Gabe's View

Wine: Reviews, Thoughts & Culture

Archive for December, 2009

Cristom Vineyards – 2007 Estate Pinot Gris

Posted by Gabe on December 23, 2009

A few months back I was impressed with a trio of Pinot Noirs I tasted from Cristom Vineyards in Willamette Valley. So I’ve been eager to see what else they’re doing. The most prevalent white varietal in that part of Oregon tends to be Pinot Gris. Today I’ll look at the current release Pinot Gris from Cristom Vineyards.

The Cristom Vineyards 2007 Estate Pinot Gris is produced using fruit entirely sourced at their own 5 acre Emilia vineyard which was planted in 1993. This offering was fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks. 1,420 cases of this selection were produced and the suggested retail price is $16.

Lychee fruit and pineapple aromas lead the expressive and lively nose of this Pinot Gris.  Apricot, mango, orange blossom and temperate wisps of vanilla make up the full flavored and gentle palate of this wine. Ginger, nutmeg, cloves and hazelnut notes emerge on the lingering, honeyed finish. Mineral notes provide a final crisp characteristic.

When I travelled to Willamette Valley a couple of years ago I was on a mission to taste lots of tremendous Pinot Noir. That was the expected and achieved. What I didn’t consciously consider before my trip was the amount of world class Pinot Gris I would encounter. Since Pinot Noir gets all the press, the Gris is sort of the hidden treasure of Willamette Valley. After a few days I realized that there were a lot of excellent examples of Pinot Gris too. It became an altered mission. This 2007 selection from Cristom Vineyards is quite indicative of the lovely white wines I found there. It’s refreshing and beckons you back to the glass for more. For $16 if you don’t want to think about it much further you don’t have to. But if you do, this wine has good complexity and rewards sipping and contemplation.

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Posted in Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Been Doon So Long A Randall Grahm Vinthology

Posted by Gabe on December 22, 2009

Every business, sport, and industry has game changers. These are folks who either set the bar at a new level in their vocation or innovate so many changes that they influence what comes after them. In the world of wine, Randall Grahm is such a person. Whether it’s his pioneering affection for Rhone varietals and the like long before others in CA truly embraced them or his decision to switch to screw caps earlier in the game than most, he’s been a game changer. And now he’s got a book.

Been Doon So Long A Randall Grahm Vinthology is first and foremost an excellent and entertaining read. But it’s more than that too. I think it’s appropriate that the size and shape of the book most closely resembles a textbook. Because, the truth is that just about anyone reading Been Doon So Long is going to learn a lot; about Randall, about wine and probably about themselves too.

Whether it’s the detailed discussion of the evolution of Bonny Doon labels, Randall’s, poetry, song lyrics, His essay about Syrah or various other topics Been Doon So Long, is wildly entertaining. It’s unlikely that any other book will teach as much about the world of wine, especially as it relates to California as this one. You could read it straight through, but there’s no real need to do that. I went back and forth reading the things that appealed to me most in the order that struck me. Pretty quickly I realized I needed to read the whole thing. It’s hard to put down, but if you do it’s easy to pick back up and jump into again.

If you’re going to read a wine book, anytime soon, there’s no question this is the one. Anyone with even a passing interest in the history of California wine over the last couple of decades should read this. In fact this book should be part of the curriculum for anyone looking to get into the wine industry. In case it’s not clear, by now, I love this book. At the very least I guarantee it’ll put a big grin on your face.

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Posted in Book, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Bonny Doon Vineyard – 2005 Le Cigare Volant

Posted by Gabe on December 19, 2009

Blended wines can be particularly interesting. This is especially true in the case of a wine like Bonny Doon Vineyard’s Le Cigare Volant. This wine which was first made in 1984 is produced vintage after vintage with a concept in mind. Randall Grahm works each year for a style and uses the lots of fruit and blend that he feels best achieve his goal. Today I’ll look at the current release.

The Bonny Doon Vineyard 2005 Le Cigare Volant is made from fruit sourced at a variety of long-term growers. This vintage is a blend of Grenache (50%), Mourvèdre (24%), Syrah (22%), Carignane (3%), and Cinsault (1%). This wine is bottled unfiltered and finished in screw cap. 1,615 cases of the 2005 vintage were produced and the suggested retail price is $30.

