28 January 2006

Jean-Paul Trocadero Blanc de Blancs NV

Rainy afternoon, good book, why not settle back with a bargain sparkler... The Jean-Paul Trocadero Blanc de Blancs is $8 of fun in traditional packaging. It comes from the Savoie (Savoy) region in southeast France near the Alps. It's interesting how whenever we think about French wines we're thinking about regions that relate to ancient kingdoms and principalities, yet how many of us can name any of the actual departments where the wine is made? Anyway, this is all Chardonnay, a bit on the sweet side, but pleasant. The aroma and flavor are overwhelmingly comprised of green apples and lemon, sort of like when I was a kid and Mom would cut up a Granny Smith apple, squirt lemon juice over it, and put it in a bag for my school lunch. Slightly musky finish. Really begs for a firm, sharp English cheddar. An excellent wine for any fan of hard cider.

23 January 2006

2005 Roundup

A look back at 2005... In the US, "roundup" either refers to the gathering of cattle or a particularly potent herbicide used to kill weeds (and which, as a child, made my little brother break out in hives). I'm sticking to the metaphorical usage of the first definition.

A quick glance over the reviews of 2005 reveals that I wrote about some 450 wines. That's not an exact count; a couple were duplicates, yet others were wines I used for dinner parties whose reviews aren't directly linked by this blog anymore and thus weren't counted. So I think 450 is a good number, and damn, what a number! And that's not even counting the various liquors and beers that I sampled over the year... I either need to write a book or enter a 12 step program.

To concerned friends, relatives, and potential parole officers: almost all of those were tasted in one-ounce portions.

I'd like to think that the past year has been an incredible education into the world of wine. If I were referring to a language, I'd say that at the beginning I knew basic phrases, yet now I can carry on a detailed conversation. I'm by no means fluent yet, but I'm working on it.

Cheers to all of my readers, and here's to the rest of 2006!

2004 Rawson's Retreat Penfolds Merlot

Ah, Penfolds... Producers of the most noble Grange and the most lowly... 2004 Rawson's Retreat Penfolds Merlot. I picked up the latter for $7 at the local wine shop. I reviewed the 2003 a year ago, and wasn't impressed.

I like this vintage a little more. It's got a powerful flavor and aroma of strawberry jam, which tends to make me think of the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches of my youth. It's a little more acidic and slightly tannic than I like in a Merlot, though it's not a bad wine. I still enjoy the historical significance behind the name.

On the subject of label design, it appears as though they've added a light gray image of the original Rawson's Retreat homestead on the bottom of the label. Good on them, I say. I've had almost all good experiences with Penfolds, yet they have a pretty wide range of prices and categories, and all of them seem to use the same label. This has a certain benefit, as you can bring a bottle to a party and the host probably won't know if it's a $10 or $50 bottle. But can't they just follow the herd and throw a wombat on the label? I mean, it's a humble wine and you don't get more humble than the burrowing and tenacious wombat. Honestly, if you sold this plonk in the US and renamed the wombat the "ground koala", you could sell barrels of the stuff.

16 January 2006

Blog Template Sibling

You know, my previous post about going gonzo crazy on the Red Bull has reminded me a bit of the weirdness on my other blog, plus some of my old Usenet postings and a lot of my past and present e-mail to friends. Not that the beverage is making me wild and exxxtreme, but occasionally I miss that style of stream-of-consciousness ranting about nothing of real importance. And this is one of my little corners of the web, right? I can Jackson Pollock the walls with mustard and ketchup if I so desire. I can't do that with some of the corporate e-commerce sites I administer.

I got bored later this evening, and in my continuing, gut-churning quest to empty the cupboards, I found a packet of Pop-Tarts, again, from my roommate. The toaster pastry in question was a Frosted Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tart. I toasted it in the toaster oven, found it way too sweet and ended up discarding about half of it. That's the first time I've had one of those things in over ten years. One of my weirdest anecdotes takes place in 1983. I was six years old, in first grade, attending a strict Presbyterian elementary school. They had recently installed a microwave in the lunchroom, along with a vending machine that dispensed plastic-wrapped frozen burgers and whatnot for reheating. I decided to throw my packet of Pop-Tarts in the microwave, and I set it for two minutes.

