T.G.I.F. Champagne and the like…NV Charles de Cazanove Champagne Brut Premier Cru

This week’s bubbly is a Champagne produced by Champagne Charles de Cazanove.  It’s a brand with which I was not familiar.  They have a rich history.  The house was founded in 1811 by Charles Gabriel de Cazanove.  However it was his son Charles Nicolas de Cazanove that contributed most to the growth of the brand.  They are the #2 selling brand in France behind Nicolas Feuillate.  They offer a full range of Champagne.  This bottling is one of five in their entry-level “Tradition Père & Fil” range.  This bottling is labeled “Premier Cru”, which is the second tier of Champagne classifications behind Grand Cru.  The classification system in Champagne is based on the what village the vineyards are located in, rather than the vineyard itself, or the estate as in Burgundy, and Bordeaux respectively.  You won’t find much Champagne classified as “Premier Cru” for $35, as such it represents good value price-wise.

NV Charles de Cazanove Champagne Brut Premier Cru

Where it’s from: FranceChampagne

The grape(s) Chardonnay (50%), and Pinot Noir (50%)

Production method: Méthode Champenoise; Aged about 3 years on lees

Alcohol: 12%

Retail: $35 

My tasting notes follow:

Golden yellow color with persistent bead of pin prick bubbles, and fresh bread dough, floral, and fruity aromas. On the palate, it has a soft mousse, is light-bodied with apple, fresh apricot and mineral flavors. Medium finish Pinot Noir (50%), and Chardonnay (50%) - 87pts

Pair with: The beauty of sparkling wines is their versatility with food, because of their palate cleansing quality (think scrubbing bubbles;-). This one would make an excellent aperitif, but would also be a good match with lighter foods like seafood, or  pasta or risotto dishes, especially those creamy sauces rather than tomato sauce.

I really enjoyed this, but at $35, it won’t be a repeat purchase for me. (Click here to find this wine)

2012 Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting Recap

As a media guest, I attended the 15th annual “Celebration of American Rhone Wines” in San Francisco last weekend.  It was my first Rhone Rangers tasting.  Rhone Rangers is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting the Rhone varietal wines produced in the U.S.  It was a huge, but well-organized two-day event.  Saturday featured educational seminars (including one called “Wine & Swine, A Pairing of American Rhone Wines And Bacon”  complete with a “Baconologist”!) and a fund raising winemaker dinner/auction. And Sunday, which I attended, featured more seminars and the Grand Tasting.

By my count, there were 114 wineries and 500 or so wines available for tasting!  With that many  wineries/wines I knew I needed a plan to maximize the 3 hours I set aside for the event.  I decided to only taste “GSM” (predominately composed of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre) blends, with 30 minutes at the end for what I call “taster’s choice” (more on that later).  When I attend an event like this, in addition to focusing on a single varietal or style of wine,  I try to further narrow my focus by tasting wines from wineries that are new to me.  That meant I was going to have to skip favorites like Bonny Doon, Core, Frick, Quivira, and Tercero.  That’s always a challenge for me because my vinous conscious seems to constantly whisper in my ear… “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”.  Thus the “tasters choice” where I allow myself to a.) taste wines from some of my favorite wineries, and b.) the option of not writing tasting notes.

That was the plan.  But as Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf  once said, “No plan survives contact with the enemy”.  Well at least mine didn’t!  Not for this year anyway.  I quickly realized that “Red Blend” per the program, didn’t necessarily translate into GSMs. That’s not a bad thing, I love the diversity of style here in California as opposed to the more constrained Rhône models.  But, as a result, I vastly underestimated how many “Red Blend” wines were available.  I got through the A-L wineries (the wineries were organized in alphabetical order) when I realized I only had 30 or so minutes left for my “taster’s choice”.  Oh well, I did taste about four dozen very good to excellent wines. That’s a great day in my book…and there’s always next year!

On to the wines I sniffed, sipped and  (mostly) spit!

