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Friday, June 29, 2012

2009 Domaine Le Roc “La Folle Noire d’Ambat” Fronton

In my last post, when I reviewed the Gaillac, I mentioned that there would be a review of a Negrette from Fronton soon to come.  Here it is.
In the spirit of my fascination with wines from South West France, I couldn’t wait any longer to try the Fronton.  It’s the 2009 Domaine Le Roc “La Folle Noire d’Ambat” - and it’s 100% Negrette.  As soon as I spotted the wacky label while doing my usual wine shopping at Lake Side Emotions, I knew that wine was for me.  It’s full of personality, with a dark red color and characteristics of red berry, plum, purple blossoms, pepper, plenty of smooth spice, and a funky, unique earthiness (this type of identity and expression of terroir is one of the things I love most about wines from South West France).  After reveling in the awesome aromas and flavors and funkiness, it was time to appreciate the very good balance of fruit, acidity, and tannin.  The wine has a clean feel and and smooth texture, making it very “easy drinking,” and a nice finish reflecting the fruit, spice, and earth.
I do love the wines of South West France and have written reviews of wines of Cahors, Madiran, Pacherenc, Jurancon, and now Gaillac and Fronton...what will be next...Irouleguy?

2009 Domaine Le Roc “La Folle Noire d’Ambat” Fronton

Monday, June 25, 2012

2009 Domaine du Moulin Gaillac

Sometimes it feels like I’m on a mission to try as many off-beat wines as possible, and in a sense I am.  I’m just fascinated by the wines’ identities and expression of what they are and where they’re from.  South West France produces some of my favorite off-beat wines, and this weekend I finally opened a bottle I bought months ago from South West France.

2009 Domaine du Moulin Gaillac

The wine is the 2009 Domaine du Moulin (yes, there’s a windmill right on the label) and it’s from Gaillac.  I know I’ve reviewed wines from other parts of South West France, particularly Pacherenc and Madiran, and most often Cahors, but never Gaillac (stay tuned, because soon I’ll be writing up a Negrette from Fronton).  The Gaillac is a blend of Syrah and a grape native to Gaillac called Duras.  It’s a very unique wine, a fairly deep red color with characteristics of mostly red fruit including cherry, berry, some red currant and red plum, some spice including cinnamon and a hint of anise, and lots of pepper notes, some wood, and funky earthiness, an expression of its identity and terroir.  The balance of fruit, acidity, and tannin is very good, giving it versatility and texture with a clean feel and a long finish indicating good quality.  It certainly drinks better than a lot of other under $20 wines I’ve tasted, and I love how the characteristics of the wine come together to bring a unique result.

Friday, June 22, 2012

2008 Pahlmeyer Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

At this point I think it’s probably obvious that most wines that I review are European, or Old World style.  However, sometimes I get a crave for an American style wine - something bigger and very satisfying.  Last night was one of those nights.
The wine was the 2008 Pahlmeyer Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.  I’ve heard only good things about Pahlmeyer but had never tasted any of their wines.  Dinner was lamb, and so a Pinot Noir to pair properly with lamb must have some bigger characteristics that we’d find in some Burgundy style Pinots.
Pahlmeyer 2008 Pinot Noir is a fairly “big” Pinot Noir but not quite as big as others I’ve tasted from California, which is perfect for me, since I tend toward wines generally lighter than what we normally see coming from California, but it was certainly big enough to pair with the lamb.  It’s a medium to dark red color, with characteristics of stewed red fruits such as raspberry and red plum, and some cherry vanilla and a bit of cinnamon, and earthiness, and lots of smoky notes, which is what I love in a California Pinot.  It has nice structure, with good acidity giving it a clean feel, and smooth tannins, giving it elegance and soft texture, and a long, lasting finish.  Pahlmeyer Pinot Noir definitely met my expectations and it was a wonderful treat last night.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Summer Whites

Last week I covered lots of wines for pairing to summer dishes, mostly reds for grilling, dry rose, and sparkling wines.  Now I want to focus on crisp whites - they’re ideal for sipping on warm days and pairing with fresh seafood and shellfish, and with salads and soft cheeses.
When I think of crisp, clean, bright acidity whites, the first thing that comes to my mind is Sauvignon Blanc.  My favorites tend to come from the Loire Valley of France, but there were some very good ones produced elsewhere, particularly New Zealand.  Sauvignon Blanc produced in Sancerre is quite popular right now, but don’t forget about its counterpart from Pouilly-Fume.  These wines tend to be very bright and crisp and refreshing, with citrus fruit characteristics and cool minerality.

