Tag Archives: Wine Cellar

2008 Tenute Folonari Cabreo Il Borgo Toscana IGT

15147

Tenute Folonari

Italy, Tuscany

Wine Tasting Note:

Black cherry, blackberry, with a bit of vanilla and earthiness on the nose. Black fruit with a touch of prune on the palate initially, softening to a mid-palate of vanilla and a slightly bitter medium length chocolate finish. Good acidity with medium tannins. Nice silky texture initially, that turned a bit chewy after a few hours. Complex enough to make it interesting, but I really wish some of that earth on the nose would have come through on the palate. I enjoyed this wine… would be a good aperitif, or food wine paired with red meat, or red tomato sauce dishes.

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Filed under Chianti IGT, Super Tuscan Blend, Toscana, 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:

Tannins

How much or how little?

Acidity

How much or how little?

Alcohol

Integrated, or too obvious?

Structure

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

Balance

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

Texture

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

2006 Tenuta Monteti Monteti Toscana IGT

Tenuta Monteti IGT

Tenuta Monteti

Italy, Tuscany

Wine Tasting Note:

Not sure I have tasted a better bordeaux blend under $20 from any country. Nose of red plum, blackberry with slight vanilla, cinnamon and oak. The texture of this wine hits you like a ton of bricks – almost chewy. The 50% petit verdot is fantastic here. Good acidity, with medium tannins. Nice balance and structure. You can tell the fruit has begun to fade, but still has enough left to be fruit forward (must have been a bomb when young) with a big black fruit profile. I really like how this wine is totally dry on the palate, despite the fruit and vanilla. This would be a fantastic food wine for rich foods.

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Filed under Italian Wine, Maremma, Super Tuscan Blend, Toscana, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

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

Reserve

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.

Meritage

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

Cru

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.

Conclusion

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

Wine & the Football Couch Potato

My wife and I started our wine country vacations nearly twenty years ago. Not very long after, we began collecting wines. At first, we stored the wine in racks, then later in expensive environmentally controlled cellars. Initially, we bottle-aged reds only, then whites and finally sparkling. A couple of years ago, I was formally trained in a classroom, passed the Sommelier exam and received my certification. It has been a wild and crazy ride. If this already has you thinking, “I could do that!”… It is time to accept your secret inner wine-o and warn your children. The first one to move out will lose his/her bedroom to a well-decorated, Tuscan themed wine room!

The Transformation

I graduated from a beer and whiskey drinking male stereotype, to someone who spends a good chunk of his income on fine food and wine. How the heck does THAT happen? I think my path broke the mold when it comes to your typical wine-o/foodie archetype. For the 6-pack of Budweiser Sunday football guys everywhere (old me), I will attempt to look deep inside and reveal the wonder of this miraculous change.

1. Romance

No, not that namby-pamby touchy-feely kind. When a guy figures out that your honey can be talked into just about anything, after a few bottles of REALLY GOOD red wine on a patio overlooking a beautiful vineyard, you will understand the connection between wine and hormones.

2. “Mellow Buzz”

The red wine effect is unlike any other alcoholic beverage. You feel good, warm inside, relaxed, sexy, friendly and all the world’s problems are thoroughly pointless.

3. Social Connections

You meet people when enjoying the wine country and drinking wine. It adds friends to your circle and you get the extra added benefit of impressing them with your manly description of floral aromas.

4. Cheap Wine vs. the Good Stuff

If only I had never traveled to Napa that first time, it would have saved me at least $100K over the last 10 years. Before that trip, I had never spent more than $15 on a bottle of red wine and it was all pretty awful. Had I been born in Italy, where the difference between cheap wine and the good stuff is not as great (topic for another day), my life would have been entirely different. I would have been wealthier, closer to retirement, much more good looking and writing this post from my villa on the Tuscany coast.

5. Crazy Flavors in Wine

How the heck do you make grape juice taste like graphite, or tobacco? Or for that matter… mint, bacon, or eucalyptus? The big guy upstairs really put some mojo in those grapes!

6. Adventure

Terroir is more than a Dictionary definition, it is a wonderfully engaging concept. Not just from the perspective of its impact on flavors, but the idea of “place” it brings with it. With every new wine region, it brings new expressions of different varietals, new flavors and aromas… and provides a very different experience. Tie that to the regional cuisines associated with each and you have an endless journey of discovery.

The Journey

There it is. I never pushed. I was always drawn along the path. Ladies, want to see if that Sunday football couch potato can transform into the kind of guy that talks YOU into a vacation in the wine country… here’s your template. Best of luck though, while he may become that dreamboat you always wanted, he is sure to be in the poorhouse begging for foie gras on the nearest street corner!

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Filed under Wine Collecting, Wine Education, Wine Tasting, Wine Travel

Managing a Personal Wine Collection

Years back I realized… once the number of bottles you lay down exceeds your ability to remember them, one of two things will happen:

  1. Curse your aging brain and struggle on

  2. Give in and realize there must be a better way

WHY Manage Stored Wine?

Initially, I was too proud to give-in and track my wine. After the issue bubbled to the surface (added sparkling to my cellar 🙂 ) it became clear, not having the ability to generate a list, or establish drinking windows, significantly affected our enjoyment of the wine. It doesn’t matter whether you drink wine daily, or just on the weekend. You will begin to realize (as I did), managing your wine inventory is a key component to maximizing your investment and enhancing your wine experience. So, the next step is to go totally overboard (like the crazy person I am) and put the program together.

Pick Your App/Software

I settled on CellarTracker. That has turned out to be a good decision. I highly recommend this cloud-based app, not just for cellar management, but for the tasting notes and the community too.

Separate the Inventory to be Bottle-Aged

So you disturb this wine as little as possible.

Identify the lower-priced daily-drinkers and rack separately

You will go through this wine quickly enough. It will not require a controlled environment.

Calculate your annual consumption of bottle-aged wines

Let’s round your hypothetical collection to 100 bottles (insert your own quantity). One possibility – assume you drink a nice bottle every other weekend, or round to 25 btls/yr. Purchase your wines to be bottle aged separately from those for drinking now. In this scenario, simply buy 25 bottles for aging every year… this assumes that every wine has the same aging capacity. The annual number of bottles is important. Knowing your number will save you money down the road, when competitively shopping your purchases. Don’t forget to add wine to your calculation and include a party, or two and a few dinners with friends and wine…

Wine Purchases Should be Planned

Plan Purchases so groupings of your aged wine will be constantly maturing and ready to drink

I can’t think of a better reason to diversify your cellar with Red Blends, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, etc. These varietals (depending on winemaker’s style) typically bottle age at different rates. If you can’t wait the 3-4 years it takes to develop your own collection of 5+ year old aged wines, supplement your buying with older vintages from auction sites (like WinBid.com, WineCommune.com, Hart-Davis Hart), or you can ensure provenance by buying from well-known brokers (like Benchmark).

OK, I am outed. I am a real wine geek.

Just to let you know, these are some of the same basic strategies needed for managing a commercial wine cellar. Coming down the pike… more posts on: Why cellar wine? and Wine Buying Strategies (in states where laws allow).

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Filed under Wine Cellar, Wine Collecting, Wine Tasting, Wine Travel