Tag Archives: Syrah

Five Vintages of Jaboulet La Chapelle Hermitage

Tasting a Historic Wine Label Across the 80’s and 90’s

A small group of wine collectors of which I was fortunate to be included sat down to taste one man’s contribution to a very special event. This group is passionate about wine and we all manage to contribute in a way that makes each meeting a special event. This month, one of our members Jay Bileti offered to share these special wines and the story behind them. I was the one who brought the Reynvaan from Milton-Freedman (“The Rocks”) AVA. I had the temerity to include this wine in our tasting. I am a huge fan of classic Northern Rhone French wines and was curious how one of the more well-known Northern Rhone style Syrah growing regions in the U.S. (home of Cayuse) would compare side-by-side.

The Wines

  • 1986 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle” Hermitage AOC
  • 1988 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle” Hermitage AOC
  • 1994 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle” Hermitage AOC
  • 1995 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle” Hermitage AOC
  • 1998 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle” Hermitage AOC
  • 2012 Reynvaan “In the Rocks” Walla Walla AVA

A History

Hermitage is a wine growing region that has been viewed as special for literally centuries. So long in fact, that it was actually mentioned in the writings of Roman author/philosopher Pliny the Elder in the 1st Century AD. The 1961 vintage of La Chapelle is one of the most famous wines of the last 60 years, often compared with the greatest wines ever produced in France. The label is steeped in French fine wine history and the winemaker Gerard Jaboulet was one of the best-loved and most famous characters of his time. Unfortunately, he abruptly passed away in 1995. Some conjecture circumstances in the last few years may have affected the vintages in the years before this death. Critics noted a marked fall-off in quality from the early 90’s until after the acquisition of the winery and vineyards by Jean-Jacques Frey in 2005 and we had the perfect selection of wine to test those scores and confirm/deny the idea for ourselves. See Jancis Robinson’s article on the topic at:

https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/hermitage-la-chapelle-the-rise-and-fall-of-a-great-wine

“Northern Rhone Style” Wine

What defines this style of wine and what makes it special? Northern Rhone is a cool climate region as opposed to, say the famous Chateauneuf du Pape warm climate region. Both regions grow Syrah, but the cooler climate, sunny days and steep hillside vineyards in the Northern Rhone cause the fruit to draw something different from the vines. These wines tend to have more finesse, than brute force. Delicate in their sensibility, but with tremendous acid and tannic structure. Age-worthy wines that develop a silky and complex profile, with flavors that are equally savory and fruity with time in the bottle. Without referencing a specific Northern Rhone wine label, more in keeping a wine type in mind, I can write a generic tasting note to help you understand the character of these wines:

A nose of forest floor, sometimes bacon fat, or cured meat, with herbs like sage, or tarragon in the background. An intense palate of dark, brooding blackberry fruit (occasionally blueberry too), with earth, mushroom and herbs and a silky, sometimes oily mouthfeel. The cool climate produces grapes high in acid and the extracted style produces high tannins. Often the mid-palate presents dark chocolate, that lasts with the fruit and the tannin, through to a very long finish. These wines are always made dry, age forever, are great with food, or as cocktail wines, have a beautiful aromatic nose and show tremendous balance and finesse.

TASTING NOTES

The different vintages were amazingly consistent in profile regarding flavors. So, I will not repeat the same descriptors with each wine. The primary differences were in balance, structure, complexity, intensity and mouth-feel. The first note below provides the additional detail that more broadly applies to most of these wines. All of the wines were decanted for several hours.

1986 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle”     Score: 98/100 

This is not everyone’s kind of wine. In fact, I was the only one of the group that put this wine at the top of my list. The nose had a slightly musty, moldy odor that built a visual of an old wine cave in France. The complexity of the nose immediately drew me in. There were aromas of blackberry, sweet browned butter, forest floor and black pepper showing. The palate was still fruit forward, but was equally matched by the savory flavors from the nose. The black pepper did not show through to the palate. There was a mid-palate of dark chocolate and a long finish. The structure was perfectly balanced. With medium tannin still present and medium plus acidity. The mouth-feel was soft on the attack, becoming fine grained tannin and then finishing with a good grip. An amazing wine that showed everything in a world class wine. The rest of the group couldn’t get past the musty nose. For me, it added character. If this is a problem for your sensibilities, knock off a couple of points and you will get a more representative score.

1988 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle”     Score: 96/100

This wine was almost everyone’s favorite in the group. Not as intense as the 1986, with more fruit on the nose and palate. Even softer, with medium minus tannin and medium acidity. This wine was missing the bigger mouth-feel of the previous wine and did not have enough tannin left to provide a good sense of structure. Not quite as balanced and the finish was a bit shorter. Don’t get me wrong, this was a fabulous wine too and I would drink it every day if I had an unlimited supply, but in a world class sense, just a step under the 1986.

