Tag Archives: Cabernet Sauvignon

Chakana Winery & a Master Class in Terroir

27 Nov

When I was packing for my trip to Argentina, I never stopped to consider the proper clothes for hopping into a pit dug in a vineyard.  Luckily, things are generally casual there & pit hopping is a definitely a casual experience.

The view from the back porch at Cavas Wine Lodge

Last week I made a super quick trip to Mendoza Argentina to visit Chakana Winery.  Sometimes you plan these trips so that you can visit local attractions.  Sometimes they are a mini vacation with some wine tasting along the way.  This wasn’t one of those trips.  We got on a plane in Los Angeles at 3:45 PM on Wednesday, arrived in Santiago Chile at 7 AM the next day, got on a plane to Mendoza & arrived there around 10 AM. Juan Pelizzatti, owner of Chakana Winery and Ed Fields, owner of Natural Merchants Importing picked us up at the airport & we headed to the Intercontinental Hotel.  By the time I got to the hotel & gratefully took a shower, it was lunchtime a day after we left.  That gave me less than 48 hours for the visit before heading home at 7:50 Saturday morning.

We went to lunch at Cavas Wine Lodge in Luján de Cuyo.  It is a boutique hotel surrounded by their own

Lunchtime

vineyards.  They have a spa & a number of adobe style villas.  They also have an excellent restaurant that serves wine made from their vineyards.  While there, we met more of Juan’s team: winemaker Gabriel Bloise and viticulturist Facundo  Bonamaizon.  We also tried through a number of their wines while eating way more delicious food than was reasonable.

After lunch, we took some time to look at the vineyards on the property.  Most of them are planted in the pergola style (sometimes called a tendone style).

Vines trained on pergolas

This is an ancient method, used by the Romans, that is now found primarily in Argentina, Brazil, & Italy.  In this system, the vines are trained high off the ground.  These were maybe 5 feet high.  In some places this is used to plant other crops between rows.  It is also used for arid climates to preserve moisture.  That applies to Argentina for sure because the Andes create a rain shadow.  Mendoza receives less than 9 inches of rain per year & anything less than 10 is considered a desert.

After lunch we drove out to Chakana Winery.  Despite the desert climate, it was a beautiful drive.  I hadn’t realized how many gorgeous roses were planted in Argentina.  Everywhere we went over those couple of days, we saw roses.

When we reached the winery, the first thing that we saw was a pond.  The pond is the source of water for the vineyards on site at the winery.  Almost every winery has a similar pond.  They are created with snow melt from the Andes.  The water is regulated by the government.  There are valves that control the release of water into the pond & government agents have the keys to them.  One of the big challenges of starting a winery in Argentina is getting access to this water.  Dry farming is extremely difficult in the area, particularly when starting a new vineyard.  Even with the ponds, water is limited & the vines receive less water than in many other parts of the world. That means that site selection is extremely important.

At the winery we checked out the tanks & barrels.  They have a wide array of options.  They are always experimenting to find the best process for each grape.  Depending on the grape & the vineyard, the wines might go into stainless steel, or concrete tanks (20,000 liters/over 5,000 gallons), or a large concrete egg (which has some interesting convection properties during fermentation).

For wines that see oak at Chakana, the current choice is 100% French oak.  They are looking at buying some Hungarian oak for experimentation.  Having 100% French oak doesn’t mean that there isn’t any diversity.  They primarily use standard size Bordeaux barrels, but also have some large barrels that hold over 900 gallons.  They also use their barrels for a number of years.  The theory is that some wines work well with a strong flavor from the oak & some do better when the barrel is essentially neutral.  Then it allows the wine to breath & age slowly.  That breathing adds complexity to the wines.  It isn’t free though.  They actually top off their barrels every 10-15 days.  They lose approximately 10% of their total volume of wine on wines in oak.  There aren’t a lot of other businesses where it is a standard business practice to lose 10% of your product off the top.

We finished up the afternoon in the vineyards around the winery.  The vines there are planted north to west to give them shade in the afternoon.  The ozone layer is thin over Mendoza & they have particularly long days during their summer.  Long, cool days are good for producing phenologically ripe grapes that retain their acid.  The downside to that is that with the thin ozone layer & long days, it is possible for the grapes to get sunburn.  They are mitigating the possibility by the angle of planting & by leaving more leaf cover than you might in other growing regions.  The other thing that you notice about vineyards in the area is how many of them have netting for hail protection.  It doesn’t rain much in Argentina, but when it does, it can come in the form of severe hail storms.  This link takes you to a truly amazing hail storm from a month ago.

Wow! That’s serious hail.

This vineyard tour started our clinic on the 4 horizons of soil (topsoil, subsoil, parent material, & bedrock).  At

Sandy soil in the epit

Chakana, they dig pits in various places in each vineyard.  This allows them to see what they are actually working with in the vineyard. We visited a pit in the vineyard at the winery.  This pit showed that the soil is sandy with some clay & loam.  The wines made from these grapes tend to be lighter.  That’s great for some grapes, & not for others.  We tried a wine sample made just from grapes from the vineyard.  It was solid stuff, but seemed like it might be best in a blend with grapes from a vineyard that contributed more structure.

We also checked out their long line of compost material.  The winery switched to biodynamic farming a few years back & that compost is an important part of the process.  For those who aren’t familiar with biodynamic viticulture, here’s a super quick explanation.  Biodynamic viticulture is an organic farming concept that looks at the entire farm (& the earth) as a living, interconnected organism.  In theory, it is about 100 years old because it grew from the teachings of Rudolph Steiner in the 1920’s.  In reality, much of it is based on the concepts of farming from ancient times.  There are a number of things that have to happen based on the position of the moon & stars.  That sounds a little hippy dippy to some people, but realistically, that is the way farming was done for thousands of years.  Neolithic farmers couldn’t check the Farmer’s Almanac or use their computers to find the best time to plant or harvest.  There are a number of organic solutions produced to improve the soil of the vineyard & the health of the plants.  I don’t understand exactly why biodynamic farming works, but I have seen that it does.  I think part of it is that in biodynamic farming requires the viticulturist to pay extremely close attention to the vineyard & the soil.  The end result seems to be extremely healthy soil, which makes for high quality, healthy grapes.  It is a lot easier to make good wine when you start with good grapes. Juan says, “even if we do not understand how the relationship with the cosmos works, I think paying attention to it is a very interesting thing.”  For those that are inclined to think this is a marketing gimmick for new age wines, it is worth pointing out that Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, one of the most prestigious, most expensive wines in the world uses biodynamic production techniques.  Juan added, “In regular agriculture, the idea of having high yields & lowering the cost still makes some sense because you need to feed the world & all of those things, but in viticulture, where you want to make quality wine & rally yield is not a factor… what really people are paying the price of good wine, not for the cheap wine…then the yield is not relevant, so why would you use conventional agriculture?.”

Chakana has a real commitment to biodynamics.  In fact, they will be hosting the 7th South American Biodynamic

That’s a lot of compost

Conference later in November.  They are also certified with Fair for Life, which is a fair-trade certification. Many wineries in Argentina use child labor & they don’t, so that is part of the certification. Another part of the certification is that they must create a fund from their income that contributes to the community.  Juan said “We are trying to create an environment where labor is well paid, & somehow we contribute to the society where we are & to the local community we are in.” They are also the only non-GMO certified winery in Argentina.

After about 6 hours of sleep, we were ready for day two with the Chakana team.  Mostly ready, might be more accurate.  Nonetheless, bolstered by large quantities of terrific Argentine coffee, we set out to visit more vineyards.

We drove from the winery to Tupungato.  Tupungato has a few different meanings.  The base for it all is the Tupungato volcano.  It is one of the highest mountains in the Americas.  It is also a stratovolcano.  I had no idea what that was, so I looked it up.  It turns out that it is a volcano built up from successive eruptions over the ages.  They tend to be extremely steep.  They are the most common kind & my quick google search was happy to tell me that famous stratovolcanos include Krakatoa, Vesuvius, & Mount St. Helena.  It looks fairly safe though unless you have to climb it.  Tupungato is also the name of a town of about 30,000 people around 40 miles from Mendoza.  Finally, it is the name of a wine region.  It is the northernmost sub region of the Uco Valley of Mendoza.  It is marked by volcanic rocks, basalt, granite, & calcium carbonate.  The average vineyard in Tupungato is at 4,200 feet (1300 meters) above sea level.   The sunlight exposure is more intense then at lower elevation, but because of that elevation, you get a big diurnal shift (difference between day & night temperature).  There are also cool breezes from the Andes.  Putting those elements together is a prescription for quality wine with grapes that hang for a long time, slowly building sugar without losing acid.

When we got to their Tupungato vineyard (Gualtallary sub appellation), Tupungato Winelands, we learned the

Stony Vineyard

somewhat odd story of its creation.  The area was designed to be a resort/second home destination.  A real estate development company bought the land & sectioned it off.  They have built polo fields, a golf course, & a hotel with a spa.  The idea was for people to build a second home on a plot there & then have a vineyard on their property.  They could then have the grapes made into the wine.  It is an appealing thought to have your hacienda looking out at the Andes over your vineyard while sipping wine from that vineyard.  So far, not that many people seemed to have agreed with me though.  As it is, these developers seem to have stumbled onto one of the best vineyard sites in the area.  Juan explained to us that he paid real estate prices for his 8 hectares of vineyard property.  That’s about 3 times the going rate for traditional vineyard land.  I think he may have gotten a bargain though.  It is a fantastic rocky area.  There really isn’t much soil to speak of.  It is mostly rock, ranging from small stones, to huge boulders that must have made it miserable to plant.

Vineyard pit in Gualtallary

We immediately went to one of their pits.  That’s when I had to hop in to see just how big some of these rocks were & to see the roots weaving down among the rocks.  The vineyard is filled with basalt, granite, & calcium carbonate.  When you turn over a rock, you see the calcium carbonate on the bottom.  Micro-organisms (microbes) pull the calcium carbonate from the basalt.

This appears to be virgin soil. As far as anyone knows, nothing was ever cultivated here previously.  After looking around at the rocks piled everywhere in the vineyard & right below the surface, I can see why it wouldn’t be anyone first choice to grow crops.  The fact that it is virgin, rocky, deprived soil, makes it a great place for them to plant own rooted vines.  Most vines planted today are grafted.  The roots are from American vines (vitis labrusca, vitis riparia, etc.), while the part that produces grapes is from vitis vinifera (with common names like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc.).  This is because of a tiny louse commonly called the Phylloxera aphid.  It eats grape vine roots & kills the European varieties.  The American roots evolved with it, so they are resistant.  Since the bugs aren’t in this particular area, it is possible to plant vines that are ungrafted.  It is a bit of a risk, but some believe that you get better, healthier grapes that way.

After looking at vines & climbing in the pit, we headed over to the hotel/spa for some lunch.  It is named the Auberge du Vin.  It is part of the Starwood Preferred Guests program, so if you have extra Marriott points to burn, check it out.  We ate at their restaurant, which was Epic.  I mean it is named Epic.  The food itself is actually extremely good, if not epic.  After eating way too much food & trying some terrible Argentine beer (Cerveza Quilmes seems to be the Argentine equivalent of Miller lite), we were sufficiently fortified to visit another section of the same vineyard.

This section included some of the original area & an area that they are planning to plant.  In the unplanted area it is easier to see the structure of the land.  Once upon a time, there was a river flowing through the area.  The river is long gone, but you can see its path on the surface.  Gabriel & Facundo showed us that the real difference is actually below the surface.  We looked at two different pits.  They were dug on opposite sides of the old river bed.

On one side of the long-gone river, there was a relatively thick layer of topsoil.  The water seems to have pushed the sand & clay up onto the bank.  There were still plenty of big rocks, but it looked a little more like something you might actually use for farming.  On the other side, there was virtually no topsoil.  The ground seemed to be not much more than big rock piled on bigger rock, piled on boulder.  There was much more basalt, & much more calcium carbonate.

We opened 2 bottles of wine.  One was from one side of the river bed & one from the other.  The old river bed wasn’t more than a few feet wide, but there were miles between the two wines.  The wine from the side with sand & fewer rocks was a good Malbec.  It had most of what you want in an Argentine Malbec.  The wine from the stony side was a revelation.  It was a massive wine with plenty of spice, layers of blackberry & plum & that almost indescribable taste that we call minerality.  They were both good wines, but one was a world class wine.

To keep those grapes separate requires a lot of work.  The grapes from the sandier side are ready to be picked earlier than the grapes from the rockier side.  Facundo & Gabriel go through each row of vines & mark the spot for the pickers to stop on their first pass through the vineyards. They have to watch to make certain that no one picks grapes from the wrong vine, because even though it might be right next to one that they are supposed to pick, that vine won’t be ready for a week (or more).  It is a difficult job, but it means that each grape is picked at the correct time to make the best wine.  We discussed their plans for additional planting.  This time, they will have breaks at what was the river bank & the rows will follow the river rather than trying to have a clean alignment.  That will mean more work for them in the vineyard in many ways, but it will make picking easier & will ensure the best quality fruit.

We visited one more vineyard site.  There they were experimenting with closer planting of the vines to stress them a bit because the soil was perhaps a little too fertile.  We also checked out their piles of wood.  The piles are set up along rows, ready to be lit if there is a risk of frost.  Frost is the other big issue for Argentinian grape growing.

After all of that wine & viticulture it was time to head back to the winery to crack a beer & have an asado.  It was about a 40-minute trip. We stopped along the way at a little shop to pick up meat for the asado.  Gabriel explained that the butcher there got meat fresh daily & did his own work.  It was slow when we got there, but a line quickly formed while we waited for the butcher to be available.  Gabriel appeared to buy at least one of everything. We passed many other vineyards, lots of barren land, beautiful roses, & a large pen full of llamas.  Once we got to the winery, Gabriel passed out some of the beer that he & his wife make.  These beers are about to enter commercial

Lunatica Blond Ale

distribution in Argentina.  If you see a wine labeled Lunatica, you are in for a treat.  The guys at AmBev should just go ahead & buy Gabriel & his wife out now because their beer is so much better than something like Quilmes that I can’t see how anyone could drink Lunatica & go back to the other stuff.

