Monday, December 27, 2010

Delille Cellars

My parents neighbor works for Delille; she was nice enough to bring over 5 bottles, including one of the Chaleur Estate Bordeaux Blend--I guess we'll save that for another date. Anyways, we opened three of the bottles last night.

The first bottle, the 2009 Rousanne (32$), was apple-y and floral, with lots of limey acidity and richness. It felt a little clunky to me, but it was pretty good. This is one of those cases were the wine is definitely well made, but isn't the style of white that I'm normally into. Just too big for me. If you like big whites or are looking for a Chardonnay alternative, this would be a good choice. B+

The next bottle was the 2008 Aix (34$), which is a primarily Syrah blend with Cabernet, Mouvedre and Cinsault thrown in for good measure. Dominated by blackberry jam and spice notes, this was smooth ripe and rich. Pungent blackberry notes--very compelling. Probably too young to drink this--I would hope that it gets more complex with age. B
Lastly, we opened the 2008 Signature Syrah (39$). 2% Viognier added. Definitely riper and bigger than the Aix (alcohol is close though--14.8% in the Aix and 15% for this one--definitely pushing it). Pepper, cherries, blueberries. Definitely hotter with more tannins. This wine is more interesting than the Aix I think; we probably opened it way too young. Frankly, at this point, this was nowhere near as good as the Pax or the Saint Cosme St.-Jospeh that I've had recently. B

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino 2005

Picked this up at Costco for $25 $29--it's worth every single penny. I was a little worried this would be too tannic as it's so young, but not so. This will definitely get better if it sits for a few more years, but it's drinking really well right now. A great accompaniment to rack of pork (glad that I picked this over any of the Spanish wines that were in the same price range at Costco). Huge nose of leather, tar, cherries, strawberry, raspberries, spices, and some vanilla. Layered and textured in the mouth with tons of nuance, great balance, and a long finish. Great intensity and and tension between acidity and tannins. Too bad that I had to share this wine with 7 people. Damn. I haven't had too many Brunello's (generally pretty expensive...) but this one absolutely destroys the last Brunello--the 2005 Vitanza Brunello for $20--that I had at my neighbors. Simply put, the Vitanzo was all about blueberries and seemed a little non-distinct in the mouth. It did not have he excitement and tension of this wine. If you can find this (I don't think you can get this in So Cal--I got this in Seattle), it's well worth a look. A

"Les Hospices" Sancerre (Pierre Chainier)

Grabbed this for 15$ at Costco to go with some hor d'oeurves on Christmas Eve. Screw cap. A little grassy, with anise, stone, on the nose. Smoked salmon brings out the intense pear fruit of this wine. Less acidity and punch than I expect out of a really fantastic Sancerre, but this was still tasty, especially with smoked salmon. C+/B-

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dinner

I was lucky enough to get invited over to my neighbors' house twice in one week for dinner. I think there must be a little bit of "boy, our tenant must be a loser" factoring in...(Haha I kid. Or wait, maybe I am a loser?). Sarah took off on Friday, and they know that I'm hanging out all by my lonesome. So, yeah, I was super stoked to go to dinner at their place twice. Always good food, interesting conversation, and of course, good wine. My landlord's friend Ciro and his family were over as well; Sarah and I have met Ciro before serendipitously. We shared a cab with him to the airport, which was fun and random. Ciro's wife Kim and his daughters are awesome too--they all speak fluent Italian, and are really into food. I had a very good time chatting with them. It's too bad that they didn't get to meet Sarah and that they live in Paso Robles. I think we'd all get along great. 

My landlord made a rack of pork rubbed with chile de arbol (which absolutely rocked--juicy and delicious), brussels sprouts with esplette, and some mashed potatoes. We also had some lamb tongue (delicious), and a panettone coated with bourbon. And of course, there was bread that Ciro made. Ciro started La Panzanella before selling it a few years ago. So Ciro makes really awesome bread. He also makes wine. His wine was pretty good--especially considering that he makes it in his garage. He picks the grapes before mechanical harvesters go out in the vineyards, and gets to pick grapes from his neighbors...who shall remain anonymous. The wine that he brought was a Zinfandel with tons of acidity. It's a good food wine. He was nice enough to give me a bottle, which was super cool. The wine is the a perfect foil to rustic Italian food.