At the time, Pop-Tarts were encased in a pouch that was foil on the inside but paper on the outside, with no printed warnings about microwaves. (The current packaging is all foil and strictly forbids microwaving.) So I stuck it in there, and pressed start. Within about twenty seconds, sparks began flying. Another twenty seconds and the whole mess was in flames. The lunch lady raced over, blasted the interior with a fire extinguisher, and my Pop-Tarts were reduced to a pile of ashes and dry chemical fire retardant. As a bonus, I got to experience some of the great "public shaming" punishment that private schools were so fond of at the time. (When I cheated on a spelling test--the word "Wednesday"--they marched me in front of the teachers in the next grade and all of them told me that they would refuse to have such a worthless student in their class. Cruel, but I'd like to think I spell pretty well these days.)

I wasn't a huge fan of them at the time, but I remember that they were unfrosted didn't contain much fake jam or whatever on the inside. I always remember enjoying the "bread" portion more than the filling. Now it seems like they're all filling and outer frosting. So in search of the great unfrosted Pop-Tart, I Googled, and then I found a blog. That reviews Pop-Tarts. And uses the same Blogger.com template as me. Behold: The Pop Tart Brigade. And thus the rant comes full circle.

2004 Tisdale Shiraz

Once again, I'm trying a $4 bottle to accompany the year-end scrapings from my cupboard. Continuing with the Tisdale line--which doesn't appear to have much of a web presence--I tried the 2004 Tisdale Shiraz tonight. Odd naming there; it happens occasionally, but you don't see much use of the "Shiraz" name in California. And while it's the same grape as Syrah, I've come to think of Shiraz as somehow fun and exotic, no doubt fueled by the fruit-forward, spicy wines from South Africa and Australia. How long is it before some wag markets a Petite Shiraz?

This wine is nothing to get excited about, but isn't terrible either. It's not as good as the recent Parker Station Syrah that I had, but these two wines have reminded me that Syrah/Shiraz really makes a great everyday bargain wine. In the realm of red wines under $10, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir are frequently undrinkable, Merlot is too much like Kool-Aid, and Zinfandels are rarely well-balanced. Typically at this price point you have to duck down to the "second tier" grapes of Southern France and Spain. At this stage in my life, it's hard to justify the $25 wine for dinner after work on a Monday.

In a related note, after dinner, I was nosing around in the fridge and found an old can of Red Bull, presumably purchased by my roommate at some point in the past. I assumed that she didn't want it, as her daily lust for carbonated beverages is satisfied by liters of Diet Coke. I decided to crack it open and see what all the fuss was about. Even at arms length, I smelled the pineapple. But not real pineapple, more that ersatz pineapple flavor (and sweetness) found in a roll of Life Savers, combined with just a bit of lemon drop. Mild carbonation on the order of a light Prosecco, just enough to tickle the tongue but not enough to foam in the mouth. Further experimentation with rum was disappointing, though that may have been due to my practice of dribbling in a mere splash of mixer into an otherwise... medicinal dose of rum. It's entirely possible that you could make a really weird pi ña colada with Red Bull, ice, condensed milk and rum. But I'm not going to try.

As for the energy aspects of Red Bull? If you see twenty-seven posts in the next couple of hours about topics ranging from Polynesian navigation to the history of Mormon cinema (up to and including Napoleon Dynamite), then you'll know that I've sprouted wings or whatever it is that's supposed to happen. But I'm doubtful. I routinely drink caffeine before bedtime without trouble, and the only stimulant that ever really affected me was Brazillian maté, which kept me buzzing and twitching for a really productive 36 hours.

15 January 2006

Tasting Notes for January 14, 2006

The theme for this tasting was "Affordable French", and overall it was a likeable bunch. I went with a couple of friends who don't regularly attend tastings, and they appeared to enjoy the day's offerings. Note: I wasn't able to find several of the websites--smaller French producers often don't have their own website, and sometimes the only reviews or notes come from Germany or Denmark.

