Monday, July 18, 2011

Ben's Bubbly: Mionetto Prosecco Brut D.O.C

This week our weekly evening of sipping sparkling wine happened to fall on our fourth wedding anniversary. We had been wanting to try a Japanese restaurant near our house, but phone number was disconnected so we decided to try Delvickios, a new Italian restaurant that opened recently. We left little Ben in the capable hands of Grandma. When we got home, Grandma said that he had been a little fussy, but he perked right up when he saw us walk through the door and resumed his new trick: sticking his tongue in and out like a little frog.

I did not have high expectations for the restaurant, and the meager wine list, with only two sparkling choices, which did nothing to further my expectations. I settled on the Prosecco, figuring it would go better with a full meal than the sweet Lambrusco. We could tell they don't get a lot of bottle purchases of sparkling wine because we were twice asked if we were celebrating. Because I don't believe sparkling wine should be reserved only for celebration, I wanted to say, "no, we always drink sparkling wine on Thursday night." However, my wife admitted that it was our anniversary. We started the meal with mouthwatering homemade breadsticks with marinara. I preferred to eat the bread sans sauce in order to fully enjoy the cheese-sprinkled buttery goodness. We also ordered the appetizer sampler plate and were thoroughly pleased with the meatball sliders and pepperoni rolls. Definitely not haute cuisine, but delish nonetheless. The caprese and artichoke dip that came with the sampler were ok, but nothing special. Both our entrees were good; my linguini slightly edging out her chicken tiamo. When it came time to order dessert, we both decided that we were too full, but would come back and try a pizza or calzone and get something sweet after. The wine was almost a second thought to the yummy food.

NV Mionetto, Prosecco D.O.C. Treviso, Brut

The first Italian wine in Ben's Bubbly is from the Prestige Line of the same winery that makes the Il brand of Prosecco and Moscato with the crown cap and silk screened bowling pin-shaped bottles carried by many retailers. This bubbly is exceptionally light in color, aroma and body. Green apples, lemon rind and almonds were apparent on both the nose and the palate. Every few sips I would get a hint of stone fruit, but not enough to make it interesting. Overall, not bad for a sub $30 bottle on a restaurant list, but this wine does nothing to make me want to drink Prosecco when there are so many other interesting sparkling wines around the world. 11% abv Purchased $24. Average/Good (tasted 7/14/11)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Let's get vertical, vertical...

Cheers to Olivia Newton John and my apologies to any who is now picturing their favorite wine pundit dancing around in a leotard and matching sweatbands.

Most wine blogs and glossies focus their efforts on tasting and reviewing current releases of wine. Furthermore, said publications tend to focus on mainstream wines. When prognostications of the ageability and drinking window of young wines are made, they tend to be based (I hope) on prior experience with how previous vintages fared. But very rarely do you see published vertical tastings of wine. Sure, Robert Parker, Jr. famously has stepped aside from the current California beat to do retrospective tastings of California. Almost always vertical tastings are solely in the realm of top producers. James Suckling recently posted a series of videos documenting his experience tasting three centuries of Chateau Latour. Richard Jennings recently tasted through aged Kistler pinot noirs and found that he did not agree with the top critics' early prognostications. Occasionally the wine gods smile on off the beaten path producers. Super-blogger Joe Roberts got in on the action and posted about his experience of tasting a vertical of Peconic Bay merlot from Long Island, New York. To my knowledge, there have been no published vertical tastings of Colorado wine. Until now.

I received a few samples of Canyon Wind Cellars cabernet and had a few bottles in my meager cellar, so I decided that I must open all five vintages at one time in order to compare them and put Colorado in the same light as first-growth Bordeaux and cult Cali pinot. I invited a few friends over to help me taste through the lineup that nearly spanned the history of the winery. I opened and double decanted all the wines an hour before being consumed. The wines were all in good shape, though the corks in the two oldest bottles broke. The five bottles were bagged, numbered and poured blind. No one knew which wine was which and the only thing that our guests knew was that the bottles were all the same variety. As we were tasting, I suspected that somehow the wines got put back in order and we were drinking them from oldest to youngest. In fact we were, with the two youngest bottles being transposed. The secondary and tertiary flavors and aromas brought out by bottle aging was quite apparent, though the youngest of the bunch was a bit of an aberration to even me. Overall, everyone was quite impressed with the quality of all the wines. Though one common theme amongst my casual wine drinking friends was the unanimous surprise that all the wine was the same grape and from the same producer but tasted vastly different. My notes (I was the only one to take notes) along with the group rankings are below:

