Thursday, June 19, 2008

Running the Rhone

Without question the Rhone Valley produces my favorite wines. Wow, that says quite a bit since I love so many different wines and regions, but it is true. And of the Rhone, I love those southern Grenache driven wines. A local wine bar held a Rhone tasting and, of course, I signed up quickly. The wines tasted that night will be discussed a bit further on, but I thought a little information on the Rhone might be useful prior to diving into my notes.

First, a discussion of the Rhone Valley is useful. The Rhone is broken into two viticultural regions - Northern and Southern. The Northern Rhone includes a number of stunning appellations - Côte Rôtie, Hermitage, Cornas, St. Joseph (one of my personal favs), Condrieu (think Viognier), Crozes-Hermitage, as well as a number of others.

What distinguishes the Northern Rhone from its Southern neighbor is the varietal used in red wine making - Syrah. While Syrah can be found in Southern Rhone wines, it plays a bit part rather than a leading one. Most reds from the Northern Rhone are almost entirely Syrah. However, having said that, Côte Rôtie is allowed to use up to about 20% Viognier (a white grape). Other grape varietals used in the North are also white - Marsanne and Rousanne.

The Southern Rhone appellations include - Chateauneuf-du-Pape (CDP), Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Tavel (an AC for rosé only and they are so good), Lirac (across the Rhone from CDP), Côte du Rhone Villages (a whole slew of villages are entitled to this AC - one of my favorites is Rasteau), and, of course, Côte du Rhone (the basic AC).

Southern Rhone grape varietals include:
Red: Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre, Syrah, Carignan, Gamay
White: Clairette, Picpoul, Bourboulenc, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, Muscat, Viognier

Grenache is not indigenous to France. It is believed by most experts to have its genesis in Spain where it is know as Garnacha. It can produce styles from dark and moody monsters with strong tannins to soft, lithe and spicy youngsters. Winemakers love using Grenache to produce fruity rosés as well. Some of my favority rosés are Grenache based (big surprise).

The Tasting

While most of the tasting dealt with the Rhone, the first two wines were from the Languedoc. Both were nice quaffers, but that's it:

2006 Marquis de Pennautier Blanc, Vin de Pays d'Oc: grapes - Buerre Blanc, Claret Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, and Rousanne; apricot/peach notes, long finish, light acidity.

2006 Marquis de Pennautier Cabardes: grapes - 80% Cabernet and 20% Grenache; from the western part of the Languedoc, grapes are grown 300 meters above sea level; leafy nose, tobacco; good with duck confit, cassoulet, in general rustic foods. Good BBQ wine.

The Rhone wines included six Southern Rhone wines a one Northern Rhone.

2005 Domaine de Beaurenard Côte du Rhone Villages - Rasteau: grapes - 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah; vineyard was terraced by horses - blue clay soil; cherry and red licorice (grenadine), pepper and lavender, strong tannins; good with beets.

2004 Le Clos de Caveau Vacqueyras, Carmin Brillant: grapes - Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault; hot region with cool winds over clay soil; red fruit over ancient river rock with a licorice back; can hold up to 10 years; organic certification in 2009.

2005 Domaine du Pequier Gigondas: grapes - 75% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 5% Mouvedre; very Gigondas style - spicy, strong, tannic; grapes have been growing in this AC for over 2000 years.

2005 Domaine de Galet des Pape Chateauneuf du Pape: grapes - 80% Grenache; young vine cuvèe - vines only 50 yrs old; nose - good stink - result of no de-stemming (pits and stems included in fermentation); palate - pepper, iodine, iron, green veggies; according to a couple of people "no better wine with steak"; the wine shows better and better with time in the glass - will hold 10 - 12 years.

2005 Domaine de Beaurenard Chateauneuf du Pape: This family has been making wine since 1695; silky, soft nose - very gentile - a Cary Grant style wine; no new barrels; perfect with small birds - quail, etc.

2004 Domaine de Villeneuve Chateauneuf du Pape, Les Vieilles Vignes: grapes from the northern section of the AC - 90-95 yr old vines on 3 - 8 hectares; a very Burgundian nose which happens to many of these wines as they are just south of the Burgundian wine region; tobacco and plum jam. This was the hit of the night for me...stunning wine.

The last wine of the night was from the Northern Rhone and by definition (of Northern Rhone wines) was Syrah based.

