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Wine: Reviews, Thoughts & Culture

Archive for February, 2009

Graffigna – Two Cabernet Sauvignons

Posted by Gabe on February 26, 2009

Having looked at two Malbecs from Graffigna the other day, my attention ga_bodegahoy_gra_05now shifts to Cabernet Sauvignon. When I first started experimenting with and discovering South American wines, Cabernet was my focus. I was amazed early on at some of the real bargains that could be had. I’m happy to report, that’s still true. Of course there are many more South American wines on our store shelves these days, so the options, quality and varietal wise are pretty wide.

First up is the 2006 Graffigna Centanario Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is 100% varietal. It was aged in a 50/50 split of French and American oak for 12 months, followed by 6 months of bottle aging, prior to release. The suggested retail price for this wine is $13.

As soon as you pour this wine you’ll notice a burnt cherry apple red hue. The nose is filled with aromas of bright red fruit. Wild strawberry and red raspberry dominate. Throughout the palate, which is remarkably smooth, for such an inexpensive, young Cabernet, lots of berry fruit, and a touch of earthiness, come to the forefront. This is a gentle, but fully flavorful Cabernet Sauvignon with a pretty long, persistent, lingering finish. This wine has easy, soft tannins and good acidity.

What I like best about the Graffigna Centanario is that it’s a steal. This wine over delivers and reminds me of precisely the sort of bargains that turned me on to South American wines to begin with. Is it the best Cabernet I’ve had in 2009? That it’s not, but it’s easily the best Cabernet value I’ve tasted thus far this year.

The second wine is the 2005 Graffigna grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. As with the Centanario it’s also 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Oak treatment and bottle aging prior to release are also identical. The suggested retail price is $20.

Dark fruit, in the form of black cherries, raspberries, blueberries and plum fill the nose of this Grand Reserve Cabernet. The palate features more cherry, cedar, and chicory, along with eucalyptus and tobacco. A hint of dark bitter chocolate emerges on the finish, joined by copious earth notes. The finish is long, lush, and smooth. This wine has soft, approachable tannins and good acidity.

After tasting the Centanario, I wondered how the Grand Reserve would compare value wise. As it should be, the Grand Reserve is a bit more complex with a longer finish. That makes the Grand Reserve a good deal in its price category.

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Graffigna – A Couple of Malbecs

Posted by Gabe on February 24, 2009

graffContinuing the South American trend that I’ve been on the last week, I’m going to look at four more Argentine wines. These are from Graffigna, located in the San Juan Valley of Argentina. San Juan is an area, a bit less known than Mendoza, but also producing some fine wines. Graffigna has been around as a producer from more than 100 years. I’ll look at two Malbecs today, and two Cabernet Sauvignons later in the week.

First up is the 2006 Graffigna Centenario Malbec. This wine is 100% Malbec. Fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks. Aging was done in a 50/50 split of French and American oak for 12 months, followed by 6 months of bottle aging. The suggested retail price for this offering is $13.

Plum and violet aromas are prominent on the nose of this wine. Ripe berry, along with an undercurrent of espresso are present throughout the palate, along with black pepper. The finish features lots of earth, black tea, bramble and a hint of pencil lead.

This Malbec is medium bodied, with soft, approachable tannins and an easy drinking style. It’ll match well with a wide array of foods. For a suggested retail price of $13, this wine offers bang for buck in its category.

The second Malbec from Graffigna is the 2005 Grand Reserve. This selection is also 100% varietal. Fermentation and oak aging are identical to the Centenario. The suggested retail price for this wine is $20.

The Grand Reserve has a huge nose, filled with wild blueberry aromas, and a touch of jasmine. The palate is big, rich, and expansive, featuring cedar notes that intermingle nicely with a solid core of fruit. The lengthy finish brings on sour berry notes, vanilla and a hint of black tea. This wine has a firm, but yielding tannic structure, and nice acidity.

