Category Archives: Bordeaux/Meritage Blend

2008 Antinori Guado al Tasso Bolgheri Superiore

Guado Pic

2008 Antinori Guado al Tasso Bolgheri Superiore

Bolgheri Superiore DOC, Tuscany, Italy

Wine Tasting Note:

Deep, dense purple color with brownish hue around the rim. Would have guessed older than 8 years in the bottle. Closed and limited nose on open. Not much coming through yet except alcohol, bitter chocolate and watery texture. Sampling until ready… about 45 mins. hitting its stride. Still ample freshness and has become fruit forward as opening. Plum, boysenberry, blackberry in front. Minimum mid-palate, with a medium length finish of subtle dark chocolate. Tannins are grippy and high, with high acidity. The texture has improved, adding a bit of mouth-feel and volume. Great structure, but the fruit has become subtler than an earlier bottle. Fruity enough to be drunk on its own still, but perfect for a pairing with red sauce and meat dishes. Antinori has delivered another quality Tuscan blend with versatility and some aging potential. I enjoyed a few glasses prior to dinner, but this would be even better with food. If you enjoy aged wine flavor profiles, this should be best drunk 2017-2018. If you aren’t concerned whether your wine is fruit-forward, the tannins should resolve somewhat in another 3-4 yrs. If you’re like me and you prefer some noticeable drying tannins, this wine is perfect now. A nice middle-ground between old and new world flavor profiles.

Comments Off on 2008 Antinori Guado al Tasso Bolgheri Superiore

Filed under Bolgheri, Bordeaux/Meritage Blend, International Wines by Region, Italian Wine, Toscana, Wine by Varietal, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

A Tale of Two Red Cities

In the USA, Walla Walla Valley AVA is fast approaching premier status as a red wine producing region. The highest accolades are coming from Merlots and Syrahs, but the area produces well-made Bordeaux Blends too. From a critic’s perspective, this area is a serious alternative to the Napa Valley region… especially, if you prefer the Napa wines produced before the mid 90’s. Now, there is a choice between two premium “red” producing cities in the U.S.

The over-arching theme in Walla Walla is the pursuit of Old World styles of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. If you enjoy the popular New World style of heavily-oaked, fruity Cabs coming from Napa (like Caymus and Silver Oak) very few of these Walla Walla wines will find their way into your cellar. Syrah aside, I have chosen three of the oldest producers in Walla Walla as effective examples of the diverse styles of Bordeaux Blends that represent this growing region: Walla Walla Vintners, Seven Hills Winery and L’Ecole #41. I visited all three last month and was fortunate enough to do a deep-dive with each.

WWV Pic

Walla Walla Vintners

The flavor profile across all releases at Walla Walla Vintners (WWV) had the most dissimilar flavor profile in the area. I met with Bill Von Metzger the winemaker and we discussed the winery founded in 1995 in depth.  Their vineyards (and immediate neighboring sites) located at the Eastern edge of the valley contain the only dry-farmed vineyards I was able to find in this AVA. They originally prepared these estate vineyards for irrigation, but have yet to experience a growing season requiring the additional water. Although, if the Washington drought continues, they expect this may change next year. The WWV 2015 vintage validated once again the impact of dry-farming on my palate. All wines tasted tended to be more concentrated and textured, perhaps squeezing more out of the terroir.

Bill is a locally educated and trained winemaker. In my experience, this can be an impediment to good winemaking. Exposure to a broad sampling of world winemaking styles tends to develop better winemakers. Although in this case, Bill transcends his background… I think, primarily due to his keen curiosity and desire to experiment. I thought Bill showed a deft hand at pursuing the Napa Valley style… at half the price. Of my twenty (or so) tasting appointments in the area, this was the only winery embracing the challenge and successfully producing this style in a cooler Walla Walla climate.

If you enjoy Napa Cabs, try these wines. They may not quite reach the level of the premium Napa producers, but my goodness, not at $75+/btl either. The quality is good and the value is undeniable.

