Wednesday, January 16, 2008

2006 Movia "Gredic" Tocai Friuliano, Brda, Slovenia

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Friuli, just to be clear, sits at the northeastern edge of Italy. The region surrounds the ancient city of Trieste, which balances on the tip-top of the Adriatic Sea. In the 1960s, Mario Schiopetto, whose name is about as Italian as you can find, imported German winemaking techniques to create the “super whites” that define the modern Italian style: clean, fruity, refreshing. I know where Friuli is; I’ve passed through Trieste on my way to Croatia.

So knowing all that, you might wonder why I picked a Slovenian wine for this edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday, the monthly Internet-wide tasting event that this month asked us to find Friuli whites.

Borders are a funny thing. We can hope that Italy’s borders will remain stable for a long time, since wars tend to be the events that move them, but not that long ago surveyors needed to decide where Italy ended and other countries began. Working in the hills that straddle Collio, an Italian wine region, and Brda, a Slovenian one, some engineer had to make a long series of decisions about which ground belonged to which country. And one of those decisions put the line through a vineyard owned by the Kristancic family, then and now the proprietors of the Movia estate. So some — maybe all — of the grapes in my bottle of Slovenian wine are actually from Italy.

That may be the most mild of the stories surrounding Movia, today the property of the charismatic and passionate Ales Kristancic. I’ve heard that Movia, alone in Slovenia, stayed private under Tito’s Communist rule because Ales’s father or grandfather was a friend of Tito’s. To get around the problem of a privately owned winery, Tito bought up all of Movia’s inventory each year. I’ve heard that American presidents have wandered through the vineyard.

And then you get to the cellar. The standard (and useless) definition of biodynamic viticulture is “organic plus.” Movia sometimes seems like “biodynamic plus.” I’ve heard that Ales records his fermenting yeast and plays their own song back to them. He uses the atmospheric pressure of the new moon to clarify his wines. He leaves some of his whites in Slovenian oak barrels and on their lees, the dead yeast cells that drop from the wine during fermentation, for 2 years. He ages his reds for 3 to 7 years.

Clearly, Ales flouts modern winemaking. But he also makes some killer wines. I have tasted a number of them, either at wine dinners or at Jack and Joanne’s house. I have never been disappointed.

His 2006 Gredic ($19), a well-balanced Tocai Friuliano, has light, buoyant aromas of honey and flowers, wax and cheese. It spanks your palate with searing acidity but then kisses the pain away with rich flavors of peach and wax. And if you ask Jack, who drinks them often, this is the least of Movia’s wines. If you ever get the chance to order a bottle of Movia wine, do so.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

2004 Parducci "True Grit" Petite Sirah, Mendocino, California

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If you don’t read many other food and wine blogs, you may have forgotten about Wine Blogging Wednesday, the monthly, Internet-wide tasting event. I typically forget about the event until I see everyone else’s posts, at which point it’s too late for me to join in.

But this month, one of the wines I drank lined up with Sonadora’s “Que Sirah Sirah” theme, an homage to Petite Sirah; I’d have no excuse for not posting.

Parducci’s “True Grit” Petite Sirah from Mendocino ($25) has the intense black color and blueberry aromas I associate with this grape, but the strong whiff of star anise and toast smells more like the wine’s barrel. That star anise flavor continues on the palate, with a deep black cherry taste that finishes with a hint of cough syrup on the medium finish, perhaps a by-product of the 14.5 percent alcohol. Since I normally think of Petite Sirah as a tannic, robust grape — small grapes give a higher skin-to-juice ratio — I was surprised to find a lightweight wine with subtle, fine-grained tannins and a mouth-gripping acidity. This is a wine I’d serve with grilled magret de canard, the fatty breast of a foie gras duck, especially if I had garnished it with a dark-fruit sauce.

