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Badges of Honor (And Wine) in Chile (Wines of Chile Red Blends Tasting)

Last week, I had the pleasure of “attending” a tasting meeting with a handful of Chilean winemakers.  “Attending” meaning I followed along via video while tasting a handful of samples (all red blends) made by that handful of talented winemakers – me and a handful of other wine bloggers, at the invitation of Wines of Chile for their fourth Blogger Tasting / Q&A to promote wines from the region – roughly a year after the last such event that I was able to attend with the Wines of Chile crowd.

The wines, though quite good, were not really the highlight of the evening; nor was being able to see, and (sort of) chat with, the Chilean winemakers via video during the event.  The highlight, for me, was that during the tasting the last of the 33 trapped Chilean miners was rescued.  That news brought cheers and high-fives from the winemakers, but their actions belied something much bigger and more emotional. It was a bit strange and wonderful to be connected (even if virtually) to the country of Chile while that long-awaited moment was taking place – the country of Chile is wearing badges of honor, relief, and well-deserved pride after the rescue, and it was great and touching to have had some (even minor) direct exposure to that.

Not that the wines were totally out-shadowed by the news – the Wines of Chile selections, for the most part, showed a continuing upward trend in the level of winemaking artistry of which Chile is capable.  Chile still has its red wine detractors, and I for one seemed to be in the minority of those who found the level of pyrazines (nettle and green bell pepper aromas) still more distracting than appealing.

But… where Chile is getting the balance right, they’re getting it soooo right.  There were three standouts from the tasting for me that I wanted to highlight, two of which can be had for prices that make them real bargains:

08 Hacienda Araucano Clos de Lolol (Colchagua Valley): 140 chars don’t really do this elegant & refined red blend beauty due justice. $23 B+ –>

Araucano’s head winemaker Luca Hodgkinson was a hit with the lady bloggers during the tasting, but it was his wine that was a hit with me and from a personal-preference standpoint was my fave of the night.  Luca cut his winemaking teeth in Bordeaux, Toulouse, and the Rhone, and the French influence is remarkably clear in the wine (a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Carmenere), which goes for elegant subtlety (and achieves it, despite a 14.2% abv).  Tomato leaf, supple blackberry fruit, and a hand-in-hand balance of black and white pepper that might as well have been singing “Ebony & Ivory.”

07 Casas del Bosque Gran Estate Private Reserve (Casablanca Valley): If the nose were more complex it’d be a quantum physics equation $50 A- ->

The most expensive wine of the tasting (another Syrah-based blend, with Merlot and Pinot Noir – yes, really, Pinot as a blending grape) was also the most complex and best-constructed.  While it was a bigger wine than I prefer, the nose alone was enough for me to consider it Kick-Ass material: dark chocolate, herbs, pepper, smoke, cedar, toast… you could write a dissertation on the complexity of this wine.  The mouthfeel was silky-smooth and if this wine could actually speak it might well have said “me honran, porque yo soy impecablemente hecho.

08 Montes Ltd Selection Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenere (Colchagua Valley): At this $ it’s like hitting a tobacco & black fruit lottery. $15 B –>

The lowest-priced wine of the night was easily the biggest bargain for those who like their Cabs to be like Shaft – bad-ass, serious and black (there’s a 30% smattering of Carmenere in here, too to keep things interesting).  Black fruits abound, but there dense rather than in-your-face, followed by leather, tobacco and oak.  If not a “big” wine, it’s certainly a “big-ish wine and certainly could fool many a blind taster into thinking it was more expensive.

Full list of wines and reviews after the jump…

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Baseball and White Burgundy (Tasting Olivier Leflaive Selections)

Vinted on October 11, 2010 binned in elegant wines, kick-ass wines, twitter taste live, wine review

I don’t know bumpkis about baseball.

Never have.  I prefer sports where guys hit each other at high-velocity (football, hockey), or where the mere act of finishing a game is near-miracle of aerobic survival skills (soccer).  As for all of the numbers that flash up on the screen when someone comes to bat? I don’t call that fun with stats, I call that torture; forget beating or water-boarding, you wanna get details on terrorist attacks from a suspect, submit them to an endless series of baseball games… that ought to get them talking in a hurry.

But Phillies fever is (rightfully and deservedly) sweeping the local populace out my way, and I do appreciate how hard it is to hit a baseball thrown in the major leagues – it might be the most difficult thing to do in all of professional sports.  So I know the value of a homerun – and “home run” is an apt descriptor for the results of the recent Frederick Wildman twitter tasting event with Burgundy producer Olivier Leflaive.

I have such a troubled history with Burgundy; in my opinion, there is no more inconsistent a wine experience on offer for so much money as there is in the vinous produce from rolling hills of the Burg’.  At this point, I think I’d have better luck in playing craps than in buying Burgundy wines, and to this day it is just about the only wine region that I won’t touch with my own money without a close friend experienced in Burgundy wines at my side in the wine shop (fortunately, I know a lot of experienced wine people).

