Flickr Photo Download: The 2006 Township 7 Cabernet Sauvignon

The 2006 Township 7 Cabernet Sauvignon by winemaker Bradley Cooper.

Winemaker Bradley Cooper of Penticton, British Columbia, produces exquisite wines from the south Okanagan Valley, including this delicious handcrafted small-lot Cabernet, of which he made 752 cases.

I simply adore this wine’s cherry, coffee and cola overtones, especially when enriched by a broad silkiness on the palate and an enduring finish that will cause you to delay brushing your teeth too soon. Lovely with red meats or on its own, here’s a special, affordable Township 7 Cabernet that you should be drinking.

Price: $25.99 per bottle / $311.88 for case of 12
Heat: 13.9% ABV
Where to purchase: contact the winery.

Disclaimer: this bottle was a sample, stolen fair and square from the winemaker when he wasn’t looking. ;^)

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Blind Wine Tasting Notes: 2006 Beaujolais Nouveau

Editor’s Note, November 15th, 2008: If you’re searching for a review of Beaujolais Nouveau wines from the 2008 vintage and wound up here, I must admit that I haven’t yet reviewed the new vintage. But what I’d like to know is, Should I? Feel free to direct me one way or the other by leaving a comment.

Many wine buffs the world over participated last week in a yearly ritual — tasting newly-arrived 2006 Beaujolais Nouveau wines. Since the long-ago origins of this tradition in France’s Beaujolais region, a sudden fever tends to mark the third Thursday in November. That fever struck here in the navel of the California wine country, too, as six local tasters, each with varying degrees of wine tasting experience, brought their selected wares — one bottle each — to my home to be swirled, sniffed, sipped, and scored.

Most experienced wine tasters will tell you that there’s more to the fanfare about Beaujolais Nouveau than there is to the wine. I’ve described it before as being not much more than Kool-Aid with an acid infusion — a once-a-year ritual and a prelude to drinking finer wine.

Nevertheless, there was quite a disparity last Friday evening in our results for six of this year’s labels; as you’ll see below, two clear favorites emerged. In the course of my shopping research, I had played a hunch, thinking that my selection of a Nouveau from the distinguished Beaujolais-Villages subappellation might stack the deck against the selections of the other five tasters in my party. As you’ll see from the results, where a wine is made doesn’t necessarily guarantee its quality. But I wouldn’t know until the final unveiling of our cloth-shrouded bottles.

Paired with our Beaujolais Nouveaux were whole wheat breads, crudites, and three cow’s milk cheeses: a soft, almost butterlike Explorateur from France with an easy spreadability; a Jean Grogne, an earthy and slightly bitter French triple-creme cheese; and a moderately sharp, medium-bodied Wisconsin Gruyere.

Among our assembled company was Valerie S., whom you see wearing a beret in the accompanying photo, and donning the proud colors of her native France. It was Valerie who brought the crudites, fancifully adorning them with two well-recognized French symbols: L’Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. And thanks to Ginny G. (that’s her seated in front), who served a delicious piping-hot post-tasting quiche.

A Beaujolais Nouveau tasting at Chez Winehiker, November 17, 2006.

A Beaujolais Nouveau tasting at Chez Winehiker, November 17, 2006.

About the wines

The wines listed in the Group Ranking table below are ranked top-down, most favorite to least favorite. In the left column is the actual group score for each wine using my Wine Scoring Sheet, which is based on the 20-point Davis scale. Each 2006 vintage wine is listed by label and is followed by the wine’s appellation, its heat (alcohol content) and the price (US$) per 750ml bottle. All wines were purchased where linked but not necessarily available currently nor purchasable online; if no direct link to the wine itself is present in the Group Ranking table, purchase information is not available.

Below the group ranking, I’ve employed the scoring sheet to tabulate my own scores for each individual wine.

Group Ranking

+5

Dominique Piron, Beaujolais-Villages

12.0%

$13

+5

Georges du Boeuf, Beaujolais

12.0%

$9

+4

Bouchard Ain et Fils, Beaujolais

12.0%

$9

-1

Louis Tete, Beaujolais

12.5%

$10

-4

Henry Fessy, Beaujolais-Villages

12.5%

$12

-5

Mommesin, Beaujolais

12.0%

$12

Winehiker’s Scoring

12.5

Georges du Boeuf, Beaujolais

11.5

Bouchard Ain et Fils, Beaujolais

11

Dominique Piron, Beaujolais-Villages

10.5

Louis Tete, Beaujolais

10.5

Henry Fessy, Beaujolais-Villages

7.5

Mommesin, Beaujolais

Analysis
As I host my tastings, I often suggest to my panel of tasters that they should consider the merits of each wine as it compares to the other wines on the table, and not against previous tasting experience. This caveat is especially true when tasting Beaujolais Nouveaux, since these wines can hardly compare, quality-wise, to nearly any other wine. One could conceivably rate all BN wines very low compared to a powerhouse Cabernet or even a young, fruity table wine. As it is, you’ll note that I generally tend to qualify my remarks somewhat when describing BNs — they’re just not great wines. But they’re not really meant to be.

