Friday, February 26, 2010

TN: François Chidaine 2006 Montlouis-sur-Loire Les Tuffeaux

I'd been itching to try pairing an off-dry (demi-sec) Chenin Blanc with some Chinese take-out. Finally, the opportunity came and we paired the François Chidaine 2006 Montlouis-sur-Loire Les Tuffeaux with some Hunan Chicken, a savory dish with peppers, mushrooms and black beans, and Capital Spareribs, a pork dish with pineapples and a sweet ginger sauce. The name of the cuvée, Les Tuffeaux, likely refers to tuffeau sub-soil, a type of porous sedimentary rock prevalent in the Loire Valley. Also included on the label is Montlouis-sur-Loire, an appellation devoted to Chenin Blanc located across the Loire river from the more famous commune of Vouvray. There's a Chenin Blanc for every drinker from those who like bone-dry still wines, to those who prefer sweet wines, to those who prefer sparkling wines. I figured this off-dry version would be a natural pairing with a sweeter dish.

Indeed, this wine was an excellent pairing with the spareribs. The residual sugar gave it the richness to withstand the sweet ginger sauce, which in turn brought out the minerality. On its own, though, this wine was almost like a dessert wine. While not nearly as sweet, it had the honeyed aromas and rich flavor of a dessert wine. The bouquet included creme brulee, bananas (perhaps isoamyl acetate, an ester I think of as banana VA) and an enticing herbaceouss aroma I couldn't quite figure out in addition to honey. There also seemed to be a hint of oxidation and volatility, but at levels where they were complexing, not distracting. The flavor reminded me of the syrup in a can of pears, but with a healthy dose of acidity and minerality. The finish perhaps was the best part as it had a honeyed and balsamic quality that lingered. Ultimately the acidity seemed a bit low, but this was an interesting drink, like a dessert wine without the incredibly sweet, raisiny qualities or massive body.

I'm still trying to wrap my mind around these Loire Chenin Blancs. The sweetness in this off-dry version was a bit over the top without food, but the complexity and depth of flavor was remarkable. I could definitely see this sort of wine pairing well with a creamy blue cheese. Before I do that, though, I have a dry Chenin or two to take out for a test drive.

Pros: Rich, Complex, Long Finish, Aromatic, Minerality, Full Body, Off Dry
Cons: Insufficient Acidity
Decant: No, ready to go from the bottle
Price: $20 from The Winehound
QPR: Fair/Good (out of Poor, Mediocre, Fair, Good or Excellent with Fair denoting expectations were met for the price point)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Decanter Insanity

For those who decant their wine, there's an interesting post about excessive decanting on the Classification of 1855 blog. (Aside: the title of the blog refers to the Bordeaux classification of 1855 that defined the top 'Growths' on the Left Bank of Bordeaux.) It's worth a read, and I have to say I couldn't agree more. While I'm not a buyer of investment grade Bordeaux, there are wines at a variety of price points that are simply built to be consumed after a period of aging.

There is definite utility to decanting young wines. The primary issue, even for less structured wines, may be that sulfites need to blow off or interesting volatile aromas may require a bit of oxygen to 'unlock' themselves. But the reality is decanting should not fundamentally alter the structure of a wine. Wine ages in a bottle with minimal oxygen ingress; the process in anaerobic. Decanting is purely about oxygenation. If a wine physically changes due to a lengthy decanting, chances are it has become something different than intended.

The other downside to lengthy decanting, aside from damaging the wine through macro-oxygenation, is the loss of volatile aromas. One may well soften the tannins, eventually, but many of the interesting aromas that one might encounter will be gone. I often taste wines that seem aromatically 'shifty', and I suspect this is due to volatile chemicals emerging and blowing off as the wine is exposed to air.

Since I have a variety of Havens wines in my CellarTracker inventory, other users' tasting notes pop up when I log in. An interesting phenomena of copycat decanter insanity involving the 2005 Bourriquot seems to be taking place:
big and smoothe, but didn't go crazy over this as others have... opened for 10 hours, then decanted for the next 10, so gave it much air... definitely not overpriced, but if it were 15-20 dollars more, i'd say eh.