This offering will stand up to hearty, full flavored foods, such as roast leg of lamb, or Pernil. While the suggested retail price is $20, checking wine-searcher reveals it’s often available for closer to $17. As with the Centenario, it’s a good value in its price category.

Both of these wines from Graffigna are fine examples of Malbec. The Centenario is often available for around $10, and represents an everyday value. The Grand Reserve is smoother, and more complex, with a longer finish. It’s certainly a step up and priced accordingly.

Up Next: Two Cabernet Sauvignons from Graffigna

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Posted in Malbec, Wine | 1 Comment »

Nothing “petite” about this trio

Posted by Gabe on February 23, 2009

Pedroncelli-PSPetite Sirah is a grape that absolutely fascinates me. Popularity-wise, it’s a bit of a fringe player in the wine world. Often it’s blended in with other grapes, most commonly Zinfandel. While there are quite a number of them out there, a look at most wine or liquor store shelves won’t often reveal more than a handful of Petite Sirah selections. So at times, it can be hit or miss to find exactly what you’re looking for. Yet there are cult bottlings of this grape and a group, PS I love you, dedicated to advocating its greatness.

There are a few things that really get my attention when it comes to Petite Sirah. First, it’s often so dark, brooding and massively intense in flavor. Second, these wines — at almost any price point — seem to age in an interesting manner. Frequently they become earthier and mellower with a decade or more in the bottle. Petite Sirah is also, more often than not, an excellent value. I’m going to look at three different Petite Sirahs in varying price categories. Head over to Bullz-eye.com to read the rest.

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Montes – 2006 Late Harvest Gewürztraminer

Posted by Gabe on February 22, 2009

The last wine I’m looking at, this week, from Montes is a Dessert wine. As much as I enjoy South American wines, my experience with Dessert montes_late_harvestwines from that region is a little limited. That made me very curious and excited to try a Late Harvest wine from a producer I was already fond of.

The Montes 2006 Late  Harvest Gewürztraminer is 100% varietal. Grapes for this offering are from a Montes Estate vineyard in Curicó Valley. This wine saw no oak treatment at all, and was fermented in stainless steel. The suggested retail price for a 375 ml bottle, the predominate size for late harvest wines, is $27.

Apricot and honey followed by subtle vanilla and hazelnut aromas are the most dominate characteristics in the nose of this Late Harvest wine. Gewürztraminer tends to be an exceptionally floral varietal, and this is no exception. Throughout a nicely balanced palate, apricot dominates along with honey and hibiscus notes. The joyful sweetness of this wine is balanced by crisp acidity, which keeps things in check. This offering never crosses the line to become cloying, too often the downfall of Late Harvest wines. White peach emerges on the finish along with a touch of mango, but the honey  notes keep on coming, and pleasingly coat the back of the throat. This wine will be an excellent match for a diverse array of desserts. Cheesecake and Hazelnut Biscotti are the first two that come to mind. However it’s balanced enough to be dessert in and of itself.

What I like best about this wine is that’s a great value. Late Harvest wines are quite often priced out of most people price ranges. Take a look at what the prices are for some better known Late Harvest Wines. You’ll see that this Gewürztraminer from Montes is a bargain. Taste it and you might not care what the price is. While I’ve looked at four wines from Montes over the last few days, I feel it’s important to mention that I find their portfolio to be loaded with well made, appropriately priced wines. I consider them a go to name for value. I encourage everyone to give them a shot.

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Posted in Dessert Wines, Gewürztraminer, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Kaiken – 2006 Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon

Posted by Gabe on February 21, 2009

label_kaiken_ultra_csThe third wine I’m looking at from the Montes family of wines is the Kaiken 2006 Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon. Even before discovering the wider breadth of terrific wines coming from Argentina, a few Argentine Cabernet’s hit my radar. Now I seek out wines from this country, as I find that they are both distinct and full of value.

The 2006 Kaiken Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon is 96% varietal and 4% Malbec. The grapes come mostly from vines over 50 years of age. 80% of the wine was aged in French oak for 12 months. The suggested retail price for this Cab is $25.

