Fruits and black pepper : Penfolds Shiraz Cabernet

Penfolds Koonuga Hills Syrah Cabernet 2011

Region: Koonuga Hills, South Australia, Australia

Grape: 77% Shiraz, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon

Price: around $12

Once again, I am lucky to date a woman who is willing to eat the results of my cooking efforts and also willing to listen to me ramble about wine while we’re having dinner. I am truly a lucky man. So, this lucky man made some lamb chops with roasted potatoes and opened up an Australian red to go with that.

A few weeks ago I drank the 100% Shiraz Koonuga Hills from Penfolds and I really enjoyed it, fruity and spicy with a nice texture, very easy to drink. I was curious about the addition of Cabernet to this wine, the logic would call for such a blend to have a little more bite and structure due to the addition of Cabernet. The wine spends a year in both American and French oak, so there should be some wood notes to identify.

Yes, I have Game of Thrones coasters...

Yes, I have Game of Thrones coasters…

Eye: Clear, dark ruby

Nose: Clean, medium minus intensity, black fruits (blackberries), spices (pepper), chocolate

Palate: dry, medium-minus body, high acidity. Aggressive tannins when just opened but they soften after 30 minutes or so. Medium length finish. Notes of blackberries, figs, olives and black pepper along with some nice tobacco flavor from the oak

The bottle definitely took a little time to open. The first few sips were pretty bad with high acidity, aggressive tannins and not much fruit. The wine felt really thin and forgettable. After 30 minutes to an hour it was another story, much more rounded, more fruit, and more body. It ended up being perfectly fine to drink after the initial scare. It’s a solid red without too strong a body but with a nice peppery kick.

Lamb chops

Food pairings: Can’t go wrong with lamb, it would work with beef and pork too.

Overall opinion: Good value for money, just give it time to open up or you’ll make a face when first tasting it

Grade : 6/10 or 3/10 right after opening


Wine Music : Cabernet and Nebbiolo

Wine Music is a series of posts where I try to match wines with famous songs.  I feel like wine and music go well together as they are two matters that can be studied both technically and emotionally. Simply put, I want to match some wines with songs that they make me think of.

Previous entries include:

Chablis and Meursault

Gewurztraminer and Beaujolais


I love writing those Wine Music posts but they can be hard sometimes. It’s not necessarily the writing in itself, it’s the research and the whole finding a song thing that can take time. I used to go at it in a carefree way, waiting for a match idea to strike me as I perused songs.  I realized that I needed to change methods and use the approach I use to blind taste a wine, a structured, sequenced approach.

Since we are taking about structure, let’s match Cabernet Sauvignon with a song. Structure is one of the defining characteristics of the wine, what are the others? Acidity, tannins, a bit of an unforgiving side, potential for ageing, full bodied, dark, those are a few of the Cabernet things. From that, I can tell that I will need an older song that stood the test of time, it should not be an easygoing happy song about rainbows, there should be some darkness in it and finally it will need some “body”, some staying power, I can’t go with a breezy, light summer tune.

At first I considered some Bach pieces as, like Cabernet, it emphasizes structure but I thought it was a cop out and it lacked the darkness I wanted. Bach to the drawing board I guess (one day I’ll be able to stay away from puns). Cabernet Sauvignon’s music match is: Paint it Black, The Rolling Stones, 1966

The darkness is right already in the title, it’s definitely a classic song, there is structure and staying power and for added bonus, the use of the sitar gives oriental notes to the song that mirrors cedar aromas some Bordeaux can have. Done.

Now, onward to Nebbiolo. What am I looking for here? There is a reason I lumped Nebbiolo in the same note as Cabernet Sauvignon. Many characteristics are the same: potential for ageing, structure. Acidity, tannins,… Where Nebbiolo differs, in my opinion is that it is lighter (without being light), more elegant and can be more surprising than Cabernet.

I considered staying with the Rolling Stones with this one; maybe Sympathy for the Devil would have had that funky element I’m looking for. In the end I decided to go with another great song : Wish you were here, Pink Floyd, 1975

I feel it’s a good match, definitely a song with structure and layers, serious without being dark, elegant to a fault and with moments of grace to mirror the joy of drinking an old Nebbiolo.

Thoughts? Did I miss the mark on these ? Any alternative pairings ?

Antidepressant in wine form, Chasse-Spleen 2003

Château Chasse-Spleen 2003

Region: Moulis en Medoc, Left-bank, Bordeaux, France

Grape: Cabernet-Sauvignon dominated blend with Merlot and Petit Verdot

Price: around $55


I need to go back in time a little since this bottle has a bit of a history, both old and recent. A few years ago, when I was still living in Paris, one of my good friends was sad. Actually she was depressed, quite intensely so. It is not easy helping depressed people; at least it isn’t easy for me, as I never know what to say. That’s why I decided not to say anything but do something instead. Now, in French, Chasse-Spleen means “chasing away sadness” or “chasing away melancholia”. According to legend, the name was coined by Lord Byron or Baudelaire, there are competing stories. In any case, I thought a couple bottles of this wine would be a good gift for my friend. If they couldn’t chase the sadness away, at least it would make her smile. So I went ahead, gave her this gift. She did smile, and I did keep a bottle for myself to remember that I can be a good friend sometimes.

Fast forward a few years to last weekend, I still have my bottle of Chasse-Spleen with me, now in Boston. Another friend, a person close to me will leave Boston next week. Saying goodbye sucks, and, as was the case before, I don’t know what to say. So, to send up my friend in style and chase away the sadness of a goodbye, I opened the Chasse-Spleen and shared it with her. It seemed appropriate.