SHW pic

Seven Hills Winery

Seven Hills is the preeminent Old World French Bordeaux style producer in Walla Walla and one of the first wineries founded in the area in 1988. I met with Erik McLaughlin, an executive and manager at the winery. Erik and I discussed the history of wine growing in the region, their philosophy and the resulting growth. Seven Hills produces wines that compare very favorably to Bordeaux labels. All their wines have a lighter, sometimes silky texture with a good acidic and tannic backbone. Refined, balanced and built for aging, but approachable enough when young to be an excellent companion to a steak dinner. The tasting room is in a very urban setting at the winery, with the atmosphere from the 100+ year old building enhancing the tasting experience.

I talked briefly to Casey McLellan the winemaker and founder and I heard from both of them their total commitment to this wine style, regardless of the popularity of New World style California wines over the last decade. A great story and I believe a good business decision. These wines are some of the best of what I call “restaurant style” wines, made to accompany food and at the right price to be fairly affordable after the three tier distribution system delivers it.

If you enjoy red wines originating in Bordeaux France, try these wines. Again, these do not quite reach the level of premium Bordeaux producers, but comparable quality is sold at half the price (or less) of their Old World competitors.

Schoolhouse photo

L’Ecole #41

L’Ecole is the most notable example of a winery in the region that best walks the fence between New & Old World styles. Founded in 1983 in an abandoned school house, they have grown substantially into a large commercial winery. I have been drinking their wines since the early 2000’s and do miss the hometown, small business atmosphere from those early days. Is it OK to be nostalgic for the old building facade, before the face lift? Then again, I also preferred the previous cute label too. Yes, (begrudgingly) I understand the idea – “Time and Tide stops for no man”. I met with Ben Dimitri the tasting room manager and we talked about L’Ecole history and past vintages.

It was interesting to discuss the story of the 2004 vintage in Walla Walla. It was the coldest growing season in memory for the area and few local vineyards were able to produce ripe fruit at harvest. 10+ years ago, Washington State was still a fledgling wine region and the largest producer in the state (Chateau St. Michelle) offered the early Walla Walla producers the opportunity to source fruit from their warmer Columbia Valley vineyard locations. What a generous and smart move…  missing a vintage in those early years would have seriously hurt the local industry and slowed their momentum in the market. The topic arose, because I mentioned enjoying a bottle of 2004 Ferguson (lost in my cellar somehow) last year. The bottle handled the 10 years of age well, but was at the outside edge of its drinking window.

If you enjoy red wines originating in Bordeaux France, but would prefer an easier drinking more approachable style… L’Ecole is your ticket. Once again, think half the price.

Diversity and Value

If you notice, there are two common themes here: diversity and value. Try these Walla Walla wines. If you are more than an occasional, casual wine drinker in particular, seek them out. These can easily become your choice for the value section of your cellar.

Wine Tourism

This area has a long way to go as a wine destination, but it was significantly more welcoming than my last visit seven years ago. Premier sous chefs around the country looking to venture out and start a premium cuisine restaurant, please consider Walla Walla. A well-run, properly promoted gourmet restaurant will succeed here, without the competition you would find in other top wine regions. Currently, the food is only slightly better than average, even at expensive establishments. With all the fresh fruit and veggies grown locally, this would be a perfect location for a farm-to-table concept. Producing world-class wines right in their backyard, Walla Walla has to be the next wine destination to hit the foodie scene. I look forward to my next visit and enjoying a much more vibrant restaurant scene.

Walla Walla Premium Bordeaux Style Producers

Leonetti Cellars and Woodward Canyon Winery are the two oldest wineries in the Walla Walla AVA. I have tasted their wines and they are excellent, but priced to match, or exceed their Bordeaux and Napa competitors. These wines are every bit as good, but I find it hard to see the value. Frankly, I would rather drink the established producers I know from Bordeaux and Napa, with much larger production and greater availability. This post was meant to highlight the value in Walla Walla. These producers do not fit into that category.

Comments Off on A Tale of Two Red Cities

Filed under Bordeaux/Meritage Blend, Cool Climate Wine, U.S. Wines by Region, Walla Walla Valley, Wine by Varietal, Wine Tasting, Wine Travel

Making #Wines to Drink Now, or Cellar?

The sun barely illuminates the land under a thick fog of red smoke as seen from Highway 97 just south of Okanogan Friday August 21, 2015.

What a crazy week to have scheduled a wine tasting adventure in Washington State! Forest fires everywhere! The entire state is one big campfire… Flying into Spokane, we descended through a wall of billowing smoke. Driving down to Walla Walla the smoke cleared somewhat.