Decanted for 12 hours based on forum notes. What a stellar wine at the closeout price. Lucky are those who got in on this. Distinct nose of menthol and fruit, chocolate, violet, cedar. It's got it all. Taste of delicious black fruit. Great mouth feel. Long finish. Very complex.

Initial nose was overpowering with a farmhouse-like odor. Body tight and unimpressive. Following five hour decant, the wine had opened up nicely. The nose became pleasant and complex just like the body. Long and pleasant finish, very well balanced. Recall that this needed more time in the cellar, at least a couple of years. Need to take better notes next time...

Excellent. Hold for at least 3 years or decant for 5 hours or so.

After reading the posts, I gave this one a solid 8 hour decant. Nose was still a bit tight and a bit funkafied. I liked it. At 10 hours, this wine really opened up. Bold, dark, vegetable, and delicious. More towards the classic Cab Franc. For $20.00, I wish I would have purchased more.

$20. I called my Chicago-based dinner party at 10am to remind them to decant this nectar of the gods asap. It is a very big wine, still very young. Hugh tannis and tart! I was told via cell phone initial nose upon open was barnyard on steroids. Glad Apple has not developed smell technology yet. Anything more would be TMI. Color dark red. I went off to church thinking why did nature create this wonderful wine which needs to be decanted almost 9 hours! Off to airport while receiving half hour update txt on smell. Someone had to do the dirty work. On airplane, I sat next to a wine lover who had heard but never tasted this great QPR wine. At last dinner of sausage, peppers, calamari and Caesar salad. The wine settled down to a smooth full bodied blend of chocolate and black fruits. The wine got better as the time passed. I will store my remaining 11 bottles in Fort Knox for two years. My guess this undiscovered gem of this liquidated vinyard will be at risk of my opening them all in 2010.

Still wonderful. Decanted longer than I'd have wanted to at 8 hours, but it is nonetheless vibrant and that just speaks to the wine's durability. Classic cab franc on the nose and palate. Strong flavors of mostly dark fruit, a long, grippy finish and just enough funk/dust/spiciness to keep everything in check. No Napa fruit bomb here, ladies and gents. An excellent value at $20 dollars on close-out sale.

Decanted for 4 hours on day one; the nose opened but the wine was still too tannic. On day two, there was a substantial improvement. Subtle, dark fruit with chocolately flavors and nice earthiness. Disappointing on day one, amazing on day two.

Day 1 was very green both on the nose and palate. Day 2 the green has gone away and you definitely chocolate and black fruits components everywhere, the back end of this wine is amazing with a rich cab feel.
It's as if some myth has developed around this wine that decanting turns it into liquid Nirvana. As far as I'm concerned, this is nuts. While I'll probably try a bottle young to see what it's like, I won't be decanting it a day ahead of time! Either this wine is simply too young, or there are flaws that extended aeration is masking. The fact that 'green' qualities recede with air suggest that the pyrazine levels are fairly high, but the pyrazines are oxidized due to the long decant.

A decanter is a useful tool. But it shouldn't be used as an oxygenation hammer as seen above. It's always best to sample the wine as it opens up, then drink when the aromas emerge. If that doesn't happen in a sensible time period, then let those remaining bottles rest for a while!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Operation: Shutdown

Or maybe Operation: Hiatus. We'll see. I still have a few posts scheduled, but I'm thinking it's time to retire, re-tool or re-configure this blog. For the most part, it's a venue for me to write up my notes and thoughts on wine. But at least the notes can be covered by CellarTracker, and they'll be easily accessible for those searching for info on a particular wine. The reality is writing on Cab Franc and other lesser known varietals in the mid-price range has its limits. More importantly, the audience is limited.

There are really two ways to go about blogging. The first path is to work as a free PR agent by shilling samples and writing up favorable reviews. Vinography (or is it Vornography?), Wannabe Wino and The Wine Whore, among others, take this route. I'm kind of interested in wine on a semi nuts and bolts level, though, and the whole wine as lifestyle or what the hell, let's assign points to 905 wines in an afternoon angle isn't my thing. The second path is to educate yourself. This is the direction I'd like to go. Though I've read a fair cross section of wine books (The Science of Wine, Adventures on the Wine Route, Napa: An American Eden, The Far Side of Eden, A Hedonist in the Cellar, The Wine Trials, The Wines and Vines of Europe, The Millionaire's Vinegar, bits and pieces of the World Atlas of Wine), that's simply not enough. There's no substitute for thorough education and experience. Yes, I know humility sounds odd coming from a blogger, but there is much I need to learn.

