March 31, 2010

Texas wine

The family and I just got back from a nice week visiting family in the hill country west of Austin, TX. Whenever I head out that way, I'm focused on family and relaxing, not wine. I've never managed to visit a Texas winery. However, I admire the rocky limestone soils of the Texas hills and promise I'll venture out to visit producers on of these days.

Meanwhile, I managed to try a few bottles that I thought I'd write about. First, the 2004 Alamosa "El Guapo" that's a mostly tempranillo bottling with a bit of mourvedre and cabernet. Yikes, what happened here? Lots of volatile acidity, a browning color and not much else to mention. I would have skipped noting this wine, but the old Cork and Demon blog noted a similar experience with the 2002 version of this bottling. Something's wrong here and it's too bad. I'm interested to try non-Bordeaux varieties in Texas. The climate is so hot, it's got to be better for truly hot climate varieties.

However, the next wine was the 2007 Becker Vineyards Merlot "Iconoclast." I've tried other bottles from this producer and this was no exception. Solid, varietally true wine that's a little oaky and anonymous but otherwise a nice buy for around $10. And that's not just for Texas. For the money, this is comparable with good wine from almost anywhere. The question is whether it's your style.

Me, I'd rather try other things and the find of this trip was McPherson, a producer out of Lubbock in northern Texas that was started by the Davis-trained son of the founder of Texas winery pioneer Llano Estacado. McPherson makes mostly Rhone variety wines, and I tried the 2008 McPherson Tre Colore, a blend of more carignan, less mourvedre and a little bit of viognier. I really liked the profile of this wine. It had a peppery aroma and some floral notes. In the mouth it was nervy and actually a little green, but with food that rounded out fine. An imperfect wine but something that suggested there's more to learn here. Not a bad buy at $14.

The last night, we tried the 2008 McPherson Sangiovese, and dang if this ain't a real good chee-an-tee ringer. Cherry and earth aromas, maybe a little soft on the acid but otherwise nicely pure and elegant. This cost $16 and is a nice buy given what you can usually find from Italy or anywhere else in the sangiovese department.

March 26, 2010

Cru Beaujolais and white Burgs

I'm a week late reporting on a terrific tasting at Storyteller last Friday. His eminence Marshall Manning from local distributor D'Vine Wine poured a mix of Kermit Lynch imports, with a special focus on what I call his Gang of 4+ producers. That's the basic four of Foillard, Lapierre, Breton and Thevenet, plus Chanrion in this case.

For starters, the 2007 Lucien Boillot et Fils VdP Blanc "En Souvenier du Beurot." This pinot gris from Volnay is labeled as Vin des Pays because that's not an allowable grape in the appellation. What wonderful pinot gris, something I rarely say or write. This smells and tastes like gris with soft melon fruit, but there's excellent minerality that says white Burgundy. I'm excited to try this fresh and compelling wine with seafood on the table.

Next, a quartet of Cru Beaujolais that once again shows all tasters that real gamay is serious, delicious and even ageworthy wine. First, the 2007 Guy Breton Morgon Vieilles Vignes, with a lovely fragrance of peppery meat and strawberries. Sometimes I find this producer's wines a little too funky, but this is gorgeous. Then the 2007 Nicole Chanrion Cotes du Brouilly, the most obvious and therefore slurpable wine of the bunch. Spicy dark brambly fruit, classic gamay noir with nice rock and stone character.

Next, the 2008 Lapierre Morgon, a favorite producer of mine that's showing a bit hard and closed today. Yes, this is wine for mid term in the cellar, and I'd happily put away a few of these to see where they go. And finally, the 2008 Jean Foillard Morgon "Corcelette," a special bottling apart from the regular Cote du Py I'm long familiar with. Wow, lovely depth and texture here, clearly a candidate for the cellar but showing why that's so with obvious richness and density. Love the tannin here. This is excellent wine.

As a bonus, there was the 2006 Guy Amiot Chassagne Montrachet "Caillerets," a terrific 1er cru white Burgundy. There's the golden yellow color, the sweet cream and toasted apple aromas and finely knit palate. In this line up, the wine seemed a little extra rich, but certainly there's plenty of cut and minerality to keep things fresh.

I'm left leafing through Kermit's book Inspiring Thirst, which I highly recommend, longing for prices of yesterday on wines like this. Still, these are all worth their cost, and cru Beaujolais remains one of wine's great bargains in the grand scheme of things.

March 13, 2010

Liquor license in process

Look what showed up at the winery the other day? I guess my winery license application, which inludes a liquor license, is really in process. Very exciting. Really.

March 08, 2010

Austrian samples

Now here are some samples I can reaelly get behind. Austrian wine has become a bit fashionable in the past decade, for wine geeks at least. Store shelves aren't overrun with bottles, though you will find some almost anywhere and you should seek them out. The whites in particular.

Long a terrific producer of gruner veltliner, the co-op Domaine Wachau has done it again. The 2008 Domaine Wachau Gruner Veltliner Federspiel Terrassen is textbook, delicious Austrian white wine. Strongly aromatic of sweet green peas and lemony citrus, even the non-geeks at the house loved it. This is unique but friendly wine. Bracing acidity balances round, ripe gruner fruit. Simple, no white pepper notes, but exactly what I'd want in a Wiener weinkeller or here at home in cheerful Oregon. Try this if you want an good introduction to gruner, but keep buying it because it refreshing, not at all tiresome. Sadly, I opened a locally produced gruner that paled in comparison.

Then the 2008 Franz Hirtzberger Riesling Federspiel Steinterrassen Spitz/Donau - Wachau. (In case you're wondering, Federspiel is the ripeness level below the fancy Smaragd, Steinterrassen means essentially stone earth and it's from the Spitz/Donau part of the Wachau. Imagine what they think of the Yamhill-Carlton District.) The wine is light gold and smells like honey drizzled apples, dried hay and rocks, not unlike a Loire chenin. A really good one. With time a hint of petrol comes out. The wine has great texture. Fat apple fruit with great tension and mineral savor, not just the citric cut so many lesser whites show in place of real terroir. This is excellent. Serve it as you would a nice but not oaky white from the Macon. It smells sweet with a bit of botrytis, but tastes more dry than similarly honied Loire wines.

Finally a red. I've enjoyed many red varietal bottlings from Austria, but this 2006 Zantho Blaufrankisch Burgendland was not one of them. It came with a snazzy glass locking "cork" but tasted stewed and harsh. I won't make unsubstantiated claims, but let's just say if this were mine, I'd send it out for brett testing. Way too much bitter bandgage flavors on the finish. I hope this bottle wasn't representative. Austrian reds can be really good, really.

All of these are imported by Vin Divino in Chicago, IL.

March 05, 2010

Last of the homemade wine

2008 saw the last year I made wine at home in the garage. As with the prior three years, I purchased a half ton of high quality pinot noir grapes from a local vineyard and, at home, refined the practices I was learning as I worked the harvest seasons in local wineries. In 2008, I was able to get Pommard clone fruit from 10 year old vines in the Zenith vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA here in Oregon. What a terrific site, long known as the O'Connor vineyard, and what an excellent growing season. The summer was long and cool, extending well into October. Where in 2007 the pinot harvest was wrapped up by mid-October, things were only getting going at that point in 2008.

The grapes were in excellent shape, requiring hardly any sorting before going through the destemmer. I fermented things in 3 Rubbermaid Brutes, without any yeast or yeast food. The wine was saturated in color and fairly tannic after only a few days of cold soaking, prior to fermentation. All together, the juice and skins were in contact for three weeks, longer than I had ever done primary fermenation before. Things were just so perfect. Great ripeness without too much sugar. For the geeks, brix was 23.1 and pH was 3.27. That extra time allowed the tannins to smooth out a bit and the new wine seemed to gain an earthy meatiness.

I let the new wine settle for two days and then put into a three year old French oak barrel purchased from a well regarded local winery. Malolactic fermentation took its time over the winter through the spring. At the end of June I racked and sulfured the wine, and have left it ever since in a cold closet out in the garage ever since. A recent measurement showed the wine at pH 3.55. Wine isn't made by numbers, but that's a pretty nice one.

Now, nearly 18 months after harvest, it's about time to bottle this last homemade wine. As readers may know, I launched a wine business with the 2009 harvest and have produced 9 barrels of Oregon pinot noir, among them a few from Pommard clone fruit from this same Zenith vineyard. I can't wait to get those wines in bottle and in the marketplace later this year. For now, I'm really excited by what I smell and taste in this 2008 wine. There's nice sappy raspberry fruit and emerging Pommard earthiness, brisk acidity, ripe tannic structure and nice juciness. This isn't heavy plodding pinot noir, yet it's ripe with good fruit. I'm happier about this wine than any I've made before it. I only wish I had more of it.

I'm thinking about doing one last garage tasting to let people try the wine and maybe some other surprises. Maybe that will happen in early May at this point. Meanwhile, my licensing paperwork to sell the 2009s and beyond is finally in motion, so my first offer for those wines will come early in the summer. I don't want to shill, but sometimes I feel a little shy -- contact me to get on the mailing list. Email is vincent[dot] I've been delighted by the steady stream of people who've joined already, but there's lots more room. Let me hear from you, and thanks.

March 03, 2010

2003 Fortia Chateauneuf Cuvee du Baron

I've been thinking lately about my wine buying habits and wine cellar. I'm a cheapskate, so I generally buy things that I find tremendously underpriced. That means my cellar is a mish mash of things that pretty much only have one thing in common -- they were incredible deals. That doesn't mean I have a cellar full of wines I don't like. Instead, I don't have a cellar full of wines I specifically picked to be in the cellar. That's a big difference. Part of me is ok with that. What's the fun and where's the exploration if you know you like certain producers, even great producers, and then go out and stock your cellar with them? Then again, how insane is it to have lots of producers you know are really good and not have them in your cellar, because you found other stuff cheaper? That's not exactly how it is with me. I do have some near and dear things in the cellar. B it's not completely off base. Ultimately, my cellar is full of experiments, some very successful and others very promising. I don't buy without discrimination. It's just so random.

So it seems clear to me that I need to focus more on things I know I like, or have more of a vested interest in besides being a good deal. I need to get over the hesitancy of paying a little more for those wines. I don't think doing that means giving up the surprise and exploration that intrigues me about wine. Every bottle is a surprise. Perhaps part of what holds me back is the dashed expectation of something you bought with so much intention, and maybe cash, that doesn't deliver. That's much easier to take with something you were experimenting with, and didn't cost much. Ultimately, I look at my nearly 400 bottle cellar and wonder if I'd be happier with it if I have 100 fewer bottles and a higher percentage of less experimental things. Then again, there are many excellent wines down in the basement and I know I don't overpay.

To ponder all this, I opened a prime example of what I'm getting at. Here's the 2003 Ch. Fortia Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee de Baron. Fortia is a terrific value producer in one of my old favorite appellations. Fortia isn't as interesting to me as Vieux Telegraph, Bois du Boursan, or a few other Chateauneuf producers I've enjoyed over the years. And 2003 isn't my favorite vintage. Hot, hot hot, in weather and often in wine. But I see a local shop with this on the shelf for $20 and I can't help trying it.

The color is ruddy ruby, the aroma intense and intoxicating. There's no shortage of alcohol here, though with a burly wine like Chateauneuf I'm more tolerant of alcohol levels. I love peppery, almost Burgundian Chateauneuf. This isn't that, but I like it just the same. There's lots of kirschwasser, flowers and meat aromas and pretty good freshness. The palate is where this hurts. The alcohol is just too much. Everything else is great. Lovely savory cherry fruit, hot stones, dried meat flavors, and chewy tannic grip. There's just too much alcohol burn through the mid and especially on the finish, scalding the palate. Overall I find this wine enjoyable but flawed, sort of like a person you like but who has a serious flaw that you can't overlook. For a cut rate, I'm happy trying it. But this isn't a wine I need in the cellar. You might think it wouldn't require such reflection to undersand and, more importantly, act on such truth. For me apparently things aren't immediately so clear. I do think I'm seeing the light. However, if you see me at check out with the next "incredible deal," go easy on me. It might take a little time to turn this ship around.

