Thursday, July 17, 2014

Wine "Glasses" for the pool

Summer in New Orleans will never appeal to me. If I could leave shortly after Jazz Fest (May) and return in late September I would. This year hasn't been too bad. There have been many days where I could breathe deeply and fully without wishing for gills. The pool still feels cool and refreshing (rare for this time of year) and I have been spending a lot of time out there.
Glass and pools do not mix. My landlord's warning about this was unnecessary...but appreciated. Beyond the obvious risk of bare feet and pieces of broken glass I am the guy who always finds the last shard. No matter the toweling, mopping, vacuuming, down-on-your-belly-flashlight-searching, I discover one last piece, sometimes weeks later, embedded in my foot. 
I resisted buying "glasses" made of synthetics because I feared the wine wouldn't taste, or smell, the way it should. However, serving wine for another summer in plastic Mardi Gras cups was even less appealing and I caved.
Govino got my nod for a test drive and now my recommendation! They are shatterproof, though I do think you could break them with a little effort, and did not smell of plastic even immediately out of the package. Impressive. While I maintain a dislike of stemless wine glasses, these are ideal for wine drinking anywhere you don't want glass. The pictures on the home page show some Bocce balls in the background which appeals for my Maine visits where we play cross-country Bocce - no groomed courts for us thanks.
They do give a little if you press them but they are sturdy and I never feared they would collapse or fall over. They can not be packed flat and they do not nest inside one another but a little jostling won't break them and having them at a pool is fine. A friend recommended avoiding the dishwasher as they will warp a bit from the heat, I took him at his word and did not experiment.
I am thrilled to be able to drink wine pool-side out of a proper-ish wine "glass" but these would be great for camping, the beach, picnics, etc. Thanks govino, these are winners.

Govino also makes decanters, flutes and now a beer "glass" too. There is also a "cocktail glass" which is nearly indistinguishable from the wine version - a little shorter and with less capacity but I would opt for the wine version and stick with it.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

More Old Bordeaux with Family

Spending my Fourth of July in Maine is a treasured tradition of family togetherness, lots of lobster and plenty of silly games. Wine has gradually taken a bigger and bigger role with sparkling wine nearly always accompanying our steamers and lobster nights. People pay more attention each year to what corks are being pulled and I am often asked which wine I am choosing for the meal.
Last year we wiped out our collection of sparkling wines. Once we learned they weren't being saved for a special occasion, there was a mad dash of chilling, popping and drinking! Here are the two posts from that fiesta - a reminder not to wait too long and a fantastic surprise
This year we continued digging into a case of old Bordeaux given to my father for officiating a friend's wedding. This was an even rarer treat in Maine and we had a cold, rainy day, due to Hurricane Arthur, that seemed perfect for opening some reds. We were also grilling monster porterhouses that looked like the real world version of the meat that tipped over the Flintstones vehicle...more kismet for some big red wine.
The bottles has stood for more than 24 hours so the sediment would settle.
[The bottle pictures were taken a few days later.]

We started this process in the kitchen with more than twenty people in attendance. I was soaking wet from a lengthy match of cross country Bocce and was also trying to watch a horse race with one of Ms. Wright's stable running. However, I was not about to pass up an opportunity to taste more of these wines!

We started with the Chateau Duhart-Milon-Rothschild, Paulliac 1968:
The fill was very low on the wine, noticeably below the shoulder, but anytime you can try a wine almost as old as you it's exciting. My notes were short. The wine was brown and tired. I thought the nose was interesting for a moment or two, with some old brick aromas and hints of brown sugar and  it drew me in, but the palate was dead. Not surprising at all based on the age, quality of vintage and the fill. Still, I am always optimistic that any bottle possesses the possibility to amaze, so disappointment followed. 

Chateau Rausan-Ségla, Margaux, 1985:
The cork was clean but reeked of cork taint. I was not optimistic. Turned out great! The nose was just okay at first but the palate was really solid. It also showed enough life to have us stash about half the bottle for 20-30 minutes later. 
The edge was brown, moving to a slight orange and then to a decent core of red. The nose kept coming around, it had some old dried fruit but also pretty raspberry and hints of darker fruits too. This was the style of the 1985 vintage I remembered so fondly! 
With time (about half an hour) the nose displayed more appealing character and nuance. Happily, mineral notes and even some gravel emerged as well. This was my favorite of the night and a truly delicious bottle.

Chateau de Marbuzet, St. Estephe, 1983
The wine was not as brown as the 1968 but did not exhibit the core of red that the 1985 so proudly displayed. The nose was similar to the 1985 but had much more presence right out of the bottle. There was a significant tannic bite on the finish, much more than the Rausan-Ségla, as if it were stubbornly clinging to a life that had clearly passed it by. The tannin was subtle but very, very present. The overall impression of the wine was short and tough, supporting the no surrender liveliness of the tannins. It reminded me of a boxer who thinks there are still a few fights left when, in fact, there may not even be a few rounds in the future. The de Marbuzet wasn't unappealing but it was far from sexy. It wasn't polished or refined, like the 1985, but rustic and wild, like a run-down cabin in the woods. It was drinkable and moderately enjoyable but not very rewarding.

