Category Archives: What We’re Drinking

Cotes-du-Rhone Showdown

In the search for a perfect value red to serve at my sister’s wedding next spring, we’ve started to pick up some bottles to taste. Since we visit the Rhône region often, I think it appropriate that she include a wine from the area. So off I went to find a great value Rhône wine. Focusing on reds, we ordered three to taste over this past weekend: a Côtes-du-Ventoux, a Côtes-du-Rhône and a Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, all about the same price range ($12-$13). I gathered a well-rounded tasting panel of baby boomers (my parents and my aunt), Gen-Xers (myself) and millennials (my sister and her fiancé). Here is how these wines fared:

Wine #1: ’08 Delas Côtes-du-Ventoux
2008 was not a terrible year in the Rhône, but it was not fantastic, either. While the wine had good berry fruit on the nose and palate, it was just “okay” by my Rhône standards. The rest of the panel felt the same – definitely drinkable, but the fruit flavor was a bit stewed and lacked freshness. I like a good red Rhône to brighten the palate with fresh fruit and spice. This wine just did not do that. I really enjoy Delas and the ’07 Côtes-du-Ventoux was delicious. I am next up to order the ’09 as this ’08 was disappointing.

Wine #2: ’09 Delas St. Esprit Côtes-du-Rhône
I had high hopes for this wine. Delas + excellent 2009 vintage = yummy, right? Well, the rest of my panel thought so. They really enjoyed the spice and dense fruit and a touch of floral notes. I liked this wine, but didn’t love it. Something about it was almost “candied” to me and again, it lacked that fresh, vibrant fruit I want from my red Rhône wines. But it got a big thumbs up from most everyone else and it was good for the price.

Wine #3: ’09 Perrin Côtes-du-Rhône Villages
Hands down my favorite. This wine has that fresh fruit and vibrant acidity I was looking for in a red CDR. It is balanced, well-structured and yet smooth. It has a touch of spice and sweet herbs (like rosemary) that really rounded out the flavors. This is the wine I drank all night as it was a great food match. It almost made up for the fact that the 2004 Beaucastel Chateaneuf-du-Pape (also by the Perrin family) I opened the other night was corked… but not quite.

The verdict? All three wines were good. The Delas CDR received “very good” and “great” reviews from the group, as did the Perrin CDR. When we took a vote for the favorite, the Perrin won.

Rose Rundown

As I stepped out of the airport at Reagan National Airport a couple weeks ago, I was hit with a blast of wet, sticky air. Oh, yes, that would be the humidity I have not missed over the past 6 years. Combine it with temperatures in the 90s and you’re talking serious weather shock. As I always try to look on the bright side of things (which one must do with a toddler, a baby and a pending move on their mind), I see this heat as a way to enjoy my favorite summer wine, rosé, even to a greater degree. The hotter it is, the colder it feels, the pinker it looks and the more refreshing it tastes.

Rosé has been on the upswing for some years now, with more Americans realizing that all pink wine is not the semi-sweet “blush” wine made so popular by Sutter Home in the 70’s and 80’s. There are all sorts of rosé styles out there, from sweet to off-dry to bone dry; dark crimson colored to pale salmon hued; full-bodied and lush to lightly crisp. Rose wines are definitely not one-size-fits-all. But how do you tell which is the right one? Each country seems to make a range of styles, so I often focus on color and grape. 

Color: I generalize here, but similar to reds and white wines, the deeper the color of wine, the more full-bodied the wine will be. A darker rosé often means a grape with a darker skin was used and/or the wine spent more time on the grape skins. In either scenario, you’ll get a fuller-bodied wine and mouthfeel. Light, salmon-colored rosé is often made with Pinot Noir or is a wine that has very little time on the skins, so will be lighter bodied with more delicate flavors, but not lacking in flavor!

Grape: If a wine bottle gives you the grape (or grape varieties) used, it’s obviously more helpful in taking a gander at the style of wine. Mulderbosch Rosé, for example, is a Cabernet Sauvignon-based rosé – not your typical rosé variety. It’s fuller-bodied and has excellent structure, just like a Cab! But if you are sipping Robert Sinskey Vin Gris, a pale, salmon colored rosé based on Pinot Noir, you’ll have much lighter-body and more delicate flavors – both are excellent, but different.

In my case, while I swelter here in the heat and humidity of Virginia for another week, I’ll take it if it’s pink and cold.

