Saturday, February 28, 2009

Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc 2004

The wine world isn't exposed to too many white Rhone wines, whether they be from the Rhone itself or from the central Coast of California, which is also producing some very interesting Rhone-style blends. Tablas Creek, being Chateau Beaucastel's dip into California has seen some good press over their red CDP-style blends, but in my opinion it is, very much like Beaucastel itself, the white blend that really stands out.

Here there is an incredibly subtle and complex nose of honey comb, violets, kiwi and other richer fruits. The palate is dry and tart and, unlike many Roussane blends, is not over round or puffed up. This means that the acidity carries the wine through its development in an extremely well-tempered way. The very respectful and elegant mid-palate and finish have a clarity and articulation that is not all that common in these kinds of wines. Very likely one of the best Rhone white blends from California.

$34 at K&L

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sbragia Family Vineyard Gamble Ranch Vineyard Chardonnay 2006

I picked this up on the recommendation of Sean over at Vinifico, who informed me that Sbragia was the former winemaker at Beringer who had broken off to set up his own little operation. This was certainly a huge Chardonnay and I actually think Beringer is now more restrained than what is coming out of Sbragia.

Here we have a nose of buttery apple, citrus, banana, and vanilla-hazlenut. The palate is very opulent and certainly in the Beringer Napa style: plump, thick mouthfeel and squarely in the ripe and buttery camp. A very long finish caps this off as a perfect example of the big malolactic-pimped out cali style. If you don't like that, don't drink this. If you do, this is a good example. 15.5% abv.

Very Good to Very Good+
$33 at K&L

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ojai McGinley Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2007

I am not a huge fan of most American Sauv Blancs - they tend to either be over-oaked, dull, and lifeless, or simplistic and unbalanced. This particular wine, however, (which was formerly known as Westerly Vineyard), is a great exception.

From one of the Santa Ynez Valley's most consistent producers, this Sauv Blanc had a very expressive nose of apple, grapefruit and passionfruit. But the extensive and deep palate is where the true stand-out qualities of Ojai's underappreciated little Sauvignon shine. Smooth, minerally, and truly citrus-tastic - this has brighter minerality and acidity than New Zealand Sauv Blanc's, but more fruit than a Loire Sauvignon and maybe a very tiny touch of oak. It's really quite a remarkable combination of elements and any Sauvignon Blanc lover absolutely must taste this wine. A personal favourite and highly recommended.

$29 US at various online stores

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Victorian Wine Tasting: Supporting Victims of the Aussie Bushfires

Last week I attended a fundraiser for the Victorian bushfires which devastated southern Australia recently, destroying many homes and lives. And in true Aussie style with good spirit and outgoing support, we all donated money and collectively consumed some pretty amazing donated wines from the Jug Shop. I've always respected fellow wine blogger Ed over at Wino Sapien, who not only blogged about this disaster but has been constant source of inspiration for great Australian wine - so I dedicate these notes to him and his fellow Aussies. Since I tasted so many wines I will provide only brief writeups for the few that I felt were particularly interesting or unique in some way (my favorites are asterixed). Off we go to the Yarra Valley...

Yarra Valley

Tin Cows Pinot Noir 2004: poopy, very tart, very balanced, excellent integrity. Very Good+
Yering Station Pinot Noir 2005: very earthy and savory with subtle fruit. A nice easy drinker. Very Good.
*Yeringberg Pinot Noir 2000: I've been impressed with Yeringberg before and this is no exception. A really fantastic pinot with barny, strawberry-rhubarb notes, but also a distinct coolness, and almost mintyness, to the fruit. Very smooth and long in the mouth. Killer texture. Excellent.
Stathewen Hills "Patterson Lake" Shiraz 2005: A very herbal and savory wine, with distinct notes of menthol. Very restrained shiraz with almost no residual sugar or sweetness. Very Good+


I seem to really enjoy this region.
Balgownie Cabernet Sauvignon 2005: chalky tannins, menthol, woody, very long. Very Good+ to Excellent
*Passing Clouds Reserve Shiraz 2005: killer shiraz - baking spices, wood, blackberry - real power but also real restraint and a beautiful tannic structure. Absolutely wonderful. Excellent.
Water Wheel Memsie White Blend 2007: Sparkly rich with a big orchard-fruit mid-palate. Mouth-filling off-dry fruit. Very Good.


