Saturday, November 22, 2008

Reliable Whites Part 2

On to the ABC (anything but Chardonnay) category.

Usually I find wines like this friendlier with more foods than the admittedly over maligned aforementioned variety.

Dry Creek Fume Blanc - The generally safe assumption that Fume Blanc from California has been aged in some oak is not accurate in this case. Robert Mondavi coined the term Fume Blanc for California Sauvignon Blanc that had been aged in oak; while there are some very solid versions of that style available, too many have lost their core Sauvignon nature and have become poor, pale interpretations of Chardonnay. Dave Stare planted the first Sauvignon Blanc in Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County) in 1972 against the advice of many growers. His dedication and perseverance give us an amazingly intense and vibrant Sauvignon Blanc that perhaps confuses people because he adopted the accepted name at the time. This wine consistently wins oyster pairing competitions and is a favorite of people who want 'real' Sauvignon Blanc from the United States. Racy and full of citrus notes I have often surprised people by revealing this wine's country of origin. $11-$13.

Nautilus Sauvignon Blanc - The first New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to impress me, this wine continues to be a fantastic example of the style. It never hits the overly intense grapefruit aromas/flavors that make so many New Zealand Sauv Blancs both famous and difficult to pair with food. Here, I find more moderate citrus notes and even some tropical notes of melon and passion fruit. It is a solid example without some of the extremes that can be a bit overwhelming on the palate and at the table. This is the most expensive wine I have recommended in the 'Reliable' posts, but it is worth it if you are a Sauvignon Blanc fan. Importer - Negociants USA, $12 (a ridiculous deal, don't count on this price) - $17.

In the interest of full disclosure, I do currently sell the Negociants portfolio, although that relationship will cease before year's end as I leave my current employer to explore new options. I have been excited about the Nautilus since early on in my wine career though. I also sell the Oxford Landing wines, but was concerned about needing to sell them until I tasted the full line.

Oxford Landing Sauvignon Blanc - I have NEVER tasted an Australian Sauvignon Blanc as fresh and bright at this price point. Quite fantastic actually, this wine is aged in all stainless steel and offers the classic citrus notes we all look for in Sauvignon Blanc. The fact that it is priced so attractively and is so reliable (three vintages for me) is, frankly, awe inspiring. 'nuff said. Negociants USA, $7-$9.

Oxford Landing Viognier - Okay, I hear you, this guy's a shill. There is nothing better than finding a winery that consistently produces wonderful wines, it is the entire premise of these 'Reliable' posts. I will point out that I find their reds from Oxford Landing only correct, not exciting. The whites though, are in a class by themselves! Luisa Rose is simply the best winemaker I have ever seen with the finicky variety of Viognier. This grape goes from 'just right' to 'too late' in a matter of hours. She has been well awarded for her work with the variety and justifiably so. When done properly it is full of honeysuckle, peaches, apricots and pairs beautifully with spicy seafood and Thai food. Having been lucky enough to meet her and taste her wines, I will remain a devoted follower. Bravo, bravo! Imported by Negociants USA, $7-$9. On a somewhat related note, experiment with any Yalumba Viognier you come across as well. A tasting of the full line will be featured here at some point

Sorry, no Riesling to be presented here as I find the vast majority that are widely distributed enough to be represented here are much too sweet and innocuous for me. so, if you must have Riesling I recommend looking for Mosel (a region) wines from Germany.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Reliable Whites Part 1

In the continuing quest to save you from damaging your palate while in unfamiliar environs, I now present white wines that are fairly ubiquitous but are actually tasty and reasonably priced.

Today, we'll deal with Chardonnay and I must disclose that I rarely, if ever, drink this variety at this price point. I find the great majority of them to be totally interchangeable, undistinguished, over-oaked and lacking acidity. So, these wines lean toward what I would describe as a cleaner style, which both makes my mouth happier and pairs better with food. If you want a big oaky Chardonnay, you can nearly close your eyes and grab one from California or Australia. If you're disappointed with the results, let me know; I might enjoy the wine.

