Friday, December 28, 2012

Serious value from Pays d'OC

By Eric Guido

There has been a lot of buzz lately about the value wines that are coming out of southern France. Up until recently, I had very little exposure to these wines, with a few entrants from the Languedoc Roussillon. However, I was recently invited to a tasting that featured the wines of Pay d’OC, and I immediately jumped on the invitation, knowing that I needed an education on this region and with hopes of discovering what all of the buzz was about.

In the end, I’m certainly glad I did, because the quality across the board was excellent, especially when you take the price of these wines into account. The great thing about Pays d’OC is that producers are given freedom to experiment with 56 varietals across a region that spans over 100 miles of French coastline with just about every form of terroir you can imagine, from sandy Mediterranean to vineyards that would fool you into thinking you were in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. There are no strict blending or aging rules, and no one is expected to model their wines after some trophy bottle that costs ungodly amounts of money.

The only thing you have to fear is the amount of wines to choose from. I will say that, although I would enjoy any of the wines listed below, I would be weary of buying anything without tasting it first or reading the review from someone I trust, simply because I wouldn’t know what to expect. In the end, these are all affordable, highly enjoyable wines that would make great everyday drinkers and, in some cases, could even be enjoyed as a trophy all it’ own. I picked my four favorites that I’m sure you’ll enjoy.

On to the wines:

2011 Foncalieu Les Fontanelles Sauvignon Blanc - Lemon and stone were the first things that came to mind as I took my first sniff of the Les Fontanelles, followed by a hint of green stems and raw pastry dough. The bouquet was pleasant and very pretty. On the palate, it showed a lean, dry body with juicy acid zing that ushered in flavors of sweet citrus. The finish was dry and long with just the right amount of tart citrus. This is a great value Sauvignon Blanc. (89 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2011 Delatour Cuvee Premier Grenache Rose - The nose on the Delatour Rose was what sold me, as a bouquet of apple, fresh strawberry, rose petals and minerals wafted up from the glass. On the palate, it was clean and pure with white cherry and juicy stone fruits. Inner floral notes defined the dry finish with a hint of cherry. (90 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2010 Jeff Carrel Puydeval (Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Merlot) - The Puydeval kept me coming back to the glass with a bouquet of spicy vanilla, ripe red berries, tobacco, coffee notes and gravelly earth. On the palate, it was dry but intense with pure black and red fruits and cheek-puckering tannins. The spicy red berry finish was slightly short but honestly, I think this wine just needs another year or two before it really blooms. (91 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2010 Domaine Gayda Figure Libre "Freestyle" (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon) - The nose was wild on the Gayda Freestyle, with spicy mixed berry fruits, chalky minerals, graphite, pepper and something notably alpine. On the palate, it had a great mouth-feel with velvety dark fruits and pepper notes. The finish was juicy with notes of tobacco and a hint of tannin. (91 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Winemaking on The Edge: Cinque Terre

By Eric Guido

From the beginning, as I started to learn about Italian wine, there would always be small mentionings of the excellent, yet difficult to find, wines of Liguria. It always piqued my interest, especially when I heard that esteemed Barolo producer, Elio Altare, had begun working on a project in Ligura to produce white wines from traditional varieties (Bosco and Albarola grapes) under the Cinque Terre DOC. However, with all the times I read about these wines and with all the interest I had in tasting them, somehow, I never seemed to have the chance—until now.

So why was this wine so obscure? For one thing, there really isn’t much of it made. Imagine if you will, a wine that is produced on steep slopes overlooking the Italian Riviera. Slopes that were terraced over centuries by sandstone rocks, held together with dirt, crushed stone and without mortar. These terraced vineyards must be maintained by hand, making it extremely difficult. I can only imagine the determination that a winemaker must have to continue to produce these unique wines.

And that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? With all of the great wines of Italy, these wines represent a sense of place and a tradition of its people. Coming from one of the most beautiful (yet dangerous) locations on earth, the Campogrande Cinque Terre is made in a very traditional fashion and really comes to life as the bouquet begins to bloom. Whereas the Telèmaco, having spent time in small oak, is more polished and sexy on the first pour but loses a small amount of the unique “sense of place” that I loved about the Cinque Terre.