1997 Canyon Wind Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grand Valley AVA, Colorado

The first wine in the lineup is dark red in color with a little bit of bricking at the rim. Aromas of cherry and black currants are balanced by lovely tobacco and cedar. Smooth on the palate, smooth red and black fruits are complemented with lovely secondary flavors of tobacco and tea leaf. This wine is well balanced and complex and could easily pass as a fourth or fifth growth Bordeaux. It is ready to go and should probably be consumed in the next few years before the fruit starts to fade. My favorite wine of the flight, but the group's #2. 13.8% abv Sample $50. Very Good/Excellent (tasted 7/8/11)

2000 Canyon Wind Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grand Valley AVA, Colorado

The second wine is clearly younger than the previous wine. Dark red with no bricking, this wine is much fruitier. Sweet cherries and raspberries and dark chocolate dominate the nose. It shows a spiciness that wine #1 did not have. Jammy blackberries, black cherries, bittersweet chocolate, pencil lead and some glycerol make this wine much more Californian in style than the previous one. The alcohol is noticeable, but not off-putting. Young but still enjoyable, I think this one has enough fruit to age a few more years. My and the group's #3 wine of the night.14.2% abv Purchased $24. Good/Very Good (tasted 7/8/11)

2003 Canyon Wind Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grand Valley AVA, Colorado

Wine #3 was very similar to wine #2, but with one exception. Blackberries, cassis and cigar box on the nose screamed cabernet. The dark raspberries, currants, and smokey tobacco were enjoyable on the palate, but the mouth-puckering tannins and short finish kept this one from being as enjoyable as the others. This one is built to age and should be given time or a generous amount of time in a decanter. Did not impress too many of us, especially compared to the top 2 wines. This one was my and the group's #4 of the night.13.5% abv Purchased $24. Good (tasted 7/8/11)

2005 Canyon Wind Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grand Valley AVA, Colorado

Jumping ahead to the last wine of the night, this one was a stark contrast to the first wine. This wine is extremely dark purple. Aromas of black fruits, mocha, graphite and cedar fill the glass. Good fruit flavors of currants, raspberries and plums are met with hints of cedar and tobacco along with a good dollop of vanilla. Smooth, yet with assertive tannins, I think that this wine could be a good ringer in a flight of more expensive Napa cabs. My #2 of the night (by a hair), but the group's wine of the night.13.3% abv Sample $26. Very Good (tasted 7/8/11)

2006 Canyon Wind Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grand Valley AVA, Colorado

A bit of an aberration from the others, this wine was poured just before the 2005. Beautiful bright red/purple colors in the glass, this wine is all fruit. Cherries and strawberries and a bit of heat on the nose, this smells quite similar to a red Jolly rancher. Just as fruity on the palate, if I had no idea what this wine was I would peg it as an Australian grenache. This wine may not have the structure to age, but the bright fruits make this good to drink right now.13.9% abv Sample $26. Good (tasted 7/8/11)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Ben's Bubbly: Roederer Estate L'Ermitage

One of the best things in the world is listening to babies laugh. This week Ben started laughing and he couldn't be cuter. He hasn't laughed as hard as he did a few days ago, but every once in a while he adds a laugh-like squawk to one of his big smiles. And while getting up at six o'clock no matter what is getting a bit old, waking up to to a smiling and giggling baby is the world's best alarm clock. We've also been encouraging some of our close friends towards joining the baby club, but for now they seem to be content with their four-legged babies. We still love and enjoy our cats, but having a real baby is just a little bit more fun and rewarding. Nevertheless, sometimes a substitute can be as good as or even better than the original.

The same can be argued for wine. Many sparkling wine aficionados scoff at the idea of good bubbly being produced anywhere but Champagne. Obviously the big Champagne houses disagree with that premise or they wouldn't have invested in California. Many of the major Champagne houses (or their parent companies) have established wineries in California. Moët & Chandon has Domaine Chandon, G. H. Mumm has Mumm Napa, and Taittinger has Domaine Carneros. While most of the California sparkling wine produced by these wineries is marketed to a different audience than the original Champagne houses, there are a few tête de cuvées that rival the price and quality the real thing.

