Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The best wine closure in the world?

The variety of wine closures has never been so diverse. While natural cork is the traditional closure method for glass wine bottles, composite cork, synthetic corks, Zorks, glass Vino-Loks and screw caps all can be found safely keeping wine protected until you decide to pop the top and enjoy your wine. This past weekend I found a wine closure that I had never seen or even heard about before. After removing the capsule from a 2007 Olivier Leflaive Bourgogne "Les Sétilles," I was puzzled by white and black concentric rubber rings where the cork should be. Poking it with my fingers a few times did little to remove the unknown device. I decided that a corkscrew was the only way to liberate this Chardonnay. With a slight pull I had a bullet-shaped multi-material synthetic closure in my hand with "Guala Seal" embossed on the bottom.

Perhaps better known as the AS-Elite, produced by Ardea Seal, this interesting contraption is uniquely designed with three distinct components. The AS Elite uses a polypropylene chassis to maintain rigidity inside of the thermoplastic elastomer body. The final, and most unique, component is the inert techno-polymer shield that is the only part in contact with the wine. The makers of this product go as far as claiming that it is "probably the best closure in the world." While they offer no support of this claim, I would be interested in tasting a variety of wines that have been bottled and aged with AS-Elites, cork and screw cap in the future. In addition to the interesting closure, I also was able to enjoy a very nice Chardonnay with dinner!

2007 Olivier Leflaive, Bourgogne "Les Sétilles", France

This Chardonnay, imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, Ltd., is from a vineyard that straddles Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault. It pours a clear, light-yellow color. On the nose, lemon, tarragon and nuts dominate with a slight hint of grassy notes. This is tart in the mouth! Lemon, pomelo, tart apple and melon lead on the forepalate but yield to a medium-length finish of chalk, nutmeg and smoke. Not overly complex, but a nice, simple entry-level white Burgundy. 13.0% abv Purchased $17. Good (tasted 11/28/10)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The importance of blind tasting

More expensive wines taste better than cheaper wines. Wines from famous wine regions are better than unknown "lesser" wine regions. Of course they do, or why else do some brands become famous and costly? If someone were to hand you two glasses of wine and told you that the wine in one glass cost $100 per bottle and the other cost $10 per bottle, you could certainly tell the difference. Could you? A Ferrari performs better than a Toyota (nothing against Toyota, I have one!). But what happens when you actually prefer the Toyota to the Ferrari? Are you a fool to actually like a cheaper and less prestigious automobile over the highly acclaimed trophy?

Wine critics have come up with an answer to this predicament. Blind tasting is supposed to remove any bias towards the reputation and the price of a bottle of wine and focuses the attention solely on the contents of the bottle. Usually, wines of a similar style or from a certain region are tasted together to judge wines against their peers. Sometimes less-expensive or less-renowned wines show better than their superstar cohorts. This is great news if you are looking for wines with a high quality-to-price ratio.

However, some argue that tasting blind removes important information about the wines. Knowing vintages and origins of wines are important for fully understanding the context of a wine that you drink. But drinking and tasting are different animals. When you are enjoying a wine over dinner or for a few hours with friends, you want to be able to discuss the characteristics and merits of the wine that you are consuming. When critics taste wine they only want to consider the aromas and flavors that are currently present in the bottle and describe this information to consumers to aid them in making purchase decisions.

Blind tastings are also useful for regular wine drinkers who want to learn more about wine and train their palates on what certain wines taste like and which wines they prefer. I recently attended a small gathering of such individuals. Six wine enthusiasts, including myself, blind tasted 10 Cabernet Sauvignon based wines. We knew the contents of the bottles before hand, but then wrapped the bottles in foil, mixed up the order and labeled the mystery wines 1-10. We split a few steaks, mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus while we sipped our way through the lineup. We each took notes and talked about the wines and some of us ranked the wines before we unveiled the bottles. No official results were tabulated, but a few general opinions were described and I will mention them, along with my tasting notes and ranking below.

The wines ranged in price from $20-$100, in vintage from 1986 to 2007 and were from Bordeaux, Colorado, Napa Valley and Tuscany. In the order of tasting, here are my notes:

Wine 1: Dark purples that lightens at the rim. Aromas of brown sugar, leather, juniper and a hint of dill emanate from the glass. On the palate it is almost meaty, with slight floral flavors complementing blackberries and molasses. Good.

Wine 2: Deep brown sherry like color. Mushrooms, forest floor aromas are present but secondary to the dominant soy sauce scents. It tastes like tofu and bamboo shoots soaked in soy sauce. Definitely a wine past its prime. Average.

