29 April 2005

2002 Fusée Cabernet Sauvignon

Grabbed a bottle of the 2002 Fusée Cabernet Sauvignon at Costco today. It was only four bucks and came with a rebate coupon for $1.50. Of course, I have to mail it in, which would cost me 37¢... I don't think it's worth the effort.

The above link goes to the winery's fact sheet for the 2000, but apparently the 2002 was awarded 85 points by Wine Spectator. And I've got to say, it's deserving. This is surprisingly soft and easy drinking for a cabernet sauvignon, and with such a short finish it seems like it's got more than 6% merlot in there. Cheap wines usually have a sour aroma that can be smelled from across a table, and a taste that will haunt your tongue for hours afterwards. This one has a mild tobacco and leather nose and great fruit flavors.

Not a complicated wine, but a steal at the price. Also, since it's got a screwcap, you don't have to worry about cork taint or having a corkscrew on hand. Thus, it's a great wine for taking to a BBQ or other informal gathering.

24 April 2005

Tasting Notes for April 23, 2005 (Part 2)

After a late lunch and a quiet couple of hours, it was time for the evening's tasting. Ostensibly an Oktoberfest in April celebration, I was looking forward to tasting a lot of German wines. Alas, there were very few, and the remainder of the wines weren't much to get excited about. But a lot of money was raised for charity, and it was good to see friends and family. No idea on the prices of these wines, but I wouldn't recommend most of them. None of the German wines were marked with the VDP stamp of quality, and I'd assume that all of them were of QbA or Estate quality.

For a variety of reasons, I didn't really taste these in a proper order, but had enough space between each one to let the palate recover.

Wine 1: 2002 Schmitt-Sohne Dornfelder Rotwein Trocken. A rare German red. Not many red grapes are planted in Germany, and very little of that is exported. I found it sort of sour. Curiosity satisfied!

Wine 2: 2003 Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Kabinett. Good smooth Riesling, not overly sweet. A decent wine, but certainly of the table variety.

Wine 3: 2001 Covey Run Syrah. Washington State, not terrible, but not really that enjoyable either.

Wine 4: 2001 Toni Mor Pinot Noir. Hey, another Oregon Pinot Noir. I think this was a bad bottle--sour, unbalanced, almost vinegary.

Wine 5: 2000 Leonard Kreusch Niersteiner Gutes Domtal Kabinett. Tasted almost like apple cider. Really quite delicious, but maybe a little too sweet for some. Has held up well for its age.

Wine 6: 2002 Leonard Kreusch Late Harvest Riesling. A Mosel-Saar-Ruwer wine, musky and sweet as you'd expect from the late harvest.

Wine 7: 1999 Twisted River Gewürztraminer. If the person pouring the wine--who is either paid to serve the wine or otherwise profits from the sale of said wine--tells you not to try something, don't. This is an inexpensive table wine that had apparently been forgotten in the back of a warehouse, and was never meant for aging. All the fruit was gone, and it was really quite flat.

Wine 8: 2000 Eugene Wine Cellars Oregon Melon. That's not Melon like a watermelon, it's Melon de Bourgogne, a French grape used to make Muscadet in the Loire Valley. It comes in sweet and dry varieties, and this was a sweeter one. Curiously, the website for that vineyard doesn't display the varietal, and I'm guessing that this is another attempt to unload some old stock by a local warehouse. Not a bad little wine, but I bet it was really spectacular in its youth.

Wine 9: 2002 Fife Vineyards Redhead Rosé. A real crowd pleaser, this is a North California wine made entirely from Carignane, normally used as a blending grape in Rhône. Should suit a wide range of palates and foods. It's also a dry wine; people tend to assume that rosés are sweet, but most of the good ones aren't.

Wine 10: 2001 Turner Road Lodi Shiraz. From California, just a basic shiraz/syrah. Not spectacular or disappointing.

Tasting Notes for April 23, 2005 (Part 1)

Nothing like two wine tastings in a single day... The Saturday marathon tasting in the small crowded room featured wines solely from the Bianchi winery of Argentina. I loved their Malbec from last Sunday, and in addition to trying their entire product line, I got to talk to Valentin Bianchi, the grandson of the founder who now runs the company. Nice guy. Note: all of these wines can be found here or here. The Elsa wines are the cheaper table wines, the Famiglia Bianchi wines are better and pricier, and the Particular wines are more expensive and made for longer cellaring.

Also, these are young wines, but you can add about six months to each to compare with Northern Hemisphere wines.