Ultimately the goal is to communicate. Instead of changing my content to fit an aspirational audience that equates wine with class or wants to hear every $10 mass produced wine is awesome, I'll be re-joining the peanut gallery. There's no point in pontificating; one needs to work at the grass roots level. And that begins with learning and exchanging knowledge.

Monday, February 22, 2010

TN: Albert Mann 2007 Alsace Auxerrois Vielles Vignes

Auxerrois, by most accounts, is a minor varietal. But most of the noble Chardonnay by all accounts (if you go by volume) is pretty insipid. So, for less than an Andrew Jackson I figured the Albert Mann 2007 Alsace Auxerrois Vielles Vignes was worth a shot. It's from a cool region (Alsace), a good producer (Albert Mann), and old vines (Vielles Vignes).

Upfront in the bouquet has a mildly distracting roasted coffee note that could either be a byproduct of oak or reduction. I suspect I'm especially sensitive to the volatile thiol furanmethanethiol, though, so this is likely not going to bother most people. The nose also has plenty of pear and floral aromas. On the palate, the acidity is tingly and clearly pretty darn high. But there's a pine resin-like sensation lending body as well as a fruity, off-dry flavor. So ultimately the balance is there. Earthiness shows up on the finish.

Interestingly, David Schildknecht's review finds many of the same qualities, though Schildknecht's superior palate, decades of experience, and analytical approach yield a more complete note:
The Mann 2007 Auxerrois Vieilles Vignes smells of grapefruit and orange peel, fresh apricot, narcissus, and a fascinating smokiness and Chablis-like suggestion of chicken stock and shrimp shell reduction. Rich and silky on the palate, its slight suggestion of sweetness is appropriately countered by chalky, wet-stone, as well as savory suggestions of minerality and the faint bitterness of toasted nuts and citrus zest, but as the wine opens over time, subtly sweet peaches-and-cream and orange sherbet become more prominent. Enjoy this versatile beauty anytime over the next 2-3 years.
This is not quite a re-buy for me, but it was a good palate educator for the price. It also went well with goat cheese. Yum! This is a good reminder that David Schildknecht is one of the best critics out there, especially when it comes to cool climate wines. It's unfortunate that his intellectual, thorough approach is often buried in the noise of the pretentious, blustery style of his peers.

Pros: Aromatic, Fresh, Food Wine
Cons: Toasty Thiol Aroma
Decant: No
Price: $18 from Wine House
QPR: Fair (out of Poor, Mediocre, Fair, Good or Excellent with Fair denoting expectations were met for the price point)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tasting Palmina Wines at East Beach Wine

A lot of California wineries say their wines are made to be food friendly, are balanced, and have sufficient acidity. But few actually pull it off. Palmina, Steve and Chrystal Clifton's Italian-inspired winery, is one of those few that makes genuine food wine. I don't mean that in the sense that the wines are unbalanced and need food. Rather, they have higher acidity and less new oak, and thus have an affinity for food.

Local shop East Beach Wine hosted a Palmina tasting last Friday, and both Steve and Chrystal Clifton were pouring their wines and chatting with customers. Not that it matters with respect to the wine, but Steve and Chrystal were very affable and took the time to discuss their wines in detail. I suspect that at this point Palmina is reaching quasi-cult status (as much as balanced table wines can do this), but it's still nice that the proprietors take time to hand sell their wines. As mentioned previously, the wines tend to be higher in acid with less new oak than most in California. Additionally, the alcohols are lower and there's a certain Old World influence. The wines nonetheless are Californian given the fullness of the fruit. They aren't going to blow people away with power; instead they are expertly made in a fashion that can't be ignored.

Here are my notes and comments:

2008 Arneis
- Good citrusy acidity, mouth watering, mineral/iron, apricot and vanilla aromas. $19.

Additional commentary
: This wine definitely has more phenolic bite than a typical white, suggesting it gets a bit more extraction than most. There's a hint of tannin and excellent depth.

