Wednesday, January 27, 2010

TN: Titus 2005 Napa Cabernet Franc

I don't drink many Napa wines. They're usually too expensive and often aim for a very ripe, oaky style that I'm not often in the mood to drink. I was in the right mood, though, so I opened a bottle of the Titus 2005 Napa Cabernet Franc (75% Cab Franc with 15% Cab S and 10% Malbec to be precise). It delivered essentially what I had anticipated: a New World red wine experience. In other words, it's a solid cocktail wine.

The nose is definitely channeling plum jam and blueberry pie filling with a side helping of dried herbs and bell pepper. Riper than I like, but not crossing the line into pruney aromas that would be a deal-breaker. At any rate, the bouquet is strong and likable. The palate is textbook New World texture-driven wine in a medium-full bodied package. Sweet dark fruit upfront, vanilla oak tannins rounding out the mid-palate, and a little chocolate with melted tannins on the finish. It's a little flabby and soft (TA is listed at 5.7 g/L), and a little like a milkshake (40% new oak). Still, there is enough structure to hold it together.

The quality is there as it's clear this isn't mediocre fruit spoofed up with oak dust. This is good fruit aged in French oak. But the character is a bit lacking. I wouldn't necessarily peg this as Cab Franc because the ripeness levels and oak make it taste like any other other Bordeaux varietal made in this style. At best, its slightly lighter body and softer structure suggest it's not Cab S. Not a bad wine, though it could use a bit more freshness and lift. There was a time where I'd go off and rant that this is too New World. But let's face it, if you buy Napa, that's the style you will find most of the time. It's a fun cocktail wine, though the price is higher than I'd like for a wine that struggles to express varietal and place.

Pros: Powerful Dark Fruit Flavors and Aromas, Round Mid-palate, Soft Texture
Cons: Slightly Flabby, Lacking Unique Character
Decant: Maybe, didn't develop much with time
Price: $30 from Woodland Hills Wine Co.
QPR: Mediocre (out of Poor, Mediocre, Fair, Good or Excellent with Fair denoting expectations were met for the price point)

Monday, January 25, 2010

TN: Luna Beberide 1999 Tinto

Once again, I'm following in the footsteps of Jeff at Viva la Wino in tasting the Luna Beberide 1999 Tinto. It's a $20 wine from Castilla y Leon in northern Spain with over a decade of age on it. What really pulled me in, though, is the curious blend of 30% Mencia (an indigenous grape) with 40% Cabernet and 30% Merlot (Bordeaux varietals).

While this is a decent wine, it didn't really have a wow factor for me. There's plenty of life left in it, but it tasted like a fairly green and extracted Bordeaux blend. The nose opened with a medicinal cherry aroma, but evolved to show mostly dried herbs, mint and bell pepper. Although I like green aromas, the flavors essentially mirrored the bouquet. The acidity is high, and there's a definite seam of rustic tannin complementing herbaceousness on the finish.

From my perspective, this bottle--for older wines, there are great bottles, not great wines--seemed to have lost most of its primary fruit, yet hadn't developed much in the way of tertiary characteristics. However, there's plenty of structure, and this would be a relatively inexpensive wine to lay down for even longer. I'll probably stick with varietal Mencia in the future, though, as it works better for me expressing itself as opposed to blending into a Bordeaux-styled wine.

Pros: Herbaceous, Fresh, Mellow Tannins
Cons: One Dimensional
Decant: Yes, there is sediment
Price: $20 from K&L Wines
QPR: Fair (out of Poor, Mediocre, Fair, Good or Excellent with Fair denoting expectations were met for the price point)

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Fun Tool for Plotting Temperatures

