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Dolcetto

The Pleasures of Youth

The 2008 Vietti Tre Vigne is here! The Vietti Dolcetto Tre Vigne Dolcetto d’Alba is always on my every day favorite list. Explosively fruity, brisk, zesty and bright. It’s all about immediate pleasure - no waiting required. That’s why I’m always excited when the new vintage arrives as it’s never more fun to drink as when it’s a charming adolescent and, anyway, it’s a boring adult so waiting is not recommended. Maturity is for nebbiolo not dolcetto. In fact I’m already anxiously waiting for the 2009.

It’s always frustrating that we can’t seem to make wines like this in California. That’s something I have to work on.


Dog (liani) Gone Good

IMG_0271.jpgI’m trying to remember the first year I visited this estate - 82? 83? In those days Einaudi was ultra-traditional and in the 80’s that meant erratic. While those days are often a bit over romanticized, there is no debate that great wines have always been produced by the Einaudi estate - most of the time. Rustic would have been an over-polite way to describe the old Einaudi winery of the early eighties, but today’s Einaudi wines are produced in a sparkling clean modern winery. While some may debate the plusses and minuses of that, you cannot debate the pleasures of their wonderful dolcetto wines and the fact that the ups-and-downs of previous decades are no more. The Dogliani region of Piemonte is well established as a premier dolcetto region and Einaudi’s are among the very best wines from this region. The 2006 Einaudi Dolcetto di Dogliani is as brilliant and brightly fruity as you could hope for, but offers a lot more than that. Under the dense black fruit is a hard edge that comes not only from the electric acidity, but from a delicious warm earthiness that makes this wine reach beyond the simple fruity offered by so many of its siblings. Drink this wine up now before it dries out.

Trading Down at Joe’s

Trader Joe's Paper Bag Sign I gave it my best shot. For the last several weeks I’ve been working through the wines at Trader Joe’s hoping upon hope to find a deal. Yet wine after wine was hopelessly thin, bland industrial plonk or out-and-out faulted. Didn’t anybody ever teach whoever is tasting these wines what brett is all about? Trader Joe’s offers few deals on wine. A “deal” should mean good wine at a low price not crappy wine at a low price. In fact, the $5 wines at Trader Joe’s are overpriced. Without a doubt the best way to find a real wine bargain is to establish a relationship with a local wine merchant that cares about wine and you. That means finding a specialist – someone whose livelihood depends on wine. In other words good luck finding a real deal at Trader Joe’s. You’ll find a lot of cheap wine, some with well known names, but few good values.

castoro logo Yet among all the industrial and/or faulted plonk at Trader Joe’s I discovered a gem. As a lover of Côtes du Rhône, Dolcetto and Barbera as everyday wines I have searched and searched for American equivalents, but with few successes. What’s doubly amazing is that I found such a good wine in a temple of wine mediocrity (or worse) like Trader Joe’s. The 2005 Castoro Cellars Reserve Syrah, Paso Robles is one of the best deals in American wine I’ve ever tasted. Juicy, fresh and just plain delicious with clear varietal personality and all for well under $15 (actual price hidden to protect the innocent). I’m headed back tomorrow to grab a couple of cases because a better everyday American wine I’ve yet to taste. Not a great wine, but a damn good one to have with a burger on Tuesday night or a Friday night pizza, which, as we usually forget in the the United States, is what wine is all about. A good glass of wine elevates a simple meal and our spirits. That’s why they made Bacchus a god. The Castoro Syrah is a very good glass of wine and a great value. Castoro Cellars is to be admired for producing wines that should be easy to make in California, but that most producers seem incapable of achieving.

Trader Joe’s has a few great deals, like the Castoro Cellars Syrah, but the vast majority of their wines are bad deals. To be a bargain, a wine should have to taste good. At Joe’s you’re trading price for quality, which is not a fair trade.

Wine Notes

Recent wines I’ve enjoyed:

  • Anderson Valley Brut Sparkling Wine, Roederer Estate, 25th Anniversary, NV - I’ve had this very nice sparkling wine many times lately; several bottles at home and then one interesting experience at a wine bar. First for the wine bar experience; my local wine bar was offering both the NV Roederer Champagne Brut and the Anderson Valley Sparkling, but having had the Anderson Valley recently I, against my better judgement, ordered the Roederer Champagne. I say against my better judgment because few wines are more disappointing these days than big name Champagne. However, I took one sip and was blown away by the quality of the Roederer Brut. Not so fast, I soon found out the bartender had poured me a glass of the California Roederer by mistake. She quickly followed up with a glass of the real Champagne, which, as usual, was lackluster. The Anderson Valley Roederer continues to be an outstanding American sparkler and is clearly superior (and less expensive) then their Champagne.
  • Champagne, Grand Cru 100%, Blanc de Blancs, Reserve Brut, Guy Charlemagne, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, NV - High strung and very toasty, this is a delicious and complex Champagne that shows the best of chardonnay in Champagne. The aromatics are delicate, but not a bit shy with a steely froth that races across the palate, stopping just long enough for a compelling finish. Although I prefer the big Bouzy Champagnes, this is an excellent wine and a bargain at $46. This is a one of those Champagnes that can handle caviar.
  • Riesling Kabinett, Selback-Oster, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, 2006 - I enjoyed a bottle of this lovely wine over four days as an aperitif when I arrived home from work. I swear after four days in the refrigerator this wine hardly changed a bit. Such stability is a tribute both to their winemaking and winegrowing. Only perfect grapes can produce such harmony. Beautifully fragrant with honeysuckle and spices, it took effort to pull your nose out of the glass to take a sip. That sip delivered pure charm and seductive white peach and ripe pear flavors laced with tart citrus and a lovely touch of sweetness. No thought required here, just up-front delicious pleasure. Nice screw-cap, I’d drink this up young and fresh.
  • Riesling, Alsace, Albert Boxler, 2004 - This is it, riesling right on the money. No-over-the-top, off-dry, high alcohol, quasi-dessert wine from Alsace here, but a big, rich wine that maintains respect for the variety and vineyard from which it came. On the fuller gold side of color with a rich nose touched with hints of figs laced with bright apricot with touches of crisp apple that continue into the complex layered flavors. It is rich and expansive on the pallet without becoming dull as it maintains a racy, crisp essence under its substantial girth. I enjoyed this thoroughly with some of my own crispy fried chicken.
  • Monferatto Rosso, Braida IL Banciale’ di Giacomo Bologna, 2004 (60% barbera, 20% pinot nero, 10% cabernet sauvignon, 10% merlot) - Not so long ago I had a bottle of the most expensive wine Bologna produces, which I did not enjoy. Yet here is one of their least expensive wines and it was a delight. Earthy and fragrant with great complexity and balance, it was delicious with a very buttery mushroom risotto at Bice. Oddly enough, the cabernet and merlot hardly show in this wine as the backbone is all barbera and the aromatics and elegance all pinot nero. I really enjoyed this wine, which only really seemed to open with the last glass.
  • Dolcetto d’Alba, Pra di Po, Germano Ettore, 2006 - This is simply a wonderful dolcetto that I intend to buy a few cases of as soon as possible. I recommend you do too before it’s gone. This wine is all about hedonistic pleasure over the next two years, although I doubt any bottle I have will make it that far. I salivate thinking about the beautiful bright wild dark cherry and blackberry fruit flavors and aromas intermingled with hints of black truffles, new leather, sage and lavender. All of this is held together by racy acidity and some silky tannins that bring all the fruit intensity into perfect harmony.
  • Barbera d’Asti, Roberto Ferraris, 2006 - This is one of those stealth wines. It seems pleasant enough at first, but by the time you finish your second glass it has you hypnotized. What is amazing is no matter how long you leave it open it just seems to get better and better. I finished the last of a bottle that had been open for three days tonight and it was flat out wonderful. This is not a big wine, it is exceptionally balanced and the underlying complexity requires you to pay attention and introduce yourself before revealing everything. I’ve opened three bottles now and I would suggest decanting this wine for an hour before serving if, like me, you can’t resist drinking it. What this wine is not is a jammy, oaky ultra-purple barbera like so many make these days. If you can, give it a few years in the bottle and you’ll have something special.
  • Gigondas, Bertrand Stehelin, 2004 - Big and beautiful is not easy to do, but this wine achieves it. The aromas and flavors are richly pungent, bringing to mind an old fashioned butcher shop where the aromas of raw meat mix with sawdust and smoke. Intermingled with all these carnivorous sensations are ripe wild blackberries, an engaging warmth and round tannins that give it a nice backbone. I served this wine with some braised, bone-in pork loin and all three of us enjoyed the experience. While obviously too young to be at its best, this is a wine that just draws you into its sumptuous experience and you find yourself savoring each drop as you finish your glass after the meal is done.

Wine Notes

Every time I have a wine I like I put the bottle on my desk so I can write about it. When space runs out you get one of these “Wine Notes” posts. These are all wines that I have consumed with meals and have usually tasted over a period of several days. They are more often than not under $30 as I frequently find more expensive wines not enjoyable with my day-to-day cooking as they are not ready to drink or just too big and woody. These posts are a true picture of the wines that I choose to serve at home with my own meals. All the wines in these posts are recommended. In fact, you’ll rarely find me writing about a wine I don’t like unless I think it’s an incredible rip-off or a pretentious, over-marketed wine of questionable quality like Veuve Cliquot.