Red raspberry, Bing cherry and vanilla notes are most prominent on the nose of this wine. Throughout the persistent palate, berry, tobacco, cassis and a touch of eucalyptus emerges. This wine has a firm tannic structure. It benefited greatly from decanting. An hour, at minimum is recommended to get the most from this Cabernet right now. The finish, which is pretty lengthy, features black fruit, espresso and mocha notes, along with earth and white pepper, that become more prominent as the wine continues to evolve in the glass.

What I like best about this Cabernet from Kaiken is that it does a fine job of showcasing how good well made Cabernet from Argentina can be, The characteristics such as dark fruit and earthiness that first made me a fan of Argentine Cabs are present here. While it’s suggested retail price is $25, this wine is often available for less than $20. This wine will improve in the bottle for at least 5 or 6, years and should drink well for a few after that. All things considered, this is definitely a Cabernet I can happily recommend.

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Kaiken – 2006 Ultra Malbec

Posted by Gabe on February 20, 2009

Like many wine lovers I suppose, the wins of Argentina hit my radar after kaiken_ultra_malbecthose of Chile. Most likely, that has a lot to do with them penetrating the US market a bit later. That said, these days I drink and enjoy the wines of Argentina as much as I do those of Chile. There is a sense of place in the better made Argentine wines that really hits my sweet spot. While other varietals certainly flourish there as well, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec are the first two that come to mind for me. As I mentioned yesterday Kaiken is Montes Wines Chilean operation. I’ll look at their Ultra Malbec today and their Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon tomorrow.

The 2006 Kaiken Ultra Malbec is 100% varietal. All of the fruit is from Mendoza.  80% of the wine was aged in French oak for twelve months. 32,000 cases of this wine were produced and the suggested retail price is $25.00.

Black raspberries, plum and light vanilla fills the nose of this wine. The palate is loaded with sweet, rich, dark berry fruit and an undercurrent of spice notes. The finish has some dusty cocoa notes, a hint of chicory and a touch of tingly white pepper that hits the back of the throat on the way out. This wine is balanced by good acidity. It will be an excellent match for full flavored foods such as marinated, grilled meats.

What I like best about this wine is that it’s a classic example of Malbec. It’s intense, and full of bold fruit, but never over the top. This wine should improve over the short term (3-5 years) and drink well for several after that. While there are many Malbecs on the shelf well under this price point, the quality of the Ultra by Kaiken, along with its ability to age for several years,  easily justifies the extra dollars.

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Montes – 2006 Limited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon / Carménère

Posted by Gabe on February 19, 2009

label_montesls_cscaI’ve been drinking wines from Montes in Chile for many years now. They have many different tiers of wines.  I’ve personally gone back to those in the Alpha and Classic series most often. But I’ve found that there is value to be had in each of their categories.  In addition to the various tiers they also have properties in other countries, under their umbrella, that produce wine. Over the next couple of days I’ll look at two wines from Montes in Chile and two from Kaiken their Argentine operation. First up is a blend.

The 2006 Montes Cabernet Sauvignon/Carménère is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Carménère. 70% of the wine was separately aged in American oak for 6 months. This wine, is one of three, in the Montes Limited Selection series Each of them has a suggested retail price of $17.

Cedar and blackberry notes are prominent in the nose of this wine. Throughout the palate red and black berry fruit notes star alongside, subtle but present, spice notes. Sweet dark chocolate leads the finish, followed by espresso, black pepper and earth notes. The finish is above average in length. This offering is well balanced with good acidity.

I found this wine to be fairly open and accessible from the word go. But it really opened up, and hit a new plateau of expressiveness, after about 45 minutes in the decanter. What I like best about this wine is how the 2 components in the blend work off of each other. The Cabernet provides structure and bright berry fruit. The Carménère softens things up and chips in a round, lush, slightly jammy mouth-feel. Combined together, they form a nice package. This offering should drink well for the next 4-5 years at minimum. While the retail price is $17, wine-searcher shows that it’s often available for less than $15.  It pairs well with full flavored foods and drinks nicely on it’s own. Taking everything into account, this is a pretty nice value.