2008 Botasea Rosato - 50% Dolcetto, 30% Nebbiolo, 20% Barbera. Creamy mouthfeel, watermelon strawberry, good earth, medium acid. $18.

Additional commentary: Not much else to add other than this is a fine dry rosé.

2008 Dolcetto - Santa Barbara County bottling. Pinot-like spice on the nose, earth, some heat. Red fruit, mild tannin, somewhat astringent. $18.

Additional commentary
: This is my least favorite in the lineup as it's a bit awkward and alcoholic without the stuffing to handle the heat. I felt the same way about the '07 SBC bottling as well.

2007 Alisos - 80% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot w/ ~1% mat-dried Sangiovese. Macerated cherries, tobacco, mild mouthfeel and tannins. Slight dried fruit quality. $25.

Additional commentary: A small amount of Sangiovese dried on mats for use in a dessert wine is blended into this. Named Alisos based on vineyard sourcing.

2007 Barbera - Santa Barbara County bottling. Savory, dark fruit, herbs, smoke. Cab Franc-like, with some animality. Edgy and lean. High acidity. $22.

Additional commentary: One of my favorites of the tasting. Seemed the most Old World with brooding complexity and no extra fat. It definitely reminded me of less rustic, well-fruited Chinon.

2004 Stolpman Vineyard Nebbiolo - Dried red fruit, petrol/tar, red currant jelly, good acid, drying tannin, well structured. Long finish, a sipping wine. $40.

Additional commentary: My favorite of the tasting. Definitely on the riper side based on the nose, but much of the fruit character derives from the age. The structure is superb as it's not overwhelming, but gives the wine a real spine. One of four (?) Nebbiolos Palmina produces.

2006 Savoia - 50% Nebbiolo, 25% Barbera, 25% Syrah. Good tannic structure and acidity. Dark fruit. Seems young. $50.

Additional commentary: This one had a tough act to follow after the previous wine. Clearly has the structure and raw material, but seemed very primary.

2006 Osare - Port-like quality, but not fortified. Made from mat-dried Sangiovese. Raisins and milk chocolate, long finish. $39.

Additional commentary: This is the dessert wine where the mat-dried Sangiovese ends up. I didn't write it down, but I believe I was told this is aged for 3 years in neutral oak.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

TN: Palmina 2004 Mattia

Palmina, Santa Barbara vintner Steve Clifton's Italian-inspired venture, is producing some very fascinating wines that have much more to offer than the typical Cali sunshine and oak. If there's one general unifying quality to Palmina's wines, it's acidity, though minimal new oak influence is probably a close second. The Palmina 2004 Mattia, a blend of 55% Refosco, 30% Cabernet Franc and 15% Merlot, follows this rubric. While the blend appears a bit odd, it's supposedly a common combination in Northern Italy according to the notes on the Palmina website.

This is dark, hearty and, yes, acidic. It's definitely a food wine, though the linear acid driven flavors, chalky minerality, and earthy, spicy finish are enjoyable on their own. While this is a weird one, there are also rose petal flavors--kind of earthy and floral, if that's possible. What's most interesting, though, is that the bouquet is starting to take on some pleasing aged characteristics. The fruit has acquired a kind of cherry preserve quality, but it's not jammy like a young wine. It's somewhere in between really ripe red fruit and dried red fruit in a way that only occurs with some bottle age. There are also hints of dried herbs and roasted peppers in the background. Though the tannins are mellowing a bit, there is still plenty of structure and if I had another bottle, I'd hold it for several years, at least. It's worth noting the ABV is a modest 13.5%.

This is a wine that delivers. The fruit aromas are typically Californian, but the structure and minerality have an angular Old World edge to them. We drank this wine after a Palmina tasting last week, and I'll be posting notes on that tasting shortly.

Pros: High Acid, Minerality, Aged Aromas, Structured, Food Wine
Cons: None
Decant: Yes, for sediment and to open up
Price: $28 from Palmina Wines
QPR: Fair (out of Poor, Mediocre, Fair, Good or Excellent with Fair denoting expectations were met for the price point)

Monday, February 15, 2010

TN: Domaine de Fontsainte 2007 Corbieres

I found the Domaine de Fontsainte 2007 Corbieres at a local tasting of wines from Languedoc. It's practically a given that it's imported by Kermit Lynch--it's from a lesser known French appellation, it has character, and consists of mostly old vine Carignane (60%) with Grenache (30%) and Syrah (10%) rounding out the blend. For me, this is the embodiment of what an unpretentious table wine should be. In fact, it makes me think of what a decent, everyday Zinfandel should taste like.

