Archive for ◊ December, 2008 ◊

25 Dec 2008 Researching South American wine first hand

I will not be updating my blog for the next several weeks as I will be in South America touring several wine region.  I will try to post interim updates when possible but online access will be random.  When I get back, I will post detailed information about the wines and wineries discovered / visited.

I will be visiting the Equador (Galapagos Islands), Peru, Chile and Argentina.  It will be a great trip with many opportunities to enjoy the local wine and spirit pairings.   I will make an effort to record local prices vs. prices of the wines in the US (assuming the wine is available in the US) to see what the typical importer mark up is.

Have a Wonderful New Year!  I hope you enjoy some lovely sparkling wines on New Year’s Eve to ring in 2009.  I will be ringing in 2009 and celebrating my fabulous wifes 40th birthday from the equator.

18 Dec 2008 South American Varieties — Carmenere, Malbec, Torrontes, Tannat
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Carmenere

Carmenere and Merlot cuttings were brought over from Bordeaux to plant Chilean vineyards in the 19th century.  The cuttings tended to be planted together in a field blend.  As a result, ‘Merlot’ in Chile can be any mixture of Merlot and Crmenere.  At the time of vineyard planting, the difference in the varietals was not known.  Carmenere does not like wet growing seasons or irrigation resulting in aggressive green bell pepper flavors.  Carmenere takes three weeks longer to ripen than Merlot, so it is much better suited to sites with longer, dry growing seasons.  Hence, Carmenere has not done well in Bordeaux. 

Carmenere tends toward low acidity giving it really sweet tasting-fruit.  When it is ripe, the fruit has blackberry, black plum and spice with an array of savory flavors (coffee, grilled meat, celery and soy sauce); the tannins are rich and round.  The flavor profile of Carmenere makes it a good blending partner with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Roughly 4000 hectares of Cabernet Franc in northern Italy (Veneto, Tretino and Friuli)  is actually Carmenere.

Recommended producers in Chile: Almaviva, Apaltague, Biwquertt, Casa Lapostolle, Concha y Toro, Errazuriz, Los Robles, MontGras and Veramonte.

Torrontes

Torrontes is Argentina’s specialty white varietal.   Torrontes varietal is actually several different varieties, some of which resemble Muscat-like aroma and some are similar to Gewurtraminer.  Torrontes aromas are floral, soapy and sometimes spicy.  The three main varieties going from most aromatic to least aromatic are: Torrontes Riojano (from the La Rioja province in Argentina), Torrontes Sanjuanino (from the San Juan province) and Torrontes Mendocino or Mendozino (found in Rio Negro and the northern end of Patagonia).

The variety seems particularly well adapted to the arid growing conditions of Argentina, especially the high, sandy Cafayate region.  The high altitude (1600m +) helps provide natural high acidity and assertive flavors.

Best producers in Argentina: Etchart, Norton, Michel Torino

Malbec

Malbec is a native grape of south-west France.  It is also known as Cot in the Loire Valley and the South-West of France; in Cahors, it is known as Auxerrois (not to be confused with the white varietal Auxerrois of Alsace).  Malbec is one of the 5 varietals in the Bordeaux blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Franc).  Malbec in Bordeaux has had a rough time of it — graphed to less than suitable rootstocks, cooler climate.  Cuttings from Bordeaux Malbec where brought over to Argentina in 1862.  If you compare the current Malbec vines in Argentina with Malbec in Cahors, you will find there is a significant difference.  Malbec in Argentina has a much larger clonal range than in France.

Malbec prefers higher altitude sites (between 1000 and 1100 meters) and warm climates.  Malbec has a dark purple color, aromas of damson and violets with a soothing ripe tannic structure.  Oak aging can work well but tends to overwhelm the fruit characteristics.  In Cahors, the flavor tends to more dried fruit characteristics — raisins, tobacco and damson skins. 

Best producers in Argentina: Alamos Ridge, Alta Vista, Altos de Temporada, Anubis, Catena, Etchart, Medalla, Norton, Terraza de Los Andes, Michel Torino, Trapiche and Weinert.  Best producers in Chile: Montes, MontGras, Morande, Valdivieso, Vina Casablanca.

Tannat

In Uruguay, Tannat is increasing in quality; it is marked by fine, ripe tannins and elegant blackberry fruit.  The newer French clones of Tannat tend to produce higher alcohol wines but are simplier than the wine from the old-vine brought over from France originally.

Best producers in Uruguay: Establecimiento Juanico, Castel Pujol, and Hector Stagnari.

16 Dec 2008 2006 Chateau Reynon, Sauvignon Vieilles Vignes, Bordeaux

Appearance: bright, medium- gold core transitioning to a water-white rim

Nose: clean, Medium+ intensity with aromas of: lemon grass, lemon, cataloupe, melon, lime, cut grass, grapefruit

Palate: Acidity – High; Alcohol – Medium; Concentration – Medium+; Flavor intensity – Medium+; Length – long; Flavors: minerality, lemon grass, lemon/lime, cut grass, cataloupe melon and grapefruit.  Note: the wine has a very nice mouth-coating texture with great flavors

Quality: Price: mid-price; Quality: Excellent; Drink now but will hold for 2 to 4 years.  The aroma/flavor intensity, length and excellent overall balance makes this an excellent quality wine.