Wine 1: 2004 Elsa Chardonnay-Semillion. I've never understood why this combination isn't more popular. Usually made with little or no oak, and the Semillon gives a lot of bright and lively citrus flavors to the Chardonnay. Excellent choice for grilled chicken or heartier fish dishes. $9.

Wine 2: 2004 Famiglia Bianchi Chardonnay. Heavy mineral flavor, not bad, but there wasn't a lot in this wine that grabbed my attention. $17.

Wine 3: 2004 Famiglia Bianchi Sauvignon Blanc. Smooth, with very soft fruit flavors. A solid Sauvignon Blanc, though I'm still probably inclined to go with the Coppola or one of the fun New Zealand bottles when I'm in the mood for that grape. $15.

Wine 4: 2003 Elsa Cabernet Sauvignon. Heavy on the tannins, short on flavor, but probably won't age well. Reminds me a lot of some of the inexpensive Cabernet Sauvignons from Australia. $9.

Wine 5: 2003 Elsa Malbec. Lovely. Great Malbec for the price--soft flavors, balanced tannins, a bit of spice on the finish. Great bargain. $9.

Wine 6: 2003 Elsa Syrah. Very restrained like a classic Rhône, easy drinking, not big and brassy like an Australian Shiraz. $9.

Wine 7: 2003 Famiglia Bianchi Cabernet Sauvignon. Great black cherry flavors, but needs some time to mellow out the tannins. $17.

Wine 8: 2003 Famiglia Bianchi Malbec. Previously reviewed, but still impressive. Classy wine, good accompaniment for beef or lamb. $17.

Wine 9: 2003 Bianchi Particular Merlot. Another wine that no one would have guessed was a Merlot. This was a bold wine with a heavy tannin structure. $30.

Wine 10: 2003 Bianchi Particular Cabernet Sauvignon. Surprisingly smoother than the Merlot, with some good chocolate flavors. $30.

Wine 11: 2003 Bianchi Particular Malbec. I'm really biased towards this grape, but damn this was a great bottle. Everything that you love about Malbec but set to age gracefully. $30.

Wine 12: 1997 Famiglia Bianchi Cabernet Sauvignon. This one isn't for sale, but was an old bottle he'd brought along for the fun of it. Amazing dark fruit and plum flavors, smooth finish, and probably a good example of how these wines will age over time.

Tasting Notes for April 21, 2005

The tasting that I used to go to every Saturday has returned in a slightly amended form; it's held on a Thursday evening and is presented as more of a class, with each wine tasted blind and then identified before moving to the next one. Not sure how I like it, but we had some interesting wines, most of which hailed from the Pacific Northwest.

Wine 1: 2004 Kiona Late Harvest White Riesling. Sweet dessert wine from the Yakima Valley in Washington state. Good fruit flavors, excellent introductory wine for those just getting started. $10.

Wine 2: 2001 Meridian Chardonnay. I knew right away that it was a California chard. This one was used as an example of a wine served past its prime; the fruit had disappeared, leaving only acidic and alcohol flavors, plus some off-putting oak. It probably wasn't bad last year or the year before that. $10.

Wine 3: 2003 R. Stuart Big Fire Pinot Gris. Basically the same thing as Pinot Grigio, but finished in a French style rather than an Italian one. Good grapefruit flavors, but a little bitter on the finish. Probably a good match for seafood with mild cream sauces. $15.

Wine 4: 2003 Erath Pinot Noir. Nailed it right away as an Oregon Pinot Noir. Fairly mild, but I've had better. Nothing to get too excited about. $15.

Wine 5: 2002 Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Merlot. (This one isn't listed on the website yet, but it's one of their single vineyard offerings.) Nobody guessed this was a merlot, because it was an intense dark purple, and had a fairly powerful flavor. Quite good, not sure if I would buy it. $17.

20 April 2005

2002 Cline Cellars Syrah

Had this bottle of the 2002 Cline Cellars Syrah rattling around in the back of the cupboard, decided to give it a go tonight. Much softer than I expected--this is satiny smooth for a California syrah, though it's got a little grenache and mourvedre in there as well. Let's hear it for another CDR GSM!

For $10, I think it's a damned good bottle. It's priced about the same as their Red Truck wine, but I think it's a much better blend.

18 April 2005

Tasting Notes for April 17, 2005

Got invited to a private wine tasting... A couple of people were studying for their sommolier certification. No real theme here, but all wines were in the $10-15 range. Everything was evaluated blind in about two dozen different categories. I maintained my ususally bad track record with blind tasting--recently my guesses have been worse than random chance.

