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.