I served this wine at the 5th Annual Glover Gala to be paired with a butternut squash soup with browned butter as well as a lovely salad course.  The wine was highly enjoyed by all of my guests (39 people can not be wrong).   I can very highly recommend this wine especially at a price point of $13 / bottle at K and L Wines (klwines.com).  The blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion is fantastic!

06 Dec 2008 Adventures in blending — 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Sangiovese

I started the blending process for four of 2007 vintage wines:  Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Roaring Red, Dry Creek Valley Syrah and Santa Barbara Sangiovese.

We have three distinct Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: Vineyard X vineyard, hot fermentation Young-Inglewood vineyard, and a cool fermented Young-Inglewood vineyard.  The Vineyard X wine is tremendous wine — the Transault barrel has provided a pronounced aromas of freshly made fine Italian espresso, black currants and red currants; the mouthfeel is great from front to back with the standard dip in the mid-palate associated with Cabernet Sauvignon.  The two Young-Inglewood fermentations were done to provide good blending components for the Vineyard X fruit.  The cool fermentation provides good fruitiness aromas and flavors with lower tannin extraction while the hot fermentation provides a structure and color component at the expense of very little aromatics.  While evaluating the separate wines, I noticed that the cool fermented Young-Inglewood wine had noticably different (more reddish with some purple) and better color than the hot fermented Young-Inglewood which did not make sense initially.  The cool fermented wine was in a neutral barrel to preserve the fruit purity while the hot fermented wine was in a new barrel to provide ample oak tannins for oak flavor and color fixation.   The hot fermented wine was brighter and clearer than the cool fermented wine.  The new barrel seems to have worked as expected with brighter and more stable color and good structure/oak flavoring.    I was hoping to work out the first or gross blend of the Cabernet Sauvigons to get the blend done and allow time for it to stablize.  However, after evaluating the wines, I have decided to combine the two Young-Inglewood lots into a single lot, do 5% concentration to get the body and mouthfeel to be on par with the Vineyard X wine. return the wine to neutral barrels and reevaluate the wines in January for the next blending step.  The next steps are to determine if the Vineyard X lot should be combined with the Young-Inglewood for a single Cabernet Sauvignon lot or do fractional blending of the Young-Inglewood lot with the Vineyard X lot and try for highly rated “Parker” style wine.  It is a very difficult choice given that in order to sell more wine, I need to get highly-rated wines given my price point or make a better wine in the Lionheart Wines Style.  My initial thoughts are to make a wine more in the Lionheart Wines style — bold, approachable, some agability and fantastic with food.  If we end up with the Lionheart Wine style, there may not be a Roaring Red in 2007 as all of the Cabernet Sauvignon will be used for the flagship Cabernet Sauvignon.

The White Hawk vineyard Sangiovese from Santa Barbara tasted great and has great chemistry numbers (14.47% abv, 3.42 PH, 7.9 grams/liter TA and a low VA).  The acidity is a bit higher than will be in the final wine but it is much better for the wine to have higher acidity at the point than the reverse.  The high acidity provides good protection to the wine by helping the effectiveness of SO2 in solution as an anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial agent.  A potassium carbonate (e.g. potcarb) trial will be done to determine the final bottling acidity in January.  My initial guess is that we will end up lowering the TA by 0.5 to 0.7 grams/liter.   A sample blend of 5% Vineyard X Cabernet Sauvignon was done with the Sangiovese post postcab adjustment resulting in a very exciting wine — you are going to love it!  The final blend will be done in done in late December or mid-January.

The Dry Creek Valley Syrah from Ray Teldeschi vineyard has been a bit of mystery on where to take it since it was fermenting in 2007.  The wine has been very tight since it was put in barrel.  After 11 months, the wine started to open up and show classic Syrah characteristics of ground pepper, red fruit, black olive, earth and some smoke.   I have been aging the wine in two lots — 1 new Hermitage barrel to add oak structure in the classic French Syrah style, 1 neutral barrel to preserve the fruit characteristic unmasked by oak and the balance of the wine in a stainless steel topping tank.   The Hermitage barrel has provided an abundance of oak with some similar characteristics to American oak — slight coconut and a far amount of Vanillin plus the more standard French spices (warm) and cracker pepper.  After tastings both lots, it is clear that the wine needs to be racked together into neutral barrels to avoid anymore oak flavor pick up.  The oak flavor is good but anymore would be distracting. 

