Monday, October 31, 2011

Ben's Bubbly: 1998 Freixenet Brut Nature

Changing diapers is now officially a wrestling match. I thought it was a challenge a few weeks ago when he would keep rolling over. Now, with Ben pulling up on everything to stand, I am getting good practice at putting diapers and clothes on him whether he's vertical, horizontal or somewhere in between. He even likes to stand while nursing. He's not even seven months old and keeping the kid off of his feet is a task! Also, this past week Ben got to play with the snow for the first time. The ground stayed white for only two days after our big Denver storm (why are all the East coasters complaining about snow in October???). He liked to grab the snow, but didn't quite know what to think about the cold. What he really liked was dipping his wooden clothes pin in the snow and then chewing on it.

1998 Freixenet Brut Nature, Spain

Surprisingly bright upon opening, this aged cava was bright yellow and slightly carbonated. Different from regular brut wines, this wine saw no sugar in the dosage before being recorked and encapsulated. Unfortunately, not adding sugar when the wine would be better balanced with it is not a good thing. This wine is not bad, but it is exceptionally tart. Mouth puckering green apples and lemon peel dominate the palate. I was more surprised that this wine stood up for so long, especially after standing on the shelf of the non-climate controlled liquor store for most of its life.11.5% abv Purchased $12 Average/Good

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Meet the Winemaker: Jackie Thompson (Boulder Creek)

Jackie Thompson
Most Colorado wineries are small family operations and Boulder Creek Winery is no exception. Mike, Jackie and Will Thompson are the husband, wife and son team that is quickly rising to the top of the Colorado wine hierarchy. Only opened for 8 years, they have been consistently putting out award-winning wines, including Colorado's first ever Jefferson Cup for their 2006 VIP Reserve. They also offer a unique series of blending seminars in which their wine club members actually are responsible for choosing the cépage of Boulder Creek's top red blend. Jackie is the enologist and principal winemaker for Boulder Creek and she joins us this week in our Meet the Winemaker series.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ben's Bubbly: Barefoot Brut Cuvée

Ben has added a new weapon to his arsenal of mobility. One of his favorite new things to do is to stand on his feet. He mostly likes to hold onto mom or dad's fingers and pull himself up, but he is slowly starting to grab onto things, like the edge of the bathtub or laundry baskets, and stand up on his own. While holding on to our fingers, he has no balance, but still tries to lift his little feet and step towards a toy, or even more exciting: a cat. Speaking of the cats, they both are developing more patience with Ben although he still gets a paw to the top of the head when he gets too grabby. Pretty soon they will have their worlds completely upside down when Ben can run after them.

Barefoot Brut Cuvée

After drinking sparkling wines weekly 30 weeks, it is about time one of them actually disappointed. First, it annoys me to see the term word "champagne" on a wine label not from Champagne, France. Unfortunately, an agreement between the U.S. and the E.U. allows U.S. wineries to use the term "champagne"  in conjunction with an appropriate appellation, such as "California," if winery used the semi-generic name (i.e. Champagne) prior to 2006. I am hopeful that with the efforts of the Center for Wine Origins the use of eponymous place names will no longer be allowed on wines from anywhere else.

To top it off, what was in the bottle was also disappointing. I'm not sure what I was expecting, though I have been pleasantly surprised by Barefoot wines in the past. Too bad this sparkling wine isn't a part of that list. When a winery website features a link for cocktail recipes for the wine, you know that it is meant to be mixed. A disjointed mess of acidity and crisp apple make this wine something to avoid if you're planning on drinking it straight. I happen to enjoy mimosas, but feel that using quality wine to mix with orange juice does the wine an injustice. Well, that is where wines like this can serve a purpose.11% abv Purchased $8. Poor/Average

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Meet the Winemaker: John Barbier (Maison la Belle Vie)

John Barbier

Colorado is home to just over 100 wineries, most which are owned and operated by families that started careers in other fields. Some even see their winery as a retirement endeavor. Last week's winemaker/proprietor is the only winery to be run by the second generation. This week's winemaker comes from a long line of winemakers, but from an ocean away. John Barbier grew up in the Loire Valley of France where his family has been making wine for 150 years. John introduced the first vintages of Maison la Belle Vie (French for "House of the Beautiful Life") in 2006. He also owns and operates Le Rouge restaurant and piano bar in downtown Grand Junction. The food is very good, but I was surprised by the numerous spelling errors on the restaurant's fairly extensive wine list and the staff's apathetic response when I pointed out the misspellings.