1994 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle”     Score: 92/100

Alcohol was the most prominent characteristic on the nose. The nose was weaker and less complex. More fruit-forward than the others, with some black pepper on the palate at the finish. Much less balance and finesse showing, with medium tannin and medium acidity. This vintage was definitely not of the same caliber as the 80’s vintage wines previously tasted.

1995 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle”     Score: 91/100

This wine was enjoyed the least by the group. Everything from the 1994 with even a weaker nose. Showed more fruit than the ’94 and more black pepper on the finish. The structure was up a notch to medium plus acidity and tannin. This wine was a touch disjointed and was missing the elegance of the previous wines completely.

1998 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle”     96/100

This wine was second on my list. Very fruity nose with noticeable alcohol. The flavors/aromas were more intense, as if moving back towards the 80’s vintages. This was the first wine with a touch of menthol on the palate. Nice dark chocolate component with a very long finish. The structure showed high tannins and high acidity, but had enough fruit to balance this approach to a bigger style wine. This wasn’t the same kind of wine as the 80’s vintages, but excellent in its own right. This is balanced enough to actually improve with more bottle age. Perhaps a drinking window of 2016 – 2026, with the best years to enjoy in the early 2020’s.

2012 Reynvaan “In the Rocks”     Score: 93/100

So, here is the “sleeper”. I enjoyed this wine too, but this was less of a food wine than the La Chapelle vintages. Blackberry, mushroom and forest floor on the nose with sort of a grape hard candy component. The fruit on the palate became blackberry and grape jelly with a really interesting savory black/green olive tapenade that persisted, moving to dark chocolate on the mid-palate and finish. Good, rich intensity, but less tannin than I would prefer. The medium plus acidity added structure. This was most definitely made with a Northern Rhone profile in mind… tending towards a New World approach that brings more fruit and a softer feel. If structure is your thing (like me), this wine was reaching the end of its drinking window. I would say 2015 – 2020. Not enough tannin, or acidity to be more than a (better) fruity cocktail wine after 10 years. Keep in mind, a value comparison is in order too. This wine is a third of the price (or less) compared to recent vintages of the La Chapelle.

I wrote a previous tasting note on this wine in 2015 here: https://bit.ly/2l28hnW. I thought it was slightly better when younger.

Why Was the Reynvaan Bottling Added to the Tasting?

“The Rocks” is an up and coming Syrah region in the U.S. Established as recently as 2015. Winemakers/vineyard managers are early in maximizing its potential. Give the winemakers and the vines another 10 – 20 years and we may have another Hermitage, or Cote-Rotie type region on our hands. The AVA gets its name from the intensely rocky soil. These soil conditions tend to produce intensity and add savory aspects to the wine, most likely because the vines are so stressed. See pic below to get an idea:

Progression of Quality with La Chapelle

I would agree with Jancis Robinson and many other critics that assert the mid-90’s wines fell off in quality… but I would disagree that it was not until after 2005 that the quality began to improve. That 1998 La Chapelle was a much better wine than the 1995, albeit a wine with less finesse. Oh, and by the way… ALL of these wines were fabulous. This article was an attempt to share a well-considered evaluation of wines at the pinnacle of quality in the industry.

This tasting has convinced me I need to find a later vintage of La Chapelle to compare these to. I am curious where the new owner took this historied wine label.

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Filed under Cool Climate Wine, French Wine, Northern Rhone, Syrah/Shiraz, Wine Collecting, Wine Critics, Wine Education, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

L’Aventure Six Year Vertical Tasting

Birthday Doings

Well, this year for my birthday I settled on this celebration idea. My wife and I asked some close friends over and we ploughed through an interesting selection of #L’Aventure wines:

L’Aventure Optimus – Red Blend of Syrah, Cab Sauv and Petit Verdot, 2011-2016 (six) Vintages

L’Aventure Cote a Cote – Red Blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, 2014 Vintage

Tasting Notes

As a setup, I have been studying for a wine judge certification program sponsored by the American Wine Society (AWS) lately and they have adopted the UC Davis 20 pt. scoring system. I was not as familiar with this system, as the Robert Parker 100 pt. system, so this was an opportunity to dive into the detail using a vertical to test the nuance. Here is the UC Davis breakdown for higher quality wines:

  • 17 – 20 pts. Wines of outstanding characteristics having no defects
  • 13 – 16         Standard wines with neither oustanding character or defect
  • 9 – 12           Wines of commercial acceptability with noticeable defects

Revised 5/27/18:

I have come to learn how unrepresentative the 20 Point scoring system can be with the fine wine category. As I have evaluated more wine with this system it has become clear, all of these L’Aventure wines should be in the “outstanding” category over 18 pts. This makes it very difficult to define the nuanced differences between these vintages. I have converted these scores to the 100 Point System to better represent this vertical comparison.