Rhys Vineyards has an ultra-cool application for plotting temperatures for different wine growing regions. Here are a few comparisons I've looked at:
  1. High, low and mean for Bordeaux and Napa. Note that one may toggle between the high, low and mean on the top of the plot. Napa on average is hotter. But what real stands out is the high in Napa are much higher than those of Bordeaux, while the lows are lower. It's common for California wineries to mention diurnal temperature swings as a vital factor in the quality of their fruit. But this makes me wonder. Bordeaux produces arguably the greatest wine in the world with a lower Diurnal Flux (see key at the bottom of the link). Maybe large diurnal flux is not a necessary condition for great wine, but is instead necessitated by the higher temperatures in Napa and more generally California.
  2. Salem Oregon resembles Burgundy, while coastal California sites have a drastically different profile. Aside from a slightly larger Diurnal Flux, Salem looks a lot like Burgundy. Lompoc, i.e. Santa Rita Hills, has a comparable Diurnal Flux to Burgundy, but is actually cooler in the summer! Because of the moderating influence of the ocean, though, Lompoc remains relatively warm throughout the year. This creates an interesting dynamic in my mind. The grapes will likely mature later, and the concept of hangtime to reach phenolic maturity appears to be well-founded. But since the temperature remains warm, there's a risk of sugars accumulating to extreme levels. I suspect this might be why Santa Rita Hills Pinots are often quite high in alcohol, but aren't necessarily jammy or simplistic fruit bombs. While stylistic choices obviously play a factor, SRH seems to be a marginal climate where high sugars are perennially a risk due to later maturation of grapes.
  3. There's a big difference between continental weather and coastal weather. Comparing Rhys' Alpine Vineyard in Santa Cruz near the ocean to continental regions such as Burgundy, Bordeaux and Cote Rotie (N. Rhone) highlights some striking season differences. Bordeaux does receive some coastal influence, but seasons are still evident. A Santa Cruz winter, however, is closer to spring for the other three regions. It's almost as if there is no winter. I have no idea how this ultimately affects vine physiology. But it's clear these regions should make drastically different wines given how different the seasons are.
Temperature and weather certainly are only one piece of the puzzle. But it seems clear to me that emulating the Old World should be difficult if not impossible in California. That doesn't mean wines should be unbalanced caricatures. But they should have a different character.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Micro Oxygenation

Anyone who has watched Jonathan Nossiter's polemic Mondovino is familiar with micro-oxygenation. Thanks to some clever editing, uber-consultant Michel Rolland seemed to recommend micro-ox to his clients in every 3rd sentence. I have little doubt this technique is abused, but I came across an interesting video entry on Bedrock Wine Co.'s blog recently where Michael Havens offers a candid interview on the technique:

There are several points that really stand out to me:
  1. Around 0:30 Havens begins to explain that modern winemaking tends to be chemically reductive in the sense that oxygen is excluded throughout fermentation and elevage due to tools such as stainless steel fermenters. Thus, micro-ox is a technology that perhaps mimics the effects of winemaking in a previous era by introducing oxygen to the wine early in the winemaking process where the wine can buffer against it.
  2. At 4:30 he discusses racking, a process of removing sediment and transfering wine from one barrel to another. This introduces oxygen to the wine, but is also physically demanding and often leads to losing some volume of wine. Micro-ox can introduce oxygen in a safer, more controlled fashion than racking.
  3. At 8:20 Havens discusses the different tannin structures that one may achieve. It's clear that micro-ox can be used to produce 'melted' tannins in a young wine where ordinarily this type of structure is only present in aged wines. However, it does give a winemaker a stylistic and developmental choice.
Certainly the last point gives me reason for concern about the use of this technique. It's not uncommon to encounter California wines that are highly extracted, but incredibly soft. They're essentially texture-driven wines, and I suspect micro-ox plays a role in many of these manipulated wines. Havens also mentions that micro-ox can be used to oxidize pyrazines, which produce herbaceous aromas and flavors in wines. I consider these part of the wine, and one can virtually eliminate vintage variation by managing both the pyrazine content and tannin structure. This is a tool that can be used to manipulate wines.

However, this interview provides some much needed balance to the discussion. Half a century ago, temperature control, stainless steel tanks and even knowledge of the various microbes involved in fermentation were essential unknown. As knowledge and technology develop, tools that provide precise control are needed. Micro-ox appears to be one such tool. In my mind, where bacterial spoilage was a likely failure mode in the past, now over-manipulation is the more likely culprit for a mediocre wine. But in this case the choice is conscious. As much as I like some herbaceous quality in wine, some wines can be overwhelming vegetal. If micro-ox can help to bring a wine into balance, then it's a tool worth considering.