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Posted in Blends, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Chile, Wine | Leave a Comment »

O’Brien Estate – Napa Valley – Romantic Trio

Posted by Gabe on February 16, 2009

I wasn’t very familiar with O’Brien Estate in Napa Valley until recently. rtHowever after reading about them, and more importantly their wines on-line, I was intrigued. So I set out to taste some of their offerings and see if the juice in the bottle lived up to all I’d read. They’re a small (4,000 cases) Family Winery whose portfolio includes Chardonnay, Merlot and Seduction a Bordeaux style blend. They also make reserve or barrel selections of some of these offerings and have several gift pack options as well.

Packaging isn’t something I write about very often when it comes to wine. However the “Romantic Trio” I tasted this weekend is packed in such a beautiful and stunning manner that it demands mentioning. The trio is comprised of “Attraction” Chardonnay, “Romance of The Heart” Merlot and the aforementioned Bordeaux Blend called “Seduction.” They are housed in a gorgeous lacquered wood box whose lettering has been branded in. Each set is numbered and signed by Bart O’Brien. Production is limited to 400 sets per Vintage year. The back of each bottle has a poem written by owner Bart O’Brien. Each varietal has its own poem. There is no question the set is a dazzling and dramatic presentation. The obvious question for me, would the wine in the bottle taste as good as the set looked? This set sells for $199 through their website.

The 2007 Attraction Chardonnay is sourced from Estate fruit on their Oak Knoll Vineyard. 50 Cases of Attraction were produced.

This Chardonnay opens with a nose of apple, vanilla and light toast notes. Throughout the palate stone and orchard fruit notes are plentiful along with some apple pie crust spices and a gentle touch of citrus peel. There is a purity of fruit throughout that is enhanced and complemented by oak aging. The finish of Attraction is impressively long with Crème Brule, caramel, cream, white pepper and just the right amount of toast.

There are two things that stand out to me about Attraction. First of all it’s very much a California Chardonnay, but in the best sense of that description. Secondly the finish is complex and lingers forever. I’m very finicky when it comes to California Chardonnay; Attraction is one of the best I’ve tried in awhile.

The 2006 Romance of the Heart Merlot is also sourced from fruit on their Oak Knoll Vineyard. 75 cases of this wine were produced.

Cherry and pomegranate notes highlight the expressive nose of this Merlot. Taking the first sip, I found it to be tight. In decanting it I found that about an hour of air did the trick to let this wine blossom. Once it did open up this Merlot proved to filled with blueberry and blackberry through the rich, mouth-filling palate. Tannins are clearly present and firm, but certainly approachable. Chicory and earth notes came out in the finish which is above average in length with lingering spice notes. This wine, with its solid core of fruit is balanced by fine acidity. It’s closer in structure to Cabernet Sauvignon then what many people unfortunately let pass for Merlot. This wine would be a perfect match for Filet Mignon topped with Gorgonzola.

I love Merlot but as I hinted above there’s a boatload of sub-par ones out there. For years now my standard bearer for Estate Merlot in Napa has been the outstanding one Swanson Vineyards makes year after year. Romance of the Heart from O’Brien Estate is comparable in quality, varietal correctness and overall drinking enjoyment. And for me that says a lot. This is an impressive effort.

The 2005 Seduction Bordeaux style blend is composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc & Merlot. 2,500 cases of this wine were produced. This is the largest production in the O’Brien portfolio.

The nose of this blend leads with explosive cherry followed by cedar which is underscored by a touch of bramble. While I fould it slightly more immediately accessible than the Merlot, an hour in the decanter proved to be a revelation. Once it came to life, there is a solid core of berry and cassis notes through the palate. The finish features a multitude of earth notes that simply increase as it opens up. These are joined by some dark coffee and mineral notes in a long, lingering, lusty finish that beckons you back to the glass again and again for further sips.