A few common characteristics of these wines before we get started:

  • The percentages in the blends from year to year are adjusted by the winemaker Stephan Asseo.
  • The L’Aventure has a reputation for big, highly extracted, fruity wines. I was first introduced to this winery back in 2008 and what made it special then, was the tremendous balance Asseo was able to achieve in such over-the-top wines. In those early days, it was amazing the structure and nuanced flavors that were achieved.
  • I will not focus on the fruit flavors in the tasting notes. They are typical for these varietals. The Optimus has the usual plum and blackberry profile you might expect. Some years, the Cab Sauv added a tobacco mid-palate and other years the Petit Verdot improved the mouth-feel, but in general… what you would expect on the palate for this type of Red Blend. The Cote a Cote had the typical GSM profile of blackberry, strawberry/raspberry, a little spice and dark chocolate finish.

2011 Optimus – 93 Points

2011 was a cool vintage in Paso and it showed… in a good way. This was the only vintage that was medium bodied and showed some finesse.

Appearance – 2.5/3, Aroma/Bouquet – 4/6, Taste/Texture – 6/6, Finish – 1.5/3, Overall Impression – 2/2

2012 Optimus – 95 Points

This vintage was lighter on the Petit Verdot and did a great job of developing structure with High Acidity and Medium+ Tannin. This is a balanced wine with a little of everything you want from the popular “Red Blend” style.

Appearance – 3/3, Aroma/Bouquet – 5/6, Taste/Texture – 6/6, Finish – 2.5/3, Overall Impression – 2/2

2013 Optimus – 89 Points

This vintage was considered a “classic” in Paso. Warm, early harvest with no surprises, but enough temp variation to develop good acidity. This vintage bottling was an example of a wine with too much obvious alcohol and not enough development of flavors. I think, too much under-developed Petit Verdot in the mix here. Too out of balance to improve with age.

Appearance – 2.5/3, Aroma/Bouquet – 3.5/6, Taste/Texture – 4/6, Finish – 3/3, Overall Impression – 1/2

2014 Optimus – 92 Points

This vintage was consistently warm, without temp variation. There must be a micro-climate variation at the L’Aventure vineyards, because this bottling had Very High Acidity and the alcohol was not as pronounced. The structure here was very evident and this vintage will age longer than the previous. An opportunity to develop some additional complexity and improve over the next few years.

Appearance – 3/3, Aroma/Bouquet – 4.5/6, Taste/Texture – 5/6, Finish – 3/3, Overall Impression – 1.5/2

2015 Optimus – 87 Points

This was an unusual weather year. For whatever reason, this bottling was all out of kilter. Too much burning alcohol on the nose and no harmony in the wine. A really poor year for this label.

Appearance – 2.5/3, Aroma/Bouquet – 3/6, Taste/Texture – 3.5/6, Finish – 2/3, Overall Impression – 1/2

2016 Optimus – 90 Points

This vintage was very near the warmest on record in Paso, but Asseo was able to keep the alcohol in check here. This bottling is a little too young to assess properly against the previous vintages. This may turn into a comparatively better vintage after a few years in the bottle.

Appearance – 2.5/3, Aroma/Bouquet – 3.5/6, Taste/Texture – 4/6, Finish – 3/3, Overall Impression – 1/2

2014 Cote a Cote – 96 Points

I popped this just to give the group some perspective and comparison with a traditional GSM. I am a Southern Rhone guy, so this wine had a lot of appeal for me. I tried to be impartial. In my opinion, Paso does the mix of Grenache and Syrah as well as any location in the world. The Grenache adding beautiful aromatics and acidity and the Syrah, depth. I would have enjoyed a little more earthiness from the Mourvedre, but you can’t have everything. The Cote a Cote year over year tends to achieve good balance, while still offering the big, extracted, alcohol heavy style Asseo is trying to achieve.

Appearance – 2.5/3, Aroma/Bouquet – 6/6, Taste/Texture – 5/6, Finish – 3/3, Overall Impression – 2/2

Impressions

Some of you may feel, how can an educated palate enjoy this heavily extracted style (get this question sometimes)? L’Aventure has always been a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. Not much of a food wine, but an after dinner sipper for sure. My only major impression this night was the continuing evolution of this label’s wines towards easier drinking styles, without a lot of nuance. Back 10 years ago, these wines would blow your mind. Marrying structure, balance and finesse with the “big” wine character you would expect. That has been changing the last few years and moving towards simpler taste profiles. One last comment, these are not wines that are built to age. In general, I would say 7-8 years in the bottle max, before they begin their downhill decent.

