Monday, August 30, 2010

"Wallula Vineyard" Riesling Pacific Rim 2007

Picked this up on for about 15$ at Costco. Screw-cap. I've had a couple of other Rieslings from Pacific Rim and found them to be enjoyable. A different, less mineral, less acid style than Germany. (Maybe I'm insane? Just doesn't taste quite like German Riesling. More fruit, less rock.) Just a bit of residual sugar--0.9% and relatively low alcohol at 12.2%. Typical Riesling diesel notes at first, along with peach and candied lemon (actually, very similar to a lemon bar that I had to taste for work last week). Once it's in your mouth, peaches lead into an orangey-lemon peel (slightly bitter) finish. A nice amount of sweetness and acidity; stood up to spicy jerk catfish, quinoa, and a tomato burrata salad. Despite everything, I felt like this was missing a bit of "wow factor." (Am I getting more jaded? I feel that way...) B+ We made jerk catfish because we went to this crazy Jamaican restaurant that I saw in the LA Times. It's called Front Page Jamaican Grill. The place was awesome; pretty good food, especially for what is basically an out of the way strip-mall joint bordering on a bad neighborhood. It's in Inglewood, so I imagine that there are a lot of people that won't even consider going there. Well fuck that. Don't be a pussy. It's one of those "only in LA" places, and it's worth a trip, especially if you're in the vicinity of the airport and like new experiences. I had curry goat, Sarah had grilled jerk snapper. A little expensive, but a cool vibe, with a live DJ and reggae blaring. Snapper was definitely better than the goat. Next time I'm going to get the jerk chicken instead of the curry goat...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

VINTJS Pinot Gris 2009 Willamette Valley

The last VINTJS wine I had was pretty clunky Chardonnay. Shocking--it was from California. In the end, I guess it was okay, and you get what you pay for. I basically have written off a lot of Trader Joes wines at this point, especially their private label stuff. Fine for sangria or chugging, but generally, it leaves something to be desired, in particular at the super low-end. Sure, there's palatable stuff there, but it's not really interesting. Maybe that's why the majority of people that end up on this site are looking at stuff pertaining to TJ's wine? I don't know; I think it's funny that you would spend the time to research some 4$ bottle of plonk from a random source. It's probably cheaper to just buy a bottle and try it out. At the very least, you end up drunk. Anyways, the only reason that I picked this up is that Pinot Gris from Oregon can be really good, and this is a departure from TJ's. I'm used to seeing California wines in these labels, or something from Australia. I don't think I've ever seen anything from Oregon before. 5.99$, and comes with a screw-cap. Says on the back of the label that the vintner is Wine By Joe, a rather inauspicious name if there ever was one. This is typical Pinot Gris from Oregon, and is quite good, especially for the price. Do I prefer the wine from Willamette Valley Vintners that you can get for 12$ at Costco (been available on a regular basis for at least six months and we've had at least 6 bottles of it) to this wine? Yes, but this wine is half the price, and delivers just about the same amount of pleasure. Very floral on the nose, with lots of orange and stone notes. Eventually, the wine develops more green apple/pear aromas. Lots of acidity and a persistent stoney grapefruit finish round this wine out. This doesn't have the richness of some barrel-aged Pinot Gris that would be more along the lines of Alsatian wines. Went very well with squid and also didn't get completely destroyed by heirloom tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella. Worth checking out, especially at the price. B+/A- 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Saint-Pierre Tradition Cotes du Provence Rose

This was 10$ at Costco, calling my name. Been really lazy lately with the wine-buying, but it's also partly utilitarian. I'm going back to school to get my MBA, which is expensive, but should be worth it in the long-run. That means that I don't want to get tempted walking into K&L...I'm not nearly as tempted as walking into Costco, because I know that there's only a few things that I would reasonably purchase in a normal situation. Anyways, looks like I'm destined to drink more wines along the lines of the Big House Red Octavin than I have been for the past six years.

