December 28, 2005

Tasting 2002 Loire Reds

Another gathering of the loose tasting group of local industry people I fell into earlier this year. This month’s theme was 2002 Loire reds, all tasted blind, all made from the cabernet franc grape.

1. Darkest color, with a very ripe, oaky, smoked sausage and sweet raspberry aroma, some nice tobacco with time but clearly the most new world-esque wine of the bunch. Full and a little alcoholic on the palate, ripe sweet fruit flavors with some chalky tannin, shows the delicacy of the Loire but disjointed now, who knows if it will ever come around. This is the 2002 Domaine de la Butte Bourgueil Mi-Pente, the infamous Jacky Blot’s top-end bottling. Jacky, lay off the new barrels.

2. Medium dark ruby with a stony cherry aroma, some soil, pipe ash, and cranberry in there too. Tastes bright with cranberry flavors, herbs and earth but not much else, stony and drying on the finish, tastes like a decent lightweight Loire red but nothing more. No surprise, it’s the 2002 Marc Bredif Chinon, a low end bottling from a middling quality negociant.

3. Sweeter than number 2, but not as overt as number 1 with nice pie fruit, earth, and stone aromas. Silky and elegant on the palate, with ripe cherry and light raspberry flavors, earthy soil notes with bright acid, nice now and perhaps in the future. This is the 2002 Gauthier, Domaine du Bel Air, “Les Vingt lieux dits” Bourgueil.

4. Dark color, with an oaky sweet aroma, jammy fruit with a creamy note, odd smelling. Drying tannin, clearly the most tannic of the bunch, with stony cranberry flavors, hard wine, over pressed or macerated?, nice leafy after taste but in a weird place now. This is the 2002 Bernard Baudry Chinon La Croix Boisee.

5. Medium/dark color, with a farmy, bretty horse saddle aroma at first, opens with sweet berry fruit and meat, a little Rhonish, more complex still with time. Classic stony flavors, nice juicy red berry fruit with bright acid, young and promising but delicious now. This is the 2002 Bernard Baudry Chinon Les Grezeaux, [comment about this being mid-tier in price compared to the higher end La Croix Boisee moved to the "backroom"]. This was my favorite of the tasting and a decidedly non-mid-tier wine.

6. Medium/dark color, with a jammy, bit oaky ripe aroma, smoked sausage notes, initially a little too much but opens nicely. Cranberry and cherry flavors with a tangy profile, dry tannin, lean on the palate, clearly needs time but promising. By far the favorite of the group, though not quite mine. This is the 2002 Charles Joguet Chinon Clos la Dioterie.

We tasted the wines, then passed around a variety of cheeses that paired nicely, taming the sharp profile of some of the wines and creating harmony with the earthy smells and flavors. Loire reds are some of my favorite wines for their fragrance, though they aren’t typically for tasting on their own. Grill some meat, lay out some earthy cheeses and bread, mix in a spinach salad to keep your colon happy, and enjoy pretty much any of these wines. Though they don’t taste like either, think of Loire reds as Bordeaux meets Burgundy, when the stony, berry flavors of the Gironde meet the fragrance and elegance of the Cote d’Or.

December 23, 2005

A Case of Wine for Christmas

For Christmas, two of my sisters and I went in on a case of wine for our parents, who appreciate good wine but aren’t crazy about it like I am. I got to pick out the wines, so I thought I’d put together a sampling of wines from Oregon and places they’ve travelled to or otherwise seem to like quite a bit.

With the help of my favorite local wine shop, Liner & Elsen, here’s what I picked:

2003 Evesham Wood Chardonnay Les Puits Sec
This is the estate chardonnay from the producer I worked for this fall, which I figured my parents would want to try. Warm vintage, sometimes a lackluster grape in Oregon, but you wouldn’t know it from this beautiful Burgundian-styled white wine, with subtle oak influence and lovely ripe but not overripe fruit. If I could make chardonnay like this, I’d be happy. I like Evesham Wood more for their reds, but this wine was a revelation.

2004 Francios Pinon Vouvray Cuvee Tradition
My parents visited the Loire valley a few years ago and came away with new respect for the chenin blanc grape, otherwise known to most Americans as the main ingredient of white jug wine. I haven’t tried this year’s model, but Pinon is a terrific producer. This wine is typcially only lightly sweet – sec tendre as the French would say – with great minerality or mineral aromas and flavors.

2004 Hirsch Gruner Veltliner Kammerner Heiligenstein Kamptal
This fall, my parents visted Austria for the first time, so I thought some classic, dry Austrian white wine would be in order. And packaged in a screwcap too! Gruner Veltliner is the main wine grape of Austria, grown rarely elsewhere and producing a subtle, refreshing wine that sometimes includes the flavor of really good fresh green peas.

NV R. Dumont et fils Champagne
What case of Christmas wine would be right without bubbly? This small producer isn’t widely distributed but what a tasty Champagne at a reasonable price. Highly recommended if you haven’t tried it. On the crisper side, but with good richness I think from a majority of pinot noir in the wine (along with chardonnay).


2003 Evesham Wood Pinot Noir Cuvee J
Cuvee J is the special selection from the Les Puits Sec vineyard, the fanciest wine in this bunch and a great example of top quality Oregon pinot noir. Again, the 2003 vintage was hot and this wine is fairly ripe and alcoholic for Evesham Wood. But if anyone can make tasty, ageworthy wine from even the hottest years, it’s winemaker Russ Raney.

2003 Belle Pente Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton District
Without other Evesham Wood wines currently available, I went with a couple of selections from Belle Pente, another favorite of mine among Oregon producers. This is a lighter but no less tasty pinot noir meant to drink young.

2002 Belle Pente Pinot Noir Murto Vineyard
As a counterpoint, here’s an older vine bottling (30 years) from the same producer. This one comes from the Murto vineyard in the Dundee Hills, made in a terrific vintage by a skilled but hands-off winemaker Brian O’Donnell. Lovely fragrance with good richness and balance, young and pehaps a touch oaky but good now or in a few years. I like Brian’s touch with pinot noir – never too dark and extracted, always fragrant and spicy without too much oak. He’s also been kind to me as a home winemaker looking for tips and grape sources.

2003 Fattoria Petroio Chianti Classico
The latest release from Petroio, a terrific little producer well known to Portland, where the Italian wine market is surprisingly deep (very deep). Nothing super fancy here, just good, fleshy, mostly sangiovese-based wine that’s like a quick trip to Tuscany in your glass – one of my parents’ favorite destinations.

2001 Felsina Chianti Classico Riserva
Again, a counterpoint that shows more depth, richness, and structure compared to a “basic” Chianti Classico. If I had to pick one producer from Tuscany, Felsina would be it. Just terrific wines, good young and old, well-priced (especially after their former price-gouging importer was cut loose), and like a quick trip to Tuscany, but first class.

2003 Pasquero Sori Paitin Barbera d’Alba “Serra Boella”
My dad has always liked the barbera grape, and this is a great example of the grape from a great producer of everything from dolcetto to Barbaresco.

2001 Domaine Les Pallieres Gigondas
Gigondas in Berkeley, CA? Yes, Kermit Lynch, of the eponymous wine import and retail firm in Berkeley, is part owner of this estate in the southern Rhone valley of France. Pallieres just happens to produce one of my favorite Gigondas, a wine made of mostly the grenache grape with some syrah and mourvedre in the mix. Dark colored wine, with flavors of wild berries, dry herbs, and (as if you don’t know what they taste like) rocks. A nice blend of old world rusticity with new world fresh fruitness, with fine tannins that melt away if you drink with with dinner. I’m getting thirsty just writing about it.

2003 Edmunds St. John Rocks and Gravel California
A final counterpoint, this is a Berkeley-made wine from winemakers Steve Edmunds in the image of the great wines of the southern Rhone valley. Again, a mix of grenache, syrah, and mourvedre, this too mixes old world and new world styles well, with a nice earthiness amid the fresh pie fruit that California wines (aside from this one) usually have way too much of. Not nearly as tannic as the Pallieres, these are two wines to compare if you’re interested in seeing the similarity and difference between wines from France and California. By the way, the wine name comes from a Bob Dylan song.