Comment on the UC Davis Wine Scoring System

In my opinion, there are serious short-comings to this system. That 2011 was a beautiful wine with more finesse and balance than all of these… but it had a bit of a weak nose and slightly uneven depth of color. If I could have, I would have given this wine 4 pts. for overall impression. That 16/20 score did not reflect the true success of that wine. With the #UCDavis system, there is no way to give that wine the score it deserved…

 

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Filed under GSM Blend, Paso Robles, Rhone Blend, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine by Varietal, Wine Collecting, Wine Education, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

2012 Reynvaan Syrah In the Rocks

Reynvaan Pic

 

Reynvaan Family Vineyards – Walla Walla, Washington

Walla Walla Valley AVA

Wine Tasting Note

Do you enjoy Syrah from the Northern Rhone region? Cote Rotie AOC perhaps?

If you have enjoyed a quality bottle from the Northern Rhone and added it to your “wines of distinction” list (like I have) seek out a bottle of Reynvaan Syrah and experience a domestic producer that understands this style well. Everything about the Reynvaan wine speaks “Northern Rhone”… meatiness, earthy, floral. Many casual wine drinkers I have introduced to this style have had a difficult time wrapping their heads around it. My wife tasted this wine tonight and immediately said, “this is good… wait, I don’t think I like it.” This is that kind of wine – soft, supple, appealing… until the complexity shows on the palate… and you wonder, “is wine supposed to taste like this?”

Tasting this wine in the first hour after opening is a shame… the real wine doesn’t reveal itself and open until the 3rd and 4th hour. Tasting note after 4 hours open:

The nose carries strong raw meat aromas, with blackberry and mulberry fruit, floral violets and a touch of nail polish. The wine is fruit forward on the palate with blackberry and black currant, has a dark chocolate mid-palate and a floral violet with oily tar finish. After four hours, some of the freshness of the fruit is lost, but the classic Northern Rhone profile is revealed… that oily texture and tar finish. Wow, for 25% – 50% less than Cote Rotie, this wine can be acquired in the U.S. The wine has medium-high acidity, but only medium tannins. The lack of tannins throws the balance off a bit, but the plush, oily texture is right on. This is a well-made wine from a vineyard managed to produce fruit to match this style. The evolution of flavors and textures in the last four hours leads me to believe you should give this some time in the bottle to realize its true potential: peak drinking window 2017-2018. This is not a wine I would choose to experiment with for extended bottle aging.

Well done! If Matt Reynvaan could have squeezed a bit more tannins from the skins/stems, this would have been world class, at the absolute pinnacle of wines made in this style.

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Pax Cuvee Keltie Syrah North Coast

22118

 

Pax Wine Cellars

2004 Cuvee Keltie Syrah North Coast

California, North Coast

Wine Tasting Note:

Initially, this was too hot and closed directly out of the bottle. After a one hour decant: blackberry and mint on the nose. The nose had a bit too much alcohol to enjoy. 11 years in the bottle and still plenty of structure with medium-high tannins and acidity. As you would expect, the freshness of the fruit is gone. The palate is of blackberry, black currant and bitter dark chocolate with a short finish. The alcohol is evident, but not over-whelming. The big winner here is the mouth-feel. A beautiful Northern Rhone kind of character that starts a little oily and finishes with mouth-coating, grainy tannins that were a little to the rustic side of velvetty. This wine has the structure to sit in the cellar much longer, but the fruit will not last. Best drinking window is/was probably 2012-2016. I have seen other recent tasting notes that describes a fruit-forward wine with a sweet finish. This bottle was very dry and had a subdued fruit character.

All-in-all a nice effort to produce an age-able, structured Syrah with a Rhone feel. This would have been a 95+ wine, if the alcohol component had been more balanced against the total profile.

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Filed under Cool Climate Wine, North Coast, Syrah/Shiraz, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Stephan Vineyards L’Aventure and Friend

I decided to stand-up a couple of my favorites for my birthday and decided it would be a L’Aventure night!

I am a huge fan of red blends, especially Southern Rhone style. In my opinion, L’Aventure is the quintessential producer in this category in the USA. The winemaker and owner Stephan Asseo is a French ex-pat that moved to the U.S. to make red-blends from the fabulous Terroir on the West Side of Paso Robles. He was looking to escape the French limitations of the AOC laws and he has done it in a big way. L’Aventure wines capture the perfect balance of the big red Paso profile, while still maintaining elegance and balance. The Estate Cuvee in some vintage years, has easily made it into my top 50 list of best bottles of all time. If you like Robert Parker Jr. picks, you will adore these wines. If you enjoy Stephen Tanzer’s picks you will enjoy these wines and marvel at the finesse of wines with such power.

