I talked about Chilean Malbec in the Malbec podcast, and we just did the Chile podcast, so I think it's only right for me to discuss one.
Before I dig in, I'll make the caveat that this wine is part of the "Around $10 Wine Project" and I realize that it's not the be all and end all of Chilean Malbec. BUT, as I've found with previous versions of the pairing of place and grape: YAWN!
Chile needs to leave Malbec to its neighbors in the east and keep on trucking with Cabernet and Carmenere (which, on balance, needs some help but with time will be outstanding). The country's got enough amazing wine: they don't need to waste time doing less-than-great Malbec.
Before I get to the review, a word on Concha y Toro, the owner of Casillero del Diablo, because it is one of the most important wineries in Chile.
In 1883 aristocrats Don Melchor de Santiago Concha y Toro (I'm not making up the name, it really was his name) and his wife started the winery by bringing grapes from Bordeaux to the Central Valley of Chile. The business became so successful that the company was traded on the Chilean stock market by the 1920s and started to export to Europe by 1933.
Despite Chile's isolation, Concha y Toro forged international relationships throughout the 20th century, expanding and partnering with U.S. Import powerhouse Banfi to gain widespread distribution in the States. By 1994 the company was trading on the New York Stock Exchange too. Kind of a big deal.
Casillero del Diablo came about because someone kept stealing wines from Don Melchor's cellar. To keep them away, he started a rumor that the devil (el diablo) hung around down there. As far fetched as it was, the thieves freaked and he was able to keep his cellar intact. Behold the power of a ghost story.
The company has vineyards in nearly every part of Chile, including the Rapel Valley, the source for the Malbec in this wine. A big region, south of Santiago, Rapel and its subregions are known for red grapes. The area is diverse and huge and because of that, of mixed quality. And so...
The Wine: 2011 Casillero del Diablo Reserva Privada Malbec
Where it's from: Rapel Valley, Chile
Color: The right color for a Malbec, which is always super dark. This was one dark purple -- looked good.
Smell: Well, the 60% of the wine that was aged in American oak barrels (which are generally known to give off more flavor) dominated the smell. There was a ton of coffee on first whiff. The problem was that past the espresso and wood smells, the only aroma was that of artificial red cherry, kind of like a Jolly Rancher candy. I don't know what happened here but unlike the Malbecs from France and Argentina, this wine had no notes of dark fruit and no richness. It was simple, but not in a good way.
Taste: Jolly Rancher cherry and cherry lollipop with a light tinge of earth. But the earth was like eating a mouthful of wet dirt. There was a coffee taste but it was mild and some good mouth-drying tannin, but the wine had no acid. I was just grateful there was no alcohol burn (that's usually where these cheap reds can go wrong and this one didn't).
Drink or sink?: Sink. This wine didn't taste bad, but it's a nothing wine. There's absolutely no compelling reason to drink this. It has no great flavors or textures, and it's completely boring. For this price point, do the Zolo. Far better for a dollar or two more.
February 25, 2013
I talked about Chilean Malbec in the Malbec podcast, and we just did the Chile podcast, so I think it's only right for me to discuss one.
February 21, 2013
We just did a podcast on Chile, but as a quick review and follow up, this wine is from the Maule Valley about 150 miles south of Santiago, the capital. With a Mediterranean climate -- hot summers, cooler evenings, and low rainfall during the growing season -- vines struggle, and the crop yields are lower than in other parts of Chile. A lot of Maule is dry-farmed (with no irrigation) and this region has lots of organically farmed vineyards as a result.
Chardonnay isn't a big grower here, but it's got potential as this value wine shows.
The Wine: 2011 Chilensis Reserva Chardonnay
Where?: Maule Valley
Grapes: 96% Chardonnay, 4% Viognier (interesting addition but adds color and those high floral notes, see Taste)
Color: Like a brass instrument. Yellow-gold. Even though only 10% of the wine was aged in oak, it certainly darkened the wine. There were thick legs from the alcohol. Overall a very shiny, rich looking wine.
Smell: Nice tropical fruit was all over this wine: Pineapple and guava especially. The oak gave it a woodsy note with some baked lemon cookie, caramel, and butterscotch. A nice wine if not a little simple.
Taste: The wine had refreshing acidity, a little tannin and smokiness from the barrel aging, and was a tad hot from the alcohol. It was a straightforward wine -- tasted just like it smelled. Sugar cookie, pineapple, and some lovely floral perfume flavors like gardenia and chamomile from the addition of Viognier. The wine was simple, pretty, and refreshing. The touch of oak was light and completely appropriate.
Drink or Sink? Drink. For an oaked Chardonnay this was a very light handed, refreshingly simple wine. The finish was like a nice herbal tea. This is a well made wine and a really great value, especially for those who like lightly oaked Chard.
As a bonus Chilensis has a screw cap, which helped keep it fresh for an extra day. I love young whites with a twist like that!
February 19, 2013
In this podcast we cover Chile, a country with some really great wines and some very interesting history behind it in the wine world.
Here's the LINK
- We discuss how this long, narrow country's isolation has led to a bunch of developments -- great for wine, less good for politics
- We talk about the climate, geography, and main grapes
- Then we hit the long history of winemaking, starting with the Conquistadores and hitting on some of the key developments (including the influence of Bordeaux) that made the Chilean wine industry what it is today
- The grape confusion and the rebirth of Sauvignon Blanc and Carménere in Chile
- Then we hit on regions and what to expect from the wines of this long, skinny country.
February 18, 2013
So when I looked more into this wine, which ranks among the worst I've had in this around $10/bottle project, I was shocked to see that Barton & Guestier, the producer picked Corsica for Pinot Noir.
I know these cheapie brands are trying to satisfy demand, but this is nothing short of grape abuse. They've been growing vines in Corsica since Phoenician times, but Mediterranean climate loving grapes -- like Sangiovese (called Nielluccio here) or the crisp Vermentino, both which dig the warmer sub-tropical island climate -- are appropriate. Not Pinot Noir. The Burgundians would cry to see these poor grapes.
I bought Bistro at the recommendation of my wine guy at my favorite store, when I told him I was doing this $10 project. He said this was a solid wine with good character, if a little light. That would make for a fine bistro wine even if the label was so unappealing and cheesy, that I had a hard time adding it to my cart. Should have gone with the gut.
Corsica's largest wine region is a Vins de Pays/Indication Geographique Protegée, called Vin de Pays de I'lle de Beauté, which is the island of beauty (it looks pretty beautiful, so that makes sense). When I told M.C. Ice where the wine was from, my French pronunciation was so bad that it sounded like I said I'lle de boot-ay. M.C. noted that the name was fitting since it tasted like it boot-ay as well. Ignorant American joke, yes. True? Also yes.
This wine reinforces my stance that there's no such thing as a good, inexpensive Pinot Noir. It's a hard grape to grow, it thrives in weird, hard to farm places and that's expensive. They've got to pass that cost on. If they don't spend the money, well, you get this.
Wine: 2011 Barton & Guestier Bistro Pinot Noir
Where?: Vin de Pays de I'lle de Beauté (the French Island of Corsica)
Grape: Pinot Noir
Color: A nice, light color -- a transparent, brownish, bricky color. By the looks of it, very promising. Even though it's from a hot climate, it wasn't thick and inky.
Smell: This smelled great. Licorice, tea, dried potpourri, and lots of damp earth. If wine was for smelling and not for drinking, Bistro would be perfect. But, alas, you have to taste it, and that's a damn shame for this wine.
Taste: Imagine you had a black tea bag, dipped it in water for about 2 seconds and then added red food coloring. There is NO flavor, a fleeting second of tannin, and no acid. The wine is like drinking vitamin water -- a little flavor but lacking character. It is a nothing wine. Not even worth the sip.
Drink or Sink?: SINK. A mockery of wine and of the Pinot Noir grape. What a shame that B&G thinks they can meet legal requirements for including Pinot Noir grapes, slap "Product of France" on the label, and include a cliche picture and people will buy it. I guess someone DOES buy it, but why I have no idea.
February 12, 2013
In the recent podcast we did on California, M.C. Ice and I talked about the differences between mountain vineyards and those on the valley floor. Both in video and in posts on other mountain wineries I've detailed the contrast too, so rather than hit that angle I'm going to get a little more specific and tell you about Spring Mountain in Napa Valley.
Named for the natural underground springs running through it, Spring Mountain is on the western mountain range of the Napa Valley -- the Mayacamas. Reaching altitudes of up to 2,600 feet/792 meters, this place is pretty different from other mountains in the area and it shows in the wine.
I've been up the mountain a few times, most notably on my visit to Pride, and the first thing that struck me was that it was a little like a rain forest. As we meandered up the hill in our possibly dangerous and unstable-seeming SUV rental, I felt just exactly how steep the roads were (rollover risk was high), how incredibly forested the mountain seemed (our cell phones didn't work and there was only a winery every so often), and, as I'd noted on my other times up Spring Mountain, how wet it all looked (I was concerned about slipping down the hill -- this thing car have much traction).
We made it out alive, and it turns out that my observations, made in a state of fear and worry, actually tell a great story about the mountain as a wine region: It's steep, wet, and of the 8,600 acres on the mountain, only 1,000 are planted to only about 30 growers.
What I wasn't able to cull from my neurotic state of mind was info about how idyllic the climate of Spring Mountain is for grape growing. Its vineyards lie above the fog line and its location and lower height compared to other mountains in Napa make it a perfect path for Pacific breezes to find their way to Napa's valley floor over the mountain. The days are cooler and the nights warmer than on the valley floor. This makes for a longer growing season. Growers harvest the grapes up to a month later than in other parts of the Valley and that extra time allows flavors to develop while preserving stronger acids and tannins.
What does that mean? The Cabernet and Merlot that dominate this rock (90% of the wine grown here is red and most of it is these two varieties) have lots of time to develop fruit flavor and maintain acid. The tannins from the shallow soils are strong, making wines from Spring Mountain good candidates for aging, although why you would want to hold on to them when the triumvirate of delicious -- great acid, solid but not harsh tannin, and juicy fruit -- reign in the bottle is beyond me.
I enjoyed my time visiting Spring Mountain. The views are awesome. The vibe is much more chill and less show-y than below in Napa Valley, and the wines have a real sense of identity. They come from Spring Mountain and that means something. Unlike many Napa Cabs and Merlots, I think Spring Mountain stands out in terms flavor and quality.
So when Smith-Madrone asked if they could send their wines to me (disclosure, these were free samples, but that doesn't bias me, as you'll see) I was thrilled. I've passed the winery before and heard wonderful things about the Smith brothers, who established one of the beachhead wineries here in 1971. They are known for being advocates of Spring Mountain, for being laid back and for making amazing, well-balanced wines.
I tried the three wines over the course of a week and was really surprised by the inconsistency. I'll get into detail below, but these wines ranged from spectacular to ok to, for me, completely unbalanced and barely drinkable. I have such a hard time reconciling what I tasted as being from a single winery. I'd be curious to see if any of you have had this experience here or at another place...
A note: We received a call from the winery that they thought the inconsistency of the Chardonnay was from poor storage or transport. We've re-reviewed the wine in an audio and written format IN THIS POST ("Smith-Madrone Chardonnay Take 2...).
Let me get into detail here and share:
Wine #1: 2007 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon
Grapes: 97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc
Color: Very dark purple. The wine was inky, and it stained the sides of the glass. There was a slight lightening around the rim but it looked like a powerhouse of a wine, with gloppy, thick legs from the alcohol.
Smell: Forest, gardenia, violet, blackberry, stewed strawberry, dusty road, leather, cardamom, a little green pepper, myrrh (church-y/incense-y), and red cherry were all mingled together in the glass. It was the gift that kept on giving -- very complex.
Taste: Just as complex. Blackberry, plum skin (a little tart), black cherry and cola flavors were first. There was a touch of green pepper from the Cabernet and then some great notes from winemaking: leather, vanilla, cinnamon, and incense. The texture was great -- it had medium tannins and good noticeable mouthwatering acid. All was in balance.
Drink or Sink?: DRINK. This was a delicious wine with a lot going on. Spice, fruit, acid, and smooth tannins -- fabulous and so unique. This is why mountain vineyards are so very coveted in California -- yin (fruit flavor) and yang (still great texture).
Wine #2: 2011 Smith-Madrone Riesling
Grape: 100% Riesling
Color: Very pale -- almost platinum. It had some small bubbles amidst the pale straw hue.
Smell: For such an aromatic grape, it was interesting that this one had very light floral and lemon scents. As it warmed a little in the glass it was a little like melon and lime but nothing pungent.
Taste: The wine had subtle honey and honeysuckle flavors with a little bit of fresh-squeezed lime too. It was floral and had middling acid, but there was also a little bitter, plant stem flavor to it too that was less good.
Drink or Sink?: Meh, I guess drink. This is an ok wine. It's refreshing, it's clean, it's pleasant. But it's not lighting the world on fire. It doesn't have any of the complex flavors you'll find in Riesling from Rheingau or Mosel in Germany, or from Alsace or Clare Valley in Australia. There are some places that can do Riesling in California and Napa used to do a ton of it, but these days Napa is too hot for Riesling. The grape doesn't shine here. Although this is a decent wine when there are so many better Rieslings for the price, this won't be my go-to.