Wine 1: Louis Perdrier Brut NV. Beaune, Burgundy. This is a non-vintage sparkling blanc de blancs from Beaune. Couldn't find a website, but it's a really nice little sparkler. Mellow, lightly crisp and refreshing. The flavors aren't complex, but it was a big hit at the tasting. And the price made it even more attractive. $9.

Wine 2: 2004 Chateau Larmevaille Blanc. Entre-Deux-Mers, Bordeaux. Made from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion, this was lemony and crisp with a good balance. Not spectacular, but a great basic white Bordeaux. $15.

Wine 3: 2000 Hugel Riesling. Alsace. There's a touch of petrol on the nose, and the overall flavor is dry with just a touch of tartness. It was thin and not terribly interesting. Not a big hit at the tasting. $10 (375 mL bottle).

Wine 4: 2001 Cave de Prisse Saint-Veran. Maâcon, Burgundy. A pretty boring White Burgundy. Way too thin, flat, and no noticeable flavors. Just not enough there to keep my interest. $16.

Wine 5: 2002 George Faiveley Bourgogne Blanc. Burgundy. Some herbal, grassy aromas. Flavors of strong goat cheese. It's a pretty earthy wine, off-putting if you haven't drunk a lot of French wine. I think it could work when paired with the proper aromatic cheese. $19.

Wine 6: 2002 Jean Fournier Marsannay VV. Marsannay, Burgundy. Finally, the reds. This Pinot Noir is tart and crisp, with some berry flavors and a soft finish. Not outstanding, and not exactly a bargain either. $34.

Wine 7: 2002 Philippe Rivière Menuts Rouge. St. Emilion, Bordeaux. A bit of a red meat aroma, some cherry flavors, soft and well rounded with soft tannins. Mostly Merlot, of course. $17.

Wine 8: 2003 Chateau Damase Bordeaux Superieur. Bordeaux. This is 100% Merlot, which really surprised me--I was tasting some of the other Bordeaux grapes in there. I found it a little spicy and peppery, with medium tannins. Of course, this was the first wine with any real structure that we tasted, so it may have appeared more powerful in comparison. $15.

Wine 9: 2003 Chateau de Mattes-Sabran. Corbières, Languedoc. South of France, probably a lot of Carignan and who knows what else. Soft beginning, some black cherry flavors. Slightly unbalanced, but a good little wine. Really begs for some food. $15. Correction: Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre. No Carignane in this wine. The owner of the winery contacted me with the correct information. Thanks!

Wine 10: 2000 Chateau Larose-Trintaudon. Haut Medoc, Bordeaux. No information on the current vintage, but lovely splash page there. Mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, with a good dose of Merlot and a bit of Cabernet Franc. Dry, mild, and a good bargain for this region. It has some of that characteristic green bell pepper/tomato leaf aroma and herbal flavor that turn a lot of people off. I happen to like it. I had one a few years ago that was almost like smoking a cigar. $19.

Wine 11: 2000 Domaine Forest Cairanne Côtes du Rhône Villages. Côtes du Rhône. Light fruit beginning, a dark color for a CDR. Light tasting and a perfect accompaniment for grilled pork. I think it's a Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre blend, but I think there might be something else in there. $12.

Wine 12: Abbaye Sainte-Eugenie "Ame de Pierre" NV Banyuls. Rousillon, Languedoc. The name means "Soul of Pierre" and refers to a work of French literature. Mostly made from Grenache Noir, this is a fortified wine like Port, and it fact it resembles a Tawny Port in both appearance and structure. There are flavors of molasses and raisins, but it's not syrupy or overly sweet. Excellent dessert wine, and something a little different. $26.

11 January 2006

2003 Navarro Vineyards Pinot Noir

Can't believe I forgot to mention this one. Last Friday I fixed dinner for my date as well as a close friend and his date. Afterwards, we retreated to the couches to watch a movie... A good time was had by all.