We also had some other interesting wines.  The Waters Columbia Valley Syrah 2007 was delicious, again, although not nearly as good as the Saint Cosme Saint Joseph that we shared on Saturday (drinking AWESOME right now), or the Pax that we shared a week or two ago. 

The 2001 Valsacro Dioro Rioja was really something else. Stunning, actually. I was immediately handed a glass of this upon walking in the door. It was full of red cherries, pipe tobacco, spice tones, and a hint of chocolate. Near perfect balance--really impeccably made and delicious. Of course, that's when Claude told me that it got 96 points from Parker. Geesh. Opening up the big guns! The alcohol level is a reasonable 13.8%. Who knew that this could be a highly rated Parker wine? Claude said it was a bit backwards last year when he opened a bottle, but if there was any awkwardness to this wine this time, well, I didn't see that side of it. I have never seen Claude "Bogart" the last of a bottle...but that's what he did with this wine. It was really good. I guess only around 30$ or so on release too. A+ 

I brought over a bottle of "Thea's Selection" Pinot Noir from Lemelson Vineyards in the Willamette Valley that I picked up for around 24$ at Costco. When we opened it up, it was clearly very tight. However, it eventually opened up to reveal cranberry and raspberry, with candied overtones, and lots of clove-ish spiciness. Seemed a little unfocused to me, but it was delicious and well made, if maybe pricey. It could be that it came after the Valsacro, and as it's also pretty young. B

Lastly, Claude opened up a Kermit Lynch Bandol--2007 Domaine de la Tour de Bon Bandol. Definitely a bit backwards. Lots of structure, leather, a little horseiness, licorice and some fruit--bordering on blackberry I think. I think this one needs some time. Just had a sip of this particular wine. I am slowly learning restraint. I do not have a problem when I have a single bottle of wine open that I'm splitting with Sarah...but when faced with tons of good wine to be drinking, it's hard to not go all Miles and get completely fucked up. I'm glad that I only had a sip--and somehow managed to skip the smorgasbourg of spirits laid out. For some reason I was not able to resist Ciro's cookies (go out and buy some at the link) or the La Tur cheese (delicious). Araujo grappa (yeah from the cult Cabernet producer), a Jack Daniels from 1981 (couldn't resist--had a tiny sip of that...complex and smooth, but I have to admit I prefer Scotch), Colorado Whiskey Company Snowflake Whiskey, and two different Tequila's. Yikes. Tempting, but I'm glad that I stayed away from those, because I'm functional this morning. Victory!         

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Massolino Dolcetto d'Alba 2008

It's been quite a while since I've had a Dolcetto. Probably at least a year, as crazy as that sounds. This was $20 at Whole Foods--fucking expensive. That's one thing that drives me nuts about Whole Foods' wine selection. I would argue that I've never been able to secure a good deal there (I would argue Bristol Farms is worse in this regard). This is mainly a function of their mark-up, which is excessive. I can regale you with tales of bottles that you can get elsewhere for 20 or 30% less, but really, what's the point. Of course, if you want to buy 12 bottles, they'll give you 20% off, or discount the price to what they should be charging anyways. But I don't think that they have a selection of wines there that merits 12 bottles to purchase at once--so it's a catch 22. Where Whole Foods shines is if you need to get something good on the fly and the extra $5 or so (in this case, at least), is worth it instead of having to drop in somewhere else. I was bummed out that they didn't have a single Barbera from Italy (but they had a Dolcetto? That's like having chocolate ice cream and not having vanilla...). The only Barbera was from Stoplman Vineyards. I wasn't going to grab that. They also only had one Beaujolais. One. WTF. It is clear that the Whole Foods wine-purchasing crowd would prefer to drink the same dreck that most consumers drink...albeit at more expensive prices and from better producers. But--they did have this, and I have heard good things about Massolino, so I figured what the hell.

