Tuesday, November 30, 2010


I went to visit my family for Thanksgiving--the first time that I've done that since 2005. It was cold and snowy, which is pretty unusual for Seattle. I had a lot of fun and got to see my extended family, which doesn't happen all that often since I live in LA and they all live in Western Washington. It was really fun for the most part. The lamest part is that my grandfather fell and broke his hip, which honestly, was a cluster-fuck and a half. Anyways, aside from that lameness, I did manage to drink too much wine. 

The first night that I was home, I drank almost a full bottle of Beringer Cabernet. Basically your typical fruit forward oak juice. There was some other wine in there too; maybe I drank a bit too much. Amusingly, I didn't drink anything but water on Thanksgiving...haha.

The next night, stationed in Bellingham more prematurely than expected due to the unfortunate hip fracture, I picked up a bottle of the L'Ecole Number 41 Semillon, basically modeled on a white Bordeaux (89% Semillon, 11% Sauvignon Blanc), which featured intense pear, peach honey and mineral notes. A little hot and off-kilter I thought, but fairly good for 11$. B

We also opened a bottle of the Planing Mill Red, which is a blend mainly featuring Cabernet. I picked that up at Trader Joes for 16$ as well (wanted to keep it local with Washington wines...). It was good, although not lighting off fireworks for the price. Vanilla, cinnamon, cherry, raspberry, eucalytpus, a little leather and some caramel notes. Very fruit forward with obvious barrel notes, a tiny bit of tannin, and a long sour cherry finish. B-

I drove back down to North Bend to hang out with some of my friends and have dinner with them. My friend John's wife roasted an awesome chicken with some other stuff, and we had some wine. First up was the Domaine de Nizas Coteux du Languedoc 2006 that I picked up at Costco for 16$. Syrah, Mouvedre and Grenache blend. This is an extremely elegant wine. Great balance, with berries and herbs. Definitely a fan. A- I also brought a bottle of Eroica, which is always good. Limey and chalky, with lots of acidity--a bargain at 15$ in Washington.

There were some more bottles consumed, but the most interesting was the Layer Cake Shiraz 2009. A total fruit bomb, with pepper, mint, chocolate, and a whole lot of baked fruit. Around 10$ I think or so. C+

Monday, I went and checked out Sitka and Spruce, which is a cool restaurant that I've wanted to try for a while. Poached chicken with some sumac, cabbage, and yogurt was cooked perfectly and was an interesting dish. Olive oil gelato was middling. Olives were good, bread was good. I hear that they change up the menu frequently. It's not too expensive and they have a good wine list filled with lots of interesting wines--Lopez de Herediz, Occhipinti, lots of stuff from the Loire. Anyways, it's a cool place, the food is good, and people are super nice. Worth a look. Also went to the new Tom Douglas sandwich place--Seatown--next to Etta's on Sunday; awesome because you can get a sandwich to go for cheap. The porchetta with picked sweet red onion relish was as good as Italy, and I don't say that lightly.   

Sitting at the airport with some time to kill yesterday, I went to Vino Volo. I think Vino Volo is cool, but lets do some math for a second: I got the Sommeliers tasting, which was 19$, and featured 04 Lascombes and 06 Leonetti Merlot. Total, the tasting is about 3 ounces. Yep, they are stingy as fuck with the pours. I also got a glass of Raptor Ridge Willamette Valley Pinot Noir--16$ (I figured WTF?), for what I imagine was about 3oz or so. So they are stingy as fuck there. Tough though, because it really is the only place in the airport that's got interesting stuff to drink. I just wish they weren't such dicks with the pours. Oh well. Anyways, the 04 Lascombes was far and away my favorite of the three. Rich, with a huge cherry nose and hints of spice. The Leonetti was on a different spectrum, with lots of barrely notes, herbs and berries. Funny, Leonetti got on the WS Top 100--retails for 90$ a pop. I only got a small pour (because Vino Volo are stingy as fuck!!), but I have to admit, I was not floored by the wine. Yes it was good, but 90$ good? Not for me. It can definitely improve with time in bottle though, and I'm sure that it will get increasingly complex. I would love to have a full glass in about 5 years. The Raptor Ridge was okay, but sure as shit not worth 16$ for such a tiny pour. A full bottle would be worth 16$. New world style, with an umami rich nose, spices, vanilla, and lots of cherries. The finish is finely detailed with vanilla and cherry nuances. B+

