March 28, 2007

2000 Pascal Cotat "Les Monts Damnes" Sancerre, Chavignol, Loire, France

Well established facts on winecommando:
  1. We love Sauvignon Blanc, especially when the weather turns warmer
  2. Sancerre's are among our favorites
  3. We are drinking more Sancerre = weather has been a lot nicer around here

I mentioned in an earlier post that we are beginning to pull more white wines up to be chilled and ready for action. We are also out and about looking for what might be interesting, a good value, and not yet tried by us. We came across this wine a couple weeks ago and grabbed it... the label, the price AND it is a Sancerre. I also remembered reading a great review on Vinography of the 2005 vintage of this wine. Sounds like a winning lineup for us.

It was.

Alder at Vinography did a terrific job setting the story for this wine, so I'll refer you to his review to get the background. "Les Monts Damnes" is French for "Those Damned Mountains".

Now, let's taste this bottle. The first thing we noticed was how light and pale the color in the glass was, with almost a yellowish-greenish tint to it. We loved the nose and found it to have tropical fruit, sort of uncommon for a Sancerre... at least in our experience, balanced by a crispness and strong mineral scent that kept the nose clean, clean, clean. It continued to open in the glass and the fruit became rounder and softer, and more subtle with more lemony citrus becoming prominent. The palate was a bit of a surprise, like the nose, and was richer and more dense with more complexity than we have tasted in this style of wine. This was still DEFINITELY a Sauvignon Blanc, but the palate actually had a sweetness to the fruit which approached being "buttery". That sounds absolutely crazy, like insane talk... but it is true. There is still that great and classic Loire acidity and minerally quality but with fruit more like ripe peaches than grapefruit, though there is definitely lemon citrus and it is very evident in the finish. We really dug this wine and it forced us to totally change up our expectations for Sancerre. I would go so far as to say that this is the most unique Sancerre I have ever tired, and definitely the most memorable. Sometimes you begin to ride your preconceived notions of a wine or wine region and may even begin assuming an experience. It is good to have those notions shaken or shattered, as long as the wine still tastes good and you felt like it was a good value. Right?

cost - $33.99 on sale from $36.99

winecommando rating (1-10) - 9.25

we were not able to find this wine available online in the 2000 vintage, but the 2004 is available at WineAccess

2002 Walter Hansel South Slope Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, California

Several weeks ago we reviewed the 2002 Walter Hansel Pinot Noir and while I ended up really enjoying it, Cat did not. I knew that this winery also offered a few single vineyard Pinot Noirs and this is the first we have been able to try.

After sitting decanted for about an hour we glass tasted and found the wine immediately approachable. The nose had nice, round fruit of berries... primarily sweeter blueberry and a little blackberry. There is also a really nice fragrant floral component to the nose that we notice in some California Pinot Noirs. The floral scents are balanced by a little smoke and just a bit of alcohol. The palate is round and puts the fruit right out there with more berry, some cherry but not as deeply sweet as the nose. There is some wet soil flavors (like wet soil smells...) and a little peppery spice in there with really, really subtle cedar on the finish. This wine is lighter, totally Burgundian in style and remarkably complex. As we drank this Pinot Noir over the next hour or so it continued to open and soften, being incredibly well balanced and elegant. This was a terrific bottle of wine.

cost - $37.99

winecommando rating (1-10) - 9

this wine is available at Raeder's Wines online

March 25, 2007

1997 Verget Meursault, Burgundy, France

Drinking good wine requires patience. It's easy to grab a bottle of this or that at the local wine shop, and that's what most of us end up doing... convenience and all of that. To purchase an amount of wine with the goal of essentially hiding it somewhere dark and closet-like for some amount of time (usually measured in years) requires more of the mindset of a planner, of a schemer. This is something that I used to be way, way better at than I am now. I had a lot more time to research my purchases and carefully plan what I might like to be drinking ten years into the future. Now is when I begin to reap the benefits of the work of my past self. Ten years was like ten lifetimes ago.

And yet, here we are with a wine that has been waiting patiently, waiting quietly for its chance to impress me. A wine that was a bit of a gamble to wait on... 1997 Burgundian Chardonnay could have gone either way. So, this being the last of this wine... the remaining orphan, we brought it up and cooled it down, preparing it for its time.

In the glass this wine was a really unique straw yellow color, almost disconcertingly so. These days we're not used to drinking well aged white wine (though we certainly try...), and age tends to alter white wines in distinctly interesting ways. So the color was this straw yellow, pale and just slightly tinged with brown. The nose was amazing. It was full of lime and grapefruit at the beginning, and balanced by fragrant floral and a little vanilla towards the end. The palate was equally interesting, with more citrus and a great limestone base with richer honey and something we can only describe as freshly cut grass. This wine tasted like what freshly cut grass smells like in the summer. It was really good. Nice, lingering finish, but not cloying in any way. This is one of the first whites that we brought out and chilled in preparation for the advent of warmer days, which are quickly making inroads here now, and it is immensely rewarding to have a wine around for so long and be able to really enjoy it.

I have to say that in all reality, though, that 1997 just does not seem that long ago. That worries me somewhat.

cost - $29.99

winecommando rating (1-10) - 9

2005 Patricia Green Cellars Reserve Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon

The Willamette Valley in Oregon is not especially large in relation to other wine producing regions of the world. Nor is it crammed with wineries, per se. There is still some breathing room there, though this seems to become less and less the case every year. All of this to say, loving Oregon Pinot Noir like we do for so many years we get really, really excited when we come across a winery we have not heard of before. Patricia Green Cellars was entirely new to us.

That is because it is a relatively new winery, started in 2000 by Patricia Green and Jim Anderson. Patrica "Patty" Green began making wine in Oregon in the mid 1980's, and quickly established herself as a reputable winemaker and consultant, influencing the wine at several Willamette Valley wineries. Jim Anderson's story is a little less traditional. He came to wine in the mid 1990's after being asked to be free labor for the harvest at Amity vineyards. His history is peppered with stints as an activist for a bunch of different causes, attendance at a couple different colleges, and unsuccessful attempts at a few different careers. Then he and Patty met. The wine featured here is a result of this partnership. Enough said.

Jim and Patty make some great single vineyard Pinot Noirs, and if you can't do that in the Willamette Valley you have serious problems. This wine, though, holds a special place for them as they appreciate the challenge of making a terrific wine that solidly represents their skills as winemakers and stands as a good "introduction" to their winery and their approach. For some wineries, the entry level wine is a result of fruit that was not good enough to make the cut in the single vineyard wines. For these guys, this wine is a labor of love that is "composed" of specific quality elements from several of their vineyards.

We decanted this wine for about 45 minutes or so and poured to taste. The color was deep ruby red with brighter reds around the rim. The nose has a lot of rich, cherry fruit with some hints of dark chocolate. The palate is rich as well, and deep with more of the dark cherry, a little raspberry, and a really slight herbal component. There is a subtle earthiness (we wanted more!) and quiet tannins nicely restrained but still present. Good structure, nice finish, great flavors. This wine is drinking well now, only two years after its release, but we are wanting to check it out again in a couple more years to see how it softens. For the money, it is a terrific value and competes favorably with other Oregon Pinots at $10 to $15 more a bottle. We are excited to try some of the vineyard designated wines from these two, but of the "entry level" Pinot Noirs we have tasted from Oregon wineries... this one rocks the most.

cost - $23.99

winecommando rating (1-10) - 8.७५

this wine available at wineaccess

March 24, 2007

It has been a bit crazy around here...

It has been about a week since my last post, and there are so many more that I have working over here. We've just been beaten down by all of us being sick, crazy with work, and imminent out of town visitors. Don't worry, though, as I should have at least a couple new reviews up by tomorrow and am preparing an affordable white Burgundy death match for mid-week.

