Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Telegraph Winter Ale

I have one more Napa post to come, as well as the Rhone Rangers tasting and the Santa Barbara trip, but I needed a break from the seriously long updates to bring you something completley different. Monty Python would be proud.

Here we have a very solid California beer maker who has yet to dissapoint me. This beer is a left over from the 'winter' season, with a very spiced character of orange, cinamon, nut meg and a little pine. This is very balanced and smooth with beautiful carbonation. The spicing is done perfectly, which is actually quite a difficult feat as many lesser winter or xmas ales can attest to. Complex, unique, and a perfect seasonal treat - when that time comes around again!

Very Good+
$8/650ml at CityBeer

Monday, March 30, 2009

Napa Redux: Spottswoode

And then there was Spottswoode. Upon pulling up to this very unassuming little house I recalled with how much anticipation I made the appointment to visit this true "first growth" Napa winery. Spottswoode has been flying under the radar for years, and is one of the few estates with a woman leading the way in winemaker Jennifer Williams. That is not to say that Spottswoode has not seen serious critical success, with many of the vintages of their top wine receiving very high commercial scores in the mid 90's; however, it seems the throng of cult afficionados has yet to turn Spottswoode into a project in false scarcity. This is probably due in large part to the integrity of owner Mary Novak.

Walking up the porch to find a glass of 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, I and the other few visitors were greeted by assistant winemaker Aron Weinkauf, who was to lead our absolutely fantastic tour through the winery and even the vineyard itself.

As we waited for the full group to gather, we sat and sipped perhaps the best Sauvignon Blanc in the valley, with wonderfully expressive nose of grapefruit, clay and mineral. On the palate this was incredibly clean and expressive, and very bright. With an intense citrus punch, the wine yet had sparkling clarity, and an uncommon spicy component that added tremendous depth. This was dry farmed, and sourced from a variety of excellent vineyards, including Tofanelli and Hyde. The vineyards have a range of soil types from sandy loam to deep clay to a mixture of loam and clay. 100% barrel fermented, this is aged in 70% steel and 30% oak. $36. Excellent to Excellent+.

As we finished sipping our Sauv Blanc we wandered into the first (overflow) cellar, where Aron talked to us about the process of aging the wine, and the various harvest conditions. Notably, the 2008 harvest was so sparse that there is an oak barrel glut in California right now.

We then moved into the fermentation building, where Aron explained that Spottswoode has begun experimenting with concrete fermentation tanks, which seem to have a special quality of microoxygenating the wine without the need of additional processes.

It seems as though concrete has a special quality to its sufrace area (more porous) that increases the amount of wine exposed to air at a miniscule level. Very interesting. Spottswoode then blends the wine from the resulting juices. Which leads us to the original stone cellar and the two cabs that Spottswoode prides itself on producing. First up was the 2005 Lindenhurst, which is essentially Spottswoode's second wine. However, this is still sourced from estate fruit and made with the same care as the estate cab. Rather, it is made in a more forward ready to drink style, and selected from barrels that were deemed inappropriate for the Estate blend, which is meant to have the capacity to age for a considerable time. The Lindenhurst had a meaty, currant, raspberry and cedar nose. The palate was forward and full bodied with cassis, mint, and chocolate up front and herbs on the mid-palate. This, however, is distinctly very close to French in style. Killer mouthfeel and tastes like top cabs from other estates. 100% French Oak. Excellent and Highly Recommended. $60.

This left only the grand daddy of the tasting, the 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon with its superbly refined nose of cassis, eucalyptus, and coffee. The layering on the nose is absolutely stunning, and reminds me in many ways of a Pauillac Super Second. The palate was, to put it bluntly, insanely structured, replete with white pepper, cigar, leather, herbs, blackberry, and blackberry seeds. Fine tannins, balanced to perfection, with a perfectly inviting forwardness, and yet a floral, pretty mid-palate, and a deep cigar and leathery finish. Layered as hell and keeps on developing. What an absolutely killer wine, and something you very rarely see in Napa. The rival of any top Napa cab. Excellent to Excellent+. $130.

