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Wine: Reviews, Thoughts & Culture

Archive for May, 2008

Kiamie Wine Cellars – 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon

Posted by Gabe on May 30, 2008

Regular readers of this blog have probably noted that Paso Robles is one of my favorite California Appellations. Numerous things about this area are appealing to me. One huge item though is how quickly new producers are coming on line. Rapid expansion often leads to wineries changing hands, new vines planted and all sorts of other permutations. All of that adds up to the excitement of new offerings to taste through. One of those new players in Paso Robles is Kiamie Wine Cellars. They have recently released their first three wines. I’ll be looking at each of them over the next couple of days.

CabKiamie Wine Cellars focuses on blending the best grapes they can acquire from mountain vineyards on the Westside of Paso Robles. That they focus on blending is no surprise when you consider their winemaker is Steve Glossner. He was the winemaker at landmark Paso Robles winery Justin for a number of years. That time included the period during which they received some of their greatest accolades for the proprietary blend Isosceles.

The first wine I’m looking at is their Cabernet Sauvignon. With 75% of it being varietal, it just meets the requirement to be labeled as such. The other 25% of the blend is Cabernet Franc. Grapes for this wine were sourced at the Halter Ranch. 500 Cases of the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon were produced and the suggested retail price is $32.00.

Without delay or hesitation the Cabernet Franc makes it’s presence known in the nose. Dark plum pudding and gingerbread spice dominate. From the first sip this wine shows itself to be a rich, ripe and bold expression of Cabernet Sauvignon. Significant amounts of dark berry fruit, nutmeg, black pepper and toasty notes define this wines mid-palate. The finish has continued berry and pepper notes with underlying mocha that comes out more prominently as the wine opens up. A wine this full bodied and expressive deserves to be paired with an equally big meal. Steak and Rack of  Lamb come to mind as obvious matches.

Decanting this wine is highly recommended. It’s such an appealing wine out of the bottle with an nose so outstanding it’ll be hard to resist waiting an hour or so after opening it. But that hour allows it to smooth out and become even more expressive than it is out of the bottle. You’re patience will undoubtedly be rewarded.

The Kiamie Wine Cellars 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon is very much a modern new world styled Cabernet Sauvignon. It does possess firm acidity and medium tannins suggesting you could lay it down for about 5 years. An impressive wine, particularly for a debut vintage. If you like your Cabernet big, bold and full of appealing fruit, snap this one up.

Up Next:Kiamie Wine Cellars Kiamie Kuvée.

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Mil Piedras – 2006 Malbec

Posted by Gabe on May 28, 2008

Those familiar with Argentina know that there are a number of terrific wines being produced there. Anyone who has tasted enough Argentine offerings knows that they can certainly hold their own with a wide array of varietals. However to a lot of people the first thing they think of when it comes to Argentina is Malbec. This is understandable. While they’re showing they can make Cabernet Sauvignon to compete with the worlds best for example, no other country has shown they can make Malbec to compete with the best offerings coming out of Argentina. So it BVstands to reason that most Argentine wineries not only make Malbec but they often make more than one. Under the Mil Piedras label Benvenuto de la Serna there is one stand alone varietal Malbec. Additionally their lone blend features a heavy percentage of Malbec as well.

The 2006 Mil Piedras Malbec was produced from 7 year old Estate vines. 4,000 cases of this wine were produced and it sells for approximately $10.

This Malbec is a deeply colored wine with an expressive nose of plum, vanilla and blackberry. A rich, round mouth feel defines the palate in the form of blackberry jam, sour cherry and spice notes. Dark berry fruit lingers on the finish along with very gentle spices. This wine sips well on it’s own, but will also be a good complement to a burger or other grilled foods.

For a Malbec in the $10 price range the Mil Piedras is more subtly layered and complex then many in that category. Often Malbecs in this range tend to be of the brawnier variety. This one is a change of pace from that and another nice value from Mil Piedras.

This is the last wine from Mil Piedras I’m looking at this week. In a couple of weeks however I’ll be looking at their Rosé.

Imported by: H & S Specialty Imports Inc.

Up Next: The Wines of Kiamie Wine Cellars.

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Mil Piedras – 2006 Sangiovese

Posted by Gabe on May 27, 2008

The Mil Piedras line of wines from Benvenuto de la Serna includes five offerings that are each 100% varietal, and one blend. My first experience having these wines was at a large tasting about 3 months ago. I made a note to revisit them. I wanted to see if the positive impression they left me with the first time MP Sangiovesearound was accurate. The Viognier I have already reexamined was even more impressive than I recalled. Today I’m looking at their Sangiovese, which is certainly a fitting varietal for a transplanted Italian winery owner to produce.

