Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bernardus Chardonnay

Bernardus Winery
Monterey Country

Carmel Valley, California, USA
$17.99 -- Costco, Austin, TX

Color: Medium gold
Nose: Lemon cream pie
Body: Full
Front: Lemon, salt
Middle: Butter
Back: Oak, thyme
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

This is smooth stuff; it's easy to drink and good with food. There are few surprises in it; it's California big, and lacks the palatal nooks and crannies of, say, a French Chardonnay. Interestingly, it seems quite tasty with Cheshire and cheddar cheeses. I like the little greenness at the end, though that only seems to emerge when the glass warms up a bit, so you fast drinkers may not experience it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ehlers Meritage

Ehlers Estate
Chairman's Selection
Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc

Napa, California
$35.49 -- Central Market, Austin, TX

Color: Opaque garnet
Nose: Cherry, stewed plum, tar
Body: Full
Front: Black cherry, rhubarb
Middle: Prune, orange, clove
Back: Black tea, chocolate, elegant tannins
Burns clean?: Extremely. Maybe too clean.
Cap: Cork

I've become a big fan of Ehlers. Their '05 Cabernet is phenomenal, and this stuff is absolutely delightful. It takes about an hour to open up, and there is a distinct greenness at the first that will frighten you, but have patience. A hint of the vegetal qualities stays on, even as the darker flavors start to show. It's not all deliciousness; it's more like a conversation, with this wine.

If you like a candy-ish wine, or simple flavors, this won't please you. You will be all like, WTF, Asmodeus; thanks for nothin'. My response: you should have read to the end of the post. Facebook and mobile computing are ruining your attention span and your life. But if you want a little something to chew on, this is a phenomenal choice.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Bell Claret

Bell Wine Cellars
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec
Napa Valley

Yountville, California, USA
$25.99 -- Spec's Liquors, Austin, TX

Color: Unattractive dark red, browning at the edges
Nose: Cherry marijuana
Body: Medium to full
Front: Cherry
Middle: Fines herbes, licorice
Back: Cardboard, coffee
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

This is an excellent wine, to my taste. From smelling to swallowing, it's like you walked into an Amsterdam coffee shop where half the people were smoking the sensimilla and the other half were smoking cherry-flavored tobacco, then ate a space cake with a Cherry Coke, and for some reason really needed a cafe au lait afterwards and ate the cup while you were drinking the coffee. If that doesn't make you want to try this wine, then Allah have mercy on you.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Hahn Estates SLH Syrah

Hahn Winery
Central Coast (Monterey - Sta. Lucia Highlands?)
Soledad, California, USA
$13.99 at Whole Foods, Austin, TX

Color: Opaque blood red
Nose: Black plum, cherry, smoke from charcoal with lighter fluid
Body: Full and creamy
Front: Blueberry pie, cafe au lait
Middle: Cherry, venison, sage
Back: Mesquite, espresso
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

Good lord. This wine makes you sit up straight. It's huge, sweet, smoky, strong (14.7? probably closer to 15), sweaty, salty. Oenorati will say that it's fake-tasting, like the synthesized flavors in soda. That may be true. And you may like it! Seriously, it's like blueberry sauce on roasted venison. I'll say this: it doesn't evolve much in the glass, and I'm searching for tannins and not finding much. But pair it with some brisket and blueberry pie, and you will be plenty happy.

An inappropriate and uncharacteristic outburst.

PARDON ME, FAITHFUL READER, but I have something to say about Bordeaux wines, and in particular, red ones.

I have had a few fantastic Bordeaux wines in my time. I didn't pay for them; I am a lucky man. Every single bottle of red Bordeaux I've purchased recently in the $15 to $35 range--from 1998 to 2006 vintages--has been disappointing. Only a few have been outright bad, but: should any of them have been, at those prices? I don't review many of them here, because I lack the patience, or perhaps, the inventiveness. Every one I could describe, borrowing the words of Cellartracker reviewer Edv, this way:
Fruits compotés, une acidité rafraîchissante, mais cher pour ce qu'il apporte.
I've tried the decanter. I've tried them with food and without. I've tried them after a healthy dose of whiskey, and I've tried them en suite after delicious summer whites and appetizers.

Help me, readers. Help me, internet.

Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc

Duckhorn Wine Company
Sauvignon Blanc
Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon
Napa Valley
St. Helena, CA

$21.99 at Costco, Austin, TX

Color: Very pale straw
Nose: Grapefruit, honeysuckle, melon
Body: Medium
Front: Grapefruit
Middle: Mango, canteloupe
Back: Oak, pear
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

It's pale but reasonably big in flavor; nicely balanced between acid and fruitiness and minerality; and it goes well with food. This is perhaps the second most to-my-taste Sauvignon Blanc I've had. Clearly I need to try more French ones, but next to Larkmead's this is the most delightful. The folks at Larkmead intimated that this is made at least partly from grapes they grow, and I believe it. I'm gonna go back and get more. Let me say, I'm usually unwilling to pay 21 bucks for a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, but this is actually worth it!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Kirkland Stag's Leap Cabernet

DC Flynt MW Selections
Kirkland Signature
Cabernet Sauvignon
Stag's Leap

Napa, California, USA
$17.99 -- Costco, Austin, TX

Color: Deep garnet
Nose: Plums, sour cherry, coconut, chocolate, nutmeg
Body: Medium to full
Front: Plum, vanilla
Middle: Cherry, coconut
Back: Black tea, soft tannins
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Recycled cork

This is good stuff. It's not huge or hugely complex--a little hollow in the mid-palate--but it's Stag's Leap for sure, and it's cheap as heck. The nose alone is worth it, actually, though the palate doesn't quite live up to it. There I could go for a little more sourness...but here's the thing: if you want a Cabernet that both has interesting flavors and is approachable now, this is hard to beat.

This wine is from a negociant: grapes bought from one or more vineyards that had some to spare and blended by a third party for Kirkland (Costco). I note that the negociant is based in Lake Charles, Louisiana, which oddly makes this a much more local wine than I had thought! Earlier this year, I tried their Mountain Cuvee, which, given that I first saw it in the Girard tasting room a week before it appeared at Costco, I suspect to be largely Girard fruit. It's also a good wine, much like this one in quality and complexity, though interestingly a little more pricey. It is less approachable, though, needing an hour or so to open up.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Poggio al Moro Bolgheri

E. Santini
Poggio al Moro
Bolgheri DOC
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese
, Syrah
Tuscany, Italy
$21.49 -- Costco, Austin, TX

Color: Opaque garnet
Nose: Cherry, vanilla, stewed plum, tar
Body: Full
Front: Black cherry
Middle: Stewed plum
Back: Black tea, tenacious tannins
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

This is a Tuscan, big and dark. It's rich, with a few focused, intense fruit flavors, and a leathery tannic backbone that reminds me of a good Assam tea. This stuff is nice, though I think that it'll be far better with some foods than with others--it wasn't a knockout with the cheeseburger I grilled this evening, but I'm willing to experiment more to see what it will get along with, especially at a reasonable price like this.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Barnardus Marinus

Bernardus Winery
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec

Carmel Valley, California, USA
$23.99 -- Costco, Austin, TX

Color: Dark garnet
Nose: Cherry, vanilla, stewed plum, thyme
Body: Full
Front: Ripe cherry
Middle: Cassis, sage, oaky creaminess
Back: Orange, cigar wrapper, very soft tannins
Burns clean?: Almost; a little headache
Cap: Cork

This is a super wine. Really delightful, mature, balanced, focused, and rich; good with food (roasted chicken and romaine and roma tomato salad tonight); and interesting. A wine from Napa Valley that tasted like this would cost you $50 easy. Guessing from the stewed fruitiness of it, I'd say that it's at its peak, but I could be wrong, and at this price, it's worth putting one away for a year to see if it gets even more mellow and rich.

{Note, 2014: $50 indeed--Spec's raised their prices on the Marinus to $45 sometime last year--damnation. Costco must have run out.}

L. Chatelain Chablis

Domaine L. Chatelain
Gran Vin de Bourgogne
Fontenay-pres-Chablis, Fance
$14.69 -- Costco, Austin, TX

Color: Lovely pale straw
Nose: Lemony pear, salty minerality, perhaps a little pee
Body: Medium
Front: Honeysuckle
Middle: Cantaloupe, salty minerality
Back: Oak, orange peel
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Fake cork

It would appear that I've never reviewed a Chablis before -- odd. I like them; from the Burgundy region of France, the Grand Vins like this one are usually uncomplicated, well-balanced Chardonnays. (One of the best wines I've ever had was a premier cru Chablis.)

This is a nice wine: it's got some body, persistence, a saltiness and floral presence that I enjoy. It's a perfect, late-summer (uh, I hope it's late summer), not-terrifically alcoholic-so-it'll-go-with-food, many-folks-will-like-it sort of wine at a good price.