February 26, 2008

Nice write up, and a tasting note update

First, thanks to Andy Perdue for his post yesterday about this little site. It turns out Andy's an Élevage reader and coincidentially the editor of WinePress Northwest magazine. He happened upon this site last year after I posted a critique of the publication's coverage of Oregon wine. Apparently, when you write about someone's magazine or winery or whatever on the internet, it seems they find you pretty quickly. Happily in this case I didn't get the usual weird phone call. Rather, some very kind words.

Meanwhile, last year I tried the 1999 Clos Roche Blanche Touraine Cabernet, a blend of cabernet franc and maybe cabernet sauvignon from France's Loire valley. Then it wasn't showing so great. But tonight it seemed much more alive and pleasing, possibly even something to age five more years. The color is dark purple, but already there's a nice bottle sweetness emerging in the wine. The effect amplifies the aroma, rounding out the texture and sweetening the flavors. It's something I prize in aged wine, and though this wine is still not mature, it's getting there I think. Yes, my wife found this a bit "green" though she later enjoyed it with dinner. If you don't think you like Loire red wines, I suppose you might not like this one. For the rest of us, this again shows how so-called "bad" vintages can produce interesting and delicious wines. Ageworthy ones, too.

February 21, 2008

Peter Liem Blog

Thanks to whomever wrote on Wine Therapy about Peter Liem's blog.

Long ago Peter lived here in Portland and worked in the wine business, most notably as a co-founder of the terrific but long shuttered Riesling Report.

Peter moved to New York and maybe elsewhere working for Wines & Spirits magazine and other wine related things. Now he's in Champagne researching a book and writing a terrific blog.

Naturally, Peter's writing a lot about Champagne. But don't miss his recent Loire valley trip with the Louis/Dressner clan, among other things.

I also love the photo of his nephew celebrating Chinese New Year. That alone is worth your time, but Peter's clear but expressive writing is unusually pleasing to read. And he seems to write regularly. We hate blogs that don't get updated regularly.

Um...never mind.

Cheap, Classic Zinfandel

Being a native Californian, I left my home state some years back with a few reservations. One of them was about leaving zinfandel behind.

Zinfandel isn’t from California, but it’s an archetype of California wine like no other. Sure, Napa has its cabernet and the Sonoma coast has its pinot noir. But California had zinfandel long before either of those grapes meant much.

Nothing seems to reflect the ripeness, the precociousness, the tradition-busting nature of California better in my opinion than zinfandel. Sometimes I wonder if all red wine in California, if you aren’t careful, ends up tasting like zinfandel.

Zinfandel was also my conduit to winemaking. I thought I’d be in California forever, making zinfandel in my garage and hoping to go pro some day. Zinfandel was my first winemaking love. Turns out I’m in Oregon and that zinfandel in the garage is actually pinot noir. It seems pinot noir has become the love of my winemaking life.

Still, I love a good zinfandel. The trouble is, aside from the relatively poor selection of California wine here in Oregon, too many zins bore me with overripeness, high alcohol, and too much new oak flavor. So I find that I don’t drink much zin any more.

Even my wife questions me if I bring up a bottle of zin. Are you sure, she asks. Is it going to taste like vodka? Isn’t there a nice Italian wine down there?

All that changed with a simple, inexpensive wine that in one glass brought me back to zinfandel glory. Yes, it’s the 2004 Sierra Vista Zinfandel from El Dorado County in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

The wine itself is medium ruby in color, with a fresh, classically zinfandel berry aroma mixed with a little tobacco and pepper. In the mouth, it’s silky with that classic berry flavor, bright acidity with very soft tannin and a clean finish. Hardly wine for the ages, this modest bottle reminded me of delicious zinfandel I’ve had over the years but for whatever reason don’t seem to find so much any more.

This wine probably costs around $10. So for cheap wine, this is really good deal. If you like classically bright and medium bodied zinfandel, this might even be a great deal. A “bigger” wine will “blow it away” in a tasting. But if you’re looking for something interesting for the dinner table, this one’s a rare California bargain.

