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Drinking with SHIRAZ on Saturday - Zinfandel or ZPC

Date: Mon, Feb 16, 2009 Wine Tasting

Its been called California’s grape. So much so that a bill was put to the California state legislature to name Zinfandel as California's "historic wine”. But the Governator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) vetoed the attempt. It was the correct thing to do as Zinfandel is not a native American grape. Genetically it is related to the Italian Primitivo and the Croatian Crljenak Kaštelanski ("Kaštela Red"). In fact Dr Carole Meredith, who performed the genetic analysis, refers to the variety as "ZPC" - Zinfandel/Primitivo/Crljenak Kaštelanski.

Zinfandel or ZPC is a truly versatile grape. It can be used to make a blush wine (White Zinfandel) or robust, fruity reds of depth and concentration and high alcohol, or light bodied reds, or fortified dessert wines and even a dessert wine called Zinfandel essence which comes from late harvest grapes not fermented to dryness so that the alcohol is low and the sugar levels high. The production of White Zinfandel in the 1970 saved many of the old vine vineyards which are now used to produce a resurgent dry red style. Even with this new found interest Zinfandel still plays prince to the king, Cabernet Sauvignon, in California. And this is a good thing for us common folk who like to drink fine wine because it means that these special wines, from old vines and often made in small quantities from individual vineyards, are very often ridiculously inexpensive. Often blended with other varieties by design and sometime by default because of vineyards containing mixtures of varieties, the regional diversity of Zinfandel still shines through. In many respects California Zinfandel is a purist’s grape because it is in its own home and is unspoiled by the desires of winemakers to mold it into a representation of something from another country. The Zinfandel tasting at Vintage Wines was held at the very end of January and all six wines were tasted blind.

First Wine
Deep, dark cherry red with red/pink edge. Attractive, aromatic wine with aromas of black/blueberry and brambles mixed with oak. On the palate its full bodied with a soft and supple entry and attractive flavor carry. Well balanced with juicy acidity and fine tannins.
Score: 2, 2, 4.1, 10.1-18.2/20, 91/100
Drink: Now to 2016
Wine: 2006 Sebastiani Dry Creek Valley, California, USA; 86% Zinfandel, 11% Petite Sirah, 3% Barbera
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 14.6%
Price: $17.99USD

Second Wine
Deep, dark cherry red with pink/red edge. The nose is framed by a geranium top note over black pepper and cherry. Its different, but appealing. Full bodied with tannins that are just a bit too firm at present and the mid-palate cries out for more depth. It could all come together with time..
Score: 2, 2, 4.0, 9.8=17.8/20, 89/100
Drink: 2010-2017+
Wine: 2005 St. Francis, Pagani Ranch, Old Vines, Sonoma Valley, California, USA; a field blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Mourvedre, Carignane and Alicante Bouschet.
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 14.8%
Price: $33.99USD

Third Wine
Dark cherry red with red/pink edge. Dark sweet tea over cedar with ripe cherry bobbing up to the surface. It all seems a little too ripe but this is the trend in Zinfandel. Full bodied with soft, supple entry and an excellent carry of flavors across the palate. The tannins firm up on the finish. This is a serious mouthful of wine.
Score: 2, 2, 4.0, 10.1=18.1/20, 91/100
Drink: 2010 to 2020
Wine: 2006 Rosenblum, Paso Robles, California, USA; 88% Zinfandel, 12% Petite Sirah
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 14.9%
Price: $13.99USD

Fourth Wine
Cherry red with red pink edge. Attractive aromatics that are overshadowed by alcohol, spicy ripeness and ethyl acetate (EA). In the mouth it’s a little softer and leaner than the others with very fine tannins. This is a true drink now style that lacks the solid structural foundation for long term cellaring.
Score: 2, 2, 3.8, 9.7=17.5/20, 87/100
Drink: Now to 2012
Wine: 2005 Karly “Warrior Fires”, Amador Country, California, USA; a blend of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah.
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 15.1%
Price: $19.99USD

Fifth Wine
Dark cherry red with red/pink edge. Resinous oak dominant over mulberry and cherry. There may be some eucalyptus in there but I think that might be the oak showing its exuberance. Fuller bodied than the previous wine with great flavor carry finishing with firm tannins. This is a wine that needs time but the potential is there. And yes all that oak (and eucalyptus) will integrate and become more attractive. (If any of these wines are from Ravenswood its this one – I’ll say it’s the Dickerson because of that resinous oak note.)
Score: 2, 2, 4.0, 10.2=18.2, 91/100
Drink: 2011-2018
Wine: 2006 Ravenswood, Dickerson Vineyard, Napa Valley, California, USA; “Pretty pure stand of Zinfandel”.
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 15.8%
Price: $25.99USD

Sixth Wine
Dark cherry red with a red/pink edge. Very expressive, very ripe aromatics with black and mulberry, spices and oak. Full bodied with firm, ripe tannins and beautiful flavor carry that is a prelude to a lengthy finish. I like the structure on this wine.
Score: 2, 2, 4.1, 10.2=18.3/20, 92/100
Drink: Now -2018
Wine: 2006 Opolo “Mountain Zinfandel”, Paso Robles, California, USA; 100% Zinfandel.
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 16.5%
Price: $16.99USD

From under the Wine Bar
On occasion José, who pours the wines on Saturday, will pull out a bottle or two from under the bar. These wines are usually the remains from a tasting group that meets each Friday night. They gather to taste the new wines on the Wine Bar, and they also bring wines for a themed tasting. On this occasion it was Zinfandel. So José poured me a taste from two unfinished bottles.

Mystery Wine One
Deep, deep deans color. Truly black at its core with bricking at its edge. Lots of roasted and smoked meats. Very OXO cubish with a little caramel note for sweetness. Full bodied but oh so soft as it covers the palate with great line and the finish has all the roasted meat flavors you could want. What is it? Beats me. But it looks way over 10 years old.
Score:2, 2, 4.3, 10.3=18.3/20 93/100
Drink: Now and probably over the next five (2014) because it looks like it might hold quite well.
Wine: 2001 Ravenswood Belloni Russian River Valley Zinfandel, California, USA; Old mixed vineyard, has Zinfandel, Carignane, Alicante Bouschet, and Petite Sirah.
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 15.2%
Price: NA

Mystery Wine Two
Deep, dense, black at its core with a mahogany edge. Rich ripe and very aromatic; Christmas cake over blue and mulberry. Boy, is this ripe! Full bodied but soft and supple on entry with an additional note of iced tea. The tannins are gone but the flavors carry well and the finish is great. I don’t see this going much longer. I saw this wine when José poured it and I wasn’t all that surprised.
Score: 2, 2, 4.0, 10.2=18.2/20, 91/100
Drink: I wouldn’t wait, drink it now.
Wine: 2001 Carlisle “Carlisle Vineyard”, Russian River Valley Zinfandel, California, USA; 85% Zinfandel, 15% Mixed Black Varieties.
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 16.3%
Price: NA

There are two things of note about these wines. First is the color which hinted at wines much older than they turned out to be, and second was the difference in flavor profile. The current dogma is that if grapes are picked ripe then the flavors will all be the same. Well that is just not true here. Oh, and one other thing. Our little group always brings way too much food to these tastings and so we passed around a chocolate dessert called “Melting Chocolate” to the others in the tasting room. The consensus was that this rich dessert made the Zins sit up and sing. And both José and I agreed that was especially true for the Carlisle Zin or should that be ZPC!