Chateau L'Eglise Clinet, Pomerol, 1982: The color was fantastic! Nearly opaque at the center with a nearly purple core - the color of a much younger wine. The nose was immediately appealing, if a bit standoffish, I knew it would relax and open up soon. Intense dark fruits like plum and cassis showed in the middle of the palate. There were plenty of tannins here too but, unlike the Marbuzet, they were integrated and had the luxury of still fresh fruit to keep the wine balance. It was a big crowd pleaser, it was huge and people loved it. The weight and intensity remain, as expected with this massive vintage, and this wine has some life left in it.
I prefer the seamless beauty of the Rausan-Ségla 1985 for my palate but I would be happy to have another glass of this 1982 at any time. The difference is a little like red Burgundy versus Napa Cabernet. Palates hew to one or the other more often, even if they appreciate both.

We still have a few bottles of some of these to try again and a 1980 Mouton Rothschild which I fear will have more aural cachet than oral cachet...but finding out for yourself is the fun part!

Friday, June 13, 2014

A Rare Opportunity To Taste Some Old Bordeaux - 1978, 1982 and 1985

My father recently officiated at a wedding and was given a case of old Bordeaux as a thank you. An inventory was made and sent to me for my feedback. I began salivating immediately. As is always the case with older wines, you never quite know what you're going to get but these were impressive wines, some from epic vintages.
I typed up a lengthy response and we decided to open one or two while I was in New York City last week. It started as one but I was torn between two potential gems so we decided both would be included. Then a bit of anxiety crept in and a third bottle was added to the mix in case the others weren't very good. The more the merrier. It turns out we didn't need all three but we opened them anyway.
Read on for a rundown of some bottles with age I'm rarely lucky enough to taste anymore.

Chateau Leoville Barton 1985, Chateau Langoa Barton 1978 and Chateau Lynch Bages 1982

It was a sunny day on the deck

The sun behind the bottles makes it clear the Lynch Bages had a very low fill, not a good sign. The stain on the importer's label did not appear to have come from this bottle as the label itself was clean. Although perhaps it indicated a leaky bottle from the same case, not a good sign redux.
The Langoa Barton had a very similar, disappointing fill.

The corks were all saturated and a bit of a mess to extricate. The hardest part about opening old bottles is remembering just how much longer the corks used to be compared to what we see today.

Chateau Lynch Bages 1982 - We started here because I thought it was likely to be the liveliest of the bunch and, therefore, the only one that might benefit from some breathing time. The color was good, a red core to go with the expected brown edge. The aroma was fantastic, sweet fruit notes and baked brick aromas. Spice wafted up from the glass and maybe some fig too? It was actually nutty on the finish, but not like sherry. Some iodine came on with time in the glass, as did brown sugar.
The palate was long with a bit of a hole about 2/3 back in the mouth before it returned and lingered for what seemed like minutes. Tannin still reared its head and even dominated the fruit at first. The wine hung on nicely for more than an hour and showed a lovely sweet roundness before we got so much sediment we called it quits.

Chateau Langoa Barton 1978 - The vintage was a weird one, full of heat and sometimes grapes that more closely resembled raisins. I have been fortunate enough to taste a few Burgundies from the vintage and pretty much knew what to expect. The wine delivered the style I anticipated and showed more life than I had hoped. It was classic 1978.
The color was nearly all brown, but not quite. This one reminded me of sherry (specifically Oloroso, with more nuttiness than sugar) on the nose, with a really pronounced sweet, brown sugar note. The aroma was not the highlight of the wine. The palate delivered a juicy, jammy feel that felt lush and was surprisingly long. It was a hit for taste alone, the best of the night, although not my favorite flavor profile.

Chateau Leoville Barton 1985 - This was my most anticipated wine. I knew the '78 was not my style even if it drank well. I had only tasted one or two 1982s so I was excited to experiment but the 1985 vintage was going to be like a reunion. The vintage was still around when I got into the wine business, not in wide release, but on restaurant lists and readily available in people's cellars. And I loved them!
They displayed silky, sinuous mouthfeel with delicate but noticeable tannin and a distinct sense of place. You could really taste the subtle differences in appellation unlike the 1978s which all seemed cut from the same cloth.
I think I might have been holding my breath while working out the crumbling cork and felt a little jittery knowing it was, by far, the best fill of the night form a very good producer. The wine was filled with life, acid and tannin and fruit, but it was also tight and not showing very much. Would it open up or crash and burn?
The aroma turned out to be the star here, penetrating and loaded with wild diverse scents like meat (a butcher shop) and licorice. However, despite the lively feel in the mouth the wine was much more tired than delicious. It seemed like a woman who had danced all night and was ready to collapse but somehow still had every hair in place and the same perfect makeup as when she left the house.
It was, by far the biggest disappointment of the night, drinkable but without a compelling reason to do so except to continue to hope for a taste that never arrived.

The ideal might have had the nose of the Lynch Bages and Leoville Barton, the fruit of the Lynch Bages and length and smoothness of the Langoa Barton. I have tried this kind of blending experiment many times and it never works. What I really wanted was a better bottle of the 1985...but I was thrilled to have had some fun playing with these wines with my family, which never happens enough.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Languedoc...A Work in Progress - Organic not a Guarantee of Success

I bookmarked this post from Vinography months ago and then forgot about it. Rosé season has officially arrived and reminded me to pull it up and reread it. The Languedoc region of France, offers lots of promise and it has since it began getting a lot of wine press nearly twenty years ago. Writers saw promise in the area and some producers began working with grapes not approved for the appellation and received some impressive scores. The potential still exists but progress has been much slower than expected.
Quality has been more varied in this region, in my opinion, than any other major area over a long period of time. Overly funky aromas, volatile and over-oaked wines are the major flaws. I'm not sure where the "blame" lies. Locals make good wine and bad. International winemakers have been called in with mixed success and the individual appellations within the larger area often display very little consistent sense of place.
More producers than ever are making wines organically and biodynamically then ever before but this has not resulted in an elevation of quality either. The good news for the United States is that importers select wines to bring here and that extra layer of quality checking helps insulate us from flawed wines. However, it is not a guarantee of a tasty bottle.
As usual, the best way to explore is to taste, especially at free tastings hosted by wine shops. If you must buy a value-priced bottle without tasting and without talking to a knowledgable clerk then I recommend the reliability of Argentina (the 2014 harvest may have some issues related to some unusual weather but those won't be on the market for a little while). Don't ignore the Languedoc region, there are some excellent buys and exciting wines but I highly recommend caution.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Everyone Should Mourn the Death of Laurence Faller

Earlier this week, Laurence Faller of Domaine Weinbach in Alsace, died of an apparent heart attack at a very young 47. I met her on a few occasions when she traveled to New Orleans with her mother, Colette, building a rabid following for their wines. Beyond being stunned by her untimely demise and being reminded of the proximity of our ages, I mourn her loss for reasons we should all share.
The wine world in the 1990s was completely dominated by men. A few women had blazed trails, some owned wineries other made wine, but they were the exception rather than the rule. One of those leading quietly, by example, were the Fallers.
"____ et fils" ( ____ & sons) is prevalent in the wine world in France, but look at what Domaine Weinbach's website says "Colette Faller et ses filles"(Colette Faller & her daughters). That is a rarity, especially in patriarchal France.
Monks established Domaine Weinbach in 1612 and Théodore Faller and his brother purchased it in 1898. Théodore's son and nephew (Théo) inherited the property and later Théo's widow, Colette, took over, eventually getting both daughters involved as well. For a great overview of Domaine Weinbach and an opportunity to learn more, explore this link to their importer, Vineyard Brands.
Colette and her daughters, Laurence and Catherine, guided Domaine Weinbach masterfully. They traveled in support of their wines and got people to care about a much-overlooked part of the world. Colette and Laurence visited Martin Wine Cellar for tastings. Their looks initially attracted many but tasting the wines created the real relationship with the domaine.
In Alsace, Domaine Zind-Humbrecht and Domaine Weinbach arguably battled for top honors. While I always appreciated Z-H's wines and drooled over them for some years, their wines are over the top and unabashedly wild. The more subtle style of the Fallers won me over with time.
As I have grown and learned and tasted, I have decided that very often my palate prefers wines made by women. In the same way that testosterone-laden, he-man conversations bore me, so do 'bigger is better' wines. Certainly, not all women make elegant wines and not all men believe that going to 11 is the way to operate all the time but it happens frequently enough for me to have made a mental note.
The Faller women played a large part in helping me form this opinion and I am deeply saddened by the loss of one of the trio that created such magical wines. I sincerely hope Laurence's family will take some solace in the outpouring of grief and kind words currently being posted and shared.
Here are some: Decanter, Drinks Business, The Wine Society and Wine Searcher.
Rest in peace Laurence Faller, you are already missed.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Equus Run Vineyards - Midway, Kentucky

A recent trip to Keeneland afforded me the opportunity to explore a little and write a story about two official Kentucky Derby drink producers. One of them was Equus Run Vineyards, for my story on America's Best Racing website, click here. I won't rehash the background story but there is some more I would like to share that didn't fit in that story.
Every state in the United States now has at least one winery. Some are more serious in their approach than others and those are the ones that capture my attention. I was told Equus Run Vineyards produce all of their own white grapes and some of the red - the rest come from Indiana, New York and California.
The regular tasting room is under renovation so the entry took me through the grape-themed gates.

