Sunday, May 16, 2010

Perrin Cotes du Rhone-Villages

Perrin & Fils
Grenache, Syrah 
Orange, France
$9.99 -- Spec's, Austin, TX

Color: Medium luminescent purpley red
Nose: Cherry IceeTM
Body: Medium to light
Front: Cherry
Middle: Big RedTM, white pepper
Back: Very soft tannins, a little stewed plum
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

The Perrin was the favorite of one of the two folks I tasted southern Rhone wines with this evening. He liked its utter absence of tannins and its exuberant fruitiness. I liked it too, especially for a hot day with company and good appetizers. It won't stand up to much more sturdy food, and it's not a supremely complex tasting thing, but whatever it lacks in elegance it makes up in charm. The hint of something more complex on the very end of the palate is intriguing and keeps you going back to the glass. For some people this would be a dangerous wine, I think.

Louis Bernard Cotes du Rhone-Villages

Louis Bernard
Côtes du Rhône-Villages
Grenache, Syrah 
Vaucluse, France
$9.07 -- H.E.B., Austin, TX

Color: Medium garnet
Nose: Strawberries, cherries
Body: Medium
Front: Cherry, pepper
Middle: Watery blueberry
Back: Soft tannins
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Screwcap

The Bernard was not a favorite tonight: it's a bit awkward, though it has some charming flavors lurking in it. The mid-palate is pretty hollow, though, and disappointing, given the somewhat wild nose. It was better with a little manchego, and tragic with garlic toast: a bit of an awkward guest!

Domaine Nicolas Boiron Cotes du Rhone

Domaine Bosquet des Papes
Domaine Nicolas Boiron
Côtes du Rhône
Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault?
Vaucluse, France
$12.99 -- Costco, Austin, TX

Color: Deep purpley red
Nose: Cassis, raspberry jam, heat
Body: Medium
Front: Cherry, white pepper
Middle: Licorice, stewed plum, a tiny bit of game
Back: A little heat, soft tannins
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

The Rhone tour continues: tonight it was a trio of two Cotes du Rhone-Villages and this Cotes-du-Rhone, some manchego, almonds, and garlic toast. Having tasted several of the top-of-the-line southern Rhones, it was time to get into real life everyday drinking territory.

This was a favorite with the crowd--"this could be a conversation piece," one said, poetically--and I like it a lot, too. It's intense, but not overbearing; nicely balanced, with plenty of acid and a smidgen of oak, and reasonably complex.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Powers Reserve Cabernet

Powers Winery
Cabernet Sauvignon
Champoux vineyard
Horse Heaven Hills
Kennewick, Washington, USA
$21.99 -- Costco, Austin, TX

Color: Medium to deep strawberry
Nose: Cherry, steak (or maybe shrimp?), vanilla extract, mint chocolate
Body: Full
Front: Tart cherries
Middle: Stewed plum, orange, bread
Back: Sage, licorice
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

The nose on this wine is lush and really, almost good enough to eat. I know that shrimp may seem like a weird descriptor, but there it is. It's fascinating. I've had good luck with the Champoux vineyard before; it goes into one of my favorite wines, an Andrew Will blend. Go here for a little more on the Powers folks. And go to Costco tomorrow, or you won't get it at this price, because I will beat you to it.

The palate is tasty, too, though I suspect some people will find it odd. The tannins are fine, and seem to be carrying a sort of tangy desert sage thing, which will make some people proclaim against the smoothness of the wine. Of course it needs to breathe, and these will rapidly soften up. It's good with food; the tartness of the fruit came out with the Basque chicken-and-chorizo I made tonight.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Robert Keenan Wine Dinner

ONE OF THE BEST RESTAURANTS in Austin, Mirabelle, is just around the bend from my place (or was; it closed in 2012). The food is excellent, and a few of the entrees are among the best in town. The wine list is really, really good: not vast, but well-designed. It pairs well with the menu, and there are always good deals to be had for someone with a little wine knowledge. Those without such knowledge will be thrilled.
Keenan Vineyards on Spring Mountain, Napa Valley, CA

"You get infected...with this thing in your blood," Michael Keenan told us, about getting into the wine business; "it's like a virus." I agree, and I ain't even in the wine business. I've reviewed Keenan wines before, so I was delighted at the opportunity to meet Michael Keenan and to taste some of the winery's other offerings.