Note that we added an email address for queries, support and for any lonesome winery looking to get some play at winecommando. Feel free to send us an email and let us know your thoughts, or if there is a wine that you'd like to hear our take on.

March 17, 2007

2005 Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, Oregon

We've had some pretty amazing weather here the last week or so. Spring and summer are definitely feeling close. We had a couple days that made it into the mid-60's, which after the last couple of months felt like being on the beach in Mexico. Gorgeous. Naturally, this made us crave some of our favorite warm weather wines, and to celebrate the imminent changing of the seasons we have begun chilling some killer whites to be tasted over the coming weeks.

We have reviewed a couple Pinot Gris wines already, both of which were also from Oregon. We find this varietal to be a perfect summer wine and a great apertif before dinner. Though there are terrific Pinot Gris wines coming from Alsace, for some reason we keep gravitating to those from the United States' own private France... Oregon.

Ponzi is a big name in Oregon wine. This is not only because of the obvious Italian heritage, thus adding bolster to my ongoing hypothesis about Italians making terrific New World wine, but because of their unwavering focus on craft, technique and excellence. Dick Ponzi founded the winery in 1970 and set about building a solid, family driven winery with a culture of land stewardship in the Willamette Valley. Forty years later and the winery is still family run, now by the second generation of Ponzi's with Luisa Ponzi, Dick's daughter, now the winemaker since 1993. Luisa brings a Burgundian focus to the winemaking style, and adds her leadership in Oregon's sustainable viticulture program. The Oregon wine report has named Luisa as "one of the most formidable winemakers in the country." Formidable. I am seeing a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir tasting death match in our future.

Ponzi is known for great Pinot Gris, and this bottle is no exception. The fruit is from four different vineyards, with 30% of the grapes from the Aurora vineyard which is now certified organic. We poured to taste and found the nose full of crisp apple, a little pear and citrus. There is also an alluring spiciness to the nose, like allspice or nutmeg. Not sure. The palate is round and full, but still crisp. More apple, but with apricots and a nice, clean sharpness. Great palate cleanser. There is some grapefruit towards the finish, which is dry and elegant. This is good wine. It has nice structure and acidity and while it is great to enjoy by itself as a sipping wine I could also see enjoying this wine over a lighter dinner... like a big summer salad with lots of fresh vegetables and a nice piece of tuna. I can't wait to enjoy this wine at the end of the day on the patio when the sun is out past 7PM.

cost - $16.99

winecommando rating (1-10) - 9

available online at wineaccess

2000 Chateau Rayas La Pialade Cotes-du-Rhone, Vaucluse, France

Back in 1880 Albert Reynaud, at the age of 45, suddenly went deaf. He was a notary in the city of Avignon in the Rhone valley. This was of course very sad, and it forced him to change professions. This turned out to be good fortune for the rest of us over 100 years later, as he purchased Chateau Rayas and set in motion the events that would make it a powerhouse of Rhone wine. This would take many years, and four generations to fully realize, and the wine reviewed here is from the direction of his great great nephew, Emmanuel Reynaud.

This bottle was a pleasant surprise. We had opened one a few weeks ago and really, really enjoyed it. We opened this one last week and it maintained that theme. This is a direct wine, strong in its style. Made from Grenache, it puts out front in the nose deep, dark fruit of plums and raisins filled out with tobacco and green peppers. There is a strong vegetal quality behind all of the fruit that creates a depth we definitely appreciated. The palate was full of plum and a little strawberry, more raisin and ripe olives. Very balanced and smooth, there is a strong earthy quality to tie together the other flavors, as well as a subtle cedar taste towards the finish. This wine is not so much elegant as it is just bold, but not in a heavy bodied sort of way as this wine is definitely light to medium bodied. It just has strong qualities to it. The raisin/green peppers/ripe olives set it apart from the balance of Cotes-du-Rhones that we have tried. These qualities also lend this one to be an excellent complement to hearty foods. For the quality and character that this wine presents we consider it an exceptional value and a great contrast to the more traditional style Grenache wines, a few of which we have reviewed here on winecommando.

cost - $22.99

winecommando rating (1-10) - 8.75

March 13, 2007

२००२ Chateau Reynella Grenache, McLaren Vale, Australia

This was a wine that I stood in the wine shop holding for a few minutes doing a quick positive/negative analysis to determine if it should come home or not. It made it. In the positive category is that it is a Grenache from McLaren Vale, Australia. McLaren Vale is a pretty amazing wine region, and we reviewed the De Lisio Shiraz earlier from there and it did kick ass. Grenache is an ideal grape to grow in McLaren Vale, as most Rhone varietals are, and John Reynell is a highly respected old school Australian wine pioneer. His arrival dates back to 1838 (not sure if that was by choice or not... ) and in 1842 he released his first wine.

In the negative category is the fact that Chateau Reynella is a pretty huge winery. Almost like a wine factory. We tend toward the smaller, family run, hands-on wineries in our wine buying choices... more of the craft of wine vs. the enterprise. Another concern was the words "Basket Pressed" right on the front of the label. Now, basket pressed is not a bad thing. In fact, it is an incredibly involved traditional method of pressing the fruit that ostensibly results in superior quality juice. On its face, this would be a good thing to trumpet about any wine. In this case, I worried that it was the result of a careful marketing study conducted with a multitude of focus groups. Was I being watched at that very moment?

Well, obviously the wine came home and we opened and decanted for an hour before tasting. When we did we found a really bright and fresh smelling wine. The nose was full of concentrated raspberry and ripe strawberry, with a little wet soil. The palate delivered more raspberry along with cranberry, and earth and coffee in the finish. There were tannins, but they were in check and only added to what was really solid structure in the wine. Medium bodied, this is a great food wine and I would recommend something a little more rich to contrast well with the brightness of the fruit. This Grenache is definitely on par with the Domaine Lafage that we tasted last month, though with more focus on the fruit. My only knock would be the $10 price difference with the Lafage.

cost - $22.00

winecommando rating (1-10) - 8.25

March 11, 2007

Affordable Burgundy Death Match

Not really a "death match" so to speak, that is mostly for dramatic value. This is a group tasting of four entry level Burgundy Pinot Noirs ($14-$20/bottle) that we have opened over the last few weeks. The goal here is to find really good value wines to fill out the lower end, every-day-drinking, table wine part of our cellar. We have mentioned this previously with various wines tasted here on winecommando, but we thought it would be fun to do a group comparison looking for bottles of wine that deliver value beyond their price and that provide a buffer against grabbing the really good wines too often (though we taste those too, just to see how they're coming along...). Let's get started.

