Thursday, November 15, 2007

Part IV Chasing New Pinots

Getting back to the story . . . It's tough to keep track of all the new California Pinots that have come on the market in the last three or four years. Hardly ubiquitous these offerings, from the likes of Black Kite, De La Montanya, B. Kosuge, Three Saints, Segue, and Alta Maria, to name just a few, bespeak quality. IMO quality keeps improving across the board and excellent wines under $40 a bottle can be found readily. Without exaggeration, we're in a Pinot lover's dreamworld with bountiful, delicious offerings to be had across the board. Sigh!

As I mentioned in my last post, my neighbor with a real job in the wine industry slipped a bottle of the Alta Maria in my mailbox as a thank you for the emergency Alstatian riesling. I'd say it was a fair swap, all things being equal. The Alta Maria Vineyards website is a bit, well . . . eerie. "Salvation" is the first word to appear, then a statue of Mary, a "Devotee List" in lieu of the mailing list, other religious folderoll. A bit much for me as drinking the Alta Maria wine, while enjoyable, was hardly a religious experience. The winery makes Syrah, Mouvedre and Pinot and links your purchases together, so you have to buy x bottles of one varietal to get y bottles of another, and can't buy single bottles. If this relatively restricted approach to doing business is working then who am I to question success but internet ordering should be seamless and should focus on the buyer's wishes, not the seller's peculiarities and attempts at exclusivity or whatever else they are trying to prove here. At any rate, the gift wine was quite good though it did not really challenge the mystery contestant. Here are my notes:

Alta Maria Vineyards 2005 Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Barbara County. The wine checks in at 14.1% alcohol and is comprised of the N Block 115 clone and the Q Block Pommard clone.

Tasting Notes: Purple/violet in the glass, mint and blueberry nose, menthol dark fruits and violets. Nicely balance acidity, lush with some depth, quite rich finish of more dark fruits.

Rating: Very good.

Cheers, Barrld

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Mystery Continued--Part III

Just back from vacation, one where tragically I consumed no Pinot. Before I turn to my notes on the next challenger to the mystery Pinot, I received an unusual request from one of my neighbors, who is in the wine business. Seems that she was entertaining a client up the street from me and was buried with personal matters. She asked if she could "borrow" a bottle of a Alsatian wine, I told her my inventory, then carried a bottle of Riesling up to her front door, something that she really appreciated. At any rate, she returned the favor the next day with a bottle of . . . Pinot! Apparently the gift selection is sold out and, well I will put her choice up to the mystery challenge as well--suffice to say that I liked it well enough to jump on the mailing list and buy some Grenache and Syrah, even though the winery's Pinot was sold out.

The next challenger also hails from St. Rita Hills (Sta. is a ridiculous acronym) and is the work of the widow of Mike Bonaccorsi, whose death still remains a bit of a mystery, at least to me. That is how does a guy who is in prime of his life at age 42 (43? the reports list both ages) in good shape just drop dead? Heart attack? Give me a break! Kind of spooky if you asked me. Anyway, Jenne Lee Bonaccorsi has kept the Bonaccorsi Wine Company going strong and its wines continue to get favroable reviews and are very well liked by Laube. I had yet to try any Bonaccorsi b/c it struck me as a bit ghoulish to run out and buy its wines after Mike's death. Anyway, I got over that kneejerk reflex.

The wine in question is the Bonaccorsi 2004 Red Monkey Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills. Checking in at 14.7% alcohol the wine is unfined, unfiltered and made without any "monkey business." I picked up a couple of bottles in my mixed case from the Wine Cask and paid $36 per, with the case discount. I enjoyed the first bottle of this wine I tried and will revisit it again shortly to confirm my notes. No reason not to go back to Bonaccorsi Pinots esp. if I can get them under the $40 price point.

Tasting Notes: Garnet in the glass, nose of plums and cherries. Cherries and blackberries mid-palate, structured and deep, earthy and juicy, with vanilla and birch bark tones. Long finish. Age worthy.

Rating: Excellent.

Cheers, Barrld

Friday, August 17, 2007

Mystery Pinot--Part Two


So I did score a case of the mystery Pinot, tracking it down through the retailer who advised that I could get additional wine (maybe) from the maker and then, the next day, I received a confirm that indeed a case was available with the 10% discount, meaning I spent about $34 for a wine that will easily trump cult Pinots at twice the price. Plus, I ended up owning 2 of the 55 cases, or a considerable percentage of the available juice. I like those numbers!

To fill out the initial partial case of my mystery Pinot from the retailer in question I pulled down 7 other bottles from a couple of Pinot producers that I hadn't previously tried. One was the Demetria Estate 2005 Pinot Noir Jours de Bonheur Gaia Vineyards, Sta. Rita Hills. The Gaia Vineyard used to be known as Ashley's Vineyard, producing fine juice for Brewer-Clifton, Melville, Tantara and many others in the area. Demetria now owns the vineyard and produces its Burgundian varietals from its own grapes. The 2005 Pinot was grown, produced and bottled by Demetria, is unfined and unfiltered and has 14.2% alcohol. I paid about $35 retail for the wine, including the case discount. Demetria is biodynamic and this is the winery's first release. A bit more than 700 cases were made of it.

Tasting Notes: Violet in the glass, cherry nose, lots of very forward fruit. Juicy, expressive of red fruits, jasmine and sage, a carefree Pinot. Expressive and balanced, the wine is easy to drink and thirst quenching, going well with a host of food choices. While not complicated and with little mystique, it is thoroughly enjoyable for its bouquet of flavors and its drinkability.

Rating: Very good.


Cheers, Barrld

Monday, August 6, 2007

Pinot Mystery--Part One


Well, I found the best Pinot in memory but I can't tell you about it b/c only 55 cases were made by a guy from another country who is the full time winemaker at a Santa Ynez winery. I'm sure his moonlighting is kosher but don't know what his plans are for next year as I found out that he was pedaling his first vintage of the heretofore unknown wine door to door. I found the wine via an email add from a Santa Barbara area wine retailer of repute (who told me that they tasted it and flipped) and then bought the rest of the store's inventory so there is none of this wine on the market from 2005. Why am I telling you this, if not just to piss you off? More on that question in a bit.

Anyway, to confirm the quality of this particular Pinot from the Sta. Rita Hills appellation, I forced myself to drink 4 other fine Pinots out there, amidst the current sea of very good to excellent California Pinots from 2004 and 2005, to see if the fave held up to the test. Over the course of the next week or so I will give you my notes on the four comparison wines, then maybe I will give you more clues, and some notes on the mysterious blockbuster. I may have a means of getting more of this wine and, if I do, will reveal its identity to you.

Emeritus. Founded by Brice Jones of Sonoma-Cutrer fame, 2005 was the opening vintage of Emeritus. Don Blackburn, the winemaker, has a lot of quality experience with Pinot and knows the various Sonoma appellations. In June I bought a case of one of its two inaugural wines after Laube extolled its virtues. The wine in question is the 2005 Emeritus Pinot Noir William Wesley Vineyards Sonoma Coast, which was produced and bottled by the Emeritus folks. It checks in at 14.3% alcohol and I spent about $34 on it direct from Emeritus, with the case discount from the winery. Laube found it full bodied with firm tannins in need of time. I disagree with much of his notes, and the guzzlers chimed in quite consistently following a second tasting of the Emeritus after lusting over the afore-mentioned mystery wine.

Tasting Notes. Ruby red in the glass, dark cherry and currants on the nose, red fruits and tannins, tightly wound, almost closed and needs time (my only agreement with Laube). Lovely bouquet, earthy, tart blackberry and refined, medium bodied with structural elements that could come together nicely, just not yet. Second tasting was consistent, though the Emeritus suffered in comparison to my blockbuster.

Rating: Very good.

Cheers, Barrld

Thursday, May 24, 2007

White Burgundy Value




With the dollar's continual pummeling at the hands of the euro, the pound and other currencies around the world it is much more difficult to find good values from abroad, especially from the old world. Take that up a notch with excellent wines from all over France out of the 2005 vintage and you're looking at $30 a bottle "bargains" from across the pond. Thus, though I regularly get pinged about the reasonable prices of French juice, the tag line generally includes a price north of $30, with most in the $45+ range. D. Sokolin hypes a lot of RP rated wines and I have done a lot of business with that retailer, usually through its fine salesman Daron. Sokolin's prices are generally fair, some times the best (you have to be choosy and use Wine-Searcher relentlessly) but even then it's impossible to find well priced 2005 Bourdeaxs or red Burgundies from anywhere. When a mixed case offering of 2005 white Burgundy from Sokolin crossed my desk a few weeks ago I ran the wines through the wine-searcher grind and found that the prices were very good, all below $25 a bottle. I bought the case and, after waiting for the wine to settle a bit, opened one of the 3 varietals I bought. My picture here shows the 2003 vintage--it was the best one I could copy from the net; I drank the 2005.


Vincent Girardin is apparently the negotiant of the moment in Burgundy and seems to be everywhere. He produces all sorts of wines out of his "Domaine" (this wording appears on wines where he owns the grapes too, but I suspect that all of his wines are produced at the Domaine), which is in Meursault though he sources red and white grapes from all over Burgundy. I've had many of his wines and find them to be very good to excellent with a high quality to value ratio, though his prices have also crept northward of late. I hadn't really paid attention that I was buying mostly Girardin wines when I ordered the case but that's what I ended up with and am not complaining now. The moral of the story is to pay attention to the "good value" emails as you might find one that's true.

