Tuesday, May 30, 2006

FALESCO LAZIO SYRAH - 2002


Falesco is one of the top names in Italy. Established in 1979, brothers Riccardo and Renzo Cotarella set out to produce great wine around the border of Umbria. This Syrah was fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged for 7 months in Allier barriques, creating a rich, soft wine.

TASTING NOTES:

Rich blackberry, ripe plum, earth and mineral flavors accent this smooth red that exhibits scents of sweet candy-like berries.

SCORE & RECOMMENDATION:

87 PTS
Pleasant to drink with soft tannins and a decent finish. It has a very old world "terroir" style taste which makes it a unique and interesting Syrah in a marketplace flooded with California fruit bombs.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

AMISFIELD PINOT NOIR CENTRAL OTAGO - 2003


When you think of Pinot Noir, I'm sure Burgundy, France, Oregon, or Santa Barbara California come to mind. Yet one of the most impressive Pinots of last year came from Central Otago, New Zealand. This 2003 Pinot is from Amisfield's second vintage and it made Wine Spectator's Top 100 List last year.

TASTING NOTES:

The wine was fruit punch red with aromas of raspberry and strawberries. Delicate and elegant, this light, yet power fruit Pinot tastes like sweet crushed red berries bursting in the mouth. There is a bit of earth and spice and lots of tangy goodness on the finish.

SCORE & RECOMMENDATION:

92 PTS
Simply outstanding Pinot that costs about $25 a bottle. This is up there with some of the top notch Oregon and California Pinots that offer you a gentle styling but cost nearly twice as much. Quality at this price is not only a bargain, it is a triumph.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

BALTHASAR RESS HATTENHEIMER SCH┼░TZENHAUS REINGAU RIESLING KABINETT - 2002


Kabinett in the German wine classification system refers to the lowest level of ripeness. Kabinett white wine tends to be lighter in style and not as sweet as Spatlese. The name "Kabinett" comes from the locked cabinets in the cellars of the old estates in which the finest wines were kept.

TASTING NOTES:

This Riesling has the nose of a pineapple Lifesaver candy, honey and petroleum with flavors of peach, citrus and a hint of caramel. 10% alcohol.

SCORE & RECOMMENDATION:

88 PTS
Well rounded white Riesling with crisp and refreshing acidity. Sleek mouthfeel, medium bodied but a bit tart on the finish.

Monday, May 22, 2006

CHATEAU PEY LA TOUR - 2003


After a 10 year legal battle with First Growth Chateau Latour, Chateau Clos De La Tour was forced to change their name. Under the new label "Chateau Pey La Tour," the winery continues to produce a Bordeaux blend made predominantly of Merlot.

TASTING NOTES:

76% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc and 1.5% Petite Verdot. Upon first opening, this dark cherry colored wine exhibits strong pencil shavings and graphite on the nose with flavors of plum, cedar-oak and earthy, slate-minerals. On tasting again the second day, there was a hint of barnyard aromas, but a lot of the earth dissipated and was replaced by blackberry/dark fruit flavors which weren't as prominent the first day. Good finish with nice tannic mouthfeel.

SCORE & RECOMMENDATION:

88 PTS
A nicely crafted Bordeaux that you can enjoy now or cellar for a few years.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

FINCA LUZON VERDE - 2004

The "Verde" in the name of this wine refers to the fact that it has been made with organic grapes. Verde means green in Spanish. The back label even features a sketch of a lawnmower. From Jumilla, it is made from 100% Monastrell.

TASTING NOTES:

Plum and minerals with heavy mouthfeel and slight green vegetable notes. Very nice purple color with dark fruit aromas.

SCORE & RECOMMENDATION:

86 PTS
I wasn't impressed with this wine. It tastes flat rather than juicy and refreshing. At $6 a bottle it is a tremendous value wine. Slightly above average and delivers excellent value, but Spain is offering lots of affordable options under $10. There are better Spanish reds to spend your "verde" on.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

BEARITAGE LOT #12 - NV

It is time for another edition of WBW (Wine Blog Wednesday)...well, sort of. This month's installment is combining forces with the internet's premiere food blogging event Is My Blog Burning? This dual themed undertaking is the FABULOUS FAVORITES FESTIVAL, a food and wine pairing event.

My mission:
Pick a favorite bottle of wine from the cellar and create a dish that goes with it.