Occams Razor Shiraz 2005: a very solid structural wine that is dusty and spicy. Fruit is restrained, but will show more with a bit more bottle age to soften the tannins. Very Good to Very Good+
Redbank The Anvil Heathcote Shiraz 2003: spicy nose, a long drawn palate that is incredibly consistent from nose to finish. Very Good+
Two Hands Max's Garden Shiraz 2005: A bigger style than the others, but not at all a fruit bomb. Very fresh and bright with an extremely solid core of acidity. This freshness keeps the wine from cloying and will probably allow it to fully integrate within a few years. Could become special. Very Good+.


*Terlato & Chapoutier Malakoff Shiraz 2006: Pretty. Very elegant and lovely. Spicy and meaty too with impeccable balance. Excellent.

Western Victoria

Mt. Langhi Cliff Edge Riesling 2008: Very different from most Aussie Riesling. Off-dry rather than dry. But, sharp and steely with intense peachy and pear-like orchard fruit notes with hints of citrus. Enjoyable and easy drinking, but I prefer the Clare Valley style. Very Good.

Those were my favourites of the show, very few of which I had even heard of let alone tasted before. What struck me about the wines was their tendency towards savoryness and restraint on the fruit. Not at all your typical Aussie wine that you see in the North American market. I was consistenly impressed. My heart goes out to all the families who have suffered in this tragedy and I hope this little event made a touch of difference.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Matanzas Creek Chardonnay 2006

Matanzas is a realtively small winery in northern Sonoma that flies a little under the radar in Canada, but has seen some good press here in the US. Respected for their Sauv Blanc and their Merlot, I opted for the odd duckling and chose this excellent value chardonnay.

On the nose this was classically tropical, with a touch of rocks. The palate, however, was where this stood out: rich and creamy fruit, but surprising minerality and brightness. A fresh and very lively sipper that is not only great value, but cuts the cloth slightly differently from most cali chards. Highly Recommended.

Very Good+
$22 at K&L
NB: For those in Vancouver, Marquis carries these guys at a decent price - check them out!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Day in Napa: Brown Estate

There are a few precious moments in a wine drinker's life that precipitate a feeling of perfectly elaborated poise, reflection, and exuberance. In my experience such moments often arise in the most unassuming of circumstances - perhaps the unassuming serves to soften cynicism and provide a kind of philosophical carte blanche for an experience. Whatever the reason such moments arise, my recent visit to Brown Estate Vineyards in Napa will now hold a special place in my heart for offering up just such a wink in my otherwise quotidian existence.

Brown Estate is a first generation family winery, built by the children of the original purchasers of the property, which had been abandoned for many decades beforehand. The estate itself is simple, unassuming, and clearly a labour of love. We began our visit with a tour of the property by Celia Brown, coupled with well-furnished stories of how the estate became established and how it transformed into a respected small family winery that occupies the relatively new Chiles Valley AVA. Our discussion eventually moved into the creation of the wine cellar, which is perhaps one of the most beautiful in the valley. The Browns decided not to smooth down the blasted space mainly due to budgetary restrictions. However, the result is a wonderfully asymmetrical and mysterious wine cave that holds about as much personality as the Brown family themselves.

The cellar cleverly moved into the tasting room where Coral Brown was pouring an extensive lineup of absolutely incredible wines and thoughtfully suggested cheese pairings. In stark opposition to most of Napa's either commercial or high-falutin' tasting rooms, Brown opts for dim lighting, pop, R&B, Hip Hop and a friendly chatty vibe. In a land of sun, fruit, and well-heeled boomers, it takes an uncommon integrity to stay authentic not only to one's style, but also to one's soul. And Brown, if nothing else, makes wine with soul.

We started with the 2006 Chardonnay, which was not only full of ripe tropical fruit, and an explosive and expansive mid-palate, but had a character and complexity well beyond almost any other Napa chard I have tasted. This was perhaps due to the fantastic combination of expansive fruit with cutting minerality and a complete dearth of malolactic fermentation. Using only 10% new oak, somehow this wine still maintained very full structure and layering that extended well into the 45+ second finish. Absolutely stunning. Excellent+. $48 at the winery.