2003 Domaine Vincent Sauvestre "Les Belles Roses" Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire (Meursault)
We decanted this wine for one hour before tasting and found the nose full of plum and strawberry with a little bit of a wet rock, minerally scent. The nose was surprisingly deep and rich, and the color in the glass equally so. It was dark garnet with the rusty reds around the ring of the glass. It looked beautiful. On the palate there was deep dark strawberry in an almost jammy fruit kind of way. There was cranberry in the finish, the way it reacts with the back of your tongue. Along the way we tasted earthy, autumnal flavors but they were incredibly subtle. Very balanced, light to medium bodied and wonderfully finished. This wine is significantly more sophisticated than the price. Seek out and drink more.
cost - $14.99

winecommando rating (1-10) - 8.5

2004 Nicolas Potel "Cuvee Gerard Potel" Bourgogne (Nuits-Saint-Georges)
This wine was opened and decanted for an hour before we tasted. When we tried it we found the wine to be thin and restrained. We let it sit for another hour and found it to have opened up a bit more. The nose was very distinctly full of dark cherry with a little bit of cedar and spiced fruit, like savory fruit preserves. The palate was very light, and remained thin. Flavors were cherry and raspberry, the sharper sides of those, and some smoky notes. Not a lot of depth, but still an elegant wine with good balance. This wine is definitely on the lighter side of Pinot Noir and the finish was short and very dry.
cost - $17.99

winecommando rating (1-10) - 7.25

2004 Jean Garaudet Hautes-Cotes de Beaune Bourgogne (Pommard)
This wine was particularly interesting. We decanted for an hour and a half and when we smelled and tasted it made us smile. Really interesting, deep and complex nose. There was vanilla and that baking cookies smell that some Pinot Noirs have in a really good way. The fruit was more cassis, with edges of plum and a little sweet grape juice. It smelled really good, very aromatic, but definitely not traditionally Burgundian. That's cool. In the glass it was a deep, dark, rich purple color and very dense. Also atypical for Burgundian Pinot Noir, especially at this level and price point. The palate was surprisingly Californian, and definitely pushed the fruit right out front. A lot of strawberry, rich and lush, balanced by good structure and a minerally quality. Definitely earthy, but the richness of the fruit makes for a great balance. Medium bodied, it is not overly sophisticated... more like a POW! in the face as it walks out of the room. We liked it because of this and because it was so different, so unexpected. Another really good value and a fun wine to contrast with more typical French Pinot Noirs.
cost - $16.99

winecommando rating (1-10) - 8.25

2005 Rene Lequin-Colin Bourgogne (Santenay)
I was excited to try this wine as it is the first I had seen at this level from what is really a very small, family driven and historically rooted Burgundian winemaker. This is another wine story that started with a merger by marriage, and the Lequin-Colin family can trace their vineyard holdings back to the mid-1600's. It is still a small operation with the focus steadfastly on quality, not quantity, with vineyards maintained for low, concentrated yields of excellent quality fruit and a belief in the historical traditions of winemaking... basically being "intimate" with their vineyards and doing as much by hand as possible.

We decanted for an hour or so and when smelled found the nose rich, round and opulent. This was a little bit surprising, given that this wine is a 2005 and was only released last year. It is a table wine, though, and was clearly vinted to begin drinking. The nose was a little floral and fragrant, and offered black cherry, spiced plum and a little black pepper. The palate was velvety smooth, very balanced and had the same dark cherry fruit, a nice spicy quality, some earthy richness, and a smooth, quite finish. Really, a very nice wine for the money and given that the grapes are sourced from the families holdings in Santenay (a solidly prestigious area of Burgundy) and while they may not have been good enough to make it into the families Santenay, my guess is they were excellent by most standards and result in a really terrific value wine for us. We will be having more of this wine on hand.
cost - $18.99

winecommando rating (1-10) - 8.0

March 10, 2007

2005 Charles Joguet "Cuvee Terroir" Chinon, Loire Valley, France

Chinon is located in the center of the Loire Valley. The main grape varietal grown there is Cabernet Franc, which is also called Breton. Some Cabernet Sauvignon is also grown, but it is minimal and the focus is clearly on Cab Franc. I was inspired to try this wine by brooklynguy and his reviews of Loire Valley reds. I have to admit, I have very limited experience with Loire reds and his writings made me want to learn more. We've reviewed here several of the Loire Sauvignon Blancs and will be reviewing a Muscadet soon, wines that typically appeal to us very, very much. It is now time to step away from the Burgundian Pinot Noir and put away the New World Syrah. This is a good thing, too, as the Loire reds tend to be undervalued. You can find some exceptional wines for half or one third of what you would pay for a mid-level Burgundy... it is always good to have options.

The vineyards of Chinon are the same soil types as the other areas of the Loire Valley. In the flatter lowlands they are gravelly and rocky and along the gentle hillsides they are more limestoney and with a higher clay content. This wine comes from grapes grown in a vineyard that is along one of these hillsides. This is important to point out because, as we have explained before, it is a traditional French winemaking style to bring out the qualities of the earth in which the grapes for the wine were grown. This is a big reason we love French wine, and wine made in a French style, so much. We love tasting the terroir of the wine. This Chinon definitely came through on this count, and it is named "Cuvee Terroir" so we can't be too surprised. The nose, which is bright and sharp at first, offers up with intense raspberry and cranberry with hints of wet clay, just like the vineyards the wine came from. The clay smell is a distinct scent, and it really adds to the complexity of the nose. There was also some hints of pepper and coffee, but the earthy clay quality was the standout. The palate was incredibly smooth and velvety. The wine actually looks velvety in the glass as it is intensely dark and deep purple looking. As you swirl it it seemed to hug the sides of the glass a little bit longer than it should. It looks very concentrated. It tastes very concentrated. The flavors in the mouth are dark berry, strawberry and almost a chicory coffee type taste... like a smoky coffee flavor. The wine tastes amazing. The structure is great, with soft tannins rounding out a medium bodied wine. The finish is longish and not unpleasant. Really, a terrific value wine and definitely worth more than I paid for it. I highly recommend experimenting and trying the Cabernet Franc wines of Chinon.

cost - $14.99

winecommando rating (1-10) - 8.5

2004 Domaine Lamy Pillot Chassagne-Montrachet, Cote D'Or, Burgundy, France

Back to Burgundy, but this time a Chardonnay... and one with a long pedigree. Chassagne-Montrachet is known for great Chardonnay, but this was not always the case. Historically, mostly Pinot Noir was grown here but it had difficulty living up to the quality produced in neighboring Volany or Corton. Now more than half the vineyards in Chassagne-Montrachet are producing Chardonnay, and of the five appellation designations for this area three are grands crus, or the best of the best. The appellation Montrachet is considered to be the "king of white wines." This bottle is not appellation Montrachet, but is the appellation Chassagne-Montrachet controlee. I will explain the French concept of appellation designation another time, but suffice it to say that this wine would be considered, though excellent, the entry level for the Chardonnay of Chassagne-Montrachet.

This wine is made by Lamy Pillot, the result of a familial merger. The Lamy family have been winemakers in Burgundy since 1640. The Pillot family began making wine in Chassagne-Montrachet around 1595. Like Shakespeare, these two families were joined by marriage, but this time with a happy result. The marriage had the result of also joining their vineyards, most notably in the best areas of of Chassagne-Montrachet, Santenay and Beaune. Three hundred years later they remain a family driven winery and Lamy Pillot produces consistently excellent, prestigious wines from their diverse vineyard holdings.

I would not classify Cat and I as Chardonnay lovers. We do really like the Burgundian style of Chardonnay, though, and this wine is solidly in that category (itself actually BEING a Burgundian Chardonnay... that's not obvious or anything). The biggest difference between the broad styles of Chardonnay, to my mind Californian and Burgundian, is the way in which oak barrels are used in the vinification and maturation process. Californian style Chardonnay producers, and this is a bit of a generalization, gravitate to a heavier, more oaked style with oak flavors very present in their wines. The Burgundian style Chardonnay producers tend to want the oak to be incredibly subtle, and to have the natural flavors of the wine and the terroir be the focal point. Some use no oak at all. We like that approach and if you have read some of our other reviews here on winecommando, that is now patently obvious.