Sarah and I drank this with clams in red sauce (at our hearts, we are Guido's I guess, wishing that we were born in Brooklyn or Little Italy in the 40's or 50's), which happened to be delicious. It's delicious, with lots of chocolate covered cherries, plums, violets, and hints of earth. Smooth, suave, and well balanced. Definitely Dolcetto from a talented maker that has tamed the rusticity of Dolcetto. It's almost like a grown-up version of Dolcetto. If this were $15 somewhere locally I would go grab a couple more bottles. It's really superb and well done. A

It was our annual Christmas celebration before she gets on the plane to go home before Christmas. This year, she got her present early--we got engaged. (And she got one enormous ring from me...let's just say that it would easily keep me in good bottles of wine for a couple of years, maybe more.) She gave me some cool stuff, but the two things I'm most excited about are the Scuola di Pizza at Mozza!!! and the children's books This is Rome and This is Paris (written in 1959 by Miroslav Sasek, they are really cool). Why Paris? We decided that we're going to go to Paris and Switzerland March 8th-25th...our tickets were super cheap too. A little over 600$ each--less than it cost to go to Rome. I'm really excited--I haven't been to Paris since 2000, and I've never been to Switzerland. Sarah hasn't been to Paris since she was 5--Madeleine's age. If anyone has suggestions of where to eat, especially in Switzerland, let me know. I'd really appreciate it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Monterey County Pinot Noir Castle Rock 2009

You can pick this up at Southern California Costco's right now for $7.99. I don't know what's up with Castle Rock. I've certainly had some of their wines before the last month, but they weren't as good as the two different bottlings that I've had recently. The Columbia Valley Cabernet was awesome for $6. This wine is pretty good too. 

You aren't going to find too much drinkable Pinot for $8. You aren't even going to find much Pinot. This is at least as good as the Picket Fence at Trader Joe's--actually, I think it may be a little bit better. This has more nuance, more style, and more character, and tastes more like Pinot and less like slick new oak. Lots of cherry, some dried strawberry and some pinot funk with minty overtones. A bit rustic or simple--this is an $8 bottle of Pinot (although undoubtedly from a much more expensive by the bottle operation because Castle Rock's business model relies on the glut of good grapes in California), but it has good balance and drinks well. Superior to the Brancott Pinot that I had yesterday, which is more expensive, and also better than the Trader Joe's Carneros Pinot. (Just as an FYI, some people seem to be more fond of the TJ's wine than I am.) For $8, this is awesome. A

Thursday, December 16, 2010

South Island Pinot Noir Brancott Estate 2008

I received this wine as a sample, which was cool, although I have to admit to being jealous that I wasn't included in the Pol Roger Champagne Twitter Taste Live...damn that would have been fun. Probably the single best bottle of Champagne that I have ever had was a 1990 Cuvee Winston Churchill Pol Roger. So anyways, I like Pol Roger--a lot. Maybe next time...

Anyways, this wine is 10$, and comes with a screw-cap. Initially seemed a bit reductive, but opens up quickly to reveal cherries, earth, and a bit of vanilla. Good acidity and a short finish. This is a simple, cheap Pinot. In that context, it's relatively good value, even if it isn't particularly interesting or mind-blowing. C+/B-