The 2007 Napa Valley Zinfandel is Brown's signature and most widely available wine, and is blended from four blocks at their estate. If zinfandel has terroir, then this is it: dried cranberry and cherry on a nose that I could sniff for hours on end. The palate had more cranberry and layered red fruits with asian spices. This stood out due to its very deep layering of flavour and surprising elegance. No residual heat will be found here. The best zinfandel I've had - well at least until the next wine in the tasting! Excellent+. $36 at the winery and private stores.

If zin could be perfect, then the 2007 Chiles Valley Zinfandel would be the instantiation of that perfection. Sitting at 15.7% ABV, you would never guess that with the extreme structure and tannic grip of this wine. Again, there is a nose of dried cranberry - suggesting the uniqueness of this site - but with a depth and length beyond the basic Napa bottling. As Coral explained, the Chiles Valley zin's structured acidity is the result of the unique site, which sees massive temperature drops during ripening season, which keeps the fruit very lively. A beautiful wine, zinfandel or not. Excellent+. $45.

We were fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to also taste the 2002 Chiles Valley Zinfandel alongside the 2007. The 2002 is so unique that in a blind tasting I think it could be mistaken for a Burgundy village wine or a Cru Beaujolais. Astonishingly, this zinfandel had a perfumed nose of flowers, light red berries, and spice. The palate was very much like an old world pinot, with layers of barny funk, spice, strawberrys, and cranberries. Power with finesse, acidity with fruit, this is an incredibly versatile wine. So much so, in fact, that apparently the Valley's chefs have been loving this wine as a superb pairing with a wide variety of foods. This is the kind of wine that makes you question your preconceptions. Excellent+. $38 at the winery.

If Brown's creations were the alpha and omega of zinfandel, they would still deserve a shining gold star in my opinion. However, the next two wines show that this is no simple family operation. Somehow Brown seems to understand wine at a deep level as all of the bottlings I tasted managed to reach directly into what makes wine so special, so unique, and so utterly able to stop you in your tracks. That said, the 2003 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon had a rocking nose of ripe black cherry with an almost port-like density, and a very distinct fruit-cake character. On the palate this was dense, dark, brooding and tannic, but also soft enough to drink now. This could also age, and be the better for it. Excellent to Excellent+. $65 at the winery.

I suppose that realizing that they rock at making both zinfandel and cabernet, Brown figured why not blend the two together! The result of that hypothetical motivation is the 2005 Chaos Theory, a blend of zin and cab that has big fruity and peppery flavours up front, but a more cabernet-like structure in the mid and back palate. Very unique, and sure to be loved by both zin and cab afficionados. Excellent to Excellent+. $45.

If all that was not enough, we ended our tasting with the 2006 Arrested Zinfandel, a zinfandel port at 20% abv and about 10% residual sugar fortified with house-made brandy. Yes, this is sweet - but it does not lack in acidity and, accordingly, freshness. Distinctly zin on the nose this was all rich and creamy with clear butterscotch components on the palate. Fresh, alive, and plenty full of flavour, this was very nicely done. However, if I had to choose, I would go for their dry wines over this. Excellent. $48 for the half bottle.

If I can be permitted to indulge in one more philosophical observation, my experience at Brown felt like home on an Odyssean journey through the world of wine. Such moments are rare, and should be cherished. The Brown family should be commended - and please do seek them out if you are ever in Napa. Thanks kindly to the Browns for giving us the opportunity to meet them, taste their wines, and get a glimpse at one of Napa's most singular wineries.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Day in Napa: St. Clement

After our little excursion to Cakebread and Nickel & Nickel my friend and I decided to hold our breath and fit in one more winery before lunch. This particular winery I chose due to a nice writeup from Joe in Montreal. St. Clement purchases all their fruit, but has very long term contracts that have given them access to some of the finest blocks in the Valley. It helps that their tasting room is both cute and has an amazing view:

View from the terrace:

What struck me about St. Clement was its tendency to not shy away from roughness and terroir in their wines at the expense of silky texture and sweet fruit. We were lucky enough to happen upon a cellar sale, and so got to taste some older vintages and rare bottlings.