  • Prosecco, Montello d Colli Ascolani, Loredon Gasparini, NV - I’ve been gulping a glass of this charmer every night while cooking dinner lately and find it refreshing and uplifting after work treat. It is a lovely, creamy fruit-driven bubbly that is just barely off dry. At under $15 this is a pleasure that can be enjoyed often. I’ve been using a stopper and drinking over three or four days and the bubbles hang in there to the last glass.
  • Muscadet Sèvre e Maine sur lie, Cuvée Médaillée, Le “L“‘d’Or, Pierre Luneau-Papin, Domaine de la Grange, 2005 - A steely laser of a wine. Very firm and tight with that stony minerality that only Muscadet delivers. I drank this wine over a week and it just kept getting better with air. Muscadet is the clear winner when it comes to the long wine name awards. It was perfect with some pan-fried Oregon oysters. I know it will be better with age, but I just don’t have the willpower not to drink it now.
  • Müller Thurgau Dry, Phalz, Weingut Ökonomierat Rebhotz, 2005 - This is one of those wines that have so much acidity you think your glass has a static charge as it touches your lips. Crisp with a zippy lemon-lime fruit, this was a great match to some Thai spring rolls. Wines like this should be used to define the usually misused term “dry” as this one is almost jarringly dry. As you know combining electric acidity with jarring dryness means that both me and my deep fryer love this wine.
  • Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore, Torre di Ceparano, Fattoria Zerbina, 2003 - I’ve been a Zerbina fan for a long time. While their top expensive “Super” wines get big points, what I actually love are their least expensive wines like Ceregio and this wine. The Torre di Ceparano is consistently a great value in sangiovese. Structured with authentic, earthy sangiovese fruit and character, there are few Chiantis that can match this wine and those that do all cost a lot more. If you can’t figure out what the big deal with sangiovese is all about try this wine with some braised lamb shanks. In my opinion, Zerbina is the best producer in Romagna.
  • Nebbiolo Langhe, Produttori del Barbaresco, 2005 - An very good bargain in Piemonte nebbiolo, which is something that is getting harder and harder to find. Very classic with earthy fruit, drying tannins and distinctive aromatics. You’ll find plenty of the famed “tar and roses”, which are the defining characteristics of classic nebbiolo. It is definitely worth waiting a few years before drinking this fine wine.
  • Beaujolais Le Perreon, Nouveau, Domaine de la Madone, Jean Bererd et Fils, 2007 - Served lightly chilled with homemade pizza topped with lots of sweet onions and an egg, which made a perfect match and a very enjoyable dinner. Believe it or not, there are some very good Nouveau Beaujolais wines being produced by small estates. Good luck finding them though.
  • Dolcetto d’Alba, Pertinace, Treiso, 2006 - With so many Dolcetto wines on steroids these days (six are named in the Mitchell Report), it’s nice to find a wine that you can actually drink without going to the dentist to have your teeth cleaned. Fresh, brightly fruity, pleasantly zesty and under $15, which makes this a great wine to buy by the case for casual meals. No it’s not profound, but sometimes deliciously easy is more enjoyable than profound.
  • Cahors, Clos La Coutale, 2005 - If you ever wondered why people grow malbec after tasting yet another drab commercial grocery store wine from South America, try this rich blend of 80% malbec and 20% merlot. Robust with layers of flavors and a firm backbone that leads to a warm, earthy finish. An excellent choice for this winter’s hearty stews.
  • Bourgogne, Cuvée Sylvie, Domaine Sylvie Esmonin, 2005 - A great value in fine French pinot noir. Lately I’ve been having better luck finding good pinot in this price range than with more expensive bottles. As a Burgundy lover living in Oregon, I am always ordering bottles of Burgundy to convince locals of its superior charms. Often these wines do not present convincing arguments in support of my position. However, wines like this do. This is almost picture perfect pinot noir. No, it’s not the most complex pinot you’ll ever taste, but it is delicious and purely varietal. Rich, creamy and velvety from first sniff to the last lingering essence of the finish, this wine is pure pinot pleasure. One note, by the next day the wine had faded quite a bit. Therefore, I’d suggest drinking this wine up young and pretty.
  • Côte de Brouilly, Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes, Nicole Chanrion, 2005 - This is one of those rich Cru Beaujolais wines that remind you more of pinot noir than the many insipid wines that carry the name Beaujolais these days. This is a classy gamay with great depth and richness. This wine is still actually a bit closed and needs a year or two more to really strut its stuff. Mixed with the brilliant gamy fruit flavors and aromas are touches of black truffles, herbs and a touch of black pepper. This is a wine that makes you sit up and take notice.
  • Château Aney, Haut Medoc, Cru Bourgeois, 2003 - Just a few decades ago Bordeaux was my go-to wine. It dominated my cellar and my table. Those days are long gone and now I taste more Bordeaux than I drink. However, when rack of lamb appears on my table my taste buds yearn for Bordeaux, or what Bordeaux used to be anyway. Now 2003 is not my favorite vintage and I had not tasted wines from the Chateau before, but with Kermit Lynch’s name on the back label I decided to give it a try and I’m glad I did. While like most 2003’s it is not the most structured Bordeaux you’ll ever taste it has enough of a tannic backbone that it reminds you it really came from the Haut Medoc. For me this wine is ready to drink now and over the next year or two and that nothing worthwhile will be gained by extended aging. It went perfectly with my lamb and cost less than $25. Now there’s a Bordeaux you can enjoy. It’s worth pointing out this wine is listed at 12.5% alcohol, that’s nice too.
  • Côtes du Rhône, Les Cailloux, Domaine Rabasse Charavin, 2004 - Here’s a big, ripe chewy wine that pulls it off. It took me a glass to adjust to it, but after that I found its ripe earthy warmth comforting and enjoyable. Having a big cheeseburger dripping with extra sharp cheddar tonight? Here’s your wine.