Tasting Notes: The wine is Vincent Girardin 2005 Rully 1er Cru Les Cloux which checks in at 13.5% alcohol. I paid $24 a bottle from Sokolin. The wine is straw in the glass, opening with delicate notes of lemon, plumeria and vanilla, very fragrant. Citrus/lime notes take over mid-palate offering a refreshing juicy wine, with a creamy finish that includes gooseberries and spice. Balanced and nicely acidic, this is both an easy drinking every day wine and good party wine with seafood grilling. I'd buy this again.

Rating: Very Good.

Cheers, Barrld

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Pinot Heaven


I've written about Red Car Wine Company previously, with its art deco labels and back of the bottle chapters telling noir tales of affairs of the heart. Though most of Red Car's wines are Syrahs, both single vineyards and blends, it also produces a couple of Pinots, mostly under the Amour Fou sub-label. With an address in the heart of Los Angeles, all grapes are sourced and produced elsewhere, at what used to be more than one co-operative. The Company now has a winery in Santa Maria, though I wonder about trucking Pinot grapes there from the Russian River, given the delicacy and think skins of these grapes. As you can see below, it works somehow.
At any rate, the Red Car Syrahs are generally huge and jammy, but very well made and stylistic. I've found the couple of Amour Fou Pinots that I've tried from the 2002 vintage to be very good but missing a bit of complexity and length. I opened a 2003 Amour Fou the other day and, well, it's the real deal. I picked up this wine direct from Red Car for about $40 a bottle when it was released 2 or so years ago.
Tasting Notes: The wine is Red Car 2003 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Amour Fou Chapter Two, which checks in at 14.9% alcohol. The grapes were sourced 70% from Keefer Ranch and 30% from Martinelli and a good dose of new French oak was used along the way. The wine is a lovely garnet in the glass and virtually explodes with alluring fragrances of camellias and blackberry pie, with a dash of white pepper on the nose. Chocolate, dark fruit and earth control the mid-palate, framing a dynamic set of flavors, complex and juicy. Full bodied but not heavy, with good balance and acidity. Long, long finish with tiers of flavors, mixing robust raspberry, smoke, fennel, blueberry compote, wow! This is the complete package, a classy, delicious wine of many dimensions. Bravo!
Rating: Superb!! (only my second one!)
Cheers, Barrld

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Over Rated?


While I can't rank Zinfadel in my top 5 wine varietals, I do occasionally enjoy that deep purple juice both straight up and in well crafted blends. At the same time, the sheer full throttle vibrancy of some Zins, coupled with the grape juicy sweet style I find in less expensive Zins makes me wary, esp. at potlucks. My preference for stylized, refined wine with multiple tiers of flavor tends to exclude most Zins, which lean towards a huge fruit/alcohol punch in the mouth. Honestly, though I base my prejudices on my early wine drinking days in the late 90s and I know that Zins have evolved away from one dimensionality. All the more reason for me to pick up a few bottles of The Prisoner from 2003.
A guy I know has a considerable gray market deal going in his house in Brentwood. Where he gets the wines, I don't know, but his prices are good, his selection excellent and no sales tax. I've bought a couple of cases of fine first growths from him (1994s, very well priced) and some of this and that. Anyway, I was buying some 2002 white Burgundy and my friend J said, ever try this? He plucked a bottle of The Prisoner from his cluttered shelves and handed it over. Good juice, he said, Laube loved it. Being a sucker, I bought 3 bottles for $22 each, did I say no sales tax? Anyway, I drank one soon thereafter (no memories one way or another) and lost the other two somewhere in the cellar. I found the bottle consumed for this review when I was rearranging my wines. I took a peek at the WS ratings and saw that Laube gave the wine a 92 in 2005 so I looked forward to tipping back a couple of glasses. Unfortunately, that proved to be a let down.
Tasting Notes: The wine is Orin Swift The Prisoner, Red Table Wine 2003. Swift is obviously sourcing juice from various AVAs as the wine notes that it was "Bottled in Napa" but has no AVA listed. The wine checks in at 15.2% alcohol and is a blend of Zin, Cabernet Sauvignon, Charbono (from where? I thought that all of the Charbono vines in CA were replaced long ago) and Petit Sirah. Not sure of the percentages as there is no info on the website but it's clear that Zin controls the blend. Dark purple in the glass, alcoholic nose with berries and clay, black fruit and maple syrup mid-palate, with a decent though tannic, viscous blackberry finish. Frankly I expected more--better fruit expressions and integration, softer tannins, fuller balance. Honestly, I couldn't have a second glass and had to drink the bottle over a couple of days, which took the starch out of the tannins but dulled down the fruit too. Maybe I will give the last bottle away.
Rating: Good.
Cheers, Barrld

Sunday, April 29, 2007

More Mailed Mayhem


I jump on mailing lists after only the slightest provocation; case in point, Copain Wine Cellars. Years back its owner, Wells Guthrie, was featured in WS for starting his own shop in Santa Rosa with purchased grapes and borrowed equipment. Turns out that Wells, who looks like he just graduated from high school, was the tasting coordinator at WS in San Francisco, for a while then moved to the Rhone and hung out with JL Chave. After returning to the USA, he signed on as a vineyard and cellar rat at Turley, where I expect he was carded every afternoon.

At any rate, I jumped on the list after reading the story, expecting great things, and bought Copain's wines like crazy, Syrah, Pinot, Zin, the boxes stacked up. His Honor RP gave Wells some high scores fairly early on in Copain's life so traffic was brisk and it seemed as though Copain was offering wines every month. While I liked the wines from Copain and found them to be fairly priced, I became a Copain-ed out, noticing a sameness of style bordering on heavy extraction on all of its reds. I don't think I ordered any reds over the past two years. But last year an offering of Rousanne came over the transom and, being into white Rhones, I thought try a couple of bottles. Intending on ordering 3 I somehow hit 9 and that's what I received. Drag. I tried one bottle soon after receipt, thought it was OK then forgot about the rest. Since I was moving wines into my new cellar room, more on that point some other time, I spotted the Rousanne and popped a cork. Turns out this is a serious wine. So I just opened another bottle and will review it live, right here in front of the computer. Check out the picture!

The wine is the Copain 2004 Rousanne, James Berry, Paso Robles. It checks in at 14.9% alcohol (not sure of the decimal as it is in tiny print that is impossible to read) and I bought it from the mailing list for about $30 a bottle. Not much info from the website on this wine, and I think this was Copain's first effort with this grape. I'm drinking it at about 63 degrees F which really changes the nature of the juice; I've found that Rhone white lose a bit of structure and flavor elements if too cold.

Tasting notes: Straw/gold in the glass, pears and plumeria on the nose, honey suckle, white peach and Bartlett pears mid-palate, lichi finish, long and syrupy. Very floral and fragrant, textured and refined, good mouth feel. A lovely glass of wine. Now I think I don't have enough! Definitely a keeper. Consistent notes over two tastings/slurping during the last two weeks.

Rating: Excellent.

Cheers, Barrld

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Loving Languedoc

In celebration of wine blogger Wednesday's quest for Languedoc and Roussillon wines under $30, I scanned the virtual shelves of WineEx and found 3 bottles of wines from Rene Rostaing, who I vaguely knew from his cult status in Cote Rotie--I've not had any of his "La La" reds yet but do have a couple of bottles from 1999 and 2000 waiting for the right moment to enjoy. The wine in question is the 2003 Rene Rostaing Dom. Puech Chard Coteaux du Langeudoc, which cost $27 a bottle and checks in at 13% alcohol. The wine is apparently 80% Syrah, 10% Grenache and 10% Mourvedre, but I could not confirm that with any certainty. I drank two of the three bottles I picked up over the past few weeks, with consistent tasting notes from both.

Tasting Notes: dark red in the glass, blueberry bark nose, gravel, herbs of Provence and some black fruit dominate mid-palate, with slightly harsh tannins and a touch of effervescence that blows off after a few minutes. Fairly balanced though unrefined with no finish to speak of. This wine is rustic, with various sharp edges, and seems unfinished, as though a key step in the final vinification process is missing. Perhaps the grapes are too young from this vineyard to make a more complete, complex wine. I could drink this Languedoc now and then and be reasonably satisfied but know that I can find better Syrah blends for $27 or less out there.

Rating: Good.

Cheers, Barrld

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Pinot in the Fog


As Laube notes in his blog of 4/25, the search for Pinot terroir is booming and die hard Napa owners are picking off Sonoma Coast properties as fast as they can sign their loan documents. Jason Pahlmeyer bought a 70 acre ranch for $500K in '99 but would probably have to pay 10 times that today, given the startling success of Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (see Kosta Browne for an example) and the shrinking availability of accessible land.

I guess the folks at Joseph Phelps Vineyards also picked up some Sonoma Coast property a while back, because the inaugural vintage of the 2004 Fogdog Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast was released about a year ago. Here's the site link with a lot of info about the wine: http://www2.ibgcheckout.com/phelps/catalog/view_product.jsp?product_id=1058&cat_id=1002

I understand that Craig Williams, formerly the head winemaker at Phelps, is in charge of the fogdog project and I have to put in a good word for Craig. My friend Jeff and I were the Christie's California Only tasting in June 2000, along with my two sisters, who joined me at the auction the next day. The tasting was followed by a wine maker's dinner at Spago. Every table had a noted winemaker and Craig hosted our group, which was made up of 6 folks who had just blown through 70 or so fine California wines at the tasting and, in a word, were toasted (OK so we forgot to spit). Craig and his wife Robin (sp?) were sober and thought we were terribly witty and charming, or so it appeared. At any rate, they were wonderful dinner companions, the food terrific and between courses we took bottles from one table to swap with another. Armed with various Phelps gems that I wrestled from Craig, I coaxed some Pinot out of Bob Cabral, some Merlot from a bottle w/o label from Dan Duckhorn and some secret Cab from Paul Draper, among countless other first class California winemakers. It was an unforgettable evening that was never to be repeated and I consider myself lucky to have attended. We still tell stories about the dinner, though most of them make fun of me purloining Craig's wine and stumbling from table to table, drunk as a skunk. All true, though my wife drove me home.