We poured this wine and let it open for a bit before tasting. We found the nose to be rich and full. It smells of honeysuckle, apple and honeydew melon. Very distinct and round fruit to the nose, but not in a heavy or cloying way. There is also the subtlest limestone scent, as well as a nutty quality. The nose is wonderfully complex. So is the palate, which is big and mouth filling with melon, more apple and a little citrus. There is an earthy component, the limestone again, and a little almondine and vanilla. All of this is incredibly well balanced, and while I would say this approached being a heavy bodied Chardonnay, it is very soft and evenly structured. This wine is terrific to enjoy on its own, but would also pair really well with food and could match fish and poutry dishes. I would even consider pairing this with pork tenderloin.

cost - $37.99

winecommando rating (1-10) - 8.75

2005 Voga Italia Pinot Grigio, Calmasino, Italy

We're suckers for groovy packaging. I think our whole culture is. We'd buy shredded phone books if they were offered in a cool, well-designed container. While this wine is far from shredded phone books (not that far, actually) it was the interesting bottle design that inspired us to pick it up and bring it home. Honestly, the only thing that keeps wine bottles looking the way they do is tradition. It is a package that is desperate for creative thinking and innovation. The storage issue alone demands that the arcane wine bottle shape be revisited by the likes of Starck, Newson or Mattisimo.

This bottle is pretty cool. The cap hides a longer neck that utilizes a synthetic cork for the seal. Opening this bottle made me feel like we were drinking wine in the future. Like on a spaceship. Anyway, you have to admit that going this direction is a really cool idea. The bottled water guys figured this out like ten years ago and have been hiring rockstar designers to reinvent their packaging for awhile. I know people who buy VOSS because, and only because, of the bottle design... which is actually startlingly similar to this Voga bottle.

That made me want to visit the Voga website. I highly recommend checking it out. It made me want to gouge out my eyes. I embrace wine as lifestyle as much as the next scheming marketer, but I think Voga may be going just a little too far. As if the bottle design alone isn't sending a message, they have to drive it home with a blunt instrument.

Moving on, this wine is made from Pinot Grigio grapes, a classic Italian white varietal that generally makes for a crisp and refreshing wine. Perfect for hot summer days on the patio. The fact that we opened this bottle in the middle of winter with temperatures hovering around 0 degrees and about 20 inches of snow on the ground says a lot more about us than it does about the wine. Anyway, we poured this wine and set about deciphering it. The nose was tart, bright and full of lemon. Concentrated lemon, almost like lemon drops or preserved lemon... with that sugary element. It also smelled of flowers, lilac maybe, and sharp green apple. The palate offered similar flavors, but more round and lush and missing the sharp tartness of the nose. Definitely a light bodied wine. The finish was quick and dry. Because of the packaging we wanted this wine to be awesome. It isn't awesome, but it is pretty good and I could see enjoying this on a hot summer day while sitting on the patio. Or on our spaceship. In the future.

cost - $11.00

winecommando rating (1-10) - 7

March 4, 2007

You Are What You Eat

We're going to go off topic here for just one post. Humor us. Anybody who loves and enjoys the experience of wine understands the relationship that wine has with food. For us, wine is a component of our meal and as we put much thought to the wine we want to open, we also put a lot of thought into the food we want to eat. Cat and I have been eating organic for years, and this extends to the poultry and meats that we want on our table. When our local grocer changed to all organic, all free-range meats a couple years ago we were really happy, and our non-fish meat consumption went up as a result.

Back in December I discovered that a friend of the family was supporting the sustainable agriculture, livestock quality of life endeavor and instilling these values into their own family run farm, Grass Run Farm. Shortly after that, we received our first sampler package of selected beef cuts that had been ordered for us by my father as a holiday gift. The meat was outstanding. The beef tenderloin was simply incredible, and the New York Strips are the best we have ever had. We are planning on ordering with frequency from this farm for the obvious reasons, but in addition there is something to be said for knowing, and I mean REALLY knowing, where your food comes from. There is a trust there.

Grass Run Farm just sent out their latest newsletter, and it re-reminded me about the value in sustainable farming, and in placing emphasis on the healthfulness of the foods we choose to bring into our homes. In their news section they recommended an article that was in the NY Times in January that Cat had read. It's a great article, and I highly recommend to any of you who care deeply about the foods that you prepare to give it a read.

Grass Run Farm is in the midst of completing the process of being certified as an organic farm and have been offering grass fed, hormone free, family raised beef and pork for some time. I added them to our Shared Sentiments over there on the right and hope you'll take a moment to investigate and support their efforts.

2004 Robert Hall Syrah, Paso Robles, California

We seem to be caught in a wine feedback loop presently. It seems that we have been consistently rotating our wine choices between Burgundy, the Loire, and non-French Syrah. Sure, we've thrown in the occasional Rhone blend or the odd bottle of Champagne, but largely you all have seen reviews that predominantly fall into those three main categories. Prepare yourselves for one more.

To be honest, I would say that our taste preferences fall into those three broad wine categories, and this is evidenced by the diversity of reviews within each here on winecommando. I talked about Rioja earlier, but we haven't really gotten around to reviewing any of merit. Yet. Stay tuned for that one.

We picked up this Syrah simply because we had not tried it before, and we had not yet reviewed a wine from Paso Robles (pronounced "passoe roe-blays"), named for the areas oak trees and shortened from the Spanish El Paso de Robles. What we know of Paso Robles is that there are some great wineries and great wines in this area. It is one of the fastest growing wine regions in California, located between San Francisco and Los Angeles on the Central Coast, and is currently home to over 100 wineries, producing over 40 different wine varietals. It is still overshadowed by Napa and Sonoma, but Paso Robles is resurgent... and not least of all due to the changing tastes of American wine drinkers. As different varietals, like Syrah and Viognier, gain popularity so do the fortunes of the areas that produce these grapes, areas just like Paso Robles. To be fair, though, there is also great Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel produced there, the backbones (with Chardonnay) of the Californian wine industry.

The winery owner, Robert Hall, is another individual who came to wine indirectly. He was a very successful developer of shopping centers and when faced with options for retirement, chose to dive into wine. He had always had a passion for wine, and had developed this passion with many visits to France, especially to the Rhone valley. When he bought his winery in Paso Robles, it was this passion for the Rhone style wines that he sought to pursue. He partnered with winemaker Don Brady to create wines that are true to the Southern French style, with special focus on the Syrah grape.

It was interesting to learn that this Syrah is blended with both Mourvedre and Merlot. Mourvedre is a traditional Rhone varietal that is often blended with Syrah and Grenache, but the Merlot part of this equation was not something we had experienced before. We opened and decanted this bottle for about an hour and a half. When we poured to taste the nose was full, rich and very aromatic. We could smell the wine well before putting the glasses to our noses. There is intense, concentrated raspberry and blackberry with hints of mint and earth. The palate was also rich and full, but without being cloying or over-the-top. It was remarkably balanced, which I think surprised us given how powerful the nose is. We tasted deep, sweet raspberry with dark chocolate, a little coffee, and some woody flavors. It definitely approaches being a heavier bodied wine, but the balance of the flavors and the structure keeps it well on the elegant side. The finish on this Syrah was long and flavorful. This is a Syrah that would be terrific with beef tenderloin, or a rich meat like bison. It would also work great with Cat's special vegetarian chili filled out with bulgar, which is what we paired it with. It was a good match.

I would not say that this wine was off the charts, or that it delivered some wildly sophisticated flavors. It is incredibly solid, and for the money an exceptional value. This would be another excellent example of a great value wine with which to bolster your cellar as this 2004 will drink great for the next five years or so.

cost - $18.99

winecommando rating (1-10) - 8.5

March 3, 2007

Pommery POP, Reims, Champagne, France

Cat brought this bottle home a couple of weeks ago, but we only got around to trying it last evening. Normally, champagne would not last five seconds in our house... but this one made me hold off. Yeah, the bottle is cobalt blue and it says POP in huge letters right on the label. Yeah, this is the Champagne that is taking the night clubs of New York by storm and was "designed" to be sipped through a straw from petite little bottles. Uh, right. We didn't have any straws.

So the snob in me kept putting this bottle off. I figured it would be a sweet, over produced, mass consumption designed waste of our time. I figured this was another example of a storied French wine house marketing to the undeveloped tastes of moneyed twenty-somethings around the globe. I had it all figured out.

