Wine, grape and winery reviews and criticism as written by wine veterans
CONSTELLATION SCARFS UP MEIOMI
It's hard to believe that the giant wine company, Constellation, will get its money's worth out of Meiomi. It just purchased the popular pinot brand from the Wagner family for a shocking $315 million.
Wagner profited handsomely by developing a relatively cheap pinot noir and selling 7 million bottles a year for $20 a bottle. His success was adding some other grape varieties to the wine and vinifying it sweet. "Sweet" is what Trinchero accidently discovered when he released the first white zinfandel.
Meiomi is proof that consumers often pass over what critics tell them to buy and instead stick with a wine that is noticeably sweet and delicious. I find it hard to blame them, but in my mind Meiomi is not pinot noir -- despite what the label says.
Constellation will have to keep the brand fresh if they ever hope to recoup their $315 million. Good luck with that.
FILTERING SULFITES OUT OF WINE
A young Chicago chemist is looking for funding for a filter that removes most sulfites from red and white wines. Called the Ullo, the $2.50 filter is good for one bottle.
Inventor James Kornacki has raised $185,000 so far and is looking for another $100.000 on Kickstart.
Although he's not a wine enthusiast, he knows how sulfites can ruin the drinking experience for many people. He says Ullo doesn't remove all of the sulfites but restores the wine to the natural level.
If he gets the funding, I suspect this will be the best thing in wine since the aerator. Anyone still using those?
AGING CHABLIS IS A DICEY PROPOSITION
Several years ago I tasted a 10-year old grand cru chablis and was amazed at it's quality. It wasn't maderized at all and instead maintained the same understated elegance this French chardonnay is known for.
So, I cellared a few of them anticipating the same results. Oops, that didn't happen when I popped the cork of a 2002 Faively premier cru. OK, it was asking a lot for a 13-year-old chablis from a marginal vintage to last this long. Then, I opened a 2004 Domaine William Fevre Grand Cru Les Preuses. Wow, what a difference. The 2004 held up quite nicely, but gone was the mineral notes that I enjoy so much from Chablis.
Chablis is austere and goes so well with oysters and simply prepared fish dishes. I don't think much can be gained by expecting it to become something more.
CHARDONNAY STILL KING OF WHITE WINE
Although the choices of wine vastly increased as import wine markets opened to Europe, chardonnay is still the number one white in the United States. Probably the one that has been here the longest, chardonnay has taken its hits over recent decades because it’s so common. Heaven forbid, you get caught with a glass of plain old chardonnay.
Well, chardonnay made in the right hands happens to be good. And, it is often the perfect companion to a number of foods. How could you not choose an elegant chardonnay with Dover sole or a buttery chardonnay with lobster?
Chardonnay’s spotty reputation is largely due to its multiple trends and efforts by winemakers to make it something it is not. There was once a trend to over-oak the wines and a trend to put them through too much malolactic fermentation. Today’s trend is to leave some residual sugar in chardonnay to provide a rounder, sweeter texture.
It’s not that consumers minded these trends – they encouraged them. But in the process chardonnay lost its compatibility with food. A sweet chardonnay is terrible with salty or seasoned food; heavily oak chardonnays are terrible with delicate fish. Those that are just overblown with creamy texture and effusive fruit are more like dessert. However, a little oak and some creaminess is good. As you head outdoors with warmer temperatures and look for a good chardonnay for the next dinner, here are a few that give you a range of flavors, cost and style:
There are many California winemakers who concentrate on chardonnay more than any other grape variety. One is Wente Vineyards, which was the first to produce a varietally labeled chardonnay in the nation in 1936. A clone is even after Wente. It’s releases in the last several years are among the best values.
Here are some great chardonnays to accompany your summer days around the table:
· Wente Morning Fog Estate Chardonnay 2013 ($15). One of the best chardonnays b argains on the market, the Morning Fog has broad flavors ranging from apples to pineapple with a good dose of oak flavors and balanced acidity.
· Wente Eric’s Small Lot Chardonnay 2014 ($25). This unadorned, unoaked chardonnay was a hit in a flight of chardonnays we recently paired with roasted chicken. Not everyone identifies oak flavors in wine, but put it up to an unoaked wine and anyone could tell the difference. Straight-forward apple and pear flavors with good acidity make it an excellent food wine.