Wine 3: Dark garnet. This wine is very aromatic. Cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, figs and dried orange peel tease the nose. Unfortunately, this one fails to deliver on the palate. Slightly spicy with old leather flavors fade quickly and this one does not hold up to the steak. Average/Good.

Wine 4: This black/purple inky wine smells of cedar and black fruits. This one is a big, tannic wine that needs more air. It is tight but gives rich blackberry and currant flavors. Good potential, but needs more time to open up. Good.

Wine 5: This is probably the wine with the most finesse of the night. It is a light, clear ruby color. Brown sugar, caramel aromas are complemented by hints of spice and violets. It is very smooth with well-integrated tannins. Red and black raspberry, plums, toffee, a slight spiciness and a hint of sweetness all combine to create complex and interesting flavors on the palate. Very Good/Excellent. It is also my WOTN.

Wine 6: A contrast the previous wine, but almost as good, this wine is an inky dark purple color. The nose is spicy and shows a bit of heat. It tastes big and jammy, though not overly tannic. This is a smooth and simple wine but it is tasty. Good/Very Good.

Wine 7: Another black/purple colored wine. You can smell the oak influence on the nose along with gobs of dark fruit and glycerol. It takes of blackberry jam, black cherry and oak. A nice wine that needs a few more years. Good/Very Good.

Wine 8: This dark red wine smells of dark fruits, cigar and soy sauce. This big, powerful wine is straightforward on the palate and dominated by tar, tobacco and tannin. A bit big/young. Good.

Wine 9: Another complex wine. Dark ruby red color. At first sniff, I got toast with blackberry preserves. Subsequent smells yield pencil shavings and vanilla. A very complex palate shows off black currant, vanilla, bacon fat and soy. Most Bordeaux-like of the night. Very Good.

Wine 10: Dark purplish brown wine that looks like balsamic vinegar. It smells like balsamic (not in a bad way), blackberry maple syrup and spices. It tastes a bit hot with simple spices and a touch of sweetness along with subtle tobacco flavors. Good.

Top wines of the night:
#1: Wine 5
#2: Wine 9
#3: Wine 6 (followed very closely by 7)

Wines unveiled:
Wine 1: = 2007 Reeder Mesa, Land’s End Red, Meritage, Grand Valley, Colorado
Wine 2: = 1986 Chateau Montelena, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Wine 3: = 1998 Heitz, Bella Oaks, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Wine 4: = 2001 Casanova di Neri, Pietradonice, Sant ‘Antimo DOC, Italy
Wine 5: = 2006 Plum Creek Winery, Grand Mesa, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, Grand Valley, Colorado
Wine 6: = 2001 Trefethen, Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll District
Wine 7: = 2006 StellaGrey, Napa Valley Red Wine
Wine 8: = 2001 St. Clement, Orropas, Napa Valley
Wine 9: = 2003 Chateau Lascombes, Margaux, France
Wine 10: = 1997 Cuvaison, Howell Mountain

This just goes to show you that big name wines from the famous Napa Valley or expensive super-Tuscan wines don't necessarily taste better than wines from Colorado! I will note that all of the wines were good and I would enjoy drinking any of them.

Friday, November 12, 2010

With a little help from my friends

The wine industry can be a pretty cutthroat business. Just as new wineries open up on a weekly basis, others close due to competition. A winery's bottom line depends on selling wine; If consumers are buying a competitor's wine they're not buying your wine. Wineries naturally compete against each other, however, they can also work together. This is especially important in emerging wine regions such as Colorado.

In Colorado, a leader in cooperation is Two Rivers Chateau and Winery. Owner Bob Witham, is the first Colorado winery proprietor to utilize a recently enacted state law that allows two or more wineries to operate at an alternating proprietor licensed premise. This means that a portion of a host winery’s licensed premises can be shared with alternating proprietors for winemaking activities. Offered as an employee incentive for Two Rivers' winemaker Tyrel Lawson, Witham agreed to let Lawson start his own winery, Kahil Winery, using Two Rivers' infrastructure. One condition with this arrangement is that Kahil must not produce any wines that directly compete against any Two Rivers labels. For its first release, Kahil produced a Malbec, a variety which Two Rivers does not produce.

In addition to sharing premises with Kahil Winery, Two Rivers also produced and bottled a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon blend, Colterris, for High Country Orchards and Vineyards owner Theresa High. Not surprisingly, Ty Lawson was also the winemaker for this debut endeavor. With the cooperation and foresight of Two Rivers Winery, two new wine brands have been emerged by taking baby steps while holding the hand of one the leaders of Colorado's wine industry. To celebrate and participate in the First Ever World Wide Colorado Wine Virtual Tasting, I opened a bottle of Colterris.