I wanted to like this wine, but ultimately, I think it's the lamest rose that I've had this year. (Note to Costco--bring back the Couly-Dutheil rose--it's 3$ more, but I will gladly buy it.) Lots of strawberry and cherry notes, with a stony under current and the faintest touch of cream (??). Good acidity; refreshing to drink. Comes off as pretty sweet. Is there some residual sugar in this rose? I think maybe just a touch. Goes well with food--a riff on bruschetta with tomatoes, squid, onions, toasted bread and Parmigiano-Reggiano (Cheese on seafood? Heresy, I know.). This is one of those wines that there's nothing wrong with, but for whatever reason, I wasn't into it. On the flip side, Sarah was delighted with it. Trouble is, I think you can get much more interesting and better rose for the same price. C

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Chateau Bel Air Bordeaux Superieur 2005

It's been quite a while since I've had a red Bordeaux. It isn't exactly a "value" category, if you know what I mean. I was intrigued that this was 8$ at Costco and was also from 2005. It's incredibly interesting to me that there are still 2005 Bordeaux on the market in places other than wine shops. Really, the vintage has been available at least a couple of years. It just goes to show that there's a lot of inventory out there, and the hype machine is in full effect for 2009 Bordeaux now as well. So I figured that this might be a pretty good deal. Just because someone has to (or wants to) dump it cheap doesn't mean it isn't good. On the contrary, actually. This wine is mainly Merlot, but also sports 11% Cabernet Franc, and 7% Cabernet Sauvignon. This isn't as good as some of the more expensive Bordeaux that I've had, but this is cheap. You could drink it everyday if you wanted to. The nose is focused on darker fruits (blackberry and plum), and becomes more expressive the longer it's open, eventually showing notes of pencil, earth, mint, and a bit of vanilla. More linear and less fruity than I expected after smelling it, this wine also has a good deal of tannin and a finish that is reminiscent of over-extracted black tea. There's good balance as well. Definitely something to drink with some food, just to calm down the tannins some, but this is pretty good for 8$, if perhaps a bit austere. I daresay that this will probably also get more complex and could age for longer. I'm going to grab a couple more bottles and forget about them. B+

Thursday, August 19, 2010

"Trinch!" Bourgueil Catherine et Pierre Breton 2009

It's been a good while since I've had a Cab Franc, and after a couple of spectacularly boring wines this week, I wanted to make sure that I opened something that would be good. This is 16$, imported by Kermit Lynch, and is made by Catherine and Pierre Breton. Grown bio-dynamically (whatever that means...check out this web-site for some interesting insights into Rudolph Steiner if you have some time to kill) as well. Pretty much a slam-dunk for me liking the wine. This wine features lots of Cab Franc-ness, with violets, candied cherries, just a hint a leafiness/tobacco and loads of rocks. Mineral driven finish, backed up by a lot of acidity, and some tannin for good measure. Fresh. Not a really "serious" cab franc in the sense that it is really meant to be delicious young, drunk with food in reckless quantities out of a carafe, and probably not aged. (I think that the plastic cork and the exclamation point in the title probably portend that.) Worth checking out. Slightly cheaper than a lot of Chinon, but not quite as serious either. Maybe a little more pricey than some of the stuff that you get from Bourgueil normally, but then again, this is also Kermit Lynch in combination with some awesome vintners. B/B+

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Riserva 2007

I picked this up at Costco for 12$. I figured that since this is the first time that I've seen a Montepulciano d'Abruzzo at Costco, that it might be interesting, if not at least good. You can't see it in the picture, but the bottle had a weird cutting of what I'm assuming was a dried out grape vine/twig tied to it. Strange. I guess the reason that Costco is carrying this is that Parker gave it 90 points, and 12$ is probably a decent deal for a Parker 90 pointer. 

We drank this with pasta alla norma, and it went pretty well with it. (More and more, I'm starting to view wine as a "cocktail" as an aberration...) The wine features plummy, figgy, currantty, bordering on raisin fruit with notes of licorice, and just a bit of spice or earth lurking in the background. This wine took a while to really open up; initially it seemed incredibly closed and wasn't showing much of itself. There is a good amount of acidity to back up the fruit. Sarah and I weren't all that impressed with this wine for two reasons: 1. Isn't Montepulciano d'Abruzzo normally a really bright, rustic cherry-ish wine? This one isn''s besieged by the scourge of Parker and doesn't seem like it's typical or has the soul of a Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. 2. It's just not that interesting. That being said, there's nothing wrong with this wine. It's just uninspired. C

