Friday, June 28, 2013

Thomas Family Winery Chambourcin 2011

I picked up this bottle at Vintage Indiana earlier this month, being quite pleased with the light, Beaujolais style wine at the event.  We liked a few other wines from the winery and were very happy with our energetic and engaging pourer.  A visit with the winemaker came later and I agree with his approach to holding the zinfandel back a few years (2009 is the current release) even if I didn't love the wine itself.
But, the chambourcin spoke to me and I bought some.  With friends over for some pool time I decided to open this up and see what they thought - both are currently in the wine business.  The wine showed some bright fruit and hints of the earthiness I expect from the grape but with less intensity than some others.  Overall it was inelegant but eminently drinkable and went well with some sausage I had later.  The wine is a bit disjointed and funkier than I remember but a decent drink.  A good summer red for a slight chill and meat from the grill.
Thomas Family Winery  $15.99

Friday, June 21, 2013

Two Rosés

The brutal summer weather has arrived in full force here in the Crescent City.  No surprise, but it always shocks my system for a while.  A sure cure for this depressing assault of sauna heat is blasting the A/C or rushing to the pool after a rain storm (otherwise the water is too reminiscent of a bathtub for me) with a cool, refreshing glass of rosé.  These two were consumed in more reasonable temperatures much farther north.
Fritz Hasselbach makes some great rieslings and has garnered plenty of fawning attention from critics.  I found a lone bottle of the 2011 vintage left in the cooler at a local shop in Columbus, IN.  The proprietor had no idea what grapes were inside but I decided to try it.  The consensus on the web says pinot meunier (the other red grape, along with pinot noir, in Champagne) and "a blend of Portugese grapes" from the Rheinhessen, in Germany.  Regardless, the wine was still fresh and tasty, tending more to the fruity side of things but with gentle firmness on the finish.  Bright, red berry fruit burst from the glass and the just off-dry palate made for a great sipping wine.  I wanted another bottle for poolside slurping.  (Shame on me, I forgot to check the importer label before recycling the bottle, but it appears Rudi Weist brings the wines to the states, though they do not list the rosé as one of them.  $13-$15).
When I walked out of Cork Liquors (on 46 in Columbus, IN) with the Fritz, I had this one as backup, just in case.  My touchstone for rosé will always be the south of France and I was confident this would deliver if the German didn't.  The Chateau is located in Sommieres, just west of Nimes in the Languedoc (west of Marseilles).  The little-known aramon grape is the sole variety in the bottle but the wine is classic: great texture, almost thick in the mid-palate but bright and fresh and lively and even slightly earthy.  The color and nose speaks to me of the romantic land of Provence, displaying the orange, peach, and strawberry notes expected of rosés from the area - even though this is not really from Provence or the classic grenache, cinsault, syrah blend (even though the website says it is).  It lacks some minerality and depth but the wine is delicious and a steal at the price I paid!  It is still a good deal at the $15 quoted locally in New Orleans, but I prefer the $11.29 I paid).  Gambit agrees about the wine.  Imported by Fruit of the Vines, Inc.  Driving up north had some advantages, bringing back a mixed case of wine was one of them.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Vintage Indiana Highlights

A few disclaimers here:
1) I tasted a few sweet and/or fruit wines but did not make notes about them.  Mostly they were innocuos and seemed short on value for my palate. 
2) This is not a complete summary.  There was no way to taste all the wine available and some of the wineries have already been written up by me based on previous visits.  
Focusing on Indiana grown grapes helped narrow a huge field of options but I did taste some grown outside of the state.  My experience with these kind of wines is that if I want a good Chardonnay or Merlot, etc. I should buy from a winery in California, Washington, etc. not one halfway across the country.  While some versions show well, I have NEVER found one so tasty and correctly priced that I bought it.
A great example was the Zinfandels we tried.  Some were undrinkable, others just disappointed.  I guessed the sourcing to be Lodi for three of the wines and the two times we could verify the information, I was correct both times.  The price must be right.  I do not like Lodi Zin, too much baked fruit and brown sugar notes for me, so perhaps I should remain quiet but it served as a reminder to work with local supply. I am not interested in a Zinfandel bottled by an Indiana winery in the same way I am not interested in a crawfish boil in Indiana.  
However, there are plenty of local options to enjoy!  I continue to be amazed at the variety of grapes that grow here and some of the impressive efforts that spring from them.  Sure, you can do better at your local wine outlet with Spain, Argentina, Australia and our own west coast but some of these wines are truly worth seeking out.