I chose the Bearitage and decided to make some Pesto Farfalla Pasta. Not your traditional pairing, but this wine has a zing to it so it is a good companion to a pasta full of pungent garlic and olive oil.

THE RECIPE:

-As much garlic as you can stand (I like a full bulb or more), chopped in food processor
-Two (packages) bunches of fresh basil, finely chopped in food processor
-Two handfuls of toasted pine nuts, rough chopped with a knife
-1 cup of Parmesan cheese
-Loads of extra virgin olive oil
-1 pound box of pasta

Throw it all together in a pan on medium heat and cook till the garlic is sweet and the mix resembles a thick paste.

Boil your pasta, drain and then put it right in the pan with the pesto mix. Mix thoroughly and turn off heat. Add freshly ground pepper and top with more Parmesan cheese.

The Bearitage (a California Meritage) from Gundlach Bundschu Winery was a great compliment to the intense garlic, black pepper and salty Parmesan pesto. The zippy Zinfandel in the red blend did just the trick to accent the flavors of the meal.

TASTING NOTES:

41% Cabernet, 34% Zinfandel and 25% Merlot. Bearitage is a blend of multiple vintages from 2001 and 2002. There are nice dark fruit flavors to this wine along with ripe cherries and zesty spice. The dry finish is loaded with cocoa.

SCORE & RECOMMENDATION:

89 PTS
This is a good wine that is very well balanced. The Zinfandel gives it a nice kick, but does not overwhelm the Cab and Merlot. It is very smooth, no heat, harmonious in the mouth, and undeniably Californian. The finish is impressive. Retails for around $13 and well worth it! Be sure to check out other wine and food pairings at the blog event host site
LENNDEVOURS.

Monday, May 15, 2006

GUNDERLOCH RIESLING SPATLESE - 2004

After tasting Gunderloch's high end Gold Cap Riesling at Wine Spectator's Grand Tour, I sought out a bottle of my own. This Riesling from Gunderloch is a step down in price and sweetness, but still a tremendous bottle.

TASTING NOTES:

Wonderful crisp acidity and the golden color of light corn syrup. Hints of pineapple, with tart apples and the sweet bite of white grape juice made from concentrate.

SCORE & RECOMMENDATION:

95 PTS
This is a tremendous wine. Not as bold or shocking as the Auslese Gold Cap, but this is serious Riesling. At $28 a bottle, it is worth every penny. Mouth watering delicious.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

BALLENTINE VINEYARDS OLD VINES CHENIN BLANC - 2005


This 100% Chenin Blanc wine is perfect for the Summer and a great companion to fish dishes. The vines are approximately 32 years old, making it one of the oldest single vineyards of Chenin Blanc in Napa Valley.

TASTING NOTES:

The color of this wine is very clear like that of pear juice yet it yields scents of citrus and apples. The wine is crisp on the tongue, with soft minerals, but it is a little watery and not too concentrated. Apples, pear and floral flavors are present on the mid palate with strong petroleum flavors on the finish.

SCORE & RECOMMENDATION:

87 PTS
This is a quality Chenin Blanc that is very enjoyable, especially when consumed with food. The color was a bit pale and the petroleum finish a bit too dominant, but at $14 a bottle it is an affordable wine worth tasting.

Friday, May 12, 2006

BALLENTINE ZINFANDEL OLD VINES BLOCK 11 - 2004


Block 11 is in a special area of the famed Pocai Vineyard. The grapes grown here spend 10 months in older French and American Oak barrels. The wine is 95% Zinfandel and 5% Syrah.

TASTING NOTES:

Excellent blackberry and jam flavors with tremendous aromas of creamy, silky, vanilla. The lush vanilla is also present on the finish along with toasty oak and a bit of cherry. This is a delightful wine that has a whopping 16.7% alcohol, but it has no effect on the dominant berry flavors.

SCORE & RECOMMENDATION:

88 PTS
This is a very good Zinfandel. I kept smelling the glass over and over again. The vanilla notes were delightful. It retails for $25 a bottle, but it is significantly better than the Block 9.

BALLENTINE VINEYARDS BG ZINFANDEL RESERVE BLOCK 9 - 2001


Bale gravelly loam soil limits the yield of the vines and produces wines with excellent concentration. The Ballentine family has worked their vineyard site since 1906 in pursuit of excellence crafting high quality wines from their unique growing sites.