A key goal of this blending / tasting session was to see what the gross blend for the syrah would be to enhance the aromatics, provide a layer flavor/aroma profile and make sure to have a long balanced finished.  The initial thoughts were to use the traditional blenders with the syrah: Tempranillo (Spanish style), Grenache (French) and Viognier (Australia and some French).  I would like to try Mouvedre but I do not access to any.  The Tempranillo was very interesting by itself but when combined with the Syrah it highlights the worst of each wine — so the Tempranillo was ruled out.  The Eaglepoint Ranch Vineyard Grenache is a great blending component; it has bold and pleasant aromas of ripe pumpkin, cracked pepper (white and black), strawberry, cranberry and rhubbarb.  The Broken Leg Vineyard Viognier from Anderson Valley is also a good blending component by providing a nice aromatic lift of apricot, orange blossom and tangerines.  After several blends being tried, the target blend of 6% Eaglepoint Ranch Vineyard Grenache provides a good complexity of aromas and flavors that compliments the base Syrah.  The Grenache will be blending in during the rack and return to neutral barrels for the Syrah.  The Viognier provides a good lift to the aromatics and enhances the mouthfeel and finish of the syrah.  The Viognier will be blended in January after the Grenache has had time to integrate into the syrah.  It is best to take the blending in stages to make sure the blend in your glass works in the barrel.

Overall, I am quite happy with the wines.  I would have liked to get all the gross blends done in December but the wine indicates patience and several steps are going to be required to produce the best wine possible.  Naturally, I am going to listen to what the wines are indicating not my will.

02 Dec 2008 2006 Domaine Bernard Baudry, Chinon AOC

Appearance: Clear, deep Ruby and black core transitioning to a medium Ruby rim

Nose: Clean, medium plus intensity with the following aromas: savory (hint of volalite acidity combined with rhubbarb), cranberry, black currant, earth, rhubbarb, oregano, thyme.

Palate: Sweetness: dry; acidity: high; Intensity: medium+; Alcohol: medium, Tannins: soft medium+ with a hint of greeness, flavors similar to aroma with the addition of cedar / pencil shavings and sour cherry; Length: medium+; Concentration: medium+.

Summary: Good to excellent; Drink now but could age another 2 to 4 years due to the high acidity and medium+ tannins (the fruit will start to drying up in 2 years); Value: mid-priced.

This is a fine example of what Chinon Cabernet Franc can offer you at a reasonable price point.  The wine is very food friendly with ample acidity, fruit and concentration to hold up to the richest sauces.  It was tasted as part of a traditional Thanksgving meal.  The wine paired very well with turkey and a spicy, zinfandel reduction cranberry sauce.

Other reviews:
“90 — On the crisp side, but pure.  There’s good flesh to the black cherry, cassis, tobacco and grilled herb notes.  Has excellent grip on the finish for the vintage.  Drink now through 2011.  1,000 cases imported. – JM, Wine Spectator, April 30, 2008, $19″

02 Dec 2008 Cabernet Franc — the original Cabernet

Cabernet Franc is the original Cabernet varietal.  Cabernet Sauvignon is a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.

Cabernet Franc is known for  flavors and aromas of: Raspberries, Blackcurrant leaves, Plum, Vanilla, Tobacco, Cedar, Smokey and Violets.  It can also have a noticably herbaceousness — fresh and dried herbs.  However, if the grapes do not reach full maturity, a strong vegetal quality will be noticed.  The primary growing areas are: in the Loire (Anjou, Saumur, Touraine, Chinon and Bourgueil), Right bank of Bordeaux (St-Emilion, Pomerol and Fronsac), Friuli region of Italy with newer plantings in Canada, Washington, New York state, Australia, Chile, South Africa, California and New Zealand.  Cabernet Franc from Chinon is among some of the best in the world during a good vintage — the weather in the Loire makes vintage quality highly variable from year to year.

In the US, the following producers are considered quite good:

Chateau St. Jean (Sonoma Valley, California), Cougar Crest (Walla Walla), Pride (Sonoma County, California), Reverie (Napa Valley, California), Fielding Hills (Washington), Owen Roe (Yakima Valley, Washington), Foxen (Santa Maria Valley, California), La Jota (Howell Mountain, California), Ehlers Estate (Napa Valley, California), Lang & Reed (Napa Valley, California), Peju (Napa Valley, California) and Justin (Paso Robles).

Cabernet Franc is a very good food wine and a good alternative to Pinot Noir.  Cabernet Franc tends to have quite a bit of acidity and enough tannins to allow the wine to age well and develop additional complexity in bottle.  Cabernet Franc from warm years in the Loire is very highly prized for its longevity and complexity.

At Thanksgiving, we tried the following Cabernet Francs – 2006 Domaine Bernard Baudry, Chinon AOC; 2006 Philippe Alliet, Chinon AOC.  Both of the Cabernet Francs were very good with the turkey and the spicy zinfandel cranberry sauce.  Please see the next post for detailed review of the 2006 Domain Bernard Baudry.

If you enjoy Pinot Noir and/or Cabernet Sauvignon, please give some of the Cabernet Franc a try.  I think you will be surprised how tasting and food-friendly Cabernet Franc can be.