Tag Archives: Wine Collecting

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, but more keeping a wine type in mind, I can write a generic tasting note like this:

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 helped you to visualize an old wine cave in France. The complexity is what drew you in. There was blackberry, sweet browned butter, forest floor and black pepper on the nose. 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 finished 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 palate, 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. 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

The Future of Wine Marketing?

Premium Branding and Targeted Marketing

Market Research

I try to spend time occasionally researching wine consumption and how those trends affect the industry. Along that line, a couple of media items came to my attention this week. This article published by Beverage Dynamics on current wine trends at – https://bit.ly/2JZ1cjp and the NPR Radio program regarding the history of Grey Goose brand Vodka and Jagermeister brand liqueur at – https://n.pr/2Fk3ZEg. Take a look for some background, or just follow along below. I will do my best to take you through the impressions this left with me that caused my view of wine marketing to veer in a very different direction.

2017 Wine Trends

This Beverage Dynamics piece lists:  the largest selling wine labels in U.S. by volume, their growth in the last year and the fastest growing labels coming up. So, I am reading through this piece and it occurs to me – with over a 600 bottle personal cellar, I don’t have one bottle of any of the labels mentioned. Not one! Why is that? I am sure some of these are decent daily-drinking wine. Not everything in our cellar is expensive wine. Why hadn’t I found one of these as a daily-drinker for my enjoyment? Had me thinking. Then I listened to this radio program…

Guerrilla Marketing & Beverage Industry

It appears Sidney Franks (of Grey Goose Vodka fame) was the original mastermind behind the concept of “guerrilla marketing” in the premium beverage business. Relative to the Jagermeister brand, he took a product enjoyed in the USA by old German guys, and gave it a new hip, young and fresh make-over. This very successful re-branding effort was accomplished by sending out young, trendy brand ambassadors to college bars to promote the product face-to-face. Wow! Grass-roots demand generation from the ground up! It is hard to believe such a simple idea built a brand in U.S. with over $500M+ in revenue.

Wine Marketing

Hang in there with me… So, I am thinking about the wine labels from the Beverage Dynamics piece and I realize, I can’t remember a single piece of advertising regarding these brands! Broadly distributed, high-volume labels don’t register on my radar. Not because I am a snob, just because these wines tend to be homogenized. All much alike – very drinkable, but without much character. I tend to tune out products that I don’t believe will be of interest… there it is: “will be of interest”. How does my brain decide what wine information should be filtered out? Even more interesting, what would it take to grab and hold my interest? Fodder for another piece down the road…

Wine Collectors

It took me over ten years to find a group of guys that collect classic premium wines in the Phoenix Metro area. It always struck me, why was that so difficult? What organization in the wine industry identifies the individual market segments and brings like-minded consumers together? I was thinking at least one producer would attempt to do this to promote their product and build demand. Nope. Nada. Nothing. How is that possible? I did find an organization a couple of years ago that I thought might be the answer: the American Wine Society, or AWS (http://www.americanwinesociety.org/). It didn’t work out at the time. The chapters in my area were focused on typical, easy drinking, lower price wines. After some investigation, I just lost interest. Then recently I ran into Jay Bileti (an officer at AWS) and he “listened”. The net result was gleaning out of the current membership a few folks whose interests leaned in this direction. Voila!, we had a wine collector’s tasting group. The point is: where is the industry involvement? It is becoming increasingly clear as the baby-boomer generation ages, marketing must become more focused, target specific price categories and connect with consumer interests. Implementing a little of that “Guerrilla” thinking and investing in filling this gap would have a huge impact on label/brand awareness. Add a few smart folks to the mix and you would have the next great Sidney Franks-like story in the wine business!

Wineries & Marketing Investment

The first simple idea would be for wine producers/marketing reps to reach out to consumer organizations like AWS. No, not the way it is done now, but to invest in surveying wine enthusiasts to identify consumer market segments, categorize interests, separate price categories, build palate profiles and associated taste models. THEN, provide services to connect individuals. The best marketing ideas build a COMMUNITY! This is where brand loyalty begins. Right now, none are willing to invest this way, because there is no vision for how to monetize it. This has to be the future for premium brand wine marketing as Boomers age. Just holding local wine tastings and wine dinners is not the full answer. I wonder, what would it take for a few producers to embrace this idea?

