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Wine: Reviews, Thoughts & Culture

Archive for June, 2011

Louis Jadot – 2009 Pouilly-Fuisse

Posted by Gabe on June 30, 2011

The Louis Jadot 2009 Pouilly-Fuisse was produced using fruit sourced in the southern part of Burgundy where a few tiny villages make up this sub-appellation. This offering is 100% Chardonnay. This wine has a suggested retail price around $22 and is currently selling at for right around $18.

Apple and pear aromas are infused with vanilla bean and a hint of toast through the nose of this 2009 Chardonnay. Golden Delicious apple flavors are quite prominent on the palate which is fruity and full-bodied, displaying good weight and plenty of complex layers of flavor. Baker’s spices and pie crust characteristics join in and lead to the finish which has minerals such as limestone and graphite as well as lemon zest characteristics. This wine is balanced by firm acidity and will pair well with a wide array of foods such as grilled white meats, soft and semi-soft cheeses, pastas with cream sauces and more.

Just about every wine region makes Chardonnay. The results vary greatly, to say the least. Even within France itself the styles and intent of Chardonnay run the gamut. Just about every village or sub-region has their own unique terroir and the French are expert at showing off that sense of place. This Example from Louis Jadot offers a lot of drinking pleasure for the price. It’s loaded with varietal character and offers more than reasonable length and complexity in its category. If you’re a Chardonnay drinker (and why wouldn’t you be?) here’s one worth exploring.

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Irony – 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Posted by Gabe on June 20, 2011

It’s not difficult to find good Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. Spend a little bit of time there and you practically trip over all the fine examples that are available. What is trickier however is finding solid Napa Cabernet at an everyday price. I’m not talking about showcase wines that need to be aged or overly examined; rather just good, solid ones most folks can afford to drink with a casual meal. Today I’ll look at a well priced Cabernet from Irony and see if it fits the bill.

The Irony 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was produced using fruit sourced primarily in the Wooden Valley section of Napa; it sits east of Yountville. The remainder of the fruit is from Pope Valley. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (90%), this wine also contains small amounts of Petite Sirah (6%) and Merlot (4%). Fermentation took place in stainless steel with daily pumpovers. Malolactic fermentation took place in barrel. This wine was aged in a combination of French and American oak for 11 months. 19,000 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $13.99.

Dark berry fruit aromas are present on the nose of this wine along with bits of eucalyptus and dry green herbs. The palate is incredibly juicy with blueberry, blackberry and dark plum flavors stealing the show alongside some core spices. Toasty oak, vanilla, white pepper and espresso characteristics mark the finish which has reasonable length. This Cabernet has soft tannins and well integrated acidity. This wine will pair will with meat or mushroom dishes. It also drinks well on its own.

This wine is exactly what I’m looking for when it comes to under $15 Cabernet from Napa Valley. It has good varietal character, and it’s well balanced with a finish that has better than decent length. This wine is aimed a short term consumption; I’d drink it over the next 2 years when it’s fruit flavors are at their peak.

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Franciscan Estate – 2008 Cuvée Sauvage Chardonnay

Posted by Gabe on June 15, 2011

Carneros is one of the regions in California that has the ability to grow excellent Chardonnay. It seems that more and more folks on both the Napa and Sonoma side of things are looking to relatively cool climate Carneros when they source Chardonnay. Franciscan Estate is a long time Napa Valley producer best known for Magnificat, their Bordeaux style red blend. Today I’ll look at the top level white wine in their portfolio.

The Franciscan Estate 2008 Cuvée Sauvage Chardonnay was produced entirely from fruit sourced in the Carneros appellation of Napa Valley. This offering is 100% Chardonnay. Much of the fruit comes from the winery’s own Larsen Vineyard. All of the fruit was fermented in barrel using native yeasts. Barrel aging occurred over 14 months in all French oak; 86% of the barrels were new. Just fewer than 1,500 cases of this offering were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $40.

Aromas of vanilla bean, toast and nutmeg join an alluring array of orchard fruits on the nose of this 2008 Chardonnay. Pineapple, apricot, and hints of mango join continued orchard fruit notes throughout the palate of this wine. Baker’s spices emerge towards the back of the palate and lead to the lengthy finish which shows off lemon crème, minerals and chestnut characteristics.