My favorite wines (rated 90 points or higher) were:

  • 2008 Calcareous Trés Violet
  • 2007 Edward Sellers Vineyards and Wines Vertigo
  • 2008 Edward Sellers Vineyards and Wines Le Thief
  • 2007 Hearthstone Vineyards and Winery Lodestone
  • 2009 Inspiration Vineyards Syrah
  • 2009 Jada Vineyard Hell’s Kitchen
  • 2009 JC Cellars Misc. Stuff
  • 2009 Jemrose Gloria’s Gem
  • 2009 Justin Vineyards & Winery Savant
  • 2011 Lagier Meredith Syrah Rosé
  • 2009 Lagier Meredith Syrah
  • 2010 Ridge Carignane Buchignani Ranch
  • 2009 Stage Left Cellars The Globetrotter
  • 2009 Stage Left Cellars The ExPat
  • 2011 Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas Blanc
  • 2010 Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas
  • 2009 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel

My complete tasting notes  and ratings follow:

  • 2010 Adelaida Version White - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Tropical fruit, peach, and floral aromas. Medium-bodied with tropical fruit, peach, and slight mineral flavors. Medium finish (87 pts.)
  • 2009 Adelaida Version Red - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Berry, and floral aromas. Medium-bodied smooth with dark cherry, raspberry flavors. Medium finish (88 pts.)

Maggie Tillman - Alta Colina

  • 2009 Alta Colina GSM - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Red fruit and oak aromas with ripe raspberry and cherry flavors. Smooth with a medium long finish (89 pts.)
  • 2009 AmByth Estate Adamo - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Spicy,floral red berry aromas. On the palate, light-bodied with tart raspberry, cherry flavors. Blend of Grenache (59%), Mourvèdre (17%), Syrah (13%), and Counoise (11% (87 pts.)
  • 2009 AmByth Estate ReVera - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Dark red fruit, garrigue aromas. Light-bodied with tart dark cherry, and spice flavors. Blend of Mourvedre (57%), Grenache (22%), Syrah (11%), and Counoise (10%) (87 pts.)
  • 2009 AmByth Estate Maiestas - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Dark fruit, and slight floral aromas. Light-bodied with tart dark cherry blackberry flavors. Blend of Syrah (45%), Mourvedre (20%), Counoise (20%), and Grenache  (15%) (86 pts.)
  • 2011 Anglim Rosé - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Red fruit, and citrus aromas. Light-bodied, dry and well balanced with raspberry citrus flavors.  100% Syrah. (88 pts.)
  • 2010 Beckmen Vineyards Cuvée Le Bec - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Dark red fruit and herbs de provence aromas. Light-bodied with fruity slightly tart raspberry, dark cherry, and spice flavors (88 pts.)
  • 2008 Calcareous Trés Violet - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Pretty dark red fruit, violet, and baking spice aromas. Medium-bodied with black cherry, raspberry flavors. Blend of Syrah (42%), Mourvedre (29%), and Grenache (29%) (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Caliza Winery Cohort - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Fresh blackberry, plum with a hint of musky aromas. Medium bodied with slightly tart blackberry, raspberry and hint of mocha flavors. Blend of Syrah (55%), Petite Sirah, (20%), Primitivo (20%) and Grenache (5%) (89 pts.)
  • 2009 Caliza Winery Azimuth - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Dark fruit, cinnamon/clove and oak aromas. Medium bodied, young with blackberry, cocoa, and cinnamon/clove flavors. (90 pts.)
  • 2010 Clos Saron Out of the Blue - USA, California, Sierra Foothills
    Red fruit, raisiny plum, and slight floral aromas. Light-bodied with good acidity, and tart cherry, plum flavors. Blend of Mourvèdre and Syrah. (86 pts.)
  • 2008 Clos Saron Holy Moly - USA, California, Sierra Foothills
    Smoky, raisiny cherry aromas. Raisiny tart baked cherry flavors. Blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre (87 pts.)
  • 2006 Clos Saron Syrah La Cuvée Mysterieuse - USA, California, Sierra Foothills
    Baked red fruits and slight oak aroma. Light-medium bodied with tart cherry flavors. Blend of Syrah and Merlot (86 pts.)
  • 2008 Cosa Obra Proprietor’s Blend - USA, California, Sonoma County
    Black currant, earthy, spicy aromas . Medium-bodied with blackberry and spice flavors. (89 pts.)
  • 2009 Cosa Obra Proprietor’s Blend - USA, California, Sonoma County
    Tight dark fruit and spice aromas. Medium-bodied and a bit tannic with blackberry, black cherry and spice flavors. Needs some time. (88 pts.)
  • 2008 Crystal Basin Cellars Victorie – Grand Reserve - USA, California, Sierra Foothills, El Dorado
    Dark red fruit with slight floral aromas. Light-bodied with black cherry, blackberry flavors. Blend of Mourvèdre (33%), Syrah (34%) and Grenache (33%). (86 pts.)
  • 2007 Curtis Reserve - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Smokey dark red fruit, clove and floral aromas. Medium-bodied with red currant, black cherry and spice flavors. A blend of Grenache (50%), Syrah (25%) and Mourvèdre (25%) (89 pts.)
  • 2009 Curtis Heritage Cuvée - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Dark red fruit and slight resinous aromas. Light-bodied with tart cherry, raspberry flavors. Blend of Grenache (39%), Mourvèdre (26%), Cinsault (19%) and Syrah (16%) (87 pts.)
  • 2008 Domaine de la Terre Rouge Tête-à-Tête - USA, California, Sierra Foothills, Amador County
    Spicy red and black fruits, and oak aromas. Light-bodied with cherry, raspberry, and spice flavors. Blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre & Grenache Very good value at $18 (87 pts.)
  • 2008 Domaine de la Terre Rouge L’Autre - USA, California, Sierra Foothills
    Cherry, raspberry, and vanillin oak aromas. Approaching medium-bodied with black cherry, and vanilla flavors (88 pts.)

