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Sex? Or Death? Oh, And Rare Monbazillac (Chateau Bonnet Recent Releases)

In high school, I had a math teacher who used to tease us when we were timid in class about providing an answer that should have been obvious. He would hold out his lanky arms in the fashion of scales, feigning the weighing of agonizing choices, while muttering, “Sex? Or… death? Sex… or death? I can’t decide!!”

So when I was in Bordeaux this past September (a media guest of Planet Bordeaux), and oenologist Vincent Cruège asked my group if we wanted to meet André Lurton, I had a flashback to those high school days. Now near 90, Lurton – apart from being a near-legend in Bordeaux winemaking – has been Mayor of Grézillac, a WWII soldier, a Military Cross recipient, member of the Legion of Honour, a Knight of the Agricultural Order of Merit, and a collector of… tanks (not steel tanks, though there are plenty of those on the property, but the kind of tanks that shoot explosive shell rounds).

“Sex? Or Death?”

Hell yeah, I wanted to meet Lurton. I’d want to meet him by virtue of the tank collection alone, actually.

And so it was that our tour of Chateau Bonnet, headed by Lurton’s daughter Denise Moulle (whose husband, Jean-Pierre, was head chef at Chez Panisse for more than twenty years, but as far as I’m aware didn’t cook for us during this visit… the audacity…!) was to conclude with a visit from the tank-collecting legend himself, who basically heard that we were a group of bloggers and wanted to meet the new blood in the wine biz. It would also conclude with the popping of the cork on one of Lurton’s rarer Monbazillacs – something I didn’t know when we toured the grounds on a chilly, wet Autumn mid-morning, but something else I certainly wouldn’t have turned down if it had been offered (talk about “Sex or Death?”)…

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A Tale Of Two Twomeys (Twomey Recent Releases)

Vinted on November 15, 2012 under crowd pleaser wines, wine review

Ask Silver Oak’s chief winemaker Daniel Baron to explain SO’s pet project, Twomey, and this is what he’s likely to tell you (at least, it’s what he told me when I spent the better part of two days with the SO staff during a press trip earlier this year):

“If someone’s gonna make the un-Silver Oak, it might as well be us.”

In many ways, Twomey is the anti-SO: single-varieties versus blending, French oak versus American, small production (about six thousand cases produced of each varietal bottling) versus large volumes, playing up single-vineyard and vintage expression versus aiming for consistency in flavor and quality year-on year.

On paper, anyway, Twomey certainly looks like the anti-matter particles to Silver Oak, the Bizarro Superman version of SO’s impressively well-run, large-scale red blend operations. But Twomey’s quiet success is actually now seen by SO as a key learning element to inject back into their namesake production. “The bigger we got at Silver Oak,” Baron told me, “the smaller we got in out approach.”

Wine geeks might be tempted to dismiss Twomey simply on the basis of it being founded by the behemoth Silver Oak, but my tasting experiene would show that to be a mistake.

A big mistake, actually.

Because Twomey is, as one Sonoma winemaker told me privately, “making some of the most damn interesting Merlot in all of California.” And in applying their approach to a handful of single-vineyard Pinot Noirs (in part to appease the Burgundy fans in the Duncan family who run SO), they’re well on their way to making some of the most exciting Pinots in CA, too…

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Hand Picked, Horse Drawn (Illahe Vineyards And Pinot For Pinot’s Sake)

Vinted on November 8, 2012 under overachiever wines, wine review

Today, I could be writing any number of travel-related wine pieces from the large number of jaunts I took in the first three quarters of 2012 (how large is that number? let’s just say I’ve had to visit the doctor to treat complications from my ass having spent so much time sitting in airplane seats).

But I’m not going to do that. Not today. Those stories can wait.

Instead, I’m going to put my money where my mouth is, and give some long-overdue attention back to a long-time friend of 1WD. Of course, if his wine sucked he wouldn’t be getting the attention here; but it doesn’t, so he will.

Gabe Jagle is a long-time commenter on these virtual pages, often adding insightful points and taking the conversation in the comments field into fascinating wine geek territory, areas that we might not otherwise have explored even on posts that see dozens of interesting comments. Gabe doesn’t just do that here – he also does it on several other wine blogs, and he generally seems to enjoy the geeky discourse. In fact, he’s prolific enough and so imbued with the power wine-geeky that it was several months in to our blogger/commenter relationship before I even knew that he was an assistant winemaker to Brad Ford at a small Oregon producer, Illahe Vineyards in the Willamette Valley.

That genuine love for the grape and for its discourse is what lead me to finally meet Gabe in “real” life earlier this year, after the 2012 Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland. Gabe is a likeable guy, mild-mannered and with a lanky appearance that to city-slickers like me just screams “Pacific NW Farmer” – kind of Shaggy meets lumberjack (he’s probably going to hate that, but it’s the best I could come up with between writing interruptions from my toddler daughter).

I was interested enough in Illahe’s wines after tasting one of the Pinots during my Portland visit that Gabe and I loosely agreed to try to get me samples, which arrived recently. And while they’re not going to set any concentration-loving palates on their ears, those Illahe wines are in possession of a quality that seems to come along rarely in wines these days: authenticity

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Aging Potential: 3 To 5 Years, Give Or Take 10 (A 40 Year Dry Creek Vineyard Zinfandel Retrospective)

Vinted on November 1, 2012 under crowd pleaser wines, wine review

2012 may very well be remembered as the year of 40 when it comes to California wine.

Aside from Kermit Lynch celebrating the 40th anniversary of his Berkley area wine shop this year (okay, no CA wine there really, but I know for a fact that Kermit has enjoyed some old Ridge from time to time), three venerable CA producers are also celebrating their 40th business birthdays (just as I did in 2012… notice the grey…): Silver Oak, Jordan and Dry Creek Vineyard.

The similarities between the all three of those wine operations is striking. Each has some aspect of generational family ownership with some personally very nice people behind the scenes, each employ fairly distinctive, recognizable winemaking styles, and all are (mostly) successfully navigating their brand waters to appeal to younger consumers (and not just their parents).

And while I’ve enjoyed wine from all three, given the choice on the QPR front I’d have to give the edge to Dry Creek Vineyard. It’s tough to argue with their pedigree (they claim to be the first to use the terms “Old vine Zinfandel” and “Meritage,” and they’re certainly the first to plant Sauvignon Blanc in the Dry Creek area), their commitment to the Dry Creek Valley in general, and the consistent improvement in their wines, some of which are ridiculously low cost when you consider the quality of what you’re getting.

So it seems a bit stupid that I was surprised that DCV’s relatively pedestrian-priced Zinfandel could age well and still be tasty after 20 or so years. And yet, unlike DCV’s die-hard fans, I was surprised that I was enjoying one of their Zins that was bottled when I was about seven. But I can now tell you that while the current Heritage Zin price point (about $17) doesn’t suggest a long shelf-life, the crate of samples of DCV Heritage Zinfandel that they recently sent me as samples – with selections extending back through each decade of DCV’s existence – certainly did…

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