Tag Archives: cool climate wines

2010 Andrew Murray Syrah McGinley Vineyard


Andrew Murray Vineyards

California, Santa Ynez Valley

Wine Tasting Note:

This is drinking beautifully right now. Just a great nose of blackberry, plum, chocolate and earth. The nose follows though to the palate, with the the fruit forward, the earth and some white pepper on the mid-palate and a medium length finish of rich dark chocolate. Medium acidity and medium-low tannins. The alcohol is nicely integrated. The texture is lighter and very, very soft, but not quite silky. This has just enough backbone to support the fruit forward approach, but is definitely not a wine to lay down. The drinking window would be now through maybe… another year, or two. The price-value ratio is good for a high quality, drink-now Syrah with some complexity. This is not for aging, or to accompany all but the richest foods. Which easily could have brought this down, but I am really enjoying its softness and fruit-forward character before I grab some supper.

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Filed under Santa Barbara County, Santa Ynez Valley, Syrah/Shiraz, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

2009 d’Arenberg The Laughing Magpie


d’Arenberg The Laughing Magpie

Australia, McLaren Vale

Wine Tasting Note:

This is not a typical Aussie fruit bomb. 92% shiraz and 8% vognier. Northern Rhone in its way… grapey nose with creme brulee and cinammon. Definitely give this at least a 30 min decant. Directly out of the bottle, this is very smooth, but watery and the flavors are off-putting – like grape candy. As it opens, it becomes more complex. The palate hits you first with black table grapes and blackberry. The mid-palate has black-currant moving into a long bitter dark chocolate finish. I have tasted other syrah blends like this and the viognier (8% is too much?) had the same effect on the nose and palate. The acidity is medium-high, but the tannins are mostly hidden until decanted, then they reveal themselves in a fairly big way as chewy and medium-high. Has a little bit of that Northern Rhone oily, tar characteristic, but no olive tapenade and earthiness. The grapey fruit flavor begins to subside after an hour, but is still too much. At this stage of its life, this would not be much of a food wine, although it has the backbone for it. I enjoyed it as an aperitif (after decant) and for $20/btl, it was a good value. This may just be too young. I am thinking after 3-5 years, the fruit may subside a bit and allow other flavors to present. It certainly has the backbone to allow aging. Will tuck the others away for a few years and see if it has the potential to improve, as I hope.

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Filed under McLaren Vale, Syrah/Shiraz, Wine Tasting Notes

2009 Domaine Drouhin Laurene Oregon Pinot Noir


Domaine Drouhin Laurene Pinot Noir

Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills

Wine Tasting Note:

The nose has red fruit and earth, with a floral influence. The palate begins with fresh red cherry under-pinned with a delicate floral note. The mid-palate transitions to black cherry and spice, then a medium short finish of earth and bitter chocolate. Medium-high acidity with slightly dusty tannins. The texture was initially silky, but became watery quickly on the mid-palate. You notice the alcohol on the finish. This wine needs more time in the cellar to reach its potential. There was a lot more going on here than a simple, fruity new-world pinot. This was very feminine in character, with a solid backbone. Another 5 years of bottle-aging and I would expect this will be very elegant and composed. I can envision this as a 10 year old pinot reaching its drinking window… add a little barnyard on the nose and Burgundy comes to mind!

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Filed under Dundee Hills, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Can You Buy Wine from Tasting Notes?

“I say old chap, is that a bit of Creme Brulee I taste in that Chardonnay?”

Whether it is creme brulee, fresh cream, tapioca, or whatever it is you think you taste in that chardonnay… it is likely to NOT be what I will taste. We all perceive flavors and aromas differently. One size does not fit all. So, when you read wine tasting notes with descriptors like “candied persimmon”, or “cigar box”, what does that mean to you? Frankly, most consumers probably couldn’t care less. Even with a trained palate, you wouldn’t put much credence into notes this specific.

How to Read Tasting Notes

There are very few specific flavors and aromas that deserve much attention. Tasting notes will be more relevant, if you can develop a level of comfort with much broader categories. These are the categories that are generally recognized.

Fruit & Floral Aromas / Flavors

When I read blackberry or plum, I think “black fruit”. When I read cherry, or raspberry, I think “red fruit”. When I read lemon, or grapefruit, I think “citrus”.  When I read pineapple, or mango, I think “tropical fruit”. When I read peach, or apricot, I think “tree or stone fruit”. When I read prunes, or raisins, I think dried fruit. When I read red rose, or honeysuckle, I think “floral”.