Edward Sellers of the eponymous winery

  • 2007 Edward Sellers Vineyards and Wines Vertigo - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Smokey, baking spice, dark red fruit aromas. Medium-bodied, velvety with silky tannins, and dark cherry, raspberry, and vanilla spice flavors. Blend of Grenache (71%), Mourvèdre (16%), and Syrah(13%) (90 pts.)
  • 2008 Edward Sellers Vineyards and Wines Le Thief - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Spicy cinnamon black fruits, and slightly musky aromas. Medium-bodied with black cherry, blackberry, and vanilla spice flavors. Blend of Syrah (56%), Mourvèdre (26%),Grenache (12%),and Cinsault (6%) (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Folin Cellars Misceo - USA, Oregon, Southern Oregon, Rogue Valley
    Low-key red currant, cherry, and cedarwood aromas. Medium-bodied, and smooth with cherry, and red currant flavors. Blend of Syrah (50%), Mourvèdre (37%), and Grenache (13%) (89 pts.)
  • 2010 Hahn Winery GSM - USA, California, Central Coast, Monterey County
    Berry and spice aromas. Light-bodied, and smooth with blackberry, and raspberry flavors. Blend of Grenache (62%), Syrah (34%), and Mourvèdre (4%) (87 pts.)
  • 2007 Hearthstone Vineyards and Winery Slipstone Rhone - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Fruity cherry ,and spice aromas. Approaching medium-bodied with fruit-forward cherry, and raspberry flavors. Blend of Grenache (65%), and Syrah(35%) (88 pts.)
  • 2007 Hearthstone Vineyards and Winery Lodestone - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Plum, cherry and dried herb aromas. Medium-bodied with dark cherry, plum, blackberry flavors. Blend of Syrah (50%), Grenache (33%), Mourvèdre (17%) (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Holly’s Hill Patriarche - USA, California, Sierra Foothills, El Dorado County
    Red fruit, with a touch of garrigue aromas. Medium-bodied with cherry, plum and vanilla flavors. Blend of Mourvèdre (60%), Syrah (23%), Grenache (14%), and Counoise (3%) (87 pts.)
  • 2009 Inspiration Vineyards Syrah - USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
    Fragrant red fruit, and floral aromas. Medium-full bodied with dark cherry, mocha, and vanilla spice flavors. Blend of Syrah (93%), Viognier (7%) (90 pts.)

