Tuesday, April 28, 2009

2005 Wine Guerrilla ZINFANDEL (Sonoma County)

Another winner from this Zinner. Boatloads of ripe Zin fruit.

Dark, sultry black ruby. Ridiculously fruity nose, with gobs of ripe, spicy, lush berry juice, a squeeze of ripe lemon, and some tangy spice. Broad, expansive mouthfeel, with a richness of flavor at odds with its light mouth weight. Lots of red fruit and gravelly earth flavors. Not very complex, but wonderfully fun to drink. 88. Was $20 at Spec's on Smith.

(Sorry, 2007 pictured)

2006 Rodney Strong "Chalk Hill Vineyard" CHARDONNAY (Sonoma County, Cal.)

Good, solid example of the basic, old-fashioned, oaky California Chardonnay.

Deep gold color. On the nose, spicy vanilla, intense ripe pear and apple skin fruit. Soft, viscous texture, with a bit of peppery heat, and featuring flavors of vanilla, caramel, and slightly bitter melon. Good acid balance. 87. Was a gift, but I think it's available for around $15 at Spec's.

2006 Fattoria Laila ROSSO PICENO (Marche, Italy)

Dang it. I expected more from this wine from my Italian ancestral region. It was overextracted and a bit pruney.

Fully saturated blackish blood plasma color. Pungent, sweet earthy scent over pruney fruit. Full and highly extracted, but also showing a bit of oxidation in the mouth. C. About $12 from North Berkeley Imports.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

2006 Castello Romitorio ROSSO DI MONTALCINO (Tuscany, Italy)

Very good but not worth the price. Rosso di Montalcinos usually command a $5 -$10 premium over their cousins just to the north (the Chianti Classicos), but I tend towards the Chiantis. The clone of Sangiovese used in Montalcino, to my taste, tends towards darker, lower-toned flavors (which I occasionally crave); Chianti Classicos tend to have higher-toned, more cherryish fruit and a brighter mouthfeel.

This was very dark-colored with some brickish tinges at the rim. Low-toned nose whose primary component was scorched earth, along with some dark black cherry scents. Broadly-flavored, deep-toned plummy fruit, with the back end comprising mostly scorched earth and mineral notes. Lots of tannin (although it was not harsh tannin, by any stretch). Might be better and softer in a year or 2. 86+ Was pushing $25 at Spec's on Smith. (Vinifera Imports.)

2005 Paul Durdilly BEAUJOLAIS "Les Grandes Coasses" (Burgundy, France

Holding up remarkably well for a 4-year old simple Beaujolais, this wine was crisp and refreshing.

Youthful dark ruby color. Crisp, minerally scents and tart cherry aromas. Lean, light-bodied, with good, focused tart cherry flavors and tangy acidity. 86. I got it on-line from North Berkeley Imports. Lists for $11.50.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

2008 Hacienda Araucano CARMENERE (Colchagua Valley, Chile)

Another excellent, good value Carmenere. This one is $11.99 at Whole Foods on Bellaire.

The color was a nearly saturated, sultry black ruby. Unlike a lot of Carmeneres I've had, this one showed off its nose as soon as I opened it (usually I find that young Carmeneres are closed-nosed until they've been open a while). Lots of rich, tobacco-y, coffee grounds scents with loads of ripe blackberry syrup and gravelly earth. In the mouth it displayed a soft but dense texture, and low-toned flavors of cigar box, blackberry extract, and loamy earth. Good weight and balance, with lots of soft tannin adding some nice structure. Nice now, this will be even better in a year. 88+. (Importer: Winesellers Ltd., Skokie, Ill.)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Look at the back label! (or, It's the Importers, stupid!)

Over the years, a lot of people have asked me how I choose what to buy from so many producers and yet still get very few clunkers. I think one of the most important factors with non-U.S. wine is the importer. Choosing a wine from a good importer can get you 75% of the way to an enjoyable surprise.


There are some really high-quality importers out there who take great care selecting what they'll bring in. Many even take care to ensure that they align themselves with wineries that share their views on what techniques make the most genuine and flavorful wine, such as yields per acre (high yields make thin, watery wine), chemical treatments (insisting on minimizing these), yeasts for fermenting (use whatever yeasts occur naturally on the grape skins), no or minimal filtering (which can strip flavor and texture), use of oak or not for ageing (it's complementary for some wines, but detracts from others).