The Forgotten Wine

I’ve often heard stories of places, magical places, beyond San Francisco where temperatures rise above 70 degrees for extended periods of time, known as seasons. I once had relatives visit from Michigan who packed nothing but shorts to wear, ignoring our warnings that San Francisco is not a very warm place and the weather is usually a crapshoot.

So when I imagine myself in warmer places, what am I drinking? It’s complicated. I could choose a white or sparkling wine but that’s too obvious, deep down I really want a nice chilled Rosé – she’s that pretty girl that no one asks to the school dance despite her killer moves. I forget about Rosé myself and get annoyed when I realize it.  Rosé has all the great red fruit and floral aromas we love about red wine and the bright acidity we love about white wines. A good Rosé will pair well with meat (especially pork) and seafood (move over Sauvignon Blanc) and mop the floor with many pasta dishes and Mexican dishes.

I can’t think of a single place in the wine world that doesn’t make Rosé. It is usually made using whatever the dominant red variety of the region is, like Syrah for Rhone Rosés, etc.  Rosés are usually made by either “bleeding” juice off from fermenting red wine, a technique known as Saignée, or by allowing only brief skin contact .  Cheap Rosés are made by mixing red and white wine – skip those.

Long story short, don’t forget about Rosé – she likes to boogie.

Impressions from Bordeaux

I recently returned from a glorious week in Bordeaux, touring the different appellations and tasting through the 2010s of each district’s wines. Some of these tastings were held privately at the Chateau, where only the wines from their specific property were tasted. Some were organized communal tastings at a Chateau, where several dozen producers from specific appellations, i.e. the Medoc (St. Estephe, Pauillac, Margaux, St Julien), were pouring their wines with throngs of people tasting and spitting in a choreographed dance together.

This week long event, which is billed as En Primeur, is attended by the wine trade and press from around the world. I didn’t run into Robert Parker…but did see both Jancis Robinson and Steven Spurrier (Decanter) on my last days private tasting at Lafite Rothschild, where we tasted the 2010 Lafite Rothschild, 2010 Duhart Milon, and the 2010 Carruades de Lafite. The main purpose of the event is to get a general sense of what the vintage has to offer, and to drum up enthusiasm in anticipation of the 2010 Futures Offerings.

The overall mood for the vintage is very high. Initial scores seem to mirror the optimism. The wines from the 2010 vintage that I tasted were fantastic and I’m excited to have the opportunity to offer them to you in the very near future.

Until then, has three very special older vintage wines from Bordeaux (2 Right Bank & 1 Left Bank). Both Chateau Branon and Chateau Valandraud are considered to be “garagistes”… innovative winemakers in the Bordeaux region producing “Vins de garage” or “Garage wine.” Few exemplify the garagiste idiom more than Jean-Luc Thunevin and wife Murielle Andraud of St-Emilion’s Chateau Valandraud. Elevated to cult status thanks to a string of high ratings from influential American critic Robert Parker, Valandraud – literally operating out of a garage – had in guts what Medoc powerhouses had in budget. Founded in 1989 on a 1 hectare plot in Saint-Emilion, with limited funds for equipment, much work was done primitively by hands and feet in their garage, with high detail labor resulting in low output yields defining the methods of the model.

Helene Garcin, owner of Chateau Branon, is also the owner of the third wine in this offer, 2001 Clos L’Eglise Pomerol. We spent an afternoon at another of her wineries (life is rough!), Barde-Haut in St. Emilion, tasting vintages 2008, 2009, 2010 of her properties’ wines (Chateau Branon, Haut-Bergey, Clos L’Elise, Barde-Haut).

What a treat!!! All three of these wines are perfectly aged to drink now! My buying team secured excellent pricing on each of these wines, which allows me to offer them out at the lowest published price in the nation.

The only way to order these wines is by clicking onto the wine names below.  You’ll be directed to the shopping cart. From there, enter the number of bottles you wish to secure (repeat to add additional bottles), proceed to checkout, enter your account details, and you’re off to the races.