Josh Messina pouring Jada wines

  • 2009 Jada Vineyard Hell’s Kitchen - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Fragrant red fruits, and floral aromas. Medium-bodied, fruit-forward, and smooth with raspberry, cherry, mocha and vanilla flavors. Blend of Syrah (32%), Grenache (31%), Mourvèdre (23%), and Tannat (14%) (92 pts.)
  • 2009 JC Cellars Misc. Stuff - USA, California
    Black and red berry, and spice aromas. Medium-bodied, and supple with vibrant black cherry, raspberry, vanilla spice flavors. Blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre (91 pts.)
  • 2009 Jemrose Gloria’s Gem - USA, California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley
    Red fruit, white pepper, and cedarwood aromas. Medium-bodied with nicely balanced dark cherry, and black currant flavors. Blend of Syrah (65%), and Merlot (35%) (91 pts.)
  • 2009 Justin Vineyards & Winery Savant - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Spicy black and red fruit aromas hint of licorice aromas. Medium-bodied, and smooth with spicy black cherry, and cassis flavors. Blend of Syrah (65%), and Cabernet Sauvignon (35%) (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Kukkula Sisu - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Fruity red fruity, mocha, and a hint of musky/meaty aromas. Medium-full bodied with mixed black and red berry espresso flavors. Blend of Syrah(51%),Grenache (27%), and Mourvèdre (22%)(89 pts.)
  • 2011 Lagier Meredith Syrah Rosé - USA, California, Napa Valley, Mt. Veeder
    Pretty berry and melon aromas. Approaching medium-bodied, well-balanced and dry with cherry, raspberry flavors.100% Syrah (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Lagier Meredith Syrah - USA, California, Napa Valley, Mt. Veeder
    Dark red fruit, and pepper aromas. Medium-bodied with intense black cherry, raspberry, espresso flavors. (91 pts.)
  • 2010 Ridge Carignane Buchignani Ranch - USA, California, Sonoma County
    Black cherry, raspberry and slight floral smoky aromas. Full-bodied, robust, round with well-integrated tannins and black cherry, raspberry, and vanilla flavors. (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Stage Left Cellars Syrah Alder Springs - USA, California, North Coast, Mendocino
    Dark red fruit, sweet spice, and floral aromas. Medium bodied and nicely balanced with raspberry, strawberry, and a touch of mineral flavors. 100% Syrah. 13.7 % Alcohol (89 pts.)
  • 2009 Stage Left Cellars The Globetrotter - USA, California
    Red fruit, dried herbs, and slight earthy aromas. Medium-bodied, fruit, but balanced with ripe cherry and black raspberry flavors. Blend of Grenache (48%), Syrah (40%), and Mourvèdre (12%)(90 pts.)
  • 2009 Stage Left Cellars The ExPat - USA, California, Central Coast
    Dark red fruit, spice, and cedarwood aromas. Medium-bodied, balanced with vibrant dark cherry, raspberry, and spice flavors. Blend of Syrah(50%), Petite Sirah (33%), and Grenache (17%)(90 pts.)
  • 2011 Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas Blanc - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Tropical fruit, white peach, and floral aromas. Medium-bodied, and creamy with good acidity and peach and hint of mineral flavors. Blend of Grenache Blanc (45%), Viognier (34%), Roussanne (18%), and Marsanne (3%) 13.5% Alcohol (90 pts.)
  • 2010 Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas Blanc - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Pretty floral and stone fruit aromas. Medium-bodied, and balance with white peach, and vanilla flavors. Blend of Viognier (54%), Grenache Blanc (30%), Marsanne (8%), and Roussanne (8%) 13.5% Alcohol (89 pts.)
  • 2011 Tablas Creek Rosé - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Watermelon and red fruit aromas. Approaching medium-bodied, and dry with cherry, strawberry and citrus on the back palate flavors. Blend of Mourvèdre (58%), Grenache (30%), and Counoise (12%) 14.5% Alcohol (89 pts.)
  • 2010 Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Sweet dark fruits, tobacco, and spice. Medium bodied and supple with black cherry, plum and spice flavors. Blend of 39% Syrah/36% Grenache/22% (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Intense dark red fruit, violet and spice aromas. Medium-full bodied, and well-balanced with vibrant dark red cherry, spice, and mineral flavors. Blend of Mourvèdre (40%), Syrah(28%),Grenache (27%), and Counoise (5%) (92 pts.)