With these notions in mind, and as you can see from my Winehiker’s Scoring table, none of these wines scored very highly, but none scored too low, either, with the exception of the group’s extreme non-favorite, the Mommesin, which had not much more going for it than its cranberry color.

The fairly narrow spread in my scoring of the top five wines reflected the groups’. That being said, our aggregate scoring easily helped to identify two distinct group favorites. It was clear that we collectively agreed about the qualities of these six labels.

But let’s break it down. Five of these wines were rather restrained upon judging aroma; only the Henry Fessy seemed to offer any real sense of fruitiness right out of the bottle. There was a slight barnyard aspect to the Piron that foretold its prominence, and a minute fragment of leather in the nose of the Louis Tete. None of these wines, however, appeared to open into stronger fragrances as the evening wore on.

If you’ve experimented with BNs previously, you can imagine how their tartness can affect the overall balance of the wines. With the exception of the Mommesin, which was entirely flabby, all were highly acidic. No small surprise there; strong acidity is an expectation with Beaujolais Nouveau.

However, I felt that at least one of these six should offer some smidgen of sweetness, however slight, to go along with the other characteristic of a BN — its fruitiness. We didn’t really find these wines to be appropriately sweet; I subsequently gave moderate to low scores across the board on this attribute. All wines scored reasonably well on the final balance aspect, astringency. Of the six wines, the wine that I felt had the best overall balance was the du Boeuf.

If nothing else can be said about Beaujolais Nouveau, it is a food wine and not a wine you drink for the sake of drinking it. That much was evident early on in our judging. By the time we had worked our way down to scoring our wines on body and taste, we were already reaching for the bread and cheese — anything to clear the acids from our palates. But if any could be considered to have an appropriate texture for drinking, it would be the Piron and the Bouchard Ain which, with their nearly-on-target balance aspects and delightfully fruity flavors, are two good bets. The highest scorer on body and taste, to my mind, was the ubiquitous du Boeuf.

Unlike its tongue-snapping tartness, finish is not typically a characteristic associated with Beaujolais Nouveau, and our scoring reflected it. The two noteworthy wines in this aspect, for me, were the Bouchard Ain and the du Boeuf. The Piron edges out the du Boeuf in the final group score, however, because of its consistency on all aspects relative to the five others.

Conclusions and Recommendations
One cannot lay claim to fine winemaking skills for this quickly made and rather pedestrian wine; its overall character implies its drinkability now as a celebrated ritual (if one can indeed call it drinkable) rather than a wine one boasts about after cellaring. But then, nobody should choose to cellar this type of wine. In fact, as I selected the Dominique Piron at Beltramo’s in Menlo Park, I was amused upon spying a basket of 2005 Nouveaus, many of them “giveaway” priced at $1.99. For that price, I might consider bathing in it as the Japanese do.

If you would shop for just any wine, don’t buy a Beaujolais Nouveau when you can buy something better. But if you want to find out what all the hoopla is about — and I recommend you do at some point in your tasting experience, if for no other reason than to establish a somewhat crude baseline — then take your pick from the top three BNs listed in the Group Ranking table above, and you’ll get a sense of what a truly young wine can be like. These wines were, after all, just grapes on a vine only a few short weeks ago.

~winehiker

Blind Wine Tasting Notes: Barolo

Considered to be one of the most noble wines of Italy, Barolo lays claim to the title “Wine of kings, and king of wines.” The wine, named after the Barolo commune from which it originates, is made from the region’s heavily-grown Nebbiolo grape, a dark blue, highly tannic variety that can yield an incredibly powerful wine to the senses.

Barolo can be a hard wine to make, and that can account for its relatively steep price and slim availability. Perhaps it is the latter two factors that influenced our evening of tasting this noble grape when five of us got together on a recent Thursday.