John is in the process of selling Le Rouge to his brother-slash-restaurant manager so that he can focus on the winery and vineyards. John's wine philosophy is to produce old-world style food-friendly wines. The winery and vineyard also doubles as a wedding and event site dubbed Amy's Courtyard. If you are looking at hosting a beautiful event outside with food and wine as the main attraction, I highly recommend you inquire about John's services.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ben's Bubbly: Kluge Estate 2003 Brut

This past week was quite a week. First, I started a new Meet the Winemaker series to coincide with Regional Wine Week. Second, I attended a Terry Theise grower Champagne tasting with the likes of Pierre Gimonnet, Pierre Peters, Varnier-Fannière, Henri Goutorbe, Gaston Chiquet, L. Aubry, Henri Billiot, Chartogne-Taillet, Pehu-Simonet and Vilmart & Cie. I will report on my thoughts in a few days.

However, the biggest event of the week was Ben's first airplane ride. The three of us traveled to Lawrence, KS for a friend's wedding. We had originally planned on driving, but a deal on airfare convinced us to try flying. It could not have gone any better. Ben mostly spent his time either sleeping or smiling at our neighbor. On the way there, most of the people in the rows around us were actually surprised to see a baby on the plane when they stood up to deplane.

Ben was also lucky enough to spend most of the weekend with his grandma and grandpa who came to Lawrence just to watch him so that we could enjoy our weekend with friends. He was so excited to see them and poke them in their faces instead of just breaking my laptop while talking to them on Skype. The two days went by fast and the grandparents were sad to see him go, but we all hope that it won't be so long until the next visit.

2003 Kluge Estate Brut, Virginia

Much has been published about the winery recently acquired by Donald Trump. So, in the spirit of Regional Wine Week, we popped the cork on this trumped up Virginia bubbly. I decided to open this first of two bottles I recently purchased, because it showed several centimeters of ullage. After pouring into tulip glasses, the dark yellow juice yielded fresh baked bread and lemon aromas. On the palate, it presented bright acidity along with toast, lemons, grapefruit and a disappointingly short finish. This was a fun and decent wine and definitely could have held its own with some of the nondescript Champagne at the tasting, but is far from being mistaken as a top sparkling wine. 12% abv Purchased $18. Good

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Regional Wine Week 2011: Welcome to Colorado

In case you didn't know, this week is Regional Wine Week! Part of the festivities include a 47-word essay contest. DrinkLocalWine board members will select winners based on creativeness, inventiveness and whether they’re 47 words long. Prizes for the winners include tickets to DLW 2012: Colorado, a signed copy of The Wild Vine, copies of The Sipping Point, and Wine Shields. Have you submitted your entry yet? To celebrate Colorado Wine, here is my 47-word essay:

Welcome to Colorado

We have mountains, plains, dunes and trains.
We ski, hike, raft and bike.
But people experience a loss of words when they find
That we also produce world-class wine.

I'm usually quiet, but I’ll be vocal
When it comes to wine, please Drink Local

Carlson Vineyards

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Meet the Winemaker: Jay Christianson (Canyon Wind Cellars)

Jay Christianson
Starting today, and every Wednesday, I will pose nine questions to one of Colorado's winemakers and he or she will pose one to you and me. This new series is intended to introduce the people who make Colorado wine happen. Let the winemakers know that you care by commenting and responding to their question.

For the inaugural "Meet the Winemaker" interview, I ask Jay Christianson of Canyon Wind Cellars nine questions and he asks two! Canyon Wind Cellars was founded in 1991 by Jay's parents at the eastern edge of the Grand Valley. In 1996, the winery produced its first commercial wines. With the help of consultant winemaker Bob Pepi, Canyon Wind Cellars produces 14 wines utilizing low-intervention winemaking and sustainable practices. In 2011, Jay and his wife Jennifer took over the leadership and winemaking of Canyon Wind Cellars and started a new wine project called Anemoi Wines. The first Anemoi release, Boreas, is already a standout wine!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Ben's Bubbly: Pierre Péters Cuvée de Réserve

This past week marked the sixth month point in our endeavor of drinking a sparkling wine every week for one year. It also marked Ben's half birthday! The little guy is all smiles almost all the time. He now has a few different smiles including an adorable new smile where he scrunches his eyes and reveals his toothless upper jaw. Almost any time you talk to him he busts out one of his grins and giggles. While he loves playing with toys, including phones and remote controls, what he really wants is to play with the cats. They are starting to realize that he is mobile, but he still sneaks up behind them and gets a handful of tail, which is usually met with a squeal and a paw on the head.

