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Archive for December, 2012

7 Sparkling Wines for the Holidays and Beyond

Posted by Gabe on December 21, 2012

While I’m a firm believer that Sparkling Wine should be consumed every day of the year and both with and without a meal; there’s no denying that around Holiday time people pop a lot more bubbly. With that idea in mind I recently sat down and tasted close to three dozen examples. Here are the seven I feel the most strongly about recommending and a few words about each.

Cachette Blanc de Blanc (NV). This French sparkling wine was made from 100% Airen, a grape which is often associated with Spain. Primary fermentation occurred naturally while the secondary was at controlled temperatures. 2,000 cases of this offering were imported to the US and it has a suggested retail price of $14.99. Bits of ginger and lemon ice aromas are present on the nose of this Burgundian Sparkler. Fresh apples, pear and continued lemon characteristics are all in evidence through the palate which is buoyed by zippy acidity. Plenty of spice and additional citrus elements are in evidence on the finish which is clean, crisp and refreshing. This is a nice Sparkling Wine in the entry level category for those who want something dry. Cachette works well by itself or will also pair with light foods.

Cavicchioli 1928 Sparkling White (NV). This Sparkling Wine was produced using 100% Malvasia from the Modena region of Italy. The family has been producing wine there under their own name since 1928. This offering is widely available in the US and has a suggested retail price of $14.99. Fresh, vibrant stone fruit aromas explode from the nose of this wine. Peach, apricot and bits of mango are all present on the fruity palate. Bits of spice emerge on the finish as the cavalcade of fruit continues. The finish shows off elements of sweetness and enough acidity to keep things in check. This is a very fun wine that will have tons of crowd appeal.

Maison J.J. Vincent Cremant de Bourgogne (NV). This sparkling wine from Burgundy was made using 100% Chardonnay. The fruit for this selection was hand picked in the earliest stages of harvest. This wine is available all over the US and has a suggested retail price of $23.99. Bits of pineapple, almond and hazelnut emerge from the nose of this wine along with a touch of lemon zest. Granny Smith apple leads the charge through the palate accompanied by bits of brioche and a firm undercurrent of yeast. Minerals, white pepper and nutmeg are all present on the finish along with a wisp of fresh ginger. There is a terrific depth of palate, purity of fruit and solid length here. It is a fresh, lively and elegant wine for the price.

Gustave Lorentz Cremant s’Alsace Rosé (NV). 100% Pinot Noir from the Alsace region of France was used to make this sparkling Rosé. This offering was vinified using the traditional Methode Champenoise. 2,500 cases of this offering were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $24.99. Strawberry, vanilla and fresh cream aromas burst forth from the nose of this Sparkling Rosé. The mouth feel here is absolutely beautiful and layered with red fruits, spice and all buoyed by a creaminess that continues though the generous, persistent, and gently layered palate. This selection would be a great choice to pair with a holiday brunch. It’s also absolutely delectable on its own. A very nice value.

Ferrari Perlé 2004 Blanc de Blancs. This Vintage Sparkling wine was made entirely from Chardonnay grapes harvested in Trento Italy. The fruit came from hillside vineyards. Select yeasts were utilized and this wine was allowed to mature on them for roughly 5 years. Ferrari has been making this offering since the 1971 vintage. It has a suggested retail price of $35. Hazelnut and apple aromas abound on the nose here. A potpourri of apple characteristics dominate the palate with yellow delicious, granny smith and gala shining through the most prominently along with wisps of nutmeg. Hints of cream and biscuit-laden goodness emerge on the lengthy finish along with copious spice notes. This is an elegant and impressively complex wine for its price point.

Ferrari Rosé (NV). This wine was produced using a blend of Pinot Noir (60%) and Chardonnay (40%). It was vinified using the Classic Method. The Ferrari family has been producing this release since 1969. It has a suggested retail price of $37. Wild strawberries, crème fraiche and toasted almond aromas emerge from the lovely nose of this offering. Red cherry, hints of raspberry and fresh strawberry notes are all part of the refreshing and lively palate. Yeast and spice notes emerge on the finish which has solid length. This is a fairly light bodied wine with refined dept. It’s precise and graceful. The Ferrari Rosé is beautiful on its own and will work well with light foods.

Pol Roger Brut Reserve “White Foil” (NV). This offering is a blend of equal parts Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. Only first pressed wine is used for this cuvee. Fermentation occurs in stainless steel. The final blend is always composed of at least two vintages. This widely available Champagne has a suggested retail price of $49.99. This Non Vintage Brut begins with an impressive nose layered with toasted hazelnut, ginger, honey, almond, lemon ice and a fair dollop of yeast. Continued lemon characteristics are joined by stone fruits such as white peach and apricot as well as a bevy of spices on the impressive and deeply complex palate. The crispy finish has terrific length; spice notes, bits of yeast and citrus elements  reverberate on the back of the throat long after the last sip is swallowed. This continues to be an excellent example of NV Brut for its price category.

