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Tasting Notes: This Il Fauno has easily become my new favorite Italian wine under $25. When I first tasted this gem I had it pegged as a $50 Super Tuscan, so at half the price this is just a tremendous value. Black cherry and blackberry fruit cascade over the brown spice and chalky tones. Firm tannins, lively acidity, a discernible mineral character and a silky smooth finish make this something to enjoy now but will also age for the next 3-7 years or so. Simply a delight…
More info on Il Fauno di Arcanum 2007 IGT Toscana, Tenuta di Arceno:
The Jess Jackson family purchased the Arceno estate in 1994. Located in he southeast corner of Chianti Classico, it has 223 acres of vines. But unlike most estates in the region the grapes are all Bordeaux varietals; Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. This is an ideal showcase for the remarkably talented Pierre Seillan, winemaker for the Jackson’s Veritas wines as well as his Grand Cru Chateau Lassegue in St. Emilion. Here, Seillan blends 57% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon and 19% Caberent Franc. The grapes for this wine come from a warmer, well-exposed section of the estate, where the grapes get well ripened and take on a voluptuous quality. Il Fauno is aged for 12 months in 30% new French oak barrels.
If you have seen the movie Sideways, the title should make perfect sense. For those who have not seen it (in which case it needs to be at the top of your Netflix list), the main character (Miles) is a huge Pinot Noir snob. The thought of drinking Merlot while out to dinner enrages him to the point of dropping a well placed F bomb that has become legendary in the cinematic wine world. But I’m here to tell you, Miles is f*#&$^g wrong! There is so much great Merlot out there right now, and from various wine producing regions. Below are my top three in ascending order.
3. Bordeaux – Even though Bordeaux is infamous for it’s Left Bank Cabernet Sauvignon wines (the wines of Margaux, St. Estephe, Pauillac, Medoc, etc.), it is Merlot that is the basis for the majority of Bordeaux wines. St. Emilion and Pomerol wines are almost exclusively made from Merlot and offer some of the best value in the region. Merlot from here is typically soft, floral and even a bit earthy and usually carries a raspberry component along with black cherry flavors. It can soften some of those powerful Cabernet driven blends and can stand on its own when grown in the right areas. So go and find some 2009 or 2010 St. Emilion or Pomerol wines and then tell me you don’t like Merlot.
2. Napa – Good Merlot in Napa is like Cabernet Sauvignon light. It can carry all the same cassis, black cherry and plum flavors but with softer tannins and even some floral notes. It’s typically not as bold or powerful, but can be just as flavorful and alluring. I have to stress that I am talking about GOOD Merlot here, which most of it is in Napa. But don’t confuse this with your cheap California style of Merlot, I am definitely in full agreement with Miles on that one. However I’ll drink Whitehall Lane Merlot for around $20 over most Napa Cabs at that same price point.
1. Tuscany – I have tasted a number of Super Tuscan wines as of late that use Merlot as the main, or even ONLY, grape variety that have been simply stunning (Il Fauno di Arcanum 2007 and Re di Renieri 2009 to mention a couple). The coastal Tuscan influence does wonders for this varietal imparting blueberry and blackberry fruit flavors along with licorice and floral nuances. This was a large factor why these Super Tuscan producers basically told the Chianti DOC to go screw…because they thought they could make better wine by blending Sangiovese with Cab and Merlot, and man were they right!
So try not to be a sheep and hate on Merlot…next time you are at your local wine shop pick up a bottle. Just make sure it’s from one of these three regions and if it’s any of the specific wines mentioned above you are in for a real treat!
Having tasted a lot of juice the past couple of weeks, just thought I would point out a few wines that I really enjoyed and picked up for myself…
Primal Roots 2010 Red Blend, California ($7-12)
Can you say… “VALUE ALERT!” This interesting red blend packs a lot of punch for the price. The soft and supple black currant and floral notes from the Merlot are well balanced with the black cherry and cassis from the Cab and the brambly berries from the Zin. It’s a big wine but not overpowering as it stays smooth on the palate through the finish.
