Sunday, August 30, 2009

Paso Robles: Day 2

This post is long overdue and my notes have been sitting out here for quite a while. Well, here's my wrap up on Paso Robles that began some several months ago.

Stop 1: Denner Vineyards

To be honest, I didn't get a positive impression of this producer from the very start. Their tasting room and winery facility is one of these brand new McChateau style buildings on a hilltop. My most fun tasting experiences have been in smaller, rustic places or even warehouses (think the Lompoc wine ghetto) where the magic actually happens. In an unassuming atmosphere, the wine takes center stage and the servers if not the winemakers take time to engage the customers. Everything else is a facade, a lifestyle being sold at $40 per bottle.

So yeah, that's the Denner experience. You drive up and walk into a gigantic room with a high ceiling and zero acoustic damping because it's all stone and wood--you'd think they'd catch on how loud these places get with a few intemperate imbibers present. But to be fair, their wines are uniformly very good. They're Rhone wines that shade towards the more elegant direction, all with a pronounced minerality. The wines are also spot-on correct, from the hint of gaminess of their Mourvèdre, to the smokey, porky notes of their Syrah, to the oily viscosity of their Roussanne. As much as I appreciate the style, I have to knock their prices, which I have trouble separating from the ostentatious winery complex as one likely pays directly for the other. All the whites are around $30, while all the reds are around $40. If a winery can price its top wine at $40+, fine by me, but there's a bit of gouging going on if they can't offer a solid entry level wine or two in the $20 to $30 range. The quality is there, though, to make $40 seem not completely outrageous if you really like a particular wine.

Wines of note:

2006 Mourvèdre: Floral, red fruit aromas, gaminess. Minerality, smooth, velvety.
2005 Syrah: Tar, crispy bacon and blueberry. Minerality and good tannin balance.

Stop 2: Villa Creek

Villa Creek was more my style. It was at the end of a country road tucked into a canyon. More importantly, the tasting room was a home-bar setup in the shade outside of their winery, which was a functional sort of metal barn/warehouse. Expensive wines, yes, but at least you're not paying for some vanity project. Moreover, they had wines covering a range of price points from the affordable luxury level up to the unaffordable level. Cool, gotta make a livin, right?

As for the wine, best of its style I tasted on this trip and probably in Santa Barbara as well. The majority of their wines fall into the showy 16% ABV with creamy oak camp. As far as I'm concerned, these get expensive for what they offer over $30. But when it comes to quality with this type of wine, the key in my mind is developing that ultra-rich texture without turning the nose into alco-vanilla and truncating the finish with alco-burn. From this point of view, Villa Creek absolutely nailed this style. But their one red that veers furthest from this approach, La Boda, a 50-50 blend of Grenache and Mourvèdre, was my favorite of all the wines tasted on this trip. The oak and alcohol are dialed back down to levels appropriate for a table wine, while the freshness and earthiness are dialed up several notches. It sounded like whole cluster fermentation and less ripe fruit had a lot to do with this, as this was a willful excursion from their crowd-pleasing style more for the winemakers' own edification. Well, they nailed it (again). They made a superior wine in a superior style, while also making top exemplars in the popular, but ultimately less serious style. Win-win!

Wines of note:

2007 La Boda: Complex perfumed, floral red fruit nose with a little earth. Strong minerality with an amazing infinite earthy finish. Good tannin level. 50-50 Grenache & Mourvèdre.
2006 Vulture's Post: 80% Mourvèdre, 15% Syrah, 5% Grenache. Earthy berry nose, gamey. Full round fruit, tannic finish. Thicker than La Boda.
2006 High Road: 50% Syrah, 30% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre from James Berry Vineyard. Floral, blueberry and slightly meaty nose. Tannic. Full Syrah flavor, lot of berries and round, creamy mid-palate.

Stop 3: Tablas Creek

Another Creek-named winery, another big winner. While Tablas Creek does feel a bit more corporate--it is a piece of the Perrin wine empire after all--the experience is so educational and well organized that I must give credit where it's due. In fact, it seems we were so enamored with Tablas that every picture on this post is from Tablas Creek! It certainly helped that the herbs and olive trees intermingled with the vines gave a certain Provençal feel to the winery.