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Andrew Jefford to Write Book on Aussie Terroir

Date: Mon, Feb 2, 2009 Wine Tasting

Andrew Jefford, who has written a number of tomes on wine, is now in Australia on a Senior Research Fellowship at the University of Adelaide and as Winewriter in Residence to the Australia Wine 2030 Project. He will be in Adelaide for about a year during which time he plans on writing another book – on Aussie wine as he describes below on his blog.

The overall aim of the year is to research and write as much as possible of a book on terroir in Australia … or, if you prefer, what makes Australia’s greatest wines and vineyards different from each other and from those found elsewhere on the landmasses of our precious blue planet. With that in mind, if any Australian producer would like to contact me with information, samples or anything else which might deepen my understanding of the above, they are most welcome to do so: the address is 12 Rawson Penfold Drive, Rosslyn Park, SA 5072 and the landline is 08 8364 5296, or via the ‘Contact’ section of this website. It’s a great privilege to be here, and to have the chance to learn more about a major world wine culture in situ rather than breezing through in customary journalistic style. I’m anxious not to waste it.

You can follow his time in Australia via his blog as well as via a new, monthly column for Decanter magazine beginning later in 2009.

It will be interesting to see what he comes up with in terms of which wines and/or regions exhibit a sense of place.

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Drinking with SHIRAZ on Saturday - New Release Aussies

Date: Sun, Feb 1, 2009 Wine Tasting

Held on Saturday Jan 17th at Vintage Wines in San Diego this tasting is one of several during the year to feature Australian wines. The moniker new releases should be taken with some caution as some of the wines might have arrived on the shelves the day after the previous “New Release Aussie” tasting. Still this is always an interesting tasting for me because I have a pretty intimate knowledge of the Aussie wines that are available at Vintage. I might not have tasted them all but I’ve looked at the labels so often that the wines have etched themselves into my subconscious. Those sorts of wine memories are not the best to recall when tasting wine but they can be a great foundation for some hilarious mistakes in identifying what might be in the glass.

This Saturday was to be no exception, although the memory problem was more a failure of remembering a wine that had been tasted rather than one that had not. In such cases you have to confess your folly and hope that some considerate soul will offer sympathy and a tale, or two, of their own foibles when confronted with more wines than commonsense.

First Wine
Dense cherry red with red edge with the faintest orange tinge. Notes of plum, blueberry, and spicy oak. Full bodied with a soft and supple entry opening to juicy acidity. A nicely flavored wine with a lengthy finish.
Score: 2, 2, 3.8, 9.8=17.6/20, 88/100.
Drink: Now to 2014
Wine: 2006 Glaetzer “Wallace” Red Blend, Barossa Valley, South Australia
Closure: Screwcap
Alcohol: 14.5% abv
Price: $19.99USD

Second Wine
Dense, dark cherry red with red edge. Aromas dominated by spicy oak, blueberry, plum with the alcohol poking its way in as well. In the mouth full bodied with some serious oak and alcohol. The flavors carry well but its not a wine to get excited about.
Score: 2, 2, 3.6, 9.5=17.3/20, 86/100.
Drink: Now to 2012
Wine: 2007 R Winery “Strong Arms” Shiraz, South Australia
Closure: Screwcap
Alcohol: 15% abv
Price: $8.99USD

Third Wine
Dense, dark cherry red with red edge. A big, spicy wine with nutmeg over violets and smoky oak. Unusual for an Aussie red. Full bodied and the oak is dominant but still nicely integrated with the exuberant flavors that all mesh together to give excellent length to the finish. Marred only by a little sour note at the end.
Score: 2, 2, 3.9, 9.6=17.5/20, 87/100
Drink: Now to 2016
Wine: 2007 Thorn-Clark “Shotfire Ridge” Shiraz, Barossa Valley, South Australia
Closure: Screwcap
Alcohol: 14% abv
Price: $14.99USD

Fourth Wine
Dense cherry red with red edge. A little closed. Blue- and blackberry with well integrated oak. Full bodied and the first wine to show some expressive tannins but its all dominated by oak notes. Still its an attractive wine and so far the most appealing to quaff.
Score: 2, 2, 4.0, 9.8=17.8/20, 89/100
Drink: Now to 2013
Wine: 2007 R Winery “Luchador” Shiraz, South Australia
Closure: Screwcap
Alcohol: 14.5% abv
Price: $14.99USD

Fifth Wine
Dark, dense cherry red with a slight orange/brown tinge to the red edge. Attractive and complex spicy nose with lead pencil case and blue and mulberry notes. Much nicer wine, much better structure and balance. Needs some time as the acidity does poke out a bit but it has possibilities.
Score: 2, 2, 4.2, 10.1=18.3/20, 92/100
Drink: 2011-2018
Wine: 2006 Slipstream “Fastback” Shiraz, McLaren Vale, South Australia
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 14.4% abv
Price: $25.99

Sixth Wine
Dense, dark cherry red with red edge. Smoky oak, roasted meats with hints of nutmeg and mocha. Yep this zings. A very well put together wine with excellent mouthfeel and excellent length. But there is a lurking suspicion that the alcohol in this isn’t low!
Score: 2, 2, 4.3, 10.3=18.6/20, 93/100
Drink: Now-2018
Wine: 2006 R Winery “First Class” Shiraz, McLaren Vale, South Australia
Closure: Screwcap
Alcohol: 15.5% abv
Price: $23.99USD

So what is the problem here? It all seems like a pretty typical tasting of the style of Aussie Shiraz that makes its way to the USA; fruity, oaky wines that do have palate appeal but are not true expressions of Aussie Shiraz. The answer is that I have tasted the 2006 R Winery “First Class” Shiraz before and was not all that impressed. The previous tasting was with a single bottle drunk during dinner. My notes then were “Deep, dense cherry red with red edge; got that right! Smoky oak, black pepper, black- and mulberry, and mocha. Rich tending to over ripe but not stewed. Full bodied with fine tannins and juicy acidity. Lacks a mid palate but has good flavor carry and length. Drink: Now to 2012. Score: 2, 2, 3.8, 9.8=17.6/20, 88/100.” Tasted 12/29/2008.

A five point spread on two separate occasions, not as bad as some wine judges, but it’s the differences in the description of how the wine felt in my mouth that are disturbing. As I’ve noted before I try to do the Saturday tasting blind and I can honestly say that I had no idea what this wine was. It was the last wine and so just on experience I know that its likely to be bigger, especially in alcohol, than the others in the flight. But how could I be so effusive over the wine in mixed company when by itself it was so average. It may well be that it’s the company in which it was tasted that has had the biggest influence. The higher alcohol would add weight to the wine and give a rounder, fuller feel in the mouth. I’m a firm believer in tasting wines together rather than as individuals and this does show that the “First Class” does stand up well in company. Its also probably a good example of why this style of wine does so well when reviewers taste multiple wines at one sitting. Now that I have this view of the wine what would happen if it was tasted again by itself? I’m glad you asked.