March 02, 2010

2005 Holdredge Schioppettino

Last week I tried an unusual California red wine from vintner John Holdredge. It's his 2005 Holdredge Schioppettino MacBryde Vineyard from the Russian River Valley. Schioppettino? Web resources Tom Hill and Alder Yarrow confirm it's a northeastern Italian variety that has, as most Italian grapes seem to have, several other names. I'll just say this is delicious wine, riding the line well between the new and old worlds.

There's obviously fruit here, though at 12.9% alcohol this certainly isn't typically ripe to overripe California red wine. There's also barrel influence, though I think a few years in the bottle have tamed it more than Tom Hill reports. One the first night, a group of tasters thought there might be some brett in the wine. I picked up a band aid note but we all agreed that, if it's there, it's "good" brett. Yet I'm not so sure. The next night I was able to enjoy the last third of the bottle. What a remarkable wine. Fragrant, peppery, savory with lovely black cherry fruit and great intensity without overt sweetness. The wine had great texture with firm acid, nice fruit, that savory peppery quality and some nice tannic thrust. I kept the last glass a long time, just smelling it and savoring each sip, loving this wine more than many I've tried recently. Alder suggests there's very little of the schioppettino planted, and I imagine that's true. This isn't an easy wine to find. Still, give it a look if this description intrigues you at all. I don't think I've tried any other Holdredge wine, but from this one alone I would happily try them all.

March 01, 2010

More samples

There's been lots of debate on the wine web lately about bloggers and specifically samples. Apart from the usual suggestions that bloggers are simply hacks in their parents' basements, I read specific accusations recently that several (many? most?) wine blogs are simply fronts for these hacks to collect samples of free wine.

Hmm. Maybe I'm late to the party. I've been blogging for five years and seen a variety of samples come my way. However, perhaps I should have been working harder to solicit more free samples. Who doesn't like free wine? I kid of course. Many wine samples are either from large, mass market producers...or lower end bottlings from better producers. The kind of stuff made in large enough quanitites to warrant sending out in the first place. Perhaps even to have a marketing firm handle all the details. That's not the focus of my interest or this blog's interest. So samples aren't necessarily a good fit for what this blog's all about, though I do enjoy trying things.

That feeling is reinforced by the latest round of samples from Australian producer Jacob's Creek. Americans know Jacob's Creek as a low end supermarket brand. Australians know it as a label of mega producer Orlando, which actually producers some higher end, limited production stuff (relatively so, anyway). Even at the low end, you can do a lot worse than Jacob Creek's NV sparkling wine from chardonnay and pinot noir. Of course, that wine isn't being sampled. Instead, here are flights of riesling and shiraz.

First, the 2008, 2006, and 2005 Jacob's Creek Riesling that you might find for well under $10. The 2008 was decent, though tasting more of pinot gris than riesling with generic melon notes. The 2006 was the best, more petrolly and true to riesling, sweet with nice acidic cut. The 2005 seemed a bit old in a way the 2006 probably won't be a year from now. Old apples, glue, this wasn't very good at all.

Then the shiraz. First the 2006 Jacob's Creek Shiraz, the same basic label as the rieslings above. This wasn't bad but more nondescript. Then the 2006 Reserve Shiraz, which gets good scores from the wine press. This was so thick and raisiny that I simply couldn't drink it. The texture is gooey and slick, and while I can see people loving how "big" and "bold" this is, I got kind of depressed drinking it. Finally, the 2005 Centenary Hill Shiraz, a fairly high end bottling at $30 to $40 per. Now this is a wine that's true to Australia, full of rich black cherry fruit and lots of dill and vanilla American oak that reminded me of old school Aussie shiraz and even many old Spanish reds. Some people hate that profile, but this is authentic for sure. The texture was the most remarkable element here, especially considering the other flaccid reds. There was tannin, fine worsted tannin that gave the wine some edge. Sure, it was a little much to drink, but this wine grew on me. Good job here.

Yet I'm left thinking that most samples leave me kind of empty. I enjoy trying different things, even things I don't end up liking. I'm just not in this to get samples and pity those who are (unless you can get really good stuff, I suppose, and not grovel too much). I'm also probably not going to please the sample senders because I'm not going to give false praise. So go ahead and keep sending things. I'll try them and write about them, I hope in a fair manner. I'm open to critique about my criticism. If that sounds good, fire away. But don't anyone think this blogger is only doing this for samples. I know I'm not the only one.