I was wrong. It was pretty damn good. Actually, it was great. The nose was yeasty and full of citrus. That is a good sign. There was some vanilla and apple in there too. It smelled terrific. The palate was crisp and dry with good structure. Definitely a Champagne to hold up to food (it's a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier... traditional Champagne varietals), it tasted of lemon and orange, a little cream soda... but only in the driest not-quite-sweet sort of way. The finish was long and yeasty. Both of us were really surprised. We love Champagne (who doesn't) and in the last year have tried a variety of those from known and unknown Champagne houses. We've loved Bollinger and Tattinger. We have a predisposition for Veuve Clicquot. There was a Salmon-Billecart that we really enjoyed, as well as a Laurent Perrier. All big names in Champagne. Pommery is no slouch, either, and POP lived up to the tradition of this house... which is to make really terrific and uniquely styled Champagne.

I had to learn more, and digging into the history of Pommery I found it to have a great story. Earlier we posted a review of Veuve Clicquot not so much to review the Champagne as to impart the story behind one of the most recognized and respected luxury Champagne brands. Actually, the first real Champagne "brand." All of that was due to the leadership of Madame Clicquot, the first female to direct a wine house of such prestige. Hot on her heals, though, was Jeanne Alexandrine Louis Pommery, the widow of Louis Alexandre Pommery who died only two years after taking possession of the winery. This was in 1858, and Madame Pommery took the helm of the winery with a vision. She moved the house away from still wine and focused on sparkling with the goal of creating a grande marque Champagne house. She did. She also acquired over 12 miles of underground chalk and limestone tunnels originally built by the Romans and connected them, creating an awesome network of underground cellars. Cool stuff.

So, this was a really pleasant surprise. That, and then there is the price. Non vintage Champagnes generally run in the $40-$60/bottle range. Veuve Clicquot is typically somewhere around $45. Not expensive, really, but definitely out of the range of frequent Champagne consumption... at least on our budget. POP can be found for around $30. That is a fantastic deal and an excellent value, at least in our now corrected opinion.

cost - $30.00

winecommando rating (1-10) - 9

February 25, 2007

2005 La Crema Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California

This wine immediately strikes me as a classic Californian Pinot Noir. Unfortunately, that is not necessarily a good thing. I say that because I find that Californian style of Pinot to be very light and thin with a medicinal quality to the palate. Contrast that to the depth and richness of those Californian Pinot's that go their own way, and you cleave the lovers of these wines. Consider me in the camp of the Burgundian style, no surprise there, and in California I look for the wines of Walter Hansel, Jed Steele or Kent Rasmussen. Not so much Burgundian, these wines, as Californian meets Burgundy. Either way, they contrast well against the style of the La Crema tasted here.

Which is odd, really. La Crema's reputation is pretty solid, and they are known to make incredible, intense and delicious Chardonnay's. That's a long way of saying that I don't know that I would judge the winery by our tasting of this Pinot Noir. There are two reasons for that:

1. It is a 2005 and will likely deepen and become more complex with age.

2. This wine is entry level, and there are several beyond this that may get to where I want to go. I am going to seek those out and taste in comparison to this one in the coming weeks.

Melissa Stackhouse is the winemaker over at La Crema and she has been working to put her stamp on the house winemaking style. That is probably good, as Melissa is known to favor a Burgundian style of Pinot Noir. Actually, that would be a third reason why I will check out more wines from La Crema crafted by Melissa Stackhouse. For whatever reason, this Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir just didn't get there.

We decanted for a bit and poured to smell. The nose was a bit hot with alcohol, and had cassis and jammy fruit blended with that medicine quality I mentioned earlier. The nose is not bad, just not what we go for, and to my mind is simple and without depth. There is a sandy quality to both the nose and the palate which makes me feel like the grapes were grown in really arid, sun drenched vineyards... which they were not.

The palate is simple and restrained. I would say light with little complexity. The fruit is more strawberry, but it dissipates quickly leaving an aftertaste that is like, well... it's like medicine. There is an earthy component to the palate that we like, but it is not in balance with the rest of the wine. The finish is fairly short and dry.

Lately, we've been looking for some value wines to flesh out the lower end of our cellar. Wines that we can enjoy whenever we want without feeling like we are robbing our daughter's inheritance. Just kidding. But seriously, we are looking for good value wines that we can keep and drink over the next year or so while we stock up on more long-term keepers. This wine is not either of those, obviously, but as I said we will continue to check out La Crema and let you know what we taste.

cost - $21.99

winecommando rating (1-10) - 7

2005 King Estate Signature Pinot Noir, Lorane Valley, Oregon

And the endless parade of Oregon wines continues. What can I say, there are so many to enjoy and we like enjoying them. This wine was no different, but the story behind King Estate is almost as good as the wine itself.

King Estate was born in 1991, realizing a twelve year fantasy for Ed King and his father. Ed moved to Oregon in 1979 to pursue his MBA, but quickly realized he had a passion for winemaking. His father sold off his business and retired in 1985, doing quite well. They began looking for vineyard property and found an excellent 600 acre plot. They dove in. Today King Estate is nearly 1200 acres of certified organic vineyards producing very high quality fruit. It is a winery known for decidedly Burgundian/European sensibilities and as a result has a reputation for producing consistently beautiful wines. Ed and his dad still lead the winery.

This Pinot Noir could be considered entry-level for their catalog of wines. That in no way detracts from it, though. In the glass the wine is vibrant and bright garnet colored. The nose is full of black currants and raspberry. There is also some all-spice and hints of oak. On the palate there shows deep fruit, with blueberry and cherry jam-like flavors. There is an interesting taste that is almost like baking oatmeal cookies that we really liked a lot. All of this is balanced by a smoky quality that lingers into the finish. Medium bodied with a short finish, this wine was nice and easy to drink. It is a good wine with lighter food, but is also fine as a sipping wine on its own. Though this is a 2005 and will get better with some age under it, it is drinking well now and offers a nice value for a solid Oregonian Pinot Noir from an all organic estate.

cost - $22.99

winecommando rating (1-10) - 8.5

February 24, 2007

2004 Domaine de Saint Pierre Sancerre, Loire Valley, France

There is no doubt that we have exposed our bias for the wines of the Loire Valley. We've only really discussed a few, though, and in the context of our review of this Sancerre thought we would give you a little background on the Loire valley and the wines of the region. The valley gets its name from the Loire river that runs through the area. It is this river, changing and moving across the landscape over its history, that has imparted so many of the mineral qualities in the soil that make their way into the regions wines. The Sauvignon Blancs of the Loire are noted for these qualities, and we seek them out. In reality, the Loire is made up of several different grape growing areas and these represent a broad range of growing climates from the appelation Sancerre in the east to the appelation of Muscadet. Along the river are many other appelations, some very recognizable and others less so. The more widely known are Vouvray, Sancerre and Pouilly Fume. But there is also Touraine (a wine from which we just reviewed) as well as Chinon and Anjou (wines from which we will be reviewing in the near future). It is the white grapes of the appelations that the Loire is most noted for, and it goes without saying that the queen of these is Sauvignon Blanc. We would be remiss, though, to not point out that the Melon grape of Muscadet in the Loire makes amazing wine... also a favorite of ours and a grape that is gaining an increasing following with the vineyards of the Willamette Valley and wineries like Panther Creek and Ken Wright Cellars. Something that we are are excited to do, and that is also gaining increasing exposure, is to begin reviewing some of the red wines of the Loire, wines that go mostly unnoticed here in the US but that deliver excellent value and quality.

