium wines. Their labels have paintings commissioned from leading contemporary Australian Artists. The wine had a dark purple color and a nose of pepper and yeast. The palate was chewy and exhibited a nice array of fruity aromas. A classic, fruit-driven new world Cabernet.

• 2004 Henschke Henry's Seven Shiraz-Grenache-Viognier: the Henschke family has been in the Barossa Valley since 1861 when Johann Christian Henschke, who was fleeing religious persecution in Germany, purchased a farm in Keyneton. This wine is a tribute to Henry Evans who planted the first vineyard (of seven acres) at Keyneton in 1853. It is a blend of 60% Shiraz, 30% Grenache, 5% Viognier, 5% Mourvèdre. It had a deep color and a sweet nose of red and black fruits. The palate was full-bodied and smooth with an aftertaste of bittersweet chocolate. A tasty wine, very food friendly.

• 2005 Torbreck Woodcutter's Shiraz Barossa Valley: Torbreck Vintners was founded by David Powell in 1994. The estate produces wines with intense, rich, Rhone-like flavors using Rhone varietals such as Shiraz, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne. The name Woodcutter is a reference to David Powell earlier job when he was working as a lumberjack in the Torbreck forest. The wine is a 100% Shiraz from 10 to 20 year old vines. It had a dark color, a sweet berry nose and a full-bodied, smooth palate, leaving a jammy aftertaste of candied fruit. We found the wine much too sweet and much prefered the Henschke.

Our next tasting event should be fun, the theme is Guess the Wine so don't miss it!

Other wine club tastings:
•  From Old World To New World
•  Champagne Tasting
•  Tasting the wines of Piedmont

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