In terms of the wines, your best bet it to share the tasting with a friend or significant other because they will pour anything and everything they have open. By my count, 14 wines came up to taste, and strategic dumping even with two tasters became a matter of survival. Not surprisingly there's something here for everyone. Their entry level Cotes de Tablas wines offer very decent values. If blends aren't your things, there's every Rhone varietal under the sun: Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Syrah and even the non-Rhone tannat. Last but not least are their Esprit de Beaucastel wines, which are their Paso Robles version of a Chateauneuf du Pape. They poured the '06, '05 and '04 vintages of the rouge in succession, which was a real treat. The wines are a deft cross between California opulence and French depth, and the Esprit wines in particular seem built to age into wines of stunning complexity and elegance.

This is simply a must-visit in Paso. The grounds are lovely, the tasting has great breadth, especially if you read the notes about the varietals you're tasting, and the wines deliver across various price levels.

Wines of note:
2006 Grenache Blanc: Green apples. Crisp, clean and fairly round.
2008 Rose: Watermelon, strawberry and grapefruit. Long finish with good acidity.
2005 Esprit de Beaucastel Rouge: Leather, red fruit, a little Brett, floral. More elegant with minerality.

Stop 4: Carmody McKnight

This visit was oddly disappointing. Carmody McKnight produces primarily Bordeaux varietals and most of their wines are priced competitively in the $20 to $35 range. We arrived at the end of the day as they were preparing for a wedding on their idyllic estate. Unfortunately, the servers seemed distracted and the wines were served warmer than I would have preferred. Since we arrived mid-Sunday afternoon, I also wondered how long some of the wines had been open. Regardless, the wines uniformly offered red fruit aromas and hefty tannins on the palate. Whether it was the wine, the serving temperature or the provenance, the wines came across as pretty one-dimensional.

I had tried one of their Bordeaux blends previously and really liked it. So this experience was perplexing. No wines really stood out, and there's nothing I can recommend based at the very least on how warm the wines were served. I can't really give Carmody McKnight a pass, but I'm not ready to write them off, either. Their prices are not unreasonable and I suspect their wines could have shown better.

Stop 5: Caparone Winery

Two words: old school. You drive up a gravel driveway that ends in front of a very utilitarian building that resembles a really big garage. Once inside, you're greeted by a friendly, knowledgeable old winemaker by the name of Dave Caparone. Dave and his son produce Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Aglianico, Nebbiolo, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in a classic style. Extracted, yes, but not overripe or manipulated. They offer the sort of attractive rusticity and character that's all too often missing in Cali wines. In fact, if you've every read Kermit Lynch's Adventures on the Wine Route, Dave Caparone is exactly the type of winemaker who seems like he wouldn't be at all out of place in a rural French cellar, except that he's of Italian descent and plies his trade in Paso Robles.

It seems the big thing in blogging these days is getting PR hacks from subsidiaries of wine conglomerates to send you their products as a bribe to write nice things about them. Well, this is what blogging should be about. Multi-million dollar corporations have plenty of mouthpieces already. It's the Caparones of the world that folks need to hear about. And you know what, you don't need to get a free sample, anyway, since each and every one of their wines is $14. Instead of wasting money his money on a McChateau, Dave Caparone puts it into the wine. That's why you taste at a little bar next to the barrels in the over-sized garage/small winery.

I didn't take notes while tasting at Caparone. My bad. But their style is traditional and age worthy with tons of stuffing, good acidity and lively character. No ultra-smooth new oak here, it's just fermented grapes showing what they got. Caparone may well top my beloved Loire for red wine QPR. This is a must visit if you appreciate authenticity.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

WN: Casa Lapostolle 2007 Cuvée Alexandre Carmenére

The Casa Lapostolle 2007 Cuvée Alexandre Carmenére is the best South American wine I've tasted yet. Maybe this is not terribly surprising since it's one of the few I've tried that (barely) tops the $20 mark. Nonetheless, it has the quality and balance of a wine double or triple its price. Casa Lapostolle's top wine, Clos Apalta, regularly wins major accolades and usually is composed of about 40% Carmenére. This is their first release of a varietal Carmenére from their decade-old younger vines in their premium-but-not-crazy-expensive line of wines.