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"Val de la Pierre" Chateauneuf du Pape Francois Mercier 2009

You can get this for 10$ at Trader Joes; naturally, I was inclined to purchase it on the off chance that it was good. It is, after all, Chateauneuf-du-Pape at prices last seen before I began to drink wine. According to my older and wiser neighbor, "those were the days." You could get Vieux Telegraphe for 25$ a bottle, or something like that; something more pedestrian was inevitably cheaper. This was also before the days of the super luxury cuvee, all tarted up with oak, slutty, and giving a come hither gesture to our munificent friend and benefactor Bob. (I kid, I kid!) This was when CdP was a reliably good source of good wines--and not just some region for neophyte wine drinkers with lots of money to focus on that crass and ultimately status conscious system that we call points.

The CdP that Trader Joes carried last year for 20$ and ultimately discounted to 9.99$? A miserable failure, if there's ever been one in Trader Joes wine program. This wine is better, but not by much. I've had two bottles of it, because the first bottle was consumed a little bit to hastily and carelessly. What I've noticed is that there must be some bottle variation. The first bottle I had mimicked the plush, structureless mess of wine that was the CdP that TJ's carried last year. (Near as I can tell, these are different wines?) The second bottle featured persistent tannins. Not being an expert on CdP by any means, I'm not sure if this is because the wine is so young or not. This wine is certainly an early release--it's only been around a year since the grapes were harvested--not what you normally see with CdP as far as I'm aware. Anyways, this wine drinks like a not very interesting Cotes du Rhone. Muted on the nose, but with some indistinct black fruit (blueberry, plum, and cherry), dried strawberry, and some mint. Persistent and drying tannins in one bottle; Coke-ish Kool-Aid with flabby, chocolate tones in the other bottle. Almost non-existent finish. If you happen to get one of the more tannic wines will it improve with some time in bottle? Perhaps. Based on my experience, it's only a 50/50 chance you're going to get one of those more structured bottles. Is it worth the risk? Probably not. You'd be better off just going and buying a reliably good CdP in the 30$ range. Or, you could buy three interesting Cotes du Rhone (lots of vintages available--05, 06, 07, or if you're like me and like more acid, 08; 09 should be coming out soon) for around the same price, or a couple bottles of one of the other appellations that are basically Villages Cotes du Rhone like Vacqueyras. If you want to get something at Trader Joes, you might as well go and get the Perrin Cotes du Rhone for $6.99. Not only is it cheaper, but it's a better wine. The problem with the appellation system is that you only have to own land in the appellation or buy grapes from the appellation and follow the rules. It doesn't mean that the wine will be good. Better than last years cluster-fuck, but still not all that great. D+/C-

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Chateau La Roque Pic Saint Loup 2008

I picked this up at the LA Wine Company for $14. Imported by Kermit Lynch. I've never had anything (at least that I can recall) from Pic Saint Loup. According to Wikipedia, Pic Saint Loup is mountain. Okay. Cool...I like mountains. Anyways, from what I gather, this wine is a blend that is mostly Grenache, along with some Syrah and Mouvedre. On the nose, this wine goes back and forth between crushed raspberries and tarter cranberry. I suppose that means "red fruit." There is also an elusive element behind the fruit--sometimes I think a bit smoky; sometimes I think a bit peppery; sometimes I think a little green. Tons of cranberries in the mouth, turning to cherries, with a long peppery finish. Obvious tannin, along with obvious balance. I feel like this wine is hiding something from me. There's still half the bottle for tomorrow, so maybe it will reveal more of itself in that time frame. Went great with sausages, white beans, and a heirloom tomato salad. (I know, I was thinking WTF? But the farmers at the market tell me that the non-summer we had and then sudden heat after Labor Day has meant that we're getting tomatoes really late this year. Surprisingly, they're awesome. Especially the pineapple tomatoes and my personal favorite, the green zebra.) B+/A-

Friday, November 19, 2010

VINTJS Napa Valley Red Wine 2007

Yesterday was Beaujolais day or something like that. And I didn't get any Beaujolais. What's up with that PR people? I love cru Beaujolais. I was really hoping that I would get something to drink for Thanksgiving, but I guess not. C'est la vie, I suppose.

