16 December 2014

Le Grand Courtâge Sparkling Wines

Le Grande Courtâge was founded by American Tawnya Falkner as she followed her dream to move to France and make wine. This "courtship" has resulted in a pair of wines that are available in retail but also on Virgin America flights.

There is a lot of sparkling wine made in France that is not Chamapgne, often called Crémant de ______. This is a little different, with an interesting combination of grapes sourced from the South of France and made without an AOC designation. This is not a bad thing! I enjoyed both bottles of bubbly and would recommend them for parties over the next few weeks. If anything, I've always held that sparkling wines should be enjoyed in far more casual situations than most people think.

Prices below are for the standard 750mL format, though the little 187mL bottles will run you about $7 a pop at retail.

NV Le Grand Courtâge Blanc de Blancs Brut
Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Ugni Blanc
$25, 11.5% abv.

The white sparkler opens up with aromas and flavors of green apples with a little toast. Firm acidity and a crisp finish, which means that this goes along quite well with snacks and popcorn during holiday parties.

NV Le Grand Courtâge Brut Rosé
Chardonnay, Ugni Blanc, Gamay
$25, 11.5% abv.

Surprisingly earthy with a touch of plum. The Gamay is really charming in this wine, and means that it holds up to heartier dishes like ham and prosciutto with some nice briny olives. Break this one out with a muffuletta.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

10 December 2014

Rioja for the Holidays

Grapes have been grown in Spain for at least 5,000 years, though winemaking has only been going on for a scant 3,000 years thanks to the Phoenicians. I'm going to skip over a lot of that history and focus on these two wineries, founded in the mid-to-late 1800s.

They caught phylloxera late, so by the time it hit they already knew how to avoid it with New World root stocks. Unlike the US wine industry, Spain didn't have to deal with a 19th century Civil War or early 20th century Prohibition, but her export sales suffered from neutrality in both World Wars and production was impacted by her own tragic Civil War in between the two big European conflicts. Through all of the turmoil, none of the factions were really opposed to wine production or consumption, so things were able to continue on with minor interruptions. I think that Spain might be the only country in the world who had four decades of a military dictatorship and didn't let the wine industry go to hell (I'm looking at you, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria).

Despite the ups and downs of Spanish history, I'm always delighted to try bottles from this country. Not only are they often delicious, but the quality-price ratio is fantastic. You can rarely get well-aged bargains like this from France or Italy or Napa. Here are two that I've had the pleasure to try during this holiday season.

2008 Faustino V Reserva
Rioja, Spain
90% Tempranillo, 10% Mazuelo
$20, 13.5% abv.

This winery was founded in 1861 (rough for us, not too bad for Spain) by Eleuterio Martinez Arzok. The six-year old bottle still shows surprising youth with aromas and flavors of tart red raspberry, earth and a crisp finish. A firm structure demonstrates a serious character that is an absolute steal at the price of two sawbucks.

1998 Bodegas Riojanas Viña Albina Gran Reserva
Rioja, Spain
80% Tempranillo, 15% Mazuelo, 5% Graciano
$50, 13% abv.

I thank the PR firm for providing samples a decade apart, albeit from different wineries. This one is a relative youngster founded in 1890. $50 is not your usual middle of the week wine budget, but this delivers a lot of complexity at sixteen years. Perhaps open it for a celebratory viewing of John Hughes' Sixteen Candles? This one opens with a rich nose of black cherry with touches of tobacco and leather. On the palate it is mild and gentle and showing at just the perfect age. Highly recommended.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

07 December 2014

Wines of Chateau Montelena

Recently I got to participate in a webcast tasting with Bo Barrett and his daughter Remi, representing Chateau Montelena. This is one of the wineries famous for the big win in the 1976 Judgment of Paris when California wine beat out Old World legends. The story was the focus of the 2008 film Bottle Shock. I asked them what their family thinks about the movie. There was a lot of laughter, then Bo replied, "The movie was meant as a love letter to California wines rather than exactly what happened."

The two had a lot of great stories to share as our group tasted through two wines that have become legends in their own right.

2012 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay
Napa Valley, California
100% Chardonnay
$50, 13.8% abv.

Aromas of lychee with a touch of toast and vanilla, mild and round body, gentle, low acidity, soft finish. Great balance and I think it would be wonderful with a simple meal of roast clams and baguettes.

2006 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Napa Valley, California
98% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Cabernet Franc
$150, 13.9% abv.

I allowed this one to breathe for about an hour before tasting. It shows a deep nose of black plum and prune with underlying layers of chocolate and earth. Mellow tannins after eight years allow for a long, complex finish. Truly outstanding. I'd only serve this with the best steak you can possibly afford.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

01 December 2014

Thanksgiving with Cadaretta Wines

I've given a lot of advice about Thanksgiving wines over the years, and most years I break my own rules. It's not hypocrisy, it's more about a divide between crowd pleasers and selfish enjoyment of what I'm in the mood for at that particular moment.

This year was a little different, with Julia stuck in town housesitting, much of my family traveling, and a holiday after weeks of busy work for both of us. It was an opportunity to have a simple meal for two followed by crashing on the couch. Well, I dozed off, she kept watching the movie.

