Recommendations

Louis Jadot, Beaujolais-Villages 2009

by Tim Elliott on December 31, 2010

The holidays are the time of the year we share wine with friends and family. This year I decided to introduce my 21 year old daughter to red wines. Like a lot of novice wine drinkers, her tastes are tuned to white wines that are slightly (or noticeably) sweet. But she’s been drinking some sangria of late so I thought the next step was tasting some fruit-driven, soft reds.

I immediately thought of Beaujolais as this was one of the first red wines I discovered back in the day. Made from Gamay Noir in an appellation to the south of Burgundy, Beaujolais continues to deliver great value even in times of challenging exchange rates. And it’s not clear to me why this is given the overall market and mainstream awareness of the area due to massive marketing for Beaujolais nouveau every November.

So this Christmas I opened a bottle of Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages 2009 in the place of my usual Bordeaux or aged California Cabernet. And while it struggled to keep up with the rib roast at times, I found the wine to be bright and satisfying. And my daughter is now a red wine fan even without the fruit juice and ice. Perhaps next year she will develop a taste for more hearty wines? We’ll see.

Tasting notes:

Louis Jadot, Beaujolais-Villages 2009 ($12) – Ruby in color with aromas of strawberry and fennel. Bright, juicy cherry and strawberry fruit finishing with a touch of banana and supple tannins. Has everything I love about Gamay at a fair price and available just about everywhere.

12.5% ABV
Composite cork closure

Rating: ★★★½☆
Score: 88
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Rodney Strong, Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

by Tim Elliott on January 1, 2010

I’m not sure where to start with this wine since my review of the previous vintage became the subject for the first wine blogger meltdown ever last year. I even thought of not posting a review due to this experience but my curiosity got the better of me and I had to see what the wine would be like on it’s second vintage.

Would I like it? Is it worth $75 a bottle in these recessionary times?

One of my treats for the holidays is a roast beef dinner which usually happens on Christmas Day. This past year, the roast was moved to New Year’s eve and the wine I selected to pair with this menu was not the usual Bordeaux or Napa Cab but the sample of Rockaway Cabernet received some time ago from Rodney Strong Vineyards. If you read my review of the 2005 release, there is a run down of the vineyard blocks involved and production methods used. Approximately the same process was used for the 2006 wine with most of the final blend being Cabernet Sauvignon and only slightly spiced by a dollop or two of Malbec and Petit Verdot. The result is one of the most pure single vineyard expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon I’ve ever tasted from California ensuring Rockaway’s position among the very best wines made from this grape in the state.

Tasting Notes:

Rodney Strong Vineyards, Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley 2006 ($75/sample) — A blend of 97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Malbec, and 1% Petit Verdot. Very dark purple in color, the wine shows the same refined aromatics from the previous vintage. Black cherry, dark currant, green olive, sage, fennel and vanilla return with some cigar box added for good measure. In the mouth the wine is very firm and focused even after more than 2 hours in a decanter with blackberry and black-currant fruit flavors along with black pepper and dark chocolate. The finish is long with very firm tannins at this point but worked as a very nice companion to the slightly fatty roast beef last night.

To be released in February 2010, I would recommend at least 5 years of aging before opening your first bottle. At this point, 3+ hours in the decanter is required to fully enjoy this wine but it is clear this will be one of the best California Cabs to collect based upon the first two vintages.

15.4% ABV
Natural cork closure
Score: 96
Rating: ★★★★½

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C. Donatiello Winery, Chardonnay 2006

by Tim Elliott on December 1, 2009

At the beginning of June I wrote a post in response to Pinotblogger Josh Hermsmeyer’s wine blogger contest. Basically, Josh challenged us to write about what motivates us to blog and if the role of a wine reviewer is to prescribe the ways in which a wine should be made or just write about what’s in the bottle. Had I not waited until the last moment to post my thoughts, or had seen Josh’s tweet about my lack of a wine review, I might have been in the running for the prize (yes, I’m one of the wine bloggers Josh calls out here). Ironically, the wine I would have chosen for that post would be from a winery right in Josh’s backyard in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley, C. Donatiello Winery.

C. Donatiello Winery ChardonnayI was not familiar with C. Donatiello Winery before they tracked me down on Twitter and sent a couple samples. The winery is in the same building as the venerable Belvedere Winery which I remember from the 1980’s. Chris Donatiello is the owner and marketer while Webster Marquez, formerly of Williams Selyem, is the winemaker.

There seems to be two schools of California Chardonnay these days. On one hand you have the full malolactic “butter bombs” that are usually further marred by being over oaked. On the other, there is a growing trend of “naked” Chardonnay that celebrates the purity of fruit with the only wood contact being the cork (if they use a natural one at all). There are, of course, other approaches. Some iconoclasts subscribe to the Chablis or Burgundy model of partial or no ML and mostly neutral oak with extended lees contact. In my experience this last approach makes the most interesting California Chardonnay as I like my whites with lots of acidity so they pair well with food.

So that’s what makes this wine so interesting to me. Grown in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley, this wine spent 9 months in 50% new and 50% neutral French oak. And it shows in the nice mouth weight and complexity of flavors. But unlike a lot of it’s full ML brethren, this Chardonnay still has enough acidity to clean the palate and pair with food. I’ve written here before that I don’t enjoy what ML usually does to Chardonnay and other white varieties but I can respect a craftman at work. Unlike some other wines I’ve reviewed, I really like this one a lot and will be seeking out several more bottles for my cellar.

Tasting Notes:

C. Donatiello Winery, Chardonnay, Russian River Valley 2006 ($41/sample) – Medium straw in color with aromas of ripe pineapple, pear, almond and toast. Silky pear and green apple fruit with a nice rich mouthfeel and just a touch of caramel on the long finish. A delicious, pure expression of fruit enhanced by French oak.

14.4% ABV
Natural cork closure
Rating: ★★★★☆

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RedTree, Pinot Noir 2008

by Tim Elliott on May 5, 2009

It is rare that you see mainstream critics write about so-called “industrial wines” and most unusual when they actually say good things about them. So I was surprised to see Wine Spectator critic Jim Laube blog about an $8 California Pinot Noir a couple weeks ago. Naturally I was curious to taste the wine myself and see how close my experience would be to Mr. Laube’s. The wine in question is from the Cecchetti Wine Company marketed under the RedTree brand. I picked it up on the end-cap at my local Redtree Pinot Noirwine store for $5.50 on sale.

I am somewhat familiar with RedTree from their Zinfandel I tasted recently. You don’t often see Zin in the less than $10 range so when I see a new entrant I try it to see if they will be giving Ravenswood a run for their money in this price category. Sorry to report that the RedTree Zin didn’t live up to expectations with over ripe blackberry fruit overwhelmed by alcohol (listed at 14.5% ABV but likely over 15%). So how could their Pinot be anything other than a light generic red wine?

I’m not sure how they did it but the 2008 RedTree Pinot Noir is an unbelievable value at the less than $6 I paid for it on sale. Even at $12 this wine would give Mark West Pinot some serious competition. Darker than most Pinot, the wine smells like you would expect with strawberry and red cherry fruit with just a hint of the earthiness associated with Pinot. Red cherry and strawberry fruit flavors complete the package finishing with supple tannins. Surprisingly correct varietal character for a Central Valley wine.

12.5% ABV
Screw Cap closure
Rating: ★★★½☆

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My buying advice is to pick up a bottle yourself and then get a case or two if you concur (my retailer had a mail-in rebate for case purchases). I don’t expect to see the same value in the next release but will definitely give it a try next year. In the meantime I’ll be buying some Petite Sirah to see if the Zin was a fluke or trend with heavier bodied reds. They also make a Cabernet, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio.

Thanks for the tip, Jim; keep ‘em coming.

RedTree, Pinot Noir 2008

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