There’s something noble about Barolos, alright, and you often notice it right away in this wine when it’s aged five years. All sorts of color gradations appear, from deep violet to inky blue-black to orange around the rim. Aromas of leather and pine tar permeate the senses, with a hint of roses. I had advised my guests, in preparing for our tasting, to uncork their wines 24 hours ahead and let them breathe overnight, then stopper them in the morning. Two of my guests, I believe, had let them breathe the entire 24 hours. Despite this, some bottles expressed a little funkiness that largely dissipated upon swirling our glasses for 15-20 minutes.

Yes, one must be extraordinarily patient with Barolos, whether winemaker or wine drinker. Because we had been patient with the wines’ oxygenation process, all bottles were very drinkable, with a high degree of collective satisfaction in their taste and body profiles; overall quality was scored moderately, and we feel that aging would only improve all five wines.

Our group also enjoyed pairing our Barolos with two cow’s milk cheeses, namely a mature Fontina, a hard cheese with a mild, somewhat nutty flavor while at the same time rich, herbaceous, and fruity, and a fresh Piave, which exhibits a dense texture and imparts an intense, full-bodied flavor.

About the wines
The wines listed below are ranked top-down, most favorite to least favorite; each is followed by the wine’s heat (alcohol content) and the price per 750ml bottle. In the left column is the actual group score for each wine using my handy-dandy Wine Scoring Sheet, which is based on the 20-point Davis scale. If no link is present, purchase information is not available online.

Below the group ranking, I’ve employed the scoring sheet to tabulate my opinions about each individual wine.

Group Ranking

+3 2001 Damilano “Albeisa”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $36
+3 1999 Prunotto “Bussia”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $60
-1 2001 Rivetto “Giulin”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $38
-2 2001 Rivetto “Giulin”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $38
-3 2001 Damilano “Albeisa”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $36

Winehiker’s Ranking

17 pts. 2001 Rivetto “Giulin”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $38
14.5 pts. 2001 Damilano “Albeisa”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $36
14 pts. 2001 Damilano “Albeisa”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $36
14 pts. 2001 Rivetto “Giulin”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $38
13 pts. 1999 Prunotto “Bussia”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $60

Analysis
Note that of the five wines, there were two pairs of two that were of the same label; I alluded to this aspect earlier as being a major factor in the night’s tasting. Yet while the scoring of these five wines exists in a fairly tight range, there’s quite a fractious disparity in each of the above rankings when you take the similar labels into account.

While I can sometimes forgive the group for a disparity in scoring two of the same wine, I find it difficult to allow myself the same courtesy. The funny part (“funny peculiar” that is, not “funny ha-ha”) is that while the Rivettos scored similarly in the group rankings, I scored them moderately differently on aroma, balance, and finish, but just enough to gap them by 3 points. The group, on the other hand, scored the Damilanos quite broadly; these took both first and last in the group scores.

Why such puzzling differences?

We decided to perform a “taste-off” of the two Damilanos to more assiduously determine the differences. My own score sheet had suggested from the first pass that aroma, acid, and finish were the main issues, and that’s what they turned out to be. The Damilano that we had favored scored well on second pass, with aromas, acidity, and finish characteristic of a fine wine; the wine from the other Damilano bottle had not quite let go of its off-putting “dirty socks” smell, and seemed much more acidic on the finish.

Not surprisingly, then, we began to examine where we bought our wines. Both had been purchased at Beverages & More, one in Redwood City and the other in San Jose. We speculated that these wines had either arrived in two separate international shipments, or one bottle had been filled from near the top of the barrel while the other had come from near the bottom. Quite possibly storage and transportation issues allowing prolonged exposure to heat were the cause.

I invite my readers to comment on possible additional factors that may have influenced these two inconsistent Damilano bottles.

These circumstances, though they make for interesting discussion, can certainly offer quite an education to all who would learn more about wine. Certainly you could truly enjoy the products of one winemaker for years only to taste a bad bottle that you had already promised your friends would garner high praise.

Conclusions and Recommendations
So, if I were to offer conclusions here, it would be: don’t go to a large chain store to buy imported wine if you can avoid doing so; don’t discontinue your wine club membership because of one bad bottle.

And my recommendations? Keep right on enjoying glass after glass of Barolo. But shop around first for imported wine at a reputable wine merchant that offers a wider selection than the BevMo chain.

~winehiker

Blind Wine Tasting Notes: Syrah

At our Syrah tasting event last Thursday evening, six of us compared six bottles of Syrah – four from California and two from France. It was a pretty good lineup, but the top three finishers were all from California’s Central Coast appellation. It was clear that all six of us who formed the night’s tasting panel have true California palates.

