Saturday, January 30, 2010

Franciscan Cabernet

Franciscan Winery
Cabernet Sauvignon
Oakville Estate
Napa Valley
St. Helena, California, USA

$19.99 -- Franciscan Winery, St. Helena, CA

Color: Dark garnet, a very faint hint of peach at the edge
Nose: Coffee, sour plum, raspberry
Body: Full
Front: Plum, roasted fig
Middle: Broccoli, espresso
Back: Licorice, easygoing tannins
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

I'm astonished to find that I haven't reviewed a Franciscan wine before. I've bought at least three cases of them; have examples of the 2003 and 2004 Cabs carefully stored away; am a fan of their "Cuvee Sauvage" naturally fermented Chardonnay; and like the Magnificat blend a lot. They are owned by the same folks that own Mount Veeder winery of whose wine I have spoken highly--so what happened?

I don't know. But I'm more distressed to find that I've consumed all but two bottles of my stash of the 2004 Cabernet. I remember thinking when I first tried it at the winery a few years ago that it had potential to be tasty as all get-out in a few years, and lo, I was correct. So why didn't I wait?

Because you can't wait forever. Life is short, my friends, and writing this blog entry will do good work if it reminds me of that. This is a French-style wine, which I suspect has a good dose of Merlot and a little Cab Franc in it. It has a rich (but not overripe) dark fruitiness balanced by distinct (and pleasant, to me) vegetal flavors, herbs, and coffee. Great with food, it will make a wide variety of drinkers happy. If you find some, save it for me.

A query for my readers: How the hell did this winery get the domain? I realize St. Francis committed to a life of poverty, but surely bogarting the domain--especially were it *not* to sell anything--would have been consistent with that apostolic intent?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay

Ferrari-Carano Winery
Alexander Valley
Healdsburg, California, USA

$19.99 -- Costco, Austin, TX

Color: Light gold
Nose: Pineapples and cream, fig
Body: Medium to full
Front: Pineapple
Middle: Mango butter, white pepper
Back: Apple, oak
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

I'm a fan of other Ferrari-Carano wines, so I thought I'd give this one a shot. It's a rich, substantial wine, big like many California Chardonnays, but the balance of tropical fruit and buttery oak is nice. There is a little sparkly, spicy thing that happens at the end of the mid-palate that is notable and delightful. The structure of the wine is interesting, too; it's almost like it unfolds twice: acid-to-butteryness, then repeat.

This would be excellent with a white sauce or a baked fish, I would guess. It's a rainy night, so the weight of the wine makes a nice combination with the cool and damp.

Domaine Fond Croze Côtes du Rhône

Domaine Fond Croze
Côtes du Rhône
Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre
Cuvée Confidence
St. Roman de Malegarde, France
$15.99 -- Grapevine Market, Austin, TX

Color: Deep ruby
Nose: Meaty ripe blackberry pepper pie
Body: Medium to full
Front: Sparkly cherry
Middle: Espresso crayon milk
Back: Blueberry, tannins like fine Corinthian leather...
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

This is Côtes du Rhône. The bright, fruity punch up front, the spicy, earthy edges and dark fruit haunted palate, but not too heavy, not too brooding. This is such a good bottle of wine at this price that I'm kind of astonished and I wish I'd bought four of them.

It was tasty on its own and then with the pepperoni pizza I put down on this working night. Now I'm outside, listening to the wind (and the damn chimes next door) and the coyotes and it's still a delight, though it has evolved, since being opened hours ago, to a more earthy palate.

A reflection on the past few links I've made to vignerons: French winemakers--hire bloggers from the U.S. to write your English-language presentation for your websites! We will work for booze. We will pitch your stuff with passion and good grammar. We will enhance your SEO! You will sell more wine! 

