Sunday, February 21, 2010

Chateau le Boscq Cru Bourgeois Superior 2005/Haven's Merlot 2006

Sarah and I had our friends Katie and Stephen over for dinner last night, and opened several bottles. I made a Gigot de Sept Heures, or seven hour leg of lamb. This sounds way more impressive than it actually is. It's really simple, and amazingly good. Preheat your oven to 300. Slice up 2 onions, peel 4 carrots, slice 4 cloves of garlic, and peel 20 more cloves of garlic. Make a bouquet garni. Take a 6 pound leg of lamb. Rub it with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Take a paring knife and the sliced garlic and stick them all into the leg. Put the leg in the dutch oven. Add everything else around the lamb and add a cup of white wine. Put the lid on. You can "caulk" the dutch oven with dough by using one cup flour and one cup water. Bake for seven hours.  Now I made a couple of mistakes, which meant that this was a little dry. First, I did not use a bone-in piece of lamb (which is what I should have done), second, I did not use a big enough piece of lamb, which meant that it shouldn't have taken 7 hours(maybe 6?). Third, I have a really big Dutch oven and some of the vegetables scorched around the edges (I'm thinking probably because there was too much space), so I would also add some more wine. Anyways, very tasty, very easy. (Our friends from Oakland were in town too, and Sarah even let me leave the oven on whilst we were galavanting about in Venice with them for 3 hours.) Sarah made a Kugen from the French Laundry cookbook (she's made it a few times before)--awesome--although between the sauce and the cake itself, there are about 2 pounds of butter.

We drank this Bordeaux, which was quite nice. Picked it up at Costco a couple years ago for 20$. Mostly cabernet sauvignon. Sarah's first comment was that it was a "big" wine, and I mostly agree. Typical aromas of cedar, earth, plums, and an herbal edge. Drinking well, it could clearly age a couple more years, and will probably reveal more of itself. Good amount of acidity, and lots of fruit (a reflection of 2005 perhaps). Good balance of everything. Went awesome with the lamb--a great compliment, and very food friendly. B+ We also had a couple of bottles of the Chariot Gypsy (because Katie and Stephen are not into wine, really). Both of them really liked it. When asked how much they thought the bottle was, Stephen replied "30$," and Katie replied "18$." And that, my friends, is why people like the Gypsy. It's punching way above its' weight. They definitely did not think it was a 5$ bottle of wine--until I told them.

Next, we opened the Haven's merlot, which was getting blown out for 6.99$ at K&L. Normally, this wine would have been 20$ or something, which I have to say after drinking this, perhaps might be why he went out of business. At 20$, this is typical, boring, California wine, and not a good deal. At 7$, the equation is a little different. Cherry and tobacco nose. Once it gets in your mouth, this wine tastes over-extracted and has kind of a weird frame. This wine is like Heidi Montag from the Hills. She was just fine before she got all that plastic surgery. She tried way to hard to "look good," and now she looks like an alien. This wine has had some surgery too, despite what I'm sure was probably very nice fruit at the start. At 7$, this is interesting, but not terribly exciting. The Syrah was miles better. C-/C

Friday, February 19, 2010

Haven's "Hudson Vineyard" Syrah (Carneros) 2004

Picked this wine up at the recommendation of Greg at the Cab Franco Files. Of course, there have been a lot of Havens wines heavily discounted recently, as Micheal Havens could not weather the economic climate and decided to throw in the towel. This particular wine was originally 40$, but I picked it up for 25$ at K&L. In some sense, it's really no surpise to me that Havens went under. There is a lot of competition in the 40$ price point for wine, and you can get some stunning wines from other places that are comparable to this for a whole lot less. In a nutshell, that's perhaps one of my biggest beefs with Napa. For whatever reason, Napa is expensive. I don't know that you can blame it all on one particular reason, whether it be the real estate, the cost of doing business in the United States, vineyard management practices (ie dropping a whole lot of fruit for really low yields), or business trying to recoup their costs from a new operation. Regardless, at 40$, this wine has a lot of competition. At 25$, it's a much more compelling prospect, although I think that the price point merely brings it in line. 

As an aside, I was thinking a lot about the price of wine last night and was somewhat befuddled that publications such as the Wine Spectator don't factor price into ratings. ((As a general rule of thumb, I don't give a flying fuck what they rate a wine. Frequently, I probably disagree anyways (on the rare occassion I get to play in the rarified air of the wines that they rate), but that doesn't matter for these purposes)). It has a lot to do with quality, especially when a wine is mass-produced. I realize that there is a certain argument to be made that a Carneros Syrah is different from a Hermitage, not only in terms of terroir and style, but also in supply and demand. I realize that there are differing amount of transport costs, margins, taxes, overhead, etc, but it seems somewhat ostrich-like to me that price is not at least a portion of the score. A 20$ bottle of wine that scores 95 points is arguably a whole lot more compelling, nay, is more compelling, than a 100 point wine that costs 2,000$ per bottle. Why no comparison of relative price points? It seems to be a common metric by which to judge wine in the consumer mind; it should be adopted by the major publications. As an excellent example of how "QPR" factors into wine ratings, you should check out the Wellesley Wine Press, run by Robert Dwyer, who really delves into this notion. 

The Hudson Vineyard Syrah is made from purchased fruit; I wonder where this particular parcel of grapes is going now that Michael Havens isn't making this wine. This wine is textbook Syrah, with just a touch of New World flair thrown in for good measure. Smoky raspberry, plum, blackberry, blueberry, lavender, spices, and just a touch of heat are readily available in the complex nose. Once this wine moves over towards your mouth, there's a polished, smooth texture, and rich fruit, balanced out by ample acidity to support the 14.5% frame. There's no doubt to me that this is New World Syrah, but it thankfully stays out of "overtly jammy" territory and toes the edge artfully. In my book, this is a very successful, tasty wine, although not particularly distinctive. My sense is that there is a lot available at this price that is just as satisfying, although I enjoyed this wine. B/B+

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Chariot "Gypsy" (Jim Neal Wines) 2008

For whatever reason, people really seem to like this wine. Last years wine is the third most popular post on this site. People get excited about this wine. Jason was excited enough to drink it in the car. People took some of my criticism that this wine was a fruit bomb a little personally, I think, as in they don't seem to agree with my sentiment. Let me just say this--this wine is a great 5$ wine. It's hard to make a good 5$ wine. But it's also a 5$ wine, and as a result, it's really missing something. Just like all of the sweet, mass-produced crap that comes out of the industrial food system and big agribusiness (Coke, Pepsi, Fruit Loops, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Velveeta, and the list goes on...) and masquerades as food, this masquerades as wine. Of course, food is superficially cheap for a variety of reasons (and feeding the population of the world is certainly a pressing concern), and many people have become accustomed to the accoutrements of the industrial food system to the detriment of cooking, general well being, and above all, taste. To a certain extent the same thing is true of wine, I think, and feel free to sling your arrows at me if you disagree. I know that I have a tendency to be dogmatic and a bit of a blowhard. But on to the wine...If you're used to the latest swill that Jay Miller is hyping, you're used to Robert Mondavi, and you're used to super ripe wines from warm climates with lots of hangtime and with chewy, jammy, oaky vanilla notes, you're going to love this wine. Because instead of being 10$, 15$, 20$, or more, this is 5$, and it's plenty drinkable. I don't think that it's as complex as last years version, but it hasn't been in the bottle long, so maybe it will improve. Last year, someone didn't like me comparing this to Coca-Cola. It tastes exactly like Coca-Cola. (Jim Neal--Did you steal their formula?) Sweet. Lots of cloves, a little bit of pepper, vanilla, berries (including maybe strawberry, but mainly raspberry), and some chocolate after it's open for a while. Sweeter than last years example, with a thick, sticky texture. Yes, I remember that texture well in my library of tastes, textures, and other ephemera--it's the same one that you get from soft drinks, which I swore off years ago becuase they aren't food. They're masquerading as such. Regardless, this is quite good for 5$ (although not as good as last years I think) and you might as well buy this over whatever other garbage you can get for 10 or 15$ at your local Kroger. B That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. 

Monday, February 15, 2010

Launois Brut Blanc de Blancs 2002

Picked this up a while back--probably a year plus--from K&L at the recommendation of Steve Greer. 40$, which is actually fairly cheap for Champagne. Although you can get a lot of domestic sparklers for way less, they really lack something that Champagne has. Domestic sparklers I've had are sweeter with more fruit than Champagne, just as a rule of thumb. That makes them less interesting and complex to my palate. This particular wine is a blend of Grand Cru vineyards (from Mesnil, Oger, and Cramant), and is a blancs de blancs, or all-Chardonnay. Lots of hazelnut (hell maybe some mushroom too, now that I think about it), citrus, and green apple. Poised, elegant, and a nice finish. I very much enjoyed this Champagne, although let's face it, it is pretty expensive. A- Sarah and I drank this with some lobster tails, and some pasta with garlic, tomatoes, and lots of butter, because we decided that Valentines Day at a restaurant is kind of whack. You'd be much better off to go to whatever restaurant you want to go to NOT on Valentines Day. Valentines at restaurants tends seems to us to be all about stereotypical, expensive, prix fixe menus. Plus, let's face it, it's always a zoo, so the kitchen probably is a little harried. Anyways, we had a great time at home and we're going to spend what we would have spent on Valentines day in Rome, probably at Al Pompiere (which has the best cuttlefish I've ever eaten in my entire life) in the Jewish Ghetto.   

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Chateau Roudier Montagne-Saint Emilion 2003

This is the last of the trio of wines (well, actually, it was 4 since I got a bottle of Perrin Cotes du Rhone too) that I picked up to drink with dinner this week. 12.99$ at Trader Joes. I figured that I would like this one the least, since it's from a hot vintage...but I like it better than the Barbera. It isn't as good as the Fronsac though. Like the Fronsac, this wine is also backwoods Bordeaux. Montagne Saint Emilion is on the fringes (hence the 12.99$). This wine actually has a fair amount of acidity, despite how hot 03 was. A little bit of tannin there too. Lots of berries and chocolate on the nose, maybe a bit on the roasted side, or a little pruney. Lots of similar stuff going on in the mouth. Short finish. I guess I could sum this wine up as "you get what you pay for." It's okay, although I would say if you're stuck at TJ's, get the Fronsac for 3$ more...or the Perrin Cotes du Rhone for 5$ less (seriosuly, that wine fucking rocks for 7$). C+
Some other random thoughts. I really was digging Slayer while I was cooking tonight. And Between the Buried and Me. Between the Buried and Me is interesting. I saw them open for Dillinger Escape Plan years ago, and didn't really get them (funny, because I was there to see Dillinger, which is basically unlistenable for 99.9% of the population). I think they've matured some, because the songs I've heard from them recently are epic, instead of sounding disjointed and mismashed like in the past. Crazy musicianship, lots of cool melodic stuff, super heavy, super complicated. Anyways, a new favorite. Although they've got nothing on Mastodon. 
My Grandma knows that I'm going to Rome in 5 weeks, and she sent me this crazy book that my Grandfather got her in 1968 about Roman cooking for my birthday. Besides the fact that it even has the date my Grandfather got it for her, there's a lot of restaurants in the book that are still open. Restaurants don't last 40 plus years in the States typically. Anyways, what's cool is that Sarah and I have reservations for Easter Sunday (when all of Rome shuts down) at Checchino dal 1887, which is one of the only places open on Easter. We made them weeks ago, and it's in the book. Pretty fucking cool, if you ask me. I am stoked.  

Famiglia Marrone Barbera 2008

 I was feeling lucky with Trader Joes after the pretty good 15$ I picked up the 03 Montagne-Saint Emilion (we'll drink that tonight...stay tuned if you're really that interested) as well as this wine, which was 8$. Interestingly, this isn't from Alba, and is  labeled in a pretty generic fashion. I've got to assume that this is a mish-mash wine from all over, and probably doesn't really have "the best" of what Barbera has to offer. Initially on the nose, it's really woody (Ron Jeremy proportions, I think). Eventually, it opens up to reveal a lot of toast, some earth, and some of the typical bright cherry that I have come to expect from Barbera based wines. Not particularly rustic, but also not too polished. In other words, this is in a no man's land as far as Barbera is concerned. It doesn't have all the bite that goes so fantastically with big, rustic, tomatoey dishes, but it's also missing the polish, structure, and cherry laden luster of a more modern barrique-aged wine. It's boring. It goes ok with  food (chicken parmigiano, if you must ask), but it's nothing to write home about. Sarah likes it more than me. Just looking back on some of the more satisfying Barbera's I've had recently; the Valpane imported by Kermit Lynch comes to mind. The Valpane was one dollar more than this, but kicked its' ass. This wine is a D+/C- for the price. 