The colors in our glasses were a deep violet – two with a slight degree of gold banding about the edges – but the aromas and flavors were richly contrasting between spiciness, fruitiness, and smokiness. A moderate degree of chewiness was present in most; aroma, taste, texture, and finish all combined to generate an exceptionally high score in the night’s eventual winner.

None of these wines were older than the 2003 vintage, yet all are drinkable now.

Paired with our Syrah were whole-wheat seeded breads, a sharp Wisconsin Cheddar cheese, a softer Edam cheese, and an excellent sun-dried tomato/cream cheese fondue prepared in my kitchen by Chef Tanya. All were terrific accompaniments to our Syrah wines.

About the wines
The wines listed below are ranked top-down, most favorite to least favorite; each is followed by the wine’s heat (alcohol content) and the price per 750ml bottle. In the left column is the actual group score for each wine using my handy-dandy Wine Scoring Sheet, which is based on the 20-point Davis scale. If no link is present, purchase information is not available online.

Below the group ranking, I’ve employed the scoring sheet to tabulate my thoughts about each individual wine.

Group Ranking

+4

2004 “R” Runquist, Paso Robles, California

14.4%

$25

+3

2003 Thomas Fogarty, Fat Buck Ridge Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains, California

15.0%

$32*

+1

2004 Andrew Murray Tout Le Jours, Central Coast

14.5%

$15

-1

2003 Mas Grand Plagniol, Costieres de Nimes, France

14.0%

$20

-2

2004 Concannon Stampmaker’s, Livermore, Califronia

13.5%

$15

-5

2004 Emmanuel Darnaud, Crozes-Hermitages, France

12.8%

$NA


Winehiker’s Ranking

19pts

2004 “R” Runquist, Paso Robles, California

14pts

2004 Andrew Murray Tout Le Jours, Central Coast

12pts

2003 Mas Grand Plagniol, Costieres de Nimes, France

13.5pts

2003 Thomas Fogarty, Fat Buck Ridge Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains, California

11.5pts

2004 Concannon Stampmaker’s, Livermore, Califronia

8.5pts

2004 Emmanuel Darnaud, Crozes-Hermitages, France

In this tasting, the group scores, as well as my individual scores, were quite widespread; in both we had a clear favorite in the Runquist and a clear nonfavorite in the Darnaud, which exhibited an incredibly earthy taste. I loved the fruity aroma, the rich vanilla smokiness, and the velvet textures of the Runquist; the only criterion I did not score it highest on was finish, which lingered perhaps only 15-20 seconds. My selection for the evening was the Fogarty, purchased directly at the winery above Palo Alto; I had liked it enough to buy it this summer during a post-hike visit, but it was much more of a hit with the group than it was with me. Indeed, I liked the Plagniol more.

Winehiker’s Bottom Line
If you would buy a California-grown Syrah priced in the mid-twenties, you cannot go wrong should you choose to lay in a stock of the Runquist and the Fogarty.

~winehiker
*It would appear that Fogarty’s 2004 Fat Buck Ridge Syrah has gone up in price in the few short weeks since I purchased it; it’s now $50 per bottle.

When liking a wine is not enough

There’s a lot of debate out there in the Great Blogosphere about wine scores and wine-scoring systems. Some suggest that wine tasting is too subjective a practice to quantify with objective numerals. Seasoned wine tasters would have you distrust someone else’s (e.g., Robert Parker’s) seasoned palate. Yet I’ve learned that knowing that I like a wine is not enough – I want to know why I prefer one wine over another. Because other people do, too, I believe that’s where a wine scoring system can help.

I had a lot of help from my wine-tasting friends developing a 20-point scoring sheet that I use quite frequently. We’ve found that a 20-point system is definitely more manageable than a 100-point system such as Parker’s and others – I think they’re too difficult to attempt by most people who would taste wine. A 5-star system, I’ve found, is just too simple, because it doesn’t offer any real educational value.

The winehiker’s 20-point wine scoring sheet for individuals and groups.

The winehiker’s 20-point wine scoring sheet
works well for both individuals and groups.

This wine scoring sheet is broken into seven criteria with numeric values assigned to each; sample descriptive adjectives are offered within each tasting criterion (aroma, body, finish, etc.). It also is two-sided, allowing input for individual wine scores for seven wines, as well as space for tasting notes and group scoring on the second page to aggregate a group’s individual ratings. A third page includes instructions for how to use it.