Lastly, you ought to read an interesting take by W. Blake Gray called the "100 Point Scale and Liberal Elitism." As I've said a lot of times, Gray seems to be pretty on point and I really enjoy his writing. However, I do have one problem with his analysis on the 100 point scale. And that's that he contends the market "levels the playing field" so that everyone can understand wine. I don't think that's true. I think it adds more noise to an already confusing system. I was talking to my friend the other night over some California wines, (He happens to be the wine buyer for a supermarket chain), and we were talking about how people buy wine. Kendall Jackson is the number one wine in the United States, and it doesn't have anything to do with points. It has to do with branding. The reason that it has to do with branding, and that points are prevalent, is that most people don't have a clue as to what to buy, what's good, or even in a lot of cases, what they might like. They've figured out that they like Kendall Jackson, or Mondavi, or whatever other wine that sells well, but they can't make the leap and figure out what else they're going to like. So they keep on buying the ubiquitous wine that's everywhere and they look for that. There's nothing wrong with that. Do they care that it got 87 points from Wine Spectator? No. Does the 87 points help them out? No. When they go get other 87 point wines, or a 90 point wine, and they don't like it because it isn't similar, did the points help them out? No. They confuse them. Points only level the playing field to the extent that the players are able to understand what they're getting when they buy a wine that has X points from a particular taster. I know I don't really like a lot of Tanzer wines. So I stay away from them. People that might be inclined to pick up some Kendall Jackson, probably don't know whether they like Parker, Tanzer, or Gary V. What point does it serve to have their opinion out there when people are buying into the brand? Points don't simplify things, they make them more complicated...and points are like a secondary brand that is on something. Call it a co-brand. Regardless, Gray is right. People should drink what they like. If it's not what you like, it's none of your business. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Belleruche Cotes du Rhone Rose 2009

Picked this up for 9$ at the LA Wine Company. I've had a couple of different vintages of the Chapoutier Cotes du Rhone too. This is about right for 9$ rose--watermelon and lots of rocks. B+ I drank this with a couple of old colleagues. They had a bottle of the Franciscan Magnificat Meritage 2006 open when I got there. Apparently, it's on sale right now for 15$ at F&E...seems that they can't sell it. It retails online for 40$, which is absurd. I guess in a normal Ralph's it would be $23.99. Anyways, definitely California--big and ripe, with vanilla, dark berries almost bordering on jam, and a slightly smokey edge. Very smooth. Quite good I think, although definitely not at 24$, or god forbid, 40$+. At 15$, this is a much better deal...but you can get a lot of stuff that's comparable from Spain or Australia for less. B (at 15$) Also had a little bit of the Franciscan Cab, which retails for the same price as the Magnificat Meritage. Not even close to as good as the Meritage. Overly ripe, jammy, monolithic and flabby. Yuck. I wonder when California is going to have a shake out like Australia? I can't believe that this retails for $24. Crazy. WAY overpriced. Really, it's not demonstrably better than the Big House Red, which is all of 3.25$ a bottle if you get the Octavin. D

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ecker Zweigelt 2009

This is the second bottle of Zweigelt that I've picked up this summer. 11$ at the LA Wine Company for a full liter. This is a Thierry Thiese wine. Instead of coming with a beer bottle cap, this one comes with a screw-cap, but not one that you would typically see on wine bottles. This one is a little more crowd-friendly than the Becker that we had a couple of weeks ago as it's much fruitier. There's still the same Zwiegelt pepperiness (reminds me a lot of Cab Franc, actually), but instead of being at the forefront, it's in the background. In the foreground is the bright, delicious cherry fruit, which reminds me of cherry pie. Very well made, and more new world than it's companion the Becker, which is funkier. I actually like the Ecker better because it's got a lot of fresh fruit and great balance. Went awesome with tomatoes too, which is a hard task. If you haven't been getting out to the Farmer's Market (or Whole Foods...stay away from TJ's--their tomatoes suck ass) to get some heirloom tomatoes right now, you are officially not that smart. Summer at its' best with a little mozzarella, burrata or creme fraiche, good olive oil, salt, pepper, basil, and maybe some balsamic. There are also lots of good squash, peppers, eggplants, melons, and a smorgasborg of stone fruit...all should be going nuts while you can. A

Friday, August 13, 2010

Castillo de Monseran Garnacha 2008

What can I say, except that I always hope when I pick up a 5$ bottle of wine at TJ's it will be good? It's as elusive as Shangri-La, or Ponce de Leon seeking the mythical "Fountain of Youth." (Ironically, the fountain of youth resides in present day Florida. Go figure.) Anyways, sad thing is, it rarely is all that great. Sure, there are occasionally good finds. Sure, there's a lot of stuff that's palatable, if perhaps somewhat on the wan side. But more and more, I'm finding that I want something that lives up to a certain standard--and more often than not, I'm finding myself disappointed. This wine is a good case in point--cheap Garnacha from a country that has been making cheap wine for centuries should be good. The problem is, by the time you factor in transportation and everything else, you end up with really cheap wine. Cherries, just a bit of pepper, some acidity, and no finish to speak of. A resounding "meh." This wine is drinkable--there are no flaws other than the fact that it is boring and insipid. You'd be much better served with an Octavin of Big House Red for a whole lot less, or to trot out an old favorite, the Perrin Cotes du Rhone for two dollars more. D+/C- 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Muga Reserva Rioja 2005