Hanna 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley ($24-30)
This Hanna Cab is my favorite from the AV region in this price range. It has so much elegance and charm, just a delightful wine. Classic Cab nose with cassis, black cherry and plum aromas. But it carries this floral note that stays with the wine through the finish giving it real complexity. Hints of smoky oak and sweet spices add to the playful balance of this wine.
Invetro 2009 IGT Toscana, Tenuta Renieri ($15-22)
For those that like their Italian wines big, fruit forward and supple…look no further. Brimming with red berry fruit, spice and smoked cedar box this wine is really enticing from the get go. It has nice balance with soft tannins and simply coats the palate. Pair it with a nice piece of beef or a hearty dish of pasta, either way it will not disappoint.
Dry Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($15-22)
Known better for their Zins, this Cab shows a lot of true Dry Creek character. The black fruit core meshes delightfully with the toasty oak, ground coffee beans and hints of eucalyptus. The tannins are firm but supple and the finish has that hint of chocolate from the trace of residual sugar. Comes out of the bottle ready to rock, no need to decant this one.
Belle Glos 2011 Pinot Noir, Las Alturas Vyd., Santa Lucia Highlands ($40-45)
It ain’t cheap but man is it tasty. Usually I like my Pinots lighter and more delicate in nature, but this one is tough to resist. It has the fruit and spice of Pinot but the body of a Cab or Syrah… but what else would you expect from a wine produced by Caymus!
Plan Pegau 2010 , Rhone ($15-22)
Crafted by Laurence Féraud of Domaine du Pegau, Plan Pegau has loads of character and personality. Blackberry and dried herbs are layered over black pepper and savory, meaty notes. Like a baby version of their highly revered Chateauneuf du Pape for under $20.
Saffredi 2007 IGT Toscana Le Pupille ($70+)
Yes, this is a $70+ wine…and no I did not buy this one for myself (unfortunately I don’t roll like that). However this is possibly the best wine to pass these lips in some time and compares to the Sassicaias and Ornellaias of the world that fetch closer to $150+. It is super concentrated with dark berry fruit, sweet spices and a super silky smooth texture. It just dances on the palate and grows in complexity with each passing second it lay there. It finishes long leaving behind floral hints and that lush dark fruit…As Ferris Bueller would say: “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”
Just to clarify for those that are still confused, sparkling wine can only be called Champagne when it comes from the Champagne region of France. The 3 grapes that can be used to make Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. I know what you’re thinking…how can Pinot Noir be in Champagne when it doesn’t look red? Not to bore you with the full explanation, but it is only the skin of the grape that gives wine it’s color. So for Champagnes that appear all white, they may still have some Pinot Noir in there but the juice does not come in contact with the skins at all. For Rose Champagne they may have them soak together for a short amount of time giving it that pinkish hue (Seinfeld reference anyone?)
While Champagne is the most well known, and revered, of all sparkling wine it also tends to be the most expensive. So if you can roll like that, God bless ya! But there are plenty of value sparkling selections out there that are quite reasonable and damn tasty.
Each region has their own spin on sparkling…Spain has Cava, Italy has Prosecco, France has Cremants (outside of Champagne) and the US has their own bubbly contingency as well. Each region will use the grapes that thrive in that specific region giving these sparkling wines their own personality. Below are a handful of my favorites from the $10 to $100 range to help you ring in the New Year!
Korbel Brut or Brut Rose, CA
Both wines usually score in the high 80s and are super value options. They use a variety of different white grapes for the Brut and Pinot Noir & Gamay for the Rose. Both are no brainers under $15
La Marca Prosecco, Veneto
Nice apple and citrus flavors, dry with lots of mineral character.
Gloria Ferrer Brut, Sonoma
Like the Korbel, this tastes much better than the under $20 price tag. Delicate and creamy with clean apple fruit and hints of yeast. The Rose is killer too.