We started with an Oroppas flight, beginning with the 2000 Oroppoas Cab blend, which had a rich and brambly palate with balanced acidity and a nice cedar character. The nose (doing this note in reverse) was cherry-like and peperry and very full and complex - in fact, entrancing. This was a very complex wine with incredible layering and depth. Poured from a magnum. Excellent. $150 ($105 on sale) for the magnum.

Up next was the 2001 Oroppas, which was less complex than th 2000, but was also more subtle with a smooth berry palate and a touch of toast. Somewhat of a mocha component here too. I found this very elegant, in fact much more so than the 2000, with a great level of finesse throughout the palate. Very Good+. $150 ($105 on sale) for the magnum.

The last of the Oroppas vertical was the 2002 Oroppas, which had a distinctly minty nose. Spicy blackberry predominated on the palate. Flavourful, but in relation to the 2000 and 2001, which each fulfilled a niche (power and layering vs. finesse and elegance) the 2002 was a bit of an ugly duck - but a tasty one at that! Very Good+. $150 ($105 on sale) for the magnum.

The universe must have been on our side that day because we were also treated to a mini-vertical of the Howell Mountain cabs, starting with the 2000 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. Intense earthyness, cassis, and eucalyptus were forward on the nose and palate. A very structured and well made cab, but lacking the layering of the 2000 Oroppas, and not drinking quite as well as any of the Oroppas in my opinion. But Howell Mountain cabs often need time. Very Good. $180 for the magnum.

Our mini vertical finished with the 2002 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, which was a HUGE powerhouse of a cab, with chewy and tight blackberry fruit. The tasting note suggested cola and plum spice, but right now the tannins are so massive on this beast that it is honestly hard to fully appreciate. Give this time and I'm sure it'll be phenomenal. Very Good+. $180 for the magnum.

The Cab dominant tasting was luckily punctuated with two other varietal wines, the first being the 2006 Abbott's Vineyard Chardonnay, which had a very dominant nose of banana and rich tropical fruit. In fact, the banana was so dominant that it overwhelmed most everything else. If you like a creamy lactic banana vibe, then you will also dig this wine. Personally I hoped for a little more complexity, which maybe would develop with time. Very Good. $?.

The last wine I tasted also happened to be the one I picked up: the 2002 Progeny Syrah, which was built like a Northern Rhone syrah with a massive palate that I would describe as intensely meaty and brambly. However, this also had a nice California fruit component that balanced the imensity of the textural elements of the syrah: cloves, spices, chocolate, and massive dark fruit. Wonderful structure and integration - this is an awesome California syrah, and atypical for what you usually get around here. Very small production. Excellent. $80 ($60 on sale).

After St. Clement we had a pretty quick, but tasty, lunch, which was followed by perhaps one of the greatest tasting experiences I have ever had. But that's for the next post...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Day in Napa: Cakebread

After lounging in the sun at Nickel and Nickel we took a short trip two doors down to Cakebread - also hosting a long lineup of Cabs for tasting - for a direct comparison. As a lesson in winemaking, the two styles were fundamentally different, despite both originating from the imagination of Napa Valley icons. These types of experiences speak to the diversity of California wine making, which often gets ignored or dismissed by certain 'anti-Parker' types. And, while I remain unconvinced of the bad rap given to California and its wines, I think Cakebread exemplifies the approach to Napa winemaking that many seem to deplore. I, on the other hand, did not have quite so negative a reaction.

As we stepped into yet another barn-like structure, we were greeted with a selection of four very high end cabernets and a back-room white-wine adventure. As is Cakebread's want, each of the wines was paired with a delectable cheese, with plates of charcutterie not far away. These guys understand that wine is made for food - perhaps due to Mrs. Cakebread's credentials as a professional chef.

First off we tried the basic 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon which is by far the best selling cab in Cakebread's portfolio. Here we had a flavourful fruit blastmaster, with a massive punch but not a lot of depth. Black fruits and cherries predominate. I can't help but feel that this is, nonetheless, overpriced. Very Good. $65.

The next three pours fulfilled a long unrequited desire of mine to taste Cakebread's single vineyard Cabernets, beginning with the 2005 Dancing Bear Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon which had very up front sweet fruit notes of cherry and black currant, and an almost syrupy texture. This wine is somewhat like getting punched in the face with oak and fruit. If you like that style, this will satisfy. If you are looking for subtlety, look elsewhere. Very Good. $106.