Before reflecting on the event itself--a different experience from my previous wine dinners--let me run down the wines, for surfers looking for opinions about how these wines were drinking:

2007 Keenan "Spring Mountain" Chardonnay: On the nose, some buttercream, a little pineapple, but reasonably tight. On the palate, excellently balanced, with lime, pineapple, butter, even a hint of mint, which was delightful, on the finish. Bourgogney. Splendid with a little crepe, prosciutto and gruyere canape. Circa $25 retail.

2006 Keenan Napa Valley Merlot: On the nose, licorice and cherry, with a hint of cinnamon. Chocolate, violets, and black cherry on the palate. I really liked this--I think it was my favorite. For a comparison, see this entry. Even better, as it's still young, with the arctic char and fava bean puree. They cheated by doing a Merlot reduction alongside--but I saw that coming, and tried the wine with the fava bean puree first, and it was a charming combination. Circa $30 retail.

2005 Keenan Napa Cabernet, circa $50 retail: On the nose, briary, smoky, plum-ridden; really intense. On the palate, the usual cherry, licorice, and plum, harmoniously balanced. A caveat: I favor  mountain wines from the Napa/Sonoma areas, as you'll see from some other entries. And this is an '05: it's still young, and it had not been open long--yet it was damn tasty. And the same goes for...

2005 "Spring Mountain" Cabernet, Reserve: Pepper, plum, bell pepper, blackberry, and tar on the nose--though not tremendously focused. On the palate, more focused plum, licorice, smoke, and  charming sage at the close. A charming wine in general, though worth the $90 price tag? Hard to say. Both Cabernets were delightful--and showed better--with the lamb enchilada and espresso crema sauce.

2005 Reserve Merlot, "Mailbox Vineyard": This has the hallmarks of a young vineyard. On the nose, black fruit, but a little sweetness in the aromas, and fascinating desert sage. On the palate, chocolate covered raspberry, plum, orange, and a hint of cilantro. Those with less affection for the mountain style, with its briary smoke, will like this one more, I think; and too, it's young. These wines are built to age, as my previous encounters with them suggested. This paired well, though not perhaps as elegantly as the previous courses, with a beef filet topped with foie gras.

The genre of the wine dinner is still a bit of a mystery to me. I'm tempted to say that its characteristics are not generalizable--that each wine dinner tends to show its peculiarities in relation to the venue. Mirabelle is in a comparatively wealthy, comparatively suburban neighborhood, and its chef is a player in Austin's food and beverage realm. So perhaps it's not surprising that this dinner saw a fascinating combination of established, older folks with younger, mover-shaker business types. I'll do another of these dinners before long, and to test my theory, I'll choose an utterly new venue to me.

I had the good luck to be seated with a charmingly clumsy photographer (who, I suspect, also preferred the Merlot), some mover-shaker folks (who, appallingly, left behind most of their wine and decamped early), and some longtime fans of Mirabelle. I was struck by the appreciation that Mirabelle's owner and head chef, Michael Vilim, showed for his staff, both by introducing them to us during the dinner and by naming all of them--servers, buser, and sous chefs--on the menu. A big small thing. (New York City peeps: please do post a comment if you have been to a restaurant-hosted wine dinner at which you learned the full names of all of your servers and sous chefs.)

Michael Keenan has done a million of these things, you can tell, and he got up three times to talk about the wines, but otherwise hung back or cruised among the tables, informally chatting. That, it seemed to me, was an ideal approach--no pitch, no bullshit, no anxiousness, just passion. Or perhaps, a virus.