A floral component, led by violets, fills the nose of Le Cigar Volant. That’s joined by earth, hints of vanilla, jasmine and red plum as well. Blueberry, dark plum and subtle but present blackberry are at the core of the lush, full flavored palate of this wine. Spice notes are prominent throughout, with nutmeg, star anise and cardamom of particular note. Savory notes kick in and lead the finish along with increasing spice and flourishes of sour cherry, and earth. The finish is generous in length and impressively layered with subtlety. Medium tannins and excellent acidity balance things out nicely. This wine will pair well with something as casual as a gyro or more complex as Coq au Vin.

Le Cigare Volant is the signature wine of Bonny Doon Vineyards. The label says California, but the flavors are Old World indeed. From the modest 13.5% alcohol, to the impeccable balance this wine is stylistically, spiritually, and by intent a nod to classic French wines of the Southern Rhone, more than modern Southern Rhone offerings.  I’ve had this wine more than any other Bonny Doon selections over the years. While it’s certainly been pretty consistent there are always variations. The 2005 is amongst the best versions. If you drink it over the next 3-5 years you’re going to want to decant it. An hour is fine, but two hours is even better. That time really allows this selection to open up and expose its charms, which are many. Sip after sip Le Cigare Volant demands you come back to the glass for more. Pretty soon the bottle is going to be gone and you’ll wish you decanted a couple. If you’re familiar with this wine, 2005 is a benchmark vintage that will age for the long haul. If somehow you’ve never had this classic California offering from Randall Grahm, this vintage is a great place to start. If I could only use one word to describe this wine, that word would be character. Le Cigare Volant 2005 is loaded with it.

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Posted in Blends, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Bonny Doon Vineyard – 2008 Ca’ Del Solo Estate Vineyard Albariño

Posted by Gabe on December 17, 2009

Bonny Doon Vineyard has been cranking out interesting wines for many years now. The blends are often idiosyncratic and unique. The varietal wines are also singular in style. A few years back Randall Grahm sold off the Big House wines that are ubiquitous on store shelves and he re-focused on smaller productions. Even in those Big House blends, that were made in large quantities, I was always impressed with how much character Randall achieved in a $10 bottle of wine. Over the next few days I’m going to take a look at a couple of his current Bonny Doon releases as well as his book. Today I’m going to take a peek at his 2008 Albariño

The Bonny Doon 2008 Albariño is made from fruit sourced at the Ca’ Del Solo Estate Vineyard located in Monterey County. In addition to Albariño (75%), Loureiro (21%), and Treixadura (4%) are also blended in. This vineyard is bio-dynamically farmed. 2,500 cases of this wine were produced and the suggested retail price is $20.

White peach and lemon aromas fill the nose of this wine. Lemon zest, grapefruit, honeysuckle, apricot and peach are each part of the palate of this Albariño and they’re underscored by an herbal flourish. Light touches of granny smith apple and mineral notes emerge on the finish, which has nice length, and is marked by its clean, crisp nature. This wine has terrific acidity and will pair well with light dishes. I tasted it alongside some Manchego cheese and found it to be an excellent pairing.

What has impressed my about Randall’s wines over the years is the sense of place they exhibit and their overall singularity from wine to wine. This 2008 Albariño is no exception. I remember the first Albariño I had a number of years back and being taken by how distinct the varietal tasted. I’m thrilled to find that this wine is true in spirit to excellent Spanish Albariños. This wine does a fantastic job of combining that sense of place, varietal correctness and simply being a delicious and distinct wine, recognizable for what it should be; wonderful fruit flavors, tied to their place of origin.

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Posted in Albariño, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Cameron Hughes – Lot 117, 2007 Santa Barbara County Grencache Blanc/Viognier

Posted by Gabe on December 16, 2009

This year I’ve looked at several wines from négociant Cameron Hughes. For anyone unfamiliar with the term, a négociant works as follows. He or she purchases grapes or juice from other growers and sells them under his or her, own label. Cameron Hughes is a California based négociant. And while that is his base of operations, he sources lots of wine from numerous regions, the world over.  Most often a well regarded winery or grower might be selling a finished product which Cameron Hughes Wine bottles or packages. Sometimes they take separate sources and blend them to come up with a unique and perhaps better wine. The goal in each case is to offer a superior product for significantly less than it would cost if it had the original producer or growers name. I’ve been impressed with the across the board quality of the previous Cameron Hughes wines I’ve had. Today I’ll look at a white blend.