This wine was sent to me as a sample.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Recent Drinks Of Note

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Martini & Rossi Prosecco IGT, Italy
When I covered Champagne in my wine class, one of my students asked why you don’t see crown caps — the toothed metal hats you see on beer bottles — on sparkling wine. (You do, incidentally, if you visit a Champagne cellar. The bubble-causing secondary fermentation happens in bottle, and Champagne producers put crown caps on the bottles during the riddling process that collects the spent yeast cells in the neck.) Another student theorized that the pressure in a sealed Champagne bottle — 88 pounds per square inch, according to The Oxford Companion to Wine — might make crown caps a risky venture. A slight flick of your bottle opener, he suggested, and the vented pressure might send the sharp metal disc flying through the air like a tiny throwing star.

I didn’t have a better answer, so when Martini & Rossi offered to send me a bottle of their Prosecco, sealed with a crown cap, a week before my class on Italy, I jumped at the chance to pour it for my students. How dangerous was popping the top? Not very: The wine lacked the voluptuous foam of a sparkling wine, showing instead a light fizz and leaving the class’s larger question unanswered. My students described the simple taste as “Martinell’s apple cider,” and we agreed that it would be a pleasant enough picnic wine. This is not a Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, the ne plus ultra of this simple sparkler, but a Prosecco IGT, which means — as I hope my students can now explain — that either it’s made from grapes from a wider area, or the winemaking varied from what the Valdobbiadene rules require. ($11, I think)

2007 Georges DuBoeuf Beaujolais Nouveau, France
Similarly, I couldn’t resist getting a press sample of Beaujolais Nouveau to pour in class on the day it released. We had covered the Beaujolais region, at the southern end of Burgundy, two weeks earlier, but I had focused on Cru Beaujolais, wine from the villages that act as subregions within Beaujolais: Morgon, Fleurie, Moulin-le-Vent, and so forth. Georges DuBoeuf singlehandedly transformed Nouveau from a quaffing wine meant to celebrate a successful harvest into a media event that dominates wine stores in the third week of November. He has given publicity to the region, but at the cost of associating it with a mediocre, industrial wine made from high-yield vines. My students quickly picked up the telltale aromas of fried banana that dominate DuBoeuf’s Nouveau, and some tried to figure out why anyone cares anything about this wine. (They enjoyed the better Beaujolais I poured earlier.) ($8-$10)

2004 Lassègue, Saint-Émilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France
This is a surprisingly floral and light Bordeaux, but it packs a lot of complexity into the glass. I picked up barbecued beef and bread aromas alongside the bell pepper I get off of most Bordeaux, and I kept writing down new flavors as I continued to taste the wine: mushrooms, plums, dark berry, smoke, and a splash of milk chocolate on the finish. Light tannins and mild acidity make this a wine to serve with light, lean meat dishes: The tongue and tail terrine from The River Cottage Meat Book comes to mind, as do brisket, beef sausage, and rabbit stew. ($50, sent to me as a sample)

2006 Pattiana Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino, California
This wine divides my loyalties: I want to encourage you to support biodynamic wineries, where the grapes are raised in a holistic fashion. But biodynamic farming is more laborious than industrial farming, thus adding expense to the wine. Can I encourage you to pay $18 for this wine, which is at heart a straightforward Sauvignon Blanc, when it probably costs more because the winery isn’t relying on industrial cost-cutting techniques? The wine is delicious — refreshing grassy aromas and searing acidity mixed with light peach and guava aromas — but not very complex. I would encourage you to buy more expensive grass-fed beef and produce from careful growers, but there you’re getting extra flavor for your extra money. I love this wine for what it is, but I wish it were a little cheaper. ($18, sent to me as a sample)

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Recent Drinks Of Note

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Based on feedback from my survey — I will write about that soon — I’ve decided to change my “Weekly Wine Wrap-up” into a more irregular “Recent Drinks Of Note” with fewer items. The items left won’t all be good: If I’ve tasted a particularly unpleasant wine, I may mention it to steer you away.