Carmenére is best known for its approach to near extinction and subsequent rediscovery in Chile. The vine louse Phylloxera devastated France in the 19th century, nearly wiping out the entire wine industry. While other varietals were replanted in Bordeaux, Carmenére fell out of favor. However, Carmenére and Merlot had been transplanted to Chile prior to the outbreak, with both thought to be Merlot until the last several decades. Since its identification, Carmenére has become the signature varietal of Chile. It's often described as being a cross between the suppleness of Merlot and the herbal nuances of Cabernet Franc. However, these virtues often become a vice because Carmenére tends towards low acidity and ripens late. If one harvest stoo early, the herbal nuances result in harsh overtly green flavors and aromas. If one harvests too late, the suppleness turns into a lack of tannic and acidic structure. Mass-produced Carmenére is readily available in the US these days, and this latter "feature" probably works in the producers' favor since the simplistic flavor profile of cheap wine is typically more palatable without high acid and harsh tannins. Often times these wines turn out both flabby and vegetal--even Charles Shaw a.k.a. Two Buck Chuck sets the bar higher than that.

Because of this preponderance of mediocre wine, I just haven't been buying Carmenére recently. I wondered if Carmenére is even all that interesting of a grape outside of its novelty factor. Well, Casa Lapostolle's take is an epiphany in a bottle: this is Carmenére in its essence. It's not a Merlot, it's not a Cabernet Franc. It is its own unique varietal.

Casa Lapostolle's was the first Carmenére I've encountered with really lively acidity. Flavors of perfectly ripe currants and bakers' chocolate were wonderfully balanced with typically New World creamy oak on the mid-palate. On one level this was a rather international wine. Yet the flavors were harmoniously and seamlessly layered through a long finish that highlighted dried herbs and dark chocolate without any cheap medicinal flavors to detract. This was not your garden variety fruit bomb or oak monster. It sat somewhere in the very happy medium to full bodied range despite the concentrated fruit and fully opaque black color.

The bouquet was a bit shy at first, with only spice-box barrel aromas showing at first. After an hour the wine evolved into a complex, well-balanced but youthful beauty. Dried herbs and roasted peppers were at the forefront with a layer of black currant in the background. The nose was very clean, yet had a pure, irresistible earthiness forcefully declaring its Colchagua Valley terroir.

While the tannins were fairly prominent, my guess is this is not a wine for long-term aging. The balance of fruitiness to savory and earthy flavors is already excellent, and waiting more than a few years might risk letting the fruit dry out. But this wine could still use a little time to integrate fully.

This is a great wine that manages to appeal to both the Franc fanatic and California palate in me. Definitely one to try if you come across as for me it really expressed the best qualities I've experienced in Chilean wine. By the way, Casa Lapostolle is owned by the same family that produces Grand Marnier liqueur. By coincidence I was about to take a picture of the wine bottle, noticed the Grand Marnier on the shelf where I had placed the bottle, and included it in the photo as well.

Pros: Balanced, Lively Acidity, Very Earthy, Layered Flavors, Excellent Depth
Cons: Not Fully Integrated Yet
Decant: Yes, for about 30-60 minutes
Price: $22 from Costco
QPR: Excellent (out of Poor, Mediocre, Fair, Good or Excellent with Fair denoting expectations were met for the price point)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Anchoring: It's Not Just for Boaters Anymore

Anchoring, based on my layman's understanding, is the tendency of an initial review to serve as a basis for future evaluation. This is not unlike the logical fallacy known as poisoning the well where a preemptive argument is used to discredit an opponent in a debate. Although anchoring is not an intentional act, the effect is the same as the more malicious poisoning the well: opinions that follow are given less weight if not completely ignored.

Certainly with wine anchoring is a prominent phenomenon. Critics' ratings, price and producer reputations all tend to anchor consumers' opinions. In effect the well has been poisoned when any wine is accompanied by high expectations. Dislike a highly regarded wine, and one might as well admit to having poor taste.

