Friday, August 30, 2013

Alto Moncayo Veraton 2005

Jorge Ordonez imports the wines made by Alto Moncayo (their website is unfortunately under construction at the moment) they consistently garner 90+ point reviews and, more importantly, rabid, repeat customers. The wines are all made from old vine grenache (garnacha, en Espanol) and are wildly intense, power-packed wines full of raspberry liqueur notes and black pepper and excitement. I have always enjoyed the wines young but also believed they would age well. Unfortunately, my discipline has wavered too often and they rarely survive more than a year or two once they are within reach.
The Designation of Origin (D.O.) is Campo de Borja (boar-ha) is located just southeast of Rioja and Navarra in the NNE of Spain. (Map from Wines of Spain)

I finally had an older bottle and the experience was...disappointing. It will not stop me from looking forward to tasting these wines again and I will happily admit that this is their entry level version but I am strongly reminded that wines do not always have magical abilities to absorb lots of oak. Flashy, vanilla-tinged wood dominates the wines young but their exuberant fruit stands up to it. With more time in bottle it appears that oak remains strong despite what many pundits would have us believe. 
The first impression was oak. Lots of oak. The thick, ripe fruit I expected was hidden...maybe buried is a better word, like a crawfish boil next door might overwhelm the steak you're cooking. That's not quite right, I love crawfish boils (and steak).  
The nose opened a bit more and showed a sherry note, not overwhelming, but unmistakable. Too much raw wood and oak tannin in the mouth. Balance was almost nonexistent and the tasting experience was the opposite of harmony.
An hour later and the disjointed parts did not come together and even as individual experiences they were not enjoyable. Bummer. 
The color was good, this was not a wine past its prime. I smelled the cork again and again, expecting to get a whiff of corkiness which would explain what I was experiencing. Nothing wrong there. The wine smelled like a cheap ruby port but lacked the sweetness and long finish of those wines. I tried the wine again the next night and nothing had changed.
I have a few other bottles from this producer of similar age...I will update if anything changes.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Two Old Shiraz...Not Too Old Shiraz

My father's birthday wines continued with these two gems from Down Under.  I am a huge fan of Aussie wines but one must be selective to avoid getting stuck with overly thick, overly oaked clodhopper wines.  We were not shopping for bargain wines, so things got much easier.  The impressive list at Vickers' Liquors in Newport, RI made it simple.  Choosing two classic producers, who do impressive work from their entry wines up, increased our odds of finding an aged beauty.
We started with D'Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz 2003.  My father took my recommendation about more current vintages of this wine for some golf outings and was applauded for his choice.  He has also become a fan of the wine, so it made lots of sense to try an older bottle.
The wine is named after a vine disease that kills one arm of a vine but leaves the other in good shape. This concentrates all of the growing power and nutrients and flavors into those fewer grapes, resulting in very intense wine.  I also heard that they half cut an arm near harvest to limit water supply to the grapes while still allowing the ripening process to continue.  The former explanation is on D'Arenberg's website though, so that gets the nod for the official story.  
McLaren Vale offers warm weather but tempers it with the cooler influence of the ocean.  (If you want to read more, here is an educational Australia post I wrote).  This provides the richness we expect from Australia but keeps the wines fresh and vibrant.  I love the wines from this region and Dead Arm is no exception.  
The 2003 showed amazing color, still ruby red.  The nose was all wild berries with a touch of framboise and just a bit of that slightly gamy funk the French call "sauvage."  The aroma was nearly "brambly," a term often used to refer to zinfandels, reminding me of a patch of wild berries on a hot summer day - juicy, ripe fruit that gets a slightly roasted quality from the sun.  A bit of dried fruit and oak show too but the wine seemed delightfully fresh and young.
The palate was mouth-filling and still brims with bright acids followed by mouth-drying tannins which mingled nicely with the big, juicy fruit.  The long finish leaves a dryness with fine but persistent tannins and lasts for a long time.  The final impression is of a very approachable, suave wine despite the edge of tannin, reminding me of a man with a few days of beard growth in a perfectly tailored tuxedo who has great stories and a penchant for using curse words as adjectives.
The other shiraz was from Torbreck, a fantastic winery, with big scores and prices to match.  The Struie, apparently named for a hill in Scotland, is a shiraz from Barossa, much of it from Eden Valley which is at a higher elevation and enjoys somewhat cooler temperatures.  This 2004 vintage showed some of the classic, slightly baked Barossa pie fruit.  It seemed a bit compact or pinched, but it was lovely.  Black pepper flared my nostrils and there was just a hint of light acidity adding to that feeling. The wine really coated my tongue and the tannin was much less obvious than in the Dead Arm.  However, it was much drier on the finish.  It was delicious.  I'm not one to wax poetic about the perfect fruit or aroma but this wine had juniper on the palate and was herby on the nose.  Not herbal, which to me often means unripe, or under ripe, but herby, which bring to my mind an array of fresh herbs laid out to be prepped for cooking.  It opened nicely and blossomed with a little time in the glass.  Green peppercorn came on strong on the mid-palate which grew to be a bit too intense for me.
Overall these wines were brilliant and a lovely treat to experience.  Vickers' Liquors clearly stores their wines well, just look at these corks!  I look forward to an excuse to purchase more of their inventory in the near future.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Fantastic Surprise!

I wrote recently about drinking wine when you want instead of saving it for special occasions. Sure, wine ages, but sometimes when you finally decide the moment is right, the treasured wine is past its prime.
Champagne and sparkling wines that provided entertained but no longer fit their original fresh, bubbly category prodded me to revisit this all too frequent theme in the wine world.  However, one night later we opened a random little German sparkler I bought on closeout for $10 more than a half a decade ago.
As you can see, it is a 1999 vintage sparkling riesling!  I know nothing about the producer only that I found three bottles after Katrina while spending time with family in Summit, NJ.  I thought $10 was a potential steal for a vintage dry (sekt) riesling.  I guess I left a bottle behind and boy am I glad I did!
This was the best surprise of the sparkling wine exploration in Maine.  The color was still bright and the nose had some fresh, lemony citrus notes.  It was delicious and amazingly fresh and alive! I could not stop raving in my notes...tart and fantastic!
We still tend to save things too long but sometimes Bacchus rewards, rather than punishes, that covetousness.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Three Domestic Chardonnays with Age

A recent family gathering in Maine provided an exciting opportunity to celebrate my father's birthday with some older wines sourced from Vickers' Liquors in Newport, RI.  They have an amazing list of older bottles available for sale and I had fun flipping through the list on the website.  We had no idea about their storage but they seemed confident and we plunged forward. (Based on what we tasted, the storage is impeccable)
What was far beyond our control was whether or not even perfect storage would be enough to make these West Coast chardonnays age well.
Flowers Andreen-Gale, Sonoma Coast 2006:  A blend based on their estate Camp Meeting Ridge Vineyard, located above 1,000 feet, and some Durrell and Dutton fruit as well (at least based on the 2004 vintage - information was spotty).  The 2004 was one of nine "Year's Best" chardonnays from Wine & Spirits.  
The 2006 was subtle and creamy with a backbone of acidity.  A nutty quality persisted throughout. I wanted to say butterscotch as well but that descriptor brings to mind a thickness/sweetness that was not present in this wine.  Minerality, reminiscent of a 4 or 5 year-old Chablis, appeared on the palate but this wine was riper and fuller.  I found the wine tart, beguiling and tasty but ultimately it seemed a bit short, even hollow on the finish.  The buildup was good, expanding in the mouth, and the final impression of the finish was enjoyable but in between the wine disappeared for a moment.  

The next two, both older, showed much better, exceeding my expectations!