The 2006 Mil Piedras Sangiovese is produced from 7-year-old Estate vines. 1600 case of this wine were produced and it sells for around $10.

The nose of this wine is full of cherries, light vanilla and cedar notes. The first sip reveals more cherries, strawberries and spice notes. Without question cherry is the dominant flavor of this wine. Not surprising, as that’s often the case with this varietal. Those cherry notes are a little richer and slightly brighter than what one might expect from similarly priced Chianti. The finish features linger spice notes and an emerging earthiness. Modest alcohol and excellent acidity make this a wine that shows best with food. I found it to go very well with a wild mushroom Risotto.

What stands out most to me about this Sangiovese is how smooth and elegant it is for such a modestly priced offering. As with the Viognier it over delivers in its price category. With some exceptions, Sangiovese made outside of Italy can be a dicey proposition. Sangiovese made away from it’s native home has often big made in an over the top, extracted style which I don’t feel suits it. This offering from Mil Piedras is a nice every day value made in the grapes more suited, fruity but balanced style.

Imported by: H & S Specialty Imports Inc.

Up Next: A Malbec from Mil Piedras.

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Mil Piedras – 2007 Viognier

Posted by Gabe on May 25, 2008

Mil Piedras is a line of wines from Argentine producer Benvenuto de la Serna. Silvio Benvenuto who founded an built the winery with his family is an Itlaian immigrant. Angel Mendoza who is a large piece of what Trapiche has achieved is the enologist. In essence the winery has joined together the wine making tradition of Italy and Argentina. I’ll look at several of their wines this week. First up is a Mil PiedraViognier.

The 2007 Mil Piedras Viognier un-oaked. 2000 cases of this wine were produced. It sells for around $9.

Lush fruit flavors such as apricot, peach and subtle mango fill the nose and palate of this wine. The mid palate is fruity with a hearty acidity. On the finish fruit notes linger along with subtle white pepper and a hint of honey. This wine is refreshing and crisp making it a good bet as an aperitif or welcome wine. It will also pair well with all manner of Asian cuisine as well as other full flavored foods. Grilled chicken topped with mango chutney comes to mind as a perfect compliment.

What I like most about this Viognier is that it displays plenty of pure varietal character. It’s fresh and unburdened by oak. For around $9 this is a wine easily affordable to drink all summer.

Imported by: H & S Specialty Imports Inc.

Up Next: A Sangiovese from Mil Piedras.

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Dinner With Winemaker Bob Pepi

Posted by Gabe on May 23, 2008

Wednesday night at Brasserie 8 ½ I had the opportunity to have dinner with Winemaker Bob Pepi. Along with his father he founded, grew and later sold Pepi Winery and the name. He now acts as a consultant for other producers as well as recently jumping back into the ring with his own label, Eponymous. Since the mid 1990’s one of his main projects has been Bodegas Valentin Bianchi in Argentina, which is in its 3rd generation as a Family Winery.

I looked at a trio of wines from Valentin Bianchi back in April. That only touched on their portfolio, which includes a wide array of wines in several tiers. Sitting at the very top of the Valentin Bianchi Family of Wines Enzois Enzo Bianchi. This wine is named after one of the founder’s sons. The dinner with Bob Pepi was a rare opportunity to sample 7 vintages of Enzo side by side.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this tasting was the first and last wine in the vertical. The 1992 Enzo predates Bob Pepi’s involvement and was actually never released. It was their first attempt at a serious barrel aged Bordeaux blend wine. No one is really sure what the exact blend for this is but it’s likely close to all Cabernet Sauvignon. For a 16-year old wine it was drinking quite nicely. Spice, leather and earthiness were the most prominent characteristics. It’s a highly perfumed Cabernet and the first sign that Enzo is an age-worthy wine. At the opposite end of the spectrum was the 2005 Enzo. This wine won’t be released until the fall. The 2005 is nicely structured and the biggest of the Enzo’s but still tight at this point in its very young life. After some time in the decanter it began to open up. When it comes out in the fall it’ll be a wine to lay down for a few years to reach maximum appeal.