My takeaways from the event?

  • Paso Robles, as a region is still kickin’ ass and taking names when it comes to Rhone!
  • There’s definitely a trend toward lower alcohol wines
  • Um…I’ll need a better plan (and more time) next year!
  • The state of Rhones in California? – Fantastic and seemingly getting better!

All in all, it was a great event!  It’s circled in red on my calendar for next year!

Wine Words Demystified: Typicity

You know the deal, the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials/technical jargon can be tossed around.  I’m here to help you understand those sometimes mysterious words and phrases, thus - Wine Words Demystified!

This week’s word/phrase is Typicity

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

A quality that a wine possesses if it is typical of its region and reflects characteristics of the grape variety from which it came…It has nothing to do with how good the wine tastes.  A wine can be quite delicious and nonetheless show no typicity. 

Typicity, which the venerable Jancis Robinson refers to as “typicality” is a controversial topic in the world of wine.  Proponents argue that a Pinot Noir should “Taste like a Pinot Noir”.  You may be thinking…um…why wouldn’t Pinot taste like Pinot.  An example might be if a significant amount of say Syrah we added for color, or other reasons.  And typicity can go beyond just taste.  For example, is that same Pinot, and inky color rather than a shade of ruby, or other color “typical” to Pinot?  Is it full-bodied, whereas Pinots tend toward being light, or medium-bodied?

Image courtesy of Pierrefeu

Wine Of The Week: NV Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Rosé

My wine of the week for March 17-23 is the NV Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Rosé.  Franciacorta, refers both to the territory, located in the Lombardy region of Italy, and the sparkling wine produced from grapes grown within the boundaries of the territory.  Since 1995, Franciacorta has had DOCG status, the highest echelon of Italian wine classifications, applied solely to the sparkling wines produced in the region.  Here’s a quick rundown on the main regulations that come along with that DOCG status:

  • Franciacorta is the only region in Italy that requires sparkling wine be made by the traditional method (“metodo classico” in Italian)
  • Grapes are grown in strictly delimited vineyards from within 19 different communes
  • Permitted grapes are Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, and Pinot Bianco, with 85% planted Chardonnay, 10% to Pinot Nero, and 5% to Pinot Bianco
  • Non-vintage (NV) Franciacorta must aged at least 25 months after harvest, with at least 18 months in contact with the yeast in the bottle
  • Vintage Franciacorta must be aged at least 37 months after harvest, with a least 37 months in contact with yeast in the bottle
  • Franciacorta rosé must contain at least 15% Pinot Nero
  • Dosage levels(i.e., the level of sweetness) are exactly as they are in Champagne

You’re probably pretty familiar with the most popular kinds of Italian bubbly (a.k.a “spumante” in Italian), Prosecco, and Asti Spumante, which are often described as alternatives to Champagne. Think of Franciacorta as Italy’s answer to Champagne!  So while Prosecco and Asti are almost always produced using the less expensive Charmat bulk process, Franciacorta is produced using the same traditional method used in Champagne.

Here’s an interesting factoid.  The producer of this wine, Contadi Castaldi, is the only winery to have vineyards in all 19 communes permitted to grow grapes for production of Franciacorta.