Back to the wine--according to the label, a "fogdog" is a"bright and clear spot that appears in the fog" that inundates the northern California coast line. Cool! The wine checks in at 13.8% alcohol, is unfined and unfiltered and looks to have spent about 15 months in new and used French oak. According to the link above, the grapes were source from three Sonoma County vineyards in Freestone, California: Freestone Vineyard (70%); Quarter Moon Vineyard (26%); and Ferguson Vineyard (4%), though I don't know how much of this wine was made. I bought it online for about $35 a bottle.
Tasting notes--Clear garnet in the glass, with a bit of effervescence. Not overly aromatic, though a bit of lead and other metallic notes on the nose. Juicy red and black cherries compete mid-palate, with tart currant flavors and notes of wet earth and moss. Very delicate, almost fragile in the mouth, with a long, balanced finished boasting tastes of a mixed berry fruit compote. Fine first offering though I suspect that, as these vines age, this combination will produce a more robust and developed wine. I can't imagine that the 2004 fogdog will get any better with age so pop those corks soon.
Rating--Very good, quaffable.
Cheers, Barrld

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Mailing List Mania

Some might say, with a double dose of envy, that my position on a number of prime mailing lists is very fortunate for me and my cellar. The reality is far more complicated: to keep an allocation in place you have to buy a lot of wine, mostly at full retail. My cellar used to be full of Flowers until I stopped buying it when Greg LaFollette left (though my Dad and sister still take their fill of the biennial offerings) and now I have more Pride Mountain wines than any other. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing bad about Pride's offerings but they are expensive (all the reserves are over $100 per bottle and the regular lots are in the $50+ range). When will I have the chance to drink the 6 bottles of the 2004 reserve cab I just bought, esp. given that I have all the reserve cabs back to 1997?? I could sell them but that's just not me, I don't buy wine to make money. Then add on Kosta Browne, Peter Michael, Rhys, among too many others (no Harlan or Screaming Eagle, which is just fine) and I end up with a clogged up cellar. Don't order and off the list you go, thus the dilemma and concomitant traffic jam.

Which brings me to today's wine, from Rochioli, a Sonoma/Russian River Valley winery that I lusted for over many years. For the longest time I only could buy its Sauvignon Blanc, which I did with abandon. Then, a drop or two of Chardonnay; double down I said. Estate Pinot followed, then a year or so ago the gold rush, vineyard designated Pinots and Chards. Time to go large, esp. when I now have a secret partner to help me cover the costs. My allocations have increased accordingly and I have more than a couple of bottles of fine whites and reds from Rochioli, which I can share with the neighborhood guzzlers, esp. the estate wines.

Today's wine is the Rochioli Estate 2003 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, grown produced and bottled at the winery. Other than the alcohol level, 14.7%, I don't have much data about this wine as Rochioli doesn't have a website, which is certainly OK by me. I lost the short data sheet that came with the offering too.

Tasting notes: Clear (must be fined) red cherry in the glass, earthy mushroom nose, very tightly wound at first, sharp and pleasantly tart with currants and pomegranates mid-palate and a loamy vibrant finish. The wine opens ups a touch but remains rather austere, a premiere cru Burgundy of sorts from a lesser village, juicy, with slate and sharp features, but missing a fruit backbone found in its better competitors.

Rating: Very good, quaffable.

Cheers, Barrld

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Wine Blog Wednesday #33

Takes us to the Midi, the Languedoc--Rousillon region by the third Wed of May. Check out the link http://weingolb.blogspot.com/2007/04/wine-blogging-wednesday-33-will-be.html.

Best, Barrld

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Big, Balanced Syrah




Having been a participant (read buyer) of the Wine Cask futures program for many years, I think I started buying the wines back in 98 or 99, it really is fascinating to see how the Santa Barbara and related viticultural areas have thrived and risen to world class levels in just a relatively few years. Brewer Clifton, Sea Smoke, Kaena, Curran to name a few have all passed through the WC futures book, which went from a Xerox of 30 wineries to an internet and printed booklet of double that number. Frankly, on the quality value front, the wines offered are top notch and each year there are dozens of discoveries available to try.

Behind the scenes as far as organization and realization is Doug Margerum, who works (owns? not sure) the Wine Cask, a fantastic retail shop and companion restaurant just off of State Street in Santa Barbara. Doug has to speak for himself but I suspect that being around wine for so long, then organizing a number of small growers and producers in the first few futures program spurred him to say why not try my hand at things. I ignored some of his early offerings, thinking that he had a kind of insider's path to the book and that his juice may not be really worthy, but for his role as overseer and such. To Doug's credit, his wines were priced very reasonably; ultimately I bit and bought some of his Sauvignon Blanc, which came in numbered bottles, something I thought was very cool. Though a bit rustic and grassy the Margerum SB from the 2002 vintage was well received by the guzzlers, and was priced right at about $15 a bottle.

Anyway, two years ago in the spring of 2005 I bought some of Margerum's 2004 Syrah (I'm pretty sure it was in the low $20 range or I wouldn't have bought it), which I received about a month ago. I don't have a lot of details about the production of this wine, when picked, barrel usage, case production, etc. I will guess and say that it was a late Oct. 2004 harvest, fermented stainless, 30% new French oak, 30% new American oak and 40% neutral wood, with about 20 months in barrel and another 3 0r 4 in bottle before release with maybe 200 cased produced but I could be way off. Here's the wine for you to consider.

The Margerum 2004 Syrah Alondra de los Prados Vineyards, Santa Ynez Valley (bottle number 00217), checks in at a whopping 15.9% alcohol. I expected a hot or at least smoldering wine, given the tendency of highly alcoholic Syrah's to not integrate so well, esp. when young. Not so here, this is truly delicious, balanced wine that has more CdP characteristics than the typical boomer Syrah from the southern California regions. Doug obviously knows what he is doing, the wine shows a high level of craftsmanship and a quality that's hard to find at twice the price.

Tasting Notes: Purple in the glass, nose of blackberry compote/jam, rich caramel, cedar and chocolate notes mid-palate, rustic earth tones and some base spices like pepper and bay leaf, mouthcoathing, integrated and voluptuous flavors with a very long sweet dark fruit finish. Evident tannins suggest a long life here which, I suspect, will mellow over time making this a fuller fruit bouquet and add more complexity and flavor distinctions.

Rating; Excellent and a superb value.

Cheers, Barrld

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A New Pinot I Wanted to Hate


Given my perchance for Pinot Noir, you’re probably wonder why I would ever hate any PN before even taking a sip. You’ll be more confounded to learn that a Pinot from the producer of the PN in question received Laube’s highest Pinot rating ever, that the producer has a very tightly allocated mailing list and that I’m actually on it. What’s to hate?? OK so the producer in question is the Kosta Browne Winery and their first release of small quantities of their Pinot immediately created cult-like status for the winery. Therein lies the rub, I hate cults, religious, political, social, wino, I don’t want to be part of anything so extreme, so blind to reality and variety, so brainwashed. Plus, truth be told I didn’t like Laube’s smug, look what we at WS discovered, review of KB’s first releases a year or so ago, as if he had something to do with the very high quality of the wines being produced at KB. Get over yourself, James, you had nothing whatsoever to do with Kosta Browne's wine making success. Finally, there are a number of respected critics that find KB’s style—big, bold, fruit forward, to be the antithesis of the restrained, mysterious, delicate Pinots (read Burgundies) that they favor. Put that mish mash together and you get my pre-opening mind set.

So I had a couple of guests over the other night, my brother and our friend Joe, who, along with my wife, served as my guinea pigs for the first bottle of Kosta Browne Pinot that I’ve opened. Tough sledding, I know, but someone had to do it, along with sitting there and eating my food (we also had a bottle of the 200o Beaucastel Blanc, which was lovely, before the KB, and the 2003 Delectus Oakville afterwards, which was also quite good but did not match the KB Pinot). I tasted the wine in private away from them first, writing down my initial thoughts, taking three glasses downstairs to the thirty trio, then returning to the wine again by myself, all in an effort to not be persuaded by anything they said or noted. This is my blog, BTW, so I really don't give a shit what others think in the context of what I taste.

The wine in question was the Kosta Browne 2004 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, which I purchased directly from the winery for about $42. It checks in at a robust 14.7% alcohol. According to the KB website, the 2004 Sonoma Coast is a blend of four vineyards; Kanzler, Guisti Ranch, Pleasant Hill and Dutton-Manzana. Apparently, all of these vineyards lie in and around Green Valley, which is one of the coolest climates in Sonoma County. Seventeen months of barrel aging with 31% new oak. Sorry but I don't think you can find this in the market but if you see it on some wine list somewhere, well do what you have to do.

Tasting Notes: Very dark red, almost indigo in the glass. Nose of ripe black cherries, smoky and sweet mid-palate, fantastically rich and plush, dark fruits, with notes of slate and chocolate supporting great structure. Long smooth finish with blackberries that is almost Cab like. This is not a Pinot for the faint of heart, with its bold flavors and textures but it’s a delicious wine made by craftsmen who really know what they are doing. Bottom line, this is a wine to love not hate and the four of us drank every last drop of it.