Luckily for us Aron was in a good mood and also gave us a tour of the vineyard, where he explained the organic farming methods employed by the estate, including using heavy cover between the trellises, including some pretty massive Daikon radishes!

This is mowed and plowed into the land, which provides an incredible amount of nitrogen to the vine roots, keeping them healthy. They have some pretty old vines for Napa Cab (40 years), and this is part of their process of keeping them going. I suppose for them wine is really all about expressing the organic process, and it shows in the care and attentiveness they clearly have for their vines.

Spottswoode is not only producing wine at the highest level in Napa, they are also very down to earth, have reasonable prices for what they are producing, and offer one of the best tour/taste experiences in the Valley. A must visit.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Napa Redux: Conn Creek

On my way between appointments on my recent Napa trip I stopped by Conn Creek, situated at the base of Sage Canyon Road (which heads into the Chiles Valley AVA), a little winery producing single vineyard cabs at moderate prices (for Napa). Obviously an under the radar winery, but they have put together a pretty solid portfolio.

I started the tasting with the 2006 Cabernet Franc, which had a grapey nose of traditional cab franc leafiness and earth. There was more dark fruit here than many cab francs however, which continued onto the palate, with its sweet red fruits, earth and, unfortunately, a bit of off-balance bitterness. Very Good. $25.

The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon (basic blended cab), is actually made with all five Bordeaux varieties. The nose exhibited traditional mint, cassis, and cedar. The palate was quite cedar-like, and had fairly sweet fruit. Very well structured for a $25 wine. Very Good+.

Up next were the single vineyard cabernets, which offered quite an interesting juxtaposition of various regions in Napa. The 2004 Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon was produced in the Stag's Leap district, and had a very dense pepper nose with quite intense plum and cassis. This was fruit forward, but had a distinct meatyness and pepperyness not always seen in Napa cabs. The mid-palate was a bit green, and powerful tannins overwhelmed somewhat upfront, although they smoothed in the cigar-like finish. Very Good to Very Good+. $45.

I was very curious to taste the 2004 Volker Eisele Family Cabernet Sauvignon from the Chiles Valley, since I was so impressed with Brown Estate last time I visited Napa. However, this paled in comparison to Brown's masterful cab. The nose was chocolate and plum, with a palate of blackberry, dusty fine-grained tannins, and a subtle herbaciousness. Nice grip, but lacking some elegance. Very Good+ to Excellent. $45.

The 2004 Hozhuni Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon found its way to the bottle from Rutherford grapes. A full and open nose of Eucalyptus predominanted. The palate was elegant and very consistent, with blackberry, leather, dried fruit and fig. Very Good+. $45.

The last single vineyard cab I tried was the 2003 Truchard Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Los Carneros, a fairly cool region known more for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The nose had spice, eucalyptus, candied blueberry and stewed dark berry compote, with a touch of dried mission fig. The palate was figgy, earthy and very dry. I would say this needs time but it already has 5 years - maybe a somewhat unbalanced wine, and yet still flavourful. Very Good+. $45.

The 2005 Anthology is Conn Creek's flagship wine - a Bordeaux style blend of 76% cabernet, 10% merlot, 8% malbec, 4% petite verdot, and 2% cab franc. The nose had lots of coffee grinds, and a very roasted aroma. A very aromatic wine. The palate had coffee again, but this time with chocolate, bitter herbs, and a lingering savoryness. The puckering tannins mellowed on the finish. In the end, a very densly structured wine and the best of the bunch. Very Good+ to Excellent. $50.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised with this relatively unknown winery. However, nothing truly excited me, even though almost all of the offerings were well made and restrained compared to most Napa fruit bombs. Worth a drop in as this place does not require appointments.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Napa Redux: Cardinale

The first day of spring in Northern California brought with it both luxurious temperatures in the 70's and new buds. Luckily for me it also brought with it a return to the Napa Valley, where I hit up four wineries and sampled many more wines. The day began with a tasting at Cardinale, which, while producing wine at a serious price point, I was prompted to visit due to a favourable review by Joe.

Somewhat drawn back from the main road, Cardinale is sited on top a tiny hill in Oakville, giving it beautiful views of the surrounding vineyards and hills.