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Quarterly Wine Collector’s Tasting

Wine List

  1. Champagne – 2013 Cedric Bouchard Roses de Jeanne Val Vilaine

  2. Cru Beaujolais – 2015 Marcel Lapierre Morgon Cuvée Marcel Lapierre

  3. OR Pinot Noir – 2014 Thomas Pinot Noir Dundee Hills

  4. Barolo – 1971 Barisone Barolo

  5. Barolo – 1970 Cantine Villadoria Riserva Speciale

  6. Barolo – 2000 Paolo Scavino Cannubi

  7. CA Syrah – 2014 Sine Qua Non Syrah Piranha Waterdance

  8. Vintage Port – 1985 Fonseca Porto Vintage

Barolo Education

Comparing the older style 47 and 48 year old Baroli to the newer style 18 year old was fascinating. The first two were definitely pushing the limit on age. The Barisone had lost most of its fruit and was highly oxidized, but the Cantine Villadoria still had some fruit on the palate and although it was oxidized too… there was still a fresher fruit aspect. The 2000 Scavino was very nice and just hitting its stride for my palate. Just the right balance of fruit, acidity and tannin. It was interesting to compare the aged bottles. Granted, a single instance with only a small sample, but it would appear the vicinity of 20 years seems to produce amazing Baroli for my palate.

Grower – Producer Champagne

The Bouchard Champagne to start off the night was excellent. No dosage, but still had a fruity-sweet character for a Brut. The bubbles were so fine, it was definitely a signature for this producer. This has opened a new category of Champagne for me. I intend to look for more small production, grower vintage Champagne.

Cru Beaujolais Intro

For under $30, these premium Beaujolais seem to be an interesting category to explore. I have never really been down this path, having been heavily influenced by Beaujolais Nouveau which I do not enjoy. The clean, freshness of the fruit with a nice acidic backbone – this reminded me of a quality Carneros Pinot Noir, with more of a strawberry/raspberry fruit profile. Another wine category I intend to explore moving forward.

Sine Qua Non

Second time I have tasted this producer and this was consistent with the first impression. Very fruity, but reasonably balanced profile. NOT a food wine. I would like to be aware of the hospitality expressed in sharing this wine… this is an expensive bottle, but I have to tell you… this reminds me of some Australian d’Arenberg Syrah I have in my cellar at a more reasonable price point.

Vintage Port Finish

Perfect topper for the evening. Beautiful soft, vintage port wine to finish our evening. Not overly oxidized, with a good balance of fresh & stewed fruit. This was right on what a vintage port should be!

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California Wine Has Been Changing

Sarcasm Seems Appropriate

Confession: I am a collector of wine. Hmmmm… Yep, the tone works. Lately, I am feeling like I need to apologize to wineries, retailers and distributors for collecting and storing their product. Maybe I need to start a Collector’s Anonymous group? Perhaps, I can develop a 12 step approach to curing my apparent illness and become famous. You may ask yourself, “Why haven’t I heard of this problem?” It has been camouflaged, lurking around the edges of changing demographics and trending demand.

These days, I am feeling the need to justify a collector’s version of wine appreciation. The majority of my wine inventory is 8-15 years old and some as much as 25. As my inventory ages, the enjoyment of complex, textured and elegant wine grows. This wine world I live in, is no longer fashionable to the industry crowd.

$$Another Impact of Changing Demographics$$

Let’s use Napa wineries as an example. 25-30 years ago most major Bordeaux style red wine producers in Napa (Beringer, Mondavi, Montelena, Jos Phelps, etc.) all were producing wines capable of aging 15-30 years (some more). After 2000, those drinking windows started moving and became 10-12 years. The next threshold was crossed about 2014. Now, many of the traditional Napa wines I drink have had drinking windows landing somewhere in a 5-8 year range. I now have to be careful NOT to hold these wines too long. It just goes against my grain to pop $100/btl wine in less than 5 years!

Why should the average wine consumer care? To produce earlier drinking red wines, the style usually requires more time in contact with new American oak, often are more extracted, higher in alcohol and less acidic. In short, easier drinking wines that are appealing to the younger, less experienced palate.

I am now thinking of canceling many of my California wine clubs and moving to more Bordeaux product. Even many Chianti, Chianti Classico and Brunello wineries have succumbed. Barolo and Barbaresco too, but those wines had aging windows of 25-50 years and are now landing at 10-25 years. I can live with that. Too many wineries are relenting to the economic pressure of appealing to the growing Millenial segment that is looking for drink-now wines, even in the luxury price range (over $50/btl). Caymus and Silver Oak are the well-known examples to reference in this category.

Old World Sensibility Matters

Balance, balance and more balance! All this extended cold soak and maceration and barrel aging in New American Oak, ugh! Many red wines are now so heavily extracted, they ruin all but the richest foods. Yes, oak makes the wine rounder and adds pleasing vanilla flavors… It also adds wood and butter in reds (like Chardonnay) and destroys the freshness of the fruit. If you enjoy wine with food, forget it. These wines are so round, they will not cut through accompanying food.