The 2005 Vine Hill Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon had an added layer of complexity over the last two wines, with a nose of coffee, licorice and black fruits. Rich and sweet, there was yet a spring to the mid-palate that, as Martin described it, was like "turning on a lightbulb in my mouth". The layering is more intricate than the last two wines, but don't mistake this for something with old-world finesse. This is an up front smack you in the face Napa Cab. 15.5% abv. Very Good+. $106.

Our last dabble into the realm of single vineyard Cakebread led us to the 2005 Benchland Select Cabernet Sauvignon with its nose of sweet fruit and massive palate of black and red fruits blended into a vanilla cocktail. I can best describe this wine as 'tightly wound power'. Another blockbuster - but for this style I prefered the Vine Hill. Very Good. $106.

Before I go onto the whites, which are of a somewhat different ilk, I feel inclined to point out the contrast between the Nickel & Nickel style, with its restraint, structure and elegance and the Cakebread with its balls-to-the-wall uppercut powerhouse action (to use technical terms). This sort of contrast is what makes Napa such an interesting place, and a region of the world that is ultimately far more complex than those outside the US tend to recognize. That said, onto the whites...

We began the white wine tasting with the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, which had a honeyed and floral nose that was quite full bodied. The palate was all roundness and thickness with quince, and creamy oak-like notes. Rich and round this is the antithesis of a Sancerre. Would still pair well with a richly prepaired seafood dish. Very Good. $24.

Unto the Chards we then did go, beginning with the 2007 Napa Valley Chardonnay, which honestly had a fairly innocuous nose of standard tropical fruit and a standard well-balance new-world Chard palate. Nice, but lacking depth and personality. Certainly not worth the price. Good+ to Very Good. $39.

The 2006 Chardonnay Reserve from Carneros was a huge step up from the basic bottling. The nose emitted baking spices like nutmeg, with the palate opening the spice structure to include pineapple, kiwi and dragon fruit. While this had a creamy thick texture up front, there was a decent level of acidity on the back palate that kept this alive. Only 15% Malolactic fermentation kept the new-world opulence reasonable. Very Good to Very Good+. $55.

Last up we tasted the 2006 Rubaiyat, which is an intruiging blend of Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. Designed as a grab and go BBQ wine, this is actually quite a thoughtful blend with a nose very much like a cru beaujolais. The palate shows the zin very subtlely through a back-end peppery component that is sure to compliment red meats well. Other than the pepper this was all strawberry, barnyard and spice. Amazingly the zin and the pinot integrated perfectly. Very Good+ to Excellent. $32 available at the winery only.

A nice contrast to Nickel & Nickel, and a very interesting look into how my palate has developed over the past two years. I highly recommend periodic returns to once storied wines to reassess your palate. My final assessment is that Cakebread makes good wine, but that they typify how Napa can become over priced and over ripe, with fruit bomb smackdown wines that, while tasty, lack nuance. An educational experience nonetheless. And this was only the first half of the day!

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Day in Napa: Nickel & Nickel

Setting out from the city over the Bay Bridge we were greeted with a fortuitous dash of sunlight. By the time we reached Napa, the clouds were in full remission and the sun set forth to etch out a beautiful day in the valley. After driving past fields of vines dotted with flowering mustard plants, we pulled up to an unassuming red barn for our first appointment of the day.

Nickel & Nickel is, as I have mentioned before, an off-shoot of Napa's Far Niente. Whereas Far Niente focuses on a single estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, the concept behind Nickel & Nickel is to create single varietal wines from single vineyards from the best sites across Napa and Sonoma. On Saturday they were pouring five of their single vineyard Cabs, along with a sampling of a few other varietals. On drinking the wines I was struck by the consistent attention to detail and restraint, both of which reflect the grounded and friendly group of individuals who come together to produce these thoughtful renditions of the classic noble grapes.

We started the day outside with the 2006 Truchard Vineyard Chardonnay from Carneros, which was clean and crisp with intelligent depth and roundness produced not from malolactic fermentation, but from the ripeness of the fruit itself. I think, perhaps, that the acidity demands a proper food pairing, but the wine is lively and accentuated on its own. A very nicely done bottle of wine. Very Good+ to Excellent.

Next on the list, and inside the barn, was the 2005 Copper Streak Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine made in the Stag's Leap district at a special and very small low-yielding vineyard at the base of the Shafer property. On the nose I found the classic woody cedar notes to be intricately layered with forest-floor and savory herb notes. What seems subtle up front becomes truly expansive on the mid-palate, with cassis, earth, cedar and mint dancing counterpoint and constantly evolving. The finish, while long, promises so much more with bottle age. I would even go so far as claiming this wine to be a long-lost sibling to a left bank Bordeaux. Atypical for California, and a stunning amalgam of fruit, structure, restraint and elegance. Excellent+. $90.

The 2005 Regusci Vineyard Block 4 Cabernet Sauvignon could be described as the more outgoing and fun-loving Stag's Leap District sister to the more brooding and contemplative Copper Streak. This cab is soft and up front on the nose with distinct red berries and cherries making way for a solid, but easy drinking tannic structure that provides oomph without getting in the way of immediate drinkability. This is unmistakably Californian, and certainly will be enjoyed by those seeking classic Napa cab. Very Good+. $90.

Jumping over to the west side of the valley we next tasted the 2005 Witz End Vineyard Cabernet from Rutherford. This had sweet black cherry fruit throughout the nose and palate, with rich spice notes joining in to add complexity. This is very much a Rutherford Cab, which are a bit too sweet for my tastes. I also didn't find this as well structured as either of the first two cabs, with the Copper Streak being the standout in that dimension. Nonetheless, this will satisfy those who look for the sweet fruit element in their wine. However, I would recommend the Regusci over this for fruit forwardness and drinkability. Very Good to Very Good+. $90.

Before heading over to taste the last two Cabs we gave the 2005 Suscol Ranch Merlot and the 2006 Ponzo Vineyard Zinfandel a sniff and sip. The Suscol Merlot has its source in the Southern Napa Valley. This wine, with its earthy and dense dark-fruit nose, was the original inspiration for Nickel & Nickel. The palate was jammy but supple with a quality earthy and dusty tannic backbone. I love when merlot is done right - with the right structure the soft and pretty fruit becomes grounded and avoids the cloying sweetness that plagues the average California merlot. Very nicely done: for the real merlot lover. Very Good+ to Excellent. $55.

Similarly, the Ponzo zinfandel avoided what can make zin a controversial grape: the tendency towards high alcohol and overly sweet, super-ripe fruit. The Ponzo vineyard is located in the Russian River Valley at a site where the grapes ripen more evenly than is common for zinfandel. This allows Nickel & Nickel to keep the alcohol at a relatively sane (for zin) 14.9% abv. This has far more structure and tannin than most zins and completely avoids any residual heat on the finish. Still filled with juicy and spicy flavours and aromas, this wine allows the skeptical drinker to experience the joys of zin, minus the set-backs. Other zin-loving drinkers may find this a bit too restrained or tannic for their tastes. Very Good. $48.

Stepping outside onto the crush-pad my colleague Martin and I sampled the two remaining Cabs. First up was the forward Oakville 2005 John C. Sullenger Vineyard Cabernet with its classic oakville velvet texture and focus. As Martin commented, this was easy to drink, focused, and linear. I would add that there was a distinct oak character, but that this didn't overwhelm the herbal blackberry elements. Nicely done, even if not as expansive as the Copper Streak. In the end, its linearity is its charm. Very Good+ to Excellent. $90.

Concluding this Cabernet extravaganza was the 2005 Vogt Vineyard Cabernet from Howell Mountain. For those who aren't aware, Howell mountain is known, even more than most mountain sites, for its massive tannins due to the increased exposure to sunlight and high elevation. This wine did not dissapoint in that regard. Here we had a massive bruiser of a wine with incredible richness: chocolate and cassis predominated. I would describe this wine as 'brambly' and huge. Not for the faint of heart, but power lovers will lap this up. Excellent to Excellent+. $90.