French Lick Winery is a rock star.  I featured reviews of a few wines here in 2012. They are a professional operation and offer quite a few estate bottlings.  I purchased Chambourcin and Norton (the same wines I tasted a year ago), passing on the fruity Leon Millot only because I was spending too much money and the bag was getting heavy!  We tasted a few whites and they were okay but nothing that blew me away.

The next most impressive was Huber Winery.  Actually, it was probably the most impressive because I was so surprised by them.  I will offer more when I review the wines I bought but suffice it to say I was blown away!  We didn't have a disappointing wine there, the same can not be said of any other winery that day.  We were also fortunate enough to taste through a bunch of wines with the winemaker, Jason Heiligenberg.  All of their grapes come from the estate (they purchase some supplementary fruit when the U-Pick-'Em business leaves them a little short, usually the Blueberry "Port" and the Ruby "Port").  The Pinot Gris shows promise and is made a la Alsace.  They also have a Malbec and Tannat (best known in the Madiran appellation in France) that were not available (sigh) at this event.  I purchased the Stella di Luce Rosado and the 2008 Heritage red.  The Knobstone Reserve "Port" wowed us as well and would give some similarly priced versions from Portugal a run for their money.  

Oliver Winery also impressed.  The Chambourcin Rosé (only $12!!!) was our favorite pink wine of the day and I intend to visit there before leaving Indiana.  We got to them late in the day and they were very busy, so I feel there is more to be explored.  They seem to have lots of wines that come from out-of-state but I am still interested in further investigation. 

Ertel Cellars Winery impressed me with their Chambourcin.  We had no significant interaction here but the wine had a deeper resonant feel than many others without losing the grape's inherent slight earthiness.

Thomas Family Winery was crowded when we arrived.  It turned out an older vintage Zinfandel was about to be opened.  The 2006 was a lot more interesting than the 2009 but it was not my style.  However, they make a delicious Chambourcin, made in a Beaujolais-style, that just screams for warm weather and some grilled meats!  I bought two of those.

Rettig Hill Winery provided a very happy surprise as well.  I had stumbled across the site when planning a potential winery outing but tastings are only available by appointment.  That seemed like too large a leap of faith for me, so finding them at Vintage Indiana was a bonus.  Finding the wines exciting and tasty was a huge bonus!  I purchased the Vignoles and two vintages of the Grand Rouge.

Now, for a few good ones that I did not purchase:
Wildcat Winery made my favorite Traminette of the day with nice texture and subtle spice reminding me of Gewurztraminer (which it should since Traminette is a cross of that grape and a hybrid).  They also had a delicious red made from Marechal Foch and De Chaunac (they call the wine Prophet's Rock Red).
Turtle Run Winery had some tasty wines, including two impressive Indiana Pinot Noirs.  The Chambourcin drank well but was overshadowed for me that day by others.  Their Terrapin Red was also a good glass of wine but failed to command my attention.
Whyte Horse Winery had a terrific Riesling, actually mostly dry in style and with minerality as well but at $18 it crossed my threshold.
Mallow Run Winery had some sparkling wines that might have been more exciting had they been at the proper temperature.  The Signature was a little soapy in the mouth but I wish I could have tried the Pink  Moscato the way it should be served.