Jeff Stai, owner of Twisted Oak Winery remarks:

“While it can argued as to whether “taste/flavor” should be 4 points and “finish” only 2, the winehiker’s system can be a big help for people who want to learn to taste more thoughtfully by breaking a rating down into more manageable chunks.”

Most of my guests are new tasters who want to learn why they like a wine (or why they don’t); many return for follow-up tastings. That’s a vote of confidence, indicating that they derive value from this scoring system.  Perhaps you will too!

————————— ♦ —————————

Have you scored any wines using this or any other 20-point wine scoring sheet?
If you have, please let me know what you think.

If you haven’t used it, this scoring sheet can be
a valuable learning tool to help you train your palate.
Try it at your next tasting!

————————— ♦ —————————

~winehiker

Blind Wine Tasting Notes: Merlot

At last Thursday evening’s Merlot event, we tasted six bottles – five from Napa Valley, all from California. While I can’t speak for the other folks present, it was apparent to me that all six could have breathed an hour before tasting them, as all seemed quite tart 10-15 minutes out of the bottle. Nevertheless, we took our time tasting.

I expect a velvety silkiness of body when I taste Merlots, but we didn’t find it in our combined selections. Most of these Merlots were fairly young, alcoholic, from the 2003 vintage, with minimal finish. Many of us had been advised on our purchases by our respective wine merchants, but I’ll have to say that for the $14-$26 price range we spanned, none fit the price. The least expensive wine was the group favorite.

It was kind of disappointing. Would I serve any of the following wines to my friends? Sadly, no.

Paired with our Merlot were a sweet baguette, a soft camembert cheese, and a delectable buttery gouda, which fortunately enhanced the taste of the wines.

About the wines
The wines listed below are ranked top-down, most favorite to least favorite; each is followed by the wine’s heat (alcohol content) and the price per 750ml bottle. In the left column is the actual group score for each wine using my handy-dandy Wine Scoring Sheet, which is based on the 20-point Davis scale. Below the group ranking, I’ve employed the scoring sheet to rank each wine individually.

Group ranking

+3 2003 Robert Mondavi, Napa Valley, California 14.5% $16
+1 2003 Burgess Cellars, Napa Valley, California 14.1% $20
0 2001 St. Clement, Napa Valley, California 15.2% $26
-1 2003 Whitehall Lane, Napa Valley, California 14.2% $22
-1 2003 Clos La Chance Violet Crowned, San Martin, Central Coast, California 14.5% $14
-2 2002 Atalon, Napa Valley, California 13.7% $24

Winehiker’s ranking

13.5 pts 2001 St. Clement, Napa Valley, California 15.2% $26
12.5 pts 2003 Robert Mondavi, Napa Valley, California 14.5% $16
12.5 pts 2003 Clos La Chance Violet Crowned, San Martin, Central Coast, California 14.5% $14
12.5 pts 2003 Whitehall Lane, Napa Valley, California 14.2% $22
11.5 pts 2002 Atalon, Napa Valley, California 13.7% $24
11 pts 2003 Burgess Cellars, Napa Valley, California 14.1% $20

The St. Clement had garnered a Wine & Spirits ranking of 92 points. However, with its musty “bathroom sink” odors, it was off-putting for the group right away. While this wine grew on me, it took all evening, yet still did not significantly stand out from the rest to warrant purchase. The winner, based on consistency, was the Mondavi with its floral, vanilla, and tobacco notes; it did not score very high when scored individually, but it did not score any negatives in the group ranking. The Atalon was closest to offering the rich silkiness of better Merlots and would go best with chocolate; I detected leather and moderate heat in my purchase, the Whitehall Lane.

~winehiker

Blind Wine Tasting Notes: Sémillon

Four people attended last Thursday night’s Sémillon tasting, where we enjoyed three pure Sémillon varietals and one botrytized Sauterne-style blend that blew our collective socks off. The interesting news, upon revealing the wines, was that none of them were produced in France.

Why is that interesting?

It’s interesting because this grape variety originates from France. Known as one of the three classic White Bordeaux grapes – the other two being Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle – Sémillon is often, however, produced as a blended wine rather than a pure varietal. In retrospect, I feel I could have announced this particular wine tasting to highlight the Bordeaux region rather than to highlight the variety itself, in which case the objective would have been to shop for, then taste, wines blended from the three grapes above.

Well, that’s how you learn, right? And learning is why we get together to explore these wines in the first place.