2001 Chateau Valandraud – $129.00 per bottle
Lowest published price in the nation! Wine-searcher which shows the national price range = $167.00 – $376.00 per bottle (Average price $238.00)

St-Emilion, Bordeaux, France
“As hard as it may be to believe, Valandraud’s 2001 is better than their 2000. One of the great efforts from proprietors Murielle Andraud and Jean-Luc Thunevin, the 2001 Valandraud boasts a saturated plum/purple color as well as a sumptuously sweet nose of Varhona chocolate intertwined with espresso roast, blackberries, cherry jam, and currants. Full-bodied, opulent, voluptuously textured, pure, rich, and seriously endowed, this is a brilliant effort from Bordeaux’s leading revolutionary. Anticipated maturity: 2007-2020.”
94 Points
The Wine Advocate

2005 Chateau Branon – $99.99 per bottle
Lowest published price in the nation! Wine-searcher shows the national price range = $102.00 – $149.00 per bottle (Average price $116.00)

Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux, France
“The vineyard, which is planted with equal parts Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, is beautifully situated near Haut-Bailly and Malartic-Lagraviere. The gorgeous 2005 exhibits a classic Graves nose of graphite, charcoal, chocolate, scorched earth, blackberries, cassis, and hints of creosote and earth. The wine is opulent and full-bodied with a sensational texture as well as sweet tannin. This compelling Pessac-Leognan is more forward than the tannic Medoc cuvees. It will offer good drinking in 5-10 years, and should last for 2-3 decades.”
96 Points
The Wine Advocate

2001 Clos L’Eglise Pomerol – $92.99 per bottle
Lowest published price in the nation! Wine-searcher which shows the national price range = $153.00 – $161.00 per bottle (Average price $157.00)

Pomerol, Bordeaux, France
“The 2001 offers a huge spectrum of aromas, including notes of smoke, mocha, chocolate, coffee, and loads of blackberry, cherry, and currant fruit. The superb aromatics are followed by an elegant, medium-bodied, deliciously supple-textured, expansive, fleshy, beautifully pure, well-delineated Pomerol. It is a brilliant effort as well as one of the candidates for the wine of the appellation in 2001. Anticipated maturity: 2005-2014.”
95 Points
The Wine Advocate

Old World vs. New World Gruner Veltliner.

Many people are familiar with Gruner Veltliner from Austria, but did you know that we also have small amounts growing in this country? As far as I can tell there is some being made in Oregon and some in California, as well as Washington and perhaps some others. No matter how you look at it however, there is a very small amount being made here by a very few producers. I love the wines from this grape because it has a peppery note with a good backbone and nice acidity and fruit flavors that run the gamut from stone to apple and pear. The wines seem to pair well with a huge array of foods, perhaps better than almost any other. Because of this, sommeliers around the world are crazy about this wine, as am I.  Stylistically, it can range from light and crisp, easy drinking, to serious full-bodied and well oak aged efforts.

I decided that it might be interesting to try a California example against a fairly serious Austrian one.

Here are the two wines : Zocker Paragon Vineyard Gruner Veltliner and Weingut Knoll Federspiel Gruner Veltliner.

The Zocker is from the Central Coast in the Edna Valley. The Knoll is from The famed Wachau region of Austria.

So  now for the head to head tasting.  First the Knoll: On the nose it displays crisp apple and stone fruit with a bit of lemon curd and a bit of sweet vanilla and there is a white pepper note. When the wine enters the palate, it explodes with spicy ripe apple, guava, lemon and again pepper. The wine’s light color does not prepare you for the intense and density of the mouthfeel, and the mid-palate is especially good with this wine. The finish is very long and there is a bit of light tannin or maybe a tangerine pith quality on the tongue that mixes with the awesome mouth watering acidity.  Truly a classic and elegant, well-balanced, bone-dry wine. This wine will improve for at least 4-5 years and gets 4 stars.

The Zocker I would expect to be riper being from a warmer climate, and on the nose it certainly is.  I get pineapple and more tropical fruit notes, but also a balancing grapefruit aroma…nice. I also get sense of a cooler fermentation with a bit of that characteristic banana aroma that can come with it. In the mouth, right away, there is an almost candy-like golden delicious apple taste, surrounded by that Gruner pepper note, then a blast of nice acidity to round it out. The mouthfeel is rounder than the Knoll, and is more hedonistic, but still retains that true Gruner character, that I was afraid might be lost with the warmer climate. Although the wine is more full-bodied than the Knoll, it actually has a bit less concentration. I am impressed by the winemaking here as it is often tricky for Americans to master new varieties. This is pretty true to itself, whatever that means. This wine gets a 3.5 stars.

All in all, this was an interesting comparison and both wines show very well, with an added edge to the elegance of the Knoll. I, frankly, like both wines a lot, but would drink the Zocker in the next 2 years, and save the Knoll for a few more. I am impressed by the fact that the Zocker really does drink well, and believe that Gruner Veltliner has a good future being grown in this country.

Great tasting, and I see both these wines pairing very very well with many kinds of food.