As a Jess Jackson owned winery, one might anticipate a corporate attitude here, but it was clear to me that Jackson allows the winery to run almost entirely independently on the wine-making front, focusing on making the "best product possible". That said, I did find the wine tasting itself overpriced at $35 for merely two 3 oz. pours of wine and a little tutored tasting.

The tasting Started with the Howell Mountain side-project La Jota, a recent acquisition by Jess Jackson. The 2003 La Jota is basically a cabernet and merlot blend with a moderate case production around 2500-2900, depending on the harvest. On the nose I found black currant fruit and soft merlot-like jammy black fruits. There was also a cool minty roundness that suggested a potentially softer palate than normal for Howell Mountain. On the palate this was very briary and up front, with the intense power that only mountain fruit can provide. A woody mid-palate moved into a nicely layered and very smooth finish. Overall, I found this a bit too massive and fruit-forward up front, even though the back end was quite enjoyable. Very Good to Very Good+. $50.

After sipping some La Jota on the patio, we moved into the formal tasting room for a tutored tasting of Cardinale, which had been decanted several hours prior to my visit. One half of my plate was presented with a selection of foods meant to highlight specific flavours such as sourness, sweetness, umami, and saltiness which were used to highlight the effect each of these flavours had on the wine when consumed together. The second moved into regular pairing territory with cheese and cured meats.

The isolated flavour component of the tasting was an interesting idea and informative, but given that we were only poured 3oz of wine it seemd a bit of a travesty experimenting with how sour and wine clash. I'd recommend they increase their pours! Anyhow, when we got down to it, the 2005 Cardinale was a remarkable wine with a subtle and layered nose of cassis, blackberry, chocolate, and earthiness.

The palate exuded quality, with artful layering and elegance. Beautiful clean cassis and plum fruit up front, the mid palate was earthy and had a subtle punch of acidity that helped keep the palate awake and the wine building into its extremely long finish. Despite the amazing purity of fruit, there is also a savory herbal component to the wine that promises to expand with time. Made from 88% merlot and 12% Cab, the fruit is sourced from some of the best vineyards on Mt. Veeder, Howell Mountain, Spring Mountain, and Stag's Leap district, which are perhaps the four most highly regarded regions in Napa. I certainly am a big fan of all the wines produced from those AVA's, and the quality of blending here really shone through. A fabulous wine that will improve for over a decade and I'm sure will cellar for longer than that. Aged in 100% new French oak. Excellent to Excellent+. $200.

A great start to the Napa Redux, with plenty more in store...

Orin Swift Veladora Sauvignon Blanc Tofanelli Vineyard 2005

So I am just back from Spring Break with a huge pile of notes to write up from Napa, the Rhone Rangers tasting, and a trip to Santa Barbara County. But, before all that excitement begins, I thought I'd write up this under the radar David Phinny wine (winemaker for the Prisoner) produced to support the farmers that Phinny relies on to make his amazing wines.

This Suav Blanc was very dark yellow and had a thick nose of toast, oak, white chocolate and caramel. The palate was very rich, replete with orchard fruits such as papaya and apples (more like apple pie). Full, rich, and round, this is a massive sauv blanc that is made almost like a chard (maybe some malo-lactic here). Yet, there is a distinct flavour profile here and it is hard to deny how awesome this is for the money.

Very Good+
$25 at Liquid Wine and Spirits

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Vega Sindoa Cabernet Sauvignon / Tempranillo 2006

I will be off for "Spring Break" in a few moments, which will result in my absence from the blogosphere for a few days - but I thought a tasty good value wine was the appropriate send off given that I have some serious notes to write up when I return for a recent trip to Napa and the Rhone Rangers tasting.

Another small production wine, this time from Navarra, Spain. Very earthy on the nose with some blackberry and other berry notes. The nose is reminiscent of the myriad odours one unearthed when digging in one's childhood backyard garden.

The palate was spicy, full bodied, but yet subtle with a soft mouthfeel, but grippy tannins on the late mid-palate and finish. This is a pretty fantastic value of a wine, and another score for Vintage Berkeley.

Very Good+
$19 at Vintage Berkeley

JJ Prum Bernkasteler Badstube Kabinett 2007

Being in California makes one wont to constantly consume California wine. But, I would hate to miss out on the deft life of a German riesling such as this. JJ Prum has a vaunted reputation, but we almost never see them in Canada, so this was a no brainer.

A classic petrol, citrus and mineral nose, on the palate this JJ Prum was much more on the dry side with what seemed to be a very low level of residual sugar, even less than most Kabinetts. Very deep and full, and yet lightly effervescent, expressive and lively. This pulls off what the Germans do so well to a T - expression, depth, and an ephemeral body. Everyone owes it to themselves to drink more German riesling, and this is a great place to start. Great wine.

$34 at K&L

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Matanzas Creek Bennet Valley Merlot 2004

Matanzas is turning out to be a steller good value producer here in California. Based in Sonoma, Matanzas is producing some seriously well balanced and thoughtful budget wines that blow away most everything else at their price point.

This merlot had a very dark rich nose of mint, chocolate and briar. The palate was a little woody, but had a big punch, good acidity in the mid-palate and a killer flavour profile of spicy earth and dark fruit. This tates like a merlot you would have to pay $60 for in Canada. Simply put: mmmm.

Very Good+ to Excellent
$23 (now on sale for $18!) at K&L Wine Merchants (Marquis carries these guys in Vancouver)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Quinta de Viluco QV Syrah 2005

A Chilean syrah from the Maipo Valley. This was absolutely intense in colour with blackish purple filling the glass with a formidable approach. The nose was all big dark fruit and confection, with definite alcohol. The palate was softer than expected, however, and very concentrated. I noticed simple but intense plum, chocolate, blackberry and licorice. Good balance, and a good value for a 'big' new world style syrah. Many would undoubtedly like this, but I prefer a little less sugar and a little more roughness when it comes to massive syrahs. Either that or go for the elegance and layering of a Northern Rhone style. Still, if I could get this in Canada at this price point, it would be tempting to drink this pretty often.

Very Good
$17.50 at North Berkeley Wine Merchants

Sunday, March 15, 2009

San Francisco Profile: Press Club

Having opened in September 2008, Press Club is a new venture into the world of urban tasting rooms, representing eight respected Napa producers. I recently spent a few hours there checking out the scene and the style while sampling some California wine from five of the eight available wineries.

Miner Family Vineyards

Miner was hosting a special tasting of their 2004 Oracle paired with a nice helping of sheep's cheese, which inevitably drew me to their booth first, where I found a wine with classic cab notes of cedar, cassis and eucalyptus. The texture of the wine was quite velvety and clearly built this way in the wine making rather than growing process. However, there was a nice tannic backbone that was yet not as overwhelming as other vintages of this wine, making the 2004 ready for drinking now. A bit of residual heat on the back end of this wine dapened my impression somewhat, but that was remedied by the tasty cheese pairing. 14.2% ABV. Very Good+. $90.

I also sampled the 2005 Stagecoach Merlot, which had a minty black fruit nose and a spicy, full and expansive palate. Great tongue-wrapping structure that is yet subtlely wrought. Very Good+. $40.


Known for Chardonnay and Pinot, the best wine here was actually the 2006 Steel Plow Syrah, which was meaty and earthy on the nose and not at all easily identifiable as Californian. The palate was peppery, but chocolate and dark fruits still lingered. Tasted like an old vine Cote du Rhones Village wine. Needs a decanting to open the nose. Very Good+. $30, but this got 94 from Parker so it will go up.

The 2006 Lorenzo Chardonnay was less impressive, however, with a more typical take on Carneros chard. That's not to say this isn't well made with its slight mineral edge, bright tropical fruit, and a tartness made for food. However, it was somewhat innocuous. Very Good. $50.

Chateau Montelena

The famed Chateau of Paris Tasting renown. But I did not taste their cab or chardonnay. Instead I opted for a couple of their more esoteric bottlings. First off was the 2007 Potter Valley Riesling, which had a rich fruity nose with a touch of minerals. Either this was oaked, or the fruit was ripened considerably. Quite a potent palate here, but also flabby. Too much melon fruit and not enough minerality. Simply cannot compare to a German riesling at the same price. Good+. $22.

The 2003 Cabernet Franc however, was another story. The nose was all cab franc with wood, earth, forest, and a little mint. The palate had very bright red fruit, was very upfront, and although closed on the mid-palate, was still a tasty and well structured drink. Quite dry, but not chalky - this is all foresty funky goodness. It would go well with rustic foods, like a good stew. The fruit was sourced from the Oak Knoll district. Very Good. $30.


An impressive winery to be sure, starting with the light bodied 2006 Stanly Vineyard Pinot Noir and its bright red fruit nose. On the palate this was a feathery easy sipper that was still dry, drawn and earthy even with predominant red fruits. Simple, but I think it's good for the right pairing. Very Good. $45.

The 2006 Brown Ranch Pinot Noir was still closed, but had tremendous promise with a deep and thick mineral and spicy fruit nose. The palate's depth and concentration led to a strong stone-infused core that was slightly bitter, but also well balanced. With air this added more spice and a touch of chocolate. Very Promising. Very Good+ to Excellent. $60.

The surprise of this lineup was the 2006 Rodgers Creek Sonoma Coast Syrah, which had a vegetal nose with pepper and other exotic spices. Expressive in the glass, the palate had chalky white pepper, and was acidically very bright. I think this needs to mellow somewhat, and demands a food pairing. Syrah with a pinot character? 14.5% abv. Very Good. $40.

Hanna Winery & Vineyards

Situated on the steep slopes of Mt. Veeder, these guys have a pretty fantastic fruit source. Luckily for us, all their wines are made with their estate fruit, which they also sell to other winemakers. The accessible wine here is the one non-estate wine: a 25000 case 2008 Sauvignon Blanc from Russian River, with a nose of round persimmon and cat's pee. Very much an american version of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, the palate was acidic, tart, clay-like and had tons of citrus like grapefruit and lemon. Very Good. $19.

The big daddy here, however, was the 1999 Bismark Noir, which is a bordeaux blend dominated by Cab Franc. Only 733 cases of this were made. The nose surprisingly offered up more cab sauv like characteristics of mint, wood and black fruits. The palate, though, was herbacious, savory, with bitter chocolate nibs. Black fruits and a dry extremely tannic structure round this out nicely. A big wine, but a very flavourful one that is both unique and well made. NB: this wine is now called "Titan". Very Good+. $50.

I finished off the tasting session with the massive 16% abv 2004 Bismark Zinfandel, with a massive nose of big zin fruit and a touch of rubberyness that blew off (may have been the inert gas). The palate was all chocolate, rich red and purple fruits, and caramel. A massive hedonistic zin that is not overly sweet or jammy. Reminded me somewhat of the Woodenhead and Storybook mountain zins I had a couple months ago. 910 Cases. Very Good+. $51.

Thus concluded my first experience at Press Club, which I thought presented a very nice space for sampling some good wines and getting that rare comparative perspective. The atmosphere is sleek, so those who eschew the corporate vibe may not like it here, but I think the sheer selection of wines and comparative potential make this a must see & drink destination for wine afficionados - at least once! Press Club also hosts special events, including new vintage releases, so be sure to check it out when you are in town.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Facelift and Domain Change

Hi all, so some may have noticed a bit of a facelift here. This coincides with this blog's new domain at http://www.justgrapeswine.com/ - which will be fully activated within the next 3 days. Until then, keep using the old address. And after then, expect a redirect to the new domain.

I figured after a year and a half of blogging it was time to make this a little more professional in look. Hopefully this will also coincide with some more articles looking deeper into the wine industry - but rest assured that reviews will still make up the core of this site.

Cheers, and thanks to all for reading!

P.S. if you have any comments re: fonts, colours, etc. Please let me know so the site is as readable as possible.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Green Flash Grand Cru

Yet another San Diego brewer who I think does a really fantastic job with Belgian style ales (and you can get their stuff in Vancouver). This Grand Cru is basically made in a quadrupel style similar to St. Bernardus. This has a sweet banana malt nose with raisins and chocolate. Deep and robust on the palate, this is well carbonated but not over carbonated (Belgian beer drinkers should know what I mean).