They both demand your attention as you pour the first glass. I felt I simply couldn’t do these wines justice in my tasting notes. I found myself trying to explain the finish, as they seemed to dry my palate completely with a bitter twang, only to suddenly find my mouth watering and craving another sip. In the end, these wines were absolutely worth the hunt.

On to the wines:

2009 Campogrande Cinque Terre - The color was yellow-gold and very pretty in the glass. On the nose, I found apricot, grapefruit, and a spritz of lime, followed by wet minerals, herbal tones and raw almond. On the palate, it seemed almost weightless carrying the floral notes from the bouquet into the mouth, with notes of grapefruit, orange peel and a bitter twinge that puckered the cheeks. The finish started dry with a bitter citrus note, but soon made the mouth water and left me feeling completely refreshed. (90 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2010 Campogrande Liguria di Levante Telèmaco - The nose showed pear and white floral notes followed by pineapple, wet minerals and a hint of undergrowth. On the palate, it started lean, with young kiwi, tealeaves, and saline minerals that lasted into the finish, which started dry; yet after a few seconds, it became mouthwatering, fresh and clean. (90 points) I could not find this wine at retail. If you're interested, ask for it by name, and maybe your local retailer can work some magic.

** Cinqueterre Campogrande website!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Give the gift of wine for Christmas

By Eric Guido

Great gift ideas from $15 - $80 (and everything inbetween)

The Holidays are here, and who wouldn’t like to get a bottle of great wine as a gift? For me, it’s pretty easy to pick out a bottle, as I spend my entire year tasting wines, thinking up recipes, cooking for guests and pairing wines with their meals. All of these things provide me with the feedback I need to know what my clients like. What’s more, this year has been full of new experiences for me. My work with Snooth has opened my eyes to new regions and wines I had never thought to try and I’m happy to be sharing many of them with you now.

When the time came to create this list, I wanted to make sure that I could touch on a gift for every kind of wine lover. You can find something here for the beginner, the adventurer, the enthusiast, the trophy hunter, the hedonist and the collector. I also wanted to focus on value and relative value. I love bargins on great wines, but I also love wines that drink great but cost less than what I’d expect to pay.

The fact is, wine lovers want wine as gifts, but giving wine as a gift can be a minefield full of letdowns. So I hope to take a lot of the guesswork out of it for you. Each of the wines below have a link to Wine-Searcher, which can help you find the bottle in time for the holidays.

Something Different, Something New (red wine)

Have you ever had a fine wine from Portugal besides Port? Most of us haven’t, until now. The wines of Portugal continue to improve, and some producers are well ahead of the pack. The 2007 Qunita do Mouro Tinto is a perfect example.

2007 Quinta do Mouro Tinto (average price $35) - The nose was dark and earthy with tart raspberry, savory herbs, coffee bean, leather and the slightest hint of spicy oak. It was seamless and juicy on the palate with tart fruit saturating the senses, showing intense wild berry, exotic spice, and cacao. As it came to a close, notes of red berries continued to excite the palate throughout the mouth-watering finish. (93 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2010, the Southern Rhone and Outstanding Value

While everone is scurrying to buy as much 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape as they can possibly afford, I invite you to take a look at this smart and affordable alternative. At an average of $14.99, the Michel Gassier Cercius was easily the best quality to price ratio bottle I tasted this year. At that price, you could buy this by the case and play Santa Claus.

2010 Michel Gassier Cercius (average price $15) - The nose showed ripe mixed berries, sweet spicy cookie and chalky minerals. On the palate, it was soft like velvet yet juicy and balanced it’s 14.5% alcohol very well as blackberry jam and violet candies messaged the senses. The finish was long and enjoyable with ripe berries and herbs. (90 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

For the Pinot Noir Fanatic

For that friend or loved one that searches the world over for great Pinot, I can think of nothing better than the 2010 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir. Up until this year, I didn’t know that such amazing Pinot was being made in New Zealand. This wine is a perfect balance between the old world and the new, a truly exciting wine.

