December 25, 2006

Christmas Wine

Last year’s Christmas case of wine for my parents proved so successful, we’ve expanded things to two cases this year. This year, all of my siblings chipped in. Being the “enophile” in the family, I naturally do the shopping. Tough break, I know.

Since we’re visiting my childhood home in Los Angeles, I took a trip the other day to the Wine House in West LA to fill up the boxes. With a budget of roughly $20 per bottle, here are some thoughts on what I selected and why.

First, we always need bubbly. In my price range, Champagne prices and selection at the Wine House were a bit lacking, so I turned to two sparkling favorites – the 2000 Domaine Huet Vouvray Petillant and 1998 Domaine Meriwether Cuvee Wm. Clark. Huet is perhaps (inarguably?) the finest producer in Vouvray, and its sparkling wine of 100% Chenin Blanc is fine indeed. Typically lemony and minerally, with just enough dough and yeast. The Domaine Meriwether is an Oregon product and quite nice wine, more in the Champagne style with nice yeastiness from longer lees ageing.

Then, white wines. Domestic Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc tend to be common and boring, at least given our budget. So I turned mostly to Europe for my selections, and that’s probably never a bad idea no matter your price range.

For Sauvignon Blanc, the 2005 Domaine de Chatenoy Menetou-Salon, an appellation close to Sancerre in the upper Loire valley of France. For Chardonnay, two Maconnais – the 2005 Les Heritiers du Comte Lafon Macon and the 2005 Maison Verget Macon-Villages Grands Elevage. Of course, we must represent Oregon and I was pleased to find the 2001 Hamacher Chardonnay Cuvee Forets Diverses for less than you’d pay in Portland. I find this wine to be one of the top Chardonnay from Oregon, released late and still worth cellaring for a few years more.

My parents visited and quite enjoyed Vouvray a few years back, so in addition to the Huet sparkler I added the 2005 Domaine Champalou Vouvray Cuvee des Fondraux, usually a sec-tendre or lightly sweet that should be terrific in the highly touted 2005 vintage. And my father, loving his German heritage, must have wine from the Fatherland, no matter his reluctance of sweet Riesling. So, the 2005 Gunderloch "Jean-Baptiste" Rheinhessen Riesling Kabinett, a drier style even for Kabinett but still with a hint of sweetness. And the always terrific 2005 Nigl Gruner Veltliner Velt Krem Freiheit, which may be a bit out there for my parents. But I couldn’t resist.

For reds, I was again put off many domestic Cabernet selections but still found some oddities of fine quality to include. Namely, the 2001 Cedarville Cabernet Sauvignon from El Dorado County in California’s Sierra Foothills. Likely rich and strapping, but without being over the top. Also, a sale bottle of 2001 Havens Bourriquot, an unusual Cabernet Franc and Merlot blend from Napa made is a Bordeaux style. As a contrast, I picked the 2003 Chateau Coufran Haut Medoc, mostly Merlot from what is usually Cabernet country.

The Zinfandel selection in this price range is also limited, but I found the 2004 Dashe Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley that should be good if more oaky and rich than earlier vintages from this ex-Ridge winemaker. And an old school favorite, the 2003 Sausal Zinfandel Alexander Valley Old Vine, still with its 1970s vintage label and hopefully wine style. Haven’t had it in some years, but I suspect Sausal hasn’t changed much from its days producing savory Zinfandel that can age gracefully.

Branching out, I found some Rhone variety and varietal wines. First, the Grenache-based 2004 Domaine Charvin Cotes du Rhone Le Poutet from the acclaimed Chateauneuf du Pape producer. To contrast, two varietal Syrah – the 2001 Havens Syrah Napa Valley and the 2003 Pikes Shiraz Clare Valley from a cool climate region in Australia. Typically peppery and fruity without too much heaviness or alcohol that plagues the land down under.

Of course, we must have Pinot Noir. So the 2003 Domaine Simon Bize Bourgogne Les Bourgeots from the respected Burgundy producer of Savigny Les Beaune. Should be translucent and fragrant if not especially rich. To contrast, I was happy to find the newly released 2005 Grochau Cellars Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, which I tried from barrel earlier this year. Definitely check out this producer.

And from Italy, two bottles (it’s so good) of 2004 Fattoria Felsina Chianti Classico and, with a lacking selection of Barbera, a mystery bottle that I know nothing about – the 2004 Massolino Barbera d’Alba. If it’s modern and oaky, so be it. These wines are for my parents’ taste, not mine, though I couldn’t help including some off the radar stuff.