Rating: Excellent
Cheers, Barrld

Friday, March 23, 2007

Promotional Madness


Look every wine blogger secretly would be thrilled to become the next big time wine critic, making a living drinking wine every day, regularly tasting some of the finest wines ever made, traveling to a number of the coolest places in the world, never paying for wines to be tried, fame (at times infamy) amongst a multitude of peers; the life and lifestyle are very appealing, at least in a vacuum. Given the importance of blogs to wineries these days, especially those in California, various established bloggistas get on the promotional bandwagon and review wines sent to them for free, as part of a winery's marketing scheme. While numerous wine critics in print swear off of freebies, most notably His Majesty RP, and the Spectator only tastes promotional wines double blind, the blog world, being more democratic (desperate?), accepts wines on promotion for non-blind review. From my casual survey of blogs well established enough to attract regular samples from wineries, especially new ones that are trying to garner a name and marketable good press, adequate disclosure is made that the wine was received for the express purpose of a review following the tasting. Nothing sinister here, journalistic integrity is not at risk.

For me, this puny, modestly read blog hasn’t stirred up too much interest except amongst family and friends. I have accepted the fact that writing for the WS is not in my future, unless it’s in the Letters to the Editor section. To date, all of the wines I’ve reviewed here have come from my personal cellar and have been paid for with my own hard earned greenbacks. That is until now . . . full disclosure everyone.

THE WINE UP FOR REVIEW HERE WAS SENT TO ME PROMOTIONALLY—YEP FOR FREE!

Honestly it’s more complicated than that—from another blog I read that Twisted Oak Winery had a contest to write the “tasting notes” for the back label of its current white Rhone blend. When I perused the website I saw that eager bloggers could send an email about their site and if found worthy a promotional bottle could be sent. I pinged the winery, one thing lead to another and I received a bottle of the Twisted Oak 2005 Calaveras County *%#&@!, a red Rhone-style blend, in a two bottle box, including mostly geek notes about the wine, grape selection, harvest info, sites, data, etc. along with a rubber chicken, which did not have any tasting notes. My son named the chicken "Clucky" and he and my daughter regularly play with it, so I doubt that it will ever see the inside of a pot.

Now the Twisted Oak website is hilarious, very offbeat, bordering on profane (though I don't find it "twisted" in any fashion), and generally nutty. The folks at TO do not take themselves seriously so I kind of wondered how they would treat their wines. As you can see from the note below, it turns out that TO really focuses its efforts on wine making, and they seem to have gotten that part down. Just where is Calaveras County? Didn't Mark Twain chase frogs there or some such thing? Locationally, if you were driving from Santa Cruz to Lake Tahoe as the crow flies you would jog through Calaveras. The TO winery is located in the Sierra Nevada foothills about 2000 feet above sea level, in the heart of California gold country.

Another relevant point--as you know, I'm profligate when it comes to buying wines that catch my fancy. Thus, I would never over rate a wine that I received for free to curry favor with a winery, unless it was DRC. At the same time, one part of me wanted to be really rigorous in my review of the 2005 *%#&@! to show that I was a serious critic and not some sap searching the web for free shit. Then of course I tried the wine and, well, even the most hard headed taster will find it appealing. This is good juice and, if I ever get any room in my now overflowing cellar, I plan on actually buying some for the summer season.

Notes on the Wine: Given the informative "geek sheet" that came with the wine, let me pass on some details--Mourvedre from two distinct vineyards makes up 51% of the wine, followed by 33% Syrah and 16% Grenache, again from two separate vineyards; the majority of the grapes were sourced from Calaveras County. The wine checks in at 14.1% alcohol and costs $28 on the website, though with various discounts and such, you're looking at $23 or so a bottle. The wine spent 11 months in a mixture of new and 1 year old French oak and older American and neutral oak.

Tasting Notes: Garnet in the glass. Perfumed nose of chocolate, blackberry and jasmine, black plum and graphite mid-palate, well textured and meaty, with notes of game and brioche. Good finish with sweet dark fruit, smoke and cardamon. This is a complex, multi-faceted wine that is very satisfying to drink alone and will match very well with meats from the grill and rustic, spicy offerings. Appealing to a variety of palates, this offering will hold its own against some of the better 2004 CdP's on the market today. Bravo.

Rating: Excellent.


Cheers, Barrld

Thursday, March 22, 2007

1999 Red Teeth Part 2

I never really got the Australian Shiraz craze; giant purple fruit bombs that stained your teeth and burned your mouth with their 15% to 16% alcohol. We're talking a "G'day" punch in the mouth. Where's the texture, the nuances, the refinement? I've never had Penfolds Grange, Hill of Grace, Hobbs or any of the others from the $100 plus club from OZ; perhaps that's where one can find an exquisite wine from Down Under. I bought a couple of bottles of the Thorne-Clark Shotfire Ridge Shiraz 2003 for about $20 a bottle and, contrary to the stellar WS review and 93 point rating I found the wine to taste like liquid grape jam with a heavy helping of black pepper. It settled down by the third day on my kitchen counter but who needs to wrestle elegance out of a raging bull of a wine? I should have know from the name that I'd be picked buckshot out of my teeth after every sip.

I did make a foray into the Aussie world at random when I was sitting minding my own business at a 2001 Christie's Beverly Hills auction. A flurry of activity on some previously lots created one of those weird auction lulls when it seems that no one is paying attention. A case of Henry's Drive 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Padthaway came up and no one bid on it. Being a helium hand, my paddle shot up at the opening bid which was less than the low range in the catalogue. No one else bid so it was "SOLD" to paddle #284, aka me, for about $24 a bottle. Honestly, I had no idea what I purchased and thought that I was buying a Shiraz instead of a Cab. As Homer would say, "DOH!" A couple of key strokes later I read the story of this South Australian winemaking region, the mail carrying stage coaches, etc. etc. Sparky and Sarah Marquis, later of Marquis Phillips and the well publicized fallout with Dan Phillips, accusations of theft/mismanagement/embezzlement abounding, made this wine back in 1999 and they did a fine job of it.

Tasting Notes: Dark red/violet in the glass, black plums and currants on the nose, some classic cab notes of liquorice, cloves and leather. Good acidity and balance. No need to hold this one any longer as it's peaked. In a blind tasting I would have guessed a northern Rhone rather than a South Australian cab. Curiously no alcohol content was listed on the label, I wonder how that slipped through the cracks.

Rating: Very good, quaffable.

Cheers, Barrld

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Red Teeth Circa 1999--Part 1


I really didn't get into collecting wines until about 10 years ago, when my palate was in its infancy and my acquisition strategy was unformed (as compared to now, where it's almost entirely random and profligate). I picked up two completely different reds from very distinct sources at about the same time and, by chance, ended up drinking them back to back a few weeks ago. The serendipitous connection aside, the wines confirmed that good juice comes from a lot of places and that a diverse cellar with finds from all points of the globe can be quite wonderful. Enough waxing poetically, here's one of them, with the whole stinking story to boot:

Bethel Heights Vineyards. We were up in Portland Oregon for a wedding in the spring of 2001 (before the kids) and went out to dinner at a restaurant called Bluehour in the Pearl District--kind of snooty but good food. The story gets longer--I asked the wine guy for an Oregon Pinot recommendation and he brought out a bottle of St. Innocent Brickhouse Vineyard from 1998 I believe. It was a delicious wine and since we were free the next day, the wife indulged me and we went in search of St. Innocent Winery, which turned out to be located in a drab industrial space in Salem. We were the only visitors to the tasting "room" which was merely an office with an empty folding table; no one to be seen. After a minute, a young girl who appeared to be 16 greeted us then went to the refrigerator and brought out a half dozen bottles for us to try. Everything was quite good, from the Pinot Gris to the Chard to the Pinot Noirs that she offerred. We started to talk about buying wines and to show interest in knowing more, as compared to the usual glug and gallop crew, so our server went and got the winemaker and owner, Mark Vlossak. We learned that Mark was a negotiant in the Burgundy style of producer and owned no grapes, trucking everything into this dump, uh I mean site for processing etc. Mark brought out some of the better Pinots, thank you! and showed us around. No one else showed up during our entire visit and the teenager disappeared too. We were touring the fermentation space, which was full of spotless stainless steel vats, all empty as he had just put his 2000s into barrels, when the door of one of the vats opens up and out popped a little blond girl.

"So, that's the secret." I said, being so inclined. "Shhh!" Mark smiled, "let's keep it between us, OK?" We got a laugh out of his daughter's hide and seek antics and ended up buying a shitload of his wines for some real good prices, with an extra discount from Mark the winemaker, now friend for life. Plus we picked up some St. Innocent baseball caps for free! Net of it all, I asked Mark what one winery would he visit if he only had time to visit one more winery, which was all the time we had given our extended tour of St. Innocent. "Bethel Heights!" he said and off we went, with a great story, some fine wine (being shipped to our house in California) and a second quest to find good affordable Oregon Pinot Noir.


Now Bethel Heights is a real winery, with acres of grapes, a beautiful tasting room on a hill overlooking its vineyards, a picnic area (ubiquitous but lovely) and all the other consumables and comforts that you expect to find when you go to taste wine. It's about 20 minutes from Salem heading generally north and we found it rather easily with Mark's precise directions, though I suspect we would have struggled had he trekked out on our own. We tasted through a bunch of whites and reds, basically closing the tasting room down. We bought some Chards and Pinots and picked up this beauty, the Bethel Heights Vineyards 1999 Pinot Noir, Nysa Vineyard, Willamette Valley. I bought this wine from the winery direct for $30 and it checks in at a balanced 13.2% alcohol. Now I'm not sure how Oegon Pinots are supposed to age but 8 years may be pushing past the peak of some of the better selections from there. The Nysa seemed a bit mature when I opened it, though it livened up in the glass after a few minutes and was at its best after about an hour or so. Here are my notes: Nose of prunes and minerals, smoky mid-palate with blackberry and pomegranant notes. Earthy, and refined, its tannins are long gone. Cherries on the finish. This vintage needs to be consumed very soon.