Domaine Carneros (Taitinger) Brut Rose “Cuvee de la Pampadour” , Napa Valley
Lots of floral and citrus notes surround the black cherry and fruit core. Really high end Champagne feel for half the price of most.
Piper-Heidsieck Brut Cuvee, Champagne
This is my go to Champagne as it suits my palate just right. On the dry side with a beautiful combo of apple, citrus and hints of that yeasty character…lovely for around $35-40.
Schramsberg J. Schram 2005, North Coast, CA
This is as close to a vintage Champagne as you can taste outside of that region…but you’re gonna pay for it. At around $100, this is a serious baller Sparkling selection that always fetches 95+ ratings. But if you prefer California fruit over the French stuff and want that premium Champagne experience, then this is your move!
Wishing you and yours a very Happy and Healthy 2013!!
I was going to do a whole new post about the pairings for the Seven Fishes Christmas Eve feast, but after reviewing my post from last year I think it would be pretty repetitive. So instead I updated that post to reflect some of my current favorite wine selections; the description of the meal and overall wine pairing thoughts are both below.
The one thing I wanted to add to this year’s post in the wake of the tragic and unthinkable events that have transpired in Newtown, CT over the last week is this: drink in the moment. Make sure you are serving something that makes you feel good, and as my son says “is tasty in your mouth” (he says that about food…not wine!). You never know what tomorrow may bring, so if you have some special wines you were saving for the right occasion…why not make it this Christmas. Remember, great wines pair well with just about everything!
The traditional fishes that are served in the Feast are Calamari, Scungilli, Baccala, Shrimp, Clams, Mussels and some type of big fish (usually a snapper, sea trout, tuna or large shellfish like lobster or crab). However over the years the rules on what fish to serve have really loosened up, so these are by no means set in stone. What’s really fun about this meal is the fish can be prepared in so many different ways that it leaves your wine options wide open.
Most of our dishes are prepared in a red marinara sauce (even the lobster tails and crab legs!) so I usually load up on reds for the main course, with some whites for the apps. But I know many families do the complete opposite and use a lot of white wine and cream sauces that lend themselves to a night of whites. Although if there are any traditional kinda guys attending your Christmas Eve dinner, I would highly recommend having some reds on hand…otherwise you may be sleeping with the seven fishes!
Brancott Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (under $10!)
Crisp, refreshing…full of grapefruit and citrus. Crazy value
Saint-Veran 2009 Moulin du Pont, Vins Auvigue ($15-20)
100% Chard -Apple and pear with some lemon zest… minimal oak, lovely.
Treana White 2010 Central Coast, California ($20-25)
Blend of Rhone white varietals… floral and citrus aromas with stone fruit (pear and pineapple) on the palate. Great aging wine as well so if you find any older vintages jump all over it!
Toscolo 2011 Chianti DOCG ($10-12)
Possibly the best Chianti for the price, drinks more like a Classico
Villa Mt. Eden 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($15-20)
Classic Napa Cab…steal under $20! Cassis, black cherry, vanilla and smoke.
BV BeauRouge 2009 Red Blend, Napa Valley ($25-30)
A really fun blend of Merlot, Cab, Zin, Syrah and a handful of other grapes. Lots of acidity balanced with firm tannins and dark Napa fruits… goodness.
My Top Christmas Eve Wine!
Chianti Classico Riserva 2007 Marchese Antinori ($40)
Dark red cherry and berry with licorice and floral notes. Silky smooth finishing long and strong… perfect pairing for the Christmas Eve Fish Feast!
Wishing you all a healthy and Merry Christmas… and as we are all enjoying time with our loved ones, let’s all be sure to send some thoughts, prayers and positive energy towards those families that need it the most.