We also had to make the switch from his co-sleeper to his crib. He is now able to rock and move his co-sleeper, as well as pull himself up on the sides and reach out. That also means he can fall out if we're not paying close attention.

NV Pierre Péters Cuvée de Réserve

For this week's Ben's Bubbly, we picked a popular grower Champagne that I had been wanting to try for some time. One of the nice things about many Récoltant-Manipulant (RM on the label) Champagne is that they often put the disgorgement date on the labels. Although most multi-vintage bubblies are made to be the same year in and year out, differences do occur and the wine does change with time in the bottle. If you know when the bottle was disgorged, you have a little bit more information about what you are drinking, and I think that this is a good thing. The code on label of this wine was L.0303, so I believe this was disgorged in March of 2003. Upon opening, the nose shows signs of oxidation (nuts, mushrooms, almost sherry-like) and the juice is a light golden straw color. Tthe palate is still full of the great acidity and bright lemons, grapefruit and apples I love in blanc de blancs. After three hours, the sherry aromas blow off and it's all toast and fruit. If there is ever a reason to decant Champagne, this one would definitely have benefited. Wish I had saved half the bottle for a second night to see if the wine opened up even more. I can't wait to find a newer bottle to see how a fresher wine shows. I think I might have a chance as there is a Champagne tasting at a local distributor's office this week. I'll report back on what I find there. 12% abv Purchased $44 Good/Very Good

Friday, October 7, 2011

What is taste? (Steve Heimoff has no clue)

This morning, Steve Heimoff blew my mind. He wrote the following statement: "Younger drinkers, having bad taste, would naturally gravitate toward sweet wines." I expressed my disbelief to which he followed up by saying, "Colorado, you're on a slippery slope if you're arguing that there's no such thing as taste - that everybody's preferences are equal, so that no judgments can be made." This got me thinking about what is "taste."

While I fully believe that there are good wines and bad wines, such judgement should be left to each individual's taste. This is also one of my arguments against the 100-pt system, that that is neither here nor there. Taste is how something is perceived and relished. Just as lover of Monet may think Dalí's works are utter crap, both have a place in the world of Art. Just because someone prefers burgers and fries to caviar and foie gras doesn't mean they have bad taste. I may not agree with my mother-in-law for drinking Franzia chilled with an ice cube, but that is what she enjoys drinking. In each case, the perception of quality is very subjective and personal. Who am I, or Steve Heimoff, to say that someone else has bad taste?

Of course not everyone's preferences are equal. If they were, the world would be a very boring place. I give more weight to my preferences that I do to Old Man Heimoff's. My mother-in-law's preferences are superior to mine when it comes to drinking enjoyment. That is the way it should be.

What do you think about taste preferences? Is it acceptable for younger (or older) wine drinkers to enjoy inexpensive sweet wines as opposed to inexpensive dry wines, or does this indicate that "the country is dumbing down," as Mr. Heimoff claims?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A new wine is born: Anemoi Boreas

New wineries pop up all the time. Every year we see new wineries in California trying to sell the next big thing. New winery owners plop down several million dollars on a few acres of prime real estate, pay one of the state's top viticulturists to manage their grapes and finally pay a celebrity winemaker's ransom to consult on how to make a wine that will score 100 points from one of the wine world's tastemakers like Robert Parker, Jr. or Steve Heimoff.

More often than not, a larger winery or wine conglomerate will buy another winery and incorporate the new brand into its portfolio. The new management infuses capital and shakes things up to give the appearance of the brand being reborn. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn't. Very rarely do you see one producer operating two wine brands completely independent of each other.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Wine writers are lazy

Wine writers are lazy. Not in the sense that they don't work hard at what they do (well, my posting has been rather pathetic of late), but they don't necessarily do what they should be doing. Wine writers' main goal should be evaluating and describing wines so that consumers get the best wine for their money. Many do this and do it well, but as a group the major wine pundits have been stuck in a rut. James Suckling claimed that he was going to find the next big thing before any one else and where has he been tasting? Bordeaux, Napa and Tuscany... Those are the current and past big things for sure, but not the next big thing. Most wine drinkers know that the wines from those regions which Suckling is reviewing are of high quality. Suckling is tasting the same wines year after year trying to distinguish which $100+ wines are worthy of his 100-point decrees. Rating swings from 92 points to 95 points drive business for many of these wines. Nevertheless, most of these wines sell well and are priced accordingly (or unfortunately overpriced). While many glossies and celebrity critics only publish wine reviews of wines rated 85 points or higher, Suckling has taken the threshold up to 90 points. Suckling knows that he can find more than a handful of these types of wines in his favorite regions. Yet, he is afraid to venture into uncharted territory for the fear of only finding one or two great wines in a non-traditional wine region. Life is too short to drink poorly made wine, but life is also too short to drink the same wines year after year. Good wine is worth the risk and effort to find it.