Louis Latour - Chardonnay Ardeche and Grand Ardeche - The Latour family has grown grapes since the 17th century. That long history has lead to a well deserved reputation of excellence. Although I am not a big fan of their reds generally, the whites are outstanding. These two offerings come from the Ardeche region, well south of Burgundy. Grapes from within Burgundy proper, the Cote d'Or, are relatively expensive and they could never use that source to produce wines at these prices. The regular Ardeche, in a fat, green bottle, is aged in stainless steel only and this creates a wine that can be a bit light for Chardonnay fans, but works beautifully with lighter fish dishes and goat cheese. The Grand Ardeche is aged in oak, I believe all French, and has a nutty, buttery aroma and palate but retains enough acid to provide balance. It is much more the full throttle style of Chard, but with the expected French restraint. Various importers. Ardeche $7-$10, Grand Ardeche $10-$14.

Okay, I admit it, I am more than a bit of a Franco-phile, especially when discussing Chardonnay.

Here's another option...

Louis Jadot Macon Lugny - Another Burgundy producer, this wine comes from just north of the Beaujolais appellation well south of the Cote d'Or proper. The region, called the Maconnais, produces wonderful Chardonnay with plenty of vibrant and complex minerality from the limestone soils. The better known Pouilly-fuisse hails from this area, but carries a heftier price tag. Jadot's Macon-Lugny is vinified in stainless steel to preserve the bright fruitiness, although my recollection is that it does spend time in oak for a short period of time. The wines of the Maconnais are not big, broad shouldered Chardonnays, but they offer wonderful depth, complexity and intrigue for the price. Imported by Kobrand, $11-$14.

Oxford Landing Chardonnay - Mark the date...I am recommending an Australian Chardonnay that costs less than $10. It may never happen again. Too many inexpensive Aussie whites are over-oaked, lack acid and focus, while offering little more than the simplest of exotic fruit notes. Not so with Oxford Landing. I feel the need to share some technical information here both to shed light on why this wine works so well and to show the care the winery shows in making a wine that is incredibly inexpensive. Twenty percent of the wine was fermented with wild yeasts, which generally leads to more complexity on the nose and palate than using a specific cultured yeast. That portion then spends time on the lees after fermentation, adding richness and depth for the mid-palate especially. About ten percent undergoes malolactic fermentation which converts malic acid, like that in green apples, to lactic acid, like that in milk. Lower percentage of malolactic fermentation retains more fresh acidity, something I find lacking in too many Aussie whites. Additionally, some portion of a reserve wine from the previous vintage is added to the wine which adds more excitement to this nearly miraculous bargain. Melon, hints of peach, some creamy, buttery notes and an undeniable gulpability make this a great choice for dedicated Chardonnay lovers but I also found at recent tastings that even non-Chardonnay people found pleasure here. Imported by Negociants USA, $7-9.

The next post will wrap up the whites and move us into some bubbles.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Reliable Reds Part 2

Here are a few more wines that can satisfy at any time, especially when faced with a potentially poor selection of mass produced plonk.

Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais - Any of their wonderful array of Beaujolais will make you happy, but you're most likely to see the Villages version. The designation, a step up from the introductory level Beaujolais, is made from Gamay, the red grape of the appellation. The grape offers bright red, juicy fruits with lively acidity and some floral notes, on the nose especially. Too many people associate Beaujolais with Nouveau, an unfortunate connection. (More on Nouveau as the season gets closer). 'Real' Beaujolais is much drier, although certainly fruity, and more complex. Pair with fish, lighter cheese, chicken or just have a glass. If it is warm outside, feel free to drop this in a bucket of ice for a few minutes, or a fridge for 25 or 30 minutes. Find it for $9-$11, imported by W.J.Deutsch & Sons.