Thank goodness I still have Bordeaux to turn to. Fewer and fewer Napa wineries care about producing a structured, balanced red wine that can age. My wine buying days have not ended yet, just turned to 10 year old red Bordeaux from auction!

 

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Wine Collector’s Group Tasting

Introduction

This was our first group meeting and we elected to stay away from tasting themes and bring wines from our cellars we wanted to share. With that much diversity it was important to get the tasting order right (which I think we did). Great lineup! It was great to share all this wine with folks who can appreciate it!

FLIGHT 1 – EVENING OF RED WINE (7 NOTES)

We wanted to taste these in order of power, complexity and nuance and one of our members who was tasked to sequence the wines was awfully close… in this order: CdP, Barolo, Brunello, Bordeaux, Dunn, Barnett and Saxum. The only change I would have made is swapping the order of the Barnett and Saxum.

Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo

Fresh strawberry and raspberry on the nose. Fresh fruit on the attack that subsides to a light, medium length bitter chocolate finish. High tannins and medium plus acidity. Soft wine (in Barolo terms) without a lot of mouthfeel. Wishing for more complexity here… some floral or tar aspects would add interest, but is missing. Beautiful young Barolo, but missing the complexity that would rate this higher. Perhaps, more age will bring out more nuance.

France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Beautiful nose of fresh strawberry. Barely fruit-forward with fresh sweet strawberry on the palate, an earthy mid-palate and a medium length sour strawberry finish. Medium acidity and low tannins. As a 1978 CdP this was special. Having a soft texture with a fair amount of acidity and tannins, this expressed the best of the region in an aged format. I could drink this wine all night. Finishing the bottle was a definite disappointment. Complex, fruit-forward, soft wine, still with good structure… if every wine I aged in my cellar turned out like this, I would be laying everything down. This was a wine worth waiting for. Who knew CdPs could last 40 years!

Italy, Tuscany, Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino

Plum and blackberry on the nose. Fruit forward palate of red and black fruit with a bitter chocolate mid-palate that follows through to a medium length finish. High acidity and high tannins. Wonderful Margaux-like round, soft mouthfeel. Still young Brunello that probably needs another 5 years (or so) to enter its best drinking window. Enjoyable now, but still developing.

USA, California, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain

Fruity nose of boysenberry, plum and blackberry. Blackberry and plum on the attack with a leather mid-palate. A slightly bitter, mildly fruity short finish. Medium plus acidity and tannin. Soft mouthfeel from resolved tannin. This wine is drinking great right now. Could be slightly past its optimum drinking window, but still a fantastic wine. Drink up!

France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru

Rich blackberry and plum on the nose with a touch of herbal mint. The palate is barely fruit forward with plum in front giving way to blackberry. Medium acidity and medium plus tannin. Earth, leather and tobacco on the mid-palate with a fresh, medium length blackberry finish. Very balanced wine in its drinking window. Soft mouthfeel with a slightly silky texture. Drink now.

USA, California, Napa Valley

Blackberry with heavy oak on the nose. Fruit forward blackberry palate. A nicely integrated high alcohol wine. Simpler flavor profile focused more on the velvety texture. Very much like Silver Oak, but not quite as fruity. Integrated and balanced wine with medium plus acidity and tannins.

USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles Willow Creek District

Red and black fruit on the nose with a touch of alcohol. Fruit forward with blackberry from the Syrah and earthiness from the Mourvèdre. The touch of strawberry/raspberry from the Grenache does not present until the finish. This is a really gorgeous wine that was meant to drink in a 5-10 year window. High acidity and medium plus tannin. Long fruity finish. Solid fruit-forward structured wine. A Saxum drinking super well when young. Interesting to have such a silky mouthfeel without more age on it! Give this a few more years and it will continue to improve.

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Why Holding a Bottle of Wine is Worth the Wait…

Wait

How Long Does the Average Person Hold a Bottle of Wine?

There is a significant amount of conflicting survey data on this topic, but erring on the side of caution… well over 90% of all wine in the U.S. is drunk within a week of purchase. Since more red wine is drunk than white in the U.S. and Cabernet Sauvignon is the most popular varietal, it is a shame more wine enthusiasts don’t experiment with aging at least a few bottles.