So, if we couldn’t find pure Sémillon varietals from Bordeaux (and believe me, all four of us found shopping for Sémillon quite a learning experience), where did they come from?

They came from California’s Napa Valley and Australia’s Clare and Hunter valleys.

Though all four wine bottles were well-covered, there were clues to suggest the wines inside. All present could see the size of the bottles, as well as the tops of the bottles’ necks. These clues suggested that one of the wines was a dessert wine – one clue being the small size of the bottle itself*, being a 375ml bottle rather than the standard 750ml size. The clear color of the bottle glass, as opposed to a shade of green, was also a clue. Pouring, however, showed the color of this wine to be quite deeply golden, and contrasting sharply with the very light straw coloring of the other three.

It was apparent to the group that pure Sémillon wines are less desirable than other pure white varietals we might have tried previously. Whether it was the citric acid, the aromas of brie, or the lack of sweetness when compared to the sauterne-style wine, we didn’t favor the pure Sémillons. Perhaps the French felt the same way about Sémillon, having long ago decided to blend it with other grapes!

Paired with our Sémillon were a sweet baguette, soft brie, and a sweet chévre topped with brandied apricots. The chévre, said the group, was perfect with the Sauterne.

About the wines
The wines listed below are ranked top-down, most favorite to least favorite; each is followed by the wine’s heat, or alcohol content. In the left column is the actual group score for each wine using my handy-dandy Wine Scoring Sheet, which is based on the 20-point Davis scale. I’ve now added bottle prices to the rankings.

Group ranking
+4 2002 Beringer “Nightingale” Private Reserve, Napa Valley, California   $23/375ml
+0 2003 Lengs & Cooter, Clare Valley, South Australia   13.5%   $22
+0 2003 Ruston, Juliana Vineyard, Napa Valley, California   13.9%   $15
–4 1999 Tyrrell’s Wines Vat 1, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia   10.5%   $35

Winehiker’s ranking
20pts. 2002 Beringer “Nightingale” Private Reserve, Napa Valley, California
12.5pts. 2003 Lengs & Cooter, Clare Valley, South Australia
11.5pts. 2003 Ruston, Juliana Vineyard, Napa Valley, California
7.5pts. 1999 Tyrrell’s Wines Vat 1, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia

For the three pure Sémillon wines, my scores matched the group’s. The sensational stand-out for everyone was Beringer’s Nightingale, a lab-botrytized blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. (For details about Beringer’s botrytis, or “noble rot” process, see “Beringer” in this story from Carolyn Tillie.) I’m not much of a sweet wine drinker, and white dessert wines tend not to disappear very quickly when I have them around, but I managed to top myself over our previous Pinot tasting by giving this wine a perfect score. Simply put, it fired on all “seven” cylinders for me: appearance, aroma, balance, body, taste, finish, and overall quality. It was truly exceptional, and therefore I recommend you treat yourself – or your sweetheart – to the Beringer “Nightingale” Private Reserve from Napa Valley.

Next week, I’ll report the results of our small-group Merlot tasting.

~winehiker

*My attendees don’t always follow the rules. Not that it’s a bad thing.

Blind Wine Tasting Notes: Pinot Noir

At last night’s tasting, we enjoyed five Pinot Noirs that represented California rather well, plus a sixth from the esteemed Bourgogne (Burgundy) region of France. This tasting presented some truly wonderful wines, and the results, though widely disparate, yielded 3 very good Pinot wines worth trying again.

Pinot Noir appears to be all the rage since Miles’ exclamations about it in the 2004 hit movie, “Sideways.” One thing’s for sure: there’s an increasing acreage of Pinot grapes being planted, farmed, vinted, and bottled from locations all over the globe. Their complex nature causes me to want to taste more of them, certainly, so I’m considering hosting future tastings wherein their origin – Willamette Valley, Bourgogne, Russian River, Santa Lucia Highlands, Hunter Valley — will figure prominently.

There were two clear stand-outs for me, and I scored one of them higher than I’ve ever scored any wine. Yet neither turned out to be the group favorite; an issue that may have resulted from 3 of my guests being relatively new to wine tasting and a fourth who had not scored a wine as formally as we did last evening. I felt that the group favorite was a little too young and therefore unresolved on balance. My fifth guest, Katie, possesses some knowledge and experience as a wine taster, and it turns out that my score and hers matched fairly evenly.