Mr. Asseo often uses Cab Sauv in his red wines and I appreciate this working outside of traditional boundaries. You don’t often see Syrah and Mourvedre blended with Cab Sauv and Petit Verdot in a wine, but in the hands of a master winemaker, the winery is able to encourage just the right contribution from each to make a harmonious whole. Mr. Asseo is also a block blender extraordinaire… with 58 acres separated into 40 blocks, each vinified separately, then blended… he has developed a system to coax the just the right character from each Micro-Terroir and has the palate to blend them properly. Virtually all L’Aventure wines are comparatively high in alcohol, but are well balanced and do not seem hot. L’Aventure wines are definitely priced within the premium space in the marketplace, but they are also one of the very few producers in this category that continually delivers on value.

I enjoyed these wines with friends and was unable to take detailed notes, so I will only be able to provide general impressions. The group had a wonderful time and enjoyed the wine immensely. In my mind, it is always preferable to share a special bottle at a romantic dinner, or with friends!

Plus 16

2009 L’Aventure Plus 16

California, Paso Robles

This wine was more “true” Southern Rhone in profile with 42% Mourvedre in the mix. A touch earthy in character (from the Mourvedre), with all of the beautiful blue and black fruit that they usually coax from their grapes. A slightly heavier mouth-feel, with great balance. A little lighter on the structure, even with 42% Cab Sauv. It is possible, the six years in a bottle have softened the tannins and acidity a bit. This wine is definitely in its prime drinking window, perhaps 2015-2017. If you have this in your cellar, don’t let this sit too much longer!

Estate Cuvee

2010 L’Aventure Estate Cuvee

California, Paso Robles

Another “Wow” moment with an Estate Cuvee. A big, powerful red, with more structure than the Plus 16. Less earthy with no Mourvedre here, instead – a liberal dose of 16% Petit Verdot. An unbelievable 15.7% alcohol and you can barely tell it is an adult beverage. Soft, plush texture and a nice backbone. Just a gorgeous wine, drinking beautifully at five years in the bottle. Drinking window of 2015-2020, depending on your feeling about tannic structure.

Viader

2007 Viader Syrah

California, Napa Valley

The Viader is a 100% Syrah blended from two different clones – Rhone and Barossa. I really enjoyed this wine, the others in the group, not so much. The drawback, the 14.9% alcohol was very evident. This Viader wine had a refined, silky texture that I thoroughly appreciated after the mouth-coating L’Aventure wines. This was right on its drinking window with wonderful black fruit, nice acidity and a good tannic backbone. Drinking window of 2013-2016. If not for the hot profile, this wine would have held its own against the two previously enjoyed. I will make an observation here that I have noticed many times previously. Napa premium wine producers better develop an understanding of the changing palate of the American wine drinker, or they will be left behind by other wine regions in the U.S. Hot tasting wines are losing their appeal. Realistically, the alcohol over-shadows any subtle flavors that might be experienced with the hors d’oeuvres, or an accompanying meal.

Conclusion

Balance in a well-made wine still wins the day. If the winemaker goes big… he/she better have a deft hand at counter-balancing the hedonistic character of the wine. The Estate Cuvee was a gem!

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Filed under Napa Valley, Paso Robles, Rhone Blend, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

2014 Italian Wine Tasting Event

Location: Allesia’s Ristorante Italiano – Mesa, AZ

Tasted Saturday, November 22, 2014

INTRODUCTION

This is really a great little Italian Restaurant that could hold its own if you dropped it almost anywhere in the country. Jon is the friendliest of proprietors and is quite knowledgeable regarding Italian wines. He has a ridiculously good wine selection for such a small location.

For this event, he partnered with a wine distributor (Young’s Market) to offer a really fabulous Italian wine tasting event. Young’s brought two of their sales reps and the importer was present too. I was able to ask questions and take notes, but it was more for the public, than the trade… so, I couldn’t stay seated and evaluate the wines and record my impressions fully.

If you live in the area, enjoy Italian food and wine and haven’t stopped in, you are definitely missing an experience.

WINE FLIGHT 1 – DAILY DRINKERS (9 NOTES)

Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT

Galloni gave this a 91… He must really enjoy big, rich Chardonnay. I enjoyed the nice acidic backbone and the opulent mouth-feel. The aging on the lees added serious texture and body. This wine had a strong red apple nose and palate. The style of winemaking muted the freshness of the fruit. I enjoyed this for what it was, a nice expression of a chardonnay meant to stand on its own. The richness would make food pairings a bit more challenging.

Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT

Easy drinking red table wine. Nice balance and mouth-feel for an inexpensive wine. This red is made with a minimum of oak influence and the freshness of the fruit shines through as a result. The structure is just barely enough with medium tannins and medium-high acidity, but for $12 retail, this wine will accompany most all Italian fare without a hitch. The palate is dominated by a fruit-forward presentation of black and red cherry with a relatively short finish.