As always, samples are marked with a *

Sparkling
I didn’t write tasting notes for the most memorable wine I drank in the last couple of weeks, the Roederer Brut Rosé Sparkling Wine ($25) from Anderson Valley. It’s a good sparkler, but what made this bottle so special was the setting: the empty dining room of the new house. We finally found a moment’s pause to celebrate this big, giant step we’ve taken. (But will we merge our libraries? That remains to be seen.)

White
Melissa and I had a string of corked white wines in the last couple of weeks. It got so bad that she called me on her way home one night and asked if I had put a corked wine in the refrigerator. Thankfully, that wasn’t an issue with the 2005 Les Jardins du Bouscassé “Le Jardin Philosophique” from the little-known Pacheran du Vic-Bilh Sec region in southwestern France. Too bad the name is so long that we’ll have paid the check by the time we finish ordering it in a restaurant, because this is the kind of white I like: searing acidity with a whoosh of rain-covered pavement. The “Philosophique” part of the name will hint to some that this wine was made biodynamically, a holistic attitude about growing vines that includes not only obvious agricultural cues such as phases of the moon but also more fringe beliefs such as magic potions buried in cow horns. (And speaking of our corked wines, one of them was from Clark Smith of wine technology company Vinovation, so I asked him why he doesn’t use screw caps. He answered.)

Red
Melissa and I love Vintage Berkeley. The owner, Peter, has a great palate — which is to say it lines up with mine — and he finds interesting and inexpensive bottles. The 2004 Mount St. Helena Charbono from Napa is a good, solid, food-friendly red wine: musty berries, pepper, mouthwatering acidity, and a nice body. I haven’t tried a lot of Charbono, which is the same as the all-but-extinct Savoie grape Corbeau, but it’s enjoyed a minor vogue at California wineries. I can’t remember the price, but it must have been under $15.

* I’ve been impressed by the (oops) wines. We tried their Cabernet Sauvignon with Carmenere (many “Merlot” vines in Argentina turned out to be Carmenere — oops), and it was a nice, relatively complex wine. Good blackberry aromas with just whiffs of smoke and mint expanded into a similar range of flavors. And its $12 price tag makes it affordable even to new homeowners.

* Do you remember when the Matrix II came out, and it got panned? Melissa and I went into it with such low expectations that we ended up not minding it. That’s how I felt when I found myself drinking a second glass of the Gallo Hearty Burgundy. This wine has nothing in common with real Burgundy, but it wasn’t horrible. I won’t say it was good, but there are worse wines to drink in this world.

Beer
* And you’ll see a piece from me about this in a couple of weeks, but I’m a big fan of the Russian River Brewing beers, particularly Sanctification and Temptation. These are tart beers, which some people don’t like, but if you can handle it, seek them out.

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Weekly Wine Wrap-Up

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Photo by Melissa Schneider

Call this a two-week weekly wine wrap-up: I never got up last week’s. Samples are marked with an *.

* 2004 McWilliams Hanwood Estate Merlot, Southeastern Australia - ~$9
One-dimensional jammy fruit and a raisiny character make for a decent but not memorable wine. Light tannins and a refreshing acidity make it food friendly, but there are better wines for the price.

* N/V Cameron Hughes “Lot 25” Sparkling Wine, Carneros, California - $20
I pictured green apples served with shortbread when I tasted this light sparkler, but another taster at the table said it had a bitter finish and a grapefruit flavor. I paired this wine with the appetizer platter I served at a dinner party.

2003 Josef Ehmoser “Hohenberg” Grüner Veltliner, Donauland, Austria - (bought on clearance)
You can taste the blistering heat of the 2003 vintage in this wine: more stone fruit and dried apricot flavors than normal, lower acidity, and a heavy, creamy weight. In the end, that was a good match for the Meyer lemon papparedelle, zucchini, and squash blossoms I served, but it’s odd to taste a flabby Grüner Veltliner.