You can get this at Trader Joes for 7$. I picked it up because it has 29.5% Mouvedre, and 0.5% Viognier in it (along with 70% Syrah). I thought that it might be kind of an interesting blend. It's not bad, but I'd skip it, as it isn't that interesting. There is more interesting, moderately decent wine out there for $8. Cherries, chocolate, and spices (think all spice or other Christmas cookie spices). This wine is muddled, confused, moderately tannic, with a whallop of vanilla, and some berry notes on the finish. This just doesn't sing. C-  

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Serie Magno Malbec Fantelli 2007

Picked this up for 11$ at Costco. Figured that it might be good to break out of my wine drinking rut and have a Malbec. I guess the one thing that I can say about Malbec from South America is that it's a pretty consistent style of wine. Lots of fruit and barrel tones, and inexpensive. This particular wine is no different. I initially opened this wine on Tuesday. After taking a couple of sips, I was non-plussed. Tannic, and extremely oaky. I left it and returned to it last night. 24 hours had definitely made this more interesting. Blueberry, plum, and leather notes, along with a tannic structure. Fresh. Fruity. Drinkable. B

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"Tres Picos" Garnacha Bodega Borsao 2008

Another Jorge Ordonoez wine. This one was $11.79 at Costco. If you haven't figured it out yet, I grabbed pretty much all the Jorge Ordonez stuff Costco had (5 different wines that I have seen), hoping for something that would really be good. I got the last bottle of this...and I hope that they have more. After the Juan Gil, I was slapping myself, because I thought this wine would suck pretty hard. It's another wine that people frequently recommend as a great value. Unlike the Juan Gil, which was a steaming pile of excrement, this wine rocks, and actually is a good value. Ripe, sweet, and spicy, with notes of cherries, blackberries and cedar, supported by vanilla, licorice and some chocolate around the edges. Yes, this wine saw some aging in new oak, but it's tastefully done. Good structure and enough discipline to retain a sense of balance despite the obvious fruit-forwardness and barrel notes. Here's the scary thing for me: this is probably better than most $20-$30 CdP that is Grenache based. It's obviously not quite the same--it's way more fruit forward and it's from Spain, but it should be considered in the same light. B+/A-

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Joel Taluau Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil Vielles Vignes 2005

I first had this wine on October 12th, 2008. I even inexplicably called this a "Bourgogne..." as opposed to what it really is...a Bourgueil. I suppose that can be forgiven--an honest mistake for a neophyte. Kind of funny though. I then bought one other bottle on March 6th 2009 from K&L for the astoundingly low price of 14$. (Guess that it wasn't too hot of a seller at K&L. Haha...keep at it Napa Cab lovers...leave the good shit for me.) Anyways, I've been looking at this bottle of wine for the last 20 months and wanting to open it every time that I see it. I almost opened it the day that I had the 1989 Taluau, but figured that I shouldn't. When I saw this post, my first reaction was that there are people that exist in this world that have a lot more balls than me. My second reaction was actually in Alder's favor--mainly because I don't like having to defend myself, no matter how ridiculous I'm being. It's an uncomfortable position. I figured that this ballsiness and internet based muckraking was worth a toast, of course with something appropriate. It's what makes the internet fun. Alder suggests that Tuscany and Burgundy are havens from wine elitism...to which I say bullshit. Tuscany is fucking expensive, corporate, and arguably to a certain extent, the least exciting and interesting wine region in Italy. Funny what a proliferation of international varietals, big money, and the douchebaggery of tourists can do. Burgundy is the most expensive wine region on earth. So those are probably poor examples of places where elitism is missing from wine. The Loire, on the other hand, probably makes some sense as a place where wines are viewed less as a luxury good and something that is necessary to the table as a loaf of bread. Makes a ton of sense too--Loire wines are generally much more well attuned to a variety of foods, they're demonstrably cheaper, and they're generally pretty low alcohol. Compare that to your typical Merlot based Super-Tuscan...or your 50$ bottle of spotty Burgundy, and I think you'll see what I'm talking about. So, in the manner of beer commercials (and populist ones at that), Greg--"this one's for you."