Cameron Hughes Lot 117 is a 2007 with its origins in Santa Barbara County. This selection is a blend of Grenache Blanc (54%) and Viognier (46%). 300 cases of this offering were produced and the suggested retail price is $12.

Orange blossom, apricot, mango and vanilla aromas burst forth from the demonstrative nose of this Grenche Blanc/Viognier blend. White peach, honey notes and continued apricot are all part of the palate. Lighter almond and hazelnut characteristics are present as well. Chamomile tea leads the lingering finish. The very impressive close also shows loads of mineral and spice notes. This wine is perfectly dry with crisp acidity.

For $12 you won’t mind opening this wine casually and sipping it on its own or with a quick meal. That’s fine and good, but this is also a serious wine with lots of complexity and charm. It’ll pair beautifully with lighter foods. This is another terrific deal from Cameron Hughes.

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Posted in Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Wine | 2 Comments »

Marchesi de Frescobaldi – 2006 Nipozzano Chianti Rùfina DOCG Riserva

Posted by Gabe on December 15, 2009

Sometimes a single word evokes a myriad of thoughts and images. In this case that word is Chianti. Most wine drinkers recognize this as an Italian wine. But depending on how deeply immersed in wine one is, not everyone also realizes that’s it’s a region in Italy. Just about everything in European wine is based on area of origination. That includes what grapes can go into local wines. In Chianti of course as with numerous other areas of Italy, Sangiovese is the predominant grape. Marchesi de Frescobaldi has been producing wine in Italy for thirty generations. Their range of offerings vary from entry level selections (such as Remole for $10) that are appropriate for everyday drinking to higher end Brunellos and the like suitable for aging, collecting and most importantly fine drinking. Today I’ll look at the current release of the Nipozzano Riserva, one of their most recognizable, affordable and widely available wines.

The Marchesi de Frescobaldi Nipozzano Chianti Rùfina DOCG Riserva 2006 was produced using fruit sourced at their Castello di Nipozzano estate vineyard. In addition to Sangiovese (90%), this wine includes Malvasia Nera, Colorino, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in small quantities. Oak aging was accomplished over 24 months in Barrique. This wine also underwent 3 months of bottle aging prior to release. The suggested retail price for this wine is $22.99.

This 2006 Chianti has a striking deep red hue that leans ever so slightly towards purple. Cherry and leather aromas lead the nose along with floral elements. Cherry notes, both red and black continue their role as they are the focus of this wines palate. Dark plum notes are present as well. All of these flavors are underscored by a wave of gentle spice characteristics (vanilla, white pepper, nutmeg among others) that kick in around mid-palate and continue on to the long, lingering and pleasing finish. Sour cherry is a significant component on the finish along with a subtle hint of earth and Kalamata olive, as well as black pepper. This Chianti has firm but yielding tannins and crisp acidity. Wine is best when partnered with food. Italian wines tend to lean heavily in that direction. The Nipozzano Riserva 2006 is no exception. It’ll pair well with a wide array of foods. Strong cheeses, roasted meats or a dish of pasta with red sauce are a few obvious sure fire bets.

This wine is pretty accessible right out of the bottle. But I still highly recommend letting this Chianti breathe if you have the time. An hour in the decanter will prove to be a revelation. It allows this wine to fully open up and expose all its many charms. Delicious now, this wine will evolve over the next 7-8 years (at minimum) and drink well for several after that. For around $20 this is an affordable wine most can drink on a regular basis. The price is also reasonable enough to stash away a case for aging. You could check on a bottle every year or so, make your own notes and watch it age and evolve. This is a terrific way to learn about wine, and more importantly perhaps your own palate.

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Posted in Chianti, Sangiovese, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Valentin Bianchi – 2008 Elsa Chardonnay / 2008 Elsa Malbec / 2008 Elsa Cabernet Sauvignon

Posted by Gabe on December 14, 2009

It’s good to have some go to things in life. When it comes to wine there are some producers that I look to for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s simply quality. Other times it’s value and availability. Valentin Bianchi from Argentina scores for me on all three counts and then some. They have several tiers of wine, all of which are interesting and fairly priced for what they provide. And their wines are available across the country in a wide variety of retailers. Today I’m going to look at three wines I enjoyed in their lowest priced tier. The Elsa wines are named after the wife of their founder, who is also the Grandmother of the current owners. The vineyards surround the house she lived in.