2010 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir (average price $45) - The nose was highly expressive with an excellent balance of fruit and earth, showing black cherry and clove with moist fall leaves, and a hint of mountain herbs. On the palate, it was medium-bodied with silky textures and a balanced dose of zesty acidity. Juicy cherry, strawberry, spice and notes of extra dark chocolate lingered with hints of tannin revealing a finely-balanced structure. (93 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

For the Chardonnay Lover

You simply can’t go wrong with Ridge. This producer of great Zinfandels and Cabernet, also turns out some of the best Chardonnay made in California. Give the gift of Ridge, and open a new door to what is being made thse days in the Santa Cruz mountains.

2009 Ridge Chardonnay Estate (average price $38) - The nose was elegant and showy with aromas of peach and mango, roasting cashews, a spritz of lime and a hint of vanilla. On the palate, it was smooth with medium weight, showing peach and ripe apricot with a hint of green apple and minerals. The finish was long with peach and a lingering hint of butterscotch. (93 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

When the occasion calls for Champagne

If the occasion calls for a bottle of great Champagne, the Ruinart Brut Rosé will certainly impress. It’s a wine that will thrill the taster with amazing depth and a beautiful presence on the palate.

NV Ruinart Champagne Brut Rosé (average price $65) - The nose was finessed, drawing you in with aromas of cherry, light strawberry, floral tones and mineral laden citrus. On the palate, it was richer than I expected from the nose, yet remarkably refined and almost whimsical, showing strawberry, lemony tones and minerals that carried well into the moderatly long finish and blossomed across the senses. (92 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

If it has to be Châteauneuf-du-Pape

By now, everyone has heard that 2010 is a stellar year for Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and the hype is true. However, you don’t need to seek out that $150 prestige bottle to impress this year. The 2010 Roger Sabon Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Réservée is all that and at a thrid of the price.

2010 Roger Sabon Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Réservée (average price $45) - The nose showed rich red and black berries with savory mushroom and meaty notes, a hint of pepper and herbal tea leaves. On the palate, it was medium-bodied with firm structure buried beneath intense red cherry fruit, cinnamon spice, and led to a long, long palate-staining finish. It’s enjoyable now with a short decant, yet should age and improve effortlessly for 7 - 10 years. (94 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

Something Different, Something New (white wine)

If I had to name one thing that really stuck out to me, from this year's tastings, it would be Gewürztraminer from Alsace. These are very unique wines with outrageous aromatics and a beautiful balance of acidity with a hint of sweetness.

2008 Domaines Schlumberger Gewurztraminer Les Princes Abbés (average price $27) - The nose was rich yet fresh and leapt from the glass with ripe peach, sweet florals, spice, minerals and a hint of fungi. On the palate it was medium-bodied with a hint of residual sweetness giving way to flavors of lychee, honey and minerals with balanced acidity that made the mouth water. The finish was clean and long with a slight bitterness followed by notes of dried apricot and almond.(92 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

For the Italiophile

While everyone is raving about the ripe 2007 vintage in Brunello, I suggest looking back one year to 2006. The 2006 Capanna Brunello di Montalcino Riserva hasn’t peaked yet, but when it does—beauty. Gift this to an Italian wine lover, and watch their eyes light up. Brunello also makes a great gift for the boss, it simply has name recognition, and in this case, the bottle lives up to the hype.

2006 Capanna Brunello di Montalcino Riserva (average price $80) - The nose showed dark, sweet red berries, herbs, cedar and an airy pine nettle note. On the palate, it was full, velvety and balanced with ripe red berries and spice against a firm lurking structure. The finish was long with mouth-coating tannin showing at the close. It was a total joy to drink and a bottle that will find its way into my cellar. (96 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

From Piedmont with Love

Barolo, Barolo, Barolo… Can you tell I love Barolo? Imagine how happy I was when I decided that one of the best Baroli I tasted from the 2007 vintage also happened to be a bottle that cost around $65. Barolo does not come cheap, and great Barolo? Forget about it—until now.