I have seen other figures thrown around that affect this thinking, i.e. 95% of all wine is made to drink within a year of purchase. As a percentage of all wine produced, this may be close to the truth, but as a percentage of all wine labels, it is significantly off the mark. As usual, the 80/20 rule roughly applies here… much less than 20% of the companies producing wine in the U.S. produce over 80% of the wine by volume, but this still leaves plenty of room for the many thousands of wineries producing under 10,000 cases per year that comprise a large percentage of the selection we see at the local wine shop, or grocery store.

So, many of the red wine labels you see at your local wine retailer over (let’s say) $15 USD/btl are likely to be candidates for at least 3-5 years of bottle age.

The Dividing Line

Why should wine consumers care? Who should be holding wine? Think of it these ways:

  • If you are a foodie, drink wine with meals and prefer wine that accompanies a dish well…
  • If you pay attention to different varietals, vintages and/or wine regions, you obviously recognize and appreciate different wine profiles…
  • If you recognize structure in wine (tannin, acidity, phenolics)…
  • If poorly balanced, bad wine gives you a headache and you try to be aware…
  • If texture (mouth-feel) in wine (silky, soft, plush, velvetty characteristics) is something you seek out…

You should own at least a 30 bottle wine fridge!

What Makes Aged Wines More Enjoyable

When the appropriate wines are chosen, age improves wine. Which wines are appropriate for aging? Any wine with multiple structural components… enough tannin (cotton feeling on gums), acidity (stimulates saliva) , phenolics (depth of flavor), fruit and/or sweetness (sugar) is a potential candidate. Most of us can usually identify these general categories. Though, the additional analysis that can make a significant difference is the balance between these components. Here is a brief look at how each of these components may evolve in an aged wine:

Sweetness (sugar)

  • Can add a nutty character to aged whites such as Sauternes, or Sparkling and an apricot character to German Riesling
  • Improve viscosity (richness/thickness) in all sweet wines

Alcohol

Percentage of alcohol never changes in the life of a bottle of wine, but it can become more integrated and less noticeable. Although, I have rarely seen it.

Phenolics (depth of flavor)

Working with wines that are heavily extracted, or made from over-ripe fruit is hit, or miss for a winemaker. This is an area where age can have a dramatic effect, sometimes adding layers of textures or flavors. A higher level of phenolics often accompanies over-ripe fruit, which can be lower in acidity. This lower level can effect the “vibrancy” of the wine, in other words – eliminating freshness, allowing candied flavors and eliminating “bite”.

Fruit

In reasonably balanced wines (get into that later), fruit flavors almost always diminish over time. Most of the exceptions to this rule have come from California in my experience, but in general, this rule does apply. I drank a 1993 Beringer Reserve Cab Sauv last year that was wonderfully fruit-forward after 22 years in the bottle!

Acidity

High acidity in a wine is critical to successful aging, but winemakers walk a fine line with this component:

  • Too much acidity and the wine is sharp, unpleasant and feels like it is burning a hole in your stomach
  • Too little and wine tastes “flabby”, grape-juice-like and will not pair with food

Tannin

This is the astringent character found in red wines and the primary change agent. Tannin can be harsh, grainy, fine, mouth-filling, etc. The character of tannin in wine can be affected by varietal type, terroir, vintage variation, the amount of stems and skins used in the maceration stage and more. Red wines with no tannin rarely age well and the maturing of this component is the key to enjoying soft, silky, round, or velvetty red wines when aged.

“Balance”

Determining balance is one of the KEY evaluations made by a wine professional. Evaluating young, fine wines upon release for potential ageability requires experience to determine whether to expect greatness, or just another so-so vintage… but that shouldn’t stop the average wine enthusiast. The average consumer rarely has the opportunity to evaluate $100 – $1,000 USD/btl wine. The decision should be simply: do you think this wine will taste better in five years? Often, when faced with this simpler evaluation, my answer is YES!

The most common, but misguided statement in the wine industry is: “Give this wine time in the bottle. It will come together!” This is rarely the case.  A wine may “close”, or “open” over time (release, or hide its character), but if it is too sweet, or has too much acidity upon release, time in the bottle is unlikely to change that. The one exception is tannin, which will always soften over time. This is due to a chemical reaction that creates a sediment in the bottle that can be filtered out when poured. Always filter, when pouring a red wine older than five years. The sediment resulting from resolved tannin is not pleasant to drink.

My Wine Cellar and Yours

I store over 500 bottles of wine in environmentally controlled cellars. I rarely drink wine younger than five years, unless I am dining out. I now find it difficult to drink both:

  • Harsh, young wines
  • Easy drinking – flabby, no tannin, no acid wines

Try setting aside a few better bottles for special occasions. Use the information above to choose the right wines and enjoy unique, amazing wines. As you gain experience, you will find age can improve wine you never considered for aging, like Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauternes and many sparkling wines (especially Champagne).