Herbal & Vegetal Aromas / Flavors

When I read straw, or grassy, I think “plant”. When I read sage, or mint, I think “herbal”. When I read green bell pepper, or asparagus, I think “vegetal”.

Mineral Aromas / Flavors

When I read flint, or wet rocks, I think “minerality”.  When I read mushroom, or forest floor, I think “earthy”.

Wood & Spice Aromas / Flavors

When I read cedar, or oak, I think “woody”. When I read pepper, or clove, I think “spicy”. When I  read toasted oak,  or bacon, I think “Smokey”. When I read cocoa, or mocha, I think “chocolate”.

Chemical & Bio Aromas / Flavors

When I read toast, or yeast, I think “bread”. When I read butterscotch, or stewed prune, I think “oxidized”. When I read barnyard, or cat pee, I think “bio odors” – stinky! When I read diesel, or burnt match, I think “chemical”.  When I read, butter, or cream, I think “rich dairy”.

Why Separating Flavors / Aromas into Categories Makes Sense

Broader descriptions of flavors tend to be recognized more successfully by the average person. Most people can easily relate to a “black fruit” description, versus a specific taste like “black currant”. Just translate these specific flavors into the more easily recognized broader categories and wine tasting notes start to make more sense. Then, you determine which general categories you prefer. Now, you are set to relate the flavor experience with the written wine description… and the realization grows that you MIGHT be able to use these notes to match your palate and buy wine. Obviously, it is better to taste wine before purchasing bottles, but this other process may allow you to step out on that limb and purchase a few unfamiliar wines to try.

Judging Wine CAN be Objective

There ARE wine descriptions you can take literally. These are characteristics that are quantifiable and much less subjective. These include:


How much or how little?


How much or how little?


Integrated, or too obvious?


Does the wine have a backbone? Does the wine have a mid-palate and/or a lingering finish.


Does the wine come together, without an individual aspect overpowering the other?


Does the wine coat the mouth? Is it silky, or velvetty?

Bottom Line

Yes, you can filter useful information from tasting notes. Can you count on this process for major purchases? – Definitely not! But… you can review tasting notes from trusted sources and single out wines you may want to experiment with. So, start reading those tasting notes again from a different perspective and give it a try. See if you start running into wines that rock your world and begin your exploration of the world of wine!

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Filed under Sommelier, Wine Collecting, Wine Education, Wine Tasting

California Clear Lake AVA – Up and Coming Cool-Climate Region

Tasting the Wines

I have recently tasted a few wines from this region: Ceago Merlot and Chacewater Malbec. While not yet having reached the status of other cool-climate growing regions such as Mendocino Ridge,  or Santa Barbara AVA’s, I was quite impressed with the improvement in the wines since my last taste through this area. Better structure and balance than in the past and the wines seem to be finding the cool-climate complexity that I have come to really appreciate.

The Future of Clear Lake AVA Wines

For a continental climate, the area has an extreme moderating factor – the largest freshwater lake in California in its midst. The climate is much cooler than the nearby North Napa Valley area, due to its elevation. The growing season seems to drop just cool enough to add character and acidity, but stays warm enough during the day to allow ripening of red varieties such as: cab sauv, merlot, syrah, petit sirah and malbec. It is time for me to visit the wine trail in this area again and talk with the winemakers. At prices in the $15-$30 range, the QPR (quality to price ratio) of these wines is good… but my hope is, the quality will continue to improve and I will have another area seriously contending for my wine dollars.

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Filed under Cool Climate Wine, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Wine Travel

Can We Make Heads or Tails Out of Wine Labels?

I am often flabbergasted at the “wine-speak” on so many labels. This is not a complete listing, just a shot over the bow at the most misused. Here is a go at cutting through the B.S.

American Wine Descriptors


So, just what exactly are they reserving? Many wineries have you thinking this is the winemaker’s personal stash. Real meaning: this is the stuff we charge you more for, just because we can. Wineries are famous for including additional descriptors on this one, like “select reserve”, “private reserve”, or “premium reserve”.

Vintner Select

OK, would you really believe this one, if you saw it on a bottle? I have tasted wine from only one winery that uses this designation and fulfills the expectation: Pride Mountain Vineyards.