The driveway also led me past some exciting plantings - complete with signs(!), including Cabernet Sauvignon (not something I expected to find in Kentucky), Cabernet Franc (one of my favorite grapes!) and Norton, an unheralded but exciting grape (learn more about it here).

They lost some vines due to the severe winter weather and there are obvious gaps in both of the Cabernet photos.

An unusual piece of art greeted me inside...
This showed me they knew how to have fun...the test would be whether or not they knew how to make wine. There are no shortage of wineries selling dull, sweet wines - the residual sugar covers up all kinds of flaws - especially in regions not well known for their grapes.
Equus was a pleasant surprise, my only real disappointment on the visit was the fact that they were sold out of Norton and Cabernet Franc. The wines were not overly manipulated or obscured by sugar or oak and I hope to return again to explore some of the reds I missed this time. I also hope to taste at some other wineries in the area despite the very clear statement from some other guests that most of them were not worth the effort.
In addition to the Derby wines, I tasted two other wines:
Cabernet Sauvignon Blanc de Noir - This is a white from reds, in this case a rosé. I found it a bit mute on the nose, fairly typical for Cabernet, but the palate more than made up for it. The wine was lush and rich with a full mouthfeel. It was also dry, unlike way too many other pink wines. There were even some dry tannins on the finish. Overall, the wine was tasty and mouthwatering and while it might not be the ideal pool wine I wanted it for picnics and appetizers on the back porch - really anywhere there is food and nice weather. My favorite wine at Equus Run. $15.99 ($14.39 for club members)
Zinfandel - My experience with Zinfandel from wineries outside of California have been disappointing. Most of the fruit tends to come from Lodi and Sierra Foothills in California, relatively inexpensive sources for grapes, and I find most of them to have a baked fruit and brown sugar quality. The wines taste like the grapes were exposed to too much heat and the vibrant, juicy berry notes I crave in Zinfandel are missing. I am not sure where these grapes came from but the Equus Run version was decent. There was a slight brown edge to the wine indicating age or potentially some fading fruit but the aroma and palate displayed spice notes, especially pepper, and despite it not being huge and lush it was a solid wine that would do a great job at the table with some grilled sausages or lamb or duck. $21.99 ($19.79 for club members)

I look forward to my next visit.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Classic Wine Tool and an Improved Version

Windows on the World's introductory wine book by Kevin Zraly was the first one I read. The aroma wheel, designed by Ann Noble, was one of my first tools to learn the lingo and help me describe what I smelled in the glass. While unusual terms can certainly be used, it helps to have some common ground with fellow tasters as well. (The official website does not have a clear image of the wheel itself, but the internet does.) I liked that you could start on the outside and work your way in if you smelled something very specific or narrow down a broader sense of something by working from the center outward. 
However, many of the terms are confusing and some of the outside aromas don't seem to go together. Bacon and medicinal are not smells I associate with one another. It always seemed to me it could be done better and this one, from Aromaster is an improvement. They appear to make their money selling tasting kits and a board game but this is a useful version.
I think the verbiage is clear and I like the section titled "FAULTS" a lot, although there should be some clarification offered. In table wine, sherry and madeira (and vinegar) aromas should be considered faults this placement might confuse people who are learning. Sherry and Madeira are not wines with faults, they are produced from controlled oxidation. 
The wheel featured above is a free download if you want a copy, click here. They also have highlighted versions of the wheel for a number of specific grapes but those are not available to download. Of course, you are also welcome to dig through all of the images that appear on a Google search of "aroma wine wheels" if you want to find more aroma wheel choices.
The aroma wheel doubles as a flavor wheel since taste and smell are so closely related. Mouthfeel wheels have also been designed to help explore texture and how the wine feels on your palate. Here is one in black and white and the same version, but in color, at the bottom of this scholarly pdf. Here's one more, that says it is specifically for white wine (Sorry, the link is terrible - you need to click then select products and then Wine Mouthfeel Wheel - they do have a beer defects and wine defects wheel as well). 
All of this searching was prompted by a Wine Spectator article that featured a Brettanomyces wheel. 'Brett,' as it is more commonly known, is a spoilage yeast that can ruin wines but, in a classic example of wine world confusion, can also make them more interesting - especially if you like more wild, barnyard aromas. You can read more about Brett in my Resources section (Tips to Avoid/Identify Bad Wine) or just click here.
I also found an evaluation of a square version of the wine wheel, a beer wheel, a Bourbon wheel, a whisky wheel and even a sake wheel (you have to scroll around a bit but it's there).

A lot of information to explore, I will post this in the Resources section for easy future access.