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Wine Notes

Listening, Wine and Bach

My wife is out-of-town, visiting her sister. That means I can crank up the tunes. I was rockin' out tonight during dinner. My Sonos was shaking the house with - Glenn Gould's 1981 recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations.

What's fascinating about loud Bach is that you feel much the same as if you were listening to The Beatles or the Stones (yes, I'm old). The passion and beat makes you tap your toes. One of the compelling aspects of this recording (listened to loud!) is that you hear Gould's humming and grunts as he plays Bach with the same emotional intensity that B.B. King plucked Lucille on The Thrill is Gone.

Said Gould, "I believe that the justification of art is the internal combustion it ignites in the hearts of men and not its shallow, externalized, public manifestations. The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenalin but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity." Can you think of a better description of a great wine?

This is the why a point scale can never hope to define, or explain, much less quantify the experience of wine. It is too complicated to boil down this complex interaction of humans and nature over literally thousands of years to a decimal point.

Dinner tonight was pressure cooker wine-braised pork short-ribs (90 minutes) with a reduction made from the broth and for the wine 2010 Donkey & Goat "Five Thirteen" El Dorado, Red Wine Blend (47% grenache, 21% syrah, 16% mourvèdre, 10% counoise, 6% cinsault). Like Gould, this wine hummed and grunted in the background during its performance with a whiff of volatile acidity and a little funk, but like Gould it delivered. Exciting and fun it lifted the dinner to a new height. How many points? Don't insult it.

As Bach proved and Gould restated, there is real power in refinement, elegance and discipline. Power itself is not something to be revered. Powerful wines get high points because, as Gould said, they deliver "a momentary ejection of adrenalin." I think in winemaking a little reflection on Gould's thoughts on the justification and purpose of art can be applied to our craft. All to often we pursue the external, not the internal, or nature's purpose for wine.

To repurpose the Gould quote, the purpose of wine is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenalin but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity. Powerful wines may give that injection of adrenalin on the first sip, but they do not deliver a sense of wonder and serenity instead becoming trophies to hoard.

It takes courage to let your own personal vision and passion show through in your work. You'll be hard pressed to find wine brands that roll off your tongue that have even a bit of courage.

When you first hear the humming on Glenn Gould's recording of the Goldberg Variations (both the 1955 and 1981 versions) you think something is wrong with the recording. Then, with repeated listening and a little homework on your part you understand that you are hearing something personal and truly expressive. With compelling, memorable wines the experience and requirements are the same.

It's not how loud it is, it's how well you're listening.

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.


Living Impressionism - Monet 95 points/Renoir 93 but a "Best Buy"

The white blurs intertwined and wove themselves in and then out of the lights. They could move from absolute stillness to a dazzling, dizzying swirl of energy and grace. The second act of Swan Lake in this winter’s performance by the San Francisco Ballet was like watching a Renoir or Monet come to life.

As the beautiful vision of the dancers floated from the stage the first row leapt to their feet and, like the Olympics, rated the performers with points. Holding up their placards they reduced art to sport. Absurd, right? While such a nightmare is offensive to anyone who cares about beauty this is exactly what we now do with both food and wine. Today wine is about points and food is about Iron Chef TV slap-downs.

Could there be anything more anti-fine dining than turning wine and food into a sport? Yet this is precisely what we have done. As when you watch a ballet or contemplate a painting, fine food and wine should transport you away from the intensity of day-to-day life and inspire your mind to find peace and pleasure. Dinner should be a time to slow down, not a best of three falls.

There are two big lies in the wine world. The first is that price is related to quality and, second, is that point ratings for wines are worth anything. Beside the fact that rating wines with points is an affront to what they were created for (to be part of a meal), they are a lie on on their own turf - statistics. To be meaningful a critic that rates wines on a numerical scale, be that 10, 20 or 100 points, must be able to repeat those results over-and-over in all tasting conditions. Anyone who knows anything about taste and the human condition knows that is a joke. Critics that use points are not only fooling their readers, they’re fooling themselves.

I defy anyone to take this test. We’ll take twenty-five top quality wines of one place and variety and blind taste them over a five day period without the expert tasters knowing the variety or place of origin having them rank the wine using their preferred scale . Each day we’ll open a fresh bottle, then taste the wines in four flights, in each flight changing the order of the wines being tasted. Needless to say, that if these results were analyzed the worthlessness of reviews based on points would be clearly established. If statistical results cannot be repeated they are worthless, which is exactly the value of the point ratings used by the major wine critics.

Not that anyone would listen because while consumers like points as a simple way to make buying choices, wine producers like them even more as a simple way to market their wines. The point is that points are an easy way out for everyone, but most of all it is an easy way out for the big wine publications. After all we should remember their business is not selling wine or helping people to buy better wine. Their business is selling magazines, which is something rating wines on a point scale does better than reliable information ever would. Their readers want it simple and fast so that’s what they give them.

The title of this article jokes about rating Monet 95 points, but giving only 93 to Renoir although he is given a “Best Buy” nod. The real joke of this is that during their own time Monet and Renoir where given very low “points” by the critics. This should remind us all that the creative pleasures of life: dance, music, painting, food and wine among so may others are not so easily reduced into numerical simplicity. The very complexity of these pleasures combined with the intense differences our individual personalities interact to create something that is not possible to quantify or rank on a precise scale.

When you’re experiencing the best, points are pointless.


Underrated/Overrated

Jimmy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra made the phrase famous in the beautiful song, I’m Glad There is You by Paul Maderia, “In this world of over-rated pleasures, of under-rated treasures.” This phrase from a moving love song well defines the world of wine today. Big pointy overrated wines give little pleasure while underrated and often underpriced wines may lack points, but are packed with pleasure.

A couple of such underrated treasures are:

The 2004 Lignères, Aric, Montagne d’Alaric, a blend of carignan, mourvèdre and syrah that is sure to be on the underrated charts. This is a big and delicious wine, concentrated, exotic and satisfying. You wonder why you have to pay so much more for wines that deliver concentration - then fall over the edge into dull flabbiness. Concentrated flavors on their own are boring, but wines like this lead with power then expand, while so many of today’s wines lead with power - then collapse - just holding on long enough to get their points from critics more concerned with the front of a wine than the back.

Then there’s wines with catchy names like the 2007 Bastide Saint Vincent, Vin de Pays de Vaucluse, a blend of grenache, caladoc, carignan and syrah from Domaine Guy Daniel. Warm, earthy and completely satisfying, this is a wine you can tell inspired passion on the part of the winegrower far beyond any hope of getting big points or big bucks for his efforts. Living as I do among so many producers focused on glitter rather than substance, wines like this are an inspiration. More-and-more I find myself drinking less-and-less famous wines.

Sadly price has become a less than reliable indicator of quality. Most expensive wines having become caricatures of good wine. Like the exaggerated portraits drawn by street artists they focus on a few characteristics and blow them out of proportion. As the caricature artist exaggerates noses, chins and ears, too many winemakers exaggerate oak, extraction and alcohol to make a wine that is a comic image of what it should and could be - something to have with dinner.

 


Oasi degli Angeli

In 2003 I wrote, “Kurni is on a whole different level of being.” I achieved that level of being this weekend when I opened a bottle of 1999 Oasi degli Angeli Kurni. This micro-estate in Italy’s beautiful Le Marche is the vision and labor-of-love of Eleonora Rossi and Marco Casolanetti. Kurni is a perennial winner of Tre Bicchieri Awards in the Gambero Rosso and has become a true cult wine in Italy. The production of Kurni is measured in bottles instead of cases with a scant 4000 available to grace fine tables. Most of this treasure is grabbed up by Italian restaurants, but some bottles do find their way here. If you see one don’t pass it by because you may never find it again.

Perhaps what is most interesting about this bottle is that it was from a difficult vintage and the wine that broke the string of Tre Bicchieri Awards that Kurni had achieved once again proving that vintage charts and wine ratings leave much to be desired. This 100% Montepulicano from their old vine vineyard is still a dark ruby and sizzles with acidity and deep, dark black fruit flavors. As vivacious as this wine is I think it is ready to drink. This is a wine at its zenith - that moment when bottle age has brought out the maximum complexity, but while the beauty of the fruit from which it was born still remains. The greatness that is Kurni is only achieved with age. In it’s youth it often seems just another oaky fruit bomb. It is only with age that it achieves its promise.

Here is the link to my story on Oasi degli Angeli in 2003:
http://www.winecampblog.com/journal/2006/2/26/oasi-degli-angeli-and-kurni.html


Mixed Blacks

 

Mixed blacks, an old term that used to be the backbone of wines like Gallo’s Hearty Burgundy. It was a catch all phrase for varieties that did not command a premium like those that could be bottled under their own name. It also referred to a very old way of planting as farmers would plant many different varieties in their vineyards so they wouldn’t have all their grapes in one basket - if one variety had a bad year perhaps the others would do better. The ‘mixed blacks’ were the bottom of the totem pole and got bottom dollar for the farmer. Today that’s turned on its head as these old mixed planting vineyards have become a national treasure of old vines and interesting varieties.


Girard Winery has taken full advantage of one of these vineyards producing their 2006 Girard Mixed Blacks from a century old vineyard with a mixed planting of syrah, zinfandel, petite sirah, grenache, mourvedre, carignane and a few other varieties whose identity remain a mystery. All the varieties are co-fermented (always an interesting idea) and aged in a blend of French (85%) and American oak for eighteen months. What a wine this is! Loaded with explosive black fruit and layered with earthy touches of porcini and smoked meats, it fills the mouth without being heavy. Girard has avoided the ponderous, one dimensional character of so many “old vine” wines from these varieties. A crisp acid bite keeps this wine alive and it will remind Rhone lovers of a good Cornas or Crozes Hermitage, of course with an added dose of ripe California fruit. 

Too few of these great old vineyards survived the rush to plant more fashionable varieties. It’s great to see a winery give such an old treasure its due.

Posted via email from craigcamp’s posterous

Blousy Barolo

Everyone seems to love this wine, but me. Huge points always seem to accompany Paolo Scavino’s Baroli, yet to me they have very serious problems - they don’t taste like they were produced in Barolo or produced from the nebbiolo variety. This time the wine was being served by the glass so, while expensive, it was not as big a of hit as buying a whole bottle of pricy wine I was unlikely to enjoy. Being by the glass it gave me a chance to give the wine another chance. I was also hopeful as it was from the lighter 2002 vintage, so I hoped it would have escaped the extremes of the Scavino style. No go. The first glass was clearly oxidized. I just thought it had been opened too long, but the bartender insisted that it had only been opened three or four hours before. A second glass, from a newly opened bottle, was fresher, but the fact that a Barolo that had been opened for only a short period was already shot shows you what happens when you put the wrong variety in new barrels. This newly opened wine showed lots of new oak flavors over a pruney, simple vague overripe fruity flavor. You can buy the same thing for a lot less money, done a lot better if you like that style, from Australia and California. Paolo Scavino is clearly a passionate winemaker, but for me, his choices simply do not work. I just cannot give up the idea that Barolo should taste like Barolo. These wines could come from anywhere.

Nothing To Be Embarrassed About

No shy blushing wine this one. Not at all embarrassed by its pinkness, this is a explosively fruity, but dry wine with wonderful depth. The 2008 Mas Amiel “Le Plaisir” Côtes du Roussillon Rosé, if not a serious wine, is seriously delicious. Born from old vine grenache, syrah and carignane in the sunny Mediterranean vineyards of southwestern France, wines like this can only make you shake your head in wonder that so few outstanding rosé wines come from the similarly blessed vineyards of California. I suppose part of the reason for that is that so many consumers think sweet when they see pink that dry pink wines like this aren’t that easy to sell. It’s amazing that that misconception about rosé has hung on so many years after the white zinfandel craze. A great value and under $20 this is a wine I’d gladly gulp the rest of the summer.


Franc-ly Speaking

The Loire is the region that the new wave point-driven winemaking tsunami washed around. Today it holds the high ground when it comes to brilliant clean refreshing wines with alcohol levels that seem almost unthinkably low. They are often unbelievably delicious bargains.Cabernet Franc is an unappreciated variety in the New World, often for good reason, but in the right hands from the right vineyards it makes a wonderful wine. The 2006 Anjou Domaine de la Soucherie is one of those wines. Just thinking about this wine makes me salivate as its zesty, acid driven freshness carries a delicious ripe fresh wild cherry fruitiness enticingly spiced with fresh herbs and a savory minty freshness. Best served with a light chill, this is a perfect summer red. At under $15, the gulps instead of sips this wine will inspire are very affordable. I love what I call the forceful delicacy of wines like this. Light and lively with an almost haunting personality, they are in no way simple as, despite their subtle svelte character, they rivet the attention of thoughtful palates.


Brilliant Gray

Gray Pinot (pinot gris) sounds pretty drab and 9 times out of 10 the name fits the wine. Yet in the hands of some winemakers this variety can sing. Joining the ranks of delicious and interesting wines from this variety, including wines like Jermann, Chehalem, Albert Mann among others, is the Horse and Plow 2008 Pinot Gris,, Filigreen Farm, Anderson Valley. Crisp, refreshing, but in no way light and simple, it is loaded with creamy fresh pear and white peach flavors all accented by a tangy minerality and firm acidity. This wine was barrel fermented in neutral oak, which shows in the lovely texture and a yeasty whisper on the nose. A whopping 350 cases were produced so Santa Margharita Pinot Grigio has as much to worry about as it has flavor.

Gruner With Envy

The 2006 Gruner Veltliner Federspiel Wachau, Terrassen Weissenkirchen, Trockken, Andreas Lehensteiner is a wine that will indeed make many a winemaker green with envy. This is nothing short of an exceptional wine at an unbeatable price. This green/gold beauty is directly plugged into the socket, with an electric bite of mouthwatering acidity carrying ripe apricot and fresh pear flavors along with a firm mineral highlight on its razor edge. This is one of those wines that you can barely get your nose out of the glass long enough to take a sip.

These Austrian wines are the darling of every Master Sommelier in the country and rightfully so. More often than not they are the wine I go to when white wine wine is in order. They remain tremendous values and you can find exceptional examples for under $100 even on wine lists with the stiffest markups.

Stain Free

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I’ve been drinking some California chardonnay lately - believe me it surprises me as much as it does you. It’s not that I wasn’t drinking any chardonnay as Chablis, Macon Villages, St. Veran and Pouilly Fuisse have always been some of my favorite wines. California Chardonnay was another matter with its heavy oak and more than a little residual sugar. The cheaper the California chardonnay the sweeter it seemed to be. For my taste, sweet and oaky does not go very well with food.

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So why am a drinking chardonnay again? Here and there there are emerging a few chardonnays that see no oak aging or fermentation. They spend their time before bottling only in stainless steel. Best of all, the California wines in this category are usually fermented to dryness. Often referred to as “unoaked” they are the exception to the rule as the vast majority of California Chardonnay is either aged in oak barrels or “oak alternatives” (oak chips, oak dust and so on) are added to give that sweet, vanilla oak characteristic that has replaced chardonnay varietal character as the defining characteristic of chardonnay for most wine drinkers. Not that there are not many exceptional wines produced from chardonnay aged in oak barrels (no exceptional ones come from wines made with “oak alternatives”), but the fact that most consumers think that the taste of oak is the taste of chardonnay few producers choose the “unoaked” path.

These “unoaked” wines are everything their oaky siblings are not. They are fresh and bright with clean, firm mineral flavors that are lightly laced with touches of white peaches and key limes. With a touch of refreshing tartness to balance their beautiful California fruit, they are perfect food wines. As another plus they tend to be cheaper than their more rotund oaky counterparts.

Two of my favorite “unoaked” California Chardonnays are:

2007 Iron Horse Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay, Sonoma County-Green Valley - Firm and bright with a lovely, lively freshness throughout you can tell as you drink this wine that the Sterling family cut their teeth on French wines. While having a lot in common with a fine Chablis or Pouilly Fuisse, the California personality of this wine shows through in the fresh hints of ripe tropical fruit that rides on a firm backbone of acidity and minerality. What a wonderful thing to do with chardonnay grown in the cool Green Valley.

2006 Elisabeth Spencer, Chardonnay Napa Valley, Special Cuvée - Deeper and more powerful than the Iron Horse, but still crisp and firm. Creamy with bright fresh citrus on the nose with and those characteristics flow through the entire wine. Firm mineral flavors are balanced by round pure apple and pear fruit flavors, which are all lifted by the crisp acidity. Very long on the finish, here is proof positive you don’t have to age chardonnay in oak to get complexity.

Treading Lightly Upon the Palate

Treading lightly upon the earth is fashionable these days, but what about treading lightly upon the palate. There is a time and place for big wines, but on a regular basis something a bit more restrained and thoughtful is good for the soul - and the dinner table. It doesn't hurt if they cost under 20 bucks either. These two gems should not be missed:200905282256.jpg

2007 Moulin-à-Vent, Cuvée Vielles Vignes, Domaine Diochon - Gloriously bright and fragrant, it's hard to think of a prettier wine. Graceful, delicate yet full flavored and incredibly long on the finish a better match for the chicken we roasted on the Weber you'll not find. Best served on the cool side to highlight the incredibly pure fruit. This is simply a wonderful wine.

2007 Valpolicella, Nanfrè, Tenuta Sant'Antonio - Like the Beaujolais above, Valpolicella is a name damaged by the ocean of mediocre wine sold under its name. It doesn't seem quite fair to pick on these place names as the majority of wines produced under more revered names like Burgundy, Bordeaux and Napa are just as mundane. In Valpolicella, like all the worl200905282255.jpgd's fine wine regions, only a small percentage of the producers make top notch wines. Tenuta Sant'Antonio is one of those producers and this bargain is something to grab by the case. Fragrant and expansive with brilliant fruit and that wonderful Italian earthiness, which makes them so perfect with food. This wine is not only delicious, but very interesting to drink.

It's worth noting that both of these wines clock in at 13% alcohol. For me that's the sweet spot for red wine as it's substantial enough have real texture and depth, but balanced and restrained enough to have more than one glass. Which, as you may not be surprised to learn, I like to do.


Krug Grande Cuvee Is Very Good

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Krug Grande Cuvée Champagne is very good. In fact it is very, very good. You could even say excellent. In the case of Krug I guess you could say that is damning with faint praise. For Krug mere excellence is a failure. By reputation and price it should be sublime. It is not. The real problem for me, is that I really believe it once was.

I thoroughly enjoyed Alice Feiring’s book, The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization, and in particular was moved by her chapter on Champagne. It moved me because I am old enough to know what Champagne was and my palate is aware enough to know what it has become. The big name Champagne brands, with a few notable exceptions like Gosset or Bollinger, have all sold out. Today they are led by accountants and marketers instead of winemakers. All the big Champagne brands are run by corporate ownership that implements and believes in the marketing strategies so successfully employed by the perfume companies - that is image is more important than substance. What the bottle looks like and what’s on the label is everything, while what’s inside is an afterthought.

In her book Alice talks about what Krug once was and the empty symbol of conspicuous consumption it has become and it’s a very sad story. Perhaps one of the most offensive things about Krug Champagne these days is the environmental assault their packaging represents. Each bottle is packaged in a heavy, pretentious presentation box. It’s hard to believe that a company could be so unaware of the world around them. On top of the excessive price, anyone concerned at all with the environment should be offended by the packaging of Krug and refuse to buy it on that level alone. Anything that is so sumptuously packaged should automatically set off your internal alarms. If it was so good, why would they have to waste so much money (and so many trees) on the package.

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A real litmus test for spotting someone not in the know about wine is that they’re  drinking Krug, Dom Perignon, Cristal or anything from Veuve Cliquot. Savvy bubbly buyers are drinking grower Champagne selections from Terry Theise, Becky Wasserman or other sharp importers. In the topsy turvy world of Champagne the less famous the brand the better chance you have of getting both a good wine and a fair price.

According to wine-searcher.com, the average price for NV Krug Grande Cuvée is $179. Here’s a wine IQ test: Do you buy three bottles of excellent Champagne from the explosion of wonderful grower bottled Champagnes on the market or one bottle of excellent famous Champagne in a fancy box?

Krug used to be the best, now it’s just one of the pack.

Starting Out Stinky

Pee ychampi.jpgew - burnt match aromas, even a bit of rotten eggs. What a wine! Well after a few minutes anyway.

The 2006 Domaine Fouet Saumur Champigny is a beautiful cabernet franc. Spicy and fresh with brush strokes of wild herbs and tiny wild strawberries as it lifts and refreshes the palate. Lighthearted, but not unsubstantial, it is charmingly just powerful enough to let you know this is a serious wine, but is confident enough to not hit you over the head with its own self-importance. This is the kind of wine it’s so hard to find produced outside of Europe. Flat out delicious.

The thing is that, like so many wines like this, when the cork is popped and the wine is first poured into the glass they can be a bit stinky. The free sulfur, which is added to virtually all wines, can be a bit pungent as it takes some time to escape (blow off) and for the slight reductive characteristics of the wine to open and clean up letting the real character of the wine show through. Wines like this are waiting for something. Like a genie waiting to get out of his bottle, minimally processed wines, like this excellent Saumur Champigny, are waiting for oxygen to finish the winemaking process. After five minutes the sulfur had disappeared. After ten minutes the fruit unfurled itself in the breeze and after fifteen minutes I had an exceptional, exciting and rewarding wine in my glass. Yes, I had to wait, but if they scrubbed it clean in the cellar before bottling this wine would have never reached the pure complexity it achieved by being a bit stinky for the first few minutes. Cramming wine into a bottle is a torturous process for a natural wine. To live for a long time in the bottle it needs to be deprived of oxygen. To fully live again it needs time to breath and let the clean air back into its lungs. You have to wait for such wines to catch their breath before drinking them.

We live in a time when consumers expect things to be squeaky clean with no effort on their part. To achieve this we give up a lot. When you cut off all the edges of a wine you end up with round, dull wines. The winemaker can really only complete 95% of the winemaking process. That last five percent is up to the consumer. If you can’t become part of the winemaking process and contribute to the last steps required to finish a wine you’re doomed to industrial wines with the souls ripped out. They may be clean, but they have no heart. On the other hand, if you are willing to become part of the winemaking team and finish the job by serving the wine properly you’ll enter a whole new world of wine, which you are a part of instead of being passive spectator. Natural wines need time and care and only you can complete the process started by the winemaker.

Heirloom tomatoes may look ugly, but they taste great. Natural wines can be a bit stinky at first, but with a little patience they blossom into beauties. Superficial charms do not make delicious wines or tomatoes.

Miscellaneous Mendocino


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The wines of Mendocino continue their exciting development. You cannot help but be excited by the energy and creativity of the winemakers there. Here are some excellent wines from less than popular varieties that are all delicious and highly recommended.

2007 Bells Echo Syrah - Firm, earthy butcher shop aromas and flavors over rich black fruit. A real beauty.

2007 Monte Volpe Pinot Grigio - Brilliant, bright and fresh with none of the annoying residual sugar that mars so many Oregon and California wines misusing the Italian name for this variety. It’s great to find an American grigio you can actually drink with fried calamari. Winemaker Greg Graziano makes this wine, St. Gregory and the Enotria below and it seems everything he touches is just great to drink - with a fair price to boot.