Sauvignon Blanc - Sancerre, Loire Valley, France

Dry style Rieslings (as well as some off-dry Rieslings) are quite refreshing.  So many people think of Riesling and “sweet” comes to mind - to be fair, some have characteristics of sweet fruit and floral notes, but just because something is perceived to be sweet doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of bright acidity to follow the fruit characteristics and clean the palate.  Riesling is known for its underlying acidity and that makes it perfect for a refreshing summer wine.  For the best Rieslings, look to Germany, Alsace (France), and the Finger Lakes.

Riesling - Mosel, Germany

Albarino has become more popular and is one of my favorite wines to pair to shellfish.  The wine is clean and has fun fruit characteristics, particularly orchard fruits including peach and fresh apricot.  While most people think of reds when they think of Spanish wine, this crisp, aromatic white from Galicia is a perfect summer wine.

Albarino - Rias Baixas, Galicia, Spain

Another very crisp, acidic white that has been enjoying popularity recently is Gruner Veltliner from Austria.  It shows white and green notes with some pepper and cool minerality, making it ideal for summer sipping and pairing with fish as well as vegetables - it’s very versatile, refreshing, and worth trying.

Gruner Veltliner - Niederosterreich, Austria

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Favorite Wine Shop

This post has been a long time coming.
Twice a week, I write a post, and most times, it includes tasting notes or observations based on a wine that really impressed me.  Sometimes it’s a traditional type of wine, and sometimes it’s off-beat.  When an awesome wine inspires me to write a review, sometimes it sparks some interest in readers, and I’ve been asked many times over the past year, “Where are you buying these?”  My answer is almost always the same - and then I go on to tell them about my favorite wine shop.  Luckily, this wine shop is just minutes from home.
Sometimes it’s hard to find a really good wine shop.  Where I live, we don’t buy wine in grocery stores and supermarkets, so we depend on the local, smaller wine shops.  For several years, I shopped in different stores, got to know the people who own and work in the stores, and familiarized myself with their inventories.  But most times, all the nearby shops had the same wines as each other, year in and year out.  I guess I never gave it much thought - I figured, that’s what the shops have, so that’s what I’m buying.
And then a year ago, a new wine boutique opened very nearby.  I recognized almost none of the labels.  The owner of the boutique knows each and every bottle, each wine’s characteristics, the proper pairing, etc.  And the boutique is beautiful - it’s tastefully decorated, the wines are kept at the correct angle and temperature - and there are tastings every Friday.  Each time I went into the boutique, the inventory was a bit different.  But some things were the same each time - always good quality wines, and always excellent customer service.  The store became my regular go-to place to buy wine.  I still remember, the first bottle I brought home from Lake Side Emotions Wine Boutique was a liter bottle of Hugl Gruner Veltliner.  Each time, new bottles come home with me - and what’s exciting is knowing that I can find good quality off-beat wines made from lesser-known grapes from lesser-known wine producing regions, every time I go there.
The wine boutique is beautiful, but a new patron should not imagine that just because it’s so tastefully appointed and detailed, that all the wines will be rare, expensive selections from France.  Familiarizing myself with the inventory allowed me to see that the wines are from all over the world, at all different prices, and I believe there’s something there for everybody.  For me, that’s one of the things that makes a wine shop worth patronizing - you can always find something you like in this shop.  What else makes a shop worth patronizing?  Great customer service and great effort put into the inventory.  Anyone can re-order whatever they run out of, and anyone can fill their shelves with the names everyone knows.  But that would be boring.  Introducing customers to new wines is important - it keeps their interest piqued.
A year ago I was browsing around Lake Side Emotions, trying to decide on a single bottle to bring home, from an inventory of labels completely unknown to me.  Now I educate my palate and expand my wine knowledge with the wines I buy there, and I spend my Friday afternoons pouring tastings there.
I strongly suggest that you find a worthwhile place to buy your wines - a place that will give you opportunities to try new things and answer your wine questions, hopefully a place where you enjoy going.  Yes, it’s often practical to shop in several different shops, but when you get bored of the same inventory year in and year out, find that special wine shop and you might not want to shop anywhere else.

