Wednesday, January 28, 2009

2003 Vietti Langhe Nebbiolo Perbacco

I've been seeking out more Italian wines since attending the Golden Glass event in San Francisco last summer, where I was blown away by the high end offerings being poured. Dining out at Healdsburg, at the Madrona Manor, more recently, I spotted the 2003 Vietti Langhe Nebbiolo Perbacco on the list for $38, and I decided to bite.

The Nebbiolo grape makes some of Italy's most famous wines, including Barolo and Barbaresco (these are wine zones in Northern Italy's Piedmont region, not grape names). While good examples of these wines can run hundreds of dollars per bottle, wine labeled Nebbiolo tends to be cheaper.

Nebbiolo can make powerful wines, big, bold and tannic. With five years in the bottle, I thought this particular wine might be good to go, however it never seemed to open up for me (we had to leave dinner before the extent of the chef's tasting menu was complete, so I took about half the bottle home with me and finished it during the next two days). On the nose I got cassis, and in the glass I found some nice fruit, dominated by blueberries, but brawny tannins took over and never let the berries leave a lasting impression. Could use some aging. (the most recent issue of Wine Spectator has a retrospective on Barolos and Barbarescos from the 1998 vintage, and said they're just starting to come around).

The "Langhe" in the wine's name refers to a broader region that came into existence in 1994. Wines from this region have less restrictive rules that apply to wines labeled Barolo and Barbaresco, and can be blended with non-native grapes (think Cabernet Sauvignon).

Parker gave Vietti high marks in his 7th edition buyer's guide, rating both the 2004 and 2005 Langhe Nebbiolo Perbacco wines 90 points.

Nothing came up on a google shop search, so I'm not sure how much this bottle retails for, but likely half of the $38 I spent. I've tasted better wines in the $20, but I'd be curious to try this again in a few years to see how it develops.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Thumbprint Cellars

Thumbprint Cellars is a great little Sonoma producer with a tasting lounge in downtown Healdsburg, off the main square. I stopped there over the holiday and tasted some of their wines. Here are my notes:

2007 Pinot Noir, Schneider Vineyard, Russian River Valley, $45
Nose: Earth and cherries
Mouth: Bright fruit, tangy finish.

2005 Pedroni Vineyard, Cabernet Franc, Dry Creek Valley, $45
Nose: ashy pepper flakes, green peppercorn.
Mouth: Peppers, peppers peppers! Finish of black cherries and raspberries. Really drinking nice right now.

2005 Three Some, $43 (Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot)
Nose: Cab Franc comes through with strong pepper.
Mouth: Raspberries on attack, pepper-shaker throughout, long finish of black plums.

2005 Climax, $49
Nose: sweet, candied fruit
Mouth: Very sugary fruit, strawberries.

I really enjoyed these wines, but I didn't buy any during this visit. I'm finding it increasingly harder with the economy the way it is to justify spending more than $20 for a bottle of wine that realistically I'm going to pop for a daily drinker some week (or, save for a year or two for some magical event that never comes and just open it for a special dinner or dinner party).

I've also seen several of Thumbprint's wines on discount site for as much as half off, if not more. For instance, the 2005 Thumbprint Cellars Dry Creek Valley Schneider Vineyard Reserve Merlot 2005 (originally priced at $33.99) was available last week for $16.99.

Still, the people behind Thumbprint know what they're doing, and if you have a chance to try some of their wines, whether it's at a tasting, a wine bar, a restaurant or even the tasting room itself, I recommend you do.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

2007 Epicuro Vermentino IGT Lazio

Bought this wine at Trader Joe's for $4.99. Clocks in at 13% alcohol.

Found some funky flavors on the nose - really strong pineapple scents and something else that I could only describe as crayons. Yes, the smell of Crayola crayons. Weird, I know.

In the mouth this wine starts off nice with syrupy tangerine, lemon flavors, then, unfortunately disintegrates at the center. The rich fruit present at the beginning falls off, leaving a steel-metalic taste and alcohol notes. I'm guessing this is because the wine was aged in stainless steel tanks, and didn't see any oak, according to the winemaker's site.

For less than $5, this wine is certainly better than many others at this price range, but I ended up leaving half the bottle unfinished. I might serve it at a big party, but overall I've liked Epicuro's reds, such as it's Salice Salentino, much better.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

2006 Hedges "Three Vineyards" Red Mountain, Washington

I've been seeking Washington State wines recently and Hedges Cellars's "Three Vineyards," Red Mountain blend has received 90+ ratings in the past. The other thing that attracted me to this wine was it's origin - Red Mountain. Wine writer Elin McCoy had a column in August talking up Red Mountain AVA in Washington, saying that she found "stunning cabs and syrahs made from grapes grown in Red Mountain, the state's smallest and most exciting appellation."