Reading tasting notes like those posted on Cellartracker illustrates the various guises that anchoring assumes. For example, it's not uncommon for an under performing wine to be given a pass with statements like "needed a 12 hour decant," "opened too young," or "required time for alcohol to blow off." There are indeed cases where decanting allows a wine to show its best. It's also entirely possible that a wine was not opened at its optimal age. But if a wine just wasn't that great, whether it was a bad bottle, a bad vintage or bad timing, there's no reason to make excuses. The wine just wasn't that great, and I'm not blaming myself for not waiting 12 hours for it to squeeze out a hint of vanilla soaked cherries.

Scoring is even more dubious in this regard. It's not at all hard to find expensive wines with descriptors like "hot," "awkward," and "unbalanced" accompanied by 90+ point scores. Why? Because a critic likely gave it a 90+ point rating. An interesting example concerns a Pinot Noir rated something like 96 points by Robert Parker. A significant number of notes refer to noticeably high alcohol levels, yet only one person posted a score below 90. Perhaps this wine has everything else going for it and many tasters have insensitive palates. But it's nonetheless interesting that a wine with a repeatedly noted flaw still averages 93 points communally.

This brings me to the ultimate example of anchoring, the infamous 96 point rated Sierra Carche. Here are a few of my favorite notes from Cellartracker, without points, which I'll list at the end of this post:
Was hoping for a little more since Jumilla is one of my favorite regions in the world--although still very good. Possibly still too young, coupled with the fact that we didn't decant. Will take better notes next time when I'm not at a dinner party.

This wine will EITHER develop A LOT MORE (?, at least I HOPE !!!) OR GV was out of his mind when he said this wine blows CLIO away ! A HUGE disappointment, decanted for several hours and nothing really improved. Already tried 2 bottles with same results. Dry, tannic. Still have 22 bottles to go !!!!!! Anyone interested ??

very dissapointed with this wine. Considering the Parker score and Gary V's push for Clio lovers, I bought several bottles. I feel robbed! No nose of any kind when opened, no nose of any kind after decanting for 3 hrs, beautiful color but that's about the only good thing about this wine. It took quite an effort just to finish the bottle. I have had $10 bottles of wine that would blow this away.
Take my advice and pass on this one!

Rose petals, violets, earth, espresso, liquorice, blackberries and blueberries on the nose, which is unmistakeably influenced by the mourvedre ( a good thing!!!), along with some harsh stemminess. Medium bodied on the palate, but dominated by drying unripe tannins. This might come into balance in 3-5 years, and would merit a higher score.
Now, for those of you keeping score at home, the tasters' ratings are 91, 89, 88 and 90, respectively. None of these notes indicate this wine is particularly enjoyable or special, with the second and third expressing serious distaste for the wine. Yet the ratings indicate it's a borderline very good to excellent wine. Over 48 notes, many of which are ambivalent, the average score is 89.4 with a median of 90.

Just for good measure, I'll throw in another personal favorite, the 2006 BenMarco Malbec. This wine received a 90 or 91 from all of the "major" critics. Now, look at the first dozen or so tasting notes, all of which are clustered around the 90-91 point range. Eventually more variance creeps in over time. Even without attempting some calculation on the odds scores would be randomly clustered like this, it's pretty clear there's more anchoring here than at your local yacht club!

It's human nature to trust an authority to ground your own opinions. And very few people can actually taste even a fraction of the wines they buy before hand. In that respect critical notes provide a valuable service. But it's clear consumers as a whole need to be willing to trust their own palates. We may tend towards being herded like sheep. However, we have the ability to override this instinct once we have access to the information we need. All that information is in the bottle; you can't drink the label, the price tag or the scores.

Monday, August 24, 2009

No More Points

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm doing away with point ratings in my blog posts. There are simply too many instances where scoring become paradoxical. If I try to base ratings on quasi-objective standards, instances where a wine has a pronounced weakness tend to place a ceiling on a score regardless of its other attributes. At times I'm compelled to give a fascinating wine a lower score than a sound, yet innocuous wine. If ratings are simply an expression of how much I like a wine, though, they become utterly subjective and have no meaning from one wine to the next.