Rating: Very good, quaffable.


Cheers, Barrld




Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Glug, Glug, Glug

Here's a few more quick reviews of the wines I pounded through in the last 6 weeks or so, three very different whites from the same grape, for your consideration.

Melville 2004 Chardonnay Clone 76 Inox, Santa Rita Hills. I've reviewed Melville wines previously and noted that Greg Brewer is the mastermind at work here. Melville grows its own grapes too, something that is becoming relatively rare, with so many virtual wineries out there buying grapes from the 15 wines in the K block, elevation 1,111 SW, you know what I mean. The idea of farmer cum winemaker is more appealing to me, at least in theory. At any rate the Inox is made entirely in stainless steel and never sees a speck of oak, doesn't even look at a barrel. I guess the idea to get more of a classic Chablis grand cru thing going here but, while I enjoy an Inox now and then, it has never evoked images of a good Fevre to me. The wine checks in at 14.9% alcohol, suggesting a long hang time (do I hear over extracted??). I picked this bottle up direct from the winery and paid something in the mid-$20s. Here are my notes: Green/straw in the glass, with effervescence. Yes I mean some bubbles, weird, but not the first time for a bottle of Inox. Apricots and peaches on the nose, juicy, some minerality with tropical notes and pineapple ice at the finish. Melon aftertaste. Not enough acidity for me, making the wine a bit cloying.

Rating: Good.

Landmark 2003 Lorenzo Chardonnay, Russian River Valley. I'm a member of the Landmark Vineyards club and have accumulated a number of Pinots and Chards from the winery over the years. While the wines are quite consistent, and the Overlook version of their Chardonnay is a consistently great value, my tastes have moved on and it's time to quit getting this juice. I bought this bottle with the club discount for the low $40s, too expensive in hindsight. The wine checks in at 14% alcohol and, as with the Inox, was grown, produced and bottled by the folks at Landmark. The notes: Strawgold in the glass, lemon zest on the nose, vanilla and apricots with integrated oak throughout. Rich and syrupy with good acidity but not really structured or complex for me. A pleasantly tart finish with floral notes. Some life here but given the quality of wines out there, this should be a $25 wine.

Rating: Very good, quaffable.

Domaine Latour-Giraud Meusault Genevrieres, 1er Cru, 2002. I picked this wine up through my grey market connection in London when the dollar was stronger and paid about $40 a bottle all in, which turned out to be a fine deal. This wine claims the ever present 13.5% alcohol, though I think it's accurate if not a bit high. I wanted to love this wine as much as some of the critics do, but it falls just a bit short of being a great great white for me. Anyway, here are the notes: straw gold in the glass, flowers and lemon-lime nose, zesty, green apples and honeydew mid-palate, great balance and mouth feel, well textured with only an OK finish with more citrus tones.

Rating: Very good/excellent.

Cheers, Barrld

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Drive By Reviews

As previously noted I drink wine all the time, every day, any chance I get. My only other choice of alcohol is beer while watching sports in a bar, something that I will do this coming Thursday as UCLA plays its first NCAA Championship Tournament game at 4:30 and I must watch the Bruins, probably at Barney's in Santa Monica. Go Bruins!

Anyway, I have stray partial notes from five or six wines consumed over the last month or so and, instead of featuring only one wine around a theme of the moment, I thought to mix things up and give snap shots of a couple of pleasant tastings. Here you go with two of them:

Kaena Wines 2003 Grenache Camp 4 Vineyards, Santa Ynez Valley. This Rhone varietal clocks in at 14.9% alcohol (I wish they were more precise!) and a minor claim to fame is the fact that the winemaker lived in Hawaii, which accounts for the Hawaiian name and its label's floral design. Couple of points here; living in Hawaii teaches you nothing about winemaking, period. Kaena Point is actually a very spiritual place in the hierarchy of ancient Hawaiian beliefs, serving as a sort of gateway to the spirit world and such. "Ka'ena" means to boast or glorify. I guess I don't see the connection to wine.

Anyway, Laube applauded a recent Kaena release so I suspect that the winery has some traction. I bought this particular choice through the Santa Barbara Futures program a few years ago for around $24 a bottle. I've taken a bottle to one of our neighborhood dinners and the guzzlers gave it a thumbs up so it passed that test at least. Only sparse notes, probably due to someone shouting "DADDY!" mid sip. Lots of dark red fruit, like raspberries, a bit tart and gamy, missing the loam and leather from a better Rhone but quite drinkable, perhaps at a BBQ. "Truly handcrafted wines" on the back label is irritating; did he grow the grapes in the cupped palms of his hands?

Rating: very good, so-called Hawaiian link and label hype aside.

Sometimes I buy wines for on a whim, stash them in a corner and don't come across them until months later, usually by accident. I like Amarone well enought though I don't have a very good food match for it. I enjoy the wines from Masi, at least the ones I can afford. I just have no idea when or why I bought more than one bottle of the Masi Costasera Amarone Classico 2001, and I'm not sure how much I paid of course though I suspect it was low $40s. What do you do with Amarone, esp. a young one? Drink a glass here and there I guess; this is more a sipper than a gulper, esp. at 15% alcohol which I suspect is a plug and that we're talking 16%+ here, given the heat it throws off. Nose of raisins and blackberries, dense and chewy mid-palate, bitter chocolate finish with a bit of a hot, rustic edge.

Rating: Good.

Cheers, Barrld

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Quick Note

Check out my Pinot and Alsatian blogs from previous dates, long story.

Cheers, Barrld

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Crazy Alsatian

At first biodynamic agriculture just seems to be an extreme version of organic. Eschewing chemical fertilizers and pesticides, using cover crops, finding natural predators to vineyard pests, it all sounds so back to nature. But, just like I'm not about to have a bite out of a picnic table with Eule Gibbons (may he RIP), I don't find the the astrological calendar to be particularly compelling as it relates to my daily life. Perhaps that's my main problem. You see the biodynamic-philes take action to block the the cosmic powers of various planetary and inter-stellar alignments and make planting and harvesting decisions based the location of the Scorpio constellation and such. Real Age of Aquarius stuff.

Surprisingly, a number of the top producers in France are fully biodynamic, including Domaines Leflaive and Leroy in Burgundy, among many others. Anne-Claude Leflaive's wines have grown in stature and, sadly, price since she fully converted her acreage to biodynamics in 1997. Who knows? That leads me to Olivier Humbrecht of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht in Alsace. Olivier has a lot going for him, he's young, good looking, he speaks French, which surely helps him meet women, he holds a MW and he runs and owns a large share of the one of the better Alsatian producers. Olivier Humbrecht is a biodynamic zealot as well and was (is?) president of the Biodyvin, a French biodynamic cult, uh er organization. All joking aside, I really do like DZH wines, its Pinot Gris, Riesling (especially the bone dry version from a number of ethereal vineyards in Alsace) and Gerwurtz all offer a quite good value to quality ratio. Of course the Domaine's VT and SGN are world class on the desert wine front, though I've tried none of them. Who knows how the wines here would taste w/o all of Olivier's bio-voodoo?

So I picked up a half dozen bottles of the Domain Zind-Humbrecht 2002 Zind, a blend of 50% Auxerrios Blanc, 35% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Blanc at retail for about $25 a bottle. The wine checks in at a ubiquitous 13.5% alcohol. Each vintage Olivier mixes the various varietals to his pleasure so at times the Zind is dominated by Chard at others by PB; the Auxerrios is more for structure than anything else, with a neutral asparagus, fresh cut grass flavor profile and high acidity. There is a story as to why he chose the name Zind instead of the dominant varietal but you can look that up if you're interested in the byzantine workings of a French AOC.

The 2002 Zind is liquid gold in the glass and opens with a nose of pears, honey and vanilla. Zesty and sweet/tart mid-palate, notes of white peach and meyer lemon dominate. A sweet, syrupy and a bit cloying finish make this a fine wine to have with friends on a hot day out doors but one glass is enough.

Rating: Very Good.

Cheers, Barrld

Monday, March 5, 2007

Rating Wines

Look we all know that HRM Parker invented the 100 point scale for rating wine; if you don't believe me just ask His Highness. Give that I'm a subscriber to his Wine Advocate, it seems that he has long forsaken 85% of his scale, given that he only rates wines in the 85-100 range in print. Hmmm, odd result. Why not just use a 15 point scale then?? Alas, turn to the folks across the pond and Robinson, Jefford, Johnson, Spurrier and their English ilk use a 20 point scale but then add half points. Look either it's a 15 or a 16, get over yourselves. Finally (I'm almost off the soapbox), the WS has to grudging give credit to Sir Parker and his development of the erstwhile 100 point scale, as Shanken and his groupies adopted it after much hemming and hawing. To its credit the WS does issue ratings occasionally as low as 50 but I've never seen a wine receive a score below US Grant. To ask the obvious, why not adopt the 1-50 scale then?

The reality is that if we ever turned tastings on their head, asking the critics to pick the 98, 96, 93, 92, 90, 89, 87 and 83 from eight wines that they had previously given these scores to, there is little doubt in my mind that most would fail more than 50% of the time. The numbers are so subjective and of that moment as to make them no more than a vague estimate of one taster's biased notion of how a particular wine tastes at a specific moment amidst a defined selection of it competitors. At any rate, why not use a scale that everyone can at least understand, if not envy?