Estate Bottled

This is roughly what it says. The winery makes this wine from vineyards they own and control. The thought process here is, if the winemaker cares about the quality of the wine, he/she will watch over and tend to the quality of the fruit. While many of these wineries do produce very high quality wines, don’t count on it. There is a huge difference between a knowledgeable vineyard manager vs. a savvy winemaker.

Single Vineyard

All fruit used in the making of this wine came from one specific named vineyard. This CAN be a tool in selecting quality wines. If you track where the fruit originates in the wines you drink and you notice you consistently enjoy wines made from a specific vineyard… you just hit the veritable wine-o jackpot.

Single Block

All fruit used in the making of this wine came from one row, or section of one specific named vineyard. See Single Vineyard.

AVA – American Viticultural Area

This is the point of origin, such as the Napa Valley, Dry Creek, or Paso Robles (etc.) designation you see on the label. So guess what, only 85% of the fruit must come from that area to be referenced on the label. Here is another good one… by law in the U.S., if it says Cabernet Sauvignon on the label – only 75% of the wine must be made from that variety. The only restriction for the balance is, it must come from the same AVA. The possibilities stagger the mind.


This applies when somebody paid the Meritage Association to use the name. For red wines, it represents a wine blended from any two or more of the following grape varieties: Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec or Carmenere. Absolutely no implication of quality.

Bordeaux Blend

For red wines, it represents a wine blended from any two or more of the following grape varieties: Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec or Carmenere. Absolutely no implication of quality. Geez, does that sound familiar? See Meritage.

European Wine Descriptors


A vineyard of notable quality, or specific terroir. Nothing to do with the quality of the wine. Single Cru – see Single Vineyard above.

Grand Cru

A vineyard producing an unusually high quality of fruit. Has a more specific meaning in the Burgundy region in France. See reference Beaune Committee of 1861, then forget you read it. You just have to ask yourself, who exactly is deciding this stuff? Also, just because the fruit is of high quality does not mean the wine is.

Premier Cru / 1er Cru

A vineyard producing an unusually high quality of fruit, just not as good as the Grand Cru. What? See reference Beaune Committee of 1861 and then forget it again.

1st Growth

Oh boy, here we go… best, most prestigious wineries in Bordeaux France. In reality, these were just the most expensive wineries at the time this classification was established – 1855. See Bordeaux Classification of 1855.

Be Skeptical of Wine-Speak and Make Your Own Evaluation

My guess is, at this point you have already lost interest, but for those of indomitable spirit… we trudge on with a few final comments.

By now you have probably figured out, what is on a wine label is so full of marketing gibberish, it is hard to distinguish what is of real relevance. Good luck on that one. In the U.S. vs. Europe, it is particularly a serious concern. In many parts of Europe, individual wine producing areas actually enforce practices to improve the quality of the wine from that area, unlike the U.S. with no such requirements.

I hear more and more from the industry that consumers are relying on their own tastes and making fewer buy decisions based on professional wine critics’ recommendations. In the same vein, it would be smart not to trust the wineries own professional claims printed on wine labels too! If you would like to share additional suspicious verbiage seen on a wine label, please email them to me at winedocg@cox.net.

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Filed under Wine Collecting, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting

Wine: The New Breakfast Drink?

World Wine Culture

Consumption patterns across the world are so different it can be startling. Here in the U.S., the largest share of the wine market is Chardonnay as an aperitif. Last year I was in Alba, Italy and was lucky enough to witness a few local winemakers having a discussion about the proper wine to pair with breakfast! They settled on a Dolcetto table wine at 10% ABV

Wine, its place with cuisine and its socially acceptable consumption is perceived very differently from country to country. I was in Germany earlier that year at a wine festival in Stuttgart and there must have been 100 producers there, with a 1000+ Germans very happily drinking sweet Riesling and Spatburgunder with their schnitzel & spatzele (very little dry wine). What an awful wine-food pairing, based on the U.S. palate. To a large extent, wine demand represents local preference, i.e. the weak market for import wines in California.

Breakfast of Champions, or NOT

So, could a wine producer develop a market in the U.S. for a very light, low alcohol red wine with a minimum of fruit, like the breakfast Dolcetto in Italy? Doubtful… but it sure has me thinking about the lifestyle associated with that kind of demand. I may be living in a shack on the beach in Italy soon! Wait, it would never work. My wine cellar would never fit!