Bogle Petite Sirah - The confusingly named Petite Sirah (sometimes spelled Syrah) is not 'little Syrah'; it is, in fact, a nearly unknown grape called Durif that came from the south of France to California. The grape bunches look a lot like Syrah, but smaller, no doubt how the name began. Generally darker and more tannic than Syrah the wine often lacks finesse, and the hallmark peppery notes of Syrah, but makes up for it with a power and depth that often entrances. Bogle has been one of the best known producers of this grape for well over a decade (they first produced it in 1978). Their version is not as massive or intense as some more expensive versions but still offers concentration, big fruit and more accessibility in the short term. Although the tech sheet does not discuss the oak treatment, it clearly sees time in wood and some of it is no doubt new. This wine wants red meat, red sauces and can stand up to rich sauces like BBQ. Recently I have seen this wine advertised for as little as $9 and as much as $13. It should be found in most places between $10 and $11.

Cycles Gladiator Syrah - Absolutely one of the most impressive wines in this category I have ever encountered. Inexpensive, aged in a lot of new oak (not 100%), Central Coast appellation, eye-catching label - all signs point to me not caring at all about this wine, but I am consistently impressed by the wine. The label features a nude woman seemingly flying by holding onto the handlebars of a bicycle, a poster from the Belle Epoque era advertising a bicycle, called the Cycles Gladiator. There is some Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon blended with the Syrah. Juicy, lush but not to the point of flabbiness, often a flaw of wines in this price range, the wine is all about hedonistic pleasure for the palate. A great glass of wine, it also works well with the same food as Bogle but can expand to chicken and pork due to its brighter acidity and lower tannins. $8-$10 retail.

The next two entries will offer some white wines that can offer safe haven for your taste buds when in strange environs.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Reliable Reds

We've all been there. You're travelling and you need to locate a decent bottle of wine in a tiny convenience store or grocery. Or you find yourself in a chain restaurant with the same desire, but are faced with a generic, corporate wine list. What should you do? Sure, there's always beer, but generally those options are similarly uninspired. Mixed drinks rarely go well with anything beyond snacks. So, water it is. Go ahead, nothing wrong with water, but there are wines that sometimes appear in these places that are actually worth drinking even though there are precious few of them. These are wines I will also drink willingly from time to time and in some cases have even bought by the case.

In no particular order, here are some of the reds :

La Vieille Ferme Rouge - The winery is run by the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel (my favorite Chateauneuf du Pape producer) fame. The red comes from a region east of the more famous Cotes du Rhone appellation and offers a very similar style for a lower price. The grapes allowed are the same and the wines are almost always predominantly Grenache, just like most Cotes du Rhones. Red fruits dominate, little or no oak is noticeable and there is usually a pepper note, more or less pronounced depending on vintage. A versatile wine, this will pair well with anything from chicken to steak. Heavy sauces, especially BBQ, will overwhlem this wine. The easy access screwcap closure will be a welcome relief if you're travelling and some airport screener is now the proud owner of your corkscrew. Retail cost approx. $8, imported by Vineyard Brands.

Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Cetamura - From a venerable Tuscan estate that recently converted to organic farming, comes this very well made, traditional Chianti. A small percentage of Canaiolo is added to the Sangiovese to produce their entry level wine. Canaiolo is mostly used for color but is one of the traditional grapes that is no longer needed for a wine to be labeled Chianti. Cetamura is a lovely, consistent wine with the classic Sangiovese cherry fruit and plenty of fresh, food-friendly acidity. To my recollection this wine used to spend some minimal time in old oak, but the current release apparently is aged only in stainless steel and bottle. Either way, the purity of the fruit is unburdened by wood influence and will pair with any red sauce dishes as well as hamburgers, pork chops and harder cheeses. Ignore the drawing on the new label that looks like a crude sketch from a Children of the Corn storyboard. Price varies, but expect to pay $9-$11 retail, imported by Dalla Terra.

Di Majo Norante Sangiovese - From Molise in the southern half of Italy, this wine is 100% Sangiovese. A warmer region than Tuscany helps to produced a more deeply colored and slightly bigger fruited red wine. The acidity is less pronounced and the wine is a bit softer and more crowd pleasing than the Cetamura, due at least in part to six months spent in oak. Still works with red sauces, but opens up to creamy sauces, grilled meats and is fun to drink without food. The label is distinct and memorable. St. Christopher slaying a dragon is unmistakable although I have no idea what it has to do with Sangiovese...perhaps it pairs well with grilled dragon? Find it for $8-$10, imported by Winebow.

The next post will bring three more red options and then we'll take a look at some whites.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

St. Innocent's 2006 Pinot Noir and some 1998's

Founded by Mark Vlossak in 1988. He made wine at Panther Creek from 1994-1999. Mark makes the wines at St. Innocent and has watched the winery grow from less than 400 cases to nearly 7,000 a year currently. The philosophy is one of letting the wines speak and making sure they pair well with food. That means, to me, bright acids and moderate use of oak. Those are also excellent ingredients for ageability...see below, since two 1998's were included as well. This tasting clearly showed to me that they are not built for easy access and slurpability, but that is not a negative! A few years in bottle should round them out or an hour or two in a decanter.

The winery is located in the SE corner of Eola-Hills although they also source some fruit as you will see below. The 2006 vintage was warm, second only to 2003, and produced wines that were big, juicy and deep in color. Some wineries made jammy, simple wines and some produced wines with great structure that perhaps reminded one's palate more of Syrah than Pinot Noir. A few produced deep, complex, intense wines that also had a bright focus about them. St. Innocent appears to have been one of the latter.

I recently tasted the Villages Cuvee and thought I would include it even though it was not part of the tasting line-up.
Villages Cuvee 2006- from three vineyards, young vines in the Freedom and Temperance Hills Vineyards and some from the Vitae Springs vineyard. All are in the Eola-hills.
Also from a tasting the week before -
White Rose 2006- spicy acidity, perhaps a bit aggressive, and so lively on the palate, it's almost tingly. Clearly a good, perhaps great vineyard, but at this point the wine came off too tart for current enjoyment. I do believe it will present more opulent fruit and provide pleasure a year or so down the road. In the interest of full disclosure, there was a cranberry note to the fruit that I do not enjoy in Pinot Noir. Others have no issues in most cases, but it really makes my palate unhappy.
Presented in the order they appeared at the tasting

Shea Vineyard 2006 - In Yamhill-Carlton, this vineyard produces much sought after fruit. Most of the planting was done in the late 1980's. Lots of Pommard clone in the St. Innocent version. Sweet oak is evident along with big, dark fruit. The wine has a big, round feel, but that is accompanied by tongue-smacking tannin. Juicy entry, but very dry on the finish. Big and wild wine with hints of sweetish plum on the back end. Hard to judge now, except that it has a great source, great winemaker and is very young. There is no doubting the structure and the fruit appears sturdy enough to outlast the tannin. $40
Temperance Hill 2006 - Eola-Hills, at a fairly high altitude (700-800 feet) which leads to later harvests, accompanied by the risk of rain and ruined vintages but offset by the beauty of more hang time before the grapes reach full maturity. The longer a grape hangs before reaching that elusive 'optimum' maturity the more complex it becomes. The vineyard is farmed organically. More cherry aroma and flavor. The wine is sweeter and jammier and spicier with a great silky palate feel. Gorgeous cherry notes with plenty of skin, keeping it from being too juicy or one dimensional. The wine is very dry at this point. Here comes some black cherry now. Well done, and much more accessible than the Shea. $31
Seven Springs and Anden Vineyards 2006 - essentially the same vineyard in Eola Hills, until the owners divorced in 2001. Anden is the lower portion and Seven Springs the upper. No more Oregon winemakers will have access to this fantastic fruit after 2008, and most are done after the 2007 vintage. (for more on this story -
Seven Springs has lots of juice, more bass notes than Temperance. Not sweeter, but clearly more drinkable now. Slight forest floor notes, beautiful, elegant, more nuanced than intense. Great mushroom wine...very pretty. I really like this bottle. $40
Anden - supposedly called 'the best vineyard in Oregon' by a well respected producer. Lots of Pommard clone, with some age. The vineyard(s) were planted from 1982-1989 and are beginning to develop some phylloxera. Deep bass notes here, very grippy palate, but damn good. Wow, big, intense and spicy but still lively. a bit closed on the nose, some sweet oak, but not overdone. Classic Pommard, almost plummy fruit. This will no doubt turn out to be top notch, but give me the Seven Springs for shorter term. $40
Momtazi 2006 - From the McMinnville AVA, west of Eola-Amity Hills, the vineyard is farmed biodynamically. Again a bit closed on the nose, the wine is much more deep - lower palate - and tannic. Not a lot of pleasure tonight. The wine is very textural now rather than expressive in aroma or flavor. Difficult to judge in my opinion. There doesn't appear to be anything wrong with the wine, but based on this taste, it's years away from being approachable. Not a bad thing if you plan on that. $37