Lake Side Emotions Wine Boutique - Stony Brook, New York

Monday, June 11, 2012

Balance: Fitting In and Standing Out

My sister and brother-in-law recently visited Paris.  When I think of a place like Paris - while I’ve never been there - I imagine fine dining, great wine lists, beautiful scenery, and fashion-conscious Parisians.  One of the things that stood out on my mind when my sister and brother-in-law described Paris was that there weren’t very many Parisians carrying Chanel bags or wearing Louis Vuitton scarves.  Instead, while there were some wearing designer clothing and accessories, many instead wore tasteful, unique items that weren’t in the price range of the designer items, but were no less fashionable and in fact were different from the clothing and accessories sported by the next person.
I found that interesting.
Designer clothing, accessories, etc., are lovely for sure, and there’s nothing wrong with indulging in them from time to time - I’ll be the first to admit that.  But hearing what so many Parisians were wearing - simple, beautiful, unique clothing and accessories, got me to thinking.
Why do Americans prefer to spend so much money in order to look exactly the same as everyone else?  I thought about it and remembered how I had no desire for the Tickle Me Elmo and Furby that topped the lists of Christmas gifts when I was a kid.  Sometimes I wanted to have the same toys and clothing as my friends when growing up (yes, I had to have the Tamagotchi), but not always.  People don’t always have to look and act the same as each other.  When the trend is over, the item sits in a drawer somewhere, never to be worn or enjoyed again.
So many wine shop owners and employees have told me that this summer, they need to buy a ridiculous number of cases of Veuve Clicquot.  Why?  So people having summer parties can buy it, and everyone has the same Champagne.  I thought to myself, that seems kind of boring, attending all those summer parties and having to drink the exact same thing at every party, just to prove that everyone’s in style and can afford cases upon cases of Veuve Clicquot.
If all those people can afford Veuve Clicquot, then certainly they can afford something else, something unique that would be different from the wines at other parties.  Is it fun to have Veuve Clicquot sometimes?  Of course it is!  It’s a fun Champagne and the appearance of the yellow label seems to say summer.  But wouldn’t it be more fun and more efficient to pick something else sometimes, be a bit different from everyone else, and choose something of better quality that probably costs less?

Champagne and Sparkling Riesling Sekt

I’ll continue to change it up over the summer - sometimes Champagne and sparkling wines, sometimes dry whites, sometimes a lovely Rose from Cotes de Provence, and sometimes something completely different.  Sometimes I’ll want to fit in, and sometimes I’ll want to stand out.  My guess is that it’ll cost a lot less to stand out than it will to fit in.  I think balance is key - splurge a bit here and there on a label you know and trust, and then take a few risks on lesser-known, less expensive wines.  You might find some new favorites!

Rose Cremant de Provence

Friday, June 8, 2012

Wines for Grilling

It’s just about summer so that means it’s time for barbecue season!  When sitting out on the porch, I do love a dry Rose from Provence, or a crisp white - Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling or Albarino usually.  But when there are burgers, steaks, hot dogs, and kebabs on the grill, we need a red (unless we’re in a margarita mood).
With a good grilled steak, I do prefer a good quality red from California, Spain, or Australia - Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Monastrell would be my picks.  And when pairing to a good quality steak, we need a good quality red, and that might require a little spending.  Try Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley, Sonoma County), d’Arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz - a perennial favorite with grilled steak (McLaren Vale, South Australia), or El Nido Clio (Jumilla).  These wines are big and bold yet elegant with nice structure and tremendous presence.
With a more laid back afternoon or evening of grilling, I tend to prefer Zinfandel, Malbec, Cotes du Rhone red blends (GSM or Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre), or a Portuguese red, which I believe to be among the best values in reds.  Some of my picks include Carm Reserva (Douro, Portugal), Murphy Goode Liar’s Dice Zinfandel (Sonoma, California), Michel Torino Malbec (Cafayate Valley, Argentina), or my regular crowd pleaser - d’Arenberg The Stump Jump GSM (McLaren Vale, South Australia).

Monday, June 4, 2012

2007 Shaw Vineyard Finger Lakes Gewurztraminer

I got to taste the 2007 Shaw Vineyard (Finger Lakes) Gewurztraminer over the weekend.  Anyone who has been reading my blog probably knows by now that Gewurztraminer has always been one of my favorite grapes - in fact, it was a taste of Gewurztraminer that sparked my fascination with wine years ago.  So naturally I was excited to try the Shaw Gewurztraminer, especially after enjoying their other wines over the past several months (particularly the Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc).
The Gewurztraminer, like the other wines, has its own identity, and it’s quite different from Gewurztraminer from Alsace.  A bit more reserved and somewhat lighter, it’s not bursting out of the glass, and the lychee notes are not quite as dominating.  The Shaw Gewurztraminer is tastefully done, and still has notes of tropical fruit as expected, as well as a bit of orange, and the lovely floral and spice notes we’d expect from a Gewurztraminer, as well as cool mineral characteristics we’d expect from a Finger Lakes wine.  It has a clean feel and bright acidity, and a nice finish.

Also this weekend, I got to taste through Shaw’s 2005 Chardonnay, 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, 2007 Pinot Noir, 2005 Merlot, 2006 Cabernet Franc, and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon again at Empire State Cellars.  That Pinot Noir amazed me once again as it reminds me very much of a Burgundy, and the Cabernet Franc is still the only American Cabernet Franc that I enjoy - a lot.

Shaw’s Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon are all available at Empire State Cellars in Riverhead.  The Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Cabernet Franc are available at Race Lane Liquors in East Hampton.
2007 Gewurztraminer
Seneca Lake property
250 cases produced
Hand picked October 6
Cluster pressed over 3 hours
Cool fermentation - average 14-15 degrees Celsius
Left on fine lees until bottling
TA 6.2 g/l
Brix 23.2

Friday, June 1, 2012

Change It Up

Americans - we love our Chardonnay, Cabernet, and these days we love our Pinot Noir, too.  I love Chardonnay, Cabernet, and Pinot Noir as well, as long as they’re done tastefully - not over-oaked, not overly concentrated, and a reasonable alcohol by volume.
But what about all the lesser known grape types from places most people rarely think of in terms of wine producing?  I like to think of it this way - there’s a wine to suit every mood, every time of day, every time of the year, every event, and to pair with nearly every dish.  We need only think outside the box, and I’m not talking about boxed wine.
Some people believe that wines made from grapes grown in a particular region pair properly with dishes and foods from that same region.  I agree with that philosophy.  So it stands to reason that if we try flavors other than our popular American fare such as lobster, steak, and the like, we might be more apt to try wines that would pair with more exotic dishes.
How about Muscadet (Melon de Bourgogne from Loire) with oysters?  Madiran (Tannat based wines from South West France) with cassoulet?  Sauternes (botrytized Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon from Bordeaux) with foie gras?

Muscadet from Loire

So the next time you’re looking for a crisp white, instead of your usual Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling, how about trying a Muscadet from Loire or Jacquere from Savoie?  Or for a white with a bit more density, instead of the usual Chardonnay, how about Marsanne or Roussanne from Rhone?  For a lighter red, instead of Pinot Noir, how about a Gamay from Beaujolais or Mondeuse from Savoie?  For a bigger red, instead of Cabernet, try a Rhone blend of Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre, or a Tannat from Madiran or Malbec from Cahors (both in South West France)?  Your best bet when looking for something new is to steer clear of mass produced wines and try smaller wineries - you might just come across a new favorite from an off-beat grape type or a fascinating region.

Jacquere from Savoie