This Chardonnay has plenty of oak influence on it, but it really adds character to this wine as opposed to detracting from it. The pure Carneros fruit shines through brilliantly, making for a delicious drinking experience. This offering will pair well with the more richly flavored side of foods appropriate for white wines. Creamy Four-Cheese Risotto would be a good choice as would Duck Confit.

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Henry’s Drive – 2010 Morse Code Chardonnay

Posted by Gabe on June 14, 2011

A number of years ago I first ran across a bottle of Pillar Box Red. This Australian blend was well priced and tasty. Since that time I’ve gone back to it on numerous occasions, recommended to people and had the opportunity to taste it alongside its winemaker. Most compelling for a wine in its price-point is how consistent its quality and general flavor profile has been from year to year. This isn’t often the case with wines around the $10 mark. Last week I had dinner with Henry’s Drive winemaker Renae Hirsch and Winery owner Kim Longbottom. We tasted through much of their current portfolio, including classics like Dead Letter Office and Parson’s Flat as well as The Scarlett Letter a Sparkling Shiraz that’s new for them. Across the board the Henry’s Drive wines are well made and appropriately priced for the quality they offer at each level. In many cases their wines over deliver. One of the wines that really outperforms its price-point is The Morse Code Chardonnay. This is one of the few wines we tasted that night which I had not sampled previously.

The Henry’s Drive 2010 Morse Code Chardonnay was produced using fruit sourced in the Padthaway region of Australia. This offering is 100% Chardonnay. A small amount of oak was used in the production of this wine. 5,600 cases of the 2010 vintage were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $8.99.

Ripe orchard fruit aromas leap from the glass of this Chardonnay. A host of both tropical and continued orchard fruit flavors are present on the incredibly pleasing palate of this wine. Pear, pineapple, apple and a hint of papaya are all in evidence along with a core of spices such as nutmeg, clove and vanilla bean. The finish is crisp and refreshing with terrific acidity and good length. This wine is delicious on it’s own but will pair well with lighter foods.

The bottom line for me on the Morse Code Chardonnay is that it’s a steal. This wine is loaded with Chardonnay character. The subtle amount of oak used, adds some complexity as it should, but never detracts. You’re going to be hard pressed to find a Chardonnay for less than $10 that provides as much varietal character, purity of fruit and just sheer delicious drinkability as this wine. If you need a house white wine for the summer a case of Morse Code Chardonnay is a great bet.

The Henry’s Drive Wines provide quality, distinction and value at every price point. Whether you’re spending $8.99 on the Morse Code Chardonnay, or $49.99 on the Reserve Shiraz you’re going to get value for your money. And with them continuing to push the envelope adding new and exciting releases like “The Scarlett Letter,” a delicious Sparking Shiraz, the folks at Henry’s Drive always have something compelling for wine lovers to sample. Buy their wines with the confidence that they are one of Australia’s best and most consumer friendly producers. If you’re a fan of Australian Wine, there’s no doubt in my mind their portfolio has something you’ll be interested in.

Posted in Chardonnay, Events, Wine, Winemaker Dinner | Leave a Comment »

Visiting Benessere Vineyards in Napa Valley

Posted by Gabe on June 9, 2011

On my most recent trip to Napa Valley I had the opportunity to visit Benessere Vineyards, while there I spent some time with winemaker Jack Stuart. He’s been on board at Benessere for roughly a year and he’s set to usher in the winery’s next era. Of late he’d been working on his own projects, but prior to that he’d been the winemaker at Napa Valley stalwart Silverado for more than 20 years.

The focus at Benessere is on Italian varietals. Sangiovese, Pinot Grigio. Muscat Canelli, and Aglianico are all part of the portfolio. Their Rosato contains Sangiovese as well, and they make several Zinfandels in addition to a couple of other releases. Each wine in the portfolio I tasted on my visit was distinct. What ties the Benessere wines together is that they are well balanced offerings loaded with varietal character; each of them is primed to pair with food.

In speaking to Jack I was able the gleam quite a bit about his approach to winemaking and what changes he intends on a go forward basis for the Benessere wines. In fact it’s fair to say that his intent is to take the traits I feel are already strong about the wines and take them to the next level. From a technical standpoint he’s making small changes with the oak treatment some of the wines receive, using French instead of American in spots he feels that’s appropriate. Another example is improving the Pinot Grigio by working to craft one without the bit of residual sugar that has cropped up in some vintages.