Also, another thing for (at least some) non-U.S. wineries to experiment with: direct-to-customer allocations. I have no idea what the laws are (whether there'd have to be sheltering importers or something for this country or that), and I know you love your negociants, but this is the future enabled by the InterWebs.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Domaine Besson Givry 1er Cru "Le Petit Prétan"

Domaine Xavier Besson
Pinot Noir
Givry 1er Cru
Le Petit Prétan
Givry, Burgundy, France

$28.99 -- Spec's, Austin, TX

Color: Medium garnet
Nose: Orange sherbet, cinnamon, cream, clove?
Body: Medium
Front: Cherry
Middle: Cream, roasted almonds
Back: Chocolate shavings, soft tannins
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

This is far too young, I would guess, to be drunk at this point. But I wanted a Pinot, I wanted a good one, and I wanted one that hadn't closed down. I also wanted one cheap--and yes, unfortunately, this is cheap for French Burgundy. Thanks, collectors. Way to ruin everything for the rest of us.

But! I didn't do this review until it had been open and sat overnight -- perhaps open for about six hours altogether. It certainly got more soft, more approachable, and richer tasting overnight; it was nicely fruity but kind of reserved yesterday, without much on the nose and a kind of hollow taste. But now (and taken with some nice sorpressata on a cool Texas evening) it's showing much more interesting flavors. Give it five more years, maybe even seven to ten, and it should be lovely.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Alamosa Texacaia

Alamosa Wine Cellars
Sangiovese, Syrah, Tempranillo
Hill Country

Bend, Texas, USA
$18.99 -- Twin Liquors, Austin, TX

Color: Medium peachy garnet
Nose: Ripe plum, fruitcake, overripe strawberries
Body: Medium
Front: Super-tart cherry--like Pixie StixTM
Middle: Blueberry yogurt
Back: Topsoil
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

Texas wine is big. That's appropriate. But in many cases, it is not necessarily good. One of the complaints I've had before--one that will be tested in the next few months, because at some point Asmodeus embarks upon a Texas wine tour--is the mismatch between the varietals I see bottled in stores and the ones you'd think would thrive in Texas. It's hot here, people. So: more Syrah, Zinfandel, perhaps Tempranillo, and never Chardonnay or Pinot Noir.

Alamosa Wine Cellars focuses on warm-weather varietals, which is a good thing. Its bottles are also quite reasonably priced for quality Texas reds. Now, I'm a proven non-fan of Sangiovese, and I think it shows here. But I also wonder about the release policy on these wines; 5 years I think may be pushing it. It's peachy at the edges, and has a bit of cloy on the palate.

I'll say this, though: it's not overoaked. It's just that a certain complexity is missing. There's a strong cherry tartness that is engaging, but is a bit too much for me. But if you like a little tang on your wine, or are simply curious about Texas wines, load this up and see what you think!

Monday, January 18, 2010

B. Levet Côte-Rôtie La Chavaroche

Bernard Levet
La Chavaroche

Ampuis, Rhone, France
$41.99 [$63] -- Grapevine Market, Austin, TX

Color: Medium peachy garnet
Nose: Cat pee, blackberry jam, salmon
Body: Medium
Front: Tangy cherry
Middle: Blueberry pie, prune
Back: Cafe au lait, thyme, velvety tannins
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

The nose on this wine will startle. But the first hint that it's a complex dealio should be that it doesn't taste like cat pee. And I think we've all tasted cat pee.

This is an elegant wine: it's not in your face, it's a contemplative number. It takes time and it takes focus. It was good with Shake-n-Bake pork chops, but not so great with the applesauce. (A remainder of the Gaunot Chardonnay was perfect with that.) But on its own, it's plenty of a taste extravaganza to keep you interested. Wait a minute: can you be extremely elegant? Isn't elegance the ability to be entrancing without extremes? It's like that, for those with an immunity to cat pee.

Rumor has it that the 2002 vintage was not good, on the whole, for this region. Still, my guess is that, given the balance in this glass, this wine will be really good in about four years, perhaps even a little longer. As the cat pee yields to the plum and the levels of spice and earth raise ever so slightly on the palate, it may be like being dragged face-down through the fields of deliciousness by the horses of delight.

François Gaunoux Meursault Les Clos de Tavaux

François Gaunoux
Le Clos de Tavaux Monopole

Côte-d'Or, Burgundy, France
$44.99 -- Twin Liquors, Austin, TX

Color: Medium golden, beautiful color
Nose: Salty butter, bacon, cod, thyme
Body: Medium
Front: Salty roasted pear
Middle: Buttered apple, hazelnut
Back: Oatmeal cookie
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

The first four times I put my nose in this one, I smelled different things. I put three of them in the description above, before I gave up. Suffice it to say, it's a fascinating experience before you taste it--beautiful in color and intriguing on the nostril.

There's plenty of oak in this, but it's elegantly balanced. As the wine opens and warms up, the butteryness moves earlier in the palate. I would drink this wine anytime--assuming I can ever find it again. I'm not entirely sure where I got it, to tell the whole truth.

I'm drinking it tonight while watching a beautiful Texas sunset, to the lulling sounds of commuters arriving home from work, which they shouldn't have had, as it is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, an important holiday if ever there was one.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Whitehall Lane Merlot

Whitehall Lane Winery
Napa Valley
St. Helena, California, USA

$19.99 -- Costco, Austin, TX

Color: Medium to dark garnet
Nose: Honey, thyme, plum
Body: Medium
Front: Hi-C
Middle: RC ColaTM, fig
Back: Soft tannins, cafe au lait
Burns clean?: No, unfortunately! But it was worth it.
Cap: Cork

After a string of quasi-disappointments, this wine's making me happy. The nose is delightful, and I don't hate Hi-C in wine the way some other folks seem to--as long as the taste develops into something else comparatively quickly. When it was open an hour, if I were tasting it blind, I think I'd have guessed it was a cheap California pinot noir--that's how fabricated-fruity it was. But it's getting more layers, as described in the tasting notes above, as it opens up, which is lovely. And the color is stunning.

Usually I talk about the food I eat with the wines, but as my workload gets heavier, the leftovers begin to gather about the house like guests on the third day. So it's not as interesting to talk about the food, which is forced into duty, and the wines tend to be powerful reds that can overcome leftover stew and roast beef.

Even my musical world has grown a bit constricted. I'm listening to Jack Johnson tonight; he comforts me when I have a ton of work to do, for some reason--I suppose surf music is supposed to do that! Coincidentally, however, it's not bad with the Merlot: laid-back, but occasionally accusatory, if not a tad self-righteous.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Chateau Ste Michelle Cold Creek Cabernet

Chateau Ste. Michelle
Cabernet Sauvignon
Cold Creek Vineyard
Columbia Valley
Woodinville, Washington, USA

$19.99 -- Costco, Austin, TX

Color: Dark purpley garnet
Nose: Sage, blackberry jam, Dr. PepperTM
Body: Medium
Front: Espresso, black tea
Middle: Black currant cream
Back: Licorice, leather, firm tannins
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

This one's going to be a bit tannic for most folks I reckon, unless it's given a long time to open up, or a year or two in the cellar. I do think it'll age, but I'm going to leave it open for about four hours tonight as I drink it and see. This is my service to the world.

If, however, you like the gritty and earthy Cabernets, you might like this one without any cellaring. The pizza I had tonight wasn't up to the challenge of this wine, which looks sweet but is a bit of a bully at this point.

Note: Day 2, the nose opened up to more fruit, but the palate, while acquiring a little blueberry, didn't really more complex or rich. With a year more, perhaps it would flower?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Coppola Director's Cut Cabernet

Francis Coppola Presents
Cabernet Sauvignon
Alexander Valley
Geyserville, California, USA

$23.99 -- HEB, Austin, TX

Color: Dark peachy garnet
Nose: Blackberry paste, espresso, thyme
Body: Medium
Front: Plum
Middle: Chocolate, ripe dark cherry, peach
Back: SkittlesTM, soft tannins, Nerf football
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

Right away I need to say that the SkittlesTM flavor I'm getting may be a product of synergy with the cheese I'm eating this late Friday evening: Beecher's Flagship Reserve. But it's fascinating, and indicative, I think, of the way this wine will integrate well with food. I'll be overrevelatory here: I haven't had great reactions to Coppola wines before, so this one is a surprise.