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Filed under German Wine, Italian Wine, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Wine Travel

Sassicaia vs. Ornellaia Smackdown – The Battle of the Super Tuscans

In a recent trip to Italy, my wife and I stopped into Enoteca Tognoni and tasted all wines on tap.

In general for the price point, the wines tasted were disappointing, with a notable exception. All the wines were very much French Bordeaux in style, but missing the finesse of the fine wine making tradition in France. One of the exceptions was Tenuta San Guido. Sassicaia was a truly an amazing wine and far beyond the other wine there. We also tasted Le Macchiole, Ca’Marcanda, Sapaio, Guado al Tasso and Grattamacco, but the Sassicaia and Ornellaia were clearly above the others. Tasting notes below:

2009 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 95 Points

Italy, Tuscany, Bolgheri

Tasted with a plate of prosciutto, cheese, olive oil and bread. Started just like a typical Super Tuscan… light texture, subdued alcohol, red and black cherry fruit with a dark chocolate finish… then, as you ponder what’s in the glass, the realization hits you. This wine is so well made, nothing is out of place and the entire experience is just right. All parts of the wine show themselves without overpowering. The texture is light, but silky and coats the mouth. There were strong tannins and acidity for a good backbone, but it did not prevent the wine from coming together. This wine presented a beautifully balanced, structured and harmonious profile.

2009 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Superiore Ornellaia 92 Points

Italy, Tuscany, Bolgheri

Tasted with a plate of prosciutto, cheese, olive oil and bread. Again, a typical Super Tuscan… light texture, subdued alcohol, red and black cherry fruit with a dark chocolate finish. Definitely well made, but did not leave you with that “wow” factor. For the same rough price point (approx. $200/btl.), the Sassicaia had bowled me over, whereas the Ornellaia just had me thinking this is “pretty darn good”. Maybe a little too thin in comparison? There was good structure, with strong tannins and acidity here too.


Perhaps the comparison was unfair and it was simply that particular vintage, but the difference seemed to be in the vinification, rather than the quality of the fruit. Of course, it could just be a personal preference, but for me the Sassicaia was not only more accessible young, but showed tremendous bottle aging potential.

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Filed under Bolgheri, Cool Climate Wine, Italian Wine, Super Tuscan Blend, Toscana, Wine Collecting, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes, Wine Travel

Value Wines in California

What represents value in wine?

Quality vs. price, or drinkability vs. price? I choose the former, rather than the latter. Structure, acidity, tannins, texture are all important components of an enjoyable, rather than boring wine.

Hidden Gems

Cab Sauv Daily Drinker

Geyser Peak Walking Tree Vineyard

Street price – $15-$20/btl.

Syrah Daily Drinker

Andrew Murray (all releases)

Club pricing – $20-$30/btl.

Zinfandel Daily Drinker

Peachy Canyon Westside Vineyard

Street price – $15-$20/btl.

Pinot Noir Daily Drinker

Meiomi Belle Glos

Street price – $15-20/btl. (killed me not to pick an Oregon pinot here)

Premium Merlot

Paloma. Definitely the BEST U.S. made merlot being produced today.

$60/btl. from the winery a great value

Premium Cabernet Sauvignon


Street price – $45-$55/btl.

Premium Old World Style Cabernet Sauvignon


Street price – $65-$70/btl.

Premium Pinot Noir

Inman Family OGV

Street price – $35-40/btl.

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Filed under Cool Climate Wine, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Wine Travel

The 3-Step Distribution Melodrama

Wine in the U.S. will eventually follow the same market maturation process as most other industries. Consolidation is happening everywhere. The protection of the legislated 3-step distribution model cannot last forever. The business logistics model has an inherent cost and marketing advantage… Small independent wineries will have to embrace the consumer direct model and the internet, and/or do the hard work of building a local/regional presence to prosper. Look at where the craft breweries are going with their marketing model… Controlling your destiny by finding your own customer base should become the answer. Small business failure is unfortunate, but real-world. It will do no good to rail at the unfairness of change. Business owner’s need to move forward. The market rewards those who engage their customers and offer perceived value. The creativity to provide industry leadership will be recognized and rewarded in the end.

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Filed under Wine Collecting, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting