Quick Picks 10 – Santa Ema Rivalta 2003

by Tim Elliott on December 19, 2008

Vina Santa Ema Rivalta 2003I’m back in action on the 4th anniversary of my first podcast with a high-end Carmenere-led blend from Chile.

Vina Santa Ema, “Rivalta” 2003 – ($68/sample) Dark purple in color with aromas of black currant, plum, blueberry, fennel, mint and vanilla. Rich and concentrated dark currant and blackberry fruit with black pepper and dark chocolate finishing with firm tannins. A delicious Carmenere-led blend that will age at least 4-6 more years.

13.8% ABV
Natural cork closure
Rating: ★★★★☆

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WBW 52: Chilean Value Reds

by Tim Elliott on December 10, 2008

It’s time for another Wine Blogging Wednesday, our virtual tasting now in it’s 52nd edition. This month, Tim from Cheap Wine Ratings is hosting and has chosen the theme of Value Reds from Chile. I go way back with reds from Chile but have not really tasted many in the past few years. As luck or fate would have it, the folks from the Wines of Chile organization had just sent a half case of Carménère samples so I was all set. Of these wines, two really stood out… a very complex and interesting blend for $68 and a straight-up Carménère for $19. I’ll be reviewing the latter tonight.

Carménère has long been a favorite variety of mine and it’s not grown much outside of Chile. When you see it in Dry Creek Valley or Bordeaux, it’s almost always lost in Cabernet or Merlot-led blends. But in Chile, there are many examples of the grape on it’s own as is the case in my selection this evening.

One of the six permitted red varieties in Bordeaux, it’s not much planted there anymore due to it’s low production and late ripening. But in the 18th and 19th Century, Carménère was highly prized in this region of France and was exported to Chile before Phylloxera claimed most the vines in it’s home country. But the root louse never made it to Chile, in large part due the the barrier of the Andes Mountains. Until 1994 DNA typing, most Chilean Carménère was thought to be Merlot and many low-end Merlot from Chile today still have the tell-tale “gun metal” aromas of Carménère in the blend.

Tasting Notes:

Vina Casa Silva, “Los Lingues”, Carménère, Gran Reserva, Colchagua Valley 2006 ($19/sample) – Very dark purple-black in color with aromas of black currant, raspberry, licorice, gun metal and vanilla. Focused and concentrated black raspberry and blueberry fruit flavors with cocoa, mint and bell pepper finishing with moderate tannins. A well balanced, delicious Carménère that will age and is also an excellent value.

14.5% ABV
Natural cork closure
Rating: ★★★★☆

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Thanks to Tim from Cheap Wine Ratings for hosting this month and I’m already looking forward to January when we are picking wines for breakfast… for real. I’m thinking another value red here but most likely from California; or something with bubbles.

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Georges Duboeuf, Morgon 2005

by Tim Elliott on November 21, 2008

Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé! 

But I’m not going to post reviews for that style of Beaujolais this year as there are much better values in French Gamay than the 20% sold as glorified barrel samples 8 weeks after harvest. The best of these are made in the 10 “Crus” or growths of Beaujolais. These wines have more much depth than Beaujolais Nouveau and can still be very enjoyable 4-5 years after harvest while Nouveau declines at about 5 months of age. But the craziest thing to me is Cru Beaujolais is the same or less money than Beaujolais Nouveau.

This wine comes from Beaujolais mega-producer Georges Duboeuf who’s promotional genius is largely behind all the Beaujolais Nouveau hype. His wines are available all over the U.S. and most good wine stores will have a selection of his Cru Beaujolais from $10-15 a bottle. Morgon is one of my favorite crus and Duboeuf makes two bottlings: the “Flower” label here and Domaine Jean Descombes. I’ve tried both from the 2005 vintage and they are very close in taste and quality.

Tasting Notes:

Georges Duboeuf, Morgon, “Flower Label” 2005 ($10) – Dark ruby color with aromas of cherry, raspberry and violets. Fresh and juicy black cherry fruit, some white pepper, finishing with supple tannins. An excellent value perfect for the Thanksgiving table.

13% ABV
Natural cork closure
Rating: ★★★★☆

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Cameron Hughes, Lot 93, Tempranillo 2004

by Tim Elliott on November 17, 2008

Négociant Cameron Hughes has made a name for himself selecting and sometimes blending wines that drink like twice or sometimes three times their asking price. Using direct to consumer marketing on his website and distribution through warehouse retailers like Costco and Sam’s Club, Hughes effectively disintermediates the 3-tier wine distribution system here in the U.S. This means he can make money selling $10-20 wines that he sources from some of the top producers around the world.

This past Saturday I presented three of his wines as part of Twitter Taste Live 5. All the wines were provided by Cameron Hughes as samples but I was very impressed with each wine which I will review over the next few weeks here. But the most impressive wine was a new release today, Lot 93, a 2004 Tempranillo from Spain’s Rioja region.

When I opened this wine Saturday, the brand on the cork indicated the producer is Bodegas Covila. On my visit to the region last year, I was struck by how every winery seemed to age their wines as “shiners” or unlabeled, selling the wine when it was “ready to drink.” This old school philosophy makes many wines from Spain tremendous values and provides stock for folks like Cameron Hughes to buy and label for his customers. The result is one of the best values I’ve ever seen as this could easily sell for $50-60 a bottle.

Tasting notes:

Cameron Hughes, “Lot 93″, Tempranillo, Rioja 2004 ($21/sample) – Dark ruby in color with black cherry, cassis, fennel, cocoa and vanilla aromas. Sleek and concentrated black cherry & dark currant fruit with some black pepper and a touch of earth finishing long with firm, but surprisingly well integrated, tannins. A well structured wine that will age for another 5-8 years. The most extreme value I’ve tasted yet from this négociant. Highly recommended.

13.5% ABV
Natural cork closure
Rating: ★★★★☆

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WBW 51: Baked Goods

by Tim Elliott on November 14, 2008

Well it’s Wine Blogging Friday for me this month, but hopefully I can sneak into the summary. The theme for Wine Blogging Wednesday this month comes by way of Philly-based wine blogger Joe who goes by 1WineDude online. And it’s a complete departure from our basic formula of wine variety, region or something a bit quirky. In fact, he has challenged us to actually drink madeirized — or intentionally heated and/or oxidized — wines. This style of wine is found in Madeira, Australia’s Rutherglen Tokays and Sherry. But Joe was also mindful that these wines might not be available everywhere so he included all fortified wines including Porto for his “Baked Goods” theme.

I knew at some point there would be an occasion to write about Sherry, a wine I’ve had over the years but didn’t really get into until a visit in June of 2007 to El Puerto de Santa María in the so-called Sherry Triangle. As a guest of Osborne, I visited their winery and tasted Fino literally pulled from the solera. But the most surprising part of this visit was a dinner with only Sherry served. I knew the starter would be easy with a Fino or Amontillado and the dessert course would be matched with a sweet Sherry of some sort but the entree would be a challenge. That’s when I was introduced to Oloroso which was a revelation at the time. But the best wine that night was a sweet Sherry made from a very old solera and the Pedro Ximenez grape. I rated it a 99, the only wine I have ever rated that high.

But before I dig my notes out for that wine let me flash forward to this week when I was looking for a Sherry to review for this tasting. As someone now a bit more educated about Sherry, I know that Fino is best consumed before 6 months from it’s bottling date. Most every Sherry producer has some sort of bottling code that indicates the day and year of bottling. Many times these are cryptic with Roman numerals used for the year but Osborne uses a more understandable code. So while I am continually disappointed in the stores here in the Twin Cities where Fino is “fresh” at 9-10 months past bottling, I was surprised to see a bottle of Osborne Pedro Ximenez ”1827″ on the shelf with a bottling date of  June 23, 2007… just 5 days before my visit to the winery.

For those not familiar with how Sherry is produced, a quick aside before my tasting notes. The production of Sherry is very old, in it’s current form since the the Moors ruled Spain some 1,200 years ago. Some, according to this piece in Wikipedia, track this style of wine back to the city of Shiraz in modern day Iran, literally the cradle of viticulture in antiquity. The production of Sherry starts with grapes grown in very chalky soils around Jerez, Spain from Palomino or Pedro Ximenez. In the latter case, the grapes are dried for two days before pressing and fermentation begins to concentrate their sugars. After primary fermentation, the wine is fortified with brandy to levels of alcohol determined by the style of the final wine. Fino or Amontillado are fortified to 15 degrees alcohol so that flor yeast can survive to complete the wine. Oloroso is fortified to 17-18 degrees alcohol to prevent the growth of flor and the wine is primarily shaped by oxidation in the solera.

The solera is a system of large barrels between 3 and 9 in number usually stacked in a pyramid shape. This allows for the young wine to be introduced at the top of the solera to fill the lower barrels where the finished wine is drawn for bottling. Sherry is aged in barrel for a minimum of three years but this time in barrel is much longer for more highly prized and rare Sherries. Through reduction and oxidation the resulting wine gains complexity and since all the barrels are neutral, no aromas or flavors from the oak. This is a truly unique and old school style of wine that I hope more wine lovers will try.

Tasting Notes:

Bodegas Osborne
, Pedro Ximenez “1827″ Sherry ($21) – Mahogany in color with powerful aromas of fig, molasses, espresso, hazelnuts and some heat from the alcohol. Rich and sweet in the mouth with fig, maple syrup, cocoa and caramel flavors finishing very long with enough acidity that balances the luscious sweetness. Decadent, delicious and an excellent value at around $20 a bottle. Also very nice poured over vanilla ice cream as it’s own dessert.

17% ABV
Screwtop closure
Rating: ★★★★☆

Bodegas Osborne, Pedro Ximenez “Viejo” Sherry ($100/sample tasted at the winery) – Almost black in color with very complex aromas of fig, dates, espresso, dark chocolate, molasses and a hint of baked orange. In the mouth, very rich and layered fig, caramel, baked orange, spice and nut flavors mingle with quite a bit of sweetness that is balanced by acidity. This wine has a finish that seems to go on forever. One of the most extraordinary tastings of my life and as close to a perfect wine I have ever encountered. Buy it, if you can afford it.

16% ABV
Natural cork closure
Rating: ★★★★★

Thanks to Joe, the 1WineDude, for getting me back into this style of wine. I’m going to continue to explore Sherry both here and on my podcast… and might even post those recordings made in Spain some 17 months ago.

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WBW 50: Which wine, which wilderness?

by Tim Elliott on October 8, 2008

Wine Blogging Wednesday rolls around again with a theme from Russ, the Wine Hiker, of “Which wine, which wilderness.” Sounds pretty straightforward… which wine would you bring on a hike near where you live. The only problem is, I don’t hike.

It’s not that I don’t like hiking, I do, but rarely get on the trail these days here in Minnesota. I like walking and it is my exercise of choice but it’s usually done in my suburban neighborhood or around one of the many lakes in the Twin Cities. Rarely have I ventured up north to where the real action is here in the land of 10,000 lakes.

But this theme not only got me to think about where I might hike but also which wine I might take on the journey. Since I’m one to pack lightly, I chose a wine I could enjoy without a corkscrew. That left every wine made here in Minnesota behind but there were several choices left on the shelf. I also assumed I would bring simple water glasses or metal cups and not the usual Riedel stems on my hike so the choice should be something hearty. This got me thinking of the wines of Italy which are often consumed in humble glassware. Alas, I was not able to find a wine in screwcap or other non-corkscrew closure from Italy but my friends in California did not disappoint.

Since part of the task was to match this wine with a hike, I consulted Google to select one of the top 10 hikes in the country right in my backyard, the Superior Hiking Trail. This trail covers over 200 miles from Two Harbors, MN — near Duluth — to the Canadian border. The north shore of Lake Superior is some of the most beautiful country you are likely to see and this time of year it’s awesome due to our long Indian summer and fall colors. At some point, I will make this hike and might just bring along the wine I picked up for the journey, Hey Mambo.

This is one of those “marketing wines” from Don Sebastiani and Sons which I’ve been meaning to try anyway. Great label, interesting premise and the Zork closure all for $12.99. I was also intrigued by the blend of Barbera, Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Carignane and Alicante Bouschet which I thought would be a good choice for my water glass/cup scenario. So I was looking forward to what might be in the glass tonight.

Tasting Notes:

The Other Guys, “Hey Mambo”, Sultry Red 2006 ($13) – Dark purple in color with aromas of blackberry, cranberry, fennel and sage. Bright and juicy in the mouth with blackberry, red cherry, bell pepper and vanilla finishing with moderate tannins. An interesting and satisfying blend in an nice package.

13.5% ABV
Zork closure
Rating: ★★★½☆

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Thanks to Russ for a great theme this time… It will be good to see him again at the upcoming Wine Blogger Conference later this month. Look for the next theme to be announced soon.