Wine 1: 2004 Kendall Jackson Riesling. Almost tasted like a moscato, didn't have that crisp riesling flavor. A decent wine for KJ.

Wine 2: 1999 Toasted Head Chardonnay. California chardonnay--fall fruit, oak.

Wine 3: 2002 Rodney Strong Chardonnay. Another California chardonnay, but this one had a much cleaner and brighter flavor.

Wine 4: 2001 Jekel Pinot Noir. I thought it was a syrah--lots of pepper and dried fruit flavors. Not bad, not spectacular.

Wine 5: 2003 Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages. I like Beaujolais, but think this probably tasted better last year. It had that fun banana Laffy-Taffy smell on top.

Wine 6: 2003 Turner Road Cabernet Sauvignon. Good dark fruit flavors, surprisingly low tannins for such a young cab sav.

Wine 7: 2001 Mas de Guiot Grenache-Syrah. A favorite from Saturday's tasting, I was curious to see how it would go over. Well-liked, but probably not appropriate for a blind tasting.

Wine 8: 2003 Famigilia Bianchi Malbec. The second wine that I brought, a French grape grown by Italian immigrants in Argentina. It's a big, full-bodied wine, with almost 15% alcohol. Good, but might mess you up for tasting something afterwards.

17 April 2005

Tasting Notes for April 16, 2005

I actually enjoyed this tasting... The theme was good wines under $15 in honor of tax day, and upon arrival I discovered a heavy southern French slate (all of which happened to come from importer Robert Kacher). Hurrah!

Wine 1: 2003 Robert's Rock Chenin Blanc/Chardonnay. From South Africa, this was a fun surprise. Soft and fruity, no oak. Great balance and an amazing value at $6.

Wine 2: 2003 Cline Pinot Gris/Chardonnay. Cline Cellars produces a lot of interesting wines, including the beloved Red Truck brand. I felt this wine was unbalanced; too much fall fruit, and a weird aftertaste that I couldn't pin down. I'm not sure how much the Pinot Gris (Grigio) was helping--it really tasted like bad California Chardonnay. $10.

Wine 3: 2003 Geyser Peak Alexander Valley Chardonnay. Another standard California Chardonnay. Nothing special. $13.

Wine 4: 2003 Guigal Côtes du Rhône Blanc. A nice sampling of Rhône white grapes. I love this region, and the wines don't disappoint. Light and easily drinkable, but with good flavor. $12.

Wine 5: 2002 Hope Estate Hunter Valley Verdelho. A big surprise here, and my first tasting of this native Portuguese grape. Good balance of fruit, acid, and crispness without being sweet. I'd love to try it with Mexican food. $9.

Wine 6: 2003 Mirassou Pinot Noir. It was interesting to revisit this wine. It tasted better this time--not sure if it was a breathing or temperature issue, or if I just had an off bottle earlier. Still not overly excited about it, though. $10.

Wine 7: 2003 Cline Cashmere. This is a GSM Côtes du Rhône style wine. Quite good, and I've always loved that combination. However, this wine was shipped to the store by mistake, and is only available to club members. A dollar from each bottle of this wine sold goes to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. $16.

Wine 8: 2001 Mas de Guiot Grenache-Syrah. A good combination from Languedoc, just south and west of Côtes du Rhône. This wine should be a big hit among Americans, but it's not marketed like that. In fact, it's a pretty serious looking label, austere white with black text in Shelley Allegro. The one nod to American audiences is the simple "40% Grenache/60% Syrah" below the vineyard name. $13.

Wine 9: 2001 Domaine Saint-Antoine Syrah. I think this bottle was off, but no one wanted to step up and say it. Brett maybe? I thought it tasted like running the lawnmower through a patch of slightly rotten and noxious weeds. $13.

Wine 10: 2001 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot. My second tasting of this Washington wine that scored in the Wine Spectator Top 100 last year. I thought it was better this time around, and I may even grab a bottle at some point. Well balanced without that candy flavor you get in California. I still prefer the Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon from that year. $13.

Wine 11: 2000 Mas de Guiot Cabernet-Syrah. Another great blend from Languedoc. If you didn't see the label, you might even think this was a restrained offering from Australia. $14.