Finca el Origen Torrontes

Bodegas y Viñedas La Esperanza
Finca el Origen
Valle del Cafayate
Salta, Argentina

$9.45 -- H.E.B., Austin, TX

Color: Light  straw
Nose: Peach, lemon, pepper
Body: Medium
Front: Pineapple
Middle: Mild poblano, butterscotch
Back: Lemon, apricot rocks
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Screwcap

This is a great, cheap summer wine. Not much is going on in it--it's exuberant but short-lived, like a mosquito or a bluebonnet. It tastes better than either of those things, I bet. It's good cold, and tasty with grilled pork and a simple salad. There's something else in the nose, something a bit more acidic than peaches, that I can't quite place: help me, loyal triumvirate of readers, if you get a chance to taste this inexpensive wine.

Seldom have I stuck with a wine experimentation plan this long. But it has gotten interesting: I've found a number of curious varietals (this being one of them) and nothing with too much acetone flavor yet. My only fear now is that I need to try these varietals from different houses -- perhaps different continents -- to see if I can identify commonalities. I'm not sure I have what it takes to do that!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

L'Ecole No 41 Merlot

L'Ecole No 41 Vineyards and Winery
Columbia Valley
Lowden, Washington, USA

$20.99 -- Spec's, Austin, TX

Color: Dark garnet, a hint of purple
Nose: Black cherry, plum, hint of cinnamon
Body: Medium
Front: Cherry, cassis, black tea
Middle: Pepper, venison, chocolate
Back: Leather, soft tannins
Burns clean?: Mostly
Cap: Cork

It's been awhile since I reviewed a Merlot, but that's not because I haven't been drinking them. They're still a great bargain, if you know which ones aren't over-oaked, at restaurants and in wine stores. This one is a good example. I can't stand the label, though on close inspection it's clever. It's not terrifically expensive. It's quite lovely; balanced, elegant, with suggestive flavors and aromas coming in and out, like orange, cotton candy, even lime.

It went well with the grilled steak and the almond soup I had this evening. It benefits tremendously from a little airing out; I decanted it for half an hour before I started in on it.

A note to my regular readers: I promise both of you, in public, right now (because otherwise I will forget these ideas), that I'm going to do three special entries this summer, in no particular order. They will be
  • An entry on my favorite wines among the ones I've reviewed since the blog began. This will, by thunder, become an annual thing--and in the future I'll do my favorite wines of the intervening year.
  • An entry on the wine bars of Austin, Texas. I'm slowly working my way through them and already have important wisdom to share. But I need to take some pictures and some notes.
  • An entry on Napa Valley, 2010: I'm headed back not long from now.
Now: hold me to it! berate me if I don't pony up!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Walt Whitman on Champagne in Ice

TONIGHT I PLANNED to review the Rodney Strong Alexander Valley Cabernet, 2007. I'm drinking it now and it's pretty tannic: like the other '07 Cab I recently had, it's nice and fruity but seriously austere, and probably worth laying down for at least three more years before trying again.

Instead of a full review, I give you a bit of wino history:

Whitman manuscript from the New York Public Library
Walt Whitman, ms. from the Oscar Lion Collection, New York Public Library.

"Champagne in ice." To my knowledge, an unpublished poem by the world-famous New Yorker (who died, tragically, in Jersey), Walt Whitman. Walt loved ice cream and he loved champagne, apparently; for a contradictory view (do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes, homeboy!) see Whitman's anti-drinking novel, Franklin Evans.
We even get a glimpse of Whitman's palate: the champagne is "cold and tart-sweet drink'd from a big mug half-fill'd with ice." Oenophiles today would be shocked by the ice--but give it a try: you'll doubtless feel that freedom and joy the good gray poet talks about!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir

Innocent Bystander
Pinot Noir
Healesville, Victoria, Australia
$14.98 -- Wine Library, Springfield, NJ

Color: Medium garnet
Nose: Cherry, meat, chocolate
Body: Medium
Front: Raspberry
Middle: Chocolate-covered cherry cola
Back: Espresso, but very soft tannins
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Screwcap

Undoubtedly bearing one of the grimmest wine labels ever, this wine is nonetheless a real joy, and a shock. The shock has to do with the price of entry, which is low for a Pinot these days. The flavor is delightful: not super-complex, it's no Vosne-Romanee or Amour Fou. But it's balanced, tasty, interesting enough, and elegant. A mixture of grapes from eight different vineyards, this is a testament to its winemaker. Good with grilled lamb and, surprisingly perhaps, watermelon. I'm gonna get more: this bottle, if not its label, will make many guests happy!