Deep, dense cherry red with red edge; another perfect repeat. Predominant oak notes over mulberry, blackberry and a little smoke. Full bodied with upfront acidity, excellent flavor carry with tannins firming up on a finish that is just a little too hot. Score: 2, 2, 3.9, 9.6=17.5/20, 87/100. Tasted 1/21/2009.

So there you have it. The 2006 R Winery “First Class” Shiraz, a wine that stands out in company. In fact it really needs company. Don’t drink this alone!

From the Wine Bar
As usual the Wine Bar was replete with offering from all over the wine world. I tasted the wines in bold and all were excellent to outstanding and I’m going to talk about all six!

White: 2007 Alban Viognier, Central Coast, California, 2007 Mount Eden Chardonnay, Wolff Vineyard, California, 2006 Stag's Leap Chardonnay, "Karia", Napa, California, 2005 Puligny-Montrachet les Pucelles, Domaine Jomain, Burgundy, France, 2005 Chassagne-Montrachet le Cailleret, Vincent Girardin, Burgundy, France, 2004 Nittnaus Gruner Veltliner Eiswein, Austria.

Red: 2006 Soter Pinot Noir, North Valley, Oregon, 2006 Chambolle-Musigny AC, Roumier, Burgundy, France, 2003 Gattinara, Travaglini, Italy, 2005 Whitehall Lane Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, California, 2005 Ch. Petit-Village, Pomerol, Bordeaux, France, 2005 Dona Paula Malbec, Seleccion de Bodega, Argentina.

White Burgundy
2005 Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles, Domaine Jomain, Burgundy, France. $55.99USD
Light straw with clear edge. Matchstick, a little beeswax and some citrus. Very typical. Very attractive with a light, crisp freshness that fans out carrying the flavors across the palate to a lengthy finish. The good stuff. Score: 2, 2, 4.2, 10.2=18.4/20, 92/100.

2005 Chassagne-Montrachet Le Cailleret, Vincent Girardin, Burgundy, France. $55.99USD
More of an oxidized note with apricot, cold tea and marmalade. Medium weight with a more luscious texture than the Puligny-Montrachet. Has excellent flavor carry, crisp acidity and great structure coupled with excellent length. A really nice wine. Score: 2, 2, 3.8, 10.3=18.1/20, 91/100.

The two appellations that are the origin of these two white Burgundy wines abut one another with Puligny-Montrachet being more northerly. Both lie in the Côte de Beaune. The Puligny-Montrachet wines are exclusively white and are described as more elegant, nervy wines than those of their southern neighbor. That is evident in the fatter style of the Girardin. Both the Les Pucelles and the Le Cailleret are Premier Cru vineyards and while they cost quite a few dollars they are much more refreshing to drink than many Napa Valley Chardonnays that cost almost as much. There will be a chance to make that comparison in March when Vintage Wines will do back-to-back Saturday tastings of White Burgundy and (California) Chardonnays in March.

Pinot Noir
2006 Soter Pinot Noir, North Valley, Oregon, USA. $31.99USD
Cherry red with pink edge. Aromas in the bramble/earthy spectrum over a mélange of strawberry and cherry. Its attractive, and even has varietal character. Light-medium in weight with expressive and yet delicate flavors on the palate and an excellent, supple mouthfeel. A nice little wine, still young, might grow into something you would want to spend some time with. Score: 2, 2, 3.9, 10.2=18.1/20, 90/100.

2006 Chambolle-Musigny AC, Roumier, Burgundy, France. $69.99USD
Light cherry red with pink edge. Subtle and seductive with violets, and geraniums, opening to licorice/anise. A little firmer and more aggressive on the palate than the Soter but all it needs it some time to soften. Has great length to the finish. Score: 2, 2, 4.1, 10.2=18.3/20, 92/100.

Chambolle-Musigny is one of the Cote-De-Nuits appellations and is devoted to red wine. It lies just south of Morey-St. Denis and is reputed to produce smooth, elegant wines. This commune level wine is not cheap but its quality is obvious. Still the Soter from Oregon stood up well against it. Like many New World pinot noir the Soter achieves its delicacy by being lighter in weight than wines from Burgundy which, in my experience, achieve elegance and depth while still being a solid mouthful of wine, at least when young.

Cabernet/Merlot Blends
2005 Whitehall Lane Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, California, USA. $29.99USD
Deep dense cherry red with red/mahogany tinge to the edge. Slightly all over the place with banana peel, cassis, dusty oak and a little gluey note. Full bodied and very expressive with nice carry of flavors. An attractive, well balanced Cabernet although a little simple in style. Score: 2, 2, 3.7, 10.0=17.7/20, 88/100.

2005 Chateau Petit-Village, Pomerol, Bordeaux, France. $54.99USD
Deep dense cherry red with a red/mahogany tinge to the edge. More spicy notes, cinnamon dusty well integrated oak, and a bottom note of violets. A little lighter in weight that the Whitehall Lane but with better structure and carry of flavors onto the palate. Its also a more drink now style but it has decades ahead of it. Score: 2, 2, 3.9, 10.2=18.1/20, 91/100.

Chateau Petit-Village is an unclassified vineyard in the Pomerol region of Bordeaux; wines from the Pomerol region are not classified. Chateau Petit-Village comprises an 11 hectare vineyard made up of 75%Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Cabernet Franc. In contrast the Whitehall Lane Cabernet, while also a blend, is 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, and 3% Malbec. So here is a comparison between a Cabernet dominant wine versus one made mostly with Merlot, and of course from different parts of the world. The Whitehall Lane is an entry level wine and their Reserve label might have provided a better comparison but it is possible to see the Cabernet in the wine with cassis and the weight of the wine. In contrast the Ch. Petit-Village is a little lighter and softer in the mouth with less evidence of Cabernet character, and is more drinkable now. And is worth twice the price of the Whitehall Lane as it is definitely a better wine and more likely to reward long term cellaring.

Image © iStockphoto.com/ Shane White

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Decanting - The Answer for Hidden Terroir!

Date: Wed, Jan 28, 2009 Wine Tasting

In a recent piece over on Appellation America Dan Berger wrote the following

“one of the key factors in all great wine - evidence of the terroir - is easily obliterated early in a wine’s life, and the only way to access it is to decant the wine and allow air to work its magic.”

OK Dan, I’ll bite. Before you arrived at this enlightened moment of wine truth just how many wines did you find that revealed their terroir following decanting? And by that I mean performing a triangulation test with one bottle decanted for a few hours compared to a freshly opened bottle?

I have no doubt that Berger is correct in saying that some wines can exhibit sulfur (and other) odors soon after a cork is pulled or a screwcap ceremoniously removed in the Helm manner. And these odors can mask the depth and complexity of the wine. But for exposure to air to reveal hidden terroir is bunkum. Just like any other aspect of wine lore aeration produces effects that can be entirely subjective. If you don’t believe me get a couple of bottles of one wine and a few friends together and do your own triangulation test.

What is a triangulation test? In essence it is a test to see if a taster can distinguish between two wines (or as I have used in decanting experiments here on SHIRAZ - decanted versus non-decanted wine). Two glasses receive one wine and a third the other win. It is the task of the taster to identify which glasses contain which wine. And because two glasses have the same wine it shouldn’t be all that hard, right Dan!

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An Inauguration Wine

Date: Wed, Jan 28, 2009 Wine Tasting

A new beginning. An about-face from ineptitude, secrecy, embarrassment, and hopefully no more mind numbing mistakes. What wine do you select to celebrate such a moment in history? I doubt that I have ever thought so long and hard about any wine selection. Should I pick something old, something expensive, perhaps elegant, unflustered, or maybe big and bold, something foreign or American? I became a US citizen in October 2008 but I am allowed to retain my Australian citizenship, so perhaps something from Australia. I searched my cellar row by row until I picked up a bottle of Jim Barry McRae Wood Clare Valley Shiraz, turned it over and read the blurb, and I knew I had my wine.

Miranda cried tears of joy on Inauguration Day and her tears still come easily whenever President Obama appears on the TV. I’m not immune to moments of emotion myself. We live in more than just interesting times, these are generational times, times that will turn into page turning history. And history flows over recent events like the sweet icing on a great and wonderful cake because on the day before President Obama’s inauguration the nation celebrated one individual whose speeches do move me to tears, do so now just typing his name. We will never know the joy with which Martin Luther King Jr would have greeted the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States had he been allowed to live. He would have been just a few days over 80 years old. His assassination on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee took all future joy away from him and from a nation. But an assassin’s bullet cannot shatter a dream, even time could not shatter the dream. The dream has now been carried on Dr King’s shoulders all the way to the White House. A day after he is celebrated a nation celebrated Dr King’s dream.

Why pick the Jim Barry McRae Wood Shiraz as my Inauguration wine? Quite simply the parallels of history. There is no other wine that I have that fits so well. Just like the election of President Obama the seeds for the McRae Wood were planted by a pioneer and visionary in the 1960’s and now the fruits of that labor can be celebrated. It is more than just a suitable wine because as is written on the bottle an inspired choice was made in the birth of this wine, just as Dr King’s dream inspired a nation to rise up and put hope and change above fear and secrecy.

In some respects it may seem trite to compare a winemaker’s accomplishments to that of Dr. King but in truth we all, at least I hope we all, strive to achieve greatness in our own way. Perhaps more poignant is the fact that so many can share in the success of that greatness. The 2003 Jim Barry McRae Wood Shiraz is one of those wines which tasted on any other day might have just been extremely good, but on the night of January 20th it was superb. Deeply colored, richly flavored and powerful, its vibrant acidity made it soar over its supporting firm powdery tannins to a lengthy finish. It’s a wine that has promise. It could last a few years. Its drinking window could be 8 years, easy!

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San Diego Restaurant Week - Part Two

Date: Thu, Jan 22, 2009 Wine Tasting

Miranda decided that we would bookend San Diego Restaurant Week and so our second restaurant visit came on the last day of the week long event, Friday January 16th, at Mille Fleur. This is a restaurant we had wanted to sample for some time because it has been described in glowing terms from coast to coast. So we braved the traffic disaster that is described as the 5/805 merge and then wound our way via Del Mar Heights Road, Via De La Valle, Via De Santa Fe to Paseo Delicias. It you are thinking that is a bit of trek to find food you are correct but it beats traveling further north on the I-5 during the evening rush hour. Mille Fleur is in Rancho Santa Fe, a rather exclusive enclave of San Diego County where homes fetch multiples of seven figures. In fact the median price of a home rose 2.3% in 2008 to $2,430,000! So when there is a chance to mingle with the rich and famous over a 3-course meal for $40 its simply not polite to say no!

Mille Fleur
I love polished wood and this place has plenty. The service is also polished, although Miranda was convinced that out waiter/sommelier was out of the French castle scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I actually thought he looked like Manuel of Fawlty Towers but he was far from disorganized or confused, although he may have been a little Spanish. We settled on a mix of French and Spanish. Whether he was Basque or not he was attentive and expert in opening the bottle of 2006 Lagier Meredith Syrah (Mt Veeder, California) that I have extracted from the cellar for our meal.

Each of the three courses had three choices or you could, for quite a reasonable price, select from six additional courses. We stayed with the fixed menu. I started with the Assorted mushroom and truffle risotto, which came with arugula pesto, watercress and pea tendrils and then had the Trio of Colorado Lamb:leg,chop and sausage with flageolets beans and savoy cabbage as my main course. Miranda started with the Leek and potato soup with smoked salmon, asparagus confetti, horseradish and dill followed by the Black pepper "onglet" hanger steak accompanied by gruyere spaetzle, and caramelised onions. We both had the Warm apple-brioche pudding with currants, cinnamun, rhum sauce, ice cream for dessert.

The food was something special, especially my main meal. I’m originally Australian which means that I rarely go further down the menu than Rack of Lamb. The reason is that the meat is often sourced from either Australian or New Zealand and I’m at home with that. But the Colorado lamb was mouthwatering and perfect with Lagier Meredith Syrah which was more typical of the elegant style of Aussie Shiraz than the full blooded styles that cross the Pacific to USA wine shops.

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Drinking with SHIRAZ on Saturday - Half Bottles

Date: Tue, Jan 20, 2009 Wine Tasting

This is the first of a new series of (hopefully not irregular) posts in which I will take you to my favorite wine shop for some wine tasting. I have been gladly burdening my credit card at Vintage Wines in San Diego for over 20 years simply because they provide great value, service and knowledge. And they also put on some great wine tasting events. The most regular is their Saturday tasting which, if you have the stamina, has three parts. For those looking for wine bargains, seemingly more and more winos these days, there is the $2 Tasting which consists of between 4-6 wines of $15 or less/bottle. Next is the $5 Tasting which consists of 6 wines selected around a theme such as a region, variety, or wine style. Finally there is the Wine Bar which consists of 12 wines (usually 6 white and 6 red including at least one desert style) which is changed every Friday afternoon.

My Saturday visit to Vintage Wines always includes the $5 Tasting and a selection from the Wine Bar. I try to do the $5 tasting single blind, that is I know what the theme is but not the wines. This is not done to display the depth and breadth of my wine knowledge to anyone else who might also be in the tasting room, but rather to reinforce to myself the total lack of ability I have at identifying wine. The truly sad thing is that I continue to taste blind every time I go to Vintage Wines.

Half Bottle Tasting (January 10, 2009)
The world is in an economic tailspin. There are daily headlines of woe everywhere. Its enough to drive a person to drink. But can you afford to? And would all that alcohol consumption be good for you anyway? If you are looking for ways to cut your wine consumption to satisfy either economic or health concerns or both, then I have the answer for you. Half bottles are the way to go.

There is an argument that the wine in half bottles ages faster than the much more conventional 750 ml bottle. Careful readers might have noticed that I used the word age rather than mature; if you don’t know what I mean by that compare Bridget Bardot in her 30’s with her appearance now; in her 30’s she was mature, now she is aged.. Aging, so the argument goes, is accelerated in half bottles because the neck and ullage are similar between 375 and 750 ml bottles and so there is potentially more oxygen per milliliter of wine in the half bottle and thus oxidation occurs at a faster rate. Of course all this depends entirely upon whether air or an inert gas (such as nitrogen) has been pumped on top of the wine during bottling and also on the amount of air the cork allows to ingress into the bottle during its life in the cellar. If you are worried about premature aging in half bottles the best bet, as always, is to go with bottles that have a screwcap.