Kistler Les Noisetiers, Sonoma Coast 2004: The wine is a blend of Sonoma Coast sites and they make a fair amount of it.  That does not mean you can find it easily since the wines are much sought after by collectors.  I have tasted a number of Kistler's chardonnays in their youth but they always seemed so tightly wound and ungiving that I mostly shrugged about all the hype.  My palate salivated at the prospect but was also prepared for disappointment.  
It was golden in the glass..I mean golden, almost like apple juice (in color only).  Buttered almonds dominated the nose and it was glorious because the wine remained vibrant and intense with some lemon curd aromas sneaking in there as well. The palate was thick and rich but balanced and I realized why people get excited about these wines.  A slight smokiness appeared but not in the highly-toasted, over-oaked, all too predictable, California way.  
The finish was long, tingly and delicious and the texture was very French while the fruit's ripeness and fullness clearly reminded us of its California roots.  Amazing!

Domaine Serene Cote Sud, Dijon Clones, Willamette Valley 2004: This was my wild card.  I have always loved this wine for its brightness and its opulence.  It always seemed capable of aging but I have only tasted current releases.  Domaine Serene has never been shy about pricing and the 2010 (sold out) was selling for more than twice the release price of this 2004 (and $20 MORE than the 2004 we bought two weeks ago).  
But let's get to the wine.  It smelled a little like SweetTarts on the nose but that needs some explanation. I sometimes find this character in wines that have citrus fruit and minerality that combine to make my mouth water.  The finish was long, long, long and amazing with lemon butter and some soft, delicate talcy thing.  Again, some explanation: talc, to me, means limestone and the accompanying slightly salty minerality, it is tactile and a good thing, at least to me.  Kistler was right in your face but this wine was much more subtle and quietly alluring.  The wine expands on the finish in a completely satisfying and mesmerizing way.  Impressive!  
I fully believe this should be the flagship wine for Oregon chardonnay.  However, a disclaimer must be issued.  The price of current releases has escalated enough for Domaine Serene wines that I no longer purchase them and they have had some trouble holding onto winemakers since Tony Rynders left (he made wine for them from 1998-2008). I have no idea what is happening currently but this 2004 chardonnay was nothing short of incredible.

Next: some reds from the same celebration...

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

No Time Like The Present

On a recent lobster night in Maine someone said, "It sure would be nice to have some bubbly tonight, too bad we don't have any."  My father immediately replied, "We have lots of Champagne but no one ever drinks it."  No one ever drinks it because it is out of sight and not in the cooler.  Once the all clear was given, we chilled some down and started opening our new found bounty.
Wine one was Louis Roederer Brut 1990.  Yes, 1990.
Unfortunately, tired, not very exciting.  Still drinkable but not very good with lobster.  It was too nutty and oxidized to pair well.
Wine number two was a Veuve Cliquot "Yellow" Label from a much more recent event.  It was delicious, especially in comparison.
Next came a wedding wine, Roederer Estate - still tasty, but past its prime.
The next night we opened what we knew would be questionable, a Ruinart magnum from 1969 (my brother's birth year).
The cork was black, the wine brown and no longer sparkling.  It actually might have been well served as an inexpensive amontillado sherry but it bore zero resemblance to Champagne.  We have planned to open that wine for more than a decade.
Last night our exploration continued with three more bottles: Larmandier Blanc de Blancs, Gruet Blanc de Noirs (both from weddings) and a Biltmore Estate Brut (no point in letting that age any longer). The Larmandier was fresher than the Roederer 1990 but tired.  The Biltmore was badly corked and the Gruet was quite lovely.
We still have another Veuve Cliquot and another 1990 Roederer, fingers crossed but no held breath.
The moral of this story is one I have written before: don't wait for special occasions to open treasured bottles, make an ordinary event special by sharing something lovely...while it actually is!
Nights with family may be enough already but add this(!) and it becomes an event.