I roasted the smallest turkey breast I could find (rubbed with the Slap Ya Mama Cajun spice blend), made fresh cranberry sauce, a simple spinach salad, my fantastic sweet potato soup and crescent rolls from the can. Aside from the soup, not a gourmet effort, but filling and tasty and comforting for two on a cloudy November day.

One common bit of advice for Thanksgiving wine pairing is to go with domestic products. Again, I'm all over the place with my personal preferences, but this year it worked out well to have a lineup of bottles from Washington State. I'm on track right now for tasting Cadaretta Wines every two years and this sampling did not disappoint.

2013 Cadaretta SBS
Columbia Valley, Washington
72% Sauvignon Blanc, 28% Semillon
$23, 12.8% abv.

This Bordelais white blend remains consistent with great honey and floral notes combined with firm acidity. A great wine that contributed to the flavor of the soup.

2011 Cadaretta Cabernet Sauvignon
Columbia Valley, Washington
82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 6% Malbec, 4% Petit Verdot
$40, 14.4% abv.

Plum and spice with medium tannins and a long finish. I enjoy decanting this one, and while it did not pair conventionally with any of the dishes Julia far preferred it.

2011 Cadaretta Springboard
Columbia Valley, Washington
80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petit Verdot
$50, 14.3% abv.

Tastes older than it is. Smooth and mild. Great cassis aromas and flavors, low tannins, slightly bitter finish with elements of green pepper. Another great Bordeaux blend that really hits my personal preferences in all the right places.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

26 November 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Greetings everyone! All is going well here at BWR headquarters with lots of outside writing assignments and a busy season at work. But fear not, I have not abandoned the blog, and one of the benefits of a large back catalog is that you can point to some earlier work when asked the same question over and over again. So here are Nine Years' Worth of Thanksgiving Posts.

In the meantime, lots of holiday samples have arrived and expect to see a lot more posts for the remainder of the calendar year. Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

16 November 2014

2012 M. Chapoutier Banyuls

Sometimes a sample has to sit around for the right moment. Banyuls is not well known in the United States. It's a fortified dessert wine similar to Port that's made in the south of France. It pairs beautifully with dark chocolate and is the kind of thing that you'd love to sip on around a fire in the winter. So when this bottle arrived on a hot summer day several months ago, I knew that I couldn't do it justice.

This past weekend I was invited to a dinner party hosted by my friend Melissa, and I offered to bring a dozen wines with the one request that dessert feature dark chocolate so that we could properly enjoy the Banyuls. I thought that we might just have a few squares of 80% cacao, but she went all out and made a torte from scratch. Bonus points for the banana pie!

I was excited to serve the wine to a group of people that had never had it before, and the bottle emptied quickly.

2012 M. Chapoutier Banyuls
Banyuls AOC, France
100% Grenache
$30/500mL bottle, 16% abv.

Intense aromas of stewed fruit, raisins, and black cherry. Dark fruit flavors and sweet but not cloying. The dark chocolate provides a powerful contrast of bitter notes which makes you go back and forth between the dessert and the wine, activating all parts of your palate. Highly recommended for the holiday season.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.

11 November 2014

50 Harvests Followup

I wanted to do a followup to my previous post on the 2012 Scotto Celllars 50 Harvests Meritage based on a surprise that showed up today.

I love being a wine writer and there are a lot of perks to the job, both here and in the world of freelancing. There are times when it is stressful and I generally keep those concerns private with fellow writers, because it sounds like whining to the rest of the world. "I had to taste thirty Sauvignon Blancs today... I can barely feel my tongue." If you take this gig seriously, trying thirty wines in a row can be exhausting from a sensory and mental standpoint. Take whatever you like: football, for instance, and instead of just watching your favorite team once on the weekend, you instead have to watch just the first five minutes of thirty different games, take notes on said five minutes, provide analysis... it can be tiring, but at the end of the day there are worse ways to pay the rent.

My one bittersweet complaint that I have mentioned here from time to time is that at a certain point, you start trying a bunch of wines that are great now but are really going to shine in a few years or a decade. And you can't really wait that long because the publicity cycle is at release or tied to a certain holiday. Who knows what may happen--a winery could go out of business, the small exotic wine region could be disrupted by economic or military concerns, anything. So you write about it now and give your best guess for when you think it will be in the Goldilocks Zone based on prior experience with similar styles that have been aged.

After I said, "And oh, to be able to taste this in 6-8 years when it will really shine...", Anthony Scotto was kind enough to send me a second bottle to try in 2021 with instructions written on the bottle in silver ink. This is not a quid pro quo: I'm not promising a good review in seven years per my sample policy. And there is journalistic precedent for this, in terms of privately requesting a second bottle if the sample you received is corked or damaged in shipping. Nothing was wrong with the first bottle (quite the opposite), but I appreciate the opportunity to try this one with proper aging. I have no idea what the wine writing world will look like then, but I am committed to keeping this one stored properly so that I can evaluate it at that time.

I've been given older vintages in the past, and of course have had the chance to try some spectacularly aged wines at private tastings, but this is the first time that I've been provided with a sample with the intent of getting back to them in seven years. I'm looking forward to the experiment!

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review... in 2021.