So there it is…Merry Christmas and happy tasting.

December 22, 2005

Joe Davis of Arcadian on Grape Radio

Grape Radio. I know, it threw me for a loop, too.

But after winning one of those iPod things in a drawing, I’ve listened to some of the Grape Radio podcasts and been fairly impressed.

No, not by the name (I can’t claim much better though). Nor the cheesy music and amiable if unpolished hosts. But many of the guests in the first year have been top notch. I’m not sure of its appeal to novices – the wine geek factor can be high. Still, Grape Radio is pretty cool, and sailing into uncharted waters of informative, entertaining wine media.

Perhaps controversial, too. The most intriguing episode yet features Joe Davis of Arcadian Winery in central California. Joe is an interesting cat, probably loved by some and loathed by others. He’s vociferous about the greatness of lower alcohol, elegant pinot noir in the face of today’s fashionable high alcohol, dense varieties.

He’s also simply one of the most unscripted people I’ve observed in the wine industry, either in this podcast or on any number of interesting (mostly) threads on pinot noir on the discussion group. Even if sometimes he might regret his candor, one has to appreciate his intent and passion.

Yet, in this episode even Joe’s passion can’t save him from his own words that verge on slander. I was shocked at what I heard him say.

I won’t rehash the whole thing, you can listen for yourself. But let’s just say that, as much as I find myself in Joe’s philosophical camp about pinot noir, and as right as he may be (MAY be) about his concerns for other, less experienced vintners enjoying recent success, he goes too far in calling them out personally for potential issues in their wines based on pure speculation.

Even if his words aren’t slander (I’m not sure they are, though I might feel differently if he were talking about me), Joe’s successful enough, and I hope smart enough, to realize he needn’t worry so much about other vintners nor talk about them in such a way to the media.

But let’s assume Joe’s right. My point isn’t that his opinion is off base, necessarily. Just that he’s not going to achieve his goal, whatever that may be, by calling people out this way.

He sounds like a dad criticizing his kid, which would be weird enough. Actually, it’s like he’s talking about someone else’s kid, which is too weird. If you’re so concerned, and especially if you’re so right, go talk to the person, especially when it involves someone’s passion and livelihood.

And that’s not code for “be politically correct.” No, be smart. At the least, be polite. As with making pinot noir, less is usually better.

Still, it makes for intereting listening. For a counterpoint, check out earlier podcasts here and here.

UPDATE - Check out this thread on Looks like there will be a follow up interview in January with Joe and some of the people he spoke about in this interview. I'll definitely be listening.

December 21, 2005

2003 Sakonnet Fume Vidal Reserve Southeastern New England

A friend gifted me this white wine from Rhode Island, made from the vidal blanc grape. I have to say, I’m woefully inexperienced with hybrids and other non-vinifera grapes and wines. Of course, that’s probably because what experience I have has left me largely unimpressed.

I had heard of Sakonnet Vineyards but never tried any of their wines. They apparently have a good reputation and, judging by this bottling, it’s well founded.

The “Fume” in Fume Vidal refers to oak aging, which this wine shows in its smoky, toasty oak aroma that reminded me at first of chardonnay, bad chardonnay. But with time the oakiness seemed balanced by a mix of fresh aromas that reminded me of pinot gris, riesling, and muscat. There were aromas of flowers and honey, with some earthy petrol notes and nice purity.

The flavors were also oaky at first, but with time there was a nice honeyed taste and a touch of white grapiness that I’m guessing is classic for the variety. The wine was lightly sweet but lively with good acidity, holding up well over two nights.

Overall, I’m impressed. This was an interesting, elegant wine and makes me want to seek out more vidal. Given its honeyed character, I’d love to taste late harvest wines from this variety. It’s definitely something to check out further.