The only real problem with half bottles is that there are too few wines that come in this size. Their scarcity has made them hard to find in both wines shops and restaurants although this seems to be slowly changing. For those interested in finding a good supply of half bottles look no further than the end of this post. For those who want to know what your local wine shop might have on their shelves in half bottle format read on.

Vintage Wines has a fairly small but quite diverse range of half bottles and it was immediately obvious from the contents of the six glasses that José put in front of me that the half bottle tasting was going to cover a good range of the wine styles they had available, including one that should have been more familiar than it turned out to be.

First Wine
Clearly a bubbly. Lightest straw in color with a faint hint of honey brown. Attractive doughy/yeasty nose, that turned to a more baked bread aroma with air. Bottom notes of beeswax and marmalade. Light weight with a nice fizz on the tongue. Very refreshing with the flavors carrying well onto the palate and providing good length to the finish. 2, 2, 3.6, 9.8=17.4/20, 87/100. Drink: Now
Wine: Non-vintage Gosset Brut Excellence, Champagne, France

Second Wine
Straw gold in color with a clear edge. Quite nutty with a toasted oak note and a little beeswax and truffles and a hint of musk. Developed the aroma of orange dominant marmalade with time. Full bodied, oily, nice flavor carry, supported by juicy acidity and attractive length. A well structured Chardonnay, might even be from Burgandy. 2, 2, 4.0, 10.0=18.0/20, 90/100. Drink: Now-2010.
Wine: 2004 Steele Chardonnay, Steele Cuvee, California. (ABV 13.5%)

Third Wine
Light cherry red with a pink edge. Ah, Pinot Noir. Top notes of cherry and strawberry with bottom notes of dry earth and spices; not California. The rich red fruit aromas are enhanced by a little air. Soft and supple entry with a very silky carry across the palate to a lengthy finish supported by firming tannins. A nice little wine that should improve over the next few years. 2, 2, 4.0, 10.2=18.2/20, 91/100. Drink: Now-2012.
Wine: 2006 Domain Drouhin Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon. (ABV 14.1%)

Fourth Wine
Deep, dark cherry red with red edge. Dusty oak, a little banana skin with a middle note of cassis and a hint of blackberry. This is very young Cabernet but its quite appealing. Medium to full bodied in weight it has bright acidity that melds well with the fine but gritty tannins. It’s a nicely structured wine that needs time to throw off its excesses. 2, 2, 4.1, 10.1=18.2/20, 91/100. Drink: 2010-2016.
Wine: 2004 Rubicon Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Cask, Rutherford, California. (ABV 14.2%)

Fifth Wine
Deep, dense, cherry red with red edge. Very closed with a hint of smoked meats and a little smoked oak and a bottom gluey note hinting at incomplete malo. Livens up with a little air. Full bodies with firm, aggressive tannins, clean acidity and nice length. Not sure what this is! This will also need some time to show its character. 2, 2, 3.8, 9.8=17.8/20, 89/100. Drink: 2010-2018.
Wine: 2004 Ehlers Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California. (ABV 14.7%)

Sixth Wine
Golden yellow with a clear edge. A mélange of spices, raisins, apricot, and butterscotch. Full bodied, viscous and luscious tending towards being a little cloying due to the lack of crispness on the finish. It’s a nice wine, its just not all that it could be. 2, 2, 4.2, 9.6, 17.8/20, 89/100. Drink: Now 2020.
Wine: 2004 Nittnaus Gruner Veltliner Eiswein, Austria (ABV 9.5%)

Tasting wine is always a learning experience. Only a week previously the Ehlers Estate Cabernet Sauvignon had been part of the Vintage Wines aborted “Hair of the Dog” tasting, AKA The Half Bottle Tasting. Yes, in two weeks I had been served 13 different half bottle wines and I couldn’t even recognize the one wine that had been served both times. But I have an excuse because the earlier tasting seemed from a completely different wine. In that first tasting The Ehlers was rich and ripe with blueberry and blackberry, spices, cherry and a trace of licorice. It was tightly wound but well balanced with upfront acidity and firm tannins. All in all nicely structured with excellent length but still too young at this time. 2, 2, 4.2, 10.1=18.3/20, 92/100. Sounds like a completely different wine and that is what can happen when different bottles of the same wine are consumed. The wine at the second tasting now looks a little like its been “cooked” (poorly stored/heated). I have a couple more bottles in the cellar that, once opened, might tell us which is the real Ehlers. Stay tuned to these pages.

I guess you are wondering why the tasting on January 10th has been called the Half Bottle Tasting when it is really Part II. Well there is only enough time in this week to catch up with one tasting. But if anyone wants notes on the other 5 wines I have them.

Interested in trying a few half bottles, perhaps building a half bottle collection? The largest range that I know of is available at Half Wit Wines, an online wine shop that specializes in half-bottles. You can get anything from the 1999 Chateau Musar Rouge Bekaa Valley from Lebanon to a 1978 Chateau Margaux. Oh, and just as an FYI a split is not a half bottle (375ml), it’s a quarter bottle or 187ml. Don’t worry, I’ve made that mistake myself.

From the Wine Bar
As usual the Wine Bar was replete with offering from all over the wine world. I tasted the wines in bold and all were excellent to outstanding but I’m only going to talk about one.

White: 2006 Dechant Gruner Veltliner, Alte Reben, Austria, 2008 Matua Sauvignon Blanc, "Paretai", Marlborough, NZ, 2006 Matanzas Creek Chardonnay, Sonoma Valley, 2006 Conn Valley Chardonnay, Napa, 2005 Meursault les Narvaux, Vincent Girardin, 2004 Nittnaus Gruner Veltliner Eiswein, Austria.

Red: 2006 Morey-St. Denis la Riotte VV, Olivier Jouan, France, 2006 Nebbiolo delle Langhe, Prod. del Barbaresco, Italy, 2005 Ch. Lascombes, Margaux, France, 2003 Castello di Meleto "Rainero", IGT, Toscana, Italy, 2006 Conn Valley "Right Bank: Red Blend, Napa, 2006 R Winery Shiraz "Boarding Pass", Australia.

2006 Morey-St. Denis la Riotte VV, Olivier Jouan, Burgundy, France
I like Pinot Noir, but then I like just about every wine grape. My problem is I don’t understand Burgundy, how the vineyards are laid out and named. All those small parcels of vines, all with seemingly endless names. How does one keep it all memorized and understandable? A great example is the Olivier Jouan Morey-St. Denis La Riotte. Morey-St-Denis is a village in the Cote de Nuits and Oliver Jouan has a total of about 20 acres but only 0.74 acres comprise his La Riotte vineyard; the map in this Burgundy Report on Morey-St. Denis gives you a great idea about how fragmented Burgundy vineyards can be. The Jouan La Riotte vineyard is rated as Premier Cru (1er Cru) and this 2006 is a wonderful little wine. Its cherry red in color with a pink edge and has a very distinctive nose of cherry and strawberry, spices and sweet geranium, and a bottom note of bathroom salts – the know, the ones the lady in your life uses to make herself smell beautiful! It’s a little shy on the palate with super-soft tannins and clean balanced acidity. Beautifully structured, this is really nice Burgundy. 2, 2, 4.4, 10.4=18.8/20, 94/100.

Image © iStockphoto.com/Valentin Casarsa: No this is not one of the gathered throng that drinks with SHIRAZ on Saturday, I just thought is might help to grab your attention. And I was right, wasn’t I?

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San Diego Restaurant Week

Date: Tue, Jan 13, 2009 Wine Tasting

Now in its fifth year, the San Diego Restaurant Week (January 11-16, 2009), provides the opportunity to pick from 3-course menus from over 150 restaurants. Prices vary from $20, 30 or 40 per person; but there are a few restrictions such as “Beverage, tax and gratuity not included. No splitting or sharing.” Miranda and I have taken part in Restaurant Week for the last 3 or 4 years and its has always been a great opportunity to sample new and/or unusual restaurant fare in the San Diego area for very reasonable prices.

The Marine Room
The Marine Room, on La Jolla Shores, was one of the first restaurants I visited when I came to San Diego in the early 1980’s, just after it had been restored following damage from the sea in 1982. Back then it was one of the places to be seen, usually at a Sunday brunch or having a drink and dancing to the piano in the evening. The food was always good but usually not great.

Its biggest claim to fame is that at high tide the water laps at the windows and at least twice has come through the windows and wrecked the place. But there are few better places in La Jolla to enjoy the ocean at night as the lights play on the waves breaking on the beach, and you sip on a cool beer or glass of wine. I had not dined at The Marine Room since the 1990’s and when walked in last Sunday night it was obvious that the place had changed little in that time. The sun had just set and there was enough light to see the very calm ocean throwing up some baby waves. You couldn’t say the same for the table we were given. Where were the lights? Romantic lighting is one thing, enough light to see the menu by is something else. Even so the place was packed, the staff busy and our orders were taken quickly and the wine we had brought opened.

For an appetizer I had the Berber Agrume Spiced Prawn Duet with Tancello Bulgur Tian, Ancho Chile Aioli, and Amaranth Pomegranate Reduction, and a main course of Peri Peri Spiced Maine Diver Scallops with Boniato Timbale, Vanilla Braised Leek, and Peppercress Lobster Corail Butter. Miranda and her mother both had the Royal Trumpet Mushroom Bisque with Pancetta, Verbena Fromage Blanc, and Truffle Oil for an appetizer and the Muscat Kalbi Glazed Mid Western Filet Mignon with Wasabi Chive Potato, Shiitake Butter, and Pickled Cipollini Plum XO Reduction as a main course. We all had the “Trilogy” for dessert which consisted of Kona Kahlua Espresso Torte, Macadamia Amarula Pot de Crème, and Honey Crystal Peach Sorbet.

All this was consumed with a bottle of 2002 Dutschke Oscar Semmler Shiraz from the Barossa Valley. Approaching its 7th birthday this wine sings a beautiful line and length on the palate. The tannins are resolving beautifully against a backdrop of vibrant acidity, smoked, roasted meat notes and a hint of Christmas cake. There are three more bottles in the cellar and each deserves to live for at least five years more than its sibling.

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More Deals on Australian Wines

Date: Thu, Jan 8, 2009 Wine Tasting

I’ve posted previously about the discounting of Aussie wine in the US, in main these close-outs are coming from one importer in particular – The Grateful Palate.

Last weekend I was offered a few more. How about Geoff Weaver Sauvignon Blanc for $3.99USD? This wine retails for about $24USD so $4 sounds pretty good! OK the catch is that its 2004. No one in their right mind would buy a 5 year old Sauvignon blanc? So I got a case. Well it is under screw cap which Geoff Weaver claims “helps retain the fruit intensity and freshness and guarantees the wine will age well.”

The proof is in the taste. This little cracker is a very light straw yellow with lemon, grapefruit and oddly a hint of kerosene and the faintest hint of reduction. The palate is light weight with refreshing acidity, nice balance and good length of flavor. A little herbaceous note comes up with some air. Easily 87 points. It won’t live forever but with Spring/Summer just around the corner I bet we can get through a dozen bottles with some enjoyment.

Another wine is the Burge Family “Renoux”, a Barossa blend of Cabernet (54%), Shiraz (32%), Merlot (14%). The sale price was $8.99USD for a wine that retails around $40-45USD. Being from the 2003 vintage there is nice bottle age on this and it shows in the orange/brown edge. Its earthy and spicy with the aroma of an old ink well in a wooden school desk thrown in to remind me of the days I learned to write with pen and ink. Its quite attractive in a feral kind of way. There is loads of juicy acidity, chewy tannins from all that Cab and great flavors on the palate and finish. Its got a few more years left. A good 90 point wine, so another excellent value quaffer.

The third wine is the 2002 McLean’s Farm Barossa Reserve Shiraz. The retail on this is around $30USD. A wine Halliday gave 94 points and a drinking window out to 2012 in his 2006 Companion. I paid $8.99USD. I’m currently sipping on it and still trying to figure it out. There is pretty prominent sulfur (dioxide maybe – burnt match) on it which seems to be going way; its under cork. Underneath that is some really nice spices, tobacco and damp earth. Its well balanced with fine tannins and clean acidity. But its still warming up from the cellar and so to seal from J P Donleavy its bouquet is shrinking back into the glass from the cold. Might have to buy a few more just to see if there is any bottle variation!

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What can you expect from SHIRAZ for 2009?

Date: Wed, Jan 7, 2009 Wine Tasting

First, Happy New Year to one and all.

Now, what can you expect from SHIRAZ for 2009? Well hopefully more than the last couple of years! Through 2007 and 2008 the posts here at SHIRAZ have been pretty infrequent. That was due to a decision to stop posting material that was simply a rehash of what was appearing elsewhere on the web. What I wanted to do was put more of my own opinions and commentary on SHIRAZ. Unfortunately that type of posting takes considerably more time to put together than writing a few lines to accompany a link to a newsy piece on an online paper or webzine or tapping out a tasting note. Plus I do have a real job that occupies 9-10 hours five days a week. For instance for the first 6 months of this year I’m already committed to reviewing research grant applications for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), writing a lengthy scientific review for a peer reviewed journal, and writing two, maybe 3, research grants. And all that is in addition to directing the research in my own laboratory as well as writing research papers. Come to think of it, why am I even continuing to post on SHIRAZ? Well simply put I love wine and I like to write, in that order!

But changes have to be made because the traffic here at SHIRAZ has fallen dramatically in the last two years and if I keep going the way I have been then the only person reading this blog will be me. So I’m setting some goals, New Year resolutions if you like.

Wine Travel blogging and Newsletter: At the end of each year Miranda and I travel downunder to visit with relatives and to do something involving wine. I do blog on this but usually in a much abbreviated form. However I have lengthy notes and a mass of collected literature not only on where we visited and what we tasted but all manner of information on wine in Australia. So what will happen this year is that I will post in detail on our recent trip through six different wine regions and this will be compiled into a PDF document that can be down loaded, free of charge of course. I am also thinking of going back and compiling PDF documents on our visit to New Zealand in 2006, Mornington Peninsula in 2005 and the Barossa in 2004. Fortunately the last two should not require too much work as fairly complete coverage of them did appear on SHIRAZ. There is also material on a visit to the UK last year that could be put together. And there are plans to visit Napa/Sonoma/Russian River Valley later in the year which should provide good fodder for an informative piece.

Drinking with SHIRAZ on Saturday: When I can escape from the list of household activities that Miranda fires at me for the weekend I head over to Vintage Wines for some wine tasting. Some of this material used to appear on my other (no, not defunct) wine blog Tasting Notes. The Saturday tastings at Vintage are usually structured around a wine theme, region, variety, etc. and I hope to be able to expand on the weekly event to provide information, and opinion, on the topic of the week. I don’t plan on doing this every week although that would be the ideal.

Reviews of Wine Books, Movies, DVDs: I don’t know how many books I have on wine but there must be a dozen or more just on my bedside table. Plus there is an increasing number of DVDs appearing for movies on wine as well as educational DVDs. One example being a copy of Jancis Robinsons’ Wine Course that arrived earlier this week. Expect reviews on as many of these as I can get though.

Naturally there will continue to be posts on topics of interest to me with perhaps more focus on the academic/analytical aspects of wine appreciation. And then there are all those tasting note books that have yet to disgorge their contents into the Tasting Notes blog.

Of course all this depends on me being able to find the extra time to devote to completing these tasks. I also have to start exercising again as well! Ah the joy of resolutions for the New Year.

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An Enviable Selection of Australian Wine

Date: Tue, Dec 9, 2008 Wine Tasting

Where do you buy your wine? From the cellar door, a mailing list, a specialized wine store, or a supermarket? I buy from a mixture of sources, although the majority of my wine purchases are from a specialized wine shop. The reasons for this are quite simple. The selection is outstanding, the knowledge of the staff is vast and the prices are very competitive. The only problem is that much of the wine for sale is current vintage, there is a back room of earlier vintages but the selection is not all that extensive. More importantly it contains very few Australian wines. So if I want an Aussie wine with some age on it I’m forced to buy the wine and let it mature. Not ideal when you want the wine now. However I think I may have solved that little problem, at least for those times when we are in Australia.

Its all thanks to my old mate Ted. He lives at Warrimoo in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales (NSW) and Miranda and I almost always spend a week or so with him tooling around the little towns that dot the highway between Penrith and Lithgow. On our recent trip we found ourselves in Leura, a pleasant little town of about 4000 people. We had spent part of the day doing the Scenic Railway, Walkway and Cableway and decided to take a look at a few bookshops and pick out a place for dinner. For dinner we would need some wine and Ted suggested we drop by Leura Cellars. Now Ted is not a wine tragic. He certainly likes the odd glass or two and has a few bottles laid away for a special occasion, like when we come to visit. But he would be the first to say that wine is not one of the major interests of his life but he knew of Leura cellars and their wine selection because this shop in this little town caters to a wealthy clientele of mountain drinkers who know their wines.

Leura Cellar is on the wonderfully picturesque Leura Mall. The street level is a conventional Aussie bottle shop filled with recent vintages. It’s the stairway which descends to the lower level that holds the surprise. The lower level houses the Vintage Cellar, and its not just a few dusty, old bottles of wine. Here you will find Penfolds Grange from 1965, Penfolds St Henri from 1968, McWilliams Elizabeth Semillon from 1984, Petaluma Riesling from 1985, De Bortoli Noble One from 1982, and a host of others. This truly is a wonderful space to wander, picking up a bottle here and there of wine 10, 20, or even 30 years old. I defy any true wine enthusiastic to walk back up those stairs empty handed!

So what did we chose for dinner? A bottle of 1996 Mcwilliams Maurice Shiraz from the Hunter Valley for $50AUD. We dined in the courtyard at Café Bon Ton with individual appetizers (mine was the Crisp Fried Lambs Brains with Pecorino and Herb Crust, Black Pudding, Sauce Gribiche and Quail Eggs) and split the house specialty of Slow Braised Pork Cheeks with Star Anise, Cassia Bark, Root Vegetables and Shitake Mushrooms, which paired wonderfully with the Maurice O’Shea Shiraz (Corkage: $5AUD/person). It won’t take a fortune teller to predict that we will be visiting Leura again.

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The Complaints against High Alcohol in Wine – a little history

Date: Tue, Dec 9, 2008 Wine Tasting

They never seem to stop do they? It’s a pity most of the complainers know very little of history, at least those ranting against Australian wines. I was remained of this again last week on a note over at GLUG. In reply to the growing argument, primarily by UK wine merchants, that Australia make wines lighter than 13-14% alcohol David Farmer quotes from H.E. Laffer’s "The Wine Industry of Australia" (1949). Lafer discusses the complaints of a Dr. Thudicum. "In records of the trade round about 1870 there was a good deal of discontent among shippers because some of the wines imported were said to be over 26% proof spirit (this equals 14.85% alcohol by volume), and were therefore charged one shilling and sixpence a gallon extra duty. Dr. Thudicum claimed that these must have been fortified, because it was not possible for that amount of alcohol to be produced by natural fermentation. The controversy raged through the columns of the daily Press, both in editorial and in letters from correspondents. The learned Doctor based his assertion on the claim that it could not be so "because it would simply upset the whole scientific facts hitherto established throughout the world."

Dr Thudicum is rebuffed by a letter on 18th December, 1873, from P.B.Burgoyne which states "There is one remark of Dr. Thudicum's which I take leave to dispute. He says, 'If Australian wines have to pay the half-crown duty on importation into England, it is because they are brandied.' Now, although I would not pretend to say, nor do I believe, that all the Australian wines that have come under my notice are without brandy added, yet I can, and do most positively assert, that the 'Tintara' grown by A.C.Kelly, M.D., which wine has been made the scapegoat by Dr. Thudicum (vide the Journal of the Society of Arts, December 5th, page 48) does generate 26 degrees proof spirit in fermentation and no brandy is added.....".

A good dose of alcohol has always been, and will always be, in the wines from the hotter regions of Australia like the Barossa Valley. The real story, if the international critics want to make note of it, is that the cooler regions of Australia do make the wines they prefer. The problem is that very few, if any, of these critics make the effort to taste those wines. And so they continue to complain when all they really need is a little history lesson and the initiative to seek beyond what is put in front of them. Even Robert Whitely agrees with that.

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Wine in Plastic

Date: Fri, Dec 5, 2008 Wine Tasting

If you are more than just a casual drinker of wine you know that there is a whole industry producing glasses so that you can savor your favorite wine. Should you wish to you can purchase a seemingly endless array of wine glasses of different shapes and sizes to draw the most out of your Shiraz or Zinfandel, or Chardonnay, or just about any other variety. There are even glasses made that supposedly suit wines from different regions. There are completely opaque glasses that hide the wine from view to glasses that lack both the foot and stem of the conventional wine glass. And, of course, all this can come at considerable expense. Plus you have to wash them and if they are expensive that means hand washing with special detergents and drying clothes to preserve their pristine appearance. And then someone drops one and all you are left with is a mess to clean up. Why doesn’t someone make a shatterproof, durable, dishwasher friendly and cheap wine glass so that I don’t have to worry about how much longer my good glasses have to endure mistreatment by those who don’t really care about either the wine or the glass?

