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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)

The Dude’s Top 10 Most Interesting Wines of 2008

Vinted on December 17, 2008 binned in best of, Most Interesting Wines of the Year, wine review

Sure, it’s another cheesy end of year wrap-up post.

But you know what?

I dig these recaps – call it a guilty pleasure. It sure beats writing an entire new post and trying to come up with compelling content (hey, it’s the end of the year… I’m tired, man!).

Actually, there was nothing easy about compiling the list that I’m about to give to you, and I’m sure the inclusions and omissions will piss some people off somewhere. That isn’t my intention, and this is not a best-of list by any stretch of the imagination.

The following presents my Top 10 Most Interesting Wines of 2008.

It is NOT a list of the best wines released in 2008. It is a list of wines that I tasted in 2008, and found the most interesting this year. They are presented with a synopsis of my tasting notes, and my reflections on why they were included in the list. Some of them I bought, some of them were media samples, others were tasted at events. No one gets special treatment once the pen hits the notebook that logs my tastings.

The list is not based on scores or any other numerical rating. The wines were chosen based on my tasting notes from all of the wines that I tasted and recorded in 2008. Bear in mind that I am not employed as a wine critic, and I do not taste thousands of wines per year. I did, however, taste well over 400 wines in 2008, which I think is probably more than the average bear. I will leave it to you whether or not the Lush designation is applicable in this context (I did spit… sometimes… at least twice…).

What I’m hoping to do here is clue you into something unique, different, or of exceptional quality for the price – as I see it in the wine world. Hopefully you will find it useful. Anyway, without further ado, here they are…

The Dude’s Top 10 Most Interesting Wines of 2008

10) 2006 Benton-Lane “First Class” Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley): Layers of strawberry jam, cherry cola & vanilla. Pure heaven with salmon cakes.

I agonized over the #10 spot in this list – as you can imagine, there were about 50 wines that could have gone into this first slot. I went with the Benton-Lane because,well, it surprised me. It surprised me in that it was one of the biggest, heftiest Willamette’s I’ve had in terms of structure, but still managed to exude a definite sense of place. Balance, baby, balance.

9) 2005 Opus One (Oakville): Supple, hedonistic & built for long haul. Mint leaf & spices floating over black fruit suggest great things to come.

Was the inclusion of this wine a reflection on my tour of Opus this year, and my frank and detailed discussions with their staff? Well…. duh. Of course it is (despite the fact that one visiting intern thought that I was Gary Vaynerchuk… I had the same reaction as you: “Uhm… What?!!??”).

And that’s okay, because wine is an experience and is influenced by the circumstances under which we drink it. But this wine is no slouch, and it had one of the best senses of balance I’ve tasted in a long time - between Old World & New World styles, between primary fruit and secondary aromas, and between early accessibility & ageing potential.

8) 2002 Penns Woods Ameritage Reserve (PA): Bord’x style blend from PA. YES, IT’S FROM PA. Fig, prune, cedar, probably their best vintage ever.

Anyone following 1WD will NOT be surprised by the inclusion of this one. This wine, for me, helped to redefine not only what PA wine is capable of, but what East Coast wine is capable of, and how well some areas of the U.S. can implement an Old World style of wine.

7) 2004 Sonoma-Cutrer “Les Pierres” (Sonoma Valley): When isn’t it a pleasure? Flint, lemon curd, citrus peel, roses, apples, cream. I could go on.

I’m including this wine in my list because I’m astounded at Sonoma-Cutrer’s consistency. This is probably my favorite U.S. Chardonnay, and to date is still my favorite Chard. globally, and I’m actually more partial to the Chablis style so if you can figure that one out please explain it to me so I don’t feel as though I’m going insane. Anyway, this wine has never disappointed me, and the `04 peels away layer after layer of complexity as you drink it.

6) 2001 Hugel Gewurztraminer Vendage Tardive (Alsace): Viscous, loads of citrus, lychee, & autumn leaves. Holy Hannah it’s good! But not cheap.

As a wine geek, I like to think that I can appreciate a wine made for wine geeks. And this, my friends, is a wine geek’s viscous dream. I have a sweet tooth, and while this wine certainly delivers in its touch of sweetness, the slam dunk is how the sweetness and acidity are balanced by the intense fruit and the funk-a-junk-funkiness. It’s the kind of wine that makes some people say “Hmm… I’m not too sure about this one…,” but has the wine geeks licking their lips in delight. Score!

5) 2003 Vinoptima Gewurztraminer (Ormond, NZ): Yowza! Oil, lemons, honey, orange blossoms, spice. I could sniff this stuff for *days*…!

You know that you’re liking a wine when you realize, after 7 or 8 minutes of smelling it, that you love it but you’ve yet to even take your first sip. There is nothing shy about this Gewurz, and the only downside is that the booze might knock you out before you’ve gotten enough of this wine. Best dry Gewurz. I’ve tasted all year. And yes, that’s two Gewurz’s in a row. On purpose.

4) NV Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle (Champagne): Like fresh-baked almond bread with honey. A minor triumph of grace & strength. Excellent stuff.

I tasted this wine at an industry event, and it stood out for me above dozens & dozens of other wines that I tasted that night. Powerful, but graceful as well, it’s like… it’s like seeing a tamed pet panther wearing a diamond-studded collar. You’re not sure how they did it, but you’re damn interested!


3) 2005 Le Premier Pas Domaine Le Pas de l’Escalette (Cot. du Languedoc): Harmonious blend of S. Rhone grapes. French red without the shackles.

What do you get when you lift the AOC burden of varietals, blend percentages, and vinification and viticulture techniques from French winemakers? In the case of this wine, you get as much creativity as any New World wine, with a deliciously well-integrated result. Hey! France!! Give Us Free!!!

2) 2005 Volta Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley): 1st vintage, limited run from Howell Mtn. fruit. Lush as all get-out, with lazer-focused tannins.

I have a soft-spot for Volta this year. They’re fans of the blog. They’re nice peeps. And I was the first to ever review their wine in the media. They’ve since gone on to accumulate an impressive array of accolades from palates much better and more influential than mine. And they deserve it, because this wine is a tour de force of just how good Howell Mountain fruit can be when you treat it right. To get it that right on the first try is quite an achievement.

And now… the #1 most interesting wine that I’ve tasted in 2008… (drumroll ensues)

1) 1999 Gutzler Vintage Riesling Sekt Extra Brut (Rheinhessen): Stellar trad. method bubbly with peach, apricot, & non-stop creamy yeastiness.

No, it’s not a typographical error. Yes, I did actually mean to list a sparkling German Riesling as my #1 most interesting wine tasted in 2008. Yes, I am sober as I type this.

No other wine in 2008 threw me for quite as high arcing of a loop as this one. What this wine did was prove to me beyond a doubt that Riesling is the noblest of all white wine grape varieties, with a purity of expression that, in the right hands, has the capacity to shine through in any format, whether it be dry, sweet, still, or bubbly. In the words of my main man Michael Broadbent:

“German wine-lovers may place Riesling first, but I place it second (to Cabernet Sauvignon) in the hierarchy of noble grape varieties. Like Cabernet Sauvignon, it has consistent strength of character which shows through even after transplanting.”

Number two, with a bullet!

There you have it. Now, back to my frantic holiday madness…

Cheers!
(images: 1WineDude.com, wineaccess.com, binendswine.com)

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