Surprisingly layered, I picked up tropical fruits like banana and coconut, as well as chocolate and a subtle leafyness. I think that leafyness, which adds a touch of bitterness, actually makes this quite a deep and complex beer that otherwise would be overwhelmed with sweet malt flavour. Between the Rochefort 10 and the St. Bernardus in terms of style and quality. 9.1% abv.

$8/650ml at City Beer

Sean Thackrey Pleiades XVI Old Vines

Sean Thackrey is a bit of a crazy wizard. He apparently reads something like a dozen languages, including mediaeval dialects from Europe, from which he culls his crazy wizard wine making techniques. This bottle is his easiest to find and cheapest wine - but rest assured it is unlike any other wine out there.

The nose is out of this world unique, with intense eucalyptus (Thackrey ages the wine in open vats under the stars in his eucalyptus grove), spice, cherry fruits and berries. A real mine field of aromas. The palate is woody, eucalyptus again, but also blackberries, strawberries, chocolate, minerals, metal, and more. Incredibly layered and complex, all I can say is: singularity to the utmost. This wine has serious personality, somewhat like a masquerade of flavours and layers of complexity with a textural suppleness that entrances. Chameleon like wine. A blend of around 13 different grapes. Thanks to Sean for pointing this out.

Very Good+ to Excellent (but everyone really has to try this wine)
$23 at K&L

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Greenock Creek Alice's Block Shiraz 2000

One of the other amazing elements of California's wine scene is the ability to buy vintage bottles of wine with superb provenance at reasonable prices. I picked this particular bottle up online at a price about half of what the recent vintage is selling for in Canada.

On the nose this was herbacious, with strong eucalyptus notes and strong woody elements with subtle cassis and vanilla rounding out the quite extensive olfactory package. The palate had similar flavours, but with a bright high acid opening that mellowed out in the mid-palate and lengthy, consistent finish. Balanced, but definitely made for food. Somewhat like walking out into the sun, being blind for 1/2 a second and then laying down for a lazy warm day on the grass. Well done, and superb with truffled Humbolt Fog goat's cheese (which makes me think this would go with a wide variety of foods).

Very Good+
$45 at Liquid Wine and Spirits

Lindemans Cuvee Rene Gueuze Lambic

Gueuze lambic is a sour beer blended from aged and young lambic. Many people's familiarty with lambic will be with sweet fruity concoctions that taste nothing like beer. This particular lambic, as with any self-respecting lambic, is sour and a litte bretty. Here we had quite a yeasty complexion and a woody odour. However, disappointingly the malts used must have been cheap or crappy quality because this has an aftertaste similar to a commercial lager. Despite having layers of wood, earth and forest floor, the finish is frankly very unflattering. While certainly overall much better than a commercial beer, I have been fortunate to have many much better lambics.

$10/750ml at Whole Foods

Ballast Point Seamonster Stout

One of the myriad of top notch San Diego craft brewer, Ballast Point has built a reputation for this little Imperial Stout. High carbonation for a stout, with roasted chocolate malts, coffee, and a bitter creamyness. This is also a fairly sweet sout - sort of like a chocolate sunday with bitter coffee beans crumbled on top. Enjoyable, but for me, a bit unbalanced between sweetness and bitterness. I would prefer either a rich heavy roasted dark style or a sweeter style buoyed by some oak aging.

Very Good to Very Good+
$8/650ml Bottle at City Beer

Jordan Russian River Chardonnay 2006

This bottle of chardonnay was one of those niggling itches of a wine: one that I had seen sitting around at the wine store back in Vancouver for a long time, always with a touch of curiosity about its contents - not least because a wine critic I greatly respect - Hugh Johnson - seems to think Jordan is up to something good. I think Jordan is essentially a widely available 'high-end' winery favoured very much by restaurants. In any case, the bottle is about $65 in Canada and only $35 down here, so I figured this was my opportunity.