Maybe most of all I appreciate the honesty of this video. Most vintners create a facade to hide behind. They build their PR around terroir and lifestyle, but ultimately manufacture a wine they think will please the widest audience. Havens strikes me as a vintner who has a house style, but isn't trying to be everything to everyone. He seems to know his tools, and uses them in an educated fashion. That's admirable.

Monday, January 18, 2010

TN: Bernard Baudry 2007 Chinon Les Grezeaux

I haven't had the best experiences with 2007 Loire reds. Uneven is probably the best that I can say for the several I've tasted. The Bernard Baudry 2007 Chinon Les Grezeaux has added a massive peak to the several valleys I've encountered in this vintage, however. Les Grezeaux is made from 60 year old vines grown on gravel with clay subsoil, according to The Wine Doctor's profile of Bernard Baudry. I generally haven't liked wines from gravel soil as much as those from clay or limestone, but perhaps the combination of gravel and clay is what makes this cuvée unique. If you look up 'transparent' in a hypothetical wine dictionary, you'll see this wine. It's pure, elegant, and, yes, transparent.

Here are my notes:
Extremely ripe in the context of 2007s. Nose is cassis laden with just a hint of the herbaceousness one might anticipate. A bit rosy, too, and there's an intriguing metallic/earty aroma at times (pencil lead/china clay/kaolin????). Balanced and lively on the palate. Very light oaking, maybe just enough to round out the wine. Fairly high acidity, but with sufficient weight and fruit. Tastes like smashed rocks. Minerality and fruit linger on the great finish with some young tannins. Just a pleasure to drink, elegant.
Another user of CellarTracker, JamesSanders, phrases it better and more succinctly:
A fruit bomb for those of us who prefer tart and savory flavors. Just bursting with tart raspberry fruits, with some savory notes of olives and green tobacco. Long finish that calls you back. Not many young reds with a better fruit/acid balance than this. I always hate getting to the end of the bottle because it just gets better and better.
Basically, this wine is perfect in the sense that it is extremely well-made, and indicative of its place and vintage. I've read this cuvée will age forever. While that may be true, it would be hard to keep my hands off of it. It's just that good. Young wine simply doesn't get much better than this. Jeff at Viva la Wino agrees, this wine rocks.

Pros: Elegant, Lighter Body, Aromatic, Minerality, Fresh, Earthy
Cons: None
Decant: Yes, opens up with air
Price: $21 from K&L Wines
QPR: Excellent (out of Poor, Mediocre, Fair, Good or Excellent with Fair denoting expectations were met for the price point)

Friday, January 15, 2010

WN: Havens 2006 Hudson T Block Carneros Syrah

I've posted on a couple of wines from Havens Cellars in the past, with the general feeling that I liked the style more than the results. With the new owners of Havens, Billington Imports, declaring bankruptcy, however, there have been a lot of opportunities recently to purchase Havens wines at less than 50% their original price. The Havens 2006 Hudson T Block Carneros Syrah is one I picked up to see if I'd like to purchase more.

Although Alice Feiring has discussed Michael Havens' use of micro-oxygenation in the context of manipulated California wines, suggesting they are homogenized fruit/oak bombs, these are not typical California wines. They're grown primarily in the cool climate of Carneros and show a medium bodied complexity that is decidedly atypical for Napa. Havens' top wines were modeled after the Merlot and Franc heavy wines of the Right Bank of Bordeaux as well as the Syrahs of the Northern Rhone. Moreover, they have a fantastic reputation for aging.

Havens sold the winery to Billington Imports in 2006, though he remained as winemaker. By mid-2008, however, the corporate suits had booted him from his namesake winery, most likely because he was focused on quality while Billington was looking to leverage the brand's reputation to help the bottom line. Re-blending what should have been de-classified wine may have been one friction point. Creating a lesser tier of wines sold as "H by Havens," which has been on the market recently, may have been another. Regardless, by 2009 Billington had imploded, taking a respected winery down with it. This looks like the sad case of an independent vintner with an appreciation of both history and technology losing out to idiocy and mismanagement. [Ed: See discussion below, several changes have been made to the text.]