Two hours later we had finally tasted through the fantastic selection of wines and developed a sense of the Nickel & Nickel Style: balance, restraint, focus, and dedication to the unique characteristics of a particular site. There was not a bad wine amongst the bunch and I commend Nickel & Nickel for proving the singularity of some of Napa and Sonoma's greatest terroirs. Thanks kindly to the winery for giving us the opportunity to taste through such a wide variety of wines. Up next: Cakebread...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

BR Cohn Silver Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

This is the kind of wine that I feel probably gets a bad rap from people, and for some reason may be disliked. There is something to its 'thereness' (or lack thereof) that speaks of a wine that doesn't speak much at all. This is not to say that we aren't looking at a pretty good wine here. In fact, I believe this is not only enjoyable, but a great bargain buy. Nonetheless, when I picked up the classic notes of mint, cedar wood and blackberry on the nose I could not help but feel somewhat lost in situating this wine in a time and place. It just somewhat stood adrift.

Concentrated blackberry fruit on the palate, and a distinct cleanliness that was bright and fresh, this is an extremely well made Cabernet Sauvignon for $15. The balance is right and the flavour is full and direct - so despite my ruminations above, I still have to recommend this as a solid, clean example of good bargain wine making. From blended purchased Sonoma fruit (vs. Cohn's estate wines).

Very Good
$15 at K&L

Sunday, February 1, 2009

ZAP Zinfandel Festival 2009

There are varying opinions about large grand tastings where hundreds, if not thousands, of wines are poured - no less so in a city that is pretty passionate about its wine. The San Francisco ZAP Zinfandel festival is about as large and crazy as you can get with festivals - witness the photo below - covering two massive pavillions and around 300 different zin producers, many of which were zin specialists pouring up to 12 different wines.

Some decry the overwhelming mob and the inevitable over-indulgence that comes with these sorts of events. On the other hand, it strikes me as somewhat grinch-like to look down on events like these since they really serve as a venue for the public to indulge and learn about wine in a relaxed settting. And, as Sean over at Vinifico points out, Zinfandel seems to bring out the most casual and least pretentious of the wine crowd, which is always a good thing. I can't help but point out that I am not usually a big Zin person, but that tasting so many of them side by side and comparing regions gave me a new appreciation for the grape and will probably result in me picking up a few more than I have done previously. The view from the press lounge also didn't hurt.

I was fortunate enough to meet up with Sean and his friend Graham at the festival, which was not only a great time, but also provided me with a few pointers as to which producers to look out for. And I am happy they did since my favourite of the show was their recommendation: Mazzocco.

Mazzocco is a relatively new operation (I believe releasing their first vintage in 2005) that makes a bevy of small production single vineyard zins and zin reserves that are perhaps the best of the variety I have tasted. I tasted about 15 wines from them, each of which deserved an excellent to excellent+ rating from me because of their purity of fruit, buoyant acidic backbone, and fantastic variation across each vineyard. Clearly these are more than just big alcoholic bruisers, despite the fact they are most definitely super-intense fruit bombs. To make those kinds of wines work it is all about balance, acidity, and tannic structure to off-set the silky sweet fruit. Mazzoco does this perfectly. My personal picks were the Pony Reserve 2006 and the Maple Reserve 2006. I believe these wines hit around $30 for the basic bottlings and $50 for the reserves.

Four Vines

I also got a chance to taste several wines from this good value producer with wines at mostly $25. I personally seem to enjoy Paso Robles for Zin and the Four Vines Biker 2006 did a good job by providing body, depth and character to the fruit of a wine that can often seem too sweet to me. The Four Vines Dusi Vinyeard 2006 was even better with real punch and roundness and an almost brambly character that suits Zin well. Very Good+ for both.

Grey Wolf Cellars

Another Paso Robles standout for me was Grey Wolf Cellars, with wines at around $35 a pop. I tried two single vineyard Paso Robles zins and a blend called the Jackal. All were very consistently balanced, with dense packed fruit, depth and length. Again having a somewhat brambly character, they nonetheless remained fairly elegant. Very Good+ to Excellent.

In the final analysis, this was a pretty sweet tasting, especially if paced well. I've done tastings in the past where I have rushed through as many as possible and, while great for getting to know a lot of wines, certainly isn't the best way to enjoy a festival. I recommend a reasonable pace, a healthy dose of spitting and rinsing, and a few gulps of the most delicious wines :).