· Lutum Gap’s Crown Vineyard Chardonnay ($50). This Sonoma County producer is making a number of top=drawer chardonnays and pinot noirs. This single-vineyard chardonnay has all the qualities of a French burgundy. Elegance is balanced with firm acidity to make a complex wine bursting with peach and pineapple flavors.
· Lost Canyon Winery Ruxton Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 ($35. Using grapes from the great Russian River Valley, winemaker Brad Longton is using 35-year-old vines for this spectacular chardonnay. We loved the limestone notes that provide a backbone to opulent peach and pear flavors. It has a creamy texture and perceptible oak.
· Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Chardonnay 2013 ($22). This big California producer doesn’t make many single-vineyard wines and instead concentrates on using multiple sources for grapes. The result is an enjoyable – although often generic – wine that is reasonably priced and easy to find. That’s certainly the case with this delicious chardonnay with tropical fruit flavors and a spicy finish.
· Talbott Vineyards Diamond T Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 ($52). This is one of the great California chardonnays that exudes luxury. Winemaker Robb Talbott is focused on making the best pinot noirs and chardonnays. The Diamond T Vineyard in Monterey gives him great grapes and the rest is in his hands. This beauty is as complex as chardonnay comes with layered tropical fruit flavors and good mineral.
· La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2013 ($23). La Crema makes wines with good value – delicious and inexpensive for what you get. This chardonnay is very aromatic and loaded with juicy apple flavors and hints of spice and vanilla.
· Patz & Hall Zio Tony Ranch Chardonnay 2012 ($65). Luxurious chardonnays like this don’t come cheap. Big, sturdy structure but soft and luscious in the mouth. Oodles of rich apple flavors and persistent reminders of lemon, clove and mineral. Lingering finish and textured.
· Rodney Strong Chardonnay Sonoma County Sonoma Coast 2013 ($25). The expensive use of 100 percent barrel fermentation of which 85 percent was new really shows in the elegant toasty nose. Apple and tropical fruit flavors are balanced with a bright acidity. This is a delicious glass of wine!
CHANSON DOES WELL IN BAD YEARS
The Burgundy wine-growing region in France has always been a difficult area to grow healthy grapes and make good wine. Dominated by the fickle and difficult pinot noir grape for its red wine and chardonnay for its white wines, Burgundy produces some of the most exclusive wines in the world.
But in bad vintages winemakers have their challenges. The 2011 and 2012 seasons, for instance, were plagued with ill-timed and frequent rains, cold weather and devastating hail, resulting in smaller than normal yields of healthy grapes. But a dry period at the end of both growing seasons and diligent grape selection resulted in wines that are worth considering. Unfortunately, in 2012 the weather calamities resulted in a 30 percent lower yield than normal -- one of the all- time lowest Burgundy yields ever.
We were curious, then, how the 2012 wines would show at a recent tasting of Domaine Chanson.Founded in 1750 and purchased by the Bollinger family of Champagne fame. Domaine Chanson is making wine from more than 111 acres of domaine and purchased grapes. Chanson farms all of their vineyards, hand picking all grapes and using organic farm techniques. The red wines from Chanson are cold soaked and fermented as whole bunches, and the whites are gently pressed in pneumatic presses with the first press and last press discarded. After a mediocre period during the 1970s and 1980s Chanson wines are once again receiving acclaim, as evidenced by our tasting of their current releases.
Following were our favorites from the 2012 tasting. Keep in mind that the unreleased 2013 vintage endured torrential rains, difficult to control mildew, more hail storms and a cool growing season that made ripening difficult and yields poor. So if you are a Burgundy buff, this is your best bet for a while.
-- Chanson Montagny Premier Cru 2012 ($35). This delightful white wine is very soft and round in the mouth with some flowery notes and peach and citrus flavors. Only 5 percent used oak was used on this wine.
-- Chanson Beaune-Bastion Premier Cru 2012 ($50). Made from Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards and aged in 15 percent new oak, this white wine offers ample fruit, a hint of roasted nuts and a pleasingly complex creamy finish.
·-- Chanson Marsannay 2012 ($35). This impressive red wine offers a very bright berry fruit nose with a hint of black pepper. Intense berry fruit in the mouth with a pleasant peppery spiciness. A very nice and well priced package.
-- Chanson Clos Des Feves Monopole Beaune Premier Cru 2012 ($125). Very intense cherry fruit nose and flavors that were reminiscent of the delicious flavor of Luden’s wild cherry cough drops. In the mouth this elegant red wine displays very ripe cherry fruit with fine tannins. This is a very nice wine that could be enjoyed in the near future with decanting or should age gracefully for 10-15 years.
· Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem Cotes Du Roussillon Villages 2013 ($30). The grenache in this powerful punch of 50 percent syrah, 40 percent grenache, and 10 percent carignan really brightens the blend. Made by the famed and reliable producer Michel Chapoutier, this wine offers a raspberry nose and flavors with a hint of black pepper. Very smooth in the mouth.
· Reata Three County Pinot Noir 2013 ($30). Made from grapes sourced from Monterey, Sonoma and San Benito Counties, this is a nice rich fruity style of California pinot noir. Cherry, sandalwood notes with soft mouthfeel, good tannins and a long finish. A real crowd pleaser.
· Joseph Drouhin Chorey-Les Beaune 2012 ($29). This is delightful Village Burgundy at a Bourgogne price. The wine displays bright rich cherry aromas and flavors with medium acidity. Just a hint of earthiness offers some complexity and interest. Try with chicken and pork dishes. Good value from a challenging vintage.
· Columbia Winery Composition Red Blend ($14). Using grapes from multiple vintages, this producer has developed a tasty wine even if it has little pedigree. It’s made of up mostly cabernet sauvignon with some merlot, syrah, malbec, petit verdot and other red grapes. Lots of plum and cherry flavors.
· Il Founo di Arcanum 2010 ($30). This is an excellent super-Tuscan super-value. A blend of merlot (56 percent), cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot, it surpasses the delicious factor we seek from these wines. Lots of ripe dark berry fruit.
· Matanzas Creek Winery Bennett Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($32). Not all sauvignon blanc is one-dimensional and this Sonoma County producer proves it year after year. You pay more – but you get so much more complexity and depth. The Bennett Valley version has powerful aromas of pear, lychee and basil. There is crisp acidity yet a roundness that comes from dash of musque clone. The producer also makes a Helena Bench sauvignon blanc ($40) that is even more delicious.
CHIMPS HAVE BARS TOO
National Public Radio recently reported research done by the Royal Society Open Science that showed chimps drank wine more than 51 times during a 17-year study. Now, that pales in comparison to we humans, but no matter -- the real question is where did they get the wine?
It turns out the chimps have a natural source for their hooch, although it's not grape wine. It turns out the abundant raffia palms produce an intoxicating tree sap. A grove of them is akin to a popular bar where everyone knows your teeth.
The villagers gather the sap and the chimps conveniently wait until they sleep, then raid the containers. And the chimps aren't licking the stuff off their fingers, but instead cupping a leaf and using it like a glass. They can get 9.3 sips per minute -- what, do they have drinking contests too?
Researchers concluded, " large quantities of the sap could influence the behavior." No kidding.
HAVE WINES REALLY CHANGED?
Decanter magazine really polled 133 respected winemakers worldwide on a number of subjects. Their answers to two particular questions indicate to me that they don't believe they are making wines to suit critics and the public who are looking for high-alcohol fruit bombs.
Sixty-eight percent of the winemakers said they were not making wines in a style ready to be consumed earlier than in the past. And, only 24 percent of them said their wines are higher in alcohol today -- 54 percent said alcohol levels were about the same.
Finally, only 10 percent of those surveyed admitted to being influenced in their winemaking by critics and their scores. Nearly half said they were somewhat influenced.
This defies the prevailing opinion that winemakers are pursuing higher ratings from the likes of Robert Parker Jr., who prefers red wine with higher alcohol levels and riper, exuberant fruit. I'm not sure many of them would admit to skewing their wines to achieve high scores from the Wine Advocate, but I am surprised by their insistence they are not making wines differently today.
Perhaps that image is more dominant in Napa Valley than it is abroad. I haven't seen much change in the established Bordeaux wines and certainly not Burgundy that would love to have naturally higher alcohol levels. Barolo is certainly making more approachable wines, though.
FIRE UP: WINES FOR BARBECUE
Summer signals the start of grilling season. For many of us, grilling never stopped even if we had to shovel snow to get to the grill. But for most fair-weather grillers, Memorial Day marked the time to break out the charcoal.
Grilling is not the same as barbecuing, although the two terms are often used interchangeably. It’s not a difference of devices used, but rather the process that spells the difference. Grilling is generally done over high heat – think steaks, hamburgers, etc. Barbecuing, on the other hand, is done indirectly and over low heat – pulled pork, smoked turkey breast, etc.