Over dinner Bob discussed some of his thoughts on wine making and what he attempts to do. Hi attitude towards oak is that he believes in using as much oak as will benefit a wine without overshadowing the fruit. One of the biggest changes he’s made with the production of Enzo over the years is the barrel mix. He’s a firm believer that some barrels are specifically better for aromatics while other exude greater influence on the mouth feel. Each vintage he strives to find the perfect mix of barrels for the wine he’s making.

There were eight of us at dinner. While I’m not sure it was unanimous, the clear favorite for most of us was the 1997 Enzo. At least on Wednesday night that vintage showed the best. It was a layered wine, still showing nice tannic structure at 11 years of age with spice mocha and a lingering finish. Its nose was still big and youthful, belying its age.

The 1999 Enzo represented the first year Merlot was include in the blend. As Bob explained it was simply the first year he had suitable Merlot fruit to include in their flagship blend. After the 1997 I was most fond of the 1999 which had a nice round mouth-feel and plenty of dark fruit.

The other Enzo’s we tasted through were the 1995, 2000 and 2003. Each wine certainly had its standout characteristics. For instance the 1995 featured prominent mocha notes and the 2003 the darkest fruit. The most impressive hallmark of the Enzo’s as a whole was their consistency. Each wine was at a different place in its drinking window but they all are part of a continuing story. On the one hand that story is the wonderful wines that Valentin Bianchi and Bob Pepi are making year in and year out. But the more specific point for me with Enzo is the fact that this is a benchmark South American wine. Every region has the wines that are looked at to gauge quality. For Cabernet Sauvignon in Chile they have Don Melchor as one example. It’s clear to me after tasting 7 vintages of Enzo side by side that Enzo Bianchi is a reference point in Argentine wine.

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Toast of the Town – New York City

Posted by Gabe on May 20, 2008

Much like in past years Wine Enthusiast’s 2008 Toast of the Town was amongst the best large-scale public tastings in New York. For those wanting to sample a large array of wines, from around the world, under one roof Toast of the Town provides that. Quite a few New York restaurants were also present, each preparing one signature dish for attendees to sample. A Jazz combo played music in the background that added to the ambiance and feel of the tasting.

The event ran from 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM. The first two hours were a VIP tasting. Tickets to get in early went for $185, while tickets for the Grand Tasting, which started at 7:00 PM, were priced at $95. As it has in past years the venue was Lincoln Center.

The benefits of the VIP ticket were essentially three fold. Of primary importance was the fact that just about every exhibitor was pouring several higher end, and reserve wines during the first two hours that were not available during the grand tasting. Secondarily there are fewer VIP tickets sold and thus it’s easier to get around during that portion of Toast of the Townthe evening. While it’s not uncommon for an event of this scope, the Grand Tasting can be a crowded event, where it’s sometimes necessary to jockey for position at a particular exhibitors tasting table. The final benefit of the VIP Ticket is the simple fact that you have 5 hours instead of three to make your way around. With all that time, there is no need to attempt a dizzying pace.

One of my first stops of the evening proved to be amongst my favorite tables of the tasting. The wines being poured at this table were several labels that Susana Balbo of Argentina produces. From her entry-level wines in the Crios line, to the BenMarco and Susana Balbo labeled wines, the selections were impressive. What I enjoyed about these wines was a combination of consistency in style and true varietal character. Look for more detailed coverage of her wines her in the future, as I’m confident they are worth taking a close look at.

Throughout the night there were a solid handful of wines that really stood out from a potpourri of exhibitors and producers. A Monte Rosso Cabernet Sauvignon from Louis Martini was noteworthy as was the newly released 2005 vintage of Don Melchor, the undisputed King of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. Dead Letter Office from Henry’s Drive was the best Australian Shiraz I had at the event. Amongst a number of Italian wines I really enjoyed, the Biondi Santi Rosso Di Montalcino was a stand out. A bit more locally, the wines I sampled from Carneros producer Artesa Vineyards and Winery, particularly their Pinot Noir, really resonated with me.

Another table that was a highlight of the tasting for me also featured Argentine wines. In this case the producer was Luigi Bosca. Several Malbecs, Cabernets and blends were exquisite as well as excellent values. As with the Susana Balbo wines I plan to take a closer look at them in the future.

Outside of the wine realm there were also numerous exhibitors pouring fine spirits at Toast of the Town. Amongst these I found Domaine De Canton’s French Ginger Liqueur unique, refreshingly different and well worth seeking out.