Later this week, my wife and I will be joining trade tastings and interviewing winemakers, but today we wanted to relax and stop at a couple of wineries of interest – as wine tourists. We stopped in first at K Vintners and then Five Star Cellars today and two interesting questions came to light: (tasting notes coming in future posts)

  1. Should winemakers be producing wine to drink now, versus wines to bottle age?
  2. Does making wine specifically to be drunk with food play well in the broader U.S. market?

I will tackle the first question now and the second in a follow-up piece.

Drink Now?

I was floored today. These were two respected Walla Walla producers recognized by critics and neither was focusing on structured wines more capable of aging in your cellar.

K Vintners

After one tasting experience, I am quite sure I could recognize any of their wines blind. This is not meant to suggest I did not enjoy a few of these wines, but more to emphasize their singular dimension. All of the wines are quite clearly made in a single style, utilizing similar techniques: noticeable French oak, high to very high acidity, very light and a minimum of mouth-feel, minimal finish, low to medium tannins and fruit forward.

Five Star Cellars

We tasted two vintages of their flagship wine, a Bordeaux blend called “Stellar”. The 2008 was good, showing high acidity, medium tannins and a palate of plum, blackberry, apple pie spice, graphite and touch of earthy minerality… but the 2009 was so much better, similar to the 2008 – but adding higher tannins and a fuller mouth-feel. The owner David Huse actually apologized for the additional structure. After a few minutes of conversation, it was obvious he believed their goal was to make easy drinking wines and that 2009 just didn’t fit into that focus.

Price Point, Wine Quality and Structure

I get it. Wineries have to sell their wine and in case you haven’t seen the numbers, somewhere between (depending on the study) 80 to 95% of all wines purchased in the U.S. are drunk within a week of purchase. Since we are throwing out statistics, how about this:  90% of all bottles purchased in the U.S. cost less than $12 USD. The wines we were tasting today all retailed for $40-$70/btl. Where am I going with this? Are these wineries correct in thinking that the majority of wine drinkers spending over $12/btl. want drink now, easy drinking wines? I have spent the last 20 years listening to feedback from wine enthusiasts and while very few are looking for the other end of the spectrum – rustic, cheap Chianti style wines, MOST do prefer red wines with good structure. How else could Napa Valley be able to sell so much Cabernet Sauvignon at an average price of $64.77/btl (2014 Wines & Vines) direct-to-consumer? It is certainly not because these wines are easy drinkers!

Winemaker’s View?

So how does the winemaker feel about this issue? I ask this question during interviews all the time. The answer too often is: “business sometimes dictates we make a wine for broad appeal”. At some wineries, this discussion is a non-issue. The winemaker makes a wine profile focused on quality in the classic sense and they find their market. Others I have interviewed, spend time with their customers and really understand the product their clientele wants… and then there are those that “think” they know what the average consumer wants. The perceived pressure to produce easy drinking wines in the U.S. is huge. For large volume wineries over 50,000 cases of production this discussion is irrelevant, but for the 60% of wineries in the U.S. that produce less than 5,000 cases, it is THE discussion to have. There is a place for all styles of wine in the market. My surprise came from visiting recognized, critically acclaimed wineries with this kind of thinking.

Wolf howling

Howling at the Moon!

If there is one thing I can definitively take exception to in the industry, it is this idea that wine enthusiasts (spending more than $12/btl) want flavor in red wines and don’t care about structure. Okay, I agree there are not many folks like me in the U.S. who will maintain a large enough cellar to buy young structured red wines and regularly drink 5-10 year old vintages. At the risk of boring readers by saying this again: STRUCTURE is what differentiates good wine! Red wine can taste like black, red, or blue fruit, have earthy minerality, or even exotic flavors like tobacco and tar, but these matter little without the primary structural components: Acidity, Alcohol, Tannins, Phenolic Development, Mouth-Feel (texture) and Balance. When wines are missing any of these elements, they can be unpleasant to drink, or more commonly – just boring.