So I have a new approach. I'll list empirical observations as either pros or cons instead of assigning a number score. This allows for a succinct description expressing my opinions that nonetheless can be interpreted by a reader in terms of his or her tastes. Although observations of body, texture, finish, acidity, tannins and aromas still have an element of subjectivity, noting these observations is much fairer than somehow synthesizing them into a numerical result. This is particularly important when it comes to the New World-Old World dichotomy. If I'm expecting a wine to show a sense of place, but it turns out to be very international in style, I'll probably end up disliking it based on context. At times, though, I'm up for some creamy oak and barrel-derived aromas. Many wine drinkers, though, abhor Brett or oak or bell pepper altogether. For them, there is no middle ground. If I tell an Aussie Shiraz fan about a 92 point Chinon without mentioning that it has minimal oak influence, fresh acidity and a whole barnyard of Brett on the nose, what good is that?

Additionally, I'll be including my perception of the QPR, or Quality-Price Ratio, and my thoughts on decanting the wine. QPR will be listed as Poor, Mediocre, Fair, Good or Excellent with Fair being an average wine for a given price point. A "Fair" QPR performs as I'd expect given the price. As much as possible in the context of QPR, I'll attempt to consider the quality of the wine in terms of its intended style. The question of decanting is probably more subjective, but it's worth noting if a wine develops for the better with exposure to air. Decanting doesn't fix problems like heat or excessively hard tannins in my experience, but for wines built to age, it can unlock secondary aromas and flavors that are suppressed by the reductive world of the wine bottle. If I find a wine develops for the better (or worse as occasionally happens), I'll be sure to note it.

Instead of this:

Score: X
Price: $Y

You'll now see:

Pros: A list of what I liked
Cons: A list of what I didn't like
Decant: Yes/No with a time period suggested
Price: $Y
QPR: Poor, Mediocre, Fair, Good or Excellent with Fair denoting expectations were met for the price point

Sunday, August 23, 2009

WN: Havens 2004 Bourriquot

The Havens 2004 Bourriquot, a blend of 70% Cabernet Franc and 30% Merlot from the Carneros district in southern Napa, is a wine that I wanted to love, but had to settle with really liking. There's the Cab Franc factor, of course, but I also like that the producer is known for his nuanced somewhat Old World style and that the grapes are sourced from a cooler part of the Napa Valley moderated by the ocean's influence. The proprietary name Bourriquot, which roughly translates to a wild horse, adds another nice touch as it's a thinly veiled reference to Cheval Blanc, the famous wine of St. Emilion that consists of Cabernet Franc and Merlot with Cab Franc often being the more prominent of the two varietals in the blend.

This wine was really tight at first with bitter and disjointed flavors prevalent. After about an hour of decanting, it opened up with peppered meat, some horsey funk, an herbal quality, cedar and hints of sweeter caramel smells on the nose. The bouquet was complex, interesting and savory, and ultimately wove together into an integrated aroma that couldn't be separated into its constituent parts. With exposure to air the flavors rounded out into a nicely balanced yet earthy expression with a bit of butter on the mid-palate. Tannins were present but very tame, while the acidity was appropriately inconspicuous. Unfortunately, there was a burst of heat on the transition to the finish that never improved with time.

The finish is the real killer for me. I loved the medium-bodied style the winemaker was pursuing as well as the funky, seemingly profound aromas. This is a serious wine. But the finish is the most important aspect of a layered wine like this. It's like going out to a nice dinner with dishes prepared by a professional chef, then being served a McDonald's milk shake for desert. It lets down everything else.

This is the second Havens wine I've tried. Two things are clear: these are wines aiming for balance more than power and they need a good hour of air to show properly. It sounds like the 2004 vintage was a difficult one for winemakers pursuing age-worthy, nuanced wines as Havens' own notes state, "in a spectacular apex of the trend that began in 1999, our Napa Valley 2004 growing season showed us just how warm things can get when the Pacific sea breeze deserts us." I'm betting the troublesome finish is the byproduct of a tenuous balance between phenolic and sugar ripeness. Hot weather is good if you want a high alcohol monster, but not for wines like this. From a less problematic vintage, this blend could be spectacular.