There was also one wine that ranked a -5 for the group – the lowest group score I can recall seeing in some time (the lowest possible score being a “-6″). Could it have been the relatively young age of the wine, or the winemaker?

Paired with our Pinot were a sourdough baguette and two Danish blue cheeses – one strong and crumbly, one creamy and more easily sliced.

The wines listed below are ranked top-down, most favorite to least favorite; each is followed by the wine’s heat, or alcohol content. In the left column is the actual group score for each wine using my handy-dandy Wine Scoring Sheet, which is based on the 20-point Davis scale. If no link exists for a particular label, that label is not, to the best of my research capabilities, available online. All are from California except the wine from Bourgogne, France.

Group Ranking
+4 2005 Sterling Vintner’s Collection, Central Coast; 13.5%
+3 2004 Rvtz Cellars Maison Grand Cru, Russian River Valley; 14.5%
+3 2003 Heron, American Canyon, Napa County; 13.0%
-2 2004 Bouchaine, Carneros; 13.5%
-3 2001 Les Noizons Pommard, Jean-Luc Joillot; 13.5%
-5 2005 Coppola Diamond Collection Silver Label, Monterey County; 13.5%

Winehiker’s Ranking
19 pts. 2003 Heron, American Canyon, Napa County
17 pts. 2004 Rvtz Cellars Maison Grand Cru, Russian River Valley
15.5 pts. 2005 Sterling Vintner’s Collection, Central Coast
15.5 pts. 2004 Bouchaine, Carneros
12 pts. 2001 Les Noizons Pommard, Jean-Luc Joillot; 13.5%
9.5 pts. 2005 Coppola Diamond Collection Silver Label, Monterey County

My picks were once again nominally consistent with the group’s, though I liked the smoky vanilla aspects of the Heron – my contribution.* To me, this wine had a subtle but enticing aroma all evening, plus a full, mouth-watering body (for a Pinot, that is), and an outstanding finish.

Special note to my dear Mom: thank you barrelfuls for your heartfelt efforts toward making my new bottle covers. They are a splash-hit, Mom, and I love you for making them! I owe you a fabulous gourmet dinner.

~winehiker

*I had actually received two bottles of the Heron from a wine club I recently joined, bottlenotes.com. Too bad they’re both gone now! But this wine is quite affordable at about 13 bucks a bottle. If you should join this club, please tell Alyssa I sent you. (Good pick, Alyssa!)

Blind Wine Tasting Notes: Côtes Du Rhône

Six of us wine-loving folk got together last Thursday evening to taste wines from France’s fabled Côtes du Rhône region.

I’ve always enjoyed a bottle of Côtes du Rhône when I’ve had one around, but I had not explored them very deeply. In my experience, they are light and refreshing – often too light for cool evenings, but perfect for warm summer nights.

A bottle of Côtes du Rhône red is most often produced from a combination of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvédre and even Cinsault grapes, with Grenache typically being the greatest component at 60-70% of the blend. I’m happiest when this blend is about 70/30 Grenache to Syrah, without too much Mourvédre-induced tannin. The result is typically fruity with a slight to moderate finish, possibly with a little spice on the palate; it is best when chilled lightly for warm weather tasting, and often meant to be drunk young.

We tasted our wines slightly chilled on a comfortable August evening lightly fanned by cooling and welcome breezes from the San Francisco Bay. We also enjoyed sourdough bread and slices of Emmenthaler and Morbier Au Lait Cru cheeses, as well as a divine fig chutney prepared by one of my guests, Chef Tanya, who also brought a fine truffle paté.

Of the six wines we compared, five were true Côtes Du Rhône reds, having been grown and produced in the great Rhône Valley. While none of us could boast a palate able to parcel out the proportions of Grenache, Syrah, etc., that existed in these wines, I detected tannic notes in some that suggested more than a hint of Mourvédre – something I didn’t expect to overpower the Grenache as much as it did. The result influenced the group toward two clear favorites.

A sixth wine immediately turned out to be a rosé from the Rhône Valley. Sure, one early clue was the clear bottle it was presented in – despite bottle coverings – as opposed to the green tapered shoulders of the other five bottles. While it may have been an oversight on the part of the particular attendee who brought this wine, we all thought it was exceptional, having provided good contrast to the five Côtes du Rhône reds, and a great one to savor after scoring the other five. We did our best to score this one, too; however it didn’t make sense to compare it in the group ranking. While I have never been much of a rosé fan, I found myself exclaiming over the full-bodied strawberry/cherry flavors and consummate finish in this slightly-sweet 2005 Chateau Grande Cassagne Rosé from Costiere de Nimes, Saint-Gilles (13.5%).