Benessere makes a couple of single vineyard Zinfandels which are impressive for a couple of reasons. Importantly, the Benessere Zinfandels are distinct, as single vineyard wines should be. Unfortunately not every single-vineyard wine on the market is as distinct and special as that designation is intended to indicate. That’s not an issue at Benessere where the Zinfandel is made in a classic style which compared to some of the other Zinfandels on the market today would be considered restrained. In truth what they are is impeccably balanced and age-worthy, showing off a sense of place that makes them noteworthy.

Benessere Vineyards is located at 1010 Big Tree Road in St Helena and they’re open daily from 10 AM to 5 PM. Check there website for more specific details as well as tasting and tour options. Benessere sits up on a quiet road in St. Helena, one of the least hectic parts of Napa Valley. It’s a serene atmosphere that seems far removed from the hustle and bustle that so often embodies Highway 29, just a stones throw away. The folks at Benessere are friendly and the wines are well made, quite delicious and more than fairly priced. If you’re going to be in Napa Valley I highly recommend setting aside some time out to visit them. Take a break from the endless array of Cabernet Sauvignon and sample some well made California versions of classic Italian varieties.

Also, please stay tuned as I’ll take a close look at some of the current releases from Benessere Vineyards right here over the next few weeks.

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Veramonte – 2009 Ritual Pinot Noir

Posted by Gabe on June 7, 2011

The Veramonte 2009 Ritual Pinot Noir was produced from fruit sourced exclusively in the Casablanca Valley of Chile. This offering is 100% Pinot Noir. After hand harvesting each batch of grapes went through double sorting. Fermentation was aided by wild yeasts. Barrel aging took place over a period of 12 months in all French oak; 40% of the barrels were new. This wine has a suggested retail price of $19.99.

When I first tasted the Ritual Pinot Noir with the previous vintage I was pretty knocked out with the quality and varietal character that wine offered for under $20. Since that time I’ve gone back to that release on a number of occasions and each time I’ve found the quality and value to be consistent. So when the time to taste the 2009 arrived I was both excited and a bit hesitant. My hesitation came from fear that it might not live up to what came before. Thankfully that fear was unfounded.

Aromas of fresh red fruit, strawberry and cherry in particular fill the nose of this 2009 Pinot Noir. A layer of herbs underscores this and provides a nice counterpoint. Red and black berry fruits are prominent through the palate which has good weight. Black and red cherry, raspberry, blueberry and wild strawberry are all in play here. A hint of jam emerges on the lengthy finish along with hints of toasty oak and copious spice notes. This is a full bodied Pinot Noir that will pair well with richly flavored foods.

This Pinot will drink well over next 3-4 years. For best results I suggest decanting it for about an hour. The folks at Veramonte continue to turn out well made, reasonably priced wines, keep their name on your radar for delicious value.

Posted in Chile, Pinot Noir, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Cinnabar Winery – 2008 Mercury Rising

Posted by Gabe on June 1, 2011

The Cinnabar Winery 2008 Mercury Rising was produced from fruit sourced in four California appellations; Paso Robles, Lodi, Lake County, and Monterey County. This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. All of the fruit for this selection was hand harvested during cool morning hours. Fermentation took place in open top bins and stainless steel tanks. Barrel aging occurred over 25 months in a combination of French, American and Hungarian oak; 40% of the barrels were new. A light filtering took place just prior to bottling. This wine has a suggested retail price of $21.

Vanilla, cherry, pepper and cigar box aromas are all prominent on the nose of this 2008 blend. The palate is loaded with additional cherry as well as blueberry flavors. A solid core of spices plays a significant role here as well; nutmeg, clove and a hint of cinnamon are of particular note. Sour cherry, pomegranate and rhubarb characteristics are all part of a smooth finish that has a velvety feel. This wine has soft, approachable tannins and solid acidity.

There’s a lot to like about this 2008 Blend from Cinnabar. First and foremost it’s delicious and perfectly suited for a wide array of cuisine. Whether you pair it with a dish of pasta or something off of your grill the results will be a terrific pairing. In addition to that this wine also represents a nice value. If you shop around you’ll find it for around $18, at that price it’ll be a good everyday choice for a lot of folks.

Posted in Blends, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Wine | Leave a Comment »


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