TASTING NOTES:

This wine comes from a specialized vineyard site, "Block 9," and is 98% Zinfandel and 2% Syrah. It is aged 14 months in 35% new American Oak and 5% new French Oak. The wine has a cherry red hue and aromas of spice and oak. The flavors are not very well defined and the taste of alcohol is fairly dominant overshadowing the fruit.

SCORE & RECOMMENDATION:

84 PTS
Not a terrific effort, especially for a reserve estate grown wine. Perhaps this needs more time in the bottle because it is not showing well. Retails for $27.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

BALLENTINE VINEYARDS BG INTEGRITY - 2001


This Bordeaux blend from Ballentine has an intriguing label that was inspired by a soil survey map from 1933 depicting the various soil types in Napa Valley. Planted in soil referred to as "Bale gravelly-loam" which is indicated by the acronym "Bg," the wine has a distinct "terrior" flavor.

TASTING NOTES:

Aged 22 months in 50% new French Oak barrels, this wine is made from 58% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Jammy, with a bit of cherry and vanilla, but dominated by dark fruit flavors and pleasant, toasty spices.

SCORE & RECOMMENDATION:

85 PTS
An interesting effort, but at $32 a bottle it is really overpriced. There are some tremendous Cabernets and Meritages from California in this price range. Hard to recommend since the Integrity is only slightly above average.

BALLENTINE VINEYARDS MERLOT - 2002


2002 was a tremendous vintage for California Merlot which has helped craft some wines of extraordinary concentration and acidity. This wine from Ballentine is made from 89% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Cabernet Franc.

TASTING NOTES:

There's loads of toasty vanilla in this Merlot that sports a deep ruby-purple color and flavors of currant and dark fruits. There's a bit too much pepper here for Merlot and too much heat from the 14.8% alcohol that overpowers the finish.

SCORE & RECOMMENDATION:

84 PTS
The aroma of this wine is really nice. I actually enjoyed swirling and sniffing it more than drinking and tasting it. Fair.

BALLENTINE VINEYARDS CABERNET FRANC - 2003


This is the first in a series of six wines and five varietals from Ballentine Vineyards that I am reviewing. The Cabernet Franc Pocai Vineyard is made from Napa Valley Estate Grown grapes. The wine is fined with egg whites to polish the mouthfeel and add structure and aged in the bottle six months prior to releasing.

TASTING NOTES:

This traditional Bordeaux varietal has a dark hue and distinct flavors of earthy minerals on the palate. Of the six wines I tasted from Ballentine, this one seems to have best captured the vineyards unique "terrior" with a solid herbal finish and comforting toasty, berry richness.

SCORE & RECOMMENDATION:

87 PTS
Cabernet Franc is an acquired taste, but this particular wine is crafted in such a way that those unfamiliar with the grape's eccentricities will find it alluring. Although Cabernet Franc tends to make a much better contribution to wine when it is used in meritages or Bordeaux blends, this is a pretty enjoyable effort that I recommend trying. However, at $24 a bottle, it is a bit pricey.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

WINE SPECTATOR'S GRAND TOUR - 2006


This past Tuesday I had the pleasure of attending Wine Spectator's Grand Tour in New York where 217 exceptional wines from around the world were poured on two floors of the Marriott Marquis. Every wine poured was a top-scoring wine in Wine Spectator and there were plenty of new or unreleased wines featured as well.

I tasted way too much wine at the Tour (probably over 100 pours), which would be nearly impossible to rate and review here. However, I've decided to compile a Top 10 list of my favorite wines from the night. These are the ones that really impressed me and were unlike any of the other wines that I tasted on the floor. Most of these wines are pretty pricey, but they are worth seeking out and stretching your wallet to obtain.

I began my tasting experience by proceeding directly to Chateau Margaux and the First Growths. Usually the top Bordeauxs tend to run out of wine at these events quickly, so I decided to prioritize. Despite all the amazing Bordeauxs that were featured at the Tour, not a single French wine made my list. Some of these Old World French wines were impressive, while others were big disappointments. The same could be said for some of the prestigious California Cabernets. There were more than I care to mention that turned out to be a bit uninspired, closed, and lacking complexity.