What impressed me most about Seduction is how well it’s balanced. The Cabernet Franc elevates the nose and the Merlot provides nice structure. While it’s drinking well now I expect this blend to improve over the next 5 or so years and drink well for several after that.

All three wines in the Romantic Trio are well made and very enjoyable to drink. Along with the wonderful packaging this makes for an excellent gift, romantic or otherwise. I look forward to following the O’Brien Estate going forward and hope they continue to make wines as pure and compelling as these.

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Posted in Blends, Chardonnay, Merlot, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Have A Sweet Valentine’s Day

Posted by Gabe on February 13, 2009

There is something about the cold winter months that draws me to Dessert Wines more frequently than in warmer months. With Valentine’s Day right in the middle of winter, I think something sweet, and perhaps a bit sticky, could be the right way to go for your holiday libation. Over the last few weeks I tasted well over a dozen Dessert wines. I’ll present six of my favorites here today.

cl_logotype1Two of the selections I picked are from Clos La Chance Winery. These are distinctly different wines. First up is Nectar. This 2006 Semillion is made in a true late harvest style with botrytized grapes. Fruit was sourced from Clos La Chance Estate Vineyards.  This selection was aged in French oak for 12 months. The suggested retail price for this wine, available in 375 mil bottles is $19.

Nectar from Clos la Chance, is for me a classic California take on late harvest Semillon. The nose is filled with honey and tea notes. The palate has apricot, peach and light mango throughout. All of these characteristics ride above a base of more tea elements. Nectar coats the back of the throat and finishes with a bit of toast and a touch of vanilla. The finish is long and lingering.

The bottom line for me in liking and recommending this wine from Clos La Chance is that it’s a sweet, lovely and in a word balanced. Nectar is the sort of Late Harvest wine that for me IS dessert. Sure it can be paired with soft, stinky cheeses and work wonderfully, but there is no need this is a beautiful expression of Late harvest Semillion, and a bargain at $19. If you don’t believe that, check the prices on some of the better known offerings.

The second wine I’m recommending is from Cyprus. This area which makes the Commandaria Dessert Wines, is one I have come to have great appreciation for in the last year. The St. John Commandaria from Keo has a suggested retail price of $20.

The nose of this Commandaria has a ton of apricot and a light, subtle touch of balsamic vinegar. The palate features toffee, candies apricot and hazelnut notes. This thick, slightly syrupy wine coats the back of the throat and has an avalanche of honey on the finish. This will be a great match for a ricotta based cheesecake.

What I like best about this Commandaria is that it’s a steal. I’ve had selections from Cyprus that sold for less and quite a few that sold for a lot more. The St John provides tremendous bang for the buck. As these wines from Cyprus are a bit under the radar to the average person you’ll definitely make an impression if you pull this out on Valentine’s Day.

There are some tremendous dessert wines coming out of Italy. Most of them aren’t quite as famous as their French counterparts and thus Italy la_tunella_verduzzo_friulano_bottleisn’t as often thought of for after dinner libations. And for my money that’s a shame. The wines of Italy are as good as those anywhere. The dessert wine from there I’m compelled to recommend is from La Tunella.

The 2005 La TunellaVerduzzo Friulano is 100% varietal. The wine was aged in 1-3 year old French barriques for 10 months. 2,000 cases of this selection were produced and the suggested retail price, for a 500 ml bottle, is $22.99.

The nose of this wine is filled with both honey and chamomile tea notes. The palate features candies apricot, date and subtle almond notes. The oak on this selection, more than the average dessert wine is apparent. It provides a fascinating and unexpected touch of tartness on the finish. The end result is a firmer, more structured dessert wine than average. I found this wine to be an excellent match for Macadamia nuts that had a touch of sea salt on them.