Starting the asado

While we drank beer & ate cheese & prosciutto, Gabriel & Dario, the operations manager set up for the asado.  An asado is an Argentinian barbecue & it is the epitome of low & slow grilling.  There are professional looking setups, but this was a low-tech version.  Starting at around 6PM, they got a fire going on the ground out in front of the winery.  The wood was a mixture of wood from a tree & vine cutting from that year’s trimming.

Dusk at Chakana

Once the fire was roaring, which is pretty quick when you have grape vines, Gabriel had a big grill surface that he stood up against the flames to clean.  Then he set up bricks at 4 corners & set the grill on top of that.  Once the fire died down to embers, he slowly took coals from the fire & placed them under & around the grill.  He used a device that looked a little like an 8 iron to scoop up individual coals & place them.  Once that was just right, he started adding meat.

The grill is full!

The idea is to add the meat in stages until everything is on the grill.  Then everything slowly cooks & is ready in a sequence.  He didn’t pull the first item (chorizo sausage) off the grill until around 9 PM.  During those 3 hours we talked, snacked, & watched the sun set behind the Andes.  It was still somewhat light once the sun went behind the mountains & you could really see the snow on the peaks.  During the day, it was really too bright to see.  As it got dark, the only lights besides the winery were from the fire & from fireflies.  I love fireflies.  We used to watch, them or chase them & catch them all of the time in the summer when I was a kid, but I never see them anymore.  Juan told me that before they went organic in the vineyard, they didn’t have fireflies, but now they do.  There is probably a lesson in there somewhere.

The first meat comes off the grill 3 hours into the process

Finally, we sat down to eat & have some wine.  Dario or Gabriel would go outside & bring in one piece of meat, slice it, & then pass it around while the rest of the meat stayed outside.  It is amazing that nothing got over done.  Each piece seemed to come in at the perfect point.  It seems like there is a real art to the asado & Gabriel has mastered it.

Speaking of Gabriel mastering a difficult art, we got down to some serious wine tasting.  We were tasting through the Inkarri line of wines.  We had tasted them earlier, but tasting them with dinner is always best.  Inkarri is the newest line of wines from Chakana.  This first shipment was on the water when we tried them & they just hit the warehouse this week.  The name comes from the Argentinian myth of Inkarri.  According to legend, when the Spanish conquistadores executed the last ruler of the Incas, he said that he would return one day to avenge his death & reclaim his land.  The Spanish supposedly buried him in pieces around Argentina.  The legend is that he will grow larger & grow together until he can return, take back his kingdom, & restore harmony in the land.  The idea behind the wine name is that at Chakana, they are trying to reclaim the land from chemical, industrialized, wine production.  The symbol for Inkarri is an Inca symbol of the 4 dimensions of the world coexisting. Viticulture for the future is the tag on their wine boxes.

I have tasting notes for the wine below.  One thing that was particularly interesting was blending components of the wines.  As I mentioned earlier, they keep the grapes from the different vineyards, & sometimes even rows, separate.  We had bottles of wine from some of these different sites.

I tried a sample of 2017 Malbec from the Paraje Altamira vineyard.  The wine is very much still a work in progress, but here’s what I noticed: It had a big mouthfeel, with dark plum & red plum, blackberry, & other black fruits.  This was a good, full bodied wine, but I felt like it was missing something.  I feel like it was a bit of a donut with big fruit at the beginning & the end, but somewhat lacking in the middle.

I then tried a sample of the 2017 Malbec from the ​Gualtallary region (the stony Tupungato Winelands vineyard).  This wine had massive mineral notes on the nose.  It had meaty notes, an almost chunky texture, huge tannins, & plenty of spice.  It was a powerhouse wine.

I blended the two with 90% ​Gualtallary & 10% Paraje Altamira & it was amazing. It brought out an intense menthol note.  I tried a couple more blends before I decided to just drink the finished wines upon which Gabriel had already worked his blending magic.  These wines are well balanced & delicious across the board & I highly recommend them.  I’m not the only one.  They mentioned that Tim Atkins had been at the winery recently to sample the Chakana wines.  He asked about trying a couple of the Inkarri wines that weren’t quite finished.  Despite the wine not being ready for release at that time, he tried the red blend of Tannat, Cabernet Franc, & Petit Verdot & gave it 92 points.  The Chardonnay received 93 points.

We finished the meal by trying their Chakana Straw Wine 2013.  That was a late harvest viognier where the grapes were dried before vinification.  It is a delicious sweet wine.  It has the high acid to balance the sweetness.  It seems full of honey, floral notes, lemon zest, & nuts.  It was a tremendous way to finish a meal.

By this time, it was midnight.  It was time to call it a day.  Juan took us back to the hotel.  We got back at 1 AM.  That gave me almost 3 ½ hours to sleep before heading to the airport for an early flight to Lima Peru & then another to Los Angeles.  It was both a short & a long trip.  I would love to go back some time with a little more time to spare.  Next time I might wear work boots instead of wingtips.

Tasting notes

Chakana sparkling wine (50/50 blend of Chardonnay & Pinot Noir)

This is made using the tank method.  It is a pale wine with crisp peach, melon, & fig notes & some golden apple notes.  I think it is an interesting wine that expresses some different aspects of the grapes than I might have expected.

Chakana Sparkling rose’ (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay & a touch of Malbec for color)

This is a mineral focused sparkling rose’.  It also shows melon, which is somewhat unusual for a rose’ & some classic strawberry.  The strawberry lingers on the long finish along with the high acid.  Some of the mineral notes linger as well on this complex sparkler.

Inkarri White Blend 2016 (60 % Sauvignon Blanc, 20 % Chardonnay, 20 % Viognier)

60% of the wine is aged in 225L French oak barrels for a minimum of 8 months. 40% of the wine is aged in concrete vats without epoxy sealing. The alcohol is 13.5%.  Acidity is 4.86g/l. Residual sugar is 3.75g/l.

This is a solid white blend.  It has notes both on the palate & in the mouth of nut, toffee, lemon zest, pineapple, honeysuckle, & apricot.  It has a medium body & a medium finish.  It would be nice paired with seafood, pork, or slightly spicy Asian food.

Chakana Torrontes 2017

14.5% alcohol.

This is an aromatic wine with intense floral, peach, & melon aromas.  It is a clean, simple, intense wine.  It has pure melon & peach.  The high alcohol doesn’t show in an aggressive manner.

Chakana Chardonnay 2016

13.5% alcohol.  This wine shows honey, pear, & green apple on the nose.  On the palate, I tasted cream, baked golden apple, ripe pear, peach, & honey along with some nice baking spice.  This is an easy wine to pair with food.  It has enough acid to stand up to food with a creamy texture.  This is a very good white wine for many occasions.

Inkarri Chardonnay 2016

12.5% alcohol.

This is a tasty chardonnay.  It has sweet spice, with some nice golden apple notes.  It has a creaminess, but it isn’t over the top.  This is an easy drinker, but it has enough acid to pair well with food.

Chakana Rose’ 2016

95% Malbec & 5% Syrah blend.  13% alcohol.

This is a simple, but enjoyable rose’.  There isn’t a lot more than strawberries & cream going on her, but that is pretty nice on a hot day.

Inkarri Bonarda 2016 (for California wine drinkers, I should mention that this is the same grape as Charbono)

13.5% alcohol. Residual Sugar 2.30 g/l · Acidity: 5.79 g/l. 40% of the wine is aged in 225L French oak barrels for a min. of 8 months.

The nose shows earth, black cherry, plum, & baking spice.  It has sweet tannins, baking spice that blends well with the fruit, sweet spice, red cherry, black cherry, & plum on the palate.  While this is a single varietal wine, I think it would appeal to fans of reds blends.

Inkarri Syrah

60% of the wine is aged in 225L French oak barrels for a min. of 8 months, 40% of the wine is aged in concrete vats without epoxy sealing.  Alcohol 14 %. Residual sugar 3.75 g/l · Acidity: 4.86 g/l

On the nose, this shows plenty of spice, both pungent & sweet.  It also shows tobacco, blackberry, black fruit, lavender, plum, & black cherry.  On the palate the flavors on the nose come through along with some added leather & pepper notes.  This is a fairly complex wine with medium plus acid & a long lingering finish.  This is a great food wine.  It really opened up after a few minutes in the glass.  It might not hurt to decant this wine if you have time.

Inkarri Malbec 2016

20-30% of the wine is aged in 225L French oak barrels for a minimum of 8 months, 70% of the wine is aged in concrete vats without epoxy sealing. Alcohol 13 % Residual Sugar 1.87 g/l · Acidity: 5.10 g/l

This is a fresh & fruity approach to Malbec.  It is more about the blackberry, red cherry, & blueberry fruit & sweet spice, but it has complexity, with hints of leather & tobacco towards the back.  There are hints of soil.  The tannins are integrated & sweet.  This wine has a lot going on, but it doesn’t make you think about it.  This is an easy drinking wine.

Inkarri Cabernet Franc 2016

100% of the wine is aged in 225L French Oak new and used barrels for 12 months. Alcohol 13% . Residual sugar 2.23 g/l · Acidity: 5.46 g/l.

This wine has a pronounced nose, with toasted nut, coffee, herbs, & forest floor notes.  The rich coffee & dark roasted green herbal notes on the nose are rewarded with rich, dark fruit, dark herbs, coffee, & a certain meatiness on the palate.  The tannins are high, but well integrated.  The finish, with coffee & black fruit rolled in herbs.  Some blueberry appears towards the finish.  This is a very tasty wine.

Inkarri Winemaker’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

100% of the wine is aged in mostly new French oak for 12 months. Alcohol is 13.5%, Residual sugar 1.93g/l, Acidity 5.46 g/l.

This is clearly Argentinian Cabernet Sauvignon.  If you are expecting Napa, you may be disappointed, but if you approach it on its own terms, it is an elegant wine.  The nose has floral, herbal notes before you get to the fruit (blackberry & plum).  There is also a beautiful mineral note to the nose.  On the palate you get more of the herbal notes & some nice spice to go with the blackberry & plum.  The oak shows as nut & coffee, but it doesn’t overpower the more delicate flavors of the wine.

Inkarri Winemaker’s Reserve Malbec 2016

60% of the wine is aged in 50hl French oak barrels for 12 months, 40% of the wine is aged in concrete vats without epoxy sealing.  Alcohol 14 %. Residual sugar 1.67 g/l · Acidity: 5.4 g/l.

The wine has a pronounced aroma, with meaty, leathery notes combined with blueberry, black cherry, & coffee.  The tannins on this wine are high & may need a couple of years to settle down.  The medium plus acid & big fruit balance it out nicely though.  The fruit has clean notes, but also has a roasted note, perhaps like ripe fruit in coffee.  There are leathery, meaty notes as well.  This is a well-designed wine that is nice on its own, but could really use some grilled lamb to show its best.

Inkarri Red Blend 2016

50 % Tannat, 30 % Petit Verdot, 20 % Cabernet Franc

Aged in a 35hl (924 gallon) French oak barrels for 12 months.  Alcohol 13.5 %  Residual Sugar 2.33 g/l·  Acidity: 5.16 g/l.

This is a deep dark wine.  On the nose there is oak, black cherry, mineral notes, with earth. On top of all of that, there are beautiful floral & rose notes.  On the palate, the floral notes come across as lavender.  There is pencil lead, blackberry, forest floor, fresh fruit, including red cherry.  This is a complex wine.  It has delicate floral, lavender notes on the nose, but it isn’t a light wine.  The football analogy for this wine would be a great left tackle.  It is big & strong, but light on its feet. The wine has strong dry tannins, but they are supple & integrated.  This has a long-lasting finish with long lasting tannins.  This is an elegant, but huge wine.

Chakana Straw Wine

100% Viognier.  16.5% alcohol

That was a late harvest viognier where the grapes were dried before vinification.  It is a delicious sweet wine.  It has the high acid to balance the sweetness.  It seems full of honey, floral notes, lemon zest, & nuts.

 

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My favorite wines of 2015

28 Dec

These are my favorite wines of 2015.  I probably tasted some other wines that should have made the list, but if I didn’t write a note about it, I don’t remember it.  I did a number of handwritten notes for the Diploma class that I was taking & those generally were tossed.  I listed the wines by vintage with the non-vintage wines first.  These aren’t in order of preference.  I have prices by the wines, but of course prices vary. If I were to go through all of the wines I tasted in 2015 & taste them again, I’m sure that I would have come to different conclusions about a few.

My list this year is dominated by Bordeaux, Napa, & Champagne.  That isn’t because I prefer those regions to others.  It is a reflection of what I had the opportunity to try in 2015.  I don’t have any Burgundy on the list, although I had some very nice Burgundies this year.  I just didn’t have any that blew me away (that I managed to save tasting notes for at least).  I attended a couple of huge Bordeaux tastings & was able to pull from notes for over 200 Bordeaux wines that I tasted in 2015, so that region may be over represented.  That being said, they were great wines that couldn’t be left off the list.

There are four sweet wines on the list.  I know that some of my friends who like wine wouldn’t ever consider drinking a sweet wine.  These are all examples of why a great sweet wine can hold its own with any other wine in the world.  Anyone who opts not to try them because they don’t like sweet wines is just missing out.  I’m happy to drink their share.

With all of those disclaimers, I will say that there are some tremendous wines here.   If you have a chance, you should give them a try.

Please feel free to leave comments below & let me know what wines you liked best in 2015.

NV Extra Brut Blanc de Blanc Grand Cru Champagne Chapuy $46chapuy

This is liquid French toast.  I could add things like flavors of poached pear
& peach & spice.  I could mention the creamy nature of the wine or the nice minerality, but really liquid French toast says it all. 1,850 cases made.

NV Brut Rose’ Andre Clouet Champagne $42clouet

I tasted this on an evening when I tasted 85 Champagnes.  One of my notes for this wine is this is why so many others just got a “meh.”  This is a great rose’ Champagne, especially for the price.  It has rich red fruit, floral notes, & the classic toast brioche that you want.

 

 

1998 Chateau de Fesles Bonnezeaux  $601998 Chateau de Fesles Bonnezeaux

I drank this over the course of about 3 days.  It was just as fresh & wonderful on the third day as it was the first.  Even though it was almost 17 years old, it seemed youthful.  I probably could have left this in my wine rack for another 30 years.  There are honey, jam, & marmalade flavors. They never become cloying due to the crisp acidity.  Other intense flavors of this wine include beeswax, luscious apple & pear notes. La Revue du Vin de France has called Fesles the “Yquem of the Loire Valley.”

2000 Cuvee 2000 Henriot Champagne Cuvée des Enchanteleurs Brut $100henriot cuvee

This spends 12 years on the lees & it shows.  It has an intense nose of marmalade, orange peel, liqueur, acacia, peach, apricot, & toast, with other floral notes blending in.  The flavors follow the nose, with a nutty flavor thrown in as well.  The fruit is incredibly fresh given the age.  This tastes like a wine that could be spread on toast!  It is just an excellent creamy, rich wine.  It could pair with a wide variety of food, but I would prefer just to sip it.

 

 

2004 Brut Rose’ Dom Pérignon Champagne 60% Pinot Noir & 40% Chardonnay. $324Dom Perignon rose 2004

This had a high intensity nose with floral notes, red fruit & tart cherry.  On the palate, it had the red fruit & tart cherry, but it also showed some citrus…particularly grapefruit.  This wine has light pinot noir notes similar to a light Burgundy.  There are toast notes at the long finish.  This is just a delicious, complex wine.  It is great by itself, but would be wonderful with fish, chicken, or cheese.

2005 Clos des Goisses Champagne Philipponnat Brut $161

philponnatWhile I think this is excellent Champagne, I know that it won’t be for everyone.  It is a single vineyard wine, which is somewhat unusual in a region known for blending.  It does not go through malolactic fermentation to soften the acid, which is also not the way the majority of champagne is produced.  It s barrel fermented & then spends 9 years on the lees.  It is finished with a 4 grams per liter dosage of sugar, which is on the dry side.  It is 67% pinot noir & 33% chardonnay.  The finished product is creamy with a nice all-spice character & a lingering finish.

2009 Domaine de Baumards Clos du Papillon Savennières $36papillon

This has the minerality & smokiness that I look for in a
Savennières. I also tasted beeswax & honey, although somehow even with the honey flavor it is still dead dry.  This is a terrific food wine.  It would be easier to list the things that it wouldn’t pair with than to list all of the ones where it would.  Asian food would be a go to though.

2010 Chateau Rauzan Gassies  Bordeaux 2nd Growth Rauzan Gassies 2010(Margaux) $63

Dark ruby. There is an interesting nose to this wine.  It has dark fruit with leather & dust.  I would peg this as Bordeaux from a distance.  It has much more vibrant fruit than I expected, with blackberry & raspberry & some boysenberry.  There is some minerality, but not the leather that I expected.  It is really a delicious fruit forward wine.  This is either a great example of new wine making techniques in Bordeaux or a terrible one depending on how you feel about Parkerization.

2010 Chateau Calon Segur Saint-Estephe  $110 3rd Growth 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdotcalon segur

Deep ruby colored wine.  It has a beautiful nose, with red fruit black fruit spice & perfume.  If they can get this into cologne I would buy it.  There is a heavy toasted oak flavor that I am getting as coffee.  I’m also getting a lot of dark fruit on the palate.  The tannins & acid seem to be only medium.  This will age, but maybe not as much as some of the others from Bordeaux’s 2010 vintage.  If I had a case of this I don’t think that aging would be an issue though since I would drink it all before a year was out.  There is always a good reason to drink a wine like this, fireplace weather, nice steak, it’s Tuesday, whatever.  It has a long finish with some blueberry.

2010 Chateau Angelus St. Émilion Grand Cru $400

saint_emilion_chateau_l'angelus_2010This is almost black. It has blackberry on the nose with some liquorice.  The palate has intense anise with plum & raspberry.  It has medium plus tannin & acid.  This is a powerful wine.  It almost overpowers right now, but it is delicious & this won’t get anything but better for the next 10 years.

 

2010 E. Guigal Cote Rotie Brune et Blonde de Guigal $60Cote-Rotie
This has a garnet color.  It has a perfumed nose with blueberry, savory spices, rose, smoked meat, & acacia. There are nicely integrated, almost silky tannins.  Flavors of smoked meat with baking spices, savory spices, pepper, dark red fruit & some blueberry (almost smoked).  It’s a good quality wine that will improve with age

 

2010 Chateau Cheval Blanc St. Émilion Grand Cru $1,500
cheval blanc 2010a52% Cabernet Franc 48% Merlot.

This smells like St. Émilion. I get dust & cherry & raspberry.  On the palate I get darker raspberry medium acid & tannins.  It is a juicy & delicious wine.  I really don’t see how someone who doesn’t like merlot wouldn’t like this!  Rib roast would be great with this, but you can’t really go wrong.  It is hard to justify the price of this wine & I can’t see myself buying a bottle anytime soon, but it is an excellent wine.

2010 Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes Premier Cru Superieur 2010 $650yquem

This is cold liquid honey, only better. The acid is great, so the sugar isn’t cloying.  There is some lemon & citrus, peach, white flowers and lanolin, but the honey is overpowering in a good way.  This is a short review, but there isn’t much to add.  This isn’t just one of the great sweet wines of the world; it is one of the great wines of the world period.

climens2010 Chateau Climens 2010 Barsac Premiere Cru $125

Wow!  If you like Yquem, you should try this.  It isn’t as smooth, but it is honeyed & interesting & hundreds of dollars cheaper.  It tastes of honeyed, lanolin.  There are also tropical fruit notes including mango & pineapple.  I also noticed some apricot & vanilla.  It has really high acid. This is very nice.

 

2012 Spreitzer Rosengarten Grosses Gewachs VDP Riesling Trocken  Rheingau 13% $37.99

This medium gold wine has thick clear legs, which in this case are indicative of the sugar content.  The nose has a pronounced intensity with baked fruit flavors, peach, nectarine, apricot, nuttiness, & caramel. There is a botrytis note here as well. This wine is still developing. On the palate, the wine is sweet with medium plus acid which keeps the sweetness from being cloying.  The palate has a long finish that reveals that it is Riesling rather than Sauternes. There are mineral notes on the palate.  There is almost a mushroom taste, which indicates botrytis.  The big botrytis marker of orange marmalade is there as well.  This is an outstanding wine that can be drunk now, but should age well for years.

black bottleThe Black Bottle Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 $1,000

I know this wine is stupidly expensive, but every time I try it I really like it.  It has beautiful blackberry, raspberry, plum, chocolate & mint. There are nice medium plus tannins that have a green tea quality.  It has a long finish.  It is 15.2% alcohol, but I wouldn’t have guessed it was that high. This is an odd wine to review because I have tried two different vintages & really liked both of them.  At the same time, I think it is more expensive than Napa Cabernet should really be at this point.  I believe that it sells out each year though, so I guess it is worth it. Either way, it is a delicious wine.

2013 Antonutti Poppone (Not available yet in the U.S. about $20)poppone

Merlot & Pignola grapes are dried like an Amarone.  After fermentation, it goes into barrel for 12 months.  It tastes like roasted raspberry chipotle.  There is also some tart cherry.  This is a ridiculously interesting wine.  I want to drink a bottle of it while I’m grilling & then have it with grilled meat.

2013 Hofgut Falkenstein Riesling Sekt. Brut 11.5% Germany sektSaar BA $26.99

60-80 year old vines all grown on slate
This is a lemon green sparkling wine with persistent small bubbles. The nose shows  petrol, citrus, lemon, honey, honeysuckle, mineral, slate, & lime. It is dry, with high acid, medium alcohol, & medium  plus intensity.  I tasted citrus including lemon& tart & sour lime.  There was also white flower, honeysuckle, & honey.  This is a very good quality sparkling wine.  The intensity of complex flavors is enhanced by the high acid. This would be great with seafood. It is a mouthwatering wine. Drink now or over  3-5 years This might be cheating a bit since I don’t know that it is as good as the other wines on the list.  On the other hand, if you compare its price to some of the others on the list, it is just amazing quality for the price.

2014 Azienda Agricole Franco Roero Chardonnay  (No price here because it isn’t available yet in the United States)Franco roero chardonnay

This surprised me.  It is in a Bordeaux bottle & I expected something light.  Instead this is a heavy, textured Chardonnay with lots of toasted nuts. There is no oak so I have no idea how they do this. Citrus with lemon peel is a major component.  This is the best non burgundy Chardonnay I have had in some time.

tullio2014 Ca’ Tullio Traminer  Not available in the U.S. About $10 Euro

This is a dead dry Gewürztraminer.  It has lots of floral notes & fresh fruit on the nose that make you think that it is going to be sweet, but it finishes dry. It has floral flavors with plenty of lychees. This is really a fantastic wine for the price.  I will lay in a supply when this becomes available in the U.S.

 

Hurry up offense & hurry up wine tasting

17 Jul

mw redI recently attended the first annual American Cabernet Sauvignon wine tasting put on by the Masters of Wine Institute.  There were 101 examples of Cabernets to try from California, Colorado, New York, Oregon, Virginia, & Washington State.  I talked to them about adding some Texas Cabernets next year & was told that they reached out for some this year & didn’t get a response.  I’m sure that will change next year.  We had roughly 4 hours to try the wines.  I didn’t get them all sampled, but managed to try 51 wines in under about 3 hours and 50 minutes.  That’s a new wine roughly every 4 ½ minutes.  I added up the prices on the wines I tried & if I had bought a bottle of each to try, it would have cost me $4,821.91.  That made the $100 entry price for the event quite the bargain.

The obvious football corollary for me was the hurry up offense.  The hurry up offense has been derided as a gimmick and has sometimes been considered somehow less credible than a traditional offense.  Over the years though, it has showed it can be an important part of the NFL experience.  One of the wines I tried was from Double Back Wines, which is owned by former NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe (New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, and Dallas Cowboys).

Here are the wines that I tried in the Cabernet Sauvignon tasting.  Most of the wines were from 2011.  The request was that wineries provide their 2011 Cabernet or if that was not available, their most recent release.  You will see some obvious exceptions to the rule. These are in the order in which I tasted them.  These notes are pretty sparse, but that is a function of the event. If you see some deterioration in the notes as I progress, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.  I have added a few notes about the wines after the fact including some pricing information.   I was spitting more than I was drinking, but even spitting, some alcohol is absorbed by the lining of the mouth.  I should add that I was not driving anywhere that night!

One important thing that I should note is that most of these wines are years from their peak.  A lot of the tasting notes are similar because certain traits seem to show up more quickly.  The nuances that distinguish a great Cabernet can take several more years to develop.  It would be interesting to duplicate this tasting with the same 2011 Cabernets in 5 years.

Barboursville Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2010 Monticello Virginia $39.99
Dark purple almost black. Raspberry & blackberry on the nose & that follows through on the palate. Mild tannins. Long finish.

Paumanok Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Tuthills Lane Vineyard Long Island, New York State $100
This has a deep color moving from purple to black. It has strong blackberry notes on the nose.  It is a nicely rounded fruit forward wine without many tannins.  The main fruits are ripe blackberry & plum. It has a somewhat short finish.

Ridge 1997 Monte Bello  Santa Cruz Mountains $150
This is a traditional Bordeaux blend.  Cabernet predominates.  It is almost black with red rims. It has a delicate nose, or maybe it needs to open up.  Red fruit, with raspberry & some spice. Spice with some fairly hard tannins.  This wine has years still to go. As it softens up a bit, the softer spice & licorice comes out.

I tried this again almost an hour later & it has opened up quite a bit.  The nose still doesn’t show much, but the taste is amazing.  The tannins have mellowed out.  The spice & the raspberry have come together & this is a delightful wine.  This is the best I have tried tonight to this point, but of course it isn’t a fair comparison because of the difference in vintage.

Daou Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2011 Paso Robles  $57.99
79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 5% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot.Big ripe fruit both on the nose & the palate. This is almost overpowering after the Ridge, which has more finesse.   It has big sweet fruit with low tannins.  I can see how this would be a fan favorite, but it is really kind of one note to me.

Canyon Wind Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Grand Valley Colorado $29.95
Candy apple on the nose.  This is a sweet, low tannin wine with some herbal components.  This wine did not work for me.

Antica Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Napa $55
There are complex herbal notes on the nose. It tastes of dark fruit with a strong herbal component.  There is definitely some sage & fennel in this. Medium tannins, long finish.  Delicious wine! Parker gave it a 92.

Lokoya Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Napa Valley $350
This has fresh red fruit.  There are soft spices.  It has medium to low tannins.  I really noticed cranberry on the second sip.  This is a soft & easy to drink wine. I saw some reviews of this wine that touted its minerality, but I didn’t get that in this tasting.  I really enjoyed this wine, but I couldn’t spend $350 on it.

Hess Collection Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 2010 $55
The nose needs to open up.  There is some red fruit. I also taste plum with some black pepper.  This has solid tannins. I need to try this again later.  I wanted to try it again that night, but didn’t get back to it.

La Jota Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Napa Valley 2011 $75
82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot and the rest Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot aged in 90% new French oak. There is raspberry & cherry on the nose.  It has soft, slightly sweet, fruit, but not in a bad way at all.  It has medium tannins.  I like this more on the second taste.  This is a nice example of Napa Cabernet.

Cakebread Cellars Dancing Bear Ranch 2010 $115
93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 1% Merlot.This has an earthy nose.  This almost reminds me of a South African Cabernet.  There are some herbs, some raspberry, some leather, medium tannins. This is a well-built Cabernet that I think will age extremely well for 20+ years. This would probably be delicious with wild game. One thing I like about this wine is the earthiness.  There have been so many wines that were all about bright fresh fruit that I was ready for something with a little more nuance. This got 96 points in the Wine Advocate.

Cade Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 2010 $79.99
Blackberry & black cherry on the nose.  Black & Bing cherry on the palate.  Mild tannins.  Nice long finish with cherry & spice.

Maybach 2010 Amoenus Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, Calistoga $150
This took a second to open up. Then it had blackberry on the nose with medium to high tannins.  It has sweet red fruit.  The fruit has almost an overripe quality to it.  I don’t mean that they picked it too late.  It tastes a bit like biting into a plum that has been sitting a little too long & concentrated sugars.  This is actually pretty tasty.  It doesn’t have a lot of nuance, but it is very good. This got 96 points in the Wine Advocate.

Krupp Brothers 2009 M5 Stagecoach Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon $119
90% Cabernet, 8% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc.  Very soft dark fruit.  If you were going to describe a wine as velvety, this would be a good one to use. The finish almost goes from lighter to darker fruit as you drink it. There is some mint and spice as well.  It is very easy to drink.  It has low tannins.

Black Bottle 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Diamond Mountains Magnum $800
The fruit on this thing just about explodes in your mouth.  It does have a nice balance of tannin as well, so I think it would be great with a steak.  There are also some pie spices here. I enjoyed this wine, but I’m having a little trouble understanding the price.

Pedroncelli Cabernet Sauvignon Dry Creek Block 007 Estate Vineyard 2012 $18
This sure is young!  There is candy fruit on the nose.  This wine tastes almost exactly like the Luden’s cherry throat drops that I bought the last time the girls were sick.  I guess that means it has some cherry & menthol.  It does have a ton of tannins, so this may develop into someone completely different.

Anakota 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Helena Dakota Vineyards Knight’s Valley $69.99
Complex nose with some fruit and some herbal notes.  It is kind of hard to pick anything out in particular. There is fennel and dried herb.  There are medium tannins. To me this wine tastes a little hollow.  The finish is nice.  The immediate taste is nice, but the mid palate is lacking to me.  All of the critics seem to love it though.  Wine Advocate gave it 95 points and Wine Enthusiast gave it 92.

Benziger 2010 Signaterra Sunny Slope Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County, Sonoma Mountain $49
This has a very spicy nose.  Its color is almost black.  It needs to open up.  I really don’t get anything from it.14.5% alcohol, but it tastes hotter.  This is a biodynamic wine.  It has medium plus tannins.  I definitely want to try this another time when I can decant it.

Laurel Glen 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County, Sonoma Mountain $65
Super tight wine.  All I got was that it was sweet & soft.  I’ll see if I can try it again later. (I didn’t get the chance)

Arrowood Reserve, 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Speciale  Sonoma County  $90                                                                                                                                                                       Black fruit and chocolate.  It has high tannins.  It is soft on the mid palate.  I liked this wine.

Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepages 2010 $75
78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, 2%Malbec.  There is licorice on the nose. It is full of black fruit.  It s nicely balanced.  I taste blackberry & plum with cinnamon & spice.   As it develops I get more red fruit as well.  This is a very solid wine.

Alexander Valley Vineyards 2010 Alexander School Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon $40
Inky black wine with a smell that is somehow inky black as well.  I actually get some soy sauce on the nose with the red fruit.  I like this wine, but it is light at the front & heavy at the back.  That is odd.  It is good though. I think that the herbal component is stronger than the fruit.  Tons of tannin again, so it may change later.

Jordan 2010 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon $56
76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec.  There isn’t much on the nose.  There is sweet fresh red fruit. I wish I could write more about this wine because it is so popular, but at this stage of its development, it is just a sweet fruit forward wine.  While I was tasting, some other people tried it  & the general verdict was sweet & tight.

Simi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 Sonoma $75
The really light nose contrasts with the heavily spiced taste on this wine.  This has big fruit, but it is really all about the spice.  You could almost heat this wine up & serve it as wassail. Cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, allspice, brown sugar, it’s all there.  There is some nice plum here as well.  This would be a nice wine to sip by the fireside or on Christmas Eve.

Trione Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 Sonoma $67
I don’t usually comment on this sort of thing, but his is a seriously heavy bottle.  I don’t know how much they spent on the bottles, but they weren’t cheap.  The wine is very dark, almost black.  It has good mouth feel. There is a ton of tannin!  It has sweet dark fruit.  I think this might be a fantastic wine in about 3 years.  It really needs some time.

Amavi Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla 2011 $32
Dark red fruit in a dark red wine.  It has moderate tannins.  This is a well-integrated & tasty wine, but I am having trouble pulling out individual characteristics.  I would say raspberry & spice are elements of the flavor.

Double Back Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla 2010 $89
90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec.  Tight nose.  This is a beautifully balanced wine.  It has medium to high tannins.  The alcohol is 14.4% & you can tell it, but it isn’t out of balance. Light cinnamon spice mixed with tarragon & other spices, melds well with the bramble fruit. I liked this and wouldn’t mind setting a few bottles aside to see how it ages.  I expect it to get a lot better over the next few years.

Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Walla Walla $109
76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, 4% Carmenere. This is a complex and interesting wine.  I taste fennel & licorice, earth & leather.  This is a really solid wine & I may find it more interesting at the moment because it is different & stands out.  97 points in Wine Advocate. (So it may  not have just been how I felt at the time).

Pepper Bridge 2010 Walla Walla $60
83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec, 2% Petit Verdot. This is almost black again.  This may be a trend in Washington.  This wine was all right.  Realistically I think it would be better with a few more years or hours opened, but it is just ok.  I wouldn’t normally review this wine because I am not getting it. It is a soft wine with high tannins.  How does that happen? I tried it a second time & still don’t get it. Everyone else loves it. It has huge tannins!  It has some cherry & plum.

Va Piano Columbia Valley 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon $35
Here is a soft easy drinking wine.  This is an elegant wine.  It has dark fruit with some olive characteristics.  It has chocolate & beaucoup tannins.  There is a long finish.  I really liked this wine.  This is perhaps the second best wine so far.  This one is definitely a good wine for the price.

Woodward Canyon 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Washington State $59
Super black wine.  There is licorice on the nose.  This is a very light smooth wine.  There are some earthy textures at the finish.  This is not a bad wine, but not comparable to the previous Washington wines.

Efeste Big Papa 2010 Big Block Cabernet Sauvignon Washington $54
Black dark red fruit with herbs on the nose.  This is a super smooth wine. It has high tannins.  There is dark fruit with a brambly, almost thorny quality.  The tannins are literally mouth puckering. Very nice finish.

DeLille cellars Four Flags Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Washington $65
Soft, dark fruit (mostly blackberry) on the nose. Almost black again.  Some earth, but more of a dusty smell.  14.2%  & you can feel it.  It is in balance, but you can tell that it has higher alcohol.  Root beer & licorice on the palate.   You also get a lot of fresh plum.  It took me a minute to get into the wine, but once I did, I really enjoyed it.

Cadence 2010 Camerata. Red Mountain Cara Mia Vineyard $60
85% Cabernet Sauvignon with 5% each Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot.  Not as black as the other Washington wines.  This is more of a dark red wine.  I would usually have called this a really dark red wine if I hadn’t just gone through all of those other Washington State Cabs.  This has a beautiful Bordeaux style nose.  There is spice & red fruit on the palate. This is a very solid wine.  The red fruit & the spice mingle together in a particularly nice way. Soft tannins & some sweetness.  I probably wouldn’t have like this wine very much without the spice, but with it, I think it is very tasty.

Boudreaux 2008 Champoux & Loess Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon  Washington $100
This has a perfumed finish.  Boysenberry is the main fruit that I get.  This is a wine that shows fruit at first, but finishes with an herbal brambly note.  This may have a weird name, but it is a solid wine.

Tamarack Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon  Columbia Valley 2011 $36
86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot.  Light sweet nose.  Not in the ballpark of the good wines.  I have really enjoyed some of their wines, but this doesn’t measure up today.

Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2011 $50
This smells a little like a Thanksgiving cranberry salad.  I get cranberry & nut on the nose. Nice wine, but it is nothing special.

Col Solare 2010 Columbia Valley. $55 14.5%
90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Malbec) Nice nose.  Some herb some red fruit.  Pretty nice.,  really tasty wine.  Well balanced & well integrated.  Maybe some olive, some herb.  Very easy drinking wine.  Solid tannins.  Just a good red wine.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Cold Creek Vineyard 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon $35
This smells like a tapenade.  It has low tannins & big dark fruit.  This is a big dark wine with a long lasting finish.  I was trying to think of a good pairing & I really couldn’t.  It is a good wine & good to sip, but I would drink this by itself. On my last taste I got a really strong meaty taste.

Betz Family Vineyards Pere de Famille 2011 Magnum $150 (for the magnum)
This is a Cabernet dominated blend, but I don’t know the blend.  It has a distinctively earthy nose.
It has a taste of menthol and earth.  It is distinctive & delicious.  In some ways this is a weird & cool wine.

Snowden Vineyards 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $70                                                                                                                                                                           The nose smells like alcohol & fig, but the wine is actually really soft, with sweet fig & a hint of herbs.  The alcohol is 15.5%, but despite smelling hot, it doesn’t taste hot at all.

Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2009 $110
84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot This is such a smooth wine.  The main impression is smooth & sweet.  Once again I know this is a popular wine, but it tastes sweet & smooth & generic. I talked to a few other people & it was a common refrain.  It is interesting to me that people like this wine so much. Perhaps I am not tasting it at the right time.  Perhaps I am just weird.

Robert Foley 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $86
This has a dusty nose. This is a fruit forward & smooth wine, but it has nuance that the Silver Oak lacked.  It tends toward the same sweet red fruit of the silver oak, but it is just more interesting.  The finish is full of plum.

Pine Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012 $54
Dirt & licorice on the nose.  It has a sweet finish.  Lots of cherry candy.  Not a wine for me.

Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Napa Valley $28
Menthol & mint on the nose.  I tasted bitter cherry with some herb.  It has very high tannins.  This wine is well balanced & would be good with red meat.  .

Gallica Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Napa Valley $139
This is as black as a Washington Cabernet.  It has a nice nose, with licorice & herbs.  The flavor accents the dark fruit, licorice, & some herbs.  This is a very nice wine.  It also throws a lot of sediment.  It was the only wine of the night where I noticed sediment, although that could have been happenstance.

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2005 Napa Valley $175
92% Cabernet Sauvignon; 7% Petit Verdot; 1% Merlot.This wine has such a pretty nose.  There is some chocolate on the nose, but it isn’t close to the chocolate on the palate. This wine tastes more like hot chocolate than anything I have had.  This wine is soft & easy to drink & if you like cocoa, you should try it.  It sounds like I am selling this wine short, but I’m not.  There are some cherries & some herbs in the mix, but the key to the wine is the mix of mocha and bitter chocolate on the palate.

Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Napa Valley?  The official handout says Napa, but I can’t find a 2011 Napa Cab from them.  There is a Sonoma one & a Napa one in 2010. $34
This may be the archetype of California Cabernet. I think it is what people expect at a restaurant when they order a Napa Cabernet. To me, it is solid, but not interesting.  It has blackberry as the primary fruit & has a sweet finish.

Merryvale 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $65
78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot. This is another soft, easy drinking slightly sweet red.  Vanilla and blackberry are the primary components for me.

Swanson 2010 Alexis Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, Oakville $75
This has soft sweet tannins.  At this point of the tasting, this is generic.  That probably has more to do with it being the 49th wine I tried than its own failings.  It wasn’t a bad wine, I just didn’t have anything t say about it.

Spring Mountain Vineyards 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, Spring Mountain  $75
The first thing I typed about this wine was prune.  There are definitely other elements to the wine.  I tasted spice, earth, and leather, but they were all wrapped up in prune.  The nose also has a distinct prune note to it.

Grgich Hills 2010 Yountville Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, Yountville $140
This shows very ripe fruit with some plum, blackberry and cocoa.  It has low tannins & ripe fruit, but it doesn’t come off as sweet.  It is a nicely integrated wine & a good place to stop for the night.

 

The hurry up offense by any other name is a lot of fun

I think my first exposure to a hurry up offense was watching Roger Staubach run around like a crazy man at the end of a Sunday game, hoping to pull a rabbit out of a hat & often doing so.  I know that there were times when I wondered why they didn’t have the same urgency at the beginning of the game that they had in the last few minutes. I didn’t know it, but there were already people out there working to make that a reality.  In fact, the seeds were sown as far back as 1933 when throwing the football was considered somewhat shady.

Mouse DavisDarrel “Mouse” Davis is often referred to as the godfather of the Run & Shoot.  There is even a new documentary, The Mouse that Roars by J. David Miller & Spencer Lee that argues that modern NFL & NCAA offenses are primarily proliferations of concepts that Davis introduced.  Davis definitely deserves credit for popularizing the concepts, but he didn’t invent them.

ellison

Tiger Ellison

In 1933 Glenn “Tiger” Ellison started to coach the Middletown Ohio High School football team. He also taught English.  I don’t know how well his English students did, but his quarterbacks did very well.  He produced 8 All-State quarterbacks and was named coach of the year in 1961, mainly due to his innovative offensive scheme.  In 1965 Parker Publishing released his book Run & Shoot Football: Offense of the Future (which you can find on Amazon for about $45).  One of the people who turned to Ellison was Mouse Davis.  He then installed the offense to great effect at Oregon & Portland State.

In 1975, June Jones was playing quarterback for his third different college football team.  That usually isn’t a recipe for success.  Things worked out a bit differently for him.  Although Portland State had not had much success passing in the past, Jones was a nice match for the Run & Shoot offense that offensive coordinator Mouse Davis had installed.  In two years, Jones ended up passing for 5,798 yards with 50 TD against 20 interceptions.  That was enough to launch him in to a 6 year career as a professional quarterback.  He spent 5 years with the Atlanta Falcons & a year in the CFL with Toronto.

After his playing career wound down, Jones got into coaching.  In 1984 he became the wide receiver coach for the Houston Gamblers in the new United States Football League (USFL).  The man who brought him onboard was offensive coordinator Mouse Davis.

They installed the Run & Shoot offense & with Gambler’s quarterback Jim Kelly, they rewrote the professional football record books.  In their first season, Kelly passed for 5,793 yards and 45 touchdowns.  They were the first team in professional football to have 2 receivers with over 100 receptions.  Richard Johnson had 115 & Ricky Sanders pulled in 101 catches.  The team finished 13-3.

The Run & Shoot starts with motion from the receivers with adjustments to their routes on the fly based on defensive reactions.  It generally uses 1 running back and up to 4 wide receivers.  It depends on the quarterback being smart enough to read & react to the defensive coverage, especially how the defense shifts after the wide receivers go in motion.  Some concepts are really basic.  If the defense puts fewer than 5 men in the box, you should run the football.  You will have a numbers advantage.  If they keep men in the box, you should have a mismatch with at least one receiver.  There is a lot more to it, but that gives you an idea.  Another crucial point is that you can run every play from your base offense.  That means that you can line up quickly without huddling and pressure the defense.  If they bring in two lighter players on the line to spread out & cover receivers, you can repeatedly run the ball at the lighter line without giving them time to bring in the big boys.  Conversely, if they have the lanes clogged with 300+ pound defensive lineman, you run lots of quick passes & wear them down.  You control the pace.  You don’t go fast all of the time, but the defense never knows when you will put down the accelerator.

The USFL may not have stayed around for too long, but the concept of the Run & Shoot was here to stay.

In 1988, Sam Wyche adapted the offense & emphasized the no huddle aspect for the Cincinnati Bengals.  They called the system the “Attack Offense.”  With quarterback Boomer Esiason they managed to make it to the Super Bowl although they lost to another innovative coach & quarterback (Bill Walsh & Joe Montana).  Walsh had even written a book which said the offense of the future wouldn’t huddle and the quarterback would call the plays with just 1 word at the line.

The team the Bengals defeated to advance to the Super Bowl was the Buffalo Bills.  As the USFL imploded, the Bills acquired a franchise quarterback who knew a little something about a no huddle offense.  Quarterback Jim Kelly teamed with head coach Marv Levy & offensive coordinator Ted Marchibroda to install their “K-Gun” offense.  Their fantastic use of the no huddle & aspects of the Run & Shoot enabled them to become the only team to advance to 4 straight Super Bowls.  Although the lost all 4 (Wide Right), they were an amazing offensive team.  Kelly finished his pro career with over 45,000 yards passing and was named to the Hall of Fame.

June Jones spent time in the NFL as a head coach & has been extremely successful with his offense in the college ranks.  Mouse Davis also coached college offenses to record heights.  In the meantime, a number of NFL teams adopted portions of the system.  More teams put 3 or 4 receivers on the line & receivers in motion became somewhat standard.  There was still a feeling that portions of the hurry up offense were just a college gimmick. In fact the next big hurry up offense coach was in the college ranks.

Chip Kelly used perhaps the fastest no huddle offense ever to lead Oregon into national prominence.  Kelly moved from the defensive side of the ball (at Johns Hopkins) to line coach & then to offensive coordinator at New Hampshire.  In 7 of his 8 seasons at New Hampshire his “Blur” offense averaged over 400 yards per game.  In his final 4 seasons there, the team averaged more than 30 points per game.  That got him the offensive coordinator job and soon the head coaching job at Oregon.

At Oregon, he took an also ran team to an unprecedented 4 straight BCS berths.  That made him the coaching candidate du jour for the NFL. He was contacted by NFL coaches like Pete Carroll & Bill Belichick to discuss the offense.  The Tampa Bay Buccaneers wanted him to become their head coach in 20012.  He turned that opportunity down, but the next year he accepted the head coaching job with the Philadelphia Eagles.  In the meantime his use of the spread offensive concepts frustrated other college coaches.  My favorite interview on the subject is with South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson in an interview at footballscoop.com.  In that interview he sounds like my kids when they lose to someone & whine that it wasn’t fair.  He said “One thing that has gotten into it that I’ve been pretty outspoken, that I really think is starting to deteriorate some of college football is the hurry up offenses.”  “What it’s about now is who can snap the football before the other team lines up.  You can’t hardly get your players on and off the field.  You can’t get your signals in and out.  It’s become who has the best signal system or verbiage system”

There were definitely doubters of Kelly’s transition to the pros.  The message boards were full of people saying that he would be back coaching a college team by the next year.  Instead, he coached the Eagles to a division championship.  The team averaged 417 yards per game & almost 28 points, which was a marked increase from the previous year.

In the meantime, other NFL teams have incorporated more of the hurry up offense into their systems.  The New England Patriots use a 1 or 2 word system to call plays that greatly speeds the process.  Tom Brady will step to the line & say something like “Bama right” & that will tell the team what the play is & what the formation will be.  It can move lightning fast when they want it to. In 2011 they left a serious impression on Tampa Bay defender Gerald McCoy in a preseason game  Afterwards he said “Man, I’m telling you man, they came out, they’d turn around huddle, snap, oh, ‘There’s the Mike, Go!’ I was like, ‘Dang! Um, Mr. Brady, can we line up?’ He didn’t care. He was like, ‘You’re not going to line up.”’ McCoy said. “When we turned around one time I checked back around and my hand was going to the grass and they were like, ‘Hut!’ And I said, ‘Noooooooooooo!’”  That’s a reaction that will keep offenses moving quickly& defensive players hurrying to catch up.  I would have loved to see that when I was a kid & I’m happy I get to see it now.  I wonder what Staubach would have done in that kind of offense.

Roger Staubach

 

 

My 15 favorite wines of 2013 + things I got right & wrong about football in 2013

3 Jan
J. C. Leyendecker

J. C. Leyendecker

One of the reasons I like to watch the football experts on Sundays instead of the political talking heads is a sense of accountability.  On the various NFL morning shows the experts make their predictions about who will win the games that week.  They keep track of the success of their predictions throughout the season.  At the end of the year, someone receives a meaningless award for winning & the last place person is mocked mercilessly.  They really need to try that on the political talk shows.  Donna Brazile & Charles Krauthammer are wrong much more frequently than they are correct.  It would be nice if they had to own up to the frequency of their errors.

In keeping with that theme, here are some of the things I got right & wrong on this blog in 2013

1)      I was probably wrong on my first blog when I said Wes Welker should stay a Patriot.  I still think that he might have done better to stay in Foxboro, but he had a solid year with Denver.  His receptions and yards were down this year, but his touchdowns were up.  I think that moving to Denver was the best place he could have moved.

2)      A couple of blogs later I wrote that it would be almost impossible to trade Darrelle Revis.  At least I qualified that with “almost.”  In the end, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded for him.  The Jets used the pick they acquired from Tampa to draft Dee Milliner, who had a shaky start, but won Defensive Rookie of the Month in December.   Tampa used Revis in zone coverage primarily, which isn’t his strong suit.  That may have contributed to the firing of Tampa Bay’s coach & general manager.  Now they have hired Lovie Smith to coach the team & he uses a Tampa 2 defense that features lots of zone coverage & very little press coverage.  It will be interesting to see how Revis fits in next year.  I guess what I should have said was that Revis would be hard to trade unless the Jets found a sucker.  That trade didn’t cost the GM and coach their jobs, but it didn’t help.

3)      I was right about the pre-season talk about Miami winning free agency didn’t necessarily translate into the playoffs.  They missed out on the last game of the year.

4)      I said that I would be shocked if the Rams equaled last year’s 7-9 record & that Jeff Fisher was a career .500 coach.  The Rams did finish 7-9 again.  I’ll stand by the career comments on Fisher.

5)      I was right about Harry Douglas crushing his previous production.  He had more yards this year than in any two previous years combined.

6)      I was right about the Cardinals being a good team if they could just find a running back.  They did & his name is Andre Ellington.  The Cardinals are in a tough division, but they are building a solid team.

7)      I was probably wrong when I said that the Raiders might be a team on the way up.  That was irrational exuberance.

8)      I was right in saying that the Patriots should always be open to trades from Tampa Bay.  The trade of Jeff Demps & a 7th round pick for  Legarrette Blount looks even better now for the Patriots than it did a few weeks ago.  Blount had 334 all-purpose yards last week, which broke the New England record & ranked #12 all time.  Demps had 14 yards for the year.  This might also have contributed to the firing of the Tampa Bay coach and GM.  I don’t expect them to trade with the Patriots in 2014.

9)      The biggest issue where I was right this year was the officiating.  I tried not to harp on it each week, but I did write about it a couple of times.  This year had the worst officiating I have seen since I started watching football, and I am including the replacement refs.  The capper on the whole mess was the game between San Diego & Kansas City in week 17.  With 8 seconds left in a tie game, Ryan Succop attempted a 41 yard field goal to win the game for the Chiefs.  He missed.  Chiefs coach Andy Reid called a time out to get the referees to review the play because the Chargers had an illegal defensive formation.  He was told it wasn’t reviewable.  The game went into overtime and the Chargers eventually won.

If the play had been called correctly, there would have been a 5 yard penalty & Succop would have had another chance to kick.  There is no guarantee that he would have made the kick, but he was 15 of 16 on the year from 40 yards or less.  I would have bet $1,000 on him making the second kick.

The NFL even admitted that the referees got it wrong.  They issued a statement on December 30th which said in part “On the play, San Diego lined up with seven men on one side of the snapper. This should have been penalized as an illegal formation by the defense.

The fact that the referees screwed this up is worse than the usual referee goof.  In this case, winning the game put the Chargers in the playoffs.  If Succop had hit a second field goal try, the Chargers would have finished 8-8 & by virtue of a tie breaker, the Pittsburgh Steelers would have gone to the playoffs instead of the Chargers.  That is a huge screw up.  There are people whose jobs might be on the line based on whether they make the playoffs.  On a financial note, players in the Wild Card round of the playoffs each make $19,000 for the game.  That means that the Chargers players net $1,007,000.00 that probably should have gone to the Steelers.  I have made a lot of mistakes, but at least none of mine cost over a million dollars.  I guess I will take that as a win for the year.

Here are my top 15 wines that I reviewed last year.  I probably tried other wines that I liked more, but if I didn’t type up a review, I don’t remember them.  This list skews more than normal towards Napa wines, but that was just a result of trying a higher proportion of Napa wines this year.  I’m sure that if I had tried as high a percentage of Bordeaux, it would be reflected in the reviews.  We’ll see what I can find to taste this year.  The wines are not in any particular order.  I did manage to get a rose’ into the top 15.

1)  Domaine Carneros    Domaine Carneros Le Rêve Blanc du Blanc 2006 $99.00
Le Rêve means “the dream.” This is a 100% Chardonnay (Blanc du Blanc means white from white) sparkling wine.  There is a long finish to the wine.  It tastes like toasted bread with a tiny hint of mushroom.  There are creamy cheese notes to the wine.  I would love to try it with some soft gooey cheese.

2)      Blankiet Paradise Hill Red Napa 2008 15.2%
82.5% Cabernet, 16% Merlot, with the remainder made up of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc.  Blankiet has only been around since 1996.  They are in the Mayacamas Mountains above Yountville. There is ripe fruit on the nose.  I get big plum & blackberry.  There is delicious blackberry & chocolate on the palate. This is a big & juicy wine with lighter tannins, or maybe just lighter, compared to what I have been trying.  I taste cassis & blackberry, & chocolate… with maybe a bit of cherry.  The tannins come up a little as I drink it so I think it will age well.  I like this a lot.  I tried it a second time & I am really wishing I had a steak with a red wine & cherry sauce.  The tannins are good, so the first time around it may have been a reaction to the tannins on the other wines.  There is a long finish that accents the chocolate.  If I were going to spend $190 on a Cabernet, this is one that would be worth it.  Robert Parker gave it a 95+ rating.

3)      Premiere Napa Valley Sterling Cabernet 2010 1st Calistoga 15.2% 20 cases produced

Elegant fruit.  This is a “wow!” wine. There is raspberry with cocoa dusting on the nose. I get big tannins, but they don’t overpower the wine.  It has a very long dry finish, that leaves you thinking about it & reaching for more.  At the core of this wine there is a fresh fruit center. This is their 1st Calistoga designated wine.  It sells for $110.

4)     mayacamas1992.preview Mayacamas 1992 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Delicious.  This was frankly better than I expected.  Fruity, red fruits, tannins are light, but still there.  This is a bright & fresh example of classic 1990′s Napa Cabernet.    There is an earthiness that would make you think of St. Emillion if it weren’t for the fresh fruit.  I am impressed with this wine.  Dark red with fresh red edges.  It doesn’t look like a wine from 1992.  Here’s a review from a big name reviewer, who went a bit more over the top than I did…

“It restores the will to live”…”Elegance, finesse, allied to concentration. Balanced and sleek, slightly tarry fruit, moreish and good acidity. Lovely. The balance is like being released from prison: a sense of lightness.”

—Margaret Rand
The World of Fine Wine (London)
on the Mayacamas Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignons of 1992 and 1999, respectively

5)     KungFu Girl Kungfu Girl 2012 Washington State Riesling 2012 Evergreen Columbia Valley Charles Smith Wines
11% alcohol
Green apple, guava, great acid.   I tasted papaya, followed by even more green apple.  It finishes dry or just off dry, but it really tastes like a green apple Jolly Rancher. It smells like white flowers & a little bit of green apple.  It doesn’t smell as intense as it tastes. I had this with smoked turkey fried rice.  This has great mouth feel & a mouthwatering, lingering finish.  On the finish I got some slightly creamy lime.   This was on spectator top 100 wine this year & definitely worth it for the price.

6)      McCrea Cellars Rose’ non vintage
This is a blend of Carignan & Grenache.  I have tried to find out a little more about it, but have only found information about some other rose’s that they have made over the years.  This is a full bodied rose’ with nice spice.  It has a long finish.  It’s really one of the nicest American rose’s I have ever had.

7)      Schramsberg Blanc de Noir sparkling wine 1988 magnum
This was fantastic. I actually wasn’t expecting this.  The bottle had been lying around for a long time & hadn’t been kept in ideal conditions.  I felt like it was something that might end up getting poured out.  I was wrong. It was a fantastic wine!  It had a real Pinot Noir taste to it.  It was full bodied with great mouth feel.  If I tasted it blind, I would have guessed that this was Champagne instead of California.  It has lots of taste notes due to autolysis.  For those who aren’t wine geeks, this just means the wine sat on the dead yeast after fermentation.  Usually the dead yeast, (lees) is stirred on a regular basis.  This can make a white wine taste bigger, which usually is called mouth feel.  It also can lead to toasty or baked bread flavors in the wine.  It can be tricky to get right, but it is a key component of the best Champagne.

8)      Chateau de Beaurenard Chateauneuf du Pape Boisrenard 2001 magnum
This is full of berries.  There is blackberry, boysenberry, & blueberry.  Paradoxically, it seems to get even more dense as it opens up.  This is just an amazing, mouthwatering wine.  The oak has integrated so nicely that it is more about structure and it isn’t overtly “oaky” in any way.  Robert Parker liked it as much as I did apparently.  He gave it 97 points & wrote “There have been a number of spectacular vintages of Domaine de Beaurenard’s luxury cuvee, Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee Boisrenard, but the 2001 may be the finest they have ever produced.”  Wine Spectator gave it 95 points & said it would be good through 2021.  Mine didn’t make it that long. I would love to try it again in a few years, but I doubt I can afford it!

9)      Jacob Franklin Petite Sirah 2000 (Napa Valley/Howell Mountain)

This was an exceptional wine.  It smelled of blueberry & perfume.  It tasted like dark liquorice, blueberry, & chocolate.  The tannins were still strong. It was an amazing wine at almost every level.  As great as it was, it tasted to me like a youthful wine that still had plenty of time to settle in.  I would highly recommend this wine if you can find a bottle.  The label says that there were only 16 barrels made, so that is about 400 cases.

10)  premiere napa valleyPremiere Napa Valley Saint Supery Rutherford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 #40 of 240 14.8%
One of the tasting notes with this said that it had a “brandied oak” taste.  I have no idea what that means, but I know where they get the brandy idea.  This wine doesn’t taste hot at all, but it really has an almost port/brandy finish to it.  It does have noticeable oak, but it is pretty well integrated.  I think the only part that stands out as oaky is that the dryness of the finish is distinctly from the oak rather than something else. There is cassis & licorice.  This is a delicious, complex Cabernet.  I don’t know if this is the best of the batch, but it is probably the most interesting. 2nd tasting.  This has a really dark color.  I think that there was some concentration of flavor & alcohol here from evaporation from the barrel.  This is called the angel’s share of the wine.  As the wine sits in the barrel, oxygen slowly enters and matures the wine.  At the same time, some of the wine evaporates, and that is the “Angel’s Share.”  This evaporation isn’t consistent across the board.  The alcohol in the wine doesn’t evaporate as quickly as the other liquids.  So you end up with higher alcohol and a more concentrated flavor.  That gives me that brandy taste.  Some people might associate that taste with being oxidized, but that isn’t the case here.  On this second tasting I’m getting more of the herbal notes of the wine.  I don’t know if that is from this bottle being open longer or just thinking about it more. I also taste mocha, cherry, and black currant.  After tasting it a second time I think this is currently drinking the best of the batch.  That doesn’t mean it is the best, or will be the best long term, but right now this is a darn tasty wine.  This is $160.

11)  Delas Les Lanes 2009 Crozes-Hermitage
Good tannins. Beautiful blueberry & blackberry .  It has almost a perfume nose.  In fact if they sold a perfume that smelled like this, high quality winos would beat a path to the sales door.  It has deep flavor with layer after layer of flavor.  Maybe some tobacco.  It is a delicious wine. The wine actually says it is Syrah on the back. It looks like it was added by the importer. The only reason I mention that is because although all Northern Rhone reds are Syrah, they don’t usually list the varietal on the label. They just assume that everyone knows that the Northern Rhone reds have been Syrah for hundreds of years. That might work for a small percentage of the population, but I think it would be great if everyone would provide varietal information. This wine was fantastic by itself.  It would be great with steak, lamb, or char-grilled chicken. Actually this is good enough that I might drink it with just about anything.

12)  Groom Barossa Valley Shiraz2008

To me, this was a wine that could only have come from Barossa Valley in Australia. The wine was so dark that it ranged somewhere between dark purple and black. It had dark brambly fruit that was extremely deep. There were layers of plum, blackberry, and dark cherry. The wine had a long finish. It had good mouthfeel and enough acid to pair well with food. The tannins were solid, but not especially pronounced. As the wine opened up it showed deeper fruit and a longer lasting finish. This would be a great wine with a Montreal steak. The heavy fruit would soften the spice of the seasoning and the acid would make the steak melt in your mouth. For those who care, it received 92 points in Wine Spectator. I tried it with some chocolate that had lemon and cracked black pepper in it and it was fantastic. I know that wine books tell us that red wine doesn’t go with chocolate. I know that experts will say that the polyphenols, acids, and tannins that chocolate and red wine share make them a terrible match. I know that you are only supposed to have chocolate with Port or a Muscat based dessert wine. I also know that lots of people love red wine and chocolate. This is a great example of how the two can work together. The fruit in the Shiraz translated into sweetness compared to the spice of the black pepper in the chocolate. You can believe the scientists here, or you can try it for yourself. Anyway, the wine tasted great. It also was a wine that made me think of Australia and the red dirt in Barossa. It felt like it came from somewhere.

13)   DuckhornDuckhorn Patzimaro Vineyard 2010 Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 18 months French oak
83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc
This is a wine with depth.  The tannins are solid, but not to the point where they overwhelm you.  There are dry cocoa and some mushroom and earthy notes. There are blackberry, raspberry & plum flavors.  There is a minerality here that gives the wine a backbone.  It is just an excellent example of Napa Cabernet.  This has an incredibly long finish.  I was sitting around 5 minutes later & realized I was still tasting it.  The vineyard is in the St. Helena appellation at the base of Spring Mountain. According to their website, “the site was named after the town of Patzimaro de Aviña in honor of the Hurtado Family, an essential part of the Duckhorn Vineyards winemaking team who migrated from this small village to the Napa Valley in 1987.”

14) 

Trefethen in the fall.  You might be able to see skeletons stealing cases of wine from the window.

Trefethen in the fall. You might be able to see skeletons stealing cases of wine from the window.

Trefethen Family Vineyards  Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
There is spice on the nose with some licorice & cherry.  It has deep flavors and solid tannins.  I get primarily dark fruit, plum, cherry, & blackberry.  This wine will be better in 5 years than it is now.  I taste cassis, caramel, & a tiny bit of black pepper on the finish.  It has a really good dusty taste on the finish.  It doesn’t taste like Bordeaux, but that dustiness reminds me of Saint-Émilion.  The fruit is from the north western corner of Oak Knoll.  That puts it near the Yountville & Stag’s Leap appellations.  Wine Enthusiast gave this a whopping 97 points.  It is an excellent Cabernet and I really want to see what it tastes like in 3-5 years.

15)     The Pope's new castle Delas Haute Pierre 2008 Chateauneuf du Pape
Pepper. There is a ton of pepper. Plenty of tannin.  I opened this right before dinner & it was just all right.  The next night I pulled it out again & was amazed at how nuanced & textured this wine was.  There is dark fruit, pepper, plum & an umami taste (if I have that right).  It is almost like duck fat. That tastes better than it sounds I promise.  This is a wine that still has time to age. The wine is so purple it looks black in the glass, with just a hint of red at the surface. I have 1 more bottle & I am torn on whether to wait a year or two to see how it evolves, or to crack open that bottle right now.  I heated up some leftover lamb & it was a special combination.  The lamb had  marjoram & spice & the combination was terrific.  There was a synergistic effect & both tasted better together than alone.  Definitely decant this wine before drinking it.

 

Those are the ones I chose today.  I’m sure that if I thought about it tomorrow I would come up with a different list.  I will say that you can’t go wrong with any of these wines.  Give them a try if you get a chance.  Feel free to let me know what your favorite wines of the year were too.  I’m always looking for something new!

Another trip to Napa helps me find a couple of wines for Thanksgiving + this week’s football thoughts.

27 Nov

November the 14th started out as a rainy grey day in Napa.  We had a meeting with a printer that morning & then the guys and I had time to visit a couple of wineries before driving to Sacramento. Our first stop was Domaine Carneros.

Domaine Carneros 046

Domaine Carneros is known for their sparkling wine.  That makes sense because their official name is Domaine Carneros by Taittinger.  Taittinger has been producing Champagne since 1734. The Domaine Carneros main building was finished in 1989.  Their Pinot Noir facility behind the main house is designed to look like a classic French carriage house.  Despite the ancient look to the buildings, when the Pinot Noir facility was completed, it had the largest solar collection system of any winery in the world.  Their vinification techniques are also a nice blend of ancient tradition and modern technology.

As you might also guess, the winery is in Carneros, which is an appellation that includes the northern portion of both Napa & Sonoma.  Wine writer Alan Goldfarb calls Carneros “the sweet spot for Pinot Noir & Chardonnay.”  Those are 2 of the 3 grapes allowed in Champagne and Domaine Carneros does a great job on both.  They also make still wines from those grapes.

The winery is beautiful, and tastings are conducted at tables rather than at a bar.  We had a nice seat in front of the fireplace.  Here are the wines we tried.  I didn’t take very detailed notes this time because things moved fairly quickly and I tasted with two other people.
2009 Brut Cuvée $28.00
This was clean with a faint hint of baked bread.  There is a fresh melon flavor that took me a while to notice

2010 Brut Rose’ $37.00
There is some of the expected strawberry here, but there is more of an unexpected peach.
There is some raspberry as well. This is 70% Pinot Noir 30% Chardonnay.

Vermeil Demi Sec $36.00
This slightly sweet wine reminds me of baked apple & baked pear pie.  The pear notes are really enjoyable.  I’m more of a fan of dry sparkling wine, but this is nice.  It is a favorite with visitors to the winery.

Ultra Brut 2009 $39.00
This is serious stuff. It has a full mouth feel.  It reminds me of toasted fresh bread. There is also some toasted nut.  There is a small amount of cream. This would be great with the some Oscar Benedict, the crab version of eggs Benedict.  It would also be fantastic with crab smothered in butter or grilled.  It only has 4 grams per liter of sugar.  I love dry vintage sparkling wine.

Le Rêve Blanc du Blanc 2006 $99.00
Le rêve means “the dream.” This is 100% Chardonnay (white from white) There is a long finish to this wine.  It tastes like toasted bread with a tiny hint of mushroom.  There are creamy cheese notes to the wine.  I would love to try it with some. Soft gooey cheese.

Estate Pinot Noir 2011 $35.00
Dark fruit with mushroom & herbal notes. There is leather, and while it is nice that I am trying this on a cool, foggy day in front of the fire, it would be even better in a classic Victorian office with a fire…or perhaps with a brace of pheasant.  Ok…apparently it would be better if you were a British Lord.  That is often true.  The grapes spend 5 days in cold soak before fermentation.  There are 11 clones of Pinot Noir in the blend from 4 different organic estate vineyards.

Reserve Pinot Noir Famous Gate 2011 $75.00
This spends 16 months in French oak (48% new). It has smooth, fresher fruit than the estate Pinot Noir.  The other almost seems more nuanced.  Maybe it needs to open up.  I get raspberry, cherry, & herbs.  This may end up as a better wine, but for now I don’t think it is worth the extra $40.

I ended up with the Estate Pinot & the Ultra Brut Cuvee for potential Thanksgiving wines.  There is a Zinfandel sitting around that is in the mix as well.

048

After finishing up at Domaine Carneros, we reluctantly left the fireplace and moved over to Duckhorn Vineyards.  Duckhorn is another beautiful winery tasting room.  Instead of a French estate, this looks like a converted Craftsman house, although it was built for this purpose.  They have indoor seating & seating on a covered patio.  We sat out on the patio & they had gas heaters going.  It was starting to warm up and clear off.  Towards the end of the tasting, we could hear a frog croaking nearby and the sun came out.  Here is what we tried.

Sauvignon Blanc 2012 $45.00                                                                                                                                                                                                          This classic nose tends a little toward the New Zealand style.  It has a clean fruit filled nose. It tastes like lime, lemon, and guava.  It is a single vineyard wine and it spent 10 months on lees in new oak.  The oak definitely does not overpower the fruit.

Merlot 2010 $54.00                                                                                                                                                                                                                             90% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Cabernet Franc. 15 months French oak
Great nose.  There is strong dark fruit.  It has good tannins.  I tasted plum, cherry, blackberry, spice, maybe all-spice. 14.5% alcohol

Rector Creek Vineyard Merlot 2010 $90.00
18 months in French oak. 83% Merlot 17% Cabernet Sauvignon 14.5%
Licorice, dark cherry, herbal notes. Maybe sage & fennel. Little bit of pepper.  This is a really nice example of Napa Merlot.  This is $90, but worth it. There is a little earthiness here, but it tends more to bright fruit.   The 1st Merlot was released 4 months before the 2nd & that may have something to do with the big difference in oak integration.  Duckhorn also owns Paraduxx Winery on the Silverado trail in Yountville.  The fruit for this wine comes from that vineyard.

Three Palms Vineyard Merlot 2010 $90.00

82% Merlot 15% Cabernet Sauvignon 2% Cabernet Franc 1% Petit Verdot 18 months French oak  14.5%
this is a big dark red.   There is dark raspberry, with a chocolate core.  The dry cocoa on the nose is nice.  This wine gave me a little shiver.  That’s usually the sign that it is something special.  It has a long finish.  I like this better than the Rector Creek.  It received 92 points in Wine Advocate.

Monitor Ledge 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon $95.00

77% Cabernet Sauvignon 19% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot 18 months French oak
The nose is heavy oaky Cabernet.  It is actually much more smooth & silky on the palate.   Ripe strawberry mixes with a tiny bit of raisiny plum.  Very solid cabernet, but it pales in comparison to the next.

Patzimaro Vineyard 2010 Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 18 months French oak
83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc
Head shaking, shivering good wine. This is a wine with depth.  The tannins are solid, but not to the point where they overwhelm you.  There are dry cocoa and some mushroom and earthy notes. There are blackberry, raspberry & plum flavors.  There is a minerality here that gives the wine a backbone.  It is just an excellent example of Napa Cabernet.  This has an incredibly long finish.  I was sitting around 5 minutes later & realized I was still tasting it.  The vineyard is in the St. Helena appellation at the base of Spring Mountain. According to their website, “the site was named after the town of Patzimaro de Aviña in honor of the Hurtado Family, an essential part of the Duckhorn Vineyards winemaking team who migrated from this small village to the Napa Valley in 1987.”

After we finished tasting all of the wines, one of the guys I work with had me stand up with my back turned to the table.  He rearranged the reds & had me taste and identify them.  I was able to nail all of them.  That told me two things.  First, it meant that I could keep getting paid to work in the wine business for another week.  Second, it meant that Duckhorn makes distinct wines.  They aren’t just slapping a label on every wine from a different vineyard & then treating them the same.  They are making wines with care for the differences between vineyards and the differences between lots of fruit.  That is impressive.

Random football thoughts of the week.

1)      It was good to see the Giants brought down to earth.  They were doing way too much talking for a team that hadn’t beaten a good team.  After losing their first 6 games, the Giants were on a bit of a roll due to playing 4 teams in a row with injured or backup quarterbacks.  From their locker room there was talk about running the table.  The smack talk really got out of control last week before they played the Dallas Cowboys.

Terrell Thomas said “No doubt. We’re gonna win this game.  You can tell ’em, put it on the bulletin board, it doesn’t matter because we have to win this game. Our season is on the line right now.”  Not to be outdone, Jason Pierre Paul said it would be a beat down for the Cowboys.  “We’re going to put it on them, man,” Pierre-Paul said after the Giants’ 27-13 victory over the Green Bay Packers which Packers’ starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers  watched from the sideline. “I’m pretty sure the offense is going to get going. The defense is going to get going even more. And the special teams will contribute to it…It’s going to be a fight. It’s going to be a dogfight. There’s going to be a lot of blood spilled out there.”  Later, Antrelle Rolle said “If JPP says there will be blood,” Rolle said, “then there will be blood.”

After the Cowboys won the game 24-21 and dealt a severe blow to the Giants’ playoff hopes, the Cowboys took the opportunity to mention that they had heard all of the re-game talk.  “They talked and they talked and they talked,” cornerback Orlando Scandrick said, according to the New York Post. “I’ve never in my life heard a team that was 4-6 talk like that. We were 5-5, and we knew we had no room to talk.”  “I just finished eating a Giant, and there’s some leftover blood,” Jason Hatcher joked after smearing fake blood on his face. They said blood was going to be shed, right?”  “We talked about it,’’ tackle Tyron Smith told Mike Fisher (105.3 The Fan). “Not to be the team that does the talking. Be the team that does its job.’’

The Giants will probably bounce back against Washington and their terrible pass defense on Sunday.  After that though, they will play the Chargers, Seahawks, & Lions, & that sounds like 3 more losses to me.  The Giants aren’t eliminated from the playoffs just yet, but all of their bravado sounds a bit pathetic at the moment.

2)      Will Bruce Arians win coach of the year twice in a row?    Since 1957, the Associated Press has named a coach of the year in the NFL.  During that time, only 3 coaches have won the award in consecutive seasons. Allie Sherman won in 1961 & 1962. Don Shula tied George Allen in 1967 & won it outright in 1968.  Joe Gibbs won it in 1982 & 1983.  It would be amazing if Bruce Arians joined that group.

Bruce Arians didn’t get his first chance as an NFL head coach until he was 60 in 2012.  Prior to that, he had been the wide receiver coach, then the offensive coordinator from 2004-2011 for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  After the Steelers lost in the wildcard round in January of 2012, the team announced that he had retired.  Arians said that he did not retire & that he was fired.  He was soon hired as the offensive coordinator in Indianapolis.

Indianapolis drafted Andrew Luck with the 1st pick in the draft that year.  They earned that pick by virtue of having the worst record in the NFL in 2011.  Then their rookie head coach got leukemia.  While Chuck Pagano successfully fought his disease, Arians stepped in as interim head coach & led the Colts to a 9-3 record under his coaching.  That turnaround led him to win the AP coach if the year award & more importantly, it led him to the Arizona Cardinals head coaching position.

For the last several years, the Cardinals were a team that was 2 years away from being 2 years away.  They haven’t been able to find a quarterback to replace Kurt Warner.  Their line has been terrible, and their defense has been worn down from being on the field all of the time.  They have two 5-11 season sandwiched around one 8-8 season.  This year with Arians coaching, the Cardinals are 7-4.  Their remaining opponents are: at Eagles (6-5), vs. Rams (5-6), at Titans (5-6), at Seahawks (10-1), vs. 49ers (6-3)  If they beat the Eagles, Rams, & Titans, they should be able to play the 49’ers for the last NFC playoff spot.  Arians has gotten solid play out of Carson Palmer & the line hasn’t played great, but has improved enough for them to win.  The defense is playing lights out.  I don’t think that they are a great team yet, but Arians may be a great coach.  It is amazing that he didn’t get a chance until he turned 60.  I guess that should give me optimism that I have years to hit my potential!

4) Only 1 team has been eliminated from the NFL playoffs & it is the Falcons.  Who would have guessed?  Every year when the season begins it looks like most, or all, of the teams who made the playoffs will be back again.  Every year, a number of them don’t make it.  This year it looks like the Falcons will be joined in the staying home for New Year club by the Texans, the Vikings, & the Redskins.  It is a distinct possibility that the Packers & Ravens will miss the playoffs as well.  There is an outside chance that the 49’ers will miss the playoffs if they lose to the Cardinals in week 17.  That would mean that 7 of the 12 playoff teams from 2012 were not able to repeat that feat in 2013. It really makes you appreciate the teams that consistently succeed.  The Broncos are headed to their 3rd straight playoff appearance.  The Cincinnati Bengals have the opportunity to make the playoffs for the 3rd time in a row & 4th in 5 years, which is amazing for Cincinnati.  Seattle should make the playoffs for the 2nd year in a row & the 3rd time in 4 years.  The Packers may not make it this year, but they have made it 4 years in a row.  This will be the New England Patriots 5th consecutive playoff appearance & their 10th in 11 years.

5) Vince Young’s NFL career is probably over.  I think that he should try the CFL.  Perhaps he will be able to prove himself again there and get back into the NFL.  Perhaps he will just be able to continue making a living playing football.  It just doesn’t look like he will get another chance in the NFL as it stands.  Alex Tanney was signed by Cleveland from the Dallas Cowboy’s practice squad yesterday.  Cleveland lost Jason Campbell last week and had to go back to Brandon Weedon, who promptly fumbled the ball & then followed that up with an interception that was returned for a touchdown.  Cleveland has other problems that might have prevented them from making the playoffs, but quarterback is the biggest.  Weedon has just been terrible.  Who would have thought fans of a team would be saying “If only Brian Hoyer had stayed healthy!!!”?  Now Cleveland has brought in someone best known for his awesome youtube video of throwing tricks.  If quarterback situations in Green Bay, Jacksonville, and Cleveland haven’t gotten Young a look, I don’t think that anything will.  Something similar applies to Tim Tebow, but I’ll write about that next week.

6) The Patriots could actually be the #1 seed in the AFC.  That sure didn’t look likely a few weeks ago.  If they win out against their remaining schedule: Texans (2-9), vs. Browns (4-7), at Dolphins (5-6), at Ravens (5-6), vs. Bills (4-7) they would be 13-3.  They would have the head to head tie breaker with the Broncos.  If you think Peyton Manning looked uncomfortable in November in Foxboro, wait until January.  The Broncos can’t afford to lose a game to their remaining opponents: Chiefs (9-2), vs. Titans (5-6), vs. Chargers (5-6), at Texans (2-9), at Raiders (4-7).  They probably won’t & will finish 14-2, but 1 loss could send them on the road. Since 2003, Tom Brady is 23-5 in games played when it is freezing, while Manning is 1-6.  For what it is worth, the Farmer’s Almanac predicted a snowstorm for the Super Bowl in New York this year.

7) I don’t think that the Titans will make the playoffs, but at 5-6 they still have a pretty good shot.  They even have a legitimate chance to win the division.  If the Colts keep playing like they have since Reggie Wayne was injured, the Titans could actually win the division.  That may save Mike Munchak’s job.  The Broncos & Cardinals will probably stomp them and end any playoff hopes, but it is interesting to watch.

I hope that everyone has a great Thanksgiving full of good wine and good football!

Bad Week for the referees, but always a good week to try new wines

21 Nov

Holding defense

Week 11 was a bad week for the officials

After a couple of bad weeks, the NFL needed a quite week from the officials.  They didn’t get it.  There were 2 incidents that may have caused the wrong team to win a game & an official apparently cursed a player.

On the final play of the Patriots /Jaguars game, Tom Brady threw into the end zone.  The pass was short & was intercepted.  One official threw a yellow flag.  After consulting with another official, he picked up the flag.  He announced that there was no flag on the play & the game was over & that was it.  Later after the teams were in their locker rooms and the fans were heading home, the league announced that the flag had been for defensive pass interference and that they had picked up the flag because in their view, the pass was uncatchable.

Leaving aside the idea that what is uncatchable to Rob Gronkowski isn’t the same as to a normal human, and also leaving aside the idea that if it was uncatchable, it was because Luke Kuechly had illegally pulled Gronkowski several yards from where he wanted to be, it was still a bad call.  While there may have been some question as to whether this was defensive pass interference, there is no question that it was defensive holding.

The NFL rule book is online like everything else these days.  Here is what it says…

DEFENSIVE HOLDING

Article 6

A defensive player may not: (a) tackle or hold an opponent other than a runner. Otherwise, he may use his hands, arms or body only to defend or protect himself against an obstructing opponent in an attempt to reach a runner. After a loose ball has touched the ground, a defensive player may legally block or otherwise use his hands or arms to push or pull an opponent out of the way in a personal attempt to recover the ball.

Penalty: For illegal contact or holding by the defense: Loss of five yards and automatic first down.

Kuechly was clearly guilty of defensive holding.  By rule, the ball should have been placed at the 13 yard line & the Patriots should have been given one untimed down to attempt a touchdown.  If they succeeded, they would have won.  If they failed and there was not another defensive penalty, then the Panthers would have won.  One shot from the 13 yard line isn’t an automatic touchdown by any means, but the Patriots deserved that final chance.  Frankly I would have bet on them either succeeding or getting a pass interference call (which would have given them a shot from the 1 yard line).

Mike Pereira, the former NFL vice-president in charge of officiating, who is now an analyst announced on November 19th that he believes that it was pass interference.  At his Tuesday press conference, Coach Jeff Fisher, who has been on the NFL Competition Committee forever said “I personally feel like the flag went down for a reason, and it looked like a foul to me.”

Drew Brees got a call in the Saints/49ers game that most quarterbacks wouldn’t have gotten & it probably changed the outcome of the game.  I don’t think this was as egregious as the non-call in the Patriots game, but I do think that it’s a call that Drew Brees (or Tom Brady, or Aaron Rogers or Peyton Manning) would get, but Matt Schaub or Geno Smith or another 20 or so quarterbacks would not have gotten.

With San Francisco leading 20-17 with 3:18 left in the game, the Saints were driving.  They had a third in 2 on the 49ers 35 yard line.  When Brees dropped back to pass, Ahmad Brooks beat his man (Zach Strief) and sacked Brees.  He knocked the ball out of his hands and it was recovered by San Francisco’s Patrick Willis.

The referees threw a flag & said that Brooks had roughed the passer by hitting him in the head or neck.  If you watch the video, you see that he hits Brees in the chest, which is kind of hard considering that he is 6 foot 3 inches & 259 pounds & Brees is probably 5 foot 11 inches.  Brees starts to fall/slide down (as you might expect when hit by 259 pounds at full speed.  To check this for yourself, you can strap skates to a refrigerator & have someone roll it down hill on top of you.  When Brees slides down, that puts Brooks’ arm around his neck.  It is a quick thing and obviously wasn’t intended, but I can see how it might be called.  The truth is that if that were Josh McCown at quarterback, there would be no call and the 49ers would be able to burn some time off the clock and maybe win the game.  Instead, the Saints got the ball back, eventually kicked a field goal to tie the game and then later kicked another to win it.  Perhaps the Niners would have been incompetent with the ball.  They certainly looked terrible out there for much of the game.  Perhaps everything would have played out the same except that the Saints would have had to go for a touchdown at the end and they might have gotten that.  Various things could have happened, but the bottom line is that the referee’s call on such a borderline hit changed the course of the game dramatically.

The referees also missed an incident in the Colts/Titans game.  Colts linebacker Erik Walden tore the helmet off Titans tight end Delanie Walker & then used his own helmet to head butt Walker in the face.  That isn’t just unnecessary roughness.  It is unnecessary roughness with a side order of assault.  After the league reviewed the film, Walden was suspended for his week 12 game, but he should have been kicked out of the game on Sunday & the Titans should have gotten 15 yards and a first down.

Maybe the worst referee issue for the week was something that was only brought to light after the game.  After the Washington/Philadelphia game, Washington player Trent Williams claimed that umpire Roy Ellison called him a “garbage a*** disrespectful motherf*****” during Washington’s loss, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Other players backed him up on this claim after initially telling him to shut up so that he wouldn’t be fined for criticizing the official.  That certainly calls into question whether Ellison was objective in calling the game.

I’m certain that there are referees who dislike particular players.  There are probably referees who have a rooting interest in games.  I hope that there aren’t any referees who have a bet on a game.  The referees are an important part of the game.  It is unfortunate when the integrity of the game is called into question because of their actions on the field.

Recently there was a fund raiser that benefited the school system my daughters attend.  At the event they had around 35 wineries, primarily from the El Dorado area, pouring their wines.  Here are a few I tasted.  I was making my notes on my phone, so these aren’t the most detailed notes ever.  I had to leave a couple off because I couldn’t figure out after the fact which winery was the correct one.  I wasn’t familiar with the region, so it was a nice opportunity to learn and taste.