2007 G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole (average price $60) - I enjoyed another wonderful tasting of the '07 Vajra Barolo Bricco dell Viole today. What's amazing about this wine is how it takes the ripe nature of the 2007 vintage and marries it to lifting aromatics of finessed red fruits and floral notes. The palate is refined and silky smooth, as the fruit washes across your senses yet remains juicy and vibrant throughout. On the finish, fine tannins take control and remind you that this is Barolo you're drinking. I can't wait to taste this in another 5 – 10 years. (95 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

Back to the Southern Rhone

What a nose on the 2009 Domaine La Garrigue Vacqueyras Cuvée de l'Hostellerie. I found myself savoring the aromas again and again. Not to mention, its beautiful structure, juciy and spicy fruits—oh, and the price is unbeatable.

2009 Domaine La Garrigue Vacqueyras Cuvée de l'Hostellerie (average price $24) - The nose showed blackberry fruit, blue and purple floral notes, and a zesty dose of ginger and sweet spices. On the palate, it was soft, medium-bodied and juicy, as a mix of dark fruits, inner floral notes and spice intermingled going into the finish, which showed hints of tannin and dark berry fruits. When this wine was first opened, it was simple on the nose and tight on the palate. However, after three hours open in bottle, it came to life and was truly enjoyable. (93 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Ridge: A Rhone Ranger Pioneer

By Eric Guido

As I continue my exploration into the Rhone Ranger movement, I realize that one of the first California wineries I was exposed to, working with Rhone varieties, was Ridge Vineyards. Ridge is renown for their Bordeaux blend, Monte Bello, as well as a lineup of amazing single vineyard Zinfandels.

However, Ridge has also been experimenting with Rhone Varieties with great success. I was first introduced to them through their A.T.P. list (Advanced Tasting Program). It’s a special part of their mailing list that receives small production Rhone wines and Zinfandels. Imagine, if you will, that these wines aren’t available at retail, yet they are just as good as and often better than much of what’s out there.

I was recently able to taste through their current lineup, and to say I was impressed would be an understatement. The wines are rich with concentrated fruits, yet also balanced, with an airy lift to the bouquet that gives them finesse seldom found in such heavily-fruited wines. It’s hard to imagine how Ridge can continue to turn out such a large amount of excellent wine, and yet I don’t remember ever being let down. I may just have to sign up for the A.T.P. list again this year. Read the notes and then check out their website; these wines are worth your attention.

On to the wines:

2010 Ridge Carignane Buchignani Ranch – The nose was vibrant, showing ripe berries and spice with a whiff of wild herbs. On the palate, it was rich and juicy with blackberry fruits and hints of spiced orange. The finish was long with palate-coating blackberry fruit. (89 points)

2008 Ridge Syrah/Grenache Lytton Estate – The nose showed red berries, floral notes, and wild herbs with an airy lift to the aromatics. On the palate, it showed juicy ripe berries, ginger and baking spices which coated the senses through the long vibrant finish. (91 points)

2007 Ridge Syrah Lytton Estate – The nose showed plumy fruits with black cherry, herbs and a spicy, airy lift. On the palate, it was rich and racy with red and black fruits which stayed through the saturating, long finish. This wine truly showed great concentration in the face of perfect balance. (92 points)

2010 Ridge Petite Sirah Lytton Estate – The nose showed wild berry jam, a hint of vanilla, gram cracker and a bit of forest funk. On the palate, it showed tart red berries offset by a dollop of juicy acidity. The finish was long with dark fruit and revealed a layer of fine-grained tannin, which hung on the palate. This wine needs a few years to come together but should be even better with time. (90 points)

** The Rhone Rangers is an organization devoted to the promoting of Rhone Varieties in the United States with almost 200 winery members from California, Oregon, Washington and New York. The list of wineries is impressive and extensive, with names such as Ridge Vineyards, Qupe, Bonny Doon, Donelan, L’Adventure, and Larkmead filling their ranks.