Italy, Piedmont, Asti, Barbera d’Asti Superiore

This wine continued to reinforce Alba as the premier Barbera producer. Barberas like this from Asti are much simpler and less complex. In Alba, Barbera transcends table wine. In Asti, Barbera table wine is what you get. Even the several Asti DOCG producers I have tasted, just aren’t in the same league. This is a very light and simple wine… to the point of uninteresting. Medium-low tannins and medium acidity for a weak backbone. Drink this now, it won’t last in the bottle more than a year, or two. Black and red cherry flavors on the palate, with a touch of plum. No finish. Works best as a medium quality table wine for pairing with lighter fare…

Italy, Umbria, Lago di Corbara

Slightly sweet, very simple wine, with poor structure. Not acidic enough for a table wine to accompany food. Not tannic enough to bottle-age and not interesting enough to drink on its own…

Italy, Tuscany, Chianti, Chianti Classico DOCG

Actually, a very typical chianti profile with sour red cherry, high tannins and high acidity… but I believe the bottle was flawed. Poor storage, or a leak in the cork. Either way, it was definitely oxidized. I certainly hope the wine was not intended to have that character…

Italy, Tuscany, Chianti, Chianti Rùfina

Nice, but unremarkable traditional Chianti. Slightly sour bright red cherry with black cherry overtones on the palate. High acidity and tannins for good structure, but very rustic. A bit thin. This could handle some bottle-age. Would be a good food wine for pairing with rich red sauces and red meat. If I was a bigger Chianti fan, I would give it another point for being very true to the regional profile.

Italy, Tuscany, Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino

Every Italian wine tasting reinforces the impression… the best Italian Sangiovese is Brunello. I know purists will argue that Brunello is a sibling to Sangiovese, but genetic testing has shown otherwise. It IS Sangiovese. This area must be the perfect terroir for the grape, for the wines are just spectacular, if rather expensive. Fresh red and black cherry palate with a fantastic full mouth-feel. High acidity and high tannins make for a great backbone. The bigger mouth-feel makes the wine more approachable. This is a good example of a quality Brunello.

Italy, Tuscany, Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino

Brooding black cherry palate, with strong bitter dark chocolate character. The big mouth-feel and more refined tannins of most Brunellos is missing here. The high acidity and rustic tannins do not make the wine very approachable now. Perhaps, this is just made in a more ageable style. I have tasted several similar Brunellos, but this is not my preferred profile.

Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo

Maybe I am just a Barolo purist and should have scored this a little higher. The character is very typical, with a red cherry and leather palate, but the wine is simple, lacking the complexity of higher priced Barolos. Decent QPR for a representative Barolo, but missing the good things I try to find that make it special, namely: a strong floral nose & palate and an herbal mint character. This wine had the typical unique Barolo tannins with high acidity, in keeping with this wine’s fantastic ageability.

WINE FLIGHT 2 – SUPER TUSCANS (7 NOTES)

Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT

Nose of black cherry and brown butter. The palate is fruit-forward and a touch sweet and the Petit Verdot in the blend adds some mouth-feel. The structure is a little weak, with only medium tannins and acidity. Definitely, a wine to drink within the next year, or two. It was a decent everyday drinker, but the touch of sweetness would not be my preference with food.

Italy, Tuscany, Bolgheri

One of those wines that for me, is difficult to score. The flavors were right up my alley, but the structure was missing a tannin backbone. Weak nose with some spice. A fruit forward palate with a mild dark chocolate that starts from the attack and is present through the finish. A lighter wine style with a beautiful cinnamon and clove character to the spice. Good high acidity, but only medium tannins and a nice long finish.

Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT

Young’s Market is the distributor in our area and was selling this through Allesia’s at $22/btl retail. For that price, an ageable wine like this is a pretty good deal. Had a typical Super Tuscan profile, with good structure and mouth-feel. High tannins and high acidity with a really nice apple pie spice character. Give this 3-5 years in the bottle and it will make an even bigger impression…

Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT

I was told Suckling gave this a 95! Ooops! Where did that come from? Yes, definitely speaks Super Tuscan. Just because it is representative, doesn’t make it a best in class wine. This is fruit-forward with good structure and decent balance. Will age well and improve in a 3-5 year time frame. Black cherry, dark chocolate, a bit thin, but a good finish… all the components of a solid Super Tuscan.

Italy, Tuscany, Maremma, Maremma Toscana

A very nice example of a Super Tuscan with some age on it already. Very similar profile to the Crognolo label from the same producer and vintage year (see my previous tasting note)… but this added a big, elegant mouth-feel. I am sure the five years of bottle age has contributed to the elegance of the wine. This is fruit-forward with good structure and decent balance. Will age well and improve. Has a black cherry and dark chocolate palate with a good finish… all the components of a solid Super Tuscan. Decent QPR for a bottle-aged Super Tuscan for people who aren’t willing to hold and wait.

Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT

Past vintages of this wine have been consistently good. This may be a slightly better year than average. Spicy, fruity nose. Fruit-forward palate of black cherry and plum. Medium-high acidity and the tannins were high, but accessible, with a character that fills the mouth. Perhaps a touch too fruity for a top notch food wine, but the great structure and balance will provide a nice experience on its own. This is wine is one of my faves for the price.

Italy, Tuscany, Bolgheri, Bolgheri Sassicaia

One of my absolute favorite wines in the world. This vintage does not disappoint again. A young wine, but it is a touch more accessible than others in the past. I must extol its virtues now… again. Beautiful nose of fruit and spice. The palate is fruit-forward but the fruit is not over-whelming. This has the perfect balance of acidity, tannins, alcohol and texture. A food wine AND excellent on its own. Just a classically elegant wine that can be drunk now, or bottle-aged to add nuance and approachability. Is your mouth watering? Mine is. The retail is listed at $200/btl at the local shop… is the QPR right? Well, what can you compare this to? I am not a fan of spending $200 on a bottle of wine. Although in this case, how do you even put that question in context?

WINE FLIGHT 3 – SICILIAN WINES (5 NOTES)

Italy, Sardinia, Isola dei Nuraghi IGT

Another wine that was difficult for me to score. I love Carignan when it is done well. This particular wine is to be experienced, not tasted. The silky mouth-feel is way past its price point. Though, the structure is missing balance. Decent acidity and only medium tannins leave a hole… that I could get past, others may not. I am a sucker for this kind of profile. Fruit forward spicy palate with black cherry, blackberry and plum. A medium long finish of mild dark chocolate. This is definitely better on its own, than with food.

Italy, Sicily, Sicilia IGT

Not your typical Nero d’Avola. I am familiar with this varietal as a dependable, low-cost, straight-forward table wine that consistently delivers good QPR. This wine has complex fruit flavors, with red, blue and black fruits. The backbone was decent, but the wine doesn’t fill your mouth like other examples of this varietal. A lightly spicy, chocolate character complements the entire palate. This wine has both more than I expected… and less. Sorry, I know this does not convey the tasting well. I would like to try this wine again, when I have more time to evaluate it, rather than at a tasting event.

Italy, Sicily, Noto

I was told Suckling gave this a 93. Apparently, his palate and mine are not close on Italian wines. There was significant complexity on the nose and palate, but the wine was too rich. The nose had a beautiful herbal mint undertone that I enjoyed. Either this wine had been oaked too long, or an extended maceration imparted a strong brown butter flavor. The wine has high acidity and only medium tannins. With more structure, it may have stood-up to the richness better. This may be one of those personal preference wines. Either a love it, or hate it kind of experience.

Italy, Sicily, Sicilia IGT

This Syrah is all wrong. No mouth-feel, poor structure, very light and the fruit is all red. It doesn’t work as a cool-climate Syrah either. This doesn’t fit into any category of Syrah I have tasted. I am told Wine Enthusiast gave this a 90. Whoa there, this is so NOT varietally correct for a 100% Syrah.

Italy, Sicily, Sicilia IGT

Probably another year, or two left in the drinking window for this one. This has a touch too much oak for my taste, but nevertheless a very good wine.  A big black cherry palate with lots of spicy character. Nice structure with medium-high acidity & tannins and is well balanced. This flavor profile leans toward cherry too much for this kind of blend, but still an enjoyable wine.

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Filed under Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Italian Wine, Nebbiolo, Piedmonte, Restaurant, Restaurant Review, Sangiovese, Super Tuscan Blend, Syrah/Shiraz, Toscana, Wine Education, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

2009 Baldacci Family Vineyards Syrah Allwin

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Baldacci Family Vineyards Syrah Allwin

California, Napa Valley, Carneros

Wine Tasting Note:

A beautiful aged Syrah. Dinrk now… this is smack in the middle of its drinking window. The nose is full of rich plum and blackberry fruit with a woody, creme brulee note. On pop and pour all you get is cashmere in the mouth. What wonderful texture! The wine is initially closed. After a 30 min. decant – the plum and blackberry becomes persistent and in front. The mid-palate is full of oak, rich brown butter and spicy clove with a medium-long dark chocolate finish. The tannins are partially resolved and medium. The acidity is medium-high producing a nice backbone. The alcohol is well integrated. An extremely balanced wine! The richness and smooth texture of this wine will only pair well with the richest foods. Falls a little flat on the finish, but I can forgive… On its own, it is an after-dinner crowd-pleaser that your guests will likely not forget. A cool-climate Carneros Syrah lives up to its potential again!

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Filed under Carneros, Cool Climate Wine, Napa Valley, Syrah/Shiraz, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Ballard Canyon AVA – New World Syrah Country!

More Great Central Coast Rhone Wines: Ballard Canyon Region (AVA)

Panel Tasting at the 2014 U.S. Wine Bloggers Conference

Flowers in Your Syrah?