But the question remains, are the wines any good? The 2005s and 2006s should have been made by Michael Havens in full before he was fired. The upper tier wines in particular should have been safe from Billington's meddling since they are vineyard designated and outside wines legally cannot be blended. That leaves the '05 and '06 Hudson Syrah, Bourriquot and Reserve Merlot, all from Carneros vineyards, as candidates for purchase. I tasted the '06 Hudson Syrah systematically:

Pop and Pour

Definite meatiness on the nose. Bacon fat? Pork? Ham? Call it what you want, it's that Syrah smoked meat funkiness. There's also pepper and herbs. Maybe a little high toned floral quality as well. Definitely showing well right out of the bottle, better than I expected.

The wine is very viscous, good mouth feel. Not sweet or jammy in any way, though. Definitely not a Aussie Shiraz style of wine. There is some bitterness due to tannins, but they're very soft tannins. Acidity seems to be well balanced. No heat on the finish. It's a dark purple, but not black like a Purple People Eater Syrah would be.

1 Hour of Decanting

Opening up to show more fruit. Blueberries and blackberries, mainly. There is definitely oak in use, but it is well integrated so it's complementary. The nose is constantly shifting, one moment it's smokey, the next smells of cloves. The finish is longer now, and delicious. Good before, even better now.

With Food (About 2 Hours of Decanting)

Had it with burgers. What can I say, but it works. Not a magical synergy, but the wine has enough heft to hold up to the meat yet doesn't overpower everything else. Red meat is it's friend more than say chicken, I'd think.

The wine is showing much more fruit now. Think a blackberry liqueur. But then it shifts back to gamy and floral aromas. The initial bitterness is gone, and the tannins are a bit sweeter now. It's a robust wine; not thin, not thick. And it definitely shows ripe cool climate Syrah flavors with more game, spice and pepper than jam. It's inspired my new mantra for Syrah: Ham, Not Jam!


The first two Havens wines I tasted had potential. This one delivered in the way I'd imagined they might if everything came together. Moreover, based on the structure and balance, I'd bet on this wine developing well with age. While the tannins have a definite finesse--perhaps this is a byproduct of micro-ox--there's also a phenolic 'bite' that suggests there's plenty of stuffing there. I can definitely see this wine as a $40 wine, but at less than $20 it's a no brainer. I'll be buying up more Havens on the cheap while I can. It strikes an interesting balance between the New and Old World styles that's right up my alley.

Pros: Complex, Medium Bodied, Balanced, Aromatic, Long Finish, Structured
Cons: None
Decant: Yes, very young and opens up
Price: $18 from Wine House
QPR: Excellent (out of Poor, Mediocre, Fair, Good or Excellent with Fair denoting expectations were met for the price point)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

TN: Iron Horse 2005 Alexander Valley Bdx-3

Let's face it. In my mind, Iron Horse can do no wrong. As I'd expected there is nothing wrong with the Iron Horse 2005 Alexander Valley Bdx-3. In fact, everything is right! The fruit (80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot), came from T-bar-T Ranch in Alexander Valley. This was the last vintage Iron Horse produced wine from this vineyard because they sold it to Hall Winery. A fortuitous byproduct of this otherwise sad development is that the winery sold off the rest of their inventory at fire-sale prices.

Though I'm not always a fan of this style of wine, Iron Horse pulls it off beautifully. Perhaps aging in second-use Pinot Noir barrels is one reason for the complexity and well-proportioned oak influence. Or maybe it's the vintage. Or the whopping 8% of Petit Verdot delivering structure and depth. Regardless, this is a classic iron fist in a velvet glove wine. The effusive bouquet is brimming with cassis, coffee, roasted herbs, cedar and leather. It's New World, but elegant with a hint of oak in all the right places. Meanwhile, the wine has mouth coating viscosity, yet is not at all over-extracted. Often times wineries end up with a front-loaded wine that finishes medicinal and bitter, sacrificing the finish for mouth-feel and intensity on the attack. Not so here as the fully dry finish keeps going and going despite the upfront power of the blackberry fruit. The mouth-watering acidity is fairly high (7.1 g/L), while tannins are copious yet rounded. The wine oozes structure, yet is delicious now if you can handle the tannins.

