Friday, January 30, 2009

Our blind tasting of 1999 Cabernets, three years later

In late 2005, our wine tasting group (four couples meeting on average four times a year) met for a blind tasting of 1999 Cabernets. We tasted five Cabernets from California and one from Bordeaux. Overall, we found that the wines were very good and hard to rank. Now, the good part was that we had brought two bottles of each wine so that we could taste them again in a few years. That's what we did last December.

Here is the original 2005 post and updates from our recent tasting.

The 1999 vintage

In California, the 1999 vintage is considered to be one of the best vintages of the 1990s. It is characterized by a small crop and a cool, steady growing season that climaxed with a warm fall.

In Bordeaux, 1999 was one of the most difficult vintage in recent years. The weather pattern was unusual, with heavy outbreaks of rain from April onwards and above average temperature. Intermittent storms hit the region in the early half of August, although the weather was hot and dry in the latter half of the month. The end of September was marked by severe hailstorms and 100mm of rain fell on a wet September 20th.

The tasting

We tasted the following wines:

1999 S. Anderson Cabernet Sauvignon Richard Chambers Vineyard Stags Leap District: S. Anderson, recently renamed Cliff Lede Vineyards, started bottling its limited production Richard Chambers Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon in 1989. The Richard Chambers Vineyard is a highly-acclaimed 18 acres vineyard planted to red Bordeaux varieties in the Stags Leap District. It was finally bought by the winery in 2003. The wine exhibited a complex nose with spiced leather and berry aromas. On the palate, the tasters found it young, lively, and sweet. Overall, they appreciated the wine's elegance and balance and placed it in first place. UPDATE: aromas of tobacco, vanilla, pepper, rich and spicy, still very young. Moved to 2nd place.

1999 Viansa Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Sonoma County: Viansa is known as a premier producer of Italian varietals, as well as classic California grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The wine had an intense fruity nose with some peppery notes, and a sharp, raisiny taste on the palate. Overall, the group felt overwhelmed by the wine and placed it in fourth position. UPDATE: aromas of blackberry, raspberry, well balanced, good finish, better with food. Moved to 3rd place.

1999 Melka CJ Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley: Philippe and Cherie Melka are the co-owners of Melka Wine. Philippe Melka was born and trained in Bordeaux and is now a winemaking consultant to several premium wineries in Napa Valley, while Cherie Melka is a trained enologist. The winery has only two labels: the Métisse Proprietary Red, a Bordeaux blend, and the CJ Cabernet Sauvignon, a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon - named for Cherie and Philippe's children, Chloé and Jeremy, who are also the creators of the wine's label. The wine had a complex woody nose with notes of blackberry. On the palate, it was tannic, peppery, a bit green and young. Overall, the group liked the wine and placed it in second place. UPDATE: aromas of sweet red fruits, tart, somewhat flat on the palate, short finish. Moved to fifth place.

1999 Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville: Groth Winery is renowned for its estate-grown Oakville Cabernets. The wine had the darkest color. The nose was intense with almond paste and woody aromas. On the palate, it was young, tannic and fruity. Overall, the group found the wine too tannic and oaky and placed it in sixth position. UPDATE:: subtle nose, nutty, aromas of licorice, full-bodied and smooth on the palate, long tasty finish. Moved to 1st position.

1999 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Bosché: The Freemark Abbey Winery has produced Cabernet Bosché from the 21.4 acres Bosché estate vineyard since 1970. The vineyard is located 1/4 mile north of the town of Rutherford and is well-known for producing wines of distinctive character and excellent quality. The wine had a fragrant fruity nose. On the palate, it was smooth, sweet and fruity, almost candy-like. Overall, it was pleasant with a good balance, and was placed in third place. UPDATE: aromas of anise, berry and cherry, earthy, mid palate a bit thin, short finish. Moved to 4th place.

1999 Château Branaire Ducru: Château Branaire Ducru is a classified Fourth Growth from the commune of Saint Julien. The Château owns 50 hectares of vines planted with 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot and an average vine age of 35 years. The wine had a subdued nose of blackberry and pepper with hints of venaison aromas. On the palate, it was less sweet than the other wines, with a strong tannic structure and a solid finish. Some tasters liked it a lot while some others found that it did not have enough fruit. It was placed in fourth position. UPDATE: unfortunately, the bottle was corked and I didn't know about the plastic wrap trick at the time.

Now, we had the fun idea to bring two bottles of these wines so that we can redo the same tasting in a couple of years or so. Imagine how interesting it will be to compare our tasting notes from the two meetings and find out how each wine has evolved! UPDATE: in three years, these 10 year old wines had evolved very differently but some of them didn't seem to have reached their peak yet.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dunking iron knives, silver spoons, copper pennies, golden rings in wine, and what about the Wine Wand?

It all began when Harold McGee received a Wine Wand from a colleague, an intriguing device said “to accelerate the aerating process of wine by replicating the natural frequencies of air and oxygen, and infusing them into the wine.”

The wand is just one of several wine-enhancement devices that claim to age and soften wine in seconds. The Cle du Vin is another curious one. “Clef du Vin, when dipped into a glass of wine, the patented metal alloy on the tip replicates the aging process. It will age the wine one year for each second the alloy is in contact with the wine. Two seconds equals two years from now, three seconds equals three years from now, etc.” says the marketing literature.

To get a definitive opinion on these accessories, McGee invited two good friends, Andrew Waterhouse, professor of wine chemistry at the University of California, Davis, and Darrell Corti, an influential wine retailer from Sacramento, for a tasting experiment.

Mr. Corti concluded that the Cle was just a very expensive version of the copper penny trick.

For Mr. Waterhouse, the elimination of sulfur aromas was all that these accessories had to offer. Copper, silver and gold are all known to react directly with the sulfur compounds found in wine.

“A number of sulfur compounds are present in wine in traces and have an impact on flavor because they're very potent,” he said. “Some are unpleasant and some contribute to a wine's complexity. You can certainly dispose of these in five minutes with a little oxygen and a small area of metal catalyst to speed the reactions up, and change your impression of the wine.”

Now what about corked wines?

Well, Mr. Waterhouse offered a useful tip: simply pour the wine into a bowl with a sheet of plastic wrap.

“It’s kind of messy, but very effective in just a few minutes,” he said. “The culprit molecule in infected corks, 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, is chemically similar to polyethylene and sticks to the plastic.” I can't wait to try it.

Here is the full article: For a Tastier Wine, the Next Trick Involves ....

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The inaugural lunch, a salute to Lincoln and to California wines

The menu of today's inaugural lunch was intended to reflect the tastes of Abraham Lincoln: root vegetables, wild game, stewed and scalloped oysters, fresh apples and apple cake. Now, I don't know what kind of wines Lincoln liked but those served during the lunch were not from Illinois but from California.

“Senator Feinstein, being a Californian, was eager to have California wines made the featured wines, and so they are,” said Carole Florman, the inaugural committee's spokeswoman. Senator Dianne Feinstein was the first woman and the first Californian to head the inaugural committee.

So if you wish to dine like Obama, start with a seafood stew paired with a 2007 Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley. Pheasant and duck should followed, with sour cherry chutney and molasses sweet potatoes, and served with a 2005 Goldeneye Pinot Noir Anderson Valley. The dessert, an apple cinnamon sponge cake with sweet cream should come with a Korbel Natural Champagne Special Inauguration Cuvee. Enjoy!

The full story is here.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The wines of Slovenia

Last Monday, I had the unique opportunity to taste some Slovanian wines with Frank Dietrich of the Blue Danube Wine Company. Founded in 2002, The Blue Danube Wine Company imports and distributes Central European wines to the U.S. market including wines from Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Montenegro, and Slovenia.

Vineyard in the Vipava Valley, Slovenia

Slovenia, which has a rich wine heritage and centuries of winemaking traditions is just emerging on the international wine scene, having modernised its vineyards and improved its winemaking practices. It is a small country (only about 300 kilometers across) with a diverse geography, a wide variety of climates, and three main wine producing regions. Primorje, derived from the Slovene by the sea, is Slovenia's most widely known wine region. It borders Italy's Friuli-Venezia-Giulia with a small part being actually on the Adriatic coast. The region enjoys a Mediterranean climate with warm summers. Posavje or the valley of the Sava River is closer to the Croatian border and has a continental climate. Podravje or the valley of the Drava river is Slovenia's largest wine-growing region. It is located on the northeastern corner of Slovenia, bordering Austria, Hungary, and Croatia, With a mixed Alpine-continental climate, the region's wine production is mostly white.

Slovenia's wine growing regions

The tasting was at the CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco, a warm and homey place next to Zuni Cafe on Market Street. CAV Wine Director and Owner Pamela Busch features flights of Slovenian wines from Blue Danube this all week and will be hosting a special tasting event with Blue Danube and Emil Gaspari of Slovenia Premium Wines this Saturday, January 17.

We started with CAV's Slovenia flight, 2 whites and 2 reds and then tasted two additional reds that Franck had brought specially for me to try: a 1999 Merlot and a small production Gamay.

The wines we tasted:

• 2007 Crnko Renski Rizling: located a few miles from the city of Maribor in the Podravje region, the Crnko winery is a small estate of only five and a half hectares spread over two vineyards. The wine is 100% Riesling. My notes: floral nose with a touch of petrol; on the palate, dry to medium dry, fresh, light, and lively, low in alcohol (10%). The wine should go well with a light Crab Salad

• 2004 Batic Pinela: Batic is a family-run farm and winery located in the Vipava valley, only 15 miles from the Italian border. The winery takes an organic approach to wine production. Pinela is a rare white variety native to the Primorje region. My notes: aged in barrique, fragrant nose of exotic fruit, pineapple; on the palate, medium to full-bodied, slightly oily mouthfeel, distinctive, more alcohol than the Riesling (14%).

• 2006 Santomas Big Red: The Santomas winery sits on a hillside overlooking the Adriatic Sea, just southeast of Trieste. Taking full advantage of the warm Mediterranean climate, the winery specializes in red wines. The wine is made from the Refosk grape, also known as Refosco, a varietal native to the northern Italian areas of Friuli, Gavi, and Trentino. My notes: lots of fruit on the nose with notes of vanilla, round on the palate, well-structured, good acidity, slightly rustic. Should work well with a tomato and mushroom dish like this Pasta with Sausage, Tomatoes, and Mushrooms dish.

• 2006 Batic Cabernet Franc: another organically grown wine from the Batic winery of Vipava Valley. The wine was fermented using native yeast and was aged 12 months in Slovenian oak barrels and another six months in the bottle. My notes: black fruits on the nose, full-bodied on the palate with firm tannins, still young but tasty. Try it with Grilled Marinated Steaks.

• 1999 Kocijancic-Zanut Merlot Brjac: Kmetija Kocijancic-Zanut is a winery located in the Brda appellation, which means hills in Slovene. This is a region of rounded hills in the western part of the country bordering Italy. The wine was aged 4 months in stainless steel tanks, then transferred to French oak barrels for 4 years, and then aged in the bottle for an additional six months. My notes: nose of black fruit with gamey flavors, rather smooth on the palate, long finish. It's a wine that calls for venison dishes, like this Slovenian Venison Stew.

• 2001 Graben Gamay: Vino Graben is a winery located in the Bizeljsko-Sremic district of the Posavje wine region. It lies on the northern bank of the Sava River, close to the Croatian border. Gamay is a grape that have been introduced to Slovenia from France and is not widely used in the country. Vino Graben makes some Gamay with microproduction quantities. My notes: flavors reminiscent of rose water flavored marshmallow, light bodied and rather dry on the palate, very unusual.

What an enlightening tasting and a wonderful evening! And if you're in the area, don't miss A Slovenian Wine Extravaganza at CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen this Saturday, January 17.

Related post:
•  Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class: Croatia, Slovenia and Romania

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Pinot Noir Tasting

More than any other red varietals, Pinot Noir tends to hide behind its terroir and reflect the flavors of the soil. Therefore, it is a fascinating exercice to compare several Pinots from different parts of the world side by side, and that's exactly what we did at our last Wine Club tasting party right before Thanksgiving

We started with a zippy Pinot Noir Rosé from California to waken our taste buds, then moved to Burgundy, New Zealand, and finally traveled along the US Pacific Coast, from Oregon to Santa Barbara County. This was a particularly interesting exercise because tasters expressed many split opinions about the wines. So in the end, which wine emerged as the winner? Hard to say except that as the tasting was wrapping up, there was not a single drop of Burgundy left.

The wines we tasted:

• 2007 Etude Pinot Noir Rosé: Etude Winery specializes in two classic red varietals: Pinot Noir that grows in the cool Los Carneros appellation, and Cabernet Sauvignon from the warmer Napa Valley. The winemaking team believes that winemaking begins in the vineyard and that inspired grape growing diminishes the need for winemaking intervention. My notes: bright salmon color, fresh berry nose, juicy, with notes of honey. A good wine to accompany spicy dishes.

• 2005 Savigny-Lès-Beaune Premier Cru Aux Gravains Domaine Camus Bruchon: Savigny-Lès-Beaune, situated to the north of the town of Beaune, is the third largest producing appellation in Burgundy's Côte de Beaune. It produces almost exclusively red wines (90%) under the village and premier cru appellations. Lucien Camus of Domaine Camus-Bruchon is considered one of the finest red winemakers in the Côte de Beaune, crafting well balanced, deep and complex wines. My notes: at first, not very expressive on the nose, more earthy than fruity with some good acidity. Some tasters found the wine rather light but it opened up towards the end of the evening, developing a attractive, fragrant Pinot nose and a more complex body.

• 2006 Pyramid Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir Calvert Vineyard: Amisfield is a New Zealand producer of Pinot Noir, aromatic whites and sparkling wines. It is located in Central Otago, the most southerly wine producing region in the world where Pinot noir is the leading grape variety (approximatively 70% of plantings). The estate consists of 60 hectares of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. My notes: medium color, aromas of ripe berries, soft and sweet on the palate, and in my opinion, slightly heavier than the rest of the line-up.

• 2005 The Eyrie Vineyards Estate Grown Pinot Noir: Oregon Pinot noir pioneer David Lett founded The Eyrie Vineyards in 1966. In 1979, Lett participated to a competition in Paris and his wines placed third among all Pinots. In a 1980 rematch the Eyrie wines moved to second place. The competition instantly put Oregon on the map as a world class Pinot noir producing region. The winery is located in the Red Hills of Dundee, about 30 miles south-west of Portland, Oregon. The Estate Pinot Noir comes mostly from younger vineyards planted in the 1980's. It is aged in mostly neutral oak casks, unfined and filtered only if necessary. My notes: medium red color, attractive aromatic nose, medium bodied, earthy with juicy, fruity flavors on the palate, very attractive. For me, one of the best Pinots of the evening (but not all tasters were fond of it).

• 2006 Harrington Pinot Noir Wiley Vineyard: located in San Francisco, Harrington wines makes Pinot Noir wines from five different California appellations: Chalone, Sonoma Coast, Los Carneros, Wild Horse Valley, and Anderson Valley. Situated ten miles from the Pacific Ocean, the Wiley Vineyard is one of the westernmost vineyards in the Anderson Valley appellation. It is a chilly area surrounded by coastal redwoods and it is often the last Pinot Noir vineyard being harvested in the Anderson Valley. My notes: medium color, understated nose, sour cherry aromas, tart and spicy in the mouth, slightly unbalanced in terms of acidity. Many tasters didn't like it.

• 2004 Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir Bailey's Branciforte Ridge: originally established in 1863 as the Jarvis Brothers Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard is one of the oldest continuously operated vineyards in California. The Branciforte Ridge vineyard is a relatively new vineyard established in 2000, just two miles away from the historic Jarvis Vineyard at the old winery location. My notes: deep color, sweet cherry and vanilla aromas, smooth on the palate, good length.

• 2006 Melville Estate Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills: The family-owned Melville Vineyards and Winery is located in the Santa Rita Hills, in the western Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County. The estate has 139 acres planted with 255,000 vines of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and two Rhone varietals, Syrah and Viognier. The Estate Pinot Noir is 100% Pinot Noir from the Melville Santa Rita Hills estate. 33% of the fruit was fermented as whole-clusters, the rest being de-stemmed. My notes: deep color, forward nose of ripe black cherry and berry, smooth and full-bodied on the palate, revealing tobacco and stewed prunes notes on the finish. This was the richest wine of the whole selection and the highest in alcohol (15.1%). It was also a good match for bitter-sweet chocolate. Here again, there was some disagreements about the wine, some tasters finding it too strong and alcoholic, and others loving it.

Our next wine club tasting event is scheduled later this month and will feature wines from the Rhône Valley so stay tuned!

Previous wine club tastings:
•  Second Guess The Wine tasting party
•  Wine and Cheese pairing
•  Champagne Tasting

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Monday, January 05, 2009

An extra fridge on the deck for New Year's Eve

The New Year's Eve party at the ski cabin was great, the guests cheerful, and the drinks perfectly cold.

The day before, we had shoveled more than a foot of accumulated snow off our deck, but decided to leave a large block next to the kitchen door. This was good thinking. Our refrigerator was full with enough food to feed an army and there was no room for any additional bottles that needed to be chilled.

That's how the block of snow on the deck became home to three bottles of Champagne, including the outstanding Mumm Grand Cru, three bottles of Sauternes to accompany the terrine of foie gras — we actually tasted the 2004 Château Rayne Vigneau and the 2005 Château Coutet, the latter particularly rich and aromatic — and last but not least, three bottles of sparkling Martinelli for the younger crowd.

Our fridge on the deck

There was also a nice layer of snow for everybody to go barefoot in the snow at midnight for our traditional New Year photo.

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