Monday, June 22, 2009

2006 Poderi San Lazzaro

I've been drinking a Rosenblum Syrah (2006 Snow's Lake Vineyard, Lake County) and have been pondering similes to describe how the wine has opulent fruit flavors that seem obscured by a heavy, thick coat of smoked wood. You know that smell that penetrates your clothes if you sit near a camp fire for any amount of time? Imagine that in your mouth. It's the same after taste you'd get from drinking a single malt scotch aged in toasted barrels for a decade or more (I'm thinking primarily of Laphroaig, one of my favorite go-to single malts).

I say all this because in the midst of my mental exercises trying to figure out an interesting way to breaking down this wine into words, I had a glass of something far superior that threw my thoughts about it into clear relief.

The Rosenblum wine is very "American" - ripe fruit, too much wood. The glass of wine I had, a Montepulciano/Sangiovese from Marche, Italy - the 2006 Poderi San Lazzaro, Rosso Superiore - reminded me why I love good Italian wines.

We had dinner at Pizzaiolo in Oakland, and of the several by the glass offerings, I chose the Montepulciano from Marche because I've had wines from that region and that grape before and really enjoyed it.

Marche is a region in central Italy on the eastern coast.

I got a little rubbery dirt on the nose, and in the glass I tasted violets, black and red fruits and a spicy finish. At $10.75 a glass, it was the most expensive choice on the menu, but it was worth it.

The fruit tasted fresh and pure, without any heavy overlay of wood or vanilla that ruins so many good American wines. I've certainly have had bad Italian wines, but the more I venture out to other countries, the more I understand why many winos prefer cheap foreign wine (cheap meaning less than $20 a bottle) to a comparably priced American bottle.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Four Barrel Duncan Estate Micro Lot #2 (Panama)

Following my recent good experience with Four Barrel's Ethiopian Wondo Harfusa, I went back for something different, something from South America that would be complex and light.

I picked up the Duncan Estate Micro Lot #2 from Panama for $13.50. I was pretty sure I tried coffees from this farm in the past (I think during a trip to Stumptown a few years ago) and remembered liking it very much, so I wanted to give it another go.

Four Barrel describes this organic, direct trade coffee like this: "Linden dominates the overall flavor of the cup from fragrance through finish and is accompanied by notes of kumquat, key lime, strawberry and evergreen."

My initial run at this coffee in a French press was a disaster. Tasted lots of pencil shavings and led, which are signs of old beans (the coffee itself was roasted a few days prior to my brewing it, but they could have still sat around for a long time in jute bags, losing their liveliness). There was some tropical fruit underneath the other layers, but overall it wasn't a pleasant experience.

I next brewed this in an inverted Aeropress, and got the same thing off the bat. "Just tastes old," I wrote in my notes. As the liquid cooled, I found some milk chocolate notes as well as kiwi, and something like a hibiscus tea flavor.

As an espresso, this coffee had a little more life, showing dried fruits, prominently cherries. Still, I'd say pass on this one.

Friday, June 12, 2009

2006 Razor's Edge Shiraz

Back in November I reviewed a 2004 Razor's Edge Shiraz and found it to be a great little affordable bottle of wine, showing sweet tar and honey on the nose, and heavy black plum flavors in the glass, strong tannins and a bit of heat, with some tar and dirt flavors on the finish. While big enough to outweigh most meals, I still thought it would be good to match up against stinky blue cheese, or just on it's own on a cold night.

Well, I've gone and purchased the 2006 vintage of this wine a few weeks ago, and came away with a totally different impression. Priced at $11.99, the nose had black fruit and toasted barrel notes. In the mouth I found blackberries, black currant, more toasted wood flavors and a lot of heat. The finish imploded because of the vodka-like taste at the end.

I was really disappointed - I was hoping this could be a good go-to cheap Shiraz, but now I'm not sure.

The winery's distributor, Joshua Tree Imports, describes the 2004-2006 vintages as such: "The Razor's Edge Shiraz is dark purple in color, yet bright and appealing in its clarity of fruit flavors, persisting on the finish against firm tannins."

Monday, June 8, 2009

Four Barrel Ethiopian Wondo Harfusa

I've been drinking a lot of coffee from Ritual and Barefoot lately, so I decided to switch things up and buy a bag of beans from Four Barrel (although they get their beans from Portland's Stumptown and Sweet Maria's, according to ManSeekingCoffee).

Four Barrel Coffee has been around for almost a year now, and I've visited several times, often during my lunch break, for espressos and the occasional Dynamo donut. You can see my postings about them here.

I was a little hesitant to buy beans from them after reading ManSeekingCoffee's pronouncement in March that their roasting has yet to live up to expectations, and that basically he prefers Stumptown's versions better. Still, it's been a few months and thought I'd play around with a bag for a few weeks and see what I got.

During previous trips, I didn't see roast dates on the bags, but they all have them now, which is an important piece of information for the coffee buyer to know. Freshness is so critical for coffee to be good, and I'm realizing that it's not just about the roast date, but the age of the beans themselves. I've pretty much ended my brief, torrent love affair with Blue Bottle after purchasing numerous bags of beans for home brewing, only to find they've all seemed dead inside. Nothing but stale, pencil shaving flavors. No acidity, no life, despite the fact they they were all roasted within a week of my purchase. I still like to get an occasional shot from their new cafe in the Ferry Building because of their cool lever machine and the convenience factor for me (I work a few blocks away), but I no longer get their beans for home because they don't seem to refresh their stocks enough or keep their green beans fresh.

Anyway, I went to Four Barrel a few weeks ago and wanted something lemony, something powerful. So I picked up their Ethiopian Wondo Harfusa for $12.50. As Four Barrel's website is just a front page right now, I couldn't get any additional info about the beans, but there is info on Stumptown's site.

Here's what Stumptown had to say: "Our lot was traditionally fermented for more than 24 hours, washed and left to dry in the sun on raised beds for more than a week. Wondo Harfusa is pure essence of hibiscus in fragrance followed with ripe red fruit flavors of raspberry, red currant and red cherry that finish in classic Yirgacheffe style with distinct notes of black tea."

I toyed around with different preparations for a week or so and found the inverted Aeropress to extract the best flavors. Very complex coffee, with a nutty, buttery taste to start, developing into jasmine/floral tea and ending with stone fruit flavors. The coffee had a light body and muted acidity. As a pour over, I got more nuts in the finish - hazelnut and macadamia nuts.

If you enjoy tea-like coffees, this is one to try. I haven't had Stumptown's version, so I can't compare it, but overall I liked it and will be exploring some more Four Barrel offerings in the future.