My one gripe with this event is a situation with the tasting glasses. At some point later in the evening I misplaced my glass. It was a bit of a struggle to get a second glass. The folks handing them out said they were under strict instructions that each person could only have one glass. Since there appeared to many boxes full of glasses right behind the folks I was speaking to, I’m not quite sure what the issue was. Eventually, I was able to get another glass, but it shouldn’t have been so difficult. I noticed a few other people having a similar issue soon after. If there is a policy that each person can only have one glass for the evening, it should be made clear as people walk in. If I had known of such a policy I would have been more protective of the first glass I received.

As a whole, Toast of the Town continues to be an excellent event for lovers of fine wine, food and spirits. Lincoln Center is an elegant setting that lends additional class and an air of importance to the proceedings. Whether one chooses to attend only the Grand Tasting or the VIP tasting is going to be dictated by their own tastes and budget. If feasible the VIP tasting is the recommendation here as it does add significant value. If you have never been to Toast of the Town and you love wine, mark you calendar for Spring 2009.

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2 Cabernet Sauvignons From Sawtooth Winery

Posted by Gabe on May 18, 2008

This weeks coverage of Sawtooth Winerycomes to a close with today’s offerings. I’m taking a look at 2 Cabernet Sauvignons from different vintages and in different tiers at Sawtooth Winery.

The first in their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from their main tier of wines. This selection is 77% Cabernet Sauvignon with 10% Merlot, 7% Petite Verdot, 4% Malbec and 2% Cabernet Franc making up the balance. 1,350 cases of this wine were produced and it retails for $14.99.

Violets, dark berry fruit and a persistent cedar aroma make up this wines nose. Taking the first sip I was struck by an abundance of sweet rich berry fruit. A bit of tartness appears at first and decanting this wine is Sawtooth R Cabrecommended. After it had a chance to breathe and open up it displayed silky smooth character throughout while maintaining a good tannin structure. Spice notes and earthiness populate the medium length finish.

Having all 5 Bordeaux varietals helps create a balanced wine that has good complexity for it’s price point.

The second wine is Sawtooth’s2004 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. This one is also a blend of all 5 Bordeaux varietals. 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petite Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 2% Merlot and 1% Malbec make up the reserves blend. Only 150 cases of this offering were produced and the suggested retail price is $24.99.

More so than the 2005 even, this reserve Cabernet Sauvignon requires decanting. An hour really does the trick and allows the wine to shine. Loads of cherry notes and an undercurrent of spice dominate both the nose and the palate of this wine. The mid-plate is rich, fruity and mouth filling. This wine is well balanced throughout displaying structure, complexity and a persistent intensity. The reserve Cabernet Sauvignon has an excellent finish full of vanilla, white pepper and nutmeg with subtle mocha notes underpinning them all. A wine like this deserves to be paired with a steak or other substantial meal.

After it was open a full 24 hours I retasted the reserve Cabernet and it was still holding strong, perhaps drinking even better than it had the previous day.

The 2 Cabernet Sauvingons from Sawtooth Winery are quite distinct. The 2005 is a solid wine, with good value in it’s price category. It offers solid varietal character and is a good bet for a solid Cabernet affordable enough to drink everyday. The 2004 Reserve at a higher price point is still a good value as it offers even more character and complexity. It’s also likely to improve in the bottle over the next 5 or so years.

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Sawtooth Winery – 2004 Tempranillo

Posted by Gabe on May 15, 2008

The third wine up from Sawtooth Winery is a Tempranillo. For those unfamiliar this grape is most often found in the Rioja region of Span. This is not only my favorite region for Spanish wine, but also one of my favorite wine regions in the world. Over the years I’ve sampled Tempranillo from other areas of the world with mixed results. Most often the wines produced from Tempranillo outside of Spain are in sharp contrast to the ones emerging from this grapes native home. So when I had the chance to taste a Tempranillo from Idaho, I was curious, to say the least. Having enjoyed the previous Sawtooth offerings I’ve run through this week, my anticipation for the Tempranillo increased.

The 2004 Tempranillo from Sawtooth Winery is one of their smaller productions. Only 140 cases of Sawtooththis wine were produced in what was only their second vintage for Tempranillo. The Retail price is $18.99. This wine is finished with a natural cork closure.