The last time that I had this wine, it was tight and tannic, taking a few hours to really show its character. This time, it was on from the first sip. The tannins have faded into the background and mellowed this wine. Immediately, there are tomato, leaf, earth, and green aromas, followed eventually by cherries, blackberries and violets. The balance is as perfect as I can imagine; the wine flows across the medium-bodied frame into a long savory finish that is flecked with berry nuances. I sure wish that I had bought more of this wine. I don't think that aging it will do you much good if you have more of it. Only 14$. Just think--you could have 3 or 4 bottles of this wine from this "pedestrian" region, or you could have one bottle of spoofy corporate shit from a "better region." Hmm...tough choice. A

Monday, November 15, 2010

Trader Joes Carneros Pinot Noir 2008

Feeling like I might get lucky after the Picket Fence, I threw caution to the wind and bought a cheap version of an expensive grape...9.99$ at Trader Joes. Land mine territory, to be sure. Spices, vanilla, sour cherries, maple syrup, pine and orange rind. Lighter in body than the Picket Fence, quite sweet, good balance, and a short finish. This is not as substantial as the Picket Fence, which has about as much subtlety as getting hit in the head with a 2x4. This wine is okay, but it's not demonstrably more interesting or better than the Picket Fence. For a dollar more, I'd skip this wine and get the Picket Fence instead. When retailers are offering their own branded items, you have to ask yourself why the winery, if they thought that they had a stellar product, wasn't trying to sell it themselves. Although this wine really isn't bad, it's also not that interesting. I guess the silver lining is that this wine is $9.99 instead of $25, $30, or more, and that's what people can charge for California Pinot, even if it isn't all that good. B 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Juan Gil Monastrell 2008

This was 11$ at Costco. Imported by Jorge Ordonez. I've seen this wine constantly listed as a good value, but have never tried it. I'm just going to throw it out there that I do not think this wine is very good. Maybe it's the vintage ...or maybe it just isn't what I'm into. (Haha...maybe I'm trying to be diplomatic and fit in with my fellow wine-drinking human beings for once!) This is obviously Monastrell (otherwise known as Mouvedre). Very spicy nose, along with a lot of oak, cherries, and maybe a bit of blackberry. Chunky and rustic tannins back up cloying sweetness. Reminds me of Coke, or a huge Zinfandel. I don't know. Maybe this would go okay with BBQ or red meat or something if you're not picky. At least it's cheap. I suppose that you could do worse than this wine for 11$, but really, you could also do a whole lot better. D+/C-

Saturday, November 13, 2010

"La Cana" Albarino Rias Baixas 2009

I picked this up for 10$ at Costco (maybe it was 11$). Imported by Jorge Ordonez. Jorge Ordonez is a mixed bag for me; I definitely am not a fan of the really expensive stuff that is all Parkerized. However, on the lower end, there have certainly been some compelling values for me. Spanish whites are pretty interesting in general; I figured this was worth a try. Tropical fruits, citrus, and minerals on the nose. Orange and lime flavors. Good acidity and body. Minerally finish that is a nice contrast to the richness (almost like orange juice). This is quite nice, but I have to be honest that it's a little boring to me. You know when you have a white wine that is literally scintillating, with layers and layers of electric flavor? This isn't that, but it isn't bad either. B+ 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Vernus Red Blend Santa Helena 2008

I received this wine as a sample...but I must be on a different list than the guys that got to Twitter taste stuff. Anyways, I shouldn't bitch. Free wine is free wine.  The companion wine that they sent--Oveja Negra--was actually very good. 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Carmenere, 10% Syrah, and 5% Petit Verdot. The Vernus Sauvignon Blanc I had recently is much more successful. I wish this was as interesting as the white. The blueberry, cherry, plum complex is supported by some watered down, spicy notes. It's got that soft-drink texture too. Actually went okay with a steak that was rubbed with the merken they sent me (a smoked chile pepper spice blend). The sweetness (remember...this wine is like adult soda) wiped out some of the intense heat from the merken. This probably retails for around 10$; there's a lot of stuff that's way better than this wine, which honestly, seems a bit spoofy. D+/C-

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Neil Ellis Pinotage 2008

The last time I had a Pinotage was probably sometime in 2005. I remember it pretty clearly--it was at Portalis (the old one, before they moved to the new space) in Ballard (a neighborhood of Seattle). The Pinotage that I had was a monstrous wine with lots of structure. However, what I remember most about it is the massive amount of smoke and rubber emanating from the glass. I didn't dislike it, but I could see how it would be an acquired taste. Pinotage has this problem in general, and because of it, a lot of people probably never try it, me included. 15$ at the LA Wine Company. I was pleasantly surprised with this wine--definitely no rubber going on. Instead, this wine sports lots of ripe fruit--cherries, tangy currants--along with some supporting vanilla and good balance. This is juicy and straightforward but well made. B+ 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Picket Fence Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2007