The following two wines came out of Mr. Mike's cellar:
Freedom Hill 1998 - The vineyard is in the Coast Range, on the western edge of grape growing in the Willamette Valley. The wines from this vineyard are dark, full, somewhat tannic and supposedly age well. This bottle was hard to judge - a tad funky, perhaps even stewy, with some interesting earthy berry fruit showing through. Still some firm tannin. The color is great, but the wine shows a bit of clumsiness, not unappealing, not quite a pleasure, but intriguing. The wine still has a firm grip about it with some lovely strawberry preserve on the palate. Interesting, but more of a curiosity than a treasure.
Shea 1998 - This also still had some tightness, but it was much less tannic. Well done! That ethereal old wine/old Pinot noir thing is fully present here - hard to put into words until you've tried one. The color shows a much more pronounced edge of fading red, but there is still a core of red color in the center and red fruit on the palate. Sweet darker fruit, but still clearly berry, the texture if great and the finish is long, long, long! Excellent!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

1998 Oregon Pinot Noir

We hear it all the time, 'sure, drink this wine now, but it will age beautifully.' Time in bottle is obviously important for big wines to settle down a bit and to integrate some of their more intense tannins. Fans of Pinot Noir know that despite the fact that Pinot Noirs are not generally considered big wines, they can benefit immensely from some bottle age. The aromas become more complex, the mid-palate fills out and the finish becomes softer, smoother and more complex. It is only with time that Pinot Noir reveals all of its subtle complexity and truly can become silky and ethereal. Few people would argue this, and because most casual wine drinkers are never exposed to aged Pinot Noir it can be a style of wine that eludes them. It is very rare, even in Pinot-centric Oregon, unless you're well connected or a well known member of the media to find an opportunity to partake in a horizontal tasting. A tasting of this style features one vintage and many producers as opposed to the more traditional vertical tasting featuring one winery, or in many cases, one specific wine, from many vintages. I enjoy both and am happy to attend nearly any event of this kind. There is no substitute for learning in this fashion. It can inform about a vintage, about styles of wineries and the ability of their wines to age.