I'm glad I bought half a case as this will be fun to follow for another 5+ years. The stuffing is there, and thankfully there's a degree of restraint that keeps this from going over the top. While I have no doubt there are better wines available, I have a feeling most would cost 2-4 times the $20 I paid. It is interesting that it takes a fire-sale to match the value of top Chinons at full retail, though.

Pros: Full Bodied, Intense, Fresh, Complex Aromas, Balanced, Long Dry Finish
Cons: None
Decant: Yes, this is still youthful
Price: $20 from
QPR: Excellent (out of Poor, Mediocre, Fair, Good or Excellent with Fair denoting expectations were met for the price point)

Monday, January 11, 2010

TN: Holiday White Recap

Here are the (non-flawed) whites:

White Wines

Cave de Saumur 2008 Les Pouches Saumur Chenic Blanc - I've been looking to try more Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley, and here's one vinted by a cooperative and sourced from a single vineyard in Saumur. The bouquet shows apricot, ginger blossom and citrus notes. It manages to have both good body and high acidity, a paradoxical pair of virtues that is surprisingly rare in white wine. There's not a lot of complexity, but both fruit and mineral flavors are present. Interestingly, the ABV is listed at 12%. Malolactic fermentation is nearly certain, but perhaps there is sur lies aging as well to achieve the pleasing mouth feel without the potential burn and sweetness of higher alcohol. While Chenin is made in a variety of styles, this one is fully dry.

Pros: Fresh, Dry, Medium Body, Fruit & Minerality
Cons: None
Decant: No
Price: $11 from Wines & Makers
QPR: Good (out of Poor, Mediocre, Fair, Good or Excellent with Fair denoting expectations were met for the price point)

Chateau Font-Mars 2008 Picpoul de Pinet Coteaux de Languedoc Picpoul Blanc - This wine comes from an appellation in Languedoc, Picpoul de Pinet, devoted to one varietal, Picpoul Blanc. Picpoul supposedly translates to lip-stinger, and is indicative of the high acidity of the grape variety. That may be so, but this was not on the overly acidic side. It's nicely balanced with medium body and a minerally flavor. There's only a slight chemical flavor on the finish. The bouquet is both tropical and floral. All in all a good wine for the price.

Pros: Balanced, Medium Body, Minerality, Tropical Aromas
Cons: Slightly Odd Finish
Decant: No
Price: $10 from Lazy Acres
QPR: Fair (out of Poor, Mediocre, Fair, Good or Excellent with Fair denoting expectations were met for the price point)

Friday, January 8, 2010

TN: Holiday Red Recap

Here are some red wines from the holidays. Since throughput is higher with guests in town, I've consolidated several wines into a single post.

Red Wines

Lane Tanner 2008 Block 4 Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir - This is a Trader Joe's only offering, produced by Lane Tanner for TJ's from fruit that was supposedly left un-purchased last year. Based on the appellation and block designation, I'd be willing to bet this is Bien Nacido wine that TJ's and Lane Tanner agreed to de-classify in return for a great price on the fruit. Trader Joe's also has Block 2 and Block 7 Pinot Noir from Lane Tanner, and if you check out a map of Bien Nacido you'll see blocks 2, 4 and 7 that seem plausibly small enough to support one-off cuvées.

I will say this is no uncertain terms: this is the best wine I have ever purchased from TJ's. The nose is pure, classic, young Santa Maria Pinot Noir. There are spice, floral, mushroom, earth and red stone fruit aromas all readily accessible. The flavors are ultra-fresh, buoyed by high acidity and low alcohol (for the Central Coast, at least, at 13.2%). It is a lighter bodied wine, and is pure and honest. Good finish, too. Those who prefer Power Pinot from Santa Rita Hills replete with coastal sage aromas, the viscosity of high alcohol and oak aging may not like this. But I'm on this like butter on toast as a Pinot to drink young for its varietal expression. Not cheap at $20, but boy does it deliver! I'd consider it a good QPR simply because it is very well made and varietally correct as a Pinot, which is extremely rare at this price point.

Pros: Fresh, Varietal Typicity, Complex Nose, Fruit-Forward Flavors, Good Finish
Cons: None
Decant: Maybe, I did, but it didn't develop
Price: $20 from Trader Joe's
QPR: Good (out of Poor, Mediocre, Fair, Good or Excellent with Fair denoting expectations were met for the price point)

Irpine 2006 Giubilo Aglianico - This is an Aglianico, a hearty, structured grape variety, from Campania, Italy. The wine is pretty straight forward on the nose with aromas of currants and leather. On the palate it's all about balance. There's plenty of fruit, sufficient acid, and moderately drying tannins on the finish. I'm especially impressed by the finish. There is no alcohol bite, medicinal flavor or bitterness; it's clean and cleanses the palate. While it's not especially structured, it's not overly oaky or spoofy and has just enough body. Basically an excellent table wine for what I paid.

Pros: Balanced, Fruit Forward, Food Friendly, Clean Finish
Cons: Not Complex
Decant: Not necessary, this one is good from first pour
Price: $10 from Wine Library
QPR: Good (out of Poor, Mediocre, Fair, Good or Excellent with Fair denoting expectations were met for the price point)

Vinos Sin-Ley 2007 Gra2 Rioja Graciano - Graciano is a grape variety typically blended in small quantities with Tempranillo in Rioja. I'd imagined it's a bit like Petit Verdot: a structural grape that adds tannin, acid, aroma and color to a finished wine. An inexpensive varietal Graciano thus was hard to pass up. Unfortunately, this was disappointing. The bouquet consisted of cherry and a little barnyard. The flavors were more along the lines of cherry cough syrup, though there was a bit of tannin and acid to keep it in balance. This was perfectly drinkable on virtue of its balance, but just not interesting. It tasted exactly like some anonymous inexpensive wine, thus I doubt this really showed what makes Graciano unique. Yet critic Jay Miller curiously rated this a 91. A head scratcher to say the least. There should at least be some clean, simple fruit or attractive rusticity at this price point. The back of the bottle does offer up quite a bit of info on the region, varietal and terroir.

Pros: Not Flawed, Drinkable
Cons: Medicinal, Dull
Decant: No, didn't develop with air
Price: $11 from Wine Library
QPR: Mediocre (out of Poor, Mediocre, Fair, Good or Excellent with Fair denoting expectations were met for the price point)

Mosaic 2005 Alexander Valley Malbec - This is a typical New World Malbec along the lines of a mid-priced Argentinian version. Blackberry fruit, spicy oak, coffee and a little bacon all factor into the flavor profile. Fruit-forward with some complexity, but not especially structured. It's a pleasant wine to drink now, though at full price doesn't present a good QPR. At half price, it is worth it.

Pros: Fruit-forward, Spicy Oak
Cons: Not Much Structure
Decant: Maybe, but good upon opening
Price: $12 from Wines & Makers
QPR: Fair/Good (out of Poor, Mediocre, Fair, Good or Excellent with Fair denoting expectations were met for the price point)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

TN: Two Holiday Pinots

I've placed these Pinot Noirs in a separate post since they're in a higher price point than I usually like to discuss. I'm usually trying to find interesting wines at or below $20. Since it's the holidays, though, I opened two higher end Pinots for our guests. I paid around $25-$30 for each, one though the suggested retail price is $45-$50.

Torii Mor 2006 Willamette Valley Reserve Deux Verres Pinot Noir - This is a blend of barrels from various vineyards located in Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, Chehalem Mountains, McMinnville and Willamette Valley. The bouquet delivers as it should at this price point (whether you go with what I paid or full retail) with black cherry, ginger, flower blossoms and herbal nuances. So far so good. But like many Pinots, it's slightly disappointing in the mouth. Yes, it's a medium to full bodied wine. But this is related to a bit of alcohol burn and a somewhat candied quality, be it from oak, alcohol or both, on the finish. I don't mean to say this is a bad wine, though. The acidity is also quite high to help with balance and there are bits of earthiness that assert the Pinot character. It's certainly enjoyable to drink, but feels somehow disjointed. 2006 was a warmer vintage in Oregon, and it does seem that this wine drinks more like a California Pinot, though I wouldn't say it's truly over the top. It just doesn't have the finesse to match the beguiling aromatics.