2000 Roederer Estate, L'Ermitage Brut, Anderson Valley

This  tête de cuvée is an impressive substitute for its much more expensive cousins in France. Made from 53% chardonnay and 47% pinot noir. Very light golden color with lively tiny bubbles, the nose is full of baked apple and a nice hint of toast. Exceptionally smooth in the mouth, bright apples, lemons and even a little pineapple dance across the tongue with crisp acidity. Still quite young, this wine will continue to impress for years to come. 12% abv Very Good. Purchased $30 (tasted 7/7/11)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

5 ways to improve Colorado wine

On Sunday, Jon Bonné suggested five ways to improve California wine in the San Francisco Chronicle. While most American wineries not in California try to emulate their Golden State counterparts, all wine regions could use suggestions for improvement. A few weeks ago, I made a similar list directed at Colorado's wine consumers. While I make no assumptions that I have the same credibility as Bonné, I would like to replicate his recommendations to wineries with a Centennial State twist. Here are five ways that Colorado's vintners can carve a better path to the future.

1. Become students of the wine world. I was surprised during a conversation with a winemaker who produces tempranillo that he was unaware of the specific wine regions in Spain that grow the grape. Other winemakers only drink what they make and nothing else. However, to make the best wine possible, winemakers need to taste as much wine as possible from around the world. Everyone associated with Colorado wine needs to learn as much about wine as they can. I don't mean that everyone should strive to be Masters of Wine or Helen Turley-esque winemakers, but understanding the history and geography of the wine world will give credibility to the Colorado wine industry. That is why I do not limit myself to only Colorado wines. There is a whole world of wine out there that shouldn't be ignored.

2. Make fewer wines. I've had this discussion with more than a few winemakers; Colorado wineries make too many wines. Almost every winery produces a cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, syrah, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, riesling, a sweet rosé and a dessert/fortified wine. Most wineries in France and the boutique California wineries produce just a handful of wines if not only one or two. While I do believe that Colorado wineries can produce all of those wines well, one winery cannot. Wineries should specialize and go for depth instead of breadth. Certain wineries should focus on making Bordeaux-style wines whereas others should concentrate on Rhône varieties. While they may not be able to please every group of tourists that want to try a cabernet, a sweet rosé and a chardonnay, wineries should be producing better overall quality wines.

3. Embrace Hybrids and non-traditional grape cultivars. I know that I just suggested making fewer wines, but Colorado wineries need to consider using hybrids and other non-traditional grapes. If wineries are afraid of consumers not accepting oddly named grapes, then they need to be more creative! Using fanciful names for wines instead of varietally labeled wines could prove a boon to get new wine drinkers drinking Colorado wine. In fact, one of the most popular Colorado wines, Tyranosaurus Red, is made from the uncommon Lemberger. Also, using these types of grapes could greatly increase the productive vineyard acreage allowing even more wine to be made.

4. Get on more restaurant lists. To date, only one winery has been successful with this arduous endeavor. Sure, some restaurants have a token Colorado wine on their list, but The Infinite Monkey Theorem is on more wine lists than any other winery. Wine drinkers often find new wines on restaurant wine lists and go to retailers to purchase these wines. Wineries don't necessarily make money from restaurants, and in fact most have to lower their wholesale cost to get onto restaurant lists. Wineries need to consider restaurant wine lists as marketing expenses rather than revenue generating opportunities. When consumers see that restaurant sommeliers accept local vino, they may be more apt to as well.

5. Apply for more AVAs. Other states ahead of Colorado in the production and quality curve are also ahead of us in the AVA curve. McElmo Canyon in the Four Corners region, Redlands Mesa and Orchard City west of the West Elks AVA and the vineyards along the Arkansas River near Cañon City all would make ideal candidates for federal designation as viticultural areas. Avid wine drinkers tend to give more respect to wines from specific AVAs rather than broad state designations. Most oenophiles would pick an Oakville cabernet sauvignon over a generic California cabernet or a Dundee Hills pinot noir over a simple Oregon pinot. It is unlikely that most consumers even know about the two AVAs we have, but when a state has more than a handful of designated viticultural areas you know that there is a strong quality wine industry (or savvy politicians if you're from Italy).