This is a broad range of wines that will suit a variety of taste buds. I feel that each of them represents a very good value in its respective category. Buy these wines with confidence, they will improve your holiday celebration or any random Tuesday night you pop the corks. Happy Holidays!

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The Versatility of Sandeman Founders Reserve Port

Posted by Gabe on December 14, 2012

foundersA couple of years ago I was in Portugal and it’s fair to say I encountered a great surprise. There was no question that there would be excellent Port to sample in both Oporto and the Douro. What I didn’t expect was the flexibility of some Ports as a blending component in cocktails. Towards that end I took place in a class with a Mixologist and was pleasantly surprised with the results. I tend to think of Port more in the winter months and with the weather getting nippy it’s high time to drink more Port. With that in mind I tried my hand making a couple of drinks using Sandeman Founders Reserve Port.

The first drink is from Sandemans own recipe.

Sandeman Harvest Sour

3/4 parts raspberry syrup*

3/4 parts fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 parts Sandeman Founders Reserve Porto

1/2 part apple brandy

Top with 2-3 parts dry apple cider

Pour all ingredients in a shaker, except cider. Shake quickly and strain into a Collins glass. Top with cider, garnish with raspberries and dust with nutmeg.

*In a medium saucepan combine 4 cups sugar and 1 quart water. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar has dissolved. In another saucepan, muddle a small container of raspberries (about 6 ounces), and combine the syrup and raspberries. Let rest for a day, then strain.

I really enjoyed this drink and all of the diverse ingredients come together to make a well balanced cocktail that has sweet, fruity elements, solid acid characteristics to keep it from going over the top and a nice wallop.

Sometimes I want to throw some ingredients together quickly and a very simple two ingredient cocktail is in order. I found that mixing Sandeman Founders Reserve with Sparkling Wine worked really well. I played with the proportions a lot as a slight change makes a pretty significant difference when you’re only dealing with two ingredients. In the end I settled on 2 parts of Sparkling Wine to one part Port. I used a dry Sparkling Rosé which helped lend to a brilliant color.

1 part Sandeman Founders Reserve Porto

2 parts Sparkling Rosé*

Pour the Port into a Champagne flute first and top with the Sparkling Wine.

* I’m a sucker for dry Rosé whether they’re sparkling or still and this worked really well for me. However a dry white Sparkling wine will certainly get the job done here.

These are just a couple of ideas. Grab a bottle of Sandeman Founders Reserve and play around with your own drink recipes; who knows you may create a new favorite. Founders Reserve most often sells for around $15 in most US markets. It’s also a delicious entry level Port that can certainly be enjoyed on its own, where it can be dessert all by itself.

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Buffalo Trace – Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey / Eagle Rare Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Posted by Gabe on December 6, 2012

Buffalo Trace Distillery has a history that dates back many years. However they took their current name in 1999. Their flagship Bourbon is the Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; additionally they make a number of other selections regularly as well as special bottles of limited Bourbons from time to time. Today I’m going to take a look at a few of their releases that I recently sampled and really enjoyed.

First up is the flagship offering, the Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. This is a widely available selection that sells nationally for right around $25. Hints of vanilla bean, toast and hazelnut emerge from the nose of this standard bearer of Bourbon. Rich flavors are in evidence on the silky mid-palate which is loaded with apricot, toffee and spices. Crème Brulee, clover honey, and white pepper are all in evidence on the lengthy and warming finish. This is a smooth and layered Bourbon that offers excellent value and complexity in its price-point. It’s important to have go to options in life, things you can count on to provide quality and value at a reasonable price. This stalwart from Buffalo Trace is just that.

Next up is the Eagle Rare Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon. This selection was aged for 10 years prior to release. It’s also available nationally and most often sells for right around $30. Bits of white chocolate and vanilla bean are prominent in the nose here. The palate is ultra smooth and dotted with spices, almond and nectarine characteristics. The finish is super-long laden with orange peel, white pepper and a hint of toffee. This Bourbon does a phenomenal job balancing power and grace from the first whiff through the last sip. The Eagle Rare Single Barrel Bourbon represents an absolutely tremendous value.