The wines listed below are ranked top-down, most favorite to least favorite; each is followed by the wine’s heat, or alcohol content. In the left column is the actual group score for each wine using my handy-dandy Wine Scoring Sheet, which is based on the 20-point Davis scale. My personal ranking of each wine follows.

Group Ranking
+4 2004 Domaines du Gour de Chaulé, Gigondas; 14.5%
+3 2003 Le Clos du Caillou, Domaine Vacheron-Pouizin; 14.5%
-2 2003 La Pialade, Châteauneuf du Pape; 13.5%
-2 2004 Domaines des Relagnes, Châteauneuf du Pape; 13%
-3 2003 Louis Bernard, Côtes du Rhône-Villages, Orange; 13.5%

Winehiker’s Ranking
17 pts. 2003 Le Clos du Caillou, Domaine Vacheron-Pouizin
15 pts. 2004 Domaines du Gour de Chaulé, Gigondas
12.5 pts. 2003 Louis Bernard, Côtes du Rhône-Villages, Orange
12 pts. 2004 Domaines des Relagnes, Châteauneuf du Pape
11 pts. 2003 La Pialade, Châteauneuf du Pape
17 pts. 2005 Chateau Grande Cassagne Rosé, Costiere de Nimes, Saint-Gilles

My picks were nominally consistent with the group’s. I like my Côtes du Rhônes fruity, non-tannic, and simple. Considering that my favorite, the Clos du Caillou, is rated elsewhere at 88 points on a 100-point scale – typical of the Wine Spectator scale and others, and translating to 17.5 on the Davis scale – well heck, I guess my interpretation ain’t so far off. I tried each of these wines the following day, too, right out of the icebox without benefit of warming to room temperature, and I still ranked them the same.

~winehiker

Blind Wine Tasting Notes: Gewurztraminer

I recently began hosting biweekly blind tastings at my home as a series of small-group learning experiences. Five of us got together last Thursday evening to taste Gewurztraminer wines.

Gewurztraminers, with their floral, spicy aromatics and slightly sweet lychee-nut taste, are an excellent match for fresh fruit and cheeses and a good complement to many simple fish and chicken dishes, especially recipes that include pepper spices, oriental five-spice, or even curry. These are especially excellent wines to serve chilled in warm weather, and I complemented them with slices of sourdough bread and Chevre, Gruyere, and Boursin cheeses; one bottle’s label suggests trying Munster or blue-veined cheeses.

Of the five wines we compared, three were produced in Alsace, France; one originates from Alexander Valley in California; and one is from New Zealand. As you’ll see from the results below – and being no great surprise to me – the Alsatian wines tallied well with the group.

The wines listed below are ranked top-down, most favorite to least favorite; each is followed by the wine’s heat (alcohol content). If no link exists for a particular label, that label is quite possibly no longer available.

In the left column is the actual group score for each wine using my 20-point Wine Scoring Sheet.

Group Ranking
+3: 2003 Domaines Schlumberger, Fleur, Alsace, France; 13.5%
+1: 2003 Pierre Sparr, Alsace, France; 13.5%
-1: 2003 Domaines Schlumberger, Fleur, Alsace, France; 13.5%
-1: 2004 Huia, Marlborough Vineyard, New Zealand; 14.5%
-2: 2005 New Gewurz North Coast, Alexander Valley Vineyards, Healdsburg; 12.8%

Winehiker’s Ranking
2003 Domaines Schlumberger, Fleur, Alsace, France; 13.5%
2003 Pierre Sparr, Alsace, France; 13.5%
2004 Huia, Marlborough Vineyard, New Zealand; 14.5%
2003 Domaines Schlumberger, Fleur, Alsace, France; 13.5%
2005 New Gewurz North Coast, Alexander Valley Vineyards, Healdsburg; 12.8%

The Alsace appellation was a definite influence on my purchase of the Schlumberger; the interesting aspect being that at this particular tasting, we scored two identical bottles. Why did one win group favor and the other take third place? Probably because I had poured mine right out of the refrigerator; the other, though having been chilled all day, had ample chance to warm up inside an attendee’s car on an evening that was a tad above 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The group, on such an evening, easily favored the cooler of the two.

My picks were fairly consistent with the group’s; I definitely like my Gewurz’s chilled. Conclusion: you sure can’t miss with those Alsatian Gewurztraminers!

~winehiker