If even a few wineries heed these suggestions, I believe that the Colorado wine industry will be well on its way to winning the hearts and minds of Colorado residents and competing with the bigger and more famous wine regions.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Robert Mondavi Discover Wine Tour at Cherry Creek Arts Festival

Yesterday, we went to the Cherry Creek Arts Festival while Ben hung out with Grandma. I was invited by Robert Mondavi Wines to come taste a selection of wines from the Robert Mondavi Winery, Robert Mondavi Private Selection and Woodbridge lines of wines at the Discover Wine Tour. The goal of the tour is to bring the wine country experience to food and wine festivals around the country. The tented bar and seminar area complete with wooden benches certainly evoked beautiful Napa vineyards. For the average wine drinker who braved the Denver heat, the event was a fun, interactive and educational wine experience. An essence station (see photo) provided a variety of containers that allowed guests to explore some of the aromas and flavors found in the wines offered at the bar. A cooking stage was part of the seminar area so guests could participate in wine and cooking demonstrations with local experts. Unfortunately, we did not make it to the the interactive iPad station where one could register for a free trip to Napa Valley or look up tasting notes of the all the wines offered on the tour.
We did, however, happen to arrive just before the start of the wine 101 seminar hosted by a locally based distribution representative. We tasted four Private Selection wines (Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meritage) as our host guided us through a bit of Mondavi history and pointed out what to notice in each of the wines. Participants seemed to range in experience from the extreme novice to the more average wine drinker. While I didn't learn anything new from the seminar and was disappointed that none of the District, Reserve or Spotlight wines were offered to guests as a special flight, I do think that the tour provides a lot of positive interactions with those consumers who find wine confusing or intimidating. The seminar host explicitly explained to the guests that the focus of the tour was to demonstrate that wine can be enjoyed and understood by anyone who wants to drink it. If you live in or near any of the cities next on the tour (Atlantic City, NJ; Lenox, MA; Royal Oak, MI; Chicago, IL; or Philadelphia, PA), I recommend you stop by and bring your friends and family. The tastings are complementary for the over 21 crowd. Plus, you get keep your govino glasses (perfect for picnicking!).

Now, I know that the entire Colorado wine industry does not even approach the production and resources of just the Mondavi branch of Constellation Wines, but events like this are what regional wine associations should be doing. Just as the Discover Wine Tour aims to dispel the myth that wine is expensive and inaccessible, local wine groups could take note of what Constellation is doing and work to eliminate the negative associations with wines that aren't from California, Oregon or Washington. Providing education and exposure to less recognizable wines would be much easier and enjoyable at this type of venue. I commend Robert Mondavi Wines for being proactive and leading the way for the rest of the wine industry.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Ben's Bubbly: The Infinite Monkey Theorem Carbonated Black Muscat

This week was a week of firsts! With not even three moons under his belt, Ben has learned to roll over from front to back. He did it three times early last week while I was at work. He did not repeat the feat for me to witness for two more days. Now, as long as he is in a good mood, if we put him on his stomach we are almost guaranteed to see him make it to his back once or twice. He likes showing off his new abilities and smiles when we cheer his accomplishment.

We also went over to my father-in-law's house for his 60th birthday party this weekend and Ben loved being the center of attention. He was hamming it up smiling, laughing and babbling for anyone who even glimpsed in his direction. He was so excited that he did not want to take a nap and was thus exhausted later that night. He did catch up with a marathon sleeping session.

Another Denver Ben also had a "first" this past week. Ben Parsons of The Infinite Monkey Theorem released the state's first canned wine on July 1. While he treated a privileged group to a pre-release party at the Smuggler Mine during the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen 2011, last Friday was the official release of the carbonated black muscat in 250 mL aluminum cans at the winery in Denver. I was unable to attend either of the festivities, but did score a can of the much anticipated wine.

2010 The Infinite Monkey Theorem, Carbonated Black Muscat, Grand Valley AVA, Colorado

Ten thousand 250-mL cans were produced of this peony pink-colored sparkling wine. Not produced in the traditional méthode Champenoise (what, no cans in Champagne?), the bubbles dissipate rather quickly after being poured into a wine glass. Best to drink this straight out of the can. Beautiful aromas of roses and grapefruit rise from the glass as I raise it to my mouth. The 6.8% residual sugar is noticeable as it passes my lips. If Jelly Belly had a black muscat flavor, this would be it. It tastes like a mix of canned lychees in syrup, grapefruit with brown sugar broiled on top and a bouquet of summery flowers. This wine in a can is sure to be a hit with the under-thirty crowd in Denver and sell out rather quickly with less than 300 cases (750 mL equivalent) produced. If you like Red Bull and vodka, this wine will give you wings. 10.4% abv Sample. Very Good (tasted 6/30/11)