So there it is, two cases of wine for Christmas. What’s that you say? Only 23 bottles? Yes, I forgot the magnum of 2003 Clos la Coutale Cahors, mostly Malbec from the Dordogne in France that, despite a dose of Merlot for softness, retains nice country wine authenticity. Who can resist 1.5 liters of this stuff. It’s a party in a bottle.

Merry Christmas.

December 10, 2006

Sampling my new wines

As it’s two months past harvest, I thought I’d taste my new 2006 wines again to see how they’re doing.

In my garage barrel room, I have one barrel of free run Pinot Noir plus two carboys of mostly press wine, one six and the other three gallons. I also have a 3 gallon carboy and another 1 gallon jug of Pinot Noir Rosé.

The barrel room is a coverted water closet, with temps this time of year in the low to mid 40s. The barrel is up on a rack and the carboys are on the concrete floor. The reds all have solid bungs, the rosé airlocks.

The 1 gallon of rosé smells clean, as all the wines are at this point. But it has a dark color for rosé from too long a maceration, and a candy fruity black cherry aroma that is a bit much.. The 3 gallon carboy seems more mineral, but similarly fruity and a little heavy on flavor. These are perfectly good wines, just not quite my style. We’ll see how they change.

The 3 and 6 gallon carboys of red both show some stinky reductive notes, particularly the 6 gallon. I really don’t want to rack these things this early if I don’t have to, but I think it will have to happen. The reduction blows off in the glass, and they both show black cherry fruit aromas and a full, softly structured palate. The 6 gallon seems a little more meaty, maybe lightly syrah like. Again, not the style I’m going for, but not bad and not alcoholic.

The barrel is all free run wine, and interestingly seems a bit more tannic than the press wine. It’s not stinky like the press wine, but the aroma is muted. In the mouth, the wine is still tight but some fine tannins are welcome. This barrel is from 2001, so I don’t expect much wood tannin in the wine, but I’ll be curious to see how this wine changes compared to the wine in glass carboys.

Overall, things are looking good. At this point, the wines are what they are, I just want to keep them healthy. The reds will have to finish malolactic fermentation in the spring, and I’m hoping the malic acid levels are low. That way the finished wine will retain as much acid as possible. It’s already low enough, I don’t want it going any lower than it has to.

What’s next? Topping the barrel regularly with press wine and even some of last year’s wine, whatever’s handy. Last year’s wine is high acid and lighter in color, so I won’t mind using it here and there. This day I used about a full bottle to top the barrel, just 16 days since I last topped. At that rate, I’ll lose about 8% a year to evaporation, the angel’s share. I’ll look at getting a cheap humidifier to cut that down a little.

December 06, 2006

Domaine Tempier and Lots More on Wine Terroirs

Ok, I'm not exactly frequent with blog posts. And I haven't exactly filled out a site's worth of links and other resources I thought I'd have gotten too long before now.

But savvy élevage readers may have noticed the link on the lower right to Wine Terroirs, my favorite wine blog. If you don't check it out already, bookmark it.

Now, Paris-based photographer and writer Bertrand Celce doesn't exactly update his wine blog much more frequently than I do mine.

But the content. And the photos. Wine Terroirs is gorgeous and among great wine literature in its ability to make you thirsty.

Bert has spent the past two years travelling around France calling on a laundry list of producers I only wish I had the opportunity to visit. His latest post is Tempier, probably around the time I had that nice chance to taste Tempier here in Portand and chat with winemaker Daneil Ravier.

And Bert's been to Oregon, visiting this past summer and posting on one of my favorites, Evesham Wood. I only wish I had known and then invited myself along.

Yes, Bert's a non-native English speaker and writer, and his prose isn't exactly poesy. But he's a good taster, relays terrific information, and the site as a whole conveys what artisan wine and winemaking are all about.

So go read Wine Terroirs and open a nice bottle of Bandol.

December 02, 2006

2003 Edmunds St. John Rocks and Gravel

I’ve written before about how good Edmunds St. John wines can be. So when I saw the latest issue of Rocks and Gravel, their grenache, syrah, mourvedre blend, marked down to $13 from the usual $18, I grabbed a couple.

This wine is usually a great deal at full price, and I still have memories of the terrific 2001. Peppery, meaty grenache-dominated wine that tasted like a Gigondas or other good southern Rhone wine.

Alas, the 2003 isn’t the 2001. It’s not bad wine, and it improved markedly with food. But on its own the aromas and flavors seemed muddled, with a vegetal streak that I wasn’t sure about.

Then with dinner on the table, the food aromas mixed with the wine to bring out cherry fruit and the vegetal note evolved to an iodine, earthy complexity.

So I enjoyed the wine. But I wish I had the 2001 instead. And with The Shadow still a dollar or three cheaper around town, that’s what you want on the cheapside from ESJ.