Since this wine can be had for less than $20, what's not to like? (I purchased my bottle from K&L for $18).

Hedges calls the wine it's flagship of its estate bottlings, saying it is a "classic Red Mountain wine showing deep, dense color, firm yet supple tannins, and well defined acidity."

The blend is 51% merlot, 38% cab 7% cab franc, and 4% syrah, all from three estate vineyards: Hedges Estate Vineyard, Bel'Villa Vineyard, and Red Mountain Vineyard. It clocks in at 13.6% alcohol, a nice level for a restrained wine.

This wine didn't open up for a day or two, but when it did, I found aged leather on the nose. It blossomed into a sumptuous wine with some contact with oxygen, displaying blackberries and currants in the glass, bright, unfiltered fruit flavors that finish with green peppercorn and a tannic tang on the tongue.

I'd recommend seeking out this wine, especially if you can get it for less than $20.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Flying Goat Coffee

I've been drinking some coffee from Flying Goat Coffee in Healdsburg since my visit almost a month ago and just had my last cup yesterday. It was a "meh" coffee. Not bad, not super exciting. It was the Kenya AA Gatomboya, Neryi Hill District, and from an inverted Aeropress, I got a distinct darjeeling tea-like taste and some baking chocolate flavors.

Much more enjoyable was a cup of French Pressed Ethoipian Koratie served to me at the cafe itself the week after Christmas. I didn't take notes, I just took pleasure in every sip. It had a nice round mouthfeel, and some fruit notes.

I was disappointed with a macchiato that I had at the cafe itself. There didn't seem to be any care with the way it was made, or skill shown with the dollup of foam. I've made better macchiatos at home, and I'm no pro.

They do have some great rare and limited coffees at the shop, including the Price Peterson's Esmeralda from Panama (which I discussed in my first post) and
a highly regarded Ethiopian Aricha selection.

Despite the mixed experience, I will still stop by Flying Goat whenever I'm in the Russian River Valley because, so far, it's the best location I know of in the area to get specialty coffee.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

2006 Rosenblum Yolo County Syrah - Rominger Vineyard

A few weeks ago I took my mom to the Rosenblum Cellars tasting room in Alameda because it's only a few minutes from my home, and she wanted to visit some wineries during her trip here. The people at Rosenblum are pretty laid back and they have a good variety of wines to try, though they are most known for their Zinfandels.

Somehow I got talked into joining the wine club ("it's free! plus you get 30% off all purchases today!" basically sold me). After tasting several wines, including the reserve flight that normally would cost $8 a person but was free because I joined the wine club (and since they rotate those wines on a weekly basis, you'll know where I'll be stopping by most weekends) I ended up purchasing a bottle of the 2006 2006 Yolo County Syrah - Rominger Vineyard. Normally priced at $25, I got it for about $17 with the discount.

The reason I picked that bottle out among the myriad choices was because I remember reading something about it getting a good score (I'm not a score-whore, but I've been on a Syrah kick lately, and when several places praise the same wine, my interest is peaked).

I opened this up a week later and poured it over several days. The wine appears dark as night in the glass, and the nose gave up scents of blackberries, anise, and on one night, I even detected something akin to Ju-Ju fruits.

In the mouth this thick, syrupy wine has notes of wild berries, chocolate, and had a mocha finish. Rosenblum describes this as their version of a Côte-Rôtie wine from Northern Rhone Valley. The wine is co-fermented with a bit of Viognier.

"Elements of plum and dark berry fruit mingle with floral notes as well as vanilla and cracked white pepper in the bouquet. Full-bodied, soft textures and distinct flavors abound on the palate," according to the Rosenblum site.

While I liked this wine, I wouldn't buy much more of it at $25 -- as you can get it for $12.99 at K&L. For that price, this wine is a super bargain, and I'd recommend getting a bottle to try at home. Much better than most bottles you're likely to encounter below $15.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pair from Portugal

My mom rounded up some Portuguese wines for me in New Bedford, MA before heading out west to visit for Christmas. New Bedford has a large Portuguese population, and many of the package stores (New England speak for liquor shops) have a plethora of non-port offerings from Portugal. I've said it before and I'll continue to push these wines because they usually represent great values.

The two we tasted were the 2000 Borges Reserva Douro ($11.49) and the Quinta do portal Mural Tinto ($8.99).