Below are my tasting notes on the Taurasi DOCG 2008 Donnachiara, just love this wine…
This has to be one of the most well-structured and balanced wines at this price point. The complex dark fruit is delicately layered over both clove and dark brown spices while maintaining the earthy undertone. The acid is present and the tannins are firm yet supple giving it just a beautiful mouthfeel. It finishes dry and long leaving behind the fruit dusted with hints of bitter dark chocolate.
Taurasi is one of Italy’s great wines and yet it is still undiscovered by many wine lovers. Only a handful of wineries produce this high altitude red, and Donnachiara is one of the newest. The vineyards are family owned and have been for five generations but the brand new, very modern winery was just established in 2005. Aglianico vineyards slope down the steep hillsides in this mountainous region of Southern Italy.
Campania, where Taurasi is located is drenched in sunlight but the high altitude tempers the climate and extends the growing season, allowing the grapes to develop ideal balance of sugars, acids and tannins as well as take on complex flavors.The wine must be aged for three years before release by DOC law and Donnachiara ages this 100% Aglianico Taurasi in French oak barriques for 12 months adding layers of flavor and dimension.
Well, obviously not. But this has all the traits of a quality Napa Cab without the high price tag… Check out my tasting notes below.
Catena 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, High Mountain Vines, Mendoza:
Better known for their arsenal of Malbecs, this High Mountain Cab from Catena is some pretty serious juice! The nose is super aromatic showing black currant, cola, plum and tobacco notes. It’s a big and coating wine on the palate displaying its youth. Yet the tannins are fairly smooth and the finish is long and dry. The best review I can give is that my wife thought this was a pretty expensive Napa Cab…and she knows her Napa Cabs!
From Bodegas Catena Zapata comes this rich, dense 100% Caberent Sauvignon that they call “High Mountain Vines.” The grapes are sourced from three of their vineyards at very high elevations; La Piramide Vineyard, 3,117 feet, Domingo Vineyard, 3,675 feet and Adrianna Vineyard, 4,757. The high altitude means brilliant sunlight for ripening and cool temperatures at night for slow, even development of flavors and complexity. The Catena family has been producing outstanding Argentine wines for four generations and they have learned the best methods for handling these grapes. No cold fermentation and a 12-16 day maceration followed by 16 months of aging in French and American oak about 30% new.
Recently I had the opportunity to taste some of the “best” wines that come out of Chile. Many Chilean wineries will produce a high end Carmenere red blend that usually includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and possibly some Petit Verdot, Malbec or Syrah. Caremenere was one of the original grapes allowed in the production of Bordeaux wines, but after falling out of favor in France it has found a new home in Chile. It can exude the softness of Merlot, but is typically a little more rustic and spicy. The inexpensive Carmenere wines tend to be dirty and chewy while the high end wines can be super smooth and lush carrying just a pleasant hint of that earthiness.
After tasting a variety of these top tier Chilean reds (such as the Montes Purple Angel, Vina la Rosa Ossa, Errazuriz Kai, Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta and a handful of others) I am left with one reaction… Meh. For you Simpons fans, I need not say more. For the non Simpsons fans, Meh is a feeling of indifference or boredom…a verbal shoulder shrug if you will. Aside from the Clos Apalta, these wines were all just OK. They were rich, smooth and good expressions of the Chilean terroir (a word that encapsulates soil, climate and location), but they also tend to be super expensive! These wines can range anywhere from around $50 to over $100…so for them to just elicit a Meh reaction is frankly not good enough.
For a $50-100 wine I want to be wowed, I want to be excited, I want my taste buds to dance and sing and to praise me for having put something so delicious into my mouth. But most of all I want to feel like I am getting my money’s worth, and at the end of the day I don’t think that’s the case. Granted, I didn’t actually buy theses wines… but if I did I am fairly certain I’d be more than a little pissed off. Having shared some of these bottles with friends and family, most people thought these wines were in the $20-25 range. So to rationalize price tags 2 to 4 times that amount is just not realistic.