We found this Sancerre to be classic and delivering of the promise for the wines of this appelation. The nose was bright with lemon and flint, and a subtle pine quality. It tasted wonderful with more citrus, moving toward grapefruit, and a nice minerally backbone. We also picked up rosehips in the finish, which was clean and dry. For the money, this wine is a nice entry-level example of the style of Sancerre.

cost - $16.99

winecommando rating (1-10) - 8

2003 Domaine Merieau Sauvignon Blanc, Touraine, Loire Valley, France

We have reviewed the more prominent Sauvignon Blancs of the Loire before, the wines of Sancerre and Pouilly Fume here on winecommando. Together these represent a spectrum of Sauvignon Blanc wine making style in this region. There are others, though, that offer both the quality and characteristics of these wines, but at a better value. We picked up this Loire Valley wine for $14.00, which is an excellent value. What makes this wine distinct is that it is aged on the lees, meaning that it is left to age for a time with the materials that collect at the bottom of the vat. These materials are the dead yeasts and residual yeasts that occur during the wine making process, and this process, called sur lies in French, adds a quality to wine that can be pretty incredible. In the case of this Sauvignon Blanc, it softens greatly the sharpness of the citrus and grapefruit flavors and adds a creamy, yeasty component. This is the difference between a Sauvignon Blanc that is an excellent apertif wine, and one that is a great food wine. This Domaine Merieau is great with food, having more depth, complexity and structure than is typical. The nose is full of fragrant lavender, honey and hints of grapefruit. The palate is round with pear and sharp green apple, balanced by the softness of honeydew melon. The finish is rich and lush, which we find fairly unique as compared to the majority of French Sauvignon Blanc. The minerally qualities are still there, as is the tradition of the soil of the Loire, but they are part of a bigger picture in this wine. This bottle was a very pleasant surprise and more of it will find its way into our cellar for the summer.

cost - $14.00

winecommando rating (1-10) - 9

February 18, 2007

2005 St. Innocent Vitae Springs Vineyard Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, Oregon

Part two of our St. Innocent double header, and the takeaway here is that Mark Vlossak makes fantastic Pinot Gris, a varietal that I feel is too often overlooked. We reviewed the Adelsheim Pinot Gris earlier, another winery in the Willamette Valley, and the point I made then is how terrific a food wine Pinot Gris really is, and that it sits between Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

The style of this wine is focused on the fruit. St. Innocent does not barrel age the Vitae Pinot Gris so as to emphasize the incredible fruit that comes from their low yield vineyard. The nose is full of pear, honeysuckle and a little orange peal. It has a dry sweetness to it that draws you in and on the palate there is really nice round fruit with pear, lemony citrus, vanilla and a spiced fruit quality. It is a very dry wine, but incredibly sophisticated and though it finishes cleanly, the roundness and richness of the fruit lingers on your palate. There is great structure and enough acidity here to pair this wine with spicier foods, and I could see having this with a Szechuan seafood dish or with a spicy fish or chicken preparation. This Pinot Gris would be an excellent white staple wine for your cellar, and we plan to enjoy more of it on the patio this summer.

cost - $17.00

winecommando rating (1-10) - 8.5

2004 St. Innocent Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir, WIllamette Valley, Oregon

Some people are born into wine and others find their way to it. In that second group there are some who get there by happy accident, and others who carefully chart their path. Like the 10 year old who knows that he wants to become a lawyer (?) or an astronaut... and then becomes what they set out to do. Mark Vlossak, the founder and winemaker of St. Innocent was decidedly in that last category. His father is a wine distributor in the Milwaukee/Chicagoland area and Mark grew up being exposed to an appreciation for excellent wine. He made his way west and in 1988 began making wine at St. Innocent. It's a good thing he did, too, as few wineries rival the consistent excellence across all varietals that Mark and his team are able to attain... that, and despite the quality, effort, attention to detail, and reputation St. Innocent keeps its wines priced so as to remain within the reach of most of us.

If you look across the winery landscape of the Willamette Valley in Oregon there is an interesting phenomenon. Several of the wineries are owned or wines made by people from the Midwest. Panther Creek Cellars is owned by Ron Kaplan and his wife, originally from Iowa. Mark Vlossak heralds from Wisconsin. Domaine Serene is owned by the Ken and Grace Evenstad of Minnesota. There are other similar stories, but I love that folks from flyover territory head west and make killer wine. In all three of these cases, really killer wine. I believe that Panther Creek actually contracts with Mark Vlossak to make their wines, which is just smart thinking.

Over the years I have been fortunate to enjoy many of St. Innocent's wines. It had been awhile, though, and Cat and I were excited to open up this Shea vineyard Pinot Noir. The Shea vineyard is just outside of Portland, in the Yamhill foothills. As we have discussed here at winecommando previously, this is ground zero for growing and making incredible Pinot Noir. For us, this wine is quintessential St. Innocent, totally classic in style and very sophisticated. We readily admit that it may be premature to open this bottle, but part of the fun of owning and enjoying wine is to experience it as it ages, to chart its changes. We opened and decanted it, pouring just about an ounce each to taste immediately. The first thing we were both struck by is the color. In the center of the glass it is dark, almost a black red with more electric reds around the ring of the glass. The nose, just out of the bottle, presented bright cherry fruit with edges of autumnal scents, like raked leaves... a more distinct earthy quality. The palate was intense, but a little sharp. We let it sit for about three hours or so.

When we came back to it we found the nose to have softened. It was incredibly fragrant, still with that cherry fruit, but richer and deeper now. There was an herbal quality, almost like rosemary, but sweeter. All of this was complimented by a flowery, almost perfume like scent that, though subtle, gave the nose an interesting complexity. We found the earthy/autumnal quality almost unnoticeable. On the palate the wine was deep and intense. The fruit was of cherry and currants, hints of nuts... like chestnuts or walnuts (I have a tough time remembering which tastes like which). The palate was balanced with tannins present, but not out of line. We picked up more of that perfume on the palate, and it was almost like lilac. The finish was nice. This Pinot Noir will only get better, but it was very enjoyable for us now. It is a terrific food wine, and the intensity of the palate and its structure would give it the flexibility allow you to experiment with its food pairing, breaking away from convention. We paired it with seared salmon topped with a sweet Vidalia onion and balsamic vinegar chutney, and a mixed vegetable salad with white balsamic vinegar and a little olive oil.

cost - $37.99

winecommando rating (1-10) - 9.25

February 15, 2007

Wine Blogging Wednesday Wrap Up - New World Syrah

Earlier this week Winecast posted the summary of WBW submissions from last Wednesday. The deal with WBW is after a theme is chosen (in this case... New World Syrah) wine bloggers far and wide can submit their reviews. For this last WBW, winecommando submitted its review of the Chilean Montes Alpha Syrah. What's interesting is that another wine blogger, Good Grape, also reviewed this wine and had a somewhat different take on it than ourselves. Check both reviews out, then track this wine down, taste it, and do your own review. If you agree with me, I'll post it here.

Just kidding.

The theme for the next WBW is boxed wine. Not sure if Cat and I will be taking part in that one, though there are actually some decent wines now coming in boxes and other unique containers. Is it a trend? Is it marketing? Not sure, but we are starting to see some funky wine bottles here and there. We picked one up a bit ago and will be reviewing it here shortly. We will also be posting our St. Innocent wines double header review of the Shea vineyards Pinot Noir and the Pinot Gris. Both were really, really good.

Yes, those are actual Syrah grapes up there in the photo.

February 14, 2007

winecommando Goes West (but is back now)

Just got back from a business trip to the land of wine, silicon and internet bajillionaires. It was an excellent trip, and not least of all due to some of my dining and wine experiences. Here's the cool thing... I hit the wine and food blog vinography for some recommendations and was not disappointed. Last night we dined at Range in the Mission and had a terrific time. Small, intimate restaurant owned by a couple that are clearly passionate about food, wine and value. They basically built the place with their own hands to save money, and they did a terrific job.