1998 was a much maligned vintage around the world although some overlooked wines proved to be very solid values for drinking soon after release. Oregon was an exception, the vintage proved to be a very good one although many people ignored the wines assuming they too had some of the rain and general lighter styles found elsewhere. (More on this unfortunate phenomenon at a later date)
One of my favorite stores in Portland, John's Marketplace, has an incredible selection of beer, the best I've ever seen, and a passionate wine steward named Mr. Mike. He presented the tasting out of his own cellar, with no product to sell, just to offer an educational opportunity. That is a major reason retailers and wineries don't often host tastings of this sort, they no longer have much, if anything, to sell. Lucky me, for the low, low price of $10 I got to try seven 1998 Pinot Noirs.
In order of presentation -
McKinlay Special Selection - essentially a reserve bottling that now appears every year. The wine was clearly not fined or filtered and the bottle had some fine sediment (it was not decanted). There was clearly a browning edge although the core of the wine was still red. There was some dried fruit, perhaps a tad stewy, but good purity as well. Still vibrant acids and good fruit, it tasted much better than it smelled. The finish is long, with a bit of orange zest, and dried cherry with aromas, impressions of clay and brick. A solid wine, but for me a bit past prime.
McKinlay Ladd Hill - a single vineyard on Parrett Mtn east of Newberg. Same color presentation, but with a sweeter cherry nose and not so much of the dried fruit. Wow, that's spectacular! Deep red cherry notes on the palate with good acid and subtle tannin. Not quite as long as the first, but it is delicious and much more drinkable. Great sweet forest floor note, not tired at all, just showing a lot. Gorgeous fruit, reminds me of Savigny Les Beaune or Chambolle Musigny in Burgundy. Wow!
Broadley Claudia's Choice - from a four acre plot located mid-slope in the vineyards, mostly Pommard clone planted in 1983. Unfined and unfiltered and aged in French oak. Much darker fruit here than in the first two wines, with oak also more noticeable - there is a subtle, sweet cedar note. Similar color to first two wines, but with more clarity and definition. Still a tad tight on the finish - tannin mostly - but very fine delicate tannin. Some plum and even some meatiness with a note of funk - not off-putting, but clearly not the sweet forest floor from Ladd Hill. Some time left for this wine - Broadley's website agrees, says the '98's will be good through 2010.
Ken Wright Guadalupe - from Yamhill-Carlton this was planted in 1989 and is all Wadenswill clone. The wine was poured from magnum, which is significant because the bottle contains by volume, two bottles of wine, and the maturation process is slower. This was clearly the most youthful wine of the night with just a hint of an edge of color and oak on the nose, even a hint of vanilla and lovely, sweet cherry fruit. The wine had great texture, seemed a bit short on the finish, then it returns, but the resurgence seemed to be more wood than fruit. The wine is clearly very good, but not amazing - except for the purity of fruit in the middle. Very enjoyable now, if somewhat straightforward/lacking complexity one might expect from ten year old Pinot Noir. Certainly no complaints, I would love to try this out of a normal sized bottle for comparison. Is the magnum the reason for its apparent simplicity? Or is the wine just not that deep or intriguing?
Cameron Abbey Ridge - the oldest vines were planted in 1976 on this 22 acre plot in the Dundee Hills. Cameron makes very traditional, indigenous yeast fermented wines that remind me of old world wines. Earthy, slightly funky nose, 'classic Cameron', with a slight edge. The wine is still chewy and clearly has some time left ahead of it. The wine is very intense, focused and very French. With a bit more time in glass, it actually became delicious and even exhibited a 'sweetness' on the nose. While the wine softened, it never became elegant - and never will - but it did provide pleasure and would hold up well to some fairly big, fall comfort food. Grilled game would be fantastic.
Broadley Marcile Lorraine - from 2 acres located at the top of the vineyard. above the block for Claudia's Choice. Vines were also planted in 1983 and offer a blend of Pommard and Wadenswill clones. All new French oak used for elevage. Slight edge, not showing much, still tannic but the fruit appears to be mostly gone. Drinkable, but nothing exciting. No real pleasure in the wine for me, even a note of iodine(?). There is some hint of dark fruit that nearly appeals, but is too faded for me.
Bethel Heights Southeast Block - From Eola-Hills, near Salem. The block is a six acre section planted in 1979 and is 100% Pommard clone planted on its own rootstock (more on this at a later date). A note of cheese on the nose, the wine was at once closed and intense, lively but a tad faded. The acidity was still bright, with subtle tannin and notes of wild violets and earth tones. The wine was incredibly dark and rich. I never decided if I loved the wine or was merely intrigued, but it was clearly a winner and seemed to have more time ahead of it. A full-bodied wine that could clearly stand up to some big food.

Overall a fascinating tasting - Mr. Mike says he plans to do a 1999 horizontal soon - here's hoping I'm in town because I want to be there.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Borsao - Spanish Grenache

I told you the name Jorge Ordonez would appear frequently in these pages. He is the importer bringing in some of the most exciting Spanish wines available. One of the stars of his portfolio from the very beginning is Bodegas Borsao. Bodegas simply means cellar when used as a wine term and Borsao is the name of the producer. They are located in Campo de Borja just south of the eastern end of the D.O. of Rioja. While the grape used primarily in much more famous Rioja is Tempranillo, Grenache is king in Borja. This wine is located in the town of Borja which traces its history back to the 4th Century B.C., albeit under a slightly different name (Bursao according to Mr. Ordonez). The winery was founded in 1958 and makes nothing but Grenache (Garnacha in Spanish) dominant wines. Grenache is most frequently found in blends from the Southern Rhone Valley, especially Cotes du Rhone. Chateauneuf du Pape is also usually Grenache driven.

Grenache, like Zinfandel, produces significantly more powerful. complex and interesting wines as the vines age. Young Grenache vines produce pretty, red fruited (especially strawberry and raspberry) wines with some black pepper on the palate. I sometimes think of these as deeper, brawnier Beaujolais. As the vines age however, the grapes pick up complexity and richness and eventually can be quite dark in the glass with bigger mouthfeel more serious impressions.

Borsao is making compelling Grenache for a mere pittance.
  1. The introductory level is called Vina Borgia and is made from 100% Garnacha. The grapes are fermented in stainless steel to preserve freshness and fruity exuberance. The 2006 is still available here in Portland and it offers juicy primary notes of dark berries and hints of white pepper. It is simple, delicious and quite quaffable. This would be okay to serve with a slight chill if you so desired. Perfect for pizza, burgers, and most cheeses. A Tuesday night wine to keep around the house in quantity, especially when you can find it for around $7. They also bottle the wine in magnums for larger gatherings.
  2. Borsao, confusingly enough is the name of their next offering, tipping the scales at a still reasonable $8-$9. This one is blended with Tempranillo, usually 15-20 percent. It is always a bit more structured and has more weight to it, although it is also stainless steel fermented. The 2006 shows some smoky notes, more spice (mostly black pepper) and a firmer, more structured finish. This is a wine for pairing with grilled meats, red sauces and heartier cheeses. The 2007 (tasted a few months ago as a sample) appears to be a bit juicier and less firm, with more red fruits than dark. this wine usually benefits from some time in bottle (months not years) and the 2006 is drinking beautifully now.
  3. A new wine, called Monte Oton (100% Garnacha) is currently taking Portland by storm. The 2007 vintage is the first to come to the city and by all responses it is a huge hit. Darker still than the Borsao, this is full of dark berry fruit and very pronounced black pepper notes on the palate. It appears to have been at least aged in oak for some period of time, although clearly not too long as the vintage was available out of Spain months ago. There is not much noticeable tannin, like the Vina Borgia, but this is much more substantial. Even steak would be a good match here, although the strengths would be along the lines of the matches for Borsao. Its polka-dot label reminds me of those terrible candies that came attached to paper, and inevitably tasted of the same. Fortunately, the similarity ends there. This is a wine which might even benefit from another year in cellar, although it is certainly not necessary. $8-$9
  4. Keep your eyes peeled for the Tres Picos, always one of my favorites. The 2006 is long ago sold out, but the 2007 should be arriving soon...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Excellent Spanish Red

Enough with the preliminaries, on to the wines. Jorge Ordonez brings in some fantastic wines from Spain and I have been lucky enough to have his portfolio to sell in New Orleans and now here in Portland, Oregon as well. Some of the wines are a bit too flashy and international in style for me, but most of the wines he brings to the U.S. are nothing short of magical for the price. You will see his name again and again in these posts.
Recently I opened a bottle of Juan Gil, from Bodegas de Hijos de Juan Gil. Essentially that means winery of the sons of Juan Gil. The wine is 100% Monastrell (Mourvedre) and comes from 40 year old vines (even older to my recollection although the back of the bottle says 40, so we'll go with that) in the D.O. (Denominacion de Origen - Spanish designation for appellation) of Jumilla.
I have always liked this wine. The 2004 was elegant yet very full in the mouth with lots of red fruit and plenty of minerality on the finish, while the 2005 was more showy, with deeper color and darker fruit. This vintage seems to combine the two versions. Plenty of deep juicy fruit but with some red accents and although it took a day for the wine to shows its best, there is magic in that 2006 bottle. The use of oak is noticeable, but moderate, there is no drying wood tannin on the finish.
The vineyard is planted in chalky, white limestone 'soil' that is quite bright and intense in the sun and can even make it appear to have snowed recently. They get little rain (none was recorded in 2005) and that forces the vines to dig deep through different sedimentary layers, which increases the complexity of the wine. The limestone gives minerality, which is hard to describe, but makes a distinct impression on the palate, dry, but not tough, lively, but not zippy.
I think this wine will do well with anything off the grill, and will pair exceptionally well with lamb, red sauces, and even pork or chicken with black olives. It could certainly stand up to a steak, but would lose some of its subtlety paired this way. Mushrooms, especially portobellos grilled, are a beautiful match.
You should be able to find this wine for just over $15 and I would recommend buying a few bottles, at least, and laying some down for a year or so.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