There were quite a few California wines that did make my Top 10 List, but you'll also be surprised to find a few entries from all over the globe, including Slovenia. I've decided not to give any scores to these wines. Debating whether or not they deserve 92 or 95 or 98 pts is almost irrelevant. These are all A+ wines in a class of their own and that's all that needs to be said.

THE TOP 10


#10 -- Ernie Els Stellenbosch 2003 (South Africa)

This Bordeaux style blend of Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot delivers a smooth mineral, nutty-oak and dark chocolate fruit fusion with a tremendously rich finish. Very Delightful.

#9 -- Prats & Symington Douro Chryseia 2003 (Portugal)

Primarily made from Touriga Nacional and the more tannic Touriga Francesa with Tinta Roriz, known as Tinto del Pais (Tempranillo) in Ribera del Duero, and Tinto Cao mixed in. Imagine the taste of Port without the fortified element. There is a ton of dark chocolate and creamy vanilla mixed in with delightful sweet cherry liqueur flavors.

#9 -- Quinta do Vale Meao Douro 2003 (Portugal)

This is a tie for 9th place. Both of these were wines from Portugal were impressive and deserved mentioning, so I guess this is really a Top 11 List. Lots of plum and dark fruit with a creamy vanilla chocolate blend that lingers on the palate.

#8 -- Williams Selyem Pinot Noir West Side Rd Neighbors 2004 (California)

From Russian River, this minerally mix of cherry-caramel and dark fruit candy is light and lively on the palate with a flowery finish.

#7 -- Siduri Pinot Noir Gary's Vineyard 2004 (California)

I found this wine incredibly difficult to pour out or spit at the tasting. This one is for savoring. Soft, elegant, black cherry and berries with luscious acidity and oh so delicate.

#6 -- Movia Brda Veliko Rosso 1999 (Slovenia)

Yes, from Slovenia! A blend of Pinot Noir, Cabernet and Merlot yields a soft, eccentric red wine that stood out as one of the most unique wines on the floor. Bordeaux meets Chinon meets Oregon Pinot Noir. Lots of cherry/berries and distinct terroir.

#5 -- Tenuta Sette Ponti Toscana Oreno 2003 (Italy)

Number five on Wine Spectator's Top 100 in 2005 is also #5 on my list here. This is a massive wine that was a shining star among the reds. With loads of currant, blackberry and spice, I struggle to describe the texture and mid-palate of this Super Tuscan that is unique and original in its flavor composition. Made from Sangiovese, Cabernet and Merlot. Simply phenomenal!

#4 -- Kathryn Kennedy Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 (California)

From Santa Cruz Mountains Estate, this is 100% Cabernet with a creamy richness from French Oak to die for. So rich and concentrated, yet lush and smooth that the finish echoes harmony in the mouth for an eternity.

#3 -- Hess Collection Mountain Cuvee 2002 (California)

From Mount Veeder, the predominantly Cabernet wine has a touch of Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc mixed in. Best of all, it is pretty affordable compared to the expensive Cabs showcased at this event. Huge, with tons of vanilla, chocolate, and rich spiced cedar-creme. Sleek finish. I wandered away from this booth with a well-poured glass, ate a plateful of cheese and cherished every sip of this one.

#2-- Turnbull Oakville 2003 (Black Label) (California)

From Napa Valley, this Estate red wine made from Bordeaux varietals is dark fruit at its finest. Tremendous concentration, elegance, earth, minerals and creamy vanilla. Shockingly expressive and supple. It will take you by surprise and put you back on your heels.

#1 -- Gunderloch Riesling Auslese Gold Cap 2004 (Germany)

Rheinhessen Nackenheim Rothenberg. Golden, unctuous, honey, botrytis nectar, with exceptional integrated acidity. I had to stop myself from going back to this booth for the fourth time. It is still calling for me days later. Perfection!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

CLAYHOUSE VINEYARD SYRAH - 2004

Clayhouse Vineyard is a small boutique winery in Paso Robles, California that boasts their wines are "created from the earth, cultivated by hand, and nurtured by family traditions." This Syrah offering grows in fine, sandy soil and is a value wine at $12.

TASTING NOTES:

This wine was rather closed when I first popped the black plastic stopper, but by the next day it had opened up and began to show a nose of vanilla and chocolate. It was a bit thin but had some nice blackberry flavors.

SCORE & RECOMMENDATION:

85 PTS
Not really an impressive wine but a fine weeknight dinner wine. It is much better consumed with food than it is on its own.