So aside from the Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta, which is probably Chile’s finest juice, stick with the value reds from Chile. For $15-20 you can grab some great Cabernet and Carmenere wines from these same wineries that are not that far off from the quality level of their top tier offerings. Some of my favorites right now are The Seeker Cab, Veramonte Primus, the Casa Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre line, Santa Ema’s Reserve & Ampus lines and the Santa Rita Medalla Real line of wines. Remember, just because a wine is expensive doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily great, just that it was intended to be.
This is a wonderfully true expression of CDP. It seems a bit guarded on the nose, still a young wine. But all of the dark brooding fruit, peppery spice and hints of olive and smoke show themselves on the palate and keep on going through the long and dry finish. It is a big and powerful wine now with dense fruit and gripping tannins, but you can tell this is going to be fantastic over the next decade or longer!
Fun Facts: The Brotte family runs the largest negociant firm in Chateauneuf. Bottlers of the Pere Anselm brand among others, they also are owners of a few prime Domaines in the region and this is one of them. Domaine Barville is a 36 acre vineyard located on the heights of Châteauneuf du Pape, with two of the oldest and best terroirs of the appellation. The vines are 50 years of age now and give full expression. Famed Oenological Consultant Philippe Cambie oversees the winemaking. A blend of 80% Grenache, 15% Syrah and 5% Mourvedre, aged for 12 months in foudres.
Recently I have been teaching a wine class along with a colleague of mine (Josh Farrell of Wine Express) and we were going over the 1855 Bordeaux Wine Classification. For those who don’t know what that is, over 150 years ago professionals from the wine industry ranked the wines of Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the most prominent grapes used) according to a certain Château’s reputation, price and of course on the quality of wine.
However there were some politics involved and many equivalent quality wines did not get the top distinction because they didn’t have the brand recognition nor did they demand the ludicrously outrageous prices. Four wines at that time (now five wines) were awarded the elite distinction of Premier Cru Classification and this system is still in tact today. After discussing this in class my friend Glenn had a great question…”so what are the Premier Cru wines of California?” That got me thinking…
While California has never classified wine this way, there are certainly a small group of wines that are considered elite. If you have ever heard the term “Cult Cab”, many of those wines would fall in that top classification category. Cult Cabs are typically an extremely low production, high quality wine that you cannot even purchase unless you wait years to get on a mailing list or go to auction and pay 2-3X what the winery retails it for. They can cost anywhere from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars and while they are some of the best wines you may ever taste in your life, they can also be the most disappointing.
The reason being is the expectations are set so high for a wine of this nature, that it is almost impossible for it to deliver. Think about the first time you were able to afford to go to that fancy five star restaurant that you had heard so much about. By the time you finally were able to dine there, did it live up to everything you had envisioned? Usually the answer is no… how could it?! With expectations that high, unless it is an utterly life changing experience it almost has to be somewhat of a disappointment. That’s not to say these wines are disappointing, as they are arguably some of the best wines produced in the world. But when shelling out that kind of dough, it’s tough to monetize the level of enjoyment of a wine.
With all of that said, I have listed below what I consider the “Premier Cru” Wines of California, the “Grand Cru” Wines (a small step below in terms of quality, price and a bit larger production and availability) and my “Value Cru” Wines ($20-25 wines that over-deliver on a Quality-Price Ratio, or QPR, and are consistent values every vintage). The Value Cru Wines are readily available at most Westchester wine stores as well as online.
Harlan/Bond Estates Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Joseph Phelps Insignia, Napa Valley (Top Pick)
Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag’s Leap District
Grand Cru (2nd Growth)
Ridge Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains
Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
Pride Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa/Sonoma (Top Pick)
Opus One, Oakville
BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley
Duckhorn Merlot, Napa Valley
BV Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Rodney Strong Estate Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma (Top Pick)
Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma
Franciscan Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Buehler Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Sterling SVR(Platinum) Reserve Red, Napa Valley