Other wine reviewers are so lazy that not even know that certain wine regions produce wine. Stephen Elliot of the Connoisseur's Guide to California Wine recently visited Palisade, CO without knowing it was in the Grand Valley AVA and home to 25 wineries. Now, of course Palisade is most definitely not a mecca of wine production, but I think that a wine "expert" would at least check to see if his vacation spot has any wineries. I don't claim to know of every wine region in the world, let alone the U.S., but when I drove to Wisconsin this past summer, I made sure to research any wineries along our route. Lo and behold, we stopped at a winery in Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin. I will forgive Mr. Elliot's mistake as he and his co-writers are so focused on California wine that it takes accidental encounters for wineries in other regions to come across their radar. But to his surprise, Stephen actually enjoyed the wines made by Canyon Wind Cellars in this little part of the wine world. Who'd have thunk that?!?

However, I was pleasantly surprised a few days ago when James Molesworth tweeted, "Looks like a flight of wines from the Finger Lakes, Virginia and Colorado lined up in the tasting room today..." Granted, James is the tasting coordinator for Wine Spectator and is stuck reviewing wines from non-mainstream regions such as Chile, Loire Valley, South Africa and New York's Finger Lakes. At least he has Kim Marcus' and Harvey Steiman's beats beat! Now, this tasting isn't going to change much, but at least Wine Spectator has Colorado wine on its radar! While there haven't been any "next big thing" proclamations about these regions, Molesworth was happy to report that, "Good, competent winemaking [is] now the norm more than not, thankfully."

Steve Heimoff, west coast editor for Wine Enthusiast, said he doesn't review Colorado wine because no one pays him to do so. I can understand that it is his job to review the top wines from California, but I bet he tastes wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy and other regions to keep his palate calibrated and not Calicentric. He should also be seeking out wines from Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, and New Mexico to see what California's neighbors are producing. You can bet that reviewers of American automobiles are keeping tabs on what German and Japanese manufacturers are making.

Even Robert Parker, Jr.'s heir apparent, Antonio Galloni, declared on Wineberserkers.com that he publishes content based on "what our readers have become accustomed to." Most wine consumers are not familiar with Turkish, Greek, Slovenian or Coloradan wine but how else will the broader public obtain information on what these other wine regions are producing? Sure, Galloni is charged to taste Californian wine, but is he tasting wine from Cucamonga Valley, Potter Valley, or San Antonio Valley?  We have almost gone back in time to the early 1970s when the French wine elite dismissed California wine as inferior to French wine. While the wine world has expanded incredibly in the past 40 years, we are at a new crossroads of wine evaluation and education. As David White said in his keynote address to the Nederbrurg Rare Wine Auction in South Africa recently, "As consumers grow more comfortable dismissing gatekeepers like Parker, the influence of local voices ... is becoming more important." If the gatekeepers wish to remain keepers of the wine gates, they had better start doing their jobs and expand their palates (and pens) beyond the traditional wine regions.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Ben's Bubbly: Nicolas Feuillatte Brut

Some days are just boring. I've had a few lackluster days of late and as a result have not felt like writing. While I try to post 3 times per week, I've fallen behind. Ben, on the other hand, has had quite an eventful week. We started him on solid food last weekend. His first taste of non-milk was banana. He slowly has taken to eating the mushy Musa. This weekend we added rice cereal to his diet. He definitely likes the flavorless cereal mixed with mom's milk more than the fruit. He really has taken to eating from a spoon and a majority of the food actually stays in his mouth.

Also this week, Ben came home with an "ouch report" from daycare. He got into a tussle with his crib and did not win. The three striped bruises around his temple make him look like he has a tattoo similar to Mike Tyson. He's going to need that street cred pretty soon as he gets mobile and gets into it with the cats. He already gets an occasional handful of fur when one walks a little to close.  While the bruises have not seemed to bother him at all this week, any lasting trauma was erased while we watched the Green Bay Packers (of course sporting our Green and Gold) make Swiss cheese out of the Denver Broncos.

Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Champagne

I wish I could say that this week's bubbly was also exciting, but this bottle was more on the boring end of the spectrum. Both the nose and the palate exhibited apples and toast, but most the aromas and flavors were muted. This is decent, but nothing special. There are definitely better wines at the same price point and even for less money. 12% abv Purchased $27. Average/Good