Wine 12: 2002 Paul Hobbs Cocodrilo Cabernet Sauvignon. Good for the price, this Argentine wine is smooth with good dark fruit flavors. With a name like Cocodrilo it's certainly something unique to put on the table. $15.

15 April 2005

Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Noirs

On a lark, I picked up a bottle of Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Noirs (non-vintage, $10). Made in Washington state, it follows the traditional Méthode Champenoise for making sparkling wine. It's mostly pinot noir, with some chardonnay as well, which leads me into something...

The scene at the beginning of Sideways when you see a bottle of Champagne poured and it's a clear gold color? And it's all pinot noir? A friend asked me about this before I saw the movie, and I was confused. My previous limited experience with blanc de noirs wines was that they were fairly pink, almost like white zinfandel. But those were cheap wines and I was wrong, and more research on the Champagne region has helped tremendously. (Though you won't really see one of these wines labeled as pinot noir, and it may not even list the grape on the back.)

This wine is just barely pink, somewhere between light gold and salmon. In fact, in a flute you're not going to see a lot of the tint. The marketing materials will show this as a much pinker wine, but it's not like that in person.

It's a medium dry wine, with mild yeasty aromas and an amazing flavor of very ripe, small strawberries. So crisp it almost makes you want to pucker. Fortunately there's a short aftertaste, so it won't hamper your palate before a heartier meal.

I was going to serve this with some sort of fish tonight, but as dinner plans became confused, I decided to pop it open and have a glass or two in the afternoon. I think this would be a great wine to serve with sushi. Also, at the price, it would probably work well for a large wedding or New Year's Eve gathering if you weren't surrounded by wine fanatics.

10 April 2005


I finally saw Sideways Friday evening. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but fear that the hullabaloo over the wine scenes and pinot noir good--merlot bad obscures a pleasantly depressing story about middle age and failed dreams. In that sense it reminded me a bit of Freak Talks About Sex, an unfortunately titled movie that focuses on guys in a similar situation around the age of thirty, though there was no wine or other obvious hook on which the story hung.
I would hope that people don't take the main character's behavior as a template for attending tastings. If you don't like a wine, there's no reason to insult it in front of the person serving. (Obviously I've said bad things about wines here, but that's to help avoid those in the future.) At a tasting, the person doing the pouring either works for the winery, works for the distributor, or works for the shop that's selling the wine, and is certainly aware of the quality of that wine. Besides, once you get away from obvious flaws, it's all a matter of taste anyway, and opinions are like... well, you know. Anyway, there's no reason to be rude to the person who is, in many cases, providing you a free sample of a luxury product.

One thing I focused on in the movie was that I felt the true wine lovers were the two main female characters. They adored wine, but didn't take it to obsessive levels, and had the rest of their lives in order. For Giamatti's character, it seemed like he could have fallen into old record collecting, rose growing, or any other activity that would provide him with lots of misery and only occasional flashes of pleasure. (I used to know some fanatical rose growers, and they hated 99% of the roses they saw in public or in print. I've never understood the attraction to a hobby that keeps you miserable most of the time.)
It's a complicated film, and I'm looking forward to watching it again and with the director's commentary.

Weekend Roundup

Time to catch up on some wines tried over the past week...

Wine 1: 2002 Dancing Bull Zinfandel. Lighter than you'd expect for a zin. A good bargain, but nothing to get too excited about. $7.

Wine 2: 2003 Twin Fin Pinot Noir. After my great experience with the cab sav from this producer, I was excited to try the pinot. I was less enthusiastic here--the wine had a sharp feel to it, and low complexity in the flavor and smell. $7.

Wine 3: 2003 Alamos Malbec. A fun red from Argentina. Please let it breathe a bit, otherwise the first glass will be off-putting. Once it airs out, there's lovely aromas of leather and good dark fruit flavors. I find this wine tastes much better with food, particularly something with a hearty tomato sauce. $10.

03 April 2005

Tasting Notes for April 2, 2005

My secondary wine tasting establishment (the one with the long lists and crowded room) had an unusual tasting Saturday. Since the local Memphis in May festival is honoring Ireland this year, they did a focus on Irish beverages, plus a couple of California wines and some other oddballs. I don't normally review anything other than wine here, but I'm going to make an exception today for the heck of it.

They had the tasting structured in a really odd way--a bunch of sweet liqueurs, followed by Irish whiskey, then a slate of wines, and finally a coffee liqueur. I thought this was ridiculous, as you wouldn't be able to taste the wine after the whiskey, and the early placement of an Irish cream meant that everyone's glasses were cloudy for the remainder of the tasting. So these are presented in the order that I chose to drink them, which several others soon imitated.

Wine 1: 2002 Raymond Valley Chardonnay. Light and fruity, with some hints of citrus on the nose. Not a bad Chardonnay, though I don't know if it justifies the price. $16.

Wine 2: 2002 Clos du Val Carneros Chardonnay. This was much drier than the first wine, with a crisp flavor and low oak. Quite nice. $22.

Wine 3: 1999 Domaine Bertrand Ambroise Bourgogne Rouge. With all the fuss about pinot noir these days, is anyone buying red Burgundy? This was slightly tart, with soft tannins. It had a rougher aftertaste than I was expecting. I need more experience with Burgundy. Given the age and region, the price is pretty decent. $20.

Wine 4: 2001 Artesa Elements Napa Red Blend. I was pleasantly surprised by this wine, even though at the time we had no info on what grapes were used. It's a pleasant red mix that has a lot of forward fruit flavors. I'd happily recommend this, though for what is basically a fun table wine, I think it's overpriced. $20.

Cocktail 1: Mancini's Apple Martini. Think a so-so vodka with a green apple Jolly Rancher dissolved in it. This has nothing to do with Ireland, though it is a green beverage. I've largely avoided the novelty martini trend, and for some reason hearing the word "chocotini" makes my skin crawl. Give me cold gin, a splash of vermouth, and a nice olive. At home, I'll happily tip a bit of the olive brine in for a "dirty martini", though that's something you drink out of a tumbler rather than a martini glass. I am also not generally fond of premixed cocktails; you don't have any control over the quality of the individual elements, and more delicate flavors are going to be lost over time. $15.

Whiskey 1: Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey. These whiskey reviews are not going to be of much to anyone; I'm not an expert, and while I've had some amazing whiskeys in my time, I still haven't developed a taste for Scotch-like beverages. This is thin, pale gold, and has a harsh aroma and taste to it, almost chemical. $21.

Whiskey 2: Powers Irish Whiskey. The best-selling whiskey in Ireland, obviously they're doing something right. I got a lot of earth and spice flavors. $22.

Whiskey 3: Black Bush Irish Whiskey. Like a punch in the stomach. Really strong, and I think this would need to be consumed slowly over a longer period of time. A quick sip is a bit of a shock. $40.

Whiskey 4: Tyrconnell Single Malt Irish Whiskey. I enjoyed this one, though again, I think that might have more to do with getting my tongue acclimated to whiskey. This was much smoother than the first three whiskeys, and it appears as though this is a well-respected distillery. For the price, I suppose it would make a good gift for a whiskey lover. $25.

Liqueur 1: Celtic Crossing. A honey-based liqeuer. About 60 proof, and the honey flavor is very delicate and restrained. I think this would be amazing for soaking a cake (or babas au rhum or any similar spirit-soaked dessert). Probably great over ice cream as well. $22.

Liqueur 2. Irish Mist. Spicy, smooth, and sweet. Made me think of Christmas for some reason. Also contains honey. $30.

Liqueurs 3&4. Bushmill's Irish Cream and Starbucks Coffee Liqueur. I've had both of these at previous tastings, and my main problem with the Starbucks liqueur was what to mix it with. I didn't think it tasted all that great on its own, and obviously it would be overkill to add it to coffee (though I understand that this is an increasingly popular choice). So I just took both of these samples together, and they blended beautifully. The Starbucks toned down the sweetness of the Irish cream and the cream softened the bitter edge of the coffee. The combination looks like dark chocolate milk, and hangs on the glass like cough syrup. $20 and $30, respectively.

01 April 2005

2002 Twin Fin Cabernet Sauvignon

I'm a sucker for good packaging. The 2002 Twin Fin Cabernet Sauvignon is an inexpensive, screwcap-enclosed table wine that features a stylized picture of a 50s era convertible at the beach, with a surfboard sticking out of the back seat. (The board has two fins, hence "twin fin".) 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Syrah. This is a fruit bomb, so you get a lot of bright grape and cherry flavors at first. The tannins are thankfully low, and the finish is short. What does all that mean?

With zero complexity and a taste that doesn't linger, you could match this with just about any food. I'm always hesitant about cheap Cabernet Sauvignon, but this seems to be simple and well balanced (I can't wait to try their Syrah). I was really surprised by this wine, and I hope that its fun marketing will convince more non-wine drinkers to pick up a bottle now and then. $6.