And that's the rub. Despite the flawed finish, I found myself savoring the wine, basking in its bouquet and lovely balance. From a numerical standpoint, this is not a 90+ point wine. It's just not a great wine because of the finish. But there's just too much else going on to reduce a wine like this to a number. So no more points on the blog, only a few pros and cons, an evaluation of QPR (Quality to Price Ratio), and my feelings on decanting at the end.

Pros: Complex Bouquet, Medium Body, Balanced, Good Structure, Old World/New World Hybrid
Cons: Hot Finish
Decant: Yes, give it an hour or more if possible
Price: $30 from K&L Wines
QPR: Fair (out of Poor, Mediocre, Fair, Good and Excellent with Fair denoting expectations were met for the price point)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

TN: Sierra Salinas 2005 Mira

I picked out the Sierra Salinas 2005 Mira from DO Alicante (to the left of the bottle in the picture, in south-eastern Spain) for several reasons. For one, the blend is an intriguing 65% Monastrell (aka Mourvedré), 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Garnacha Tintorera (aka Alicante Bouschet). This is the wine to potentially answer what happens when you start with dark and meaty Monastrell, then throw in the king of reds, Cabernet, and the practically black teinturier Alicante Bouschet. It also is priced under $20 and has a few positive notes from critics.

But there's a catch, of course. The critics are just a little too bullish and about 2/3 of the wine's components saw new oak. As I suspected, this is an oak wine. It could be from anywhere and the varietals could be anything that is dense enough to carry all of the oakiness. But it is nonetheless a very good internationally styled wine. The wooden astringency does show in the tannic finish. Yet the ultra-creamy mid-palate and floral yet musky bouquet are rather nicely woven into the fabric of the wine. The texture and non-vanillafied nose save this wine. Meanwhile, hints of blackberry and gaminess are present. The acidity is nicely balanced to prop up the potentially fat fruit and oak flavors. At 15% ABV there is certainly some weight to the wine, but no heat is evident.

At $19, this embarrasses wines at much higher prices that aim for the same effect. I like the occaisional oak (or fruit) bomb, and cocktail wines like this make the point that you don't need to pay much for a wine in this style. They all taste pretty much the same, so who cares what the label says. New World wines are primarily about texture, in terms of oak, fruit extract and elevated alcohol level. Many are grotesque caricatures of themselves. The Sierra Salinas Mira is enjoyable and only moderately grotesque as texture-driven wines go. That's a win in my book, though I'm left wondering why the producer wasted all that money on new oak when he he could have made a much more serious wine with about half as much of it.

Score: 87-89
Price: $19 from K&L Wines

Sunday, August 16, 2009

TN: Trader Joe's Closeouts

I've come across two seriously discounted closeouts at Trader Joe's recently, the Domaine Alfred 2006 Chamisal Vineyard Pinot Noir and Howell Mountain Vineyards 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. The Pinot was priced at $23, marked down significantly from its suggested price of $38, while the Cabernet was even more jaw dropping at $15 with a typical price point of $60.

According to what I've read, the Domain Alfred Pinot Noir as well as the other Domain Alfred wines are a casualty of the winery being purchased. The new owners changed the brand to Chamisal Vineyards and had to ditch anything with the Domaine Alfred label. Trader Joe's was happy to oblige them. As for the wine, it's not one I'd pay close to $40 for, so it may have ended up priced under $30 regardless. Although the forest floor aroma of the bouquet is definitely that of a Pinot Noir, it drinks more like a Grenache. There's a lot of ripe cherry juice, and a little caramel and oak flavor as well. It's slightly flabby, hot and disjointed. Very California, though I should give more credit for the likability factor. Wines with this level of ripeness at least are fairly approachable even when they lack the elegance Pinot Noir should should possess.