Monday, December 13, 2010

"Griffin's Lair" Syrah Pax 2005

Manhattan Beach saves its' money and has fireworks before Christmas instead of on the 4th of July. Naturally, tons of people spill into the town to watch the fireworks. Sarah and I had Diana over to watch the fireworks and also go to Unique LA, which is a cool event with lots of artists downtown. Definitely worth checking out if you like cool stuff. Anyways, we were going to cook dinner, but my neighbor/landlord invited us over. Naturally, I said yes. I took the halibut with a carrot/fennel/shallot puree that I was going to make for Sarah and Diana, and I brought it over to our neighbors family-style instead. (Somewhat nervously, I might add. I'm a not too shabby cook, but you know, he's more like a chef. There's a difference. Luckily, everyone liked it...phew.) Claude, our landlord, made delicious sliders, and these potatoes that were sauteed in duck fat and garlic, which were absurdly delicious. (Can you screw up starch, garlic, and duck fat? The answer to that question is no.) Our two neighbors from across the street were there as well.
Of course, if my landlord likes one thing in particular; that would be wine. Just so happens my other neighbors do too. So I got to taste a lot of stuff that I wouldn't ordinarily be drinking. First up was a 1999 Michel Olivier Blancs de Blancs Brut. This isn't Champagne; rather it's Cremant de Limoux. (Limoux is in the Languedoc--quite a bit further south than Reims and Champagne.) Believe it or not, a magnum is 20$. Yeah, nuts. Especially since I bought a of 2002 Cristal at Costco on Friday night for $157. (I know, that sounds nuts, but it's pretty good, and I figured, when am I ever going to see Cristal that cheap again?? I might as well...and now I have a killer bottle of Champagne for a special occasion.) Anyways, the Michel Olivier was very good. Angular, tons of lemon rind and just a bit of ginger and green apples in the mouth. Long finish, although, like I said a bit angular. I don't know enough to know for sure, but my guess is that maybe this was on the downslope of its' lifespan. 

Of course, there were a couple of Burgundies open as well. Alas, I don't remember what they were. Fuck. I'm going to have to go through the empties. There was a 2003 Domaine Maume Gevrey-Chambertin imported by Kermit Lynch, and 2007 Premier Cru (don't remember producer or vineyard...oops). The Gevrey-Chambertin was still quite tight, with lots of chocolate, mushroom tones, and berries. My neighbor and I both agreed that this needs some more time. The 2007 had been open for a day; it had a lot of cinnamon spice character, but was pretty oxidized. Definitely a different style than the Gevrey Chambertin. We also had a 2008 Paul Hobbs Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, which at $45 was the number 6 on Wine Spectator's Top 100 this year. Definitely a dramatically different style than the Burgundies, and much higher alcohol (listed at 14.6%). There is no question that this was a very good wine, and very complex. It's just different than the Burgundies. Licorice, herbal notes, dark red fruits. Very complex, well rounded, but it definitely is a pretty big wine, and has a lot of new oak on it. Interesting that Wine Spectator gave this a 94 and Parker gave it an 88-90. Hmmm. Does it really matter? No. It's pretty fantastic, which is what matters. Honestly, I thought this was going to be my wine of the night until I had the next wine. 

Since we killed all those bottles (and we got to drink lots of interesting stuff with good conversation), I ran over and grabbed a bottle that I've been saving for a special occasion. I've had a lot of Pax Wines in the past, and I've always really liked them. I think the reason that I like them is that they have a wide range of styles across all the vineyards they use--some of the wines are huge and big, while others are more delicate. Anyways, a few years back when I didn't think it was crazy to spend 50$ on a bottle of wine, I bought a few bottles of Pax and they've been sleeping ever since. Since then, Pax, the winemaker, has left Pax the winery, and founded Wind Gap wines instead. I've yet to have anything from Wind Gap, but it's on my list of things to do. (In a perfect world, Pax would swoop down and send me samples. Haha. Yeah right, that's never happening.) Anyways, it's clear that they spent a lot of money on the marketing of Pax, which I have mixed feelings about. The bottle has a huge deep punt and is very heavy. The labels are made from really nice, textured paper. The corks are top notch and topped with wax. I'm figuring that probably 15% of the cost of the bottle to the consumer goes directly to those attributes...probably the cork is the only one that makes a real difference. Anyways, aside from that, this wine was spectacular. Almost like a Cote-Rotie, or another cool climate expression of Syrah--very floral, with blueberry, garrique, gamy animal fat (read: bacon) and a laser-beam pepper note at the end. Suave and well balanced, with lavender notes supporting the silky tannins and long finish. I wish I had some more of this one!! My only thought is that for the price I paid for this bottle--about $50, (You can get at Wally's locally for $125 right now...seriously, WTF. The rip-off continues...) you definitely could buy a Cote-Rotie or Hermitage. However, this bottle of wine does open up a very interesting question about terroir, since this damn well could have been something from Northern France. I would love to compare side to side to see for sure. A fun evening! 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