Which brings us to my attempt to qualify something that may not submit to qualification:

[starting from the bottom]
  • plonk--this is swill, industrial waste escaping the remediation pond. Think the white version of 2 buck chuck, which has an essence of lighter fluid to it;
  • OK--passable at a barbecue when you need something to down when surrounded by the attractive guests of your neighbor. Never to be poured at home, nor presented to friends in the form of a gift. After 2 glasses switch to hard liquor or water;
  • Good--Yeah, this is wine. Someone made an effort to process grapes to juice is a professional manner, even if 19 million cases were made. Certainly drinkable at one of those professional networking functions where you get too many cards from folks you would never in your wildest dreams call or those informal cheese board mixers at the lodge you're visiting during ski season. Finish, smile, forget about it.
  • Very good/quaffable--Ahh Miles and his demons. A wine of this description rises to the level of crafting; a talented hand is involved in the process of vines to blossoms, grapes to fermentation. This wine can be enjoyed with distinction, at any random dinner party (w/o wine geeks present) it stands out and pleases, even though you know it lacks subtlety and complexity and you're dying for something with a bit more bite to it.
  • Excellent/tasty--Here's one of those things that make you go "MMM!" Broad based and full of fruit, structure and backbone, this rating only falls on wines that you would love to have again and mention to your friends in the form of a boast--"Well I had the ____ last evening with roasted pork loin and it was the bomb." Nothing is really missing in this selection and your friends will think you sage if they ever receive one of these offerings as a gift.
  • Superb--Easy here, we're in the octane zone. The stuff of legends as in "back in 2005 I had a _____ and nearly flipped. We dragged the sommelier over and he shot a load in his shorts after just a quick swirl." You get my meaning; this has to be profound, the top of a varietal class that you've done with a passion. If you know pinot and that Rochioli is the best pinot you've had in some time, well you know how to rate it. Hoard these beauties, drink under the cover of darkness, approach with stealth and no one within earshot of your cork pull.

So that's the scale. No numbers, they are meaningless in the larger scheme of things and no one, not even the best, can explain the difference between a 94 and a 95 or an 18 and an 18.5 or even a 73 and a 74. I dare them to try.

Cheers, Barrld

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Let's Call it Pinot-oin


OK so I drink a lot of Pinot, I admit it, PN is a drug and I'm a Pinot junkie, she has me wrapped around her finger like groupies to a starlet (think Scarlet Johansen). How can you avoid falling for the juiciness, gobs of fruit, zinging acidity, velvety texture and [easy boy easy]. Look King Cab has its place, big brute barging into the fray demanding attention with its over the top extractions and muscularity. Don't leave out Chard-onia, bringing the world malo, vanilla and cream. Of course, I'm a Rhone-ista too, and draw wood on that region's expression of earth and fruit. But Pinot is always after my heart, or veins or liver, however you want to characterize her clutches. I'm talking Pinot here, from California and maybe Oregon in a pinch, lovely west coast juice, rife with cherries, minerals, fog and the sea. How can any wine lover resist?
So Laube does his little Pinot fest around the Super Bowl and he throws out a dozen beauties to try. How can an honest wine head like me with a day job keep up and afford to track down so many raptures? One at a time, I guess.
Anyway, the Roessler Cellars from Anderson Valley caught my eye and, thereafter, my credit card. It didn't take long to see that here was a mother lode for my Pinot fix. Wells Guthrie, from Copain (mailing list!) consulting with a newbie focused on single vineyards Pinots? They hooked a flounder, just had to reel me in and gaff me.
So I order a 6 pack of the 2004 Roessler Cellars Anderson Valley Savoy Pinot Noir, which clocks in at 14.5% alcohol from the website for $45 a bottle. Ruby red in the glass, the wine opens with a nose of blackberry and saddle leather, followed by a muscular mix of dark fruit taking over the mid-palate. Currants and earth, with mouthfuls of juicy fruit following every sip (or, in my case, every slurp/chug). A structured and refined offering, the Savoy has a smooth, redolent finish. A crowd pleaser that will appeal to the snobs and enthusiasts alike. For me the 2004 could use another year in the bottle to reach full bloom and integration of fruit and acidity.
Rating: Excellent, very tasty.
Cheers, Barrld

Monday, February 26, 2007

Rhone Ranger in White

I'm not sure about the organic wine thing. While it seems self evident that something organic is better for me, I'm not eating grapes here but drinking wine. All things being equal I will always opt for a quality over marketing ploys or similar gimmicks. When organics and quality wine merge, well that's a no brainer.

This brings me to Bonterra Vineyards in Ukiah up in Mendocino County heading north in California. Bonterra states its commitment to organic grape farming and gives a fairly detailed rendition of what that entails. The winery is one of the few that has the certified organic farming seal of approval there for all to see on its website. I recall having one of its reds before, which I'm sure I consumed without offense, but I landed at Bonterra searching for whites, esp. Rhone varietals after Eric Asimow of the NYT mentioned the winery and its white Rhones in one of his blogs a couple of months back.

The wine is the Bonterra Vineyards 2004 Rhone Varietal Blend, Mendocino. The wine clocks in at 14.4% alcohol and is 58% Marsanne, 28% Rousanne and 14% Viognier (who comes up with these numbers??). I bought three bottles off the website at $20 per though I suspect that larger volumes afford some discounts.

Citrus and white flowers on the nose, min and honeysuckle mid-palate. Juicy and viscous. Lychee and cherry blossoms on the finish. Refreshing and well made. Who knows how this would taste if it wasn't organic.

Rating: Very good, quaffable.

Cheers, Barrld

Friday, February 23, 2007

More Pinot Madness


So in reading Vinography, one of the best overall blogs on the web, I spot Alder's story about a wine writer turned winemaker. Stephen Yafa, a man of letters, took the plunge, engaging Greg La Follette of Flowers fame, now at his own place Tandem. I was one of the early birds at Flowers and enjoyed Greg's pioneering efforts in Sonoma, the Russian River and Sonoma Coast in the 1990s, way before anyone knew about global warming's effect on the ability to grow grapes right next to the Pacific Ocean and such. Anyway, I contacted Steve, got a six pack on order and waited. Waited some more. Then the light bulb went off and it was clear that I shouldn't sit by the pot hoping for it to boil, iykwim. So I pinged Steve, he tracked down the shipper who apparently had flaked. One way or another he dug that six pack out for me and sent it himself. Nice.
So the name has nothing to do with that stupid people mover for lazy asses who don't want to walk from here to there if it's farther away than the vending machine with Yo Ho's and Tortilla Chips, Ranch style. Rather, Steve refers to the real, unglamorous process of taking tons of grapes off of poky vines, laden with yellow jackets on steep slopes, sorting them meticulously, then turning the whole batch into something magical. Indeed, Steve has hit the jackpot and his debut vintage is a fantastic one. While his writing may be excellent, his winemaking is off to a classic start.
The Segue 2005 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County checks in at 14.2% alcohol. Only 50 cases were made of this beauty. The wine show a hearty red with traces of violet in the glass. Blackberry coffee on the nose. A mouthful of fruit, berries and cherries, greet the mid-palate. Juicy and vibrant, this wine sneaks up on you with its multitude of flavors and structure exploding in the mouth. Smooth with finesse yet a powerful finish. This is a little rattlesnake, which opens rather quietly then strikes with its array of flavors. Bravo for the inaugural offering. This wine will knock the socks off of the big boys from Sonoma when tasted blind.
Rating: Superb.
Cheers, Barrld
PS I purloined the picture from Alder's website as my d photo sucked.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Wines Out

I was snowboarding and traveling over the last couple of days making my blog logistically difficult and, with my four year old sitting on my lap at the two dinners where we had wine, it was very difficult to take notes. Here are some thoughts from memory (OK one is not from the snowboarding trip, but worthy of note):

Chateau Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape 2004: I splurged on Valentine's Day with the wife and ordered this beauty. I'm embarrassed to say that it was way out of my budget but I figured "once a year" and the restaurant didn't have the well priced 2003 Roger Sabon CdP any more . . . Tightly wound, pencil shavings and plums on the nose, cherries and earth mid-palate, medium bodied, ethereal, roses and earth, well structured. Lovely but too young to drink now and needs more bottle time. I have a few bottles of this somewhere and will dig one out to drink and review in about a year. Rating: Excellent, tasty.

Badia a Coltibuono, Chianti Classico Riserva 2001: There were 10 of us at Il Poggio, a fantastic Italian place in Snowmass Village, five adults and five kids. The well priced wine list has a number of fine Italian selection under $100 a bottle and some of the big guns from Tuscany as well. Though I greatly enjoy Sangiovese I don't drink Chianti too often b/c the quality varies so greatly and there is so much Chianti plonk out there. Plus the whole "classico" and "riserva" thing seems silly to me. I picked the Badia randomly from the wine list though I asked the owner/wine guy about it after he brought the bottle out but before he opened it and he said it was his favorite traditional Chianti on the list. It was $57 a bottle which is slightly more than a 2x markup to what's out there (I bought the last 6 bottles at WineEx for $24 each). The wine is 90% Sangiovese and 10% canaiolo (??), is certified organic and has 13.5% alcohol . . . Beautifully rich, black cherry red in the glass and opens with that distinct, dusty Tuscan soil, blackberry and stone on the mid-palate, lots of earth here, structured and balanced with a velvet hammer finish. Good with richer pasta and hearty, grilled seafood like lobster. The wife enjoyed it, thus my post trip purchase. Rating: Very good, quaffable.

Altesino Brunello di Montalcino 1998: This was our second wine at Il Poggio and it was $92 a bottle, again a bit more than 2x of current market. I originally ordered the 2001 Altesino but the owner/wine guy said he had one bottle left of the '98 and that it was drinking well; I suspected that the 2001 was a bit young too, even though the '01 was a superior year. So I took the plunge and accepted the '98, which turned out to be a favorite of one of my table mates (no not the 5 year old!). After the Badia, the Altesino seemed huge and robust to me, amazing given that the wines come from the same grape. The '98 is dark garnet in the glass and opens with a mellow nose of fruit and flowers. Black plums and mint mid-palate, refined and integrated tannins but with a bold, satisfying finish of dark fruit. Drinking beautifully now and I can't imagine any improvement over time. Rating: Very good, quaffable.

Morgan Twelve Clones Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands 2005: This was the third wine I ordered from a list at Village Steakhouse, another wonderful restaurant in Snowmass. The other two were MIA; who knew? With just six of us, and only 3 drinkers, it was our only bottle of the night and did itself justice. I paid $52 for the bottle, which is listed on the Morgan website at $30 and can be found elsewhere in the mid-$20s. A good value for quaffing though it's a notch below the better pinots coming out of SLH and elsewhere in CA, esp. in 2005. My friend John swooned over the "veritable fruit explosion with each mouthful. It engorged the senses with ecstasy and enlightenment [his words]," most of which I missed, probably b/c I'm fed up with all efforts to enlighten from both sides of the aisle. Plus I drink a lot more than he does, I have never found wine to be erogenous and pinot is, well you know . . . Garnet in the glass, quite clear given it's unfined and unfiltered. Nose of cherries with a hint of sage, juicy mid-palate with a mouthful of red fruit. Well made and balanced, given the quantity out there, with thousands of cases made. Modest but pleasant finish. It went well with my ostrich, which was an odd dish for me but worth trying once. Rating: Very good, quaffable.

Cheers, Barrld

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Southern Oregon Meets Spain


I do like John and Dorothy's regular column on wines in the Wall Street Journal. While some critics have labeled their commentary as pedestrian (aka the Rachel Rays of the wine world) .I entirely disagree and believe that, given the breadth of WSJ readership, John and Dorothy have had a significant and materially positive impact of wine consumption in the US. Their approach and analysis de-mystifies wine, while celebrating its delights. They make finding and enjoying a variety of wines much easier for novices and guzzlers alike. Just b/c they don't discuss the threat of brett, TCA and cork taint, and their flavor profiling uses real words and tastes (Parker once noted a "tincture of iodine" in one of his tasting notes--what?? Tanzer gets lost in his forest of superlatives) don't short change their taste buds either, as both John and Dorothy have sensitive, sophisticated palates. My hat goes off to them.

Which brings me to the reason for the reference; they often have an "unusual wine" section in their weekly report. Sometime last year they reported that a winery in the Southern Oregon appellation (where?) was making enjoyable Spanish and Italian varietals. Intrigued, I gave the winery a call and as is my ilk ordered a case of its varietals from the 2003 vintage. I found Abacela's wines, the Dolcetto, Malbec and Albarino I tried, to be good to very good, relatively straightforward, but nice expressions of fruit. The Abacela 2003 Estate Tempranillo, Southern Oregon, however, is a distinct wine by any measure and is worth tracking down as it is excellent. I think I paid around $28 a bottle with the case discount. It checks in at a modest 13.7% alcohol.

Tasting Notes: Nutmeg on the nose, with cedar and cinnamon, chocolate and dark fruit mid-palate, chewy and dense, complex array of anise, dark fruits and rich flavors, firm blackberry finish. From any other appellation, one could say that this wine is a fine expression of its terroir but, not to knock the wine in the least, what represents an expression of the vineyards of Southern Oregon?? The simple answer might be the Abacela Estate Tempranillo.

Rating: Excellent, tasty.

Cheers, Barrld

PS The Abacela website(abacela.com) posts a late January 2007 article for Matt Kramer (of WS fame) in the Oregonian in which Matt profoundly praises the 2004 Estate Tempranillo so I guess Abacela has things going for it. Good for the founders they deserve applause for going against conventional wisdom and planting interesting varietals in unique locations then bringing high quality affordable wines to the market. Bravo!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Challenging White Rhone


So I've had maybe two true white Rhones in my time, the Condrieu that I referred to in an earlier blog that the wife passed on and that I thought tasted of burnt oranges and some other non-memorable wine. The solution? Buy some white Rhones! So when the Flickinger teaser flashed across my email screen I bit, sending Tom an order for an assortment of Rhone Blanc. As is typical, I jammed them in a corner of the cluttered wine room and promptly forgot about trying one. Finally I dug a bottle out and stood it up a couple of days for the test.

The wine is the 2001 Domaine de Vieux Telegraphe, Chateauneuf du Pape, "La Crau" Blanc, 14% alcohol. Other bloggers find Vieux Telegraphe (dr. vino and the winedoctor, for example) to be a high quality below the radar producer of CdP but I haven't tried enough of VT to have an opinion, one way or another. I do know that the "La Crau" designation is window, er label, dressing as all the wines with the VT label say "La Crau." It took a bit of research to discover that a host of different grapes go into this wine, grenache blanc and rousanne, which I know well, and clairette and bourboulenc, which I've never heard of and can not even pronounce. These later two are ancient Mediterranean varietals that are mostly used for blending now, apparently due to various flaws and unpleasant tendencies when produced on a stand alone basis.

Tasting Notes: Apricot and jasmine on the nose, syrupy orange blossoms mid-palate, honey and pears with a bit of petrol on the finish. Rich and mouthwatering, but rather perplexing; intriguing flavors that are difficult to categorize and seem to go in different directions. All in all very enjoyable.

Rating: Excellent, tasty.

Cheers, Barrld

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Tasty Brunello




Italian wines remain an enigma to me, mostly due to space constraints. With no room in my cellar to add representative multiple vintage samples of Brunellos, Barolos, Chiantis, Amarones and the like, I have only dabbled in the wines of Italy and probably have no more than 2 or 3 cases of the stuff (that crack inventory control system I use, aka my memory, is always on top of this sort of thing), with a couple of bottles of this and a few of that. Given this dabbling it's hard to establish any tasting benchmarks or favorite producers, though the 2001 Elio Grasso Barolo that I had with the guzzlers on this past New Year's Eve is on the top of a very short list. I've also had some wines that just don't do it for me. For example, as sacrilegious as it may be to the Italiophiles out there, I really don't like the various Antinori Tignanellos that I've had (3 or 4 different vintages), which I find overly rustic and rough hewn, with harsh tannins pummeling the wine's fruit into submission (just tried the 99 again last night and, while drinkable, I can't get past it's rough edges to really like this wine). At the same time I really want to figure out the many wines from Tuscany, Piedmont and elsewhere on the boot, knowing full well that there have been a number of fantastic Italian vintages over the past dozen or so years and that many quality Italian wines trade at relative bargain prices. The flames of that desire, however modest, were fanned when, at a business dinner for 8 at Valentino's in Santa Monica, I handed control over our wines to the wine steward, who brought out a 1998 Siepi, 1990 Pira, 1995 Costanti and a 1983 Masi; thank God it was someone else's credit card!

So I get one of those email ticklers about some bargain Brunellos and I fight the double click reflex, knowing how much of a sucker for alleged bargains that I am. After ignoring the email for a day or two I finally look, see that there are a couple 1999 Brunellos for sale at K&L Wines, up in the bay area (it just opened a shop in Hollywood too, a place I need to avoid like Vegas). I buy wines from all over (duh!) and find K&L to often have the best prices, a good monthly newsletter and educated down to earth sales folks. I believe K&L when it advertises a sale price and I picked up three bottles of a couple of '99s, though I can't tell you exactly how many b/c I forgot where I stuck them in the cellar. Fortunately I came across one the other day, to my surprise, and popped the cork. The wine was a 1999 Brunello di Montalcino Vendemmia Tenuta Caparzo. I've seen this wine listed well over $50 a bottle, but I paid $30 at K&L and feel smart for making the exchange.

Tasting Notes: Garnet in the glass, black cherry and wet earth on the nose, notes of crushed roses, violets and bitter chocolate mid-palate, blackberry and currants. Finish of tar and black fruit. Dusty and a bit rustic. Powerful tannins with lots of life here--I may have opened it too soon.

Rating: Tasty.

Cheers, Barrld
PS James Suckling bugs the shit out of me; I sometimes read his blog posts at the WS and know that he's forgotten more about wine then I will ever know but he such an over the top braggart, smug and obsequious I just felt the need to say something. Read his Valentine's Day post--completely unnecessary and obnoxious. Plus, I think he's gone native in Italy, and has an overly gilded view of its wines--look at his WS insider report from 2/7 to confirm my speculation.