This is unapologetically a lighter-bodied wine showing fresh red fruit character and minerality. Perhaps this has to do with the wine undergoing carbonic maceration, where the fermentation actually takes place inside the grape. Regardless, there's lively acidity and a seam of tannin, but essentially just enough structure to lend a bit of gravitas. The bouquet is a bit funky, and eventually shows more barnyardy aromas than fruit aromas. But that's just fine. This is a straightforward wine that's easy to drink or pair with food.

Not too polished, not too rustic. Simply good.

Pros: Lighter Bodied, Funky, Balanced, Easy to Drink
Cons: Not Complex
Decant: Maybe, funkier with more air time
Price: $13 from East Beach Wine
QPR: Fair/Good (out of Poor, Mediocre, Fair, Good or Excellent with Fair denoting expectations were met for the price point)

Friday, February 12, 2010

When Lawyers Attack!!!

On a wine forum owned, operated, and inhabited by those litigious folks known as lawyers, I posted the following comment on an article about Gallo importing fraudulently labeled Pinot Noir for their Red Bicyclette brand:
At any rate, this is quite funny. It's common to blend Syrah or even Petite Sirah into mass produced CA Pinot Noir. I'm talking about stuff like Castle Rock, Red Tree and Chalone California appellation stuff, not high end Pinot. But it's not supposed to exceed 25% of non-Pinot blenders. In France you can blend 90% non-Pinot yet still label it as such! Well, you could before . . . .
I received the following response:
You do realize this board is crawling with lawyers, [CabFrancophile]?

Do Chalone, Red Tree, and Castle Rock admit to this practice?
A joke? Perhaps. But who jokes about getting your pants sued off over a statement in a web forum? And if it's not a joke, is forum litigating is the new ambulance chasing? One had better watch out in wine forums since expensive wine attracts lawyers like shit attracts flies. Maybe I should keep my own lawyer on retainer the next time I dare to write something that is 100% true!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Parkerdammerung--the fall of Parker--is upon us. How, you might ask? Well it started innocently enough with a condescending, arrogant tasting note (I've highlighted in bold a few key statements):
1997 HARLAN ESTATE 100 Points

I have never had a doubt about the 1997. Yet, I have read controversial comments about it, saying it tastes like Amarone, is overripe, volatile, with low acidity, etc., etc. These are simply false. The 1997 is one of those wines that transcends most wine-making parameters. In that sense, it is a California version of a 1959 Lafite-Rothschild, 1961 Petrus, 1947 Lafleur, 1947 Cheval Blanc, 1961 Latour à Pomerol, or 1990 Beauséjour-Duffau. Unable to think “outside the box” precludes comprehending any of these wines or the 1997 Harlan. It is one of those wines that just had so much of everything in its youth that it was nearly impossible to see past its thickness and massiveness. Not anymore. The wine is now settling down beautifully, and even Bill Harlan and Bob Levy seem to admit that the 1997 did go through a stage where it was awkward and clumsy. However, this is unquestionably an historical effort. An inky/purple color is accompanied by an extraordinary perfume of black truffles, graphite, blackberries, and an Haut-Brion-like scorched earth note (such as one sees in Haut Brion’s 1989, 1961, and 1959), an extraordinary density and unctuosity to the fruit and texture, and a remarkable finish of well over a minute. This monumental wine represents history in the making. It is richer, fuller, and more massive than anything Harlan made before or since. Still in its adolescence, it is becoming more civilized and refined with each passing year. The 1997 was the most unanimous perfect wine in the entire tasting, although 2002, 1995, and 1994 had their proponents. Anticipated maturity: 2017-2050
Big deal, right? Parker just telling you his palate is right and yours is wrong and you just need to shut up and buy whatever he rates 90 points or higher. And if you don't agree, then you are closed minded and can't comprehend wine. Just another day in the life of The Bob. Harlan wines are so expensive, they are irrelevant to the majority of consumers anyway.