My tasting notes follow:

Beautiful copper color with steady bead of pin-prick bubbles, and brioche, fruity, fresh red fruit aromas. On the palate, it displays a creamy mousse, and is approaching medium-bodied with fresh strawberry, raspberry flavors, and a hint of spice flavors. Medium finish.  65% Chardonnay, and 35% Pinot Nero

It’s always fun for me to try something new.  As I like to say, I’m very much still in the “promiscuous” phase of my oenophilic journey, and I’m glad I’ve had the pleasure of Franciacorta.  It’s got me thinking of an Italian mènage à trois…Prosecco as an aperitif, Franciacorta for the entrée, and Asti for dessert.  That my friends will be bubblelicious!

T.G.I.F. Champagne and the like…2007 Schramsberg Crémant Demi-Sec

This week’s bubbly is from Schramsberg. Schramsberg is Napa’s second oldest winery (Charles Krug, established in 1861 was the first winery in Napa) according to Keith Hock, the winemaker.  It was established in 1862.

Schramsberg produced California’s first Crémant in 40 years ago.   Crémant is French for “creamy” and traditionally referred to a wine with light effervescence (less carbon dioxide equals fewer bubbles), and lower bottle pressure.  Traditional Champagne, and other sparkling wines are bottled at 5-6 atmospheres, whereas this wine is bottled at 2-3 atmospheres. The lower pressure results in the wine having a creamier, softer feel in your mouth.  Crémant, in the traditional sense, made with less carbon dioxide and bottle pressure is relatively rare these days.  Nowadays crémant refers to a French sparkling wine made outside of the Champagne region (Loire, Burgundy, Languedoc-Roussillon, etc.).

Aside from the fact that this wine is intentionally produced at less pressure to create a creamy mouthfeel, the other thing I found interesting about it, is that it was produced using the Flora grape, a unique grape which is a cross of Semillon and Gewürztraminer developed at UC Davis.

2007 Schramsberg Cremant Demi-Sec

2007 Schramsberg Crémant Demi-Sec

Where its from: California>; North Coast (66% Napa, 17% Mendocino, 16% Sonoma, 1% Marin)

The grape(s) 67% Flora, 18% Chardonnay, 15% Gewürztraminer

Production method: Méthode Champenoise; Aged about 2 years on lees

Alcohol: 13%

Retail: $38 (Paid $30)

My tasting notes follow:

Pale gold color with a nice bead of tiny bubbles with fruity stone fruit aromas. On the palate it’s creamy, medium-bodied with zesty acidity, and white peach, apricot, mango, and baking spice note flavors. Medium finish

Pair with: The beauty of sparkling wines is their versatility with food, because of their palate cleansing quality (think scrubbing bubbles;-). I enjoyed this with a couple of different desserts. It worked well with a plain cheesecake, but I thought it was even better with apple strudel. It would also be a good match for fruit tarts, light cakes, panna cotta, or crème brûlée. While the first thing that comes to mind for me is dessert, it would also work well with spicy Asian food, bleu cheeses or foie gras.

I heartily recommend! 89pts (Click here to find this wine)

Wine Words Demystified: Botrytis

You know the deal, the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials/technical jargon can be tossed around.  I’m here to help you understand those sometimes mysterious words and phrases, thus - Wine Words Demystified!

This week’s word/phrase is Botrytis

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

A beneficial fungus, also known as noble rot, which is necessary to produce many of the world’s great sweet wines, including Sauternes…when the degree of humidity is just right, Botrytis cinerea will attack grapes, covering them with a gray mold.  The mold lives by penetrating the grapes skins and using up the available water in the juice.  This concentrates the sugar, flavor, and ACID so that a COMPLEX wine of exceptional sweetness can be made. Botrytis  is unique in that, unlike other molds, it produces flavors that harmonize with the flavors of particular grapes

So what got me to thinking about botrytis?  I had recently had an excellent Gewürztraminer from Alsace, France that was made from botrytized grapes.  Pardon my digression here, but every time I think about botrytis…the first thing that pops into my head is the phrase “the fungus among us” – I  can’t seem to make it stop, nor am I sure I want to;-).