You can pick this up for 9$ at Trader Joes...or you could be a dumb-ass and go get it for 24.99 plus shipping at wine.com. Hmmm...tough decision. At 25$, this wine is a resounding "meh." At 8.99$, it's a pretty damn good deal. This isn't Burgundy--it's much more new-world in style. For 9$, it's a raving bargain. Really, it would be worth getting a bottle or two of this. It's probably the best cheap Pinot that I've ever had. Tea, a bit of Pinot funk, cola, orange rind, and some tartish fruit, supports a vanilla laced, silky mouth-feel with good balance. Yeah, the vanilla is maybe a bit much, but for 9$, you won't do any better. A

Monday, November 8, 2010

Waters Columbia Valley Syrah 2007

Our landlords got us this bottle as a present for Christmas last year, and it's been calling my name ever since. My landlord has great taste in wine...I'm thinking of living vicariously and starting a series on this site called "What's Claude Been Drinking?" Last night, when I was taking out the recycling, what did I see? A magnum of Duval-Leroy Champagne (1990), Walter Hanzell Pinot Noir, a 1993 Gevrey-Chambertin, and other stuff. Yeah, I said I was living vicariously through him. That's the operative word. For Christ-sakes, the guy has consumed 1947 Cheval Blanc on numerous occasions...but I digress. As much as I wish that I would have gotten a taste of the Duval-Leroy, I enjoyed this wine immensely. There's an obvious class and pedigree to the wine. A near perfect balance of fruit, structure, and acids, I think, and this is their "kitchen sink" blend, instead of their single vineyard series. Blueberry, cherry Jolly Ranchers, vanilla, licorice, pepper, coke and a touch of game. This is textbook Syrah; definitely worth checking out if you're more into balanced expressions of Syrah. I would love to try some other Waters wines--next time I see them on the shelf, they're getting purchased. A 

Kirkland Signature 10 Year Tawny Port

I like Port because you can leave it open for basically forever and it doesn't go bad (oxidize). If you stick it in the fridge, it lasts even longer. It obviously goes really well with chocolate, cheese, and by itself. The only issue that I see keeping a bottle of Port around is that it has a tendency to be drunk after you've already been drinking...so it basically serves as a foil for drunkeness. I suppose that in some ways, it's better to have a little Port than have another entire bottle of wine, but still. Anyways, this is a great deal for 17$--just what I expect from Costco. I'm no authority on Port, but I've had my fair share of 10 year Tawny's; this is at least as good as any that I've had so far, but it's half price. Lots of nuts berries, raisins, and some chocolate. Killer finish. Great balance. This is definitely worth the 17$. A

Friday, November 5, 2010

Steelhead Sauvignon Blanc Quivira 2008

I figured this wine was worth a shot for 7$ since Quivira's rose is awesome and their Zinfandel wasn't that bad either. I have to admit to not being all that schooled in California Sauvignon Blanc's. I tend to like crisp, acidic whites, and not lush, ripe, and oaky whites. Of course, the Dry Creek Valley is in Sonoma, which is a cooler climate than someplace like Napa, but it just seems incongruent for me to be growing Sauvignon Blanc next to Zinfandel. I'm probably crazy because I just don't know a lot about this shit; maybe someone can enlighten me about what types of weather Sauvignon Blanc grows best in. Regardless of my personal preferences, this wine is damn good for 7$. I recommend buying it if you see it at your local Trader Joe's. The nose is exotic; at first I was wondering what I was smelling...almost a little candied green apple, with something tropical...and then it hit me: figs. Along with the figs, there is an obvious grapefruit component, great balance of lush fruit and crisp acidity, and a long stony finish. There is no grass, cat-piss, or jalapeno type of elements to this wine, but I imagine that's more the California expression of Sauvignon Blanc. After all, remember why people have a tendency to hate Cab Franc? I would expect the same for white wines. Green flavors=bad for your average wine drinker. This is definitely worth picking up for 7$. A