Monday, February 12, 2007

An Old Zin Friend Soldiers On

My friend Jeff got me an invite to the Napa Valley Wine Auction in June of 1999 so we hooked up at the Oakland Airport and drove up to Napa for the event. I wasn't really prepared for the glamor of it all, which became a bit much, and the big charity auction was ridiculously expensive, with many lots going out at over $100,000 per, of course we purchased nothing. It used to be that on the Friday evening of the function everyone dressed to the nines and gathered under a big tent on the Meadowood lawn for a formal sitdown affair prepared by a celebrity chef (I think it was Alice Waters that night) followed by music and dancing. The tables all had wine but the highlight of the evening was the march of the big bottles, with winemakers and winery representatives entering the hall with magnums of wine, one for each table. Jeff and I were randomly seated with the assistance winemaker from Groth and a couple that introduced themselves as the Caldwells, a tall attractive blond who was much younger than her 50 something husband. Oliver Caldwell, the hubbie, was visibly perturbed b/c he was supposed to be the wine guy at our table, and he had a magnum of zinfandel from his winery in Napa. Jeff and I didn't care though, more wine for us. The guy from Groth broke out a mag of the Groth 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, which needed some more time to soften its harsh tannins, I remember it tasting a bit like liquid blackberry chalk. Oliver lighted up when his 1996 Caldwell Aida Zinfandel was the clear winner at the table, so much so that he pulled out (from God knows where) a regular-sized bottle of his 1996 Caldwell Petit Sirah, which was inky and wonderful. Karen Caldwell turned out to be an engaging young woman, with an attractively low cut formal dress on (read nice cleavage) who loved to dance so dance we did.

Having had more than my share of vino, I then proceeded to procure the partially filled magnums from surrounding tables, stealing them over to ours for an impromptu wine tasting amongst the tuxedo crowd. Soon we had 20 odd folks standing around our table enjoying the my "collection" which now included Diamond Creek, Opus, Mondavi, Chimney Rock (1996 cab, elegant, lovely) and about a dozen others. Oliver Caldwell took his bottle of Petit Sirah off to meet some friends but left the Zin and his wife behind and both were well appreciated by the crowd. Let's be clear, no lewd conduct of any kind occurred just good clean socializing and guzzling, surrounding by lovely, decked out (tipsy) women. Great celebration.

Anyway, Karen told me to call her after I got back to SoCal, if I wanted to get some wine from her (nothing more). I picked up cases of the Caldwell Zin (around $30 a bottle) and Petit Sirah (around $40 a bottle) from 1996 for me and Jeff and we were quite happy with the quality of the Caldwell juice. Later I picked up the Zin and PS from the 1997 vintage too, which was a half step below the 1996 on both fronts, but still terrific. I ran into Karen Caldwell briefly at the 2001 Napa Auction (my second and last visit to that event), this time with the wife in tow, and Karen was as engaging as every, albeit 5 months pregnant. As I understand it the Caldwells got into a name dispute with another winemaker named John Caldwell and I lost track of Karen and Oliver and their wines.

So I opened a bottle of the 1996 Oliver Caldwell Cellars Aida Vineyards Napa Valley Zinfandel the other night, hoping that age hadn't caught up with this old favorite. At 14.8% alcohol it seemed light compared to the portlike fruit bombs that pass themselves off as Zin these days. The bottle sure did bring back some fond memories too.

Tasting Notes: Garnet in the glass, blueberry and graphite on the nose, medium body, smoky, refined and plums on the mid-palate, great mouthfeel, no sharp edged nor any herbal features. a smooth drinking old friend, good with a book or slice of cheddar.

Rating: Tasty.

Cheers, Barrld

Friday, February 9, 2007

Delicious and Confusing Rhone Red


Years ago I when I first started collecting wine auctions were viable sources of bargains for some really fine wines. I purchased all of my initial "top tier" wines at the Christies wine auctions in Beverly Hills and the Butterfields & Butterfields auctions in Hollywood (simulcast from San Francisco, which was kind of cool). From 1996-99 I picked up some early Staglin, Shafer Hillside Select, Diamond Creek, Ridge Montebello, Mouton Rothschild and others all at prices below their listed retail prices at the time. The "secret" about auction bargains is long extinct and auctions appear to be showcases for indulgence and excessive spending. I haven't been to one in years, though I did pick up a nice lot of 2000 Zind-Humbrecht Rangen Riesling on an absentee bid for a song a couple of years ago. Now that's good juice.

I don't know about others but I used to get an itchy paddle at the wine auctions if I hadn't won a bid on anything yet. Sometimes I would make unintended purchases of wines just to show that I meant business, that I wasn't just some auction voyeur. Most of the time these were good to very good buys, and a few were stinkers, though I never spent more that a couple of Ben Fs for any given impulse purchase. One of these drive "buys" was of the of the 1985 Chateau Fonsalette Reserve from Cotes du Rhone, a lovely, earthy red that turned out to be a great bargain (I paid around $23 a bottle for a case) and proved to be my first Rhone. Being a knowledge hound I read up on Fonsalette and discovered that it was actually made by Jacques Reynaud at Chateau Rayas, which is in CdP. Hmmm. Let's get this straight, a Cotes du Rhone--Fonsalette (now part of the Cotes du Rhone Villages appelation) vinified in CdP at a renowned CdP winemaker? Confusing, but it sure worked for me, esp. given the 3x or 4x differences in prices between the Fonsalette and the Rayas. Of course different grapes go into the different cuvees, at least theoretically, but the Rayas wine making operation was notoriously antiquated and Reynaud did whatever he pleased so I suspect that he occasionally spiced up the Fonsalette with a little bit of bang from the Rayas vineyards. I have no evidence of this whatsoever but who would this hurt in the long run?

So I'm at an auction after reading that Reynaud died in 1997 and that the 1996 vintage of the Rayas is his last one. To my surprise a case of the 1996 Fonsalette goes up for grabs and the bidding is modest my paddle raised and Sold! to bidder # 283. I think I paid about $35 a bottle, I know, not the big times but heh it's not like I'm Jon Kapon, Dr. Despai or one of those filthy rich Indonesian collectors. This turned out to be another good buy and, after selling a few bottles to my sister (at cost, if you must know) I've enjoyed this wine over the past few years with the guzzlers (who can't get enough of it) and by myself.

The other day I spotted a bottle in the deep recesses of my cellar the other day and said "what the fuck, try it again, Mr. You Think You Have a Good Rhone Palate Now Don't You?" The wine is a 1996 Chateau de Fonsalette Cotes du Rhone Reserve, which according to my research, is comprised of 50% Grenache, 35% Cinsault and 15% Syrah (though some say "Syrah" on the label), all sourced from Fonsalette's 10 ha vineyards (except for the mystery juice that Reynaud slipped in from Rayas!). The bottle says 14% alcohol which seems right. More confusing French declarations crisscross the label and the Chateau Rayas and CdP designations crowd the corners [see accompanying picture]. No wonder people can't figure out French labels.

Tasting Notes: Dark cherry red in the glass, chocolate and leather on the nose, Bing cherry and violets midpalate, rich, bold and velvety, loamy, long chewy finish with earth, blueberries and pepper. Balanced tannins, with quite a bit of life left here. A bit light/simple to make it a great Rhone but very nice.

Rating: Tasty.

Cheers, Barrld

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Lovely Loire

A few years back the wife and I joined another couple at Bastide, one of the few 4 star restaurants in the LA area at the time, or ever for that matter. It's since changed chefs and styles then closed last year for a new name, chef and cuisine. At the time, Christophe Rolland was sommelier and oversaw a voluminous wine list comprised entirely of French wines. Anyway, the day before our dinner, Wine Spectator had reviewed some wines from the Loire Valley, including those of Didier Dagueneau, which received outstanding scores. Sure enough, there was a Dagueneau Silex (pronounced "see-lex") on the wine list for $90 (listed as the 2000, he brought out a bottle of 2001, the wine just reviewed!--I humbly pointed out the misprint to Christophe) and since it was a business dinner and this was a great value on a very pricey wine list I ordered it. Turned out to be an excellent choice that everyone at the table truly enjoyed (we also had a bottle of 1996 Chateau Palmer, which was lovely). Interestingly, I went back to Bastide about a month later and the Silex was still on the wine list, correctly listed as the 2001 and now $25 more per bottle.

Being curious as well as mostly ignorant about the wines from Loire, I did a bit of web searching and found out that Dagueneau is both a renowned producer from the Loire Valley and quite the wildman, aggressively reducing yields in his vineyards, not chaptizing, criticizing other producers and their below grade wines and generally following his own course in the wine world. Stories of Dagueneau literally brawling with hostile Loire-ians and critics abound, though given that he's a hirsute bear of a man I doubt that too many folks really want to mix it up with Didier. Perhaps the man and the myth separate from reality here. At any rate, I tracked down some of his Silex and Pur Sang (a different vineyard where horses turn the earth in fallow portions) at Fine & Rare Wines in London, my grey market contact. The dollar was doing OK against the pound sterling then too so I bought a case of each at good prices (below $40 a bottle overall) then waited forever to get it imported via refrigerated shipping containers.

When the wines finally arrived about a year later (seriously) I tried both and . . . was very disappointed. The wines were thin, herbaceous, reedy, very marginal. Bummer! So I waited and waited and waited; another bottle of the Silex that I opened last year was better but still couldn't touch the wine that I had at Bastide. I thought maybe the wines were cooked on the dock or some such thing and that I now had about 20 bottles of expensive cooking wine. Total drag.

Anyway, a few nights ago (undaunted) I opened a bottle of the Didier Dagueneau 2001 Silex, Pouilly Fume, Loire Valley, (which is now retailing for about $130 a bottle, yikes!) and hoped for the best. Thank God, the wine was lovely, showing surprising youth, complexity and balance. Phew! I'll have to try the Pur Sang soon and see if it has rallied as well.

Tasting Notes: Opening nose of white peach and asparagus, gooseberry and honeydew melon mid-palate, racy and plush at the same time, nice mineral edge compliments a complex array of citrus (mostly lime) and tropical flavors (pineapple). Amazingly balanced, long lingering finish. Many years of good drinking here.

Rating: Tasty (borderline superb, maybe the next bottle)

Cheers, Barrld