But then there's this little issue: some bottles of the 1997 Harlan Estate are riddled with volatile acidity (VA). In fact, some tasters have consistently found VA in this wine. Not all bottles seem to show this character, though perhaps some tasters have chosen to "think outside the box" and agree with The Bob despite a glaring flaw. When this erupted into a full-blown tempest in a teapot, Parker suggested simply that this was bad storage on the part of the consumer.

There's just one little problem with his explanation. It is simply false. There is no true or false in subjective experiences, and one cannot tell another his experience is false. It's especially important to realize that when it comes to wine flaws, individual tolerances vary. VA can provide aromatic "lift" to wine below threshold. But above threshold it is distracting and can burn your nostrils like vinegar or nail polish remover. Not everyone has the same sensitivity, though. Whether it's the wine that varies or the tasters, it doesn't matter. Parker refuses to acknowledge that these phenomena exist. To insult the consumer by claiming authority over every single bottle produced is absurd. Also Sprach Parker simply does not fly.

The reality is that while Parker claims he is a consumer advocate in the image of Ralph Nader, he has become a producer advocate. In the case of this cult wine he blames the consumer for mishandling the allegedly flawed bottles instead of allowing for (gasp!) the possibility that some bottles were flawed when they left the winery or were micro-biologically unstable. He also seems indifferent to the fact that his reviews (well, points) move the wine market. Thus, he often rates wines based on barrel samples, allowing producers to price wines after he reviews them. This leaves open the possibility of manipulation before bottling, and doesn't account for the many issue that may arise once the wine is bottled. A true advocate would taste the same finished wines consumers will find on the shelves, after they've been priced.

Parker needs to get his act together because the critical world is changing. CellarTracker's pro-am model is the future of wine criticism. While there is no substitute for the breadth of experience and knowledge that experts provide, there are limitations to what experts can do. They cannot taste every bottle of a wine, for example. Nor do their tastes match those of every single person. This is where CellarTracker, in this age of freely disseminated information, comes in. If a wine has a high degree of bottle variation due to instability (low SO2, high pH, residual sugar, incomplete ML fermentation, etc.), it will become evident as users post their notes. If a wine is stylistically incompatible with a subset of tasters, it will become evident. The tyranny of a single taste maker is ending, and Parker must realize he can either adapt to this world or incrementally lose relevance.

Stay tuned. There are more variations to follow on this leitmotif of Parkerdammerung.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Australian Shiraz Has a Message for You . . . .

F. U. No joke, there is actually an Australian Shiraz produced by Chris Ringland's R Wines named F.U. Apparently it sold so well at its original $300 price that it had to be liquidated for $124.50. Big surprise as a Jay Miller 99 rating and 16%+ ABV aren't quite the selling points they once were. Apparently there were enough suckers, though, as this sold out (no idea what the quantity was) at the still outrageous liquidation price.

One has to wonder what kind of person would want to serve a wine that delivers such a crass message. It's one thing to eschew the stuffiness and snobbery associated with fine wine. But it's entirely another to tell your customers to eff off with the name of the wine. Surely this is a joke on the part of the winemaker to see if an insulting name and an insulting price would still attract buyers, right? Because the joke is certainly on whoever buys this.

After reading Jay Miller's tasting note, does this wine seem attractive at any price?
The 2004 F.U. Shiraz (200 cases [12 bottles per case]) is similarly brooding and liqueur-like. It spent 30 months in new French oak hogsheads and offers a compelling bouquet of toasty oak, pencil lead, mineral, blueberry, and blackberry. Lighter on its feet than The Wine with a more forward personality, it has layers of flavor, savory fruit, and enough silky tannin to evolve for a decade. Drink it from 2014 to 2034. 99 points
This note is a masterpiece in the annals of ridiculous critiques. Miller smells minerals, apparently, though there's no mention as to which minerals those could be. Then there's the clear impression this wine is over-oaked and over-ripe based on the toasty oak and liqueur descriptors. Good luck finding any minerality amongst the jammy fruit and oak vanillin. Also note the reference to The Wine, a different cuvée from R Wines. Those are some cojones to name a cuvée simply The Wine. But what else would one expect from a winemaker who names a $300 wine F. U.?