Eye: deep garnet

Nose: Clean, medium + intensity, black fruits, plums, blackberries, hints of freshness (mint)

Palate: Dry, high acidity, full body, smooth tannins, long finish (black cherry)

2003 was a heat wave year in France and wines from this year usually show it. This one is no exception, there are a lot of cooked fruits aromas: blackberry, cherry and plum mostly. The wine still has high acidity and the tannins give it a bit of structure amid all the fruit. There are hints of oak, I got tobacco or mocha and I also found a hint of something refreshing like white mint. The finish is long with lingering aromas of ripe black cherries.

Food pairings: The wine was shared over cheese which was not a bad idea. Traditional Bordeaux pairing with lamb might be a good option too.

Overall opinion: I might be hard press to give a fair assessment of this wine given the emotional baggage coming with it. I was always going to like it, but I still believe it was a solid Bordeaux from a very warm year. Another good lesson for my study of Cabernet.

Cicadas and olives, Penley Estate Coonawarra

Penley Estate, Phoenix Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Region: Coonawarra, South Australia, Australia

Grape: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon

Price: around $20


All right, first bottle of my Cabernet-Sauvignon learning experiment. I decided to start with an Australian version because I heard of the Coonawarra wines during my WSET level 2 classes and the name stuck for some reason. It’s one of the most known new world terroirs with its principal feature being the distinctive “red soils” more specifically it is called terra rossa and is a special type of clay/limestone soil, it is more common in regions with a Mediterranean climate. Coonawarra produces almost exclusively Cabernet-Sauvignon wines, coincidentally; the climate is often compared to the Bordeaux climate, due to the proximity of the sea, making Cabernet an easy choice of grape

Coonawarra red soil

Coonawarra red soil

Eye: deep ruby

Nose: Clean, medium + intensity, black fruits, plums, blackberries, olives

Palate: Dry, medium – acidity, full body, solid chewy tannins, long finish.

Ok, so Australian Cabernet, very structured, lots of fruit and tannins, long finish and also a really earthy quality that is the thing that really stuck with me. Olive notes on the nose and on the palate contribute to that but the very body of the wine feels chewy and solid. I didn’t get much spice notes as some other reviews mentioned but the red fruit was vibrant and combined with the earthiness, it left a much satisfying and long finish. For some reason, tasting this wine made me think of the Mediterranean. It might be just the olive notes, but I could close my eyes and feel like I was in Southern France listening to cicadas under an olive tree.

Food pairings: Great steak wine. I had it with home cooked steaks and mashed potatoes prepared by my temporary roommate.

Overall opinion: Great wine for the price, as I said earlier, my main takeaway is the earthiness of this wine. I wonder if it is an isolated case or a characteristic of Australian Cabs. I any case my study of Cabernet-Sauvignon is off to a good start.

Weekend wine lineup

Another week done, another weekend coming up. This one is a little special because I will be spending my Saturday afternoon at the Boston Wine Expo. Hopefully there will be wines that stand out there and that will provide me with some blog posts material.

Coincidentally, I just received my wine study schedule in the form of these lovely bottles. Three Cabernets from various countries to try and get a better understanding of the grape and an Australian Shiraz because I like Shiraz and it’s cold in Boston.

My weekend lineup

My weekend lineup

That should keep me busy for a while and make sure the weekend goes smoothly. Not that there was any doubt about that. Have a great weekend everybody !

Three shades of red

I’ve decided, as a studying project over the next couple months, that I would learn more about Californian wines.

I’d like to focus on reds made from the grape varieties used in the Bordeaux region. Contrarily to Burgundies, Bordeaux wines tend to be a blend of various varieties in varying proportions. There are three main varieties used: Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. They each have distinct characteristics and producers blend them depending on the result they want to achieve by emphasizing certain traits or dampening other ones. Here are a few key points for each grape (broad strokes).

Cabernet-Sauvignon : the Structure

cab sauv

Cabernet Sauvignon is a relatively new grape, a cross of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon. It is pretty hardy, produces low-yields and ripens late. Common flavors are blackcurrant, blackberry, green bell pepper or even cedar and tobacco. In a blend, Cabernet-Sauvignon contributes high acidity and tannins, a key element to give structure to a wine and give it good aging potential. It also has a strong affinity with oak, which of course doesn’t hurt in terms of aging.

Merlot : the Body


Merlot is one of the most widely planted grapes in the world, and, the most planted grape in France. It tends to produce full-bodied, smooth and velvety wines with black and red fruits aromas : blackberry, plum, cherry, blackcurrant,… It ripens earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon and can overripe quicly after that. In a blend, Merlot provides softness and body, mellowing the tannins and acidity of Cabernet-Sauvignon

Cabernet-Franc : the Fruit

cab franc

Cabernet-Franc is used to make varietal wines in the Loire valley, notably near the town of Chinon, but it is also one of the varieties used in the Bordeaux blends. Like Merlot it ripens earlier than Cabernet-Sauvignon (the reason it can grow in a cooler climate like the Loire Valley). Common aromas would be raspberry, blackcurrant and violets. In a blend, Cabernet-Franc contributes fruit flavors and finesse. It doesn’t have the staying power of the other two grapes but it can add some flavor to the mix.

There are other varietals used in Bordeaux, mostly Malbec (color) and Petit Verdot (tannins and colors), but these are the main three. Depending on where you are in Bordeaux, wines will have more of one varietal and less of the others. Some wines are Cabernet-Sauvignon dominated (mainly on the Left Bank), some are Merlot dominated (Pomerol and St-Emilion) and there even are Cabernet-Franc dominated wines (Cheval Blanc, Ausone)

Now that the basics, and to be honest, these are the very, very basics, are explained, it’s time to start drinking!