Floral Syrah usually means added Viognier. This is a traditional practice in Northern Rhone wines. Too much… and the winemaker can create a style that will overpower much of the Syrah character. Several of the wines reviewed here have a very noticeable inclusion of the Viognier flavor profile, for those of you that prefer this style, take note of those mentioned below.

2012 Vintage Wines

2012 Kimsey Syrah

Nose full of floral Viognier. Palate is of bitter chocolate, light black pepper, medium-high tannins with high acidity. Very simple wine profile. The wine is not fruit forward and has a long bitter finish.

2012 Beckmen La Purisima Moutnain Syrah

Nose of butter, black fruits and nail polish. The palate has sweet black plum and blackberry with a mid-palate of dark chocolate. High tannins and medium-high acidity. Good structure. If the idea is to lay this down, there may not be enough fruit to wait out the resolution of the tannins.

2012 Stolpman Vineyards Originals Syrah

Nose is cloyingly sweet, sugary and very floral.  The palate is of violets, black fruit and a sweet syrup. A better balance could have been struck here. I prefer a different style of Syrah and Stolpman usually produces wines with a more balanced style. If you are a fan of the big, extracted Australian Shiraz style, this will be a favorite.

2012 Rusack Reserve Syrah

Nose of strong black fruits. The palate followed the nose with the characteristic plum, blackberry and white pepper. A VERY pure, fresh profile. Quite elegant and balanced. Medium finish of slightly bitter dark chocolate. Medium-high tannins with medium-high acidity. Good balance and structure. Well composed for aging.

2010 Vintage Wines

2010 Harrison Clarke Cuvee Charlotte Syrah

Nose is very chocolate with plum, blackberry and leather. The fruit aromas are strong with some interesting added  forest floor. The palate reflects the fruit on the nose with some added butter and oak. The wine was very thick and extracted, coating your mouth. Specifically, grainy tannins that will need time to soften, but I have seen this kind of character develop into a very velvety mouth-feel over time. I would love to try this wine in another three years! It may be spectacular! The most interesting of the batch with the most promise.

2010 Larner Estate Syrah

Nose is hot with sweet blackberry and plum fruit flavors. The palate was clean and fresh. I enjoyed the purity of the fruit. High tannins and high acidity. The fruit flavors followed the nose. Nice soft texture. The lack of new oak really allowed the wine to express the character of the fruit.

2010 Jonata Sangre de Jonata Syrah

Nose was floral with a bit of grape candy. The wine had a sweet fruit character that was not too overwhelming. The palate was very soft, with a light texture. The blackberry and plum fruit was in front, along with dark chocolate flavors that showed only a little bitterness.  High tannins with high acidity… this will be a beautiful silky wine on maturity. This is refined and elegant today. The most ready to drink now of all the wines tasted.

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Filed under Santa Barbara County, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

2010 Justin Syrah

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Justin Syrah

California, Central Coast, Paso Robles

Wine Tasting Note:

Nose is complex, if a bit shy. The red fruit comes through – mostly raspberry and a bit of strawberry. There is a wonderful touch of wet earthy funk and a little butterscotch. The texture is very elegant. Not too heavy, more middle of the road… but very silky. Medium acidity and medium tannins. The alcohol is only slightly noticeable. Nice balance overall. The palate is fruit forward with black fruits: currant, blackberry, plum with some black raspberry peaking through. Mid-palate includes a touch of butter and vanilla and then a long finish of dark chocolate. The fruit overwhelms the structure, offering the impression of a more simple profile on the palate. Not a one-dimensional wine, but not particularly complex either. The spiciness I enjoy with most Syrahs is missing.

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Filed under Paso Robles, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

2007 Carr Paredon Syrah

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Carr Paredon Syrah

California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County, Santa Barbara

Wine Tasting Note:

The fruit originated from an estate vineyard south of Santa Barbara (city). One of the few ocean-facing vineyards in the area. Copious amount of fruit on the nose and palate for such a cool, foggy location. I will track future vintages… as the vines age this will become one of the better syrah producing sites on the Central Coast. – Fruit forward nose of thick plum, blackberry and eucalyptus. Fruit forward palate of plum, blackberry and milk chocolate. The mid-palate transitions to loads of sweet vanilla, with a medium-long finish of bitter chocolate. Medium-high acidity and high tannins. The tannins have the good grace to wait and present on the finish. Wonderful thick texture and mouth-feel. Missing some savory aspects of Northern Rhones, but all in all… a nice new world cool-climate syrah. Almost like a black-fruit zin… but more texture. This will improve with some time in the cellar. I enjoyed the wine today, but give it 3-4 more years for the fruit to subside and the tannins to soften and this should become a superior, balanced wine.

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Filed under Cool Climate Wine, Santa Barbara County, Syrah/Shiraz, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes