Think While You Drink!

I know that may sound like an oxymoron to some, so allow me to elaborate. My colleague and I curate and teach a wine education and tasting program for our internal staff . It’s meant to provide not only a basic overall knowledge of wine, but to learn how to taste and utilize all of your senses. Granted, we start the class at 5:15 so there are some that are just looking for a drink after a long day of work. But as I was reminding everyone that we are “tasting” not drinking, I inadvertently came up with a catch phrase that I like to iterate as much as possible during these classes… that everyone should be “thinking while your drinking”.

brain

That doesn’t mean you should be figuring out your dinner plans or performing high level mathematics while sipping on some lovely juice. It means that you should be examining the wine to some extent in terms of its aromas, flavors, mouth feel, texture, finish, length, possible food pairings and most importantly…if you are enjoying it and why or why not. It is easy to predetermine whether you think you will enjoy a wine based on the grape, region or even price. But we try and present  classic examples of each grape variety produced in different regions to really determine its characteristics and how it can vary from region to region and why that may be. So by actually experiencing various wines from all over the world, everyone is beginning to figure out their own palate without being influenced by stereotypes or predisposed opinions.

For example, this week we took on Riesling…a very polarizing grape as most people either love it or hate it. Regardless, there is a general connotation out there that Riesling is sweet. Guess what, not so much! Of course there are many sweet Rieslings and some are even meant to be dessert wines. But they can also be made in a dry, crisp style and have very little residual sugar. In German wines you will often see Kabinett or Trocken on the label, which will note that it is in fact a dry Riesling. It was great to see some people come into the class “knowing” they didn’t like Riesling, but by the end of the class enjoying some of the selections that they weren’t aware even existed.

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So by thinking while you’re drinking, you start to take into account all the different characteristics that make a wine what it is. How intense the aromas are on the nose, what kind of fruit aromas and flavors are present, how much oak was used and what kind, how acidic or tannic a wine is, what kind of food would make an enjoyable pairing and of course if you find a particular wine pleasing. After all a wine can be well made, expensive and have a 95+ rating…but if it doesn’t itch you where your scratchin’ than all of that don’t mean a thing.

Cheers!

My Take on the Coravin Situation

Recently the makers of Coravin put out a press release regarding a handful of bottles that ruptured while their product was being used. Coravin is a device that allows a needle to penetrate through the cork, displacing the air with argon while pouring out a glass of wine, and when the needle is pulled out the cork reseals itself like nothing ever happened. Quite a visionary concept that was all the rage until this bottle breakage issue arose.

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Having tested the Coravin many times here’s my 2 cents. It is an amazing product but doesn’t quite do all that Coravin claims. Their stance is that you can use this and put bottles back in your cellar for months on months without affecting the integrity. I have gone back into bottles after months and while the wine was still ok, it was not all that it should have been. Regardless, it does allow wine consumers to tap into bottles and see how they are aging and allows a restaurant to serve just about any bottle by the glass. So that alone makes this an outstanding serve and preserve device.

So now there are reports of a handful (under 10) bottles breaking after being tapped into by the Coravin, a miniscule percentage compared to amount of bottles that have been “Coravined”. So how can that happen? In one word…pressure. The way the argon is introduced into the bottle is with pressure. So if there is too much pressure in a bottle, and the bottle itself is made of thinner glass and doesn’t have the punt at the bottom guess what can happen?  You got it… crack!!!

But think about Champagne. Those bottles have pressure as well from the secondary fermentation which is what forces the cork out of those bottles. However Champagne is bottled in a much thicker glass so it can handle the pressure appropriately. Most quality wines that you would use a Coravin on also are made of thick glass and I’m sure have not been the culprits in this breakage issue that is all the buzz in the wine community.

My take on this situation is that some wine nuts out there are going Coravin crazy! They are using it on inexpensive bottles of wine when there is maybe only a glass of wine left or so in the bottle. So if you take a thin glass bottle with very little liquid and fill it up with gas, in turn over pressurizing the bottle, of course that bottle will break. I am not saying this is not an issue and yes, Coravin should have tested every facet of the product to avoid this from happening. But if you have one I wouldn’t be too concerned over this ordeal. Just make sure you are using it properly as well as on bottles that can withstand a little bit of pressure. Chances are if you spent $300 on this product you are not bothering using it on very inexpensive wine regardless, so Coravin away!

My Top 10 Grillin’ Wines

As my somewhat pessimistic colleague always says… no one reads copy. So let’s just get right to the juice that will immensely improve your 2014 BBQ season:

10. Belle Ambiance 2013 Pinot Grigio, California – I am usually not a Pinot Grigio fan, but this is like Summer in a bottle and my new “house white”. Floral and citrus aromas that lead to stone fruit and hints of honeysuckle on the palate, good weight for a PG too. ($10-12)

9. Matarromera 2009 Crianza Tempranillo, Ribera del Duero – All kinds of black fruits with roasted coffee, pepper and earthy notes. Big yet balanced wine. ($30-35)

8. Barrel 27 2011 “Right Hand Man” Syrah Central Coast – With 7% Viogner it’s made in the Cote Rotie style. Dark fruit, dark chocolate and peppery spice, excellent value. ($15-20)

7. Seaglass 2012 Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara – For my money this is the best Santa Barbara Pinot in town. Classic Pinot fruit with hints of earth and spice complemented by a good dose of acidity. Perfect with poultry off the grill. ($12-15)

6. Chalone 2010 Chardonnay, Limited Release, Chalone AVA – Lots of classic apple, melon and banana fruit on the nose and palate with a great balance of acidity and oak aging ($13-18)

5. Argiano Non Confunditur 2011 – Don’t miss this serious Super Tuscan! Powerful yet balanced with alluring dark fruit, mineral and licorice. Nice acidity too so it will work with anything from grilled veggies to a Ribeye steak. ($16-20)

4. Bodegas Goulart 2010 Malbec, The Marshall, Mendoza – Aside from the great name, this is a tremendously balanced, lush and sultry wine. Blackberry, peppery spice, floral notes and racy tannins make this a no-brainer pairing for those saucy St. Louis BBQ ribs. ($20-25).

3. Two Hands 2012 Shiraz Angels’ Share, McLaren Vale  – Two Hands makes some of the best Shiraz out there, like the much more expensive Barossa Valley Bella’s Garden. But for under $30 this is a dark, dense and opulent fruit driven wine that screams for any kind of meat you choose to BBQ.

2. Manzanita Creek 2009 Zinfandel, Cloud Buster, Russian River Valley – What a ridiculous value Zin this is for under $20! Brimming with brambly berry, blueberry pie, brown spice and black pepper this is a wine that pleases on all levels. Super long and fruit filled finish keeps you coming back for more. ($20-28)

And the number 1 wine for this grillin’ season is….

1. Chateauneuf du Pape 2012 Domaine Barville, Brotte – A simply stunning, complex and big CDP loaded with really pure and expressive black fruits laced with black pepper, leather and meaty notes. The balance of acid and tannins gives this a harmonious balance making it a sure fire winner for whatever you plan to grill. It isn’t cheap, but in the realm of Chateauneufs it is a tremendous value considering the quality. ($40-45)

But really the best wine to drink at your summer BBQ is whichever one gives you the most pleasure! So if you’re a Napa Cab fan, don’t be afraid to break out that Caymus, Silver Oak or Duckhorn the next time the mood strikes you…clearly they will all be fantastic with a properly cooked piece of beef too.

Cheers!

 

 

Check out these Summer Whites and “My” Malbec

While the weather around here is still way too cold to be considered Spring, it will be warming up soon. I mean, it has to right?? I recently hosted a couple of virtual tastings for two white wines that I am already stocking up on for this Spring/Summer. Both lend themselves to lighter fare (fish or poultry) but can also be enjoyed on their own as refreshing summer sippers. Best of all, they are fantastic values!

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I also co-hosted a video with my colleague Erika and we tasted this killer Malbec which happens to share my name… The Marshall! It’s made from extremely old vines that grow in a small single vineyard within Mendoza. It’s a big, soft and spicy red that will pair perfectly with just about any meat you intend to throw on the grill this summer. Check out the videos below…

Enjoy!

Belle Ambiance 2013 Pinot Grigio, California

Kunde 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, Magnolia Lane, Sonoma Valley

Bodegas Goulart 2010 Malbec, The Marshall, Mendoza

Viva Italia!

Just some tasting notes on a couple of Italian stallions that I pulled out of the cellar recently and enjoyed with family. Both aging beautifully and will still improve over the next 3-7 years.

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Taurasi DOCG 2008 Donnachiara

This has to be one of the most structured and well balanced wines at this price point (around $30-35). It has complex black fruit layered over the clove and baking spices and earthy undertones. A varietally true Aglianico wine… the balance of acid, tannins, herbal and rustic features are in complete harmony. It finishes with a pleasant chalkiness and hints of bitter dark chocolate.

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Regina di Renieri 2007 IGT Toscana

This is hands down perennially one of my favorite Super Tuscans. Syrah from this region (this being 100% Syrah)  imparts wonderfully dark and concentrated black fruit character on these wines. The licorice, spice and mineral additions just add to the complexity and balance. A tremendous food friendly wine as it maintains acidity on the mid-palate with supple tannins showing up on the back end through the fruit filled and lengthy finish.

The Green Era of 2011 Continues…

Below is a post that I wrote in April of last year… and unfortunately for Napa and Sonoma Cab lovers I was pretty dead on! Many of these 2010 and 2011 wines have had some green and herbaceous qualities to them (which can be a pleasant characteristic), while a lot of them have ONLY green and herbaceous qualities which is no bueno!

I have been tasting more of the 2011 wines lately and this “green effect” seems to be much more prevalent and overpowering in most of these wines. 2010 still had some standouts that avoided this overly stalky quality such as Cabs from Hanna, Clos du Val, Sequoia Grove and Pride. But for most of the 2011 Napa/Sonoma Cabs I have sampled so far the vegetal quality has been anywhere from noticeable to overpowering…not what you are looking for from these wines. The Peju Cab somehow avoided it, and Caymus was as consistently solid as ever. So just beware of the vintage when grabbing those Cabs from Napa/Sonoma… I would say the safer bet for now is to stick with the 2010 over the 2011 vintage.