North Coast Brut Trader Joes Reserve 2008

$10 at Trader Joes. I picked it up because I've had some successes with Trader Joes recently, and I thought that perhaps this might be interesting since they only made 6k bottles. Wrong. It should be noted that the company that bottled this wine (and perhaps vinted it as well), Rack and Riddle, is a custom wine-making facility where you can bottle your own stuff or create your own blend out of what they have in their tanks. Maybe Trader Joe's buyer created this? Honestly, I feel for that person because they have a tough job. There is no denying there is a direct relationship between price and quality in wine up to a certain point. However, most people don't want to pony up for quality. I'm not saying that you should spend $20, $30, $50 or more on every bottle of wine, but the odds are that if you're willing to spend $10 on a bottle of wine instead of $5, you're going to get something demonstrably better. Of course the problem is, well, people don't want to do that. So what's Trader Joes to do? Yes, they have a lot of decent cheap wines, but they also have a lot of shitty ones, because cheap wine is, well...cheap wine. It's cheap for a reason. $10 is really cheap for this wine since it was made with the traditional Methode Champenoise, which is labor intensive (although if you look at Rack and Riddle's blog, they seem to have gotten some machinery to lessen the work). 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir. Mildly yeasty on the nose, along with some lemon, almost a little peach and green apples. The biggest flaw in this wine is that it is somewhat indistinct in character, and also suffers from a heavy-handed mouthfeel. It just doesn't feel as lithe and elegant as it should...it's got that sort of too sticky weird soda-pop feel. Just not that interesting or good. Here's the bottom line: you are better off with one of their cheaper sparkling wines if you want a cheap sparkling wine. This is more expensive and delivers about the same amount of character as the cheaper $4.49 Blanc de Blanc, or the $7.99 Albero Cava, or one of the Prosecco's. D

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"Lazy Bones" Cabernet Franc 2009

Picked this up because it's...why else? It's Cabernet Franc. $6.99 at Trader Joes. Unfortunately, the name of this wine should have been a warning of things to come...I know you're not supposed to "throw stones in glass houses," or something like that, but seriously. WTF. This is everything that is wrong about cheap wine in a convenient one bottle package. Oh, where do I start? First, what's up with the label? Really? I guess it did catch my eye, since there's a bare ass front and center (I mean really, what male isn't a fan of that?), but on a bottle of wine? Really? There's also some pithy quote about being lazy all day. Lame. All this before I even get to the wine itself, which is the only reason that I let this slide. I mean really, I like Justification, which also hails from Paso Robles, a lot. I have never been so floored by a California wine...so I was hoping for something along those lines. Instead, what I got was an uncomfortable mouthful of cedar and oak, along with some truly buried berry flavors. And thus the wine becomes one with its' tacky-ass label, by exhibiting the lazy wine-making style of "way too much fucking oak." If I was a beaver, I might perhaps find this wine enjoyable, but alas, I am human. Fail. F

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Castle Rock 2008

Castle Rock is a negociant (as far as I know), meaning that they make wines from purchased grapes. In this instance, it explains why a Columbia Valley Cabernet (Washington) is made (Or more likely bottled? Who knows...) in a winery in Geyserville--Sonoma County. Currently this is 6$ at Trader Joes, and you'd better run and buy it before I can buy it all. For 6$, this is awesome. Castle Rock is known for being good value, but I've never been all that impressed before. This wine really surprised me. Juicy blackberries, cola and mint on the nose before a moderately tannic, currant and earth driven finish. Pretty spectacular for 6$, I think. A-/A   

