Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The big day

Just a quick one.  My WSET Advanced Test was tonight and it was hard.  I crushed the blind tasting, correctly identiying a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc and a Barossa Shiraz.  I lost a few points on the multiple choice, but generally did well.  For example, I remembered Baga (black grape from Portugal) but forgot Viura (white blending grape from Rioja).  The short answers were pretty good, but I lost a few points on the climate conditions of South Africa and the effect of old vines on Pinotage.  I also had to Bullshit an essay on the difference between Rutherglen Muscat and Beaumes de Venise.  For my money, you shouldn't have a major essay based on a book chapter called "Other Sweet Wines."

But in all, I felt pretty good.  Dunno if I got enough points to pass with distinction, but I'm pretty sure I passed.

Next up, I prepare for the French Wine Scholar Exam, a hideously hard test full of French Wine Law questions.  Those Socialists have a rule for Everything!

I'm alo going to start my reading for September's WSET Diploma class on Viticulture and Vinification.

YES, I ama geek and I love to study!  Deal with it!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Pour one out for my Homie

My homes, Sparky Marquis.  $1 million worth of his wine got dropped all over the floor the other day.

Sparky is the owner of Mollydooker Wines, as well as the famous winemaker of Henry's Drive, Marquis Phillips, and Parson's Flat.  I met him twice when Willow hosted winemaker dinners in his honor.  Each was a spectacle and he utterly destroyed the order of service, ad libbing and starting auctions for large format bottles while hot food withered and died for his guests.  No matter, they were drunk and entranced by his charm and wonderful wine.   

Last time I saw him, I bought lots and lots of Mollydooker wine.  Lots, including two bottles of 2007 Velvet Glove.  This wine was so profound, I can barely describe it.  I'd never seen a winemaker able to load that much fruit onto a structure without it becoming flabby.  But this was thick and rich with black and blue berries, while still being alive and vibrant.  Parker gave it 98 points.  Cellar Tracker averages 95.

And now a forklift driver dropped every single bottle of 2010 bound for the US.  462 cases, one-third of the total production, about 1 million bucks.  Actually, we probably shouldn't be too sad for Sparky, he's insured.  I do feel bad for me and everyone else who won't be trying it, however.  "When they opened up the container they said it was like a murder scene, but it smelled phenomenal," said Marquis.

So I took a break from my highly acidic white studies to toast the man and his wine.  My Velvet Glove is going through a dumb period, so I chose The Carnival of Love Shiraz.

The wine is purple and opaque, with profound developing aromas of licorice, blackberries, tobacco, blueberries, black cherries, and spices.  It's dense, chewy, alcoholic, and not for the faint of heart.  It's one of the best wines out there.  I'm not pouring any out for my Homes, but I won't spit tonight.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Battle of the Pouillys

Can I tell the difference between an oak treated Chardonnay and an oak treated Sauvignon Blanc?  It's the battle of the Pouillys!  This is one of the ubiquitous questions we ask on job applications for servers.  And the answer is so obvious on paper, different grapes, different places...but can you pick 'em blind?

Lesee, and to make it a bit more interesting, I've added a wine from the village just across the river from Pouilly Fume, Sancerre.  The wines of Sancerre are also made with Sauv Blanc in a flinty, mineral style, and may, or may not be oaked.

Well, I got it wrong.  All three were good, by the way.  The Sancerre turned out to be oaked, so it wasn't easy to strip out from the other two.  It was flinty and lovely, and I thought it was fume.  The Fume was really crisp and lighter in body, with more tropical notes.  From my reading, I thought that was backwards.  The Fuisse I had picked out so easily from last tasting...well I couldn't pick a chard out of a sauv group.

More study.  More tasting.

Chablis versus Pouilly-Fuisse

Today's homework was another semi-blind tasting of French whites.  This one was easy, and you have no idea what a relief it is to say that.  The Chablis, from Domaine de Malandes, was the boneless skinless chicken breast of the white wine world.  Crisp, clean chardonnay, lemony, zingy, with a bit of minerality.  Very basic and correct.  The Pouilly-Fuisse, an oak treated Chardonnay, was in fact smoky as one might expect, and had an oily texture that went great with hummus.  The Chablis scares me a little, however.  Chardonnay isn't aromatic and it's lack of oak or noticeable tinkering make me think that in a totally blind situation, this could be anything.

More study.  More tasting.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Homework - moving off the Riesling base

Maintaining my taste memory of Alsatian Riesling, I am branching out the the Loire, trying to locate dry Chenin Blanc in relation to Riesling. 

The first wine is pale gold in color.  Gold isn't a color I've seen yet in Alsace, but this is not-quite blind tasting and I have a Grand Cru here.  So Color isn't going to help that much.  The nose is vibrant and full of aromatics.  The acid is medium-plus.  I am leaning Riesling here.

The second wine is a pale lemon.  The intensity of aroma is lower, and includes lots of minerality.  The acid here is also medium-plus, but the flavors are more limited to lemon, stone, mineral.  There is an oily texture, however, similar to pinot gris, that pegs this one as the Vouvray.

Harder, but very tractable.

In an unrelated note, Willow contracted with a stained glass artist many years ago for some custom panes.  We've been sending him $500 here and there until he called and told us they were ready.  Check it out.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cheers and Jeers

Just a quick note to update my earlier rant regarding shipping costs of highly allocated wines.  The allocations for Fall are beginning to roll out.