The Sawtooth 2004 Tempranillo has an appealing nose of plum and violets, underscored by subtle spice notes. The palate of this wine is rich with cherries from the first sip you take through to the finish, which is full of spice notes that kick in about midway through. Some earthiness and mushroom notes also emerge at the end as the wine opens up after time in the glass. This Tempranillo is gentle smooth and layered. It is made in the same style that Tempranillo is made in its native Rioja. This wine will be a great match for Paella or medium strength cheeses. Manchego would be a natural and perfect match.

What I like most about the Sawtooth Tempranillo is that It’s the type of wine I could sip all day. It’s full favored, with nice complexity but never tires the palate by being over the top as so many other Tempranillos made outside of Spain tend to be in my experience. Another well balanced and food friendly wine from Sawtooth Winery.

Up Next: 2 Cabernet Sauvignons from Sawtooth Winery.

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Sawtooth Winery – 2006 Reserve Chardonnay

Posted by Gabe on May 14, 2008

Sawtooth Winery makes a broad range of wines. Most are varietally labeled wines, though they do produce a blend called Skyline Red. In addition to dry table wines, Sawtooth also makes several dessert wines. The selection I’m going to look at today is from their reserve line.

Sawtooth ChardThe 2006 Reserve Chardonnay was aged in small oak barrels for 6 months. Fruit was sourced from Sawtooth Vineyard. Alcohol is 13.5%, which is modest for a New World Chardonnay.  Only 140 cases of this wine were produced. The retail price is $14.99.

Mango, pineapple and vanilla dominate the nose of this Chardonnay. This wine has a rich found mouth feel full of intense fruit flavor. It’s big, bright and the fruit just explodes forth from the glass. The oak treatment is evident but never detracts from the fruit. The finish is impressive in length with lingering vanilla and nutmeg spice notes. For a Chardonnay this wine will match up with fairly rich cuisine. Mushroom Ravioli with Pecorino Romano Cream sauce comes to mind, as does Chicken Pot Pie.

Chardonnay is one of the varietals I can personally be the most finicky about. There is so much of it out there in general that it’s often hard to weed through and find exciting or even examples. It’s even more difficult to find Chardonnay I like for a good price. At $14.99 I think the Sawtooth Reserve Chardonnay is an absolute steal. It explodes with fruit flavor and has enough oak on it to provide a nice level of complexity. As indicated this is a small production, if you like rich, fruit driven Chardonnay, grab this while it’s available. This is another reasonably priced, full flavored offering from Sawtooth Winery.


Up Next: A look at Sawtooth Winery’s Tempranillo.

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Sawtooth Winery – 2005 Syrah

Posted by Gabe on May 13, 2008

After spending the last few weeks looking at all California Wines, from Petite Sirah to Charbono it’s time to take some time away from California. Sawooth Winery will be my focus for the next few days as I take a look at a handful of their releases. Sawtooth is an Idaho Winery that opened their doors 20 year ago as Pintler Cellars. The lands their vines are planted on now were in winemaker Brad Pintler’s family previously as pastures farmed by his father.

The Idaho wine industry is growing at a rapid rate, close to 20% each year. As the 2nd largest producer in the state, Sawtooth is helping to lead the charge. Just over a year ago “Snake River Valley” became Idaho’s first AVA, an important designation that an area needs to be on equal footing with established and better-known regions of the world.

The first wine from Sawtooth WineryI’m looking at is a 2005 Syrah. 84% of the wine is varietal withSawtooth SyrahCinsault (7%), Mouvedre (7%) and Grenache (1%) making up the balance. The wine spent approximately 15 months in small oak barrels. 1,600 cases of this Syrah were produced. It’s finished with a screw top closure and the suggested retail price is $12.99.

Light and dark plum notes as well as underlying vanilla characteristics make up the inviting nose of this wine. Loads of spice character, including both black and white pepper dominate the palate of this wine along with raspberry notes aplenty. The mid-palate is rich with firm tannins. Cherry and earth notes come out in the finish. This wine is fruit forward with good acidity and a nice balance. It drinks easily on it’s own but will pair well with many foods. Just about anything grilled will work very terrifically.

What impressed me most about this wine is how smooth it is out of the bottle. With some time to breathe more complexity emerge to be sure. But from the outset this wine goes down easily with no rough edges to speak of. That said it’s structured and complex enough to be interesting. It’s closer in style to an old world Syrah. My best is it has at least 5 years of positive evolution ahead of it. For $12.99 though, you’re not going to hesitate to crack this one open, whether it’s to accompany a burger or to sip on your porch all by itself. Definitely recommended.

Coming Up: A Limited Production Chardonnay From Sawtooth Winery.

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