And yet, there exist producers like Olivier Leflaive that can steer you so right so often – for a (sometimes steep) price, of course.  But if you have the cash, you’re in for a treat when it comes to Leflaive, particularly the 2008s…

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Old Vines, Old Families, New Recommendations (Three Reds Worth Your Time and Money)

Vinted on October 4, 2010 binned in crowd pleaser wines, kick-ass wines, overachiever wines, wine review

Today, we’re talking wine recommendations, simply because over the last week I had the pleasure of tasting samples of three very different but very badge-worthy Reds that I wanted to share with you. The first comes from old vines; the remainder from old winemaking families. Also, in reviewing these I’ve just noticed that each “review” has a sh*t-load of links, which is either “adding value” or “annoying as hell” depending on your viewpoint (which I’m sure many of you will share with me :-) …

1WD_Badge_Overachiever_thumb1_thumb[1] 09 Jean-Paul Brun Domaine des Terres Dorees L’Ancien (Beaujolais): As good as many of the Beaujolais Crus out there & a few $ cheaper! $15 B #

I’ve got a soft-spot for Cru Beaujolais, which I find to be some of the most food-worthy wine in the world for usually not a lot of cash.  So it’s really cool for me when I take part in a tasting (in this case, a TasteLive.com Discover Beaujolais round-up) and find a Beaujolais that thinks it’s a Cru but actually is an even-more-approachable and slightly-less-expensive-but-just-as-good general Beaujolais appellation offering, with the added bonus of being made from old vines. Brambly, deep red berry fruit (possibly courtesy of those Vieilles Vignes), pepper, and a hint of game, and generally just really f*cking yummy.

1WD_Badge_KickAss_thumb[1] 07 Continuum Red (Oakville): Graphite & fig did it for me, but w/ complexity like this you can find 20 other things to float yer boat $129 A #

Last week, I joined Philly’s First Lady of Wine, Marnie Old, at Osteria for dinner with Continuum Estate’s H. Stuart Harrison (who, interestingly, was also Opus One’s first employee) and Carissa Mondavi (you will have heard of her granddad). I know that sounds all NY-Times-name-dropping but hear me out, okay?

During dinner, we sampled the `07 Continuum which, aside from sharing the same name as one of the most kick-ass pieces of jazz bass proficiency ever conceived, also happens to kick ass in its own right. The oddest thing about this endeavor is that Tim Mondavi launched it only a few years ago, at what should have been the worst possible time for anything new and expensive. That is, of course, a blip on the radar when it comes to the viewpoint of the Mondavis, who seem to start every venture with the belief that it will last 100+ years.

Now in its third vintage, Continuum wine is extraordinarily good, seamlessly merging the focused power of Pritchard Hill fruit with the more lush, velvety and “open” components from fruit on the Valley floor – and with a healthy dose (18%) of Petit Verdot that is, somehow, not at all obnoxious. I’m kind of amazed that they got it right so quickly, even with fruit that good and several generations of Napa winemaking DNA at their disposal. Pricey, for sure, but worth every penny of it and I hope I get to taste some of this ten or twelve years from now.

1WD_Badge_Crowd_Pleaser_thumb11_thumb[1] 06 Louis M. Martini Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley): Heck of a crowd-pleasing, velvety, tobacco-infused ride for the price. $25 B #

Going to the other side of the Napa Cabernet spectrum, Martini – another (very) long-standing Napa wine family – has been pumping out some consistently tasty wines lately that lean decidedly towards the velvety-smooth-drink-me-now-baby side of said spectrometer sampling.  Bottom line  on this wine is that I’ve had far less interesting, less complex, and less tasty examples of Napa Cab that cost a lot more to one’s bottom line. Very good wine, very good price, and very good conversation piece for the winos at your next dinner par-tay.

That’s it – short (for me, anyway) and sweet!

Cheers!

(images: 1winedude.com, continuumestate.com)

New York, New Zealand, New Sauvignon Blancs (And Pinots)

Tasting Nobilo, Kim Crawford, Monkey Bay and Drylands new releases Or “Big Acid in The Big Apple

Last week, I was the guest of Constellation Brands (good sports that they are!) who trotted me up to New York city for a media tasting of the new releases from their New Zealand portfolio.  A lot of “new” going on in general there.

On deck were winemakers Darryl Wooley and a jet-lag-battling Dave Edmunds to walk me and a few other wine-writing-types through a handful of tastings at the Institute of Culinary Education.  Afterward, we donned aprons and threw back a heap of wine as the ICE staff walked us through cooking our own dinners.  Or, I should say, walked most everybody else through cooking dinner, while I mulled about and chatted up everyone and generally avoided poisoning the food with my sub-par culinary skills.  To be fair, I did pat down a rack of lamb; not only do they need to be dried off a bit before cooking, but it’s NYC and so you never know, that lamb might have been packing heat.

Apologies if this post has a bit too much “weeeee! I was there! check out my blurry cell phone pix!” factor to it – but the approach felt right for recapping the event (and the cell was the only available photographic equipment I had at the time…).

Anyway, highlights for me included catching up with Tish (who was working an event in an adjacent room), and finally meeting the World Wine Guys.  Oh, and watching Constellation’s Rebecca Hopkins perform the most perfect oyster shuck that I’ve ever witnessed (see inset pic).

While not all of the 2010 Kiwi SBs floated my boat, the style is more “me” than the heavier take on SB so prevalent on the U.S. Left Coast, and the 2010 Marlborough harvest has yielded some interesting fruits worthy of note.

The yields in Marlborough were down seven percent vs. 2009, thanks to a slightly cooler end of Summer and a dry harvest that ran three weeks late in some places. This had the effect of raising abv levels to some of their highest points ever, though you’d be hard-pressed to tell when it comes to Constellation’s NZ brands, as the wines on the whole were very well-balanced. There were a few badge-worthy standouts from the festivities, and I found Nobilo generally to be the best brand of the bunch – particularly their Pinot Noir, a grape that, after a rocky-but-promising start in Kiwi land seems to be coming more and more into its own. PN clone selection has been an ongoing experiment, but Marlborough seems to have found the right matches now, and plantings are up 930% since 1996 (no, that’s not a typo).

Badges and the full run of the wines sampled are after the jump…

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