First up is the Valentin Bianchi 2008 Elsa Chardonnay. This selection is produced using estate fruit from San Rafael Mendoza vineyards. In addition to Chardonnay (90%), Semillon (10%) is also blended in. During fermentation in stainless steel, French oak staves were used to add complexity. 2,000 cases of this wine were imported and the suggested retail price is $8.99.

Pineapple, Meyer lemon and white peach aromas burst forth from the evocative nose of this Chardonnay. Mango, guava and lots of golden delicious apple notes are all part of the fresh and appealing palate. Apple pie crust, lemon custard, vanilla and speckles of white pepper make up the medium length finish of this Chardonnay. Good acidity balances things out.

What I like about this Chardonnay is that it puts its best fruit forward. This is a fresh, lively wine meant to enjoy in its youth. While the small amount of oak used added some complexity it doesn’t detract from what is a very fruit driven offering.

The second wine is the Valentin Bianchi 2008 Elsa Malbec. Fruit for this offering was sourced at the same Estate vineyard in Mendoza as the Chardonnay. This selection is 100% Malbec. This wine saw minimal oak aging. 15,000 cases of this wine were imported and the suggested retail price is $8.99.

Plum, blueberry, vanilla and floral notes are all part of the slightly jam influenced nose of this Malbec. The palate also shows some jam fruit characteristics with red and black berry fruit intertwining. Black raspberry, blackberry and strawberry are of particular note. A layer of vanilla underpins these along with touches of orange peel. Kalamata olive, touches of smoke, and white pepper highlight the medium length finish. This Malbec has sufficient acidity.

Giving this wine 30 minutes of air really helps it open up and allows its flavors to pop. I like the consistency this wine has shown from vintage to vintage. This is a great starter Malbec and an affordable one for everyday drinking.

The last wine today is the Valentin Bianchi 2008 Elsa Cabernet Sauvignon. Fruit for this wine was also sourced at the Family’s original home vineyards. This selection is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine had minimal oak aging. 10,000 cases of this 2008 vintage were imported and the suggested retail price is $8.99.

Black fruit such as raspberry, blackberry and blueberry lead the nose of this wine along with hints of vanilla and cedar. Dark, juicy berry fruit tells the story of this wines mid-palate. Black pepper and additional vanilla emerges on the finish. This wine has nice structure and good acidity.

This 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon drinks well off the bat. That said, an hour of air really exposes all of its charms. This is a fruity, fresh Cabernet meant to be drunk in it’s youth. It’ll pair well with a burger and drinks nicely on its own too.

All three of these Elsa wines represent good values. While the suggested retail price is $8.99 you can certainly find them for less if you shop around. Each of these is a solid contender for everyday drinking. They’re also good bets to pick up a case of so you always have something affordable and dependable on hand.

Posted in Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Malbec, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Flying Fish – 2008 Riesling

Posted by Gabe on December 12, 2009

Washington State is probably best known for Syrah. Many of those come from Walla Walla. Columbia Valley however emerged on the national scene first and there are quite a few varietals that thrive there. Merlot, Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon are the first that come to mind. Today I’ll look at a Riesling from the Wahluke Wine Company.

The 2oo8 Flying Fish Riesling was produced using fruit from three regions within Columbia Valley. This offering is 100% Riesling. It was Cold fermented for 28 days. The alcohol content for this wine is a modest 12%. Flying Fish Riesling was finished in screw cap. It most often sells for right around $12.

Stone and citrus fruit aromas burt forth from the nose of this wine. They’re unerscored by hints of vanilla and emerging spice notes. Peach, mango, apricot, nectarine, and guava characteristics are all apparent throughout the full-flavored palate. Spice such as white pepper and nutmeg emerge more prominently on the finish which also features copious mineral notes. This wine has crisp acidity. It’ll be a natural for lighter foods and spicy Asian and Indian cuisines.

I like the balance of this wine quite a bit. It has hints of sweetness and lots of fruit character, meanwhile it’s held in check by good acidity. The crisp, clean finish is also noteworthy, welcome and appealing. When you finish a sip, you’re immediately going to want another. A very tasty selection and a fair value.

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Posted in Riesling, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Stoneleigh – 2008 Marlborough Pinot Noir

Posted by Gabe on December 11, 2009

New Zealand and Pinot Noir are starting to become synonymous to wine lovers. That’s a good thing because there are a lot of lovely examples coming out of this country. For a long time their Pinot’s were second to their Sauvignon Blancs on our store shelves and in our minds. And while Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand is still certainly a major player, the varietal itself (delicious as it can be) doesn’t inspire quite the same sort of passion that Pinot Noir does. Today I’ll look at an example from Stoneleigh.