The Howell Mountain Vineyards Cab is supposedly the byproduct of a distributor getting rid of stock that wasn't moving in the slow economy. Again, I think this is a wine that doesn't justify the full retail price, but is a nice value at the Trader Joe's price. Blackberry, dust, leather and only the slightest hint of herbs show on the nose. There is also a bit of heat, though this isn't too distracting. The attack is a thing of beauty, all concentrated cassis and well-balanced acidity. This carries through to the mid-palate where creamy oak and dark chocolate take hold. However, the finish does not sustain what preceded it, showing some heat and an odd medicinal flavor. The tannins were also strangely lacking, which is not what I'd expect from a mountain wine. I'm left wondering if the wine was manipulated by micro-oxygenation, which would soften the tannins, eliminate herbaceous qualities, and round out the texture. Indeed, this wine is all about upfront characteristics and texture without the intoxicating bell pepper notes or big tannins I love in Cabernet. The initial salvo of flavors is worthy of the suggested price, but the finish has a cheapness to it that compromises the wine as a whole. Despite this objection, this is a great value at $15 for what you do get.

Domaine Alfred 2006 Chamisal Vineyard Pinot Noir
Score: 82-86
Price: $23 at Trader Joe's

Howell Mountain Vineyards 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon
Score: 85-88
Price: $15 at Trader Joe's

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

TN: Gorrodona 2007 Bizkaiko TxakolinaTinto

Gorrodona 2007 Bizkaiko Txakolina Tinto is quite the find. Not only is the appellation of Bizkaiko Txakolina unpronounceable for an anglo monoglot, but the varietal is the obscure Hondurrabi Beltza. The appellation is located on the northern coast of Spain in the Basque region, and while this is quite distant from Bierzo in the north-east, I'm still tempted to compare this wine to Mencia from Bierzo.

As one might expect from a northern location with coastal influence, this is a lean, acid-driven wine. It's really the polar opposite of a high alcohol fruit bomb. Although I often appreciate this style, I did find this wine a bit austere. The bouquet is an intriguing mix of funky gamey aromas and pepper, both of the black and green varieties. Think of a hypothetical cross between Cab Franc and Mourvedré. The pieces are all there in this wine, but it does seem they are all a little muted. The finish is dry and mineral laden, so at the very least this wine is an excellent partner for food with subtle flavors.

While I don't crave white hot intensity, this wine makes me think more of smoldering ashes when a well-controlled camp fire is what I really crave. There needs to be a bit more there at the $24 price point in my mind since there are many excellent Old World wines that deliver comparable results for around $15.

Score: 83-88
Price: $24 from Woodland Hills Wine

Sunday, August 2, 2009

TN: Sean Thackrey Pleiades XVII

Sean Thackrey Pleiades XVII is a wine that really defies ratings or criticism. The wine maker, Sean Thackery, apparently is a scholarly fellow whose winemaking is guided by ancient texts. In other words, this is outside-the-box wine. If you have any doubts, though, consider the blend: a non-vintage mix of Sangiovese, Syrah, Viognier, Mourvedre, Rousanne, Barbera, Carignane and probably other varietals as well.

Once opened, I can confirm this is a certifiably strange wine. It smells unmistakably of bananas that are turning brown. Not rotten bananas, but certainly those verging on the level of maturity one would desire for banana bread. But that's not all. There are medicinal menthol-lyptus aromas. It's rumored that Thackrey ferments his wine in a eucalyptus grove, so perhaps this shouldn't be too surprising. Love or hate--I fell on the not so into this camp--no other wine smells like this, that's for sure. I was more disappointed, however, in the generic fruit-bomb flavors it had to offer. The acidity seemed especially low. Given that it's common to add acid to wine in California, you can bet that a hands-off winemaker will not "correct" this problem. The consequence is a flabby, unstructured wine, though if you are philosophically in favor of minimal intervention, then this is a virtue.

Fascinating nose and eminently gulpable, but not what I'd consider an excellent wine. Still, I'd recommend it as an interesting one-off experience even though it's definitely not a re-buy for me. It's not a wine I can knock because intention is important in this context, kind of like how an imperfect art film is more fulfilling than a technically correct Hollywood production.

Score: Not Applicable
Price: $23 from K&L Wines