We do both. Tom uses a Big Green Egg – a ceramic smoker that diffuses the heat efficiently – to smoke pork butts and spare ribs; Pat uses indirect heat over his charcoal grill to accomplish the same thing – both of us are barbecuing.
However, barbecuing often includes two accessories: wood -- to add flavor to the slow-cooked food -- and barbecue sauce.
OK, we know this is a wine column but defining the process is important to defining the right wine.
Wood and sauce add an entirely new dimension to wine pairing. Grilled chicken with an herb rub cries out for a white wine; smoked chicken with a ketchup-based sauce calls for a syrah or a zinfandel.
Before you head out to the store to find a good wine for your Memorial Day feast, decide first how you will prepare your grilled food. A sauce makes a huge difference to the pairing.
We’ll make some assumptions with the following pairings:
Hamburgers with ketchup and mustard: syrah, Beaujolais, barbera, tempranillo, zinfandel.
Chicken seasoned but without sauce: sauvignon blanc, rosé, riesling, pinot grigio or pinot gris.
Steak: cabernet sauvignon, merlot.
Pork butt or tenderloin with sauce: syrah, merlot, zinfandel, barbera, tempranillo.
Fish: chardonnay, albarino, soave, chablis (pinot noir for salmon and tuna).
Marinated lamb chops or kebobs: merlot, malbec, cabernet sauvignon, meritage blends.
Here are 10 grill wines we recommend:
· Columbia Crest Pinot Gris 2013 ($12). This is a steal – not surprising because it’s from the king of good deals in the state of Washington. Lots of luscious peach and grapefruit notes with a dash of spice and almonds. Good for fish and chicken.
· Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Gris 2014 ($15). You won’t go wrong with this forward pinot gris from California. Using grapes from several California appellations, it is blended with roussane, gruner veltliner, chardonnay, viognier and albarino. It may not have the classic pinot gris profile with that mélange, but it’s unquestionably delicious. Nice aperitif or to go with seasoned chicken.
· Chronic Cellars Purple Paradise 2013 ($15). This quirky wine with a label made for Halloween parties is the creation of Jake and Josh Beckett of Paso Robles. All of the producers’ wines are blends, this one being a combination of zinfandel (70 percent), syrah, petite sirah and grenache. Very aromatic with ripe strawberry fruit and a hint of chocolate. This would be a great match for hamburgers, ribs and pizzas. The label alone will draw comments.
· Clayhouse Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($14). Some petit verdot and malbec grapes are blended in this simple but delicious cabernet from a new appellation in Paso Robles. Cherry, cassis and cedar aromas with juicy dark fruit flavors. Match this week grilled beef, especially skirt steak.
· MacMurray Estate Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2013 ($30). Amazing aromas of lavender and forest floor begin the journey through this luxurious and reasonably priced pinot noir. Loads of bright cherry and currant flavors. Pair this week salmon, tuna, and pork.
· Sequoia Grove Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($38). We’ve been a big fan of this Napa cabernet for years. Always reliable, always juicy and delicious, always with Napa character and complexity. Cabernet franc merlot, petit verdot and Malbec are added to the blend to give the wine a broad spectrum of flavors. The perfect match here is steak.
· Jordan Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2013 ($30). Sporting a new label, the Jordan chardonnay is a perfect quaff for patio dining. It has a creamy mouthfeel with apple, lemon and mineral notes. Winemaker Rob Davis has crafted an ideal wine to match our local fish.
· Poliziano Lohsa Morellino di Scansano 2913 ($15). Everything this producer makes is good quality, especially for the price, but this one was a knockout for us. Sangiovese makes up 85 percent of the blend. It’s sturdy with bright cherry and raspberry flavors and a touch of licorice. If you can find it locally, buy it. Match with burgers, pizza, and any kebab.
· Quivira Dry Creek Zinfandel 2012 ($22). Grapes from three estate vineyards go into this brambly, assertive zinfandel. Rich raspberry flavors and a good dose of tannins make it a sturdy match to barbecue sauces and pork.
· Edmeades’ Folly 2012 ($26). This blend of zinfandel, syrah, petite sirah and merlot offer a mélange of flavors to parry nicely with ribs, pork and hamburgers. Lush blackberry fruit with a hint of pepper.