Heartland Viognier & Pinot Gris

Heartland Wines
Viognier & Pinot Gris
South Australia
Dulwich, Australia

$12.54 -- Costco, Austin, TX

Color: Light to medium straw; oddly uninspiring
Nose: Aggressive apricot and something smoky; a little beach ball, a little lime
Body: Medium to full
Front: Peach
Middle: Lime, honeydew
Back: Lemon, spearmint
Burns clean?:
Cap: Screwcap

The varietal experimentation with whites continues. This time it's a blend of Viognier (77%) and Pinot Gris (23%). I'm not a big Pinot Gris fan, I must admit--few are the Pinots Gris that I will review on this blog, unless something extraordinary happens to my tastes!

But this is an interesting wine. It has charm; there are subtle flavors lurking in the mid-to-end palate.  You might not taste these if the wine is served too cold, though--still, I think it would please a lot of people and it doesn't have the acetone flavor one sometimes gets with Pinot Gris. It's good with brie and smoked almonds, unsurprisingly; it might be nice with fish, too, with it's fruitiness and nice balance.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Newton Claret

Newton Vineyard
Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah
Napa County
St. Helena, California, USA
$15.99 -- Costco, Austin, TX

Color: Medium purpley garnet
Nose: Cherry, plum, orange, a little heat
Body: Medium
Front: Dried cherries
Middle: Chocolate chip cookie
Back: Licorice, firm tannins
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

This is an elegant wine, with good balance and presence. It's not bombastic, by any means, and it doesn't have an edge that makes it particularly memorable, but it's also a bit young, I think, so patience might be rewarded.

It was tasty with an Italianesque sausage and roasted pepper and pasta thing I made this evening, though even better with bread and a little Valdeon cheese. Not a terrifically thought-provoking wine, but certainly a good one for the price. I will likely get another bottle and cellar it for a couple of years and see what happens.

Trenza Blanco

Trenza Winery
Albariño, Grenache Blanc
Edna Valley
San Luis Obispo, California, USA
$14.99 -- Costco, Austin, TX

Color: Light gold
Nose: Tight; meyer lemon, something sweet-fruity, and beach ball
Body: Medium
Front: Pineapple, melon
Middle: Lemon, grass (but not lemongrass!)
Back: A touch of butter, gravel
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Screwcap

I've decided to do a little varietal experimentation with whites, as the summer heat comes on. I have not abandoned my French wine tasting crusade, and hope in fact to work a little weirdo French wine into the white rotation. But some expansion in the palate is always good.

Trenza Winery has made an appearance before on this blog, with a strange little red that I have a bottle of cellared for the foreseeable future. And I've had a not-insubstantial amount of central coast wine, lately, I'd add: the last wine I reviewed was also an Edna Valley wine by a San Luis Obispo producer.

Try this one with a little strong cheese or other food, and don't drink it too cold. It's reserved, and its elegance doesn't emerge readily. But it is much more refined than the red blend (at least so far), and I think would please many people. I can't quite see charm in it: the blend is odd, so there should be some characteristic vein in it, but I'm not getting it. Perhaps tomorrow!

Note: Or, two days later! The acid comes out a bit more, and I tried it with brie--delightful.

Tangent Sauvignon Blanc

Tangent Winery
Sauvignon Blanc
Paragon Vineyard
Edna Valley
San Luis Obispo, California, USA
$13.99 -- Whole Foods, Austin, TX

Color: Very pale straw
Nose: Pineapple, lemon, jalapeño
Body: Medium
Front: Lemon, berries
Middle: Pineapple
Back: Lemongrass, a little rock
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Screwcap

This is a perfect late spring afternoon wine, and it's good with food. If Chardonnay is starting to bore you, try this one out--also, it's certified sustainably made, so that is cool if you like politics with your wine, as many of us do. The wine is well-balanced, easy-drinking; almost dangerous.

I'm listening to Robert Plant and Allison Krauss--one of the down-tempo tracks--with this, and it's a perfect match. It was good on day two as well, just thrown back in the fridge with the screwcap on.