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‘Burgh Wine, By Way of Napa (An Encounter with Matthiasson’s Current Releases)

Vinted on February 2, 2009 binned in wine review

Whew!

We are now officially in the morning after what might have been not only the most stunning, but also possibye the greatest late-game comeback win in Superbowl history, by none other than Dude’s favorite team in all of professional sports: the 6-time world champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

So naturally after such a dramatic and entertaining Superbowl XLIII, I wanted to showcase some wine from the ‘Burgh.

Ok, it’s not really from Pittsburgh. But it’s close enough for government work!

Matthiasson wines are not from the ‘Burgh (they are from Napa), but winemaker Steve Matthiasson’s wife Jill Klein is originally from Pittsburgh, and their wines are made using the same general temperament that has made the city of three rivers famous – grit, determination, care, and hard work.

Lots of care in the vineyard, lots of attention to detail on site selection, probably lots of dirty clothes and shoes harmed in the process of making these unfiltered beauties.

Anyway, somehow I think Jill got wind that I was a STEELERS fan, and sent me a few samples of Matthiasson’s current releases. I was pleasantly surprised by these wines (and duly impressed).

One whiff of Matthiasson’s wines and I could tell that they were probably crafted with extreme care. More on that in a second. First, I wanted to find out more about the Pittsburgh connection and how Matthiasson got started. So I asked Steve.

My wife is from the Burgh. I was born in Winnipeg, and my family moved to Tucson when I was 8,” Steve responded. “I went to UC Davis to study international ag development, and did an internship in Modesto studying ways to reduce pesticides in orchards. I interned with a consulting company, and ended up staying on with them after school (after changing departments to viticulture). 15 years after that internship I’m still consulting – it’s what I learned how to do – but it has evolved into a focus on high-end estate vineyards in Napa. The winemaking started as a way to stay sane, to be able to do my own thing, while spending the rest of my time on other people’s projects, and, though the day job still pays the bills, and I enjoy it, the wine has become the central focus.

I think that focus is paying off. Matthiasson is making some very aromatic and intensely concentrated wines.

Their `07 Napa Valley White made my palate do a double-take head-fake. It’s a blend of Sauvignon blanc, Ribolla gialla, and Semillon. Yes, Ribolla gialla (even though I’m a Wine Century Club member, I still needed to look that one up). It’s a funky wine, in that it’s tropical, racy, and spicy all at once – I told Steve that it reminded me of the interesting white blends that were coming out of Australia a few years back, before they started sending us in the States boatloads of their plonk. It’s a bit early to call for entrants onto my list of the year’s most interesting wines, but I’m reserving a place for this just in case.

Matthiasson’s `05 Napa Valley Red Hen Vineyard Merlot is also well worth a look. It’s a huge wine. It tasted “old” to me – not old as in musty, but old the way that Zinfandel tastes when made from old, old vines in CA: boozy and massively concentrated. Not sure how much time or decanting (or even if time or decanting) will tame the alcohol, but the wine offers plenty of interesting complexity with intense blueberry and dark cherry fruit, along with cocoa and tea leaf aromas.

It’s the kind of Merlot that would give people absolute fits in a blind tasting, because you could easily pass it off as a Cab or a Bordeaux style red blend.

Not that you’d do that to your friends, right?

Anyway, a word of caution: Matthiasson is making wine in very limited quantities, so you’ll need to go the mailing list route on these.

Cheers!
(images: 1winedude.com, post-gazette.com)

Top 5 1WineDude Chateau Petrogasm Reviews of 2008

Vinted on January 9, 2009 binned in wine review

While I’m in the Cheesy End-of-Year recap mood (this is the last one on 2008, I swear), and enjoying the remainder of my holiday break with my family, I thought I’d offer up my Top 5 Chateau Petrogasm reviews of 2008.

If you’re not familiar with the Chateau, you can read my take on their back story. If you love wine, you need to be checking out Chateau Petrogasm from time to time.

Anyway, here are my top picks from my 2008 CP submissions:

5) `97 Chateau Leoville Barton


This wine was so refined and pleasant, it reminded me of a stately butler with impeccable manners. Ok, so I’m weird.

4) `04 Titus Chardonnay


Oak, oak and more oak. And maybe some more oak thrown in for good measure.

3) `00 Chateau de Sales


Well, this one generated quite a stir. I swear that I did not intend to portray a mouse humping berries. And yet, as we used to say in undergrad English Lit, “the subtext is there, man!” What I was trying to portray was that there was some brett lurking in all that berry fruit and… ah, just forget it…

2) `00 lo Zoccolaio Single Estate Barolo


Nothing says sexy girl in a dark smokey bar quite like Barolo. At least, that’s how I saw it, especially after drinking three glasses of said Barolo.

And my Number 1 pick from 2008:

1) `06 Yellowtail Shiraz/Grenache


This one also generated a lot of discussion. I won’t tell you here what I thought about this wine, as a picture is, after all, worth a thousand words. But I will say that, when poured during a practice blind tasting I took for one of my WSET exams, I barely picked out that it was a Shiraz. Just sayin’…

Cheers!
(images: ChateauPetrogasm.com)

Sean Minor Wines: A Wine "Speed Dating" Redux

Vinted on January 7, 2009 binned in wine bloggers conference, wine review

Hey, remember the recent Wine Bloggers Conference? Not that I haven’t mentioned it a gazillion times or anything.

Anyway… one of the more interesting experiments conducted on both bloggers and winery representatives was on day one of said conference, when we played a very large game of wine review “speed dating.”

In summary: bloggers were seated in a large conference room, about eight or so to a table; winery reps. rotated at set intervals between each table; each set of reps. had 5 minutes to present their wine to the blogger group, who then tasted and had 1 minute to record their thoughts on said wine, all live. More on the conference and the “speed dating” can be heard on WineBizRadio.com.

As you might imagine, it was a bit of organized chaos. In my live recap of the event, I basically had enough time to record gut reactions on each wine, and little else. Not that it wasn’t fun, it just wasn’t an ideal environment to really get to know any of the wines that were presented.

Which is why when I was offered a second chance to re-sample one of the producers represented at that speed dating event, I jumped at it.

Sean Minor Wines is a (very) small family outfit in Napa, making Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as well as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc (the latter two under the 4 Bears label), all of them under $20. The backdrop story on 4 Bears (which I managed to capture in my brief speed-dating encounter during the WBC), is that Sean Minor and wife Nicole decided to create their winery after analyzing their finances and discovering that their second largest monthly expense was (you guessed it) wine (presumably, with four children – after whom the 4 Bears label takes it name – their largest expense was the kids?).

According to their press release:

Rather than taking his start-up capital and investing it in the bricks and mortar of a
winery, Minor decided to build his business as a negociant by sourcing out grapes and
some already fermented wines from Napa Valley, Sonoma County and California Central Coast appellations to create his wines. The wines themselves are made in a leased facility in Napa County where Minor ages, blends and bottles the wine under the Sean Minor label. “As a negociant I’ve been able to really center our efforts on making a top-quality wine,” said Minor. “My efforts are spent creating impeccable tasting wine and personally introducing it to people throughout the country.”

During the WBC speed-dating, I managed to capture this about their `06 Cabernet:

Four Bears - one guy and his wife are the total staff, who started making wine (via co-op) to offset their growing wine drinking budget! My kind of folks… 06 Cab Sauv. $17 (Napa Valley). Very accessible, but not without depth (the cedar element is a nice touch).

I guess the self-made family thing really struck a chord for me. Anyway, from what I recalled of the day, the wine was good, priced to move, and was more than just a one-trick-pony.

So… how do their wines stand up outside of the heated excitement of wine speed-dating?

Pretty well, it turns out.

At their best (as in the case of the Cab.), the wines offer a depth that I would consider slightly beyond their price point, making them a very good value. At worst, the wines are still very tasty and certainly priced fairly, really only lacking in the length of finish and the simplicity of their secondary aromas; otherwise, the fruit is all California and they deliver appropriately.

My mini-reviews on each of the 4 Bears wines:

06 Sean Minor 4 Bears Merlot (Napa Valley): No mistaking it’s from CA. A very good buy, especially if you like plums, plums & more plums.

05 4 Bears Chardonnay (Central Coast, CA): Tropical fruits balance with good oak, but you need to like butter (if so, you’ll like the price)

06 4 Bears Sauvignon Blanc (Sonoma County): Lime & tropic fruits abound. Good acidity & mouthfeel, & surprising finesse for the price point.

06 Sean Minor 4 Bears Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley): Red fruit & a little cedar/spice, & good acidity with refreshingly lower abv for CA!

For more happenings at 4 Bears, check out their blog at www.4bearswinery.com/blog. I will leave you with a shot of my own assistant “bear” sommelier:


Cheers!
(images: 1WineDude.com, www.4bearswinery.com, goodwineunder20.blogspot.com)

“Christmas With The Devil” Or “Why I Still Don’t Hate California Wine”

Vinted on December 29, 2008 binned in California wine, commentary, wine review

“The elves are dressed in leather
And the angels are in chains

The sugar plums are rancid

And the stockings are in flames!”

– from “Christmas with the Devil” by Spinal Tap

Amidst the elite wine world personalities, there are a handful of famous names that hate the modern style of California wines. Actually, “hate” is a strong word. But hate them they do. They consider these wines almost evil, as if they were the tool (or at least the preferred quaffs) of Satan himself.

As for me, I am not among them (neither an elite famous wine personality, nor a hater of big, bold CA wines).

God knows that I’ve got no issue with a wine “fruit bomb,” provided that big, bold, and powerfully alcoholic is the best expression of that winery’s fruit. What I don’t like is when wines are busty for the sake of the almighty dollar (as in, forgoing an expression of terroir and / or style to instead chase after the palates of a few wine critics, whose increased scores can mean a price point increase of 30% or more per bottle on the wine market). Homogenization is a perversion of this style of wine marketing. But it’s not the fault of this style of winemaking in and of itself.

So, for the 2008 Christmas dinner at Chateau Dude, I decided to raid the sample shipping boxes for the biggest, boldest CA wines to pair with grilled lobster tail, bison steak, and various cuts of Angus beef (all expertly prepared by my brother-in-law).

The lineup?

Franciscan’s 2006 Cuvee Sauvage Chardonnay (Carneros, about $40), and a 2005 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Reserve (where else… Napa, about $140).

The story behind The Franciscan (does anyone else think that name sounds like a potential Monty Python skit?): 15 months sur lie in 100% new oak, fermented with wild yeasts using 15-20% of the barrel wines, 14.5% abv; various 90+ point ratings ensued.

The Mondavi? 18 months in 100% new French oak, hand harvested & sorted, a tiny amount (5%) of Cabernet Franc thrown in, 15% abv; 90+ point reviews ensued.

You get the picture. Christmas with The Devil, I thought.

The Franciscan (I just love how that sounds) was the more unabashedly Californian. It doesn’t get much bigger than this, it’s a wine that struts it’s stuff. There is so much vanilla and oak, I actually picked up a hint of cream soda-pop among the citrus, apple, and even banana (banana cream pie, anyone?). What rescues this potent beast from potenital oak hell is the acidity – for CA, the acidity is downright racy. Yes, it pairs amazingly well with grilled lobster. I’m not sure what else it would pair well with, and I enjoyed it, but I’m not gonna go so far as to call it a “triumph of viticulture and winemaking.”

As expected, the Mondavi was a killer match with steak. I decanted this puppy for nearly four hours before serving it. At first, coming out of the decanter, it was all black cherry compote - and I mean, spread-it-over-toast first-thing-in-the-morning compote. With time in the glass, things got decidely more complex: figs, plum, red currant, hints of cedar, a little olive. The finish carried quality fruit and spice and was more than respectibly long. I really felt as though it needed abotu six years in the bottle to really integrate, and I didn’t find the high abv too overpowering.

These are both very good wines. Whether or not they’re worth the price is a discussion I leave up to you (more on my take on paying for the cache factor of CA wines can be found in my recent articles about Opus One).

The problem is not that wines like these are being made. The problem is that too many wines like these that shouldn’t be made are being made.

If there’s something to hate here, it’s not the original CA blockbusters – it’s the greedy drive of copycat wineries the world over chasing after a buck, forgoing the individuality of their vineyard sites and the best quality of their fruit. We can and should challenge those wineries to do better; if we end up with the ubiquity of the ‘Bic Mac’ of wines, then I have truly seen The Devil, and The Devil is us!

Anyway, let’s fire up that grill, shall we?


Cheers!
(images: spinaltapfan.com, 1WineDude.com)

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