Borges: 13.5% alcohol. On the nose I found dry coffee grounds and nice berry notes. There's oak and vanilla on the attack, but not too much that it seems overdone. The wine quickly switches gears to a coffee-chocolate taste, and then the finish lingers on raspberry notes. Pleasant wine, great deal for the price. This wine reminded me of the much more expensive 2005 Benziger Tribute ($80) a biodynamic wine and Bordeaux blend.

Mural Tinto
: Wasn't a big fan of this one. Alcohol-soaked cherries, gamey flavor, and red currants. Was wondering if I had a bad bottle, but I'm not inclined to try it again.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling

Charles Smith is a Walla Walla, Washington State-based winemaker generating a lot of excitement among wine Geeks. His labels, "Charles Smith" and "K Vintners" sell a variety of wines, with the more expensive K Vintners specializing in field blends and Syrah. Robert Parker Jr. rated him an "Excellent" producer from the state in his 7th wine buyer's guide, and scored his wines between 87-93. Jay Miller (of the Wine Advocate) called him a "Brilliant winemaker," and added this: "While it’s way too soon to put K Vintners on the same level as a Domaine Leroy or Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, the experience you get tasting in the cellar is much the same as in those legendary wineries, brilliantly made wines reflecting the terroir but also a winemaking signature that makes it totally clear which winery made the wine."

That's quite some laurels for a guy who opened his winery in 2001.

I first saw Charles Smith on Wine Library TV, (episode here - check out his crazy hair) and since then have been reading up on Mr. Smith and have seen nothing but praise for his efforts.

While I haven't yet ponied up $40+ for a K Vintners bottle, I did snag another highly regarded wine from his cheaper line, the 2007 Charles Smith Wines “Kung Fu Girl Riesling” – Columbia Valley ($12). I got the last bottle of this wine at K&L Wines in San Francisco a few weeks ago, and served it for a New Year's Eve party at my place. Everyone seemed to really like it. I thought it was a touch too sweet, but overall a good wine.
On the nose, I found Asian pear and white peaches. In the mouth I gor some minerality on the attack, followed by juicy granny smith apples with a cidery sweet finish. The acidity seemed better balanced as it warmed up. Touch of cinnamon.

Winemaker's description: "Single vineyard, fragmented basalt, and caliche...classic Riesling, sublime minerality. WHY? BECAUSE, RIESLING AND GIRLS KICK ASS!"

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Dutton Estate WInery

One of the wineries I was most excited to visit during my trip to Healdsburg a few weeks ago was Dutton Estate. The winery's 2005 Cherry Ridge Vineyard Syrah ($34) got a nice write up (and 95 points) in the Dec 31-Jan 15 edition of Wine Spectator. Under the heading Rich & Ripe, it said "this rich, layered red is dense with blackberry, wild berry, anise, fresh earth and cedar notes," and "there's not a lot of it, but try to get your hands (on one)."

I tried, alas, but failed, as they were sold out by Dec. 30th when I showed up. They had the 2004, but it didn't blow me away, so I passed. Here are my tasting notes:

2007 Cohen Sauvignon Blanc ($20): slight earth on the nose, green apple, kiwi, great acidity in the mouth.

2007 Rose of Pinot Noir ($18): nice tart wine, some baked fruit notes.

2003 Dutton Ranch Syrah ($22.50): light, restrained fruit flavors, bits of pepper peeking through.

2004 Cherry Ridhe Syrah ($34): Smelled a little extracted on the nose, with rubber and tar. In the mouth the wine was nicely balanced with red berries and cherry flavors.

2006 Russian River Valley Zinfandel: plums on the nose, cranberries, cardamon and blackberries in the mouth.

2006 My Father's Vineyard Syrah ($34): Herbal nose, rosemary and cedar. In the mouth very cool and herbal as well. This wine stood out among the bottles I tasted, and I ended up buying one. Later I saw that it was given 90 points in WS.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Tercos 2006 Malbec

Tercos, which means "stubborn" in Spanish, is a new Argentinian winery and this is its first release. Retails for $12, butI exchanged a bottle for it with a family member during Thanksgiving.

I've never been a big fan of Malbec in the past (at least the cheap ones I bought for around $10 in the store) because they seemed too harsh and too alcoholic -- if memory serves, they tasted like a badly made mixed drink with too much vodka. My tastes have changed a lot since then, and I am more appreciative now of wines with some tannic backbone, and Malbec certainly has rustic, or robust, tannins to go along with its spicy character and big fruit flavors. They're a great winter wine when well done.

I've been reading a lot lately in wine magazines and from critics and bloggers about the incredible value wines being produced in Argentina for less than $20, so I was looking forward to trying this one.