Drum roll, Cue curtain. Enter the Govino shatterproof wine glass. These glasses are stemless and made from Polyethylene Terepthalate Glycol (PETG) which has uses in blister packaging and plastic bottles. My order of Govino shatterproof wineglasses arrived last night and so we put a couple through their paces (see below). I purchased the glasses through the Govino website and with UPS ground shipping and tax the final cost came out to a little over $4/glass. Each glass comes in its own plastic sleeve and there sitting on top of all of them was a printed note advising that they be hand washed because of the variability in dishwashers! Whether they will survive our usual dishing cycle will be tested soon because I really don’t feel like hand washing a $4 glass.

First the “glass” itself is extremely light and very transparent ("crystal clear") so viewing the color of a wine is no problem at all. And the nose and taste of the wine we drank last night (Carlisle 2005 Knights Valley "Pelkan Ranch" Syrah, 15.7%) was the same in both the Govino and a similarity shaped and inexpensive stemless glass from Crate and Barrel. And the alcohol in the Carlisle didn’t melt the Govino on contact. Yes, I’m being facetious but it is worth pointing out that PETG is apparently quite durable, although it can be scratched. I would think that dropping the Govino onto a hard surface would cause little damage in terms of breakage. Miranda wouldn't let me test that on our stamped concrete floor.

An indentation at the widest point of the glass does help hold the glass because it is quite firm at this point. However the top of the glass can be compressed by simply squeezing your fingers together. Fortunately the plastic is so thin and flexible that it springs back into shape. The real problem is the lip. For some reason the lip has been made to curve slightly into the glass. It’s a small curve, probably less than a millimeter, but you notice it as soon as you put the glass to your mouth and take a sip of wine. It may be that without this curl the plastic lip would be quite sharp but each time I took a sip of wine I thought to myself that it would be quite easy to cut your own lip if you were bumped while drinking. Miranda liked the Govino, didn’t see the lip as a problem, and thought I was being more paranoid than normal. Her argument was that I've been bumped while drinking from glasses with very thin lips and I'm still here with my lips intact, in fact not even scratched.

After we had our wine I simply rinsed the Govinos with cold water and let them drain overnight. This morning they were water stained (as is usual with San Diego water) but unlike their cheap glass cousins from Crate and Barrel the Govino cleaned up nicely with a simple wipe using a soft cloth.

So is the Govino a quality wine glass? No. This is not the glass to use for a dinner party or even as a cheap replacement for wine tasting. But I can see it as a good alternative in situations where there is the possibility of having your quality glassware mistreated and broken, like at a gathering of folks who simply want a glass of wine and don’t care what the glass or wine is. Or for when Miranda’s mother visits; she is the only person in our household to have broken a glass while drinking. So the Govino will get a run at our next BBQ or informal gathering of non-wine tragics. One thing is for sure we will be able to leave them out to drain overnight without worrying about whether the cats have smashed them onto the kitchen floor during their own social event.

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How To Taste Wine

Date: Tue, Dec 2, 2008 Wine Tasting

Before I get into vivid, mouthwatering descriptions of some of the wines we tasted during our trip to Australia I thought I would share a post or two on a few wine related gems from downunder. The first involves a little book that I purchased at Shaw Vineyard Estate. The Shaw Vineyard estate is at Murrumbateman, about 30 km north of Canberra and is part of the Canberra wine region. It is also one of those wineries that bears a unfortunate resemblance to Frass Canyon winery of Sideways fame. Lots of glitz and kitsch but not much personality. We were there on the weekend when the region’s wineries have their Wine Roses and all that Jazz celebration, and so Shaw had a quartet playing right in the packed cellar door which is also attached to a restaurant that was full of noisy patrons. Not exactly ideal circumstances when it comes to a quiet taste of a few wines.

So after the mad scramble to get a little taste of Riesling we amused ourselves by looking over the merchandise that was for sale. Hidden way at the end of the counter in the cellar door, almost out of sight was a little display of books titled “Len Evans – How to taste wine”. You little beauty, a small treatise by the man Hugh Johnson described as “the finest judge of wine I know”. This should be full of invaluable tidbits of tasting lore. And it is, as long as you are not expecting enlightenment on the mechanics and physiology of wine tasting. The advice is of a different kind. Its the wisdom of a sage among wine judges.

“How to taste wine” was written just before Len Evans died unexpectedly in 2006, the very last paragraph of the text, in a section called Reflections, sums up his philosophy of wine, and so I quote it verbatim.

“What I really wanted was to sit at the foot of a great palate, the most
knowledgeable wine guru, the ultimate taster. Unfortunately there was no such
person around at that time, nor is there one today. All one may do is scratch a
bit here and scratch a bit there, trying to put enough together to achieve some
sort of understanding of this most wondrous of drinks. And I do hope some of the
above helps, even if all it does is open some minds to the possibilities of the
subject. “

There is, of course, more in this little book. Evans devotes 30 pages to the assessment of wine, covering the areas of color, nose, entry, middle palate, after palate and finish. But there is no technical detail, just observations gleaned from 30 plus years as a wine judge. His strongest recommendation? Smell a wine deeply for "a great deal of what is to be learnt of any wine is there, 'on the nose' ". Perhaps paradoxically Evans is not a devotee of describing the aroma/bouquet of wine. His explanation is that he has “neither the olfactory range or the inclination” to adopt “the endless wine vocabulary used overseas”. To Evans “wine smells of itself”. Perhaps such an explanation seems unsatisfactory given his extraordinary tasting ability but Evans is no scientist, his strength lay in an ability to compare and contrast wines, remembering the experience more viscerally than cerebrally.

He is also not above poking a few jabs at the insularity of wine critics/judges, especially from the States. You know the ones, they “start writing for newspapers and magazines and appear on TV: they get feted a little, and in no time they’re all experts. We’ve had lots of them over here to judge different shows and some of them, to be frank, are quire ordinary. They may be alright when they can read the labels but when it’s blind they’ve made some shocking mistakes.” Ouch. But then I wouldn’t expect anything else but the unpalatable truth from Len Evans.

The one semi-technical contribution in this little book is described in the section called An Indulgence. Its Evans’ attempt to depict the structure of individual wines in a graphic format. Each graph is broken into nose, entry, middle palate, after palate and finish – the aspect of tasting described earlier in the book. The height of the line and the width of each segment conveys the impact of the wine. If necessary the intensity can be displayed by the width of the line and the density by dots of varying size. It looks somewhat clumsy and it is difficult to appreciate how a single line contains the many dimensions of a wine. But then it comes from the mind of a true individual in the world of wine. Afterall who else could pen a "Theory of capacity"?

How To Taste Wine (paperback) by Len Evans, 112 pages, Barbara Beckett Publishing, Paddington, Australia (2007) $19.95AUD.

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"Dimat" is a major Poker Book publisher, with a popular Poker Forum, which originated from the book Internet Texas Holdem, by Matthew Hilger. Internet Poker Rankings tracks the top online poker players. Poker Bonos Gratis was designed to bring Free Poker Gifts to the Spanish Speaking Market.