So from now on, I'm going to try remember to list the importer in my notes. Not only should it help in choosing other wines one is not familiar with, but it will help if you want a retailer to order a particular wine for you, since he or she will know where to get it.

Here are a few off-the-top-of my head thoughts on some of the importers I think are top-notch:

ERIC SOLOMON -- One of the very best. His wines from the south of France and Spain tend to be loaded to the brim with flavor and usually not burdened with unwarranted oak.

LOUIS/DRESSNER -- Generally chooses wines that are absolutely the textbook exemplars of their appellations (French, mostly), with great balance and minimal oak.

KYSELA -- Lots of good value choices from all over France.

HAND-PICKED SELECTIONS -- Similar to Kysela in my mind. Lots of value-driven French wines with lots of flavor.

ROBERT KACHER -- Kacher's wines are usually very flavorful, unoaked, and extremely youthful tasting. I think he gets growers to bottle extra early, which frequently means that his wines benefit from decanting to get them a little more air time to develop their nose and flavors. I think Richard's stores have an exclusive with this importer (in Houston), so that's where to find them.

NORTH BERKELEY -- Hard, if not impossible to find their wines in stores here, but they now ship direct to individuals! I'm surmising they have similar philosophy to Louis/Dressner, with classic renditions of wines from the appellations in question (French, mostly, also), with great balance and minimal oak. Here's the link for ordering: http://www.northberkeleyimports.com/home/

JORGE ORDONEZ -- One of the premier Spanish wine importers; has a great line-up of flavorful, value-driven wines. Tends to favor a modern Spanish style, emphasizing lots of ripe fruit and soft textures.

PARTICK MATA "OLE" Selections -- Another great Spanish importer, I sense that he favors a crisper, less overtly ripe style than Ordonez. Lots of good values here. (Central Market carries a lot of his wines).

LEONARDO LOCASCIO -- For Italian wine values, this guy's the best. Seeks out wineries that make flavorful, classic examples of their region, at very fair prices.

VINIFERA -- Excellent importer of more high-end Italian offerings. Wines have lots of character, but I'm not sure if I can discern a "house style" here.

VIAS -- Another high-end Italian importer with lots of interesting wines.

KERMIT LYNCH -- A great selector of good value French wines, particularly from southern Burgundy (Maconnais, Beaujolais) and the Rhone Valley ands other parts of the south of France.

NEAL ROSENTHAL -- This is an excellent but idiosyncratic importer of French and Italian wines. My experience has been that he tends to favor wines in a leaner, more minerally style than many other importers at this level, but make no mistake, he's got a very good portfolio.

I'm sure this stream of consciousness post has resulted in me leaving off some good importers. As I think of more, I'll add to the list. In the meantime:

. . . when buying . . . TURN THE BOTTLE AROUND!!!!!

2005 Castello d'Albola CHIANTI CLASSICO (Tuscany, Italy)

A pretty good, lighter style Chianti that won't break the bank.

Medium-light garnet ruby. High-toned nose of crisp macerated cherries, gravelly earth, and sweet cream. Medium-light bodied, with crisp, relatively high acid flavors of lemons and chokecherries. Pretty typical of the 2005s in Chianti, which tend to have some unusual tension between good ripeness but higher than normal acidity. A refreshing, palate-cleansing style if you're in the mood for that. 85. Was about $17 at Spec's on Holcombe.

2006 "DIS-TINTO" 50% Tempranillo, 50% Syrah (Valencia, Spain)

This was a good, solid red for under $10.

Dark black ruby. Creamy caramel and dark fruit scents (blackberry and boysenberry). Full, with straightforward fruit, good balance, and nice texture. Zippo for complexity but direct and forceful. Good value. Was $9.95 at Central Market. 85.

Easter wines

Sorry -- I know I'm behind, but here are the wines we popped open for our Easter dinner (with truncated, from-memory notes).

NV Pierre Sparr CREMANT D'ALSACE Reserve Brut -- To my mind, in general, sparkling wines from Alsace are the best values in the market for bubbly. They're generally $15-$20, and have as much character as non-vintage Champagne costing twice as much or more (although because of the different varietals used in Alsace the flavor profile is a bit different). They tend to be more flavorful than the Spanish cavas as well. This one was decent, but not a great example -- crisp, citrusy fruit, bone dry, but I detected just a note of beginning oxidation. Lucien Albrecht and Rene Mure are other producers to look for in Houston.