2008 Colterris, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grand Valley AVA, Colorado

This deep purple/red Cabernet has a little bit of Malbec and Merlot thrown in for good measure. Rather than open more than one bottle for the tasting, I decided to try the Colterris three different ways. I popped and poured some wine into my glass before pouring some more into a decanter and left the bottle half full. I sipped on the first glass for an hour or so before going back to the wine that had been sitting in the bottle. After about two hours and some vigorous swirling for aeration, I poured a glass from the decanter. The wine straight from the bottle, both with the initial pour and an hour later, was brooding with dark fruit. Relatively smooth tannins melded with black currant and blackberries along with a hints of mint and smoke. After 15 minutes of swirling in the glass, the wine opened up and presented more complexity. Earthiness, tobacco and smoke moved to the forefront while still maintaining a core of black fruits. The wine from the decanter bypassed the jammyness of the initial pour and yielded the most satisfying glass of the night. A touch of minerality began to show with the final few sips of the night. To enjoy the Colterris at its best, I recommend decanting for two to three hours. However, if you prefer that bold Napa-like jammyness pop and pour and experience how the wine changes over the course of a few hours. 14.3% abv Purchased $20. Very Good (tasted 11/10/10)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Use of Various Winemaking Terms on Labels

Last week, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) published a solicitation for public comments on proposed rule changes in the Federal Register. The majority of the rule changes focus on the use of the term "Estate" on labels and in advertisements. Currently, only the term "Estate Bottled" is defined. Right now, "Estate Bottled" may be used by a winery only if the wine is labeled with an AVA and the bottling winery is located in the labeled AVA, grew all of the grapes used to make the wine on land owned or controlled by the winery within the boundaries of the labeled AVA and crushed the grapes, fermented the resulting must, and finished, aged, and bottled the wine in a continuous process. Any other use of the word "Estate" on wine labels is not regulated. Wineries with the word "Estate" in their name, or that use it in any other way may be affected by any subsequent rules changes.

Other terms that the TTB requested comment on include: "Vintner Grown," "Proprietor Grown," "Vineyard," "Orchard," "Ranch," "Proprietors Blend," "Old Vine," "Barrel Fermented," "Old Clone," "Reserve," "Select Harvest," "Bottle Aged," and "Barrel Select." Perhaps the most used of these terms is "Reserve." This term is meant to indicate a wine that is special but it has no universally-accepted definition. The state of Washington is the only U.S. wine region to define "Reserve." In 1999, Washington defined "Reserve" wines as being no more than 10% (up to 3000 cases) of a winery's production and indicating that the winemaker believes this wine has a higher quality than most wines from the winery. "Reserve" has been defined in Spanish, Italian and other European wine regions.

While no changes are currently proposed, the idea is certainly out there and should create quite a wave in the wine industry. Wineries that use the terms listed above could have a lot at stake if the TTB decides that further regulation is necessary. How should "Reserve" be defined? What other terms do you think need to be defined and regulated?

Monday, November 8, 2010

A not so local local wine

One of the major wine movements that I support and firmly believe in is the local wine movement. For most of the U.S., this pretty much means drinking wine from wine regions outside of California. What is the goal of the local/regional wine movement? Does it make environmental sense for people in Oregon to drink wines from Virginia or New York rather than wines from the west coast? Probably not. However, rather than promoting geographically local wines I, along with many other proponents, suggest that the main goal is to promote little known, yet respectable wine regions that the so-called wine "experts" all too often ignore.

So where is the "local" line drawn in the sand? Are we only to promote wines from the states other than California and perhaps Washington and Oregon? What about the unfamiliar regions of Europe? I am all for drinking and support regional wines of the world. One fine example of a cornucopia of local wines is found in Italy. With over 550 different appellations (120+ IGT and 330+ DOC and DOCG) there are surely more than a few most people have never heard of. Many of these are made with indigenous grape cultivars. One such wine is Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato. This tiny Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) is found in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy near the famous appellations of Barolo and Barbaresco. Only about 100 acres belong to this exceptionally local wine region. Made from the indigenous (this is up to debate) Ruché grape, wines such as these are perhaps the epitome of the local wine movement. To toast to our European regional wine counterparts I opened up a Ruché made by La Mondianese.

2005 La Mondianese, Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato, Italy

This wine is a beautiful medium/light ruby red color. Aromatic, this Ruché smells fruity, almost reminiscent of Hawaiian Punch, with a hint of roses. Supple in the mouth, this wine has extremely soft tannins with moderate-plus acidity. It tastes of red currants, bitter, yet rich, cranberries and sour cherries. Overall, a nice wine but I probably should not sit on my remaining bottles for much longer. 13.5% abv Purchased $18. Good (tasted 10/07/10)