Definitely all California on the nose, with predominant citrus and spice characteristics. Does not smell oaky, though, which is a good thing. Tart on the palate - somewhat steely - and clearly California, but in a restrained spicy citrus style. Very fresh and pleasant, but in the end lacking complexity for the price point. Also, something seems unbalanced about the flavour profile, which had a tinge of metalic weirdness to it. Final analysis: distinctly mediocre at this price point.

Very Good
$35 at K&L

Monday, March 9, 2009

Neyers Lakeville Road Syrah 2007

Damn. I have to admit that Neyers is pretty much the ideal when it comes to adapting old world varietals to the new world climate. This syrah is an absolutely incredible adaptation of a full bodied Hermitage, with serious depth and weight. So delicious.

On the nose this was big and grapey, but not in cheap way - notes of black fruit, licorice and earth turn into quite a massive palate with lots of extract and bramble. Intense dark fruit predominates, but with a cigar box savory quality. This is the ideal big bodied new world syrah with old world style and 'roughness'. Neyers is clearly special and I am looking forward to hopefully visiting them in a few weeks.

$28 at K&L

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Mikkeller Big Worse Barley WIne

It seems as though the Scandanavians are becoming a mini-powerhouse in the world of craft brewing. Mikkeller, which I believe is Danish, has built a pretty solid reputation for themselves here in the US with an embrace of the extreme beer style that has provided the reputation of such vaunted brewers as Dogfish Head, Hair of the Dog, etc.

This particular barley wine is made on the more traditional malty-side, with quite an intense malty thickness to the palate. Luckily this is coupled with a nice crisp dry finish that rounds out the structure to a relatively balanced equilibrium. With orange peel and general fruit cake notes in the palate, despite being 12% ABV this is smooth, balanced and drinks very well, albeit you'll want to keep this at a sipping pace. Not the best barley wine I've had, but a very good example, and tasty enough to prompt me to indulge in future brews by Mikkeller.

Very Good to Very Good+
$12 for 375ml bottle at City Beer

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Alfero Family Estate 'A' Syrah 2006

A small production santa cruz mountains syrah, this reminds me of a crozes-hermitage in many ways. A spicy, pepper nose with rich dark fruit, chocolate and licorice as typical for syrah - very forward. The palate was unexpected for California in its restraint and high acidity. An explosion of earth and blackberry that is both mouthfilling and smooth. Not at all a 'sappy' syrah and texturally very bright. Distinctly California, but born of food friendliness and versatility rather than power. Not complex, but a good everyday dinner wine.

Very Good
$21 at Vintage Berkeley

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Lost Abbey Serpents Stout

I don't blog about beer too often, mostly due to the fact I used to consume a lot more wine than beer. Being in the US, however, has provided me with access to an incredible array of microbrews and so I've been tasting through quite a bit of fantastic stuff. This often happens at some great beer joints in town, which I have blogged about before. A few choice selections made it home, however, with high hopes.

Lost Abbey is a pretty fantastic California brewery that specializes in Belgian ales. Their sister brewery, Port brewing, focuses on american styles. This particular beer, however, is billed as a Belgian style stout. I love Belgians and I love stout - so I had to pick this up. This is their first release of the beer as a winter seasonal.

Sitting at a heavy 11% abv, this is rich and malty, with a sweetness more in the Belgian style than in a traditional sweet stout like Guiness. The roasted malts give this a hint of bitterness and make it fairly robust. The carbonation is taken up a notch - likely due to the Belgian influence - and this adds a good crispness and layers the flavours well. In the end this is very solid, and one of the better stouts out there, even if I was expecting something a little more interesting.

Very Good to Very Good+
$11/650ml at City Beer

Monday, March 2, 2009

Broken Spur Petite Sirah 2006

Bounty Hunter's (sweet Napa store) proprietary brand. I had this 2 years ago on my first trip to Napa as the first PS I had ever tasted. This vintage was somehow far less convincing. The almost cheap fruit aroma did not get me excited, and while this improved with air and with Eisch, in the end this was all jammy, plump and somewhat gummy sweet. I prefer PS to have a tannic backbone to support the opulence. This is just flabby. Nonetheless, if you like soft wines this had a lot of chocolate, blueberry and plum on the palate, and it does add weight with air. So, the final verdict is: decent, but overpriced.

$28 at Bounty Hunter