The Stoneleigh 2008 Marlborough Pinot Noir was produced using fruit sourced in the Rapaura area which is in the north. This offering is 100% Pinot Noir. Fermentation was achieved in a combination of open-top and closed-top fermenters Barrel aging was accomplished over a six month period in French oak. The suggested retail price for this wine is $16.

Baker’s spice notes and fresh black cherry waft convincingly from the nose of this Pinot Noir. Throughout the palate red and black cherry notes dominate, these are joined by rhubarb, raspberry and wild strawberry to form a gentle but full flavored presentation of flavor. Black tea notes lead the finish along with light cocoa, earth, cherry cola, earth and hints of nutmeg and white pepper. This wine is very well balanced and has excellent acidity.

For $16 (less if you shop around), this New Zealand Pinot Noir provides a lot of value and loads of flavor. It’s made in a style that is very true to this great varietal. It’ll pair well with food but is equally enjoyable on its own. Highly recommended.

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Bordeaux Matchmaking at Cipriani

Posted by Gabe on December 10, 2009

This is a guest column. I was unable to attend this event. thankfully a friend of mine did make it and he wrote this account which I’m sharing here at Gabe’s View. I look forward to attending a future event of theirs as this sounds like a lot of  fun. I hope you enjoy reading it.


I stood outside of Cipriani on Wall Street waiting for my party companion. They had set up a tent in front of the entrance lined with tables, and women sitting about 3 feet from each other with lists of guests in alphabetical order.

Another woman stood at the entrance to the tent greeting older men wearing impeccably tailored tuxedos and the women in ball gowns who accompanied them. I was there for the Bordeaux Matchmaking event – an event organized with the intention of reintroducing Bordeaux wines to America as a more casual, affordable wine. Two thoughts came to mind as I watched a group of men emerge from a black Bentley – 1) I’m grossly underdressed, and 2) this crowd isn’t doing anything to positively help the bold, expensive, and unattainable image of Bordeaux wines that we’ve grown to know.

I came to find out that I was standing about 15 feet from where I should have been. Cipriani is a large restaurant with many entrances, and apparently plenty of room for more than one event. The educational wine tasting I came for turned out to be more of a dance party with plenty of great food, attractive and hip 20 – 30 somethings dancing, laughing, and of course tipping back their glasses of delicious and affordable Bordeaux wines. And by the time the saxophonist joined the DJ school was out, and Bordeaux dance party was in full swing. If this sounds atypical of a wine tasting, it is. The purpose of the event is to show that Bordeaux wines can and should be enjoyed casually is a hip, party atmosphere. The event certainly achieved this. Plus, the wines are quite good.

Among those I tasted were a Chateau de Fonbel – a red in dark, vibrant purple from the Right Bank of the region. It has hints of black currant, cassis, and according to the info on the table pencil shavings. I also tried a white, citrusy Mouton Cadet – very similar to a sauvignon blanc in its’ dryness, but also subtly sweet, a dark and bold Chateau La Bonnelle, and a sweet white from Chateau Lupiac. I detected a hint of horseradish in the nose, and again in the first couple of sips. The flavor eventually mellowed into a soft, subtle white which according to Mollie Battenhouse, wine director and advanced sommelier at Maslow 6 wine shop in Manhattan goes quite well with foie gras – a combination I will be sure to try. Battenhouse is also on as part of their Le Wine Buff video chats. All of the bottles featured were under the $35 price point – a number most people should be comfortable paying for what I found is extraordinarily great wine.

By 10:30 the wine was nearly gone, and the table hosts began packing up their stations. The party was hardly over, though as the music got louder and the crowd – at least the ones not dancing began to flock towards the bar. I took what was left in my glass and walked out onto the terrace, and gazed out the window watching the black town cars, limos, Mercedes, and Rolls Royce’s arrive in anticipation of what I came to learn was Platts Global Energy Awards dinner letting out. With my head slightly tipsy from the wines, and my stomach generously coated with the delicious hors d’oeuvres I couldn’t help but think how lucky I was to have been at this party rather than the other one.

Could they have had nearly as much fun as I did? Doubtful. I only wished I had the means to attend the remaining two events in Chicago & Miami. And with that I went back inside – this night was just beginning.

Posted in Events, Guest Blogger Column, Wine | Leave a Comment »


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