El Dorado was one of the three largest wine producers in the early years of California wineries.  They ranked behind Los Angeles and Sonoma County.  After prohibition, they mostly disappeared.  Since being designated as an AVA in 1983, the area has grown to about 2,000 acres and 50 wineries.  The wineries range from 1,200-3,500 feet in elevation. They tend to be planted on slopes rather than on flat land.  It seems like they should have a long growing season with highs in the 50’s in December & January and in the low 90’s in July & August.

Sierra Vista Vineyards El Dorado Viognier 2011

This has a nice varietally correct nose.  You get white peach & floral notes.  Unfortunately it disappoints on the palate. It manages to be thin & a little hot at the same time.  It smells great though.
Miraflores 2007 Syrah

Very solid Syrah black pepper & dark fruit are the primary components.  I think there is some French oak as well. This is solid, but not exceptional.

Nevada City Winery Zinfandel 2011

Sweet candied fruit, probably too candied for me. Some drier herbal notes on the nose. That herbal component comes across as medicinal on the palate. I also get some cherry here, which is probably atypical for Zinfandel.
Cedarville Vineyards Zinfandel 2011

There is a lot of oak on the nose.  That gives it a nice coffee smell or maybe chicory.  Deep red fruit flavors mingle with tobacco & nutty oak.  This is a great example of this style.  The oak may be too much for some, but others will love it.

Busby Cellars Barbera 2010

Here’s a fruit forward wine. This had a nice combination of juicy red fruit, leather, & maybe a hint of brettanomyces. On second taste, more than a hint. This would be nice with an herbed roast or a pizza with sausage & caramelized onions.

Ciotti Old Vine Zinfandel Placer County 2011

This is a nice chocolaty Zinfandel with a backbone of earthiness. It has moderate tannins.  Raspberry is the primary fruit.

1374259135_1.Amour_Prive_Logo_hi_re   Amour Prive’ Hommage Rive Gauche 2010

This winery is in the Sierra Foothills, but brings their fruit in at night from Napa.  As you might expect from the name, this is a homage to a left bank Bordeaux style wine.  It is a muscular wine with good tannins & earthiness. It reminds me of raspberry dipped in cocoa. Basically, it is a big Bordeaux  style wine.  At $84 a bottle, it probably isn’t for everyone, but it is worth drinking.

Sierra Vista Roussanne 2011

Apricot is the primary fruit, but there isn’t much here.  After it opened up I got some toasted spiced pear, which was nice. This is better than I first thought. It isn’t a favorite, but it is a solid wine.

Moniz Family Wine Cuvee Olivia 2010

67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc.  The fruit comes from Chalk Hill, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek and Sonoma Valleys.  It’s a classic Bordeaux blend, but doesn’t taste like Bordeaux .  The first impression I got was all new world fruit. It does have some dust to it that is nice.  This is a pretty tasty wine, but there isn’t much on the nose.  At $16 a bottle, it is worth buying a bottle & decanting it to see if the nose will open up with time.

Premiere Napa Valley Wines & NFL week 10 thoughts

16 Nov

I try wines that are all different prices and different varietals.  I love finding a new inexpensive wine that I can drink on a regular basis.  This week I’m not writing about those wines.  This time around, I am writing about stupidly rare wines that won’t make the “by the glass” list at your local Chili’s any time soon.  These are wines I tried last night at a “Cult Cabernet” event.  I have them listed in the order that I tasted them.

premiere napa valley Several of these wines are “Premiere Napa Valley” wines.  This is a charity program in Napa Valley.  17 wineries are picked each year and they each make a special wine.  There is a barrel tasting for the industry and the wines are auctioned off.  Each winery’s wine is sold as a group, so only one buyer buys all of the Premiere Napa Valley production from that winery.  Eventually the wines are bottled.  They make a minimum of 60 bottles (5 cases) up to a maximum of 240 bottles (20 cases).  Since this is a big industry event and a charity event, the wineries outdo themselves to make great, age-worthy wines.

Piña 2009 Wolff Vineyard Yountville Cabernet 15.2%

Piña’s wine maker is Anna Monticelli.  She went to UC Davis & has primarily worked in Napa, but her first harvest was at Cheval Blanc in Bordeaux.  Piña is located on the Silverado Trail and it is easy to overlook it.  I drove down the Silverado Trail on Thursday and my main concern was not having a wreck, not looking for wineries that didn’t have huge signs.

This has a tremendous dark fruit nose.  I get blackberry & boysenberry on the nose.  There are solid tannins, but there is a supple, velvety quality here that is in no way covered up by the tannin. It has a deep flavor profile with a long finish.  There is some dark cherry on the finish.  It’s a nice, mouthwatering Cabernet.

On my 2nd tasting it was harder to separate the fruit on the nose.  It just smells like dark ripe fruit.  After a minute I still get blackberry & boysenberry, but maybe some Bing cherry as well.

Wine Enthusiast gave this 94 points & it runs about $85.

Premiere Napa Valley Nickel & Nickel State Ranch Vineyard Cabernet 2010 bottle #45 of 60 bottles produced 14.5%

There is some earth on the nose here, but in general the nose is muted.  The wine was decanted, but it could probably use some more time.  Nice tannins & great big fruit.  I guess I would pick blackberry as the primary fruit.  Truthfully, the tannins are high enough that I am having trouble picking out subtle details.  Right now this is kind of just hitting you on the head & saying I am a Napa Cab!  I do get some sage & a light hint of leather.  I would love to taste this again later, but that isn’t likely.

Aged in 75% new French oak for 17 months.  This costs about $250.

Premiere Napa Valley Sterling Cabernet 2010 1st Calistoga 15.2% 20 cases produced

Elegant fruit.  This is a “wow!” wine. There is raspberry with cocoa dusting on the nose. I get big tannins, but they don’t overpower the wine like on the Nickel & Nickel.  Very long dry finish, that leaves you thinking about it & reaching for more.  At the core of this wine there is a fresh fruit center.

This is their 1st Calistoga designated wine.  It sells for $110.

Blankiet Paradise Hill Red Napa 2008 15.2%
82.5% Cabernet, 16% Merlot, with the remainder made up of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc.  Blankiet has only been around since 1996.  They are in the Mayacamas Mountains above Yountville. There is ripe fruit on the nose.  I get big plum & blackberry.  There is delicious blackberry & chocolate on the palate. This is a big & juicy wine with lighter tannins, or maybe just lighter, compared to what I have been trying.  I taste cassis & blackberry, & chocolate… with maybe a bit of cherry.  The tannins come up a little as I drink it so I think it will age well.  I like this a lot.

I tried it a second time & I am really wishing I had a steak with a red wine & cherry sauce.  The tannins are good, so the first time around it may have been a reaction to the tannins on the other wines.  There is a long finish that accents the chocolate.  If I were going to spend $190 on a Cabernet, this is one that would be worth it.  Robert Parker gave it a 95+ rating.

Philip Togni Cabernet Spring Mountain Estate 2008 no alcohol % on label
This wine has a classic Cabernet nose.  This actually has a Bordeaux nose to it. That Bordeaux feeling continues on the palate.  After all of the fresh fruit cabs, this is a dusty cab.  It has nice tannins & that “eating fruit while walking on a dirt road” thing that I associate with Bordeaux & Saint Émilion in particular.  There is raspberry mixed with herbs & something that reminds me of evergreen.  There is some cassis as well.

The winery recently won a tasting in Brussels for its 1990 Cabernet where the completion included La Tour, Margaux, Haut-Brion, Mouton, and California Cabernets.  I don’t know how they got away without having the alcohol percentage on the label.  That seems like it violates TTB rules.

Premiere Napa Valley Cimarossa Poppy Flat Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 14.7% 60 bottles produced This was bottle 59 of 60.
Plum, raspberry & cherry on the nose. There is a tiny bit of chocolate on the nose as well.  I get blackberry with leather on the palate.  The tannins are stronger than a young mother’s love, but not as strong as the Nickel & Nickel.  There is a little mint here.  I didn’t notice it at first, but when I closed my eyes & thought about it, I really got a thin mint taste…if your thin mints were made with 97% cacao instead of milk chocolate.  Nice long finish.  Once again, this is a nice wine.

The grapes come from a 1.3 acre block with northwest exposure.  The wine was aged 22 months in French oak.  I thought that the wine was pronounced similar to Cimarron, but it is Italian & it is pronounced Chimarossa.  You learn something new every day.

Premiere Napa Valley Saint Supery Rutherford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 #40 of 240 14.8%
One of the tasting notes with this said that it had a “brandied oak” taste.  I have no idea what that means, but I know where they get the brandy idea.  This wine doesn’t taste hot at all, but it really has an almost port/brandy finish to it.  It does have noticeable oak, but it is pretty well integrated.  I think the only part that stands out as oaky is that the dryness of the finish is distinctly from the oak rather than something else. There is cassis & licorice.  This is a delicious, complex Cabernet.  I don’t know if this is the best of the batch, but it is probably the most interesting.

2nd tasting.  This has a really dark color.  I think that there was some concentration of flavor & alcohol here from evaporation from the barrel.  This is called the angel’s share of the wine.  As the wine sits in the barrel, oxygen slowly enters and matures the wine.  At the same time, some of the wine evaporates, and that is the “Angel’s Share.”  This evaporation isn’t consistent across the board.  The alcohol in the wine doesn’t evaporate as quickly as the other liquids.  So you end up with higher alcohol and a more concentrated flavor.  That gives me that brandy taste.  Some people might associate that taste with being oxidized, but that isn’t the case here.  On this second tasting I’m getting more of the herbal notes of the wine.  I don’t know if that is from this bottle being open longer or just thinking about it more. I also taste mocha, cherry, and black currant.  After tasting it a second time I think this is currently drinking the best of the batch.  That doesn’t mean it is the best, or will be the best long term, but right now this is a darn tasty wine.  This is $160.
Random NFL thoughts after week 10

1)      The NFL shouldn’t test for marijuana use.

This does not mean that I am in favor of smoking marijuana, because I’m not.  It isn’t because I am in favor of decriminalizing marijuana, although I am.  It just seems ridiculous that the NFL & the NFL Player’s Union can’t agree on human growth hormone testing, that the Tour de France does a much better job testing athletes for various performance enhancing drugs (& still managed to let Lance Armstrong slip through).  It is that the main drug they seem to make a focus, isn’t a performance enhancing drug.  I guess an argument could be made that marijuana is a pain reliever & that makes it a PED, but ibuprofen is a pain reliever & isn’t on the banned list.  They are able to give pain shots to players before and during games to get them on the field.  So that can’t be the problem.  The bottom line is that pot isn’t a performance enhancing drug in the understood sense of the word.  Pot smokers don’t build more muscle mass and get hyper motivated to exercise.  They don’t get incredible focus during a game like Adderall users claim.  Generally it seems to make you more likely to sit on your butt, watch TV, & order pizza.  That is probably performance diminishing rather than enhancing.  Maybe there is a hacky sack player out there who has data to disprove my contention, but I doubt that they will get around to publishing it.

The NFL needs to work on their real problems, and marijuana use by players doesn’t make the top 10.  When they can get all their players to take a taxi home after a night out drinking or get them to quit waving guns around like gangsters, maybe they can spare the time to worry about pot.

2)      I can’t believe it, but the New York Giants have a chance to win the NFC East.  They have been the beneficiaries of some amazing luck over the last few weeks.  They played the Vikings when the team lost its mind and started Josh Freeman when he didn’t know the playbook and had no rhythm with his receivers.  Next, they played the Eagles.  Michael Vick came back too soon from a hamstring injury and re-injured it.  That put 3rd string rookie Matt Barkley in and he looked like a 3rd string rookie.  So they won despite not scoring a touchdown (the first time they have won that way in 11 years).  They got their bye week and then played the Raiders with Terrell Pryor gimping around with an injury (which will keep him out of the next game) & managed to beat them by 4 points.  This Sunday they get to play the Green Bay Packers with Aaron Rodgers out, their initial backup quarterback out, & now their practice squad quarterback Scott Tolzein starting.  If I were Tony Romo, I would be worried about what could happen between now & November 24th when the Giants play the Cowboys.  Quarterbacks with a game coming up with the Giants have the health of a drummer for Spinal Tap.  I’m expecting spontaneous combustion.

The NFC East is pretty bad this year, but it would be even worse if the Giants manage to win it without having to beat any teams with a healthy starting quarterback.  Realistically, when you consider how they have played and their remaining schedule, they shouldn’t do any better than 6-10, but the last few weeks have been amazing for them.

3)      I really am surprised at how fast and how far the Texans have fallen.  I know that the defense isn’t the same without Brian Cushing.  I know that they have had more than their share of injuries.  It still doesn’t add up to 7 losses in a row.  They have been competitive in the last 3 games, but have lost all three by a combined 7 points.  I actually thought the team had a shot at the Super Bowl this year and now I think it is likely we will see a new coaching staff there next year.  They should win 3 of their next 4 games (Raiders, Jags, Patriots, Jags), but I can’t see them winning more than 6 games this year and that should do it for the coaching staff.

4)      The new NFL timeout emphasis for injured players is a disaster waiting to happen.  The NFL just distributed a video saying that the league office tells officials to call an injury time out any time they believe that a player is injured, whether they ask for it or not.  I understand that they are trying to promote player safety, but this has some real opportunity to be a problem.  Here is a potential scenario.  Team A is behind by 1 point in the 4th quarter.  They complete a pass in bounds to the 10 yard line & race to the line of scrimmage to spike the ball to kill the clock with 9 seconds left because they have no time outs,  and then kick the winning field goal (we’ll assume that the kicker is not Texan’s kicker Randy Bullock).  Player X is hopping on one foot as he gets to the line, but he makes it on time.  Under the regular rules, team A stops the clock and kicks the field goal and wins the game.  Under the new emphasis, the referee notices that player X looks injured.  He calls for an injury time out.  Since team A is out of time outs, there is a mandatory 10 second run off.  The game is over and team A loses.  That may seem farfetched, but I can absolutely see it.  Maybe the referees wouldn’t want to call it when it might determine the outcome of the game, but in that case, they probably shouldn’t call it at all if they can’t call it consistently.