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!

Hands Down The BEST Value Super Tuscan Around!!

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.

Unlike Miles…I AM Drinking Some F@#$%&g Merlot! But From Which Region?

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!

Cheers!

Some Wines I Have Recently Enjoyed…

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.”

Cheers!

New Year’s Eve Sparkling Selections for Every Budget!

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!

$10-15

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.

$16-34

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.

$35-100

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!!

Some New and Improved Christmas Wine Pairings…

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!

Whites

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!

Reds

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.

Cheers!

My Favorite Italian Wine Under $30!

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.

Fun Facts:

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.

A Napa Cab…from Mendoza??

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

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!

More on this wine:

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.