Tag Archives: Merlot

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.



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.


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…


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.

Thoughts about week 9 in the NFL & notes from a quick trip to Napa

6 Nov

I was in Napa last week for work.  I had a terrific lunch at C Casa in the Oxbow Market, which is always good for a visit.  After lunch I had time to hit just two wineries before I drove home.  I picked Laird Family Estate & Trefethen Family Estate.  They make some good wines & are practically across the street from each other.  Here’s what I tried, with a little info about the wineries.

Laird Family Estate

Ken Laird started the vineyard in 1970 when he bought a 70 acre orchard that had gone south.  He was $150,000.00 short of having enough money to buy it, but Robert Mondavi loaned him the money on the provision that he plant 50% Gamay grapes.  He agreed & planted 50% Gamay & 50% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Mondavi was his original client for fruit.  These days they make their own wine, & do custom crush for a number of other wineries.

Laird Family Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2012 Big Ranch Oak Knoll Appellation

This is a big New Zealand style Sauvignon Blanc.  It has gooseberries or cat pee or whatever you want to call it on the nose. On the palate, I got kiwi, guava, & other tropical fruits.  The mouth feel is great.  I didn’t notice this much at first, but pink grapefruit is a big part of the finish.  I really enjoyed this wine.

The Oak Knoll appellation is at the southern end of Napa.  It has less rainfall & one effect of that is that the ground warms up earlier.  This contributes to a longer growing season than in some other parts of Napa.  Despite the ground getting warmer earlier, this is actually one of the cooler appellations in Napa (other than Carneros).  It is near San Pablo Bay, & that keeps it from getting too hot.  So you get a long growing season, without baking out acid.

Laird Family Estate Chardonnay Cold Creek 2010 Carneros

Laird Family makes two Chardonnays.  This one is a single vineyard wine.  It spends 11 months in a 50% blend of new & used French oak. Continuing the 50/50 theme,  50% of it goes through malolactic fermentation.  There is toasted nut and bread on the nose.  This is a classic California style Chardonnay, done about as well as you can do it. It has lots of coffee notes & toffee.  It also has some notes that remind me of pineapple upside down cake.  This is a really tasty Chardonnay.

Laird Family Estate Jillian’s Blend 2010 65% cab, 20% Syrah, 10% Merlot, 5% Malbec 

Jillian did not blend this wine.  She is the youngest family member & the staff was talking about what she wore for Halloween the previous day.  All of the fruit is from Napa, but it comes from three different vineyards.  It is a finesse wine with some fruit to back it up.  I tasted candied cherry, brown sugar.  It has really solid tannins that make me think that this could be even better in a few years.  There is a little bit of cinnamon.

Laird Family Estate 2010 Cabernet 60% flat Rock Ranch 40% Mast Ranch
This started soft with dark chocolate & some cherry.  It actually has strong tannins…almost astringent.  There is some vanilla & in some ways this wine reminds me of vanilla Coco-cola.  I enjoyed this wine, but I wouldn’t pay $90 for it.

Laird Family Estate 2010 Suscol Ranch Syrah Napa Valley
Blueberry & bacon fat…really…on the nose for me.  Blueberry is a key fruit component, with tar and some dark herbal notes.  The tannin is really high.  They just went from the 2008 to the 2010 with nothing in between, and this we will be better in a year or two.  There is plenty of vanilla on the finish.  I would like to try the 2008, so I can see how this wine will change.  It tastes good now & there is a ton of potential.


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

The original vineyards and winery were established in 1886.  It was called Eschol.  My Mother-in Law would recognize that word as the valley of enormous grapes, a cluster of which were brought back to Moses to show him fruit from the promised land.

In 1968 the property was purchased by Eugene and Katie Trefethen.  They added property to it, but kept the original barn/winery.  Over the years they restored the winery and now it is the only remaining 19th century gravity flow winery in Napa.  It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Trefethen gained international fame in 1979 when its 1976 Chardonnay won 1st place in the Wine Olympics organized by the French food and wine magazine GaultMillau.

Trefethen Family Vineyards Dry Riesling 2012
Fruity with lime & floral notes.  There might be some pink grapefruit on the finish.  This has nice acidity & a generally nice balance.  I know that Riesling & spicy Asian food is kind of a cliché, but this would really be nice with spicy Asian food.  This vintage won the 2013 Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition.  That’s a cool competition sponsored by a shellfish company to find the best wine to pair with their oysters.

Trefethen Family Vineyards Viognier 2012
Four Months in French oak really changed the character of this wine.  The nose is really muted & isn’t floral.  It smells like vanilla & bread.  Once you taste it, it is still hard to identify as Viognier. This is actually a really tasty wine. It has everything that I think most people like in a California Chardonnay.  It just doesn’t taste like Viognier.  There is apple & coconut here.  I think this would be good with Indian food.  It is a nice wine, but I wouldn’t ever use it in a class to show people how Viognier should taste.

Trefethen Family Vineyards  Cabernet Franc 2010
As opposed to the Viognier, this has a classic Cabernet Franc nose.   It is clean with just a touch of bell pepper.  The wine has a depth that I don’t often see in Cab Franc.  It has great tannins.  This was just released, so that will probably fade a bit as it ages.  It is actually kind of hard to pick out the flavors here. There is raspberry, mint, & spice.  I don’t really get a bell pepper flavor.  I think it comes out more as mint.  The final taste gives me more of that bell pepper.  I wish that I had this when I had lamb tacos earlier at C casa.

Trefethen Family Vineyards  Merlot 2010
Smells like berry & coffee.  On my first taste, I thought that this was pretty simple.  On the second taste I got more complexity.  The tannins are really high.  I wish that I were trying an older vintage because I don’t think that I am getting this one at its best.  It is packed with tannin & I can tell it will be good, but it is a little hard to get a handle on it right now.  There is bright red fruit with cherry & chocolate. This would be good with duck or steak, but mostly it would be good with time.

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. Once again, 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.  I guess I better pick up a few bottles.  At $60 each, it isn’t cheap, but it delivers for the price.

Trefethen Family Vineyards  Dragon’s Tooth 2010  58% Malbec 22% Cabernet Sauvignon 20% Petit Verdot

Really smooth and almost velvety.  It has dark fruit like blackberry that is close to sweet.  This goes down easy.  I don’t know that I would pay $75 for this, but if someone else paid, I would drink this all night long.  It has good tannin, but not over the top like the last few.  It is just a nice wine that will age well.  Wine Enthusiast gave it a 93 & recommended it with grilled sausages and grilled tomatoes.  They even included a recipe.

Touchdown Blount!

Touchdown Blount!

Here are a few thoughts about week 9 in the NFL

1)      The officiating bothered me in the Chiefs/Bills game.  I think Marquise Goodwin made the catch in the 4th quarter for the Bills.  He held on to the ball to the ground, bounced twice, & then it was kicked out of his hands. I think it was a bad call that might have made a difference in the game.  There were several other questionable calls.  The roughing the passer penalty against the chiefs was terrible, so I’m not saying it was all one way.  It is just frustrating to watch a game and feel that the outcome was impacted by the officials in a negative way.

2)      The Patriots should trade with the Buccaneers all of the time. The Legarrette Blount trade was a great deal for the Patriots.  When they traded Jeff Demps (and a 7th round pick) to get him, it looked like 2 teams swapping players that would get cut anyway.  Blount had been replaced by Doug Martin as the starter in Tampa Bay and was on the outs with the coach.  Jeff Demps seemed to have tons of potential, but he was on injured reserve last year and was training for track during pre-season this year.  This season for Tampa Bay, he has touched the ball 8 times for a total of 128 yards (including kickoff returns).  Blount is playing a solid reserve role for the Patriots at running back and is also returning kicks with Leon Washington injured.  He has 85 touches and 661 total yards.  He is averaging 4.5 yards per carry running the ball and he tends to get the tough yards.  He had some nice runs to close out the game against Pittsburgh in week 9 and his 5 yard touchdown run at the end was impressive.  He just refused to go down.

Last year Tampa Bay traded another player who was in coach Schiano’s doghouse to the Patriots.  That was cornerback Aqib Talib, who was traded for a 4th round pick, which became William Gholston.  Gholston has 4 tackles this year.  Talib was a risk, because he had been suspended for using performance enhancing drugs.  Once he was able to play, Talib stepped right into the starting position for the Patriots.  Before being injured this year he had already intercepted 4 passes.  He has missed 3 games, but should be back soon.  The Patriots need him.  Their pass defense hasn’t been the same since his injury.  His ability to handle the other team’s top receiver one on one lets them use other players to cover weaknesses in pass or run defense.

Basically, if Tampa Bay calls about a trade, the Patriots should listen.

3)      Why did Brandon Weeden start any games this year?  I know that he was a first round draft pick for some reason, but the guys who drafted him and coached him were all fired.  He was 5-10 last year and has lost every game he started this year.  New general manager Mike Lombardi didn’t like the drafting of Weeden.  On NFL Network, he called it “a panicked disaster.”  This year when the Browns have played journeyman quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell they have won against everyone except the undefeated Chiefs.  When Weeden has played, they didn’t seem to have any confidence and have lost.  With the AFC North down this year, the Browns are in second place at 4-5.  The good news is that Weeden didn’t start any of their division games, so they are undefeated in their division.  If they can continue that trend, they have a chance to win their division.  They made it harder on themselves by starting Weeden at all.  I always thought it was a bad idea to draft him to replace Colt McCoy.  McCoy might not have been a franchise quarterback, but it was really hard to tell considering what they put around him.  He was clearly the best player on the offense for most of his time in Cleveland and I don’t really mean that as a compliment.  I thought it made sense to draft a couple of receivers and a running back and to work on the offensive line before trying to bring in a  1st round quarterback.  Most of the time you have to have Tom Brady type skills to make rookie wide receivers look good and no one was going to look good the way the line was playing (with the exception of Joe Thomas of course).

4)      Closing out games separates the good teams from the bad ones.  Bad teams seem to go into a slowdown mode the minute they get a 3 point lead in the third quarter.  San Diego played that way in week one of the season against Houston & seemed to do that a little on Sunday after they went up 14-7 over Washington.  There were other reasons that the Texans fell apart in the 2nd half on Sunday night, but a lack of killer instinct didn’t help.  That was a game that they should have won.  The Patriots showed a different approach.  When everyone in the stadium expected them to run to burn time off the clock and keep the ball away from the Steelers, who seemed to be scoring whenever they got the ball, Brady threw an 81 yard touchdown run on a go route.  Aside from Chip Kelly and the Eagles, there aren’t many teams that would have called that play.  It let the Steelers know that the Patriots weren’t going to take their foot off of their throat.

5)      Best wishes to Gary Kubiak & John Fox.  Get well soon.  Perhaps Gary Kubiak might need to take a year or more off to get well.  After a  transient ischemic attack (TIA) there is an increased chance of a stroke.  Some say it is as high as a 1 in 3 chance, although based on what I could find online, that sounds high.  Either way, he has plenty of money and he has a family that needs him.  Getting back into the high stress job coaching the Texans might not be the best thing for his health.  Whatever he decides, I wish him the best.


8 wines & 8 thoughts about the NFL week 8

2 Nov

8 Thoughts & 8 wines for NFL Week 8

This is great teamwork in action

1)      Bill Belichick & his staff teach smart situational football.

I’m impressed with the record of the New England Patriots in a year with so many injuries & such a jury rigged receiving corp.  I think that part of the reason that they have been able to remain so successful is that Patriots players play smart football.  Three defensive examples stood out to me in their victory over the Dolphins.  On one play Devin McCourty was in position to intercept a pass from Ryan Tannehill.  He realized that his momentum would prevent him from catching the ball in bounds and he tapped it like a volleyball back in bounds to Marquise Cole, who made a great catch & just barely kept his feet in bounds.  It was a great combination of athleticism & quick thinking.

With just under 3 minutes left in the game the Patriots blocked a  field goal attempt.  Steve Gregory recovered the ball and made a point of turning to stay in bounds.  That only made a difference of a few seconds on the game clock, but at that time of the game a few seconds can make a difference.  If you don’t believe me, ask the Dallas Cowboys.

On the Dolphins’ final offensive play, the ball was intercepted by Duron Harmon.  I noticed that McCourty & Cole immediately motioned for him to take a knee.  That meant that there was no chance of anything bad happening (fumble, penalty, etc.) & the offense could come out & take a knee & end the game.

Without talking about a specific play I should mention Rob Ninkovitch.  He isn’t the most physically gifted player in the NFL, but he always seems to be in the right place at the right time.  He is really stepping up his leadership role with Vince Wilfork & Jerod Mayo out for the season.

2)      I wish that the Jaguars would take a chance on Vince Young.  I know all of the perceived downside to Vince Young, but I think that the threat that he might run would free up Maurice Jones Drew the way it did Chris Johnson.  He isn’t the most accurate passer in the world, but he has been a consistent winner.  Additionally, compared to the current quarterbacks for the Jaguars, he looks like Joe Montana.  Young’s career quarterback rating at ESPN is 58.1 with a passer rating of 74.4.  The last year that he was a starter for the Titans, he posted a 98.6 rating.  Chad Henne does have a passer rating of 75, but his QBR is 42.3.  Blaine Gabbert has a passer rating of 66.4 & a QBR of 21.5 & even that may be giving him too much credit for short completions against prevent defenses.

I have been impressed with Jaguars coach Gus Bradley’s willingness to keep trying & to take chances.  Last week they went for it on 4th down in their own territory & made several other plays that showed that the coach hasn’t thrown in the towel on a lost season.  They are probably going to get the first or second draft pick & draft (they hope) their quarterback of the future.  In the meantime, bringing in Vince Young might at least make the games entertaining to watch.  If they can’t do that, maybe the NFL could quit showing their games on TV.  I have watched more inept Jaguars quarterback play this year than seem reasonable.  I’m on the West Coast at the moment & due to the scheduling, 7 of the 8 Jaguars games have shown locally.  Even the people in Jacksonville shouldn’t be subjected to them that often.

3)      Matthew Stafford made the play of the day last Sunday.  The Cowboys have tons of coulda, woulda, shoulda, about the last few minutes of the game, but that doesn’t take away what a smart & gutsy play Stafford made.  When he decided to dive over the top for a touchdown instead of spiking the ball to stop the clock, he took responsibility for a win or a loss.  If the Cowboys had paid attention & stopped him, he would have been killed in the press for single handedly losing the game.  The safe play would have been to spike the ball & then run a play.  Instead, he gambled & won.  That is a highlight reel play we will be seeing for years.

4)      For a few years now the Bills have been a trendy pick for the team that is going to turn things around & make a run.  For years they have disappointed.  So I am probably wrong here, but the Bills look like a team on the way up.  Thedefense is really playing well.  They have some injury issues at running back, but that’s nothing compared to their quarterback problems.  Thad Lewis has been playing injured, but has been doing a decent job.  That’s amazing considering how little was expected of him this year.  I think that the plan was for Kevin Kolb to start the season & to bring along rookie EJ Emanuel as the season progressed.  Lewis started the season on the practice squad as the 4th string quarterback.  When you are a quarterback that is still eligible for the practice squad in your 5th season, it is safe to say that not much is expected of you. After injuries to Kolb & Emanuel, Lewis jumped up to 1st string over Jeff Tuel.  He has done a solid job, but I think that when Emanuel can start a full season & the offense can be less of a drag on the defense, that the Bills will be a force in the AFC East.

5)      A lot of jokes have been made about the clown circus at quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings & much of that has been deserved.  On the other hand, the defense isn’t getting nearly the blame that it deserves.  In 7 games, the Vikings have averaged over 23 points per game.  In fact, if you take out the game where they foolishly started Josh Freeman, who didn’t know the offense, they are averaging 26 points per game.  With a defense like the Chiefs have, that would be an undefeated season.  With a Vikings defense allowing 32.1 points per game, 1-6 is about right.

6)      I was expecting another terrible Monday Night game this week with the Rams & Seahawks.  It wasn’t a barn burner, but it was a nail biter.  If Greg Zuerlein hadn’t missed a 50 yard field goal in the 4th quarter, the Rams might have actually won.  They still had a shot on the last play of the game, but some unimaginative play calling and working with a backup quarterback kept them out of the end zone.  A lot of analysts have the Seahawks in ink on their Super Bowl prediction for the NFC, but that may be premature.

7)      Last week I wrote about the Cardinals needing a running game to be competitive.  I wish that I could say that I predicted Andre Ellington to have a breakout game like he did.  The 6th round pick got his first start and rushed for 154 yards.  I don’t know if he can contribute half of that every game from now on, but if he can, the Cardinals are going to be much tougher to beat.  Their defense doesn’t need a great offense.  A decent one will get them wins. If they could score as often as the Vikings, they would be contenders.

8)      The Raiders may not be very good, but they are fun to watch.  You never know when Terrell Pryor will make a huge play.  He isn’t always accurate & he is still learning to read a defense, but there is always the chance that he will put it together on any given play.  The Raiders defense still has some flaws, but they are playing like a team.  I think that the return of Charles Woodson has brought leadership and an understanding of what it takes to be a winning team to the defense.  This is a transition year for the team while they fix their salary cap problems.  It will be interesting to see if Pryor develops into a solid enough starter for them to stick with him for the next few years.  The Raiders are another team that looks like it is on the way up.

8 random wines of the week

1)      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.  I tried this at The Funky Door in Lubbock when the Glazer’s rep was showing it to the owner & Carrie let me tag along. I will buy a bottle of this when I get a chance!

2)      Upstream 2011 Malbec.  Made by Watts winery
This is a really light & fruity Malbec.  I actually like this a lot, but I don’t think that your average person who likes Malbec would identify it as Malbec.  It has lots of fresh red fruit.  The tannin doesn’t jump out, but it is fairly high & fairly dry.

3)      Saint Amant Mohr Fry Ranch Old Vine Zinfandel (Lodi)
Coffee, dark chocolate, & dark fruit combine with a long finish in this wine.  It’s a nice example of how to make a powerful Zinfandel, without going over the top.  It is well balanced at 14.9% alcohol.  Although there are no legal definitions for “old vine” in American wine labeling, this does have some old vines.  The Mohr Fry Ranch has two blocks of Zinfandel that are used in this wine.  One block was planted in 1901 & the other in 1944.

4)      Concho y Toro Casa Concho 2011 Chile Puente Alto

There is not much on the nose.  Nice cocoa powder on the palate.  Definitely some cassis in there as well.  Strong tannins.  Long finish.

5)      Jeremy Wine Company, The Lady red blend non-vintage (Lodi)

Good body, but it might be a little bit hot (high in alcohol for the non wine geeks out there).  After it settles down a bit, it doesn’t taste as hot.  It has lots of body, lots of tannin & structure.  This would be good with duck or lamb.  This has a really long finish.  The wine is a blend of Petite Verdot, Petit Sirah, & Cabernet Sauvignon.  I don’t know the percentages, but they are listed in order of prominence.  They only make about 120 cases of this wine & it runs about $25.

6)      Chasing Lions, North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Very astringent, but still fruity.  I might be tasting this at the wrong time, but this tastes like a decent wine with pizza, but nothing special.

7)      Chateau Caronne Ste. Gemme Haut Medoc 2010
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot.  It smells of earth & berry & a little bit of coffee.  Strong tannins make this a very dry wine. It has fairly heavy oak.  This could use some more time in bottle to really enjoy it at its best.  It reminds me a little of a cocoa dusted espresso bean. Try this with lamb or something else with a decent amount of fat.  The winery has been around since the mid-17th century.  The current owners purchased it in 1990 & have recently made a commitment to sustainability.  For those who care about this sort of thing, this is a Cru Bourgeois.  For those who don’t, it is a solid wine worth the $20 and it is a wine that you can hang on to for a few years & it will probably taste better…but it wouldn’t be a bad choice tonight.

Girl Go Lightly Rose’  2011 11% alcohol
Based on the packaging, I am not the target customer for this wine.  The label has a drawing of a girl in a frilly pink dress & heels with her face covered by a bundle of balloons. I don’t know if balloons bundle or flock or whatever, but there is a grouping of them & bundle of balloons is alliterative.  As you might expect, this is sweet.  What I didn’t expect was that it still has varietal flavor.  Watermelon is the primary flavor.  I also get seem cherry.  It is an easy drinking rose’ for a hot day.  This would be nice with grilled chicken or spicy BBQ. This isn’t as complex or interesting as the McCrea Cellars Rose’, but it is about $15 cheaper.  I’m confident enough in my masculinity to drink a girly wine if they are going to do such a nice job of it.

Tasty wine in a girly package

Tasty wine in a girly package

NFL free agency & random wine sampling. You never know what you will get.

24 Mar

ImageThis can be a great time of year for a football fan.  Sure it is tough because there are no new games on, but NFL Network has 24 hour programming, so there is still football to watch.  More importantly, free agency is open & now your team can add the missing piece to win their division or make it to the Super Bowl.  Everyone is undefeated & every team has hope.  The Chiefs finished with the worst record in the NFL, but if you talk to a die hard Chiefs fan right now, he’ll be optimistic.  He will say that the team upgraded the quarterback position & the coaching position & that with all of their Pro Bowl players from last year, this year they will be the surprise of the division.  Even fans in Cleveland are excited about the new coach & Cleveland fans have been beaten down over the years.

I have read a couple of articles about how the Miami Dolphins have “won” free agency this year.  They got rid of Jake Long & his huge contract & frequent injury history.  They added Mike Wallace, who was the #1 free agent in most lists, to be their speedy #1 receiver. They added linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who was a key contributor on the Ravens Super Bowl team, & linebacker Phillip Wheeler from the Indianapolis Colts.  If you put that with their excitement about Ryan Tannehill going into his second year as quarterback, it sounds like the Dolphins are back on track.  That may even be true.  This team might jell & rule the AFC East for years to come. 

On the other hand, back in the 2010 off-season Miami fans were excited because they picked up Brandon Marshall to be their #1 receiver & Karlos Dansby to be their  hard hitting linebacker.  They had Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long.  They were also excited because of the promise shown by Chad Henne, who looked to be the best Dolphins quarterback since Marino.  The Dolphins finished 7-9 that year & missed the playoffs.  They got rid of Brandon Marshall last year.  He caught 86 passes for 1,014 yards in 2010 with the Dolphins  & 81 passes for 1,214 in 2011.  In 2012 he caught 118 for 1,508 for the Chicago Bears.  Karlos Dansby was released by the Dolphins on March 12th.  Jake Long signed recently with the Saint Louis Rams.  Chad Henne was replaced midway through the 2010 season, although he started the 2011 season as the starting quarterback.  He is now with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

I’m not just picking on the Dolphins.  Free agency is hard. I could have written thousands of words about the free agency failures of the Washington Redskins.  Just the words “Albert Haynesworth” can cause Redskin fans to punch a wall in frustration. When a team lets a player move to another team, unless there are significant salary cap issues, it means that the teams have different beliefs about that player’s abilities.  One team will be right & the other will be wrong, but it will take time to find out.  If Jake Long stays healthy for a couple of seasons & Sam Bradford blossoms into a star quarterback because he is confident that someone is protecting his blind side, we’ll say that the Rams made the right decision.  If Long is injured & his play suffers, then Miami will have been right to let him walk.  We won’t know any time soon.

For me, half of the fun will be in seeing how these new players fit in with their new team.  I thought Wes Welker should stay with the New England Patriots, but I can’t think of a better fit for him than the Denver Broncos.  He should do great, but we don’t know what will happen.  Danny Amendola seems like a perfect replacement for Welker in New England, but most of that is based on potential & his similarities to Welker (I don’t think that there was another short white former Texas Tech wide receiver out there for them to sign).  He might eclipse Welker in New England.  He might get injured in training camp & never play a down. 

The bottom line is that there is a ton of excitement at this time of year, but you don’t know what the result will be.  There is always the chance that the team is really just one free agent away from the Super Bowl.  It isn’t likely.  The only free agent that occurs to me as having tipped the balance of power & sending one team instead of another to the Super Bowl is when Deion Sanders moved from the San Francisco 49ers to the Dallas Cowboys in 1995.  Even then, Deion missed the first 8 games with an injury.  Teams have to make an attempt to improve though, & free agency is a great time of year to do it.

There is much less risk involved in breaking out some older wines to try in a random sampling.  You might waste as much as a few hundred dollars, but it isn’t like signing Jake Long to a $36 million 4 year contract & then having him injured.

I recently sat down for dinner at Zammitti’s in Kingwood Texas with a couple of guys including Eddie Ghazal, who owns the place.  Eddie broke out some gems from his cellar.  Here’s what we tried.

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

This wine may have set the bar too high for the evening.  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.

Joseph Phelps Merlot 1999 (Napa Valley)

This was a 91 point wine in Wine Spectator in its day.  Its day is rapidly coming to a close.  The wine was starting to get a little brown.  The nose was still great, with tobacco & cherry being the predominate scents.  The taste was complex.  There was some good, older fruit, perhaps some pruney blackberry & plum flavors.  It actually still had really strong tannins.  That may have been because the fruit was showing less.  It became softer as it opened up.  It was quite a nice wine, but if you have a bottle lying around, throw something on the grill & drink it tonight.  It isn’t going to get any better & you want to enjoy it while you still can.

Bourassa Solera Port (Napa)

Before I review this wine, I want to make a quick digression.  I hate it when people in places other than Portugal label their dessert wine as Port.  Port is made in Portugal & Champagne is made in Champagne.  You can make a similar wine in another wine region, but it isn’t that wine.  If you create a car that looks & performs very similar to a Mercedes, you still can’t call it a Mercedes. Unfortunately, despite recent changes to the law, there are many wineries who were grandfathered in to the system & still get to call their sweet red dessert wine from California, Australia, or Arkansas a Port.  New wines have to be labeled as something else.  I actually liked “Port style wine”, but that isn’t legal anymore.

OK.  I had to get that rant out.  We are on to the wine itself.  This is produced with Cabernet Sauvignon.  It is made in a Solera system where wine from newer vintages tops off older vintages in the barrel.  When the wine is bottled, some of the older wine is used, but not all of it.  Eventually there is some really old wine in the blend, but you can’t tell how much is from which vintage.  In Sherry, there are soleras that have the oldest wines dating back hundreds of years. This had a very strong aroma of cassis.  It tasted of cassis a bit as well, but the primary flavors were caramelized pecan & old jammy figs & prunes.  My notes (after several drinks) say that this wine should keep you regular.  That may not quite be true, but it does taste like it.  This would be nice with bread pudding.  It isn’t bad on a cold night by the fire either.  It looks like this wine sells for around $80.  That may be kind of high for what you get, but it is tasty.

Norman Vineyards The Monster Zinfandel 2001 (Central Coast/Paso Robles)

I read one review of this wine that called it “legendary” & “a stylistic masterpiece”.  I’m usually a fan of these big Norman Zinfandels, but I can’t tell you anything about this wine.  It was corked.  That’s the equivalent of a career ending injury to your top rated free agent.  There was nothing to do but pour it out & open a bottle of something else.

Chateau de Lescours St. Emilion Grand Cru 1998 (Bordeaux)

Wine Searcher showed a peak price for this wine of $144 a bottle in 2009-2011, with a sharp drop thereafter, leading to a price of around $66 now.  That is a pretty good analysis of this wine.

It is comprised of about 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, & 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.  I didn’t know that at the time I tasted it, but I picked out the three grapes pretty easily.  Merlot is the key grape in St.Emilion & the Cab Franc was extremely prominent.  It felt like there was a little Cab in there for weight.  The fruit was low on the wine & the tannins were low, but it was still a solid wine.  I really enjoyed the first few sips. I tasted bell pepper, mint, & a bit of earth.  It was very much a mature Bordeaux.   As the wine opened up, the fruit diminished even more & it became very acidic.  I think this wine was probably at its peak 2-4 years ago.  It is still a drinkable Bordeaux, but the things that probably made it special are going away.  If you have a bottle of this, drink it as soon as possible.  Don’t give it time to open up.  I wouldn’t suggest guzzling a wine, but I would say to pour this for a few people.  If you have just 1 or 2 people drinking this wine, it won’t be enjoyable by the time you finish the bottle.  If you have 5 or 6, they will all get a nice glass of wine.  Just don’t sit too long to savor it.

That was the tasting.  Much like in free agency, we had a hit, a miss, & a few that were solid, but didn’t have much left to give.  Here’s hoping that your team & your cellar dive only uncover hits!






Star Lane Merlot 2006 + Why Chiefs fans need to quit telling them to trade the first pick in the draft.

19 Feb

ImageOver the last few years, the perception of Merlot seems to have split into three groups.  There’s the group of wine drinkers who are way too cool to drink Merlot.  They have seen Sideways & are drinking cooler, newer seeming varietals  There is the group that orders Merlot the way they order Chardonnay.  They see them as comfortable wines that they can pronounce and that have mainstream acceptance.  Finally, I think that there are people who see Merlot for what it is; an over-planted grape that can still make some of the world’s best wine.

Merlot is planted just about everywhere.  In many places it makes decent wine that will get you happily drunk & lots of people like it with a little residual sugar to it.  In a few places, like Bordeaux & Washington State, Merlot makes fantastic wines.  In Bordeaux it is usually blended with other grapes (Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, & sometimes Carménère) & is the backbone of some of the greatest wines in the world.  In Washington State it can make huge fruit bombs with the acid to back up the fruit.   I think Star Lane Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley might be one of those special places where Merlot truly shows what it can do.