I wish you much good wine shared with many good friends!

“Age appears best in four things: old wood to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust and old authors to read.” ― Francis Bacon

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Baldacci Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap

Baldacci

Baldacci Family Vineyards

Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon

Stags Leap District, Napa Valley

Tasting Note:

Beautiful Napa Cab in the middle of its drinking window! Drinking Baldacci Stags Leap Cabs over the last 20 years, I am struck by how they always over-deliver at their price. This bottle cost $46 in 2010 and is drinking like a $70+ Napa Cab! Blackberry and black currant on the nose with tar and leather. Still fruit-forward after 8 years of aging, with blackberry and black currant in front, transitioning to a mid-palate of dark chocolate, leather, underbrush and tar. The wine has a lengthy, slightly hot finish. Gorgeous rich mouth-feel, full and sensuous. The tannins have resolved well and are just under the surface. The acidity is high, but this paired perfectly with a rib-eye steak. Without food, the acidity would have been a bit much. The signature Cab character of graphite and tobacco are missing, but regardless, my wife and I really enjoyed this bottle with steaks for dinner!

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Italian Wine Tasting

venice pic

Wine Tasting

Alessia’s Italian Ristorante with Vinifera Imports

Mesa, AZ

I enjoy Alessia’s and it had been several months since I had visited last. So, with my wife busy and a free evening on the horizon, I decided to grab a bite and enjoy a wine tasting event. John Carr (Owner) has a good palate and a pretty fair depth of Italian wine knowledge and his wife Shari is a killer chef. If you’re in the East Valley of the Phoenix Metro, definitely make it a point to stop by. The experience won’t disappoint.

Vinifera is not my favorite Italian Wine Importer, but they have several labels I enjoy. I didn’t know the wines being tasted that night in advance, so I was hoping to be surprised.

Wine Tasting Notes

Barberani Ovieto Castagnolo 2014 (white blend)

Most enjoyable wine of the evening. Nose of lemon curd and herbs. Palate was of rich lemon meringue and a touch of spice. Tremendous coating mouth-feel – this wine had spent a substantial amount of time on the lees. High acidity, but balanced enough not to make it over-bearing without food. Well done white wine, that could be drunk on its own, or paired well with fish and pasta in white cream sauce. At $16/btl retail, a good value.

Cascina Chicco Barbera d’Alba Granera Alta 2013

Most disappointing wine of the evening. It was very much a rustic Old World style Barbera and not my favorite approach with this varietal. This was a food wine only. Barbera is capable of so much more, when in deft hands such as Vajra. Black cherry and alcohol on the nose. Completely over-oaked. Palate is not fruit-forward. In front, you get brown butter and smoke transitioning to sour black cherry. Poor, watery mouth-feel and medium-high tannins. Long finish of brown butter, if you like that sort of thing. At $22/btl retail, I wouldn’t rush out and grab this wine.

Fontodi Chianti Classico 2010

Fontodi is an old Italian producer with a long history… and that traditional approach shows. 2010 was a great year in Tuscany for wine and I was hoping for something exceptional. Instead, it was very average. A quality Chianti, but traditional and unexceptional. Nose of red cherry, mushrooms, bramble and rubbing alcohol. Slightly sour red cherry and menthol on the palate. Very high tannins. Medium mouth-feel and high acidity. Short to medium finish. Would be a great pairing with red meat and pasta with red sauce. At $40/btl retail a decent value.

Fontodi Chianti Classico Vigna del Sorbo Riserva 2008

Best red wine of the evening. Very weak nose and definitely needed a little time to open. The palate was more complex than the other wines that evening. Fruit forward with black cherry and a touch of black currant, mushroom, leather and bramble on the mid-palate, with a weak bitter chocolate finish. Medium high tannins and high acidity. Well-balanced and the best mouth-feel of the reds that night. I enjoyed this wine and it is just entering its drinking window, 2016-2021. At $70/btl retail, I would pick a well-priced quality Brunello first.

Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino 2010

Unless you have a nice cellar and ten more years to wait, stay away from this wine. Black fruit and menthol on the nose. Very high acidity and very, very high rustic tannins. Maybe a touch fruit forward, but the acidity and tannins overwhelm everything. Impossible to assess much else. This is an Old World Chianti-style Brunello. All the things I love about Brunello are missing: good mouth-feel, balance, elegance… This wine should not have been bottled as Brunello. The grapes may have originated in a vineyard there, but the style has Chianti written all over it and at $135/btl retail, forget it.

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Filed under Italian Wine, Restaurant, Toscana, 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.

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