I am moving Araujo Estate to the Jeers column.  My allocation of their awesome Eisele Vineyard Cabernet was increased this year to 3 bottles, but without the option to order just one.  They claim it is in the name of "green" packaging, but when I offered to buy a carbon offset and get one bottle (I could barely afford one at almost $300 each), they said no.  Clearly, the environmental thing is a cover to move more juice.  They are going to leave people like me, who want to taste the great stuff but don't have the deep pockets, in the dust.  And...not to get too pissy...but I was a loyal buyer through some of their more pedestrian vintages, and the change in policy coincided with their first huge Parker score in three years.

Cheers to Harris Estate who also has a rather high minimum bottle purchase, but when I called to plead my case, were more than happy to process a smaller order.  Gorgeous mountain fruit, dark berry flavors, supple tannins, velvet texture, less than half the price of Araujo...  Cheers.

Abreu is another excellent Napa property that sends chills down my spine whenever I drink it.  Not cheap, they have several Cabernet bottlings at over $300 each, but compared to Bordeaux, it is well worth the expense.  But  they are choosing to screw their customers this year with a $33 charge to ship 1 bottle by second day air.  $33!  Actual shipping on a container that size is closer to $10, so what gives?  Why not just add the $20 to the price of the bottle and be honest about your desire to get more cash?

Lastly, cheers to Kistler Vineyards who continue to wrap shipping charges into their pricing, at only $40 per case.  If they can ship 12 for $40, you others can ship 1 for $10!

A quick, very personal tasting note before I sign off.  Last night I tried a Champagne from Terry Theise's portfolio of small grower-producers, Chartogne-Talliet cuvee Sainte-Anne.  I grew up in Milwaukee Wisconsin, the beer capitol of the US.  Driving downtown, the Pabst Brewery was across the street from a Wonder Bread factory, which was next to the Ambrosia Chocolate factory.  This Champagne smelled like home.  The autolytics were HUGE and you could just close your eyes and see a big slice of toasted brioche smeared with dark chocolate.  Wonder what they charge for shipping....

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Riesling Homework

Okay, rieslings.  This is essentially a repeat of the last tasting, but despite the fact that I just blogged about it, it actually happened two weeks ago.  So the exercise bears repeating.  Germany versus Alsace!  But this time, it's Rheingau instead of Mosel, which should should show fewer floral notes and more fruits.

I called each wine blind, and it was easy because the Leitz was off-dry, despite being a Kabinett.  The term Kabinett refers to the German system of classifying wines according to the ripeness of the grapes.  The scale is often confused with levels of sweetness, and with some reason, as many Kabinetts are dry while all Trokenbeerenausleses (the top level) are seriously sweet.  But it's a winemaker's decision what to do with all that ripeness, ferment it until it's dry, or stop the fermentation to make a wine that is lower in alcohol and has some sugar left in it.

Wine #1, Trimbach Riesling from the 2008 harvest in Alsace, had wicked acidity and was dominated by lemon, acid, and petrol.  It had a zingy and clean finish and was a very well made wine.  Everything that I have been taught to look for when blind tasting to peg a riesling.

Wine #2 is Leitz Rudesheimer Klosterlay Kabinett 2009.  It too, is high in acid but has much more going on in the nose besides minerals and oil.  If I tasted this from a black glass or under red lights, I might have some issues, as it presented lot of red fruit flavors.

Both wines were excellent. 


I started tasting in the mornings, and am concentrating on white wines that might appear on my test.  First up, tasting notes from three Rieslings.  I tasted these all blind, and am proud to that say determining which was from where was easy. 

Wine #1 -- Kuentz Bas Riesling - Alsace - 2008

The wine is clear, with medium-minus lemon color.  The wine is clean and has medium intensity.  It's aromas are developing, and include petrol, minerals, lemon, peach, and ripe apple.  On the palate, it is dry and has high acid.  The tannins are low, I detect medium alcohol, medium body, and medium length.  Medium-high flavor intensity reveals lemon, minerals, petrol, and peach.  This wine is very good, and has an excellent acid profile.  The wine will continue to improve and show more fruits and mineral qualities.

Wine #2 -- Dr. Loosen Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Spatlese - Mosel - 2009

The wine is clear, with medium-minus lemon color.  Some petillance is noted directly after pouring.  The nose is clean, with medium-plus intensity.  Developing aromas include peach, mineral, orange blossom, ripe apples and lemons.  On the palate, the wine is medium-dry, with low tannins and medium-minus alcohol.  The acid is medium-plus, and its pronounced flavor intensity includes honeysuckle, peach, red cherries, pineapple, and minerals.  It supports these flavors with medium-plus body and medium-plus length.  The wine is outstanding, with lots of developing flavors in terrific balance.  It is ready to drink, but will improve.

Wine #3 -- Chateau Ste.-Michelle Eroica Riesling - Washington State - 2008

The wine is clear, with pale lemon color that fades to a watery rim.  The nose is clean, and reveals developing aromas of petrol, mineral, lemon, peach, and stone in a frame of medium-plus intensity.  The palate is dry and has medium acid and medium-minus tannin.  The alcohol level is medium, the body is medium, and the flavor intensity is medium-plus.  Flavors include ripe apple, lemon, peach, stone and mineral.  It is a very good wine with very ripe fruits.  It is ready now, but will continue to develop.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Anyone remember Reunite on ice?

I am a wine geek, but not a wine snob. ...or so I like to believe.  I think that Yellow Tail is remarkably good for the money.  I honestly believe that the Holy Grail of all wine is a great Pinot Noir for under $20.  And my favorite white wine, in any classification scheme, is an $11 Viognier-Chenin Blanc blend from Pine Ridge.  Inexpensive wine is my friend.

But there are limits.

Introducing for your consideration, a Champagne specifically designed to be watered down.  Moet Ice Imperial.