The girl I'm dating went home to California for Christmas and returned with a bottle of the 2003 Navarro Vineyards Pinot Noir from the Anderson Valley in Mendocino. Retails for around $23, though it's not available here in Memphis. Her father got it from the vineyard. It was an excellent Pinot Noir, and even more fun to serve because I'd started out the evening with my old favorite, the sparkling pinot noir from Domaine Ste. Michelle. The Navarro had a light and delicate structure, with excellent raspberry and strawberry flavors. Just a hint of spice on the nose. All four of us enjoyed it.

What was for dinner? I didn't have time to put together anything too fancy, but I did coconut milk-brined pork tenderloin cooked with a plum glaze and topped with skillet-browned chopped apples cooked in butter and rum. On the side, green beans and a mushroom-leek risotto. No pictures this time, sometimes when you're impressing the ladies it's time to put such things aside and just enjoy the moment, allowing it to live only in memory.

Two Table Reds

Not much going on wine-wise this past week, though Saturday I get to go to the first wine tasting of the new year. The theme will be "affordable French". Very much looking forward to that one.

Last Saturday I attended a dry wedding reception with my immediate family. We left a little early and Dad took us all out to dinner--Mom, my brother and his wife, and my date and me. Dinner was phenomenal, and Dad ordered a bottle of wine, the 2004 Rosemount Cabernet-Merlot. A decent wine, even if it needs some breathing. I used to drink a lot of Rosemount ten years ago, when a magnum of the above wine or a blend like Shiraz/Grenache or Chardonnay/Semillon could be had for $10. And I still think they're good wines for BBQs and very informal occasions (even though among bargain Aussie wines, Little Penguin is my favorite).

But if you've read my recent rant on restaurants, you'll understand my bristling at, in this case, a $8 wine being sold for $25. The important thing is that we had a great meal, a good time laughing and talking to one another, and the wine helped everyone enjoy a two-hour leisurely dinner properly.

Tonight I'm working my way through a bottle of the 2004 Tisdale Merlot. This is one of those $4 bottles by the register that I've been wanting to try just for the hell of it. Hell, I was going home to a delicious dinner of spaghetti and jarred sauce (part of a New Year's resolution to clean out the cupboards). No reason to break out the good stuff.

It's not a bad wine. I don't drink a lot of Merlot--not because of Sideways, but because I have gravitated towards more powerful flavors recently. There's not much of a nose, but it's got some good berry flavors. It avoids that slightly sweet, cherry Jolly Rancher flavor you can get from some California Merlots. And I suppose that the natural character of Merlot helps avoid that tannic, acidic edge that you can get from a cheap Cabernet Sauvignon.

05 January 2006

2002 Parker Station Syrah

Here's my first real wine review of 2006. Which reminds me--I'm approaching my one year blogiversary or whatever the hell they call it. I actually maintained a completely different blog for most of 2004, in which I did reviews of every movie I watched. At the end, I started writing about wine, and decided to make a clean break with a new blog tied to my real name. The old one used a pseudonym, and contained a lot of late night angsty rants... I might post a link in the future for the amusement of my handful of readers.

I had this sometime between Christmas and New Year's... I jotted down notes, took a photo, and kept meaning to get back to it. Without further ado, I present the 2002 Parker Station Syrah. Even though I loved the Lot 51 Red, I didn't realize that this wine was also from the vineyards of the classic TV actor Fess Parker. This Santa Barbera Syrah is touted as "The best Syrah you can afford to drink daily". I think I paid $10 for this bottle, and that's an apt tag line. There's some good berry flavors, and decently balanced tannins, but mostly it's a red wine that you could drink with damned near any meal and be happy. I don't think it's as good as the Rock Rabbit Syrah, but it's definitely a tasty little wine.

Do you want to know what really drew me in? The label. It's an attractive rounded triangle, clean 50s-era type, and a humble raccoon logo framed in a gold leaf circle. I'm not even particularly fond of raccoons (after years of camping trips and late night driving), but I still love this label. It's sort of a perfect combination of 1950s graphic design motifs set on a heraldric shield. I would have just used all caps instead of the roughly 90% small caps they use for the name, but the rest of the design is lovely. (Sorry, at times the old career overwhelms everything else.)