The most well-known wine produced from grapes infected with noble rot is Sauternes noted above.   Other great examples include Tokaji (which I’ve heard pronounced a bunch of different ways – but from what I can glean from the web, it’s pronounced “Toe-Ki (rhymes with “Hi’)” which been around longer, and German wines classified as Beerenauslese (“selected berries harvest”) and Trockenbeerenauslese (“selected dried-berries harvest”).  What all sweet wines produced from botrytized grapes have is common is that they seem to have a honey component among the myriad of flavors produced as a result of the noble rot.

A bunch of Riesling grapes after the onset of ...

A bunch of Riesling grapes after the onset of noble rot. The difference in colour between affected and unaffected grapes is clearly visible. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wine Of The Week – 2001 R. López de Heredia Rioja Blanco Crianza Viña Gravonia

My wine of the week for March 10-16 is the 2001 R. López de Heredia Rioja Blanco Crianza Viña Gravonia.  Man that’s a long name!  If you’re not familiar with Spanish, let me break it down for you – “Rioja Blanco” means White wine from Rioja – “Crianza” refers to how long the wine is aged in accordance with Spanish labeling laws (more on that later), and “Viňa Gravonia” is the vineyard from which the grapes for this wine are sourced.

What’s different about R. López de Heredia (“LdH”) is that they are straight-up traditionalists!  The winery was founded in 1877, and is still family owned. They don’t use chemicals, or machines in their vineyards.  But what really makes them old school is that they age their wines for an outrageously long time.  Take this wine for example, it was released last year after 4 years of barrel aging, followed by 6 years of bottle aging!  Since this wine is labeled as a “Crianza”,  Spanish labeling laws require it be aged for at least 1 year with at least 6 months in oak.  So this wine is aged 10x longer than required…now that’s old school!

Nowadays, single vineyard wines are fashionable.  LdH has been doing single vineyard wines for almost 100 years!  The four vineyards from which they source their grapes are Viňa Tondonia (the oldest -founded in 1913, and most famous), Viña CubilloViña Bosconia, and Viňa Gravonia (a.k.a. Viňa Zaconia) the source of grapes for this wine.  Viňa Gravonia is located close to the winery on the banks of Ebro river on south-facing slopes with poor, rocky white soil.  The average age of the vines is 45 years, and the vineyard is all planted to Viura grapes.

My tasting notes follow:

Pale gold color with complex aromas of beeswax, spiced apricot, citrus, and a hint of petrol. The palate follows the aromas in terms of complexity. The wine has a silky smooth, mesmerizing lanolin like texture, zesty acidity, and is very dry. It is medium-bodied, and slightly oxidative with tart lemon, apricot, and mineral flavors with a long finish. 100% Viura (a.k.a. Macabeo) from LdH’s Viña Gravonia – 91pts

This wine is a very food friendly wine.  In fact, I don’t think most folks will enjoy its own because of its slightly oxidative aromas and flavors, which are the result of the long aging.  But it’s hard to beat with food.  It would be great with tapas, fish, and shellfish, risotto, salad, poultry, and of course paella.

This is an excellent wine, and at $25, it’s a good value.  I wish I had more!

T.G.I.F. Champagne And The Like…NV Nicolas Feuillatte “Blue Label” Brut Champagne

Have you ever wondered what’s the best-selling brand of Champagne in France?  Sure, all the big names in Champagne are there, but I’m thinking the average middle-class French consumer doesn’t have the coin for Moet and Mumm on a regular basis.   The answer is the maker of this week’s bubbly, Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte.  Feuillatte hit my radar on the on the strength of favorable staff reviews at my favorite wine retailer K&L Wines Merchants.

Last year Feuillatte celebrated their 35th anniversary. That makes them a baby when compared to  brands such Moet & Chandon,or Veuve Clicquot, which are 200+ years old.  Not only is Feuillatte the best selling brand of Champagne in France, it is also the number three brand in world-wide sales behind Moet and Veuve Clicquot.