2001 Bürgerspital Zum HL. Geist Würzburger Stein “Hagemann” Riesling Spätlese Trocken, Franken, Germany - (price forgotten)
I bought this wine for its packaging: Franken wines come in a unique, round-bellied bottle called a Bocksbeutel, which translates to “goat scrotum.” Once that topic exhausts itself, you’ll find a rush of older Riesling character in the wine itself: petrol and pine and wax, oh my. This bottle also had a bit of the nutty character that comes with oxidation. The wine isn’t very complex, but it went well with roasted pork belly.

* 2006 Groth Sauvignon Blanc, Napa, California - $19
One of my favorite California Sauvignon Blancs, this wine combines the grassiness and green apple flavors of Old World Sauvignon Blancs with the heavier weight and hints of butter aromas more typical of the New World. The short finish gives a flare of heat, perhaps from the 14.5% alcohol. Drink it with shellfish and other types of light seafood.

2004 Domaine Germain Pére et Fils, Burgundy, France - (gift?)
Pretty flowers and spices dominate this aromatic wine, and I couldn’t get over the idea that it smelled like Pez candy. Lovely mineral flavors wash the palate, and a bit of cheese rounds out the medium-long finish.

* 2003 Bridlewood Syrah, Santa Ynez, California - $40
I didn't like cough syrup as a kid, and I don’t like it as an adult. So I wasn’t fond of this rich, berry-flavored wine and its scorching hot finish, but I was happy to find some of the smoke and meat aromas so often lacking in California Syrah. Oddly, I also found green notes: California growers ripen these grapes almost to raisins, so maybe it came from the oak.

N/V Saison Dupont - $9/750 ml
One of Belgium’s best and most approachable beers, Saison Dupont offers a whiff of vanilla, a burst of flowery hops, and a wave of tingly citrus. The creamy beer tastes a bit like lemon juice, with a little hoppy bitterness and a pleasant maltiness at the end. Drink with just about anything: This beer has enough weight and flavor to stand up to all but the most overpowering dishes.

2005 Adegas D'Altamira “Seleccion” Albariño, Rias Baixas, Spain - $20
Transport yourself to Spain’s Atlantic coast with this refreshing and simple wine. The green apples and minerality will fit right in with a tapas meal or a light dinner.

* 2006 Gascon Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina - $10
This well-balanced wine will seduce anyone who loves meaty, earthy wine. Bacon, thyme, mushrooms and a squirt of vanilla round out the taste, and searing acidity mixed with mild tannins make this a food-friendly drink. Pair it with roasts and rich pasta sauces.

Bonny Doon Tasting
Peter at Vintage Berkeley sent me an email to tell me that Randall Grahm, owner of Bonny Doon, was stopping by the store to pour some of his new wines. He’s converting the whole winery to a biodynamic operation, and I wanted to taste the results. (Also, I had spoken with him by phone three days earlier on a separate topic, and I wanted to give him a face for my name.)

In the end, we bought three of the Ca' del Solo bottles: the weighty and rich Albariño, the floral and crisp Moscato Giallo, and the earthy and intense Sangiovese. I’ve long been a fan of Randall’s attitudes, but I can’t recall his earlier versions of these wines. At any rate, the new batch is delicious. But the star of the day was the 1990 Old Telegraph that Randall brought as “something special.” Seventeen years haven’t dented this all-Mourvedre wine, which still has lively fruit and mellow tannins.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Weekly Wine Wrap-Up

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A smattering of wine and beer notes from the last week or so. * denotes a sample. Remember there’s still time to sign up for my 8-week UC Berkeley Extension Wine Studies class: Fundamentals I.

* 2005 Riboli Family Vineyard “San Simeon” Pinot Noir, Monterey, $18
This lightweight Central Coast Pinot has a rare-for-California wild, gamey, mushroomy aroma that would be even more delightful without an out-of-balance booziness, but the intense acidity steamrollers over any flavors, leaving just a wee bit of wild cherry cough syrup on the finish. Drink with delicate, light foods such as mousse patés, lemony fish, or herb chicken.