NOTE: This review here is left here so you can see the contrast of what the wine that was damaged in storage/transport tastes like, but this review is not representative of the wine. Click here for the update.
Wine #3: 2010 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay
Grape: 100% Chardonnay
Color: Right from the start I knew this was a wine that had spent some time in oak. The dark yellow/gold color with thick gloppy legs showed there was ripeness, oak, and higher alcohol.
Smell: A very unique smell, it was so dominated by oak that it was hard to tell this was something grown in the earth. Yes, there was pineapple and baked apple smells but they were eclipsed by the powerful butterscotch, caramel, and burnt oak. Maybe from the oak, or maybe from the soil there was a miso scent or maybe it was more like soy. Either way, it reminded me of salty Chinese food.
Taste: And it tasted like salty Chinese food too. But really the only thing I could taste in this wine was caramel, and heavily, burnt oak. The wine was hot from the alcohol, had minimal acid, and was tannic and rough. There was a touch of lemon flavor but I could barely find any fruit flavor here.
Drink or sink? SINK. I just don't get it. The Cabernet was so good and balanced that I expected a wine that was equal parts fruit, acid, and gentle oak. The barrel fermentation and the 100% new oak, even if it was the milder French kind, was too much for these Chardonnay grapes to handle.
I'm the first to admit that I'm not a lover of oaky Chardonnay but I'm not being personally biased here. To me, this is an issue with the winemaking. There is no balance here. The oak drowns out everything. If you follow the podcast, it will mean something to you that even M.C. Ice was unable to finish a full glass.
I'm sure the winemakers think that they are remaining true to the California style and being classic, but sometimes change is good. In this case, they need to tone back the oak and let the fruit shine. This just over the top. This was as bad as the Cab was good. So strange that there is such disparity at one winery.
Have you had these wines? Have I offended you beyond belief or are you with me? Drop a comment below. and let me know!
*Pictures from Smith-Madrone.com
February 7, 2013
The $10-ish Wine Experiment Stays in Italy: Frascati, or Why Rome Should Stick to Religion and Politics
As the $10-ish project rolls on, we stick around Italy for a value white. Unlike the Barbera, this one definitely tastes like it costs <$10. If you're a lover of very light white wines, however, this may be for you.
Better known for villas and science labs than for wine, Frascati is a commune nestled in the Alban Hills about 12 miles south of Rome. It has ruins dating back to the 1st century and we have evidence of winegrowing dating to the 5th century.
Referred to as the "golden wine" by Romans, for its rich color and great value, the wine is one of few made in Lazio, the province that houses both Frascati and Rome. Although it has the benefit of good soil and elevation, the winegrowers don't seem to capitalize on that: I've found the stuff is unimpressive at best.
Frascati can made sweet, sparkling (spumante), or dry, but what you get outside of Italy is always dry white. The main grapes are Malvasia (it is required to be at least 50% of the blend), Trebbiano, Greco, and other local varieties. Malvasia is floral, Trebbiano more acidic and sometimes bitter, and the others range in flavor. The wine a hodgepodge: it's a hard one to typify.
Because I don't like to mince words, I'll be blunt: Frascati, in general, are middling to low quality, light sipping wines. They're a floral alternative to the more citrusy Pinot Grigio, but I'm sorry to say that at the $10 range they've got about just as much going on: and that's not saying a lot.
A great alternative to watery beer on a hot day in the middle of summer? Maybe. But a great wine to keep as a staple in your house, I'd pass.
Now to the most popular Frascati imported to the US...
The Wine: Fontana Candida Frascati Superiore Secco, DOC
Grapes: Not listed on the bottle or on their site, but I'd guess it's mostly Malvasia and Trebbiano from the smells and flavors.
Color: I can see why they called this the "golden wine" from a color perspective. It was a rich gold color. It was a little spritzy, with small bubbles integrated into the wine.
Smell: The Malvasia component was very strong in the wine, making it great to smell. It was a lot like flowers and had the freshness of being outside on a spring day. I loved the nutty smells and you could really sense the volcanic soil in which the grapes grew -- it had a very distinct ash smell.
Taste: When the wine was right out of the fridge, it was just like it smelled -- like flowers and a little ash-like. It had high acidity and was nice, albeit just one step away from being a flavored, alcoholic water. The issue, however, was that when it warmed up ever-so-slightly (like 5 or 7 minutes out of the fridge) it became extremely bitter, and reminded me of eating an unripe grapefruit. Even I, the huge proponent of acidic wine, was put off by the acidity. It was out of balance and just bitter.
Pairing: To add to the issue, this wine was horrible with risotto with zucchini and peas -- something that seemed a shoe-in for a pairing. It may be better with ceviche or a food with a strong citrus component that benefits from the acid on acid combo.
Drink or Sink?: For me, this was a SINK. This reminded me of how unimpressed I was by the insipid wines of Rome (especially after spending time in Tuscany) the times I've been there and this reminded me of why. For $10 I have many more fabulous whites to tell you about. Skip this and save your money for those.
Have you had this wine? Drop a comment below or on Facebook or Twitter and let me know what you thought!
February 6, 2013
Here's the LINK
- Resisting the temptation to play the know-it-all game
- How to pick or be a host in wine ordering -- sharing, gathering ideas, not making assumptions, and using the sommelier to break tension
- Watching the budget, it's not hard to do!
- Knowing when to abstain
- Giving wine as a gift
- Dealing with colleagues who have different financial situations
- Handling colleagues or associates who treat the staff like crap
February 2, 2013
I'm a lover of the bubbles. And recently I've been on a little kick to try something a little different in the world of Champagne: the wine of Récoltant Manipulants, or growers of Champagne grapes who make a little of their own wine on the side.
Champagne is an interesting place. Since the 18th century, the wine business there has run a little like a feudal society. 19,000 serfs serve a handful of nobles, growing and selling grapes to them for their mega international brands so they can sell their product around the world.
Don't get me wrong -- these nobles spend a ton of money on marketing, packaging, and distribution. It's great for us because we get access to some really great wines and we can get them nearly anywhere (Veuve Clicquot Yellow label anyone?). But like the feudal system, the grower/serfs livelihood relies on selling grapes. Since they own 88% of the vineyard land in Champagne, the system continues. The large Houses need the growers as much as the growers need the Houses.
But the system isn't entirely feudalistic. About 1/4 of the growers hold some grapes back. They squirrel away part of their harvest and go through the expensive, arduous process of making Champagne in their own wineries.
The people who make this wine do it as a labor of love. But in the last decade or so, they are also making a name for themselves and some actually make enough wine and garner a good price for it.
On the positive side, critics and wine buyers have fallen in love with these wines and they're growing in popularity around the world. Now we have the opportunity to taste Champagne because more than the stylized wines of the big Champagne houses, these wines are wines of terroir. They're from the land and taste like it.
These wines aren't widely available. The quality varies based on vintage. They're made in small quantities. These growers rely on their importer or distributor to market them because they don't have the money to put out pretty boxes or fancy displays. And frankly, many sit on the shelf until a curious person or an enthusiastic salesperson decides to give them some love. And if you see RM or Récoltant Manipulant on a bottle, you may find them a great alternative to the big houses too.
I'm a huge fan. Here are two I thought were particularly fabulous:
Wine #1: Pierre Peters 'Cuvée de Réserve' Grand Cru Blancs de Blancs
Grape: 100% Chardonnay
Color: A light straw color with super small, persistent bubbles. This wine looks so delicate and elegant.
Smell: Cream-filled brioche, almonds, green apple, and a fresh garden full of freshly bloomed white flowers.
Taste: Just like it smelled -- brioche, almonds, and a light flowery flavor. The wine was so delicate. High acid with a consistent effervescence.
Drink or sink?: Drink! An elegant, light-styled wine. So much more mild and like a garden than the Champagnes from larger Houses.
Wine #2: Dosnon & Lepage Récolte Blanche Blanc de Blancs Brut
Grape: 100% Chardonnay
Color: A richer, darker yellow color with great fizz. Like the Pierre Peters, the bubble was small and persistent.
Smell: Yeah, this is a wine of the earth for sure. It was like chalk, a mountain stream, and kind of like bird poop (in a good way). But after that, there was this amazing gardenia, jasmine, and fabric softener smell. It was an outstanding balance of flowers and earth.
Taste: This wine was also just like it smelled -- earth, jasmine, and gardenia with a strong, floral, fabric softener, citrus flavor. This was richer, earthier, more floral, fuller and even more bubbly and prickly on the tongue than the Pierre Peters.
Drink or sink?: Drink! I loved this wine, even more than the Pierre Peters. A great example of a wine of place/terroir.That fresh laundry smell coupled with the mineral, streaminess, high acidity and consistent bubble made this one of the best Champagnes I've ever had. Great, great wine. I highly recommend it.