Star Lane is located in Happy Canyon, which just sounds like a wonderful place to drink a glass of wine. Before Prohibition the area had as many as 5,000 acres of grapes, but of course that dropped to near zero in the years during & after Prohibition.  Over the last 20 years grape production has surged again.  The most planted grape in the area is probably Syrah.  Star Lane only produced 650 cases of their 2006 Merlot.

Star Lane follows the Bordeaux approach in blending Merlot.  The bottled wine contains 88% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, & 3% Cabernet Sauvignon.  The wine spends 18 months in oak.  As a side note, in most of the U.S. a wine can be called by the varietal name if 75% of it is that varietal.  So a wine can be 75% Merlot & 25% Ruby Cabernet & still be called Merlot.

My first thought on trying the Star Lane 2006 Merlot was that it is hard to believe that it is going on 7 years old.  It seems extremely fresh & youthful.  The color in the glass shows no signs of age.  Instead, it goes from a dark chocolate color in the center to a cherry color at the edges.  In fact, it tastes a bit like a chocolate covered cherry.  Instead of being dominated by the oak, it is the fruit that comes first.  I also tasted blackberry & maybe a bit of boysenberry.  it was jammed with vibrant fruit.  As the wine and I relaxed together, I noticed some mint and perhaps a little eucalyptus.  This is a big red.  It is tasty & full bodied.  The acid is nice & helps the wine pair with food.  The tannins are minimal. I actual might like a bit more tannin, but I’m weird that way.  I also think that the tannins might come out a little more as the fruit becomes more subdued with age.  It seems like a nice merger of the blended Bordeaux & the extremely ripe Washington State styles.

This is an excellent wine to pour for someone who thinks that Merlot is only good  for producing boring wines. On the other hand, maybe you should just save it for yourself.  I think that it would pair really well with grilled meats, especially a grilled steak or lamb.  Vegetarians might like it with grilled Portobello mushrooms with a red sauce.

My football related thought for the day is that Chiefs fans need to quit talking about trading the #1 pick in the NFL draft this year.  Every time I read an article about who will be the first choice in the draft this year, a bunch of their fans give all of the reasons that they should trade the pick.  They say that the Chiefs have too many needs.  They desperately need a quarterback, but the #1 pick is probably too high for a quarterback this year.  They should trade back in the draft & get more picks & then take a quarterback later.  That reminds me of the old saying that for every problem there is a solution that is simple, logical, & wrong.

The problem is that it takes two to trade.  This draft may turn out to be phenomenal in a year or two.  Right now though it looks like one of the weakest drafts in years.  Last year, the Colts could have traded the first pick for a basket full of picks.  In fact, that’s what the Rams did with the #2 pick.  They traded it & the right to draft Robert Griffin III for the Redskins’ first & second round pick in 2013 & their first round pick in 2013 & 2014.  If anyone were to offer that to the Chiefs this year, they would jump on it, but no GM in the NFL is stupid enough to make the offer.  This year the best players in the draft may be a left tackle and a guard.  Left tackles are crucial in protecting a right handed quarterback.  A good guard can make a huge difference in an offense.  Logan Mankins has probably been the key member of the Patriots offensive line since he was drafted.  The problem for the chiefs in looking for a trading partner is that there isn’t any team out there that thinks they are a left tackle or a guard away from the Super Bowl.  Right now it looks like the player drafted 25th could be better than the player drafted first.  That’s always a possibility.  Jamarcus Russell was an all time bust with the first pick of the 2007 draft, while Aaron Rodgers went 24th in 2005 & Tom Brady was the 199th pick of the 2000 draft.  This year the quarterbacks look a lot more like the 2007 class.  It is possible that no quarterback from that class will start the season as the #1 quarterback for their team & it is a certainty that none of them will start for the team that drafted them.  Kevin Kolb is probably the best bet to start for the Cardinals.  He might even get beaten out by fellow 2007 draftee Drew Stanton.

The point is that despite the inherent gamble of the draft, this year looks like one where the Chiefs will have to take their chances.  There will be trades throughout both days of the draft. Just don’t expect to see a blockbuster trade to kick things off.

The good news is that they have some great players.  If they re-sign Dwayne Bowe & Andy Reid remembers that it is OK to run occasionally, they should be fine.  If the can get a prospect at QB in the second or third round, or trade for a decent free agent, they should be a solid team.  Heck, maybe a really good left tackle or guard will help them protect the quarterbacks that they have long enough to get a better one next year.

Just remember to give Jamaal Charles the ball!Image