Pros: Top Class Bouquet, Medium-Full Bodied, Varietal Character
Cons: Slightly Candied Flavor, Disjointed Alcohol and Acidity
Decant: Yes, there was a lot sediment in the bottle
Price: $25 from ($45 retail)
QPR: Mediocre/Fair (out of Poor, Mediocre, Fair, Good or Excellent with Fair denoting expectations were met for the price point)

Ortman Family Vineyards 2006 SRH Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir - Here's a Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir sourced from a well-known vineyard, Fiddlestix. This one has cherry, sage, smoke and baking spice on the nose, and is both shifty and classy as one would expect from a single vineyard Pinot Noir. Like the Torii Mor Pinot above, this is full bodied and fruit-forward. However, it also had a bit of a candied flavor on the finish suggesting over-ripeness or over-oaking (60% new oak was used with this wine). While the acidity is better integrated, this wine seems to be lacking a bit of freshness. It's well-made wine and certainly a varietal Pinot Noir, and is enjoyable to drink. So perhaps I'm nitpicking a bit. But that clumsy candied flavor hangs around on the finish, so it sticks out in my mind.

Pros: Top Class Bouquet, Medium-Full Bodied, Varietal Character
Cons: Slightly Candied Flavor, A Bit Flabby
Decant: Yes, there's enough stuffing that air can only help
Price: $28 from ($50 retail)
QPR: Mediocre/Fair (out of Poor, Mediocre, Fair, Good or Excellent with Fair denoting expectations were met for the price point)

OK, these are both really good wines and if forced to score them, I'd go for something in the high 80s. But that's the kicker--I expect great things from wines that would ordinarily cost $40+. Both of these wines seem like textbook examples of 'reserve' styled wines that basically use riper fruit aged in newer oak to justify their designation. While they're not over the top fruit bombs, the balance is tipped toward the New World style more than I'd prefer. Where's the earth-funk and silky texture I desire?

In their defense, these are built to age at least a couple of years, so I opened them pretty young. They should integrate and mellow better over time. I don't know that this will fundamentally change the character of the fruit and oak influence, though.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

TN: Domaine Ilarria 2006 Irouleguy

For some reason, it seems like half the wines I buy get closed out for peanuts after I buy them. Such was the case for the Domaine Ilarria 2006 Irouleguy that cost $15, but was punted out of the inventory at $10. For what it's worth, $15 is a totally fair price for this wine. It was probably the victim of having a strange name written on the label.

Irouleguy is an appellation in Southwestern France in the Basque region bordering Spain. It's nestled down there with Cahors and Madiran, and like those other two regions known for dark, tannic and rustic wines, the Tannat grape is a major player (though less so in Cahors where Malbec takes the lead). This wine was 70% Tannat with 20% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. While this sounds like the recipe for an impenetrable, face-smashing wine, this turned out to be a sort of approachable fruit-bomb, albeit not the candied, vanillified Cali-version. The nose oozed red and black currants as well as raspberry and blackberry, almost reaching the point of jamminess. But there was also a bit of licorice to add depth. The palate stepped back from the fruit, though, and was fairly acidic with a spicy earthiness. On the finish there was a definite bitter, phenolic bite, though the tannins were not overwhelming.

It was a typically French wine, smelling and tasting like two altogether different things. Not the most polished or complex of wines, but it wasn't nearly as rustic as I'd anticipated. For some reason it made me think, "this is how Zinfandel should taste." Imagine a fruit-forward Zin without the jellied and raisiny character, and possessing a few rough edges, and this is what you'd get.

Pros: Strong Ripe Fruit Aromas, Structured, Earthy Flavors
Cons: Not Complex
Decant: Yes, tons of sediment (tartrate crystals) in bottle
Price: $15 from K&L Wines
QPR: Fair (out of Poor, Mediocre, Fair, Good or Excellent with Fair denoting expectations were met for the price point)