The food was solid and the wine list well thought out. We had the Elk Cove Pinot Gris ($37... I think) and the Domaine Serene Yamhill Pinot Noir ($66), both from Oregon and I reviewed the Domaine Serene here earlier. The Pinot Gris paired exceptionally well with our appetizers, the standout of which was the Tombo tuna tartare. The Pinot Noir matched well with main courses that included lamb, shortribs (delish!) and a vegetarian option that I cannot remember, but looked really good. Honestly, though, the thing that blew me away the most was their prices. Entrees were $17-$22 and the wine list was incredibly reasonably priced. Totally terrific value. The pricing felt more like 1993 than 2007. Contrast this with our dinner at Jeffery Chodorow's Asia de Cuba (not on vinography's recommendation, just convenient), the hotel restaurant at The Clift, where entree prices were in the $29-$45 range and not nearly as inspired.

We also enjoyed Enoteca Viansa, the San Francisco wine bar of Viansa Winery. Not only was the service outstanding, the wines we tried were phenomenal. I had the 2003 Thalia Sangiovese and found it to be full of raspberry and cherry fruit. It had a spicy, peppery nose which made the fruit on the palate that much more rich and velvetty. It was a great sipping wine, but it made me crave some slow roasted lamb or pork with garlic, rosemary and oven-roasted fingerling potatoes. That's pretty specific, but what can I say... I have very detailed food fantasies.

February 11, 2007

2003 Domaine Lafage Cote Grenache Noir, Roussillon, France

I think that a lot of you will agree that there is something especially exciting about finding a great wine that is also a great deal. Cat and I try wines across a fairly tight price range, typically in the $10-$40/bottle, as this fits our budget best. That, and this range is full of tremendous wine of all varietals and styles. It is when we get close to that $10 mark and find a wine that compares with those that are much more expensive that we feel we have discovered something.

Sometimes you are just in the mood to try something different. I was walking around a local wine shop known for its excellently diverse selection, and happened upon this one. We love Grenache, the wines of Gigondas being among my favorites. On the back label Eric Solomon is listed as the importer. What I know of Eric Solomon is that he is incredibly picky about what wines he will import, and having his name on the back is an enormous stamp of approval. Then there is the price... $12.99. I bought it.

By way of background, the Grenache grape is a major contributor to the blends of southern Rhone wines. I mentioned Gigondas, and we reviewed the E. Guigal earlier, and in the Kaesler Avignon review we discussed the beauty of GSM's, like Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Grenache not only adds a velvetty and dark fruit quality to blends like these, it makes a terrific stand-alone varietal for winemaking. The Domain Lafage is made by the husband and wife team led by Jean-Marc Lafage. They also make wines for wineries in Spain and South America, working with the importer mentioned above, Eric Solomon. Their homebase is in Cotes de Roussillon in the south of France. The Lafage style is to sometimes disregard convention, and in the case of this wine they chose to vint it without oak and to bottle it unfiltered. The results are a smooth, approachable medium bodied wine. There is plum and dark cherry in the nose, with a little bit of pepper and spice. On the palate the wine has great structure and is incredibly versatile, able to pair with a variety of foods. The flavors in the mouth are more plum, cranberry and a little earthy truffle-like quality. Very balanced with soft tannins and a longish finish. We found this wine to be a pleasant surprise and quite delicious. This is another example of a very well priced house wine, something that you could drink often with dinner without breaking the bank.

cost - $12.99

winecommando rating (1-10) - 8.75

February 8, 2007

2002 Kaesler Avignon, Barossa Valley, Australia

This wine presents another great immigrant wine story. Sadly, though, this immigrant story begins with a wayward German (that's not really sad, just my bias). No Italians make up the players in Kaesler's history, thus ruining my standing theory on all great wines coming from wineries/vineyards originally founded by Italian immigrants. But I digress.

It was a German shoemaker, Gottfried Kaesler, who arrived in South Australia in 1845 and set in motion the events that would put this wine on our table 162 years later. Gottfried landed in Australia and fulfilled his dream of becoming a farmer. He chose his land carefully, and built his farm in the Barossa Valley which would become one of Australia's preeminent wine producing areas. Back then, Gottfried and his sons were not sure which vines would survive the Australian climate, so they planted many different grape varietals as an initial trial-and-error to see which might survive, and eventually thrive.

They found that the Rhone varietals of Syrah (Shiraz in Australia) and Grenache were especially suited for the rigors of the sun and weather of the southern hemisphere. It was on these grapes, and the Southern Rhone style of winemaking, that the Kaesler family began to focus and over the years hone with each successive vintage.

This wine is named "Avignon" because it is a blend that matches that from Chateauneuf-du-Pape in Southern France, Avignon being the cultural capital of Provence. The blend is what is affectionately referred to as "GSM," an acronym for Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. In this wine it is 58%G, 31%S and 9%M. It is also blended with 2% Viognier, so I guess that makes this one a GSMV.

We decanted this wine for two hours before tasting, and it was good thing we did. When we tasted we could tell that the wine was still in the process of opening up. It was massive. We let it sit while we made dinner and when we came back to it we both exclaimed out loud that it kicked ass. The nose is amazing. We smelled toffee and vanilla, rich roasted vegetables, and something akin to the smell of baking bread. This wine had us, before we even tasted. The palate was full of cherry, more toffee but with a slight burnt edge to it... almost like the burnt sugar on top of a creme-brule. There was a consistent earthy, vegetal quality behind everything that carried through to the finish. This wine was not so much elegant as it was just really damn interesting. And delicious. We would classify it as heavier bodied, but balanced with a long finish. It is a FANTASTIC food wine (at less than half the price of good Chateauneuf-du-Pape) and I could see pairing it with anything from a great piece of beef seared on the grill to hearty stews. It made me crave rustic food with lots of herbs. I would love to have this wine with cassoulet and really crusty warm bread. I'm starving.

cost - $23.99

winecommando rating (1-10) - 9.25

February 7, 2007

2002 Jade Mountain Syrah, Napa Valley, California

The year is 1991. You have the chance to buy some vineyard property. You look, you hunt, and you wait patiently for just the right opportunity to become available. Your perseverance pays off and 42 acres of PRIME vineyard land on Mt. Veeder, vineyards that produce especially excellent Cabernet Sauvignon grapes for several reserve wines, hits the market. You are Jim Paras, a San Francisco attorney with a passion for wine that runs very, very deep. You buy the 42 acres on Mt. Veeder and what do you do next? Do you get into the Cabernet Sauvignon business?


You rip out all of the vines on the property and replant Syrah. The actions of a man who has gone insane. Or, perhaps, we are the ones who are insane.

Jim Paras had a vision and he wanted to make top notch Syrah. He joined forces with Doug Danielak, a known Syrah master who had trained in the crucible of the Rhone Valley. You see, they both knew that the land Jim had purchased on Mt. Veeder, with its cool temps and soil type was primo Syrah growing territory, and anybody can grow good Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley. They executed their plan with extreme prejudice.

Cat and I had not had any wines from Jade Mountain before, but given our lucky streak with New World Syrahs, and given that today is Wine Blogging Wednesday (WBW) and the theme of the day is "New World Syrah" we concluded it is a great time to review this wine. I submitted our review of the Chilean Montes Alpha Syrah to WBW being hosted at Winecast, a wine blog worth checking out.

This wine, blended with 3% Viognier, was very nice. We decanted for one hour prior to tasting. When we poured our glasses we found the nose full of lilac and blackberry. We loved the lilac. There were hints of smokiness, and even some rosemary. Initially, there was an odd scent to the nose... almost like green olives, I think, but it dissipated quickly. The palate was incredibly well balanced and tasted of more blackberry with dark chocolate and earthiness. The flavors were round and full, and the finish was long. Tannin was present, but not sharp and was softened the longer it was in the glass. This wine made me want to eat roasted duck, it would have paired really, really well.

cost - $27.99 on sale from $29.99

winecommando rating (1-10) - 8.5

February 6, 2007

2003 Comtesse Thibier Graves Blanc, Bordeaux, France

As I stood there looking at this bottle at the local wine shop my instincts were telling me not to buy it. There's the grandma's upholstery look to the label, there's the back label... and I quote:

"At the turn of the century, I began riding my bicycle through the Bordeaux countryside getting to know the grapes that makes premium wines. Today my family continues the tradition of carefully selecting the best grapes. Our aim is perfection."

Despite that little piece of poetic heaven on the back of the bottle I bought it and brought it home. We've hit a bit of a dry patch with Graves, as of late, and just have not had that classic gravelly, lemony Bordeaux blanc experience. Maybe this one will be different. Maybe this one will live down the floral drapery.

As you can guess, we did not find it to really work out all that well. This wine had a light, almost non-existent nose. There was a little pine, some citrus, but so faint as to make you strain to pick it up. The palate was also light, and weak missing both the traditional mineral qualities and the clean, refreshing fruit indicative of these wines. The finish was non-existent. So... I feel mean here but I am being absolutely honest. This wine did not deliver on the Graves blanc promise.

cost - $9.99

winecommando rating (1-10) - 2

2005 Erath Oregon Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon

Pretty nice wine for the price. We liked it despite the screwtop, and that says a lot. It's not that we have an aversion to screwtops and nice wine, but we have an aversion to screwtops and nice wine... if you get my drift. In so many ways, and much like the Faiveley Bourgogne that we reviewed a few weeks ago, this would be a terrific house Pinot Noir, a terrific house wine. Not expensive, good quality, and the screwtop makes for easy access when every second between bottle, glass, and mouth counts.

Seriously, though, Erath has a solid reputation and IS making wine in what is perhaps the most "perfect" place to grow and vint Pinot Noir... the Willamette Valley. Erath is in the northern part of the Willamette Valley, in the Dundee Hills, which is akin to being in the best place in the best place for growing and making great Pinots. Really, most Pinot Noirs from this area are typically that great mix of wonderfully opulent fruit, great winemakers, and Burgundian "influence" to the winemaking style. Works well for Cat and I.

We found this Pinot Noir immediately accessible. It smells bright with just a little sharpness to the fruit. There are hints of raspberry and strawberry, a little bubblegum (which is cool to us), and subtle Pinot Noir earthiness. The palate delivers soft, round strawberry fruit and is surprisingly balanced and elegant for a wine at this price point. The palate did not offer up much sophistication, though, beyond the fruit and some hints of vanilla. The finish was shortish, with some pepper and spiciness. We wanted more depth in the palate and a slightly longer finish. Still, though, it's solid and for a daily wine with dinner it is hard to beat a one with this flexibility at this price point. Between this, the Faiveley Bourgogne, and the Joseph Drouhin Laforet Pinot Noir (which we will review shortly) you could put together a very cost efficient base to your cellar. Sort of the bond fund of your wine portfolio. I can't believe I just said that out loud.

cost - $14.99 on sale from $17.99

winecommando rating (1-10) - 7.75

February 4, 2007

1999 Kent Rasmussen Petite Syrah, Napa Valley, California

We posted a review of a Kent Rasmussen Carneros Pinot Noir a couple of weeks ago. We liked that wine a lot and enjoyed learning about this highly regarded winery. I saw this Petite Syrah by Kent Rasmussen and thought it would be an interesting wine, especially given its vintage of 1999.

Petite Syrah (Sirah) is an interesting grape varietal. Many people assume that it is a version of Syrah, and they are not incorrect, but Petite Sirah is a distant, distant hybrid cousin of Syrah and has its history intertwined with winemaking in California in the late 1800's.

In the 1880's a French doctor specializing in the wine producing grapes of southern France began experimenting with hybrids and clones. His name was Dr. Francois Durif, and he created a new grape based on the seed of an ancient varietal, Peloursin, and the pollen of a grape he assumed to be Syrah, which through genetic testing we now know to be the source. He named this new varietal after himself, Durif, which was not especially catchy.

During the 1870's the Syrah varietal had been introduced into California with much success. Among the Syrah vines were many that produced very low-yielding but concentrated fruit. These came to be known as Petite Syrah and began to be cultivated in their own right separated from what vineyard owners took to be traditional Syrah. In the mid-1880's the Durif varietal from Dr. Durif was brought over to California and vineyard owners began planting vineyard lots to experiment with diversifying their vineyard holdings. The Durif grape in California came to be known as "Petite Sirah." During the 1890's Phylloxera destroyed almost all of the Syrah vines of California and as the Durif/Petite Sirah vines were thriving and seemed resistant to Phylloxera many vineyards were replanted with Petite Sirah brought over from France or from cuttings from the existing vines. Though Petite Sirah is distantly related to Syrah, in several vineyards the name came to mean Syrah, Petite Syrah, Petite Sirah and Durif. It was not until the 1990's that it was conclusively established that Petite Sirah is genetically related to the noble old-world Syrah of the Rhone, the same grape that makes up Hermitage and Cote-Rotie.

Kent Rasmussen makes wines from several different varietals, but as mentioned before it is Pinot Noir that the winery is most known for. Petite Sirah, though, is a favorite and the winery has consistently produced excellent vintages of this varietal. Interestingly, the 1999 vintage was the last vintage that the winery referred to the wine as "Petite Syrah" and in 2000 they began labeling it "Petite Sirah," which is technically more accurate.

We decanted this wine and let sit for about 45 minutes before tasting. When we poured we were very surprised by the nose. It was full of terrific blueberry fruit, round and almost sweet smelling. This was balanced by a little bit of coffee and a very distinct quality that was hard for me to place. At first I thought it was almost like the sweetness of kerosene, with a tinge of sulfur or tar. All in all, the nose was complex and very interesting. The palate delivered soft blueberry and blackberry balanced by nice tannins, totally reined in, and an earthy finish with the same tar-like quality that was in the nose. It was very balanced and the structure would lend itself very well to pairing with a variety of foods. We found this wine enjoyable and an excellent value given its excellent quality.

cost - $22.99

winecommando rating (1-10) - 8.75

February 3, 2007

2004 Pouilly-Fuisse Clos Reissier, Burgundy, France

White Burgundy means classic French style Chardonnay. At least it means that most of the time. The French style of Chardonnay is so right, in my opinion, and is differentiated by its bastard relatives in Napa and Somoma by favoring crisp, citrus qualities balanced by creaminess and structure. I'm generalizing slightly here, but given the choice I would choose Burgundian Chardonnay over just about any Chardonnay from California... though there are several great California Chardonnays that are vinted in a French style. I have to concede that.

Getting to the point. The area of Pouilly-Fuisse in Burgundy produces wonderfully classic French style chardonnay. Pouilly-Fuisse is an area made up of four villages that collectively make their wine under the Pouilly-Fuisse moniker. The soils of the area are very chalky and has a high clay content. Just from that you can guess what this wine is going to taste like.

This wine sees no oak and is fermented in stainless steel. That can be a good thing as the results are a clean, crisp, bright wine that is a perfect apertif or refresher on a hot day, which we are not currently having around here (-12 degrees F outside at this very moment). The nose of this Chardonnay was full of citrus and green apple, balanced by a flinty scent. On the palate it tasted of pear and lemon with a short but elegant finish. Really, a very straightforward white wine that is totally unpretentious. Very bright, great with lighter food or before dinner, and an excellent palate cleanser - like the lemon sorbet of wine. Very enjoyable for the price.

cost - $15.99

winecommando rating (1-10) - 8