All in all, I think this is a good value, because it'll please many different palates, the oak isn't overdone, and it's going to pair well with a range of foods.

Monday, January 11, 2010

St. Clement Chardonnay

St. Clement
Napa Valley
St. Helena, California, USA

$13.99 -- HEB, Austin, TX

Color: Light gold
Nose: Orange peel, roasted peach, chipotle butter, clove
Body: Medium
Front: Banana bread pudding
Middle: Butter, scotch (not butterscotch!)
Back: Cilantro, sage, cedar
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

Take two, on yet another frigid Texas night. I enjoyed visiting St. Clement's tasting room a couple of years ago on a trip to Napa, though the Chardonnay didn't make a deep impression on me at the time. Still, the price seemed too good to be skipped this afternoon. I did not know about the busted pipes at home, when I got this, so we will mentally put ourselves back in those happy hours to cleanse our emotional palate before tasting this. Ahem. Here we go.

The nose on this wine is intriguing, especially for a white--I might mistake it for a really well-made Chilean red, completely blind. The palate is soft, round, yet with a decent amount of the spice you get in the nose. There is plenty of oak up front and in the middle, which helps with the roundness; there's not a whole lot of fruit or acidity--it might not age well. But it's an interesting Chardonnay for this price, and will pair well with food.

Jadot Savigny-les-Beaunes Blanc

Louis Jadot 
White Burgundy
Beaune, France  
$19.10 -- Twin Liquors, Austin, TX

Color: Deep straw, a hint of peach
Nose: Tar, oak, sage, peppermint
Body: Medium
Front: Acetone, oak
Middle: Burnt apricot
Back: Cardboard, lemon
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

There's a distinct possibility that this wine is over the hill. I'm having flashbacks to The Great Maderized Wine Tasting. It's a bit more interesting than those debacles, but I feel like I don't have enough interesting flavors here to justify more than a caveat emptor.

Then again, I returned from a long trip today to find at least two pipes had burst and I'm losing water rapidly. So perhaps it is my palate, overinfluenced by my mind, that is out of tune, not the wine. I think I'll open something else, just to be sure...

Monday, January 4, 2010

Vega Escal Priorat

Viticultors del Priorat (for Reserva de la Tierra) Vega Escal
Carignan, Grenache, Shiraz
Priorat, Spain

$15.10 -- Wine Library, Springfield, NJ

Color: Medium to deep red with purple tinge
Nose: Raspberry, orange rind, a little heat, chocolate pudding
Body: Medium
Front: Raspberry
Middle: Espresso, a hint of milk chocolate shavings
Back: Soft tannins, cardboard
Burns clean?:
Cap: Cork

There would appear to be some sort of cultish thing going on with Priorat wine, judging from the production history of this wine. It's okay; I'm not floored, but if you like Spanish reds you may find this wine very good. It doesn't go well with Stereolab's music, but it stood up to roast beef leftovers with cheesy potatoes and green bean casserole.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Deerfield Merlot Cuvee

Deerfield Ranch Winery
North Coast
Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Malbec, Cabernet Franc
Kenwood, California, USA

$25.00 -- Vino 100, Lakeway, TX

Color: Dark garnet
Nose: Oak, cinnamon cherry pie, licorice, cat pee
Body: Medium
Front: Plum bacon
Middle: Espresso, blackberry, oak
Back: Sticky tannins, sage
Burns clean?:
Cap: Cork

For those who've never had plum bacon, this will be an interesting wine. It's plentifully oaked; if you are an oak-hater, don't even bother with this one, it's uncontroversially oaky. But I like a little oak, and the eddies of earth flavor it can add to the fruit. That said, most of the fruit at this point seems to be on the nose, not so much in the palate. With barbecue-sauce-coated slow-roasted prime rib, it was a fantastic combination inasmuch as the spicy, woody meat helped throw the wine's fruit into relief.