* 2006 (oops) Sauvignon Blanc/Carmenere, Chile, $12
I was intrigued by this white blend, since Carmenere is normally a red grape (the name—not my first choice for a good brand—comes from vineyards full of “Merlot” that were actually the more rare Carmenere grape). The wine lacks Sauvignon Blanc’s intense grassiness, instead offering lemon zest and minerals with a pleasant peppery spiciness. The Carmenere softens the searing acidity and adds a bit of weight to the wine. Drink with shellfish or white fish sauced with an herb vinaigrette.

* 2004 Chateau Pradeaux Rosé Bandol, France, ~$18
You won't find many rosés better than this bottle from a top-tier producer in a wine region known for its pink wines. Earthy aromas laced with nutmeg and red apple skin translate to bright cherry flavor and a thrumming acidity. It enhanced the tomato flavor in our caprese salad.

N/V “Sanctification”, Russian River Brewing, ~$10/750 ml
This homage to Cantillon gueuze lacks the full spine-tingling acidity of its role model, but it’s more than tart enough for sour beer fans. Aromas and flavors of flowers and grapefruit pith fade to a hoppy finish.

2004 “Home” Chardonnay, Shinn Estate Vineyards, North Fork, Long Island
Green apples sprinkled with lemon juice, with maybe just a hint of petrol, dominate this wine, and the medium weight, modest creamy character, and bright acidity made it a nice match for a homemade pâté de campagne with radishes, olives, cornichons, and goat cheese.

2004 Godello, Val de Sil, Valdeorras, Spain, $20 (for the 2005)
There’s a hint of "old white wine" aromas—wax and lanolin—but smoke and bacon take center stage. There's a really fascinating flavor in this wine, but I couldn’t quite pinpoint it. Black licorice jelly bean was the closest I could get. Flowers and wax also show up in this crisp wine's flavor profile. Eat it with weighty fish or heavier appetizers.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Weekly Wine Wrap-Up

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Brasserie de Blaugies, "Darbyste," Belgium - Fig juice adds its rich flavor to this tart saison beer, though dark caramel notes emerge as you enjoy the creamy mouthfeel and slight bitterness. Serve this alongside quail stuffed with figs. $10 (750ml)

2004 Herri Mina Irouléguy Blanc, France - This weighty Basque wine, made from the Gros Manseng grape, has nose-prickling petrol and pine scents and a mouthwatering acidity. (ordered from A Côté's wine list, along with an unrecorded Movia Tocai and a Royal Tokaji Wine Company dry Furmint, to accompany a variety of small plates).

Cantillon Fou' Foune, Belgium - Cantillon beer is in a class of its own, and this apricot lambic is a rare find in the Bay Area. Like the rest of the Cantillon line, this is a sour beer, though it has a more bitter finish than other Belgians. Surprisingly little apricot flavor cuts through the lemon pith taste, but the fruit rounds out the beer and adds complexity. Drink this beer with a pork shoulder roast. $10-$15 (from City Beer).

2006 Gauthier Jour de Soif, Bourgueil, France - This Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley, made with organic grapes, gushes plush scents along every axis of the aroma wheel: upscale floral soap, hints of smoke and baking spices, and potpourri. Rich red fruit flavors dominate the palate alongside strong tannins and a soft acidity. Serve with a good roast chicken. $15 or so at Vintage Berkeley (I've misplaced the receipt).

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Weekly Wine Wrap-Up

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In the interest of getting more tasting notes onto the site, I plan to do weekly roundups of the wine/beer I drank in the previous few days. None of these are samples, but in the future I'll mark those with a *.

2005 Bodegas Val de Sil Godello, Valdeoras, Spain - A modest and mellow white, rich with stone fruit flavors and garnished with anise and mineral notes. Serve with pâté or chicken salad. $20

2004 Clif Bar Winery "The Climber", North Coast, California - The only Clif Bar product I like, this "kitchen sink" red's plush fruit, mild spice and smoke, and scratchy tannins should pair well with summer grillables. $17

2003 Grgich Hills Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California - This weighty wine smelled of musty flowers and had a harsh oak finish — although it also had strong apple flavors and a tingly acidity — but it may have suffered in the wine rack in my apartment. $40

2006 Saracco Moscato d'Asti, Piemonte, Italy - Saracco makes one of my favorite bottles of this fizzy, fruity, floral dessert wine. Moscato d'Asti never fails to win converts when it's poured. Drink this delicate wine with custard-based desserts or as dessert on its own. $13

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Friday, April 27, 2007

WTN: Cocchi Barolo Chinato

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The Cocchi Barolo Chinato didn't make sense. Oliveto put it on their list of dessert wines, but Barolos are big, robust, dry reds you drink with osso buco. When the waiter brought the bottle, the label said it was from Asti, but the famous city and the vineyards of Barolo, a pretty and well-heeled hilltop town, sit 30 miles apart from each other.

Melissa and I asked the waiter about the clash of concepts, and he dove into the restaurant's database for answers. The Asti-based producer buys Barolo wine and adds quinine. And rhubarb. And gentian. And secret spices. (K & L's web site says "secreted spices." I hope that's a typo). "Ah," I said, "it's like vermouth, but with Barolo."

And I didn't like it. It had raging aromas of menthol and cumin, anise and tobacco, It had a medicinal taste and a bitter finish. Melissa, who didn't mind it, compared it to gin. She wonders if I prepared myself for a dessert wine and ended up reeling under the very different digestivo. Maybe in a different context, with different expectations, I would like the wine more. But I won't rush to the store to add it to my rack.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

WTN: 2004 La Cabotte, Côtes du Rhône

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For my current wine class, I don't limit the wines to ones I already know. Because the class is about sensory analysis, I choose wines that I know will illustrate certain characteristics. So each night's batch is something of a crap shoot, though I buy or beg from people I trust.

As I poured the last wine of the night on Thursday, the 2004 La Cabotte Côtes du Rhône, I asked my students to describe the aromas. Earlier, I had set up 70-80 vials with isolated scents—from green apple to liquid smoke—to help them solidify associations between scents and vocabulary. Freshly equipped, they poured out adjectives for this intense wine: smoke, soy sauce, tar, deep black cherries, a bit of bacon fat.

And then we went through an analysis exercise, reinforcing the first class's lessons on acidity, complexity, balance, and weight. I have the students rate these aspects on simple low-to-high scales. They discussed the slightly coarse tannins, but also talked about how the flavors came through despite the tongue-shriveling grip. We talked about good structure because this wine illustrated it nicely.

And as we talked, we all came to the same conclusion at about the same time. This was a good wine. Complex, well-balanced, and heavy without being overbearing. Then I told them the price, $10 at Paul Marcus Wines, and they started scribbling down the name. I went back to the store and bought 4 bottles for our rack. (A friend tells me that it's also available at Berkeley's Whole Foods, which for most items means that you can also find them at other Bay Area Whole Foods stores.)

Food Thoughts
This wine's weight should steer you towards medium-heavy dishes. It could probably handle a steak, but I'd prefer to pair it with stew, roast chicken, or duck. Especially duck: The wine's acidity and tannins could slice through the fatty flesh, and the intense fruit flavors would complement the dark meat. Braised meats, sugo, or sausages would work as well. I'd decant the wine for half an hour or so before drinking it.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

WTN: 2002 San Antonio Winery "Heritage," Central Coast

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This is a meaty wine.

Oh, it has other aromas and flavors: cherries, pepper, a bit too much alcohol on the nose. But meat—beef stew, let's say—was the term I kept returning to as I swirled and swooshed the Rhône blend and felt its tannins enshroud my tongue. I almost chewed the wine; it could use some time in a decanter.