What I like best about the selection from La Tunella is how unique it is. Yes, it’s sweet, but never over the top. As a result of that it’ll pair well with a very large array of dessert items.

Shifting back to California, the next selection is from Truett Hurst Winery in Dry Creek Valley. This is a region I feel so strongly about, I’ve launched an entire site dedicated to it.

The 2006 Dessert wine from Truett Hurst is for all intents and purposes a Port. Labelling laws however forbid them from calling it that. This wine was produced from the same grape varieties used in Portugal for Port. 450 375 ml bottle cases of this wine were produced and the suggested retail price is $35.99.

When I popped the cork and poured this wine into my glass I was hit with an avalanche of chocolate covered cherry notes. The palate is filled with more cherry, both red and black. Kirsch liqueur notes kick in around mid-palate and carry on through the finish which also features lots of black pepper and a touch of bramble.

The highlight of this wine for me, and the reason it’s on my recommendation list is that it finds the happy place that bridges Portuguese and California Dessert wines. Elements of both styles are readily evident and they work wonderfully. Pour your Valentine this wine, match it with some high quality dark chocolate, and she (or he) is bound to melt in your arms.

I started with a wine from Clos La Chance and I’m including a second one here as well. Stylistically and content wise they couldn’t be more different. This second selection from Clos La Chance is made from Zinfandel.

This Late Harvest Zinfandel is of the Non-Vintage variety. Grapes come from both the 2005 and 2006 vintages. This wine was fermented in stainless steel. 750 ml bottles have a suggested retail price of $25.

The nose of this Late Harvest Zin is filled with Maraschino Cherries. Red and black cherry notes are prominent throughout the palate along with sweet, dark chocolate. A touch of pencil lead also appears. The finish has both white and black pepper, along with nutmeg and a bit of dust. This wine has a firm but approachable tannic structure and is quite sweet, but not over the top.

Clos La Chance has become a favorite producer for me. This Non-Vintage, Late Harvest Zin is as good of an example of why that is as any of their other selections. There is a purity of fruit and a balance here, despite it being very sweet, that some Dessert wine simply don’t have. At $25 for a 750 ml bottle this is a steal.

loclhThe sixth and final dessert wine I’m recommending this Valentine’s Day is from Locatelli Winery  in Paso Robles. This selection is a Late harvest Merlot. This isn’t the first varietal I think of when Late harvest wines come to mind and thus I was particularly curious about it.

The Locatelli Winery Late Harvest Merlot is 100% varietal. It was aged in American Oak for two years. A mere 70 cases of this wine were produced and it sells for $30.

I found the nose of this wine to be particularly expressive. Cherry, leather and apricot notes co-mingle to form an alluring aroma. Taking the first sip I found the wine to be a bit lighter on the palate than I had expected. It was full flavored with cherry pie and honey notes. Hints of apple seeped through as well. The finish brought out Cinnamon, nutmeg and white pepper as well as a touch of sour cherry. This wine will be an excellent match for sharp cheeses as well as dark chocolate.

What I like best about the Late Harvest Merlot from Locatelli is the fact that it showed me a side and style of Merlot I’ve rarely seen.Interestingly it features some of the elements of Late harvest Zin, but in a lighter stylistic package. A really enjoyable and interesting wine that’s well worth making the extra effort to obtain.

You really can’t go wrong with any of the wines above. Each of them is well crafted and delicious. So grab one or more of them, and sweeten things up this Valentine’s Day and beyond.

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Posted in Dessert Wines, Wine | 1 Comment »

2009 New York Wine Expo

Posted by Gabe on February 12, 2009

expoThe 2nd annual New York Wine Expo is just two weeks away. I attended the premiere event last year and wrote about it here. This years event takes place from February 27th through March 1st. Once again the event is being held at the Jakob Javitz Convention Center. I found last years Expo to be a good one, especially for a first year event. There were a wide range of wine to taste from many corners of the world. The event was also well organized out by region. I’ll be attending it again this year and writing about it.

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