I wonder what Sadat X's F'ed Up Factor (FUF) would be for F. U.? I'd bet on it being off the charts. I think I'd rather have the Suxx Shiraz. Yes, this exists! Thank God for truth in labeling.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Wine Myths via Calluna Vineyards

A few days ago I stumbled across an article on Calluna Vineyards' website debunking a few popular wine myths. While there's no need to extensively quote what David Jeffrey wrote, it's definitely worth linking to his list of modern wine myths:
  1. Hot Days and Cool Nights are Good for Wine Grape Growing
  2. The Napa Valley is the Best Place in California for Cabernet Sauvignon
  3. California Wines are Better than French Wines
  4. Fog is Good for Grapes
  5. Lower Yields Are Always Better
All of these articles are worth a read, but myths 1 and 5 really resonant with me as a consumer. It's common to hear or read PR from California wineries touting the large Diurnal Flux--the day to night temperature swing--their grapes experience and low yields from their vineyards. The reality, though, is that a great many California wines from premium wine growing regions are simply not balanced or are one-dimensional.

Like Mr. Jeffrey, I think this conventional wisdom needs to be questioned. Mr. Jeffrey points out that the majority of great French wine regions are continental climates and do not experience the large temperature swings that sites in California do. And yet great wines are produced in France! He suggests that in reality the cool nights act to compensate for the hot days. Makes sense to me: without the cool nights to retain acidity and keep sugars down, California wines would be horrific caricatures. But perhaps if it was a bit cooler in the first place, such extremes at night wouldn't be necessary.

Similarly, low yields are constantly trumpeted as a source of quality. While it's true that high yields (say 9 tons per acre) will lead to mediocre wine, I often wonder how it is wines harvested at moderate yields of 3 tons per acre (about 45 hectoliters per hectare) can be so good while those harvested at 1 ton per acre can be so dull. It makes me wonder what the winemakers are doing. Are the vines not healthy? Are they planted in the wrong place? Are they dropping lots of fruit with green harvests and unbalancing the vine with too little, instead of too much, fruit? Clearly this depends on a lot of factors. 2 tons/acre may be right for one location, while 4 tons/acre may be good for another. If a winery is intentionally looking for minuscule yields, though, to me it just looks like they'll be charging a higher price for a wine that is not better than many others with lower fruit costs.

I don't mean to generalize as there are a great many California wines I like. But it does seem to be a consistent problem that ripeness can't be achieved at lower sugar levels and prices are high due to exorbitant fruit costs. This has a lot to do with climate and yields. While there are a lot of wealthy vintners putting everything they have into making great wine, the reality may be that they simply aren't in the right location.

Monday, February 1, 2010

TN: Domaine Laffont 2006 Madiran Erigone

The Domaine Laffont 2006 Madiran Erigone is the first wine I've tried from the appellation of Madiran in Southwest France. Madirans are supposedly rustic wines made largely from the Tannat grape, and are typically tannic as the varietal name Tannat suggests. This wine is 80% Tannat and 20% Cab Franc. I'm happy to report that this is a better, more serious wine than the last Tannat-heavy wine I tasted. It's only mildly rustic, and while black as night, the tannins are well-tamed albeit quite evident.

Here are my notes:
Bouquet is a bit reticent, but shows licorice, herbs, black fruit, cedar and just a little barnyard. Structured on the palate. Lots of tannins--not too hard, not too soft, though. Medium acid. Mid palate has good presence, depth. More licorice and dark fruit on the finish. Really good stuffing, well-integrated oak, somewhere between rustic and elegant, though on the purple/black end of the spectrum.
This is definitely one to decant as it opened up over several hours. I wish I had another bottle or two to age as this has the freshness, structure and balance to suggest I'll still like it in a few years or perhaps even a decade. It really hits that sweet spot as a modern wine from an Old World region--not spoofy, but not overly rustic, either. Excellent wine at a super price, and one I'll look for in future vintages.

Pros: Structured, Balanced, Tannic, Complex, Fresh
Cons: Tight
Decant: Yes, needs air to open up and there is some sediment (tartrate crystals)
Price: $17 from Wine Exchange
QPR: Good (out of Poor, Mediocre, Fair, Good or Excellent with Fair denoting expectations were met for the price point)