31 January 2005

Worst and Best of Concha y Toro

Over a sumptuous dinner to celebrate the Iraqi elections, Paul and I first had a cheap bottle of the 2003 Concha y Toro Frontera Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot. This was better than it sounds, but nothing to get excited about. That bottle was almost entirely emptied during the appetizer phase (flatbread and heavily spiced hummus), which was also the "waiting for the standing rib roast to cook" phase.

For the main course (the aforementioned standing rib roast), which also featured a good yet ultimately boring side dish of potato kibbeh stuffed with marinated lentils, I picked up a bottle of the 2001 Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon, which represents the top of the line from the Concha y Toro vineyards. And this particular vintage got a 95 from Wine Spectator, making it the highest rated Chilean wine ever. 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc. The color on this was amazing, and there was a bit of sediment in the last glass from the bottle--two things I wasn't expecting for the relatively young age of the wine. The taste was still a little sharp up front (I'm sure thanks to the cab franc), but was overall smooth and drinkable. I picked up some of the chocolate and black currant flavors.

First off, this is the most I've ever spent on a single bottle of wine--$40. And I'm immensely happy with how it turned out. However, I'm not sure if it's worth that price right at this moment, though the relatively scarce supply is a big factor. If I had a proper cellar, this would be a $100 wine in three years, and a $200 wine in six.

Anyway, if you can find this, it's definitely worth a try, and if you can afford two bottles and have the proper storage facilitites, stick one in the back for a few years. But when you want a good Chilean wine for a dinner, go for the Concha y Toro Marques line, and stick to the cab sav.

29 January 2005

2003 Concha y Toro Frontera Carménère

2003 Concha y Toro Frontera Carménère. On the weekends, I enjoy an inexpensive bottle of wine to sip in the afternoon, perhaps with a good book or while catching upon on the wine blog reviews. For reasons that will become clear tomorrow, I've decided to plumb the depths of the Concha y Toro product line. At the very bottom are the Frontera wines, simple but decent table wines harvested from multiple fields, and sometimes outside growers. This one cost $4, so even if it tasted horrible, I'm not out much cash. But I've been pleasantly surprised. I wasn't familiar with this grape--I think it's extinct in its home of Bordeaux, where it was used as a blending grape. This wine is 85% Carménère, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Syrah. I don't know if I could identify this grape on its own, but I like this wine. It's like merlot with balls, if that makes any sense, and the supporting grapes definitely improve the flavor. It's something a little different, and solid enough to stand up to hearty beef dishes or spicy Indian/Mexican fare.

Tasting Notes for January 29, 2005

Wine 1: 2003 Brancott Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. This is the first New Zealand wine I've ever had, and it was delicious. Lots of nice crisp flavors, with aromas of fresh cut grass and a hint of lemon and grapefruit on the tongue. If it were summer, I'd serve this in a heartbeat with lime grilled chicken, or perhaps with some lighter Mexican dishes. (Note: This winery is known as "Montana" in its home country, but for obvious reasons is rebranded for sale to the US and Canada.) $11.

Wine 2: 2001 Eschcol Ranch Chardonnay. A standard California chardonnay. Not bad, but not surprising. A great bargain for the price, but when I want a workhorse chard I tend to go for the Hess Select. $8.

Wine 3: 2003 Waterbrook Mélange. Hey, that one looks familiar. $15.

Wine 4: 2002 Carpineto Dogajolo. Gotta love that name. This is a "Super Tuscan", a fun table wine with a lot of personality. It has a very full bodied aroma, but tasts much smoother than you'd expect. I'm always interested in flavorful alternatives to jug chianti, which is often the only exposure that people have had to Italian wines. $10.

Wine 5: 2001 Wolf Blass South Australia Shiraz. Not overly impressed. There's a weird chemical smell (hot plastic or gasoline, something along those lines) that everyone commented on. The taste isn't bad, but for a bargain Aussie shiraz that doesn't smell like you've been torching green plastic Army men with lighter fluid, I prefer Little Penguin or Penfolds. $12.

28 January 2005

2001 Mirassou California Cabernet Sauvignon

I picked a bottle of the 2001 Mirassou California Cabernet Sauvignon on a whim this afternoon. It was about relatively inexpensive ($10), and I figured three and a half years would be enough time to mellow out any harsh edges. I've got to say that I didn't like this one. I could never find an exact percentage, but to be labeled as just a cab sav it has to at least 85% of that grape, and the rest can be whatever. This one obviously has a lot of merlot in it, but it sure tastes like a lot more than 15%.

Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad wine, I mean, the bottle disappeared over the course of a Yankee pot roast dinner. (I don't think it was the right wine for the meal--a fuller bodied, more tannic red would have been more appropriate.) It's really hard to explain, but this wine just acted weird on the tongue. It started out reasonable enough, but the finish was almost nonexistant. Not recommended.

23 January 2005

2004 Penfolds Rawson's Retreat Shiraz Cabernet

(Note: Some of these wine reviews will be old ones from the previous blog, or transcriptions of notes that I've taken on wines in the past.)

The 2004 Penfolds Rawson's Retreat Shiraz Cabernet is probably the bottom of the barrel when it comes to the great Penfolds winery, but I have a soft spot for it. One nice feature about the Penfolds wine is that the majority of their labels all look identical. Why is that nice? Unless the person you're serving is very familiar with the winery, they won't know if your bottle is worth $10 or $50. Of course, the best varieites have slightly different designs--a recent vintage of the Penfolds Grange will run you two or three hundred dollars, and older bottles from the 1950s can run into the thousands.

This wine was bought for $6.

It's 74% Shiraz (same grape as Syrah) and 26% Cabernet Sauvignon. It's also one of the first 2004 wines to be commercially available aside from novelties like the Beajolais Nouveau (thanks the opposite seasons Down Under). This wine is bold and brash with a heavy fruit flavor up front, but little or no sweetness. If you ever want to show someone what a wine tastes like before any real aging, give them a glass of this and then bop 'em on the head with the butt of the bottle. Think hardcore grape juice and you're in the neighborhood.

I know that doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement, but I still enjoy it. It's always good to try a wine in its infancy, and while I don't think this particular vintage will improve with age, it lets you know where more refined wines start out. It's also a decent wine for sipping in the afternoon while you're hanging around the BBQ grill all day.

2000 deLorimier Mosaic Red Meritage

I had a glass of the 2000 deLorimier Mosaic Red Meritage with my father this afternoon. It had been opened the previous night, but had been refrigerated since then.

Quick tip: If you open a bottle of wine and can't finish it in one evening, replace the cork or use a stopper and stick it in the fridge. Try to consume within three days max. For reds, let them come back up to room temperature before serving. Anything beyond three days, and the effects of all the oxygen on the wine will cause spoilage.

Here's the breakdown: 66% Cabernet Sauvignon 26% Merlot 8% Cabernet Franc. (The last grape there is a small one like Petite Sirah, but not as tart or tannic.) This is an exceptionally well-balanced wine, with classic cabernet sauvignon flavors and enough enhancing elements to make it interesting. Should be served with a great steak or rack of lamb. $30.

22 January 2005

Tasting Notes for January 22, 2005

Wine 1: Rosa Regale Brachetto d'Acqui. A fun sparkling wine from Italy, this has a lot of body in the mouth. It swells up and has hints of strawberry. This wine should go great with all sorts of chocolates, and could work equally well before dinner or during dessert. For $18 it's great, but for an inexpensive alternative, I'd recommend the standby Ballatore Spumante Rosso, though it definitely falls more on the simple cherry soda side of the spectrum.

Wine 2: 2003 Folie à Deux Menage à Trois Blanc. Despite the name, this is a California wine. Take note of the two dancing girls drawn like a Rorschach test--this winery is owned by two psychologists. As a big fan of their Rouge blend, I was anxious to try this wine. However, it was not as sweet as I expected. It's made from Chardonnay, Moscato and Chenin Blanc, though I think it could have used less Chardonnay and more Moscato. I'm not the biggest Chardonnay fan--that's not an elitist position, it's just that there's a lot of crap chard out there that has a sad rotten fruit aroma. (Technically it is rotten fruit, but work with me here.) Anyway, this is a solid white wine that ought to be useful for a wide range of dishes. Good for a backup wine, and affordable at $11.

Wine 3: 2001 Calò Rosa del Golfo. Supposedly, this is not a terribly popular wine, and the sponsoring shop owner was trying to unload a few bottles. That's a damned dirty shame, because I love this wine, though not necessarily at this time of year. This is a perfect summertime wine for grilled fish and shellfish. Despite the color, it tastes nothing like white zinfandel. It's actually quite dry, and often surprises those who taste it for the first time. By the way, this was the "blind" bottle for the day, and I nailed it immediately. (I'm not an expert by any means--I just recognized the color of the foil on the neck and the small selection of the sponsoring shop.) $15.

Wine 4: 2000 Apollonio Primitivo. (Good luck with that site, by the way. Not only is the English side broken, but it's all Flash. I can't stand that.) Primitivo is the ancestor of California's Zinfandel. This wine was much smoother and less sweet than I expected, which I imagine has a lot to do with the aging. I'm still on the fence when it comes to Zins... I enjoy them, but have yet to get enthusiastic about them. $14.

Wine 5: 2001 Montevina Amador Zinfandel. I had the 2000 of this wine, and it was horrible, though I'm willing to assume that I got a bad bottle or one that hadn't been stored properly. Anyway, the 2001 was noticeably better, but I still wasn't very impressed. It wasn't even as good as the previous Primitivo, and even that didn't excite me. $12.

Marietta Cellars California Old Vine Red Lot Number Thirty-Five

Don't let the long name scare you off. The Marietta Cellars California Old Vine Red Lot Number Thirty-Five is a simple little table wine. This is another blend--in this case, 60% Zinfandel, 30% Carignane, 10% Petite Sirah. I'm not really familiar with the middle grape, but apparently it used to be a popular mixer for jug and table wines in the past. A lot of the zinfandel survives, but there's a tart edge from the Petit Syrah.

Quick wine tip: Tannins and stronger flavors come from the skin of grapes. The Petite Sirah is a small grape, so there's a high skin to liquid mass ratio. Mathematically, this may look odd, as all spheres (let's assume all grapes are spheres) have a uniform ratio of volume (4/3 π r3) to surface area (4 π r 2) unless you're willing to add dimensions, but grape skins are pretty uniformly thick regardless of the variety. So the size of the grape does make a difference in the intensity of flavor that will come from the grape.

So this is a hearty, tannic wine, purchased for $10. Food recommendation: I haven't the foggiest. I drank two glasses after spending a half hour shucking and eating raw oysters with hot sauce, but note that I drank the wine after the oysters. (If anyone cares, oysters need a very light white like a Pinot Grigio or a sparkling wine.) It's almost bitter, but not in a bad way--if you're a fan of India Pale Ale beer or straight unsweeted espresso, then you might enjoy the flavors of this wine. Though it's very bold and brash right now, I think this could survive a year or two of aging to mellow out. If I were forced to make a recommendation, I'd go for barbecue or your favorite pizza.

2003 Waterbrook Mélange

Here's a great little wine I had Friday night--the 2003 Waterbrook Mélange. I'd picked it up on the recommendation of a trusted local wine shop owner, but I gave that bottle away as a gift for an unexpected visitor during the holidays. So last week I picked up another bottle, and was anxious to open it on Friday.

Some of the creative wine blends out there are a load of fun, and this is definitely in that category. In fact, if you ever have a blind tasting and want to confuse people, try this: 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Sangiovese, 25% Merlot, 13% Syrah, 3% Cabernet Franc. The overall flavor doesn't really taste like any of those grapes, but you get bits of them at different points in the tasting.

I seem to recall the bottle was around $15. It's a pretty all-purpose red, not bad to keep on hand as a backup. Though it should be good with most beef dishes, it's flavor is unique enought that it might be more fun on its own with some cheese and light appetizers.

First Posting

OK, here's a new blog... Tired of the old one, and I really need somewhere to keep wine reviews. What's my philosophy? Keep it simple and fun. I'm not an expert, I don't have a cellar, and I rarely keep more than three bottles on hand at the house. But I love wine, and attend at least one tasting a week. Additionally, I try to enjoy a couple of bottles a week, preferably with something I've cooked.

I tend to stick to wines in the $10-20 range, though I'll dip above or below when the quality is right. Also, I'll try to describe these pretty simply, in terms of like/dislike and what kind of food they'd go with. I find that a lot of wine descriptions aren't useful unless you attend a lot of tastings. For instance, if you tell a wine novice about the petrol aroma on top of a good riesling, it will sound really offputting, as opposed to the delightful nose of the real thing.