23$ at Costco; call it a recession special. 23$ is a few dollars cheaper than everywhere else. I doubt Costco would have been able to get their hands on this a few years ago. I don't know why I picked this up--I guess I like to stretch the limits of what I think I like and this seemed interesting. The simple fact that this is from Jorge Ordonez probably should have turned me off...But, I had read or heard somewhere that Muga was a traditional Rioja estate...with modern leanings...and I think that's exactly what this wine is. There is no denying that this wine is made in a more modern style: ripe cherries, raspberry, and licorice, along with polished tannins. However, this wine is missing the vanilla milk-shake texture, and is superbly balanced. It's the perfect combination of ripe modern fruit and competent wine making. (Interesting that Tanzer liked this wine more than Parker--probably explains why I liked it. Although lets be honest--who gives a fuck about either one, and who cares about 2 points? 90 vs. 92 points is a pointless discussion if there ever was one.) It isn't as savory, spicy, or light to medium bodied as more traditional Rioja, but it doesn't disappoint me either. We drank this with lamb chops, fried mint, mint and garlic creme fraiche, and a red quinoa that I studded with sun-dried tomatoes, caramelized shallots, and Kalamata olives. B+/A-

A couple things that anyone stumbling across this ought to read--the first is from Horny for Food, ripping on wine writers. Stuff to think about, agree with, and lots of clever bon mots. This piece on Super Tasters from the Cab Franco Files is interesting too, and a nice corollary to Horny for Food slamming contemporary wine critics. Really, who tastes the same things anyways? Lastly, I feel like I should document what we've drank a lot of recently: 

Yes, that's wine out of a box. Now mind you, the Octavin is equivalent to 4 bottles of wine. For 12.99 at Costco. We've blown through 2 of these in 3 weeks. Big House Red used to be a Randall Graham brand, but then it got sold or something. I don't really care, but it is interesting to know that this is essentially now part of The Wine Group. Maybe they don't want you to know? Because this is sold under the "Underdog Wine Merchants" moniker...but UWM was formed by the Wine Group as an LLC. All I know is that this is the equivalent of 3.25$ a bottle and it absolutely destroys any other wine that I've ever had in my entire life for $3.25. It's a screaming deal, especially when you consider the fact that one bottle of this at TJ's is $6.99. Ripe cherry fruit, backed up by a somewhat rustic texture. This is basically a fruit bomb, but a really cheap one with enough acidity to go with food. The best part is, you can just have one glass, and it stays fresh. Kitschy? Owned by a big conglomerate? Who the fuck cares, you ought to pick up a few of these and just leave them sitting around your house. A 

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Beckman Vineyards Grenache Rose 2009

Picked this one up at the LA Wine Company for 15$. I don't care what anyone says about it not being a terribly nice summer here in LA--I fucking love it. It's perfect--by the beach, the highs are about 70--just about right. When it's sweltering hot (lets say anything above 85 degrees), and you don't have AC...well, let's just say that there's a reason that I would prefer to be too cold as opposed to too hot any day of the week. It's so much easier to just put on another layer of clothing. Anyways, it's still summery here, and I have been feeling like drinking lots of rose and white wines. There's lots of summery produce (eggplants, peaches, peppers, squash, tomatoes), and summery stuff going on (yesterday we saw Weezer for free at the Huntington Beach Surf Festival), even if this year we aren't living in an inferno.

This particular wine is pretty good, but I think 15$ is too much for rose. This particular wine has watermelon/strawberry jolly rancher fruit, but is juicy with crisp acidity and a mineral driven finish. The fruit has California written all over it--this wine is much more fruit-forward than any of the other roses we've consumed this summer. Just a tad pricey at 15$. Why so expensive California? It makes me sad... B