2006 Jean-Max Roger SANCERRE "Cuvee Les Caillottes" (Loire Valley, France) -- Lean, very herbal and crisp. A tad underripe for my palate. Bone dry and refreshing, however.

2001 Delectus MERLOT "Stanton Vineyard" (Napa Valley, Cal.) -- Yes, I have often repeated the famous Merlot line from Sideways, but this wine (which our guests the Murphys brought over) floored me. Superb, rich, chocolately dark fruit on the nose. Full, and still sporting some nice tannic structure. Lots of concentration and length, but with good balance. Can even stand a few more years in a cool cellar.

2006 Linne Calodo "NEMESIS" 82% Syrah, 14% Mourvedre, 4% Grenache (Paso Robles, Cal.) -- Big disappointment for such a cult winery. Overripe and massive, but plainly out of balance, with hot, hot alcohol burning from entry to finish, obliterating the flavors.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

2007 Pelissero DOLCETTO D'ALBA "Munifrina" (Piemonte, Italy)

Too lean and clean for me, especially at this price point.
Vibrant, dark ruby with purple highlights. Tart-ish nose of plummy-berry fruit with a sweet cream component. Medium-bodied and relatively lean for a Dolcetto (I like them fleshy), but with good focus and decent depth. A bit of tannin in the medium-long finish. 85. Was $22 and change at Spec's on Smith.

2005 Domaine de Pierredon COTES DU RHONE (France)

A decently-made, but soul-less modern-style Rhone wine.

Dark black ruby color. Direct, mid-toned fruity nose -- plums, berries, and the barest hint of crushed rocks and spice. Round, medium-bodied and fruity in the mouth. Decent, clean finish. 86. Was $14 at Spec's Outlet on Westheimer at Montrose.

2006 Fontevecchia VERDICCHIO DI CASTELLI DI JESI Classico Superiore (Marche, Italy)

A full-flavored but atypical Verdicchio.

Pale, brassy gold. Wonderful, Chablis-like nose of crushed limestone, straw-tinged earthiness, and apple/pear-skin fruit. Intensely minerally in the front end, with deep, earthy pear fruit coming through in the back of the palate. Relatively full body. A fleshy bruiser of a Verdicchio. Very nice. 88. I think -- but I don't remember -- that this was around $16 at Central Market.

2006 Turley ZINFANDEL "Cedarman" (Howell Mtn., Cal.)

Richard's on Westheimer and Kirby got in a few bottles of this and another Turley Zin, so, being the Zinficianado that I am, I had to get one of each.

Yup, it was really really good.

In my experience, Zinfandels from Howell Mountain tend to exhibit a pungent, resiny-minerally cracked black peppercorn component -- I remember first experiencing this with a couple bottles of '79 Cakebread Howell Mtn Zin a long time ago -- and this wine had it too.

Dark black ruby, but not as saturated as I expected. On the nose, the peppercorn thing mixed with brambly berry fruit and crushed rock powder. Rich, minerally, and focused in the mouth, with a substantial smoked meat flavor. Big on tannin, but in a soft way. Long, long finish. 91.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

2006 Slipstream GRENACHE (McLaren Vale, Australia))

A nice, relatively high-acid Grenache that needs significant air time to open up.

Dark ruby, not fully saturated color. Nose very tight at first, giving up nothing but tart acid and mineral scents, but after a hour of air time, loads of ripe yet tangy raspberry scents emerge. Same with the taste, which started out lean and unforgiving, but softened and fruit-ified as it sat. Lots of pungent minerals throughout. Would be very good with richly-sauced braised meats and bolognese ragu. 87. About $17 at Spec's on Smith.

2007 Helfrich GEWURZTRAMINER (Alsace, France)

This was a great buy (for an Alsace Gewurz).

Medium gold color. Big, ripe nose of lychee, pear, and spice. Fleshy and mouthfilling, with loads of uncomplicated fruit, fully body, and a nice bit of bitter grapefruit in the finish. 87. Drink over the next year with spicy Asian dishes. Was $13 and change at Spec's on Smith.