2005 Enotria Barbera - Explosively fruity and zesty. Oddly like real Italian barbera, which is rare from American examples of this variety.

2007 Lazy Creek Gewurztraminer - Wow, a real dry gewurztraminer. A true rarity these days when most Alsatian examples are almost dessert wines and most Americans are simply and sweet. This gewurz with guts is a wonderful find.

2007 Lioco Indica, Old Vine Carignan Blend - Lovers of brash, forward earthy Southern French wines take note, you’ll love this balanced bruiser. Sausages on the grill anyone?

2008 McDowell Grenache Rose - A perennial favorite, McDowell keeps pumping out this very good rose vintage after vintage. Would it be better dryer? For sure, but it’s still dry enough to be really enjoyable for summer picnics and parties.

Fourty Eight Years Old

Not me, a wine. As old as it was, I was still older. I wish I was in as good of shape.

Old wine is a hit and miss thing. One bottle can be great and the next shot. Buying old wines is an even bigger crap shoot. This was a hit. The bottle of 1961 Chateau Lynch Bages, Pauillac was simply perfect. They don’t mak’em like that anymore - literally. You can help but think of the old saw, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” when you taste wines such as this and wonder if the bigger badder wines of today could possibly taste this good at forty eight. I hope so, but secretly doubt it.

This beautiful bottle was supplied by my friend Donald Patz, of Patz & Hall fame, and a more perfect example of what old wine can become you’ll not find. The color was a gorgeous ruby becoming garnet. The addictive nose was exotically spiced, but still layered with seductive sweet, dark fruit that expanded into a growing complexity that could only remind me of listening to Kind of Blue on Bose headphones. The flavors and finish were all kissing Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. As you see I am older than the wine.

Greatness like this was no accident. They knew what they were doing. It has to make you wonder if we really know what we’re doing to have stopped making wines such as this.

Marvelous Mendocino

Lots of places on the West Coast think of themselves as pinot prima donna, but there is a very real possibility that the least pretentious of all will claim the throne. Sideways loved the Central Coast. Oregon assumes (a little to quickly) the crown is theirs. Yet it seems time after time the most exciting pinots I’ve been tasting are from Mendocino’s rugged Anderson Valley.

Yesterday’s Taste of Mendocino was packed with enthusiastic tasters and expressive pinots. What's most exciting is, strangely enough, what these Mendocino pinot noirs lack. They are moderate in alcohol, missing a big price tag and offer more pleasure than attitude. They are brilliantly light in color, fragrantly lacy, exotically delicate and long on the palate. Pinot noir from Anderson Valley tastes like pinot noir - a claim many pinots from Oregon and the rest of California cannot claim. You'll not confuse a Anderson Valley pinot noir with a syrah.

We can only hope their increasing fame does not lead these growers down the path taken by so many Oregon producers who have given up the elegance that their cool climate can bestow on their wines in the headlong pursuit of points over purity of variety.

Some highly recommended Mendocino pinot noir wines from the tasting:



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Bully Borsao

Borsao is a bully. It just beats the crap out of not only American wines selling for under ten bucks, but all to many in the $20 range too. We Californians have to stop letting these Spanish bullies push us around. Perhaps when we're less concerned with appearances than what's in the bottle we'll find our courage.

Just south of Navarra and west of Barcelona, Bodegas Borsao is in the Northwest of the province of Zaragoza, There they make a delicious red wine, Borsao Campo de Borja, which I picked up for seven bucks. This blend of 75% garnacha (grenache) and tempranillo is simply delicious. Yes, simple may be the operative word here, but there's just enough complexity to push this well balanced wine well beyond the pack in its price range. This is an outstanding everyday wine that admirably pairs with pizza or pork chops on a Wednesday night or will more than please your guests at that big party next weekend.

Yet again, a wine they have to put in a boat and transport thousands of miles trashes the local competition.


Oysters and Aligote

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