San Antonio Winery has been in Los Angeles for 90 years. The city has given the winery, the last in Los Angeles, landmark status. It survived Prohibition by churning out sacramental wine. It has seen vineyards become rail yards and waterways become streets. It has shifted and changed to keep up with a capricious public.

The winery has expanded as well, though not so drastically as the city that now surrounds it. New brands have been added, and a Piemontese restaurant named Maddelena has arisen. But the family remains the same, descendants of the original owner who traveled from Lombardy to America to find a new start.

Food Thoughts
This wine's dense tannins and meaty aromas will stand up to a rich and complex main course but will overwhelm subtle flavors. Braised beef, duck ragú, and wild hare would all work. Or serve with the lamb you're eating at Easter dinner.

This wine was sent to me as a sample. You can buy it directly from the winery.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Beaucastel, Old and Young

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This site has provided me with a wealth of new friends, but it has also connected me with old ones. Some, from my high school days, have found their way here after searching for my name. Others have jumped to this page from somewhere else, recognizing my face as they landed.

My friend Fred, whom I know from my days at BMUG, found his way here and dropped me a note to say hello. He, too, has been bitten by the food and wine bug, and he recently sent me an invitation to a tasting at his house. His friend would be pouring older and newer vintages of Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and did I want to come? I jumped at the chance to taste these legendary wines, bottles from one of the most famous producers in one of the world's most famous wine regions.

Old wines, the good ones anyway, present a rare treat; you've probably heard "wine is a living thing" from wine lovers like me, but an old bottle drives the point home better than a thousand blog posts. The fruity aromas of youth fall off and become something new and extraordinary, something that you wouldn't have predicted: They're so different that wine geeks reserve the word "bouquet" for these scents. Of course they can also be a crap shoot. A 40-year-old wine has four decades of potential mishandling under its capsule. Maybe the wine wasn't stored well for some portion of its life. Maybe the cork allowed a little too much air into the bottle. Until you sip the wine, which no doubt cost you a pretty penny, you don't know what you'll get.

Here are my tasting notes for the evening. The whites were all Château de Beaucastel Roussane Vielle Vignes. The reds were the Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the same winery. Beaucastel uses more Mourvedre than other producers in the region, but other than that the grapes could be any of the 13 allowed in the appellation. However, It's a safe bet that there's some Grenache in there, as well as Syrah, and probably Cinsault. (Note: Beaucastel also flash heats the grapes to 176° Fahrenheit before pressing, which they claim extracts more flavor and color and allows them to press without sulfur.)

The Whites
1988 - My goodness, I love white wines that age well. This well-balanced favorite of the evening was a charming mix of mature and young, like a bank executive with a giggle. The wine still had a thick, clear edge with a well of light gold in the center, but the nose had the heady wax aromas of bottle age. I teased out subtle tropical fruit aromas and a soft stoniness. "Wow!" say my notes of the ferocious acidity that hit my tongue, a refreshing quality I might have expected from a bottle just out of the winery's cellar. Flavors of wax and stone lingered for a nice long finish. But don't let this wine sit in a glass for too long, as its flavor fades fast.

1999 - This wine was more restrained than its older brother, offering subtle aromas of wax and smoke, and an almost watery body, with modest acidity. I didn't find it very exciting.

2004 - I liked this young wine, which had an aroma I often get from German wines and which I write down as Honey Nut Cheerios. I also noticed a slight cheese aroma. The light-bodied wine has a menthol quality on the midpalate, with a nice long finish that has just a hint of the waxy aroma that so dominated the '88.

The Reds
1966 - My favorite red of the evening was an Energizer Bunny of a wine. Even after an hour in the glass, the wine's complex nose oozed salumi, offal, and paprika. There was a funky smell—I wrote "skunky, but in a nice way"—that defied easy description, as most complex wines do. The wine still had a good acidity, and not surprisingly the tannins had become feather-light over the last 40 years. The flavor was as complex as the nose, adding a mushroom finish as a final flourish.