Vintage Indiana was fun, I hope it continues to thrive.  I also hope the event coordinators produce a full list of wines available to taste where attendees can mark their favorites and plan what they want to try.  Each winery had their own list but you usually had to wait in line to take a look at it.  Sure, we ended up tasting something everywhere we went but our time might have been better spent with a narrower focus.
Look for more specific breakdowns here soon as I taste through the bottles back home in New Orleans.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Vintage Indiana Tasting

On Saturday June 1st I attended a marathon tasting in Indianapolis, IN held outdoors under threatening skies and a tornado watch.  The rain appeared intermittently as scattered drops and had no effect on those who attended.  The scene reminded me a little of Jazz Fest 2013 with the mud from earlier storms, food and music.  Okay, the mud was nothing like Jazz Fest and the food and music can't really compare but it was a large, outside party...
Vintage Indiana blew Jazz fest away for wine selection though!  I left with a much heavier bag of bottles than I thought I would (you'll see specific reviews in the coming weeks).  Plenty of disappointments found their way into my glass as well, despite some pointed questions and judicious selection.  Way too many sweet wines are produced here for my palate but volunteer pourers and my own observation told me that was what a huge percentage of attendees wanted.  C'est la vie...
As is always the case with these events, some wineries show up ready for prime time and some do not. With 7,000+ tasters, I fully understand the unfortunate reality that many of the people behind the tables will have no clue about the wines they are pouring.  The occasional discovery of a winemaker or actual employee made me happy, but again, I am often the exception at these events.
The most inexcusable error made by an unfortunate number of wineries on Saturday was lack of temperature control.  Too many wines, especially whites and sparklers, were poured without a proper chill.  I am not talking about some  finicky "perfect" temperature, I'm talking about warm, 70+ degrees warm.  Not only is that wine unpleasant to taste, it is not being experienced properly and it will not lead to sales...in fact, quite the opposite is likely to occur.
Overall, though the event was fantastic and kudos to Indianapolis for being able to hold its liquor!  Despite an eight hour wine tasting (with glasses and bottles available to be purchased for on site consumption), no free food and no need to drive (due to a deal from the J W Mariott which was within shouting distance and full of wine tasters), I only saw one stumbling participant (at least on the grounds, during the event...who knows what happened later...).  In New Orleans, we generate staggering, slurring idiots in only a few hours - lots of them - and we're supposed to be able to out-party anyone.  C'est la vie...
By the way, the lone stumbler was part of a group that looked like "trouble" - all sporting glittery wine-themed customized T-shirts.  I spotted this soon-to-be drunk at check-in, the back of her shirt said "I can out drink all of these bitches." Congratulations.
Look for a quick hit parade of favorite wineries and wines in the next post and plenty of more in-depth reviews in the weeks to come as I enjoy the bottles I bought.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Wine Tasting = Cow Patties?

There was a blog post written claiming wine tasting is bullshit. It is an old argument with plenty of valid points and some evidence to back it up.  Go read the article by Robert T. Gonzalez and see for yourself. However, he loses track of the real issue here while he's busy ranting and proving how stupid and gullible we all are when it comes to elusive topics like what wine tastes like.  Tasting wine and trying to pin it to a point score IS bullshit, tasting and talking about it is not. A good response to the original post is found here.
The point of a good wine critic is to taste, describe and offer words to help readers decide if they want to invest in that bottle.  It is subjective, that's part of the fun!  Evaluating a living thing and scoring it based on a few seconds of contact is useless and impossible.
I agree with Mr. Gonzalez when he says "Drink what tastes good/whatever you can afford."  But somewhere in that selection process there must be a moment of relying on the taste of someone else to guide you, why not make a connection with a reviewer or local merchant and increase your odds of finding an enjoyable bottle?  Otherwise you're label shopping or buying on point scores.
At some point you have no choice but to rely on wine tasting to decide what to buy because your taste, however flawed it may be, is the final word on what tastes good to you.