Cheers!

(Below is my original post)

Nowadays when people throw the word “green” out there, they are usually referring to something being ecologically sound or environmentally beneficial. When it comes to wine, green means something entirely different. Sure, it can refer to a wine being made organically or bio-dynamically, but it is typically a way to refer to wines (usually reds) as being somewhat under-ripe. If you are a Napa Cab drinker and plan on drinking those wines from these two vintages, you should become familiar with this dynamic.

There is a saying that good wine is made in the vineyard, meaning that without great fruit there is not much you can do with the juice. A large factor leading to quality grapes being produced has to do with the weather that particular growing year which is early spring to fall in the Northern Hemisphere. Yes, vineyard location plays a pivotal role and so does vineyard management, but without the right temperatures, rainfall and climate… those vines can be in danger of producing a small amount of grapes and not very quality ones at that.

The last two years have been tough weather wise in Napa, and for a late ripening grape like Cabernet Sauvignon that can mean trouble. When grapes are not ripe enough at harvest they can be a bit green… but what does that mean? It could result in a stalky characteristic, possibly an herbaceous or grassy nature  or even reminiscent of a rhubarb flavor. However it comes out, unless it is in minmal amounts it is not very desirable. In these last two vintages, that green effect is going to be tough to avoid in Napa Cabs. Of course the best vineyards and the best winemakers will still be making quality wine, but it may need some aging and there won’t be a lot of it so it will most likely be more expensive than the previous vintages.

So what can you do as a consumer? Taste some of these Napa Cabs from 2010 and see if they suit your palate. This under-ripening of grapes can also give wine a lot of acidity and low tannins which some people prefer. But if you like your Napa Cabs big and bold then you may want to check out some of the Paso Robles Cabs as they seemed to fair better. Or venture out to some of the Rhone wines from 2010. It was a fantastic vintage there and practically all the wines, from the everyday Cotes du Rhone to the single vineyard Chateuneuf du Papes, have been excellent thus far. Think of it as a good reason to expand your horizons or to buy some Napa Cab cellar selections instead of the everyday ones that are usually ready to drink.
Cheers!

Top Thanksgiving Wines Under $15!

It’s completely ludicrous to think that Thanksgiving is just a little over a week away…but ready or not here it comes. Seems like there is always so much to do before this holiday: figuring out who is hosting, planning menus, ironing out the guest list and of course deciding which wines will make it to the table.

Wine lovers will often inquire about what wine makes the best paring for a Thanksgiving meal. The simplest answer is Riesling or Chardonnay for the whites and Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and Rhones for the reds as the peppery spice in all of those reds match up well with the traditionally prepared Thanksgiving bird. I have tasted some value/inexpensive options over the past month that clearly distinguished themselves as wines that would only enhance this food driven holiday…so I thought I would share.

If you plan on serving white wine with the meal you want to check out the 2012 Wilim Alsace Riesling and the 2012 Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Chardonnay. The Wilim Riesling is made in typical Alsace fashion with bright citrus and apple fruit, lovely balance (not a very sweet wine) and a dry, minerally finish. The CSM Chard is such a food friendly wine offering supple pear, apple and melon flavors with just the right amount of that oaky and buttery character rounding out the palate. Both are steals that can be found for under $15 retail.

When it comes to Pinot, there are two clear standouts in this value price range…the 2012 Santa Rita Pinot Noir 120 Central Valley and the Seaglass 2012 Santa Barbara Pinot. You will be SHOCKED when you taste that Santa Rita 120 and realize it is from Chile. No dirty, muddy undertones that most inexpensive Chilean reds carry. Just pure, clean and expressive Pinot character with loads of vibrant berry fruit, black pepper and spice…and at under $10 it is a no brainer! The Seaglass is a perennial favorite of mine as it is delicate in nature but well structured with a lingering finish. Easily mistaken for a sub appellation Santa Barbara Pinot twice the price.

For all the ZinHeads out there, my under $15 choice for Turkey Day this year has to be the 2011 Joel Gott California Zinfandel. My family has spent many Thanksgivings with Mr. Gott (well, his wines anyway) and he never disappoints. All that blueberry and blackberry fruit layered over baking and peppery spices make for a wonderful accompaniment to a well stuffed bird and all the trimmins. And at right around $15 it is a serious value as well.

Cotes du Rhones are usually not my favorite, as I tend to find them overly tart and on the light side (yes, I am completely overgeneralizing). However the 2011 Selection Laurence Feraud CDR brought about that WOW feeling which these wines rarely elicit. Considering the wine was produced by the famed CDP Domaine du Pegau winemaker I shouldn’t have been so surprised. It is super approachable with vibrant berry and red cherry fruit surrounded by hints of dark chocolate and spice. The tannins are mellow and the mouthfeel is soft and lush. You’d be hard pressed to find a better CDR at this price point as well as one that will enhance your Turkey like this beauty.

Here’s wishing all of you and yours a very healthy and Happy Thanksgiving filled with family, friends, good food and better juice ;)

Cheers!