February 19, 2008

Wine Dinner at Alba Osteria in Portland

I attended a nice offline dinner this past Friday night here in Portland at Alba Osteria. As you might expect, Alba prepares food in the style of the Piedmont, and I found the variety of dishes we sampled, sort of family style, to be delicious across the board. This restaurant’s reputation locally seems well deserved.

For starters, we tried the 2006 Ferrando La Torrazza Erbaluce di Caluso, a white from the northern Piedmont that paired nicely with a Dungeness crab dish. Lanolin, flowers, and pretty yellow fruit aromas with a round, soft and then bright texture, fresh and clean wine and a completely new experience for me. Never had an Erbaluce before.

Then on to a mix of reds. Overall I enjoyed most of the wines, even though they were mostly more modern in style than I typically prefer. Lately I’m finding myself more pleased by some “new worldy” old world wines, and tonight was a good example of that.

First, a huge throwback. The 1982 Dessilani Caramino Riserva Vino da Tavola, a humble nebbiolo that is as old school as old school gets. Funky merde aromas at first that ease into nicely sweet tar and flower scents. Then nicely bottle sweet in the mouth, silky and a bit tart on the finish but really nice, especially with the tajarin with beef.

Next, the 1999 Clerico Barolo Pajana, which is pretty modern smelling with an oaky sheen and a dark crimson color. But in the mouth this is all nebbiolo, finely tannic and rich but clearly varietal if primary, a common them this night. I’m sure this will be more distinctive in another decade, but it’s solid now.

Then the 1997 Seghesio Barolo La Villa, with a slightly ligher color more in line with what I expect from nebbiolo. The aroma was deep and rich, oaky yes, but so nice with tar and flowers. The crime here is youth, as the finely tannic texture and tight flavors show this wine still needs many years to show its best. One diner said this and the Clerico were just too oaky, and it's true they aren't old school by any means. But they seemed like interesting wines and certainly not ruined by their less than traditional upbringing.

The 2001 Cabutto Barolo Riserva del Fondatore Vigna Sarmassa is controversial at first. Is it corked? Or does it normally smell like tree bark and mothballs? Neither. These elements fade with airing to reveal a nicely spicy, cherry smelling nebbiolo with another finely tannic, tight and primary flavor profile. Nice, but needs time.

My contribution was an odd bottle of 1999 Varaldo Barbaresco Bricco Libero, again a more modern-styled wine despite the import sticker of Casa Bruno, a local group I tend to associate with more old school stuff. Some ethyl acetate notes at first, then cherry pie aromas with oaky “crust” mixed in. Flavors were again cherry pie with a fine tannin structure, but the finish was marred by alcohol. Hard to read, I want to say this needs more time, but the heat the end is worrisome.

Then something different, a 1994 Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon. This was tremendous cabernet even if it still needs at least another decade. Strong cassis and nicely integrated oak aromas, without the wood sticking out, with cassis flavors that mix with a nicely earthy, woodsy note that I really liked. This isn’t mind blowing wine, and back in the day Quilceda Creek wasn’t the hot property it now is. But this is terrific wine and well worth holding for many more years if you have some.

Decanters got mixed up and I was tiring of red wines, but I think I tried the 2003 Giorgio Toscano IGT. If correct, this was inky, shoe polishy modern Tuscan wine with a rich, saturated flavor and lots of tannins. I wasn’t moved.

Finally, the 1996 Albert Mann Tokay Pinot Gris Vendanges Tardives from half bottle. Pale, very young looking color with a bright, slightly petrolly aroma that is otherwise bright and youthful. Bright, fresh flavors with light honey notes and terrific, mouthwatering acidity, a medium body and a lingering aftertaste. A heavier, richer sweet wine would blow this out of the water. But in this context, this was fabulous and that’s more than enough for me.