Surely some of their meteoric rise is due to savvy marketing, like their “One Fo(u)r Fun” mini bottles of Champagne with a wrist strap, or their iPhone App with a  virtual toast where the user can pop a bottle of Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte and pour it in to a friend’s virtual flute, but make no mistake, they source high-quality fruit for their Champagne. Additionally, Feuillatte has been making quarter bottles of Champagne since 1990, and today is the market leader in the segment.

This week’s Champagne a.k.a. Brut Resèrve Particulière  is their entry level offering.  In addition to this Champagne they offer six other in the “Essentials” line, four “Gourmet” Champagnes, and the aforementioned One Fo(u)r Fun mini bottles.

NV Nicolas Feuillatte “Blue Label” Brut Champagne

Where it from: FranceChampagne

The grape(s)  40%Pinot Noir, 40% Pinot Meunier, 20% Chardonnay

Residual Sugar – Unknown

$25 – Retail , 12% a.b.v.

Production method: Méthode Champenoise;  Aged just under 3 years on lees

My tasting notes follow:

Pale gold color with brioche, spice, and dried fruit aromas. On the palate it is creamy, and light-medium bodied with apple, and pear flavors with a hint of honey. Medium finish

Pair with: The beauty of sparkling wines is their versatility with food, because of their palate cleansing quality (think scrubbing bubbles;-). This was very nice as an aperitif, and just as nice with food.  Pair with fish tacos, light pasta dishes, or just for fun popcorn!

This is a very good sparkler. I prefer it to the ubiquitous Veuve Clicquot  and it cost $20 less!  I recommend!  89pts   (Click here to find this wine) 

Wine Words Demystified: Hot

You know the deal, the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials/technical jargon can be tossed around.  I’m here to help you understand those sometimes mysterious words and phrases, thus - Wine Words Demystified!

This week’s phrase is Hot

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

 Refers to a wine with a level of ALCOHOL that is out of BALANCE with its ACID and FRUIT. The impression of excessive alcohol produces a slight burning “hit” at the top of the nasal passages and on the palate.  

Image courtesy of Masterfile.com

This wine descriptor is used when you stick your nose into a wine of glass to sniff aromas, take a deep sniff, and you feel a warm sensation in your nostrils.  The term “hot” (or for a lesser degree “warm”) is also used when you can taste, and feel the alcohol of a wine overwhelm the fruit and acidity.  It’s an undesirable trait, but sometimes, once a wine has had some time to breathe (see below) the “heat” may seem less pronounced.  On the “good, better, best scale”,  you’ll find “better”, and “best” wines manifest “heat” significantly less than “good” wines.

Wine Of The Week – Core Wine Company 2007 “Hard Core”

My wine of the week for March 3-9 is the Core Wine Company 2007 “Hard Core.  It’s an interesting, and oh so tasty blend of the three main Rhône varietals, Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvédre, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  It’s not a blend you’ll find everyday, and Core hit a home-run with this one!

Core Wine Co. is a family-run small production winery run by Dave and Becky Corey, who tend to the vineyards, make wine, and run the tasting room operations themselves.  Makes me tired just thinking about it!.  The winery is located in Santa Maria, California.  They produced 900 cases of “Hard Core”

My tasting notes follow:

 Dark opaque violet color with floral, and dark fruit aromas with hints of meatiness, and leather. On the palate medium bodied, and round with good acidity, and black cherry, cassis, and vanilla spice flavors. Long finish. 37% Mourvedre, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Syrah, 4% Grenache All the fruit is from the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard at 3000 feet in Santa Barbara County. From low yielding vines impeccably farmed year after year. The wine was aged for 30 months in a combination of 10% new French and American barrels and 90% neutral barrels. Unfined and unfiltered – 90pts

Core came to my attention when I attended 2011 Family Winemaker’s Tasting in San Francisco last year (see my recap below), when I was on a mission to taste I Rhône varietals.  Winemakers in the Central Coast region of California, including the Paso Robles, and Santa Barbara areas are doing big things Rhône-wise, and Core is definitely part of the movement!  I recommend you check ‘em out!