2005 Jean Michel Gerin Côte Rôtie, Champin Le Seigneur: This is the oldest growing region - over 2400 years; two areas in Côte Brun provide vineyards soils and drive the complexity of this wine - mica shist and granite; grapes - Syrah 90%, Viognier 10%; nose - creamy berries, star gazer lilies - basically a Syrah palate with a light floral quality.

It was a terrific tasting...go find and try. As always...te souhaitant le meilleur de la vigne (wishing you the best of the vine).

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

New Wine List and Oregon Pinot Noir

Decided to start a list of wines consumed weekly. You will be able to see the list on the left side of the blog. These are not wines I've tasted, but rather bottles consumed (no not by myself - geez, I'm not that bad). Tastings will be discussed in normal posts. I've not included any tasting note with them, just provided the list. If I didn't like something about a wine I tried, it's not included. Keep in mind I include quaffers (just to drink) wines as well as those I spent time getting to know while I drank them. There will be inexpensive and not so inexpensive wines listed. But, you should find something enjoyable to taste from the list.

Oregon Pinot Noir

One of my adopted nephews asked after reading this blog what Oregon Pinot under $20 I'd suggest. Here's my dilemma in answering his question - he wanted a burgundian-style pinot. Oregon, sadly, has gone the way of most of the new world wines...too much. Too much fruit, too big, too, too much.

The joy of the Oregon Pinots of the '70's and '80's has devolved to reflect pinots from other new world areas. Why? Was it the success of the movie Sideways? Was it the influx of California moving to Oregon? Was it the increasing demand of the untrained palette of the American middle class? I really don't know. What I do know is that Oregon wines have changed.

I've been here many years and have had the opportunity to drink some stellar Pinots. I was young then and didn't really understand what it was I was enjoying, but enjoy them I did. And when the wine cellar began it's existence, it was with the intent to store only Oregon wines. But then they started to change, subtlely, slowly. I also began to find wines that suited my palate better - they came from France, Italy, Spain...well to be succinct - old world wines.

I like my Pinots to have that wonderful earthy, black fruit where the oak doesn't overwhelm and it continues to develop in the glass. I do like the Burgundian-style Pinots. Less and less wines are made in that style here. They talk as if they are moving in that direction and, to be fair, perhaps some of the younger winemakers are following in the traditonal style. But way too many are very dark, tannic fruit bombs that overwhelm the palate. They don't tickle and wait for you to ask for more...they don't make you work to find what they are about - they just happen.

In addition, Oregon Pinot has been following the lead of Napa by posting bottle costs at extraordinary amounts. Insane. So not only do they not reflect what Oregon is capable of producing, but they cost an incredible amount! What is up with that? Domaine Serene are you listening??

That said, I did suggest a few wines for him to consider - remember these are between $18 and $25. There are more expensive Pinots that I do like - Domaine Drouhin, Ken Wright Canary Hills, Cameron - but these are good values for the money. Have fun finding and trying one of them:
  • McKinley Willamette Valley
  • Cameron Dundee Hills
  • J. Christopher Willamette Valley
  • Grochau Cellars Willamette Valley

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Pretty in Pink (wine that is...)

While I never cared for the movie, pink wines are very high on my happy list. I love the spring and early summer releases of these "baby" reds. Yes, do not scoff! Rosé wines are the result of limited exposure to the skins of their grape. They can be Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc or any other red grape varietal or blends thereof. White wines, by definition, cannot produce a pink wine.

The fruit of a red wine grape is always white. It is only the contact with the skins that cause their colors to develop. So when you try a rosé (pink wine) remember you may be drinking some lovely Pinot Noir or Bordeaux blend...just in a little lighter format. :)

The Wines
In the recent past as well in the far past, I've enjoyed a number of pink wines. This post will discuss my absolute favorites and then those that, while they don't make the absolute list, I don't bypass them when they are available.

The Big Guy
Without question I think that Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé is the king of this type of wine. Now one can argue that certain years are better than others, but it generally is lovely year after year. The problem? Well, with the release of the 2007 at a price (on average) of $40 - 50 per 750ml, buying it in lieu of other wine becomes problematic. Especially, when more and more wineries are beginning to release rosés and good ones at that.