It clocked in at 13.9% alcohol, and had violets and sweet tar on the nose. In the mouth I got fleshy red and black fruit, particularly raspberries and blackberries. The wine has a peppery bite and hints of milk chocolate. Overall a really great wine for the money.

Monday, January 5, 2009

More Healdsburg Tasting Notes

Although visiting Ridge Vineyards was probably my favorite experience during my holiday trip to Healdsburg, I did go to several others that were "interesting" experiences, both good and both.

On the bad side was Foppiano Vineyards. I arrived there early on a drizzly Sunday shortly after tasting at Limerick Lane Cellars. I was probably the first person there, and was looking forward to trying some of their offerings from this historic winery. They were pouring some old Petite Sirahs and had some deals (buy one get one).

The first wine I have notes on was the Lot 96 NV ($25 at the tasting room, but looks like $12 online, though it may be a different bottle, see link here). It's a field blend dominated by Sangiovese, with Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Carignane, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc thrown in. Stinky nose with red fruit notes. Nice tannic structure in the mouth.

Also have notes on the 2001 Paso Robles Petite Sirah ($59.95). Again, stinky nose of blue cheese, with an earthy barnyard funk taste, and a long finish of black peppercorn and coffee. Certainly interesting.

The bad part about my experience here had to do with the guy pouring the wines. He seemed friendly enough when I showed up, but made a comment when I spat into the dump bucket on the bar. "Aw geez, you really going to make me clean that?" he said. I laughed because I thought he was being sarcastic, and tried a few more wines, spitting every time. After the third wine he made another comment, saying "You know, that's a health code violation." Then I realized he was serious. I asked if I could have a plastic cup to spit in and he gave me one, but all the joy from tasting was gone. I just felt really embarrassed about spitting, but I was driving that day and I also wanted to take good tasting notes, both of which become impossible for me if I drink every pour.

By the time I finished off the wines on the pour list, he was offering all sorts of deals on library wines, like two-for-one on a $60 Petite Sirah from 1991, but it didn't excite me enough to spend $60 for two bottles, so I left there in a hurry. At every other winery I went to that day, I asked if it was ok if I could use the dump bucket for spitting, and they all looked at me like I was crazy. "Of course you can, why wouldn't you?" I told them about my little incident at Foppiano and they were surprised. I've never had anyone else act as strange about spitting, and was really shocked that someone in Russian River Valley, of all places, would take offense. You'd think they would have seen that before. I guess not.

On the plus side, I had a nice experience at Porter Creek Vineyards. I felt a little awkward because I was there by myself surrounded by several different groups having fun, while I was scribbling notes and spitting. The guy pouring wine nervously asked if I was in the business, and I said I'm a journalist that writes about wine, but that I was just out for a personal trip (I wasn't planning on writing an article for the company I work for on the winery, at least not from that visit, but blogging I feel is different).

The tasting room is a tiny wooden shed built decades ago (I think he said 1920s, but I'd don't recall). The top of the bar was a glossy piece of stripped wood, and we were told it was made from a old bowling alley lane, which was a nice touch. Only one light bulb lit the room, a new, welcomed addition, the man behind the bar said.

I was excited to try the 2006 Carignane "Old Vines," from Alexander Valley ($24), as the grape known for its quantity, not quality, in France, has become a darling of some winemakers in the U.S. looking for a tasty, affordable varietal. I found a good mix of funk and fruit in the mouth.

Next I found the 2006 Syrah "Timbervine Ranch", from Russian River Valley ($36) to have a herbal finish.

Lastly, the 2006 Zinfandel "Old Vines" Sonoma Coast ($34) had an earthy, vanilla spice nose, and was balanced in the mouth, until the end when spices send you off with a nice kick.

Overall, I enjoyed my experience at Porter Creek, and the tasting room employee was able to weave wine geek info about the bottles to me with general info for the four younger British lads just out for a few glasses of wine.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Limerick Lane Cellars

Stopped by Limerick Lane Cellars in Healdsburg last weekend. I was the first visitor of the day, so the woman at the bar waved the tasting fee (normally $6, I think). The winery is known for its zinandels.

Tasting notes:

2006 Orsi Vineyard Pinot Noir ($38)
Nose of light strawberries , which follows in the mouth. Peppery finish. "Burgundian" said the tasting room staffer. She had it about right. Very pleasant wine.

2005 Collins Vineyard Zinfandel ($30)
Crimson appearance. Funky burnt rubber nose. Juicy red berry fruit in the mouth, smooth. Clean, minty finish. Eucalyptus.

2006 Collins Vineyard Syrah ($30)
Earthy, ripe blackberries on the nose. Lighter in the glass with plums and a round mouthfeel.