I enjoy real wine. I dislike, and rail against, the huge commercial production facilities. These colossal producers are just like chain restaurants that plague suburbia all over this country. At their very best they are safe and reasonably priced. Large production wines, like meals at chains, are rarely unpalatable, usually acceptable but never particularly memorable. That's because the wines and food are generic; specifically designed to meet the acceptance of as many people as possible. That is not a terrible thing in and of itself. However, this style of business puts people who are truly engaged in production and work hard making fascinating food and truly remarkable wines in a precarious position and leads consumers to think that the mediocrity all around them is all they can expect. In fact, if one searches just a little that small mom and pop restaurant might just surprise for flavor and value, and a lesser known wine, for the same price, or even less, than what you're used to drinking, may turn out to be more intriguing and rewarding. Those are the wines that fascinate me. Any moron with $50 can buy a good bottle of wine, but it takes effort and persistence to find gems under $20 and even more so under $15. I will try to bring you those gems.
I prefer French wines as a rule and Pinot Noir is my favorite. If forced to choose, and someone else was footing the bill, I could happily drink nothing but Burgundy for the rest of my life. Reality rears it's ugly head and reminds me that I can not afford to do that, and couldn't even before the Euro became so strong relative to our dollar. I hope no one ever makes me choose because part of the fun of wine is exploring, even when encountering something you may never want to have again.
I believe that choosing and enjoying wine is all about balance. I prefer bright, more acid driven wines as a rule - they go better with a wider variety of food. But I still love the hedonism of a great Zinfandel or the brawny power of a well-made Cabernet. Sometimes a big, juicy Shiraz makes me want to sneak off and enjoy my guilty pleasure in secret much like some people do with Twinkies or Cheetos. A full blown Chardonnay is too much for me on a daily basis, but I do appreciate them and also love to have a glass from time to time.
The key in those bigger wines is balance; if they have balance they can blow you away with power, weight, silky mouthfeel and still leave you wanting more. If they do not, they leave a palate impression much like putting a pat of butter on your's fun for a moment, but then all you want to do is get it out of your mouth and wash it away with something else.
My pledge is to make this blog balanced as well. This will not be a personal hit parade and nothing else. Geek wines, crowd pleasers and wines in between will all be featured.

Friday, September 19, 2008

What's with the name? What's this all about?

The name is an homage to my formative time in the wine business spent in New Orleans - aka, The Big Easy. The name doubles for the plain and clear discussions I have always been so proud of in my years in the wine business. I will not say I never stray into the bizarre, esoteric, 'what's the weirdest fruit you can think of to use as a descriptor' world, but I try to limit that as much as possible. Sometimes it's fun to get all geeky and cork-dorky and come up with descriptors until even wine geeks get a little overwhelmed; however, for most wine writers it's a mask for insecurity or just plain arrogance.
Not all of the wines discussed here will be big, nor will they always be easy, but there will be many to choose from and the writing should be clear and easy to understand.

Do we really need another wine blog? I'm not sure if the world at large does; I guess we'll find out. I know that I have many family and friends who value my opinion and I have sent occasional e-mails out but unless one has a need for a specific wine immediately, that e-mail is never around when you need it. So, here it is people. Mostly a blank canvas right now, this spot will soon have lots of useful (I hope) information to use when you want it. Need spanish wine, a great bargain Chardonnay, an explanation of what in the world Txacholi is all about? Eventually all of those answers plus lots of food and wine pairing advice will appear in this space.
As I am currently residing in Portland, Oregon my wine reviews will be based on wines in this market, although I will attempt to pass along wines that should be available in many markets.

I hope you enjoy the journey, I know I will.