Tasting note for the Five Star Cellars 2009 Stellar (Bordeaux Blend) that was supposedly not as “good” as the 2008:

The nose hints at the level of extraction with blackberry, plum and currant fruits, a touch of alcohol, fresh tobacco and earth. The palate follows with a dense fruit-forward attack that is very lively in the mouth, with high acidity and high tannins.  The vanilla comes through from the oak, but doesn’t overpower. The tannins have a plush, granular texture producing a big mouth-filling wine with a very long finish. This wine is fast approaching its optimal drinking window of 2016-2018. It is only missing a defined mid-palate… a 91 score without. This would have earned a 94-95 score with more complexity.

A grand effort by a small Washington State winery. I sincerely hope they change their focus to making more wines like this…

1 Comment

Filed under Bordeaux/Meritage Blend, Walla Walla Valley, Wine by Varietal, Wine Cellar, Wine Collecting, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Winemaker Interview – David Ramey of Ramey Cellars

Winemaking Aristocracy

Please follow my winemaker interview series! You can find this and other interviews at the following link:

http://winemakerinterviewseries.net/2015/01/05/winemaker-interview-david-ramey-of-ramey-cellars/

Comments Off on Winemaker Interview – David Ramey of Ramey Cellars

Filed under Bordeaux/Meritage Blend, Chardonnay, Napa Valley, Sonoma County, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine by Varietal, Wine Education, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes, Winemaker Interview

Cabernet Sauvignon Blend Comparison

See a follow-up to this post at:  https://coolclimatewine.wordpress.com/2014/12/28/follow-up-to-cabernet-sauvignon-blend-comparison/

Tasted Friday, December 26, 2014

INTRODUCTION

I selected one each Bordeaux, Napa and Tuscan Cabernet Sauvignon blend to pair with dinner for this get-together. We invited friends over for a meal of braised beef short ribs, home-made mac & cheese with gruyere & cheddar sauce and succotash. All the wines paired extremely well with the meal served.

The Le Petit Haut Lafitte was the standout of the night. This was extremely well-balanced, with good structure and had a very pretty, refined character that spoke of a well-made wine. A mix between Old and New World with a fruit-forward palate.

The surprise of the night was the ’93 Beringer. Wow, what a great aged Napa Cab. Just an excellent bottle-aged wine. This wine was made to age well and actually has a few years left in it, if anyone has this in their cellar… it isn’t dead yet!

FLIGHT 1 – CABERNET SAUVIGNON BLENDS (4 NOTES)

All great choices and enjoyed by all!

USA, California, Napa Valley

After one hour decant. This was the most surprising wine of the night. At 21 years old this bottle was singing! The nose showed plum, blackberry, black cherry, graphite and earth. The freshness of fruit on the palate was nothing short of amazing for a ’93. The palate followed the nose with beautiful fruit. The structure was spectacular for an aged wine, with medium-high tannins, good acidity and well-integrated alcohol. Nice mid-palate of tobacco that added complexity, but the mouth-feel is what got me. The balance was good and the tannins had a great velvety texture that filled the mouth. It needed more layering of flavors and a stronger finish to move in to the exceptional category though. This wine actually has a few more years under its belt! This is my first Napa cab sauv that has stood-up well to 20 years of bottle aging.

France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan

After one hour decant. This was the most spectacular wine of the evening. It was extremely well-balanced, with a refined, classically old world character… while still being fruit forward. The wine showed great QPR and is a substantial effort for a second label. Plum, blackberry, creme brulee, tobacco and earth were on the nose. The palate follows the nose. The wine is very accessible for only five years in the bottle. I would suggest your prime drinking window to be 2016-2018. I don’t believe this wine will age successfully beyond that. Everyone at the dinner agreed this was the best wine of the evening. With medium-high tannins and strong acidity the structure was spot-on. The alcohol was noticeable, but did not dominate. This contributed to a superb pairing with braised short ribs. This is the best value I have tasted from Bordeaux in a long time.

USA, California, Napa Valley

After 30 min. decant. Popped this half bottle looking to see how close this wine is to its drinking window. This needs another few more years. The nose is full of plum and rich red tomato. The palate is fruit forward with plum and blackberry moving to a hint of tomato. Nice spicy character leaning towards cinnamon and clove. The wine had medium-high tannins with very high acidity. It was slightly hot and not integrated enough yet to be well-balanced. This was definitely starting to move towards a soft mouth-feel. I enjoyed this now, but believe it will be much better when I pop the next bottle in a couple of years.

Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT

After 60 min. decant. This improved with more time in the glass. Fruit on the nose was of cherry and plum with vanilla and herbal mint. The nose was too hot to really enjoy. The palate followed the nose. Medium-high tannins and high acidity for good structure, but not well-balanced. The alcohol was very noticeable. The other characteristics were a little out of kilter. I will save the next bottle for a couple of years, hoping it will come together.

Comments Off on Cabernet Sauvignon Blend Comparison

Filed under Bordeaux, Bordeaux/Meritage Blend, French Wine, Italian Wine, Napa Valley, Super Tuscan Blend, Toscana, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

2004 Pahlmeyer Winery Jayson Red Blend

86382

Pahlmeyer Winery Jayson Red Blend

California, Napa Valley

Wine Tasting Note:

Initial taste is hot and alcoholic, watery and missing fruit. After a 90 minute decant – the wine has evolved into a beautiful aged Cabernet Sauvignon blend.  The alcohol has blown off, the tannins are soft and dusty and the blackberry and black currant is in front.  A definite Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde experience!  This is the third 10-15 year-old premium Napa Cab I have tasted this year, and the experience has been similar.  These older Napa cabs need time to open…  The nose is still hot, but the fruit is prominent, with leather and loamy earth.  The palate is fruit forward now, but is typical of an older wine: missing the fresh fruit, but not oxidized yet. The mid-palate has leather, oak, spice and earth with a medium-long finish of dark chocolate.  The acidity is high and the tannins are very soft and subdued.  The structure is solid, but the balance is a touch off.  A few years earlier and the additional fruit might have offset the high acidity and alcohol. I found this enjoyable paired with a meat and cheese plate…

Had to add this postscript:

After 4 hour decant – Oh my gosh! The fruit is turning red and becoming sour raspberry. The tannins have completely resolved, but the wine is moving towards a velvet texture. The acidity has calmed down.  A great example of a balanced profile.  Just fantastic aged red wine!  Is there enough fruit to put another 3-5 years of bottle age on this, I hope so… I have one last bottle…

Comments Off on 2004 Pahlmeyer Winery Jayson Red Blend

Filed under Bordeaux/Meritage Blend, Napa Valley, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

1969 Chateau Potensac

6807

Chateau Potensac

France, Bordeaux, Medoc

Wine Tasting Note:

This was just a bit of fun… bought this at auction a while back. Wasn’t expecting much, but it was an opportunity to see what 45 years would do to a decent wine. Opened this at a party last night. As expected, the cork was a challenge. The first pour had a nose of barnyard and must and the initial taste was thin, a bit oxidized and closed… but, if you can believe it, this ol’ gal still had enough structure to require time to open up. After an hour, a nose of sour red cherry began peeking out. The tannins were still very present and it had good acidity. Several of our guests tasted the wine and were not particularly impressed, but some had a background with French wine and understood it well enough to appreciate what it was. We added a cheese plate to the tasting and it handled the cheese well. So, now it’s the next day. I let the bottle sit on the kitchen counter and amazingly – it is still holding up! It is too watery, the fruit is almost gone and it is a touch oxidized, but all-in-all… a surprisingly decent wine after 45 years.

Comments Off on 1969 Chateau Potensac

Filed under Bordeaux, Bordeaux/Meritage Blend, French Wine, Wine by Varietal, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

2008 Pamplin Family Winery Proprietary Red

198626

Pamplin Family Winery

Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills

Wine Tasting Note:

Nose is hot, but after the alcohol clears, the glass is full of ripe plum and blackberry, with cassis, herbal mint and a faint floral tinge. The alcohol is more integrated on the palate. The texture is soft, silky and feels wonderful in the mouth. Medium-high tannins and bright acidity. Fruit forward in the mouth with plum, blackberry and vanilla migrating to a mid-palate of milk chocolate and a medium length bitter finish with herbal and earthy over-tones. Although this was purchased from a tasting room in Oregon, I was told the the fruit was sourced from Washington State… and you can tell. I could not find information about the blend, but this has to be merlot based and whatever they blend with provides additional structure and tannins. This could use another 3-5 years in the cellar and will continue to improve.

Comments Off on 2008 Pamplin Family Winery Proprietary Red

Filed under Bordeaux/Meritage Blend, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Wine Tasting