Finally, here’s a quick look at a couple of their rare bottles. Officially these are part of the Experimental Collection and they’re made sporadically and in very small batches. I sampled the Buffalo Trace Rice Bourbon as well as the Buffalo Trace Oat Bourbon. The Rice Bourbon starts with a big and booming nose loaded with caramel and vanilla aromas. Apricot, yeast and spice notes are part of the palate which is weighty and substantial. The lengthy finish is layered with orange peel, spices, burnt sugar and almonds. This is a distinct and powerful expression of Bourbon. The Oat Bourbon has a markedly subtler nose with bits or stone fruit and gentle spice characteristics emerging. The palate shows mesquite honey, spices and lots of nuance. The finish has good length with vanilla bean and white pepper in evidence. These are both interesting expressions that stand out from the pack and are well worth investigating for those seeking the road less travelled.

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Dinner with Winemaker Bernard Portet

Posted by Gabe on December 4, 2012

Last week I was lucky enough to sit and taste wine over dinner with Bernard Portet at Union Square Cafe. He was one of the founders of Napa Valley stalwart Clos du Val. Bernard was with them in a variety of capacities until just a couple of years ago, when he retired. That retirement didn’t last very long and now he’s involved with a smaller, personal project called Heritance. It’s been my good fortune over the years to sit across numerous tables, tasting counters and barrels from a wide array of winemakers. These opportunities are always a pleasure and it is also quite educational to learn about and taste wines with the person responsible for their existence. The experience is all the better when what the winemaker describes and what I taste in the glass true up; somewhat remarkably this isn’t always the case. I’m happy to report that the wines that I tasted with Bernard were exactly what he was describing, well balanced, food friendly offerings that will age appropriately for their intended styles. What follows are my thoughts on a few of my favorites from the evening.

Heritance 2010 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. This offering is made utilizing mostly Sauvignon Blanc (91%), with a small amount of Semillon (9%) blended in. Aging of this wine took place in stainless steel. 2,000 cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $24. This is a fresh and lively Sauvignon Blanc with a mid-weight palate. The Semillon adds to that weight as well as to the complexity and roundness. The acidity here is firm but not aggressive. Citrus and orchard fruit characteristics are in evidence throughout and they’re buoyed by subtle wisps of grass. This is an absolutely awesome Sauvignon Blanc that can be described as pure elegance. If the only wine I tasted that evening was this Sauvignon Blanc I would have been happy to drink it all night. We also sampled the 2011 vintage and instead of Semillon it has a dollop of Roussanne blended in. It’s a nice wine as well that needs a few months before it really comes into its own.

Heritance 2011 Stanly Ranch Pinot Noir. All of the fruit for this wine was sourced in Carneros. Fermentation took place in open top, stainless steel tanks with twice daily punch downs. Barrel aging took place in previously used French oak 300 cases of this release were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $45. This wine opens with an enormously fragrant nose loaded with Bing cherry, spices and bits of leather. Cherry, strawberry and spice are in abundance through the palate which is even keeled and loaded with depth. Pomegranate and sour cherry are in evidence on the finish along with black pepper and mineral elements. This wine is loaded with varietal character and does a great job of showcasing what excellent Pinot Noir from Carneros is all about.

Heritance 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (94%), Merlot (4%) and Petit Verdot (2%). The fruit for this wine was hand harvested and fermentation took place over 10 days at high temperatures. Barrel aging occurred over 20 months in a combination of new and previously used French oak. 5,796 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $36. Black fruit aromas lead the nose of this Cabernet Sauvignon. The palate is rich and velvety with plum and black raspberry flavors leading the charge. Chocolate and espresso notes are in evidence on the finish which has good length. Firm tannins yield with some air. This is a nicely structured Cabernet that works well today with richly flavored foods. Over time it will soften and become more elegant. The 2008 which I also had the opportunity to sample is a delicious, ready to drink now Cabernet. Its style and graceful elegance speak volumes to where the 2010 is likely to be in a year or so. $36 for Napa Cabernet of this quality is, to say the least, a terrific value.

In addition to these wines we tasted several others; one particular standout was a 1979 Cabernet Sauvignon that Bernard made at Clos du Val. It was delicious and loaded with lively fruit and excellent character. It still has several years, perhaps a decade of life ahead of it. I asked Bernard why he picked the 1979 in particular and he indicated that while the 1978 had been hailed critically, he had personally always been a bigger fan of the 1979 which he felt even back then showed great promise. Bernard has a long track record of producing well made, approachable, food friendly wines that will age gracefully. The bottom line is that all the wines I sampled at dinner, which fall under his new label, continue that tradition. In addition to being well crafted and taking advantage of his 40 + years of experience they are also excellent values in their respective categories.

Posted in Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Wine | 1 Comment »


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