Monday, February 8, 2010

Chateau de la Riviere Fronsac 2001

I violated my cardinal rule of Trader Joes--never buy anything from a big appellation. Of course, there was a reason for this, which is mainly that Bordeaux from 2001 (by all accounts, not the best vintage) for $12.99  $14.99(I think? I wasn't paying was less than 15$) looked interesting to me. They also have a 2003 Saint Emilion, which I'm betting that I will not be into, because 2003 was a hot vintage. Additionally (and this generally goes against my wine-buying philosophy because really all those contests are basically bullshit), it had the little sticker for winning some French competition. A rose from Provence that I really liked had the same sticker, and I haven't seen it too many times in the US. Now that I've gotten that out of the way for once, I was actually impressed with a bigger name appellation wine purchased at TJ's. Fronsac is sort of the back woods of Bordeaux--it used to be a big deal, before most of the vineyards got wiped out by phyloxerra, but now it's sort of the red-headed step child. Reading about Fronsac in "The Oxford Companion to Wine," I found out that Christian Mouiex and Michel Rolland both have estates in Fronsac. This is probably because it's Bordeaux, and I would imagine that the cheaper parts of Bordeaux represent good value. 

Chateau de la Riviere is the largest estate in Fronsac, growing mainly merlot, with some cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. Interestingly, the Wine Doctor really liked this wine, giving it a fairly high rating of 16.5+. Strange to see the Wine Doctor and Trader Joes mixing, I think? Perhaps it's just me? 12.5% alcohol. Anyways, this wine has a curranty, tart, black fruited nose, with hints of cedar and earth as well. If there was tannin in this wine, it's completely melted away, leaving lots of acidity and a smooth mouth feel. Surprisingly fresh for a wine that is 8-9 years old. In 04, the Wine Docter said that this "needs 3-4 years." I don't think that's the case now. This may even be on a the downhill side of the hill? Still, this is a good deal in my book, although it should be noted that if you're into really bombastic wines, you might not particularly care for this given its' relatively light frame. I have rarely spent 12$ 15$ at Trader Joes and come away non disappointed. B     

Friday, February 5, 2010

Domaine de la Garrigue "Cuvee Romaine" Cotes du Rhone 2007

Another good 07 Cotes du Rhone. 12$ at K&L and imported by Eric Solomon (who imports a lot of good wine, especially from Spain). 65% Grenache, 25% Mouvedre, and 10% Syrah. This has been sold out for a long time--I got this wine over a year ago. Blackberry, cherry, lavender, licorice, and a lot of savory scents make up the nose on this wine. Despite coming off as a little rustic at first, this quickly becomes well balanced and smooth, with ripe fruit counterbalanced by good supporting acidity. This wine is less "polished,"and more old world in terms of feel than the "Les Sablieres," and Sarah does not like this as much. I think they are both good in different ways. I personally am more drawn to this one, if only because it's called "Cuvee Romaine," and I really like B+/A-

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Domaine des Escaravailles "Les Sablieres" Côtes du Rhône 2007

13$ at K&L, but it's sold out now. Digging the beetle on the label. 70% Grenache, with 20% Syrah, and 10% Carignan. Fruity and fresh, with lots of peppery cherries and raspberries. Lush, but with plenty of acidity, good balance and an earthy finish. I like this wine. It seems to be a good cross between new world and old world. Lots of fruit, but with earthier elements and acidity. B+/A-

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Domaine de la Noblaie "Les Chiens-Chiens" Chinon 2006

This is another one of those "I wish I had waited to buy this" wines. Why? because I bought it for 17$ and K&L just marked it down to 11$. I guess that's good if anyone wants to pick up a bottle, but still, it sucks. My girlfriend will occassionally buy something at J. Crew, or Banana Republic before it's on sale, return with the receipt a few days later, and get the difference back. Perhaps I should do that with K&L, since this is the third or fourth time its' happened to me recently...

This is typical Chinon. Comes from limestone and flint soils, so this is probably a better piece of land than something on gravel. Mineral, earth, violet, and cherry. Lots of acidity. Nice poise and balance. The nose picks up a lot of spices by day two. Jerome Billard, who makes this wine, is my age, which is awesome (Dude, let's be friends.). This wine doesn't knock me out like the Baudry stuff, but it's a solid effort, expresses the terroir of Chinon, and is quite tasty. B/B+