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Pascal Jolivet Sancerre 2009

You can get this for 18$ or 19$ at Costco right now, which is a few dollars less than I've ever seen it previously. I love Sancerre, so that's why I picked it up. Initially, I thought this wine was leaning in a fairly modern direction--and then I got walloped by a long, stony finish. So maybe this wine is leaning a little more modern, but at its' core, you can still tell that it's Sancerre--just not quite as austere. Notes of pears, apple, some citrus, and a little bit of jalapeno. Lots of acidity; quite rich in texture. My only real complaint with this wine is that it does come off as a little bit disjointed for me in terms of balance. Overall though, pretty solid. Worth a look if you like Sancerre. Imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons, who are always fairly reliable. (Well, they aren't Kermit Lynch...) B/B+

Friday, December 3, 2010

Vertical

Right before Thanksgiving, just when I was thinking about what I was going to do on the 2.5 hour flight from LA to Seattle, I got the answer: Vertical, the new book by Rex Pickett (otherwise known as the dude that wrote Sideways). I've been called Miles by my mother repeatedly, and it seems like everyone has seen Sideways, so I was pretty excited to read the book. I haven't read Sideways; after reading Vertical, I'm going to have to rectify that. One other thing, and you can feel free to laugh at my daftness: for some reason, it took me a solid five seconds to do the math on why the book was called Vertical. I know, I know. Should make sense, right? If you're not Sideways, you're Vertical. I suppose that means that the third book in the series is going to be Upside Down, and I guess Miles is off to Australia. If Miles thought he was getting fucked up on Pinot, wait until he tries some of that 16% Aussie Shiraz! He's going to be lit up like a Christmas tree!!

I am not a large fiction reader by any stretch of the imagination, although I used to be. At one point or another, I've waxed rhapsodic about such masterpieces such as A Confederacy of Dunces, anything by Kurt Vonnegut, Dune, One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Sun Also Rises, and lots of other things. Anyways, at some point, fiction lost me for the world of facts. I'm not really sure why, but for some reason fiction doesn't really manage to hold my attention anymore. This book did.

Jack and Miles are back for another crazy road trip, this time up to the Willamette Valley. Hilarity ensues for a variety of reasons: priapism, bathroom humor, amputations, weed, groupies, the trappings of fame, and good old fashioned alcoholism. Perhaps my favorite part of the book is the constant patter of profanity that Miles spews out, mixed with erudite words that I've never heard before (meretricious, lachrymose, and the list goes on). It's an interesting dichotomy between the learned and the un-learned. This book is fiction, but I do wonder if to a certain extent the author is examining his own life and shortcomings via the character of Miles. I couldn't help but think that there must be many parallels to Mr. Picket and Miles, and that there is an introspective element to the book despite its' off-color tone and antics. This becomes especially clear in the latter portion of the book, as it takes on a more serious, somber tone.

While I don't think that this book is destined to be included in lists of iconic literature (like above), it is a highly entertaining read, a great story, and well-written. If you like wine, comedy, or reading about other people misbehaving, this is the book to check out.

Vertical isn't available on Amazon yet, but you can buy it directly from the publisher for 15$ with shipping at the link above. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Shaya Verdejo (Rueda) 2009

This is another Jorge Ordonez wine. Around 10$ at Costco. Lots of white peach, citrus (lime), and some tropical fruit on the nose. Once in the mouth, this wine is full of mineral and lemon, along with great balance of rich fruit and acidity. Perhaps it seems like a little too much tropical fruit at points, but overall, this is solid for the price. This wine is by far my favorite of the Jorge Ordonez wines that I've picked up at Costco recently. By the way, what on earth is up with the weird deer on the front? Strange...especially since I don't think that this wine would go all that well with venison. B+/A-