Friday, August 6, 2010

"SaSyr" IGT Rocca delle Macie 2007

Picked this up for 12$ at the LA Wine Company. I've had good luck in the past with their recommendations; I really think that's the best way to buy wine in a wine shop. Some people may scoff at that notion, but if you're going to go cold into some wine shop, and you're reasonably comfortable talking about what you like, you'll generally get steered towards something good. It certainly doesn't hurt to have something specific in mind, or to have some wines you'd like to pick up or try for whatever reason (recommendation, curiosity, etc...), but in a good wine shop, your typical salesperson/clerk/owner/alcoholic leading you around, has probably tried a lot more of the wines than you have. Sometimes this backfires--like with this wine. Maybe I should have pulled the plug on a wine with a retarded UFO joke name. Maybe I should have pulled the plug because Sangiovese shouldn't be polluted with Syrah and vice versa. Maybe I shouldn't have taken my own advice, and put this one back. I put quite a few different 15%-ers back in disgust, but on the flip side, the guy also recommended several Kermit Lynch wines and a 5 year old he wasn't trying to just sell me any old crap. I'll offer a relatively tacky haiku about this wine, because it fits my mood:

Should not be mixed with Syrah.
Ugh. Disappointing.

Lots of dark berries, with smoky, herbal overtones. Has that weird, overly sweet, watery Kool-Aid-ish background taste that you get in lots of cheap wine. I would not say that a terrible amount of Sangiovese character comes through on this wine despite it being 60% of the blend. Not incompetently made, but boring, and honestly, you can get a lot better at this price. C-, but just barely.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Berger Zweigelt 2009

Boy, watch out for liter bottles of wine, especially ones that taste good. For some reason, we always end up draining the entire bottle. Sarah and I just can't control ourselves when confronted with an extra third of a bottle sitting there all lonely and lightly chilled. To be fair to our livers, there isn't all that much difference draining a liter bottle of this delicious peppery juice and draining one 750mL bottle of some 15% monstrosity masquerading as wine. If you do the math and convert to "standardized drinks" (ie one 5oz serving of 12.5% wine, such as this Zweigelt deliciousness), there are 6 standardized drinks in the 15% 750mL bottle, and 6.72 in the full liter at 12.5%. Oh look, I've just justified being a lush (at least to myself). So I ask you, which would you rather consume? I think it's an obvious choice, at least for us.

There are other benefits to this wine as well, which was picked up at the LA Wine Company for $10.99 (in standardized bottle terms, for the math challenged, that's $8.25 a bottle), is selected by Thierry Thiese (a mark of quality if there ever was one, just like Jose Pastor and Kermit Lynch) and comes with a beer bottle cap (I like to think the cap is in place because of the European way of open containers in parks, or on the beach, or well, somewhere public, where it's nice to have an easy to open container. None of this Puritanical bull-shit that masquerades as "the law" in the US.). Particularly peppery, smokey and even a little meaty on the nose, with some cranberry and raspberry fruit lurking in the background. Did I mention the pepper? Lots of pepper in the mouth, and acidity that is a perfect foil for sausages, cheese, and pasta with eggplant and onions. The finish is short, but this is really more about having something cheap, delicious, and refreshing to drink on the table a la Beaujolais, rose, or Gruner Veltliner (we've had the Gruner from this producer too; it's also worth checking out). A- for sheer value.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Coenobium Rusticum 2007

This is a totally weird and wacky orange wine. Paolo Bea and some nuns from Lazio teamed up to make these wines. Anyways, I've been wanting to try something orange for a while. Basically, up until last night, orange was the only style of wine that I've never had. I've had whites, roses, reds, fortified wines, sherries, sparkling wines made Champagne style and in the tank, passito wines, corked wines, cooked wines, natural wines, and a whole bunch of other fermented beverages made from grape juice, but never an orange wine. For those unfamiliar with orange wines, they're made differently than other white wines. Basically, the wine is made like a red wine and is fermented with the skins, which causes three things to happen: 1. The wine is partially oxidized, 2.Atypically for white wine, there are tannins, and 3. Instead of being white, the wine is orange. Anyways, there are better posts than mine to read about the back ground of this wine here and here. I'm not the first person to have tried this wine and been impressed. 55% Trebbiano, 15% Verdicchio, 20% Malvasia and 10% Grechetto. Imported by Neal Rosenthal. $27 from K&L.K&L still has 11 bottles in stock as of right now in Hollywood; if you like interesting stuff, definitely go get a bottle before they're out. This wine is rad. The nose is honeyed, with marmalade, limes, apricots, almonds, and a hint of spice. There's a lot going on in the mouth too, but mainly what I notice are honeyed citrus notes, and the small bit of tannin at the end. Fantastic balance between all the elements, and superbly poised. This is definitely weird, but definitely cool, and most importantly, delicious. I even feel slightly guilty, what with being a total heathen and drinking nun wine...of course, that never stopped me from drinking Trappist beers before, or this. A