I was fortunate to acquire a couple of magnums of the 2005 within the last year. We opened one of them at a recent wine event. It went fast. Light salmon colored with a touch of copper thrown in, nose - strawberry and herbs with some rose for interest, palette - much the same as the nose with some melon to balance it out.

We've tried the 2006, but found it much harsher than the '05. Similar nose and color, but much more aggressive in the mouth almost to the point of being harsh.

Now I know you're going to ask about the 2007 since it was just released. You are wondering if I was willing to fork over the money for it this year. Well, the answer is, of course, yes. I bought two of them (but I did get a deal :) ). I haven't tried it yet because I believe that this particular rosé can use some time in the bottle. Remember the 2005 was drinking well and I suspect the '06 with another year will smooth out. So, while I probably won't be able to wait too long to try it and will post when it happens (with a friend here from France it may be really soon!).

2007 J. Christopher Cristo Irresisto

What can I say about Jay Somers continued success with rosé? His previous iterations have been made with Pinot Noir. I still have some of the 2006 in the cellar. It is the palest rosé I have seen. It is elegant - dry, mineral with the softest hint of strawberry.

However, this year, due to the rising cost of pinot noir grapes, he decided to see what alternatives were available. What he found were grapes from the Columbia Valley (Washington State) Syrah and Grenache to be precise. The resulting wine is lovely. Again, light in color, nose - spicy, rich and full of strawberry. The palette didn't disappoint either. While you could find the ever-present rosé strawberry, it seemed a bit more brusque - more raspberry tartness and some cherry to soften things up. Mineral, dry and very pleasant, this is one to find. Price point is very good too - between $10 and 15 per 750.

2007 Miguel Torres Sangre De Toro Rosé

Spanish rosés tend toward a firmer structure. I've enjoyed these wines for years. The are very easily priced from $8 - 12 per 750. I like a rosé that can stand up to some serious food (meats, grilled veggies, etc.) and this little wine not only stands up, but throws back!

The Tempranillo grape has a huge impact on the resulting rosés - there be tannins in this lovely so be prepared. Nose - lovely Mediterranean scents - spices, herbs with dark fruit, but on the palette those tannins pop as does the dark fruit - think blackcurrants.

If you believe that rosés are "sweet and wimpy", then head to the store and find this one or one of it brethren and then stand back.

There are more - many more rosés that need discussion. The 2007 Trust Cabernet Franc, any rosé from Tavel (France), and one not to miss this year - the NV Louis Perdrier Rosé. This bubbly is creamy and elegant and for around $10 to $15, is well worth locating.

As always...te souhaitant le meilleur de la vigne (wishing you the best of the vine).

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Beginning

Oh how many times have I thought about starting a blog only to think that there is never enough time to manage it properly? Well, the answer to that question is WAY too many times. However, here we are...a beginning. Now the question falls to what subject to begin the discussion and the answer seems to be...everything.

Without question, wine, food, travel, books, life, questions, and such will become the fodder for this blog, but how often and to what degree is still in flux. Initially, it will be the wines that draw my attention, but be prepared for a book review, a trip (both past and present), or ??.

Relating to wine, I know there are many more experienced wine geeks out there and I am not planning to compete with their expertise. This blog will let you know what I like and don't like as I taste through the world. And it certainly doesn't mean in any way that my palette matches yours, but it should provide you with some options to "investigate". In addition, because there are so many other blogs, websites, etc., relating to wine, I am not going to go over every attribute - nose, palette, color, etc. You can always find more info on the wines I mention on the web. I basically want to share what I've tasted, educate where I can, and just enjoy a moment of wine, travel, food, life...with you.

If you are interested in keeping up with my daily notes, check out my tweets on Twitter ( I try to stay on those multiple times a day. Note that they cover just my daily activities - sometimes in detail, sometimes not, but it's fun to update as the day progresses.

The next post will hit on some wines I've tasted recently. I think I'll address some local (Portland, Oregon) wine spots to visit that will provide options to enhance your palette and understanding of wine. Although, that said, there are a couple that I really like to keep to myself :). In addition, if you read my posts, please note any places you believe have exceptional tastings or good selection of wines. That way we share globally and when traveling have locals to investigate.

I hope you find pleasure in the postings as they I will have pleasure in putting them in the ether...te souhaitant le meilleur de la vigne (wishing you the best of the vine).