1978 - "Burnt coffee" was a dominant comment from the tasters at my table, even from the one coffee hater in the group, me. As with the 1966, I got salumi aromas, which might come from Brettanomyces, or "brett" for short, a yeast that produces "barnyard" scents. These can add complexity in small amounts, but in large quantities are usually considered a fault. The finish for this wine had a bit of vanilla, but mostly a strong mineral element. Great acidity and solid tannins suggest that it still has room to mature.

1985 - Speaking of brett, this wine had plenty, though it never crossed into unpleasantness. In fact, I gave it a +, my "this is a good wine" mark—the 1966 got a *. Sweat, leather, and salumi all showed up in the aromas, alongside a warm earthiness. The wine still had nice fruit, tasting of baked cherry with subtle leather. Mild tannins and only a decent acidity make me wonder how much longer this wine will mature.

1990 - Add more brett to the mix as this wine opened. But the first sniff was all smoke and meat, with a leathery flavor. The tannins were still quite strong, though not in an unbalanced way, and the finish held both mushrooms and the heat of slightly unbalanced alcohol. Regardless, it warranted a +.

1995 - This relatively young wine had aromas of raisins and dust. I thought I noted a hint of volatile acidity, but I left it with a question mark, never able to recover the vinegar or ethyl acetate aromas I first noticed. Flavors of smoke and wintergreen faded to a meaty finish. Interesting enough on first sip, the wine lost all its character within an hour of being poured into the glass. A stark contrast to the 1966, which was still delicious.

2001 - Lots and lots of raisins and strawberry jam—"Don't you mean raspberry?" joked the young woman next to me—dominate the nose, though forest floor and pine contribute in subtle ways. On the other hand, flavors of dried cranberry and button mushrooms came through on the palate, ending in a raisiny, hot finish. There's good structure here, so maybe I'll tell you what it tastes like in 40 years.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

WTN: 2005 Hook & Ladder Winery, "The Tillerman," Russian River Valley

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"Real musicians have day jobs," read a bumper sticker I once saw. So do many wine makers, who squeeze their vinous passion around the edges of a full-time job like carry-on luggage in an overhead bin.

Cecil De Loach managed that packing problem with room to spare. While he worked for the San Francisco Fire Department, he founded De Loach Vineyards, which eventually produced 250,000 cases of wine a year. He presided over the Sonoma County Vintners Co-operative along with a number of other organizations, and he sat on the Board of Directors for the Wine Institute.

No one seems to have told De Loach that he can slow down now that he's retired from the fire department and has sold the megawinery that still bears his name. He started Hook & Ladder Winery in 2004 to spotlight his Russian River vineyards, and he runs it with careful attention to sustainable practices.

The 2005 Tillerman White, a mix of grapes from across De Loach's holdings, is a reasonably balanced, friendly fruit salad of a wine, lush with aromas of tropical fruit, apples, and strawberries. I also found Swiss cheese and tiny hints of caramel and smoke in the swirl of scents from the glass. Flavors of pineapple, the light taste of unripe peaches, and a bit of pine lingered for a medium finish. The alcohol was a bit out of balance, with a little heat on the finish and an acidity that turned bitter as it lingered. Drink this wine young.

Food Pairing
This wine's weight suggests either a heavy fish or poultry as a protein. Its midlevel acidity could cut through a light cream sauce but would suffer in the face of a vinaigrette or salsa. The current of tropical flavors, not atypical for California Chardonnay, makes me think of a coconut-cream sauce. Alternately, you could pound out the chicken breasts, slather them with goat cheese, roll the meat, tie it, bake it, and then serve slices of the cooked roulade on a couscous mixed with apples and raisins.

I received this wine as a sample.

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